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Month: December 2019

Crippled CEO Blog #011: Overnight Success isn’t Overnight

“It takes 20 years to make an overnight success.” – Eddie Cantor

One day, after three protracted weeks of anticipation, the silent, motionless egg broke open, and a baby chick emerged into the world. It was, from our perspective, a sudden, incredible transformation.

But to that baby chicken, there was nothing sudden or transformative about it. To her, this was just the latest result of a slow, steady, arduous process extended evenly over twenty days of effort.

On April 25, 2019, Forbes posted a feature/interview with me on their website. I thought it was pretty neat, so I shared it on my Facebook. There was an immediate and overwhelming response, with friends and colleagues commenting that they “knew I would make it,” that my work had finally paid off, and a flood of congratulations on my newfound success. While I appreciated the praise, I was astonished by the reaction. To me, the article was a seemingly sensible iteration on the work I had been doing for years, but to everyone on the outside, I had abruptly emerged from my egg as a “success story.”

We only see people and companies once they’ve already “made it.” They appear in a flash, seemingly out of nowhere, on top of the world. And to us, it seems to happen overnight, and as a result of a single idea – one grandiose action or stroke of luck.

The reality, though, could not be more different. Every business, and every person, who finds success does it by chipping away at the inside of their egg, a bit at a time, every day, usually for YEARS, with no one noticing, until they finally reach the position where you can see them.

Jim Collins, in his seminal book Good to Great, describes business success as a massive, humongous, colossal flywheel of incalculable weight, that you start pushing. And after one day, you move it a couple of inches, and then a couple more the next day, and more the next day, and then it starts picking up a tiny amount of speed from the weight and momentum of this flywheel. And you keep pushing, day after day, week after week, year after year, until the momentum has picked up and now this giant flywheel is spinning on its own, faster and faster. If someone asked you, “Which push was the one that really got it going?”, there is no way you could answer. ALL OF THEM. Bit by bit. That’s the way success is built, and there’s no skipping this reality. There’s no shortcut, no easy way around it. You must go through it – one chip of the eggshell, one push of the flywheel at a time.

And when you see someone suddenly killing it, remember that their overnight success is probably a decade in the making. It’s just now you can see it.

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Crippled CEO Blog #010: The Six Million Dollar Man

The entire vessel shook violently. The view out the small window bounced around erratically as the pilot’s jaw clattered.

“Three seconds.”

The tinny voice came through the vessel’s PA, nearly drowned out by the roar of the rocket.

“Two seconds.”

Commander Austin drew in a deep breath under the mask of his flight suit. The sky darkened as the shuttle continued to ascend beyond the horizon.

“One second.”

His hands tightened on the controls. He tried to read the dials in front of him, but the powerful shaking made the attempt pointless.


A loud metallic “CHNK” and the shuttle released from the lifting body that housed the rocket propelling him beyond the atmosphere.

The shaking stopped. Everything stopped. Where there was once deafening noise and jarring vibrations, now there was silence and stillness. Austin looked down at the cross around his neck, hovering in front of him in low gravity. He looked out the small window, marveling at the thin blue line between Earth and the infinite expanse of space.

“Controls are yours. Begin your descent, Commander.”

Commander Austin pulled himself from the magnitude of the moment and began doing what he had been trained to do. The goal: to be the first space shuttle capable of landing intact and being used again.

He pushed forward on the flight stick, the nose of the shuttle tilting back towards the Earth. The shaking started again — subtle at first, then growing into a powerful earthquake trapped in a tiny cockpit. The test pilot maintained control, guiding the shuttle back through the atmosphere, back into the blue skies and white clouds.

CRACK! A sudden, sharp bang shook the cockpit — first sparks, then fire.

“Mayday! MAYDAY!”

The shuttle began spinning wildly out of control, dropping from the sky like a bird shot by a hunter’s bullet.

“Eject, Commander Austin!”

“It’s not working! I can’t!”

The shuttle crashed into the Earth, digging a trench the length of a football field in its wake. Emergency crews descended on the wreckage. Commander Steve Austin was extracted. He was alive, miraculously, but broken. Doctors at the nearby hospital would report that his legs were crushed and amputated, his right arm shorn off, and his left eye was lost.

Typically, the next steps would be to salvage what was possible, to save his life, and cope with this new reality. But a secret government organization had been awaiting this opportunity, the opportunity to create something new — a cyborg.

“We have the technology. We can rebuild him.”

If you are my age or younger, you might not be familiar with the hit 70’s TV show, the Six Million Dollar Man. Astronaut Steve Austin is maimed in a test flight gone wrong. Rather than living the rest of his life as a cripple, the government uses the opportunity to replace his lost limbs and eye with “bionic” robot substitutions, sort of like a precursor to Robocop. With his new enhancements, he gains superhero-like abilities — running 120mph, lifting cars, seeing through walls, and so on. Only by being torn apart, torn down, almost to the brink of death was he able to be rebuilt into something extraordinary. And the cost for this incredible transformation was $6 million, a laughable amount in modern currency, thus the name of the show.

In 2007, I was just 24 years old. I’d only been Life Saver’s chief executive for 3 years. And the economy was crashing. 2006 was our best year ever at the time. 2007 ended with the distinction of being the first year we ever saw revenues DECLINE. 2008 got worse. And then, after a rough summer, on September 15, 2008, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch went out of business, and the world stood still. Our office phone didn’t ring a single time for TWO DAYS. I remember calling in to check if it was still working. 2008 ended with revenues down by nearly FIFTY percent.

2009’s sales dropped by half. AGAIN. Dealers were going under. The industrial park we were in was almost empty. I wasn’t paying vendors on time, and there was a stack of my paychecks in a drawer. I wasn’t depositing my salary checks to myself, so there would be enough in the bank to make payroll. And then the bank reduced our line of credit.

When 2010 started, I decided we were either going to adapt and figure it out or go out of business. I decided THE economy wasn’t going to dictate MY economy. And then we got to work. We started focusing on retail advertising on a national level. We developed a lead program. We made the seemingly insane choice to “go high-end,” upgrading the product to a more expensive, premium iteration. We started hosting our annual dealer conference in Florida. We restructured our manufacturing process. And at the end of 2010, we were up. Not a lot, but up.

And the next year the rebuilding continued: further product enhancements, multiple lines, acquired a competitor, a second shipping center in California.

2019 will end with our sales triple what they were in our “best year ever,” 2006, and nearly ten times our revenues in 2009.

Like the Six Million Dollar Man, when we were beaten down, nearly to the brink of death, rather than accept barely surviving and carrying on as a shadow of our former self, we took the opportunity to rebuild into something extraordinary. Because you can’t reconstruct yourself when things are going well. It takes being stripped down, critical pieces torn away.

And if that’s where you are, in life or in business, hanging on, barely alive, congratulations. This is your chance to become something vastly superior to what you were before.

You have the technology. You can rebuild you.

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Crippled CEO Blog #009: Be Funny — hurry up!

I’m fucking hilarious.

It took being told how extra funny I am (and quick, and witty) roughly 6,000 times over several years before I started actually believing that my sense of humor isn’t just like everyone else’s. I always thought most people were funny.

Being funny is good. It’s useful. It makes people like you. It makes giving hard news a bit more bearable. It’s great for public speaking. It’s a secret weapon in sales. And it’s probably responsible for almost every time I’ve seen a lady naked who wasn’t on a stage paying for college. But most importantly, being funny is fun. Making people laugh feels good. And it’s my goal pretty much all the time. I mean, this blog is literally called “Crippled CEO.” I find that funny every time I type it.

I didn’t start this funny, though. Like anything else, you might have a natural propensity towards something, but getting really good at it takes practice. And that’s what I did. I started seeking out chances to throw in a funny line or anecdote. All the time. And now it just happens naturally. In FACT, I have a tough time turning it off, and struggle to hold back jokes in inappropriate situations, like certain meetings or funerals (I definitely made a couple while speaking at my dad’s) or during sexy time with my lady. I consider this a worthwhile sacrifice.

So, how do you go about being funnier? First, just… start. Start learning and telling silly jokes. Start saying the funny thing you keep to yourself. Stop holding back because you think it’ll be bad or dumb — that’s funny, too! My jokes bomb CONSTANTLY. I usually follow a flopped one-liner with, “They can’t all be winners,” because they can’t. You’ll inevitably screw up on the way to comedic gold. Also, start watching funny things — comedic movies, standup specials on Netflix, etc. It’s both instructional and inspirational. Steal and re-tell the jokes you hear. You don’t even have to take credit; tell people about this funny thing you watched.

Possibly most importantly, you have to be fairly happy in order to be funny. It’s hard to be hilarious while angry, bitter, or resentful. And vice versa: it’s hard to stay in a bad mood while being funny. By practicing humor, you’ll improve your baseline level of happiness — truly. Also, you’ll learn not to take yourself so seriously. And that’s always a good thing. For you, your family, and the lady who got your name wrong at Starbucks.

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Crippled CEO Blog #008: Your Name & Logo Don’t Matter

Part of this blog is going to be pointless. I’m going to give 100% accurate advice to anyone about to start a new business, and none of you are going to follow it. You can’t. It’s not your fault. You just have to go through the process. I’m going to, later on, give a version of the same advice to people running established businesses. Some of you MIGHT listen, so that’s why I’m doing this.

I have started… eight? … nine? companies in my lifetime, and I’ve helped people start countless more. When you start a business, there are two HUGE decisions you have to make. These decisions very well could follow the company for its entire existence. And because these two things are so important, it makes sense that they are debated and agonized over for hours, days, weeks, or even months.

I bet you’ve already guessed what they are:

The company name. And the logo.

The name of the business that people will say, hear, and remember, and the visual identity of the organization. What could be bigger, right?

But here’s the thing — they don’t matter — neither one. One aspect of the logo matters, and we’ll get to that in a bit, but it’s not the part you’re stressing about.

So, right now you’re thinking I’m bat shit crazy. How could the NAME and the LOGO not matter?!

And my scientific answer is: because they don’t.

Let’s think of some of the names of the most successful companies on Earth. Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pepsi, Publix, Walgreens, Walmart, Toyota, Microsoft, Sony, Comcast, Hulu, McDonald’s, Target, Verizon… I could keep going, but you’re getting the idea. These company names have practically nothing to do with what they sell. A lot of them aren’t even real words in the English language. By all accounts, they are awful names. I own a pretty snazzy vehicle called a Cadillac Escalade. The company name isn’t a word that means anything in English, and the vehicle model, a wildly popular brand unto itself, also isn’t a word I could define. How about this sentence: “Should I Zelle or Venmo you to Uber us?” Those are three company names so ubiquitous you can use them as verbs, and none of them are words that have anything to do with sending money or getting driven around.

These massive, multibillion-dollar companies are called arbitrary, oftentimes nonsensical words. Your name doesn’t matter. Pick anything you like. It won’t make a difference. The one caveat to this is, since you’re a small business, put what you’re selling/offering in the name. For instance, Apple started as Apple Computers. Life Saver sells pool fences, so we are Life Saver Pool Fence. If you’re starting a car wash, call it Happy Panda (or literally whatever) Car Wash. You get the point. But stop worrying about choosing the wrong thing. It’s perfect.

The same goes for your logo. Just like the way you sign your name, your logo is important to you, should be an idea/concept YOU like, and won’t matter to anyone else. How many giant companies (like Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and GM) just use their company name, maybe slightly stylized, as their logo? And others use arbitrary symbols. Your logo design won’t impact the success of your company.

Earlier, though, I did say that one aspect of your logo IS important. WHAT your logo is makes zero difference, but HOW it’s done might. While the content/idea/concept is irrelevant, it does need to be executed in a way that looks professional and competent, which makes you look like a legitimate business.

Here are the few basic things you need to get your logo right:

1) Make sure it has your company name in it, and it’s legible.

2) Don’t make it a weird shape. The whole thing should fit in a horizontal rectangle. Don’t make it super tall, or some other awkward shape.

3) Make sure it looks good real big (like on a billboard) and really small.

4) Make sure it doesn’t only look good in full color, but can be black and white or a single color as well.

5) Try to have it designed so a portion of it can represent the whole thing. For instance, Life Saver has the water drop with the lock. Facebook and Google use the “F” and the “G” from their logos, respectively.

Using those rules, have a professional design it. You can get someone solid on Fiverr inexpensively, or have a contest on 99designs (I love 99designs, myself). Don’t have your 16-year-old cousin who’s pretty good at Photoshop do it. Because WHAT you choose doesn’t matter, but the EXECUTION of it does.

To existing business owners: because the name and logo don’t matter, DON’T CHANGE THEM. Unless you have to legally, keep your name the same. There’s almost no good reason to change. And when I see a business, especially a newer business, changing its name and/or logo, ESPECIALLY more than once, I start seriously doubting its longevity. If you’ve had a logo 25+ years, and it’s looking ancient, or is breaking the rules above, then fine, go ahead. I did it with Life Saver. Our old logo broke literally all five of those rules, AND was looking seriously dated, so it had to be done. But even then, an update is better than an entirely new creation.

TL;dr: stop worrying about your company name and logo. No one cares but you. They won’t make or break your business.

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Crippled CEO Blog #007: Fix Your Mental Diet

We all know that eating healthy food is essential to our physical health. We only consume so many calories each day — sometimes too many! — and if we ingest those calories with junk food, with food that not only lacks nutrition but actually has harmful, unhealthy ingredients, then our body will suffer. Our physical health will deteriorate. And as time goes on, the momentum and habits build, and poisoning ourselves with garbage becomes normal. The bar gets lower. And then we earn the consequences: we get fat, we get diabetes, we have low energy, we get heart disease, and so on. We put ourselves on an inevitable track toward destruction, even though we KNOW it’s bad. We know junk food hurts us, and healthy food helps us, but it’s still hard to do.

How much worse would it be if we didn’t even know there were negative ramifications if it wasn’t so deeply ingrained in the public consciousness like the effects of healthy/unhealthy eating?

Because that is precisely what is happening to many of us, and we don’t even realize the damage being done and the danger being flirted with. We don’t know we are on an evitable track.

But it’s not unhealthy food poisoning our physical bodies. It is the unhealthy diet that we are feeding our brains.

Just like food, you can only take in so much information each day. And just like food, the stuff that’s not good for you feels a lot better short-term — talking shit with your friend about somebody, binging something dumb on Netflix, endless YouTube videos of crack heads fighting, your favorite genre on PornHub for two hours longer than “necessary,” hanging out with crappy people discussing crappy stuff, and so on. We all have our own favorite mental junk food we like to indulge in. Ready for this radical honesty? Here’s mine: researching whether celebrities and quasi-celebrities I encounter have ever been photographed/filmed naked, and watching pundits/journalists/experts discuss MMA/UFC news on YouTube. I can also get dragged into an angry debate on Facebook, which is always inherently negative and pointless. Those are probably my three big ones.

Feeding your brain things that are negative/stressful/angry/untrue, etc. have a very real impact on you as a person. But we can get addicted to it, just like junk food, and the terrible impact had on your mind, spirit, and even your character might be even worse than the bad food. And the dumb/silly/pointless things we consume are just wasted, empty calories. Not as terrible, but definitely not helping you.

We know what healthy food is, and what the benefits are, but what constitutes healthy content for your mind and soul? The MOST important source of quality mental calories will probably surprise you. It’s people. Your friends. Making sure the people you are spending your time talking to share interesting ideas, excellent advice, rational thoughts, and positive encouragement is the most essential step to improving your mental diet. Most of what you absorb comes from the people you talk to.

After that, it’s what you probably expect: books/audiobooks, podcasts, YouTube videos, online courses, etc. about the things you want to be better at, including just being a better person. There’s an interesting side effect that occurs, also, when we choose to spend our time consuming content on a productive topic. I always have an audiobook I’m listening to periodically throughout the day, and they tend to be on marketing, business management, entrepreneurship, and so on. Listening to the book, or the podcast, or the video gets my mind engaged on the topic, so not only am I getting the good info that I’m listening to, but that new information is stimulating that area of my mind, mixing with what I already know, resulting in me having great new ideas, sometimes barely related to the audiobook. Books/audiobooks are invaluable because they are an opportunity to be taught one-on-one by an expert, but this side effect is almost even better. James Altucher talks about “idea sex,” where getting new ideas combine with other new ideas for these epiphanies.

All of this is so powerful, but it never happens unless you consciously monitor and work on improving your mental diet, cutting back the junk. And just like with food, a little bit is fine. There’s no harm in me seeing an ad with Celine Dion, and then finding out if she’s ever been naked (she was once, in a French Canadian TV show in 1989), or watching a clip of Luke Thomas discuss the upcoming fight between Conor McGregor and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in January. That, by itself, isn’t a big deal. It’s when the junk becomes what we exclusively consume, with nothing healthy in our diet, that things start to become a problem. Start seeking out the good stuff, and you’ll find the junk stops being so tasty.

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