by Dan Schawbel, contributor Forbes
I recently caught up with Ryan Blair, who is a serial entrepreneur and author of the new book "Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain." Ryan established his first company, 24-7 Tech when he was only twenty-one years old. Since then, he has created and actively invested in multiple start-ups and has become a self-made multimillionaire. After he sold his company ViSalus Sciences to Blyth in early 2008, the global recession took the company to the brink of failure resulting in a complete write off of the stock and near bankruptcy. Ryan as CEO went "all in" betting his last million dollars on its potential and turned the company around from the edge of failure to more than $150,000,000 a year in revenue in only 16 months winning the coveted DSN Global Turn Around Award in 2010. In this interview, Ryan talks about how he re-branded himself after being in a gang, the issues with the education system, and more.
How did you shake your criminal record and re-brand yourself?
I remember when I was working my way up in the first company that employed me, I used to have nightmares that one day they'd find out about that I had been in a gang, call me into the office, and fire me. In the beginning I didn't talk much about what I'd been through. But eventually when I got to a point where I had established myself as a professional entrepreneur, I embraced my past, used it as part of my branding, and crossed over.
In this day and age people want authenticity. Now that the world is social, people know all about you. Assuming you decided to join humanity, that is. It turned out that as I started showing my true identity, so did the rest of the world. One of the reasons my company ViSalus is one of the fastest growing companies in the industry today is because we share our good, bad, and ugly. Like sharing a video of me playing a practical joke on one of my employees, for instance. As a result of embracing authenticity, I turned the company around from near bankruptcy to over $15 million a month today. Unlike our competitors, our distributors and customers know exactly who we are, and I'd say that corporate America has a lot of catching up to do.
What's your take on the educational system? Will a college degree help or hurt your chances at starting a successful business?
As a product of Los Angeles's public school system, in a state with the highest dropout rate in the nation (about 20 percent), I can tell you from personal experience that some of our brightest minds are being misidentified because of a one-size-fits-all learning environment. Because I had ADD and dyslexia I never got past the 9th grade.
I recall sitting with a career counselor in continuation high school, being told that I didn't have the intellect or aptitude to become a doctor or a lawyer. They suggested a trade school, construction, something where I'd be working with my hands.
The irony is that today I employ plenty of doctors and lawyers. Would you rather be a doctor or a lawyer, or a guy who writes a check to doctors and lawyers?
If President Obama phoned me today and told me he was appointing me Educational Czar, I'd turn education into a business, a capitalistic, revenue driven system, creating a competitive environment where each school is trying to attract customers, based on quality of customer experience.
As an entrepreneur, having a college degree or getting classroom training won't hurt your chances for starting a successful business, but it's ultimately not necessary. In Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers," he makes a point that it takes approximately 10,000 hours to master a skill set at a professional level. That means experience, over traditional education.
What three business lessons did you learn from juvenile detention?
To find the answer to that questions - click the link below.
Damn CEO's. They make too much. We need to tax them. Damn Capitalism, it makes the rich richer. And how about those public schools so dearly protected by the left?
Two words - personal responsibility.