June 30, 2024

I found this in my archives this week…and whether it’s still true or not, it doesn’t matter because it supports my thesis for today 🙂 :

According to a fact sheet from the Small Business Administration, [a] substantial amount of family wealth is in business ownership.

On average, the self-employed are wealthier than the non-self-employed.

It’s hard to argue with the Small Business Administration…but I will (at least a little).

While business equity is first and foremost gained by business ownership, I believe we gain an equal amount of “business equity” from being an “intrapreneur” almost as much as being an entrepreneur…maybe not in dollars in the bank…but in non-financial assets which come in many shapes and sizes.

As someone who never had a hankering to start my own business when I graduated from college, that didn’t mean I wasn’t interested in carving out a career that would be satisfying on several levels…financial and non-financial…and if business ownership was in the cards, so be it.

My path to career satisfaction began with becoming an intrapreneur inside an entrepreneurial company…and when I left that entrepreneurial company in January of 2015, I became a full-fledged entrepreneur (with ease).

It only took me 34 years…I am a very patient person—and it was a great ride.

And the ride is far from over.

Intrapreneurship has its advantages too.

I wrote a blog post, “From intrapreneur to entrepreneur” as I headed out the door of that very special company; and two years after I left (in 2017) I reflected on that journey again adding some lessons learned in that short span.

Today is a further update of those posts, with some repeats of those lessons, and some new ones, now almost a decade later.

And whether you play intrapreneur or entrepreneur during your career (or neither one..or both), I believe there are insights to be gained by hearing the story.

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 Washington (D.C.) Hilton, the then President of the United States Ronald Reagan, narrowly escaped an assassination attempt.

By all accounts, he dodged two bullets…and lived to tell the story…supporting 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 (figuratively)…but it’s a little scarier when talking about live ammunition…and in Reagan’s case, it was no laughing matter despite his humor about the incident after the fact.

Reagan was courageous through the experience…but he tried to laugh it off when he said as they wheeled him into the operating room, “Please tell me you’re Republicans.”

And the quips and jokes continued from there (including the Churchill quote above) …and his popularity rate rose to over 70%.

I got lucky that same day because I started working for direct marketer Marty Edelston and his small but mighty newsletter and book publishing company, 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.

We may not have had the sales or profits of some of the other star companies in direct marketing over those three decades…because Boardroom was a true “learning organization” (euphemism for “ we put the profits back into the business”). 🙂

It also meant that we worked with the smartest people, produced the highest quality products and we often spent as much time teaching and sharing as anything else.

Our financial advisors often told us:

“How about a little less teaching and sharing and a little more profit?”

But we couldn’t help ourselves. More on that in a minute.

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 a direct marketing powerhouse.

And I was spoiled.

I had all the advantages of an entrepreneur with a lot less risk.

Once becoming Marty’s formal (equity) partner, the risk increased…as did the freedom to think of new ideas daily with phenomenal resources and assets 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 buyers and prospects.

What a playground.

And Boardroom was more than a static playground…it was the ultimate, action-packed amusement park for serial direct marketers like us.

Don’t get me wrong…we experienced risky times, many speed bumps, and we went through tough periods where cash was tight.

I remember in 1983 when we had a mailing ready to go out and we did not have enough money in the bank to pay for the postage.

Yes, paying for postage (and printing) was a “thing” before the Internet 🙂

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 like everyone else.

34 years is a long time. Survival of the fittest is also a “thing.”

The amusement park was lots of fun, but the roller coaster had many ups and downs…and needed many adjustments along the way.

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 understand 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 launching Boardroom…just creating the proper setup for my topic today which is all about “intrapreneurship,” which is defined by Wikipedia this way:

Intrapreneurship is the act of behaving like an entrepreneur while working within a large organization. Intrapreneurship is known as the practice of a corporate management style that integrates risk-taking and innovation approaches, as well as the reward and motivational techniques, that are more traditionally thought of as being the province of entrepreneurship.

Based on interactions I’ve had with many of you over the years, my gut told me that this is a topic worth exploring once again.

I’ve learned a lot more about you, my online family, over the past 9+ plus years.

That is, a good percentage of you work in different kinds of companies for someone else–but itching to go out on your own.

And some of you love your job but want to get more out of it without necessarily going out on your own.

And…there are many of you who are on your own already, budding or established entrepreneurs, and I’m hoping this topic will be relevant to you as well…to see if anything I share mirrors your experience moving into full entrepreneurship.

It may also give you some insights as to how to deal with your staff, many of whom may be intrapreneurial (like I was) …which can lead to incredible growth for your most talented employees…and your company.

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 in late 2014…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 treated me like royalty, and frankly, it made me uncomfortable.

I went back on stage the day after my keynote, after I had 24 hours to reflect on their warm reception and told them this:

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 got 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 to as many people as we can.”

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 the death of the world renown copywriter, Gene Schwartz, who spent his life teaching everything he learned.

Read my post, Building larger mice which tells the tale of Gene Schwartz through my afterword which I wrote for his masterpiece, Breakthrough Advertising.

Marty and I never really got around to “teaching it” as broadly as we would have liked (in Gene’s image).

But a year after Marty’s death, I created (with Boardroom), an epic tribute event in his honor, Titans of Direct Response, which also created the springboard to taking our dream to the next level.

Too bad it had to wait until Marty was gone…but I know he was there watching over the 350+ attendees, the top experts and speakers (all of whom were friends and colleagues) …and me.

He was watching over me to also make sure I got it right. 🙂

Whether you are simply working in a company as an employee or if you are on your own already as a bootstrap (or established) entrepreneur, here are some rules of the road:

For you as an employee (and potential intrapreneur/entrepreneur):

Questions to ask…

  • 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?

Some answers…

Be hungry and curious, with passion, ready to learn every hour you are on the job…and off the job.

That’s the basic prescription.

Also: Get noticed by the people who need to notice you…for all the right reasons (e.g. your performance, your successes, your innovations…inside the company and outside) …and for none of the wrong reasons (e.g. taking credit for other people’s ideas, being ruthless at all costs, empty brown-nosing).

It’s easier than you think…and simple too.

There’s a lot more to it…and check out the upcoming offer in the P.S. to take a deeper dive into Intrapreneurship.

For you as an entrepreneur:

What can you do for your staff to create an environment of intrapreneurs?

I would encourage you to read “Being extraordinary matters” which discusses Marty’s “four pillars to becoming extraordinary,” which was, in fact, my opening session at Titans of Direct Response…and before that, the basis for my eulogy at his funeral.

One of Marty’s favorite sayings:

“You only go through life once so you might as well be the world’s best.”

And when everyone is striving to be the world’s best in their specialty in a company—from the top down—that’s how magical intrapreneurs are created.

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) from you 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 the good things you can still do even if you are feeling like you are a prisoner of a paycheck (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…working inside a learning organization with an amazing role model and mentor.

However, don’t underestimate how much of your luck you create yourself. (I implore you to read about Marty’s four pillars by clicking here).

If you don’t have time to read it (which I understand after reading this lengthy post), here’s the short version:

  • Outwork everyone (but not in a haughty or egocentric way)
  • Never stop asking questions
  • If you’re the smartest person in the room you’re in the wrong room
  • Stay passionate about what drives you the most…always with empathy

Now…if you are one of the many entrepreneurs in my online family, it’s time you return the favor and teach me a thing or two…on how you got there…and how you stay there.

You are all my heroes.



P.S. I am gearing up for the second “Overdeliver Bootcamp”…a hands on workshop (or in the language of marketing beast Jason Fladlian, an “E-Class”)… going through my book Overdeliver with 6 live calls over a three week period…with exercises, hot seats and discussions that will definitely help you in your career…and selfishly help me with mine. 🙂

And because it’s based on my career, you will also get additional insights on intrapreneurship, entrepreneurship…playing a long game…along with marketing fundamentals you may not have learned previously or you need a reminder.

Email me for a link for early signup…it begins July 16th.

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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