YW 82 – Brian Smith with UGG Boots: Teething Problems to Household Name

YW 82 – Brian Smith with UGG Boots: Teething Problems to Household Name

 

Today’s Young Wealth Show looks at one of the most successful entrepreneurial stories of recent decades. Jason Hartman invites Brian Smith, the founder and the brains behind UGG Boots to talk about the brand’s unassuming roots, the difficulties of the early years and the steps associated to selling a brand such as UGG. They also discuss many of the points raised in Brian’s upcoming book The Birth of a Brand, which applies an interesting new metaphor to the concept of brand identification and development.

 

Key Takeaways
02.19 – The founder of UGG Boots, Brian Smith, describes the brand’s humble beginnings.
06.45 – Experience can sometimes hold you back more than help you out – if you knew all of the obstacles in your way, would you ever start anything?
11.22 – Every image you give out to your target market sends out a message about your brand. Make sure it’s the right message.
15.26 – Understanding business means understanding that you can’t give birth to adults.
24.34 – You need to be able to answer 4 main questions for an investor to even consider taking you seriously.
27.15 – Never underestimate the power of product placement – it worked wonders for UGG Boots.
30.41 – In business, you have to understand which aspects you’re good at and enjoy, and which you don’t.
33.38 – For more information about Brian Smith, head to www.BrianSmithSpeaker.com

 

Mentioned in this episode
The Birth of a Brand: Launching Your Entrepreneurial Passion and Soul by Brian Smith

 

Tweetables
If Americans didn’t understand the properties of sheepskin, how is it that something like UGG Boots ever got so big?
To be a good entrepreneur, you almost need a certain amount of ignorance, or even just innocence.
The essence of good advertising is to make the reader want to be in the ad.

 

Transcript

Introduction:
This show is produced by the Hartman Media Company. For more information and links to all our great podcasts, visit www.HartmanMedia.com

Welcome to the Young Wealth Show, where you’ll truly learn how to make, spend and invest money for an awesome life. Get the real life stuff that wasn’t part of your school curriculum. Young wealth gives you innovative new ways of dealing with your finances, as well as the skills and tools you’e going to need to survive and be successful out on your own. Let the Young Wealth Show be your GPS to take you from clueless to clued in. Here’s your host, Jason Hartman, with Young Wealth.

Jason Hartman:
Hey, welcome to the Young Wealth Show, this is your host Jason Hartman. This show, of course, is produced by my foundation, The Jason Hartman Foundation, where we talk about business and investing, and how you can create a great future for yourself and start out on the right path. We’ll be back with a great guest for you in just a moment here on the Young Wealth Show. Be sure to visit our website, www.YoungWealth.com, where we’ve got a fantastic blog, lots of free resources. Take advantage of that and further your financial education.

It’s my pleasure to welcome Brian Smith to the show, he is the founder of a company that you all know – that is UGG Boots. Yes, UGG Boots. His book is entitled The Birth of a Brand: Launching Your Entrepreneurial Passion and Soul. Brian, welcome, how are you?

Brian Smith:
I’m great thanks, thanks for having me.

Jason:
It’s good to have you. Are you Australian?

Brian:
Yes.

Jason:
OKay, fantastic. So you’re from Down Under, and where are you located today?

Brian:
I’m in Encinitas, which is a North coast suburb of San Diego.

Jason:
Fantastic, good. Well, gosh, what an amazing company you created. I guess you sold it back in 1995, right?

Brian:
That’s correct, yes.

Jason:
Good. Well, how did you come up with the idea for UGG Boots? They were pretty unusual at the time. I know you’ve had some copycats over the years, but what was the genesis?

Brian:
It wasn’t rocket science. I was a public accountant in Australia and I didn’t like it. The day I graduated was the last day I worked as an accountant because I went into a meditation and figured all of the good brands were coming out of California – Levi Jeans, waterbeds and surf clothing brands, so I decided to leave Perth, Australia and come to California to find the next big thing and take it back. I was here for several months and it came to my attention – in a magazine I saw a photograph that had sheepskin boots in it, and I just got goosebumps. I went ‘Oh my God, there are no sheepskin boots in America’ and at that time, it seemed like 1 in 2 Australians had some sort of sheepskin footwear. I thought it would be like ‘God, bring those into America and I’ll be an instant millionaire’. It didn’t quite work out that way, though.

Jason:
It didn’t, but you ended up as one, certainly! What happened in the beginning?

Brian:
I thought that it would be a piece of cake and I got some samples in and we went to all the shoe stores. A friend of mine did all the selling and he came back after a week with hundreds of business card from every show retailer in Southern California, but not a single order. They were all asking him ‘Why on earth are you bringing sheepskin to California? It doesn’t get cold here!’, so we heard of a trade show in New York, thinking that maybe you’ve got to go to the cold areas. We went there and exhibited for three days, but again, nobody spoke to me because they didn’t even understand what our product was.

It wasn’t until I got back to California and realized that all my friends were really high on the sheepskin boots. I realized it was because they were all surfers and all of their buddies had been to Australia and brought back pairs of boots for their friends. Within the surf market, it was a pretty big deal. We switched our whole marketing and selling effort to surf shops, and immediately every store we went to told us ‘Oh my God, they’re going to be fantastic, you’re going to make a fortune.’ This was like two or three days of checking out all the stores, so my friend and I were able to borrow $20,000 capital and we bought 500 pairs into California. As soon as they arrived, we organized them and we filled up our vans and went back on the road and the same surf shops were going ‘Oh my God, Brian, you’re going to make a killing but we can’t sell them out of our store because we only sell surfboards and shorts and sandals. They’re too expensive for us, but good luck, you’re going to make a killing!’. This happened time and time again both to me and my friend. We regrouped after about 3 weeks on the road and totaled up our sales for the year – it was 28 pairs.

Jason:
Oh my God, that’s terrible.

Brian:
So we sat there looking at an inventory of 500 pairs for the next year. The lesson I learned was that I didn’t account for Americans not understanding the properties of sheepskin. In Australia, everybody knows it’s rugged, you can get it wet, you can’t sweat in it because it breathes, you can mash them up and they still come back to their original shape. America’s perception was that it’s delicate, it’s prickly, it’s hot, it’s sweaty and you can’t get it wet or slush on it. That misperception was a huge reason why the thing just had sort of a dead start.

Jason:
I’m really surprised – surfers.. That seems to counter-intuitive. What was the appeal to surfers?

Brian:
The California surfers who’d been to Australia brought the boots back. When you put them on with wet feet, so after you’ve finished surfing in the Winter when your feet are freezing and they’re wet, you just put the sheepskin boots on, and within 10 minutes all the moisture is wicked out and your feet are warm again.

Jason:
Oh okay.

Brian:
So it is counter-intuitive, but that was a very practical reason for why it took off in that market.

Jason:
Okay, and Brian, a question for you: When you say you and your friend went on the road and you sold the 28 pairs out of the 500 you had, was your friend a business partner? Also, what does ‘on the road’ mean? Does that mean you were visiting shoe stores or trade shows or what?

Brian:
Yeah, in the sales repping business, you’re either in the office or you’re on the road. On the road definitely means visiting retailers. Yes, the other guy was Doug Jenson – he was a surfing buddy of mine. We couldn’t say that either of us were experienced, and that leads to a great piece of wisdom that I’ve picked up over the years. To be a really good entrepreneur, it almost requires a certain amount of ignorance or innocence, whichever way you look at it. If you knew of all the obstacles before you started, 99% of the time you would never start.

Jason:
Right, that’s good. You know, that really speaks to the people who suffer from a terrible malady in life called ‘the paralysis of analysis’.

Brian:
Yes!

Jason:
I find that the people most afflicted with that are the most educated people. In some ways, that education really does hurt you in life, doesn’t it?

Brian:
It can do, yeah. If I’d known what was in store and I’d had a business plan like they have online now and realized the seasonality and the amount of inventory I needed and the price barriers etc. man, I would never have started it! Had I not started, you wouldn’t have a billion dollar company out there right now that’s a world-wide force of nature.

Jason:
Right, right. I’m curious: Where did the name come from? It seems very fitting because the boots look like Uggs, but where did you get the name? Did you have the name originally when you first started?

Brian:
It’s a really interesting question. Nobody knows who made up that name – it’s been a name that was used in the sheepskin industry down in Australia for many years and an Australian did register a brand called UGHS for Australia, and I registered the UGG here because nobody else had bought boots into America and consistently sold them under any brand. That was the beginning of the branding, but as far as who made up the name, nobody has a clue.

Jason:
By the way, give us a sense of time here. What year was it when you came over to the States and were bringing the boots in? – the genesis.

Brian:
It was 1979. In 1978 we realized it, and in 1979 we bought our first samples in. It was 4 years after that that we finally got some momentum going.

Jason:
I want to ask you one more question about being on the road – when you were out on the road, selling the 28 pairs, were you just using the Yellow Pages and looking up every shoe store and just going in cold with a couple of pairs of boots in your hand and saying ‘Hey, you should sell these?’ They have distribution systems, of course.

Brian:
That is so intuitive because I would go into the gas stations – this is way before cell phones – in every local area and I’d go straight to the ‘S’, which was Sporting Goods and Surf shops. They were both usually on the same page, which was lucky. I would find all the stores in the area and that’s how I started, yeah.

Jason:
Wow, that’s just an amazing grass-roots, rags-to-riches story. Incredible. Okay, so take us further down the journey. You said you gained some traction a couple of years into it; what happened?

Brian:
Well for about three years in a row, I felt like a failure because we were getting about $30,000 in annual sales selling to the surf market and I had started running ads with these models on the rocks at Windansea Beach. We’d run those ads in the surfer magazines and the actions sports magazines, and we were at $30,000. The next year I’d get more expensive models and more expensive photographers and do the same sort of ads, getting $30,000. I could not get an appointment with any of the big mall stores, and a couple of things happened – when I was in the buying office of Montgomery Ward, which was in Chicago, and I made my best sales pitch ever, the buyer just looked at me and eventually said ‘Brian, why are you here?’ I stammered back ‘Because I want to get an order for your California stores.’

He said ‘Brian, don’t you get it? We’re the elephants, we don’t move until the mice are running around under our feet.’

Jason:
[Laughs]

Brian:
I instantly got what he meant. It was like I was never going to get in the malls until I was out of control with the specialist stores. I went back to San Diego and one of the luckiest things happened. I was having a beer with one of my retailers after work, I was explaining my dilemma and he called out to the back of the shop, ‘Hey you kids’ and these little grommits came out. He said ‘What do you guys think of UGG?’ To a man, they all said ‘Oh, those UGGs man, they’re so fake. Have you seen those ads? The models can’t surf!’ And again, the light went on for me and I realized I was sending the wrong image to my target market. Within a week, I’d called a buddy of mine who was coaching the National Scholastic Surf Team and I said ‘Do you have any young kids who are going to turn pro soon?’ I ended up hiring two of them and started running ads and doing photographs just walking to the beach with them. We were just taking these candid shots of the everyday life of these two guys and when I started running those ads, the sales jumped to $100,000 within a couple of months. It was staggering. It was just purely because I’d finally hit the right image for my target market.

Jason:
Okay, so say that again, what was the right image? I want to make sure people catch that.

Brian:
Okay. I’ll answer it in a different way. The essence of good advertising is to make the reader want to be in the ad. I figured out a way. There were a couple of walks – there was one beach, which was about a mile down, Trestles beach which was another mile walk. I photographed these guys on these classic trails that every surfer knew about, and which were sort of like legend. I put my readers in the ad with those surfers.

Jason:
Okay, and were the surfers all male? Or did you do both genders?

Brian:
We mostly started off with male and then we started introducing girls into the ads after about a year or two.

Jason:
Interesting, very interesting. OKay, so here you are and you’re doing $30,000 a year. What are you doing, just importing them or are you into manufacturing?

Brian:
No, no, we just imported them. Sales were like October, November, December, and so by March, I was either washing boats at Marina del Rey all summer or I was in a construction crew in Bel Air for a summer. I was a greenskeeper on a golf course for a summer, so I was so dedicated to making this brand work that I did whatever I had to do to stay alive for October, November and December.

Jason:
Okay, and how old were you at the time?

Brian:
29 when I first started.

Jason:
Okay, and were you getting the chatter from friends and family saying you should get a real job and you know, ‘What are you doing with your life?’ type of thing? The usual entrepreneurial chatter.

Brian:
My Dad wanted me to get a job, starting off as a lowly accountant and working my way up to Chief Operating Officer. He didn’t understand that that, to me, was like prison. I had to be out doing something for myself.

Jason:
Very good, very good. Okay, so tell us about the next thing that happened. You’re importing these boots and $30,000 a year – is it just you and the other guy?

Brian:
Yeah. Well actually, it became just me because we couldn’t sustain any salaries so he had to get another job anyway. He went off into the video business so it was just me trying to get rid of all these boots in my spare bedroom. When it finally took off for that $400,000 season, then I started getting a little warehouse outside my own house and began putting together a crew that I would hire for 2-3 months every year. Then as it grew, we started doubling every year. It was $400,000, $800,000, at one point $6 million, $2-2.5 million. It was around then that I sort of figured out business. What I figured out was that you can’t give birth to adults.

Jason:
Okay, that’s a great saying; what does it mean?

Brian:
It’s a thing that I have all throughout my book. In fact, my book goes from birth, through infancy and all the way through. Every business that exists out there, every movement, even every religion and every movie scene started with conception – somebody thought it out. Then the first action was taken. In my case, I sent money down for some samples. Other people may make the first widget or they’ll have their first congregation of the church. Everything has a birth, and then it goes into this interminable infancy and it just lies there. That was my 3 years at $30,000. No matter how much I overfed the baby or rocked the baby or coerced the baby, the baby couldn’t get up and go to College.

Jason:
It just couldn’t grow faster.

Brian:
Eventually, it’ll hit the toddling stage and then you’ll hit this beautiful youth where kids can clean their own teeth and sit at the table and eat food. In a business it’s where the orders are consistent, the delivery is consistent – everything’s consistent, but if it’s a really good product like UGG was, it’ll hit the teenage years. It wants to be everywhere at once and everybody’s inviting it to the party and it wants to show up. That’s a very dangerous phase. I almost lost UGG two or three times during that phase.

Jason:
Okay, that’s interesting. This is a great metaphor for a company.

Brian:
It really is.

Jason:
I want to ask you about the teenage years, but before I do that, I want to ask you what your thoughts are – you’re not a tech guy, I take it.

Brian:
No.

Jason:
What are your thoughts on some of the really fast-growing Silicon Valley companies like Facebook? I guess it was an infant, it’s just the time is compressed, right? It still had that stage in the dormroom at Harvard.

Brian:
Absolutely. I saw the movie and even though it was sort of based on truth, there were many, many moments in the dormroom where you never knew if it was going to work and if anybody was going to want it, if it was going to catch on. The difference between that and a business like UGG, though, it you’re in two different frames. One is with computers and the other one is without. Everything was done – even the advertisements were all photographs and then color film. Now it’s all digital, and the same goes for the means of getting it out via the computer now. The Internet is so fast and so pervasive that you can take a product or products and put them out so fast. That’s a huge difference.

The other beauty of the Internet is that nobody knows how big you are. That’s something that I learned very early in advertising – it’s not how big you are, it’s how big you are perceived to be that counts. With the Internet, that’s now taken on 20 times more importance because if you have a fabulous image on your landing page and your website and all of your systems are good, nobody’s going to come and check if you’re working out of your garage.

Jason:
Absolutely. That’s a big advantage to today’s entrepreneurs. However, really everybody has that advantage so the playing field is level. You would still say that the tech-oriented companies, or even non-tech, but the new generation of companies that we’re in with now – they still have those stages of infancy, right?

Brian:
Absolutely. We see Facebook and we see Twitter and Instagram and all of these really cool products that have worked, but there are millions of programmers out there that are banging away. Right as you’re talking, they’re banging away at their keyboard, praying that they can get out of their infancy.

Jason:
Yeah, okay. It makes sense. So you were going to share a thought. I took you on a little tangent there, but I wanted to make sure we clarified that. That’s good. The teenager years is where you almost lost it. So what year is this, in real years? I know in the metaphorical, it’s the teenage years of the company.

Brian:
It was in the 90s when it was really starting. The surf market had taken off, and then we advertised in the ski business. When we started with the skiing and snowboarding, it really took off again. We wanted to be at all the trade shows nationally and we wanted to be in all the big magazines so our spending was out of control compared to the amount of volume we were doing. If we were doing the same volume in every quarter that we did in the fall and the winter, it would have worked, but we were spending so much of our money to drive everything for 2-3 months worth of sales and we then had to pay the bills afterwards. That became a real problem for financing.

The other thing – I mentioned that we were doubling all the time, and when we got it to $4-5 million, it wasn’t doubling but it was still adding a couple of million every year. That became a huge strain on the financing for production. I would say that nearly all of those times that I almost went out of business were because my sales were so strong I could not find the money for the production. By now, I was doing business plans and projections, but even 10-12 years down the road, every time I went to a bank or an investment banker or venture capitalist, it was ‘Oh, those UGGs are just a fad, they won’t be around next year’. I never outgrew that for the entire 17 years I had the business.

Jason:
I bet this is where your accounting degree came in handy though, right? It probably was helpful at this point?

Brian:
Yeah. I hated doing the accounting but I’ll never regret what I learned from it.

Jason:
Okay, good. So give us the context there of these teenage years? What year is it? It’s in the 80s, but where in the 80s? Any particular place? And what was your revenue then? Are you in the manufacturing business by now or are you still importing? You’re probably in manufacturing now, I assume?

Brian:
Well, in the late ’80s.. This fast growth took off from ’85 onwards, but by 1990 there was another company that had come into the US market under the brand UGHs, and they were manufacturing in Oregon. Eventually, we bought that company out and by default, we inherited a factory in Portland. That was the first time we were ever into the production and manufacturing business.
It proved good for us for a couple of reasons: 1. We were US-made, and that made us eligible for outfitting the US Olympic team in Lillehammer. Then again, we were predominantly, and me especially, were sales and marketing. Having a manufacturing component was a bit of a wildcard and although we made money every year from it and it had certain advantages, it was a lot of work that didn’t pay off in the return. When we sold the company, eventually they just closed down the Portland factory and went back and relied 100% on imports.

Jason:
And in this teenage era, how many employees did you have, and did you take on outside funding then or was the growth all organic? I know you took on $20,000 in the very beginning, but that’s not..

Brian:
Every 2-3 years I would have to buy out the old investors and bring in new, bigger ones because the need for support was horrendous. For $10 million of sales for a season, for instance, which was a 3-4 month period, we needed $6-7 million worth of product and when it was back in the hundreds of thousands, I was getting good credit for the manufacturers, but when it got to $4-5 million, it needed letters of credit and financing, and that was always when the bankers were saying ‘No, it’s a fad, it won’t be around’. It was in the mid-’80s, early ’90s period that the crunch for the capital became really critical.

Jason:
Right, and any advice on obtaining funding and getting investors to take you seriously?

Brian:
I was never the world’s best at it, but what I eventually figured out is you don’t give a bunch of investors a 80-point business plan. Things have gone so fast lately that if you can’t encapsulate what the product is, how much money will be needed, and then the four most critical things: 1. How long will the investor’s money be in it? This is what they’re looking at: How long will my money be tied up? 2. How safe is it? 3. What return? 4. How do I get my money out?
Number 4 is always the biggest one that you have to provide the answer for for any investor. You may see this as your life and your passion but they see it as an investment opportunity and they want to know how they can double their money, or whatever. They need to know when they can get out.

Jason:
Right, very good points. I’m curious. Okay, let’s go to the end of this story and then I’ll ask you something else. It’s about 1990 now, or at least the late ’80s and you sold the company in 1995, correct?

Brian:
That’s correct.

Jason:
OKay, so what happened in that next 5 years? How did that all go? Are you past the teenage years here – are you in the twenties yet within the metaphor?

Brian:
Yeah, we’re in the mid- to late-teens now, and we’d been regional – we had the surf market tied up, we had the ski and snowboard market tied up, I’d figured out that ice hockey was the big sport in the East because nobody back there has read surfer magazines, so we really promoted it there. It was still very regional though, and I was on a plane coming back from a trade show in New York one time and I noticed the girl next to me was reading People magazine and US magazine. All the stars had been photographed and what they were wearing (all the brands) were described. I thought ‘That’s probably the biggest market I could chase’.

When I got home I did some research and I found out that there was a group of people in Hollywood called stylists, and these stylists were hair people, make-up artists, wardrobe people and so I found a mailing list. I sent out a letter to 400 of them saying that if you want a free pair of UGG Boots, give me a call. About 40 of them did and I sent them all boots. They’d be doing some star’s hair and the star would say ‘Hey, what are those things?’ ‘Oh, these are UGGS, they’re great’. And then the star would say ‘Can you get me a pair?’ So we would end up sending product out to the stars and in this type of industry, product placement is a big deal. I didn’t know it at the time, but now it’s a really really big business. We were just giving out boots and bit by bit, we’d see them on a sitcom on TV and then we’d start to see them in the movies.

Jason:
When you say you were giving boots, what were you doing? Just shipping boots to various celebrities?

Brian:
Yeah. We were just giving them away.

Jason:
How do you get their shoe size?

Brian:
Well, their agents find out and again, it started with the stylists. The star would say to their handler ‘Hey, I want a pair of those UGG boots’, and they would figure out how to get to us and the agents would track us down. It was all done organically, there was no system to anything. After a while, all these stars in the magazines were being photographed on the streets in New York or LA and they were wearing UGG boots. That was when the thing really, really started to take off.

Jason:
And so you’re just 5 years away from an acquisition now?

Brian:
Yeah. I hadn’t always wanted to sell out, but things got so fast. We were doing $6 million and then $12 million and then I was in a season in ’95 where I had orders for nearly 15 million, which meant that we would probably do a $20 million season. I didn’t have the capacity or the financing in place to jump that far. I knew I would get it, but it was just the beginning of the season and it was making me realize that I had a lot of work to do. Ironically, there was a good buddy of mine who started out at the same time I did. He was in the sandal business and we would cross each other all the time on the road and he’d be in the same stores I was, selling sandals.

Eventually, he took on a license for a shoe called Teva and that was a huge hit when the outdoor market took off. He went public on that and here I was, going to this trade show where I’ve got this humongous backlog of sales for the next year and I was in the baggage claim in Atlanta airport, going to the super show, and at the end of the terminal was my buddy Doug. I thought to myself ‘Our business dies every summer, his business died every winter. He’s just gone public and he’s got $20-30 million in the bank.’ I walked up and we high-fived each other and I said ‘Doug, if ever we’re going to put these together, now’s the time.’

That was how the sale came about. I didn’t really want to do it, but the best option to do was to actually sell it outright. When I really look back now, inside me I know I’m great at starting and growing businesses but I really do not like being in a big company. His was a public company, and then you have committees and all these different channels of command. I get stifled when I have to work that way; I’m much more for thinking and risk-taking, so it was the perfect time for me to let the baby go to Deckers. They’ve done a brilliant job; they’re the ones that deserve all the credit for taking it to the billions.

Jason:
Right, now Deckers – that’s not Teva though, right? Who’s Deckers?

Brian:
Deckers is the parent company that owns the Teva brand, and they acquired the UGG brand as well. They have several other simple shoes and a few others. It was a good home for the brand because they had the capital to really take advantage of the production and the marketing that I’d put in place.

Jason:
That’s a brilliant idea. You take the Teva sandals and the UGG boots and they swap seasons so you can even out the cash flow all year long. That’s a fantastic fit. I’m curious – what was going on internationally? Weren’t you able to sell these in Europe, or maybe the Southern hemisphere to balance out your season? Certainly they were in Australia already, but maybe they weren’t even all that popular in Australia? Or at least not in a branded way? I envision them, although I could be wrong about this, in the ’70s as these native kind of boots that weren’t like a branded, commercial enterprise concept.

Brian:
That’s very intuitive. When I left Australia, there was all types of quality. You could find them being sold in Shell gas stations for $20 a pair, but the quality was horrible. What I did that was very different was that I created a brand and I built a very high quality image and a very high persona of advertising images around the brand. That never happened in Australia until probably 15 years later, when it was reintroduced back there. You’re absolutely right. Internationally, we had sales in Japan, a little bit in England, a little bit in Switzerland, but very little outside of the US when I sold the company. When it really went popular in the tabloid magazines, it was just about the time I was selling it and so Deckers was able to reap the benefit of that international business.

Jason:
Fantastic. Brian, give out your website if you would.

Brian:
Okay, it’s www.BrianSmithSpeaker.com, because I’m doing a lot of speaking from the stage. In fact, last weekend I was at Harvard, which was a dream for me, talking to all the business leaders there. The name of the book, which is on Amazon right now, but the actual launch date is December 2nd, which is when I would like anybody who’s interested to hit Amazon! The book is called The Birth of a Brand: Launching Your Entrepreneurial Passion and Soul, and I’ve got the passion and soul in there because there’s a lot of spiritual insights, a lot of business tips too, but this book is written from the heart. It tells more about the disasters than the good things, because that’s where all the learning happens.

Jason:
That’s for sure! Well, Brian, this has been a fascinating talk. I’ve got just a couple more things for you before you go. Number 1: What were some of your biggest problems that you didn’t mention already? Did you have any big litigation or did the animal rights or environmental people attack you for sheering sheep? I don’t know, something with a trademark dispute or anything like that? Any big, big, serious things that might have ended it?

Brian:
The biggest one was in the late ’80s, about 1987-88, when I was on the road selling as a rep and I had two partners in that were running the business. One of those partners died and that threw a wrench in the works of the financing and my supplier at the time – I think he lost faith that I was going to be able to raise the money to buy the production for the following season and he ended up ditching me and picking another distributor over here. There was a period there for 4-5 months where I was trying to figure out what had happened in the company because of my partner dying, and I had no idea where we were going to get product until I could figure out where the company was at. By the time I’d figured that out in July/August, the sales had been going on all the time because it was a $6-7 million season and I was lucky enough to have a big tannery in Australia step in and back me with a bunch of manufacturers, but that happened on the 11th hour. I’d pretty much decided to give up because I couldn’t get the production, and this manufacturer came in. That’s a brilliant part of the book so I’m not going to spoil the story too much, apart from saying that. At the 11th hour, I got bailed out.

Jason:
Well, I think that is always the story of some entrepreneurial trial – when we keep persisting in the face of incredible odds, usually the seas part and something happens. There’s a great saying I used to always repeat when I would give speeches and so forth to budding entrepreneurs and salespeople. I would say ‘The key is you’ve got to stay in business long enough for something good to happen’.

Brian:
Can I tell you my statement, which is something like that?

Jason:
Sure.

Brian:
‘The quickest way for a tadpole to become a frog is to live every day happily as a tadpole.’ It’s the same thought because as long as you’re plodding away doing what you do, eventually the circumstances will change and you’ll just find your form changes.

Jason:
Yeah, fantastic. That’s awesome. OKay, so that’s that one. Then the thing we didn’t cover at all, and I appreciate that the book has got soul in it, and this spiritual component, which is awesome, but what was going on in your personal life? Did this put a lot of strain on your personal life? Did you have a personal life or were you just working all the time? You had the company for what, about 20 years?

Brian:
For 17 years.

Jason:
17 years, yeah, okay.

Brian:
Yeah, I started out by myself. After a couple of years, I met my future wife and was engaged for a year or two. She kept me, all of those 3-5 early years when I was working summer jobs – she had a permanent job then, but then when we had the first of our two children, by then we were making it day-to-day on my efforts through the selling and the summer jobs. Then around about the mid-’80s, the volume was sufficient and I’d raised enough investment capital to live comfortably. By the late ’80s, I ended up bringing in 3 new investors who ran the actual business – this is one of the ones who died – and I just went on the road as a sales rep for Southern California. I ended up making so much money on the road. I’d never drawn any money out when I was running it myself, but with these new investors and me being a sales rep, every time I came back at the end of the month, there’d be another $10-15,000 dollar check waiting for me for my commissions. I lived on easy street for 3-4 years until this partner died, and then I got thrust back into the thick of running the company again.

Jason:
Wow, it’s just an amazing story. This is really an awesome American entrepreneur story. Was it easy for you to get into the States? I have Australian friends that can’t just come in – was that a difficult part?

Brian:
I have to say that I abused my visitor’s permit a couple of times..

Jason:
The IRS is okay with it, I’m sure.

Brian:
I went to Mexico and turned around in a circle and came straight back into the US a few times. I did that a couple of times, but eventually that didn’t work and so I went through all of the paperwork with lawyers for a year or two. Ultimately, I ended up meeting my wife and we got married. We didn’t do it because of that, but it just took that barrier away.

Jason:
Right, right. That makes a lot of sense. What I was saying is I’m sure the IRS is very happy you stayed!

Brian:
[Laughs]. Yeah, that was a big check!

Jason:
And the State of California, too, because they take a huge chunk there. I lived in California almost all my life so I hear you! Brian Smith, awesome, awesome story. That’s it, folks. You can visit Brian’s website at www.BrianSmithSpeaker.com and I really appreciate having you and sharing all these great details of your story. It was just a real pleasure.

Brian:
Fantastic, Jason, I enjoyed it too. Thanks a lot!

Outro:
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