I just wanted to buy Nintendo games.
At 13, it’s what a lot of kids want. But with parents that refused to buy new games, I needed to find a way to do it myself. Another kid had cornered the market on cutting lawns in our neighborhood, so I had to come up with something new. This was the start of my entrepreneurial journey, whether I knew it or not.
I found a few family friends that had boats and offered to wax them regularly. Soon, the money started adding up, and my Nintendo library was growing. As I grew older, my interests shifted — I needed a car. I got a job at McDonald’s and worked extra hours at a family friend’s construction company. At one point, I was working at Disneyland, a candy store, a men’s apparel store and a pizza parlor. There wasn’t much I wouldn’t do.
Really, all this came down to one simple philosophy that I carry with me even today: If it’s going to be, it’s up to me. If I wanted something — a video game or a successful career — I had to work for it.
The Man With the BMW
Eventually, it was time to step it up a notch. But how?
The How pulled up to a TGI Friday’s in a shiny, new BMW while I attended a party inside. Out stepped a man I had never seen before, part of a world I didn’t know about — and I wanted in.
I approached him, asked where he worked and if he could get me a job. By that time the following week, I was in Thad Bennett’s office, the vice president of buyers and purchasers for Ingram Micro, then the largest employer in all of Orange County.
Bennett didn’t mince his words. “You have no marketable skills whatsoever,” he said. “But somehow you ended up in my office, and that shows me you’re resourceful.”
As I suspected, it wasn’t a high-profile degree or specialty skill set that got me in the door — call it strategy or, dare I say, audacity, but something about a fearless, driven attitude just hits different.
Started from the Bottom, Now We’re Here
Once I had my foot in the door, nothing could stop me. I took an aptitude test, and I landed in Ingram’s call center (but not for very long).
Everyone who listened knew I wanted to be in sales. Sometimes I even told them when I’d be in sales, as if it were a foregone conclusion. In my mind, it was.
I was an entrepreneur in an employee’s career. I wasn’t complaining — I just knew I could do more. Eventually, I did get sent to sales, and later, I placed the first purchase order Apple ever received for the original iPod, back in 2002. That was a defining moment in my career.
And naturally, my entrepreneurial itch became harder to scratch.
Grow the Dough
My last stop at Ingram was its marketing and advertising department where I worked on Buy.com’s account, and the company eventually hired me to work for it directly. E-commerce was an exploding landscape, and I had an innovative idea: to identify programs that could be monetized online and provide real value for the manufacturer advertiser.
That’s when I created a package called “Grow the Dough.” It addressed a trend that I noticed early on: Most brands retailers saw market share as a finite resource. They were pouring all their energy into increasing revenue by stealing market share from competitors, like Circuit City or trying to woo Best Buy customers. But instead of cutting the pie into smaller pieces, why not just make the pie bigger?
Intel, the first whale I got to buy into this idea, was an easy sell. If Intel was on board, who else would be lining up? I thought I was on top of the world.
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From Recession to Channel Bakers
The 2008 recession crippled me. My wife and I lost everything. I didn’t know what I would do next, but I knew something bigger was waiting. And I knew if it was going to be, it was up to me.
I couldn’t stop thinking about how I could help other channel marketers and salespeople capitalize on internet retail channels. I knew I could combine the most powerful concepts from search and merchandising to create an entirely new marketing strategy — what I coined searchandising.
When my wife and I next visited her parents, I promised them that I could change our lives by starting my own business. We drove home in a minivan with their blessing — all we had left, really — and all I could think about was how to tap into the resourcefulness that the vice president of Ingram Micro noticed in me years before.
Suddenly, I pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot — not to get my old job back, but to use the free Wi-Fi to register the domain for Channel Bakers, where we grow your dough.
I completely bootstrapped the company without a dime in my pocket. It was just me, at first, and I worked out of our spare bedroom and Starbucks. Now, Channel Bakers has more than 250 employees around the world, managing almost half a billion in media spend, helping more than 340 brands get exactly what they need to succeed on a global scale.
Pay It Forward
After building Channel Bakers into what it is today, my goal is to educate, mentor and reward entrepreneurs — even at the employee level.
All of our employees are encouraged to be entrepreneurs. Resourcefulness is held above all else. And if they want something, they’re going to have to make it happen by bringing value to the table.
For example, one Channel Bakers employee came to us nearly five years ago after working in sales for years. Now, he’s the director of creative services — a brilliant, talented mind who manages our video production studio. And he’s not the only one. Several Channel Bakers interns have worked their way up to director status, leading teams of 10, 20 or even 40 people.
That’s the thing I’m after: letting others use that entrepreneurial spirit to shine their brightest and develop the leaders of tomorrow.
The True Entrepreneurial Spirit
Whenever you get knocked down — and you will get knocked down — get up as quickly as possible. No one’s going to wait for you. But you can do it.
We have a quote on the wall in our Albert Einstein conference room that I believe sums up my journey: “Try not to become a man of success, but rather a man of value.” In other words, don’t worry about the titles along the way or the promotion that you didn’t get. Every day, bring more value to the world than it had the night before. That’s what makes an entrepreneur.