Important Lessons To Propel You And Your Business Forward with Scott Duffy
My guest is a business expert who pitched me on a brilliant idea many years ago. We never did business together, but I was impressed enough to make a note of his intelligence, creativity and sales abilities. Since then, he’s worked on many interesting and lucrative project, but his latest one seems like it could be the biggest yet. He is a VIP contributor to Entrepreneur, bestselling author of Breakthrough and host of the upcoming television series Breakthroughs with Scott Duffy. Welcome Scott, how are you?
I’m awesome. I can’t even believe it’s been years.
Isn’t that amazing? Interestingly enough, we never did business and yet we stayed in touch all these years. Isn’t that cool?
We did and doing business is all about building relationships. The deal may not happen when you think it’s going to, but there’s nothing more valuable as a currency in business than relationship capital.
Scott, that was the show. Thank you, Scott, for appearing. That was the best piece of wisdom. We don’t even have to go any further because it’s true. In case we want to go further, let’s continue the conversation. First of all, I completely agree with you. You’re right. It is relationships that make or break businesses and make or break happy lives. I want to congratulate you on having both a happy life and a terrific business at the same time. What I’m interested in is this has been a path for you. You didn’t just wake up and have this idea. What I’d like to do is go back to the beginning and help the audience understand what got you to where you are and how you managed to build the company and create 1,000-plus relationships with your clients. Let’s start at the beginning.
I’m a Southern California guy. I went to college at the University of San Diego and I was always very entrepreneurial. I started my first business when I was an eighteen-year-old freshman and it was a student painting company. We painted houses during the summer to help pay our way through school. I had fifteen to seventeen employees that freshman summer. I was one of those guys that loved being in college. I loved the experience. I played college sports. I was in the fraternity. I did the whole thing until everything changed for me and it happened in a heartbeat. When I went to school at the University of San Diego, we had this tradition where after midterm exams in the fall and spring, we’d all pack into our cars and we drive nine hours south to Mexico. We celebrate and we party like crazy college kids and we do it for a weekend.
In my junior year, I had to get done with my exams early. I was heading south to set up. For anyone that’s ever been to Baja California or even if you haven’t, picture these long roads with one lane in each direction and then it’s nothing but desert as far as you could see. For some reason, there’s a rise in these roads in certain areas and there’s a drop. Here’s what happened. A truck had gone off the side of the road where one of those drops are. He wanted to try and gun it to get back on the highway. He did and he didn’t see us and we didn’t see him. We hit this guy square on, going 90 miles an hour. It was the worst day of my life.Doing business is all about building relationships. Click To Tweet
The question I have for people is this, how many times in your life have you been going down a road? Maybe you’re doing everything right and maybe in your business, that means that you had a perfect idea. You built a great team, you had a great plan, you executed flawlessly, and then something came out of nowhere and knocked you off course. Everything that you’ve done to that point, every call that you made, email that you wrote, presentation you made, you had to throw it out and you had to start over. That’s exactly what happened to me. I had two brain hemorrhages. I had to drop out of college. I couldn’t do much of anything all day every day. I couldn’t read. I couldn’t watch television. Everything made me sick because of my head injuries.
One day my roommate, Mike, walked in and he said, “My dad thinks you should listen to this.” It was a motivational book on tape by a guy named Denis Waitley. I picked up a habit and all day every day I listen to these motivational books on tape and before I knew it, I had a library. When I started to feel better, I said to myself, “I want to go back to college and I want to work for one of these people as an intern.” The first person I applied to intern for was Tony Robbins. Instead of an internship, I got offered this cool job to promote him in the US and Canada and so I never graduated school.
It’s interesting because I looked back at the experience in a conversation he and I had about a year later. I said, “Tony, I don’t know if you remember how I got here and to you. I was having the time of my life, I love school. This thing happened and it knocked me off course. Somehow that led me to you.” I said, “Being around you completely expanded my sense of what’s possible like my whole world has changed.” He stopped me and he said, “Scott, I always want you to remember this. Life and business, you have good days and you have bad days, but you don’t know which is which until sometime way down the line. Because you don’t know what you’re going to make with this experience.”
What a great insight. Tony is amazing and I love what he told you because it applies to me and everybody. Things happen in our lives, bad things happen in our lives and if we didn’t have the perspective that everything that happens is perfect exactly the way it is. The problem is you don’t know it’s perfect sometimes for many years later. You’re saying the same thing here. That’s what Tony was trying to say.
It happens to us throughout our life. He also says, “It’s not what happens to you in life. It’s what you do with what happens to you.” It does make a difference. For me, I started my career in the training business. I promoted Tony. I promoted Jim Rohn. I promoted some stuff with Les Brown back in the day. I was a young guy when he hired me. I was twenty years old and he was only 30, so we were just kids. Eventually, I burned out of the training business. We all go through this a lot, where we do something, we take it through, there’s course and we wake up one day and we want to do something else.
The problem was I didn’t know what it was that I wanted to do. We’ve all been there. It’s like we feel stuck. We’re in this transition period and we don’t know but we have so much passion. We know if we could get a break, we’ll do an amazing job but we can’t seem to find it. I went to work at a bar down Third Street in San Diego. I got a call one day from Mike, the same guy from college. He says to me, “Scott, what are you up to these days?” I said, “Nothing.” He said, “Awesome, we’re starting a company.” I said, “Great, what kind of company?” He said, “What does it matter? You told me you’re not doing anything.” I was always overthinking. He said, “We’re going to start an internet company.”
For perspective, the internet first became commercial or what most of us think of as nowadays internet where there are pictures and texts, in October of 1994. We went and we tried to start this internet company and it was a complete disaster. Every single thing we did wrong, nobody knew what we were talking about, we were too far ahead of the market, but another accident happened. I met these guys that were at Stanford working on a project that became Yahoo and these guys at Carnegie Mellon that were working on something that became AltaVista. I got exposed to these other neat things happening in San Francisco. I’m like, “I’ve got to go there,” because in light, there’s something I’ve learned. We have got to position ourselves.
I didn’t know anybody in those businesses. I went on a couch tour. A couch tour is where you work at the bar. You take your tips and when you’re not working you drive to San Francisco and you stay on your friend’s couches. I couch surf and I did that for several months. Eventually, I lost my job at Chillers. I ran out of couches and I was nearly out of money. One year I was in the Bay Area and nobody was picking up the phone and I didn’t have a place to stay. I was sleeping in my car outside of a company called Oracle in Foster City. I was really down and I got a call from a family member. Instead of picking me up, the call went something like, “We don’t get what you’re doing. You’re irresponsible. What is this dream? We don’t know what the internet is. It doesn’t make any sense.” They said, “We have a plan for you. We had a business for 50 years and our plan is you come back right now and you go to work this week in the business.”
I had to make a decision and it was going to take me to one of two very different decisions. We all face these things throughout our lives. The decision I made was to drive home that night and I got home early in the morning, but here’s what I did. Instead of going to work on somebody else’s dream, what I did is I took everything that I had in my apartment. I went down to Third Street and I pawned everything that I had. I pawned a Rolex that I bought when I worked for Tony Robbins, my high school ring, this bracelet a girl gave me when I was in high school. The only things they wouldn’t take were my basketball and my file cabinet. I remember it to this day because it hurt so much.
That same day I went back to the Bay Area. I paid some people back out of the money and I had $200. The question is, what do you do with your last $200? The answer for me was simple, you buy pizza. Here’s the thing, I figured that somebody out there who’s working at a company that I want to work for is going to get hungry and they’re going like pizza. I went to Domino’s, I did the two for one, I smashed my resume and this is key. You’ve got to smash it into the cheese. If somebody opens the box, they have to pull it out and somebody did. It’s a guy named Bill Peck who became the father of internet advertising. He said, “I don’t know if I had a job for you because we’re hiring engineers right now but if I don’t, I promise I’ll find you one.” That changed my life.
You did something daring, you took a risk, you went forward, and somebody appreciated what you did even though they did not have an opportunity for you at all.
I learned some important lessons at that time and they were about people. I learned that just because somebody loves you, doesn’t mean they know what’s best for you. I learned what Les Brown always used to say that I learned it first hand, “People that have small or limited visions of themselves can never have a bigger vision for you.” I learned that in life, you don’t always need the lead if you have the heart to come from behind.There's nothing more valuable as a currency in business than relationship capital. Click To Tweet
These are the things that people have to come to on their own. You had to come to these if I would have told you that or somebody would have told you that, they might have sounded pretty words. They would’ve never had the impact on you that those words did until you had the perspective of going through what you did. I want to tell you one story. I’ve never told this story before but it dovetails nicely with what you said and illustrates the point that you’re making. When I was in high school, I sold clear plastic belts for my father. My father had a custom jewelry business and I did well. It was nice working with my dad. We bonded a little bit further than we had before.
My dad was a quiet man. He was not an emotionally inspiring man. He was very quiet and reserved. It was a little hard to get close to him. Here’s the thing. He came to me when I told him I was going to go to school for electronics because electronics was my passion. He said to me, “Why are you going to do that? I can give you this business and it will make you a living for the rest of your life.” Here I am talking to a 60-year-old man who’s my dad and he doesn’t understand what I’m trying to do. I told him that my passion is electronics.
My passion is not costume jewelry. He said, “I can give you a whole showroom right downtown New York. I could drive you there right now and it will be yours.” I said to him, “Dad, I have no feeling towards costume jewelry that would allow it to thrive. You have that feeling, I don’t. I have to turn it down. I’m sorry that I have to turn you down but I can’t do it.” He was disappointed and didn’t understand. That’s the point that you’re making here. People who love you want the best for you, but they truly can’t see what is best for you.
That’s a great story. That is so true. They can’t see it. These things happen to us. We make a decision. We decided to go down our own path and when we do, there’s so much freedom. There’s so much lightness. We put ourselves in a position to thrive.
There’s also so much failure and you need that failure. What would you learn if you had your first idea? Immediately five people showed up and handed you checks and then your business flourished in five minutes. What would you learn from that? You’d learn to be great. You think highly of yourself, which would be a completely false image but you’ve learned nothing. You need to fail. You have to fail. You must fail to learn. There’s no other way around it. Words don’t teach, only experience does.
I’ll tell you a failure story. I ended up in the Bay Area and I was fortunate I got to work on the ground floor of a handful of companies that ended up becoming these big brands. One company was like the first company to get permission to put stock quotes on the World Wide Web, Quote.com. That company ended up selling to a bigger company called Lycos for $80 million-plus. I was in the early stage team of a company called SportsLine USA, which now is CBSSports.com, Xoom.com which was sold and there was a deal with NBC for $4.4 billion to create NBC Internet and then I helped to launch FoxSports.com from the ground up. I was a guy that had done well in the tech business and had made a lot of money, millions of dollars.
Nothing was more exciting for me than my next deal. I decided that I wanted to build a business that was like Expedia, but it was for private jets and I called the company Smart Charter. Without getting into how it all happened, I ended up doing a deal. The company was acquired by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group. I had the opportunity to work for the group and to work for Richard and spend a lot of time working together on things. For me, it was the most exciting time of my life. I had money in the bank. I had done a deal with my hero entrepreneur. I’m on CNBC with my hero entrepreneur. The market was jamming. The month before we launched as the new Virgin brand was the number one month in history in the private aviation business for all the key metrics that mattered to us.
The timing seems like it couldn’t be any better but then what happened? This is March of 2008. Before the market crashed in the fall, what happened was and people will remember this, oil prices went through the roof. They went from $70 a barrel to $140 a barrel. If you’re in the travel business, in the airplane business, that is a disaster. Long story short, the market then crashes and I lose everything. I went $400,000 in debt, we had our first baby, my wife got pregnant with our second baby, I lost the business and that all happened in about nine months.
You’re so lucky. Sometimes it takes years for people to fail that spectacularly. You are an achiever, Scott. You got it done nicely and quickly. Congratulations.
It was spectacular. I did what I guess any good entrepreneur would do. I went into the corner of my room and laid down in the fetal position and cried. I didn’t know what to do and it was all so much for me. Here’s what happened though. This is one of the traps that we get into in life is that when things aren’t working for us, what we go back to is our default, what used to work for us in the past. We do the same thing but we do it harder. What’s happening in the world was changing and people and businesses were forced to change but I wasn’t.
I kept trying to do things to help get myself back off the ground and nothing worked. One day, I got a call from one of my friends and he says, “I hear you’re looking to run something.” I said, “Yes.” He goes, “Awesome, you’re hired.” I go, “Great, what am I going to do?” He goes, “What does it matter? You’re looking for work.” I was overthinking it. He said, “Come meet me for lunch and I’m going to tell you all about it.” I went and met him for lunch in Pasadena. I was so excited. I was crying my eyes out, my wife at the time was crying her eyes out. It’s like this is the turning point. The bad stuff was over. That’s how we were thinking.
I get to meet with him. I said, “What am I going to do? He said, “I thought about it. You’re not going to run the business. You’re going to be a salesman.” I’m like, “Great, what am I going to sell?” He said, “I bought a research lab and we specialize in processing urine. You go to a doctor’s office, you pee in a cup, they send it to me, we screen it, and we send back a report. I have a vision for you. My vision for you is you’re going to call on every doctor’s office in Southern California and win their pee business. My vision for you in one year is that you will be the king of pee.” That was my first job offer after running a company for Virgin.
Did you accept the job?
I was pissed off. I didn’t accept the job, but here’s the thing. I was mad. I was angry. My ego was so blown up. I was like, “How could that person consider me for that? Why would I do that kind of job? He should have taken the job.” Here’s what I did. I went back to the same thing. I doubled down and I worked harder and it didn’t work. I kept getting deeper and deeper in the hole. One day, I was in my car in the parking lot and I was standing and sitting there. I didn’t know what to do. I started crying. I called one of my best friends, David Meltzer. I go, “Dave, I don’t understand it. I have access to some of the best people in the world. I worked for the best people in the world. I had the best coaches in the world. Everyone tells me I’m doing all the right tactical things around the business stuff I’m trying to do and none of it works.”
Here’s what he said, “Starting now, you’re going to stop working on your business and we’re going to start working on your head.” That was the day my life changed. He said, “You’re going to do four things.” The four most important lessons I’ve ever learned in my life. The first is this. He said, “You are going to be accountable for every single thing in your life, just do it, be totally accountable.” Number two, he said, “You’re going to forgive yourself for everything in your life.” For me, that was the hardest part. Number three, he said, “You’re going to find the lesson for everything going on in your life.” Number four, “You’re going to be grateful for everything in your life.”You don't always need to lead if you have the heart to come from behind. Click To Tweet
He said, “I want you to start by doing this. For 30 days, I want you to do one thing. More than any of those four things, the fastest way to change your momentum is gratitude. It changes everything because it changes your perspective. It gets you to focus on what you have versus what you don’t have. For 30 days, I want you to set the alarm on your phone, once in the morning and once at night and when it goes off, I want you to say out loud three things that you’re grateful for and you’ve got to feel it in your gut.” I’ve been doing this now for years. My kids and anyone that’s with me does it when those alarms go off.
That’s a terrific story. We are talking to Scott Duffy, entrepreneur extraordinaire. He explained to us that the four most important things ever are to be accountable, forgive yourself, find the lesson in everything and be grateful for everything. Scott, you started to do this, which was exactly the right thing to do. It’s amazing how perfect that was. What happened?
It didn’t take long and I had momentum in the right direction. It’s funny how life works. I started to get momentum in the right direction but here’s what happens. Whenever we’re getting ourselves out of something, we may be moving in the right direction, we may be doing the right things, but we still have the history of this stuff that we created for ourselves that we have to deal with. What was interesting is I started to move fast in the right direction, but it took longer than I thought it would clean up some of the mess while I was doing it that I’ve I created. For me, that’s an important part of the process of turning yourself around and winning. It’s knowing that while you’re out there moving in the right direction, there’s cleaning up that you have to do. Instead of being upset about it or feeling like it’s never going to go away, be grateful for it and learn the lessons as you go. To me, that was important.
When you say clean up, do you mean internal cleanup or do you mean clean up in the world of the mess you left behind?
It’s the mess that you left behind. It’s the financial mess that you left behind. It’s the relationship mess that you left behind. It’s the health mess that you left behind. By the way, don’t underestimate the health mess. In 2008, when the market crashed, Richard Branson had a meeting at his house on Necker Island. He had 400 companies he’s involved in. I was one of the maybe 30 to 40 companies that get invited into these things. It was probably because I was in aviation, which he loved. I met all these industry CEO icons. When I left, I was at the airport.
We were in the Virgin Islands and I was heading back to LA. We were standing on the strip where the planes were. I saw this guy named Steve Ridgway. He had been the CEO of Virgin Atlantic for over many years. He’s an icon in aviation. I walked up to him and I said, “Steve, before we go, my business is a mess. I have a question because you live in the same world and your company is headed in the right direction. What is the one thing, the very most important part of your job?” He said, “Exercise.” I said, “I’m surprised that you’d say that.” He said, “I’m disappointed that you’d say that.” He turned around and he walked away.
I got on my plane and I sat next to David Cush. He was the CEO of Virgin America. We were heading out. David wasn’t with me when I talked to Steve. I said, “David, I had the craziest conversation with Steve a little while ago. I asked him what’s the most important part of his job? I figured he’d say something like leadership or communication or something like that.” David interrupts me and he goes, “That’s easy, exercise.” Two of the most powerful man in the industry in the world both said the same thing. I said, “Why?” He says, “Because when times get tough like they are now, you have to be the toughest person in the room. If you don’t take care of yourself, there’s no way that you can be. If you don’t take care of yourself, there’s no way that you can bring that energy that you need to your home, to your wife, your family, your kids, your spouse, your significant other, whatever it is. This isn’t about business. It’s about more than business and you’ve got to start with your health.”
There’s something else that I observed. I don’t know if I would have said exercise, but it might have been one of the things I’ve said or I would say to you. What it means to me is you need to have the ability to confront reality both emotionally, mentally and physically. The physical element of it comes in when you know that you are in good shape. You’re a young guy, I’m sure you still work out every day. I do too. I’m 65 and I still work out every single day. I’ve gotten to the point where I love it and I enjoy it to the point where if I miss one, I’m upset. I agree with that. Although it wouldn’t have been the very first thing. That’s interesting that came from two guys in the airline industry. Were you sitting next to David by accident or were you traveling together?
We were traveling together.
That would have been mind-blowing.
We were traveling back together. He was amazing. The other thing that I’ve learned is and I did a series a few years ago called Business & Burgers. After I got out of the technology stuff, I found my way back to the thought leadership. My mission in life is simple. I want to make the world a better place, to help make the world a better place through entrepreneurship. I dedicated my life to serving this group. I do it by providing a variety of resources to help people build great companies. Some of those are programs. I built a program a few years ago called Business & Burgers.
We were in search for the best burgers in America and aside, great business advice. We traveled around the country and we’d go to all these cool places and we’d sit down with people, whether it was a Daymond John or somebody like that. We talk about entrepreneurship over a meal. I had a chance through that experience and through my relationships with Inc. Magazine and Entrepreneur to interview people who are best of the best, whether it’s Gary Vee, Lewis Howes, Sara Blakely from Spanx, Daymond John. I’m always asking myself what the thing is? What is the one thing that they all do in common?
I found that the answer to that thing like what Tony would say, “The difference that makes the difference in people’s lives,” and over time I find that it changes. The answer is simple. The people I talked to, the people who are the best of the best had got this absolute passion, this obsession, this crazy interest in learning. The reason is that time moves so fast now. We used to say that time moves so slow. If you are a big company, you can look outside your window and you could see all of your competitors. The piece of innovation was pretty slow because it was expensive. It’s a risk of being an entrepreneur.
Now, everybody’s an entrepreneur and technology has leveled the playing field. This is the pace of growth and change, and innovation is crazy. It’s like 100 years ago, the average man in the United States live to be 49 years old. I’m 49, it freaks me out. Maybe back then it was good enough to be good at one thing, but now that doesn’t work. What I learned and what I’m here to tell you is that whatever it is that made you great in a business a few years ago, your silver bullet, the thing that you always went back that made you a superstar in the business, that thing a few years ago is your baggage now.Words don't teach, only experiences. Click To Tweet
Scott, you and I can continue this conversation at one point in the future, but for now, we need to move on to what it is you are doing. What is the thing you’re most excited about? What is the thing you’re about to unleash on the world of entrepreneurship that once again is going to light you up and become the next great thing in your life? Tell me what that is.
We have a daily series called Breakthrough with Scott Duffy that starts filming in October 2019. It is a two-hour business talk show where we are bringing out people who are top entrepreneurs, entertainers, athletes, and we’re breaking down what is that they do to build great companies. What’s awesome about it is the show is going to live stream over the internet, across YouTube, and all the other social channels. It’s going to be highly interactive. We have a studio audience and during each one of our conversations, that expert is going to take people, whether it’s through their interaction online or that are there in our live audience. I’ll break down their business using their expertise to help them to create breakthroughs right away.
It’s going to be like a diagnostic show where you take calls from listeners. I love that. It turns out that and many other parts of businesses is a very popular format. I love what you’re doing. I think it’s going to work great. It sounds like an expanded version of Your First Thousand Clients.
It is and you’re going to be my first guest.
That’s great as it should be. For our audience, what you want to do now is look out for the show called Breakthroughs with Scott Duffy. Scott, where can people find that show?
The best way to go for information is to my website at ScottDuffy.com and I have a gift for you. When you first hit the page, there’s a big blue button that says Download Now. What I have for you is a Business Breakthrough Checklist. This is a step-by-step checklist of all the things that you need to do or take stock of when you’re doing these things in your business. Number one, preparing yourself or optimizing yourself as an entrepreneur. Number two, taking your ideas to market. Number three, once they’re there, growing and scaling them. Number four, positioning them for sale. It’s a great roadmap for people who are doing it for the first time. If you have an existing business, it’s a great tool to use to look back and see if there are any steps you need to come back to or that you may have missed.
Scott, it is super important that on my show we get to know our guests at a much deeper level than just the questions I ask. This one question has helped me get to the bottom of who my guests are. I’m going to ask you that question. Who in all of space and time would you like to have one hour to enjoy a walk in the park, a quick lunch or an intense conversation with?
Is it only one person?
It’s one person. I’ve had people cheat and give me two, but remember it could be any time in history, past, future or people could be dead, alive or whatever, no limits.
I would like to sit down with Neil Armstrong. I am completely fascinated by space travel. The men and the women that have sent us to space are our true heroes and they have so much courage. I would love to know what they really know because I think that we only have heard a fraction of it.
I understand and that’s a great choice. Here’s the second question. It’s the grand finale question. It’s the change the world question. I think you already gave us the answer, but I’m going to ask it to you anyway. What is it that you are doing or would like to do that truly has the potential to literally change the world?When times get tough, you have to be the toughest person in the room. Click To Tweet
What I want to do is have a positive impact on 1,000 people and empower those people to empower 1,000 people. What happens is 1,000 people empowering 1,000 people, that’s one million people that you impact. Multiply that by 1,000 people, that’s one billion people that you impact. The path between where we are now and having a massive impact on the world isn’t necessarily as big as you think. I don’t need to go and personally help to create, change or empower one million people. If I focus on 1,000 people like you’re talking about Your First Thousand Clients, think of the change that you can create.
That’s amazing and that’s fantastic. The goal is both noble and incredible. How could our audience help you with that goal?
The way that they could help is number one, if there’s anything that I said or anything that we share together, implement it. The number one way to impact change is through implementation. Implement something and if it works for you, share it with somebody else.
My friend, we’ve reached the end of our time together. It’s a fantastic conversation. I hope we get to continue it and I can’t wait until the next time we get a chance to speak. Scott, keep me up to date on everything you’re doing. Get me involved. I’m happy to be a guest on your show. I’m happy to help you as we’ve talked about, so let’s make that happen.
Mitch, it’s so great to be on your show. I’m honored and to everyone, be awesome.
Scott, thank you very much.
Resources Mentioned in This Episode:
- Breakthrough! by Scott Duffy
- Business & Burgers
- Launch! – The Critical 90 Days From Idea to Market
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