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 Dillon Hill.
Dillon Hill runs Live For Another, an organization all about helping other people in creative ways, like buying 11 billboards to help a Stage 4 cancer patient achieve her dream of being on Ellen. Dillon’s goal is to use the power of the internet to help people discover how they can have a positive impact on the world. Join the community at www.liveforanother.com
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 in Northern California, where I have lived my whole life. One of my bigger challenges was being born without vision in my right eye, which meant a whole lot of trying to fix my vision. Long story short, I ran into a LOT of walls. Other than that, I was very fortunate to have parents that worked their butt off to provide a comfortable life for my brother and I.
In 5th grade, my childhood best friend was diagnosed with cancer, which started me on a road to helping others.
What were your early inspirations that set you off on your particular journey?
As I mentioned earlier, my close friend was diagnosed with cancer at a young age. As a kid, I remember spending a BUNCH of time with him in the hospital. At the time it felt like a great excuse to play video games all day, but once I was in high-school I realized how important that experience was for me… by simply being there for my friend, I made his day that much brighter! Luckily, he beat that first fight with cancer.
Fast forward to Junior year of high school, where I decided to start a non-profit organization based on that experience! I Googled the paperwork, sent it to the IRS, then started going door-to-door to fundraise! Our goal was to bring video games to kids in the hospital, and it worked!
I run that organization to this day, but things got a little crazy during my third year of college! My childhood friend called me to tell me the cancer was back, but this time he was given a terminal diagnosis of one year. That news spooked me quite a bit, so I decided to drop out of college and do everything I possibly could to make his bucket list dreams a reality.
That decision led to a documentary about our friendship, which went super viral! Long story short, the internet made our entire bucket list possible, including our world record attempt to break the world’s biggest bone marrow donation drive. Our community inspired over 13,000 people to sign up to donate bone marrow…one of those people being the donor that would end up saving my best friend’s life!
Both experiences helped me realized that helping other people can make life pretty darn awesome!
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?
The very first Kindness Project that I put together was volunteering at an assisted living facility. In typical Live For Another fashion, I tried to approach the situation with creativity — I brought the video game Rock Band. In my naïve head I thought it would be awesome to play some tunes with the elderly, but they were not huge fans of Aerosmith. I remember feeling super embarrassed. Seriously, if you saw the look on their faces you would too. Looking back on that, I realized that it just might have been the best-case scenario. I made a fool of myself, but that meant everyone was laughing! I don’t think I could have gotten that kind of response by doing a more traditional volunteer experience (puzzles, reading, etc).
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?
It’s kind of a lame answer, but I think everyone around me has their own special impact. My little brother reminds me that people look up to me, my parents remind me to focus on what is important. Heck, the stranger I sit next to at a red light inspires me. If I do things right and work hard enough, maybe someday I’ll get to hear his story.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
I don’t think the hard times every ended, but the biggest story that comes to mind is working with an old friend of mine. I really needed help managing things, so I reached out to him and we reconnected. It had been 10 years since we had a real conversation, but we were able to collaborate on this organization in a way that brought us closer. Unfortunately, we just were not able to scale the business in a way that was sustainable for him, so we had to stop working. There were no hard feelings on either side, but the first day back in the office was tough. It was a very isolating experience to be told that this journey wasn’t going to work out, but yet I was sitting there alone trying to take it on.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
A lot of unjustified optimism.
Honestly, I have a dream of this thing working out. Whenever things get tough I think back on the things we’ve accomplished and realize that if I keep my head up we’ll be able to achieve something twice as awesome.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Better, but not perfect. I do not think ‘grit’ can make a business successful. In fact, I had a pretty bad relationship with that mindset that lead to a hard burnout. For me, it has been more helpful to accept the things that led to being in that low point. Instead of trying to work the hard times away, I considered why the hard time happened and have been trying to address the root causes. I just think it’s really important to sit in the feelings instead of trying to work the problems away.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
One of my favorite things about Live For Another is our humility. We make fun of ourselves a lot, which leads us to really respect what our community does. This makes for an awesome relationship.
I think the best story about our organization is The Children’s Hospital Road Trip, a recent Kindness Project. Having visited children’s hospitals since high school, I’ve received a lot of praise from people! Of course, I was appreciative that they looked up to me, but I was also a bit frustrated. I wanted everyone to see that THEY have the same capacity to help others that I do. So, we set out to make a documentary to prove it.
We packed up 15 suitcases full of video game consoles, then went on a cross country road trip to donate them all! The twist? We asked our audience to send us an email if they wanted to participate! That meant every city we stopped in we were joined by one of our viewers, then we would donate together! Oh, and to really prove how easy it is to help kids we did it ALL in just 7 days.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
You know your body and mind better than anyone else. Don’t feel like you need to match their lifestyle to achieve success. I remember back in high school I spent a lot of time researching alternative sleep habits. I thought that waking up at 2am would make me successful. Spoiler Alert: it doesn’t. Success comes from using the strengths of who you are, not copying some internet guru.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Since our purpose is to spread kindness, I like to think so. I think a lot of people assume that goodness comes from the people we help, but every time we put together a Kindness Project my main goal is to receive an email/text/call from someone who was touched by the story. Say, for example, we help a homeless person. Ideally that person’s life would be improved, but I’m equally as interested in the momentum we build by documenting the story. My sharing our perspective, it often times inspires our community to take action themselves, thus introducing a whole lot more kindness into the world.
That’s why our website talks about ‘Investing’ in kindness. Just like the stock market, we believe there’s a huge return on time, energy, or money spent on simple acts of goodness.
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.
- Failure isn’t okay. A lot of people have this misconception that ‘it’s okay to fail’. Don’t get me wrong, I fail ALL that time and you will too…but I try to avoid the toxic positivity. When you fail, it is okay to take a day off and cry. This stuff is hard and we should be okay in sitting in the low points.
- You’re doing enough. Social media makes it so easy to compare ourselves to other people, but if you don’t keep those expectations in-check you might start to believe that your actions aren’t making a difference. They absolutely are! I fall victim to this every day.
- Do it your own way. You don’t have to follow the traditional path! Do things that excite you, not other people. It will make it easier for you to stay committed.
- It’s okay to be selfish. There’s a big misconception that helping other people should be 100% in benefit of the other person. I don’t think that is true at all! If you feel good about volunteering, that’s okay! No one is capable of being Mr. Rogers all the time, not even Mr. Rogers!
- You’re not alone. Seriously, starting something from scratch is one of the most isolating experiences you can face. You just need to remember that there’s at least one person who wants you to succeed! Can’t think of anyone? Send me an email, I’ll prove you wrong.
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?
My style changes all the time. Running a business is never easy, so you’ve always kind to find a new perspective to get you through the day. Honestly, those 5 tips will probably be outdated 10 days from now. Always try to improve and learn from things you tried last time!
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?
Personal experience is everything. My list of ‘5 things’ doesn’t mean the same thing to you as it does to me. I read it and think of “that one time”, whereas you think I’m some dweeb on the internet.
With so many people claiming to know the secret to success, myself included, it’s easy to think like there is a right way to do things. There is not. It’s all about trying things and seeing how it works with your style and ideas. Get out there and make a fool of yourself!
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. :-)
I like to think that Live For Another is a movement, so my dream would be for it to grow into the community I know it can be someday 😊.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Join the community at www.liveforanother.com