What does it mean to have a mentor? It means having someone to confide in who will give you candid advice. It means having someone to rely on when the chips are down. So how do you go about finding a mentor? According to Jeff Kohl, mentorship often starts off as a friendship and is a key to succeeding in entrepreneurship. Jeff Kohl is the founder and owner of OC Restoration. This company specializes in water and fire home restoration, mold remediation, and home maintenance and reconstruction. His journey into the home restoration industry is filled with various turns, including an unexpected dip into MMA and traveling the country to train NFL athletes, but his success comes from the help he received along the way.
Jeff Kohl, Owner of OC Restoration
As a kid, Jeff Kohl grew up working with his father who always spent his time in the garage. His father was a Local Union 597 pipefitter for over 30 years and amazed Jeff with his ability to fix anything and everything. Jeff also looked up to his brother who was a master athlete and inspired him to pursue a career in football. By observing his brother, Jeff learned what it meant to make sacrifices to compete in the athletic world, such as getting up to train at 6am every morning. Unfortunately, injuries kept Jeff from pursuing athleticism, but ultimately, his training at Xtreme Speed shaped how he succeeded in the future.
What inspired you to launch OC Restoration?
In 2012, I started a property management company where we were cutting grass, doing construction checks, and utility turn ons. I saw all different aspects of construction, but the most interesting thing to me was the restoration. We went into these homes that were flooded, burned down, or had mushrooms growing and mold. People are disheveled when these things happen to them, so when you’re able to fix that problem and make someone happy, that’s my high. It’s the same as when you have the opportunity to give back to the local community and help out. There’s no other feeling quite like it.
When you were growing up, did you ever think you would one day run your own business or were you always more attracted to sports?
At eight years old, I was cutting grass for my neighbors, plowing snow, and doing handyman work. My love for doing these odd jobs progressed as I got older. I always knew I wanted to run a construction business and I guess that stemmed from the time I spent working with my dad. I love building things and seeing them come to fruition. I would have loved to play sports professionally, but as I grew older I realized that wasn’t in the cards for me.
When you began training in high school to play football, you had a lot to juggle. Who were some of the people that helped you along the way?
I had a high school liaison officer named Detective Jeffrey Kneller who is like my second father. He would take me to lunch every Friday before football games and teachers hated that he pulled me out of class. I was friends with all my teachers, but school just wasn’t for me. So I resolved to graduate early and go to a junior college to play spring football. If I wanted to accomplish this, I needed to take a homeschooling English course. One of my fellow students, Autumn, was an athletic trainer and one of the nicest and smartest people I knew. She tutored me twice a week for 6-8 weeks and helped me write the papers I needed to graduate.
(Above from left) Jeffrey Kneller and Jeff Kohl.
What can you tell us about your time training at Xtreme Speed?
Growing up I always went to different kinds of training facilities to get faster and stronger. After my brother graduated, he told me he found the best training facility imaginable. Xtreme Speed is a facility where you learn the proper techniques on running, lifting, and training for specific sports. But most of all, it was a mental aspect. How far can you push your body before it quit? This is a place where you couldn’t just go exercise. If you didn’t work hard enough, then this place wasn’t for you. Everyone who went there was making sacrifices. That’s really what set me apart from everyone else, whether it was in sports or in life now. It’s how far I’m willing to push myself and Xtreme Speed taught me to go further than everyone else.
What role did Kevin Kasper play in your life?
At the time I began training, Kevin Kasper’s wife Lisa was the owner of Xtreme Speed. He played in the NFL and I have never met a single person in my life who has worked harder than him as far as pushing themselves and knowing their limits. Everyone who trained at Xtreme Speed can attest to this. When Kevin was in high school, he couldn’t get a D2 scholarship even though he was setting records. Whatever the case may be, colleges didn’t want him until Iowa offered him to be a preferred walk-on. By the end of his time there, he was breaking records, had a full scholarship, and was then drafted into the NFL. Seeing that inspired me because I was never the fastest or strongest among my peers, so Kevin made me feel like I could accomplish what I set out to do.
What was your time like as co-owner of Xtreme Speed?
Years after I trained at Xtreme Speed, I became a trainer myself and met a guy named Joel Kirstein who is one of my mentors today. He noticed my strong work ethic and introduced me to a hedge fund that needed a project manager. From that job, I was able to successfully start one of my own businesses. He also introduced me to one of my closest friends and mentors today, Mike Brenczewski. The business at Xtreme Speed was growing and Kevin’s wife, Lisa, called me and asked for help. So I went in, bought new equipment, and changed some things around and that’s how I became a co-owner at Xtreme Speed.
There are some current players in the NFL right now that I actually trained when I was a co-owner. Clay Harbor, Brandon Williams, and Patrick Schiller are three of my closest friends and they played important roles in my life and my family’s life. I would train them, they would take me on trips with them, and we’d train with other guys around the country. Patrick Schiller was also my business partner in our property management company.
(Above from left) Kevin Kasper, Clay Harbor, Patrick Schiller, and Jeff Kohl.
You’ve also done a couple MMA fights in your life. What inspired you to step into the ring?
I started MMA fighting because I was sponsoring some athletes in the UFC and I told my then business partner that I would never ask someone to do something I wouldn’t do myself. So, if I’m asking someone to rep our gear in the ring, I will too. I trained for my first fight when I was 18 and then about 4 or 5 months later I had my second fight. I had been training for sports my entire life, but the first time I stepped into a ring…I never experienced an adrenaline rush like that before. I wouldn’t change that experience, but I also wouldn’t do it again.
How does Mike Brenczewski help you as a mentor today?
I ask him how he deals with things in the world, whether it’s politics, family, or business. He introduced me into his network which, to get into someone’s network, is a hard thing to do. Most people don’t like to share their network because that is how they generate business. Now I talk to them daily and they have become my family. I am where I’m at because of my network. I didn’t get here because I got lucky. I got where I’m at because people gave me opportunities and I worked hard, but I got those networks and opportunities because they believed in me and trusted me.
What would you say has contributed to your success the most?
Number one is who you surround yourself with. Number two is having a network. Your network is the people who will promote you because they like you and know you do a good job. They help you get better, but you also help them. To be successful you have to make sacrifices, whether it’s doing a job for free to help someone out, staying up late, waking up early, or not buying that sports car because you have to put that money into a piece of machinery. Having a network is one of the most important things when starting a business. You need people who will have your back. If you don’t have someone pushing you up that hill, it’s going to be a hell of a lot harder. Having a solid support system is also important. My wife at home is my foundation. She takes care of the children and anything that needs to be done. Without her, most of this wouldn’t be possible.
(Above) Jeff Kohl proposing to his wife.
How do you build a network from the ground up?
You have to be willing to talk to everybody. Everybody has an important role in life. You have millionaires that wear suits every day and guys who wear overalls. When something breaks in that millionaire’s house, he’s calling the guy in the overalls. If you have someone for everything in your network, you become their go-to guy and you become an important part of their life. It’s called providing value. Everyone thinks you have to work on both your strengths and weaknesses, but in reality you should build your strength and find someone else who’s good at your weakness. And that’s where your network comes in handy. You have to be willing to ask for help to advance in life.
How can someone go about finding a mentor?
Just because someone is your mentor, doesn’t mean you can’t be theirs. Because they are strong in certain areas that you are not, they can mentor you in that, but maybe you’re their mentor in something else. It doesn’t have to be an older person. I have people that are younger than me that I look up to. It all starts as a friendship. You ask for advice and if they’re willing to help you, that gives them the mentor badge. If you’re not friends with your mentor, how can you be true and honest? It’s a friendship, it’s a family thing. It’s someone you can talk to when things are bad and that mentor will introduce you to other mentors for different aspects of life.
One last piece of advice for entrepreneurs?
Always be nice to everyone. I’ve experienced this numerous times where I knew someone from years ago, never spoke to them, but eventually I needed their help. If I was mean or rude to them they may not have helped me in those situations. Always be willing to help people, never look down on someone, and be respectful.
This article originally published on GREY Journal.