A few weeks ago I attended a seminar for entrepreneurs held by Justin Herald.
Justin has made tens of millions of dollars in the clothing business, having launched his first brand, Attitude, with just $50 to his name. He was named Australian Entrepreneur of the Year back in 2004 and has written a stack of books on branding, entrepreneurship and various aspect of starting and running your own business since then. (His books are awesome if you’re starting up on a tight budget.)
It was a fascinating seminar, which I’ve been turning over in my head ever since. I thought I’d try to distil what I found to be the key lessons Justin expressed in his talk, as well as some of my own interpretations of what we can learn by looking at examples like him.
One of the first striking things about Justin is that he’s far from the typical conception of ‘business-like.’ He’s the kind of person who decides what he wants and then figures out how to get it, without making any excuses. He’s not very ‘politically correct,’ and he doesn’t need to be – because he has that mindset that he is the boss.
He’s not going through life bowing down to anyone. This is a mindset that can be observed in virtually every hyper-successful entrepreneur, which I think is worthy of note. He reminded me a lot of Richard Branson in the way he dressed and carried himself.
Justin also made a point of saying he had never written a business plan. He actually created the first Attitude t-shirts to annoy a lady at his church, but when he had people coming up to him saying, “Where did you get that shirt?” he realized he was onto something – and so his business was born, almost by accident. But it’s what he did after that which sets him apart as an entrepreneurial genius.
Justin shared a story about a problem he ran into when he first started trying to market his Attitude clothes to retailers.
He described a typical scenario: he’d walk into a surf store and start pitching the manager. Inevitably he’d get a response along the lines of, “There’s just no demand for that brand.” In frustration he’d try to point out that there was no demand because nobody knew about the brand yet, and as soon as they did know about it they’d want it. This didn’t get him very far, and stores refused to stock his clothing.
A lesser entrepreneur would have given up at this point. Not Justin Herald.
If it was demand he needed, then it was demand he’d create – even if it was only the illusion of demand. So he rounded up a few of his friends and they started making a habit of calling up clothing retailers several times a day asking, “Have you got any Attitude gear?”
Needless to say, the next time Herald went in to pitch retailers the response was a lot different: “Oh, Attitude! Yeah, we’re getting loads of calls about this stuff. Huge demand for it.” And they started making orders.
There’s a very important lesson in this attitude: any problem is only a temporary setback forcing you to be more creative. If you’re not achieving your goals, it may not be because you aren’t trying hard enough, but because you need to try a strategy which is outside the box.
This is one of the biggest lessons of the seminar: the simple beauty of compound growth.
It’s easy to start making a few thousand from your business and go hog wild, spending up on new cars and clothes. But ultimately the more you reinvest your profits in your business – the more you pour resources into a model you know already works – the faster you’ll get to join the millionaire’s club. This takes discipline.
Justin shared an anecdote about himself going to buy a car. I don’t remember off the top of my head what make and model it was – an Aston Martin, I think – but I do remember the price tag: $358,000.
Justin spoke about how it was always an event for him and his friends when he went to buy a new car because he likes to mess with the salespeople at upmarket car dealerships.
He puts on shorts and a tank top (so he doesn’t look like a millionaire) and strolls into the dealership with one of his mates (who is chosen by drawing straws, because all his friends want to come and watch but he can’t take an entourage of 10 guys into the showroom with him at once).
He told the story of how he went into the first dealership and asked for a test drive, and they basically laughed at him and told him he couldn’t afford it. Long story short, he went to a different dealership, bought the car, and then drove it back to the first dealership to show the cocky salesman the sale he had just missed out on.
Lesson for the salesman: Never make assumptions about a potential customer.
Lesson for the entrepreneur: What’s the point of making a lot of money if you can’t relax and enjoy it? Don’t feel like your income or your bank balance should dictate how you behave – whether your income is high or low at this point in time, you are who you are and that won’t change because of the number of dollars you have in the bank.
If you’re trying to be an entrepreneur because you think running a business will help you ‘fix yourself,’ you’re already approaching it from the wrong angle and actually holding yourself back.
One of the parts of the talk I found most compelling was at the very end when Justin spoke about what happened when he realized he had more money than he could ever reasonably spend on himself.
He explained how he now dedicates a lot of his excess cash to building orphanages. This seems to be a common theme for many ‘accidental millionaires’ (I’m not implying that Justin somehow bumbled his way to having millions, but simply that he didn’t start out with the intention of making millions – he was just having fun, and financial success was basically a natural result of his personality and drive).
He also takes a lot of time these days to do things like giving seminars such as the one I attended – teaching other people to gain the success he has enjoyed in life.
He’s still in the clothing business – after selling the Attitude brand, he has spent the last couple of years developing a brand of sunglasses, Intimate Industries – which proves once again that once you understand the process and attitude behind entrepreneurial success, once you make it a part of who you are, you can repeat it again and again.
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