Advantage Media Group: How To Profit In A Cost-Intensive Business – with Adam Witty

Posted on Oct 26, 2012 - 9:00 AM PST

How does a guy who never published a book before build a $3 million a year publishing company?

Adam Witty is the CEO of Advantage Media Group, which publishes business, motivation, and self-help books. They do everything, from helping the author write the book to marketing, and to monetizing. We’re going to find out how he did it.

Watch the FULL program


About Adam Witty

Adam Witty is the CEO of Advantage Media Group, which publishes business, motivation, and self-help books.

Download Adam’s reading list that he mentions in the interview: Adam’s Reading List

Raw transcript


Mixergy’s audio transcription is done by Speechpad

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Hey there freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, home of the ambitious upstart. How does a guy who never published a book before build a $3 million a year publishing company? Adam Witty is the CEO of Advantage Media Group which publishes business, motivation, and self-help books. They do everything, from helping the author write the book to market the book to monetizing the book, and we’re going to find out how he did it. Andrew, welcome.

Adam: It’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks so much for the introduction.

Andrew: This is a lot of money you’re generating with the business. Over $3 million. But it seems like in a business like this you have a lot of expenses. The authors, of course, need to get their cut. The book needs to get published and shipped. So net margins are pretty thin right?

Adam: Yeah. As my banker likes to tell me, he says “Adam, nothing matters but the net” and it’s a good lesson because I think as an entrepreneur we’re really good at addition, but really bad at subtraction and we like to focus on the growth and the sales and we like to throw big numbers around. “Oh, I’m doing $50 million in sales”, well, yeah, but you’re spending $51 million in expenses, so what do you have to brag about, right? So net is everything, and I’ve learned that lesson actually the hard way.

Andrew: How do you mean?

Adam: To answer your question Andrew, and to answer that too, you know, yeah, we are a cost-intensive business. We have 17 full time team members and people are very expensive. They’re our greatest asset. They’re also our greatest cost as well. We’re printing books which is expensive. We’re paying authors royalty, which is expensive as well. So we have net profit goals every single year that we’re trying to hit and all of our strategic planning as a company, beginning four months prior to the beginning of the next year is done based on building budgets, based on building strategic plans that can help us meet our net profit goal and we are an open book company. We’re a profit sharing company, and so every single month every single person in the company knows the state of the financial health of the business and they’re given key information so they can have an input that can affect the financial health of the business.
If we’re able to meet our net profit numbers at the end of the year, then every single person in the company gets a piece of that net profit.

Andrew: So what’s the net then?

Adam: To go back and answer the, so the net, I’m not comfortable sharing that publicly.

Andrew: OK.

Adam: But its a double digit number. So, you know, a lot of businesses, especially publishing companies, you know, they’re lucky if they’re inking out a 4, 5, or 6% profit margin. Our number is in, its not a huge number because we do have a lot of expenses, but every single year we’re looking at our product portfolio, so the different products and services that we offer to our clients, we’re looking at the prices that we charge for those products and services and every single year we’re saying “OK. How can we incrementally grow our net profit?” because again, going back to that first comment that I made, its all about the net. Its not about the gross. And here’s the thing, its not just about growing your net so you can enrich yourself as an entrepreneur, but the more net-

Andrew: It’s not? I’m kidding.

Adam: Well, that’s part of it, right?

Andrew: I’m giving you a hard time.

Adam: Obviously, you know, what you take home is important, but the more net that you have, the more resources that you have as a company, the more you can pay your people, the more you can go out and hire all-start caliber professionals.

Andrew: Right.

Adam: The more you can dress up your office, the more you can have pizza Fridays and beer Fridays, the more you can . . .

Andrew: Let’s get into the story, then, and see how you built this up. I’m sorry to interrupt. I didn’t mean to start off with the most personal question. Usually I like to take my time into it, but I realized, “You know, I didn’t write a first question down, so what’s the first thing that’s popping into my mind? Oh yeah, I asked about revenue, let’s get into the net.”

All right. Well, we’ve got a good sense of where you are and where you’re going. We’re going to find out later on about how the business has grown and the numbers throughout the years and the funk that you had when you went down just a little bit. I want to understand that because you’re willing to be open with it. Most entrepreneurs don’t like to talk about their funks, their depression.

Let’s talk about where you were before you launched the business. Did you start it in college? Were you in college?

Adam: Yeah. I was at Clemson University when I was in South Carolina. I was a marketing major. When I went into college I had no idea that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. It was an idea. It was something interesting to me, but I did not know that that’s what I wanted to do.

When I was in school I went to a CEO club meeting, which stood for Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization. Literally, I’m thirty minutes into that first meeting, and it just clicked. I was like, “I now know what I want to do. I want to start and run my own business.”

Andrew: You said you were a marketing major before that. What I’ve learned about you by looking at the notes that Jeremy made on his preinterview with you is you’re a guy who was always ambitious. In fact, you were into Pat Williams, the owner of the Orlando Magic basketball team, and you wanted to get to know him. Even as a kid, you reached out to him. What did you do?

Adam: Yeah. One of the credos that I use to live my life, and one of the main philosophies in my life is you only live life once, but if you work it right, once is enough. The meaning that I take from that is this is not a dress rehearsal. We don’t have another shot. And so, if you have dreams, if you have ambitions, if there’s things that you want to do, if there’s people you want to meet, if there’s places you want to go, this is the only chance that you have. Go for it.

For me, I knew at a very early point that I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I also knew that I wanted to do something incredible with my life. I wanted it to have lots o meaning. I wanted it to have lots of impact. Quite frankly, I wanted to do some of the really cool things that people in the world get to do.

Andrew: For example, what did you look out in the world and say, “I don’t want to be an ordinary person, I want to do that.” What’s that?

Adam: Yeah. Some of the things on my list, I have a bucket list, right? Some of the things on my list: I want to play golf at Augusta National, I want to have coffee with the President of the United States in the Oval Office, I want to be a guest to ride on Air Force One, I want to be featured in the Wall Street Journal and have the little pencil sketch of my face, you know, in the [??].

Andrew: Right.

Adam: Those are the types of things that I want to do that I guess most people never get to do.

Andrew: But even as a kid, Andrew, you wanted to do this? You were looking at the world saying, “I want to do this?” Did I say Andrew? I meant to say Adam. Even as a kid, you looked out on the world that way?

Adam: Yeah, I guess I have, and part of it was my parents. I was very fortunate to grow up in a family where I was taught to look at the possibility of a situation, not what was impossible. My mentor, Pat Williams, who’s the founder of the Orlando Magic, he and I met when I was probably 16. He’s an incredible individual that has done so many incredible things. Spending time with him and talking with him, he really helped me open my mind and helped me realize that I should have a never say no attitude.

If there’s something that you want in your life, to hell with whatever anybody else thinks, go for it, because the only person that prevents you from achieving what you want to accomplish is you, your own self-limiting beliefs, your own fear, etcetera.

Yeah, I guess I was just very lucky that I was surrounded by people that encouraged me and nurtured and supported my attitude of anything is possible.

Andrew: All right. Let’s get a little more personal because you’re talking about your own limiting beliefs here, all that they’re going to hold you back, you only get to go through life once. It sounds cliched unless we attach personal stories to it. When you say it’s only your own limiting beliefs that are going to hold you back, get personal with me now. What’s a limiting belief that you had back then that kept you back? That you really had to fight to first of all recognize and also to get rid of?

Adam: Yeah, well, so let me first tell you what are my self-limiting beliefs right now is I have a company right now that’s doing $3 million in revenue and our goal is to go to $10 million in revenue and I’m not sure right now that I am the guy that can get us to $10 million revenue. Now, the truth is I am, but I doubt myself and I kid myself and wonder, “Geez, can I really do it? I’ve gotten it this far but can I get it to the next level at (?)?” OK. Well, that’s a big jump to go from 10 to 50, and I have doubts that I am the person that can do it because every day I’m surrounded by or I come into contact with people that are hugely successful, more successful than me, and I immediately say “Well they’re worthy and I’m not”. OK. So that’s a current example. Let me give you a example from my past.

Andrew: OK.

Adam: When I was in college I started a company called Ticket Advantage and Ticket Advantage was like StubHub.com. It was a marketplace to buy and sell sports tickets, and I didn’t have much money to promote the business. I was literally running the business off of a shoestring budget, and I wanted to do something big to promote and market the business. So I decided that it was going to be a cool idea to travel across America and promote the company, and the idea that I had is I would do a tour, like, I would do a road show. I’d get on a bus and I’d do a tour and go to all these baseball parks and tell people about ticketadvantage.com, a place where you could buy and sell your sports tickets. So I was taking a class in sponsorship. You know, I was a marketing major in college. I was taking a class in sponsorships and I got this idea that I don’t have any money, literally, to do this. I don’t have enough money to go get a bus. I don’t have enough money for gas, but I thought “I will go get other people to pay for it. I’ll get sponsors to pay for it”. Now, in my heart of all hearts I don’t think I really believed that I was gonna be able to pull it off. Well, luckily I was smart enough not to let my subconscious mind foil my actual plans. And so I took action. Every single day I got up in the morning and I worked from home and in the afternoon I had classes and I started making phone calls and I started calling companies trying to convince them to sponsor this thing that I created called the Ticket Advantage Baseball USA Tour and after five months of having the phone slammed on my face time and time and time again, there was a time Andrew where I made more phone calls and left more messages than anybody in America and I got fewer return calls than anybody in America, OK? So, I didn’t think I could do it, but I just kept trying anyways and after five months we raised a quarter of a million dollars. I had a bus company give me a 45 foot luxury motorcoach, Chevrolet gave us two brand new Chevy Suburbans and I got 13 of my friends from college and we did the Ticket Advantage Baseball USA Tour. We traveled for three months, we visited 47 ballparks, both major league and minor league, and we traveled 21,536 miles across America. So I had this dream. Internally I thought “I don’t think I’m going to be able to do this”, but I set that aside for a minute and every single day I just worked. You know, I picked up the phone, because, remember, its all about your behaviors. You can’t control the outcome of a situation. You can only control the behaviors and the attitude that you have. So-

Andrew: You know what?

Adam: You’ll have success.

Andrew: This is an inspiring story to me. I mean, its something that I’ve always wanted to do, not necessarily to go to baseball stadiums, but to travel around the country and to see the different things that I love and to raise money through sponsorship to do it. I must have had some internal resistance to do it, some sense that “Yeah, that’s for people like Adam. It’s not, its for some other person who’s better connected and not for me”. The thing is though, I didn’t even recognize that I had that block, let alone, you know, know that I needed to deal with it or how to deal with it, so how do you recognize when you have a block like that, and then what do you do to set it aside? Its not so easy to set aside and just go for it anyway. How do you, let’s start with how do you recognize it? What do you do to recognize that you’re feeling, I’m not connected enough to get all these sponsors and I’m not at a stage in my life where I can get this bus going? What do you do to recognize stuff like that?

Adam: Sure, great question. It’s really easy. You have a dream, right? You say, I want to do a [??] or two. So there’s your dream. Then you say, but wait a minute, I’m not Adam, I can’t do it. There’s your block. You immediately identified you have a block. So you’re here, you want to go up to here. You want to go up. But mentally, you’ve convinced yourself that you don’t have what it takes to get there. It’s your own head trash that’s getting in the way.

The bottom line is you have every ability to do it, just like I was able to do it. Just like, I have the ability to go from $3 million to $10 million, but I think I don’t. So, the first step is to recognize it. And the way that you recognize it, is you have a dream of where you want to be, and then you realize you have doubts that you can achieve that dream. And once you recognize it, it’s a matter of taking the actions and exhibiting the behaviors every day that you need to get there. And just continuing to plow through it.

I know that sounds simplistic, and I know that that, to some people, may even seem Pollyannaish and pie in the sky. But it really is that easy. You’ve got to recognize the limitation, and you’ve got to have a tactical plan to get to where you want to be. But every single day you just have to keep moving forward and doing it. Then, you know, of course, you could always get a therapist and lay on their couch and tell them your problems, but I don’t think that’s necessary.

Andrew: All right. You then went on to work a couple of summers at a publishing company. And your conversation with Pat Williams- not working at the publishing company, but your conversation with Pat Williams- led you to start this business, Advance Media. How?

Adam: Yeah. Advantage Media Group was really founded . . .

Andrew: You know what, what is going on with my notes, here? I’m reading directly off my notes, where it says, Andrew [??]. So I feel like, all right, it’s at the top of the notes, that’s what I need to do. Advance Media is at the top, also. I always have the person’s name and the person’s company name at the top, and . . .

Adam: Don’t you worry, I’ve responded to much worse.

Andrew: You know what, I just think that this whole operation is going downhill. We need to have it right at the top in the subject line, the person’s names, in a way that if I scroll through the notes, it’s always there. I didn’t realize how much of a crutch that is for me.

Adam: So, Pat Williams and I were having . . .

Andrew: Yes, let’s bring us back.

Adam: . . . were having lunch one day.

Andrew: Yep.

Adam: And Pat knows that I have been working as an intern in a publishing company. He said to me, “Adam, you need to create a publishing company for professional speakers.” Pat Williams is the founder of the Orlando Magic. He’s a sports executive, but he’s also a professional speaker. He’s written a number of books on teamwork and motivation and leadership. He said, “Adam, every speaker, every business person needs to have a book. But they have no idea how to go about writing it and publishing it themselves.” He said you can be their [??], you can be their guide, and you can get them on the path to prosperity. I said to him, “Pat, I don’t know anything about publishing”. And he looks back at me and he says, “You’ve worked at a publishing company for two years. You know more about publishing than 99.999% of all human beings.” And that immediately taught me a lesson. Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.

I think that I could start this publishing company. Again, it was a self limiting belief. And he convinced me, “Adam, you know more about publishing than 99.9% of the population. You have what it takes, just go out and do it”. He convinces me to go to the National Speakers Association convention, NSA. I got on a airplane, went to the NSA conference, having never published a book before on my own. Had a little table top booth, you know the kind like what you would have at a science fair, the little tri-fold, you know . . .

Andrew: Yep.

Adam: It was a table top booth. And after three days of talking to authors, we signed 13 contracts, and we got 13 deposit checks. And that was when I knew that we were on to something. And that’s when I knew that this idea had legs, and that perhaps we were going to be able to make something of this.

Andrew: But you didn’t have a publishing company, really. I mean, you incorporated, but that’s it. You didn’t have any experience publishing this. You weren’t sure that you could do it because you hadn’t done it before. I don’t know if you even knew where you were going to get the books printed, how you were going to turn these people into authors. You know, writing a book is not easy. And still you just went out there with none of it?

Adam: [??] it’s quite figured out. Now luckily, the first thirteen customers that we signed, did not know that they were the first thirteen customers. Luckily, none of them asked to speak with a satisfied customer, because at that time there weren’t any. But this goes back to a point that I want to make, and I really believe you’ve got to fake it until you make it. And you’ve got to act the part, and you’ve got to have confidence in yourself and the people in your company. That even if it’s just the first or second time you’ve ever done it, that you’re going to be able to do it very, very well. And if you have that confidence, if you have that bravado, so to speak, it’s going to carry through into your business. You know, think about Bill Gates for a minute, right?. When Bill Gates walked into the very first meeting with IBM, and he convinced IBM that he can write the code for DOS, and that his little company, it was he and, like, three of his friends, working from pizza boxes, when he convinced IBM that he could do it, he was taking a leap of faith. It was all his own confidence, it was all his own bravado, but that’s what got him the ticket to ride, that’s what got him to the dance. And there are so many stories, like, with all entrepreneurs. But you’ve got to have that confidence, because if you’re starting a business, the chances are you’ve never done before what you’re purporting to do. I mean, you’re inventing something, you’re creating something out of thin air. And if you don’t believe 100% that it’s going to be wildly successful, how can you possibly expect a customer that you’re trying to get, to give you money? To believe the same thing, you got to [??] yourself. And that’s really what it was. Pat Williams taught me that I had to believe that I could do it, and as soon as somebody believed in me by giving me money and signing a contract, then I immediately started working night and day to figure out how to do the work well.

Andrew: So what you need to do to do this?

Adam: So, you know, luckily for me, in our business I was able to immediately work with freelance designers, or freelance editors. So I was able to bring a lot of the pieces together very, very quickly. And then I had to figure out the actual publishing process very quickly. I made mistakes, I stubbed my toes, I tripped over myself a couple of times.

Andrew: For example, what’s a big mistake that you made early on?

Adam: So, you know, big mistake that I made early on, the very first book that we published. I had no idea how to set the book up, and send it to the printer. And so the very first book cover was printed upside down. You know, stupid little thing. I get the boxes in the mail, I opened the box up, like a little kid at Christmas, and the first thing I noticed, I’m like, holy smokes, the cover is upside down. Then I go, ugh, you live and learn, right? So that’s just one little example of something that you figure out. And that’s the other thing, is if you’re going to start a business, you’ve got to have a high appetite for failure. You’ve got to be OK with dumb mistakes. And if you make a mistake, and you let it kill you, then you’re not cut out to be an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are very resilient, and they have short memories. I remember one of our authors is a motivational speaker, and he was on the stage speaking with Troy Aikman, the famous quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. And he said, ‘Troy, if you could attribute one factor for your success as a quarterback, what would it be?’ And he said, ‘I have a short memory.’ And the point that he was making is, you know what, if it was first and ten, and you got sacked, doesn’t matter, forget about it, because now it’s second and ten, and you have another opportunity to move the football down the field. You’ve got to quickly forget about the failures, and you’ve got to immediately refocus on what’s at hand. And it’s true for entrepreneurs. If you dwell on what you didn’t do right, what you screwed up with, then your business will be an absolute failure. You’ve got to stay focused on what’s ahead.

Andrew: How did you take thirteen speakers, and help them put their ideas down on paper, in a way that made sense? I know that that’s a challenge. I mean it’s a challenge for them, or else they would have been writers by then, they’d have been authors.
Adam: Yeah. We like to say that what keeps most entrepreneurs from having a book is themselves, and that is that most entrepreneurs, most business people, most idea makers, they’re very ADD. So they have ideas, but the thought of sitting down and literally writing them, it’s never going to happen. So what we did early on is we realize that if we wanted to have our own market space. If we wanted to carve out our own little niche in our market, we needed to do something that nobody else was doing. We needed to create a really unique way to help these business-people get their book written. We created a program called “Talk Your Book”. Talk Your Book is our trademarked program for helping ADD entrepreneurs get the content out of their head and onto the paper in literally eight hours. So, we’re able to help them get that first draft of the book written, literally, in eight hours. So, what’s that’s done, is it’s put our company into uncontested market-space, because there’s nobody else that can offer to . . . your . . .

Andrew: The connection’s just going a little bit slowly, but they don’t just talk to a tape recorder, right? Let’s give the connection a bit of a chance to connect, to work.

Adam: So the answer to your question is . . .

Andrew: Sorry, Adam, the connection’s going a little bit funky here, so everything’s slowing down. Hopefully . . . can you hear me now?

Adam: I can hear you great.

Andrew: Oh, great. All right. So, the video still’s a little behind us, but . . . You basically interview them for eight hours, right? They’re not talking into a tape recorder for eight hours.

Adam: That’s right. They’re interacting with an editor.

Andrew: With an editor. I see. But, in the beginning, when you had these 13 authors, that wasn’t the plan, right? Were you still going to help them write the book?

Adam: The very first 13 authors, they would literally do the writing of the book themselves.

Andrew: They were going to write the book themselves.

Adam: And it took a long time. And what we realized, is that in order for . . . That’s right. We realized that if we wanted to help authors get their book written quickly, we were going to need to help them write it. Otherwise, the books were never going to get done.

Andrew: I see. By the way, Adam, as a entrepreneur, as a person I’ve only known now for 34 minutes, but I still consider a friend, help me relax here a little bit. I’m about to freak out because our connection’s going bad, my notes are bad. I don’t know what the hell, what do I do when I’m in this point like this where I feel like, it’s been 4 and a half years of me doing these interviews. At some point, the connection should be dependable, my notes should be dependable, and more than that, I can say the notes and the connection I could fix, but my first question really sucked. Maybe I just need to get back to what you said before, and not have . . . and have a short term memory, not obsess about it. But I can’t have a short-term memory, because just when I put it out of my mind, I’ve been good about putting the mistakes out of my mind and focusing on the future of this conversation, another thing will go wrong, and I don’t know what to do here. I will not stop. I can’t re-edit this. I want it to be natural. And here it is, natural, this frustration’s coming out. It’s pissing me off.

Adam: So, a couple of things. First of all, we entrepreneurs have to have short memories, and that is that we can only get upset about things we can control. Neither you or I can control Skype, so we can’t let that get us down. But I think there’s a great lesson here for every entrepreneur, and that is that the most successful entrepreneurs are resilient. That is a given that they don’t let little things get them down. Most people that you and I know that are not entrepreneurs, one thing goes wrong in their day, just one little thing goes wrong in their day, and they’re in a funk. They’re in a bad mood for the rest of the week. And if we’re going to successfully run a business, if we’re going to grow a business, if we’re going to hire people, and if we’re going to be a good example for the people that we’re leading, we have to let these little things just roll off our back really, really quickly and really easily. And remember, here’s another thing, as an entrepreneur, if you’re going to grow your, inevitably, you’re going to have to have people. You’re going to have to hire team members. And as soon as you hire your first team member, you’re now not just a boss, but you’re a leader. And everybody is looking at you. Every single person is looking at you. They’re watching you. Every word, every facial expression, every act that you make, they are watching you. And you’ve got to be on your best behavior 24 hours a day, because if they see you in a bad mood, if they see you short and ill-tempered, if they see little things getting you down, then it’s going to throw them off. Their confidence is going to go down, and their productivity is going to go down. And so, this is just a great example, not only in entrepreneurship, but leadership, because leadership is a big part of growing a business, is that you’ve got have a short memory, you’ve got to be awfully resilient, and you’ve got to have an attitude where you can cruise over speed bumps, and that’s OK. It doesn’t get you down. You just stay focused on moving ahead and you know what? At the same time you’ve got a really positive attitude about all of it too. That is so important.

Andrew: Alright. That works. That works. You talked me, you talked me down. I was ready to toss my whole freaking computer off the desk I was so pissed. But you’re right, you’re right, and if I were to give up midstream here in the middle of this interview then who’s to say that Andrea who’s doing research on the next guess is not doing such a good job with the research and she decides “Hey, do you know what? I’m not going to do it today” and then she gives up. Or Jeremy, who did a pre-interview with you maybe one day in the middle of a conversation’s just not working for him and he tosses his computer and moves on. You’re right, you’ve got to, we all have to set a good example for each other and I can’t just freak out in the middle, but man, do I want to sometimes.

Adam: Look at us. Everybody’s looking at us and we have to-

Andrew: And that add to the pressure too because, you know, sometimes you want to screw up. Sometimes you want to just half ass it.

Adam: And that’s what makes it so hard.

Andrew: Yeah.

Adam: That’s what makes it so hard, but, you know, if you want to be an entrepreneur, if you want to grow a large organization, you know $10 million, $20 million, $50 million organization, remember, there’s nothing you will ever do in your life where there is not a price. There is a price to pay. If you want to be the President of the United States then you have to be comfortable with every skeleton in your closet being revealed to the world, and if you’re not comfortable with every skeleton in your closet being revealed then don’t run for President. That’s the price that comes with politics. Well, there’s a price that comes with being an entrepreneur too and part of that price is that everybody is watching you.

Andrew: Alright. I’ll pay it. By the way, you told Jeremy that you, that you had to learn leadership. How did you learn to do it? It’s not something that comes natural to entrepreneurs. I feel like for the most part we just want to go do our thing, we want the freedom of self-expression, and that goes against the need to be leaders and to guide other people down a specific path. You want to let them do their thing, you do your thing. So anyway, how did you become a good leader?

Adam: Well, this will sound self-serving, but I read a lot of books on leadership. The reason why I do what I do is that I believe some of the best wisdom and knowledge in the world can be found inside a book. And leaders are not born, leaders are made. Now, some people may be born with leadership traits that are stronger than others, but great leaders can be formed. It doesn’t happen automatically. It takes a lot of practice and patience and perseverance and hard work, but that point is, that if you want to be a great leader there’s two things you should do. One is you should identify great leaders and you should watch them. You should listen to them, and you should model them. The second thing is you should pick up as many books as you can on the topic of leadership and read those books and glean wisdom and principals from those books and then incorporate into your own life.

Andrew: So what books did you read and what did you learn from them?

Adam: So, you know, some of the leaders that I look up to, one of my favorite leaders is Walt Disney. One of my favorite leaders is Ronald Reagan. One of my favorite leaders is Herb (?), the founder of Southwest Airlines, and what I can do is I can look at each one of those leaders and I can tell you what I like about them as a leader, because no leader is perfect. Everybody has their deficiencies, but what you’re trying to do is identify leaders that you would look up to and say “What is it that I liked about them so much?” What I love about Herb (?), the founder of Southwest Airlines, is that he made the company all about his people. He put his employees, he put his team member first, and by putting his team members first, then they took care of their customers or their passengers and the passengers took care of the shareholders, right?
So what I’ve learned from Herb (?), what I’ve learned from Southwest Airlines is you’ve got to have fun. You’ve got to be lighthearted. You can’t take yourself too seriously and you’ve got to remember that all of your employees are watching you every single minute.
What I learned from Ronald Reagan is that being a great communicator is really important. What everybody remembers about Ronald Reagan, regardless of his politics, whether he was a republican or democrat, everybody says “Oh yeah, he was the great communicator”. Well, being able to communicate well, being able to communicate your vision, being able to get your team members on board to support the vision and the mission of your company is really important. Ronald Reagan was highly optimistic, and again, we were talking about that before. You’ve got to have a short memory and you’ve gotta be positive, because everybody’s watching you. When Walt Disney, was a dreamer. He had the idea for Disneyland in his head, like, literally 25 years before it ever even existed and Walt Disney made a multi-billion dollar empire from a mouse. So it’s a long answer to a short question Andrew, but how do you learn leadership? You find great leaders that you would hire, you study them and you determine what is it that they did that was so great and how do I model them and follow them and do the exact same thing in my own business?

Andrew: You track what you read very carefully, right? How do you do it?

Adam: So, I have a goal at the beginning of every year of how many books that I want to read and the simple way to break down my goal is my goal is to read one hour a day every single day for the rest of my life. One hour a day times seven days a week. On average, if it takes you seven hours to read a book, then that means you can read 52 books in a year? OK. Now you may read faster, you made read slower, so my goal is one hour a day and within those books that I’m gonna read, for me, my goal is to read 24 books in a year. OK? Which isn’t all that much. I know a lot of people that read far more than that.

Andrew: That’s awesome.

Adam: So of those 24 books, I have them categorized. Six of the books are kind of personal interest books. Six of the books are leadership, management, kind of communication, teamwork. Six of the books are marketing and service, customer service related. And then six of those books are biographies, OK, of other successful entrepreneurs. So what I do is I break down the categories. I put together a list at the beginning of the year of all the books that I want to read, with some margin of error for new books that maybe come out that I want to add onto that list, and every single time I finish a book I cross off on my list which is publicly published that I look at every single day to see what my progress is to make sure that I’m gonna hit my goal of 24 by the end of the year.

Andrew: Where can we see that list?

Adam: I’d have to make it available to you, but I’d be happy to do it.

Andrew: Can you make it available to the audience or is it more private that than?

Adam: No, I’d be happy to make it available to the audience.

Andrew: Well, good. I’d love for them to see it. I’ll follow up with you on that. And you take a week off every year to do what? A think week.

Adam: To think.

Andrew: What’s, how do you do it? Like, what’s your process for making sure that you block everything out and really do some musical thought, thinking?

Adam: So, Thomas Edison said that “Thinking is the hardest work that there is, and that’s why so few people do it”. Think about that statement for a minute. You know, how many times do we get aggravated by people and we’ve said “If you just would have thought about it, just think for a minute”, right? Because thinking is actually pretty hard work and it can be lonesome work because you’re literally sitting alone, by yourself, doing nothing but, you know, thinking. So, the concept, and I got the idea actually from Bill Gates, was to do a think week. So, one week a year I go away to a small beach community outside of Charleston and I rent a house just me, and the entire day I read and I’m reading books, I’m reading articles, I’m reading trade journals, I’m just reading things that will kind of activate and trigger thinking and then I’m also identifying kind of core problems or core opportunities in my business that I want to try to make progress and moving forward over the next year. And so what I’m doing is its somewhat unstructured, and, to me, that’s the beautiful thing about the think week, is that its not from 9-10 I do this, from 10-11 I do this. That defeats the purpose. But what you’re doing is you’re consuming information by reading and then you’re focusing on these big opportunities or challenges in your business and then you let all of those things kind of congeal together and ideas just immediately start forming and so literally you’re feverishly writing down all the ideas that are coming to your mind, some of which will be great and useful, some of which you’ll probably throw in the garbage can, but that’s it. Its really that simple.

Whether you do it for a week or whether you do it for a day or two days, I would encourage every entrepreneur to get out of the office in solitude, go to a place where they can’t be disturbed for at least two full days and do nothing but just think about their business. Think about your life. Think about the things that you want to do and really give thought to how you’re going to make it happen.

Andrew: I need to go back to doing that. I used to do that and it was helpful. I’d sit with a journal and just think through on paper what I wanted, what was keeping me from doing it, why do I want that, what don’t I want? It ended up leading me in a much better direction, but it’s a big sacrifice to make when you don’t know the actual outcome, and when there’s no pressure to do it, and there’s no obligation to someone else to be there, to show up for it, so it often doesn’t get done. But that’s great advice.

Let’s see, what else do I need to know in this story? Oh, here’s what else I want to know. I asked this question earlier when the connection wasn’t very strong, and I’ve got to come back to it.

You have people who come to you, and they say, “There’s greatness inside of me. There are ideas that just need to come out. I tried to sit in front of my computer and get them out on paper, and it didn’t work. I, maybe, talked into a tape recorder someone else suggested, and I don’t know how to organize it.”

How do you organize it for them?

Adam: Very carefully. It’s not easy. Most of our clients are entrepreneurs, and they have millions of ideas. Their minds move very, very quickly. The first thing that we always do is we say, “What is your definition of success?” The question that we pose to every author is, “If we were to help you write and publish a book, and six months from today we’re having lunch in Charleston, and I say, ‘Has your book been successful? Was it worth doing?’ What’s your answer? What’s your measuring stick for success?”

Once they tell us what that measuring stick of success is, what’s most important to them, then we’re able to work backwards. Once we know what success is, we can help them craft the outline for a book that helps them reach success. Success may be I want to share my story with my employees or my grandchildren. Some person might say, “My definition of success is I want this book to generate leads, to get people interested in doing business with my company.” Another person may say, “I want this book to make me attractive for speaking opportunities and speaking engagements.” Then, of course, some authors say, “Well, I want to do all of it.”

Based upon that definition of success, we work backwards to craft an outline for the book that has content and an editorial arc that ultimately achieves the author’s end goal.

Andrew: So, I guess you have an outline based on, if it’s a biography, you have a certain kind of outline. Then you work with them to fill in that outline with their own story. If it’s a success book, then you have a different outline, and you work with them to fill that in.

Adam: Yeah. Every single outline is customized to the needs of that author and the topic that they’re book is going to be about.

Andrew: OK. Then, you have writers on staff now, or is it still all freelancers?

Adam: No. We have two full time editorial directors. Then we have an editorial team. They’re freelancers, but they basically work for us full time, 12 different editors. They have worked for Random House. They’ve worked for Simon and Schuster, Harper Collins, Disney. It’s the very best writers and editors in the world, gold-plated credentials, and what our editorial director does is he or she assigns an editor to you based upon the topic of your book, based upon your personality. It’s like dating. We match the appointed editor to the author based on the personality, and the topic and subject bit.

Andrew: What do you say to someone who’s inevitably going to be listening to us who says, “Books are something that you earn the right to write and publish, and that you do it yourself?” What this company is doing, Advantage Media is doing, is basically writing a book on behalf of someone else that doesn’t therefore have, that’s not as genuine, and it’s just more content thrown out into the world.

Adam: You want to know what I say to that?

Andrew: What’s that?

Adam: Bullshit.

Andrew: What do you mean? What part?

Adam: Here’s why. Would you hold that same attitude for starting a business?

Andrew: I think anyone should be able to start a business. Oh, I see what you’re saying. Would I say that you have to start your own business and do it all yourself?

Adam: What I would say is you don’t earn a right to be an author, OK? If you want to be an author, you have to pick up that crown and put it on your own head. OK? If you think that you have something to say that’s worthwhile, then it’s up to you. You have a moral obligation to share with the world what you know that you think will help others. Now, if doing a book is nothing more than a vanity piece for you, if it’s just a way for you to stretch and gratify your ego. Well, if you have enough money, you can write a check to do that. And there’s a lot of companies that explicitly serve those types of people. Our goal as a company is to help people that have stories, that have passion, and have knowledge. Our goal is to help them share those stories, passion, and knowledge to make a difference in the world. OK? Whether it’s a book about customer service, whether it’s a book about marketing, or whether it’s your personal story, and by somebody reading your personal story, that they motivate them to pursue a path that they otherwise would not have pursued on their own. There’s no right or wrong reason the publish a book, and it’s not your judgment or my judgment to tell somebody whether they can or can’t. So, that’s our attitude, is we want to help authors that have something great to say, something positive to say. We want to help them say it, and reach as many people as humanly possible with that message.

Andrew: Right. In your conversation with Jeremy, he asked you about the lessons that you learned from this, what you took away. Let’s go through those. First one you said is, plan.

Adam: Yep. Everybody knows the old saying, failing to plan is planning to fail. That’s an old cliche. I am a big believer that you get what you set your mind out to. That is that if you want to be a million-dollar business, if you’re starting a business today, and you want to cross the million dollar threshold, you need a plan on how you’re going to do it. How many customers are you going to have to have to get a million dollars in sales? How many employees are you going to have to have? What type of cash flow? What kind of line of credit are you going to need for your bank? You’ve got to determine, where do you want to be, and then you have to work backwards, and you have to form a plan, because if you have a plan, and you exhibit the behavior and the actions to meet that plan, nine out of 10 times, you’re going to hit your goal. If you don’t hit your goal, you might be short of it. So, you didn’t hit a million dollars in sales. You hit $950,000 in sales. OK, next year, we’ll easily get over that million-dollar mark.

Andrew: You learned this from a friend who came into your office and he threw something down on the table, right?

Adam: Yeah. It was something called a life plan.

Andrew: And this was a book that he wrote?

Adam: He created for himself.

Andrew: Uh-huh.

Adam: His philosophy was that every business has a business plan. Every life should have a life plan. Again, going back to that comment, you only live life once, but if you work it right, once is enough.

His idea was, you need to have a plan for your life. So, he created this 25-page life plan that he showed me, and it was all of the things he wanted to do in his life. His goals, what he was going to, who he was going to meet, where he was going to go. He had it all figured out, and then it was just a matter of working the plan. And because he had everything planned out, which doesn’t mean it won’t change, it’s okay for things to change, but he had it planned out, so now, when it comes to making a decision, he can easily make a decision because he knows whether that decision moves him closer to where he wants to be, or whether that decision moves him further away from where he wants to be. So, he showed me this idea of a life plan and I immediately gobbled it up, and I created one for myself.

Andrew: Next one is action, and we’ve seen you take action even before most people would’ve thought themselves ready to take action. When you started your company you, learned that actually . . . Well, tell me little bit more about action, and then I’ll move on to the other two. But we talk so much about it in this interview.

Adam: Yeah. Get off your ass and take action at work. So many people that I know say, I want to start a business. OK, you want to start a business. Well, go start it. Well, I’m not ready. What aren’t you ready for? Well, I don’t have a name. Oh, OK. I don’t have a logo. OK. I don’t have a business card yet. I’m not to go talk to a customer until I have a business card. Well, every single time, they always make an excuse as to why they’re not ready, and the point is, you’re ready. If you have an idea, if you think you can sell it, you’re ready, so stop waiting for the world and the universe to perfectly align to start your business. Just go. Grass doesn’t grow on a busy street, as the old saying goes, so if you’re taking action, if you’re moving towards your goals, you’re going to hit them. It’s inevitable, but you’ve got to get off your rear-end and first take action to make any of this happen.

Andrew: All right. Next is delegate. It takes a good team to succeed. Now, you tried twice to hire Chief Operating Officers, someone to take over the day to day role and it didn’t work out. Why not and what’d you learn from it?

Adam: It probably didn’t work out because of me. Most of the problems that our business has experienced are my fault and that’s something that you learn in leadership. Good leaders, and I’m not saying I’m a good leader, I’m just saying good leaders take responsibility when everything goes wrong and they give all the credit away when everything goes right.

Andrew: So what’d you do wrong?

Adam: So, I blame myself because, number one, the success of a great number two, the success of any Vice President, the success of a COO, is as much about how he and I or he and she gel together as anything else, and so he and I in both of those situations did not gel. I probably did not set them up for success. I probably did not teach them everything that they needed to know. I probably did not give them enough of the right projects to work on immediately, to give them a foothold for success.
So, again, the truth is was it me or was it them? Well, it was probably a lot them, but I go back and say “Well, it was my fault”.

Andrew: And what’s thing that you do differently now in hiring another person based on that experience?

Adam: Yeah, in the third person that we hired who’s the President of the company, she’s been with us for about four months now. One thing that I learned very, very quickly with the two failures of the other is that it was so important that she and I be on the same page on everything. There could never be any time where she and I publicly disagreed or had a difference of opinion that we shared with other, just like parenting. Its so important that the two parents are aligned. When a child comes and asks them if they can go to a baseball game, because if the child senses that one is opposed to it but one’s for it, then they’ll immediately split that wedge to get what they want. Well, guess what? Your people, your employees are the same way. And so its so important that this, the executive team of accompanies specifically, the CEO and the COO, be 100% aligned on everything and what that meant was before I hired this individual, she and I spent weeks talking about every possible topic and every single situation to make sure that we were in agreement and we were on the same page. And if we disagreed, we promised we would disagree privately with each other but not publicly, because once we were in public we were a united front.

Andrew: Last piece of advice is that success leaves clues, and you notice something when you looked at rich people’s homes and poor people’s homes, what’s the difference?

Adam: Poor people have big TVs, rich people have big libraries, and what I would say is that it all goes back to what we talked about before, is read and observe other people. If you want to be a great leader, observe the people that are great leaders and mimic what they’re doing, because again, success leaves clues. And so you don’t have to figure it all out on your own. You don’t have to reinvent it all on your own. You just have to find what other people are doing well and just copy them.

Andrew: Alright, let me do a quick plug and then I want to wrap things up by asking about what happened to the first author you ever signed and, well, I’ll leave it there. And why did that first author ask for a refund and what happened afterwards? But first, I’ve gotta say to everyone who’s listening to us, if you’re buying into this idea that success leaves clues and if you want to build a successful company you should study people who are already doing it, well I want to tell you at this point about mixergypremium.com. That’s our premium service, where hundreds of entrepreneurs come to talk about how they built their businesses, you can listen to them in the background while you work if you’re that kind of person or you can put them on your iPhone, iPod, Android and listen to their stories as you go for runs or as you drive in or as you take a train into work every day. At Mixergy Premium we have courses and interviews taught by real entrepreneurs and if you’re a premium member you have access to it all and I urge you to go to mixergypremium.com to do it, to see it and to hear it and if you’re not, join today so you can get access to all this great stuff. I guarantee you’ll be happy with mixergypremium.com and thousands of people have been happy.

All right, so the final thing is you have this extraordinary story, first author, you sign him, and then what happens?

Adam: Yeah. So one of our authors taught me a long time ago. He said “Adam, always take the high road.” We had an author, the very first author that we signed at the NSA conference and there was a misunderstanding, he thought that we were a different company that had a similar name to ours, it was really just total confusion on his end. And we signed a publishing contract with him, he had paid us $2,500 at the time to publish his book and we needed that $2,500 because literally I had $2,000 of expenses and I had $2,500 in the bank and that was it. We needed that money bad and he said, “Adam, there is a misunderstanding, I’m not comfortable with this and I’d like for you to refund my money and I’d like to publish my book somewhere else.” And you know legally I had not done anything wrong and so legally I had the right to say legally I’m not refunding your money and I thought long and hard about it and I ultimately decided that I was not only going to refund his money but I was going to offer to publish his book for free. I really didn’t have the means to do that but I figured out a way, I eased (?) together a way to make it work and we ended up publishing his book complimentary and he was very, very gracious for me to make that offer and if we fast forward 7 years this author, his name is Steve Gilliland [sp], he’s our top selling author and he sells tens of thousands of copies of his book every single year and his relationship with our company alone is well north of a half-million dollars. So you know $2,500 has turned into half a million dollars and that’s a pretty good return on an investment.

Andrew: A great return on investment, it’s a great story. I’m going to leave it there. If people want to thank you; I always tell my audience that if they get anything out of this interview or anything else in life, it’s just find the person who helped them out in life and say thank you. What’s a good way for them to connect with you and let them know how much they appreciate this interview?

Adam: Well I would love to hear from your listeners because I have received much from other entrepreneurs and so this is a way for me to simply give back to the community. Shoot me an e-mail at awitty@advantageww.com. Shoot me a line; I’d love to hear from you.

Andrew: All right, I’m going to say thank you both for doing this interview and for helping me get through that moment of crisis. Man, I was frustrated and you just had the right thing. You said just the perfect thing at the perfect time there. Thank you for doing that.

Adam: My pleasure and to all of your listeners, good luck.

Andrew: All right and thank you all for being a part of this. Bye guys.

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  • james

    Andrew, the funny thing is that all the mistakes you thought you were making during the interview were largely invisible until you yourself made a big deal out of them! I would humbly suggest, that you are always going to be more critical of yourself than your audience will be (which is why you’re good at what you do!) so make a silent “mental note” and move on. I honestly wouldn’t have noticed any of your slip ups except for getting his name wrong — which you self-corrected immediately. I just assumed you *wanted* to get right in to numbers with your guest — and speaking for myself I kind of liked that opening because it established credentials right away.

  • http://twitter.com/shayanbehzadi shayan behzadi

    Great comment Andrew!, We want to have freedom as entrepreneurs and let other people have freedom to do what they want to do, so how does it actually add up with getting to be a leader and leading other people? And thanks for sharing the interview. You rock!

  • urbanmvp

    I second that notion..and even the name slipups you were able to immediately correct yourself. Don’t be so cruel to yourself, you do a great job!

  • http://twitter.com/KevinCuc Kevin Cuccaro

    Wow. Another great interview and I had originally not planned on watching/reading this one (so much content… so little time).

    Once again I’ve been reminded you can learn incredible useful things in unexpected places as long as you keep an open mind.

    Adam, loved your focus on leadership traits as well as successful strategies you use in life (& how you model others).

    Andrew, thank you for providing such a great resource for all of us to find people/behaviors we can “model” on our own paths to success.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    Thanks.

    My bad day ended up being a good thing for the interview. It showed us how motivating Adam can me.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    Yeah. That’s the management challenge for entrepreneurs.

    We want to be free and not be told what to do, so it makes us feel bad about giving other people direction.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    Really?

    That’s good for me to know.

    When something I said comes badly, I often want to stop the interviewee and say, “what I meant to say earlier is…” But I think you’re right. I need to move on.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    I was having a horrible day. I don’t even remember what happened, but I do remember feeling that nothing was working for me.

    I’m glad I spoke up about it. Adam’s motivation and leadership skills really came out when I told him how I was feeling. Don’t you think?

  • http://twitter.com/roblesroberto Roberto Robles

    I’m only 20:52 minutes into the interview, but I just have to say, amazing so far. Love Adam’s philosophy. He is right, if done right, living once is more than enough! By the way Andrew, love you black mug. Gotta get one like that! Thanks.

  • Jimmy Moncrief

    MAN! Great interview!

    Andrew – where are you going to post his list?

  • Pingback: Advantage Media Group

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    I’ll email him now for it.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    That’s great to hear!

  • stevepyoung

    Great interview, Andrew.

    Loved Adam’s line…”poor people have big TVs, rich people have big libraries.”

  • http://twitter.com/london_ninja Imran

    Great Interview Andrew! Love the “Short memory” bit which is so true! Thank you Andrew and Adam

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    Yeah. He put it well.

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