I was recently interviewed for BizNow, a Sioux Falls-area magazine that highlights a wide-variety of entrepreneurs and their companies. I’m thankful to Charlotte Hofer, Jessica Newell and the rest of the BizNow team for involving me in this issue. You can pick-up a copy of the magazine at your local HyVee or see the full digital version of the magazine online by clicking here.
My responses were cut down a bit to fit the space available in the magazine, so I’ve decided to post the full written interview below.
- How many businesses do you own and in what industries & how did you come to be a serial entrepreneur?
I currently own three companies. My largest business, Analyst Ratings Network, is a digital publishing company that publishes a daily investment newsletter to more than 180,000 subscribers. I also run a software fundraising platform called GoGo Photo Contest that has helped animal welfare groups raise more than $1 million through online photo contest fundraisers. Finally, I am a partner with USGolfTV, which is a digital publishing company that produces a nationally-syndicated television show that creates educational products for golfers.
I never intended to become a serial entrepreneur, but a lot of opportunities come across my desk. Every now and then, an opportunity shows up that’s simply too good to pass up.
- How old are you? And how old were you when you first became an entrepreneur?
I’m currently 29 years old. I probably first became an entrepreneur when I was 8 years old and recycled aluminum cans from local parks for scrap metal and sold candy to my friends at school. I started my first real business during my junior year of college, which was a network of personal finance websites called American Consumer News.
- What is your philosophy on partnerships or sole ownership? Which do you prefer?
It really depends on the business. If you have all of the skills necessary to start and run your business, you might not need partners. If you’re working on company that really has the potential to scale, it’s unlikely you’re going to be able to complete that journey by yourself. You have to be very careful about who you go into business with though. If you wouldn’t marry your business partner (or want them to marry your brother or sister), you probably shouldn’t go into business with them.
- Starting a business is risky; what creative strategies did you use to control cash flow?
I started my first business with literally no money. The first publication produced by my company was hosted on a free website platform called Blogger. I only started to pay for traditional business expenses when advertising revenue started to come in. My recommendation to new entrepreneurs is to keep their day jobs until it’s no longer feasible and to spend as little money as possible when they’re just getting started.
- Competition is a fact of life; how do you set yourself apart from competitors?
I really like markets that have a lot of competition, because that means that there are a lot of different people making money in that particular market. You just have to be able to create and market a product as good as everyone else does, then find one key differentiator to set yourself apart. In my businesses, I’ve been able to grow so quickly because I’m willing to outwork everyone else when it comes to marketing. I’m constantly testing out new marketing channels and optimizing existing sales funnels in order to get more customers in the door.
- What habits have helped make you successful?
Probably the biggest habit that’s contributed to my success is a commitment to continuing education. I listen to as many as 20 different podcasts in any given week, read anywhere between 4 and 6 non-fiction books every month and regularly attend conferences and seminars to broaden my knowledgebase.
- Looking back, what’s one thing you wish you understood about entrepreneurship before you ever got started?
It is a substantial amount of work to create a profitable company out of nothing. Launching a company is not something that you can do half-heartedly and no one else will make your company work for you. It takes years of hard work, sweat and determination to create a profitable business that has staying power. It can be incredibly rewarding on the other side, but it’s not easy and it’s not for everyone.
- If you could offer a first-time entrepreneur only 1 piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t spend too much time coming up with the perfect business plan before getting started. Your business is going to have to change to meet the needs and realities of your market. Anything that you come up with on your own before talking to actual customers is just a theory that probably won’t survive first contact with the enemy.
- What creative things do you do to develop a positive company culture?
All of the companies that I’m involved with are made up of small remote teams. This makes creating a company culture a challenge, but the two keys are to continually communicate the vision and mission of your company and keep your employees happy. Make sure that each member of the team feels understood and appreciated at all times. You’re going to get the best work out of people when they’re not mad at their boss!
- How do you turn a one-time consumer into a loyal customer?
It’s really a matter of creating a great buying experience for your customers and implementing a follow-up marketing strategy. If you can leave your customers smiling after interacting with your company and can implement a deliberate strategy to make them aware and interested in your other products and services, you’re going to have a lot of repeat customers. They key is to create a system so that every new customer gets sent a set schedule of marketing pieces by mail and email.
- You’re also an angel investor. When investing in a business, what do you look for in a good deal; how do you minimize risk when investing in a company?
When evaluating a potential deal, there are really two key questions that I ask myself. Do I understand how this business works and is this product or service something that I would personally buy or recommend to a friend? If the answer is no to either of those questions, it’s not a good investment for me.
In order to minimize risk, the key is to spread your money across a lot of different deals. Out of 10 companies you invest in, 7 will probably eventually go bankrupt, 2 will offer a modest return, and hopefully one will offer a substantial return. By having money in a bunch of different deals, you’re more likely to be invested in a company that hits a home-run.
- What’s the best business idea you have that you’ll never use?
I would love to see more businesses that help alleviate the stresses of the frenetic culture that we live in. Time is a more precious commodity than money and any business that helps people regain the freedom of their time will have a bright future ahead of them. For example, I spent an hour and a half putting child-proof locks on my doors last week. I would love to be have someone that I can email or call up periodically and have them take care of small issues that I don’t necessarily have the time or interest in dealing with.
- Is running several businesses different from what you thought it would be?
It’s a unique challenge because you constantly have to shift your attention from one issue to the next. It’s also very difficult to keep a set schedule because you never know what issues are going to come to the forefront in any given day. While it’s challenging, it’s also incredibly rewarding to see the results of years of hard work coming to fruition and to see how the businesses that you’ve created are genuinely helping people.
- What do you like best about BizNOW?
I love that there’s a publication in Sioux Falls that highlights local entrepreneurs and businesses. I always pick-up a copy whenever I see one.