From Desperate to Mogul: Marcus Whitney Shares His Secrets on How to Rise to the Top – 207
Here’s a success story of an entrepreneur that spans such a range that I can only refer to it as cinematic. That is, if you could convince anyone to fund the picture. Most production companies would feel uncomfortable getting behind a story that reads like an entrepreneurial fairy-tale. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like a gritty e-commerce journey.
However, today on the AM/PM Podcast, Tim Jordan welcomes Marcus Whitney to show us that it doesn’t have to be one or the other.
Marcus started out in a way that required a fair amount of plain old hard work. But Marcus slowly chipped away at success and to hear him tell it, he was in the right place at the right time and was surrounded by talented, generous people.
You know how that story goes. That’s like listening to LeBron James say that he was “just trying to keep up with the rest of his team.”
Tim Jordan said to us that this one was “gold,” and he’s right.
In episode 207 of the AM/PM Podcast, Tim and Marcus discuss:
- 02:00 -- Just an Entrepreneur
- 06:22 -- No Credentials – What Can I Do?
- 08:45 -- Building an Email Marketing Platform and Getting Equity
- 11:30 -- You Have to Do This Stuff Before You’re Ready
- 15:00 -- (Difficult) Venture-Based Marketing Lessons
- 19:13 -- “If We’re Not Talking About Deep Science, I Can Figure It Out”
- 23:00 -- “I’m Going to Need to Be Chairman of the Board”
- 27:00 -- Failure is Not Final
- 31:50 -- Success Might Sound Good, But Where Are the Lessons?
- 34:45 -- Eight Core Concepts (In Order of Importance) Starting with Leadership
- 40:45 -- Creating Your Company’s Culture Through Communication
- 45:00 -- Managing Risk – It’s Not What You Think
- 51:00 -- Making Your Promise to the Customer REAL
- 54:00 -- Listening to Your Customers
- 56:30 -- Closing the Deal (What’s Up with Those Abandoned Shopping Carts?)
- 58:15 -- Bringing It All Together with Marketing
- 01:01:00 -- “Create and Orchestrate” – The Book
- 01:04:45 -- How to Connect with Marcus
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Tim Jordan: 20 years ago, today’s podcast guest was living in a day to day hotel serving tables. Since then, he’s become a bestselling author. He has founded one of the most successful VC firms that fond and build healthcare companies. He’s now one of the owners of a major league soccer team, and all of those things were done by a college dropout. Somebody, they didn’t have any formal training in any of these areas. He started with side hustles and he figured it out. In this episode, he talks about his journey. He also talks about eight core principles that we, as entrepreneurs and business owners, must understand, use and know to become successful. Check it out on this episode.
Tim Jordan: Hi. I’m Tim Jordan and in every corner of the world, entrepreneurship is growing. So join me as I explore the stories of successes and failures. Listen in as I chat with the risk takers, the adventurous and the entrepreneurial veterans. We all have a dream of living a life, fulfilling our passions, and we want a business that doesn’t make us punch a time clock, but instead runs around the clock in the AM and the PM. So get motivated, get inspired. You’re listening to the AM/PM Podcast.
Tim Jordan: Hey everybody and welcome to another episode of the AM/PM Podcast where we talk about basically anything entrepreneurial. We try not to stick in one specific lane. And today we have a guest that I don’t even know how to introduce. He and I just met. We were just talking before we started recording about everything that he’s done. And I literally told him that I said, Marcus, I have no idea how to introduce you. Because there’s like 50 titles you can have. There’s 50 different themes of introduction I could run down and I don’t even know where to begin. So why don’t you go ahead and kind of take that torch from me and introduce yourself and give us just-- if you defined yourself by a title, you step in an elevator and someone said, Hey, what’s your name? And what do you do? What is that 12-second introduction you give?
Marcus Whitney: Tim, I just say I’m an entrepreneur, and if I throw an adjective on that, I’ll say I’m a creative entrepreneur. That’s kind of the way that I frame it up. I don’t limit myself by industry for sure, cause I have fun being an innovator and an entrepreneur in multiple industries. And I think there’s so much to learn from working across industries and I get it people are often saying it’s pretty difficult to figure out how to frame me up. But I’m happy to take a shot at it. Look, I started this journey of entrepreneurship really 20 years ago when I first moved to Nashville, Tennessee, which is where I still live. I moved here as a college dropout with a growing family, had a wife, one-year old and a child on the way. And as dropout, I didn’t have a salary job. So I was waiting tables and we were living in a week-to-week motel.
Tim Jordan: Timeout. Why Nashville? All right. You were obviously attending college somewhere else, dropped out of college, had the wife, had the kids, life is stressful. You got no income living in and, and look, I know Nashville, 20 years ago. 20 years ago, I was living near Nashville and Nashville was not nice particularly. Nashville is a little rundown. It hadn’t had its real wakening and living out of a nightly hotel. I can visualize that perfectly, not a cool spot to be in. So how did you end up in Nashville at that time?
Marcus Whitney: We were in Atlanta prior to Nashville, and had just basically decided we needed a little bit more community as we were raising our family. We were both pretty far from our parents and she went to high school in Nashville and had a best friend there. So literally we’re talking-- I’m 44 now. I was 24 then. And so, it’s just kids in their twenties, trying to make a way. And she’s like, Hey, my best friend when you’re that age, best friend is like family. Right. And so that was it. I went sight unseen. I had heard of Nashville, but I’d never been, I had no idea what I was going to do when I got there. So, I wish I had a better answer for you, but that’s the answer.
Tim Jordan: You didn’t have a real strong connection to Conway Twitty and Opryland in the time. And you grew up in the New York area, right?
Marcus Whitney: Yeah. I grew up in Brooklyn. I grew up on a Woo Tang, a lot more than I did Garth Brooks. So yeah.
Tim Jordan: That’s amazing. At a spoiler alert, everybody that’s listening, we’re going to talk a little bit more about a story, but just to get you guys excited. 20 years ago, Marcus was living in a nightly hotel in Nashville, the white and tables, and now Marcus, you’ve got best-selling entrepreneurial books, you’ve exited a tech marketing company, correct? Technology company. You have run one of the most successful VC firms for healthcare. And now you’re one of the co-owners of the new professional soccer team in Nashville. Right. Any other really high level highlights that I missed or was that basically it? All right. So to get from where you started 20 years ago, or where you were 20 years ago, you started well before then, but where you were 20 years ago to now has obviously not been easy. Right? And as we go through this episode, I want to talk about some of those lessons that you learned that helped you move and elevate yourself and elevate your family and learn along the way. I want to talk about that, but let’s keep going just briefly the story. You’re living out of a hotel, you’re waiting tables, you got wife, you got young in’s, you’re in Nashville. What happened over the next 20 years?
Marcus Whitney: Yeah. Great, great. So I started my career as a software developer. I have short stints at a couple of companies, one year each, and then my third year as a professional programmer, I land at a company called Emma. It’s an email marketing company, it’s a startup. And I’m the fifth employee. And man, it is the most incredible four-year run. Really. I would say, even with all the other cool things I’ve done, this was the most incredible run of it all because I’m going from someone who’s-- let’s just call me a mid-level developer at this point. And at this company that’s burning cash, trying to figure out email marketing in 2003, I don’t know, think about the most exotic form of digital marketing today. That’s about what it was. I mean, the iPhone wasn’t even out until 2007, right? So email marketing was a big deal. It was new, it was fresh, it was exciting. And we were building the platform from the ground up and we had a great run over the course of five years. The company grew from five people to 50 people. We started making millions of dollars. I was raised up to be a partner in the company, which means I got equity, which means I got to understand what that meant, what was it like to own equity in a company. I had no idea what that was like prior to that, I got to grow a team. So I learned about leadership and recruiting and hiring and management, how to find people better than you, and basically replace yourself in every area possible. And I got to watch the founders of that company take what was an idea and grow it into a successful business, growing into a great culture, grow it into something that would take care of their families for the rest of their lives. And so, that was where I got the entrepreneurial bug on the inside, working underneath two incredible guys, Clint Smith and Will Weaver, who built this great business. So in 2007, four years in the company is doing really well. And I’m starting to kind of get this itch that things are going to kind of stop being as fun as they were. When a company gets to a certain scale is like, you got to start putting procedures and policies in place. And I really didn’t want to be a manager. I wanted to be an entrepreneur and be a creative. So I was really lucky. I got to go to South by Southwest in 2007. For context, this is the year that Twitter launched and blew up. So it launched and blew up at South by Southwest. If you ever sort of watch any of the old Gary V videos, when he talks about all the people that he met, it happened at this South by Southwest in 2007.
Tim Jordan: And just let me pause, just for context, South by Southwest is a big-- it’s turned into more, but it was basically a conference. It was basically a gathering of innovative minds, right? And I was just talking to somebody two days ago telling her, Hey, when this COVID stuff wraps up, you got to go to these conferences, you got to learn. She said, well, I have to be successful before I go to a conference. Are you kidding me? You go to the conference to be successful. You have to go, open up your mind, meet these people, get these new ideas, you have to put yourself out there. And this is 48 hours later, a great reminder that South by Southwest, you probably felt a little bit maybe out of your element a little bit. You come from kind of this world of email, and now you’re being introduced to all these crazy things like Twitter and social media. But obviously you’re talking about it. I want to hear where this goes, but that was a big changing point for you probably.
Marcus Whitney: No question about it. I went there and all these people that I didn’t know existed were doing all these things that I didn’t know you could do. I just was living in my email world, and I thought it was great, but I did have a sense that there was something more out there in South by Southwest 2007 really confirmed that for me. And you do have to go to these things before you’re ready. You have to do all this stuff before you’re ready to do it. Tim, I think that’s a super important point. I was completely turned inside out by that experience because I saw what it was like to invent the future in sort of a small group people. I got to watch these people who would end up changing the world as we knew it. For example, I got to sit down and have a great conversation with Matt Mullenweg, who’s the founder of WordPress. And, WordPress was, I don’t want to say it was nothing back then, but it wasn’t 70% of the web, you know what I mean? And he was just a guy who was passionate about this little piece of software that he had sort of put together. There was no automatic team behind him. It was just him. And he was very accessible. And that’s the kind of thing that you get from going to these kinds of events. And so I started to realize, wow, these innovative technologists are going to create the new world, and I wanted to sort of figure out how to be a part of that. So I went back to Nashville and I just told the founders of Emma. I said, listen guys, this has been a great run. You guys really don’t need me anymore. The company is stable enough. You probably need to hire that next level of technical leader in here. And I need to go try to figure out how to be an entrepreneur. And they were incredible, really understanding, helped me sort of figure out how to get out into the world as an entrepreneur. My first business that I launched was a software development shop. That’s what I knew how to do. So, I built a team of software developers. We were building software for entrepreneurs. That was what I knew how to do. We very quickly got up to 10 people, generate a couple million dollars in revenue. And that’s when I started learning real lessons.
Marcus Whitney: I started really learning about all the things that I didn’t understand about how to run a business. I thought I was so close to the founders at Emma and I thought I understood what it meant to be the top dog. You know what I mean? And then I realized, I don’t know a doggone thing about HR. I don’t know anything about finance, really. I don’t understand this payroll thing, taxes, what are taxes? I was just getting a check, you know what I mean? And so that was the beginning of me learning those hard lessons. And then I started learning business model, hard lessons. When was the last time you heard about somebody who was profitably generating millions of dollars in revenue, but had to shut their company down, was forced to shut their company down? Why? Well, for me, it was because I had one customer that represented 70% of my revenue. It’s a little thing called concentration risk. And that was something that I didn’t have any mentors sort of looking over my books, looking over my revenue mix and saying, wow, that’s a problem. You got to sell your way out of that problem. And you’re going to be in big trouble. And I was, and what ended up happening was that customer basically came with an ultimatum and I had to fold my company and move into that company as the chief technology officer and bring along my developers. And that was in-- that became my first experience in a venture back company as a company called Moontoast. We raised many millions of dollars and we set up offices in Boston and San Francisco and hired all these people and we’re partnered with Facebook.
Marcus Whitney: And I had that whole crazy venture backed marketing company experience. Spending a lot of time at Google headquarters and Facebook headquarters and Twitter headquarters and learning a lot, but it was also just kind of crazy man. It was like this kind of fake business world, you know what I mean? And at the end, we were unsuccessful. We were one of many, many, many marketing technology companies that were built on the back of Facebook before they really figured out exactly what their business model was going to be, which was going to be advertising. And as soon as they figured that out--
Tim Jordan: They kicked everybody else out of the club.
Marcus Whitney: Exactly, exactly. And I mean, it happened to so many companies, that accepted venture backing that we’re innovating and creating all these fun things. Pretty sure you remember a company called Zynga that created Farmville. You remember how big that company was? And they’re gone now, right. They don’t exist anymore because guess what? You can’t make an app inside of a Facebook page anymore. It’s just not something you can do anymore. We were one of those companies and sort of had that hard experience. While that was all happening, I was doing a side hustle, based here in Nashville, which was I was building a tech accelerator. This was 2009. And I was working with a group of entrepreneurs and one venture capitalist who is today my business partner, a guy named Vic Gatto, just sort of saying, Hey, Nashville needs support in the startup world. Let’s figure out how to do that.
Marcus Whitney: We all had a little bit of money. We all threw a little bit of money in, and we started something called Jumpstart Foundry. It started as a shark tank kind of thing. We would meet once a month and companies would come in and we’d say, we’re going to give you money and support. And we’d like, write a check on the spot and give them like $15,000. And then, some subgroup of us would mentor that group. But eventually realized that wasn’t scalable and started what became the first tech accelerator in the Southeast. It was the first in Tennessee, first in the whole Southeast, it was 2010. And I was doing that nights and weekends while I was being the chief technology officer of Moontoast. And in 2014, when everything went bad at Moontoast. We sort of got kicked off the Facebook platform and all the big ad agencies that were using us, stopped using us. I went and met with my partner Vic and said, look, I want to do this full time. He also wanted to do it full time. So we spent three months figuring out what that would look like. And we evolved Jumpstart Foundry to be a healthcare venture fund. And so we’ve been doing that since 2015. And we’re now the most active healthcare venture fund in the country. We’ve got about 120 companies in the portfolio.
Tim Jordan: If someone would have gone back 20 years ago and said, you’re going to be writing $15,000 checks as an angel investor, you would have thought, whoever’s telling you this is insane. But even beyond that, you actually got into the real VC world, obviously the bigger checks in healthcare, which I haven’t heard you say you know anything about up to this point. You haven’t talked about your experience in the healthcare industry. And I remember, thinking back 2010, in the last 10 years how Nashville has been-- has started to become known more in the healthcare space in the Southeast. Obviously Vandy has been there a while, but there’s all this other stuff going on, research space and I can’t help but notice the parallel story you’ve got. I’m sure there’s something to do with that. That’s pretty intense. You sound like the kind of guy that bites off more than you could chew, and then you figure out how to swallow it, which is kind of how I’ve always been, is like, you don’t know anything about medical space, but My God, we’re going to fund a bunch of medical companies. Why not?
Marcus Whitney: I just basically have come to the point where-- if we’re not talking about deep, deep, deep science, I can figure it out.
Tim Jordan: I figured out at least enough, you don’t have to know it all. You’ve just got to know enough to get yourself in trouble and recognize the people that do know what they’re talking about. That’s really all there is to it, right? Now, I’ve dove into the FinTech space. I’m the chief growth officer at a FinTech company. Dude, a year ago. I’d never even heard the term FinTech, but I know enough about the things that require growth and man figure it out. And what I figured out, I guess the past five years is you’re never going to be “ready.” You’re never going to be ready. You’re never going to know enough to be an “expert” in the healthcare space unless you get in the healthcare space. I mean, you got to take a leap, you got to jump in there, you got to kind of do the baptism by fire thing and kind of figure it out. So you’re actively still doing that. You guys are investing and working with these healthcare companies. You have also recently become one of the founders of the soccer team there in Nashville. Right? Give me the two minutes on how that happened.
Marcus Whitney: Sure. So we had kind of a Pro-Am team here for 20 years called the Nashville Metros. And it’s really hard to keep a team sort of operating at that level. There’s not a lot of revenue coming in and so the founders, they did a great job keeping it alive, the soccer fans of Nashville, but eventually they had to fold. And so they folded 2013, 2014, they folded. This guy who lived here and who was a fan, it was like, man, that’s terrible. Can we just start something to replace it? And so he just started a Twitter handle, a Nashville FC Twitter handle, and people started to buy into it. It was like, yeah, this is a great idea. So he was like, okay, set up a site. He set up a PayPal thing and said, let’s do a nonprofit membership group and let’s see what we can do. And so I ended up being, I think a member 83 or 86, just paying $75 to be a member of-- a founding member of Nashville football club. And it started out just five aside football was just people playing for fun. And we’re going to bring football back here, soccer, and then sort out of nowhere, he was able to acquire a franchise to play in the fourth division of soccer. Now, the way that soccer works in America is it’s all runs under US soccer, and it’s a pyramid. It’s fourth division, third division, second division, first division. Okay? And fourth division is like, totally amateur. No one’s getting paid anything to play.
Marcus Whitney: And as you move up, it becomes more professional. They start getting paid to play. And then the first division has major league soccer. So we’ve got-- in 2015, we’ve got a fourth division team. And, at the end of the first season, the team was getting a thousand to 2000 people to come out to the matches. It was great. All nonprofit, all community based. And Chris Jones, who’s the founder, he reached out to me cause he knew me from the entrepreneur world. They knew I was a paying member and we had talked on email a couple of times and he asked me out to lunch and said, Hey man, this thing was lightning in a bottle. I need help trying to figure out how to organize and how to scale it. I said, that sounds great. In order for me to take time to do that though, I need to be on the board, probably need to be the chairman of the board, just so I can really do what I’m capable of doing without having to deal with a bunch of obstructions. And so he went back to the board of the nonprofit, got that approved and boom, I was the chairman of the board. And so from that position--
Tim Jordan: I have to point this out. So you threw 75 bucks at this guy. You went to the club, you’ve met this guy a few times via email, you’re kind of aware of each other. He took you out to lunch, wanted your help. And you were like, sure, I’ll help if you make me the chairman of the board, that’s some cahones man. That’s awesome. And again, you don’t come from a background of professional sports, but you understand people and you understand how to organize things and you understand just enough about marketing. That’s inspiring. That’s amazing. And I know there are people listening to this podcast that have the potential to do great things, but they’re never going to put themselves out there. They’re never going to put their hand down on lunch table and say, if I got I’ll do it, but you got to make me this, you got to give me this opportunity and have that confidence. So that’s super inspiring. And I know that you’ve probably never had someone pick out that point of your story, but like, that’s the thing that’s really firing off in my mind right now. We doubt ourselves so many times. And maybe even if behind the scenes where-- alone in the shower thinking about life and we tell ourselves, Oh, we could be bigger. We could be better. We could do something outside of our scope of comfort. Actually telling somebody that, Hey, I can do that is different. That’s a scary thing to do. Right? Where do you have the confidence to do that? At what point did your life change so much that you knew that sitting down at a lunch table with this guy, you could make a statement, I’ll do it if you make me the chairman of the board and run this thing. At what point did you gain the confidence to be able to say that?
Marcus Whitney: I think it was not so much confidence. It was that-- I’m doing all these different things and what I haven’t circled back to is that I’m raising children while all this is happening. And also, I didn’t bring it up, but I ended up going through a separation and a divorce from my first wife and then entered into a new relationship. I’m now remarried. Five years happily remarried, but like, it was just this-- I grew to have an understanding of the value of time. And, in that any time I commit to something, I’m committing the most precious thing that I can’t get back more precious than money, which is my time. And so honestly it was less of a confidence thing. It was more of a listen, Chris, I think I can help, but I don’t have time to argue with people about why I’m right on basic stuff. So I need to have the authority to do what you’re asking me to do. And that means I need to be the chairman of the board, because that gives me the authority to do what you’re asking me to do. You’re asking me to help straighten this thing out and put it in a position where it can grow and it can scale. And I can do that for you, but I can’t do it if I’m just like, I don’t know, supporting, like I got to be in a leadership position with the authority. So that’s really where it comes from.
Tim Jordan: I feel like we’ve kind of come to the end of your resume, which I said, we’d spend five minutes doing, obviously we spent a lot more because it’s powerful and I think it’s important. And I think that you one of the fun things about me hosting this podcast is I get to ask the questions and I get to hear things. So, maybe I just wanted to hear it for myself, but I know that, as cool as the resume is, right? You’ve done all this cool, awesome things. You know that, I know that, everybody knows that, but I know that those highlights on your resume are surrounded by failures, right? And anybody that’s successful is going to be successful because they had 10 times more failures than they did successes. They learned from those, they use those as wisdom building and education and other opportunities. And sometimes it’s just bad luck, but you mentioned something to me, you know, before we started recording, you made the statement that failure is not final. What do you mean by that? And can you give me an example of how a failure that could have been final for you? You didn’t take it as final and it became an opportunity.
Marcus Whitney: Yeah. Look, the Moontoast situation was a bad one. We had raised millions of dollars and I was a very visible founder of that business, but it was my first real experience with venture capital. And the truth is I wasn’t on the board. I was never the CEO of the company. And I had a very, very small equity percentage in the company. And so, I was positioned publicly as sort of the face of the company, but behind the scenes, I didn’t have real authority and in a meaningful ownership percentage. And so, it was the kind of thing where I was the most vulnerable from the way that it would look to the public when this thing went up in flames, and I could see it starting to really break down, and thank goodness that I had a side hustle going on because I remember the day when a friend of mine who was on the board of the company brought me in to basically fire me, because they had decided they were going in different direction with leadership and sort of all this other kind of stuff. And, I remember when he brought me in and was like, Hey, the new CEO XYZ, he doesn’t really, really need you in the position, can we help you find something? And I was like, yeah, totally get it. I’m going to go be the president of Jumpstart Foundry. And I just remember his eyes being so big. And that failure made way for me to have this different opportunity. And it also taught me so much about the importance of being on the board.
Marcus Whitney: In fact, we just talked about the whole chairman bit. My experience at Moontoast is a big reason why I insisted on being the chairman of the board at Nashville football club, because I didn’t know what a board was for Moontoast, I didn’t even get it. Emma, as a company, didn’t have a board, it was just the two founders and they were the majority owners and they kept it really kind of like that. They had no board oversight. They didn’t take a lot of VC money in or anything like that. So I didn’t even know what a board structure was until I got into this other organization. And it was a failure on a lot of friends, but it got me out of this whole life that quite frankly, I’m glad I’m out of. I’m glad I’m out of leading technology teams. I don’t want to do that anymore. I’m glad I went through that really hard experience to understand why having a board seat is so important in a organization that I claim to be leading. And that drove that piece. I’m glad that I had such a small equity percentage of Moontoast because when Vic and I worked out how we were going to be partners, it really set me up to have the right kind of negotiation with him to make sure my ownership percentage was reasonable, was appropriate. We’ve been going now for five plus years, we’ve taken in some equity financing and I still have a really meaningful percentage of ownership in the venture fund. And he and I still own a majority of it.
Marcus Whitney: That one failure, that was really, really difficult by the way, and, and really humbling. Okay. It taught me so many things by all the things that went wrong in it. I learned all these things that I would never do again. And you can’t say the same about the successes, interestingly enough. The successes sound really good, but you don’t walk away with these really big, big, big, big lessons from the successes. So, I would just say the vast majority of successful people have gotten there by way of some really meaningful failure that they learned some incredible, incredible wisdom from.
Tim Jordan: And the other line that you said was failures are not fatal. And so many people, they stop after one failure. And the truth is most entrepreneurs start small. In the eCommerce world, it’s one launch product that didn’t go well, it was one Kickstarter campaign that didn’t get funded. It was one partnership that blew up, and I have gone through even recently, it was devastating. I’m talking about deep depression, can’t get out of bed. I don’t want to show my face anymore. I see a name pop up on my Facebook page and it just makes me want to throw up, terrible, terrible, terrible stuff. And, it’s easy to sit there and say, well, that’s it, I’m done. I can’t do this. And I see people all the time that have one failed product launch. And they think that that’s it. I’m a complete screw up. I can’t show my face to my spouse and tell them why I burned this 10 grand of our retirement money on this stupid garlic press that I’ll never be able to sell. And the people that aren’t experiencing those failures will not find the successes. You have to. That’s like putting in your dues. You have to have those failures, but as Marcus is talking about, those of you listening, when you go through those hardships and they are hardships. They are incredibly painful. I’m talking debilitating. You don’t want to get out of bed. You don’t want to eat or you overeat, whatever it is. And like, it’s super personal. Just know that you’re putting in your dues. You’re just doing what you have to do to move to that next step. And every time I’ve ever been through one of those scenarios, I have come out six months later, nine months later, 12 months in a row. Holy crap. I needed to get out of that. That was one of the biggest things that could have happened for me is now I can continue to expand, continue to grow, fix the mistakes that I made back then. Those are powerful. And sometimes you have to understand that those hard times are hard, but in the very near future, you will be rejoicing that you went through those. And I mean, Marcus, that’s you. Living in that hotel, waiting tables. That’s tough. When I was 20 years old, 19 years old, I was serving tables in Jackson, Tennessee, and like overdrawing my debit card to put gas in the car.
Tim Jordan: I had to get to work to make my $18 in tips. I’ve been there. Right. And I would have never guessed that I’d be in the position I am now. But looking back, it’s those failures, it’s those screw ups. It’s those mistakes that put me in a position to be more successful and have those wins too. So I want to get into some actionable advice. All right. You’re obviously what most people in this world consider a success story. Right. I love it. I’ve also seen some of your other content out there. And some of the other philosophies that you have about experience overcoming education. Some of that stuff that I wish we could run down this path on, because I really want to explore some of that too, but your success, you claim can be broken down into eight core concepts that you follow. And these are eight core concepts that you like to share with other aspiring successful failing entrepreneurs. Right. So let’s run through those eight core concepts that you think are key to entrepreneurial business and personal success. And let’s share those.
Marcus Whitney: Yeah. Great. These are very specific to business. As a college dropout, I did not have any direct training in business. And, it is important to understand that there is a framework for every single business. Literally, there are no businesses where these concepts don’t exist. And I had to reverse engineer them because I was never properly trained in them. Okay. So these aren’t a pithy sayings. They’re literally just the aspects of every single business that you need to know about. Okay. And these eight core concepts, they go in a particular order. This order is the order of importance. But they’re all absolutely necessary. All eight of them are absolutely necessary. The first four are what I call in the building, meaning this is what the internal parts of your business need in order to work effectively. And the last four are the out of the building, and this is really where you get into the customer and the market. So, with that, I’ll just run through them very quickly. And then we can just start to kind of talk through them. So starting at the top, the most important is leadership. Leadership is the most important concept of every business. No question, bottom line. Second is finance. The number of people who start a business and don’t understand the finance aspect of a business is unbelievable, okay. And if you don’t understand the finance, you’re going to be out of business very quickly. All right. And we can-- I’m happy to sort of dig into that, especially with eCommerce businesses. Goodness gracious. Third is operations. So you’ve got to understand what business operations are all about, or if is an interesting one.
Marcus Whitney: It’s a bucket that I was trying to figure out where all this other stuff fit. And it’s growth. Growth as an internal concept, because growth takes on many different characteristics. There’s the maturity aspect of growth. There’s the growth in terms of making more revenue. Growth is a key component. If you’re not growing, you’re dying. Bottom line. And that’s certainly true for business as well. So those are the four things that every single entrepreneur needs to understand in order to be able to keep their business on the tracks in the building. Outside of the building, the four core concepts are product. And a product is just a predictable unit of value. That’s all it is. It’s just-- what is the thing your customer expects and how do you shape that and what is the value for it. That’s product. Service. Service is not consulting. I actually would say, that’s really the product. Service is how you treat the customer. It’s everything around the product, right? It’s the way that you engage the customer. Once they’ve made a purchase, once they’ve committed. Sales, I think everyone knows a sales is you got to generate revenue. And then marketing, which is generating demand. So those are the eight concepts. There’s really nothing outside of those eight. People might say technology. Technology, actually, it’s sort of across those, it’s not its own concept.
Tim Jordan: It’s like a facilitator of any one of those eight, actually.
Marcus Whitney: That’s right.
Tim Jordan: And I think it’s interesting that you also separate sales and marketing. I think that so many people screw up and thinking that’s all the same thing. They let their marketing do their sales. They think that they can forget about marketing because they have sales and it doesn’t matter what type of business you’re in. Even if it’s an eCommerce business with product funnels out there, you’ve still got to have both in there. So let’s go back and just hit a little bit harder on these first four. All right. Internally, now understand that most-- and I’m speaking to the listeners here, understand that most startup businesses don’t have a separate position for each one of those, right? You don’t have a board of directors. You don’t have a CFO, you don’t have a COO. You don’t have a CGO. You’re the Jack of all trades. All right. So I don’t want to talk right now, Marcus, about the individual positions. Let’s talk about the functions. How does somebody, especially a small business focus on and prioritize leadership?
Marcus Whitney: That’s exactly why it’s so important to know what these things are, is because you have to do them all at the beginning. And if you’re leaving any of them out, you’re not going to win. End of story. Something is going to break down, something’s going to be a fundamental breakdown. Now leadership is the most important because leadership is where you establish the why of the business. And it’s where you define the culture of the business. So at the end of the day, leadership is the one thing, as long as you’re going to be in charge, you can never delegate, right? Because it is defining what the vision is, defining what the values are. There’s lots of different frameworks for how to do that. I’m not heavy on any one thing. I have a framework I happen to like, but other people might like a different one. I don’t really care. But I care about is that you understand that from a position of leadership, your job, your job above all is to create the culture of the organization through communication. That’s what leaders do. Okay? And you have to do it over and over and over and over and over again. And so initially that could just be you keeping yourself focused about what the purpose of your business is, and not letting yourself get scattered into a million different things. The minute you bring that very first person on board in any capacity, I don’t care if they’re a consultant, or a full time hire, or a part time hire, or an intern. It doesn’t really matter. You cannot communicate enough what the vision, what the purpose of your businesses. You cannot communicate enough what the why is.
Marcus Whitney: So, leadership is about really anchoring in to the purpose of what your business is about. When we get to finance, that’s right. You’re not going to have a CFO for a while, right. You’re just not. So what do you have to do? You have to understand what a P&L is, right? Profit and loss statement. You’ve got to know that. That’s the basics. You got to understand AR and AP, right? Accounts receivables and accounts payables. You got to understand cashflow, right. Because that’s different than the P&L. Right? You got to understand that. And then you probably should understand the balance sheet. That’s probably the fourth thing you should really understand is the balance sheet. It’s not going to be as important in the early days, but you want to understand sort of what it is, what it stands for. Especially if you start, I don’t know, getting credit cards, you know what I mean?
Tim Jordan: Acquiring assets and handling inventory and all that stuff.
Marcus Whitney: Yeah, exactly.
Tim Jordan: And let me say this one thing that I’ve learned is those things that you just talked about are difficult. If you don’t have an experience in finance, what is he difference with a balance sheet and a P&L sheet, that seems scary, but everybody that’s listening can understand this. It’s fairly simple. And Marcus didn’t just talk deeply into all of these advanced accounting principles. These are the basics. So what I suspect your point is Marcus. If you understand the basics, the rest can be outsourced. And I sucks so bad at finance. I’m terrible at it. I’ve got multiple businesses and probably a couple of them, haven’t even looked at our checking account in three months. I let other people do that, but I at least understand the basics where when they show me the reports, when they’re giving me updates. I know when something’s wrong, I know when something’s right. I know what to expect in the reporting. I know that there’s a difference between a CPA and a bookkeeper. I just have to have the high level understanding and the rest I can delegate out. That’s no problem. So if you’re thinking about growing your business, starting a business, don’t be scared about these things. You just have to understand the top 2%. You just have to basically look at a glossary and learn what the terms mean essentially. Learn a very, very high level understanding of it. And don’t let the rest scare you because there are professionals out there that can handle all of that for you.
Marcus Whitney: You just said the whole deal. And in fact, you need a CPA, okay. You’re not going to be able to manage the taxes. So let’s just say that, right. You absolutely have to have a CPA. And there are bookkeeping services that are so cheap these days, whether they’re online or using some service. You absolutely need a bookkeeper. You absolutely need a CPA. Like need, need.
Tim Jordan: This is an absolute. This is not an option.
Marcus Whitney: You need those things, right? You’re not going to be good enough at doing those things, but you said the exact right points. At the end of the day, when they hand you a report, you got to be able to read it, and you have to be able to understand it in the context of your business. If you know you have a big order for something, look, there’s going to be a period of time where you’re going to invest in fulfilling that order, maybe in advance of generating the revenue. How do you manage that from a cash flow perspective, right? These are the kinds of things you need to understand. So you have to have your handle on the finance. And when you have your handle on the finance really well, you can do what you’re doing, which is not look at the checking account itself and just rely on reports. Right? But you can never delegate the responsibility of being able to be the leader of how you’re doing financially. Right? You can outsource the work, but you can’t outsource the, “Hey what’s going on here” part.
Tim Jordan: So what you’re saying is you can outsource the operations.
Marcus Whitney: Yes.
Tim Jordan: Alright. Let’s talk about that one. That was third on your list was operations.
Marcus Whitney: Yeah. So operations, that is basically how your business functions, but it’s also how you manage the risk in your business and risk takes many, many different formats. So one general kind of risk is failure to deliver the product and service that you committed to deliver. One form of risk is liability, right? One form of risk is litigation. So to me, all of these kinds of things fit into the operations bucket. And how do you overcome those things? Things like process, procedure, policy, right? There’s a reason why when you look at large companies often, not always, but often, the COO is either someone who’s very, very strong in project management or an attorney.
Marcus Whitney: It’s usually one of those two things, right? And the reason is because the operations is really at the end of the day about making sure the business achieves the financial goals and what would stop it from achieving the financial goals? Risk, right? So this gets into employees and making sure the employees achieve what they’re supposed to. It also gets into the risk that you take when you bring employees in. So this is why HR fits under operations. So operations is this this big, broad bucket. But I do like to focus it at the highest level, as ensuring that you achieve the financial goals you set for the business and managing the risk. That’s basically what it is, everything sort of fits under those headlines; in operations.
Tim Jordan: All right. So I’m interested to hear your thoughts on growth. Growth, I told you. One of my positions right now, I’m the chief growth officer of a FinTech company, which is a new position. We were literally-- we knew we wanted me to be on the executive team of this company, but I didn’t really fit a certain mold. I’m not specifically a CMO. I’m definitely not a CTO. What do we do? And we found this concept of growth, which kind of encompasses several things. And it works as the integrator between several things. And I can already see where you’re going and love how we put this down because you have growth right beside operations and also right in front of product. So growth, growth really blends in. I’m interested to hear your ideas on the concept of growth as it pertains to a necessity in the business, especially internally.
Marcus Whitney: I think the first thing to sort of highlight, and I’ll just sort of go back to my experience at Emma, right? I joined when I was the fifth employee and over the course of four years, we had a great run, and we grew. When we hit 50 employees, we were a different company. We could not do the same things the same way we did four years prior when we were five people. So that’s why growth is right after operations ,is because as you grow your revenue, and you grow your client base, and you grow your employee base, you’re changing. And you have to change with intent and you have to change anticipating the challenges that that growth is going to bring to you and how you’re going to do it well, right? How do you grow and become better as a result of growth, as opposed to break down because of growth. So many businesses die in growth. The growth overwhelms them, right? How do you do that? How do you lead growth? Often that’s going to be through innovation, right? It’s going to be-- the market is changing. The market is dynamic. It’s not like you set the business up and then you’re generating revenue. And the market just says, Oh, this is great. Now for the rest of your businesses’ life. If you just keep doing this, you’ll keep making this amount of money.
Marcus Whitney: That’s not how the market works. The minute you do something and it works, here come the copycats right? Here come the customers wondering why the price doesn’t drop, because it’s no longer novel what you’re doing, right. The market is dynamic. So in order for you to grow, you have to initiate growth, right. And that means you always have to be on top of what’s next. And it’s both internally, but it manifests externally as well. Right. And manifest externally as well. And so I think that growth is a very interesting dynamic part of the business. And anybody who’s been a part of a growing business knows it does need its own focus, right? It does need its own person who’s sort of watching it. And when everything is small, it’s all going to be on you, the leader, but you’ll know. The minute you hire your first employee, your business is different and you’ve got to start doing things differently. And then when you have layers of management, it’s different and you got to start doing things differently because now you’re separated from an employee. You’re relying on somebody else to sort of tell you how that’s going to work. So there are aspects of growth that are totally internal. And there are aspects of growth that are external. I don’t bundle growth and sales as exactly the same, but certainly a growth in sales, a rise in sales creates growth. And that has an impact on a bunch of other things, right? There are processes that you’ve built an operations that won’t scale to the next level of revenue and will have to be rewritten. There’s new technologies. You’re going to have to embrace in order to deliver that next level of customer service in order to stay competitive. So growth is really around all of those dynamics.
Tim Jordan: I agree. All right, product.
Marcus Whitney: Product. Product is where you start to go out of the building, because this is where you make the company’s promise to the customer real, right? The customer is going to give you money. Why are they giving you money? Because they believe the amount of money they’re giving you is worth exchanging for some value, you’re going to give them right? And, it’s a promise. And so whatever you give them in exchange for that money needs to be predictable. You ever heard the meet and exceeds expectations part. This is where product comes in, right? Your product needs to meet or exceed the expectations of the customer in terms of what they are exchanging the money for. Okay. And it is the unit in your economic model upon which you’re going to build everything else, right? Because this is the thing you have to scale in terms of you need more and more customers to give you money or this thing to make everything else in your business work profitably, right? So this is why I kind of hone in on this definition of predictable unit of value, because I’m sure many of your listeners either live by, or have heard the term unit economics. Well, the product is the unit that you build unit economics around, right. And everything else has to be able to be-- you have to be able to deliver that unit at a profit margin, at the end of the day. Everything you do, right is to cost less than you’re charging for this product at the end of the day. So that’s at the end of the day, what a product is. And, people will talk about product from a Silicon Valley perspective. Oh, it’s experience. It’s all these other kinds of things. That’s fine, but that’s not universal. Right? Every business is not a Silicon Valley business. There are those meat and potato businesses out there. And so I wanted to make this a much more universal view of product.
Tim Jordan: Sure. Alright. Service, which is not the same as a product. Alright. So explain what you mean by that and explain how to prioritize service and why service is important.
Marcus Whitney: You prioritize service because service is how you lower churn, right? So the thing you need in your business is for customers to stay customers. And what you really need for them to do is to recommend other people to be customers. That’s when you’re really kicking it. Right. And service is really the key to that. Service is the key to that. Right?
Tim Jordan: How does this apply to a product business? I know that if your business is an oil chain shop, if your business is a consultancy, that’s easy, but people forget that a product based business and e-commerce product based business, LTV can increase. How do we increase LTV and how do we turn our customers into ambassadors based on a business model that we don’t necessarily-- at least initially think we have a lot of personal touch points, right? They buy our product, we ship it to them, that’s it. How do we increase our service level for that type of business?
Marcus Whitney: You listen to your customers. The first thing is they’ll tell you what they want, right? If they’re exchanging money for your product, the likelihood that if you ask them the question, what would make this experience better? And they’ll answer is very, very high. I’m guessing you’re going to get 70% or more customers who will actually give you some feedback into that. And so a big part of service is simply listening. Simply listening and asking the right questions and then responding, right. And then responding. Sometimes you’re going to have customers who just have a bad day and you didn’t do a doggone thing wrong, but they’re going to take it out on you. Right? And how you respond in that moment can make all the difference in the world, right? Now, I’m not going to sit here and say, the customer is always right. And that your employees are not worth just as much as your customers at the end of the day. Cause you need your employees to be happy and feel fulfilled and feel taken care of. And if you’ve got an abusive customer, their money is probably not worth what you’re giving them. Right. But let’s put them to the side. And let’s just talk about the people who are just genuinely having a bad day and misunderstood something about the transaction. You’ve got an opportunity through service to turn that person into an advocate, right. That’s the opportunity you have. And so the question is, do you take advantage of that opportunity, right? And if you have a dedicated service initiative, you can.
Marcus Whitney: Many people have heard, if you talk about e-commerce, we’ve all heard about Zappos, right? Zappos is like, they’re known for “delivering happiness”, right? Making service a built in core component of the business that you’re not paying for as a customer. It’s not like you pay extra to be as Apple’s customer, but man, you’re going to be a repeat customer and you’re going to recommend everybody else. God, the Zappos experience is so much different. The service level they provide is so much different. And that’s a perfect example of an eCommerce business that understood how service could be a differentiator.
Tim Jordan: Yup. Alright. So sales.
Marcus Whitney: Sales is closing the deal, generating revenue and you have to close, right? So, in e-commerce, it’s different because it’s not actually reaching out to somebody with generally speaking, it’s not, but this is why we retargeting. This is why we study cart abandonment, right? This is why-- because closing the sale is different than generating demand initially. Right? Closing the sale is about getting the revenue in the door and you got to understand sometimes the customer wants to buy, but they get too busy. They forget-- they genuinely want to spend money with you. But life is hard, it’s busy and they just forgot to do it. I’ve got a list of probably five things I’m ready to buy right now, but I just can’t get to it. And I’m in someone’s funnel and really it’s like, they could have the money, right? The second. But they’re not closing the sale. Okay. They’re not closing the sale. They’re not figuring out a way to get back in front of me to kind of say, Hey, we know you’re busy. It’s crazy. There’s a pandemic out there. You’ve probably got your mind on a million things, but I know you really want to get that leaf guard on your gutters, on your house, which is true. I really do.
Tim Jordan: That is so weird. Literally 48 hours ago, I was talking to my wife about how I want to get those gutter guards on my house. No joke.
Marcus Whitney: Right. It’s like, I’m going to spend the money the minute I can actually get to it. Okay. And so sales is closing that deal. You got to close the deal and bring the revenue in the door. And just understand that transaction of closing the deal is worth so much to your business. It’s like, it goes all the way back to the finance piece. There is no revenue if you don’t close the deal and get the revenue in the door, you have to do that work. So just understand that is work. That is work. It’s work to close the deal and get the revenue in. That’s sales.
Tim Jordan: All right. And the last one of your eight core competencies core focuses on business marketing.
Marcus Whitney: Marketing brings it all together. Marketing has to understand everything that came before it and communicate it out to the market in a way that will bring customers along the customer journey, right? From people who have the problem, but didn’t know there was a solution, make them aware, get them interested, get them to want to dig in more and then drive them into the sales funnel for real, right. That’s what marketing is. And, I think it’s 2020. We shouldn’t have to explain to anybody why marketing is absolutely critical. We’re all in a war for each other’s attention, right? And so we have to spend time doing it. It absolutely is not the same thing as sales, if you’re depending on it to be yours, to drive the revenue, you’re misguided. But it is how you generate demand and you need demand. You can’t actually make this happen if you don’t have demand going. So, it’s a really, really important part of business. It’s the all-encompassing one. It’s the last in the list, but it is the most comprehensive because it’s got to know what the vision is. And it’s got to be able to communicate that to the customers. It’s got to understand the finance piece and work within that to generate demand affordably. It’s about to communicate how the operations work, all of it. Marketing has to get all of it right. And communicated out to the market.
Tim Jordan: And I feel like so many people, at least in the e-commerce space are so confused about the difference between marketing and sales, because of terms like digital marketing. Digital marketing oftentimes is selling. It’s the funnels, it’s the upsells and the down-sells, and all that crap. But think about-- I’ve used the example of Tom’s shoes. If I go to their website and they pixel me up and they retarget me with an ad, they’re selling. That’s not marketing. Marketing was done started 10 years ago when they decided that we’re going to give a way of free pair of shoes. The buy a pair, give a pair. Marketing is something that starts really early. It’s consistently being tweaked. And it becomes a piece of selling, and it becomes a piece of leadership, and it becomes a piece of operations, and it becomes a piece of growth, but marketing is not necessarily the one specific action of reaching out to somebody. And I think a lot of people get that wrong and a lot of people completely confuse that. And then they end up missing out on the marketing opportunity because they’re so focused on that funnel that they’re not thinking about providing value, and providing branding, and providing the demand for the product initially. Right?
Marcus Whitney: You got it. That’s exactly why to separate them. So, that’s it. That is the eight core concepts. It’s the spine of my book. And, it’s what I wish I understood when I first started a business, because I would have done so many things. I would have just been able to check all those boxes. And I would have been in such a better position, having coverage across those concepts. There’s really not anything outside of those that you have to understand and get right in order to run a business.
Tim Jordan: So your book, “Create and Orchestrate.” That thing just came out recently and it went up the charts pretty fast in the entrepreneurial world. Anybody that’s listening to this that found any value in this, go buy the man’s book, buy the book and read it. What are some of the highlights in that book that you haven’t covered today that you feel are important?
Marcus Whitney: Yeah. Some of the things I cover are, one big thing is basically how to do a side hustle. We talked about the heartache of business and, look, I am not in the-- I’m not of the opinion that we need to be encouraging people to just quit their jobs to start a business, especially if they’re a first time entrepreneur. Learn how to do a side hustle. There is a right way to do it, by the way. And particularly, a lot of what I talk about in there is how to treat your main job while you’re doing your side hustle. It’s actually really, really important that you don’t sort of forget that you have a main job while you’re working on a side hustle. So I’ve got an entire chapter on that. I’ve got a chapter about how to think about the press, how to leverage the press, and how not to get too caught up. In the press, a lot of people get confused and think that getting recognized by the press is the same thing as having a great business. They are not the same thing. I’ve got a good chapter on that. I’ve got a chapter on partnering. Partnering is a really, really big part of launching a business, and how to establish a proper partnership, the deal terms, how to make sure that you’ve got practices that keep you in your partner on the same page on things, how to make sure that the partnership is complementary as opposed to sort of colliding.
Marcus Whitney: I’ve got an entire chapter on that. That’s important for those people who are interested in venture capital. I’ve got a chapter explaining how venture capital works and it’s just a single chapter that breaks down all of the-- sort of the dark art of venture capital. All these crazy terms that we use that we don’t expect entrepreneurs to know. And we sort of use as gate keeping tools. I’ve written down that part of the business in a chapter. And then, part of the title orchestrate, I’ve got a chapter around how to do really, really big stuff. So I wrote a chapter about how we brought a major league soccer team to Nashville, and that entire journey, and how many people had to be involved, and how much negotiation and cooperation was necessary to get something like that done. It was a big, big, big project. And so if anyone’s ever wondering, Hey, how do you do something like that? Something that big. I’ve wrote a chapter on that as well.
Tim Jordan: Well, I feel like I can skip that chapter. Cause I’ve watched all of the seasons of Ballers. I basically am a professional at that now. Right?
Marcus Whitney: It’s exactly like that.
Tim Jordan: Exactly like that. Good. Oh man, this has been great. We’ve gone over an hour now, which we haven’t done before in this podcast. And even the people that put this together, I was like, Tim never go over 45 minutes, but I feel like, there’s nothing we can do about it. There’s such good content, so much good stuff here. I wish we go for two hours. I feel like you’re one of those guys that I could just talk to forever and keep learning. So thank you for taking the time to be on the podcast. Those of you that are listening. If you found value in this, follow Marcus, if we wanted to follow you online, how would we go about doing that?
Marcus Whitney: I’ve tried to make myself very Googleable. So Marcus Whitney, I own that space. Okay. So any social network, wherever you like to do your social stuff, if you search for Marcus Whitney, you will find me there. Marcuswhitney.com. Go there. I’ve got a newsletter. I send out every Monday called Two Worlds. I talk about all this entrepreneurial stuff. I talk about the hero’s journey aspect of it. So Marcuswhitney.com, for sure. If you want sort of a deeper relationship, but yeah. Anywhere on the webs, you just search for Marcus Whitney, you will find me.
Tim Jordan: Awesome. Thank you so much for being on, Marcus. Thank you all for listening. Again, we hope you found a great value in this, share it. Share it on your social. Share it on your email newsletters or whatever you do. Everything that we’ve talked about today is not specific to e-commerce. It’s specific to anybody that’s an entrepreneur that wants to begin, grow, scale, all of that good stuff. So it’s not just stuck to one category of person. So make sure you guys follow us. Marcus, thank you again for being on and we’ll see you guys on the next episode.