Do the Hustle

The legendary Sir Richard Branson was 16 when he launched his first business venture in 1967 – a magazine called Student. He followed this with a business selling records through the mail. Thus was born Virgin Records and ultimately a multitude of companies under the Virgin brand.

Mark Cuban was 25-years old when he started software company, MicroSolutions. Seven years later he sold it at a price that put $6 million in his pocket. He reinvested his winnings into another of his start-ups, Broadcast.com which netted $5.7 billion when sold.

John Paul DeJoria bounced around in the foster system as a boy. He was involved with crime and spent time in the military before he borrowed $700 to start John Paul Mitchell Systems. His humble beginnings included door-to-door sales and a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Later he founded Patron tequila, another killer brand. Today he’s worth more than $3 billion.

What did all three of these entrepreneurs have in common? They were all “hustlers.” I know that when many of us hear that term, it doesn’t have positive connotations. We have images of a smarmy, greasy, fast talking character who is constantly trying to run a con. But this isn’t the kind of hustle to which I refer. Instead, this kind of hustle is all about a desire to win.

Entrepreneurs who have hustle are resilient. They are creative and they are fearless. The easiest way to describe an entrepreneurial hustler is to look at the parallel of a hard-fought basketball game. We’ve all seen players scrambling after loose balls, flying into the stands and throwing themselves onto the floor. They are willing to sacrifice their bodies with reckless abandon in their quest to achieve victory.

When we hustle we have a warrior’s mindset. Our initial focus is on survival. How many successful entrepreneurs started from deep and dark places? Remember how J. K. Rowling faced tremendous adversity in the early days before her celebrity as the author of the Harry Potter books? Her mother passed away; she gave birth to a child and went through a divorce; was clinically depressed, and lived on welfare for a time. But her only choice was to write to survive. When we are ready to curl up and hide from the world we should remember how others were able to make it through the tough times and come out the other side stronger and ready to whip the world. Resilience is a major key to survival.

Perhaps our business isn’t growing like we planned. Maybe we’ve even seen it slide backward. Now is the time to get into “hustle mode.” This can take many forms but the most important is a mindset of renewed determination. We examine our strategy and tactics so that we can make the necessary adjustments . . . with renewed determination. We push to new levels of innovation . . . with renewed determination. And we may even do things we’ve never done before . . . with renewed determination, so that we can survive.

Eventually we begin to achieve momentum. We begin to win. And we continue to hustle. Our mindset shifts away from simple survival, and the focus is now on how to thrive. We are relentless in discovering ways to become even more creative. We absolutely, positively know that we are going to succeed. Our “hustle” now involves an even greater sense of urgency along with commitment and dedication to setting our goals even higher. We ignore our critics and all the naysayers. We work hard and we endure the pain. There is no question we’ll make many sacrifices along the way. I can remember in the early years of my career when we were building our business. We had passed the point of survival and were beginning to thrive. I would sometimes arrive at work very early – 3:00 AM. And I would meet another colleague who was leaving to go home for a few hours of sleep. We were hustling and we were winning.

The entrepreneurial hustle often begins with survival and eventually results in a breakthrough where we thrive. Resilience, hard work, creativity, a fanatically positive mindset and laser like focus are some of the more important factors to this equation.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 65 – After the Love is Gone.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Hall of Famer

“Just concentrate on throwing the ball over the plate rather than breaking the sound barrier, and be more varied and selective with your pitches.” That’s the advice catcher Norm Sherry gave to future Hall of Fame pitcher, Sandy Koufax, in 1961. Prior to that Koufax had labored through several seasons of mediocre pitching. Once he solved his control problem he became nearly unhittable striking out 2,396 batters in his relatively short career. Koufax retired from the game in 1967 at age 30. Without a doubt, he went out a winner.

When we think of winning, what comes to mind? Most of us would say that we have achieved the success of victory – that’s the obvious answer. But when we’re asked how we won, the answer becomes a bit murkier. So, exactly how do we win? Do we simply throw the ball harder than anyone else? Or is there something deeper?

As we study great winners in sports and other walks of life one thing becomes abundantly clear. Great winners are fanatical about the basics and fundamentals of what they do. We’ve all heard how the basics and fundamentals are the foundational elements to success. And yet many times we just want to swing hard and hit the ball into the left field seats. The result is that we often strikeout. Lesson #1 – we’ll strikeout less and win more if we pay attention to how well we are executing the basics and fundamentals of our game. In business, perhaps we have enjoyed a winning streak lately. Human nature may cause us to take our foot off the accelerator and start enjoying the ride. What happens then? Maybe our winning streak comes to an end. We haven’t spent the time and energy continuing to cultivate relationships. We aren’t making the follow-up calls that we used to make. And we aren’t doing the homework necessary to understand what our customers really need and want.

Sandy Koufax would be an anomaly in today’s sports environment. He shunned the spotlight and stayed out of the public eye. He loved violin music – it’s said that Mendelsohn was one of his favorite composers. He chose not to chase the money and quit the game rather than risk further injury to an ailing arm. He was his own man which in itself is a special mindset. Lesson #2 – ignoring the noise in the world around us and maintaining our focus puts us on the path to winning.

Winning is seemingly about competing – right? Well, yes and no. If we are out to “beat” someone else the chances are higher that we won’t. In other words, if we become fixated on how to beat the competition we’re really ceding our power to someone else. Why? Because our focus has shifted away from what we need to do to execute in the necessary fashion, and we’re now conjuring a methodology that we think will give us a competitive advantage. Unfortunately we’ve forgotten that the way we win is to ignore the noise around us and execute our game plan in a flawless manner. Lesson #3 – don’t allow our competition to dictate the terms and conditions for winning.

Zig Ziglar famously said, “You were born to win, but to be a winner, you must plan to win, prepare to win, and expect to win.” I used the term “special mindset” in this blog. The only thing really special is the absolute, 100% core belief that we deserve to win and we will win. But there’s one more piece to this puzzle. We must relax into winning. If our intensity is too great, we can easily deviate from the basics and fundamentals and overcompensate. I’ve seen terrific baseball pitchers that start losing because they are so amped up that they try to “throw” the ball and over-control it, rather than relaxing and “pitching” the way they know how. Lesson #4 – to win, we must believe that we will and we must remain relaxed while doing so.

Winning is a relatively simple formula that involves always executing the basics and fundamentals; ignoring all the noise that is going on around us; playing our game and not trying to beat the competition, and believing without any doubt that we’ll win. Oh, and yes, relax. Putting it altogether ensures that we’ll be Hall of Famers in our own right.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 6 – A Right Way and a Wrong Way.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

sandy-koufax

Balls in the Air

Have you ever heard of Anthony Gatto? I hadn’t either. Gatto has been on the list of the world’s best jugglers every year since 2003 when the list was first compiled. He started juggling when he was almost four years old and is the only juggler ever featured on a Topps trading card. Among his amazing performances were juggling eight balls for one minute and 13 second; nine balls for 54 seconds; seven rings for 15 minutes and six seconds and 12 rings with 12 catches. All are world records. I’ve tried many times and can’t even master juggling two balls – much less eight. I did notice that Gatto doesn’t hold any records for juggling chainsaws – so he must be a pretty smart guy!

For entrepreneurs the obvious metaphor here involves the juggling act that we perform every day. But I want to talk about it in a bit of a different context. The question I want to pose is that of focus vs. diversification. What do I mean by this? I’ve said before that I don’t like to take risk, but I’ll manage risk all day long. This is a Grand Canyon-huge distinction. Taking risk for me is akin to gambling – and I’m not a gambler. Managing risk is a process and allows me to stack the odds in my favor. So what does focus vs. diversification have to do with managing risk?

There is a school of thought that says we should focus on what we do best. And we should hone our craft to the point that we then are the best at what we do. Several very successful companies are focused on a single product. Crocs, Spanx, Michelin, Roku and Gorilla Glue are all such companies. They have developed their product to the point that it’s in such high demand that there is no need to add to their product mix. Southwest Airlines has focused for decades on solely flying the Boeing 737 aircraft. The advantages for them are numerous including the manner in which they stock spare parts, train their mechanics and flight crews, route and position planes, etc.

I believe that there is an inherent risk to being so focused on a single product line. This risk includes business cycles where a particular product type might fall out of favor. Technological advances have been known to make many products/services obsolete. Remember Blockbuster Video? It was a high-flyer for a long time and was pretty much focused on a bricks and mortar delivery of videos. But it became so focused that it failed to realize that it needed to change its entire business model and product suite to adapt to rapidly changing consumer preferences. Now the company is out-of-business.

This brings me to the strategy of diversification. Our organization has always had multiple product lines. In the 1970s through the 1990s, we were primarily involved in the commercial real estate industry with leasing, brokerage and property management. And we handled office buildings, shopping centers, industrial facilities and apartment communities. In some years the leasing and brokerage business might be slow, but the property management business would be booming. Then there were times when the opposite occurred. Yet we were able to maintain fairly consistent revenues and margins throughout the various cycles we encountered.

Since 2000 we’ve diversified even more extensively including construction, maintenance service, building components distribution, tax credit syndication, apartment acquisitions, apartment development and venture capital investments (outside of the real estate world). We’ve organized into business units specializing in these areas with a managing director leading each. With this structure each leader is able to focus on being the best in class. The overall enterprise benefits from a highly diversified product/service offering balanced with a focus sufficient to excel. To accomplish this, a considerable investment was made in human resources to enable the focus and specialization. Our organization also wins with the vertical integration that has resulted. Multiple business units are able to participate in various internally generated projects as well as provide products and services to third parties.

Keeping a lot of balls in the air actually requires considerable focus. When we can do both successfully we are able to minimize the risks that we face as entrepreneurs.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

juggling

The When Affliction

The minister in church one Sunday talked about his anticipation of future events and it got me to thinking about the subject in a different way. How many times have you heard someone say, “I’ll be happy when . . .” or “I’ll have plenty of money when . . .” or “I’ll have more fun when . . .”?

As a classic Type A entrepreneur I tend to focus on the future. Oh, I do live in the now, but I am constantly thinking about the next steps in building my businesses. But it goes beyond that. If I am going on a trip in a few days I’m thinking about what all will be involved in the travel process. I’m thinking about what I’ll do when I get to my destination. Once I’m on my trip and have reached my destination, I think about where we’ll eat dinner or an event that we’ll attend. I don’t think that it’s necessarily a bad thing to be planning ahead though I can easily flip over into the realm of obsession with planning. What’s more problematic is when the thinking ahead becomes the “When Affliction.”

The When Affliction manifests in several ways. It can occur when we are so focused on thinking about something that is to happen in the future that we don’t pay close enough attention to something critical that is happening right now. This is the perfect environment for mistakes to be made. The other day while driving I was so engrossed in thinking about an upcoming meeting that I nearly caused a wreck. I was changing lanes, turned on my blinker and quickly looked over my shoulder. There was a car in the other lane – I know I saw it – but it didn’t register as I pulled over anyway. Horns blared and my heart leapt into my throat. My focus on the moment was blinded by my focus on the future.

The When Affliction can have us so wrapped up in getting past the next milestone that we are unable to truly appreciate what we are experiencing in the process of getting there. So here’s a question. How many magical moments do we miss with the When Affliction? I remember my youngest daughter’s wedding. It was a splendid affair and one where I was truly present every second of the day. I simply allowed myself to be swept up in the pomp and pageantry that is often woven into such an event. Not once was I contemplating a future action. And I am able to treasure the memories because I really was a part of making them. There are so many other things I don’t remember about what has happened in my life because I was looking forward so much of the time.

It’s OK to plan ahead. If we simply allow ourselves to float along the river of life without regard for the snags and rapids in front of us, our boat could easily be swamped. The key is to find the right balance between thinking ahead and maintaining a “now presence.” To accomplish this, I have discovered a game that I play with myself. Let’s say that someone is coming to my office to meet with me. Before the meeting I identify several things that I want to notice during this meeting. What color are the clothes this person is wearing? What color are his or her eyes? Is the person right handed or left handed? Sharpening my observation skills in this manner helps me focus on the other person and the moment, thereby avoiding the When Affliction.

We intuitively know that tomorrow never comes because there always is another tomorrow. Thus we can avoid becoming obsessed with the future if we limit our planning to that which really matters.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Huckleberry Finn

Worldly Serious Lessons

Indulge me with this blog posting. The 2014 World Series has just concluded and was one of the most exciting I’ve ever seen. It truly kept us on the edge of our seats until the last out in the bottom of the ninth inning with a Kansas City runner on third base who could have tied the game. Even though my Kansas City Royals did not prevail there are some excellent baseball metaphors that translate into some wonderful entrepreneurial lessons.

The MVP of the World Series was the Giants ace pitcher, Madison Bumgarner. Even though I’m a Royals fan I marveled at this cool, calm and collected 25-year old phenom. He pitched in three games during the Series and limited the Royals to nine hits, one run and one walk in 21 innings. Folks, this is called differentiation. There is no doubt that Bumgarner was the difference maker in the World Series for San Francisco. As entrepreneurs we increase our odds for success the more significantly we can differentiate our products or services.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals are a young team. There are no superstars in this bunch. The Royals didn’t even win their division, making the playoffs instead as a Wild Card entrant. They beat the Oakland Athletics in the Wild Card game; then swept the Los Angeles Angels and Baltimore Orioles to win the American League pennant. A lack of superstars also meant a lack of big egos and prima donnas. The result was a group of young men bonding together as a real team. This was most evident when one of the top hitters took it upon himself to lay down a sacrifice bunt to advance a runner when the Giants least expected it, rather than trying to hit it out of the park. Entrepreneurs succeed more often when we function in a true team fashion rather than as lone wolves.

While I’m gushing about my Royals, let me add another dimension about this team. It was evident that these guys were having fun. Game after game we saw scenes of players laughing, joking and genuinely enjoying themselves. Some of the players Tweeted where they were going to party after the games and bought thousands of dollars of drinks for their fans. What is the point of being an entrepreneur if we can’t have fun doing what we do? I’ve talked to a number of entrepreneurs who appear to be successful but are miserable. This is a dangerous “crash-and-burn” formula.

Finally, it was fascinating to observe the focus displayed by Giants and Royals players alike. When the focus was lost there were strikeouts, errors and walks. When the focus was maintained it was a thing of beauty. There were spectacular catches all over the field. Tough pitches were turned into base hits. Base running was exquisite. In the entrepreneurial world we know the importance of focus. If we “scatter our fire” we strike out more often than not. But when we focus, we create a special energy that serves to deliver the results we want.

Baseball is a sport. Entrepreneurs play for keeps. At the intersection of the two is differentiation, functioning as a true team, having fun and maintaining focus. Play ball!

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

baseball

MAS

Question: I am very goal-oriented and set very specific objectives for myself. I meet my goals fairly consistently but I just don’t think I’m making the kind of progress personally or professionally that I desire. Any suggestions on how to step up my game?

Answer: Conventional wisdom says that we should always set goals. We’re also told to set “stretch” goals – that is, we need to set objectives that may be attainable but with considerably more effort than normal. Setting goals and achieving them – especially stretch goals, can produce a very satisfying feeling. But think about this for a moment. Is it our goal to simply be satisfied? Or do we want to accomplish amazing things?

Setting and meeting goals doesn’t usually allow us to accomplish amazing things. Let me clarify something here before you get the wrong idea. There is nothing wrong with setting goals and in fact, it’s a necessary process in business and in our personal lives. The differentiator is the mindset we hold about our goals. When we focus only on achieving the goal . . . we probably will. But if we use the goal as a minimum standard for achievement we open ourselves to the possibility that we might accomplish something even bigger and better.

I have been practicing this concept for a number of years and the results are not incremental. Let me explain. Earlier in my career I spent a lot of time visualizing the results I was pursuing. And most of the time those results were realized. But after doing this for a while, I came to understand that by only working to achieve my goals I was actually limiting myself. So I began setting goals in a manner I called Minimum Achievable Standards (MAS). This didn’t mean I set minimal goals – a very important distinction. I made sure that the objectives were realistic and sometimes even of the stretch variety. But then my focus became on how I could become more creative and innovative to perform the task at hand. I really didn’t worry about the goal at that point because I knew it would be achieved. The real question became how far beyond the goal could I go. The results have been exponential ever since.

Goals can be inspirational or perspirational. We can work very hard to achieve our goals. Or we can use goal setting as a springboard to soar to amazing new heights and beyond.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

jetman

All Present and Accounted For

Question: I hate to admit this but there are times when I’m physically with my family, but I’m not really there. Instead I’m thinking about something happening in my business. How can I focus more?

Answer: Whoa! If this were 20-years ago I’d feel like I was looking in the mirror! I’m proud to say that when my kids were growing up I made all of their school plays, piano recitals, soccer games and the other activities in which they participated. But for certain, I wasn’t always present in the moment. Did they notice that I was only there with a physical presence but not necessarily mentally? Probably not? But I knew then and I know now.

There’s a story I like to tell about a trip I took to Disneyland as a five-year old boy (no, Disneyworld didn’t even exist). I don’t have many memories of being five, but this one I remember like it was yesterday. We arrived at the park and passed by a car ride where the cars were on rails, but you had to steer and use an accelerator. I started bugging my parents to let me go on that ride, but they said I was too young. I’m sure we went on many wonderful rides, but I was obsessed with that car ride and let my parents know every few minutes. By the end of the day I had worn them down and they finally relented. Back then, there were no height restrictions regarding rides so I excitedly sat down in the car and my mom sat in another nearby car. When the ride started I had no idea what to do. At five, I didn’t have much experience steering anything other than a tricycle and I was clueless about the accelerator. So I just sat there until one of the attendants came out onto the track; stood on the running board; told me to step on the accelerator, and he steered me around the track.

Obviously this experience has stuck with me my entire life. And it also taught me a valuable lesson. I don’t remember any of the fun things we did that day – all because I was living in the future, obsessing about the car ride. As it turned out, the car ride was a major disappointment so I was 0 and 2 in the win-loss department. I didn’t live in the moment and have fun, and what I was focusing on turned out to be a bust to boot.

Multi-tasking can be a wonderful thing but it requires a balance. While the kids were growing up, I would have been better off living in the moment and savoring every precious second that they were young. Yes, I was there, but not always in the savoring mode. And here’s the kicker. I don’t believe that anything I was thinking about while watching a school play had a real meaningful impact on my career. I’m now living this premise: if it won’t make a significant impact on the future, I’ll deal with “it” later rather than allowing a distraction from what I need to focus on right now.

Living in the now will prevent regrets in the future. Thus, we can shape the future by savoring that which we are living right here and now.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Disneyland Car Ride