Jeff Hoffman’s career has provided him with many hats to wear: successful entrepreneur, proven CEO, worldwide motivational speaker, Hollywood film producer, and a producer of a Grammy winning jazz album. Jeff has had various roles in companies large and small, along with being the founder of multiple startups. Along the path of this career, Jeff one day noticed a sign that said “You may be successful, but will you matter?” Along with the concept of using your career to make a difference, that is the essence of Jeff’s contribution to Paper Napkin Wisdom.
Conventional wisdom in the entrepreneur world states that you can either be someone who cares about doing good - i.e. a social entrepreneur - or you can concentrate on making money. In Jeff’s experience, however, this is not a binary decision - the two elements are not mutually exclusive. Your product may not change the world, but your life should: the results of your effort - what you do with your success, your life, your time - can make the world better around you. In Jeff’s mind, the definition of “mattering”: how many other people’s lives have you made better?
To think of this concept another way, money is often required to make a difference, so you shouldn’t feel guilty about being successful, as long as your success leads to positive change around you. The benefit you find from using your time to help someone else cannot truly be quantified. The story Jeff shares is of spending time with the elderly who did not seem to have anyone else to keep them company. More specifically, he regularly took one woman to a local diner because all she wanted was a piece of pie. It became such a joy for her that her caretakers at the nursing home described her as “counting the days until pie day.”
Jeff’s experience sharing his time with the elderly clarified something for him: entrepreneurs who are only chasing money are usually the ones who quit first. People that are driven by purpose, however, far outperform those who are driven by paycheck. When you know that your efforts and your work matter, it becomes a driver for your success. This kind of confidence also becomes contagious - for potential investors, customers, and employees.
Another vivid example from Jeff centers around the successful sale of his first startup to a Fortune 500 company. He began to notice that friends and peers were treating him differently - almost negatively. Instead of celebrating the success of the sale of his first startup, Jeff became depressed and somewhat resentful of his own achievements. Almost simultaneously with that feeling came a news story about a local shelter for battered women being closed due to lack of funding, so Jeff put two and two together and was able to assist the shelter financially. The logical lesson learned is the direct correlation between how hard he worked and his ability to make other people’s lives better, so he never felt guilty about making money again.
This accidental discovery became a financial and career philosophy, and also began to permeate his own company culture. They developed a system to take a percentage of their sales and put it into a pool, then allow the employees to decide as a team where to direct those funds (or the time that they can support). They call it the community project account. The philosophy Jeff created for himself became contagious for his team - a bonding exercise that a standard work environment could never provide.
Culturally, the end result was a stronger team of respectful, collaborative individuals. Jeff’s experience is the ultimate instance of leading by example - creating a personal philosophy powerful enough that it became influential for his team and helped strengthen/grow his business.
Dave Rendall is an entrepreneur who has worn many hats during his professional career, which started when he was very young. All told, he has delivered newspapers, been a stock boy, lawn boy, caddie, painter, janitor, tutor, resident assistant, job coach, supervisor, nonprofit manager, and senior executive. Just to spice things up, he also has experience as a leadership professor, stand-up comedian, and endurance athlete. Drawing from this vast array of experience, Dave’s contribution to Paper Napkin Wisdom is rooted in reality: “What makes us weird, makes us wonderful. What makes us weak, also makes us strong.”
The common social reaction to uniqueness is one that nearly every teenage kid experiences at least once: rejection. Weirdness has a negative connotation; the word “unusual” is usually meant as a criticism. The resistance once receives for being weird is a push to be more conventional; to fit in. Robert Quinn once observed: “Deviants will always generate external pressures to conform when you perform beyond the norms, the systems will adjust and try to make you normal.”
It has been Dave’s experience, however, that the things that make you weird will also make you successful and remarkable. Those who are perceived to be weak may actually be quite strong. This perspective comes from Dave’s time working with people with disabilities (and specifically, helping them find employment). While it was common for others to focus on someone’s perceived disability, Dave explains that it takes a true genius to identify what’s working and what’s effective.
Dyslexia is a condition that provides a perfect example in the world of entrepreneurship. One study revealed that more than 50% of British millionaires were dyslexic, while another showed that at least 33% of entrepreneurs in the U.S. also have the condition. One person who fits into both categories is Richard Branson, who claims that his dyslexia has helped him to succeed. The logical conclusion: people with the condition don’t have weak or broken brains, they just have different brains. Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinkos, would likely agree; his dyslexia drove him to stay out of the office, improve his management style, and grow his business. Upon selling to FedEx for $2.4B, he claimed that not only would he not want to remove his condition, he wishes everyone could have it.
As with most entrepreneurial endeavors, there is a powerful analogy that comes from the sports world. Matt Stutzman is a competitive archer who won the silver medal at the Paralympic Games, all without arms. Matt says that he developed this incredible skill as a result of his disability by fine-tuning his core muscles and legs to the point of athletic superiority. He is even now facing legal action from those who claim that his condition gives him an “unfair advantage.” So perhaps the question you can ask yourself is: if someone without arms can be seen as having an “unfair advantage”, then is the weakness you face as an entrepreneur or as a leader really as strong as you think?
In Dave’s experience, there is always someone that is “weird” the same way you are, who would not see you as weird, but as wonderful. It’s about finding the right fit and the best situations where your perceived weirdness works for you. Dave is a 6’6” man, so he already stands out - yet he regularly wears pink shoes and pink pants as an homage to his three daughters. A side effect to this is that it helps him stand out even more (i.e. be more memorable) - for a professional speaker in a crowded marketplace, this becomes a clear advantage.
In a business sense, to be different requires doing things that are weird and unusual, but most businesses measure themselves against competition standards or parameters. Everyone measures success in the same way. True success, however, lives in having the courage to be weird and think differently in order to separate yourself and define success in a unique way. If you’re able to differentiate yourself into true uniqueness, then there is no competition.
Kris Kaplan is a firm believer that if you’re not having fun at what you do, you shouldn’t be doing it. After a long career on the road as a rep, Kris decided it was time to create an organization of people who shared the same values as him and were wholly focused on a singular vision. He is now a coach to entrepreneurs, business leaders, and other high-performing individuals, providing them with tools needed to simply execute. It is that focus on execution that inspired his contribution to Paper Napkin Wisdom: “Giddy Up and Make It Happen.”
Kris’ personal mantra of making it happen originated from taking his own thirst for learning and turning it into action - step on the gas and go for it. Within his own business, he found himself in a learning mode, protecting what was his during the post-recession free fall. Dealing with that kind of negativity in his business - a focus on saving what was left - made the business gun-shy about being as forward/active as possible. It also drove Kris toward developing a philosophy of less learning; more doing.
Personally, this mantra inspired Kris to become more active and lose weight, mostly to keep up with his young children. Professionally, however, it helps to maintain a “north star” when traveling along your path, or what Cameron Herold would describe as a vivid vision. Kris’ experience has taught him to take the strategy that he crafted and make the decision to accomplish it. Entrepreneurs can become enthralled with strategy as a sexy topic, but tactics are going to move you forward. Focusing on execution will also help simplify your strategy and create/maintain alignment among the team. In other words, a return to a singular goal.
The motivation for this focus on tactics derives from Kris’ observation of the current state of success: we now accept the “stumbling forward” way of business can be acceptable, rather than striving for true greatness. Companies are merely surviving rather than growing - 10% growth is stratospheric rather than the norm. Ask yourself this: what if you do a little less business, but become true experts at what you do? Wouldn’t that ultimately push your business towards a more rapid period of growth? Especially considering that revenue is not necessarily the only way to measure growth and success.
The foundation on which Kris has built this philosophy is one of empowered entrepreneurialism, passion for the products he represents, and simple solutions. Simplify your vision - be the #1 provider of X - and that vision will eventually filter down to tactics and execution (e.g. achieving that goal means I need to make 3 phone calls instead of 2).
It is certainly a more difficult proposition for an established company to rethink their perspective, as opposed to a new company that is just starting out, but the reward is that much more valuable when it happens. The time might never be right, but the result will always make it worthwhile. As Kris says, think about “when is now a good time”.
Hybrid thinking has defined Matt Curry's career as an entrepreneur. His professional career started out changing tires and eventually working his way into a management role, but his entrepreneurial career flourished after he launched his first auto shop in 1997 and ultimately grew it into one of the largest auto repair chains in the Washington, DC metro area.
Having embraced the evolution of the auto industry by educating his line of business in the art of hybrid and electric car repair, Matt has also embraced the evolution of employee engagement through his contribution to Paper Napkin Wisdom: "You can't rule your world by email."
Whether your business is a brick and mortar operation or entirely virtual, Matt's experience has taught him that you still need boots on the ground and, as a leader, you still need to be involved in all aspects of your operation. This is a lesson learned from observing his four original locations, meeting with his key people, and maintaining a “two-minute meeting” strategy for alignment. It is a lesson that has allowed Matt to ensure that everyone shares the same vision for the organization.
Matt explains that once his business grew to ten locations, he noticed that his key people were over-relying on email to communicate, especially when issues arose that needed to be fixed. He quickly learned that, as the organizational leader, if you are present and keep your team on the same page, you’re able to create processes and procedures (and better guarantee team commitment).
A motto of “enforced reinforce” developed, which means threading the vision of the business throughout the entire organization, including every individual employee. As a tactical example, if policies and procedures aren’t followed, keys could get lost, business would be damaged, sales would suffer, employee morale suffers, and everything devolves into a downward spiral. The "enforced reinforce" mantra helped create a structure where Matt was able to identify gaps or errors early on, address them in those two-minute meetings, and quickly find a resolution.
It may seem counterintuitive, as Matt indicates, but you can embrace creativity while simultaneously adhering to a solid operational structure. The practical tool for achieving this is Matt's "two-minute meeting." While the name can be deceiving (it can sometimes last 30 seconds or 10 minutes), the point is to communicate with key managers, ensure P&P adherence, and guarantee quality service delivery. Emails can become an easy crutch for fast results, but if you focus your regular meetings on a single subject and relevant metrics, you can accomplish quality and quantity in lieu of electronic communication.
The direct result of implementing the “boots on the ground” philosophy for Matt: increase in sales, improved manager performance, higher employee morale (one location went from $30k at acquisition to more than $300k in a short time). In his experience, it is the difference between staying in business and going out of business: structure provides for a more efficient business, which helps employees create a better work-life balance. Ultimately, the vision becomes ubiquitous, as does person and professional success.
Michael Walsh has built his company, Kaizen Consulting, into something that allows him to explore his own personal freedom. By embracing the methods that he uses when working with other entrepreneurs to help them grow their businesses, he has surpassed his own expectations for what the entrepreneurial life can bring. His Paper Napkin Wisdom was inspired from his work with a particular client who experience a five-fold increase in sales: "Thinking big is not enough."
This concept arose when Michael asked himself the following two questions: "What stops businesses from growing?" and "What moves businesses past those things that have stopped them?" The conclusion at which he arrived was simple: vision is exciting and aspirational, in the way that limbic energy is contagious. Vision without structure, however, either creates chaos or will fall flat. Vision is fast and compelling, while structure is slow and stable. (Conversely, structure without vision is like slogging through the mud).
Michael observed that while entrepreneurial businesses are on the rise - 45% last more than five years today, versus 15% two decades ago - the growth of these businesses is missing. Of those businesses that succeed, 85% fail to reach $1 million in revenue; of those that reach $1 million, 95% fail to reach $5 million; of those that reach $5 million, 98% fail to reach $10 million.
In Michael's experience, the difference between being an expert and being an entrepreneur running an expert business is three factors. Along with excelling at what you do, you must hone your skills in sales/marketing, finance, and people management (picture trying to balance four spinning plates instead of just one). Now consider that you’re also balancing these four spinning plates while balancing yourself on a ball, otherwise known as a constantly changing marketplace. When you attempt to grow from this point, your balance point ultimately falters.
The one single thing driving most entrepreneurs is freedom, and, as Michael puts it, growth equates to access to freedom. This level of satisfaction, however, doesn’t come from reducing the risk - satisfaction comes from winning in the face of the risk. In response to the businesses that approach him with questions on how to grow, Michael proposes three simple rules:
Following this process will start to fuse all of those different spinning plates into one, cohesive organization. Eventually, you will find yourself experiencing better balance and the increased level of freedom that inspired your drive toward growth in the first place.