What Selling Drugs taught me about Entrepreneurship

my past greatest asset

 

Editor’s Note: this is not satire, but rather one of those true life events that shaped who I am today

Entrepreneurs quickly discover that mistakes often present an opportunity to learn and to grow—if we do not repeat those mistakes.

I struggle with the word “mistake” because when we knowingly do something wrong, chances are we did a pretty good job breaking the rules. So, in my case, my “mistakes” were really “on purposes” that I regret.  I’ve learned from those wrongs, but I have also learned a lot while doing those wrongs—skills that made me a successful entrepreneur. So while two wrongs don’t make a right, it is possible to make something right of wrong.

Hurt people hurt people.

And broken people break rules.

I broke them all because I was hurting.

Desperately trying to kill the pain of a childhood that had gone very wrong for me, I began drinking alcohol at the age of 12. I was sexually victimized at the age of five, and forced to watch my little sister get raped. My sister and I were molested by several babysitters, tortured by one, and abandoned by our father who should have been there to protect us from these monsters. And though he wasn’t a pervert, our stepfather, whose name I unfortunately bear, was both physically and psychologically abusive.

I spent nearly every day of my teen years gacked to the nines on marijuana, meth, cocaine, LSD, and other hardcore drugs. My self-esteem was so damaged, I could not be with friends unless I was inebriated, for fear they would hate the real me. After all, I hated myself.

To insulate myself from negative feedback, I should right now, right here denounce drugs, take a stand against substance abuse, and declare myself forever clean and sober.

But I am who I am and that’s not who I am. Hypocrisy is a horrible lifestyle and I never again want to go back to that place. The fact is, drugs gave me a warm safe place to run. A place where I could escape the pain for a little while. And a place that kept me from killing myself.

I’m an addict whether on a binge or sober for 18 years, as I now am. Give me anything and I just get addicted fast and hard. I will forever have a love-hate relationship with drugs. Be honest, if you ever been to the other side, you know it’s not fair that life doesn’t always feel so good.

But the first fact of life is that life doesn’t always feel good. And while it feels good to break the rules, there’s always a toll collector to pay at the end of the highway.

While I’m not proud of this, the fact is, through dealing drugs I learned various components of running a business, how to leverage the ebb and flow of supply and demand, and how to develop entrepreneurial skills. And the irony of having this shameful background is that I would not have years later sold millions of dollars in public relations services, helped so many impoverished children and victims of violence through my work, and with my family’s history, and with the overwhelming pain in my teenage heart, I would have killed myself.

So, making good out of bad, here’s what I learned from my “on purpose” mistake I made while I was a teenaged minor.

Planning

I learned early on to plan my days ahead of time. Doing so kept me organized and ensured that I kept the commitments I made. Drug addicts are not known for rising early or punctuality. But to succeed, I needed to plan my days and stick to it. If a dealer is late to picking up the goods (usually in a supermarket parking lot or some back road) his connection might get paranoid and think a bust is going down. Plus, he or she has other appointments. Time is money.  If the dealer is late to meeting a customer, the sale could be lost. Competition was fierce and the wolf is always at the door.

Entrepreneurial Lessons Learned

Regardless of the line of work one is in, being dependable and consistent builds businesses. Not being dependable will catch up with you and it will hurt the bottom line. Dependability and consistency are rooted in planning. Though planning seems obvious, it is obvious that many entrepreneurs fail to plan, as I have seen time and again. Begin each day, week, month, quarter and year with a solid strategic plan.

Goal Setting

Every good plan is supported goals. As a teenaged minor, I could barely earn above the minimum wage, which was $3.35 an hour. With a drug addiction that was eight miles high, I knew I needed to supplement my legal income. So, I had to set goals in order to create the steps within my plan that would enable me to earn enough to pay my expenses and make a profit.

Entrepreneurial Lessons Learned

Goals are necessary to stay in business. By establishing goals, we go beyond the wish list and create actionable steps to achieving what intend to accomplish. Once we accomplish or fail to accomplish those steps we can determine if the problem was in the goal itself (too aggressive, wrong timeframe, etc.), in any of the steps, or with those involved in the process.

As the CEO of a public relations agency, I can attest that when I get lax and do not set goals, chaos or failure follow. When we do set goals, we don’t hit our target 100% of the time, but we are far more successful than when we don’t.

Customer Service

Even the rough and tumble underworld of drug dealing is not immune from customer service, at least on the lower level where I played. Customers in need were friends indeed, but let them down once, you could lose their business to the competition. Mistakes happened, but when they did, I quickly learned to communicate what happened to the extent I could, ask what I could do to make it right, and if necessary, provide a discount or even freebie. Moreover, keeping in contact with my client base was essential to understand their expectations and discover what other opportunities to serve them might exist.

Entrepreneurial Lessons Learned

Customer service goes beyond fixing problems or answering online complaints with a canned response. Keeping in touch with your customer base is essential to determining how others perceive your business and its performance, identifying new opportunities, and spotting new trends. Many costly yet unprofitable advertising campaigns could have been cheaper and more effective had the business paid attention what their customers were saying, and just as importantly, what many were not saying.

Play the part, but be yourself

Even in the jungle of drugs, I learned to act like a knowledgeable professional. But over time, and in the environment I was in, I learned to allow my unique personality to shine through. It was during this process that I began to fix my shattered self esteem.  I also found that being myself, while being professional earned trust. And I found people do business with people they trust.

The business world is froth with fakes and frauds. In fact, I have found it to be a rougher world than the streets. Time and again, I’ve seen betrayal, cheating, and broken promises just so one person can get ahead, be accepted, or make the deal. And I think a lot of this is the result of seeing others as objects, not fellow humans with needs, emotions, and dreams. Many of my customers in the drug world were broken, damaged people. I learned quickly to accept them as they were, share a little bit about me, and just be myself and let them be them. This resulted in trust, which made it easier to stay in business regardless of mounting competition.

Entrepreneurial Lessons Learned

Keep in mind we’re all in this together. Each of us deep inside wants to do a good job, help others, and go home to a loving family…or pet. Care about your customers and take genuine interest in your prospects. Be professional and let a blend of your true self shine through.  Respect those who compete with you, especially if they are in your own company. You may take a few hits doing so as there are those who will take advantage of you. But, evil always tells on itself and in the end, good prevails. You will come out ahead as people who trust you will become loyal clients.

Do what you Love, not what makes Money

There is a lot of glamour in the drug world. Everyone wants to be your friend or companion. Money is easy and the party seems as if it will never end. For a season, I had the time of my life.

But the party has to end sometime. I didn’t get busted or overdose, but there was no question I was imprisoned in my own mind and no more than a walking dead man. I got tired of living a lie. So, eventually I quit. I made radical changes to do so, which included enlisting in the army and moving far away. But that decision changed my life. Today I’m alive, I create jobs, I serve a purpose. I own a public relations firm and have sold several millions of dollars in services during our twelfth year in business. And there is nothing I love more to do than what I’m doing now—writing for an audience I do not know and touching the hearts of those I may never meet.

Entrepreneurial Lessons Learned

Are you happy? Do you really love what you do? Or is it misery? Are you doing it to make a living? If you’re not happy, you’re living a lie and need to get out. It may take time to make the change, but get started doing that one thing to get you there today. Then take the next step tomorrow. Another step the next day.

I’ve had to ask myself the same questions even as CEO of my agency. I had to consider if I wanted to sell, get out, and take an executive job somewhere. There were times I felt I was going insane, especially when I was the only one committed to the company rather than just committed to a paycheck. Moreover, there were times I felt like I was again living a lie, but now it was legal. I remembered the life of a hypocrite and just didn’t want to go back there again. So I took steps. And more steps. And am even taking steps now…but I’m getting there. You will too.

Summing it up

The goal of this story is to convey no matter where you may have gone wrong in life, you can make something right out of the wrong. Don’t just learn from your mistakes in order not to repeat them, but learn some good stuff you gained while doing the bad. Perhaps you chose the wrong path, made the wrong deal, or were, like I was, out on the street scratching to survive.  Life seems to offer forgiveness and second chances for the asking. So get up and start walking the right direction. In so doing, you will ultimately reach the right destination.

The Failure Fad is Failing those who don’t have to Fail 

Failure

Are you bound to fail?

Probably not. However, current rhetoric would lead one to believe that slow train is coming. It’s just stopping at every station before it gets to yours.

Failure has become a more popular topic over the past few years than it ever has been. It’s got its own Twitter hashtag. It’s been the headline of numerous blogs. It lurks in every social media corner. In nearly every venue, somebody is offering advice about why failure can make you stronger and how to manage when it happens.

In fact, I recently saw a tweet that said, “If you haven’t failed at least 5x today, you haven’t tried enough new things.”

I would submit that one who fails five times each day probably wouldn’t pass a field sobriety test.

Let’s take a closer look at who’s chatting about failure. Many times it’s the once-relevant trying to remain relevant. Among those are the former stars of the American Speakers Bureau, those who we paid plenty to see and hear them preach from their own books about setting goals, getting motivated, and managing time. Now, there’s nothing new under the sun and they’ve run out of material, so it’s time to hop on the failure wagon train.

It’s gotten so out of hand, one might feel like a failure if he or she doesn’t fail.

All of us to some degree live lives of quiet intimidation—in the big things, and especially the little things. The prophets of disaster who would have us believe that failure is inevitable should be incarcerated. Or at least duct taped and locked in a closet in an abandoned asbestos-ridden office complex.

The late great Earl Nightingale often said, “You become what you think about.” Solomon, the son of David wrote, “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.” In the classic movie The Phantom Tollbooth, King Azaz the Unabridged said, “Words are very powerful things.”

If you believe and profess you must experience failure as a part of building and growing a business or a career, you are going to do things that will lead to losing. Everything we create begins with a thought, and failure is not exempt from that list.

I am not suggesting that one can think positively and parrot empty affirmations and avoid failure. I just truly believe that subscribing to today’s failure fad is setting oneself up for trouble. Moreover, he who teaches a child she must fail is twice a son of perdition than he who would cause his own demise.

There are two extreme sides of the failure spectrum. One of course says, “Failure is inevitable!” Another says, “Failure is impossible!” I think Huxley would tell us neither is right nor wrong. It depends on the person, really. Some people are actually lucky. Some learn from other’s mistakes. Some just work hard, do all the right things and succeed.

There was a time when business leaders, true entrepreneurs, and those with career goals shared a common enthusiasm. Those who were willing to dream heroic dreams and act upon them believed and professed that they would succeed often did.

When I was a little boy, we used to sing a song that said, “Be careful little eyes what you see…be careful little ears what you hear…”

It is possible to make a million mistakes and not fail. It’s possible to sail across the ocean, arrive weather torn, and yet reach your destination. Anything is possible, because all things are possible.

It is also possible to succeed without failing five times a day, or maybe even never. I encourage you not to subscribe to the lure of following a manufactured belief system that will do nothing more than short-circuit your dreams.

Keep your eyes, ears, and your mind on what wish to achieve, not what others think might happen.

And, as I tell my little girl when she’s scared by a midnight storm, “every little thing will be all right.”

This article was published by Ken Kilpatrick in the February edition of Lehigh Valley Business

Buzzwords Land Candidate an Executive-Level Job Offer

buzzword ron

LabelPower, Inc., a global manufacturer of industrial battery labels has named Ronald Gelb as the company’s National Sales Manager. He will work out of a shared cubicle space at LabelPower’s Perth Amboy, New Jersey headquarters.

Gelb most recently worked as an assistant manager at Best Buy in Boston, Massachusetts. Prior to that, he held a number of assistant retail jobs in various malls and shopping centers throughout New England.

Competition was extremely competitive as approximately 35 candidates applied for the position.

The process took nearly 10 months to complete as the search committee needed to work around qualified candidates’ schedule conflicts, which included children’s band practice, sporting events, and job interviews with other companies.

“We were willing to be patient with the candidates’ priorities and were grateful for their honesty,” said LabelPower spokeswoman Charlotte Gladfelter. “In the past, we had sales managers who stole sales leads from their staff, lied about being sick whether or not they showed up to work, and gave LabelPower refrigerator magnets to family members instead of prospective customers.”

Sources close to the search committee indicated that Gelb was not always in the lead for the position, and in fact, was often trailing other candidates.

“It wasn’t until the ninth interview that we knew for certain that Ron was the one,” the source disclosed. “But just like in a good horse race, sometimes a guy wins by a whisker.”

When asked why candidates were subjected to so many interviews, the source explained, “As executives, we are never really sure about what we want and are often unable to make simple decisions such as filling positions that have high turnover due to the way we treat people. Plus, it makes us feel important when we see these desperate men and women return time and again to face the same questions and take repetitive drug screening tests.”

The source also said the decision to select Gelb came down to buzzwords and clichés, something LabelPower considers a best practice.

“Ron used more buzzwords more times with more passion than any other candidate,” the source said. “He said all the right things such as ‘onboarding, high level, the ball being in our court, the workload he anticipated having on his plate, how he would touch base from the road,’ – you name it, Ron said it. He had a buzzword that struck a chord with each member of our search committee, which more than sufficiently made up for the myriad of gaps on his resume.”

“But there was one thing that got our collective motors running,” the source continued. “He began summarizing his qualifications with saying, ‘at the end of the day…’ That was the magic moment that had us all convinced that we had found our National Sales Manager. People who often say ‘at the end of the day’ sound important—they verbally paint a portrait of that peaceful evening feeling of a job well done. It also makes them sound smart. We’re counting on Ron to train our entire sales staff to say ‘at the end of the day’ at least twice during sales presentations, and during intimate moments with their spouses.”

Gelb told a reporter in a telephone interview that he was delighted to be selected for the position and would be rendering a decision as soon as LabelPower’s top competitor let him know if they would bring him onboard for a dollar more an hour than the search committee’s offer.

“At the end of the day, it all boils down to dollars,” Ron said.buzzword ron

Get on board for the Imminent Internet 3.0 Gold Rush

Bill Gates Internet 3.0

Twenty years ago this month, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates looked into the future and predicted how the Internet would function today — and most importantly what that would mean for small businesses.

In a paper entitled “Content is King,” Gates predicted much of the “real money” would be made on the Internet and no business would be too small to participate. How right he was!

Never in the history of the United States has there existed so much opportunity for anyone with a marketable business idea to become an entrepreneur as a result of technological advancements of the past two decades.

Compared to the technological advances of even just the past two years, 1996 looks like a modern-day stone age.

The crawling World Wide Web was just learning to walk. Landline phones, fax and courier services served as our main modes of communication. The Yellow Pages were used to seek services and the White Pages to find friends.

CompuServe and AOL were the big names in connecting people online through the lure of chat rooms. Websites were few, and less than 1 percent of the world was connected to the Internet through the painfully “fast” 56K-speed modem.

Today, email and cloud-based services such as Dropbox have taken a huge slice out of jockeying important documents. Used creatively, Salesforce.com empowers a sales team of one to be as effective as a team of seasoned business developers.

Google has pretty much replaced phone books and has given us access to every research venue imaginable, enabling small and midsized businesses to acquire vast amounts of data that were once unaffordable.

Facebook has quieted chat rooms and message boards and has become an extremely powerful tool for retail and business-to-consumer companies.

Now, much of the world is connected to the Internet at lightning speed — all accessible from smartphones, which, by the way, replaced the highly innovative and panache flip-phone of the ’90s.

Apps downloaded to today’s smartphones can empower an entrepreneur to run a profitable business anywhere from a small apartment to a coffee shop to an office complex.

Overnight Success

Flash back to 1996, when the word “entrepreneur” was mentioned, great business leaders such as Gates, Ted Turner and Warren Buffet came to mind. Competing against corporate giants was typically not an option for small and midsized business.

That is no longer the case. Today, anyone with a Mac and something to sell can become a successful entrepreneur and create new jobs.

What a difference two decades can make. Or, these days, two years, two months and even two weeks.

Never before has there existed so vast an opportunity to become an overnight success.

Internet of Things (IoT)

So what does this small slice of history teach us?

Now, there’s a storm on the edge of the sky. It’s called the Internet of Things, or IoT. What we consider progress since the birth of the Internet will be miniscule in just four years as we celebrate the new decade.

Today, IoT is most evident on the consumer side, such as smart watches and other wearable devices.

However, great opportunity exists in the business community — just like the Internet “Gold Rush” of 20 years ago. IoT will enable businesses to automate in ways once unimaginable, reduce labor costs and compete globally like never before.

Most importantly, IoT will open a floodgate of possibilities for small and midsized businesses.

Seize the Opportunity

There is a huge advantage businesses now have that most did not in 1996: We know the Gold Rush is coming. In fact, it is here. Now is the time to seize the opportunity, because, on the flip side, never before has there been a time where so many can easily become “here today, gone later today.”

IoT will be both a blessing and a curse. Many will prosper, but seating is limited.

It will be a blessing to entrepreneurs who are now determining how IoT can benefit their business, developing a strong online marketing strategy in response to their findings, while fully establishing their online presence through consistently producing meaningful content.

Conversely, IoT will be a curse to those who will become obsolete by trying to get in too little, too late.

Ken Kilpatrick is president of Sylvia Marketing & Public Relations, a Philadelphia area-based agency specializing in getting clients in the news, or out of the news. He can be reached at 610-323-3500 or ken@sylviamarketing.com.

Peerless Solutions Goes to the Cloud Like Everyone Else

 

cloud

Peerless Solutions announced today that it has gone to the cloud.

Flanked by C-Level staff and company sycophants, Peerless CEO Marvin Lipperman remarked, “This is truly a monumental milestone in our company’s history.  We wanted to make this occasion a press event so we can show the business community that we have moved to the cloud like everyone else.”

The company’s logo and its motto, “Me Too!” proudly adorned the backdrop behind Lipperman. Peerless Solutions’ orange logo consisted of the company’s initials, PS, within a sphere and under an arch, much like a lot of other business’s logos.  Freelance graphic designers and those who sell their services on the99designs website organized in 2010 to create a “standard of standards” to ensure equity and mediocrity throughout the industry. After companies across the world adopted logos that virtually mirrored each other, Peerless initiated the bold move of doing the same.

Lipperman said that his team’s strategy of moving into the cloud further demonstrates Peerless’s commitment to being like everyone else while claiming innovation.

“People like predictability and routines,” Lipperman said to a cheering crowd of subordinates. “Peerless is committed to coloring within the lines and ensuring sustainability to that which was once new and innovative.”

There is no question that Peerless excels at fitting in. In 2011, the company sent out a mass mailer that it was going green, a move executives thought was important after years of watching other organizations grandstand about their commitment to the environment.

Launching its move to the cloud, Peerless has opened accounts with Dropbox, Google Docs, and MailChimp. Executives plan to drive to Barnes & Noble to seek Dummies books to better understand the benefits of each of these applications.

“We’re not just in the cloud—we’re squeezing the Charmin!” Lipperman said as his underlings rose to a standing ovation.

During his closing remarks, Lipperman announced the company would discontinue its practice of awarding retiring executives gold watches and instead give them Fitbit wristbands.

“This move will both demonstrate our commitment to being a healthy company, which we embarked upon last year after noticing many other businesses doing the same, as well as promote a product that everyone is buying,” Lipperman said.  “Our next goal is to create a corporate Myspace page.”