Even though you feel like being an entrepreneur is something that already runs in your blood, you still have to have the proper mentality to tackle whatever it is you will face in the actual field. Business leader entrepreneur, Aaron Scott Young, joins host, Jeffrey Edwards, in this two-part interview series to talk about what it takes to be an entrepreneur, especially as a leader. They discuss the state of the business these days and what is required from a business leadership perspective to establish a strong and sustainable company. Listen in on this episode to learn more about entrepreneurship in this trying time and why following the formula will help you further on.
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Business Leadership In These Trying Times With Aaron Scott Young – Part 1
Thank you for joining. It’s great to have you here and to be a part of your day. This episode is part 1 of 2 with business leader entrepreneur, Aaron Young. He has built a number of successful companies and has been a mentor, trainer and coach to many CEOs around the world. I sat down with Aaron, and we talked about what it takes to be a leader and talking also about the state of business these days and what is required from a business leadership perspective to establish a strong and sustainable company. Here’s my part one, my interview with a business leader, entrepreneur, Aaron Young.
I enjoy guests. I enjoy learning from people around me. I love to share the wealth of knowledge and the network that I have with you because I believe that, for me, to be doing what I’m doing, it’s the result of many people that have helped me get to where I am now. There is no exception. I am very excited to have a guest here who is someone I met and it feels like forever. He came into the room as part of an event I was with and he spoke and I’m like, “This guy is smart. This guy has a lot of insights and information. Who is this guy?” The moment that he walked in and he walked out, he was gone.
He was like a business hero. He walked in with a cape and I don’t know where he went after that. Fortunately enough, we were able to catch up later on in life and had lots of opportunities to learn from him and to be around him. I encourage you when you meet people who bring value, who have lots of experience and you get a chance to be with them, either it’s in the same room or you listened to them, take advantage of it. I know that people who have worked with this person and have listened to him, have taken his courses, and the people he’s mentored have gone on to do great things.
Aaron Scott Young, he is a renowned entrepreneur with more than 30 years of experience and several multimillion-dollar companies under his belt. Aaron has made his life’s work to arm business owners with success formulas that immediately provide exponential growth and protection. I’ve been a witness to that with people I’ve worked with and who have worked with him. He fully embodies the concept of the unshackled business owner. He inspires others to do the same by empowering them to build strong companies while proactively protecting their dreams. To add to his wonderful bio, I know that he is a very proud spouse, father, grandfather, and someone who looks at business from the hard side to it in terms of the hard numbers but also from the heart too. He brings that to everywhere he goes. He also has a podcast. He calls it The Unshackled Owner, which you can check out on your podcast platforms as well.
Aaron, welcome to the show. How are you doing?
I’m doing great. Thank you for that very nice introduction. I’m delighted to be here and always honored to have time spent with you. Let’s have a good chat.
Every time I want to speak with you and we get together, it seems to be around some type of event that we run into each other from time-to-time. The one thing that inspired me to want to contact you and have you in this show is simply this. In leaders now, people are looking at, “How can I build a strong company? How can I build a successful business?” There are lots of examples out there of how to do it and how not to do it. You’ve accomplished so much over your many years. I encourage you all to look him up, go to his website. Look at his picture and you’ll think, “When did he graduate from university? It might have been like yesterday.” 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 and doing all that fun stuff. I had people on payroll. My first company with a payroll, I started before my nineteenth birthday. I had three employees back then. That’s back in December of ‘82 is when we started. I built that first company, had it for several years and then sold it. I started the next company, built it up, sold part of it, closed part of it. I was one of the first guys in recycling in the early ‘80s. I was one of the first guys in cellular phones in 1986. I left that when the industry shifted.
I got hired. My only job was Vice President of Sales for a large NASDAQ traded multinational, about 350 offices around the world. I was their VP of Sales as a 29-year-old. I was young, I did that for a little while and then made a lot of money in the stock. At 32, 33 years old, I began buying and selling businesses. We don’t do that as much anymore, although I still do acquisitions but now, it’s around building companies and becoming involved with public companies and helping them to grow from $10 million to $100 million, $50 million to $200 million, something like that. That’s where I am now.
To reach that level of success and growth within that timeframe, it’s inspiring. I’ve often referred to you as the CEO for CEOs, in terms of your experience and your insights. Help us understand here. You’re nineteen years old when you started your first company with payroll. What was the inspiration behind you even going down this path?
I needed money for Christmas presents. When we started that exercise, it was December. I went to one year of a private junior college. I went away to school, but it was only a two-year school. I came back and I didn’t have any money for Christmas gifts at Christmas time. We had done something as Boy Scouts where we’d go out on these paper drives, pick up old newspapers, and we could earn money for the scouting troop. I know how to do that so I borrowed a pickup truck, went out and started knocking doors. This was 1982. In about a week, I had netted about over $3,000, 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 for the winter semester, it was from January through April, I don’t even know if I got any grades that semester. I don’t know what I did but I did take a map of the city of Portland, Oregon and laid out routes, tried to estimate where most people would be taking the newspaper, created a little flyer system with another friend of mine, created a little route book so we could keep track. That was our technology. It’s all analog and handwritten but we thought about how would we know where to go, who to return to, how do we keep track of hundreds of accounts. It ended up within a year being over 5,000 accounts. I even left and went on a mission for the church that I belonged to, was gone for a couple of years and made money every day that I was gone.
When I came back, I met this girl. I wanted to get married. I didn’t want to be what I considered a garbage man picking up old newspapers out to people’s garages and basements. I sold my interest in it. I got a bunch of money. Cellular phones were brand new, the brick, the big Motorola was sold $3,000. I took my money, I bought my first inventory of cellular phones, became an agent for GT mobile net, started that business, built it up to multiple locations and dozens of employees. I’m on television, radio and newspaper. That whole industry changed in one meeting one day, which yanked the rug out. I started a couple of little minor things that weren’t as big a deal as I’d hoped they would be, but it kept the lights on and 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. Let alone, 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. Anyway, the learning of how to build something, how to build systems around it, how to make it work even when you’re not there, 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 or any leadership don’t see an end, they just see a way to make money to pay their bills where they’re not working for someone else, they’re working for themselves. I have always seen it as a short-term thing like, “I’m going to do it, 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. I don’t want to say dispassionate but looking at everything as a project and as my life’s work has made it easy for me to go in lots of different industries, build lots of multimillion-dollar companies, and then also help hundreds of other very successful businesses from companies that are doing a couple of million bucks a year to big companies like Procter & Gamble, WebMD. I’ve done that there too.
If you can make the mental disconnect from, “This is my baby,” to, “This is something that I’m trying to improve and on my watch, it’s going to get better,” by having that mindset, it’s been able to help me. I don’t jump from one person’s project to another. These are my projects. It’s not like I’m a gun for hire so much. I’m not a consultant or anything. I get to do things. Nowadays, that has led to a very fascinating group of associates, interesting boards, interesting 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. The motivation was I needed some money and I knew that I had other things coming up in life like going back to school. I grew up in the Mormon Church and I was going to go on a mission. Those fundamental drivers, I needed solutions on how to deal with it so I created solutions without thinking I had to be the one doing the work.
I’ve heard you share that story in previous times. As I’m listening to it, I feel like I’m learning new things about you. The one thing that stands out to me is how on earth did you have that way of thinking at such a young age?
I don’t know. You can become an entrepreneur. Anybody can do it. Anybody can buy a franchise or start selling lemonade from their driveway or whatever. The successful entrepreneurs that I know have a mix of two things. One is they see opportunities that other people don’t see. They see something is missing or something is being done poorly. There are strategic things, not tactical strategic, 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, something like that, and what she’s seeing is layers of color going from what’s right in front of us in bands of color up to the clouds in the sky.
Where I see brown on the trees, she sees purple, black and yellow. She sees it through a different lens than I do. I always marvel at the fact that she has this other vision that’s natural to her that if she explains it to me, I start to see it but it’s not natural. The ones that are born entrepreneurs like I was and a number of my friends are, you can’t help it. That doesn’t mean you become successful. That means you can’t turn it off. There are other people who are very pragmatic and who can build a business to a much greater level than an entrepreneur can do. Most entrepreneurs are broke. Most of them don’t have any money. 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 or have a personal interest in but it needs to be done. They have enough pragmatism to go, “Even though it’s dull, I know we better put our focus over here.”
The people that can be both visionary and seeing an opportunity and pragmatic enough to do things that are not always fun, they’re the ones who break out of the quagmire and start to make money. If you have a third characteristic which is the ability to have a feeling of when it’s time to replace yourself, they’re the ones that get rich. I won’t say that I’m rich, but I am. If you get into the top 1%, then you have to say, even though you don’t feel rich compared to the other 99%, you probably are. I’m not flying private jets around or anything. 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 and enjoy circumstances most people dream about.
I came from no money. Mom and dad had no money. Dad was working two jobs. Mom was doing daycare. We had all these little kids running around our house when I’d come home from school. I had to start figuring out how to make money. I started my first business at four and I called BS on that. I went around and sold little pictures that I drew to the neighbors. That’s not a business, that’s your neighbors 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 sixteen, I had taken the work I was doing, painting apartments, taking control of my own destiny because I talked to the owner of the complexes instead of the managers.Money is based on nothing but goodwill, and money is just a paper. Click To Tweet
Once I got talking to the owner and I asked for something that was good for him and good for me, cut the 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, then after a while, if you’re willing to release and allow somebody else to be the manager of this, the salesperson for that, the bookkeeper for this, and let somebody else 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 check. That might sound ridiculous to people but it is the way that it works. Look at Warren Buffett, he says he works 6 to 8 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 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 is 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 show up, if you have to be the smartest person in the room, if you love people lined up outside your door who come and knock on the door and say, “Can I get five minutes?” if you love that, if that gives you your fulfillment, your juice, then you’ll always be a slave to your business. If you’re willing to get other people to do that and you direct the company from way up on top of the mountain top, and you’re not in the business.
Laughlin Associates and a lot of people associate me with that company, remember 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 3.5 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 can do to build a multimillion-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 than me being the one in the trench doing the work.
The part that you bring to light here, Aaron, that’s not discussed enough in a public forum is the whole idea behind entrepreneurship and separating yourself from your business. There’s a disconnect when we see shows like Shark Tank and it’s given a high profile to entrepreneurship and the people on the panel as well if no success and all to them. There’s also that certain ego. There’s this prestige as well. The ego can play a big role and sometimes it’s either getting in the way of progress and success or confusing the priorities as to what should be done versus what feels good to get done. To your point, we take a look at the stats in terms of the number of small businesses that break $100,000, let alone even more than that, and it’s less than 10%.
Only 4% of companies ever break $1 million in annual revenue. Somebody who claimed 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. If you look at Shark Tank and Mark Cuban, Mark Cuban was paying other people and then tells the story of eating the ketchup packets of 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 him 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 it.
Somebody said, “You made so much money.” He goes, “I lost my marriage. I lost my family. I burned through $30 million in a few years because I didn’t understand why business worked. I got lucky. I’d worked hard. I put everything into it but then I didn’t understand why the business worked.” He couldn’t duplicate it. He had to learn the lessons of why something works. Almost everybody that ever has a big blowout, successful business, and they make millions, $500 million, billions of dollars or whatever, 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.
They don’t know what made it happen. I’ve built a whole bunch of relatively small businesses, multimillion-dollar companies, good size companies compared to most, in all kinds of industries because I understand a formula that works if you follow the formula. Most people don’t have the guts to follow the formula because they either get greedy or they’re impatient. If you understand how to take things from step 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, I always tell people, “If you have a recipe for chocolate chip cookies and you follow the recipe for chocolate chip cookies, you’re not going to get a trombone. You’re not even going to get bread. You’re not even going to get 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 followed 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.
If people will learn that there’s a reason why things work, it’s like the economy. People think they know why the economy works. They don’t understand it. Almost nobody understands why so many things are done by the US government for instance. They don’t understand 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 euro, we’re in real trouble. The economy works because people believe in it. People want to believe it’s a math formula, it’s not. It’s emotional for the most part.
The 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,” and all stuff, 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 you could call it protests, anarchy or whatever you want to call it. It takes very little to disrupt the normal day-to-day even driving around the streets. 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.” It doesn’t matter if you’re working on a stupid thing.
“I have this great idea that I know it’s going to go well. 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, I lay it out. I’ve got a great little book. If you can get your hands on the book called The Critical Twenty, I lay out the twenty 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 where you’re talking about, “Here are the seven steps. You’ve got to do this one first, number two, then number three. If you jump around, it won’t work but if you do them in order, it works.”
We’ve done this for companies from startups, public, private, law firms, hedge funds, farms, agriculture, fertilizer, manufacturing, car lots. It always works if you follow the formula. For the readers in leadership, leadership is all about getting others to believe in the vision of where we’re going together. That’s what leadership is. I’ll wrap up with this. You’ve heard the whole thing or you heard it in Sunday school, there are sheepherders and there are shepherds. The sheepherder uses dogs and stuff to push the sheep. They force them to go in a direction.
Shepherds have the trust and confidence of the herd, of the flock, 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. It’s about having a vision, not assuming more about yourself than it’s true, being an honest person that’s in integrity, you bring in other help when you need it like I need a pasture. I need a stream. I need ingredients to protect those that are following me. If we will be honest about what we know, we will follow a formula that works and we will not try to force people to do stuff but lead by example like Mark Cuban did by 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.Leadership is all about getting others to believe in the vision of where we're going together. Click To Tweet
I knew that his payday would come later. It comes later and it comes bigger than everybody else. If you don’t make the investments, follow the formula. and be a great leader. If you look like the one who’s trying to be the robber baron, taking money away from people, driving people to do stuff you would never do yourself. That’s why that show, Undercover Boss, is so popular because the boss gets put into the trenches, screws up badly and then has to learn through this humbling experience. They were out of touch with why people work for them, how they provide services. They’d lost connection. They were being a sheepherder and not a shepherd. When they come back, they have this regulatory moment, they repent and they say, “I will change my ways and we will fix things.” The sheep wants to follow them.
That’s what leadership is. I’m not saying you, people, are sheep. I’m saying people will follow somebody who’s visionary, kind and looking out for their best interests. If you understand that and you 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 and many people you’ve never heard of who 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, letting them be fully actualized, you keep everybody on track and you’re worth millions of dollars.
Thank you, Aaron. I couldn’t have said any of it better myself. I have to follow up with one question, Aaron. How much do you feel social media has played a role into that? It’s always been there in terms of that immediate success or the flavor of the moment. Everyone is looking for that quick hit, that quick buck. With social media, it puts out there the idea of, “This can be done quicker.” It presents to you the visions or the rewards are out there for display. It can be that motivating factor that when we were growing up, we didn’t have that. We saw that on TV but it’s not as predominant and as prevalent as we see here now.
That brings us to the end of the part one of my interview with Aaron Young. Let us know about topics or subjects that are going to be helpful to you in your leadership role. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of your day. Until next time, be good and lead well.