As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Patrick Schwerdtfeger. Patrick is a business futurist specializing in technology trends including big data, artificial intelligence, Fintech and blockchain. He’s the author of “Anarchy, Inc.: Profiting in a Decentralized World with Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain” as well as four other books, and has lectured at numerous academic institutions including Purdue and Stanford Universities. He is also a regular speaker for Bloomberg TV, founder of Trend Mastery Inc., and host of the Strategic Business Insights video blog (with over 28,000 subscribers and six million views on YouTube). Patrick has spoken about business trends, technology and digital marketing at hundreds of conferences all around the world. Learn more here.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
It all started on a dark and stormy night. Just kidding. I’ve written six books and been a full-time professional speaker since 2007. Before all that happened, I had a podcast back in 2006 (about real estate finance) and it did quite well on iTunes, so digital marketing and online branding played an important role throughout my journey. My first three books were all about internet marketing strategies for small business owners and self-employed professionals. Since 2013, I’ve been focused on broader technology trends including big data, artificial intelligence, and block chain.
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?
In the early days, I created a program designed for Rotary Club presentations, and they wanted to avoid topics that were too “business” oriented, so I focused on attracting younger members to their organization. The problem was that I chose the worst possible title for that program. Even worse than that, I didn’t realize how inappropriate it was until almost a year later, after a few Rotary attendees chuckled about it right in front of my face.
My program was called “Touching a Younger Audience” and I’m embarrassed about it to this day!
Turns out, when you’re a professional speaker, the title of your program is extremely important. It needs to be captivating, but it absolutely cannot hint of pedophilia! Lesson learned. I soon changed the title to “Social Media Victories: Real Businesses, Real Campaigns, Real Results” and it served me well for the following four years.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. The book taught me to follow my dreams. I’ve wanted to be a professional speaker since I was 10 years old. I watched Ronald Reagan on TV and listened to the two pastors at our church, and yearned to one day stand on stage to convey a message. It’s been a wild ride, but I’m one of the lucky ones. My dream came true.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
My self-employment started with nine years of struggle and humiliation. I did many different things along the way. I made good money at some, but hated the work. I made almost no money at others, but enjoyed the work. If someone had told me at the beginning that it would take 10 years for my career to stabilize, I never would’ve continued down that path.
Once I finally became a full-time speaker, the one thing I knew for sure was that I understood the struggle of small business owners and self-employed professionals. Although I didn’t see it as my “purpose” at the time, it soon became obvious that I understood my audiences, and that connection drove my referral business, allowing me to develop my skills along the way.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
The road to BEING is through DOING. I live by this motto. You have to take action in the direction of your goals. You can’t see Step #2 until you finish Step #1. You have to take action in order for the path to reveal itself to you. Once you’ve done something, anything, you’ll have a perspective that you didn’t have at the beginning. Each step reveals more. Taking action literally expands your potential. The more steps you take, the greater your potential becomes.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
My girlfriend has a six-year-old boy. He’s awesome, but he’s also crazy. Because of the pandemic, the schools are closed, and we’ve had to figure out how to occupy him during the days. In this circumstance, the population fits neatly into two categories. Either you have children under the age of 15 or you don’t. If you don’t, it’s probably quite manageable. If you do, it’s a different story.
For me, this situation came with a clear opportunity. Spending time with her son allowed me to develop a connection with him. Have I achieved that goal? I’m not sure, but I’m closer than I was before. Kids to well if they can, but they’re experiencing new situations and new emotions, and they don’t yet know how to process those feelings. I’m doing the best that I can to create a safe place for him and his mom in my life.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
This pandemic offers enormous opportunities to all of us. Sadly, most will let that opportunity float down the river, but that’s okay. I’ve taken this time to write my sixth book entitled “Pandemic, Inc.: 8 Forces Driving Business Failure or Fortune in the Post-COVID-19 Economy” (2020, Authority Publishing), and I’m excited about the book launch process in the weeks and months ahead.
As a professional speaker, my revenue immediately dropped to zero when the pandemic was declared. All of my events were cancelled, and many wanted their deposits back. So it wasn’t even zero. It was below zero. In hindsight, I would’ve been thrilled with zero revenue!
It will take years before the population feels comfortable traveling for work conferences again. Some people will get back to those routines quickly, but 20% or 30% or possibly even 40% of people will avoid conferences for a while. That means fewer events with fewer attendees, and that means fewer opportunities for professional speakers.
It was important for me to position myself in front of the ‘pandemic’ topic. Of course, I’m a business futurist, so the topic was a natural fit for me anyway, but the new book was an essential strategy to defend my career. If I’m going to survive as a speaker, I need to secure a larger piece of a smaller pie. Time will tell if that takes place, but I’m excited to share the content either way.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the corona virus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Everyone processes anxiety differently. Some people want to talk about it. For others, those same conversations just make it worse. Alternatively, a positive perspective lightens the mood for some but feels like dismissal to others. Personally, I am experiencing both sides. I feel a deep sense of sadness because of the struggle others are dealing with, but I’m also excited about all the opportunities that are emerging from the chaos.
Others in my inner circle are experiencing anxiety too, and my strategy has been to explain my perspective and then simply ask them what would be helpful for them. It’s amazing how many people will tell you what to do if you just take the time to ask. I’ve also offered some basic recommendations such as exercise, sleep, and daily supplements including D3, zinc, and probiotics.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
My latest “Pandemic, Inc.” book outlines eight trends that are accelerating as a result of the situation, and they form a convenient acronym: SALVAGED. The eight trends are self-sufficiency, analytics, liquidity, virtualization, automation, government, exponential thinking, and decentralization. Businesses that can support these trends stand to benefit as a result.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Many people are eager to get back to our previous way of life, and they’ll bounce back quickly when the restrictions are lifted. But there are others that will be nervous for a long time. How big is that percentage? Nobody knows. I suspect it’s between 20% and 40%. That’s enough to cause huge disruptions in various industries including air travel, hotel stays, business conferences, restaurants, shopping malls, movie theatres, and houses of worship.
Businesses have both fixed and variable expenses. Variable expenses go up and down depending on the number of customers served, but fixed expenses need to be paid either way. In the restaurant business, for example, food ingredients and hourly wages are variable expenses, but the lease payment and some utility bills are fixed. If revenue drops by 20% or more, restaurants will go bankrupt unless they raise their prices. Unfortunately, higher prices will drive away more customers, making the situation worse.
It will take time before we find a new equilibrium in these businesses. Many will fail, but some will survive and probably grow over time. Eventually, customer behavior will trend back towards pre-pandemic levels, and a new cohort of businesses will be ready to serve them.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
As a professional speaker, the path forward is very clear. I need to position myself in front of this topic, ensuring I have relevant content to share, and I need to hone my skills in virtual arenas. Thankfully, I started a video blog in 2013 and have over 700 videos on YouTube, so I’m comfortable in front of the camera and am excited to share content through that medium. The new “Pandemic, Inc.” book has a message of opportunity, and the content is timely, so I’m excited about the future.
In addition to my regular speaking business, I have also been developing a digital training program called “Scale Academy” for business owners and executives primarily in developing economies (such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda, among others). This program will hopefully generate positive cash flow (revenue minus advertising) and position me in front of emerging markets, and I’m hopeful it will lead to new speaking revenue in the years to come.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
The enduring equation for business is to find a problem and fix it. Well, we haven’t had so many problems in a long time. Business owners need to look for ways to contribute value within their markets. This is not a time for master plans. Instead, take one step forward, and then look for next steps. One step at a time, always with value in mind, leads to new approaches, new products, and new markets. Build trust, help people, and deliver value. That’s the secret in today’s chaotic economy.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“It’s not an experiment if you know it’s going to work” by Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. Innovation requires trying new things. When you try new things, you never know if they’ll succeed or fail. As a result, innovation requires a budget for failure. Entrepreneurs need to relentlessly try new things. I’ve tried so many things, I can’t even remember them all. The vast majority of them failed, and that’s okay, because a few succeeded, and they form the backbone of my business as well as its evolution into the future.
How can our readers further follow your work?
The easiest way to connect with me is on my website: https://www.patrickschwerdtfeger.com