Mike O’Donnell Works With Wayne Marquez…Round 2

Posted on May 16th, 2014 in Consulting, Lessons, Reflection | No Comments »

Fool me once…shame on you. Fool me twice…shame on me.

A couple weeks ago I got a call from Wayne. With the exception of a few random conversations, we really hadn’t spoken a ton since we stopped working together.

The fact that he made me chase him around for over a month and kept dodging/avoiding paying me were definitely contributing factors. It’s not like he was paying me a salary or anything either, these were expenses I paid for on my credit card that he said he would reimburse me for. I knew at the time he was in a tough position from a cashflow standpoint, so I figured his actions were a product of circumstance, not personality.

We talked for about 15-20 minutes just catching up on the phone and he seemed like he was back on his feet again. His education company had picked up and he had just returned from Seattle locking down a new school contract. The reason he was calling me was because he was working on putting together a parenting workbook for inner city families in L.A.

Apparently, schools in Los Angelos are required by law to spend 5% of their discretionary budget on parents every year. They normally spend this money on parent teacher nights and food, but 5% usually comes out to about $50,000 per year! Through his conversations with various principles from those schools, they told him that they literally struggle to spend that money every year. If he could come up with a decent parenting workbook, they would give him the contract.

So Wayne went around and pitched a bunch of principles on his parenting workbook idea and in his words, sold the thing before he even made it. He lead his pitch with his absolute best activity for parents and children, tied it in to a personal story, and sold them on the entire workbook based on what would become just 1 page of the entire thing. He’s a hell of a salesman, I’ll give him that.

His pitch/story had to do with a quick activity that helped parents learn a ton about their child. First, you ask the kid to write their name in the middle of a piece of paper. Then, they need to place the names of their friends around their name. The closer the friends name is to their name, the better friends they are. Farther away means they aren’t as close friends. They also have to group friends in clusters based on who they hang out with.

Right away, the parent can get an idea of who the major influencers are on their child and who hangs out with whom. After this is complete, the child has to write 2 things next to each persons name about why they like that person and 1 thing about what they don’t necessarily like about the person. Now, the parent gets to see what their kids are attracted to and what turns them off. This is very powerful information that most parents never know and it only takes about 5-10 minutes to complete.

So Wayne has all these contracts waiting on him now to produce a workbook with about 60 pages worth of these types of activities. The reason he was contacting me was “Because he needed someone he could trust to do a full day of white boarding with him.”  In reality he only had about 10 of these activities pre thought out and he needed me to help him build the rest and take notes as we brainstormed. He offered to pay me $25 bucks an hour if I would help him out.

I had a ton of stuff on my plate with Cave Tools and Hyacinth Marketing and also had 3 interns coming on board within the week that I needed to prepare for. I figured that this would be a good way to rekindle a relationship with an old business partner and also get my creative juices flowing. He seemed to be back on his feet, so I ignored the thought of him screwing around with me like last time.

I assumed that helping him out as a friend meant that this was a personal job, not a business job. Like when you help a friend move out of their apartment and they hand you 40 bucks at the end as a thank you. In retrospect, I definitely should have discussed payment terms with Wayne first, especially knowing the type of person he was.

Wayne’s neighbor had free office space for us to use in New Hope, so we took over for the full day (9 hours). I have to say, outlining and creating a book was a pretty cool experience. We discussed layout, organization, illustrations, and reverse engineered a bunch of competitor books.

We decided to break the book up into the cover, credits and copyright page, introduction page, parent child contract, and then 4 activities per section (Self Awareness, Family, Friends, Education, Health, Money). The back had a corresponding student section for activities that both the parent and child would do and then compare answers.

All of the competitor books pretty much covered these areas, but they just had words on paper. There was very little interaction and the messages were very direct. The goal for this book would be to have less words and more activities. As the parents and children completed the activities, the answers/message would come through indirectly and would be learned because they actually engaged with the book instead of skimmed through it.

It was a good concept, but to be honest I would never do any of the things we put into the book. I mean these were some pretty basic parenting skills that I guess as a white boy from the suburbs I just take for granted that everyone already knows and understands. However, our target audience comes from a completely different background and household. We approached the book with the mindset that if someone did the entire book, as long as they came out with just one good insight, it would be a success. With that perspective in mind, the creative flow of ideas came much easier.

We worked on the book all day with a short lunch break in between. Over lunch, Wayne started talking as usual. Telling me about how he got a 10K commission for introducing his friend to the owner of the restaurant across the street because his friend bought it. Then he starts going on about how his wife has a new job and that he’s also been selling coffee on the side to distributors for extra cash. Now that he was a big coffee connoisseur he had all of these grand plans for launching his own private label coffee brand. He was going to sponsor farmers in South America and had a brilliant plan to use kids to sell the coffee in train stations. Typical Wayne…talk all day about the grand vision and then never take a single ounce of action.

In the afternoon we go back to work and the productivity seriously drops. Wayne is on the phone with his wife texting and he didn’t prepare with ideas for some of the later activities in the book. We were coming up with activities on the fly and wasting tons of time thinking of unique questions to ask. We ended up powering through and finishing up as much as we could before he needed to leave to go coach his daughters softball team at 6:30.

As we’re packing up to leave, he hands me one of the workbooks and tells me to take it home with me to keep working. Of course, I hadn’t agreed to continue working from home. I had a very busy schedule and told him that I could only fit in the 9 hours we did today because I had other responsibilities.

We walk out the door and Wayne starts to get in his car to leave without paying me. I make a comment asking to get paid and he tells me he’ll send me a check in the mail in a few weeks. I’ve already been through this once before with him so I tell him I was expecting to get paid today. His response is that he doesn’t have enough money to pay me. At this point, I’m fuming. He runs his mouth all day about all this money he’s making with schools and coffee and now he can’t afford $225. Bull shit! At this point, I say no I want to be paid in cash. I’m not dealing with him giving me a check and then the check bouncing and me having to chase after him again. I also said I was expecting to get paid personally, not as a business consulting fee. For $25 bucks an hour, there was no way I was paying taxes on top of that. All of our work together is on my computer, so I have all of the leverage.

He’s in a hurry on his way to his daughter’s practice, so he tells me he’ll think of something. He realizes that I have the leverage, so he gives me a call later that night telling me he’ll meet me tomorrow and give me a check. About a half hour before our meeting, he calls me saying he needs me to bring an invoice and a printed copy of the work with me. Now that he’s broken the trust, there’s no way I’m handing over my leverage until I get paid and the check clears.

When we meet, he’s really pissed off that I don’t have the hard copies with me. We get into a small argument and I flat out tell him that I can’t trust him and that I don’t like the way he does business. If you truly can’t afford to pay someone, then you don’t leave that information until the end after they put an entire days worth of work aside for you. He assures me that the check won’t bounce and then I leave to go to another meeting. I then get a whole bunch of texts about how if I have a problem cashing the check to give him a call. This of course further reaffirms that I thought he was going to try and screw me again.

I deposited the check in my citizens bank account instead of finding a bank of America to cash it on the spot. In hindsight, that would have been the smart thing to do, but the thought didn’t even cross my mind. Wayne of course was pissed that I was now making him wait a full day until the check cleared and he went into a total breakdown.

I received about 15 texts from him that night freaking out. He was calling me a liar and doing all sorts of character assassinations. He was even completely making things up as if he was trying to rewrite history through text messages in case this came into a court battle or something. At one point he even threatened to show up at my house because I was depriving him of supporting his family. I only responded a few times to these outrageous allegations, but basically I said I will send it to you once I get paid. The number of texts and phone calls I got form him were absolutely ridiculous.

I sent him everything that Saturday when the check cleared and I haven’t heard from him since. Looking back on this experience, I definitely should have been very clear about how I expected to be paid before we started working together. This way he couldn’t have tried to pull his shit at the last second. I also should have just used my brain and really considered if it was worth it to work with him again. I knew the type of person he was and should have expected something like this to happen. He definitely hasn’t changed. Ironic that the only 2 people to ever fuck me over in business are Wayne and Matt Zinman. Very similar personalities and I met Matt through Wayne. To this day, Matt still hasn’t paid me the $1,500 he owes me and I’ve found out that he has scammed a bunch of other people as well. That’s another story for another day though.

Looking at the bright side, I’m happy that I did work with Wayne because it was a creative new experience and I did learn a lot throughout the day. We got a lot of really good work done together. I’m also happy that I understood the situation enough to not give up my leverage until everything was square between us.

Mike O’Donnell Receives An Education That Can Only Be Earned

Posted on March 21st, 2013 in Business Development, Goal Setting, Lessons, Management, My Story, Philosophy, Reflection, Self Improvement | No Comments »

It all started on Sunday, January 27, 2013. Sitting in the same seat in the same Starbucks as I am now, I met Wayne Marquez. I had just returned from the Traffic and Conversions Summit out in San Francisco earlier in the week and I was busy thinking about my life and my business. I had been home from Montreal for 4 months and to put it succinctly, my business wasn’t working out. I could throw a thousand reasons in the air about why my business wasn’t taking off, but at the end of the day, those reasons were just excuses to soften the blow of reality. My goal at Starbucks on that Sunday was to come up with a new plan to generate business and dig myself out of the whole. If I failed, I was heading back into corporate America to live a life I absolutely dreaded.

While I was in the corner trying to figure out the next stage of my life, Wayne Marquez walks in and starts up a conversation with another person in the room. It just so happens that Wayne is from New York, so my noise cancelling head phones are no match for his loud and obnoxious accent. What’s worse is that he is spewing out business ideas left and right. I have a personal pet peeve with “idea men” who never take action and this guy kept interrupting my concentration. So I fired back with 3 or 4 comments about how he can monetize every idea he just talked about. I thought I was putting him in his place by calling him out, but then I discovered who this Wayne character really was.

Shortly after graduating from NYU Law School, Wayne started a non profit called Directions For Our Youth, which survived him and has a multimillion dollar budget to this day. He also created an educational software program which was used by inner city schools nationwide and a children’s software company. With the economic downturn of recent years, school budgets had dried up and likewise, his businesses were running at a fraction of the profit they once were. He was in Starbucks working on his newest business, Apprentice Force. A long conversation ensued and by the end of the day, I decided to work with him to help bring Apprentice Force to the market.

Apprentice Force is a company that facilitates performance based hiring relationships between small business owners and people looking for work. The problem with the company however, was that Wayne was doing all the sales himself and hadn’t figured out a way to scale the company. According to Wayne, this was “Mickey Mouse Money” and he wanted to use my internet marketing background so he could start making real money with Apprentice Force.

Wayne had a lot of what he called “Clay.” A laundry list of achievements, a history of taking action and building businesses, tons of connections, and a well thought out business model. Tons of time and money had been invested into Apprentice Force and the business model was solid, he just needed to start scaling. Since there was no cash flow, he wanted me to work for free and to prove myself by helping him build the company. He told me that with my skills and his “Clay” we could both work our way to the top and start making real money.

As concerned and persistent as I was about quantifying the money I would receive once we started generating cash flow or obtaining a piece of equity in exchange for helping him build the business, I couldn’t pin him down to a deal. He said that once we got some cash flow he would feed me money, but if we were going to work together it would be on faith and trust and he wouldn’t agree to any set “deal” for my services.

Of course with my luck, my business struggles of the past 4 months were quickly fading away. My consistent networking and public speaking was starting to pay off in referrals and new business. Things were finally starting to swing my way, but now I had to make a big decision. Continue working in my business and sign up a few new clients or devote my full time effort to working with Wayne for free. As I put it in a text to my brother, “I can either continue doing the day to day and make a couple grand this month, or I can cross my nuts and shoot for the stratosphere.” Needless to say, I decided to work with Wayne. Even if I didn’t make any money at all, I would build a valuable relationship, learn a ton from a highly successful entrepreneur, and have the opportunity to push my skills to the limits.

We were both in a position where we didn’t have a lot of money to spend and we needed to start generating cash flow fast. During one of Wayne’s story telling sessions (He has tons of stories for any business or regular situation you can imagine) he told me about how he organized a “Debt Burden Day” during his time at NYU Law School (most expensive law school in the country at the time). On this day, every student wore red to school and they also wore buttons proclaiming how much debt they would be in upon graduation. One thing led to another and we decided that since student debt is such a pressing issue today, we could probably have similar success if we organized our own Debt Burden Day (later renamed Debt Awareness Day). Since Apprentice Force appealed to the same demographic, we could use Debt Awareness Day to slingshot Apprentice Force into the spotlight and quickly start generating cash flow. Within a half hour, Wayne secured office space for us in Doylestown and 23 straight 13-15 hour work days ensued. Every day of this campaign was documented on our blog www.creatingnasda.wordpress.com if you would like to learn more about what we did.

This post is about reflection, so I don’t plan on recounting everything we did over that time period. However, I would like to recount what I learned and how I have grown in the short time period of working with Wayne.

Brainstorming

The first major lesson I learned was how to properly brainstorm. I had participated in plenty of brainstorms before, but never with anyone of Wayne caliber. By nature, my personality type has always been very analytical.  While this serves me well in many respects, it also serves as a blockage when I brainstorm. Without realizing it, I get very caught up in how realistic certain ideas are and I get tied down analyzing everything instead of just doing a pure brain dump of ideas. Give Wayne a white board and someone to bounce ideas off of and he can literally brainstorm for 5 hours straight without stopping for air. During one of our 4-5hr brainstorming sessions in the initial planning phase, Wayne reacted to one of my analytical comments by saying, “Don’t piss on reality in a fucking brain storm! You let the ideas flow.” This comment really hit home for me and will be something I constantly remind myself of every time I brainstorm in the future. He hit the nail on the head.

 

Communicating Like a New Yorker

By the way, Wayne curses A LOT and it took me a little while to adapt to his style of conversation. We definitely had our growing pains in the beginning of working with each other. Of course by growing pains, I mean shouting matches where the words “Fuck You” were thrown around like the word “Sir” in the military. It’s just the New Yorker way of communicating I guess. Here is a video of me imitating Wayne after an argument. We laugh about this video all the time now:

Like I said, it took us a little while to learn to work together, but after the first week or two things got a little better.

 

CEO Mentality

As a quick extension to the conversation that initiated that video, I learned one of the big reasons why only a small percentage of the population could ever become a CEO. As Wayne would put it, “the CEO is the person that will stop at nothing to achieve his goals. When the rest of the executives are cowering in the corner and whimpering about a disaster or some impossible task, the CEO is the person that presses on even when failure is seemingly imminent.” I don’t know if I have CEO blood in me, but at the same time, I have never been passionate enough about something that I would stop at no costs to achieve it. This seems counterintuitive considering how passionate I am about being a successful entrepreneur and achieving lifestyle design, but I guess only time will tell what I’m really made of.

 

Work Philosophy

A lot of our differences to this day stem from a major difference in work philosophies. Wayne approaches work with the philosophy of a perfectionist. Everything must be absolutely perfect before anybody can see it or before he can move on to the next item on his to-do list. This philosophy is great when it comes to producing super high quality work, but the downside is that everything takes much more time to do. My philosophy is the exact opposite. I prescribe to the 80-20 rule and like to get tons of work done in short periods of time. The principle states that 80% of the work you do results in 20% of results and likewise, 20% of the work you do results in 80% of your results. The Pareto Principle, as it’s called, applies to almost every area of life without fail. Since we were striving to achieve the near impossible task of creating a national movement in 75 days, I was of the belief that we needed to get things going Now and we couldn’t waste our time getting caught up in minor details that would only produce a marginal increase in benefit. We could always go back later to cover our tracks. In many cases our polarized philosophies kept us both in check, but in other cases it killed us.

 

Business Models

One of Wayne’s best attributes is his ability to develop, analyze, and compare different business models. He has been involved in so many different types of businesses and situations that this skill comes naturally to him. The best way to really learn about business models is through time and experience. By listening to all of Wayne’s stories and challenging him, I was able to learn things that would have literally taken me years of failures to pick up on my own. Wayne shared the following software development model with me one day as a way of disarming me from my action-action-action mentality:

 

 

 

 

The diagram illustrates that the cost of making a change in the beginning (inner circle) only costs you $10, while the same change will cost you 10x more each time you progress to a later stage of development. The point being that preplanning is incredibly important and you need to have complete clarity of your vision before you move on to the next stages of any project/idea. In this situation, he was completely right. Lesson learned.

 

Money Is Not Always The Answer

Wayne cut his teeth in business while starting his non profit. If there is any path to take to the top, this is probably the hardest. Many businessmen find it hard to accomplish tasks with limited budgets, but in a non profit you need to accomplish the same tasks with no budget! Something I’ve learned through my experiences is that having very little money can actually be a good thing. It forces you to be creative and find better solutions compared to when you have money that you tend to just throw at problems.

 

First Impressions

While working at his non profit, one of Wayne’s main responsibilities was to raise money. Through all of his “pitch” stories, there was always one main principle/concept that seemed to stand out. Once people categorize you in a specific dollar range, it becomes incredibly hard to remove that perception even when you’re worth more. This short story illustrates the concept perfectly: When Wayne was starting out and had a very small budget, he pitched a company for a $5,000 ish donation to the non profit. Years later, when they had a million dollar plus budget and companies typically donated 5 and 6 figure sums, he could never get that same company to ever donate more than about $5,000. The reason being, that they categorized him in that range and could never justify donating a larger sum. I see this concept hold true in tons of areas in life, including when you start a business relationship by working for free (more on this later).

 

Leverage

Leverage, Leverage, Leverage! Working with super short deadlines and a minimal budget has helped me internalize the concept of leveraging. Time is a fixed resource. Everyone has the same amount of time available to work each day. The main factor that separates the most productive people in our society from the least productive is the ability to leverage technology, resources, people, etc. Every time I noticed that our progress was slowing down, it correlated to us getting “stuck in the weeds.” When we realized this, we took a step back and figured out a way that we could leverage these tasks by either getting other people to do them for us or by using a piece of software. Is it worth 5 hours of my time to research the best ways to organize a student population or is it smarter to pick up the phone and call someone who has built their career on organizing people? Any time you can pull yourself out of the weeds and learn to leverage, you will cut out costly mistakes and be much more successful at what you’re trying to accomplish.

 

Building An Asset

One of the first books that inspired me to be an entrepreneur was Rich Dad Poor Dad. In this book, Robert Kiyosaki talks at length about the concept of building assets. I have understood this concept for a long time, but I never really internalized it until very recently. My goal on that Sunday at Starbucks was   to find a way to start building an asset (in the form of an email list or info product), but working with Wayne has given me much more clarity about what that really means. While most people would categorize me as a business owner, I would really categorize myself as self employed. If I stop working, the business disappears. Now of course you could say my service business has assets in my email list, business processes, personnel, brand equity, etc. but my view of an asset is something that will keep working for me even when I am not working. This is just one of the many things I have identified as wrong with my business model, along with my USP and my “appeal to everyone” strategy. Hyacinth Marketing has been a great learning experience for me, but it is time for me to start focusing on building a business I want to do for the long term. While I am still working on (in) Hyacinth Marketing, I am devoting my free time towards a business that will be more sustainable. More on this in a later post.

So why didn’t we continue pressing on with the National Alliance for Student Debt Awareness and Debt Awareness Day?

I had to be crystal clear on the answer to this question before I ever considered pulling the plug on this project. After all, my only downside was to fail publicly. Public failure may seem scary for most people, but this was the least of my worries because I knew I would learn an enormous amount through the experience.  My position on failure is summed up perfectly in one of my new favorite quotes,

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt

My upside, on the other hand, was monetary gain, a successful new business venture, tons of media mentions which I could use as credibility to open doors down the road, pushing the limits of my ability, etc.

When I put it this way, it looks like I made a poor decision based on the fear of failure. Actions speak louder than words Theodore! Who knows, maybe this will hold true if I’m in the same position as I am now a couple months down the road. Either way, I stand behind my decision and think it was the correct decision based on my time opportunity cost and the lifestyle I want to live.

While it’s true that successful CEOs possess the ability to press on in the face of adversity, they also possess the uncanny ability to determine viability at a very early stage. That way they can focus their efforts on projects that will give them the largest returns.

From day 1, I knew that our success would be dependent on our ability to motivate large numbers of people to take real action against an issue that affected them indirectly. It’s true that student debt impacts every student in America, but many of them don’t feel the effects until many years after they graduate when they finally start to pay off their loans.  While we knew the typical numbers in this type of situation were very small, we banked on the fact that we were sitting on a mass media powder keg. Based on the timeliness of Debt Awareness Day and the severity of the student debt crisis, we were hoping we could create a social media firestorm around the issue. We also knew that tons of other organizations had attempted the same feat we were attempting and never created sustained traction. By uniting each of these organizations and utilizing the Apprentice Force project management software to bring accountability to action takers, we thought we could create enough momentum to get the ball rolling.

When we finaaaaaly launched and started marketing ourselves, we realized that the “pain” was too indirect to get a ton of people on board quickly. In other terms, it would take a prolonged effort to get enough traction to make a significant impact and it would be a long time before we started generating any money from this venture. From a time opportunity cost standpoint, would I rather spend 80+ hours per week struggling to make this a successful venture or would I rather spend those same 80+ hours per week working to build an asset that I would own. The fact that I stayed on board for so long is actually a tribute to Wayne’s amazing ability to motivate people.

[Warning: I am about to make a personality judgement based on how I feel right now. I would normally refrain from doing this, but this thought process was critical to my decision making]

My second determining factor was the lifestyle I want to live. What if we had succeeded? I would be tied in to working with Wayne for the foreseeable future. Granted, I could always leave and do my own thing at any time, but like the software development model, the cost would be much greater to myself and to Wayne when I left. As frustrating as it was working with Wayne for 14 hours a day, I could live with that. I could control his attempts to micromanage my projects and I could deal with his perfectionist mentality. My biggest mental struggle of working with Wayne was the belief that he was the same person as he was when he achieved all of those great business feats.

Wayne achieved everything he did in life because, in his words, “He was a man of action. He didn’t get caught up with all the minor details; he just took action and figured it out along the way.” Can you see why he took an affinity to me? The fact is, once he became super successful and wealthy, he lived the easy life. For the past 11 years, he never had to do real work. His business generated 6 and 7 figures a year income for him and he spent his time travelling around and enjoying life. I don’t blame him one bit. If I never met him and learned his story, I would be destined to follow the same path. What I learned however, was that time changes people. He could talk about all his past achievements as much as he wanted, but as great as they were, he was no longer that same man of action. My opinion, based on working one on one together for over 300 hours in a month, was that he had become an idea man, not an action man. Without a team of people to implement his ideas, he couldn’t pull the trigger. Ironically, this was the reason I started speaking to him in the first place.

Furthermore, I started my relationship with Wayne on the basis of working for free. Just like the business that only donated $5,000 to Wayne’s non profit, how would I ever justify a higher salary (salary because I would be working for him, not as a business partner) when he had already gotten all the “goods” for free.

To be clear, I haven’t ended my relationship with Wayne. He still has the ability and experience to rise to the top again, but I can’t be the person that does the leg work to get him there. Like the saying goes, you can bring a horse to water, but you can’t force him to drink. The only factor holding Wayne back right now is his ability to take action. I’m in a delicate position right now because I need to maintain my distance, but at the same time, keep our relationship warm. If he gets some traction again, I want to be there to amplify it. If he doesn’t, then he is still a friend and a valuable business contact that will be mutually beneficial somewhere down the road.

Wayne described me to his wife once using this metaphor, “Mike is like a boy that grew up in the country. He has an entire arsenal of weapons and can tell you everything about each weapon in great detail. He has even used a handful of the weapons at the firing range, but he has never been in battle.” Wayne almost didn’t tell me about this conversation because he didn’t want to offend me, but once I heard him I agreed wholeheartedly with his description. I have spent the last few years studying all the titans of business and learning as much marketing knowledge, techniques, and strategies as I could. Starting Hyacinth Marketing and working with Ben in Canada was just me taking my weapons to the firing range. I’ve been practicing for long enough, but now it is time for me to find my battle. Pretty soon I will be starting my next business venture and I’ll be looking for a fight!

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