Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Swim with the Sharks

I started my first business at age thirteen. It was nothing special, just mowing lawns to earn some spending money.  Sir Richard Branson, billionaire entrepreneur and owner of over two hundred companies, started his first business at age nine… selling Christmas trees.  But this week’s story features an entrepreneur who started even younger…

Lani got her first business credentials when she was only seven years old, selling hand-crocheted hair scrunchies to her Pittsburgh schoolmates so she could buy an iPod.  It’s hard to imagine this as the beginning of an entrepreneurial career, but for Lani, the next step would come very soon.

Lani had extremely sensitive skin from the time she was born.  This is normal for babies, but for many children, the sensitivity goes away by the time they start grade school.  Not for Lani.  She remained easily irritated by many of the additives, scents, and colorings in common soaps and skin products, and had to be extremely careful with what she used.

When Lani was eleven, her mother suggested that she and her siblings make their own Christmas gifts for friends and family that year.  Given her skin difficulties, Lani decided to take her mother’s idea as an opportunity to make an original gift while helping herself in the process.  Her mom drove her to a local health food market where she purchased sugar, olive oil, vitamin E, vanilla and almond oil.  With these ingredients, she created her own all-natural body scrub that was free of irritants, and gave jars of it out that Christmas.

What she didn’t expect was the response:  by Valentine’s Day, recipients were asking for more.  Lani realized she must have a good idea on her hands, and began doing research to refine it.  For nine months, she studied the effects of chemicals and preservatives on skin, as well as the skin-care market.  She learned that everything you put on your skin gets absorbed into your bloodstream, just as if you had eaten it.  With that in mind, she began experimenting with the gentlest yet most effective all-natural ingredients she could find.  She tested her various mixtures on herself and her family, then gave some out to friends, asking for feedback. 

Lani finalized a formula that not only worked well, but was also technically edible. Her mother’s friend tried it, and loved it so much that she purchased a large quantity for her company.  Suddenly, Lani had secured her first corporate client.  Turning the family basement into an office and functioning lab, Lani’s family helped her personally make, package, and label the jars of her scrub to fulfill the orders.  And they kept coming.

It wasn’t long before the local media heard about this eleven-year old CEO, and featured Lani in a variety of newspapers and local television.  But despite her young age, she realized quickly that she was serious about her business.  By age fifteen, she was selling over $40,000 per year of her scrub and was featured in Forbes Magazine, all while balancing the life of a high school sophomore.  A typical day saw her get to school early for crew practice, followed by classes, then more practice, dinner, homework, and somehow, she still kept on top of managing her business.

The real coup came a year later, when she began working to get her product into the Whole Foods health store chain.  It took several months as Lani worked through all the requirements of the lengthy process.  Nearing the end of the nine-month negotiation, the only remaining hurdle for Whole Foods was the price.  On the phone with Whole Foods’ buyer while riding in her mother’s car, Lani finally said, “With all due respect, are you trying to tell me your customers are price sensitive?  Because if you are, you haven’t spent much time in your stores.”  At the end, Whole Foods agreed to carry Lani’s scrubs at her desired price.

At age nineteen, Lani Lazzari, CEO and founder of Simple Sugars, appeared on the investment TV show Shark Tank, where she successfully made a deal to secure $100,000 from billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban to help grow her company.  Lani’s advice for young entrepreneurs is applicable for anyone:  “You have to be passionate about your business and really love what you do. Don’t start a business because your parents want you to or because someone else tells you it’s a good idea. You have to really want it or you won’t be able to motivate yourself enough to succeed.”

Dreams that fall apart are based on someone else’s work of art.  Dreams that come true are born deep inside of you!

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

We Are Connected

I recently returned from a trip to New York City.  My kids were on spring break, so we decided to go on some college tours.  My oldest son, Jaxson, is a junior in high school and it’s time for him to start exploring his higher education options.  We’ve toured four schools so far and his favorite is New York University.  While we were there, I learned the story of one of their former students named Jack.  Although Jack ultimately decided not to finish college, we can still learn from his story…

Jack was something of an unusual kid.  Instead of posters of athletes, bands, or comic book characters, the walls of his room were covered with maps.  He was shy, suffered from a speech impediment, and was not always comfortable interacting in person.  He was also often alone at home.  As a result, he’d learned his way around his first computer by the age of eight, and before he was a teenager had taught himself how to write his own programs.  He was also fascinated by trains, and would spend hours down at the St. Louis train yards watching the flow of trains coming and going.  He was entranced by the way it all seemed to operate as one huge, perfectly functioning system.

Studying trains was the beginning of Jack’s lifelong interest in understanding how things work.  When he was a teenager, he began using a radio that scanned police and emergency frequencies.  Listening to the dispatchers, he became engrossed in their concise language as they constantly transmitted the locations and activities of officers and emergency vehicles.  It also gave him ideas.

After writing his own software to track the movements and locations of emergency vehicles, Jack felt he was ready to work in that field.  Still in his teens, he sought out a large dispatch company in New York.  He looked up their website, but it had no contact information.  However, he also found a hole in the site’s security.  Using this as a way in, he was able to contact the company and alert them to the security risk.  He also mentioned that he was a computer programmer who wrote dispatch software.  A week later, they offered him a job.

Jack attended New York University while working as a dispatch programmer.  During his time there, he was part of a brainstorming session about the implications of instant messaging.  Jack made a gutsy decision to leave college and pursue dispatch work in California.  Soon after, he started his own company to dispatch couriers, taxis, and emergency services from the Web.  But it wasn’t long before the dots began to connect.

Thinking back to his youth and remembering how the voices on the police scanner would constantly update their positions from wherever they were, Jack came up with a new idea.  He approached a company who was exploring instant messaging and described a new form of virtual communication that would be as immediate as texting, but among a much larger number of people at once.  The idea was to take the short bursts of communication of the dispatch world and create a web-based network that anyone with a cell phone, wherever they were, could use to send messages.

The story of how Jack found success with his idea is a great example of how things are connected.  And there’s no denying that by following his passions, a young man who was never comfortable in simple, face-to-face conversations was able to create Twitter, one of the largest communication networks the world has ever seen.  By 2012, Twitter had over 500 million registered users, generating over 340 million messages, called "tweets," per day.  Since its launch, Twitter has become one of the ten most visited websites on the Internet, and its founder, Jack Dorsey, was named 2012's Innovator of The Year. 

One reporter recently referred to Jack as an idea man, and I found Jack’s response very interesting:  “Everyone has an idea.  But it’s really about executing the idea and attracting other people to help you work on the idea that really makes the difference.”  The We Are Connected mindset is about seeking out the synergies in all relationships and empowering one another to live your dreams.

I’m about to make it easier for all of us to stay connected.  Now you can join me in the mindset revolution by following my new Twitter, @7Mindsets. You can expect a mindset quote of the day, a link to the weekly story and relevant tweets on how to live to your potential while making a positive impact on the world.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Recipe for Success

Domenica grew up in a house that always smelled like something delicious was cooking.  Her parents loved small-town life, but they wanted their children to know there was a bigger world outside their home.  Every Christmas the family would drive to New York City to see the enormous tree and spend time in the gigantic five-story FAO Schwartz toy store.  Domenica came to believe that when she grew up, she would go to New York City and something magical would happen to her.

When Domenica was thirteen, her parents split up and she moved to upstate New York with her mother and siblings.  Her mom took a job managing eight restaurants, and as soon as she was old enough, Domenica went to work with her.  Her mother found Domenica to be a true asset.  She'd take on unglamorous tasks like setting up buffets and cleaning shrimp, eventually even learning her way around the cook stations, and she tackled them all with enthusiasm and bubbling energy.

After progressing from waitress to manager, at the age of 23, Domenica decided it was time to move to New York City.  She found a job managing a tiny candy counter at Macy's, where her boss gave her a crash-course education in gourmet food, something she knew almost nothing about.  She flourished at Macy's, but two years later, when they offered her a promotion to take charge of another department, she turned it down because she really was only interested in food. 

Domenica always had it in her mind that she wanted to succeed in New York.  However, coming home from work one night, she was confronted by a young mugger in the entryway to her apartment.  Domenica managed to scare him off with pepper spray, but the incident left her shaken.  It also made an impression on her attacker, who sought her out again just weeks later.  The second mugging put Domenica in the hospital, and she decided that she’d had enough of life in the city.  She moved back home and took a job as a waitress.

One year later, Domenica got a job at a specialty food shop.  Not long after, their chef quit, and Domenica’s years spent learning food prep and line cooking for her mother suddenly came into play.  She seized the opportunity to offer cooking classes inside the store to teach people how to prepare delicious meals at home in 30-minutes or less.

The idea blossomed into a weekly three-minute television spot on the local news.  Domenica would go to people’s homes and walk through the preparation of their favorite dishes for the television audience.  The appeal was that she was one of them, just a girl who loved food and wanted to enjoy what she ate rather than a prestigious and unapproachable chef.  She often cut corners by using ingredients you could find in a box, and jokingly said, “I’m not Martha Stewart.  I’m just like you.”

Being on television didn’t mean she was making any money, however, and Domenica was frequently on the verge of not being able to pay her rent.  She was able to arrange a meeting with a publisher to discuss a cookbook, and although the publisher wasn’t initially very interested, Domenica’s determination and energetic charm won her over.

Domenica’s cookbook caught the attention of television personality Al Roker, who watched her local news segments and mentioned her to his booking staff.  Nothing happened immediately, but when a freak blizzard resulted in a last-second cancellation, Domenica was invited with little notice to appear as a Today Show guest.

In a bizarre coincidence, Domenica got a phone call the day after taping her Today Show appearance from the president of the Food Network.  She didn’t understand their interest, given that most of their programming was of high-end food being prepared by established restaurant chefs, but it was her everyday accessibility that they wanted. 

Domenica, better known to the world as Rachael Ray, appealed to home-cooks and food lovers everywhere, and it made her name a household staple.  But it was her tenacity and dedication to what she loved that eventually took her from behind the candy shop counter and made Rachael Ray an internationally-known brand name with over a dozen cookbooks, a lifestyle magazine, numerous cooking programs, and her own network television talk show.

When it comes to your own personal recipe for success, remember how important it is to be true to your passions and stay comfortable being your authentic self.

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Work Half Days

Growing up in Pittsburgh, Mark wanted to be rich from a very young age.  When his family drove by big houses, he wondered who lived there and what they did for a living, telling himself that someday he would have a house like that too.

Mark’s father was the son of Russian immigrants, and worked as a car upholsterer.  It wasn’t a glamorous or high-paying job, but it kept his family fed and a roof over them.  He tried to instill in his son the same sense of having to work hard to get anywhere.  Once, when Mark was twelve years old, he approached his father during a poker game and asked for a new pair of sneakers.  His father told him if the ones he had weren’t good enough, then Mark could get a job and buy whatever shoes he wanted.  But one of his father’s poker buddies had a suggestion:  Mark should try going door-to-door selling garbage bags.

Mark decided to try, and sure enough, he was able to earn enough to buy the sneakers.  He moved to magazine subscriptions next, getting better as he got more comfortable selling to strangers. By high school, Mark was earning extra money re-selling stamps, coins and baseball cards.  He was a fast learner, reading constantly, and in his junior year, he began taking college classes on the side.  He was in such a rush that he skipped his senior year of high school entirely to enroll at the university.

Mark had chosen his school because it had the lowest tuition of America’s top ten business schools.  But he still needed to pay for it.  He made money giving dance lessons, and even paid for one semester with a chain letter that brought in over a thousand dollars.  He also bought a local college bar by selling shares to his friends, and when he wasn’t bartending or spinning records, he was schmoozing and entertaining the patrons.  People came to see him, and it was clear that the bar made more when he was there.

After graduating, Mark got a job at a bank, in the department responsible for converting its processes from paper to computer systems.  But Mark was always focused on the bigger picture.  He would send notes to the bank’s CEO with ideas on how they could make more money.  In an effort to improve morale, he started a “Rookie Club,” inviting senior bank executives to talk to the company’s younger employees.  He even started an in-office newsletter. 

His boss was livid, seeing Mark’s efforts as attempts to undermine his authority.  It was Mark’s first lesson about the type of leader he did not want to be.  It was also all the urging he needed to make a clean break from Pittsburgh and try his luck elsewhere.

Mark drove to Dallas and moved into a friend’s three-bedroom apartment.  The problem was, five people already lived there, so Mark had to sleep on the floor.  He got a job selling software and had no fear of hard work.  About nine months in, his dedication led to a $15,000 sale for the company, which would earn him a $1,500 commission.  But when his boss told him not to leave the office to collect the payment, Mark decided to go anyway, confident the large check would make the boss happy. 

He was wrong.  When he got back, his boss fired him on the spot, screaming about disobedience.  It was an even more important lesson for Mark, helping him decide then and there to avoid bosses altogether by starting his own software company.  He was twenty-five.

Seven years later, Mark sold his company, MicroSolutions, for six million dollars.  He went on to co-found, a multi-media company that was ultimately purchased by Yahoo! for nearly $6 billion.  Today, Mark Cuban is a billionaire businessman, investor, and philanthropist. He is the owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, the Landmark movie theatre chain, and the Hollywood production company Magnolia Pictures.  His no-nonsense approach to business can also be seen in his role as a "shark" investor on the television series Shark Tank.

When asked how it’s possible that he accomplishes so much in any given day, his response is that he only works half days, and you just have to decide which half to work, the first twelve hours or the second.  Mark Cuban’s philosophy is simple:  “Love what you do or don’t do it, and remember, it’s not in the dreaming, it’s in the doing.”

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams