Even if entrepreneurship runs in your blood, to make it in the long-term, you need the proper mindset.
Business leader and entrepreneur, Aaron Scott Young, joined me for a two-part interview series to talk about what it takes to be an entrepreneur, and what is required from a business leader to create a strong, sustainable company.
A renowned entrepreneur, Aaron has more than 30 years of experience and several multi-million dollar companies under his belt. He’s made it his life’s work to arm business owners with success formulas that immediately provide exponential growth and protection. Aaron is also the host of his podcast, The Unshackled Owner.
This is Part 1 of our conversation — catch Part 2 here.
Check out this episode if you want to learn:
- Why effective leaders know when to step down
- The 20-step formula for business growth
- How to relinquish control but still make money
🎧 Listen to the podcast here:
Business Leadership In These Trying Times With Aaron Scott Young – Part 1
You’ve already achieved so much in life! How did you do it?'Successful entrepreneurs are those who see opportunities that other people don't.' Click To Tweet
First of all, I never graduated from university. I was employing people while other people my age were attending classes, going to games. My first company with a payroll, I started before my 19th birthday (with) three employees. (That was in) December of ‘82 — I had it for several years and then sold it. I was one of the first guys in recycling in the early ‘80s, (and) cellular phones.
My only job was VP of Sales for a large NASDAQ-traded multinational, (with) about 350 offices around the world. I was young (at 29 years old, and) made a lot of money in the stock.
At 32, 33-years old, I began buying and selling businesses. Now, it’s around building companies, helping them to grow from $10 million to $100 million, $50 million to $200 million. That’s where I am now.
You were only 19 when you started your own company! What was your inspiration?
I needed money for Christmas presents!
As Boy Scouts, we’d go out on these paper drives, pick up old newspapers, and we could earn money for the scouting troop. I (knew) how to do that, so I borrowed a pickup truck, went out and started knocking (on) doors. In about a week, I had netted over $3000, which was a lot of money back then. Some people would argue it’s a decent amount of money now, for a week’s worth of work.
When I went back (to school) for the winter semester, I don’t even know if I got any grades that semester, but I did take a map of the city of Portland, Oregon. (I) laid out routes, tried to estimate where most people would be taking the newspaper, (and) created a little flyer system with another friend of mine so we could keep track. It (was) all analog and handwritten, but we (knew) where to go, how (to) keep track of hundreds of accounts.
Within a year, (we had) over 5000 accounts. I even went on a mission for the church that I belonged to for a couple of years and made money every day that I was gone.
When I came back, I met this girl, (and) I wanted to get married. I didn’t want to be what I considered a garbage man, (taking) old newspapers out to people’s garages and basements. I sold my (part) in it, and I got a bunch of money.
Cellular phones were brand new — the big Motorola (phones were) sold (for) $3000. I bought my first inventory of cellular phones, became an agent for GT Mobile, built it up to multiple locations and dozens of employees. (Then) the whole industry changed in one meeting one day, which yanked the rug out.
I started a couple of little things that weren’t as big a deal as I’d hoped they would be, but it kept the lights on. Then I got asked out to lunch one day by the CEO of this public company. I didn’t even know if I’d be qualified to ever have a job working for anybody. He talked to me for a long time about the idea of being employed, before he ever said what the job was.
I couldn’t believe that he wanted me to be the vice president of a significant business as a 29-year-old with no education, but I’d learned how to do things that they needed: how to (create) something, (and) build systems around it to make it work even when you’re not there — (and then) how to sell a business. I learned all of it very young, so it wasn’t scary for me.
Most people who start a business don’t see an end. I have always seen it as a short-term thing like, ‘I’m going to build it and make it better. At some point, it will outgrow me and then I need to give it to somebody else to take care of.’
If you can make the mental disconnect from ‘this is my baby’ to ‘this is something that I’m trying to improve’ — it’s been able to help me. I don’t jump from one person’s project to another. These are my projects, I’m not a consultant or anything.
That has led to a very fascinating group of associates, boards, opportunities that if you’d asked me years ago if this could happen, I wouldn’t have even known how to conceive of it, let alone to imagine doing it.
How on earth did you have that way of thinking at such a young age?
The successful entrepreneurs that I know have a mix of two things. One, they see opportunities that other people don’t see. There are strategic things that starts happening in your brain, and it happens constantly.
My wife is an artist, and if we look out across our property, we’ve got 25 acres of a little horse farm. I see a barn, a tree, some horses, a fence that needs repair. What she’s seeing is layers of colour. She has this vision that’s natural to her, that if she explains it to me, I start to see it, but it’s not natural (for me).
The ones that are born entrepreneurs like I was — you can’t help it. That doesn’t mean you become successful, (it just) means you can’t turn it off. Most entrepreneurs are broke — they talk a big game, but they don’t have the skillset to look at a project with a dispassionate enough eye to kill certain things that aren’t working, to invest in things that they don’t personally like.
The (person) that can be both (a) visionary, see an opportunity and (be) pragmatic enough to do things — they’re the ones who break out of the quagmire and start to make money.
(Those who have the) third characteristic — which is the ability to (know) when it’s time to replace yourself — they’re the ones that get rich. Doing what I’ve done has given me the ability to not only do lots of fun things, and get my fingers in lots of interesting pots, but also to have a tremendous amount of control over my time, and to live in circumstances (that) most people dream about.
I came from no money. Dad was working two jobs, Mom was doing daycare. I had to start figuring out how to make money. I started my first business at four, (selling) little pictures that I drew to the neighbours. That’s not a business, that’s your neighbours taking pity on a little child. By the time I was 14, 15 years old, I was working regularly and making money.
By the time I was 16, I had taken the work I was doing — painting apartments — (and took) control of my own destiny.'Money is based on nothing but goodwill, and money is just a paper.' Click To Tweet
Once I got talking to the (apartment) owner (and) cut the (building) managers out, I started making more money. If you can see the opportunity, be pragmatic, and be willing to do work that you don’t necessarily want to do for a while — and if you’re willing to allow somebody else to be the manager (and) get the credit while you still have the ownership — that’s when you start making money. As long as you have to show up for work, you’re making less money than if you would let other, smarter people build the company bigger than you can make it.
You sit back and collect cheques. That might sound ridiculous to people, but it is the way that it works. Look at Warren Buffett, he says he works six to eight hours a day. Henry Ford famously said, ‘Most men spend so much time working, there’s no time left to make money.’
The way it works is look for opportunities, figure out how to fill the need, and then as fast as you can possibly afford to do it, put other people (in charge) who are better at information technology, sales, marketing, human resources, research and development, manufacturing, whatever it is you’re doing. Get people better qualified in those little parts of the business, bring them in, you make less money, pay them more money, let the thing grow.
Soon, you’re making good money because the company has grown beyond where that entrepreneur could have ever taken it on their own. That’s how you do it. That’s the idea of becoming unshackled. If you have to be the smartest person in the room, if you love people lined up outside your door, then you’ll always be a slave to your business.
A lot of people associate me with (Laughlin Associates). I was 29 years old when I bought it — I worked my butt off in there for a couple of years but now, I haven’t even walked in the door for over three and a half years.
Is it a great business? Yes. Are we working on growing it to much greater heights? Yes. Do other people have leadership roles? Yes. Do I go there? No. Why? Because I’ll screw it up. I’ll get in the middle of stuff. I’ll make a quick entrepreneurial knee-jerk reaction to something, which messes up what professional management (has done) to build a multi-million dollar company with tens of thousands of clients.
It’s so much better for me to be keeping the management group focused on the big goals of where we’re going, (rather) than me being the one in the trench, doing the work.
Ego can play a big role in business, confusing priorities between what needs to get done, and what feels good to get done. Less than 10% of small businesses make $100,000.
Only 4% of companies ever break $1 million in annual revenue. Somebody who claims to be self-employed or a business owner — the median income in the last census was $25,000. I’m telling you, most of those people are broke.
Mark Cuban was paying other people, and then tells the story of eating ketchup packets (from) McDonald’s because he couldn’t afford to buy a hamburger. He was employing other people, but he was eating ketchup instead of meat.
I was with Daymond John doing an event, and he told the story of having two FUBU shirts. He would go to these rappers, have (them) wear a shirt up on stage, and get bunch of pictures. He’d take the shirt home, wash it, and get somebody else to wear it, until he could get enough people to (wear it).
Somebody said, ‘You made so much money.’ He goes, ‘I lost my marriage, my family. I burned through $30 million in a few years, because I didn’t understand why business worked.’ He couldn’t duplicate it.
Almost everybody that ever has a big blowout, and they make millions, billions of dollars — most of them spend the rest of their life depressed, because they never recreate that very big success. The reason they don’t recreate it is because they don’t know why it happened.
I’ve built a whole bunch of relatively small businesses (and) multi-million dollar companies in all kinds of industries, because I understand a formula that works if you follow (it). Most people don’t have the guts to follow the formula, because they either get greedy, or they’re impatient.
I always tell people, ‘If you have a recipe for chocolate chip cookies and you follow the recipe, you’re not going to get a trombone. You’re not even going to get bread, or a salmon. You’re going to get chocolate chip cookies every single time.’
Once you make that recipe a bunch of times, you might figure out ways to improve the recipe. As soon as you go into the pantry, start grabbing random ingredients and throwing them in, you don’t know what you’re going to get. You say you want chocolate chip cookies, but you did a bunch of random BS garbage, and then you wonder why you didn’t get the result you wanted.
The result is because you didn’t follow the recipe. If you follow the recipe, you’re going to have success. They may not be the best chocolate chip cookies. You might burn them, make them raw in the middle, but you will 100% of the time get chocolate chip cookies.
It’s like the economy. People think they know why the economy works, (but) they don’t. Almost nobody understands why so many things are done by the US government, for instance. They don’t understand (why) the US dollar is the currency of last resort for the whole world. Why do we go in and fight wars? Because we have to make sure that our economy and our dollar stays exactly where we want it. If all of a sudden everybody starts trading in their dollars for pounds, dinar, or euros, we’re in real trouble.
The economy works because people believe in it. People want to believe it’s a math formula, (but) it’s not. It’s emotional for the most part. Money is based on nothing but goodwill, and money is just a paper. Our dollars are not based on anything except for the strength of our economy and the strength of our military. When we say, ‘We want to defend borders,’ people will go, ‘That’s not fair.’ If you understood why, you’d go, ‘It’s because all of this is very tenuous, if we don’t follow the formula.’
We’ve seen it in the recession in ‘08, in COVID-19, and how fast businesses can be affected by protests, anarchy, or whatever you want to call it. It takes very little to disrupt the normal day-to-day. If we don’t follow formulas, everything goes to chaos very quickly.
In business, it’s all very immediate. If you don’t follow a formula, you will sit there and scratch your head and go, ‘I don’t understand. I’m working so hard.’
‘I have this great idea. I’m not sure if anyone wants to buy it, but it’s a great idea.’
‘Everybody should be excited about it because I’m excited about it.’ Folks, there’s a formula. As a matter of fact, if you can get your hands on the book called The Critical Twenty, I lay out the 20 steps that start with, ‘Is your idea any good?’ It ends with, ‘When is it time to replace yourself?’ I have my Unshackled Owner Class and Unshackled Leadership Class.
We’ve done this for companies from startups, law firms, hedge funds, farms, (companies in) agriculture, manufacturing — car lots. It always works if you follow the formula.
For the readers in leadership, (it’s) all about getting others to believe in the vision of where we’re going together. That’s what leadership is. You heard it in Sunday school: there are sheep-herders and there are shepherds. The sheep-herder uses dogs to push the sheep. They force them to go in a direction.
Shepherds have the trust and confidence of the herd. They walk out, and the flock follows them, because the shepherd always takes good care of them. ‘The shepherd seems to know where to go so that we’re safe, there’s food and water. I better follow that leader.’
That’s what leadership is about: having a vision, not assuming more about yourself than is true, being an honest person (with) integrity, (and bringing) in help when you need it.
If we lead by example like Mark Cuban did, paying people while he was eating ketchup packets — you will say, ‘He’s a billionaire now. He owns Dallas Mavericks.’ He paid a price to surround himself with great people, to follow a formula. His payday would come later, (and) it (came) bigger than everybody else.'Leadership is all about getting others to believe in the vision of where we're going together.' Click To Tweet
I’m not saying people are sheep — I’m saying people will follow somebody who’s (a) visionary, kind, and looking out for their best interests. If you understand that, and follow a formula of building a business in a systematic way, you can have a level of success. If you can duplicate it enough times and keep scaling up, soon you can live like people that you watch on TV or you read about.
Many people you’ve never heard of are very humble, wonderful, regular people. You’d never know they’re a gazillionaire. They keep following the formula and the money keeps rolling in.
That’s what leadership is about. Leadership is about having a vision, getting other people enlisted, letting them grow (and) be fully actualized. You keep everybody on track, and you’re worth millions of dollars.
📌 Important Links:.
- Aaron Scott Young
- The Unshackled Owner Podcast
- ‘The Critical Twenty’ by Aaron Scott Young
- Unshackled Owner Class
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