Turning Personal Adversity into a Bigger Vision with Toph Day
Joe Mills: thanks for coming on 1000 Stories, man. Really excited to chat with you today and just unpack you and what makes you motivated to do what you do. you’ve got a real wide arranging history of business experience and currently obviously leading Elevate Ventures. when somebody asks you like, oh,what do do? how do you respond to that question? Do you say oh, I’m CEO of Elevate Ventures, or do you what do you say?
Toph Day: I’ve never liked saying I’m CEO of anything. And so this might sound a little cheesy, but it’s really truly how I feel. I love to help people achieve whatever the next goal is. and that comes in many shapes, sizes, and forms of desires and goals.But like I get a kick out of people just kicking butt in whatever they’re passionate about. And it might be a philanthropic
thing or it might be a business thing or, but I love it when people achieve whatever that dream is or that next step. And if I Can be helpful in doing something that makes that smoother, easier, faster, thoughtful, or whatever, cuz I’ve had that Right in my life.
I’ve had people help me in numerous ways. so yeah, that’s how I think about it.
Joe Mills: you said something interesting right at the start, you I, I don’t like introducing myself as the CEO of anything. Is there a reason? is there a connotation to that word that like you feel when you say it that makes you feel uncomfortable? Or what is it about it that you don’t like?
Toph Day: I just, I’ve never done what I do for that title. I just think it can set the wrong, setting or the wrong mindset For a conversation sometimes. yeah, because what does that mean?
What does being a CEO e mean? to me it means you should make coffee and take out the garbage as well. right? So I just think people have different perceptions of it and sometimes it can create a different dynamic than what gets an optimal result. Yeah.
Joe Mills: looking back a little bit, you just referenced, have had a lot of people help me along the way. when did you first experience like the power of , ,other people helping the wheel spin faster for you.
Toph Day: Yeah. So I’m gonna throw something out there.
Joe Mills: That’s great.
Toph Day: so I grew up in a very abusive household and, one of the first people that pops out. there’s several before this actually, probably as well. but one I’ll mention is, my freshman year football coach, put his arm around me one day and said, Hey, want you to know I believe in you and I’m not gonna change my mind for the position that he put me in. And, um,the confidence that gave me,
Was massive. I’ll never forget it. It was literally a moment in time that took 30 seconds. Mm-hmm. .But it was one single that put, that put put their arm around you and said, Hey, I believe in you. I’m not gonna change my mind. and then there’s just a thousand stories I could share as we talk today. But, but that was a moment in time where I understood the power of wow, if you just take a moment tell someone what you’re thinking or feeling. Cause I think a lot of humans don’t, they they just don’t communicate. I think 99.9% of the world’s problems are just a lack of communication. and I remember what that meant to me at that moment. and then as I went through life and I realized, hey, there’s these moments where I can give back by just recognizing or,whatever situation might in personal professional life, how powerful that can be. so I, probably was not what you’re expecting, but no, that, that’s a moment that sticks out when you ask that question. It
Joe Mills: It speaks a lot to me. I, I’ve an athletic background, played soccer in college and the impact that a coach can have, like positively and negatively Yeah. In a ten second moment Yeah. so extreme. You mentioned, like in that moment when he said it, like you already recognized how much that meant. It wasn’t like, in hindsight, that felt really good in the moment. it was, like, boom
Toph Day: in the moment and like literally I went home that night and it just, it just changed my mental state. Like overnight, like, okay,
just keep working hard and you’ll get to where you want to go. Whatever the hell that means at that age, what do you know? Yeah. Yeah. But, yeah, yeah, it was just a moment that changed my mental state and my outlook
Joe Mills: did it happen in school too, where you were like, oh, I can just keep working hard and I’ll get this?or was it like a sort of siloed football experience?
Toph Day: I think it was one of those moments where I realized, the power of teachers and coaches, I don’t think they realized how much influence they can have over kids’ lives. So I had a fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Rice man, she was strict. Like
she would bring the hammer down if you were allowed to, what do you call it when you take a stick on
Joe Mills: it’s the, on your knuckles, the nuns with the Yeah. Rulers and this whack Whack. And she
Toph Day: would’ve done that if she could’ve, and maybe she even did.I don’t even remember. but I just remember her being very strict. But there was respect and so there were several moments like that. And then there was another moment a couple years later in high school, a lot of people think I know how to code because of my background.
I don’t know how to code. and, but I took a coding class in high school. and it was an elective.And I just didn’t like it. I just, yeah, I just didn’t like it. And there were other things I was interested in. So I dropped, my coding class classin. I was also in, in, I don’t even remember what they call itit atthat time, but advanced math, calculus, whatever.
I was in the, uh, AP or whatever they called it. Yeah. And like our tests would be like to test out of Yeah. And college 1 0 1. College 1 0 1 stuff. and I crushed it right in those classes. And I’ll never forget, I was walking into my advanced calculus class one day and I’ll leave her name out of it.I don’t know ifshe’s still alive or not, but
But anyways, My math teacher and and the coding class teacher, they always stood together. Cause her classroom’s right next to each other.And I’m walking in the classroom and she said, there goes Christopher, the cop out. and so you know, there’s probably a dozen exchanges with teachers. and that might have affected me a lot more negatively. , if I hadn’t had that moment, my freshman year of a teacher, a coach saying, Hey, I believe in you. Stick with it. Stay with it. I’m not gonna let up on you. and it just, some of those experiences just hit me throughout those, middle school and high school years of how much impact humans can have on each other. in a positive or a negative way. And sometimes we all, you know, we’re human, we’re everybody’s a human and you get wrapped up in emotions or or Yeah.Whatever it might be, observations or opinions that aren’t based in fact. And how we really should be careful right before we pass judgment. one way or another if we don’t really have all the facts, I don’t know. I look at things like objectively, sometimes I feel like I’m sitting at like 30,000 feet and just watching all these interactions. and just a moment of you know What. if you ever have the chance, like I’m a positive person, I’m a glass is half full person. And even when stuff goes awry or stuff goes wrong or somebody does something that’s, not forthright or what you wouldn’t do, Maybe there’s something going on in that person’s life that bubbled out and maybe she was having a bad day. and she took it out on me. I don’t know. It’s possible. but it’s just, yeah, those moments of positive or negative interactions, just like, holy cow. Like,
Toph Day: you know How just mental state can swing with these micro interactions.Yeah.
Joe Mills: Did you already recognize that at 18 years old? I feel like it, I’m not sure why. the home life was pretty brutal, wasn’t very fun. Mm-hmm. .and so I don’t
Toph Day: know if that calls me to step away and try to look at things differently or think about things differently. but I feel like from an early age, probably part of the way I grew up, I never liked the, authority . Yeah. Sometimes I wonder if that’s why I became a serial entrepreneur. I didn’tknow what that was back then. you don’t strike me as rebellious though.
Joe Mills: Are you like,
Toph Day: I had some moments.
Joe Mills: Okay.
Toph Day: I can’t believe I’m saying this in public.
Toph Day: my junior high principal told me I would be in jail for the rest of my life at, By the time I was 16 years old.
Joe Mills: I’m glad they were wrong.
Toph Day: Yeah, me too.
Joe Mills: Um, so in the seventh grade I got into a lot of fights, and it was an outlet of what was going on. Say probably your story. Right. Like Like you just mentioned, Hey, maybe they had a bad day. You’re probably having a lot of bad days.
Toph Day: of bad days, And my behavior was not acceptable. now I’m happy to say I got zero detentions. I learned my lesson.
Joe Mills: You got in fights and got zero detentions?
Toph Day: no. I broke a record in the seventh grade I was told. Okay.
Joe Mills: Okay, . that’s the principle that said you’re gonna be in the jail for the rest of your life by the time you’re 16.that’s great. Positive reinforcement. Yeah. Thank you. And, thanks for confidence principal. Appreciate it.
Toph Day: but I always knew inside that like I was gonna do something. And in a seventh grade, I didn’t know what I thought I knew at 15, we’ll get to it a little bit, but, but I always knew that I just gotta get through this. This. If I can just get through high school and graduate, then I get to take control of my
Joe Mills: Was that about getting outta your house? Yeah. You’re like, I get outta high school and I’ll be free.
Toph Day: Get outta high school. I’m free and I can set my own course.
Joe Mills: It’s even more interesting cuz one of the things when I first met you and you talked about, um, you’ve been around, I think you said you lived in Atlanta and Texas for a period of time. Yeah. And I’m like, you know what, why Indiana? And you’re like, it’s home. And so it’s really interesting to hear that contrasted with a really hard home life.
Joe Mills: When you graduated high school, were you like, I’m ready to go away. Like, I wanna go to California, I wanna go to the Carolinas, I wanna go to Florida, I wanna go somewhere far away. Or were you like, no, I wanna stay here, I just gotta get outta this house. I’m curious about what your mindset was like at 18.
Toph Day: That’s a great question. Uh, cause I think it also, I think about that in context of when people talk about brain drain. But no, my mindset was, I wanted to prove to myself that I could survive and be successful, outside the state. state. so I grew up German Baptist, which it’s like hoish people wheels, I call it. we would take a horse and buggy to church on
Joe Mills: Where were you from?
Toph Day: A little town called Buck Creek, about an hour north of Indianapolis.grew up on a farm. Yeah. Close to Lafayette. And, and so I just wanted to prove to myself that I could go make it out in the world. we would literally get on these school buses and we would go to these cities called Indianapolis in Chicago. And I remember in Indianapolis going to Con Prairie and I’d look out the window of the school bus and there are these pyramids, and I’m like, what are those things?
These, they look like office buildings and who works in there? in there? Oh my god,
Joe Mills: we used to work in there, .Yeah. and so you’re one of these people I’m gonna mention like those people must be brilliant, right? how do you get to working there like that?
Toph Day: That’s a big deal. And so when I’d go places. That’s what we did. Like a big deal for us was going to Merrillville Indiana to the mall and riding the excavators up and down like these moving stairs.holy cow, what’s that? or the, museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. and so I’m like, what’s out there and what’s beyond here? Like I, you know, we grew up without a TV and and without radio.and so I knew my friends wore these socks that had these gray and blue colors and stripes and they had, black in yellow, and they knew there wasjust somethingcalled the Steelers and something called Cowboys. Oh man. and I’m like, so I want the same color socks. But I didn’t understand that what really the NFL was. really,
Joe Mills: So you played football, but like you hadn’t really Yeah. You didn’t really know anything else about
Toph Day: Yeah. My friends talked about stuff, but I didn’t see it on tv. we’d go to the neighbors and watch like the Purdue basketball team play. Yeah. I remember that distinctly.
Or we’d go to the other neighbors and watch Disney movies on Sunday night. but that was kinda the exposure. Yeah. You know, [00:10:00] and my, and my, my parents were, they weren’t like, big into sports my dad was a farmer and he was an agronomist at Purdue, and that’s what he did.
he worked hard, worked like a dog. and my mom, we would trade milk and meat and stuff with other farmers and otherAmish folks, and we’d take stuff to the
produce, to the farmer’s market and sell it. And then she ended up being a librarian for a little while at the undergraduate library at Purdue.And, and so There wasn’t the engagement with the outside world at large, if that makes
Joe Mills: sense. And that left you like craving it, so you were like, I’m gonna go find that. I was curious. Yeah.
Toph Day: Yeah I would see this stuff and I’m like, that looks interesting. we worked on the farm. initially we had 200 head of hogs. I was still slapping hogs before school in the seventh grade. and then we got rid of the hogs and turned all the hog lots into garden. Okay. So we had some of the best. fruit and vegetables you could shake
a stickYeah, bet. It was, amazing.but you worked. Yeah. that’s what we did. We worked and we played basketball. My,
Joe Mills: my dad grew up on farm in Illinois and Yeah, Yeah, that was life like Talks about driving motorcycles to the care stuff around the farm five years old and Totally
Toph Day: I started driving tractors at seven.Yeah, when I started riding motorcycles, I couldn’t even touch the ground
That’s what he says. Yeah. Yes. Exactly the same thing man. he grew up on a small dairy farm in, a place called McNabb, Illinois. Probably about the size of Buck Creek. Yep. yeah, we didn’t even have a four-way stop sign.We had a three-way stop sign. We had a blacksmith when I grew up. he could fix your combineor your bicycle tire and everything in between.
Joe Mills: It That’s amazing. So remind me, cause I’m spacing right now. You graduated high school. Where was college? to Purdue.Purdue went Purdue. So didn’t go away at that point, but you knew I want to get out of the state and go explore. You mentioned at 15 I had an idea of what I wanted to get into. what was that thing?
Toph Day: so my, I guess I can insert my second job. My first job was detasseling corn.And I think life is funny. It’s like this ladder, right? It’s like you climb up a ladder and then you fall back to the bottom.Mm-hmm. ..It’s just
stair stepping effect, right? Of elementary to junior high to high school, to college, to first job, second job, whatever, promotion, et cetera. So my second job was, putting trash in a dumpster on a construction site.[00:12:00] and I was the best trasher putter in dumpster dude you’ve
Joe Mills: ever met. This is the sexiest job you can imagine. Oh my God,
Toph Day: I crushed it. And uh, literally, so on the first day I show up and I couldn’t drive yet. I was 15. And, so I think my mom dropped me off with the construction site and this guy, told me to go around the site and put trash in the dumpster, I’m like, okay. And he left.
And so that’s what I did. And I grew up on a farm. So we’re used to working, you don’t mess around. Like I didn’t even take breaks, so just let’s crank this out. And by about two, three o’clock I had that construction site all cleaned up. Dumpster was piled up, stuff falling off of it.
And I started another stack next to it, et cetera. And that guy came back around and he was driving a Bronco and had a bag phone, by the way. And I didn’t know what else to do, so I was going around the construction site asking other crews like, Hey, can I help do this, do that? And so the Mason said, yeah, you can be a hottie here, help carry mortar.
So I was carrying mortar back and forth with the masons and this guy drove up in his Bronco and he. Rolled down his window and he yells at me, Hey, what are you doing? And I’m like, I’m helping out the Masons here. But I start walking over to
his Bronco and he’s I told you to clean up the construction site. And where he pulled up to the whole construction site’s behind that building.And he says, get in. So I get in his Bronco, we drive around the other side of the construction site and he literally like, looks at the dumpster in the trash pile, looks at me and he’s get out, see you tomorrow, And, and it set off this incredible mentor relationship. his name was Jim Cochrane, Cochrane Builders in apartments up at Purdue
Joe Mills: University. I’ve seen that name. Yeah. Yeah.
Toph Day: just an incredible person. He had a major impact on my life, more of an impact than he ever knew. And, um, and, but I looked at him that literally that first day and I’m like, I wanna bethat guy.
And so he had a Bronco and a back phone. So I measured my success in the future by when I have a Bronco and a back phone, someday I’ll be successful. And so I decided at that moment in time that I wanted to own my own commercial general contracting company.
Joe Mills: Did it have anything to do with contracting or did it have anything to do with what Jim was doing?
Toph Day: doing? What Jim was doing. he was driving around a Bronco Yeah. And it had a cool stuff like that was cool stuff. And I’m like, hold, and this cool two-door like, just, yeah. old school Broncos. Old Bron. Yeah. So sexy. It was awesome. and as I noticed over the first couple weeks, like he’s
driving around and he can be in the office when he wants to be in the office and he can be on his construction sites when he wants to be. I’m like that’s the life right there now, years later I realized he wasn’t a journal contractor. he was a developer, that happened to self-perform his general construction.that’s a whole nother set of stories we can talk about later, but,
Joe Mills: I’m curious, you mentioned the mentoring relationship with Jim, so it starts You basically overperforming your job. In record time and then looking for more instead of, guess I’m done, I’ll sit on my phone and right. And that point you’re not walking around with an iPhone. But. what was that like? describe that mentoring relationship.
Toph Day: like at that point you’re a 15 year old helping him clean up a job site. I’m curious at what point it transitioned to, really learning anything YouI ever knew it was a mentor relationship. and I don’t think he ever thought of it as a mentee relationship. Yeah. I just observed, I just watched him a lot and how he interacted with, the contractors or the people in the office.
and for me it was more observing this person doing something that I had never seen before. it wasn’t like like Jim and I had necessarily these deep personal conversations. Yeah. it was more I observed how he lived life, right? And how he interacted with his wife, how he interacted with his Nephews, how he interacted with, the other contractor, the owners.I, I knew some of these people coming through were like the owners of that masonry company or,the drywall company or whatever it might be. and just the, The respect that he gave people, but he also expected excellence. he expected execution becausehe executed. And so he was always even Kell and very methodical. which tied into another thing I learned right outta college and one of the jobs I had early on. But these three words that I, that always hit hardit was managed by fact. And if you manage by fact you, it’s hard to get in
trouble. see, I gotta close the loop on it on Jim real quick.so I worked with him him when I was in school at Purdue. So I worked for him all through high school. and then I worked for him, while I was in the school year at Purdue in the summers I had a painting company I started, but I worked for him during the actual school year when I was on campus.
Toph Day: . And then after I graduated. Maybe I saw him. I feel like I’ve stopped by his office maybe once, Maybe in the first five years outta college. Just kinda say hi. I had not seen him probably since, let’s say early twenties for sure. So basically 30 years later, my sister’s a dentist in Lafayette.And and I don’t know if Jim and his wife Sheila, I don’t know if they’re patients or not at her
practice or not, but she sees them around town and this past fall, she surprised me and brought Jim and Sheila down to see me in Indianapolis for a Saturday afternooncookout.
Joe Mills: That’s awesome.
Toph Day: And tears were shed.It was awesome.it was just an amazing moment that this person, that 30 years later had not seen them, and was able to tell him, thank you.
Joe Mills: there must have been value in that relationship for him too, for it to matter, for him to come down 30 years later. there was clearly something that was Yeah. Happening there. I
Toph Day: think he might have been just happy that I actually worked Yeah I mean, like, there was another moment, I’ll never forget this with him. During the winter one year,
during winter break, all the students are gone and there was a deep freeze, like an ice storm. It was like crazy cold. And, there were a small crew of us, four or five people, and he told us to go around to every single unit in these apartment buildings and check ’em, open the cabinet doors and trickle the water a little bit. And so we each kind of had our block of buildings that we were doing right.
well, somebody didn’t do that. And lo and behold, some pipes froze and. he calls us all together in the hallway of this apartment building and he’s like, um, who, you know, just very matter of fact, who had unit blah, blah, blah.
and the one of the guys said, that was me. And he said, I’m gonna talk to you outside for a minute. And they walked outside and then
Jim walked back in alone and he is okay, next on the agenda is let’s do X right. And I’m like, whoa. it’s just back to execution, right? Yeah. Like, and
Joe Mills: it doesn’t have to be like in the middle of everybody, like Screaming at somebody. Yeah. Never, he
Toph Day: never raised his voice. Nothing at all. And dealt with that issue and onto the next thing. Yeah.
Joe Mills: it’s interesting when you come across those people who teach you like impactful things at that, like you really form, you’re very like moldable. 15 to 22. For sure.
Toph Day: I mean, the human brain doesn’t fully develop, or at least males I don’t think develops until what, 25
Joe Mills: ish? 26? Yeah. Something like that. And that’s what they think now. Ifor all we know, it could be . never. It could just be a ongoing thing, like We know frighteningly little about how our brain functions.Yeah. Um, so when you walked into school, you were like, I wanna be that guy. And so did you go in for construction?
Toph Day: great question. So my senior high school, I rushed, at iu, they, you can rush your senior high school for the Greek system and, or maybe it’s just the, um, Fiji’s down there. And, I loved it. It was like a full weekend, like a three day weekend of rushing and yeah. I’m sure that was fun for High Schooler . It was a blast. and so you stay in the house and Uhhuh, it’s just amazing.
And then you do all kinds of activities together and they’re watching you the whole time. And, it’s always, I always laugh. The only reason I got a bid is because I was on fire from behind a three point line that weekend at the Hyper, but got a bid and I was gonna go to move into the Fiji house at IU and go into the school of business. And, it was an all done deal set and I
was ready to roll. Literally about six weeks before school started, my mom said, Hey, did you know that there’s this major at Purdue? in construction management? And, she’s like,you might wanna check that out.
And so I did. I went onto campus and learned about it. I was like, one of the top programs in the country and I literally changed my mind to last second and went to Purdue. ****And you think about those choices in life, I don’t know, where would I be? We, we, we, you and I would not be sitting here today.
Joe Mills: Very different conversation. If we knew each other, the conversation would be very different. Yeah. Yeah.
Toph Day: knows what that life course looks like? And I just find life fascinating. Yeah. Everybody makes choices and those choices put you on a trajectory of whatever it might be,you make another choice.
Joe Mills: Did you agonize over that decision?
Toph Day: No.
Joe Mills: No. You just made it.
Toph Day: I’m like, what? And then I, so I went validated it and I’m like, why wouldn’t I go do that? If that’s what I wanna do, I think for the rest of my life, then why wouldn’t I go into this major?
Joe Mills: You just pulled all your stuff from IU and just pulled it and did it.
Toph Day: Yeah. so I worked during college. I paid a hundred percent my way through college from 18 on, I was a hundred percent self-sufficient.
Joe Mills: it sounds like you’ve worked since you were 15 I mean, do you know anything but working? really you were working on a farm, so you like life is just get up.what’s the thing I gotta do And then? I’m working in high school and I’m working in college and
Toph Day: I don’t think it would as work.
Joe Mills: That was where I was gonna ask you next.
Toph Day: Yeah. if we are doing something. that is just arduous and treacherous. then let’s just make a choice and change. I think if you’re doing things that you’re passionate about, then it’s like it’s not working do you feel like the arduous and TRE is a choice we make? Yeah. To see it that way? Yeah.
think it’s, I think of we can choose to be a victor or a victim. And it doesn’t mean everybody’s a ceo. Right. But there’s a, there’s a, a gentleman, his name was Stacy in the last,office I was in, This guy was amazing. He was the valet and every morning he loved his job and I love seeing him every day. and when I would pull in there to park,
he’s always greets you with a smile. And I don’t think he ever felt like he was working.
Joe Mills: he liked people. Yeah.
Toph Day: amazing guy. And he ended up retiring. I miss Stacy, right? I miss those interactions. So I just think, if you’re not happy with what you’re doing for your professional career or whatever it might be, go try something different.
Joe Mills: you mentioned I don’t really see it as work. I imagine there are times where like you’re tired and you’re wanna break. So it’s not that it’s always easy, it’s just. , it doesn’t feel like you’re, like, forcing yourself to do it. is that an accurate read?
Toph Day: Yeah, that’s accurate. so the life of an entrepreneur is manic. Mm-hmm. There’s, literally in the same day you might be up and down three or four times, right? Where you, conquer the world. What the hell? I get myself into conquer the world. Oh my God. this is all good on the tubes. And I think it’s just, that’s part of the natural ebbs and flows of like,
when you’re trying to build a brand and you’re trying to get customers and you’re probably trying to operate the thing too. trying to operate it.You’re taking out the trash, you’re making coffee. you’re doing everything. I remember one of the companies I started this year that was the first tech company So this is a broadband company, so cable, internet, telephony, and we sold into multi-family
And spent a year working on the business plan. like I didn’t even know how to program a VCR back the day.and we’re gonna go build these systems.Yeah. I grew up like Amish dude coming, right? German Baptist. Yes. You’re so deeply into telecom. and my friends make fun of me still to this day. Right. And, um, but I, but I love solvingMm-hmm. ,right?
I love providing service I generally want, people, to provide value and service that they. they appreciate, right? Mm-hmm. , ,that makes me feel good.
so anyway, being in the real estate world, I knew people that I could go get contracts with to deliver these broadband services.so I’d spent a year like working at night five to midnight, putting this plan together and it all culminated up into the day I was gonna jump off the cliff. And, I went met with a potential investor, the, so I had resigned and my last day was a Friday, and that Monday had meetings set up Ready roll.
Joe Mills: How, how old were you at this point? So
Toph Day: I was 27. and literally like a year long of blood, sweat and tears trying to build this thing, trying to understand it, meeting with installers, blah, blah, blah. And had an investor on the very first day. and literally inside of five minutes, I had my little PowerPoint deck. I was so proud. I think I still have it by the way. I looked at it like a year ago and I’m like, oh my God, so awful.
but on top of the world, I’m right? And is go time. And then this potential investor just lashes me, just dresses me down. Tells me I’m a loser, awful business. It’s never gonna be successful. And then I find out, he’s actually an investor in a competitor. Wow. and that was like one on one on multiple levels. do your diligence, like to myself, I’m saying
Joe Mills: yeah, Do your diligence.
Toph Day: should have known that , he’s an investor in a competitor. And, the beer just excited. Right. You’re like, oh, I got a pencil investor. This is a thing. Exactly.
Joe Mills: I I can do it. And, so I’m on top of the world going to that meeting and I I really, I have high respect for this person.
Toph Day: they’re a baller. And,I leave that, I literally just go back to my, I think I had a condo at the time, and I’m like, what in the hell are you doing? you literally think you’re gonna start a broadband company.,like maybe you don’t know what you’re [00:24:00] doing. And I like, I don’t know, I feel like I may have even cried myself to sleep that night. Like, what did you do?
Joe Mills: Well,you already resigned from your job, right? Yeah. So you’re wondering like, how am I gonna, Pay bills.
Toph Day: How I paid bills. I had jumped off the cliff with no parachute and,were you married at the time? Nope. and, in single on purpose. And I always had a little personal thing with myself like, until you’re 30.
Joe Mills: Okay. go out and try this stuff. Cause if I screw up, I can only
Toph Day: mess can only screw up Myself. Yeah. myself. And then, uh, so that, I mean, I went to bed that night literally like, what, what am I gonna do to
Joe Mills: And the contrast between you woke up that morning to when you go to bed is Yeah.
Toph Day: And I woke up. That’s crazy. I woke up the next morning and I’m in the shower and I thought, you know what,
I’m just gonna go take all their customers. And it took two years and I did SoI,
Joe Mills: I’m curious, you mentioned, um, you, you mentioned the coach who put his arm around you and said, Hey, I, I believe in you.And you’ve mentioned
Jim, who obviously continued employment for high school and college shows like belief, and you guys had a great relationship when you were taking that leap to entrepreneurship, did you have somebody show up in that moment? that was like, I believe in you, you can do it? it. Yeah, totally.
Toph Day: So what’s wild is these relationships have very distinct connectivity points. so the way I got through college, I had a painting company.Yep.I had 14 employees in college and did that during the summers and at the peak were painting two houses a day,blah, blah, blah. One of my fraternity brothers who went on to be Partner in four different businesses Awesome. introduced me to a family friend that was a real estate agent, and she’s a wonderful lady. And I painted a lot of her rental properties. Mm-hmm. and I actually showed up and I said I would, I actually
Joe Mills: did job trapped
Toph Day: painted and cleaned up and finished the punch list and just did the job. Yeah. Finished and was not a headache for her. So that’s in college. So literally I’m 27 years old now, so that’s what sits six, seven years later. she called up and said, Hey, I heard you’re back in town. I heard that you and Todd are are looking at starting a business. Um, I’d like to talk to you about it and.
So we go to lunch and I tell her about it, and she’s like, well, you know who my boyfriend is, don’t you? And I’m like, no. and she said, he’s the, this is called National City Bank back at time. He’s the president of the Indiana National City Bank Group. And, I think he’d like you. I think he’d like your story and you should go talk to him.
And short story is, national City approved a hundred thousand dollars loan for me to start that business. And now that would never happen today. just different requirements for Yeah, like proof of it’s just too early. It’s an airball. Right. that normally comes from a VC or something like that. Yeah. yeah.
Toph Day: Your friends
and family. Yeah. angels, whatever. but we always did what we said we were gonna do.We showed up and all that kind of fun stuff. but if I had never started that painting company and if I hadn’t changed my mind to go to Purdue versus IU and I hadn’t joined Sigma New, I never would’ve met my buddy Todd ridden. We never would’ve had four businesses together. I never would’ve met his family and met that family
friend who was a real estate agent who went on to have a boyfriend that ran a national city bank for Indiana.And this, all the trees are unbelievable. Yeah. there’s very specific points over a time span of 10 years that I never planned on. Yeah. That just kinda happened.
and so that’s one thing I talk about, like what are we all doing today like when you get up in the Morning and you look in the mirror, are you proud of what you’re doing and the interactions you’re having?and again, not everybody’s perfect. We all make mistakes. but if you consciously can think, let’s make choices and decisions that are gonna improve other people’s lives, and I think it’s karma where you are all of a sudden you’re like, oh my gosh, I can’t believe that just happened. How’d that happen? it, it’s
Joe Mills: it’s interesting
let’s just walk through that chain real quick. If you get introduced to this family friend who’s a real estate agent and she trusts you with her rental properties And you or your team show up and do a. A. like almost expected job. Oh, they love trash. Uh, it’s kind of messy. Oh, there’s the job’s a a five out of 10. She’s not willing to stick her neck out No way. And introduce you to her boyfriend who was president of National City Bank.
Toph Day: Yeah. No
Joe Mills: No way. She would. No way. No And it’s like, you would never know in that moment where you’re you’re running a painting company, probably not because you [00:28:00] wanted to grow a huge painting company probably cuz you were like, I need to make money for college.
That’s, and this is a good way to do it. It means to an end means to an end . But if you don’t show up with this is what I’m doing right now, which means I need to do it as well as I can. 10 years down the line, you don’t have that opportunity. And you never know where they’re gonna come from.That’s right. It,
Toph Day: and I’ve actually thought about writing a book just about this because I think humans just have assumptions. Like they look at people and just have assumptions that, that person’s doing that. So that was all kind of handed to ’em. or we read a headline, in the paper about some company, you know, was acquired by somebody and you’re like, oh my God, that person’s so brilliant. And that happened overnight in a year. It’s just
Joe Mills: yeah, simple. overnight, success with two dec, two decades of work before it. Exactly. And,
Toph Day: and you never see, like the sports figures, right? You hear stories about Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, or, athletes of all sorts. you don’t see them practicing. You just watch ’em on game. game time. Yeah. Game day. You don’t see all the blood, the sweat, the tears, the pain, the injuries, the recovery, you know, all the stuff.And that’s the same thing in the, in this business is no different, right? Yeah. it, there’s always a backstory of blood, sweat, tears, pain, failure, perseverance. Mm-hmm. , Mm-hmm. ,right. Try it again,
pivot whatever it is, right? That is a part of story that we never feel or see or experience when we’re observing this that’s separate from us. And so naturally a human goes, whoa is me. Cuz all of our experiences are unique versus one another. And so by human nature,my
experience is that we’re negative.We’re always worse than yours. , that’s just kinda the human,you’re the star of the show. In your own head. Yeah. In your own head, right? And what’s your favorite word in the world? It’s your name, right? It’s your first name. It’s just human nature. And so we just forget to kinda stop and pause for a moment and be like, you know what? I still meet with a group of CEOs every month.
I call it therapy. and it’s all the stuff you don’t talk about at cocktail parties.And, uh, it’s amazing. and it’s personal family business. And you talk about the 5% extremes on either end, good or bad. And, when you really start to open up and you have folks around you that you can trust, like genuinely trust, there’s no written confidentiality agreement, but there’s a handshake that this is confidential and you’re like, we’re not talking about this stuff.
And you realize, oh my gosh, I’m not alone.and the negative experience that I have versus what you have versus another person, they’re not the same. They’re different sets of circumstances. And, but again, either if I’ve experienced the same things you have, then I can sympathize. If I haven’t, then I can empathize, right? And so a lot of situations, man, if we could just have a little bit more empathy with each. just a little bit, just one degree, 1% more of empathy with each other. Can you imagine the trickle down of that? It’d be amazing. it’s interesting off offline sometime.
I was talking to Reid recently that like, one of the things that I feel a lot of purpose around is intentionally trying to buck, the assumptions, like both stop myself from making them and then be an example of not being one myself. Yeah. that just natural to you? did you like practice your way into doing that where you just give people the benefit of the doubt I think probably, I don’t think I u I really honestly started to think that way until probably about halfway through my entrepreneurial journey.
Toph Day: So I would guess I was probably in my mid thirties late. So let’s say the last. 10, 15 years.
Joe Mills: Was there anything specific or was just like being an entrepreneur is a lot of life fast Yeah. Like, or was there something that happened that, that triggered it for you?
Toph Day: I think a lot of things that happened, um, it may have been part of what started that was there’s a 10 year cycle from 27 to 37 where I’d done four businesses, four verticals in 10 years. And then I also was in these groups that meet once a month and talk about some really heavy stuff. .And
I think it was probably that kind of timeframe in, you know, developing a ton different relationships. And a lot of times by happenstance I knew both sides of a story. Mm. Just cuz of knowing people in the community and each person in their own right. a.Some validity to
their viewpoint. Yeah. and if you just back that manage by fact, like if you just kinda lay out the facts, you could look at those through two vantage points. And so there’s somewhere in the middle. And not that either person’s bad or wrong or good,
Joe Mills: good, or there’s like probably truth everywhere.
Toph Day: kind of truth everywhere.Yeah.And it’s like circumstances are good or bad for one or the other in their minds and, and it’s just like, you know, kinda like, eh, actually it just didn’t work out. Yeah. You know, just didn’t work out for whatever reasons. Um, or somebody changed their mind and, and
and maybe they were too nervous to say they changed their mind and because they didn’t,this is a good, you’re making me think about some interesting things here, but I think it’s through all those experiences, but there’s this, this word called conflict and I think human nature. Doesn’t like conflict. You wanna avoid conflict and it’s human nature to feed into drama cuz maybe somehow it makes you feel better that like you’re somehow on this high road and others are on this low road. Yeah.
it makes you a little bit hol than now. and I think the, by trying to avoid conflict makes things worse.but I actually don’t even think it’s conflict. It’s just back to communication and and can you just say, you know what, objectively I’ll take that at face value right Now if you do the same thing over 50 times and maybe you don’t take it face value anymore. sure.
you know what, I won’t take that at face value. but I think people are afraid to approach people with news that’s different than what they know they’re thinking or expecting
Joe Mills: story that they that they have. Yeah. The story that they have.
Toph Day: Yep. And, Man, I just, if you just come out right and say, I, I screwed up, I’m sorry. Then someone can choose to take that and move forward or not, and it’s okay if they don’t too. but like, I, I think back to, you know, that, that broadband company, I made $130,000 mistake in the first 30 days. and I immediately went to the investors and said,I screwed up
And they said, okay, great. How are you gonna fix it? And I’m like, this is how I’m gonna fix it. And of course, I had a solution. I didn’t just go to the pro right with the problem. I had a solution in mind. Yeah. how I’m gonna work through this. but yeah, I think I just encouraging people to communicate nothing’s ever as bad as it may seem. and
if you need to deliver bad news, there’s no harm in writing down the bullet points. So you can just talk through them methodically. Cuz in the moment, emotions bubble up and to different levels with different people. And so write the bullet points down so you can walk through. And it might, by the way, it might take you, the, I do this all the time, right? I’ll sleep on it and I might rewrite those thoughts 20 times. but have that laid out so that you can get the message across that you’re trying to deliver
Mm-hmm. instead of instead of in the moment, getting lost in the emotions. Getting lost in the emotions. and then now the facts are out.And now you either deal with them, with that group or team or one-on-one or whatever, or not. , right? and the or not doesn’t mean you have to like part enemies.
You can still part in friendship and just say, you know what, this isn’t working out. and let’s move on. So you went through, how many businesses did you own before you launched Elevate? I think
Joe Mills: ish. ish. Man. It’s.a lot.
Toph Day: Yeah, totally. By accident. I didn’t plan on doing that. It was one opportunity that led to another, but it was, let’s see if I can remember ’em all. So broadband, automated meter reading, billing software, did some commercial development, bottled water investment banking, a.com with pets, um, family entertainment, um, marketing, And then elevate. what made you want to do elevate
the ability to make a massive impact on the state. I started to get really passionate about Indiana and what’s going on here. and so, you know, when I would go meet with VCs in San Francisco and they didn’t know that. That. you
know, you know, arguably the, the. The. the world’s most successful SaaS companies of all time, Salesforce at the time had their second largest physical presence right here in Indianapolis.Mm-hmm. ,They, they don’t know that Indiana is the number one exporter of pharma. They don’t know that Warsaw is the orthopedic capital world that contributes 50%
Of of the US gdp. For Orthopedics It’s that high. 50%. That’s insanity. It is insane. And so I became more and more passionate about this and kind of back to that, that like this deep seated like desire to serve, um, and add value on, on more of a macro level. Level, It just burning deeper and deeper and deeper. And,
Um, and so I started to formulate a thesis in my mind, about the state of Indiana. And the initial thesis was slightly different. Um, but I’ll give you the, the present day way I think about it. about it is, uh, so I read lots of stuff, right? I right? I don’t read a lot of books, but I read a lot of stuff, you know, from other publications of some sort or another. And I came across,
Two economists, Brett Swanson, and I think it’s Michael Miller. Uh, and there’s lots of folks, economists that have written about this concept called the productivity Boom.
Joe Mills: Boom.
Toph Day: And so there’s this concept of the productivity boom. And I kind of just, I kind of boil it down to several kind of high level things. So the, the productivity boom is basically about the disruption of data and technology with all all industries. and it’s believed that this, the epicenter of this productivity boom is going to occur in the middle quarter of the United States.
Joe Mills: It’s believed it’s going to occur in the middle quarter of the United States because of the proximity of industries with one another.including old line industries, right. Like, you know, manufacturing or making stuff natural, not resources, making
Toph Day: Right. It’s coming back. Yeah. It’s the thing. It’s, it’s cool again, right? Yeah. And it’s exciting so the proximity of industries with one another and cost structure. So if all of that’s true, which of course I, I do believe it’s true, then there is no doubt in my mind hands down that Indiana has the opportunity to be the innovation capital world, period.Full stop in 50 years. I have to do a quick segue. One of my favorite visions of all time is Toyota and, and I think it was 1969 and it, and it was just world domination.
Joe Mills: That’s it. That’s it. Amazing. What about cars? I love that
Toph Day: world domination, and so, so, um, so elevate. So our vision is for Indiana to be the innovation capital world. And, we think about everything through three three main components, three legs of the stool, community capital, and acceleration. so one of the big next things is, people here in Indiana, they don’t mess around. We might be humble, but people just don’t tell their stories.
And so we are launching the world’s largest cross-sector innovation conference, and it’s gonna be called Rally. And the first year will be here in late August 29th and 31st. We’re expecting over 5,000 people. We’re gonna have five innovation studio tracks. technically six. but, the first five will be software, hard tech, sports tech, healthcare, and food and ag. the sixth one is gonna be just entrepreneurship. That’s for kind of catchall that we can’t get to in year one. , those first five innovation studio tracks. We’re gonna have a 5 million pitch competition. So a $1 million winner for each of the first five tracks. and there’s precedents out there for this, but if you win, everybody knows [00:39:00] you are gonna move to Indiana for at least a year, and
We are gonna shower you with love. We’re
Joe Mills: St. Elmo’s every week.
Toph Day: Free Shrimp Cocktail shrimp cocktail. and there’s gonna be a 5 million pitch competition. we have, over 200 speakers that we’re gonna be having. There’s almost a hundred content tracks.out and hired the event producer for South By, that runs the content and the pitch competition there.And we want this to grow to be over a hundred thousand people in five years. we want to eventually create, the first few years will be really dense. You wanna keep it really tight, keep the energy high. But we want want to engage music in the arts and those types of things as well. but so we’re, that’s, it’s a major initiative
and, our friends at I E D C, the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, they got it right away when I pitched the idea, it literally took three minutes and they’re like, yep, let’s do it. Let’s make it happen. And as I went around to leaders, in these d these disparate organizations, cause the whole idea here is to create authentic collisions of opportunity. And that happens cross sector, disparate stakeholder. and everybody’s
like, yeah, let’s do this. What can I do to help? Whether it’s just promoting, whether it’s sponsorship, whether it’s putting together speaker panels,
which by the way, those speaker panels are not just Indiana centric, right? they’re people that, are coming from all walks of life throughout the country. and I think we’re even gonna have some global speakers here in year one. so that’s one big
Joe Mills: Yeah. That’s awesome, man. where can people find out how to get involved? Where can they go?
Toph Day: Yeah, so go to rally innovation.com. So it’s a rally innovation.com. And, you’ll see, portals on there to enter for whether you wanna submit a speaker, panel, if you want to apply, for the pitch competition in one of those five tracks. if if you want to, be a sponsor of some sort or another, or if you wanna buy a ticket. And, I think I’m a hundred percent confident that if people hear this, when this comes out, if they hear this within the first probably 15 to 30 days, they’ll still be early bird tickets available, and you can buy your ticket on on that site as well.
Joe Mills: Awesome, Toph, awesome conversation.
I love your energy around,this thing you were just talking about being the innovation capital and, like you can feel it from you when you talk about how exciting it is for you. And, I would love to get to a point where it’s it’s like, Instead of, it’s like Indiana. It’s like Indiana, And the difference in those two ways of saying the state. so I appreciate what you’re working on and thank you for all the stories and sharing with us.
Toph Day: Absolutely. I had a blast. Joe, Thank you very much.
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