I used to think that starting a business would be hard, even with all my years of working at Fortune 500 companies in senior IT positions and even having started my own successful small venture, I learned the hard way what it really means to make my first online entrepreneurial venture break well into the 7-Figures. Business is hard but it’s nowhere near as difficult as taking on Entrepreneurship. You see business has always been more black and white making it easier to follow a certain set of guidelines and find some type of success working hard and consistent, but entrepreneurship is about the internal evolution of the body, mind and the need to heighten your level of awareness enough to become the person you need to be to succeed. This is extremely difficult as we are all trained to always chase money, expect results and have social acceptance, three things that are almost contradictory to the idea of being an Entrepreneur. While the story I will share may be a bit long, it highlights some important steps I had to take as a person who always followed the status quo, to push the boundaries of impossible and succeed in helping bring to life the movement and brand known today as Secret Entourage.
1. If You’re Not Ready, Start Anyways.
When I first got out of college, I was pretty excited to start my career in Software Engineering as it was something I was good at and there were a lot of great opportunities. But I knew that at some point I wanted to start my own business, so I began dabbling on my own projects and began thinking about what I really wanted to do. The more I thought about it the more I realized that I’d be competing not just with small companies but large companies alike, as it seemed like every time I came up with a big life changing idea Google would come out with a similar pet project which they would simply give away to the community for free, this wasn’t going to work for me.
University of MD’s Computer Science program was great, but I had to teach myself everything about Web Development as it wasn’t yet a curriculum.
This is when I realized that starting something from scratch would be harder and riskier than I’d like, and to really take it seriously I would need to quit the job that I had just started so that I could work on an idea fulltime, which was out of the question since I had just recently gained a relatively sizable mortgage and car payments and had zero business experience also. So I did the next best thing, I started a small company anyways, but decided to combine my software engineering skillset and my passion for art and design and began to offer a more black and white and low risk service of web development on my own hours, which allowed me to maintain my day job in the meantime. This led me to move forward with the idea of starting a business as I knew that the experience I would gain, both in terms of business and personal growth would serve me well until the right opportunity could come along.
Starting my own Web Development company, the decision that helped me network and ultimately be part of something much bigger than myself.
2. If The Opportunity Feels Right, Take The Plunge!
The decision to start my own web design company proved to be key, as it led me to network more and more with people who were business minded and who were working on their own projects. As it turned out, one of my friends had recently decided to start his own business and I was intrigued about the online project. Since I had been developing websites for a while by then, I was easily able to help out my friend with some of his website needs. This led me to talk more seriously with my friend and his partner (Pejman and Alan) about the newly launched business.
Alan, myself, and Pejman… we still look exactly like this (We also dress the same).
This business was the early stages of Secret Entourage (the site you’re on now). The full vision for the business wasn’t quite apparent to me (and as I found out to no one else either), and there were still a lot of unanswered questions. However when I looked at my potential partners, and the mission itself, I felt there was a lot of good energy. Even though making business decisions based on a feeling alone may not sound right, I knew that the positive energy I felt was a good enough indicator for me to take the plunge. Either way, this seemed like the opportunity and the challenge I’d been looking for, even if only based on my gut feeling.
An early design of Secret Entourage, I started by adding the background image and before you knew it we were in business.
3. Be Ready For Change, Discomfort, and Growth.
Starting an entrepreneurial business can be hard. But I didn’t realize how hard it can be to start a business and start going in one direction, and then to stop and change course and start going in another direction, and then to do this again and again and again every few months, and each time needing to reset my motivation, goals, and tasks, and even sometimes needing to throw out work that I had spent weeks on as it was no longer relevant. Being fluid and flexible both in terms of the vision of a startup, the trials and errors, your own personal expectations, and the change in process and direction can begin to take a toll on anyone whose used to a more straightforward environment, especially when in the process you end up sacrificing your only free time, your nights and weekends, and basically your peace of mind and still end up not reaching any meaningful goals. This began draining all the good energy out of the process and gave way to frustration.
In our business being dynamic and finding our identity became a necessary part of the process, which required lots of work and constant tweaking, so the frustration which comes from constant change was something I needed to get used to. I came to learn a couple of ways to overcome the frustration. First, I began to look at the constant change and discomfort as an opportunity for growth instead of an unnecessary evil. This helped me accept change and the stress that went along with it as a means to better myself and the organization, as growth requires change. Second, I recalibrated myself to be satisfied with small wins instead of large wins, this allowed me to continue to feel motivated for months over end, even though we were only able to make some of our goals a reality early on. It became apparent to me that the only way to move forward was simply heads down focused on the tasks at hand, while welcoming change as a means for growth, and leveraging previous wins in the business for motivating myself to continue to work hard. In many ways, moving forward required a higher level of emotional intelligence, which allowed us to get past the ups and downs in the business, which would easily translate to ups and downs in personal emotions.
Actual email from Pejman after I had spent more than an entire week making a page pixel perfect. “How hard is that?” – The words that would raise my heart rate immediately.
This growth process (read personal growth) took several years and definitely made me question the viability of the business and my own sanity. However once we were able to overcome the bumps in the road and we’re able to refocus on our mission, we entered calmer waters and we’re able to move forward with more certainty in our vision.
4. The Goal Is Not Money!
No matter what business you’re in, the subject of money is always present, both in terms of opportunity cost, expenses, and obviously revenue generation. For us, we bootstrapped and started our organization with our own money and sweat equity. This helped us maintain control and take more ownership of the business. However as the years went by, the question of generating revenue became more of a lingering question. No matter what, all businesses ultimately need to generate revenue to sustain themselves and to allow for growth, if they don’t death of the organization is almost certain. The one thing that we did right was to not focus on money and revenue generation when we first started, if we did we would have quit a long time ago. If you tie your goals to money and the money doesn’t come soon enough, you’ll most likely stop your endeavors half baked. But since we focused on bringing our vision and our brand to life instead, we had ample runway to continue our work without being burdened with the question of revenue, as we continued to work with our own money and sweat equity as needed. This is where my 9-5 saved the day. I was able to sustain my lifestyle and progress through corporate America while continuing to work constantly on Secret Entourage without worrying about how my mortgage or bills would get paid, given however that a balanced lifestyle was unfortunately not part of this equation, neither was a social life.
Pejman and Alan having fun, while I’m somewhere else working.
Fast forward to today where Secret Entourage is able to generate well into the 7-figures, which opens our arms to do even more for our community and our purpose as an organization, including setting up Secret Entourage meetups for our Secret Entourage Academy members across the country, which helps connect like-minded entrepreneurs together, to grow our platform by hiring more staff to help us make our organization better, and to also challenge our members through our Academy Challenge events (which for this year includes a $20,000 check for the winner including an all-inclusive trip to South Florida for all the finalists), to help motivate our members to push past their own mental barriers and preconceptions about entrepreneurship with the help and mentorship of ourselves and our community.
Our Secret Entourage Academy meetups have now expanded into more cities to reach more of our nationwide community.
5. Finally learning the Secrets to Success (as I define them):
So how did we go from starting a business that we had no prior experience in to a 7-figure a year online business that continues to help more and more people every day? I’ve summarized some of the points below (which are transferable to any business or endeavor):
It Takes Years! – We used to have this saying that instant gratification is a disease, and if you fell for the trap you would end up giving up too soon. In business and in life, we sometimes don’t know how long our endeavors will take, however if you enjoy the work and process and you have a passion for it, and you enjoy working with the people that you surround yourself with, then you can continue moving forward for as long as it takes, which is usually longer than you think.
Good morning hustlers, what are you doing today to make your goals a reality? Check out https://t.co/vRCgdngIEj pic.twitter.com/yDVBBT99eO
— Secret Entourage (@SecretEntourage) 4 de marzo de 2016
If You Never Quit, You Will Never Fail! – This is one of those amazing pieces of advice that if you really understand you will cherish. If you start out on something, and you actually never stop or quit, the chance of you failing steadily decreases down to zero. Yes you may actually die before reaching your goal but in our case dying is not quitting! This is an exercise that everyone in life needs to experience to really understand how effective (but most certainly difficult) it is to bring a vision to life, and to also realize that when you don’t quit and you still find yourself not moving forward, to learn how to see beyond your current limitations and problems and create solutions to them instead of coming up with excuses about how something is not possible or not meant to be.
Your Opinion Doesn’t Count, Only Action Does – During the years that we’ve been together, we had a lot of choices to make in terms of the direction to take the company, how to bring our ideas to life, and so on. As you could imagine we all had our opinions, but we learned quickly that opinions and expectations are bullshit, that rather action and someone taking the time and working hard to make something happen was the only way to measure the validity of an idea. After all no one likes armchair critics, so we respected anyone in the team that did the work in practice to bring something to light, even if we initially didn’t agree with it or if it didn’t agree with our own preconceptions.
Mind Your Own Business (And Get Rid of Distractions) – I haven’t had cable television for a while, which means no Grammys, Oscars, daily news circuit, TV Series, etc. (cat videos on YouTube is really more than enough for me), I also don’t have negative people around me (read more distraction) but rather seek out good conversations and good company, and really try to connect with people who have good energy. By surrounding myself with healthy habits such as the gym, family and friends and outdoor activities and people who are also of the same mindset, I’ve been able to mind my own business and maintain my focus on what really matters, the work that needs to get done. Think about focus vs. distractions as a seesaw with your focus on one end and distractions on the other – the more distractions you have the less leverage you have to focus, so get rid of unnecessary distractions as soon as possible. Note that my distractions are not the same as yours, and having fun and enjoying yourself is definitely a necessary part of the journey, however always take heed of what empty distractions are around you and get rid of them. Try to be mindful in all aspects of your life to attain more focus on the larger things that can make a bigger positive impact moving forward.
Take Your Own Medicine – I think this post that I made in our Secret Entourage Academy Facebook group says is best:
Reach Out For Personal Success First – Get your priorities straight, become self-aware of your shortcomings, become a better communicator, take control of your emotions, understand your own purpose and learn how to look past yourself (a core principle of the Third Circle Theory), learn how to read and trust your instincts, learn that you can’t control people but only your reactions, dream bigger than you normally would, exercise gratitude and compassion always, pay attention to your health and fitness, enjoy your passions and the world around you, help anyone on your path that reaches out to you, realize how amazing the experience of life really is, avoid people and things that drain your energy, and don’t be afraid to do some pushups while waiting in line. Learn to do all the things that will make you a successful person first, then you’ll realize that a successful you can move forward to create successful businesses and ultimately a successful life.
There are many other quote-unquote secrets to success, but I wanted to summarize something first… My Own Reality Check For me, the name of my company Vision Bloom was all about bringing a vision to life, and to this day Secret Entourage has been my biggest challenge and biggest vision to bring to life. It’s amazing how I set my intention out there to take on such a task and by taking action towards my intention things began to fall together. Since we’ve been able to create a sustainable business that generates 7-figures I’m compelled to say we’ve made it, but I would be completely wrong, because our success is not based on what we’ve achieved, but is tied to how much we can help our community achieve their goals, so our tasks and goals remains wide open. This is not lip service, as we didn’t get here through lip service, and we’re not going to reach our next set of goals through lip service either. As 2016 begins, we continue to strive to create a larger community of like-minded individuals who can help support each other in their entrepreneurial endeavors. Entrepreneurship is so much more than starting a business, it’s about making a better version of yourself that can end up achieving the goals that you set out for yourself, it’s about becoming a successful person first, before creating a successful business. The journey of life is similar to the journey of entrepreneurship, it’s full of ups and downs, but in the same way that life teaches us, entrepreneurship shadows, so the more you experience, learn and believe in yourself the more you’ll be able to achieve in life and in business alike. So why would anyone want to go on the entrepreneurial journey? The ultimate reward in life is life itself, not success in a startup or success in a business, however the only way to be successful in a startup means that you have to first begin to understand how to be successful as a person, and how to lead a successful life first, so the process is self-fulfilling, this I truly believe and have experienced personally.
During the time that I graduated from college, it was difficult to get a good technical education any place else, but now colleges and universities are scrambling to keep up with the online technical mini-degrees that have been steadily maturing in the past few years. As web development has progressively grown into a larger segment of the traditional software industry, which originally lent itself to the old school rigor of an academic environment, so has the dynamic ways people are getting into web development outside of the traditional university setting, which lends itself to the fast changing nature of the platform that has made it so ubiquitous in the first place, the Internet itself.
However, a college education and the online mini degrees only serve to teach a skill-set, which is great for getting a job, but I can tell you from personal experience, having been able to steadily climb the corporate ladder in the software industry in the most desired geographical area outside of Silicon Valley, and having reached a relatively mature level in my field both in seniority and financially, that the path of entrepreneurship may be the better long term solution for those who have a constant itch for achievement, ambition, and curiosity of the world.
Entrepreneurship goes beyond the desire for financial freedom, but goes to the heart of creating solutions for the world, and bettering oneself in the process to be able to bring those solutions to life. That’s why we’ve spent so much time coming up with a platform to help those that choose to follow this path. This is the platform and resource that I wanted when growing up but never had, but I found a glimpse of it in my friends, so we started Secret Entourage because of it.
I’ll end this post when a song lyric that I think is appropriate…
“People rise together, When they believe in tomorrow” – If you look at all of our social media followers and all of our Academy members, you’ll realize that all these people believe in a brighter future, in a future where their happiness and fate lies in their own hands. We believed the same thing when we started Secret Entourage, and that’s why we’ll continue down this path as for as long as we continue to believe, because in order to succeed, we must first believe that we can – and if you can understand this one point then you realize you understand all that you need to know.