UPDATE December 2015:
Most of my writing about business, our companies, entrepreneurship and all that now happens over at our Forever Companies site. If I do much scribbling here, it will be on personal stuff and fun topics. I'll leave the explanation below, but head over to FC for current info.
I started thinking about this Blog in early 2010. I was having one of those “I love ya man” conversations over cigars and a few too many mojitos with Craig Brey, my right hand man and the guy who runs most of the day-to-day operations at DNL, in a Hemingwayesque Cuban bar.
We were talking about the difference between “success” and “significance”, and I confided in him that for all the success I have had, I didn’t feel like I have made enough of a difference and that I was looking to create some significance in my life.
Our company, Diamond Nexus Labs had just concluded its fifth year of extraordinary growth, development and profitability. Our flagship retail store had just finished its first full year of operation and had shown excellent profitability in the worst economy of our lifetimes, proving that the DNL brand and concept could thrive in a retail environment.
Our incredible custom jewelry operation, “The Nexus Design Studio” - a business concept that everyone in the jewelry world had told us couldn't be done - was up 30% in sales in, again, a bad retail economy. And, finally, our attempt at revolutionizing the fabrication of jewelry by bringing JIT (just-in-time) manufacturing techniques to our China Manufacturing Operation was finally moving forward. In November of 2009 we had launched our LuxeBidder.com business, and it seemed to be doing well. And finally, Bill Tait, my incredibly talented Chief Technology Officer had just told me that DNL had been named to the prestigious Internet Retailer “IR500”, a list of the top 500 online commerce companies in the world!
So sure, by every possible business measure things were and are extraordinarily great and I have had impact and significance in the business world. In fact, I’ve specialized in trying to disrupt whole industries and turn them on their heads. Maybe I’m perceived as more of a “threat” to the respective industry’s entrenched, moneyed interests, but no doubt “significant”.
But that’s not what I’m talking about. When I walk out my office door and leave the bubble that is DNL, I see so much confusion and frustration among many people, especially young people. Yes, the worldwide economic downturn, which has plagued us since 2007, has caused an enormous amount of carnage, but, the economic muck-up is just something new to pile on to a condition and a feeling that has been going on for a long time. A lot of people are just plain frustrated and unsatisfied in their lives because they don't know where they are going. They know the life of rich experiences, security and fullness is out there, but they don’t know how to get it. Partially they know it’s out there because TV told them so, but people also deeply and instinctively feel in their hearts that there is more to life then the common path, a path that too often leads to Henry David Thoreau’s “lives of quite desperation”.
They feel like someone they trusted has gone back on a promise to them. Maybe even cheated them. They feel this about their schools and their government, and too many times about their employer.
But – they have not been cheated, they have just not been taught.
Our society teaches us from the womb to the tomb that "success" and happiness, in all its many definitions and incarnations is the all-important, all-encompassing goal and right of every man and woman, boy and girl, and even dog and cat in America. The media bombards us with a constant never-ending high pitched wail of information, promises, visions and dreams that cajoles us toward this goal.
But for all the access to education we have, our formal education system does a horribly poor job of teaching young people what they really want to know:
How do I make money? How do I get ahead in my job? Or, how do I start a business and grow it? And, how do I get the freedom to lead a great life?
While musing about these things Craig knocked back another shot of tequila (we had moved to another level) and said: "Well, you know a lot of those things you've taught me over the last couple years. That's kind of the best thing about working for you, the “entrepreneur education” you get".
So, I thought: Well, that maybe sounds like fun. I think I can help people by teaching them some of the things I've learned, the things I've done that have worked and where I have really screwed it up. And I think that would be gratifying to me. I think it will bring me some satisfaction to give that part of me back to folks who may find it useful or interesting.
Now, I'm not Bill Gates or Warren Buffett or Jack Welch. Those guys could probably buy and sell me with their pocket change. But, the perspective of the multibillionaire, lightning-in-a-bottle business wunderkind often doesn't relate greatly to the everyday bloke who is just trying to figure out how to get started.
What I can do is teach you some things that I have learned about starting and growing a business. I can teach you about being an entrepreneur. If you are an employee of a company and you feel like you are stuck in a rut, not recognized for the talent you have, and not going anywhere, I can give you some ideas of how to break out and move up the ladder.
More than anything, I can teach you how important it is to keep fighting and never, never give up. I've been knocked down flat so many times I've lost count. I started in business when I was 16 years old. I was a millionaire by the time I was 24. I lost it all and was dead broke less than 10 years later. I was lower than low and felt my life was over. But, in just six months I was well on the way to making it all back and then some.
I fought a 10 year pitched and bloody battle with the IRS over a tax issue and I lost. I had to spend several tedious months at a federal detention camp. Facing that was a terrifying and demoralizing experience. There are few things that grip your soul like trying to fall asleep on a Sunday night knowing that the next morning you are supposed to check yourself into a federal hotel. Walking into that place was the worst moment of my life. What I didn't know though, was that I was only a few months away from entering into the most financially rewarding, fulfilling, and wonderful period of my life.
What I have learned is that you can always come back. There is no adversity that you can't overcome. You man-up, you take your lumps, you keep your honor and you move on. And, if you follow a few basic rules and you hold some beliefs close and true to your heart, no matter what happens, - you will be successful.
I have started over a dozen companies in my life. Some of them have been cock-ups, but most of them have been successful, some wildly, outrageously so. What I have learned is that if you take care of your customers as if they were your family, if you give them a great product and value for their money, if you think through every detail of your business and try to make it bring your customer satisfaction and joy, if you deliver on your promises to them - you will be successful. But, to really grow, you need to understand marketing and finance, strategy and that illusive thing called “brand”. That’s what’s really kept my attention over the past years.
But, what is success? Is it financial success? Being a millionaire? A billionaire? Is it being physically fit? Having a nice family? Being at peace with the world, and singing kumbaya with our global brothers and sisters? I am not nearly smart enough to answer that question for you. That's something you have to find out for yourself. But, what I can tell you is that the old cliché of "the journey is the reward" is true. The farther you wonder off the common path, the more feathers you ruffle, the more friends you make and customers you serve, the more employees and associates you give a leg up to, the more rich memories you will create. And what is our life but a collection of memories? Someone told me once, “Memories are like starlight, they go on forever”. The older I get, the more I understand this. The memories we make not only for ourselves, but for all the people we touch is what makes us eternal.
I hope the little scribblings and meanderings I make here help you in some way. All I can really do is map out the territory I have seen. That’s probably all anyone can really, honestly do. But, the good news is that I’ve seen a lot of territory.