On March 30, 1981, Ronald Reagan and I both got very lucky.
Some of you may recall…or you can look it up…that on that day outside of the Hilton Hotel in Washington D.C., the then President of the United States Ronald Reagan narrowly escaped an assassination attempt.
By all accounts, he literally and figuratively dodged two bullets…
And I’m not sure he would have agreed with one of my favorite quotes from Winston Churchill:
“There is nothing more exhilarating than being shot at without result.”
I use that quote to describe the marketing wars I’ve been involved in but I’m not so sure I like using it anymore when we’re talking about live ammunition…and in Reagan’s case, it was no laughing matter.
Reagan was courageous through the experience…he did kind of “laugh it off”…and his popularity rate rose to over 70%!
I got lucky that same day because I started working for Marty Edelston and this little company called Boardroom Reports.
My first day at Boardroom was far from a full day of work as we watched the news about our President being shot…and little did I know that was the day I was beginning a 34 year career helping build one of the most successful direct marketing empires ever.
We went from around $3 million in revenues in 1981 to a high of $157 million in the mid 2000’s. Quite a ride.
We may not have had the sales or profits of some of the other star companies in direct marketing over those three decades…but because Boardroom was a true “learning organization,” we always worked with the smartest people, produced the highest quality products and we spent as much time teaching and sharing as we did profiting.
Of course our financial advisors often told us:
“How about a little less teaching and sharing and a little more selling?”
But we couldn’t help ourselves.
Marty always treated me like a partner in the business and together (with some of the most talented people both internally and externally), we grew Boardroom into something very special.
And clearly I was spoiled.
I had all the advantages of an entrepreneur with a lot less risk.
Once becoming Marty’s partner, I had the freedom to think of new ideas daily with phenomenal resources at my fingertips: The best copywriters, consultants, database experts, list mavens, numbers gurus, 20,000+ articles and pieces of world class content and a database of customers and former customers that fluctuated between 5 and 10 million names.
What a playground for anyone…and Boardroom was more like the best amusement park ever for serial direct marketers like us.
Don’t get me wrong…we had risk and we went through tough times.
I remember in 1983 when we had a mailing ready to go out and we did not have enough cash in the bank to pay the postage.
And over the years, there were many pay cuts for the ownership and management teams when it was necessary…and we had layoffs that coincided with downturns just like everyone else.
34 years is a long time. The amusement park was lots of fun but the roller coaster had many ups and downs.
But it will never be lost on me that it was Marty’s courage to go out on his own in 1972, from his basement and using his life savings to launch Boardroom Reports, which created so many wonderful careers and legacies…including mine.
(NOTE: If you are interested in additional background on Marty’s thinking about launching the company and the “brand” Boardroom Reports, read my post entitled “Branding without getting hives”).
I am well aware that I didn’t start the company…just helped to build it in a huge way…which is why I say I was a bit spoiled.
I am not apologizing for not starting Boardroom…just creating the proper setup for my topic today which is all about “Intrapreneurship” (which spell check will always underline so it’s not even a word)!
But I will make it a word and hopefully an important concept for you to consider after you read this post…
Based on interactions I’ve had with many of you on this list, my gut told me that this is a topic worth exploring for a second time.
The first time I talked about this was two years ago, when I left Boardroom after 34 glorious years.
I’ve learned a lot more about you on this list over the last two years too: That is, a good percentage of you are working in different kinds of companies for someone else–but itching to go out on your own.
And of course there are also many of you who are on your own already and I’m hoping this topic will be relevant to you as well…to see if anything I share is similar to your experience moving to full entrepreneurship…or maybe it will give you some insights as to how to deal with your staff, many of whom may be “Intrapreneurial” (also not a word!) themselves…which can lead to incredible growth for your most talented employees.
My thesis: Being innovative and resourceful can never get old or tired no matter what your ownership percentage is of any business.
In my post “Come for the information, stay for the inspiration,” I told you about my experience speaking to 400 entrepreneurs in France…many very young…and all with incredible drive to go out on their own (despite whatever “day job” they currently held).
And I’m not sure if the Americans on this list realize every country does not have the same entrepreneurial spirit we have in this country…in some countries it’s even frowned upon to be entrepreneurial…and it’s definitely not as common outside of the U.S. to meet large groups of people who are sick of “working for the man.”
However, the entrepreneurial spirit is becoming more global every day which I find so inspiring.
Back to my friends in Paris.
They were so impressed with my success and accomplishments–they treated me like royalty.
And frankly, it made me uncomfortable.
I told them the day after my keynote after I had 24 hours to reflect on their warm reception:
I am so grateful that you think I am some celebrity from America, here to dazzle you with my brilliance and my achievements.
But I want to remind you that like you, I put my pants on one leg at a time (however that gets translated into French!)—and it is YOU who I look up to.
I got lucky…I landed in an entrepreneurial organization, worked hard, read everything and learned something new every day for 30 years…but I never had the true entrepreneurial experience where I had to “kill what I ate” (not sure how that translated either!) in the same way that you will have to do when you strike out on your own.
I am not apologizing for being an Intrapreneur…but please know how much you inspire me to truly be an “Entrepreneur Libre” (“Free Entrepreneur,” the name of the conference).
And when I came home from France, I realized it was time for me to leave Boardroom after 34 years.
I saw a bigger mission for myself:
To deliver on my promise to Marty before he passed away that “we have to teach this stuff.”
He and I had been doing that together in smaller doses since the mid 1980’s and we talked about doing something bigger shortly after Gene Schwartz’s death.
We never really got around to it the way we talked about it…and ironically, it was Marty’s death and the launch of “Titans of Direct Response” that took our dream to the next level.
I guess between that epic event in September of 2014 and that epiphany in Paris (and I had a similar experience in Hungary this past year), these last two years of going from Intrapreneur to Entrepreneur have been incredibly special.
And to a large degree that is because of you, my subscribers.
I was a little sad when I left Boardroom because it was the end of an era for me…but these last two years have been incredible as I look to make new contributions daily and you remind me of it after every weekly post.
As I said earlier, I have had the freedom that most entrepreneurs have for much of my career…without the same initial risk…and I was thinking about what I could share about that experience that could be useful.
And I want to be helpful whether you are simply working in a company as an employee or if you are on your own already as a bootstrap Entrepreneur.
Here’s how I think I can be helpful
For the employee: How can “Intrapreneurship” be present for you…what kind of mindset do you need…and what do you need to bring to the party to make it most fulfilling?
For the entrepreneur: What can you do for your staff to create an environment of Intrapreneurs?
I’ll go back to Marty’s “four pillars to becoming extraordinary,” which was my opening session at “Titans of Direct Response” to share how living into this concept worked for me.
1) Outwork everyone: Dan Kennedy jumped on this one when I shared it with him…and I believe it’s why he agreed to come and speak at “Titans.”
For today’s discussion, this means that you always need to make sure the person signing your pay check not only knows who you are but that they also know every idea, contribution or collaboration you are personally responsible for in the company.
It’s true that you may not always get the recognition…but you will always get the experience and learning…and if you are lucky enough to have a mentor like Marty, you will get noticed.
2) Have insatiable curiosity: Always be the “idea guy/gal”…keep your ideas in the air as long as possible while listening to everyone else’s…and never stop asking questions.
Don’t look for credit…but look to create wins.
And as I said in a previous post, there are no losses…only wins and lessons.
3) If you’re the smartest person in the room you are in the wrong room:
Many times in my early days at Boardroom, being the “list expert,” made it too easy to show off in that one area. But I worked hard to stay humble while sharing information in the area I was most expert in–and then I became a total sponge about everything else from everyone else.
Internally and externally.
The odds are high that you are surrounded in your organization by superstars who have infinite knowledge in areas you don’t know squat about…please take full advantage of that every chance you get. It will serve you well when you are out on your own–where you MUST look for expertise in areas you are not an expert in.
And look to the outside for teachers and mentors in those areas as well.
You will never succeed at the highest level as an entrepreneur if you don’t do the things that are YOUR “unique ability” (credit: Dan Sullivan) and delegate the stuff you don’t like to do and the stuff you are not especially good at…
4) With your “work”…whatever it is…always think about changing lives/saving lives:
Those lives can be your eventual customers/clients, outside vendors, partners, consultants… or your co-workers.
Passion never goes out of style…and it gets noticed…and it will help you find your true calling.
Marty used to say:
“You only go through life once so you might as well be the world’s best.”
I know that’s a repeat…but I can’t emphasize that one enough…
Whether you are an Employee/Intrapreneur or an Entrepreneur…I would love your feedback on this concept and how it has played out for you in your career…and I would love to share some of those stories (and possibly lessons) in future posts.
I’m hoping this topic resonates with many of you.
I know it sounds corny (and maybe a little dreamy too) to hear all of the good things you can still do even if you are feeling like you are prisoner to a pay check and the security of a full time job.
As someone who ran with an opportunity to be an “Intrapreneur” at a very satisfying level, maybe there is something in my story that could be helpful to you…although I understand I had some wonderful luck as well…a learning organization and an amazing role model and mentor.
However, don’t underestimate how much of your luck you create yourself (re-read the four pillars above).
Want the short version?
Never stop believing in your ideas; never stop asking questions; learn from anyone and everyone around you; and stay passionate about what drives you the most.
Now…if you are one of the many bootstrap entrepreneurs on this list, the heroes I look up to above all others, it’s time for you to give ME advice!
I’m all ears…
And happy new year!
Until next week,
P.S. Keep an eye out over the next two weeks when I will be making a special offer to you to snatch up one of the last 18 copies of “The Titans of Direct Response”