Category Archives: Life

The Weekly Billionaire Case Study: Sarah Blakely

I told my youngest daughter this morning that I am trying to write a quick article about a different Billionaire each week.  This week I was planning to write about either Warren Buffet or Sarah Blakely.  I asked my daughter to choose between these two for me, and since she is familiar with the ‘Spanx’ brand, she chose Sarah Blakely.

My daughter is 14 and she is familiar with the Spanx brand. I have not really heard of Spanx before this year, or if I have, never thought much of it. That is until one evening when my girlfriend and I were pondering applying for a patent on a goofy sock idea we had (that’s another story). While searching for information about patents I stumbled upon the story of the creation of Spanx and it’s founder, Sarah Blakely.

Here are some things that strike me about the meteoric rise of Ms. Blakely and the Spanx brand:

  • Ms. Blakely scored low on the LSAT. Boy can I relate!
  • She went to work for Danka selling fax machines door-to-door.  This sounds like a brutal job to me, but I’m sure this experience provided the spark and sales skills she needed to start her own successful enterprise.
  • To build a prototype of her idea, she went to hosiery manufacturers in North Carolina.  She promptly discovered that the female undergarments industry was dominated by men who never actually tried the garments out they were making (at least none that would admit to doing so).  She stumbled upon a complete lack of female influence in the production of undergarments for women!
  • Her Dad taught her it was OK to fail, and apparently even encouraged it.  Robert Kiyosaki (‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’ author) is constantly harping on the Public Education System for not allowing kids to feel comfortable with failure.  Many people who are afraid of failure may never try to do something hard or new, and thus may never realize big success.
  • Ms. Blakely worked full-time at Danka while she was working on Spanx business and only quit in 2000 when Opra featured her product on the Opra Show.
  • In the ideation of the ‘Spanx’ Brand name, she wanted to create a name that had a hard K sound in it, like successful brand names Coca-Cola and Kodak.
  • Spanx first year revenue was $4 million.  Second year revenue was $10 million.  Then she signed a contract with QVC and sold 8,000 units in the first six minutes of operation!

Forbes estimates Ms. Blakely’s net worth at $1.08 Billion today.

The Weekly Billionaire Case Study: John Schnatter

“All you’ve got to do in life is find something you love and are good at.”

John Schnatter is the founder of Papa John’s Pizza.  I was skimming my latest edition of Bloomberg Businessweek (edition June 11, 2017), and started reading my favorite section in the magazine: ‘How Did I Get Here?’  I was immediately interested to learn that Schnatter grew up in Jeffersonville, a small town in southern Indiana.  My family, on my Dad’s side, is from New Albany, IN, which is right next door to Jeffersonville (or ‘Jeff’ as my Grandmother used to call it) – both towns are immediately across the the Ohio River from Louisville, KY.

According to Forbes, Schnatter is the grandson of German immigrants who came to the U.S. in 1867.  His grandfather and father were entrepreneurs.  His grandfather owned three successful businesses, while his father started 20 business that all faltered.  Schnatter started working to earn money by cutting grass at 8 years old, and started painting gutters at 12 (starting to work for an income early is generally a sign of financial success later in  life).

Jeffersonville, IN is a pretty small town.  Not much appears to be happening there, at least the last time I was there, 5-6 years ago.  In fact, one of Schnatter’s Life Lessons is: “If your business can be successful in Columbus, Louisville, or Evansville, you’ve probably got something you can franchise.”  Presumably, he chooses these cities because of their relative size and the amount of business taking place in, and around, them.

So, Schnatter graduated from Ball State University in 1983 or 1984 with a degree in Business.  Nothing remarkable there.  But before he graduated from college, he may have discovered a secret to his future successes.  While working as a dishwasher and pizza cook at Rocky’s Sub Pub from 1977-78, he discovered that he hated washing dishes!  He also discovered that if he made the pizzas right, the plates would come back empty, but if he didn’t, they’d come back half-eaten.  The lesson being, make really good pizza and you have to do less work!

After graduating from college, Schnatter helped out at his Dad’s bar, called ‘Mick’s Lounge II’, in Jeffersonville.  His Dad’s bar had accumulated about $64k in debt so Schnatter sold his Camaro to cover the near-terms costs of the bar.  According to Forbes, he settled the Bar’s debts in about 4 months.

He started making pizzas out of a broom closet in the bar and immediately went from making $300 a week, to $1500, then $3000 and then on to grossing over $100,000 a year in 14 months!  The first Papa John’s was built next to his Dad’s Bar.

With the help of Schnatter’s brother, Chuck, a lawyer, they were able to sell 100 franchised restaurants between 1986 and 1991.  Schnatter says he put his brother, Chuck, through college and law school, and in return he received free legal services.  This ultimately resulted in Papa John’s having their franchise agreements created by the top law firm in Kentucky.  This was probably another key ingredient in the franchise success of Papa John’s, I would guess.

“In 1991 I didn’t have $2,000 to go on vacation. In 1994 the company was worth $200 million.”

Papa John’s filed for IPO and went public in 1993 with 232 franchised stores.  The company is listed on the NASDAQ as ‘PZZA’.  In 2016, they did $1.7 billion in sales worldwide.  So, roughly 10 years after graduating from Ball State with a degree in Business Administration, Schnatter finds himself at the helm of a publicly traded pizza company that would soon be doing almost $2 billion in top-line business each year!

“What gets measured gets done, and what gets rewarded gets repeated.”

According to a January 26, 2017 video posted on Business Insider:

  • Peyton Manning owns 30 Papa John’s franchises in Denver, CO.
  • Jerry Jones own 89 Papa John’s franchises in Dallas, Ft. Worth, Waco and Austin.
  • Jerome Bettis owns 4 Papa John’s franchises in the Pittsburgh area.
  • Jamal Mashburn owns 57 Papa John’s franchises across the U.S.

Forbes reports that Papa John’s currently has a market cap of $3.2 Billion, yet it has only captured about 1/10th of the Pizza Market currently dominated by Pizza Hut and Dominoes.

John Schnatter’s net worth is currently reported to be around $1 Billion.

The Weekly Billionaire Case Study: David Geffen

“We are each a figment of our own imagination.”

I’ve decided to choose one Billionaire I’m interested in each week and to write a bit about them in order that I might learn something about how they attained their financial wealth and success.  Of interest this week is the media magnate, David Geffen.

According to Wikipedia, Mr. Geffen was born in New York to Jewish Immigrant Parents.  His Mom apparently owned a clothing store in New York. His parent immigrated to the U.S. during the Great Depression. He was born into a tough environment with tough financial characteristics: Jewish Immigrant parents, New York City, Great Depression – oy vey. His mother called him ‘King David’; she told him, ‘you have golden hands, you can do anything you want’.  Parents can and do make a difference.  My Mom always told me I could do anything I put my mind to, so we at least have that in common…

A college drop-out (college apparently has nothing to do with financial success, kids), Mr. Geffen lied about having a college degree just to land a job in the mail room at a talent agency, William Morris Agency (WMA). Landing this mail room job was a significant hack. Because he worked in the mail room, he was able to intercept, and modify, a letter from UCLA to WMA stating that he had not attended college at UCLA.

While working in the mail room at WMA, Mr. Geffen became friends with another college drop-out, Elliot Rabinowitz, who partnered with him in later ventures. Note to self, never underestimate the talent of people working with you, even if they are in the mail room.

Geffen soon dropped out of WMA to form his own Talent Management Company where he managed Laura Nyro primarily at first, and then became a talent manager for musicians like Crosby, Stills and Nash. It was his discovery of Jackson Browne that instigated his creation of Asylum Records.

He later sold Asylum Records after purportedly tiring of supporting the personal and professional lives of the artists he represented. He then was asked to become instrumental in merging Asylum Records with Elektra.

He fell in love with Cher and lived with her for 18 months (and he was gay)!  At the same time, he had the top three selling record albums.  Talk about crushing it!

“Start with what you know.  You never know where it will take you.”

He then went on to form Geffen Records, signing big names such as Dianna Ross, Elton John and John Lennon.  He sold Geffen records.

He went on to form the film production company, Dream Works, making hit after hit with Director Steven Spielberg and Producer Jeffrey Katzenberg (movie hits like Beetlejuice, Little Shop of Horrors, Shrek, Risky Business and Saving Private Ryan).

Mr. Geffen now has a net worth around $7.6 Billion.

For a more in depth look into the life and career of David Geffen, I highly recommend the movie, ‘Inventing David Geffen’, which you can download on iTunes.

Marine Corps Historic Half 2017

One of my goals this year was to run the Marine Corps Historic Half, on May 21st, 2017, with two of my three kids this year (my youngest has no interest in running 13.1 miles, understandably…).  The last time I ran with my oldest two kids was in 2011 when we ran the Marine Corps Irish 10k.  Here are some pictures from our 10k run on March 26th, 2011:

We have not run together since 2011, so I wanted all of us to get back out there to tackle bigger and better challenges.  We had a great time yesterday at the Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon (13.1 miles) in Fredricksburg, Virginia.  My kids and I have come a long way since the last 10k run we did together!  My girlfriend joined us on the run.

Our next big goal is to run the Marine Corps Marathon together this October.  Oohrah!

I Command You To Grow!!

Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.

I love synchronicity – the Jungian idea that events are “meaningful coincidences” if they occur with no causal relationship yet seem to be meaningfully related. This Spring, I started reading Mike Michalowicz’s book ‘The Pumpkin Plan’. The central idea of his book is that business people should be more inclined to trim away customers to focus solely on their best customers in order to grow them, and their company, to the biggest size possible. Mike likens this business focus on the best customers to a farmer who tries to trim away all pumpkins on a vine to a select one or two in order to grow the biggest pumpkins possible. This Rhode Island farmer’s pumpkin grew to 2,261.5 pounds!! What?!?

Speaking of books, I currently have two books for sale on Amazon if you’re interested: ‘The Lean Startup’ and ‘Sprint’.

Growing is what Spring is all about. For some reason, this Spring in particular has had me focusing inordinately on growth: growing my own vegetables, growing my income, growing my net worth, growing my muscles, growing my cardiovascular strength, growing my family bonds, helping my employer grow. Every day I think about GROWTH. How can I grow more? How can I get bigger? How can I 10x my life??!?! I’m done shrinking!!! I look at the earth – not the World as a whole, but dirt – and biological organisms and how life literally springs forth from it every Spring. No matter what man does to the planet, seemingly, life still springs forth every year. The life force is so strong on earth. Life wants to grow! Life must grow! It can’t be stopped. That’s what this planet does – springs forth life and growth – and humans are no different.

My girlfriend and I started a garden in our back yard a few weeks ago. It was back-breaking work. We got covered in dirt and mud. It rained as we worked. Our backs and hands hurt. I could barely stand upright the next day. It felt awesome. We now have spinach, beans, herbs, bee-balm, tomatoes, potatoes and cucumbers growing. We also have planters of grape vines, black berries and blue berries growing. Despite our lack of farming skills and knowledge, the earth continues to spring forth life. The energy to give life, emerge and grow is unstoppable and everywhere. It’s awesome to think that we humans are products of this energy.

We didn’t stop at a garden in the back yard though. I bought some land down in Southern Virginia this Spring so I could grow even more life! My family and I were down there last weekend (West of the Richmond area) planting Apple, Plum, Cherry and Oak Trees.  We also seeded Sun Flowers, Wild Flowers, and some other seeds.  If we let the land sit for long enough without intervention, trees and weeds of all sorts would eventually take over the land. I am trying to impose my own growth plan and will on the land instead by determining what life I say will grow there.  Why must we grow Fruit and White Oak trees and Sun Flowers, JC? Because I said so, that’s why.  I command it to grow!!

Also in the last few weeks, I discovered this guy, CT Fletcher, and how he uses the phrase, ‘I command you to grow!’, to grow his muscles as he lifts weights. He commands his muscles to grow! Why? Because he said so! It’s his ‘Magnificent Obsession’! This is genius! CT has learned to envision the change he wants to affect in his life, and to impose his will over it to make it so. Can I do that too? Can you?

My new mantra when I look at my Bank Account, my Gardens, my Trees, my Relationships, AND my muscles is: ‘I command you to grow!’ Why JC? Because I said so, that’s why!

Summer’s Comin’. Lock Up Those Bikes, Maties!

Today is March 14th, 2017. I’ve been writing code all day – learning Angular2 – and I need a break, so I thought I’d thrown down some words…from the heart. It’s my favorite son’s birthday. It’s PIrate Day. And, it snowed today. Shiver me timbers!

What could all of these synchronistic events be conspiring to tell to us? I don’t know, but I do know Spring and Summer are just around the corner. And with Summer, comes crime and bad dudes named James. So lock up those bikes folks, and be careful out there.

This one goes out to my girl, ‘She Hulk’ Cindy, and my boy, the real ‘Money Maker’ Mike…

Where Do I Go From Here? I Wanna Know, 2017!

One of the big questions I’ve been asking myself lately is ‘Where do I go from here?’.  Where do I try to take myself spiritually, financially, professionally as a father, boyfriend, and human being…I’m trying to have a longer-term outlook on my life as I get older so I at least try to plan to obtain certain long-term objectives as opposed to simply living in the here-and-now, which I guess is a good thing if you’re Buddhist. But I also believe in long-term planning.  My life has been mostly a mess so far, at least as an adult.  Lots of broken, messed up dreams and relationships.  I’m thinking now that if I plan better, that if I have a longer-term outlook, I can set myself up for better success in the future. If I could just get my act together.  Maybe.  We’ll see.  I think a big part of ‘success’ in life is asking yourself important, meaningful questions and trying to find answers to them.  Put your brain to work on the problem statements, and daily meditate on the solutions. Find the solutions. Where do we go from here?

 

 

Apple Developer Program: Room For Improvement

I’ve wanted to learn to make iOS Apps for some time, so I finally bit the bullet and bought a Mac Mini, downloaded Xcode, and started programming. I’m getting to the point where I want to deploy and test my app on my own iPhone (rather than run in a simulator), but in order to do that, you have to join the Apple Developer Program so you can appropriately sign and deploy your App to real iPhone and iPad hardware. And boy, what a pain joining this program is!

I should qualify this statement…I’ve joined the Apple Developer Program before as an individual. Everything went through ok then, but i never got around to actually building an App. This time, however, I decided to F.O.C.U.S – Follow One Course Until Success – and to actually build an App this time. And this time, I decided to join the Apple Developer Program as a Corporate Entity; you know, with designs of becoming a Billion Dollar Unicorn. Apple gets funny with Corporate Developer Registrations, seemingly. They require that you have a DUNS Number. Ok, whatever. I’m used to bureaucracy. I went and got me a DUNS Number. But for some reason, it took weeks (in reality, months) to associate a DUNS number with my Company in Apple land. Dun and Bradstreet told me to wait a few weeks, after updating some key email and phone number information, before trying to enroll in the Apple Developer Program again. So I waited…and waited…and I’m still waiting…

After waiting entirely too long, I tried to enroll again. This time, Apple complained that my credit card was being rejected. Really? Ok, so I tried another credit card. Rejected again. Really???? I logged in to both credit card accounts. Sure enough, successful charges from Apple on both for $99, but for some reason, Apple would still not let me enroll in their program:

What would Steve Jobs do?

At this point, I am quite flustrated. Of course I will press on, because I am committed to this project and to learning iOS development. But I never had this much problem getting an Android App out into the Google Play Store…I expect much more of Apple.  This process should have been absolutely thoughtless and painless.  But it’s a good reminder of how difficult and tenuous it is to build a company on top of another company’s technology.

EDIT (2/16/2017): I called Apple today and was unable to resolve the technical problem behind registering online, so I registered for the Developer Program over the phone this afternoon.  Part of my urgency in getting this registration done was because I wanted a shot at attending WWDC2017 this year.  Registration for WWDC2017 is by random selection to members of the Developer Program in good standing as of 2/16/2017 at 0530am PST.  I registered online the evening of 2/15/2017, but it failed due to technical problems with the Apple website (my credit cards are fine).  So I’m hoping I can still figure out a way to get in good standing for possible selection to WWDC2017.

Food As Craft. Craft As Life.

I took my family to Paris, France for the 2016-2017 New Years Eve celebrations. We were essentially just there for the weekend, but it was a fabulous weekend – one that I will never forget. The sites and food were unforgettable. For New Year’s Eve, I treated my family to an 8 course French Meal and Wine/Champagne Pairing at the Hotel Raphael in Paris very close to the Champs-Elysées. My kids and I were definitely not used to fancy food such as this, but it was a beautiful and tasteful introduction to food as art (as opposed to American style ‘fast food’). Here’s a video of my dessert (thanks Alison ;):

In Paris, we were delighted to see the Eiffel Tower, The Arc De Triomphe, The Palace of Versailles, and to listen to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and other beautiful musical pieces, performed by a Chamber Orchestra at the Église de la Madeleine Roman Catholic Church. I left Paris with a profound appreciation for the art and beauty that abounds in this wonderful city, from her cuisine to her architecture, to her music and her people. The French seem to have a genetic disposition toward an aesthetic appreciation of life, which I find hard to come by in the United States. The french term, ‘Joi De Vivre,’ comes to mind when I reflect on our weekend trip to France.

According to Wikipedia: “It ‘can be a joy of conversation, joy of eating, joy of anything one might do… And joie de vivre may be seen as a joy of everything, a comprehensive joy, a philosophy of life, a Weltanschauung…'”

I happened to catch a Netflix Documentary this evening called “Chef’s Table, France,” Season I, which was a story about an amazing French Chef, Alain Passard. As I watched the story unfold about how Chef Passard became a Chef, identifying his career path as early as 14 years old, how he found a mentor and soon bought his mentor’s restaurant, which he named ‘Arpege’, I was completely drawn in by Chef Passard’s sense of life purpose, mastery and pursuit of excellence in his craft. It is not often you find or learn of someone who absolutely loves what they do for a living. I hung on his every word in this documentary and even took notes, hoping to graph some of his sense of aesthetics and Joi de Vivre into my own life and professional career. Here are some of Chef Alain Passard’s quotes and anecdotes I noted from the Netflix Documentary, ‘Chef’s Table, France’:

“When you close your eyes at night, what’s important? You’ve spent the day taking risks. You’ve made some people very happy.”

Chef Passard relates that what you create is just as important as how you create it, which he refers to as ‘Gestures’ or ‘Hand Gestures’. The way you move your hands to create something of value is important and takes hours and years and decades of practice. Chef Passard’s Grandmother was an amazing cook; his mother sewed and his father was a musician. His Grandfather was a sculptor who worked with wood. He learned the importance of hand gestures early in his life and applied them to his craft. He works bread dough like it’s fabric. He sews Duck and Chicken together to create a unique dish. With regards to the hand gesture, he says: “In cuisine, in music, in sculpture, in painting, it’s everything. Either we like the gesture, either we like the hand, or we do not. And this hand, if we want it to be more beautiful, we must work seven hours, eight hours, ten hours in the kitchen every day. This makes the hand more precise, and more elegant.” He goes on to say that a 14 year old does not have the precision of hand that a 30 year old cook has. He says, “I am never happier than when I put my fingers on a new gesture or a new flavor. It feels wonderful.”

“You really become a cook between 40 and 50 years old.”

Can the same not also be said about other professions as well?

Allez Chercher

When Chef Passard started his restaurant, Arpege, he says that the one and two star ratings came fairly easily, but the three star rating was very difficult to attain. Three Stars is the highest rating for a restaurant. Maintaining three stars is apparently extremely difficult to do, but Chef Passard’s mentality is to pursue higher and higher standards, never stopping or resting upon his current achievements. The search for excellence is never ending, but it’s something he loves. I was struck how there was no mention of the pursuit of money in this documentary, it was purely the pursuit of passion, excellence, and the art of food. In fact, there came a point in Chef Passard’s professional career where he was losing his passion for cooking meat, so he decided to take a year of introspection to find his passion again. He reinvented himself and his restaurant as primarily vegetarian while still maintaining their three star rating. He found a new hand. A new outlook.

“My only ambition is to love what I do more each day. Just the idea of a job well done. No outside projects, needs, or dreams. If this story exists today, it’s because I love my job more than anything.”

Bon!

Versailles, France