4 Lessons From a 15-Year-Old Entrepreneur

Posted on April 13, 2014 by Josh Linkner

The Define Fruit-Infused Water Bottle is all the rage.

According to the product’s website, it is a “Beautifully-designed, eco-friendly water bottle that allows you to take delicious, nutrient-rich, fruit-infused water to go. Allowing limitless combinations of fresh fruit, teas and herbs, the bottle provides a great alternative to plain water and removes the temptation of sugary drinks. Give up your plain water habit and define what’s in your water bottle.”

Watter Bottle

It is a fresh product idea that has already sold more than 150,000 units. The founder has been featured on Shark Tank, recommended by former President Bill Clinton, honored by Entrepreneur Magazine for creating one of the most brilliant companies of 2013, and celebrated by first lady Michelle Obama. What’s even more remarkable: the founder of this hot new concept is 15-year-old Carter Kostler from Virginia Beach, Va.

Carter was inspired to make a difference after learning about the disturbing stats surrounding childhood obesity and the impact of sugary drinks and soda. Unlike most of us who hear of a problem and then ignore it, Carter set out to leave an impact. His company is now unstoppable, and he’s making a positive contribution to society.

I read about his invention and success and decided to study this remarkable story. I want to share four big ideas that we can all learn from this inspiring 10th-grader:

■ Follow your passion — To conquer the overwhelming odds against him, Carter needed to follow his heart. If he were chasing money or fame, the momentum would have likely fizzled. But because he pursued his passion to help other kids live better lives, he was able to break through and break away.

■ Do something bigger than yourself — Customers, advocates, suppliers and the media fell in love with Carter because his company wasn’t about him. It was about preserving the environment, reducing obesity, and battling diabetes and other weight-related afflictions. His success came as a byproduct of serving others.

■ Discover ideas from problems — Carter’s idea (and countless other top products and services) came directly from his frustration with the status quo. In your own life, what are the things that annoy, provoke and disturb you? Look closer to discover limitless opportunity instead of merely wallowing in disappointment.

■ Reject limits — There are a thousand reasons why a high-school sophomore from Virginia Beach could never launch a consumer products business. Luckily for us all, Carter chose to ignore that noise and get on with the real work of bringing his vision to life. We all have plenty of reasons not to pursue our own calling. But the ones who make history forge ahead despite these obstacles.

Instead of dismissing young Mr. Kostler as just a lucky kid, let’s learn from his ageless wisdom. Carter pursued his passion, is making a difference, and is enjoying unprecedented success as a result. You and I can do the exact same thing.

It must be something in the water.

What Would MacGyver Do?

Posted on April 6, 2014 by Josh Linkner

In the late 1980s, millions of us tuned in to witness Angus MacGyver’s ability to always find a creative way to get out of a jam.

Regularly finding himself in an impossible life-or-death situation, he managed to come out on top through grit and resourcefulness. Instead of panicking, he’d simply figure out a way to solve the complex problem with the limited resources at his disposal, often relying on the bare necessities — duct tape and his trusty Swiss army knife.

MacGyver’s ability to conquer tough obstacles by improvising and being scrappy led the creative founder of Method — the cleaning products company with the motto of “people against dirty” — to embrace his ingenuity as one of their five core cultural philosophies.

MacGyver

The phrase “What would MacGyver do?” serves as a guidepost for decision-making and helped the company rocket to more than $100 million in revenue. The saying also has been embraced by others, with T-shirts and signs readily available for sale online.

Having worked with nearly 100 start-ups throughout my career, I see a consistent pattern. In the incredibly challenging process of building something out of nothing, entrepreneurs are delivered more obstacles, brick walls and setbacks than you can imagine. The difference-maker between the ones who flourish and the ones who wilt is raw, gritty determination. It’s a refusal to accept barriers combined with the creativity to figure it out.

In your business or career, you’re likely facing big challenges, too. The landscape only continues to become more competitive and complex each day. Instead of succumbing to these roadblocks, put yourself in MacGyver’s shoes. How would he tackle the challenge at hand? How would he use the limited resources at his disposal to figure out a solution instead of licking the wounds of defeat?

It doesn’t take a superhero or fictitious TV character to be resourceful. Each of us has the ability to inject this same creative problem solving into our own lives.

Often the most powerful solutions come not from an abundance of money, time, people and other resources, but from a fresh, imaginative approach that developed from being resource-constrained. Worry less about what you don’t have, and instead use the tools currently available to give your challenges a smackdown.

The next time you’re facing an overwhelming obstacle, MacGyver it! It’s certainly better than getting MacGyvered yourself by the competition.

When? Not If.

Posted on March 30, 2014 by Josh Linkner

In the early days of the Internet, less than 2% of companies had a corporate website. To put your brochure on the web at that time was cutting-edge and bold. Launching a website was a newsworthy event; an opportunity to shine over your competition.

I know this intimately, because the company I founded back in 1995 — GlobalLink New Media — was a website development firm. I would cold-call potential customers and ask, “Have you ever heard of the Internet?” My question and subsequent description of the online world was often met with bewilderment and confusion. Being both a tech and marketing geek, it wasn’t a giant leap for me to realize that pretty soon all companies that mattered would have a website.

It was a question of when, not if.

The companies that embraced rapid changes in technology and consumer behavior by going online early gained a tremendous advantage. They were positioned as thought-leaders and serviced their customers in an insightful new way. They realized that the faster they adapted, the better results they’d enjoy.

Then there were the companies that waited until being online was commonplace and widely accepted. Not only did they pay more for their sites because demand had spiked, their investment was only a catch-up mechanism at that point. A zero-sum game. A necessity rather than a differentiator.

And what about those that waited until nearly everyone had an online presence? The laggards damaged their brands by waiting too long, appearing slow and clumsy to an increasingly competitive marketplace. They put themselves in an extremely dangerous position that demanded many times the investment just to try to claw back from behind.

The when-not-if paradox is not exclusive to the mid-’90s Internet rush. It’s been a dilemma for centuries, and continues to grow in magnitude and importance. Mobile devices: when, not if. Social media: when, not if. Adapting to a millennial workforce: when, not if. Expanding into global markets: when, not if.

Rather than resisting the inevitable, embrace macro-trends early to get the most out of them. The faster your move, the more you’ll be able to extract value from being an early-adopter. Change is happening at an unprecedented rate. Leaping forward instead of clutching to the past is your best bet to remain relevant and enjoy sustainable success.

When the next tech advancement, consumer trend, medical breakthrough, or geopolitical shift occurs, resist your wait-and-see instincts. Instead, move fast to savor the reward that boldness enables.

The question is no longer if. The real question is when.

Wow Fewer Customers Instead of Trying to Please Them All

Posted on March 23, 2014 by Josh Linkner

When Greg Koch and Steve Wagner founded Stone Brewing, they could have ended up like thousands of start-up failures. They could have launched a me-too product and tried to compete head to head with the industry leaders.

Instead, they decided to stick it to the man.

Their beer was unapologetically different. It was bold and irreverent. The company named one of their first brews Arrogant Bastard Ale, which carried a challenging warning on the label: “This is an aggressive beer. You probably won’t like it.”

Arrogant Bastard Ale

The founders continuously mock the established guard and are extremely vocal about their perspective. So much so, they distribute T-shirts and stickers that read, “Fizzy yellow beer is for wussies.”

Sound like a self-defeating and dangerous approach when trying to win customers? There is no doubt that Koch and Wagner alienate many beer drinkers who do not appreciate being provoked. I’m sure there are some who are offended by the company’s approach. Complaints of being rude, disrespectful and cocky certainly have been lodged. Many people, in fact, hate the beer and the company. But those that love it… truly love it.

Stone Brewing’s loyal customers support the company with cult-like fervor. Their beer has a unique taste and represents a departure from the norm. For those who connect to the ideals of the company and its founders, the beer is the liquid equivalent of a Harley Davidson motorcycle or a Fender guitar. Iconic. Meaningful. Delicious. The passion evoked by this California-based brewer has propelled the company to $100 million in annual revenue. And they’ve never spent a penny on marketing.

In your business, you may be trying to be all things to all people. But a vanilla approach will only spread mediocrity. If you want customers to truly fall in love with you and your product or service, you must take a stand.

The willingness to alienate some will enable you to connect more deeply with others. What changes would you make in your business if your goal were to estrange 30% of your customers while delighting the other 70%? Or even ditching 70% while completely dazzling 30%? How could you offer something so unique and compelling that it simply couldn’t be ignored?

In these challenging times, taking an unconventional approach can make all the difference. So go ahead and balk tradition. Disregard industry practices. Forge new ground. Push into new areas that scare your competition. Launch your own version of Arrogant Bastard Ale in your chosen field or profession, and you may just become flush with success like the good folks at Stone Brewing.

I’ll drink to that.

Correct The Overcorrect

Posted on March 16, 2014 by Josh Linkner

When the crooks at Enron, Tyco and Worldcom committed fraud and marred their shareholders with huge losses, the Securities and Exchange Commission rightfully swooped in to prevent future cons.

The problem is that the corrective measure came in the form of legislation known as Sarbanes-Oxley, which became a stranglehold on business. It was a broad-based, sweeping regulation that undoubtedly was well-intentioned but ended up significantly hampering the competitiveness of U.S. businesses and contributed to the financial meltdown of 2008.

When your local Italian restaurant finds it is losing money due to its historically gigantic portion sizes, it does a 180-degree turn, ending up with thimble-size helpings that leave patrons hungry. Schools that generate low test scores in math and science may try to turn the tides by dumping every penny of their resources into this one problem area.

I could go on for days with examples in every industry and facet of life. The central problem we face: The Overcorrect.

If something bad happens we naturally want to ensure it never happens again. Even as toddlers, we learn quickly not to touch the hot stove a second time. The challenge is that we may fight so hard to avoid the original problem that we end up creating a new problem in its place. Just like the game of Whac-A-Mole, a new enemy pops up as quickly as an old one is silenced.

Whac-A-Mole

I’ve been guilty of this in my career. As I built ePrize — the largest interactive promotion agency in the world — I realized at one point that our quality had dropped significantly due to our loose systems. Instead of optimizing these practices, I instinctively flung the pendulum too far in the other direction by implementing far too many rigid policies, checklists and procedures. Quality increased, but speed and nimbleness took a nosedive and left me with a whole new set of issues to solve.

Restraint and thoughtfulness naturally become the challenge as we conquer our most painful obstacles. While we learn from our mistakes and grow, we must be careful not to release such an exaggerated response as to create a brand new headache for our organizations or ourselves

The solution to one slow month of sales is not to hire 100 more salespeople. The solution to a chilly house is not to install three new furnaces and run them full blast. The solution to being too soft in interpersonal conflicts is not to become a cantankerous jerk

Fight the urge to overreact and instead proceed with a measured response. You’ll end up whittling down your challenges instead of magnifying the count.

Correct your desire to overcorrect, correctly.

Feed The Right Wolf

Posted on March 8, 2014 by Josh Linkner

There’s a powerful American Indian fable that has never been more relevant: One evening, an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.

He said, “My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.”

“The other is good,” he continued. “It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed the most.”

Wold Pack

As busy people struggling with life’s challenges, we often think our feelings and internal characteristics are involuntary. Impulses race through our heads and we automatically react, as if our knees were jerking forward from the thump of a doctor’s mallet. But unlike bodily reactions that we can’t control, we have the ability to choose our feelings and responses.

If you don’t focus on breathing, your body breathes for you automatically. Yet only a small bit of concentration allows you to control your own breath. The same holds true for our character attributes. Without focus, your mind will pick the most convenient response, often driven by fear. But a small bit of thoughtfulness allows you to switch from a negative perspective to a much more constructive stance.

Once you realize you’re in control, the next step is to build these character muscles. Like your physical muscles, they become stronger with exercise. The more you display empathy and kindness, the more developed these character attributes become. On the other hand, destructive traits can grow to overtake the positive ones unless you proactively choose to feed the right wolf.

Imagine yourself as an old man or woman, rocking in a chair near the end of your life. As you reflect on the past, will you celebrate the deep reservoir of positive characteristics you built, allowing you to make a meaningful contribution to the world? Or will you look back with regret, bemoaning your squandered opportunity amid your highly developed undesirable attributes?

Make the right choice. Choose the right reactions. Build the right muscles. Feed the right wolf.

7 Tips to Maximize Productivity

Posted on March 2, 2014 by Josh Linkner

We all share a mutual enemy — the 24-hour clock.

Considering we each have exactly the same amount of time per day, why do some people generate unimaginable productivity and results while others fall so woefully short? Embrace these best practices, and you’ll get more done in record time:

Plan ahead. Rather than racing through life in reaction mode, get a grasp on your calendar by planning ahead. Take 15 minutes each Sunday night to review the upcoming week. Craft your schedule in a way that works best for you. Plan how to make the upcoming week most efficient. In addition to your Sunday ritual, take five minutes each evening to review the day ahead. The few minutes you spend looking forward will drive productivity and reduce anxiety.

Conquer the hardest stuff first. Too often, we procrastinate and let the most challenging projects hang over our head. This creates stress and hurts your ability to focus on current tasks. If you tackle the big things first, you’ll be energized and that momentum will drive results throughout your day.

Reduce touch points. As the world comes at you (e-mail, voice mail, memos, etc.), try to avoid the back-and-forth syndrome. Don’t waste your time reading the same e-mail six times before tackling it. The fewer times you touch an item, the more productive you’ll become.

Say no more often. Saying no to the less important things better equips you to conquer the ones that matter most. Protect your schedule ferociously because your time is your most important and scarce resource.

Work in 90-minute sprints. No one can work in full concentration for 10 hours straight. Our bodies are built for intense periods of performance followed by rest and recovery — 90 minutes of total focus followed by 10-minute stretch breaks yields far better results than trying to run flat-out all day.

Eliminate multitasking. Trying to do two (or seven) things at once reduces focus and robs each task of your full attention. Instead, try ‘single tasking’ to remain fully-engaged in each effort to deliver your best work.

Protect against distractions. Each inbound text, Facebook alert, or random pop-in from a colleague breaks your concentration and reduces productivity. Carve our distraction-free time to focus without interruption, and then check the sports scores during regular breaks.

You can take control of your own schedule or let your calendar run you. The next time you meet a highly accomplished person and you ask yourself, “How can they possibly get all that done,” you can be sure they’re embracing most of the strategies listed here. Incorporate these tips, and you’ll soon be joining an elite squad of the world’s most productive.

Go The Distance For Your Calling

Posted on February 23, 2014 by Josh Linkner

Dr. Zenko Hrynkiw is serious about his work. As the only neurosurgeon at Trinity Medical Center in Birmingham, Alabama, he is on call 330 days per year. He’s deeply committed to helping people and saving lives, regularly embracing a “whatever it takes approach.”

Dr. Zenko Hrynkiw

This resolve was put to the test a few weeks ago, in the midst of the polar vortex that has been wreaking havoc on communities in the U.S. ever since the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve. Having just completed a surgery at a neighboring hospital, he received an emergency call from Trinity. He was needed to save a life.

The arctic weather had locked down the roads in a town that isn’t accustomed to large amounts of snow. Dr. Hrynkiw was caught in total gridlock, and after a few blocks realized he’d be stuck in traffic indefinitely, according to a news account I read. At that moment, he could have given up. He tried to get there, after all. Any reasonable person would have absolved him of blame if he simply couldn’t get to the hospital because of an act of God. Thankfully, the good doctor is far from reasonable.

Rather that quitting, the 62-year-old got out of his car and started walking. He trekked 6 miles in the bitter cold to reach his patient in need. He walked straight into the hospital, prepped for surgery, and immediately began the complicated procedure. According to hospital officials, the patient had only a 10% chance of survival if Dr. Hrynkiw hadn’t been able to make it.

And, of course, when asked about it later, he was humble and said he was just doing his job.

We all have roadblocks that can inhibit our ability to achieve. Weather is only one of dozens of factors that can hold us back from reaching our potential and doing our best work. However, we can all learn a powerful lesson from this dedicated surgeon: Those obstacles exist simply to test your resolve.

Reflecting on the neurosurgeon’s heroic 6-mile hike, I realized that two ingredients made it possible — the combination of calling and commitment.

This passionate doctor was driven to save lives; he was doing what he was meant to do. Because he was pursuing his purpose instead of just punching the clock, he had the fortitude to break through perceived limits. In turn, he was able to summon the unwavering commitment to deliver. He was able to harness the grit and determination to stop at nothing in order to fulfill his life’s work.

As you examine your own situation, try to find the intersection of calling and commitment. If you are doing what you’re truly meant to do — meaningful work that leaves a positive impact on the world — you’ll be able to develop the unbreakable commitment needed to manifest your vision.

The beautiful simplicity of calling + commitment. You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to embrace this elegant formula in your own life. Let your own 6-mile walk begin.

Changing Your Soundtrack

Posted on February 16, 2014 by Josh Linkner

Earlier this month, the 56th annual Grammy ceremony awarded Thomas Newman a Grammy for the score he composed for the James Bond movie Skyfall.

It was a brilliant work, enhancing the emotions throughout the intense journey of Agent 007. Newman’s masterpiece was the connective tissue that stitched together scenes and characters, allowing us to savor all 143 minutes of the film.

While the soundtrack was a significant aspect of the overall production, most of us who saw the movie could not hum a single bar of music from it if our lives depended on it. We may recall Adele’s incredible performance of the theme song, but the powerful soundtrack that greatly influenced us all was not the main focal point. Far more than background music, musical scores deeply impact our emotions, opinions, and overall enjoyment.

In the same way the soundtrack of a movie or TV show can dramatically alter our viewing experience, your own internal soundtrack plays an enormous role in your life’s experience. Your inner-dialogue is always playing and can drive not only your feelings but also your behavior. Positive or negative. Helpful or destructive.

If your internal score is the equivalent of a dramatic tragedy or the heart-thumping pulse of a horror flick, you’ll tiptoe through life afraid of every shadow and dark corner. You’ll restrict your ability to impact the world and seize your full potential. If your soundtrack mainly consists of the wha-wha-wha of a slapstick comedy, your silliness may inhibit your ability to build mature relationships or a successful career.

On the other hand, if that self-talk is positive and deliberate, pushing you to reach new heights and achieve what’s possible, it will play a pivotal role in helping you achieve life’s equivalent of a Grammy or an Oscar. Instead of the haunting melody of a perfectly tuned cello or the intricate rhythms of a timpani drum, your internal soundtrack should be filled with hope, optimism, and confidence. Refrains of “Yes, you can” and “Leave it better than you found it” can replace the piercing shriek of a trumpet during a musical crescendo.

The good news is that you are in charge of what soundtrack gets played. You are the composer, conductor, and orchestra. You get to select each word of the lyrics, and get to change the channel if you don’t like what you hear. You have the ability to create an award-winning soundtrack that becomes the foundation of an award-winning life.

Even if you can’t play a lick of music, take responsibility for crafting a masterful soundtrack to replace doubtful or timid self-chatter. If you compose it in a purposeful way, you’ll undoubtedly be giving an enthusiastic “two thumbs up” when reflecting back on a life well-lived.

Conquering with Humor

Posted on February 9, 2014 by Josh Linkner

There are many ways to fight the people and organizations that are working to hold you back.  Standing up to the schoolyard bully and fighting head-on is certainly one approach.  Counter-attacks, hitting your enemy at their point of weakness, and peaceful protest are all proven strategies.  One of my favorites –and often overlooked — is using humor to defuse a combative situation.

As the Olympic games began in Sochi, anti-gay sentiment reached a heightened state.  Last week, the mayor of Sochi told the BBC that there were no gays in his city and said being gay was not accepted in the region.  The Russian government has increasingly detained homosexuals and supporters, simply for being themselves.  Discrimination has escalated, with many LGBT athletes fearing for their safety in what should be an international celebration of diversity and inclusiveness.

The Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion fired back, using humor as their weapon of choice:

Sochi Olympics

They launched this hilarious video on YouTube, showing two men getting very close as part of the luge competition.  With the 80’s classic “Don’t You Want Me Baby” playing in the background, the video uses humor to combat homophobia.  The clip concludes by saying, “The games have always been a little gay. Let’s fight to keep them that way. Show your support for the equality of all athletes by changing your Facebook profile picture with us at http://bit.ly/keepthegamesgay.”

Far more effective than yelling and screaming, the video went viral and has been seen by millions, shining light on a very serious matter.  Rather than fighting fire with fire, this progressive organization used laughter to take down the irrational hatred of the protesting bigots.

We all face resistance on our lives, ranging from teachers to bosses to parents to bureaucrats.  Going toe-to-toe can work in certain cases, but never forget the power of humor to make a strong point in a non-threatening way.  A good laugh can be mightier than the sword.  Even if you don’t take down your enemies with a joke, it can be a powerful mechanism for both coping and rallying support.

The next time you’re facing a threat, think about using humor to shine a mirror in your attackers face and point out the absurdity of their approach.  It’s a strategy that’s been winning hearts and minds for centuries.

Now that’s a punch line we can all enjoy.