Scott Gerber is a syndicated columnist (WSJ, Entrepreneur, Inc.), a serial entrepreneur, author of Never Get a "Real" Job: How to Dump Your Boss, Build a Business and Not Go Broke, and founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council, an advocacy group made up of many of the world’s top young entrepreneurs that works to help young people overcome the devastating effects of youth unemployment and underemployment by teaching them how to build businesses.
He is the founder and CEO of Gerber Enterprises, an entrepreneurial incubator and venture management company that invests capital, management expertise, and marketing services into innovative early and mid-stage companies.
You can listen to our conversation here.
Scott. Welcome to the show!
Thanks for having me.
Let's talk about your book: Never Get a Real Job: How to Dump Your Boss, Build a Business and Not Go Broke. You have a list of testimonials for the book from the likes of Pam Slim, Chris Guillebeau...and me. Great book.
Why now? What inspired you to write it now?
It’s very interesting, Zane. Right now, this book while it has universal content for small business owners, it’s really geared towards young entrepreneurs.
The story goes, basically, that I had been writing a column for Entrepreneur, Inc., and the Wall Street Journal for a number of years. And I’d been getting tons of emails from around the world just basically asking how did you do that and how did you this? I basically, decided to write the book.
Really, what I thought was
"Why now? Exactly. Youth unemployment is a disaster. And because we’re in a paradigm shift that will never allow millenial generation to experience life the same way Gen-Xers and Boomers have experienced it before. It’s just a simple fact. There are fewer jobs, there are fewer industries, because there is more outsourcing, more globalization, more educational systems graduating more students into the working ranks. "
And, so, the reality is for so many young people they need an alternative. They needed to see someone, not 30 years their elder, but rather 2 years their elder or 3 years their elder or in some cases their younger peers who are out there doing this not because it’s a renegade’s choice but because it’s a viable career path.
In writing Never Get a Real Job I wanted to say:
“Listen. This is something that for literally for 20% of you this should become a reality.”
Unemployment is that high. Stats show this year for 2010 only 25% of college grads had jobs upon graduation.
This is the reality. And this is why I wrote the book to help my generation from within, learn how they can take the next step forward in their career on their own time and on their own dime.
Erika Andersen coined a phrase, reasonable aspiration or hoped-for future, in her book Being Strategic. What was your reasonable aspiration or hoped-for future with writing this great book?
I think the main thing is more young entrepreneurs will jump into the entrepreneurial ranks because they will see that it is not all the hype that people think it is. It’s start a small business like junk removal. Do something that is going to take your future into your own hands. My hope for the future is that we really do fill the hype that is surrounding Gen-Y. That is that “We are the most entrepreneurial generation in history.”
The question is though, if we don’t en masse start to move on that career path, become as entrepreneurial as we can, we really face becoming the lost generation. So, I think there’s something to be said hopefully for the young people trying to educate other young people from within.
But the real goal here is to try to tell young people:
"You’ve had it too good for too long. You’re entitled; you’re spoiled. You were told incorrectly, you were taught to be an employee and all that’s been tossed on its head. Now you have to create a world in which you need to create a job in order to keep a job."
Hopefully, this reality, this sorta gut check, and many others like it are going to help fill that need.
Awesome. As I tend to do on this show, when guests start sharing great points, I tend to start scribbling. And I’ve been scribbling furiously since you started answering these questions.
Now, good entrepreneur's have a love, hate relationship with data. Sometimes their vision outstrips the data, or the data lags a bit. On the other hand, data does measure their progress and confirm their dreams and ideas. So, what data do you use to measure your progress?
Well, I think that what came from the book, and just to back up for a second, was that as I was writing it and had been a columnist for many years, I realized really quickly when writing the book that I am obviously not even close to the most successful nor even the only voice out there for the millennial generation trying to pitch entrepreneurship.
So, I wanted to get all these young people and all these top captains from industry, from all these sectors and verticals, to come and really educate with again this peer-to-peer education about how we can become entrepreneurial.
So, I got together the top young people and created the Young Entrepreneur Council.
The metrics are based on all the metrics you would expect. Like how many emails we’re getting each week, now we’re getting thousands. With Never Get a Real Job, if you want to look at this as a country, the book has sold consistently, several thousands of copies since it came out.
It’s all based on data and metrics and that sense.
But, truly, I believe that just in looking at the mass media, myself and the council and the book have been featured in everything from the cover of the NY Times to soon we’re going to be on CBS Evening News with Katie Couric. Hundreds of media requests over the past few months. You see this is a hot topic. This is a hot issue.
Getting America back to work is a priority. And getting young people back to work who are highly educated to basically validate their education by being productive members of society and the re-development of our country is a major priority.
And I think that these kinds of things are helping to spearhead the movement and spearhead the thought on how to do those things.
How can we move ourselves forward? Create a job to keep a job mindset. And move away from you know, that whole old world mindset that said work hard, study hard and get a good job.
And, I think now, seeing how many people are frankly pissed off at how they ended up and now they’re seeing this as a viable career track, then I think we’re starting to see this as a big trend not just in the mass media but also on the ground as well.
You cover a lot of material in a few short sentences. We’re going to get to a lot of that.
Let's talk about your Young Entrepreneur's Council. When did you start it? How many members do you have now?
Sure. We launched it in October. Basically, the way it started was I writing the book and thought:
“Wow! I really want to get other some young people.”
I started with 10 people. 10 became 20. 30 became 50. Publicly now we have 150. By the time we launch our new website, Young Entrepreneur Council, which will be the world’s largest peer-to-peer entrepreneurship education resource at the end of May, we’ll have close to 500.
These are all highly vetted, highly successful people. We have people like Aaron Patser who sold his company Mint.com who sold his company for $176 million. Or people like Scott Backer who sold his company to Google. We also have people who are currently in business like my friends, Nick and Omar, who run a company called College Hunks Hauling Junk which is the most unsexy business in the world. But they turned it sexy with branding and marketing and now makes millions of dollars and is the largest franchiser of junk hauling business.
We have women. We have minorities. We soon will launch a military division. And we’re launching a mentor’s council. That takes the top CEOs in the country that are 36 and older that want to give back to this generation.
So, the whole mission at the end of the day is how do we take the best of the best, the cream of the crop of the entrepreneurial world, especially from Gen-Y and help them re-educate and retrain, especially about how people think about how their careers can be restructured. What businesses can they start? How to do it on a shoe-string. All these different issues. But coming from the people who have done it and not 30 years ago but 3 years ago...or basically 2 years older than our current demo. That’s the goal. Training from within.
And additional to that, we’ll also we’ll be tackling some of the toughest issues that face young entrepreneurs like...healthcare like a variety of different services that are priced out like micro-financing. Money is just so tight, so we’re trying to work on issues like that.
We’re working on creating a tangible support mechanism so young people can go and really start a business and have the resources to do it.
Beautiful, beautiful. I love all that. Now, as you’re describing all the goals and all that’s, I’m looking at 3 examples you gave: College Hunks Hauling Junk. Scott Backer. The guy who sold his company for $176 million. What’s in it for them? Why should they care about the Young Entrepreneur Council? They’ve already accomplished it. Why should they join?
Absolutely. You know, on a personal level, our media we create...we answer questions. You can go to Young Entrepreneur Council and ask your business questions to the council. And we then take those questions, answer them, syndicate those questions and answers to the world’s media. Everybody fro the Journal to Entrepreneur to a variety of others Mashable, Huffington Post, a variety of others. So, there’s a tremendous amount of exposure for these business owners.
But, the real reason we all do it, to be very honest with you is that we have been fortunate. We have been folks who still slog it out today. Even those who’ve made millions of dollars, while the level of comfort has changed, there’s still the bug. You still have to go out and create a business and be successful and make something else. We’re not creatures meant to do nothing.
And a lot of these young people have been effected personally. Some young people couldn’t get a job so they had to create one. There’s a sense of nostalgia.
I think at the end of the day, I can’t speak for all generations... but for Gen-y I really do believe that there’s a camaraderie a sense of community that doesn’t exist necessarily in the other generations. Where we truly do where we have the capability to help others, do want to help others. Specifically, in business.
I don’t mean that other generations don’t volunteer or don’t give back. But I mean currently there is a community unlike anything else where people genuinely want to partner more and want to work with others more. There’s not a lone-wolf mentality; there’s a partner mentality.
I think a lot of that, especially when it comes to giving back, is a big part of this. In creating a community that didn’t exist before then other opportunities will eventually exist, whether that’s finding the next great ideas for business or finding the next great partnership.
So, really, I see a lot of reasons why young people are doing it. At the end of the day while there’s great media exposure and long-term goals it really is just a good will feeling of I’m helping young people today overcome a tremendous difficulty in their lives, whether it’s unemployment or under-employment. And, I’m creating some level of positive value that maybe will help us as a whole. That’s really the goal.
That’s fantastic. Being a Boomer, I tend to bristle a little bit when people say we’re not caring, sharing and being involved in community efforts. On the other hand, it’s a valid point as we grew up in a competitive world with us first and then we’ll take care of everybody else.
We grew up in the soccer mom mentality. Everybody’s on a team; everybody’s a winner. Which has screwed us, mind you. In many ways, and going back to what I said earlier, we’re the most spoiled entitled generation in history. And I say it started with our parents treating us like we had to put us on a pedestal because we’re special in every way and one day we’re going to cure cancer while climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.
The problem is that at a certain age where we should have bought that line hook, line and sinker anymore, we went from victims to accomplices. And that’s when all of a sudden we started saying:
“Well, we are great. I am special. I don’t need to work hard. I can work hard in just doing school work and I’m guaranteed success because I’m a winner.”
That’s a problem with this generation. We have a lot of great qualities. We’re a close community because of the team spirit, because of the ways we were brought up. And unfortunately there’s a negative impact from that as well.
Now, among your members on the Young Entrepreneur Council, what’s your favorite story of success? What’s the story that really inspired you and said I’m on the right path here.
It’s funny. You just have so many of them. From someone that didn’t have 2 dimes to rub together to creating millions of dollars with really hard work and many years.
My favorite, well I shouldn’t say favorite as they’re all my favorite, but the one who has inspired me the most is Ryan Allis. Ryan is the CEO of a company called iContact which has just raised another $50 million and is valued at $100 million. And he’s a young 20-something. He built that company from the ground up with his partners. And he’s basically lived the life, where most people will never understand what it takes to build a $100 million company from nothing, from a dorm room or a couch. That’s exactly how this guy did this over the past 10 years.
What I respect the most about Ryan is that at the end of the day, after everything, and this goes back to what we were talking about before with giving back...this guy doesn’t need to do anything. He could just get bought out of his company, make a lot of money and retire and never do another thing again. But he’s gone and funded projects in Africa to try to create not just non-profit efforts but venture backed efforts to try and create sustainable economic development there.
He’s taken iContact into B corporation status which gives a percentage of revenues and gives them towards, guaranteed, to certain community and non-profit efforts.
These are the sorts of things that makes a true leader.
You know it’s great to be a millionaire. Wonderful! But, money can’t buy everything and that’s an old saying. But when you look at these young people and how they truly do want to give back in their own way, Ryan is but one inspiring example and there are many others doing just that.
That’s fantastic. That’s a great story.
What are three common lessons young entrepreneurs learn in their journey to success?
You know there are many, many, lessons. If I had to sum up what lessons are most important I’d have to say Number One is Don’t reinvent the wheel, because you’ll be doomed to be run over by it. A lot of people think you have to disrupt an entire industry. They need to build some whole new mortgage sector. Use these different buzzwords to think they are going to be successful.
Most entrepreneurs don’t need to out-innovate everybody in the world. Thats a stupid premise. Not everybody is going to build a Facebook-style business. I would argue that most people ought to accept the fact that they are never going to build that level of company and truly build something that is successful and they can handle.
Number Two: Focus is obviously key. So many people are like:
“Scott. You’re a serial entrepreneur. Why can’t I be?”
And I’m like:
“How many of your businesses are cash-flow positive and making money after more than 5 years?”
Most times you’re going to hear
“ Oh well I left that business to do this. This is the real business. ..”
Well, that’s not really serial entrepreneurship. That business wasn’t working. You lost your focus and you moved on.
So, again, Focus is key. Because if one things is not doing it and you’re tying to do 10 things as poorly as a result. Instead of just focusing on that one key thing, you’re screwed. That’s just not the way to build a successful business.
The last thing I would say is Build Organically. Young people today, I can’t speak for other generations, you think you write a business plan and you go out and get funding.
To that I say, that’s outrageous. 99.999999% of people will never get funding for their startup. Period. That’s it. I hate to be Debbie Downer. But that’s it; that’s a reality.
So, you have to build a business that is capable of generating revenue and that’s capable of being built over time, organically, through smart cash-flow, through strategic direction, through implementation and pristine execution, rather than saying “If I can get a million dollars I can make this work.”
Well great. You’re basically basing your entire future on an uncertain future, an uncertain reality. It doesn’t make any sense to me.
I think a lot of these young entrepreneurs did whatever it took, whether it was sitting on their friends couch, renting it. My friend Maya always tells a great story. She lived on her best friend’s couch for almost a year. And then her company, 2 years or 3 years later was bought out by living social.
So, this is the kind of thing that most people need to hear: the reality check that that All glitz and glam, that social network sexiness, is nothing but a facade. It does take a lot of work, a lot of hard efforts and not a lot of fundraising efforts.
Beautiful. Another great answer.
In your introduction, you write:
“I've worked alongside both smart partners and idiots. I've made a lot of money - but I've failed more times than I've succeeded.”
Why did you mention your ratio of failing to success in that introduction to your book?
I believe that anyone who simply talks only about their wins is a loser.
Unfortunately, we’ve been hyped up as a society to only see the aftermath of the fruits of our labor. Right? The cribs or the sexy yachts or the gorgeous women. But, again, that’s not what entrepreneurship is about.
Entrepreneurship is a daily lesson, a swift kick in the behind, and figuring out how those two work in tandem to figure out how to work better the next day, how to execute better the next day. That’s the reality.
If you go and talk about "Here’s the home runs I’ve hit in my career..." not only do you do a disservice to everyone who wants to learn what you did to become a success, but you’re also lying to them. You’re telling them flat-out:
"I didn’t fail in my life."
You’re giving a very rosy picture to a grim reality.
Entrepreneurship is not sexy. It’s very difficult. It is life-changing on every level. It has its drawbacks and it also has great moments.
You can tout all the buzzwords. Oh, you’re your own boss. You can set your own hours. I mean that’s all very well and good. No one realizes that when you say ‘Set your own hours’ it just basically means instead of going to someone else’s office for 40 hours, you’re sitting in your own office for 40 hours. In most cases I know more who are working more than 80 hours a week.
The reason I talk about failure is I believe I am more a product of failure than I am of success. I’ve figured out ways without any background in education or finance, any of these areas, to point-blank no-holds barred figure out how to move forward because I didn’t want to work for someone else. And not for any grandiose reason. Not because I couldn’t do it. It just wasn’t for me. It wasn’t my personality. It wasn’t the way I wanted my life to be. I had to figure it out.
Really, I didn’t have a single entrepreneur in my family. I didn’t have anybody in my life to speak to. I went to film school. You talk about an education that was totally off the mark for what I was doing! These are the kinds of things that I fortunately or unfortunately am a product of.
And as such, I believe I should share those failures with others. To me, I could talk all day about how I signed a deal for a couple of hundred thousand dollars and “wow what a feeling that was.” But, if you don’t understand how I came to that conclusion...what am I telling you?
You have some great quotes. You’re very articulate. I’m thoroughly enjoying this.
Let’s talk about Education. You went for an undergrad in making movies. I went for a BA in Art. I use it to dress myself in a color-coordinated manner and my wife loves it. There is a connection between education and success for future jobs and innovation, the ability to keep learning and unlearning, and innovation. On the other hand, I know a high percentage of entrepreneurs have learning disabilities and may be are dyslexic.
You're pretty dismissive of our current education system and its role in creating entrepreneurs and leaders?
What role could our education system play with developing the learning skills, the critical analysis and communication and collaboration skills entrepreneurs need now.
This could be an interview unto itself. I just had a meeting yesterday with a great friend of mine. His private equity firm, basically buys and sells universities, and turns around their educational model.
He talked to me about how over the next 5 years one of their acquisitional schools into the world’s first entrepreneur school. And he says very loudly and very proudly with the goal of turning out entrepreneurs.
Because the problem with education today is you can’t quantify entrepreneurship the way you can job placement. That’s why it’s such an issue for colleges to say:
“Our graduates created Living Social.”
Well, that’s great. What about the other 96%. What did they do?
Just because they might be creating a six-figure income for themselves they can’t quantify that. They can put it in a data-research set.
So, the current entrepreneurship education in this country is failure on every level. I believe that there are certain programs that are outstanding. But on a national level, I think they are a total miss. They don’t graduate entrepreneurs. They graduate people who understand business acumen and skillsets that are just not relatable. They teach the theoretical and the hypothetical and not the executable.
I always joke around and I get in a lot of trouble with a lot of people for saying this but:
“What’s the difference between an MBA and toilet paper in a startup?
Well, one is actually useful.”
Because to me everybody is a student of learning. Everybody can go out into the world and learn and learn. That’s going to happen every day to an entrepreneur. But it doesn’t mean you have to be a perpetual student in the educational system.
That’s really what schools are geared to do. They’re geared to turn you into an employee so you can get a job, post-graduation. And they’re geared towards you continuing your educational track. That’s why they have phd programs. They want to have all these things that are going to keep you in the system. That’s no secret; that’s a reality.
To turn this stuff around we need to find more tangible ways in the high school, or even before, teaching people to understand personal finance. Teach them how to run a lemon-aide stand. Go out into the world and not just do book learning. Put them out with a series of task that’s going to have real tangible value. Real tangible work. It doesn’t matter how much money they make. It matters that they are doing it.
There’s a great program called Lemonade Day with a goal of having 1 million kids by 2013 have a lemonade stand on this particular day. To teach them about entrepreneurship. That to me is brilliant. That’s something that can be mass-produced.
The University of Miami started something called LaunchPad. It’s a very serious entrepreneur program that not only supplements the book learning of entrepreneurship but you’re out in the field. And, we’re going to give you real results from mentors that are going to be from the real world, not just educators.
That’s another problem. We can’t just keep educating our young people based on educators who have no entrepreneurial experience and have them teaching the class!
These are the sorts of failings that are going to keep us in the age-old mantra of if you work hard, get good grades, you’re going to get a good job.
But I simply say there’s going to come a point, and it’s already happening, where that mantra is antiquated it’s now going to be harmful. Those youth unemployment numbers are not going down. And they’re even staying put or going up slightly.
Companies now understand they don’t need the high overhead and staff. They used the recession as a reason to cut the fat. This is a reality. Technological advancement has changed the world!
In closing, I’m very passionate about entrepreneurship education and it’s one of the main goals for YEC for 2011 and 2012, to tackle in various ways. We need to figure out ways to stop pushing entrepreneurship as anything but a social norm. We need to stop putting entrepreneurs, the people who will revive our economy, the risk-takers and innovators who will change the world and provide jobs...we need to stop telling them, we need to stop not helping them rather. And we need to put it out there and say You want real innovation and change? We need to start teaching you what we know at the earliest developmental stages so you can grow into understanding that this is a reality. This is very possible.
It’s interesting that you bring up that we want people to understand that entrepreneurs should be the social norm. Before the Industrial Revolution, entrepreneurs were the social norm; everybody was an entrepreneur.
Now. Talking about the lack of education, what’s the most important skill lacking when graduates emerge from college?
It’s an interesting question. It’s also a complex and diverse question. I can’t generalize every single graduate.
But if I was going to do the one that is effecting the most people and it goes back to an article that showed that 25% of recent grads had jobs upon graduation.That shows that young people thought they were going to go through the school system and take their BS and bs and win. They didn’t. That’s a problem.
The fact that that’s a higher number. Last year it was 19%. There comes a point where you have to say to yourself:
Am I stuck in my college bubble and I’m not looking at what’s happening? I’m the exception to the rule?
If you think you’re the exception to the rule, then you’ve learned basically nothing. You still think you’re special. You still think you’re entitled. You still think your degree is going to set you free.
Unfortunately, today’s BS in the average school of which many are failing their students left and right and their selves, is no different than a high school diploma from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s. When your generation went to school, going to college in many instances was a first time in a generation in a family’s entire history, for anyone to have a higher education. There was a smaller graduation pool. There were more jobs as a result because there was more demand.
Today, you’ve got everything from the University of Phoenix to GED programs to technical schools to actual universities. And, they’re all trying to graduate people into the job force. And to a shrinking job force, none the less.
I think that it’s time that young people start before they even go to select their school...don’t think about that stupid question of:
“What do you want to be when you get older?”...
That to me is the dumbest thing in the entire world. You’ve got a general field that you want to work in and decide for yourself am I going to be an employee or an entrepreneur?
And then base your decisions based on that fact of the field. Then get an education based on what’s good for you. But don’t rely on that education to put you into the real job world.
That’s a reality.
Your banner photo for the Young Entrepreneur's Council shows a gray-haired guy like me, if I had hair. So, are you accepting old folks, folks we call ourselves boomers?
We partnered with a great mentor of mine Donna Fenn of Inc. magazine to create what we call the Mentor’s Council. You need to be 36 or olders. Donna has been selecting the top Gen-X Plus folks, I’ll say lovingly. Again they’re captains of industry whove started several hundred million companies and played a vital role in entrepreneurial education. And these folks will begin the same kind of process with Q & A’s, syndicate to media, create their own programming.
We’re actually launching this month with Huffington Post and AMEX OpenForum to be the first folks that launch the mentor program.
Right now, it’s a closed community. But we might have a call to membership at the Young Entrepreneur Council for consideration.
But, in general, this is a movement regardless of age, an inter-generational movement to help our next generations become the most successful generations they can become.
I do believe there is value in bringing in the older generations, the wiser generations in many respects, to the conversation as much I believe it is important to show from a younger generation’s perspective to show that this is a viable career path because we’re the generation we speak for.
Excellent. I love that term Gen-X Plus.
The age of entrepreneurs is changing, as well. Studies show entrepreneurs are getting older. 40's, 50's, even 60-year olds seem to be the leading groups as far as numbers go. What about starting an old entrepreneur's club or partnering with AARP? I’m believing a little facetious with the phrasing of the question. But, what are your thoughts on starting something in that direction?
Well, I can tell you already, just to give you a sense of how we are already thinking about that even though we’re in the infancy stages of our movement and growth. Just in things like the Mentor Council and in terms of our mission to grow with our constituents while still keeping to our earlier mission based on the formation of the organization is pretty vital.
In terms of helping the older generation, unfortunately I do believe that with any organization you need to stay focused. While my heart goes out to older folks whose reasons to become entrepreneurs are out of desperation and necessity...especially in the older ranks, when you consider longer life expectancies...I just had a meeting with a lot of the top brass of AARP in DC last month to talk about creating a comprehensive youth business health program....but we have to focused on our current constituency. Otherwise we wont’ be helpful. We won’t be able to target the necessary solutions. Right now, we have to maintain our vision.
If you did, what would you do differently? That's a two prong question. What's different in the missions and needs between young and old entrepreneurs? Would you do differently having learned already from creating the YEC?
Again, I think it’s a lot like how we’re setting up the Mentor’s Council. You want to find a lot of the top decisions makers and pace setters in that field in order to provide the most relevant value.
In terms of how we’re going to provide more tangible support and resources, again, it’s hard for me to say this is how to do this or that because I don’t have that life experience. Often I get bunched in because I have in some respects, very contrarian opinions about entrepreneurship. When it comes to things like “Just be passionate”. I want to rip that to shreds.
Yet, at the same time because I get lumped in with general entrepreneur experts I get asked advice like: What would your advice be to a single mother in her 40’s about joining the entrepreneurial ranks. Frankly, I’d say to her...
”Find somebody else who’s a single mother in her 40’s who’s done it before."
Because hardly am I the person to give you one-size fits all advice to make it sound like I know what it’s like to walk in your shoes.
While I also can’t make a statement that I know every single person Gen-Y and know what they’re about , I can speak for the fact that I have a lot of people that can help that generation because we all have various walks of life within our organization.
It really is just finding the right people to lead that generation.
You're a serial entrepreneur a serially successful entrepreneur. What are your strengths that make you a successful entrepreneur?
There are certain traits I call Front-Men. I call business owners, Front-Men or Second-Men. Neither are good or bad on their own. I always say that while I have the ability through my hustler instincts and my lack of traditional education I don’t know 95% of the standard business terms, that’s why I have people like CMOs who decipher that kind of language for me...Front-men are the kinds of people who can sell a can of popsicles to group of Eskimo kids. They’re the people who will knock down the doors, who don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, who find ways around any obstacle to get to the goal and find ways to navigate on a strategic level.
I’d like to think that because I’m an extrovert, I’m out there if you will, quite often trying to knock on doors and beat down different industries with what I need....that’s probably my biggest trait. I have a total need to dominate and to win.
And there are no rules. I play life like a video game.
But, when it comes to second-people, I’ve come to learn, to formulate that’s where my failings and weaknesses are. I’ve learned my strengths because I was willing after, I failed at my first business attempt, to actually learn from that mistake. And most people don’t. Most people will just continue on and say it never worked and never assess and ask ‘why’.
I assessed why and I realized that 80% of what I was doing I was a moron at. I sucked at that. I knew that I needed to fill in that position.
I was always the first person to say...when you want to make a sale, when you want to get to someone, when you want to meet someone who’s a super-connector...I’m your guy. But when it comes to running the day-to-day business, we’d be under 9 times out of 10.
I am probably the worst operator on the planet. But, that’s good. There are operators, they’re front people: CEOs and CFOs who know dollars that the COO’s dont know.
At the end of the day I constantly assess what my problems are. I constantly reassess if I am the best person to do that task or delegate that task. But I also know that in terms of getting things done on a global or higher level, that’s my strengths, that’s what I can do.
One challenge for entrepreneurs is letting go of their baby, pushing either it or themselves out of the nest. You described having learned how to do that. How did you avoid that trap of not letting go of your baby?
Because in my first business, I was so attached to it, it led me to have $700 in my bank account left as a result. When I was in college I had a company that was making a lot of money. I thought I could sell and operate and hire and everything. I tried to keep every dollar myself and do 150 new things instead of keeping focused with the one thing I was doing well. That was creating music videos in the commercial entertainment business.
And I got stupid and I went under. That $700 left to my name at that point when I graduated school. My mother who was a 30-year, Board of Education teacher, real job-loyalist if you will...stability and benefits run her life flat-out said to me: “
“Scott, it’s time to get a real job.”
And that’s when I knew that if I didn’t want to do that I had to figure out how to do things differently.
So the next time I started out with partners around me, basically saying:
"Listen, here’s what I’m good at, here’s what you’re good at. Let’s see if we can kinda share revenues and be free-lancers, if you will, and build a company.”
Today, the company is called SizzleIt. And it produces promotional videos for our clients who are some of the global leaders in business. Proctor and Gamble, we do a lot of work with their brand. Dolby, The Gap and many other Fortune 500 and PR and marketing firms.
It took me to realize I wasn’t God’s gift to the world, I didn’t know everything and in many cases I was a failure at a lot of things. It took me to get to rock bottom.
That’s why I try to teach through failure, going back to what we said earlier. Because most people will go through the same agony and hell that I did. Maybe not to the extent in financial terms. But they will fail. And, that’s fine. It’s how you recover and what you learn from the failure that matters.
If I can help people, whether it’s through Never Get a Real Job or Young Entrepreneur Council, and our young people can help other young people realze what it took to get where they are and what failures and trappings they went through those are the kinds of lessons that will create stronger leaders who at an earlier development stage are the challenges in their business or themselves they need to fix so they don’t face the same catastrophic failure that some of us did.
Now one of your key principles for being a successful entrepreneur is focus. Social media is a great tool which creates lots of opportunities. But it also can be a huge time-sink.
How do you see social media with entrepreneurs? How do they avoid getting lost in the rat-holes of social media?
Well, it’s really funny. The first thing is that I say:
"Social Media" is different for everyone, in terms of what you consider social media.
For me I consider social media means Facebook and Twitter. Whereas for some people it might mean everything lumped in from viral marketing to direct communications to even email now. It really depends on what your definition of the word is now.
To me, I’m the first person to say, and again some people say this is very ignorant, but I don’t believe every business should have a social media presence. I believe you should have an online presence. If you’re going to tell me that you’re going to judge your business based on how many Facebook likes you have, you’re an idiot.
There are certain brands that need that level of exposure and attention. I’ll give you two examples.
Young Entrepreneur Council. Social media is vital to us because that’s where the young generation lives and breathes. So, dissemination of news is through social media. So, therefor it makes sense. And we have to figure out how to engage through sustainable, scalable, methodologies through of course quality content and the delivery of various offerings.
However, take a business like...a pool cleaning company in Minnesota. If you’re going to tell me that people are going to find out about your business because you’ve got a Facebook fan page, I think you’re out of your mind.
The first thing I would say is assess what the needs of your business are before you get into the hype of buzzwords and other such nonsense. I think that there comes a point where you have to say to yourself:
“Is this best for me? Or is this just what a one-size fits all expert told me on Entrepreneur or Inc. magazine told me I should do?”
The 2nd things is social media is a wonderful amplifier. Too many people think it’s a one-size fits all marketing campaign. Too many people think if they’re on Facebook or have a Twitter presence or have a YouTube video that ...that is their campaign. That’s nonsense.
Social media is great for taking your existing messaging, which is the most important thing messaging and content and let’s never forget that. If your messaging and content is off, then it doesn’t matter where you put it it still sucks. Right?
But, if it’s an amplifier, if my core value proposition message to market my business is...”we’re the low cost leader”. Ok? If you position yourself effectively as the low-cost leader and then use each of those channels effectively to amplify that message, well you’re doing great. Then you have something that’s really tangible and very much real real because it’s based on a core philosophy and core value.
If all of a sudden you’re talking about everything under the sun, with all these different channels with mixed messaging with no core competency discussed with all these different variables trying to get more traction...well, you lose. I’m the kind of guy to say:
“A business is likely going to get more business with 10 to 100 loyal Twitter followers than 50,000.”
It sounds funny but I have friends on The Young Entrepreneur Council that they have 90,000 followers. And they tell me the real hits are coming through to their site with real traction and it’s not that many.
I personally think that social media in many respects is a time drain, and you can’t put a ROI on it which sucks. And the problem is that consumers are demanding it more and more, so you have to figure out how it works.
It’s also like I said it comes down to what kind of business do you have and does it make sense.
You posted 6 Social Networking Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make. Great post. Which is the big one, the one that has the biggest impact?
The biggest thing for Facebook, I would say as an example is this: Social media in general needs to be a focus if you’re going to make it a focus. It can’t be a non-consistent. It needs to be specific, outlined, detailed and planned out just like any other medium all the way from direct mail to a traditional video commercial.
The key to success is to know your business. And just make sure that before you enter the time zone slash time drain it will take to accomplish these things, you pretty much make it clear that you have those objectives in hand. Because if not, and you hear the buzzword of I need to be part of social media then you will fail.
Imagination plays a big role with entrepreneurs. And we've reached the imagination moment in the show. President Obama's on line 2 for you now. He's leaving you a message inviting you to the White House. He wants your list of three things he can do right now to create a more favorable environment for entrepreneurs and startups and the jobs they create. What do you tell him?
I think number one is the ability to ramp up not just high growth entrepreneurship exercises but also small business exercises. You know, we talked a lot about building the next billion-dollar business which of course is going to have a tremendous effect if we can move the amount of billion-dollar enterprises in the US from where it is now to 3 to 4 times that....However, when you look at what is creating the most jobs is the top creator is in fact small businesses that hire 1 - 10 employees or 1 - 50 employees. So, we need to incentivize them more.
We need to stop bailing out big business and bailing out small business which unfortunately now is a big cliche, but it’s the truth.
The 2nd thing I’d say is we need to invest more time and resources into backing incubators and other startup accelerator programs. I think it’s time we put government dollars into real innovation and not just simply buzzwords like clean-tech. While clean-tech represents a massive opportunity, it can’t be the only thing just because it’s a hot word. I think you need to always be experimenting with many different pots and putting money into many different areas. I think that it’s time we figure out a way for government to support that level of entrepreneurship acceleration.
The last thing I would say is regardless of what’s going on right now in terms of budget cuts and obviously right now we’re facing deficits that are just insane... but, entrepreneurship education is truly something that I belive should not just be an afterthought. It can’t be just some one-liner in a speech. It has to be something that is real, something that is added to curriculum, something that the Department of Education is not only condoning but is bringing in top experts and figuring out how to replicate successful programs. We need to figure out how to teach people not just how to be employees but to rather teach them how to make a choice. On the college level we need to be sure that people are very much understanding that the paradigm shift we are seeing is here to stay and if we don’t educate properly we don’t begin to support people properly. Even on the kindergarten to grade 12 level we’re in for a long, long, haul that will not be pretty and will not make the US the greatest country in the world when it comes to innovation.
You're a leader. Leaders are readers. Jim Rohn says that. I just quote him. What are you reading?
I hate to say it, but I’m a big reader of blogs not books. And that’s simply because I just don’t have the time. I have new baby girl, my own businesses, the Young Entrepreneur Council and a million and one things. But, I’m definitely reading a lot.
My favorite blog in the world is Mashable which gives me all the tech news I need which is quite amazing. I often read the trades like INC and Entrepreneur. I read a lot of the general blogs from members of the Young Entrepreneur Council. I did read Ryan Allison’s book recently, Zero to 1 Million, which is a great book.
In general, I’m kinda the person who has a lot of different social bookmarks on my rss feeds and I pretty much when I have some downtime try to take in as much as I can. But these days it’s pretty much face-to-face meetings.
Let's end the show by bringing it back to the beginning. I was going to ask you to leave us with a quote for entrepreneurs. But you did that already with your book in your Conclusion. Your quote is Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.
Too many times people will read a book about entrepreneurship, get jazzed up and for 3 days they put effort into it and then never again. The trappings of life and everything else involved in what it takes to go through the 9 - 5 pretty much just say Welp, that’s it. I tried. I’m done.
So, what I say with Be afraid, be very afraid is be afraid to fail. And I say NO. Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is good. Be afraid to never fail. Be afraid to be sitting on the couch 10 years from now and say:
That was my idea.
Be afraid to look back and never having risked anything and be left with tons of regret. Be afraid of going from job to job with no real value created for yourself or others. Those are the kinds of things to be afraid of.
Be afraid to never, ever, get a real job.
This has been a great show. Thanks for reaching out to contact me to be a guest on this show. And you’ve got a baby girl so you’re crazy busy already. And you’ve got your business, the Young Entrepreneur Council, your book.