If I could do it all again I would make more friends.

I always laugh when someone says ‘If I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything different.’ I appreciate the conviction of such a statement. But it shows that they have not learned and grown much during this dress rehearsal. So they obviously wouldn’t profit much from a life mulligan anyway.

My Re-do

I can find a seemingly endless supply of things I would do differently on my life do-over. I would have slowed down that night when I lost control of my car and flew it into a pasture full of cows Duke’s of Hazard-style. I would have skipped that Wednesday football practice when I tore my ACL my senior year. I would NOT have bought that cheap home printer that constantly jammed and guzzled ink like a drunken donkey. And I would NOT have taken work from that client who was like a real-life Mikey, and really did hate everything. Even Life cereal.

I have been thinking a lot lately about things I would change If I could do it all again. And there is one clear answer that rings out every time I ponder this question. It’s not a regret that haunts me. It’s not a mistake I would fix. And it’s not a detour I would take to avoid pain or punishment. It is something I wish I had more of.

More, More, More

If I could go back and do it all over I would make more friends. There is no greater asset on Earth. There are nearly 8 billion people on the planet. But when I think about the tiny percentage of those people I actually know it gives me a major case of FOMO.

When I was younger I remember people saying that the person who dies with the most toys wins. That couldn’t be further from the truth. It is the person who collects the most friends, who develops and maintains the most and best human relationships that really wins this game. And if those friends have lots of toys, even better.

Friends With Benefits

Friends deliver on our most basic needs. They offer a sense of home and belonging. They offer support, encouragement and inspiration. They make us smile and laugh and sometimes blow things out of our noses involuntarily. And as I have gotten older I have found you can never have too many people in your friend column.

Collecting Friends

I still maintain friendships from pre-school, elementary school, middle school, high school and college. I am still in touch with friends from all 9 cities I have lived in. I have friends I have met on airplanes, while on vacation, and while playing at the park with my kids. But I can’t help but think of all of the amazing friends I haven’t met. Especially the ones who have kidneys just like mine.

Work Friends

Friends have been the most important ingredient of my career success. My coworker-friends, client-friends and partner-friends have not only contributed immensely to my workplace wins, they have made me feel as if I am hanging out with friends all day long. In fact, I met my all-time best friend Dawn at work. And we have now been married for 18 years. #CompanyPicnicsAreTheBest

Entrepreneurship

When I launched The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, it was my friends who became my first clients, coworkers and champions. Today, the business and all of the peripheral activities that come with it are a great source of new and growing friendships. In fact, I think of the ability to develop and maintain strong relationships as the greatest input to entrepreneurial success and the greatest fringe benefit of entrepreneurship.

The Greatest ROI

I have friends in every state in America and in dozens of countries around the world. They offer the greatest return of any investment I have ever made. But like the dollars I have squirreled away in my 401(k) plan, I wish had invested even more. Alas, if wishes were fishes we would all have a fry. So the best we can do is make more in the days and years ahead.

Key Takeaway

Keep growing your tribe. Make as many friends as you can in as many places as you can. Connect your friends to each other. Invest in your relationships. Make them deep and wide. At the end of our days, the only thing that matters is the impact we have made on each other. So create more impactful relationships, and enjoy the positive impact they have on you.

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Find people who ask you questions you didn’t know to ask.

I have a new startup business idea in the embryonic stage. I know what I want it to look like fully-formed, but I don’t know some of the most basic details that will help me get there. Or at least I didn’t until yesterday (when all my trouble seemed so far away).

Good Call

Yesterday morning I had a call with an expert that I would need to partner with to make this idea a reality. He asked me many important questions about my plan that I simply had no answers to. There were a lot of TBDs. But with each of the TBDs, I became more D to find the answers.

One Giant Leap For Startupkind

That conversation was a huge leap forward for me. Because now I have my homework assignments. I know the answers I need to find. I know the boxes I need to chickity check. I know what I don’t know, you know. And like Robert Frost said, that makes all the difference.

Move Forward.

Entrepreneurship, and growth of all kinds, are adventures into the unknown. The most important thing is to start moving forward. Take a step and the next step will reveal itself. Kinda like a striptease.

Don’t be afraid to be asked questions you don’t know the answers to. Those questions are gifts. They tell you what you are looking for next, where you need to go next, what you need to do next. Because growth is all about what’s next.

Grow vs. Wade

Get in over your head. It is the fastest way to discover the next step. Getting into a conversation that makes you feel dumb is the best way to get smart. Stepping out of your comfort zone is simply the first step to expanding your comfort zone. That is how you grow.

Key Takeaway

When you step into the unknown growth is inevitable. It helps you collect questions. In the beginning, the questions themselves are the answers you are looking for. Learn the questions. Find the answers. Then find yourself where you always envisioned you would be.

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8 questions on how I became an entrepreneur.

This week I had a fun interview on entrepreneurship. I wasn’t talking to Inc., How I Built This or Squawk Box. I was interviewed by Jayson Koel, a sophomore at Germantown High School in Germantown, Wisconsin with great hair. Jayson is taking an entrepreneurship class and is working on his own business, an apparel company called Midwest Running Club. Which I assume doesn’t sell Speedos to New Englanders.

Jayson (Y ask Y there’s a Y) had 8 good questions for me that I thought would be worth sharing with others who are considering entrepreneurship, or who simply wonder how someone gets started on their entrepreneurial journey.

This is Jayson Koel. Check out that flow! (And the t-shirt his Dad and I designed.)

8 Questions on Entrepreneurship with Jayson Koel

  1. When did you know you wanted to own your own business?

At the very beginning of my career. I immediately loved the idea of creating my own version of an advertising agency. I was always envious of entrepreneurs for being brave enough to do what everyone else dreams of doing. And I think envy is a great navigational tool. (Unless you are on a ship. Then you should use real navigational tools.) 3 years into my career a film director I was working with told me I had to start my own agency in order to secure my future. I took the advice. And I wrote about it here.

2. How did you prepare to get started?

I spent 19 years learning how advertising works, building relationships, creative skills, leadership skills, and nunchuck skillz. Because girls only like guys who have great skills. I had a subscription to Inc. magazine that whole time and continuously studied entrepreneurship. I surrounded myself with other entrepreneurs, and learned how they thought, and increased my courage and confidence through their examples. Then, in the last 6 months before I launched The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, I bought The E-Myth, by Michael Gerber, which is a great how-to book on how to run a business the right way. Even for southpaws.

3. Who helped you start your business?

My cousin Brooks Albrecht and I launched The Weaponry together. Brooks was in Seattle working for Amazon, I was in Atlanta, working at Moxie, the largest ad agency in Atlanta. We collaborated and planned and made things happen from opposite corners of the country, with a 3-hour time difference between us. We used Zoom, Slack, Google G-Suite, and Dropbox while planning the business because we had to to bridge our distance. That created a perfect infrastructure for the business operations too. Brooks was like a rocket booster and stayed with us for the first year, then peeled off and rejoined Amazon full time. He is now a rockstar at Chewy.

4. What obstacles were incurred in starting the business and how were they overcome?

Our first and largest client in year one was only a 1-year client. Which meant that we had to figure out how to quickly grow and replace that revenue in year 2 and beyond. I had seen what happens to businesses that don’t continuously grow by attracting new clients. (They go out of business.) So from the beginning, I developed a mindset that all of our clients were going to disappear on New Year’s Eve each year, and we would have to start again with all new clients the next year. But at the same time, I wanted to treat our clients so well that they never wanted to leave. Those 2 approaches of continuous business development and excellent customer service have kept us going and growing.

5. What are your characteristics that have benefited you the most as an entrepreneur?

My relationship skills. Personal relationships have always been important to me. And I quickly realized once I started The Weaponry that the hardest part of entrepreneurship, which is relationship development and maintenance, was something I had been working at for the past 30 years. And that has made my entrepreneurial journey really enjoyable. My creative skills, strategic thinking, and careful financial approach have also benefited me significantly as an entrepreneur. My optimism and sense of humor help a lot too. Entrepreneurship is a roller coaster ride. Believing each down will be followed by an up keeps you from throwing up your cereal every morning.

6. Where do you see this business in 10 years?

Large and in charge like Large Marge. We will grow significantly, have offices across the country, and will be sought after by the very best brands. (I shared my actual goals with real numbers and specifics with Jayson to give him a sense of how big I am thinking. But talk is cheap. So I’d rather show the rest of the world what we have done than talk about what we hope to do.)

7. What are the rewards of owning your business?

There is great peace of mind when we go through difficult economic times like we have experienced over the past year. I am still in control of my own future, and won’t be ejected by a business that wants to save money by dropping me like a hot bowling ball. There is also a great sense of control over my life and my future. I sink, swim or fly based on my own actions. I love creating a team culture, working with people I enjoy. Your earning potential when you own your own business is unlimited. I also get to decide on the company t-shirts and hoodies. And I never have to regret not starting my own business.

8. What advice would you give to my classmates and me?

Start thinking about owning your own business right now, while you are still in high school. Keep your eyes open for entrepreneurial opportunities all along your journey. Learn a craft really well so that you are good enough at it that you can start your own business someday. Develop and maintain your relationships. And read Rich Dad. Poor Dad. by Robert Kiyosaki and The E-Myth.

Oh, and start a blog. Share what you know with people and make them laugh if you can. People love to laugh as they learn, except when they are drinking really hot coffee or peanut brittle and it shoots out their nose.

What to do when you find yourself in a blizzard.

I woke up this morning to one of the heaviest snowfalls I have seen in several years thanks to winter storm Orlena. The lake effect snow machine is in full effect here on the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan. On top of that, the winds are whipping like the Dazz Band. And I say let it whip.

I love this kind of weather. Unlike hurricanes, tornados, floods and wildfires that leave massive destruction in their wake, a blizzard leaves the world better and more beautiful. After Orlena transforms the midwest and northeast into a fresh powder playground, images of the snowfall will be trending on social media like Gamestop. Or Grumpy Bernie.

My Daughter Ava sent me this pic from her room this morning.

Life Is Full of Blizzards

It’s useful to think of the challenges in your life like blizzards. They can be frustrating and disorienting. But once they pass, they often leave you better than they found you.

The Startup Blizzard

When I was first launching my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, the swirling uncertainty of startup-ness surrounded us. And that can really mess with you. Here is something I wrote about the experience we were going through 4 years ago.

From June 10th, 2016

Today I had a long talk with a co-worker who was having a hard time at work. Which is understandable. Because startups are kinda hard. Launching a startup is like walking in a blizzard. Wind and snow are all up in your grill. It’s cold. Visibility goes into the toilet. It’s difficult to navigate in these conditions.

In the middle of a blizzard, your survival instincts tell you to seek shelter. It’s natural to want to escape the relentless wind, disorienting snow and mounting drifts. Sitting by a crackling fire, drinking hot chocolate is far more appealing to most people.

But I like walking in blizzards. I like being out when no one else is. I like doing things that build my character, my will and my personal legend. In the same way a callus rises as the result of repeated friction, strength grows from pushing against resistance.

If a blizzard confronts you on your journey you have to keep walking. You must have faith that you know where you are heading. You have to take steps forward, even when it is hard.

Blizzards of the wintry, professional and personal kind are temporary. Eventually, the snow will stop falling. The wind will chill the eff out. And the sun will come out again.

When that happens, where will you be? It’s a matter of what you did during the blizzard. If you keep pushing, you will find yourself far ahead of where you started, far ahead of those who sought shelter, and closer to your ultimate goal. You’ll find the ultimate rewards far outweigh the hot chocolate you sacrificed along the way.

Key Takeaway

Blizzards are a part of life. They will make life hard for a while. But keep going anyway. Everything is more beautiful on the other side.

Follow Up Note

The Weaponry will turn 5 years old in April. Today we have 23 clients. Because we didn’t stop walking when things were hard.

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How to start a business by looking in the garbage.

If you have always wanted to start your own business but didn’t know where to begin, check the trash. I know several entrepreneurs who got their start turning trash into treasure. There is no cheaper way to get your raw materials than in the garbage can. Which makes me wonder why Oscar is so grouchy.

My friend Mark Thompson of Logan, Utah worked in a warehouse in his younger years. He noticed that truckers would discard broken pallets. So he got the idea to fix or replace the broken wood on the pallets and sell them back to truckers. The cost of goods was very low. The market was there. It just took some elbow grease. Or was it elbow sawdust? Today, Pallets of Utah creates custom pallets for companies around the world.

I recently worked with William Starkey who owns Flat Out Motorsports in Indianapolis. He got his start by fixing up wrecked motorcycles and reselling them. Kinda like Fixer Upper for bikes. Only with less shiplap. Again, the input costs were low. The market was there. He just needed to put in the time and effort to bring the busted bikes back to life.

In the classic book Rich Dad. Poor Dad., author Robert Kiyosaki’s first business was created when he fished discarded comic books out of the garbage and created a comic book library. He then charged other kids an hourly access fee, and soon discovered comics could be serious business.

Check The Trash

Look for things that others have discarded that still have latent value? Are there old books you can bundle by color and resell as design elements? Can you turn old album covers into framed pieces of art? Can you take jeans that are discarded because they are too holey, and re-market them to people who think they are just holey enough?

Far too much value is thrown in the wastebasket. So look for your entrepreneurial starter kit in the discard pile. And don’t let your opportunity go to waste.

Key Takeaway

The start of your entrepreneurial journey may be as close as the garbage can. Keep your eyes open for straw that you can spin into gold. Up-cycle, recycle, re-position or transform. Make the discarded into art. Make the old new again. There is opportunity all around you. Just open your mind to see it.

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Opportunities are like showers. They need time to warm up.

Action and patience are like the chocolate and peanut butter of success. You need both. First, you need to act in order to create conditions for growth and achievement. You need to put the ball in motion. You need to hit start. You need to raise your hand. You need to plant seeds.

But then comes the hard part. You need to be patient. Because the universe doesn’t run on your timeline. The big break you are looking for doesn’t care how much you want it to happen right now, Sammy Hagar.

Opportunities are like showers. They take time to warm up. Which means you need to plan ahead. You need to take action early, so you can create opportunities later. You can’t wait until the moment you need results to get started. Or you are sure to get the cold shoulder, along with a whole bunch of other cold body parts.

Why? It takes time for the warm water of your positive actions to reach you. Remember, each shower works on its own timeframe. It depends on how far the shower is from the hot water heater, the size of the pipe, and how long it has been since you showered last.

Reminder

Once you have met a new contact, prospect, potential customer, hottie or employer, remember that you need to wait on their timing to be right to create a mutually beneficial transaction. If you insist on moving quickly, expect a cold shower.

Key Takeaway

Take initial action. Then be patient. We are all dependent on others. Arriving at synchronization takes time. Let the water warm up before you jump in. The wait is well worth it.

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You know you love your job when…

Last night I was up until 1am. But I wasn’t partying.

I was reading. But I wasn’t lost in a page-turning mystery, or a salacious celebrity biography. I was alone, in my home office, reading a 48-page Master Service Agreement.

For those unfamiliar with MSAs, they are the legal documents that businesses sign with each other in order to form legal working relationships. They are like company prenups. And 48 pages is like a Kardashian-level prenup.

As I was carefully pouring over the legalese somewhere west of midnight, I was struck by how much I enjoyed what I was doing. It’s not that I love reading legal documents. The theretofores and hence-stateds always seem stilted and unnecessary. Like the nerdy shop talk of those who want to get back at the world by going to law school.

I enjoyed reading the long and dry document because it is part of the entrepreneurial experience.

When I first launched The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, I hoped that I would have clients join me on my adventure. Because a business without clients is like the sound of one hand clapping. Better yet, I wanted The Weaponry to work with large, successful companies who could afford armies of legal resources to write 48-page MSAs for them.

Today I have a great collection of large, successful clients. I’m doing what I set out to do. And I am happy to take the fun, the pride and the spoils of entrepreneurship, along with the 48-page MSAs.

Remember not to view legal contracts, insurance and taxes as headaches or necessary evils. They are symbols of success. And they are worth losing a little sleep over.

Key Takeaway

Find the things in life that you enjoy so much that you gladly embrace the tedium that goes with it. It is how you know you are on the right path.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

How to take your good ideas from a lean to a run.

We all have aspirations of creating cool new things. Maybe there’s a company that you always wanted to start. There’s a t-shirt or hat you wish you had. Or a new product or service you know the world needs. Perhaps there is a meetup you wish existed. Maybe there is a regular get-together among friends. Or a new blog post that didn’t exist at 6:00 this morning. #ItsTimeToMakeTheDonuts

You wish that you actually started, did, or made those things that you think so much about. Right?

Well, you should.

What most people do when they have a great idea is fantasize about it for too long. Sometimes for years, or even decades. Unfortunately, the idea often dies when the person dies. Then the human and their unrealized dreams have a double funeral. It’s all so sad. (Tito, get me some tissue.)

At some point in the process, you lean forward on the idea. You start writing the idea down in your notebook or on your digital device. You sketch out details. You do some online searching on the topic. You talk to other people about it. Your Aunt Jan thinks it sounds fabulous.

Once you have leaned forward on your idea one of two things happens:

  1. You lean back to your normal resting position. At that point, the idea stops progressing into reality. Instead, it goes from a growing grape to wrinkly raisin.
  2. You transition from a lean to a run. You start taking bigger and faster steps. You quickly cover more ground. You start passing other people. Your hair blows back in the wind. You start hearing the theme song from Chariots of Fire.

Which of these do you think leads to real results, real businesses, and real products, services, and events that exist here in the real world, Alan Jackson?

Come on Eileen! It’s time to run.

Obviously, it is #2.

Transitioning from a lean to a run is the magic point when ideas get made. People who really create things don’t stop at the lean. They don’t simply fantasize. They don’t perform the minimum. They take additional steps. And those steps happen faster and faster.

What you’ll quickly find is that it only takes a few important steps in the right direction to build momentum. Once you have created momentum, the development process begins pulling you along, like a riptide. For those who create a lot, the process becomes like a black hole sucking you in until the idea is fully made. This is what you want. And it’s easier than you think.

Key Takeaway

Don’t just lean in on good ideas. Start to run. Rapid steps of progress get the job done. #RhymingReminder

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How snowballs can help make your dreams come true.

Do you have big dreams? Do you have lofty goals and imagine yourself as a big success? Of course you do! You are full of ideas about the things you want to make and do. Which is a great start. But it is the same great start that everyone has.

There are amazing things happening in your head. But no one else can see them. Except maybe your radiologist, and that woman from Long Island Medium. To transform your dreams and ideas into reality you have to take action. You have to make, and do. You have to press your ideas into the world. Here’s how it works.

A Lesson In The Snow

A thought is like a field of freshly fallen snow. They are both full of potential. But to transform the field of snow into something of your own creation, you have to reach down and grab a handful of it. You have to pack it into a ball. By doing so you have begun to convert an idea into something tangible and real. Suddenly you have something of your own creation. You have built the initial unit. (snickering) This is the first visible product of your thoughts.

Step 2

From there, you decide the next step. You can grab another handful and pack a bigger ball. You can place the ball on the ground and create another one just like it. And another and another. You can create a small line of snowballs. Then start a second level. You can create a circle of snowballs like the foundation of your snow fort.

Or you can put that snowball on the ground and begin to roll it. You can watch it grow quickly with thick layers of compounding snow.

Keep Going. Keep Rolling. Keep Growing.

That snowball, gathered and rolled, will grow as long as you keep rolling it. Stop rolling and the progress stops too. #PleaseDontStopTheMusic

But if you keep pushing you will get to a point where you need more people to push it with you. (Like Salt N Peppa did.) Find yourself a hill and let the universe work its magic. Suddenly, growing bigger is easier. Before you know it you will have a giant snowball thanks to simple, steady effort multiplied over time.

Where It Started

Remember, it all began when you squeezed together that first small handful of snow. That was the step that mattered most. Without that, nothing else was possible. There was nothing to multiply. Nothing to add to.

My Snowballs

I dreamt of starting my own advertising agency. So I took on a project from a friend. Now The Weaponry is a multi-million dollar business with offices in 2 states.

I wish I had a blog. So I wrote one post in the fall of 2015. Now I have written over 530 posts. Today my blog has been read in 130 countries.

I always wanted a family. So I asked my co-worker to go see a movie. Now Dawn and I have been married for 18 years and have 3 crazy kids. (My youngest, Magnus, just popped his head into my office, and in his best narwhal voice said, ‘Bye Buddy. I hope you find your Dad.’

Key Takeaway

Make snowballs. They are the easiest thing to create. But they make all the difference.

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How to approach your career like a sport.

Business is the ultimate sport. Not only is it highly competitive, it is played for money. And the better you are at this game the more money you and your teammates make. And while many professional athletes are well paid, it is because someone else is making even more money in business by owning the team or the league the athletes play in.

Sports and Business

Will Jurgensen loves exploring the parallel between sports and business. In fact, he began a podcast called Sport Coats to profile the stories of athletes who applied their approach to athletics to successful business careers. I would have liked to have been in the room when Will realized how perfect the name Sport Coats was for his sports/business podcast. Because I bet that boy celebrated like Ickey Woods.

Everyday Ickey Woods is shuffling.

I recently sat down with Will to talk about my experience as a track and field athlete at The University of Wisconsin. But more importantly, we talked about how I have applied my approach to athletics to my career in advertising. And we talked about how my athletic career prepared me to become an entrepreneur when I launched The Weaponry.

Sound bites from the podcast:

On Focus:

‘I remember early in my career, getting hyper-focused on concepts for a campaign or ideas for a new business pitch. It felt the same as those times when I was in the weight room focusing hard on getting those last few reps. It’s the same thing, it’s the exact same feeling.’

On Transitioning: (Not like Caitlyn Jenner)

‘When you are done with your athletics, a lot of athletes say, “I was lost, I felt like it wasn’t me without sports.” I would say I never felt that at all. As soon as I graduated, I just turned my attention to my career and took the exact same focus and drive, and willingness to put in the energy to be great that I did for my athletics. I put that into my career and it surprises me how few athletes do this, because it is the exact same blueprint for athletic success that drives the rest of the success in your career.’

On Self Improvement:

‘Track and field is a little different than a traditional team sport because it is all you, and it’s so cut and dry. I would put a tape measure out or use a stopwatch to figure out if I was improving and if I was better than other people who have tried this. From that standpoint, I found the challenge of self-improvement to be intoxicating.’

On Training:

“The structure, the discipline, the focus, the background work that you have to do as an athlete, you know, all the little drills that you do over and over to perfect a piece of what you do, when you do that in your career you become highly specialized. And you become world-class at the smallest things. You add extreme value to organizations that make money off of that kind of work.’

Hear Ye! Hear Ye! Ye Can Hear It Here.

You can listen to my interview here at The Sport Coats Podcast. You can also read more of the transcript if you prefer the voice in your head over mine. I listened to the podcast on the podcast app on my iPhone.

I think you will enjoy it, even if you aren’t into sports. It feels like a motivational talk. Will is a great host. And after listening to the episode I understood why people think I am excited about life.

Key Takeaway

Business is the ultimate competitive sport. It requires discipline, teamwork and strategy. Everything you know about athletic competition, hard work, focus and determination translates directly to business. It is an inherently fun game to play with others. And it is even more fun to win. The money is a bonus. But what a bonus that is.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, or from this podcast, please share it with them.