How does an adventurer build a multimillion dollar travel company?
Hugh Culver is the founder of Adventure Network, a company which helped adventurers like him go to Antarctica.
After selling his stake in that business he launched Expert’s Enterprise, which shows experts how to build a business around their expertise, so they can grow their audience & earn more money.
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Hugh Culver, Expert's Enterprise
Hugh Culver is the founder of Expert’s Enterprise, which shows experts how to build a business around their expertise.
Andrew: This interview is sponsored by Walker Corporate Law. Do you need a lawyer that’s not the local guy who really doesn’t get startups, not the really expensive guys who want a piece of your business but one who really understands the startup community and is there to help you? If you do, go to Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law.
It also sponsored by Grasshopper. If you need a phone number where your customers can dial in, press “1” to go to sales, press “2′ to go to customer service, et cetera, and maybe even all those numbers actually lead to your cell phone but it makes you look big. If you need that kind of feature and so many others, go to Grasshopper.com. Alright. Let’s get started.
Hey there, freedom fighters, my name is Andrew Warner. I’m the Founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. How does an adventurer build a multimillion dollar travel company? Hugh Culver is the Founder of Adventure Network, a company which helped adventurers like him go to Antarctica.
After selling that stake in that business, Hugh launched Experts Enterprise which shows experts how to build a business around their expertise, not just give speeches but how to build a business around it so that they can grow their audience and earn more money. I invited him here to talk about, actually to talk about Adventure Network, but I also want to find out about a little bit about his new business, too. Hugh, welcome.
Hugh: Hello, Andrew. Thanks very much. I’m really excited about being on Mixergy.
Andrew: Are you a fan?
Hugh: I am a huge fan. I walk or run my dog every morning, and you’re right on the list for me when I hit all the hosts.
Andrew: Well, thank you. I appreciate that, especially coming from you because I’ve been watching your YouTube videos. You have these shorts clips unlike me where I go long, and you keep things moving. And you talk about things like productivity, not having too much junk on your desk, not multitasking, getting more done. And I was thinking, do I cram that into this interview, and then I realized let’s keep this thing focused.
And so now that we’re focused on Adventure Network, I’m curious how much money can that kind of business make? This is different from the kind of entrepreneurs I usually interview.
Hugh: Well, it was especially surprising for me, Andrew, because I came out of the whitewater rafting business. My brother got me involved when I was 15-years-old in Western Canada. So we used to $55 one day rafting trips, and a big weekend was maybe people paying $200 to $300. When we launched the program in Antarctica, we had really no idea how to translate the exclusiveness of Antarctica into dollars.
I remember my first sales call which was in Seattle. I had driven down from Vancouver where I lived at the time, and I pitched this idea. I had just returned back from Antarctica where we were actually on the shores for all of eight hours hauling fuel drums to get ready for the season. It was my first experience, and I’m in Seattle pitching flights to the South Pole, and I said to this client, “It’s going to be $16,000 to stand at the Pole for four hours, the South Pole.” And I had no idea. I thought at that time this is actually a great lesson for entrepreneurs because I thought I should get the number as low as possible. I forgot the fact that there was no competition. He turned to me and he said, “Double it.”
At that moment he gave me a great marketing lesson. He said, “If you don’t double it, people won’t want to go.” And on that day I closed $425,000 in sales my first sales call. And within three years we were doing five and a half million dollars in sales.
Andrew: Wow! So I have to tell you there is something about me. I love and trust people a lot, and I’m still such a skeptic. Why someone who you say would pay $16,000, tell me, “No. Double it.” Wouldn’t they say double it on the next guy?
Hugh: You have to know who he is. Now be fair now, you have to remember who he is. So he is going to market my tours. See, we didn’t have any money. We operated out of a 300 square foot office in Vancouver above a restaurant. We didn’t have any money. So I went to a guy that was going to take my tour, and he was going to market it for a whole lot more money than that.
Andrew: And so why would he still say, “You know what? That’s a good price. Enjoy the hard work. I will double it.”
Hugh: [laughs] I don’t know. Listen, Andrew, first of all I was just happy he did, but I came to understand that price perception is so important. I think what he was saying to me was, “If you don’t go into the market with something that was going to get people’s attention, they’re actually going to take it with a grain of doubt. They’re going to wonder how could it be so inexpensive and we ended up doing all of our marketing with word-of- mouth and press-releases.
And at that time, it was literally word-of-mouth and press-releases, there was no internet or anything like that. We had a Telex in our office. So now as a speaker I understand the power of the price, because when people look at what they want to speak about and what their expertise is, the price is actually a part of that mix just like we all learned the six P’s or the eight P’s. It really does have power, so it was a great lesson for me that day.
Andrew: I see, okay. And I can actually see, even in speaking especially, that if you say, ”Hey I will charge $100 dollars to speak” people won’t value it as much as, ”You have to fly me out, put me up in a nice hotel, and it’s going to cost $10,000” and then it feels like you’re getting a real speaker.
Andrew: Actually, is that the way it is? Do you get flown out, put in nice hotels, and paid big to go speak?
Hugh: Yes. Yeah. Yeah I hardly give any speeches in my community or where I live, it’s all out of town. That’s right, yeah.
Andrew: Alright. I want to come back and ask about that, because I’m really curious about how to become a better speaker. Because frankly, I didn’t just get into business to make money, I got into business to become some kind of a superstar also. Is that typical, or is there something wrong with me?
Hugh: You know, it’s such a huge question. Because you can be successful as an entrepreneur, and I mean you want to open a mom and pop grocery store or you want to be a speaker on the main stage, there’s got to be some ego involved because it’s not an easy path. When we set out to create trips to the South Pole, everyone said we were insane, that we were going to go and fly airplanes where they did not belong and put people in situations where they really were in grave danger. So there is some ego involved, I think a healthy dose of ego is actually a good thing. You know, underline all of that. I know, Andrew, because I’ve listened to so many of your podcast recordings, you also want to serve.
Hugh: You wouldn’t go through this much work, you know there’s easier ways to be a superstar. So I know you also want to serve, and I think that’s also got to be a part of the ingredients.
Andrew: It is true, and sometimes I emphasize one and not the other, and I have to admit that they’re both sides to me. Alright, I wrote down a note here as you were talking, I’ve got to come back and ask you. How could I become a better speaker, what kind of money could I command, what would you, a guy who’s got a lot of expertise here, what kind of advice could you give me and let’s make it kind of selfish. I’m curious so that I know how I could do this, but we’ll make it a broader conversation so the audience can benefit from it, too.
Andrew: Going back to this rafting trip that you were saying. You used to sell, or you were used to inexpensive rafting trips, but you also used to sell them and didn’t you build a business around it? As a kid?
Andrew: As a teenager.
Hugh: You bet.
Andrew: Yeah it was very successful. In the summer season we had 35 guides, we were the largest in Western Canada.
Hugh: Guide meaning, not boats but the people who take clients out rafting.
Andrew: Yeah. Yeah we would take over five and a half thousand people a year on trips.
Andrew: We had the largest eco-tourism sailing operation as well. Really a lot of the things we did were very pioneer back then, now everything is certified and organized and everything’s online. Back then we were building everything, we built the equipment by hand, took people rafting, and yea it was great. So yes you can be very successful, but for me it was my first dose of business. I really didn’t know anything about managing people or growing a company, so we were fortunately very successful; it was a very profitable business, but it was also good for us to have gotten out of it when we did.
Hugh: How much money were we talking about? This is in the mid 80’s, you’re 15 years old; when you say ”very profitable”, what happened?
Andrew: Sure. So by the time we sold it I was probably early 20’s, I started when I was 15, and I think back then the company sold for $400,000 and we sold it in 1985. So back then, in adventure tourism, that was a huge amount of money. So what that did was it allowed us to leverage that into some other new enterprises.
Hugh: How’d you get clients in that business?
Andrew: Primarily a lot of marketing back then. That one became a very competitive company so we were doing a lot of marketing. Primarily we would go to restaurants and we would do a lot of business with restaurant staff. So restaurant staff parties were a big thing back then, and then of course being in British Columbia we’d get a lot of the European and American travelers coming over, so we did it that way. It was very-
Hugh: [??] American travelers to come in and know that you guys existed?
Andrew: Sure, so back then we used something called a wholesaler. So a wholesaler is someone who takes your product, they up the price, and they market it. So that was where we got a lot of our business.
Hugh: I see. So now you sold the first business for $400,000, in the 80’s.
Andrew: Right. . . for $400,000 in the 1980s, what do you do after that?
Hugh: I actually took a year off, and traveled all over the world kayaking. And so I was in about six different countries, primarily white water kayaking. Then I came back and joined up with three partners to take people to the South Pole. So almost immediately I was back in business again. And the very first trip was the flights to the pole, so the very first trip we ended up getting 42 people signed up at $35,000 each, and that was our first trip to Antarctica.
Andrew: Did it start with you thinking, hey, I’ve got to now make a business out of it, or did it go the other way around where people asked you for help and you said, maybe there’s a business here?
Hugh: It was actually the latter, so I was approached by people who were mountain climbers, and pilots, and adventurers, and they actually wanted me to help them to turn it into a business. And they had this idea about flights to the south pole, which was really a very much commercial venture; whereas the mountain climbing was very much around let’s get a bunch of dirty, grimy mountain climbers and we’ll go climbing. Whereas flights to the South Pole was now into big money, and much bigger airplanes, and a much bigger financial risk. So yes, so that’s why I came on board was to build it into a really a proper company.
And you know, it was pretty unbelievable, because we actually flew out of southern Chile, which in itself is a story, because you know, we were fresh from the military coup de tat and we had to work within the Chilean Air Force. We had to get airplanes from Canada to fly all the way down to southern Chile to position them, and it was unbelievable the things that happened. Fortunately never really risking people’s lives, but as far as logistics go it was just an incredible education for me because everything was so massive and so unsupported. You know, we . . .
Andrew: I saw in my notes something big happened and we’ll get to that; I want to continue in chronological order. But let me understand this; you decided, hey, I’m going to help turn this into a business. The three of you, was it, became partners in the business?
Hugh: Four people, yeah.
Andrew: Four people. Four people became partners in the business. How do you get . . . well, let me see if I understand the process. You figured we’re going to fly people from Chile onto the South Pole. We’ll charge for the flight; we’ll give them some kind of experience in the South Pole, and then we’ll fly them back.
Hugh: Yeah, actually it was four hours at the pole. That’s it; four hours and what do you do for four hours at the pole? You just hang out and you take pictures so you can tell your friends you were there?
Andrew: That’s it.
Hugh: Okay. All right, so how do you get your first customers for this business?
Andrew: That’s my trip to Seattle. So I drove to Seattle, met this guy, pitched him on the idea. I remember the day, too, Andrew. I unrolled these big maps of Antarctica. We’re both leaning over the table looking at these maps of Antarctica, and I realized at that moment I’d never seen these maps before. And you know, we’re both going, wow, this is really big. And he’d ask me questions like, well, how long will it take to fly from southern Chile to this base camp that you’ve not yet built, and I said, oh, a long time. And you know, I didn’t know any of the details. But that’s how we started.
We went to companies that had wealthy clients who were in the travel business, and we said, you know, either you can take a commission or you can mark this up. We don’t really care, but would you like to buy seats on these trips? And very soon what happened was people started to write up about it all over the world, because it’s the only company in the world doing it. It’s the only way you can do it. If you want to stand on the pole there is absolutely no other way you can get there. We had the complete monopoly and still do.
Hugh: I remember when I was in Patagonia I would see people take the boats out there.
Hugh: Couldn’t they take boats and then I guess once you landed in the Antarctica . . .
Andrew: They can start walking.
Hugh: Then you start walking. And how long a walk is that?
Andrew: From like two months, two months. Oh, I see. All right, so if someone . . .
Hugh: We’re talking Scott and [Amonson] here; we’re talking you wouldn’t make it.
Andrew: I see, now . . .
Hugh: There’s no way to get them there; there’s no way to get in there. You can’t get in there. It’s bigger than Australia, and you’re trying to walk to the middle.
Andrew: It is such a big achievement that if you could get people there they are willing to pay, and so I see how you got your customers. Now how do you pull this off? How do you get people onto the South Pole?
Hugh: The first year we had 42 people sign up. The first 14 arrived in southern Chile and everything broke down–everything. The engines on the airplanes were catching fire; we had pilots quitting. We had the Chilean Air Force shutting us down, and on top of that we had bad weather. So we actually took those 14 people, flew them all back home at our expense, promised them that as soon as we had the green light, we would fly them back, which we did, they all returned, and we’re talking, Andrew, we’re talking multimillionaires, we’re talking Diana Ross’s husband, we’re talking people who were shipping magnates.
We flew them all home, flew them all back, and by that time, the second group of 14 had arrived, and we just started shuttling them to the Pole. Out of the 42, we got 35 of them to all agree to hang in there and go home and come back, and we got 35 of them to the Pole, which meant we could keep 35 people’s money, and that’s what funded the next year. Then what we did every year was we basically pre-sold seats, and that’s the only way we could run our company. So we would invent more trips, then we would pre- sell them, and then we would use that cash to fund the company.
Andrew: Kind of like Kickstarter before Kickstarter?
Hugh: Oh, it was scary. Yeah, it wasn’t quite a Ponzi scheme, because we actually did deliver, but it was all based on unearned revenue.
Andrew: I see from Jeremy’s notes, first seven people paid $35,000.
Andrew: The next 35 people paid $25,000 each. So I can see you’re starting to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars quickly.
Hugh: Over a million the first year.
Andrew: Were the expenses that high?
Hugh: Yeah. Yeah.
Andrew: So you broke even?
Hugh: We ended up with a fleet of four airplanes, two of which we purchased. I purchased two airplanes I’d never seen before over the phone, and one from Florida, one from northern Alberta, so we ended up with four airplanes, two of which we leased, two of which we owned. We had over 30 employees, so expenses were horrendous, huge.
Andrew: How long did it take to break even with this?
Hugh: We broke even the first year.
Andrew: Oh, really?
Hugh: Oh, yeah, we made money the first year.
Andrew: Even though you had to a buy a plane, had to build a place . . .
Andrew: You had to build the place for the plane to land?
Hugh: Base. The base, and that base is still there in operation.
Andrew: Base? Wow.
Hugh: 600 miles from the Pole.
Andrew: This is the ’80s, where everyone wanted to be rich, everyone wanted to do incredible things. Did you start to feel like, hey, this is it, I made it?
Hugh: Oh, absolutely. I was the kind of the world. I thought this is unbelievable. I couldn’t wait for people to ask me at a coffee shop, “So what do you do?” And I’d say, “Well, you know, actually I fly people to the South Pole.” And we were on this unbelievable curve, because everybody wanted to get on board. Then when it got really exciting, Andrew, was we started to get contacted by expeditions. So then back then, now we’re talking the late ’80s, it was very much in vogue to have these incredibly well-sponsored expeditions that would do crazy stunts in Antarctica.
Hugh: So they would ski to the South Pole. Like, Reinhold Messner would get all this funding. He’s the world’s most famous mountain climber, and he skied to the South Pole, holding a kite, with a partner, Arved Fuchs. Or we would have Will Steger, famous Minnesotan explorer, and Will Steger put together an international team, and they dog sledded all the way across the entire continent. But they would come to us with $13 million budgets, and then they would say, “You’re the company, so we need to hire you. We want your doctor, we want your pilots, and we need you to be at this point, at this date.
At this point, at this date, you need to fly in a film crew so that we can be seen arriving at the Pole.” So now I started to sign contracts that were well over a million dollars, $1.8 million. Now I was flying around the world, meeting with these explorers, and they would say, “So we need you to be at 70 degrees south at this date, on this time. Can you do it?” I said, “Oh, absolutely, we will be there.” Of course, we have no idea, and we were signing enormous contracts for expedition support, and that’s when the company really started to grow.
Andrew: You told Jeremy that famous explorers ended up blackmailing you at some point?
Hugh: That’s right. Correct. That’s right.
Andrew: How did they blackmail you?
Hugh: Sure. So in one particular case, this one famous group of explorers sailed into my city, where I was living in Vancouver, and it was a subsequent expedition, another expedition heavily supported on some fancy sailboat, called me up, and claimed that we had done something wrong in Antarctica, and we had delayed something, and therefore they had missed a media opportunity, and unless we gassed up their sailboat, they would go to the media. So I think it ended up it was more than gassing up. I think it was $70,000. Basically I had to bail them out, they were out of money. So they were out of money, they came up with this scheme, they invited me onto the sail-boat, and then they announced, ”Hey it’s nice to see you, and two years ago…”
Andrew: ”You owe us money because you screwed up, our-”
Hugh: $70,000. Yeah.
Andrew: And you paid it?
Andrew: Wow. What are their names?
Hugh: It’s long forgotten.
Hugh: I believe in forgiveness.
Andrew: So why? Why did you pay? Why didn’t you say go to whatever meeting you want?
Hugh: At that time the media was our main advertising mechanism, we couldn’t afford it, and we knew they had a lot more media pull than we did. And we thought, for $70,000 we just need to put an end to this, and maybe I wouldn’t have done that again now, but at that time we struggled with it for a couple of days and decided we just need to put this under, get rid of this, and bury it.
Andrew: And you had done well enough that you could afford that?
Hugh: That’s right.
Andrew: And at that point, did you have any of the expensive 1980’s vices, like coke and hookers?
Hugh: No, no.
Hugh: No I was actually competing in triathlons and that’s when I started Iron Man competitions, nope.
Andrew: I saw that you were also a marathoner, did you do a marathon on every continent?
Hugh: No, I haven’t done that yet.
Andrew: Have you done it in Antarctica?
Andrew: Why am I mispronouncing Antarctica? It’s ”arctica” right?
Hugh: Ant. Arctica. Yeah, yeah.
Andrew: Why am I- Not why am I mispronouncing it, never mind me. You didn’t do that, you didn’t run a marathon there?
Hugh: No I haven’t done that, no. Most of my, I guess- I did a lot of expeditions internationally, but mostly by whitewater kayak, and climbing. But not marathon running, all of my marathon running’s been in Australia and North America.
Andrew: I do a lot of running, I do cycle, and I don’t swim nearly enough. It’s not making me look any fitter, I’m looking at you, you’re fit. Even earlier as you were just leaning back I was checking you out, I said, ”If he’s a marathoner, let me see if he still is actually, if it says in the notes that he’s a marathoner. Let’s see if he still is.” You clearly are. Why are you looking better than I am?
Hugh: Well I’m 55, and I decided a long time ago that it’s really important for me to keep fit if I’m going to keep serving in whatever capacity. My kids are still teenagers, and my first daughters just going into University this year, so it’s really important to me that I do that, and so I-Andrew: Well [inaudible 2:27].
Andrew: I thought that running was going to make me fit, it turns out that running doesn’t do it.
Hugh: It starts with- Yea. It actually starts with diet.
Andrew: Running doesn’t do that much.
Hugh: It’s actually diet has more impact.
Andrew: Diet does more, right?
Hugh: Absolutely. I believe it. You can-
Andrew: What kind of diet are you on?
Hugh: Mostly gluten-free now.
Hugh: Yep. Mostly gluten free, and because of where I live we eat a lot of fruit, and then I have the disciple. I exercise every day so I start my day with…. I usually wright for two hours, and then I go exercise. Yep.
Andrew: So here’s another thing that I was wondering. Earlier in the story we talked about how you sold your company, and then you took some time off and then you started this new business.
Hugh: Right, right.
Andrew: In the in-between, you apparently not lost your money, but you were out of money.
Hugh: Oh, absolutely. I was broke.
Andrew: What were you doing that you could blow $200,000?
Hugh: Well I spent a year travelling around the world, and went through a lot of money. And at pretty well the same time that I came back and got into the Antarctic business I also enrolled in a MBA graduate school program which was a two-year commitment; which of course I paid for. So, that’s where the money went.
Andrew: So you started a business and you started school at the same time.
Hugh: That’s right. Yeah.
Andrew: And travelling around the world.
Hugh: So I was doing my MBA as I was taking people to Antarctica.
Andrew: Okay. What’s the most fun thing that you did while you were travelling around the world for that one year?
Hugh: I would say, gosh. I would say kayaking from Virginia Falls down the Zambezi with crocodiles.
Hugh: Yeah, absolutely would be the most fun. Andrew: How do you avoid the crocodiles?
Hugh: Well you don’t fall out. That’d be the first tip. But literally, you would see them every time you would pull into a back-eddy the water was so clear you would see them below your boat.
Andrew: Well kayaks are pretty shallow-
Hugh: And I’ve actually-
Andrew: If they want you can’t they just come in and grab you?
Hugh: Yeah. Well one of them chased me one day, one of them did chase me down the Zambezi for a while and I managed to beat him to the rapids. I got to the rapids first and outran him, but that’s probably the most fun – where it’s not just the white water, it’s not you’ve got crocodiles to deal with as well, so that was pretty exciting.
Andrew: You know my interview style, and you know that I’m curious psychologically- what is it that makes you want to do this stuff?
Hugh: Well. I was very lucky, Andrew, to have an older brother who – he’s gone now, he died on K2 in Pakistan – but my older brother Dan, who out of a family of nine kids I spent the most time with and he just inspired me. He had a real appetite for getting the most out of every day, not life, but every day. So whenever I get an opportunity I want to grab hold of that and do something that’s going to make that day unbelievable.
Andrew: What do you do today, now that you’re not fighting crocodiles?
Andrew: What could you do today that could be as exciting?
Hugh: Well, right now I race in what’s called Surf Skis. So a surf ski is a really fast 21′ carbon fiber Olympic boat called a surf-ski. And then this summer, I learned how to ride a unicycle. Andrew: To ride what? A unicycle?
Hugh: A unicycle.
Andrew: Oh wow.
Hugh: I was very excited because this week is the first week I actually rode it up to do errands at the grocery store and back, not just around the block every time. So yea, so I just wanted to take that challenge on so my youngest daughter and I bet each other that we would be the first to ride around the block, and so it was really exciting. We pulled it off, and now we can both go around the block, and it’s really good.
Andrew: Wow. So as you’re building up your business flying people to places where they didn’t even think they could ever get to-Hugh: Right.
Andrew: One of the airplanes apparently got lost.
Andrew: And it wasn’t just any airplane, there were really important clients on there, who were they?
Hugh: Well. Oh my goodness. Well, we’d just finished dropping of 17 travel- journalists from all over the world, quite literally, at our base and what they were going to do was they were going to record the arrival of [Will Steger] and this international team. So Will Steger’s team was coming in from one direction, and then we had another team coming in from another direction, and the airplane got lost on the way in, [Reynold Mesters], so the airplane got lost on the way in and what happens in the Antarctica is everything is carefully calculated. So you cannot afford to spend any extra time in the air, and this pilot burnt up so much fuel trying to find the base camp that when he basically picked up all of the reserve fuel at that camp to head home, he didn’t have enough so he actually landed short of Chile.
And by short, what I mean is he landed on one of the islands on the Antarctic Peninsula rather than getting all the way across the Drake Passage back to Chile. And onboard was [Bob Biatti] from ABC Wide World Sports, and on very sick husky dog. So I was in Vancouver, and I get a phone call telling me that this has happened. Now can you imagine, you know, you’re literally two days travel away and you’ve been told you have a disaster on your hands, your company is now in peril, and you have stranded seventeen photo-journalists? Not just people, you’ve stranded photo- journalists that can record the entire event. You’ve stranded them in- Andrew: [You allowed] yourself to be black-mailed because you were so worried about journalists, and now that’s happening directly to you
Hugh: Well – that’s a very good point.
Hugh: Very good point. And so I got all the way down to Chile, I was put on the HF radio to radio into my basecamp and I had my life threatened by, I won’t say by who, but I had my life threatened by one of the expedition- leaders. Anyway, we managed to pull it off. It took one week to solve the problem, to get that airplane out of Antarctica, but it was-
Andrew: How do you get it out of there?
Hugh: Well what happens is we used smaller airplanes to fly fuel over to it, and I think it took that pilot, it was a heroic effort, I think it took him seven or eight flights across the Drake Passage full of fuel – all he had on board was fuel – to get enough fuel over to get that big airplane in the air and back to Chile. It was huge, it was an extremely expensive mistake.
Andrew: And it’s all on you. That’s the part that’s so painful about running a company. Something crazy could come out of the blue at any moment, and then it’s on you to solve it. And even when it’s not happening, there’s always a sense that it could happen and it’s hard to relax. Did you experience that?
Hugh: I did. I did actually many times, and you know what I’ve come to understand though is that it makes everything else kind of small in comparison. And so stuff is going to happen, and in my opinion is if it’s not life-threatening it’s not that big a deal. Let’s try and deal with it as best as we can. I know it drives my wife crazy because it’s hard to get me worked up about stuff because when you’ve flown people across Antarctica, climbed mountains, and headed down rivers, and had your life threatened constantly everything else is kind of small.
It’s not that I don’t take things importantly and I don’t think things are worth doing well, but it’s that I try to put things in perspective all the time. A lot of entrepreneurs, including people you’ve interviewed, they’ve been through really tough times but the ones I love listening to are the ones that have actually got some resilience in their voice, like they know that that’s just a step towards creating the greatness that they want to create, and they’ve learned that through the school of hard knocks, and it’s hard to teach people that. They have to have gone through it to kind of get that, that that’s a part of the journey of being an entrepreneur.
Andrew: So you have to go through that failure, or through that big challenge, to realize that you’re resilient enough to handle those kinds of challenges?
Hugh: I think it’s the test. It’s the test, and it’s why it’s not for everybody. I think that there are many people in the world that should just get a paycheck. Bless their hearts, and that’s what we need. I think that for people to be entrepreneurs it’s a journey that’s going to test you, and you are going to lie in bed some nights thinking about it and worrying about making payroll and all those other things that come along with it, but that’s the test.
Andrew: You got this business, let me see if I have these numbers right, ’87, 400,000 in sales, 1990, 5.5 million in sales, and you then walk . . . first of all, you’re nodding. Does that sound right?
Hugh: That’s correct, yeah.
Andrew: And then how soon after ’90 did you walk away, the following year?
Hugh: I sold it in ’91, yeah. I sold my quarter share.
Andrew: You had a quarter share of the business. Why did you sell? Why didn’t you continue growing this? This is huge growth.
Hugh: Because I wanted to get out before I had to get out, and I realized that we were at the stage now where, first of all, it would’ve been helpful if I spoke more fluently in Spanish, and so that was one thing we needed, because so much of our business was in Chile. But secondly I realized that we were moving into an administrative stage. We had successfully designed programs that could be replicated, so flights to the Pole, flights to see the Emperor penguins, and flights to the climbing.
So now it really was about money, and it was about [??] and it was about [??] a lot people. There are a lot of people involved in our business, and they came from all over the world. The expertise that we needed was not available just where we lived, so we had people fly in from Australia and New Zealand and Alaska, all over the states, who were either field operators, radio operators, doctors, pilots, co-pilots, engineers. So we hired an administrator, and I sold my shares.
Andrew: What did you sell your company for, or your share in it?
Hugh: I don’t want to say, because some of my partners are still involved, but, yeah, it was very good.
Andrew: Was it enough not to have to work again?
Hugh: Not enough to not have to work again.
Hugh: It was enough to finish my degree in school and enough to get married and to buy our first house.
Andrew: All right. But there was a reason why you left on a personal level. You were telling Jeremy, I don’t know if you meant to say this or if Jeremy just takes really good notes on even side conversations in the pre- interview, but one of the reasons we do pre-interviews is to dig in, and what Jeremy told me is that there was a point where on a personal level it was starting to feel repetitive to you. On a personal level it wasn’t engaging. You want to be chased by crocodiles and go away. You want to feel like you have to rescue people from Antarctica or else no one else is there to do it. Is that it, too, on a personal level?
Hugh: I think that’s true. There’s a part of me that just has to like starting things. I really like inventing things and seeing them go and flourish. I also realized that I was falling into an old trap, and that was I was really busy all the time. It was a really all-consuming company. It was hard to not think about it, because it was so complicated. Logistically, financially, marketing-wise, and just even geographically we were so international at that point, and so I realized that my old trap was to get really, really busy and then think I was being more successful. So I wanted to be smarter about it, and at the same time I was selling the company, I was being asked actually by the university that I was going to school at to teach at the university. So I started to do weekend seminars, and in my mind I started thinking, wow, maybe this is more what I’d like to do, is I’d like to now share some of things that I’ve learned, in particular in that case, at that time, it was around marketing.
Andrew: This thing that you’re saying about being busy a lot and the unfulfilling busyness, it’s one of the messages that I love about your YouTube videos. What do we do if we get to the place where . . . I think you described in one of your videos how our most productive time of the day is the morning for most of us.
Andrew: ..and that’s the time, we allow ourselves to get buried in email. So, we take the most productive time, and we waste it. What do we do, if we’re in a situation like that? I’ve tried shutting down my email completely, and sending everything to my assistants, and to customer service. That didn’t work. What do you suggest for something like that?
Hugh: The first thing is, you have to have, what Robert Fritz would call tension. Which is the goal. And I know it sounds a bit frivolous and we’ve all heard it before, but the reality is…unless you’ve got a blog you want to finish, or a webinar you want to write, or you’re working on a chapter in your book, then there’s no reason to do anything that I’m going to suggest. You have to have a goal. When I got to bed, I actually write down, on a little post-it note, the two or three things I must do, as soon as I wake up.
Now I’m clear, I know I have to do that. The second thing is…you have to have discipline. Again, it sounds a bit trivial, but it’s true. In other words, when I make my cup of tea, I immediately sit down, and I start working on that list. I don’t allow myself to look at email. And I don’t allow myself to check any social media feeds. My job is to get that one thing done, and then get out the door. Ideally by 7 o’clock in the morning, that’s two hours later, I head out with my dog and either go for a paddle, or a run, or a walk, or whatever I’m doing. And of course listen to Mixergy.
Andrew: Thank you.
Hugh: Of course. You have to have a goal. I think when most people wake up, they think it’s just another piece of time. This is just another chunk of time, and I can use it in any way that I want. I can read something. I can go online. I can fiddle around. They have to have a goal. Then they have to match that with some very basic disciplines. For example, my cup of coffee…go right into whatever you’re using, Word or whatever writing program you’re using. Get to work, and then cross that off your list. I find it is such a satisfying way to start the day, that it’s a habit that is totally ingrained for me.
Andrew: So let me see. Walk me through your average day if you could.
Andrew: You start waking up at what time?
Hugh: You got it.
Andrew: I felt bad about a question like that, especially since you’re married, but a 5am wake up. So, you wake up. The next thing you do is?
Hugh: I work until seven on anything that is going to be hard pushing. So for me, that’s creative writing, designing a proposal, or completing a proposal to a client. For example, if the day before, I had a client give me the green light. That night I might quickly draft out in five minutes, the proposal. Then in the morning, I work on finishing the proposal, when I’m fresh, and creative.
Andrew: Why do you start it the night before? Is this like a Hemingway thing or…?
Hugh: I always rough it out. I rough it out. For example, I might template it a mind map. More likely, I’m going to pull out an old draft from a previous client and change some of the headings. Then I’m ready to go in the morning.
Andrew: So the next morning you know what you need to do and it’s not starting with a blank page.
Hugh: Absolutely! Absolutely right! If it’s a blog post, then I might spend 5 minutes and quickly mind map it. Then in the morning I get to work. I don’t want to ever start from scratch, cold. I want to have a bit of a running start. I do that until 7:00. Usually I work on probably 2 projects that morning. At 7:00, I must go out the door. It’s very important for me at 7:00. I don’t wait until 7:03. Because then it becomes 7:10. I have to be out the door at 7:00. My dog is really happy to see us going. So we head off to…We live in a beautiful place by a lake and a creek. We head off to the creek. We go for 45 minutes. That gets me back at 7:45. If it’s a school day, I help make lunches, and get the kids out the door, and drive them to school. I’m usually at my office by 9:00. That’s when I check email.
Andrew: OK. Then what do you do with the rest of your day?
Hugh: One of my rules is the hardest night. I do the hardest 50% in the first 90 minutes of the day. I figure out, the day before, what’s the hardest work I’ve got to get done. I do it between 9:00 and 10:30.
Andrew: The most painful thing like…
Hugh: The most painful thing.
Andrew: Like, I have to say, “No.” to 5 people. This is where I hit it, right away.
Hugh: Absolutely. I’m asking someone to come to an event…whatever it is I’ve got to do. I do that in the first 90 minutes. Then I go back and check my email again. I’m not dabbling during the day. I check my email again, it’s now 10:30. I continue to change the type of work I do as I go through the day. One thing we know about what’s called circadian rhythms, they go up and down throughout the day. Most people try to ignore that. Around 10:30, most people try to have some kind of a sugary snack or something, to get their energy up. The reality is, it’s hard to fight that. You’re much better off to have already set aside easy work for the next 60 minutes.
Andrew: I see. As long as that’s a period where I’m exhausted why fight it with soda or coffee just let it happen?
Hugh: And do routine work. You’re responding to emails. You are approving certain things. You might be taking care of some online payments or you might be doing some work on your website. It’s easier stuff for you but then after lunch there’s going to be another burst and usually it’s 60 minutes long and that’s another beautiful window to take advantage of. You should fly with something that you can do. Usually it’s around, for most people, between 1:00 and 2:00, 1:00 and 2:30 and that’s another perfect window for some really hard crunching.
In your case maybe you’re interviewing people. Maybe you’re sending out requests. You’re working with Jeremy but you’re doing things that require a lot of cerebral heavy lifting but then again you move into an easy period where you’re going to do [??]
Andrew: How do you know where your [??] were?
Hugh: You map it out. You just pay attention. I can get an audience to do it in two minutes.
Hugh: You just pay attention. I, when I ask an audience of any size, I just give them an XY graph and I say, ‘On this XY graph, thinking about going from left to right, morning until the end of the day, think about your work day,’ most people can pretty accurately plot how their energy feels during the day because they know when they get tired and so they also know when the opposite is true. They can usually map and it looks like a bit of a sign wave. High in the morning dropping down. High again after lunch. Not as high as before and then dropping down after that.
Andrew: Basically you’re saying the person who’s listening to us right now can just pull out a piece of paper or anything and start drawing out their curves?
Hugh: As an entrepreneur I think it’s essential, there’s two things that make a successful entrepreneur once you’ve got your goals out of the way and that systems and habits. Once you’ve got your goals out of the way it’s all about systems and habits and systems are all about, ‘How does your Internet work and how do you have an autoresponder set up?’
But a habit is what you do at 10:30. A habit is what you do when you go to bed. A habit, and those habits for entrepreneurs are completely discretionary. Entrepreneurs forget that because they assume it’s a habit they grew up with. That’s nonsense. We grow our habits and so you’ve, I’m sure read “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg and it’s very simple. Every habit is created by three things. There’s a queue, there’s a routine and a reward. If you want to get off your email you have to first of all figure out what is rewarding you for being on email? Then what you have to do is you have to come up with a bigger reward for the non-email work. It’s as simple as that.
Andrew: What if the big reward [??] don’t have to do anything that’s hard?
Hugh: Or I get rid of that task or I get another client or I feel satisfied because I got that blog posted. You have to come up with a reward bigger than, yes.
Andrew: I see [??] bigger award.
Hugh: See a psychologist once described email as perfectly designed to be addictive because she said, ‘Every once in a while you get a reward.’ It’s like pulling a one armed bandit. If you want to do non-email work you have to give yourself a reward that’s bigger than what email gives you and as entrepreneurs this is completely within our discretion, it’s within our influence and we need to understand that especially entrepreneurs that are running a home based business that’s all technology based. We need to understand that because otherwise we’ll be constantly distracted with non- essential work.
Andrew: I want to ask about going to sleep but is there any other part of your daily schedule that’s worth bringing up right now?
Hugh: I take evenings off and I like to, Guy Kawasaki said to me in an interview recently, I like to read fiction. I like to read, this summer I read three Lee Childs because I watched the Jack [??] movie with Tom Cruise on a flight and I love that. To me that’s do I play my guitar, I read fiction and I go to bed.
Andrew: Going to bed, if you’re going to wake up at 5:00 that means that, and how much time do you need to sleep? You need seven hours?
Andrew: That’s pretty impressive but that still means you have to be asleep by 11:00, maybe what? In bed by 10:00 reading a novel?
Hugh: Quarter to 11:00. I [??] 15 minutes [??]
Andrew: Then you just go right to bed?
Andrew: How is that with your wife? I find that if I want to go to sleep at 11:00 and she wants to stay up it’s rude to just get up and go to sleep or to force her to hit my schedule. She doesn’t want to wake up as early as I do.
Hugh: We have a great system. My wife goes to bed about an hour before I do and she gets up usually an hour after I do so I just slip in, I slip out and I’m like a ship in the night, I guess, and it works out really well. It’s just what we’ve done for years.
Andrew: But what about when you have to go out for, let’s say you’re going to have dinner with friends or go out for drinks-
Andrew: Or an evening out, I guess you just make exceptions on those nights?
Hugh: Yeah, and sometimes she does as well, so she’s a soccer player so some nights she’s out until late with the soccer girls, and that’s the way it is.
Andrew: Alright. Onto this becoming an expert.
Andrew: Do you take entrepreneurs like the people who listen to me, or the people who are like me, and help us become experts and become better speakers, and build a business around this?
Hugh: Exactly. What happened three years ago to me, Andrew, was just a bit of a backstory. The main person running my company at that time, my training business, my keynote business, went on maternity leave. And after placing ads and trying to replace her, I decided to shut down the office, the downtown office, and I moved into a small office a third of the size and for one year I worked on my own.
That’s when I discovered that I really wanted to work with entrepreneurs again, and I wanted to work with people that I really understood which were speakers and people that want to do training, write books, and authors. So I started to develop programs to help those people, and the first program I created, ”Team Coach”, was a year-long intensive where I would help them to grow their business. I literally got on the phone just like the old days and started phoning people and sold that program. And that’s now been-
Andrew: You sold it to the people who were taking it one at a time, over the phone?
Andrew: How’d you find them?
Hugh: I phoned people I knew who I knew were speakers or wanted to be speakers, I phoned some clients, I sent out one or two emails, and that was a huge success for me. And it really built my confidence in that genre of working with other experts.
Andrew: So what do you do if I’m an entrepreneur who comes to you and says, ”You know, I see a competitor of mine is suddenly looking like a genius because he’s always at the conferences, the conference organizers have a need to blow him up and make him sound important.”
Andrew: ”He’s getting clients out of it, he’s building a reputation, and I’m just sitting here with a better product, I’m a better person than he is, and he’s getting all this attention.” What do you say to someone like that?
Hugh: You know, it’s hard to compete with a resume. So when a person has a resume that is better than yours, that’s pretty hard to match. They’ve got the Ph.D., they have the 50-million dollar company, or they’re the Olympic athlete. So it’s hard to compete with that, but what you can compete with is a great performance. People always love a great presentation.
Hugh: They like… One of the things that speakers need to learn if they want to get into speaking businesses – it does all come down to those 60 minutes. The better you get at formulating an intelligent well-structured speech that has humor, insights, and poignant moments that make people go, ”Wow, that’s good” then the more valuable you become to the event planner. Because all of the event planners that I work with, and speaker bureaus would agree, it’s great the person has been an Olympic athlete or they climbed a mountain or they have that big famous company, but if they’re a dud on stage they’re a dud to me.
What they’re looking for is who’s going to take that 10:15 spot, who’s going to get people to lean-in, get them learning, hopefully laughing a little bit – who can do that for me? And if their resume isn’t as shiny as the next person, I still prefer that person who can make that happen. Because event planners have all experienced duds, and it’s not pleasant. So work on the presentation – that would be the number one thing.
Andrew: So how do you work on the presentation? How do you take what you know and get a presentation out of it that does all those things that you said? Make people learn, make people laugh, make people feel a little sad at times.
Hugh: Yeah. Well the first thing is you’ve got to, I would say challenge your own assumptions around what you think is good. So most speakers that come to me think they’ve got a great presentation, and quite frankly I listen to it or I watch the video, and I have to tell them it isn’t good enough. So, the first thing that people need to think about is that a speech is a performance, it’s not a bunch of rambling associated information, and it has to follow a template.
There’s a template that every speech should follow unless you want to be a humorist or you’re just simply an adventurer or an Olympic athlete. And that template helps you to have a kind of message that an audience can understand and pull lessons from. Then secondly what you have to do is you have to be willing to throw things away, because what happens is we get married to little pieces of content or stories that we think are so clever, but unless you have an objective view on it, you don’t really know if it’s valuable. So once you have the template in place, you need to get people to listen to what you’re doing and to objectively critique you [??] they can actually . . .
Hugh: Okay. The template . . . so do you want me to run through it?
Andrew: Yeah, because I’m on your website on . . .
Andrew: . . . ExpertsEnterprise.com/resources looking for it. I don’t see it here.
Hugh: Well, we’re going to have to add it, because it’s a bit of a trade secret . . .
Andrew: All right.
Hugh: . . . but I’ll give it to you right now, because it’s a really a gem.
Andrew: Okay. Hang on. Let me make one quick adjustment then. What is the template?
Hugh: The template starts with, and this is after you’ve done your mind dump, and you said, “Okay. What do I know about this subject,” and you’ve pulled up your Evernotes, and you’ve got everything you know about this subject, it starts with a problem. You have to tell the audience the problem that you know that they have. Everybody has a problem. If you’re speaking to an audience of entrepreneurs, they’ve got problems around profit, net returns, staffing, technology, overwhelm, doubt, self- confidence.
Andrew: A problem that I know that they have? Okay.
Hugh: Exactly right. They need to know in the first three minutes that you understand them. What a lot of speakers do is they say, “Thank you. I’m so glad to be here. Thanks for inviting me. I had a great taxi ride.” They’re just wasting time. It’s really insulting the audience. You need to start with a story or statistics or an example that makes the audience lean in and say to themselves, “Wow, he really knows me. That’s exactly what I’m going through.” Then you go into your story, and your story is how you’ve been there, you’ve had that problem, and ideally the story should be from when I had it to now I don’t have it.
Ideally it should be, “I had that problem, and now I’ve come up with some insights, and I don’t have it as much anymore, so I’m not as overwhelmed. My profit is better. I’ve had these client breakthroughs. I’ve solved this issue around technology.” And then we move into the solution. So problem, my story, and then the solution. And the solutions is, first of all, “Let me give you an overview. Let me give you some context. There’s a better way to run your business. This is the way you should think about business. Here’s the metaphor. Here’s the analogy I use.” It’s an overview. It’s what you hinge the next two or three points off of.
Hugh: Then you go into your lessons, and the lesson, or the points, you want to share with them would follow this formula: story, lesson, application. So you say, “Let me tell you a story.” You tell them a little vignette, a little client story, something that happened, and then you say, “This is what I learned.” That’s lesson number one. Then you say, “Here’s how you apply it. Let me give you examples.” So everyone in the room should be hearing, “Oh, man, that’s perfect for me. Oh, I can do that. I can go to bed and make a note before I go to bed. Oh, I can get up an hour earlier. That’s fantastic.”
Andrew: And I have to tell them that?
Hugh: You have to.
Andrew: So taking one of your examples, maybe it might be something like when I get up every day, from 7:00 to 9:00 I write, because I want to take advantage of the most productive time in my day to produce something that I’m proudest of. That’s the lesson. Use the morning as well as you can. How do I now show them how to apply it to their lives?
Hugh: Excellent. So for example, you could set your alarm clock. You could put a Post-It note up on your computer screen that says, “No e-mail.” So you give them three or four examples of how you know they could apply it.
Andrew: Got it.
Hugh: I don’t want to say that you have to dumb it down, but the audience is so distracted, most of them aren’t even taking notes, that you have to make it so explicit, that when they hear the lesson, “Get up earlier and do all your creative writing for two hours,” or whatever the lesson is, you have to go to the next step and say, “And here’s how to make it happen.”
Andrew: Okay. And happens [sounds like] after that? Now we’ve given them a few suggestions . . .
Hugh: One, two, three.
Andrew: . . . one, two, three. We’ve given them our story, clear message, and how they could apply it to their lives. What’s next?
Hugh: Now you go back to the problem. So now you mention the problem again. You remind them of why this is so important. You remind them of where they don’t want to go back to.
Hugh: Maybe you say, “I was just working with someone yesterday, and this is what happened. They started their company. They became blah, blah, blah,” and you give them another example, where they go, “Oh, man, that is exactly me.” So you remind them of the problem, and then you say, “All I need you to do now, my challenge for you is to take one of those three things and do it for one week, but you have to notice the difference.”
Now you talk about the first step you have to take: “I want you to write it down, I want you to turn to your neighbor, I want you to tell them the first thing that you’re going to do.” You want to move towards application, or what Martin Seligman would say… What did he call it? The “engagement phase,” right. I’m engaging in my new way of thinking. Then you wrap it up, and you say, “I’ve got a book at the back of the room for sale.” [laughs]
Andrew: You know what? I could see that working. I could see how it makes sense, and I like the emphasis on stories. The other thing that I hope anyone who’s listening will take away from this is, please, if you’re a speaker, don’t start off with five minutes of telling me what you’ve done and why you’re important. I get it, I’m listening, I’ve bought in. Just get started. I don’t care about you any more, I care about me now that I’m sitting here.
Hugh: You’re so right. It’s a bit ridiculous… We know you’ve either been paid or there’s some advantage you’re getting from this speech, so don’t tell me you’re happy to be there. We know you’re happy to be there. You’ve got to tell me why I should listen to you. One of the things that speakers have is this strange notion that they’re very important. The reality is…
Andrew: Actually, I’m sorry to disagree, but I think sometimes it’s the opposite. They feel like the audience thinks that they’re not important enough, and so they have to tell the audience why they should care…
Andrew: …I’m sorry…
Hugh: Yes. I agree.
Andrew: …I shouldn’t interrupt, I should let this be your…
Andrew: …interview and not mine, but this is one of the things that bugs me. In a similar vein, when moderators of panels start off asking guests, “Tell me a little about what you do, and then we’ll get into the questions,” when they ask each panelist to tell them about themselves, that goes on forever in the same way. When the person feels like they have to justify themselves and their appearance there, and each one will spend more time telling you how great they are, and no one cares…
Hugh: Very good. That’s exactly right. It’s really about value for time. You know, every speaker is between lunch and a break, or break and the bathroom, and you’ve only got this window of time. They might start you late, so your 60 minutes became 42 minutes, so any time that you waste on self-serving content is really insulting the audience. You’re there to serve. Speakers want to earn the high fees. They want to sell lots of books, and I really applaud that. I think it’s great.
And they have to realize they’re there to serve, first of all. The most powerful speakers, Andrew, that I’ve seen recently get up there in a very humble way and come to serve. They might be a bit humorous, and they might have a great story, but nobody’s thinking about their resume. Nobody’s comparing what degree they’ve got to whatever. What they want is someone who is authentic, who has something that helps me.
Andrew: That’s good advice. Alright. I’m just getting frustrated as we talk about this, because this is one of my pet peeves. I do say, actually, when people come to teach courses on Mixergy, I start off by saying… They create slides for us often, in the beginning, and the slides are five slides about why they’re important and why they should be speaking on it, and I say, “No, let’s cut all that out. We’re going to have two sentences, and people are going to understand why you’re important as you tell stories that illustrate the points that you’re teaching, and those stories will relate back to your business, and then they’ll get and understand your business through that.”
All right, I’ve got to get off of this, because, obviously, this gets me hot. I don’t get hot about politics. I don’t care if a Republican or a Democrat gets in office, but this stuff, for some reason, really drives me crazy. Anyway, Hugh, thank you so much for doing this interview. If people want to follow up, you probably want them to go to expertsenterprise.com, and I see you’re nodding. I’m going to say that’s not where they should go.
Hugh: It is where they should go.
Andrew: No, I think where they should go is expertsenterprise.com/resources.
Andrew: On the home page, yes, they can get your latest posts and they can see you on a unicycle. It’s a good page, but I actually think the resource page may be more important even for my audience, because that’s where you have the things that they could do. That’s where you have the PDFs like “My inbox is full. How do you get off email and back to priorities?” That’s where you talk about how to jumpstart your day. What do you think of me suggesting that that’s where they go instead?
Hugh: I love it. Let’s send them there.
Andrew: Let’s send them there. Thank you so much for doing this interview.
Hugh: Thank you, [sir]. Andrew, I love how excited you get about things that you care about, and I think that’s what keeps your podcast so relevant for listeners. It’s why I plug you in at 7:00 in the morning when I head out the door.
Andrew: I appreciate it. Now that you’ve seen it from the other side, you see a lot of work goes into this. First of all, we have to figure out who should be interviewed and who shouldn’t, and that’s a really tough process, especially if I sometimes have to tell people who I know, in the future, will be good guests but their companies are too early, I have to tell them, “No, it’s not a good fit.”
So we obviously wanted you to come on. The next step is we research you. Then we do a pre-interview with you, then we prep, and now, obviously, the interview is done. I have to send it to the editor, who will do some work to make sure that this comes across well. A lot of work goes into it, and if I’m going to put that work in, if the team here is going to put that work in, then it had better be for someone that I’m excited about having on, because if I’m not excited, how can I expect the audience to care?
Hugh: Great. Thank you for that.
Andrew: Well, Hugh, I’m very excited to have you on. I’m excited to have you, the listener, the reader, the viewer, being a part of this. Thank you so much for being a part of it. Bye, guys.
Hugh: My pleasure. Thanks, Andrew.
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