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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Entrepreneurship: Nothing to Lose and Everything to Gain

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by Dan Schawbel, contributor, Reposted by Dance4One
I recently caught up with Ryan Blair, who is a serial entrepreneur and author of the new book "Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain." Ryan established his first company, 24-7 Tech when he was only twenty-one years old. Since then, he has created and actively invested in multiple start-ups and has become a self-made multimillionaire. After he sold his company ViSalus Sciences to Blyth in early 2008, the global recession took the company to the brink of failure resulting in a complete write off of the stock and near bankruptcy. Ryan as CEO went "all in" betting his last million dollars on its potential and turned the company around from the edge of failure to more than $150,000,000 a year in revenue in only 16 months winning the coveted DSN Global Turn Around Award in 2010. In this interview, Ryan talks about how he re-branded himself after being in a gang, the issues with the education system, and more.
How did you shake your criminal record and re-brand yourself?
I remember when I was working my way up in the first company that employed me, I used to have nightmares that one day they'd find out about that I had been in a gang, call me into the office, and fire me. In the beginning I didn't talk much about what I'd been through. But eventually when I got to a point where I had established myself as a professional entrepreneur, I embraced my past, used it as part of my branding, and crossed over.
Ryan Blair
In this day and age people want authenticity. Now that the world is social, people know all about you. Assuming you decided to join humanity, that is. It turned out that as I started showing my true identity, so did the rest of the world. One of the reasons my company ViSalus is one of the fastest growing companies in the industry today is because we share our good, bad, and ugly. Like sharing a video of me playing a practical joke on one of my employees, for instance. As a result of embracing authenticity, I turned the company around from near bankruptcy to over $15 million a month today. Unlike our competitors, our distributors and customers know exactly who we are, and I'd say that corporate America has a lot of catching up to do.
What's your take on the educational system? Will a college degree help or hurt your chances at starting a successful business?
As a product of Los Angeles's public school system, in a state with the highest dropout rate in the nation (about 20 percent), I can tell you from personal experience that some of our brightest minds are being misidentified because of a one-size-fits-all learning environment. Because I had ADD and dyslexia I never got past the 9th grade.
I recall sitting with a career counselor in continuation high school, being told that I didn't have the intellect or aptitude to become a doctor or a lawyer. They suggested a trade school, construction, something where I'd be working with my hands.
The irony is that today I employ plenty of doctors and lawyers. Would you rather be a doctor or a lawyer, or a guy who writes a check to doctors and lawyers?
If President Obama phoned me today and told me he was appointing me Educational Czar, I'd turn education into a business, a capitalistic, revenue driven system, creating a competitive environment where each school is trying to attract customers, based on quality of customer experience.
As an entrepreneur, having a college degree or getting classroom training won't hurt your chances for starting a successful business, but it's ultimately not necessary. In Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers," he makes a point that it takes approximately 10,000 hours to master a skill set at a professional level. That means experience, over traditional education.
What three business lessons did you learn from juvenile detention?
I learned a lot about business and life from my time spent incarcerated. I like to call these pieces of wisdom my Philosophies from the Jail Cell to the Boardroom. One of the biggest lessons I learned was that in Juvenile Hall, new guys always get tested. When I went in the first time, I was just a skinny little white kid and I had to learn fast. People will be bumping into you on the basketball court, or asking you for things, testing to see if you're tough.
And everyone knew that if a guy let someone take their milk during lunchtime, they weren't as tough as they looked. Soon you'd be taking their milk everyday, and so would everyone else. It's the same for business, if you give people the impression that you can be taken, you will be.
Also, adaptation is the key to survival. In jail the guy who rises to power isn't always the strongest or the smartest. As prisoners come and go, he's the one that adapts to the changing environment, while influencing the right people. You can use this in business, staying abreast of market trends, changing your game plan as technology shifts, and adapting our strategy around your company's strongest competitive advantages. Darwin was absolutely right — survival is a matter of how you respond to change.
The last lesson I got from jail is that you have to learn how to read people. You don't know who to trust. It's the same for business because a lot of people come into my office with a front. I have to figure out quickly who is the real deal and who isn't. Based on that fact, I developed an HR system that I use when interviewing potential new hires that I call the Connect Four Technique. Yep, you guessed it. I make my future employees — and I have hundreds of them — play me in Connect Four.
Can everyone be an entrepreneur? Can it be learned or do you have to be born with a special gene?
No. Not everyone can be an entrepreneur. There are two types of people in the world, domesticated and undomesticated. Some people are so domesticated through their social programming and belief system, so employee minded, that they could never be entrepreneurs. And they shouldn't even bother trying. The irony is that this is coming from a guy who teaches millions of people how to become entrepreneurs. I'm literally selling a book about becoming an entrepreneur, telling you that not everyone should read it.
To be an entrepreneur, you have to have fighting instincts. Are instincts genetic? I don't think so, but you 'inherit' them from your upbringing. Now, if you're smart you can reprogram your beliefs. But there are still some people that would rather watch other people be entrepreneurs, like the people in the Forbes "richest celebrity list" than take the time to reprogram themselves, and live their lives like rock stars, too.
Is there a need for business plans these days?
When you've really got the entrepreneurial bug, the last thing you want to do is sit down and write a business plan. It's the equivalent of writing a book about playing the guitar before actually knowing how to play the guitar. You don't know what your new business is going to be like. And just like a guitar, a business will have to be tweaked and tuned multiple times, and you'll need long practice sessions and repetition, before you can get even one successful song out of it.
In my book "Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain," I actually included a chapter called "I Hate Business Plans" where I talk about this. Most business plans that get sent to me, I close within seconds of opening them up because they are full of fluff and hype. A business plan should be simple, something you could scribble on a scratch pad. No more than three pages of your business objectives, expected results, and the strategy to get there. But the best business plan is one built from a business that is already up and running and that matches the business's actual results.
The point is that you should be so obsessed with your business that you can't sleep at night because that's all you can think about. And that's your ultimate "business plan."
Dan Schawbel is the Managing Partner of Millennial Branding, LLC, a full-service personal branding agency, and author of "Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future."

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Book, "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett Turned down SIXTY times before becoming BEST SELLER...

by MORE Magazine, on Tue Aug 9, 2011 6:02am PDT, RE-POSTED by Dance4One on 8-17-11
Kathryn Stocket - Photo by Ben Hoffmann
If you ask my husband my best trait, he’ll smile and say, “She never gives up.” But if you ask him my worst trait, he’ll get a funny tic in his cheek, narrow his eyes and hiss, “She. Never. Gives. Up.”

It took me a year and a half to write my earliest version of The Help. I’d told most of my friends and family what I was working on. Why not? We are compelled to talk about our passions. When I’d polished my story, I announced it was done and mailed it to a literary agent.
Six weeks later, I received a rejection letter from the agent, stating, “Story did not sustain my interest.” I was thrilled! I called my friends and told them I’d gotten my first rejection! Right away, I went back to editing. I was sure I could make the story tenser, more riveting, better.
A few months later, I sent it to a few more agents. And received a few more rejections. Well, more like 15. I was a little less giddy this time, but I kept my chin up. “Maybe the next book will be the one,” a friend said. Next book? I wasn’t about to move on to the next one just because of a few stupid letters. I wanted to write this book.
A year and a half later, I opened my 40th rejection: “There is no market for this kind of tiring writing.” That one finally made me cry. “You have so much resolve, Kathryn,” a friend said to me. “How do you keep yourself from feeling like this has been just a huge waste of your time?”
That was a hard weekend. I spent it in pajamas, slothing around that racetrack of self-pity—you know the one, from sofa to chair to bed to refrigerator, starting over again on the sofa. But I couldn’t let go of The Help. Call it tenacity, call it resolve or call it what my husband calls it: stubbornness.
After rejection number 40, I started lying to my friends about what I did on the weekends. They were amazed by how many times a person could repaint her apartment. The truth was, I was embarrassed for my friends and family to know I was still working on the same story, the one nobody apparently wanted to read.
Sometimes I’d go to literary conferences, just to be around other writers trying to get published. I’d inevitably meet some successful writer who’d tell me, “Just keep at it. I received 14 rejections before I finally got an agent. Fourteen. How many have you gotten?”
By rejection number 45, I was truly neurotic. It was all I could think about—revising the book, making it better, getting an agent, getting it published. I insisted on rewriting the last chapter an hour before I was due at the hospital to give birth to my daughter. I would not go to the hospital until I’d typed The End. I was still poring over my research in my hospital room when the nurse looked at me like I wasn’t human and said in a New Jersey accent, “Put the book down, you nut job—you’re crowning.”
It got worse. I started lying to my husband. It was as if I were having an affair—with 10 black maids and a skinny white girl. After my daughter was born, I began sneaking off to hotels on the weekends to get in a few hours of writing. I’m off to the Poconos! Off on a girls’ weekend! I’d say. Meanwhile, I’d be at the Comfort Inn around the corner. It was an awful way to act, but—for God’s sake—I could not make myself give up.
In the end, I received 60 rejections forThe Help. But letter number 61 was the one that accepted me. After my five years of writing and three and a half years of rejection, an agent named Susan Ramer took pity on me. What if I had given up at 15? Or 40? Or even 60? Three weeks later, Susan sold The Help to Amy Einhorn Books.
The point is, I can’t tell you how to succeed. But I can tell you how not to: Give in to the shame of being rejected and put your manuscript—or painting, song, voice, dance moves, [insert passion here]—in the coffin that is your bedside drawer and close it for good. I guarantee you that it won’t take you anywhere. Or you could do what this writer did: Give in to your obsession instead.
And if your friends make fun of you for chasing your dream, remember—just lie.
The article was written by Kathryn Stockett.