Here are a few uncommon, common sense commandments that have helped me overcome obstacles in life and create multiple multi-million dollar businesses. Perhaps they might help you do the same.
1. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
This is my story of the nothing to lose mindset; if you have nothing to lose, you thereby have everything to gain.
Here’s an example: Mark Zuckerberg didn’t fear Google, he didn’t fear Yahoo, and he didn’t care about money, and as a result he went head to head with the giants of his industry even when they waved millions of dollars at him, begging him to cease his internet assault. That attitude was his advantage when the competitors were sitting in their ivory towers laughing at a kid trying to compete with their billions of dollars of fire power. And the irony is that now they’re facing extinction, not Facebook.
Tweet That: “If you have nothing to lose, you thereby have everything to gain.”
2. Even when you have everything to lose, act like you don’t.
I used to have nothing to lose, but now that I have a lot to lose, I have a whole new perspective on this. Even after you’ve made it to the top, you still have to act like you have nothing to lose. And beware a man who has a great deal to lose, but acts like he doesn’t.
Regardless of the amount of money a person has or the size of their company, or the amount of wealth they have—those people that take action and risk without the fear of failure are the ones that will ultimately take market share.
3. Don’t let anyone steal your milk.
I learned this one in Juvenile Hall. In jail the new guys always get tested to see how tough they are. Back then I was a skinny white kid, so I had to catch on quick. They are always watching your reactions—what would you do if someone bumped into you in the hallway? Or what would happen if someone came over and asked you for your milk during lunch? Would you jump up and fight, or would you hand it over meekly?
It’s the same in business, people will constantly be testing you to see whether you’re the real deal or not. And everyone knows that if you let someone take your milk on the first day, you aren’t as tough as you seem; soon they’ll be taking your milk every day, and so will everyone else.
Tweet That: “Don’t let anyone steal your milk.”
4. Let the porpoises talk to porpoises.
Bob Goergen gave this one to me. When I was a novice CEO, I was sitting in a boardroom one time trying to have detailed discussions with the attorneys, which led to lots of complicated questions. Bob, sage that he is, said to me, “Ryan, let the porpoises talk to porpoises.” What he meant was, let the attorneys talk amongst themselves and then they’ll explain it to you. There’s no point in spending your time trying to learn ‘porpoise’.
If you think about it, the greatest thing that a salesperson can do is sound like the highest qualified expert on every subject. But sometimes that’s not the best strategy. At SkyPipeline, I could talk bits and bytes with the best of them. But if I was in the room with a CTO, or CIO, I let them talk amongst themselves. In other words, hold court on a variety of subjects, but when the experts are around, let the porpoises talk porpoise.
5. When you see a lack of urgency, create an emergency.
In other words…if your team lacks urgency, it will fail in an emergency.
For example, I got a call one time that a competitor was meddling in one of my businesses. When the stakes are high, that’s when the snakes come out. If they can’t beat us, they’re going to try to defeat us with corporate espionage and unethical competitive practices.
On a scale of 1-10, I’d say this was a threat level 4, and accordingly my team’s reaction was nonchalant, cavalier, and dismissive. I thought to myself, what if it had been a 10? So I said, “We’re treating this like it was a 10, and we’ll mobilize and deal with this immediately.” I made people cancel vacations and drop everything, because I saw a lack of urgency. And if it had been an emergency, we wouldn’t have been fortified to deal with it.
Just like an army that needs to be battle tested, so does a company.
6. “Remember that you are not safe. Even if you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there.”—Will Rogers
One of my favorite quotes, and something to live by. Early in my career I read a book by Intel CEO Andy Grove called Only the Paranoid Survive. In order to be number one in your industry, if you’re in an industry worth being number one in, you need to be hyper vigilant to the point of paranoia to stay on the right track, more so than if you are on the wrong one. People will notice you’re headed the right direction, and success is like a blackboard—when you make your mark in the world, watch out for the guy behind you with the eraser.
7. Go big, have fun. If not, you either quit, die unhappy, or have a midlife crisis and blow your success.
This one is self-explanatory, but having fun along the way is something I see a lot of entrepreneurs fail to do. You created your business to be your lifestyle so don’t let your board of directors or venture capitalists tell you how to create the culture in your company. If you hate getting up Monday morning and fighting traffic to get to the office at 8am, don’t feel guilty, just get there at 12 instead and work till 12. Get creative.
If you have employees across the globe, you’ll have to change time zones physically and mentally constantly, and as exhausting as that is, if you’re doing what you love—even 17 hours, 7 days a week—it won’t drain you nearly as much as sitting in a cubicle would.
8. Beware the value trap.
A salesperson is either selling you, or the customer. When one of your employees is trying to tell you constantly about the value they provide to you and your company—either you’re being a bad boss, or they’re trying to run one past you. Always be on the watch for the frequency in which the people in your life try to sell you their value. Once in a while is fine, but if the frequency increases, they’re trying to steal your milk.
9. “When faced with defeat, rise to your feet!” —Dr. Dre
There is no substitute for action. Most people’s natural inclination when faced with failure is to hole themselves up in their office or room and stew over the reality of their impending defeat.
As the old saying goes, motion creates emotion. Go talk to clients, vendors, and customers. Get out of your head. The only way you’re going to overcome negativity is to set in action strategies that can conquer your circumstances. If you’re out of money, get on the phone with people who have it. If a supplier isn’t going to service you anymore, fly out there and ask him why. If you lost a big account, go talk to them. We all get defeated, and the times I did, I often looked back and thought I could have done better. I either accepted defeat too early, or I didn’t take the right actions to oppose it.
Tweet That: “When faced with defeat, rise to your feet.”
10. If people tell you that you think too much, tell them they talk too much.
Thinking too much is how every great innovation in society has been created, from Edison’s light bulb to Columbus thinking about the curvature of the earth. Every great idea came with someone who thought a whole lot, and the people around them telling them that they think too much.
Ryan Blair is the CEO of ViSalus, a serial entrepreneur and #1 New York Times bestselling author of “Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain: How I Went from Gang Member to Multimillionaire Entrepreneur” (now available in paperback). Follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanblair or Facebook.