As seen on Forbes.
Packed in like sardines.
Brandon Mills and 90% of the population.
All headed down the same track preached since birth: Go to school; get good grades, go to college; get a degree; go try to find a good job; live a decent life; retire with a gold watch in hand at age 65; pray you don’t drop dead at age 66.
Ah, but sometimes a miracle happens to change things. Call it fate. Call it the butterfly effect. Pretty much call it whatever you want.
Brandon Mills had such a life changing experience at the age of 20.
Now before you go off expecting some miracle story of survival from a horrific car crash, stop yourself. It’s not that. But why does it have to be? Why can’t a normal everyday decision make a huge impact on a life? I mean that’s why we call it the “butterfly effect”, right? A butterfly’s wings flapping in the wind can make a huge dent in the world.
And so it was for Brandon.
Jamming in school at the University of California at San Diego; Saturday afternoon workshop; some entrepreneur guru author named Robert W. Price on campus; and Brandon decides to check it out just for the fun of it.
You see, this is slightly off course for Brandon — he is going to school for an engineering degree. So basically on a whim, he goes to this thing on a Saturday.
Ding-Ding. Ten years later Brandon has an entrepreneurial resume to drool over. Co-founder of a company named SocialVibe with 2 other buddies; raised $44.5 million in capital for their gig; exited recently and now starting his second company BlockBeacon; raised even more startup funds; totally connected in the SoCal startup scene; and all before the age of 30.
Nicely done Brandon.
So who is Brandon Mills anyway? And what exactly happened on this Saturday afternoon? And what are some of the secrets to his success?
Glad you asked.
I sat down with Brandon on the tele and we talked shop one Friday afternoon.
My goal? To discover as much wisdom in this entrepreneurial kid as possible. (Yes, kid. I’m 47 and he could actually be my son. Well… if I was having children right out of high school that is.)
First though, let me tell you this: Brandon Mills is just like you and me. Yes, he’s a smart guy, but he is no smarter than you and I. And my point isn’t to discount Brandon in anyway here. My point is to simply say this: You can do the same as Brandon. You can rock this world as an entrepreneur. And that’s a key point for you to realize.
So read carefully because Brandon’s got 3 great secrets you can use to build your own empire…
Secret #1: You’ve got to have an open mind.
Getting decent grades in school, Brandon decided to pursue being an engineer in college so he can land a big, fat juicy job in a big engineering firm when he graduated.
So why’s this guy heading off to some entrepreneur meeting on campus one Saturday afternoon?
Because he’s got an open mind. You see, Brandon is willing to explore and learn. He’s curious. And every entrepreneur should be. You included.
So he perked his ears up during Robert’s meet-up on that Saturday afternoon; listening to him talk about stuff Brandon never considered before. In essence, Robert opened the eyes of Brandon to the world of being an entrepreneur.
After meeting Robert, and reading his book called “Roadmap to Entrepreneurial Success”, Brandon made an immediate decision: He was going to be an entrepreneur. No matter what it took. No matter how long it took.
So did he scamper off to the dean’s office, declare he was dropping out of college, and run off to launch his first company?
No. He didn’t. And this is a very important part.
Brandon was very strategic and flexible in his moves. Basically willing to be open-minded. He decided to bide his time. Just like our friend David Mayer of Clean Bottle. He made a plan, and stuck with it.
Brandon decided to add a minor to his major. Finance. You know, numbers and such. Smart move by Brandon because it turns out you really need to know your numbers as an entrepreneur. In fact, I would say if you don’t, you’re toast and you don’t even know it.
So Brandon got a minor in finance. But that’s not all. He also made a strategic decision to get hooked up with a management consultant firm to get exposed to more entrepreneurial type stuff.
And he did. Landed a job with Bainbridge.
So why was an entrepreneur at heart getting a job somewhere? Well, he had an open mind and was being smart about it. Getting paid for an education in how to negotiate, how to present, how to do due diligence, basically how to play in the sandbox with the big boys.
Brandon spent 2 years learning the space of “search” on the Internet while under the umbrella of Bainbridge. He and his buddies lived it, breathed it, and came to love it.
And guess what? He and these same buddies launched SocialVibe in this space and went on to raise a total of $44.5 million in venture capital.
Not to shabby for a first time entrepreneur, right?
Right. And you know why? Because the guy was willing to have an open-mind about the possibilities.
Here is what Brandon had to say about the importance of having an open-mind as a full-blown entrepreneur:
“One thing I think is pretty key is a lot of people are always at risk of being too wed to their own solution to a problem. They’ve invested thousands of hours of their time or thousands of dollars of their money or they’ve hired a team of 10 to solve a problem. And maybe they’ve learned along the way or there have been hints along the way either the problem didn’t exist or the solution they were building was the wrong solution.
But they’re so wed to that solution — they continue down a path and that path leads to failure. I hate to use the word “pivot”, because it’s like a buzzword these days, but having an open mind and the ability to recognize a parallel opportunity and quickly shift and take advantage of the fact you’re small and nimble and agile is critically important. There are so many companies out there that started out very different than where they ended up because the entrepreneurs were willing to have an open mind.”
So see? Be open-minded and flexible. It’s good for you.
Secret #2: Know the space you’re in and have a passion for it.
Did you notice a little nugget of wisdom up there? Stuck in the first secret of Brandon’s story?
Yes, know your space and have a passion for it.
The guy spent 2 years learning the space at his consulting gig; then built his first company in the space. And after his success at SocialVibe? He wanted to do it again — in the same space. So he ran off to start his newest biz: BlockBeacon.
You hear this over and over. But why do I come across so many entrepreneurs who mess this up?
Do you see what Brandon did here? From even before he started his first company? He got super intimate with a space in the market he was passionate about and then…
Wait a minute. You know what? I’m just going to let Brandon finish this in his own words:
“You may feel like you understand (your) space really well, but it will really hit home the first time you go out and try to raise money on an idea in this space because venture capitalists are incredibly insightful. They’re some of the smartest people in the world you will ever meet and if you don’t really get it, it will come across immediately. They will be able to spit off the name of 10 existing competitors and 10 people that tried this and failed, names you’ve never heard of.
So I think without being an absolute domain expert, your chances of success are very, very slim. And to put it another way, expertise is just one piece of the puzzle, right? You could be the world’s foremost expert on whatever, search engine optimization, but if you’re not passionate about search engine optimization, none of that matters.
You have to have the fire in your eyes this is a problem you’re willing to stake your career on. I know a lot of really smart people that are really good at what they do, but I wouldn’t personally trust any of them to build a business around it nor would I invest in them if I can’t tell in the way they act; in the way they talk about it, that this is something they’re ridiculously passionate about today and are going to be passionate about for three to five years minimum to come.”
Got it? Do you understand how important this is for you as an entrepreneur? It doesn’t matter if you are raising capital or bootstrapping. You’ve got to know the space you’re in and have a burning, on-fire, passion for it. Period.
Secret #3: You need help. Double period.
Co-Founder, Partner, Mentor, Coach, Advisor, Your Mom, Your cat, whatever.
You’re going to need help.
Think you’re going to make it big all on your own? Dream on my friend.
It won’t happen. We live in a social world. We live in a world with dependency on relationships with other people. For love. For support. For wisdom. For help.
You simply cannot do it alone. So now I will get off my soapbox and let Brandon tell you how it is:
“How important was it to have co-founders at SocialVibe? I would say it was probably the single largest factor to success. Being able to share not just the responsibility, but I think more importantly it’s just like the emotional side of things. I mean you’re working crazy hours. You’re traveling. You’re stressed out of your mind. Being able to have someone there you can bounce ideas off of that can answer the questions you can’t answer when you’re standing in front of a big group. And even the little things like being able to go out and grab a beer after work and just decompress and vent it to another human being is, I would say, critically important. I don’t think I could have ever done it by myself.”
Do you see how important this is? Now you may not feel like going the route of a partner or co-founder, and that’s a-okay. But at a minimum you need to find a couple of mentors, coaches or advisors. Geez. I’m clanging two cymbals together here.
If you’ve been around any block as an entrepreneur, you know you’ve heard this before. So do it will you? Stop messing around and find yourself a mentor, coach or someone else to help you.
You’ll be amazed at the progress you’ll make in your business. Just like Brandon.
So there you have it. 3 Secrets from Brandon.
But really, are these concepts so secret? I would say no. But, they are key my friend. Brandon is in his second startup using these same ideas. Why? Because they work.
So go get ‘em tiger. Go be the best entrepreneur you can be.
Oh, but first….
Bonus Secret: Additional resources for you as an entrepreneur.
Love to learn even more tidbits and secrets from this serial entrepreneur? Grab a peek at the complete conversation I had with Brandon. All the nitty gritty details with plenty more nuggets of wisdom.
Oh, and who is this entrepreneur guru named Robert who started it all for Brandon?
Well, he’s still rockin’ as a connected guy helping tons of entrepreneurs. Hanging out in San Diego, Robert has an entrepreneurial program geared especially for those of you who are students between the ages of 18 to 35:
“The GCASE Global Scholars Program recognizes students who have excelled in their studies and have an ambition to develop a new business venture, or to help their local economy support entrepreneurship.”
Man, if I was in this age range as a student? I’d be all over this resource.
So go check it out, will you? Could be the butterfly effect to change the rest of your life. :-)