Monthly Archives: March 2013

My Favorite Things

Not that I’ve ever watched an entire episode of Oprah, but I’ve heard that she has a feature of her show called ‘Favorite Things.’ This little golden endorsement to books, foods or services can completely change the trajectory of companies as her fans follow suit. Websites crash from traffic and market share doubles if she so much sneezes at a brand.

Oprah

Well I’m not Oprah, but I have a few personal favorites. When I launched this blog I said that my goal was to educate and entertain. I also stated how I believe we each claim our own success – much of which is determined by the people we spend the most time with and the books we read. I hope my content is educational but also approachable. I’m not Richard Branson or Mark Zuckerberg; and as much as my mother thinks I’m awesome, in many ways I’m a normal guy pursuing the American Dream.

As I post these lessons on business and life, I’d like to share some of the people or places I’ve tapped into:

Personal Finance – Mint.com, Dave, Ramit

  • Mint.com – If you’re trying to live on a budget or accurately track your spending, this is a must. It’s a free website that links all your accounts, tracks and categorizes spending, and is very easy to use. It will help you see trends, offer recommendations, help you set budgets. There’s even a free phone app. Only thing it won’t do is let you hide the facts.
  • Dave Ramsey –  Trying to get your finances in order? Or get out of debt? Or build wealth? Or have a relationship where finances don’t make you another divorce statistic? Buy his book, listen to his radio show, or download his free daily podcast. So many lessons about life, work, relationships and money flow through his content. I’ve been out of debt for some time and still listen daily for entertainment and new lessons. And my last post bordered on a love letter to Dave.
  • Ramit Sethi – For young professionals trying to start their own thing, follow a passion, change jobs or lead a richer life – this guy is it. He’s funny, insanely smart, and he will call you out. And he eats haters for breakfast. Nom. Nom.

Sales – SWC, Rory, Dustin Hillis

  • Southwestern Consulting – Southwestern Advantage is the best sales training program in the country. Some of the best to ever come out of the summer program founded their own sales consulting company putting on seminars, offering keynote speaches and doing personal coaching. Their free monthly conference call is golden and I invest in their one on one coaching program. And the founders’ blogs are full of great content, here are Rory and Dustin’s.

Career and Business – Quitter, Michael Hyatt, Onward, Never Eat Alone

  • Jon Acuff‘s book Quitter–  If you’re a young professional and ever thought, ‘I just want to do something I’m passionate about’ or ‘I am leaving corporate and I’m just gonna go work at Lulu Lemon’ or ‘I just want to go backpack Europe again.’ We’ve all been there. Stop whatever you’re doing and read his book this week so you can turn your day job into your dream job. Acuff is amazing at helping identify your passion, get more enjoyment out of a 9-5, or transition into your own venture. If nothing else, follow him on Facebook. He’s hysterical.
  • Michael Hyatt – His books are on my reading list, but his podcast is to podcasts as the Garden State soundtrack is to movie soundtracks….the best. Hyatt used to be the CEO of a large publishing company and is now a NY Times best-selling author. He covers everthing from leadership to writing to negogiating to taking strategic naps.
  • Onward – You know how Good to Great is THE business book of the past 20 years? And anyone who’s anyone can quote it or refers to it or keeps it in their office. It oozes more applicable business lessons than half your undergrad classes. Well, I’m here to tell you that Howard Schultz’s book, Onward, about his return to CEO of Starbucks and their subesequent turnaround is the best business book I’ve read in the past five years. It deserves the same Good to Great readership. If you don’t buy it, at least watch this clip from 7:11-14:58.
  • Never Eat Alone – If your job or success involves humans, this one is a must read. Keith Ferrazzi explains how he went from working class kid to Ivy League to youngest ever partner at Deloitte. And it wasn’t at the expense of others or himself. Success comes by helping others and having richer relationships. Ferrazzi lays out a plan and also debunks the ‘work life balance’ myth.

Leadership and Inspiration –  Maxwell, Take the Stairs

  • 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership – Duh. This book is a classic. I finally read it this year and it forced me to take a really hard look at my leadership. Plus it gives a road map for improvement.
  • Take The Stairs – Rory Vaden is a freak. I’ve known the author for years and he’s always struck me as one of those people that aren’t human. He’s like the living version of the Dos Equis Most Interesting Man In The World – he’s made mistakes or had flaws, only to give the rest of us hope. In all seriousness, his level of work ethic, discipline and acheivement always seemed so unapproachable to me. But reading his book gave me a whole new perspective. Discipline and sacrifice don’t have to be never-ending, self inflicted punishment. With perspective and small steps, it can be freeing. And over time, your brain and habits will move towards the hard right over the easy wrong.

Brain Food – EntreLeadership, Ted Talks

  • EntreLeadership Podcast – Every one gets better than the last. This is the business and leadership side of Dave Ramsey’s team. Each update has a lesson such as goal setting, recognition or their no gossip policy. It’s then paired with world class interviews with folks like the CEO of Zappos or coach Tony Dungy or my personal favorite Simon Sinek.
  • TED Talks – If I was an intellectual hipster, I would act like I discovered them first or keep them a best-kept secret. But I’m not. These videos are open speeches or addresses from leaders in technology, education and design. They will challenge your assumptions and leave you inspired. A couple of my favorites are here and here.

Brain Junk Food – Aziz, Kevin Hart

  • Aziz Ansari and Kevin Hart – Sometimes you just need a break or a good laugh. And some guys just need more one liners or quotes their girl friends will never understand. “Say it wit yo chest!”

Books1Books2Books 3

(some of my bookshelf and one of my roommates)

Turn off the negative nighttime news and tune in to some goodness! Your mental well-being requires nourishment just like your body does. Was there someone or something I missed? Are there any authors, books, geniuses out there that you follow? I’d love to hear who you’ve learned from or if you like any of the folks I mentioned above. Comment below! 

Indebted to My Former Debts

June 2010 I graduated from University of Denver with my MBA and undergrad both completed with a student loan bill topping $41,000. Ouch. I made a few bigger payments towards my debt as I interviewed and started my first big boy job. Then in August 2011 I was reading Rory Vaden’s blog and got introduced to Dave Ramsey. I read Dave’s book The Total Money Makeover and learned about his philosophies like dumping debt, living on a budget, and not trying to keep up with the Jones’.  And when I say I read his book, I mean I drank the Dave Ramsey kool-aid.

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I tackled over $32,000 worth of loans in 11 months and finally became debt free in August 2012! And today I stand grateful and changed because of the lessons learned during my debt snowball. As a single 20-something with a good job and no one to take care of but myself, I easily could have made minimum payments or not worried about a meager 3% interest rate. Instead I immediately laid out all my loans, made a strict monthly budget and created a game plan. Anything beyond my normal rent, food, gas, entertainment would go directly to my debts. I trimmed frivolous expenses like going out too much, vacations with friends and avoided a car payment or any other financing. I packed my lunch every day with two PB&Js(extra crunchy, duh!), an apple, and a protein bar. I learned how to say ‘No’ to things like dinner and drinks every weekend night or a nice car or new clothes. Working in sales, I put in extra calls, went in on Sunday nights and got better at my job each week. (Or what my friend Shane Weathers might call ‘Hustlenomics’). Every month that I made progress and my snowball rolled, my intensity increased by focusing on the ‘controllables’ – my attitude, my income, and my expenses. When the last payment posted and Sallie Mae showed zeroes across the board, I felt like this:

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Years ago I learned that ‘successful people form the habit of doing things that unsuccessful people don’t like to do.’ For some reason I never looked through this lense much with my personal finances. By the end of the 11 months, however, certain habits I learned at 25 will be ingrained for the rest of my life. I formed the habit of having a monthly budget where every dollar is assigned on paper, on purpose. I formed the habit of looking for ways to reduce expenses. I formed the habit of becoming a student of personal finance as it relates to insurance, home buying, investing and entertainment. I formed the habit of contentment and not keeping up with the Jones’. I formed the habit of connecting the things I want in life for myself and others with a financial road map. I formed the habit of paying cash or simply saying no. As Dave Ramsey would say, ‘building wealth is 80% behavior and 20% head knowledge.’

I’ll never forget the summer evening I sat out on the gorgeous patio at Lindey’s to toast champagne and celebrate. I remain grateful for the experience and I am indebted to my former debts. I know those lessons will allow me to have a sense of financial peace in the future when the day comes I get married or start a family or retire. Thank you, Rory. Thank you, Dave.

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I could have written 20 pages about this topic, but I’ll spare you and I appreciate you reading. I hope you’ve learned something! I’d love to hear your thoughts or comments about your own experience with student loans or personal finance as a young professional. Tune in next week when I do my own version of ‘Things Oprah Likes.’ 

Why Whole Foods CEO, John Mackey, is an a-Whole

Mackey

It was the last quarter of my MBA program at University of Denver. John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, was scheduled to be the final speaker in our Voices of Experience series. Others included the CFO of Home Depot, the whistlelblower in the Enron case, and the CEO of Seventh Generation (a sustainable household cleaning products company). Mackey’s appearance was also a huge event for the Daniels MBA – they were opening an entire new program called the Institute for Enterprise Ethics and he was the poster-child for profitable business with a positive ethical footprint.

So there we were – thousands packed into the Cable Center at DU, plus a separate auditorium for overflow to watch a live stream. MBAs, undergrads, alumni and faculty all waiting to hear John Mackey tell his story. And he was incredible! I was geeking out as he gave the history of Whole Foods and all the struggles they endured with floods, investors and an unproven concept. He explained how they ignore quarterly earnings for long term growth, how every team in a store functions as a business unit and the greater purpose that drives each employee. When he finished for the Q&A session, I was the first one at the mic. Mackey stared down at me from afar and I said, “I loved your talk tonight. One of our previous speakers from Seventh Generation said he regrets that his products aren’t affordable to lower-middle income families who probably need it the most. Do you ever have similar regrets with Whole Foods?” One of the moderators asked he repeat the question, and he exploded, ‘Yeah! Basically this kid said we only sell to rich people and he asked if I regret that or thinks it’s a problem.’ He turned to me, “You’re a business student, right?! That’s your problem! You go solve it!” Mackey continued his scalding to explain how a raw diet shopper at Whole Foods actually spends less than they would at Kroger or Wal-Mart and how they serve all neighborhoods and incomes across the country. Then he said, “I never studied business in college, I was a philosophy major. You know what Michelangelo said?! ‘Criticize by creating.’ That’s what we’ve done. If you think our prices are too high, go do something about it!”

a whole

Silence. There was a hush that moved over the crowd as I slumped back to my seat thinking, ‘What an ‘a$&-hole.’ A real certified, fair trade organic jerk. But once my bitterness subsided and I thought about his comment, it’s been one of the best lessons I’ve ever learned. Criticize by creating. Any time I see an issue at work, with a team, as a consumer, or in my relationships – I have to stop and ask myself if I’m simply pointing out problems or creating a solution. It’s a simple mindset but definitely not a simple task. It’s human nature and always easier to point out what is wrong. But reminding and challenging oneself seemed to work for this Michelangelo character and the guy who started the empire that is now Whole Foods.

Michel

Do you criticize or create? Do you know a person or business who’s done a great job to create a solution to a problem? Feel free to comment, criticize, ask questions, or get your #hashtag on. And tune in next week when I explain why I’m Indebted To My Former Debts.

 

First post – Lessons from the Front Line of a Startup

This month marked my two year anniversary of working at an online marketing startup. I thought it was a great time to finally launch my blog about business, sales, and the professional life of a 20-something. It’s been quite a journey moving from Denver to Columbus, and we’re hardly a startup anymore as we grow to over 125 employees – but the following are the biggest takeaways I learned as I reflect back on the last two years.

Three Things I Learned From the Front Lines of a Startup:

  1. Get moving. Then get ready.
  • Most of us obsess over perfecting products, perfecting scripts, perfecting websites and sharpening our pencils. Then we get ready all over again. In the early stages of a startup, you’ll have no idea what the kinks will be nor what your price should be nor what the hot buttons of your cusotmers will be. Focus on progress, not perfection; get your hands dirty. We thought our clients would bear a certain price point – now our entry point is our previous high-end and the reasons customers engage are quite different than what we expected. Next time you’re hesitating or changing the font for the fifth time on a document, remind yourself of the last time you debated going to the gym and the analysis turned into a couch workout watching reruns. Contrast that with another time you simply forced yourself there, got comfortable after you started, and didn’t regret it by the time you were done. You can’t think feel your way into acting but you can can act your way into feeling. Get Moving! Then get ready!

 

2.  Start ups are sexy. Sound business fundamentals are even sexier.

  • Maybe it’s because we’re all gen Y brats or maybe too many of us watched The Social Network. We fantasize about IPOs,  private parties in Silicon Valley, and drawing on white boards with models and buzz words. And what’s for damn sure is so many of us are seduced by a startup. Yes, I am just as guilty. But sound fundamentals are cooler than being published on Mashable.com. And the real rubber meets the road when you look at which part of the value chain the owners glorify. Let me explain. A group of my former coworkers and I all took our tenacity and sales skills to various startups. One joined a Groupon-spin off; another joined a medical software company that rhymes which ‘rock chalk’; a very talented sales manager spearheaded a real estate service concept; I joined an online advertising company. Two to three years later, I’m the only one left. The first guy’s gig looked like the sexiest opportunity of them all, but the business fundamentals were about as sound as Groupon’s stock. And, the sales people portion of the value chain quickly got squeezed out. The next little piggy gave a year to the unprofitable NYC gig; sales and marketing were critical but the founders thought they were easily replaced. The third amigo gave blood, sweat and tears to help get things off the ground – only to find out he wouldn’t be listened to or appreciated by the CEO. Then there was my gig, on a scale to sexy, I was the awkward 8th grader with braces and bad skin….but now looking like a late bloomer. From the beginning, our company had sound business fundamentals that created value, was built for scale and rewarded sales people. What’s more, we were a sales-centric organization where my contribution to the value chain was appreciated and rewarded. I won’t pretend I had incredible foresight, but I remain grateful for the opportunity. SO….before you go taking a risk on a startup and sipping lattes on your workout ball in your cube, take a close look at the fundamentals of the startup business (Revenue – Expenses and lattes = what’s left to pay people), and don’t forget to take a closer look to see if you’re within the areas of the business that are valued and appreciated.

 

3.  Southwestern was right. About everything!

  • In my undergrad and MBA I was fortunate enough to sell educational books door-to-door, +80 hours per week, on straight commission, away from home for four summers. My older brother told me, “It’s the best thing I ever did in college, you have to do it at least once.” Luckily Southwestern Advantage (southwesternadvantage.com) proved the most amazing training ground for learning and failing safely in a way that would have taken 15 years to learn in my career. I helped a lot of families, impacted my peers and made some serious coin for college. And after running the program for 150 years with 3000 college kids, Southwestern has certain timeless principles figured out – no matter how much I resisted or objected while in the trenches. We learned(yes ‘we because it’s a fraternity/cult) that the only thing it takes to be successful is to work hard, study hard, and be coachable. We learned you control your attitude and future, no matter the situation. We learned sales is a noble endeavor and if you help enough people get what they want, you’ll eventually get what you want. We learned how to listen. To face our fears. To delay gratification. That it’s not our parents’ fault. We learned to control the controllables and not worry about the rest. We learned that you build people, and those people build a great company. We learned that successful people form the habit of doing things unsuccessful people don’t like to do. Now the man, the business person, the dad, and the leader I’m becoming are a direct result of those lessons in between doors. And as much as I try to run away from it or deny it, Southwestern was spot on about everything. So thank you to Eliav, Rau, Fugman, Dan Moore and all my fellow Southwestern alumni.

 

Thoughts? What’s your experience been working at a start up? Or are you a fellow Southwestern alumni that’s seem the same trend? Feel free to comment, disagree, ask questions, or get your #hashtag on. And tune in next week when I explain why John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, is an @#$-Whole.