As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Brandon C. White.
Brandon is an entrepreneur with two exists under his belt (so far) and host of Build a Business Success Secrets Podcast where he teaches entrepreneurs how to build a powerful mindset, healthy body, and a successful business.
He’s an angel investor, worked for two prominent venture capital firms and served in management with a Fortune 500 company (AOL Time Warner).
Brandon started his professional career in technology as a pioneer on the Internet in 1996 as the Founder/CEO of Worldwide Angler, Inc. Worldwide Angler was recognized as an early technology internet innovator and as the number-one social networking, e-commerce site for sport fisherman on the internet.
Brandon has his MBA from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Kenan-Flagler Business School.
He also has a Masters and BA in Psychology from Washington College where he was President of the Psi Chi National Honor Society and the recipient of a NCAA Sports Writing Scholarship.
Brandon lives in Half Moon Bay, CA with his wife, three jack russells, toy poodle and cat. He enjoys biking, surfing, fly fishing, and going fast.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. I know that you are a very busy person. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you grew up?
I grew up on a farm in Maryland with my Mom and my younger brother. I love sports and played lacrosse and soccer growing up. I was also turned into a fanatical sport fisherman from fishing the streams and ponds in and around where we lived.
I started by first company while working on my masters in psychology simply because I couldn’t find the fishing magazine I was looking for.
What were your early inspirations that set you off on your particular journey?
I think being lost after college really put about everything back on the table. When I started college I thought I would become a lawyer, but when that didn’t work out everything other than that was on the table.
As I think back to that time in my life I vividly remember a retired Navy submarine captain who used to work out at the Golds Gym where I would workout after work. One day I guess he was listening to my conversation and he turned to me, looked me in the eye and said in a straight forward, almost transferring confidence energy to me, “You’re clearly a smart guy, why don’t you go build something.”
That’s not what necessarily set me on my journey to start my first company, but reflecting back it clearly had an impact on me since I can remember it almost twenty-five years later.
Another pivotal moment, as I call them, of inspiration came one day when I had started working on the idea of publishing a fishing magazine online.
I would read magazines and the newspaper almost every day and I was sitting in the library when I read about two guys who were starting an “internet phonebook” and it explained how they raised some money from Sequoia Capital and were building their company. Those two guys of course were Jerry Yang and David Filio.
But it struck me, yes they seemed like some smart guy, but I said to myself, “If they can do it, why can’t I?!”
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
It wasn’t funny to me at the time, but it was funny to a lot of people, our lawyers, when they found out.
I had been lucky enough to meet a retired partner from Sequoia Capital of all places, funny how the universe works, and to make a longer story short, the first day I met we had lunch, did the business plan on the back of a placemat and went fishing after.
On the way home he turned and said, “How much money do you guys have in the bank.” I replied, “Probably about $7,000, but it fluctuates on a daily basis because right now we’re trading stocks to fund the company.”
He didn’t say a word, pulled out his checkbook and started writing. I was driving do I didn’t really realize what was happening.
He hands me a check while we’re driving and says, “I like what you’re doing, you can don’t it with $7,000, let’s make this happen. Oh yea, no more trading stocks with company money.”
I laughed, looked down and it was a check for $50,000.
The funny part…
Time passes and we’re closing $1m in our first round of capital, I sound like I know what I’m talking about saying that but at the time I had no real clue, and I’m at the lawyer office.
The lawyer asks where the paperwork for the $50k was. I said we didn’t have any. We shook hands and here’s what we agreed.
The conference room full of lawyers all started laughing. I didn’t know what was so funny. They said, never do that again kid, you’ve got to have paperwork man!
Probably not the funniest thing you’ve heard, but that qualifies as business funny.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There were a lot of people. The guy I wrote about above, Tom M. has taught me more about business and venture capital than I could ever repay, but you heard a good story with Tom. Here’s another person I will never be able to fully repay either…
A customer contacted me one day from our message boards and asked if I wanted to go fishing. He seems to catch a lot of fish so I said sure. This name, Chris C.
So I go fishing, he out fishes me, we have a good time and it turns into an every Friday fishing adventure.
Turns out Chris had build a real estate company and sold it to Merrill Lynch in his early thirty’s. After his five year on-compete he started another real estate company, merged it with some other real estate companies, took it public and then Warren Buffet bought it, took it private, and Chris served on the Board of Directors with Warren for many years.
The business advice, lessons, how to and friendship he offered was incredible. Imagine getting a full day each week where you could bring your questions about anything in business, marketing, management, sales, finance etc…each Friday and get answers and advice from a person of that caliper?!
Chris gave me a money clip with my initials on it for Christmas one year. I carry it around every single day as a reminder of all things I’ve learned from him.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
When the dot com market crashed in 2001 we had to lay over half our staff off. Having to do that is one of the hardest business things I’ve every done. It was hard. These are humans, with families, who you’ve worked with side by side and having to let someone like that go is horrible.
It didn’t get better, ultimately we had to close the whole company down.
I bought back some of the assets, re-started it, build it, grew it and ultimately sold it and was able to get our house here in Half Moon Bay, CA where I’m writing this from right now.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I grew up with dyslexia so reading and spelling were hard for me. Looking back that is probably what build a lot of strength.
When you have to leave your class and go get tutoring while the other kids are doing other fun things, that leaves a mark. I worked my tail off to not have to do that because of bad it made me feel.
When you’re always fighting at some point you don’t call it your drive, what looks like drive to other people, is just my norm.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Never better! I was lucky enough to sell the sport fishing social media company, start another company, sell another company’s and working on another now.
I believe for me failure wasn’t an option, not because that is some line to say, but simply because I was in a situation where the mortgage was due every 30th of the month, the electric bill was due, car payment, school loan payment, etc…
I don’t think people realize their full potential until they are put in situations where failure isn’t an option. You’ll be surprised how smart, talented and good you really are when that happens.
I remember graduating from business school and everyone talking about what they were going to do and how they were going to leverage their newly early MBA. When it got around to me I said I was going to quit the Venture Capital firm I was working for and do something else. That someone else? I wasn’t 100% sure yet.
One classmate said, “How will you figure it out?
I said, “At some point I’ll have to because my saving will run out and in that moment, if it takes that long, something will happen. I’ve been there before, I have confidence it will happen.”
I’m not suggesting everyone out there burn the bridges, but I am suggesting that sometimes you have to believe you can do what you’re not sure you can do. That mindset is what it takes to be an Entreprenuer and I just figured that out and have lived by it.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think Build a Business stands out because I’ve made so many mistakes that when an entrepreneur or business owner comes and needs help and guidance, I’ve likely made that mistake and offer a plan forward for them.
That really only comes with time.
A story that comes to mind is that I’ve designed a framework on how to build a business plan in 13 slides. I’ve had a student building a dog bed company that had never started a company, never build a business plan and never raised money.
She followed the steps to the tee and on her first pitch using that business plan formula, raised money AND got a top of industry person to serve on her Board of Directors.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
A balance between 1) mind, 2) Body and 3) building your business. And here’s a news flash…
While the media and so called expert entrepreneurs will preach you have to have balance, the reality is it’s really really hard. You’re business is going to take up more than 33% of your time. Probably at least 75% in the early days and maybe 50% later. Take whatever is left over, divide it and exercise your body and mind. And…
Don’t forget about your most important team, your significant other!
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
My wife and I actually just started the Brandon and Ivette White Foundation. We put it together to try and help leave the world a better place than how we found it. The foundation will give back in multiple ways to causes like education and the environment.
Wonderful. Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Overnight success is really really rare, don’t expect it so you’re not disappointed and don’t get discouraged when it doesn’t happen as fast as you think.
The press positions overnight success all the time. The list is long of about every company out there that took at least 5–10 years to really get going.
2. Do not compromise on the level of talent you hire. You need A players. Hire one B player and your team will erode over time.
We were in a hurry to hire, hired a C player and it eroded the whole team in the matter of a year. This caused us to have to clean house and re-build.
Note, I’m not saying this person was not a good human, they were. What I’m saying is they simply didn’t have the experience we needed from a professional or emotional level.
3. Your critics will be really loud. Try to remember that in general for every critic there are five or ten supporters, you just don’t hear them as vividly. And remember, usually only people doing worse than you will criticize you.
I was slightly blindsided when we started to get some initial success in the early days of my first company. I let it eat at me and until I understood and got control of it, it hurt my performance because I was always trying to please the critics who were never going to be able to be pleased.
4. Raising money is incredibly hard and you will likely get rejected on a 50:1 ratio. 75 or 100:1 is not uncommon.
5. Build and follow a business plan. And fully, unequivocally, understand your target customer.
If you don’t have a plan you don’t know where you’re going and you don’t have a tool to help your team understand where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.
As it relates to understanding your target customer as part of the plan: When we started out in my first company I thought we had to please every single time of angler even though I originally started the whole thing to fulfill the niche of light tackle, fly fishing saltwater anglers.
It was super hard, we lost focus, and ultimately hurt our growth. When I bought the company back I focused on one region with one target customer and…go figure it worked. I sold the company and that allowed me to be where I am today.
Now that you have gained this experience and knowledge, has it affected or changed your personal leadership philosophy and style? How have these changes affected your company?
For sure. I don’t compromise on the above, even when I want to because of speed, because I like someone, or some other emotional reason.
I’m militaristic about it because of how important it is.
This series is called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me”. This has the implicit assumption that had you known something; you might have acted differently. But from your current vantage point, do you feel that knowing alone would have been enough, or do you feel that ultimately you can only learn from experience? I think that learning from mistakes is the best way, perhaps the only way, to truly absorb and integrate abstract information. What do you think about this idea? Can you explain?
Training scares that come from making the mistakes are irreplaceable. They are sharp, sting and leave a scar to help you remember. I have some, nix that, I have a ton and each one reminds me if I get to a point of making them again.
We can all sit around and pontificate how we would react in any given situation, but until you’re actually in that situation for real where you’re coupling not only the academics of it, but all the emotions that go along with it, don’t know what you would really do.
Experience is pretty irreplaceable, but having said that, I think that had I known then what I know now, I would have made smarter mistakes or at least recognize the situation and not been as disappointed because my expectations would have been more accurate which would have saved me a lot of stress, anxiety and emotional energy.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
To make sure everyone smiles at least once a day. It’s amazing no matter how bad you feel, how sad you are, how a smile can brighten not only your day, but someone else as well.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Best places are:
1) Build a Business Success Secrets Podcast where I publish three times a week. We’re on apple podcasts, Spotify etc… Best link is: https://brandoncwhite.com/startup-podcast-build-business-brandon-straight-talk-for-entrepreneurs/
2) My weekly free newsletter: Sign up at: https://brandoncwhite.com/newsletter