Mike Finocchiaro started his first company when he was 18 years old. But wishes he wouldn’t have waited so long. Today, Toby Mathis of Anderson Business Advisors talks to Mike about his journey into entrepreneurship. How much earlier could he have started? In the womb, rocking out with his mom? There’s no time like the present. If you have an idea that you believe in, start a company and grow it. You can make anything happen if you’re willing to take the lumps that come with it. The only limitation is if you could take what it is to keep moving forward, you’re going to get to where you want to be.
- Come Together Entertainment: A “big” company doing Hollywood parties, started by an 18-year-old working out of a row home and saving cash
- Music is the heartbeat of Mike’s production company; leveraged his experience setting up shows, concerts, and festivals efficiently and quickly
- Rock and roll ride into the corporate world to tap into latest and greatest
- Legalese and Liability: Mike Finn Productions rebranded Big Fin Productions; create an entity that’s larger than yourself in every aspect
- Mike’s Mistakes: The name thing, don’t wait to get things started, think before reacting
- Santa’s Roadies Charity: The real meaning of Christmas is not about gifts, but giving
- Companies and their charities can change lives; the nonprofit process is pretty simple
- Going forward, follow your gut; know right from wrong, and can make anything happen
Full Episode Transcript:
Toby: Hi guys. My name is Toby Mathis and you’re joining the Anderson Business Advisors Podcast. Today, I have with me Mike Finocchiaro. Mike’s actually from Philly, too, right?... Read Full Transcript
Mike: Philadelphia. Yes, sir.
Toby: Some of you guys know that that’s where I hail from. Been in Vegas for a lot of years but where I started was back in good old […] It was awesome. It was back in the seventies but it was Philadelphia back then.
Mike: Yeah, good times.
Toby: Anyway, Mike, welcome first off.
Mike: Thanks buddy. Good morning.
Toby: It’s an awesome day and we’re just really lucky to have you. I wanted to bring Mike on board just to give you guys some brain food, the folks that actually go out and start their own businesses and help when they start hitting that critical mass and about to take off. Mike’s a great example of somebody who is really starting to see some amazing things with his company that he put himself in a position so he can actually do it. I just want to go on that. Mike, first off tell me a little about yourself, where you’re from—I already know about Philly—tell us about your journey into entrepreneurship.
Mike: I grew up in Philadelphia like we’re just saying there, worked in a lot of pizza shops when I was a kid after school into the wee hours of the morning, saved my money, bought my first DJ kit, started Come Together Entertainment at age 18, and just pitched that way bigger than it actually was. Just really got out there and try to really make it seem like we’re this big company that was doing Hollywood parties when I was an 18 year old kid working out of a row home, saved my cash rolling with that business for a while. I got into the live entertainment industry with George Clinton and P-Funk, really had an impact on me doing that live show, and seeing how everybody reacted.
Toby: You did George and P-Funk?
Mike: I did. That was my first live show was P-Funk […]. I remember looking out into the crowd and just seeing all people, all shapes, sizes, colors, everyone was just getting along.
Toby: Bootsy Collins still playing with them?
Mike: Bootsy wasn’t but I actually have a picture of myself and Bootsy hanging in my place here. I met Bootsy on the tour I did back in the day and that was definitely a moment because I was a bass player at the time as well.
Toby: Holy cow. I saw Bootsy at the Rock Candy in Seattle and it still existed in […].
Toby: Yeah, that’s crazy. I didn’t even know this. I love finding stuff out. If you can’t tell, Mike does production. He’s a big production guy out here in Vegas, all over the country. Is that fair to say?
Mike: That is fair to say. All over the continent. All over the planet, I should say. All over the place or everywhere.
Toby: What is the production company do just to give everybody an idea?
Mike: All right, a little bit of background. Our heartbeat was always music, concerts, things like that, festivals. We used to work at Coachella a lot. A lot of the EDM that started coming up in 2008–2009, that kind of stuff.
We took all that experience of getting these large shows set up efficiently and fast, and we actually tied it into the corporate world. Our first job in the corporate aspect was Ford hired us to start doing their auto shows in Detroit, Chicago, Washington, DC. We did a lot of those big, massive industrials and that led more to the tech market over the years. A lot of the product launches for Apple, Google we just build a big booth for them over at CES. It was really talked about all over the industry. We built basically a theme park ride for corporate show people to go through.
Toby: Consumer Electronic Show is the largest electronic show in the planet, right?
Mike: Yeah, it is. It brings people from all over the world, coming to find out what to do, latest, greatest products are going to be. We tapped into that market as well. We basically do big corporate product launches, meeting, […] sessions, after parties. We do all that in conjunction with our, we call it rock and roll. That’s basically the term for all music work that we do. We tied this all together and we just created this production company here. Vegas seems to be a good spot for us.
Toby: That’s pretty cool. I just want to go through the progressions. You started when you’re 18 out of a rural house is Philly. Did you just do this in your individual name and just do it like everybody come on when they start, they just do stuff?
Mike: This is a great story for you and good advice for people out there that are starting companies. Back then, it was Come Together Entertainment, but then I did rock and roll for about 10 years. I was on the road touring with these bands.
When I realized I didn’t want to stay on the road forever, I started my first […] company which was Mike Finn Productions. We did well. We got gigs, like I said, with Ford. We lit up the pope when he came to America. That was a big one for us.
Toby: You did not.
Mike: It was amazing. Yeah. That was the one my mom was proud of. We did the pope there, we did a millennial show for Bill Clinton, we did some shows for Paul McCartney. Did pretty well with Mike Finn Productions.
But as I got older, I talked to some people on the legal aspect. They said, “Get your name out of there. Go create an entity. Otherwise, people are going to expect to see you on every show, your name’s in there, it’s a liability, just get it out.”
Mike Finn Productions did well, but we rebranded as Big Fin Productions in 2015. Let me tell you, once we created that entity, things flew up farther than I could ever possibly imagine. The past four years, we have just grown exponentially. That’s a good tip for people out there that are starting a business. Create an entity so it could be larger than yourself in every aspect, and not just in the name aspect but as a concept. You want to have an entity that is behind you and supporting you.
Toby: How long did you do Mike Finocchiaro Productions?
Mike: What we did Mike Finn Productions […] Everybody did that. That’s why we started the Mike Finn thing. When I was a kid I’d be like, “Nobody could remember me. Who is that kid, that Mike Finochini? Hire him. He’s good.” They always mess up so we want to […] to Mike Finn and that really caught on, and then we went to Big Fin.
We did Mike Finn Productions for about, I want to say 12 years and then we’ve been in Big Fin Productions for four years. Like I said, the growth has been exponential since we became the entity. It’s amazing.
Toby: Yeah. You take it away from me yourself and you let people actually buy the brand. Let’s go back in time. What are some of the biggest mistakes you made that you wished, like knowing what you know now you would have gone back and changed it?
Mike: The name thing, that’s a good one right there, but I think first and foremost is don’t wait to get things started. That’s the one thing that if I could go back in time, I would have started sooner.
Toby: You started at 18. How much earlier could you have started? In the womb rocking out with your mom?
Mike: I don’t know. I always think, though, I’d be farther along now if I would have started earlier. Maybe I’m the exception there at the young age, but I think some people are in their 30s, 40s, 50s are nervous. I mean there’s no time like the present. Just get it going. Don’t wait. If you have an idea in something you believe in and you think that the market needs, go after it. Just start a company and grow it.
Toby: It’s funny and I don’t mean to steal your story, but when I became an attorney, I hung my shingle out the day that I got my license. I talked to so many attorneys and they said the same thing you’re saying. They said, “I wish I had benched it out earlier,” and I said, “Oh, then I’ll just start as soon as I can.” I got a crap […] me for a few years If you’re brand new, the experienced guys would just dump so much paperwork on you anytime they saw your name pop up. They were like, “Oh, so a practitioner. Brand new. Let’s make him earn his way.”
Mike: But you’re learning. You’re learning as you’re doing that.
Mike: Look at you now, right?
Toby: I would say the same thing to anybody else. Yeah, you’re going to take your lumps but you’re going to learn from everything and it’s yours. It ends up being yours. It’s your knowledge, it’s your experience, and you benefit from it instead of some other company.
Mike: That is something I tell people a lot is that you can make anything happen if you’re willing to take the lumps that come with it. The only limitation is if you could take what it is to keep moving forward, you’re going to get to where you want to be.
Toby: All right. What’s one of your biggest mistakes that you’ve ever made? Something you’ve worked with some big ax. I got to assume that there’s been one of those shows where you’re like, “Ugh, nothing’s going right.”
Mike: I got one for you. I was put in a situation that I did not want to be put in, using somebody’s gear on a DC show once. I advised everyone, “Don’t use this company. This is bad gear. I know this gear. Don’t use it,” and I was forced to use it.
There was an electrical fire with this […]. We’re at the auto show, the sprinklers are going off, nothing good about this. We literally put our fires out […] control the situation, take everything back to where it should be, and here’s the mistake that I made. In writing, I went ahead and just blasted this company. It was something tangible that I wrote in the heat of the moment and I sent out there.
My advice is think about things a little bit. If you’re going to be reactionary to something, maybe write yourself an email, send it to yourself, calm down a little, read it later, and see if you really mean it because once you put it out there, it’s out there.
Toby: Could it come back and bite you in the future?
Mike: It could. That would be […] mistake that I made. I got over it. It took me a little bit but definitely that was a little, “Wow, that guy really blew up on paper.” It was young angst, I don’t know, I was on fire back then. The older you get, you mellow a little bit and you learn from your mistakes.
Toby: Oh yeah, at a fire. You told them not to use and I think you’re probably justified.
Mike: I was.
Toby: But the fact of the matter is, it’s good advice. As we’re learning everyday, we see people’s emails, letters, and things that they’ve written come back into their life 10 years later. Also, if you put it out there, even on video, it’s out in the public view and it’s to be consumed for all eternity.
Mike: And that represents yourself and your companies. So always remember that as you’re growing things. Be careful what you’re putting out there, will be associated with your brand.
Toby: How about biggest successes?
Mike: There’s been so many times where I stood on stage, looked out, and saw a half a million people out there just enjoying themselves. That always hits me close to the […]. We started a charity called Santa’s Roadies. I want to say we’re maybe on our 13th year now, but watching that grow over the years, how it’s benefited so many people, and the enjoyment that it brings to everyone that’s in our organization, that’s been a huge success. Seeing lives changed not just from the charity but through our companies, watching kids that really didn’t have much of a direction because that’s a lot of […] I want to say, or people who didn’t really fit into a group at school tend to go into production industry. For whatever reason, they come here. They don’t really have a place with different ‘breakfast club groups’ we call them. They come to us and we get them in this organization. We give them a direction, a way to grow and support their family, and have a good quality of life. To me that’s success. Looking at all the kids that I knew when they’re 17, now they’re in their 30s, they have a family and a house, and that all came from some of the guidance that I gave them combined with […] that’s a huge success to me.
Toby: That’s pretty cool. There’s a few good nuggets there, by the way. When I got into business, it was because of a gentleman by the name of Gene Thompson up in Seattle, Washington. He had a bunch of franchises. He used to do Minit Lubes and Subways. Now, they’re Quaker a little bit.
He was a friend of my father and he had said something. He goes, “The best thing about having a business is when you have an employee, or somebody that you like, or a client, or a customer, whatever, if you want to say, ‘Here, dinner on me,’ and send them to the nicest restaurant in town or something that they wouldn’t ordinarily treat themselves to, you can do it.” That’s probably the most rewarding thing is that I can do things, I have the freedom to whatever I feel like, and it actually has a pretty big impact on people.
Mike: It does. It changes their lives. The littlest things you could do to change their lives immensely.
Toby: Speaking of that, here’s the thing. You mentioned Santa’s Roadies which I want to dive into a little bit. Most people that have a degree of success will end up transitioning somehow back into helping other people out, unless they are just completely about themselves and all about the dollar, which in my experience those people who are successful or not. They’re usually about adding value to society. But let’s say that with you, the Santa Roadies, explain what that is for folks, why it came about, and what you do.
Mike: A little bit of background there, going back even before I was working at pizza shops. Single mother raised me and my sister, we were a really tight-knit group there, and we didn’t have a lot of money. Sure enough, I remember people knocking on the door, delivering food to us for thanksgiving and that kind of stuff. It really stuck in my head.
As Mike Finn Productions first started to have some success, I knew I wanted to give back. At that time, I had a two year old daughter and I wanted to teach her a little bit about Christmas. It’s not just about gifts, gifts, gifts for us. It’s about giving, the real meaning there. Way back in the day there, I went out, I loaded up my trunk with toys, bought myself a Santa Claus suit, I had my little daughter with me, and we literally at that point just drove around. We went to the children’s hospital, we went to Salvation Army shelter, we just drove around and gave out toys. That was the beginning of this process.
My daughter was young but she still saw what was going on over the years. We continued that each year and I watched it kind of clicked in her brain that it’s about giving. I had her dress like a little elf. As she got a little older, she’s handing out candy canes and getting responses from some of these needy children, who then were so happy just to have a candy cane. I’m getting chills while having this conversation right now. I remember seeing it click in her eyes and we just grew that over the years.
Two years ago, we had 43 families that we took care of. We got them, we found out what their kids wanted for Christmas, we wrapped the presents, we put names on it, we begun. We did everything to make it a really special moment.
It really resonates with me when you see some of these little kids that truly believe that you are Santa Claus because they’re opening their gifts and they’re seeing exactly what they wanted. I mean […] it’s touching moment year after year.
Toby: You would show up in just the sleigh, though. You have your pimped out—
Mike: Over the years, I collected some Cadillacs. That’s part of the Big Fin name and to me, as a little kid, that was […] was Fin’s Cadillacs. That was success to me, that’s what I saw the guys drive in the neighborhood, always had a Cadillac, and the ones with the fins were always the coolest. So that was always a personal thing for me that I always wanted. Now I have five. I have to say that it’s just a passion of mine. I’ve been growing them over the years. We take these Cadillacs, we load them up with presents so the kids really see this whole vibe of somebody showing up in a cool Cadillac, Santa gets out, he really cares, and he’s there giving them their dream gifts.
As it’s coming together more and more, we’ve seen more success as a production company. We have more people involved. We actually started a non-profit now. Before it’s just me with a trunk full of toys. Now, we’re a legitimate non-profit and we’re looking at the bigger picture of how to take this into the future. It’s something that hopefully, long after I’m gone, my children are still running this and taking care of families in need.
We’re moving beyond just presents now. We were giving the whole Christmas experience, the dinner, the Christmas tree, the presents, everything. We’re taking it this year, particularly it’s the first year, we’re going into thanksgiving. Now, we’re donating quantities of turkeys and food to shelters and homes. We’re really trying to stretch this thing and make it about the whole holiday season. Who knows where it gets to. Maybe we’re going Easter in a decade from now. Who knows where this thing is going to turn into, but I want these families and these children, especially, to feel special at the holidays.
Anything we can do to help that is just putting good energy out into the world. Anybody can do it. It could start so simple and you can grow a passion project to something that you want to take care of as you form it into a non-profit. The process is fairly simple. Your office helped us get things organized. It was a really smooth transition into it. It was much easier than you would think. Again, all these things you just got to commit to it and you can do it. It’s out there. It’s not as scary as most people seem to think it will be. You can do anything. You could change the world if you put your mind to it.
Toby: Yeah, it’s pretty interesting. I’m going to just tail off on that. When businesses are out there and a lot of times people are doing something that’s really good for society but they get zero benefit. The best example I can give you is right now, what we’re seeing with the tax laws are, is about 90% of the people are using the standard deduction which could be between 80% and 90%, which means that 80% of the people who give money are getting zero benefit for giving the money. They would have to exceed their standard deduction before they get a dollar benefit.
You’re giving money to charity and you’re really not getting any benefit. When you’re in the business and you’re doing things for other folks where again, you went out and bought a bunch of toys and things, if you do that as an individual you’re not getting any benefit. That’s just a gift. There’s no tax benefit to you. If you give the money to your own charity and the charity goes out and does these things, then you do get a tax benefit. You get the amount you contributed.
That clicks with people after they’ve been doing it long enough. I’ve seen this over the years. Somebody will go out, they’ll be doing something, they have the right heart, and the system is somewhat punishing them and holding them back. I had a fantastic gal. We just did a podcast with Meg Busing who was literally scraping by in her world trying to give back because she has suffered from a traumatic head injury. To watch her explode and become very successful with what she’s doing, which is a business, it’s just so happened to be a non-profit business, was really rewarding. I hope the same is true with you. I have no doubt that it will be, that you’re using Big Fin Production. As it grows bigger, it’s like you always see this. You see large Ronald McDonald house. You have a for-profit entity and what is it doing? It’s channeling some of its revenue in a tax advantage way to help society out. Frankly, that’s way better.
Mike: It’s a win-win.
Toby: It is a win-win. That’s pretty cool. When you talk about the Easter thing, all I could think about is somebody saying, “Hey, the Easter bunny stole Santa’s…”
Mike: They share it.
Toby: I was like, “What happened to Santa’s… that’s Santa’s car. You give it back to him right now.”
Mike: It’s funny.
Toby: Twisted thinking. Hey, we’re going to finish up. I want to hear a little bit about your favorite shows. It’s not just me, but I’m sure anybody listening to this is going to say, “All right, you did some Paul McCartney, the pope, George Clinton.” You were with some pretty cool acts. What are you favorites?
Mike: We’ve done a lot of good ones, but my go-to is—I do get this question fairly frequently—we had worked with McCartney. I was always a fan. This is a good story. When I was 17 years old, I slept out for McCartney tickets at JFK Stadium.
Toby: Millennials don’t understand this. We had to wait in line for tickets back in the day.
Mike: We did, but bottom line, at the end of the show I jumped on stage with McCartney at 17 years old.
Toby: Did you get arrested?
Mike: Thrown out […] was the end, it was the whole thing. But years later, I get a call to do a McCartney show at Carnegie Hall, my first interaction there with him. We did the show, it went well. My life was complete at that point. I couldn’t believe I got a check for it. It was an amazing time. Soon after, his production company called and said, “Hey, we’re doing a private event. He’s doing a surprise show at the Highline Ballroom. A very small venue, maybe 600–1000 people. It’s more like a bar. We would like you to be involved.” […] out there and I did that show.
The highlight moment there is we’re in this tiny club, you have Paul McCartney on stage with this young band, and they’re ripping through all these early Beatles songs, I Saw Her Standing There, all these amazing songs. But he went into Hey Jude. He’s singing Hey Jude and you have this whole club singing Hey Jude with the guy that wrote the song. It made the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. That was a moment where I looked around to a lot of these hardcore road guys, they were all standing there feeling the same thing. It was very impactful. That was definitely the highlight of experience that I’ve had at a live show. That was a good one.
Toby: That’s pretty intense. I could only imagine. I hope you have some selfies with him.
Mike: No selfies but I got some good autographs ‘To Finn.’ I mean, that’s good stuff in the office. He’s on tour right now, so I think he’s coming to Vegas, actually, in June. If you haven’t seen him, get out there. Every song’s a hit. It’s amazing.
Toby: I would pick him up. It was funny. This is completely aside but I just […] Gordon Lightfoot with one of my partners.
Mike: Love him.
Toby: The guy is 80 years old and he’s up there. You know that you’re seeing something that may not be around much when people are screaming out, “You can do it Gordon, you can do it.” I’m like, “All right, this guy is really working it.” Anyway, that’s pretty cool. I’m just a lawyer, so all these stuff, all the production that you guys do is absolutely mind-boggling.
Mike: Thanks, Toby. I appreciate that.
Toby: I look at little things like you go to the Golden Knights when they went to the Stanley Cup game one, they do this huge production thing where it’s dust coming out of the ceiling? All that is just amazing. All of the stuff that production companies are able to do is just fire.
Mike: […] the people into the experience. It’s important. It’s just above and beyond watching the show. The production value really pulls the people in. It gets them a little surprised.
Toby: Absolutely. I’m going to end on one question. If you could go back in time, what would you tell little Mike Finn and what advice would you give him going forward?
Mike: First thing comes in mind is always follow your gut. You hear that a lot from people but I don’t think there’s a truer statement. You know what’s right or wrong, you might be nervous about something, but if you feel like it’s good, go for it. Just continue on that path. That’s what I would tell myself. I stuck to it pretty good, but there’s always times where you had your doubts. You can make anything happen. That’s what I would tell young Mike Finn.
Toby: Fantastic. Thanks for joining us. I was just going to say Mike Finn. Big Fin Productions. Check them out online. Amazing company, amazing story, love hearing it. Support Santa’s Roadies.
Mike: You got it. We’re going to do, actually, a charity event coming up here in the fall. I’m going to make sure you guys know when that’s happening.
Toby: Absolutely. Ddo you have a web presence for Santa’s Roadies?
Mike: We’re in the process. Like we were saying, we just started the non-profit end and made it an official entity […]. You know my people so we’re working on all that presence. That will definitely be out by that time. Also, there’s always Big Fin Vegas and Big Fin Productions online. We always have reference much you know what’s going on with that world.
Toby: Perfect. Thanks for being with us.
Mike: You got it, buddy. It’s always a pleasure, Toby. You guys take care.
Toby: Cool. Thanks.
Mike: All right. See you bud.