This is the first in a series of three interviews with entrepreneurs who attended MastermindTalks in Toronto in mid-June for two days of presentations, roundtables and networking. Yanik Silver is the 40-year-old founder of Maverick1000, based near Washington, D.C.
Question: You started in a one-bedroom apartment with a few hundred dollars. What action did you take to launch your career?
Answer: It's kind of like the proverbial overnight success that took eight or nine years to get there. I have to back up a little bit. We're a family of Russian immigrants and my father created a medical equipment sales and service company, and like any family business I had to work for that. When I was 14, I was telemarketing, and when I was 16, the deal was that I got a car if I'd go cold calling. And it sucked.
But I met a lot of doctors and I'd talk to them face-to-face and while that also wasn't ideal, one doctor turn me on to learning about advertising, marketing and copy writing. I started honing those skills and got really good at it. I was able to take my father's business from a very regional player to a national player by using that skill set.
Fast forward to 2000 and that one-bedroom apartment, where I had a three-o'clock-in-the-morning idea where I literally jumped out of bed about creating instant sales letters. The idea was to create fill-in-the-blank sales templates for any business owner that they could use for whatever field they were in, and use them to sell.
I didn't really know how to put up a website – I still don't – and I spent a bunch of money on my merchant account and to put up the site. Maybe $1,800 or so to start, and that first month we made $1,800, second month it was $3,600, and then within four months I was on track to do six figures.
People were like, "whoa, how did you do that?"
Q: As a serial entrepreneur you say you have launched multiple seven-figure businesses. Can you outline a few of your key ventures?
A: Everything began with that first $1-million product in overall sales, and that was started in $30 increments of essentially selling digital templates. From there, I started helping other people take their information and content and sell it. I would have my own seminars that would generate six or seven figures, my own information and content courses that were seven figures, helping people take what's in their heads – their knowledge and their passion – and sell that.
One of the skill sets I got really good at was copy writing and teaching people how to do that. Also running high-level peer-to-peer groups where people would pay $15,000 to $20,000 a year. And now the latest one, which is at a much higher level, is the Maverick1000 group.
Q: You also call yourself a maverick entrepreneur. What does that mean?
A: To me a maverick is someone who blazes their own trail and doesn't always follow the norms, and really sees things as they could be. The other maybe less-unorthodox version of a maverick is a business owner who wants to redefine what entrepreneurship is for the 21st century.
It's a combination of growing your business and being successful but also wanting to create an impact in a big way, and having some fun with that process and that journey. Combine that all together and you get the maverick philosophy.
Q: You claim to be on the way to impacting one million entrepreneurs to start or grow businesses by 2020. How are you going to pull that off?
A: Through leverage. For Maverick1000 I plan to bring together 1,000 of the world's most interesting, game-changing entrepreneurs who also have a lot of leverage in their own right. So it's just 1,000 times 1,000, which isn't that much when you start breaking it down that way. We work with non-profits and cross-partners and young entrepreneurs and startups.
Sometimes it's one-on-one through mentoring but a lot of times it's also through recording these successful entrepreneurs and their skill sets and capabilities, all the things they've learned that can be passed on. To me it's all about leverage and how we can do it in a bigger way than just trying to sit in a room with a million entrepreneurs and think of it that way.
Q: So have you got 1,000 entrepreneurs lined up?
A: We're about 200 some-odd members right now.
Q: So how do you gather up 1,000 successful entrepreneurs? Do you send them an e-mail?
A: We have a pretty big data base, and a lot of entrepreneurs who are part of the group have big data bases as well. It's been a bit of an organic process. I've also been figuring out what this group really is, anyway.
It's something I wanted to scratch my own itch with. I was doing well with my Internet businesses but I didn't have an amazing peer group that I could turn to all the time, have some fun with, and have a mission we could all get behind. It's been evolving. I don't look at it as needing 1,000 tomorrow, it's an organic process to find the right ones.
Q: You call yourself a 'techno dunce' but you've made your name as an online marketer. How did that happen?
A: It's like when you turn on a light switch, do you need to know how the power comes from the generator to your house? Not really. You say, "I want this particular chandelier, and I want this sconce over here," but I don't need to know how the electricity comes.
There are people who are way more talented than me who can do all that stuff. I'm really good at identifying marketplace opportunities, positioning, and taking an idea and moulding it into something unique. And then finding people, whether it's on a virtual basis or outsourced, to come in and lend their skillset.
I'm about what your strengths are and not about trying to get good at something you're really bad at, and being mediocre at that.
Q: You're almost an industry unto yourself, not just an entrepreneur. You've got your hands in all kinds of pies, authoring books among them. What does your average day or week look like?
A: It depends on whether I'm travelling or not. If I'm home, it's usually first about sending the kids off to school. I've tried to figure out my work/life, so I can be around for whatever they're doing. I'm not perfect, I won't hit everything, but I really try to move my day around that.
Lately it's been meditating in the morning and starting my day that way. I also have daily rituals that I follow to hit some sort of movement or activity I can do. Maybe it's journal writing in the morning: what I'm grateful for or what's going on in my world at that moment. Not digging into my e-mail first thing.
If I can write in the morning, or do something productive and creative, I have a great day. From there, I answer the stuff that's coming in for me, and work with our team on what we're doing.
If I'm away, all that flies out the window except for the daily routine and the process. I'd probably be focused on teaching, or leading a workshop, or facilitating a group. It could also be an adventure or an experience we're running, and hopefully not being tied to e-mail or my computer.
I work out of the house, and I always have. I've been fortunate enough to have spent almost seven weeks with Richard Branson over the past few years, and one of the things he always harps on is having your kids and family around you even when you're working, and going on vacations that everyone can come along on, and not necessarily making everything totally separate. It's one of the things I've taken to heart.
Our team is virtual, so everything is through Skype or HipChat. It's a double-edged sword, but I've just never created that true office environment. I like being spontaneous and being able to say: "I'm going paddleboarding this morning, or I'm going to blow off my meetings in the afternoon," just to have that flexibility.
We have five or six employees that are close to full time, we have maybe three or four others who are part-time.
Q: You have 34 rules for maverick entrepreneurs. If you were to choose the most important one, what would it be and why?
A: I don't know if there's a most important. Some of them I've screwed up myself, which is nice, going back to the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do sometimes. One of the biggest ones, where I've screwed up in this journey to build the Maverick1000 group, is that I put $300,000 or $400,000 into it before I really figured out what it was, and what the business model was, and if it was a business or just an outlet for me to create unique experiences.
One of the rules is that lack of money enhances your creativity. Try and bootstrap as much as you can, because that's going to allow you to focus on whether there's a real business there or not. A lot of entrepreneurs think, "Well, if I had more cash I could make this thing work." Sometimes it's the opposite.
If you have just a certain amount, it's going to force you to have more creativity. If you have an open cheque book, you just continue writing cheques without having to look at whether the fundamentals of a business are there.
Q: Where do you see Internet marketing headed in the next year, and the next five years?
A: I think it's headed toward not being a separate piece – it's part of the overall marketing channel. If you're not doing anything online right now you're really falling behind. It's become so ubiquitous that it has to be a big part of the marketing mix. It's no longer being like, "where do you see direct mail heading?" That becomes part of your entire marketing mix.
The Internet allows us to do a lot of interesting things we couldn't do before, and I almost see that increasing in the next few years, where you get real-time data coming in and you see whether someone's clicking on this or they're not clicking on this. You get to know people's intentions by where they click or what they're interested in. They can tell you something in a survey but you're going to find out faster by actually putting something out there.
Businesses can almost dry test what's going to be a great product or offering that they could put out there and then you add that to interesting innovations like crowdfunding and you're testing marketplace demand in advance, and it's really exciting to see what happens. Then you add the leverage components of the Internet, where connected nodes are going out, and you can see what has legs and what doesn't.
It's almost like the big wins become even bigger than they could have because of that network connectivity. Something, whether it's good or bad, can spread faster. Also, transparency is a huge piece of it. We can't hide behind spin. Your brand is what everyone else says it is, and I think that's a big deal.
Looking further ahead, I'm interested in the always-on Internet, this connectivity of all your devices always talking to each other. The last speaker (at the conference) was talking about all these wearables going on. So you've got your wearables, you've got your devices in your house, it's like everything always going on in real time.
Q: If you were to start all over again now, back in the one-bedroom apartment with a few hundred dollars, would the business principles you teach others still apply to you, and would you be able to reach the same level of success you achieved all those years ago? Could you do it again, or has the world changed too much?
A: I rely more heavily on principles than I do on tactics. Tactics are always going to change. But the principles I absolutely believe in, and that I think are still the case today, are in my journal. One of my core values was that I deliver 10x to 100x in value to what someone pays me in return. That, to me, is a timeless principle, that's not going to change.
The mechanism of how we deliver the value or what it is, that might change, but if we're always on that measurement stick, that's almost like a natural law, you can't help but be rewarded. So those things continue to work.
I definitely might do things more deliberately. I'm kind of a little bit like Ferris Bueller where I'm friends with the geeks and the nerds and the dweebs and the jocks, and that was just a natural piece. I've watched over the past 15 years or so that I've been in business, and I would more deliberately build out my network. I think that's a key piece. I think I could totally do it again, it just might not be the same way.
Once someone has travelled down one road, you're not going to have the exact same success that person had. I couldn't be the next Richard Branson building out the next Virgin with 300 disparate companies. Someone's done it.
Look at Toms Shoes. He's captured that 'buy one, give one,' he kind of owns it. If my company is going to be buy one, give one, I'm going to be compared with Toms all the time. You want to take what's worked and then innovate around those pieces.
Q: From a business standpoint, what mountains are left for you to climb?
A: A lot of them. It's one of the reasons I transitioned out of only being in the online world about seven years ago. I realized I wasn't going to feel fulfilled if that was it. To me, our guiding star is changing the way business is played. That to me is a play on the word play: that what I love is finding ways for entrepreneurs to have these unique experiences and create recess for them. I think play is underrated.
Changing the way business is played revolves around a new concept we have called "evolved enterprise," an idea of creating businesses that come out of your true path, your true self, almost what you were meant to do.
You can only find that out, a lot of times, by experimenting and figuring out that zig-zag path, but then wrapping your impact around that, which builds up a community of customers that are so excited about what you're doing they almost have to spread the word. It builds a culture of your team playing for something bigger, that they have a bigger meaning, and inside the creation of the product or service is baked in what that impact is.
I mentioned Toms before and I think they're a great example, they grew to a $300-million company, which is crazy to think what they've done, that they've got such passionate fans because of that marketing message. We're seeing more and more of these companies, we see conscious capitalism as a force coming up with John Mackey from Whole Foods leading that charge.
I see that as my next mountain: How do you wrap around what it means to be the fullest expression of yourself inside your business, and how do you fully express everyone else in the business? That is really exciting to me right now.