Rock Bottom to Rock Star: Lessons from the Business School of Hard Knocks

Rock Bottom to Rock Star: Lessons from the Business School of Hard Knocks

by Ryan Blair


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101980552
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/04/2016
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 400,315
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Ryan Blair is a serial entrepreneur who established his first company at age twenty-one and has since created and actively invested in multiple start-ups. As the CEO of ViSalus, he took the company from start-up to more than $1.6 billion in cumulative sales, and was named Ernst & Young's 2012 Entrepreneur of the Year. His first book, Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain, was a number one New York Times bestseller. He lives in Los Angeles.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Be a Boss

It’s hard to be a boss if you’re at rock bottom. Ifyou’re like me you’re probably thinking, “Where do I start?” Whether you’relooking for work right now, changing careers, or have spent many years in anindustry, the only way you’ll become a rock star anything is to start takingresponsibility for your life—be the boss of it.

My stepfather had a saying: “Do more than what you getpaid for, and you’ll always get paid more.” What that meant to me was that ifyou’re doing more than what you’re getting paid for, your bosses will likelynotice it, and you’ll get a raise. If they don’t notice you going above andbeyond your job, you’ll leave, and the next company you work for will give youmore. In other words, you need to take control of your career. That’s what Imean by being a boss. Don’t wait for others to give you structure or providethe path. Take what you already have and expand on it—add more value than theyexpect—and as a result, you’ll become even more valuable. This formula appliesto everything. The more value you add today the more value you’ll receivelater.

Before Bruce Springsteen was a rock star, he would playsmall club gigs—these were less than desirable venues—and he took on the taskof collecting the band’s nightly pay and distributing it among his bandmates.That’s how he got the nickname “The Boss.”

When I say “be a boss,” I am not only speaking toentrepreneurs like myself, but also to employees, parents, teachers, engineers,artists—really anyone who is focused on taking their game to the next level.There are different types of bosses in the business world, but all the goodones have these three things in common: they take responsibility, they addvalue to everything they do, and they own their careers. So, my question to youis: what are you going to do to earn the nickname “The Boss” as you seek tobecome a rock star in your chosen field?

Learn the Rules to Break Them

Most people are held back by the belief that there aresmarter, better qualified, better connected people already in line ahead ofthem, so they don’t take their shot, or, worst case, they sit back and wait fora turn that may never come.

There’s an old Steve Jobs documentary that inspired me ata young age, and in it he was interviewed after he was ousted from Apple. Inthe interview he said, “Everything around you, everything about this thing youcall life, was made up by people no smarter than you.”

We are given so many hard-and-fast rules about life: Saveyour money instead of investing it. You have to go to college to get a goodjob. It takes money to make money. And if you work forty hours a week for fortyyears, you can retire happily ever after. These are just some of the rules thatare imposed on us by our parents, our teachers, and our well-meaning friends,and many times as we make our way through life, we find out that the rules setby others don’t always apply. People create rules based on their respectivebelief systems. And people’s belief systems, most of the time, come from theirparents or from their specific environments. So, it’s impossible that yourbelief system will completely match anyone else’s.

If a rule doesn’t work for you, you should question it.The rules were written by people, people no smarter than you.

One of my earliest mentors, Fred Warren, used to laugh atme whenever I would argue with him. He’d say, “What I like about you, Ryan, isthat you’d rather beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.” In Nothing toLose I mention that he would tell me that he “broke his pick on me.” To me thatmeant that I wouldn’t compromise. You might not like some of my stories oragree with all of my philosophies, and you might even hate everything I standfor—who I am, the wealth I’ve acquired, the person I was in the past—but thereis no question that I learned the hard way, and I earned the hard way. Don’tcompromise or let people who don’t share your values convince you to do whatthey think is right. Everybody has their own set of rules, and their rulesdon’t need to rule you.

My goal with this book isn’t to force my rules onto you,it’s to help you see some of the rules at play, so that you can find the onesyou agree with—and break the ones you don’t. We have a choice—we can followothers’ rules, or we can find our own truth, but either way, we have to beaware.

Like Picasso said, “Learn the rules like a pro, so youcan break them like an artist.”

Business School of Hard Knocks

I started college while I was still on probation. I gotmy only “degree” on the streets from the School of Hard Knocks. And even thoughI didn’t have a high school diploma, I had already done business—but none of itwas legal. My stepfather’s rules were nonnegotiable: never steal, get a job, goto school, and no girls allowed in my room. The alternatives—jail or going backto my old neighborhood—weren’t really an option. I reluctantly enrolled atMoorpark Community College. My first semester I failed, I got nearly all Fs.This wasn’t going to help me keep my room and board. I had to come up with a plan.

Every morning I’d drive my 1978 Toyota Corolla (with woodpaneling on the sides) to school while listening to audiotapes on varioussubjects I was interested in, such as vocabulary (because I didn’t have one),or listening to recordings of my teachers’ lectures. I recorded everythingbecause that was how I learned best; I figured out that I had a gift, when Ifocused, for retaining what I heard. And focused I was. My addiction to beingsmart had started.

One day I got to my humanities class a little early, andwhat do you do when you’re a twenty-year-old kid? I was pacing the hallsreading the bulletin boards on the walls. The first one was some public healthand safety announcement, then upcoming events on campus, and the third bulletinwas the dean’s list. I thought, Why even bother reading the dean’s list, it’snot like I know anyone on here. But I had ten more minutes to kill, so Iscanned the A’s, the B’s . . . and there was the name Blair. Wait, is theresomeone else named Ryan Blair on campus here? That’s interesting. Then itsettled in: That’s me! At that point I started reverse engineering the process:What did I do to make that list? With my remaining five minutes to kill, I wentdirectly to the administration building so they could confirm that it was me,and not a typo. I felt like a genuine rock star. (I had made many “lists”before, and I was not proud of any of them.) I had gone farther than I’dthought possible; from the “D” list to the dean’s list. It was time to spikethe mic.

With my first taste of academic accomplishment, I gotaccepted to California Lutheran University, and transferred over to theirbusiness school as a sophomore. I was able to get student loans and grants byapplying for affirmative action status, which was possible because my guardianswere the state of California (I was made a ward of the court at the age offourteen) and because my address had once been 380 North Hillmont,Ventura—Juvenile Hall.

When you’re poor, you learn to leverage your environment,or be leveraged by it. These survival skills have gotten me through everyeconomic phase of my life. On my first day on campus at Cal Lutheran, I signedup for a credit card and got approved. Then I signed up for another, andanother. I saw the age of the Internet coming, and I saw my opportunity to joinit. I started borrowing money off my credit cards and using my student loans totrade high-flying Internet stocks during the dotcom boom. This wasn’t easy. Istill had a full course load, and I would ambitiously wake up at (or stay upuntil) 5 a.m. every morning to do my research and to make my trades beforeclasses started. I was getting an excellent education, learning fractions andfinance, on top of my other studies. (Prior to college, I never passed a mathclass, but I could count money. It turns out counting money is what counts inbusiness.)

At twenty years old I was making around $130,000 a year,while in school, trading stocks. (Adjusted for inflation, it was the equivalentof $200,000 a year.) School was hard for me, but making money came naturally,especially back then, when credit was flowing and technology stocks were ridinghigh on the rising tide of the Internet. It was easy to win.

I got a job fixing and testing computers in a datacenter, while I day-traded and went to college. It still wasn’t enough for me.I wanted more. I had watched my father lose everything trying to stay in themiddle class. I saw the middle class as a compromise and a trap—an economicstrategy set by the rich—and I had sworn I’d rather be poor than land in themiddle.

I bought my first house at the age of 21 for $165,000with no money down, and negotiated cash back. With the money I got, you canguess what came next—I invested it. While my friends were in college trying tokeep up with each other, I was doing the exact opposite of what I watched myfather do with his life. He bought brand-new cars to show off or plunged hismoney into drugs and other superficial diversions. I lived cheaply so I couldinvest even more. I drank Folgers instant coffee instead of Starbucks and atechicken-and-rice bowls from Costco—for a couple bucks each. I lived on $10 aday when I was making $350 a day, and I dreamed of making $1,000 a day (orsomeday $10,000 a day). I watched people no smarter than me making their ownrules and their fortunes, and I believed I could do it, too.

The beautiful thing about skills is that they can belearned, and the great thing about experience is that it’s earned. I knew howto survive, and I had figured out how to make money on the streets. So, now allI had to do was to learn about business. I knew the only way I would be able tolearn business quickly, and apply what I had learned academically, was topractice it. My instincts were to start a company.

When I worked at the day center at Logix, back thencomputers would break down constantly (these were the Novell days). Weliterally had people on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, just in case.I’d get woken up at all hours of the night with emergency calls from juniortechnicians, and I’d have to go into the office at 3 a.m. sometimes just towatch the server index for hours, swap out a motherboard, or reboot a system.It dawned on me that if my company was going through this, then other companiesmust be, too. And not all of them had staff on call 24/7. The idea for my firstcompany was born, a computer repair service called 24x7 Tech (When yourcomputer is a wreck, call 1-800-24x7-Tech!), which led me to start my nextcompany, SkyPipeline. I found myself facing a big decision: Do I leave schooland risk it all to try to become a rock star entrepreneur like other collegedropouts (e.g., Dell, Gates, etc.)? Or do I stay in school and finish what Ihad started? (Something no one in my family had ever done.)

The question kept me up at night. I had come so far, somuch farther than anyone else in my family. I was firmly in the middle class,making more money than my father ever had, and if I left college now, it coulddestroy my middle-class status. But what does a college degree matter if you’rea millionaire? I thought. Then again, if I wanted a career in corporateAmerica, and to keep that cushy six-figure salary, the smartest thing to do wasto stay in college.

I sought out the best advice I could get. I decided toask my mom.

When I approached my mother, I had been up fortwenty-four hours straight, trading stocks, handling my new company’soperations, and doing homework. I had bags under my bloodshot eyes, and I wasafraid she was going to think I was crazy. I had lost so many friends once mybusiness started taking off, and even some of my own family had reacted withjealousy. She was one of the few who knew the person I had become, and she wasunconditionally proud of me.

I told her, “I’m leaving school to work on my companyfull time.” (I know, not the best way to request advice from your mother.)

I’ll never forget her face. First she looked confused,then she said, “Are you kidding me? You make more than your father ever did,you’re on the dean’s list, you just got into a private school, you’re onlytwenty years old, and you are really taking for granted how lucky you are.”

Now, I’m a self-proclaimed mama’s boy, but those were notthe words I was trying to hear. And I was exhausted.

“First of all, I don’t believe in luck,” I said. “Second,Bill Gates left school, Steve Jobs, Craig McCaw—”

“You’re not Bill Jobs, Ryan,” she said.

At that point I realized I couldn’t win a debate with mymother on this topic. When it came to the subject of her son, she was theexpert. I stopped talking about it with her, but my inner monologue didn’tstop. I will show her that I am going to make it. And I’m going to make it big.I’ll make her proud.

After I relaxed a bit, I realized that maybe my momwasn’t the best person to seek advice from about this. I was asking businessadvice from someone who didn’t know anything about it. So, I went to the deanof the Cal Lutheran business school, Dr. Harry Domicone, and asked for hiscounsel.

He said, “Ryan, my job is to keep you in school, so weget tuition, but in your case you’ll be back here keynoting to the graduatingclass someday anyway, so leave, run your business, and come back if you needto, or when we invite you.”

When I compared his words to my mother’s, I recognizedher fears as my own. I decided I wouldn’t let fear stop me. I left collegeheading into my senior year. But the decision took its toll on mepsychologically. To this day, whenever I’m debating a tough decision, I stillhave nightmares about deciding whether to leave school.

College isn’t just where you learn many of the rules.Right now, going to college is the rule. The lessons I learned in college werepriceless, but so were those I learned from practice. In school I learned howto count to a billion, I learned marketing, and I learned about how thebusiness world would one day become globalized. From practice, I learned toapply what college had given me, but I also learned, by failing, how not tofear failure; figured out how my self-esteem worked; and discovered ways to getaround my learning disabilities. I started educating myself, using influence,ambition, and making connections to further my career, and I learned toleverage my brand—tattoos and all. And most important, I learned that the worldis run by entrepreneurs and rock stars.


Excerpted from "Rock Bottom to Rock Star"
by .
Copyright © 2016 Ryan Blair.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Read this First 1

Chapter 1 Be a Boss 9

Chapter 2 Quit Digging 29

Chapter 3 Pay Attention to Your Time… Line 41

Chapter 4 Find Your Superpower 47

Chapter 5 Your Failure Quotient 57

Chapter 6 Identify Yourself 69

Chapter 7 Before You Launch 83

Chapter 8 Funding First 95

Chapter 9 Build and Rebuild 103

Chapter 10 The Right Solutions 117

Chapter 11 The Wrong Kind of Success 127

Chapter 12 Work Backward 145

Chapter 13 Who Do You Work For? 159

Chapter 14 So You Wanna Be a Rock Star 173

Chapter 15 What Weakens You Strengthens You 187

Chapter 16 Survival Skills 197

Chapter 17 Your Turn 223

Acknowledgments 227

Call to Action 231

Index 233

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Rock Bottom to Rock Star: Lessons from the Business School of Hard Knocks 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing book, life changing! There's so many strong messages in there that was giving me goosebumps, and real emotional because you could easily relate to many of the struggles. I recommend this book to anyone that feels like all the odds are against them, they should know not to give up to become successful and that they need to impact people's lives and starts with them believing in themselves to doing it! Thanks so much! A must ead for all ages young and young at heart!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is simply amazing! I can't explain how well I can connect with the author, Ryan Blair. Such a pure, real story to this life. I didn't get bored once reading through the chapters. It is also hard to explain the way I feel after reading the book. Somewhere between Empowered & Motivated. Thank you for writing this!
Bubbles Michele More than 1 year ago
I LOVE this book. It's filled with so many lessons learned from an entrepreneurial perspective. There are a few of many topics that resonated with me. First, I am glad that 'she's up' which reminded me that in your absolute worst moment, things can change for the better with the "blink" of an eye. Secondly, I can appreciate your thoughts on loyalty. And lastly, the specific analogy and exercise on how to compartmentalize is specifically useful for entrepreneurs who are pulled in many directions. Thank you for sharing yourself with the World.