After growing up in the Midwest as a skater, Brian Koehn learned at an early age not to just blindly trust the systems in place around him. Which is why years later when he found himself in the middle of a bad religious experience, he was completely blindsided. Listen to Brian’s story of reinventing himself and how speaking to 10,000 people helped him not only in business, but also as a person. Take a listen to our latest episode to start the journey of becoming a newer you!
I think we have to change our relationship with failure. In general I think a lot of. The belief from failure is that failure is bad and I don't want to sound too cliche but failure is it. I just think people have a backwards way of thinking about failure and failure is just learning. And it's just yeah so I don't know. I don't know how to answer that question. I'm not sure it talking it's hard because it comes so natural to me. The failure is just a big part of my life and I plan to fail a lot more.
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Brian welcome to the unmistakable creative thanks so much for taking the time to join us. Hey thanks it's really good to be here.
After all this time so you know you and I have worked together for about three years I've mentioned your name multiple times on the show. We've had numerous requests to have you come and talk and do you like a full blown interview and we've done a few episodes where we've dissected the interviews and shared some of our own ideas but I'm really excited because I get to pick your brain on the air and especially you know given that we've known each other for three years and I know that you're a wealth of knowledge about all sorts of things so I've been hiding out that you have been hiding out so it's really cool to finally do this in this format. So you know one of the things that will be interesting I think in this conversation is that I know so much more about you than I probably do about our average guest. So you know I have to ask you questions about things that I know you've told me about. So let's start at the very beginning and this is something that I remember you told me once I should ask you about and I know from having spent three years with you that you grew up in a mall town called Lowell Michigan and I'm curious what impact having grown up in such a small town has ended up having on your life.
Well growing up in the midwest in general I find that there's different values that people in midwest have especially how they relate to other people. I don't know I have this partially I'm talking about it from a business perspective first and if we need to talk about any other perspective if we can but one of the things the positives that I learned is that you your reputation is everything and growing up in a small town and especially having parents who are small business owners you've learned that you really need to do the right thing all the time because if your neighbors don't like you or you do wrong by a neighbor your entire business could be up in smoke. In theory and plushest there's a very strong cultural value that regardless of money is on the table you're just you need to do the right thing and you know having a small community. There's the egotistical reputation but there's the fact you have to live with these people for maybe the rest of your life. So that's impacted me most of my business relationships are pretty good and I really freak out when people are when I feel like they're getting wronged and some of it has to do with my small town upbringing and the values that come with that. When one of the problems that came up for me is I tend to believe what people say because in this small town community you can make deals on a handshake and people were kind of held accountable by the environment of just being in that bubble. And I've learned even since moving to California that not everybody means what they say and sometimes actually a lot and business people tend to make promises in best case scenarios. And I've had to figure that out that a lot of times the promises that people are making are talking about possibilities or hypothetical best case scenarios and the odds of a best case scenario happening is like getting all greenlights from here to New York.
Sure. Yeah definitely something else. You know one of the things that's really interesting is that you have this sort of small town perspective on you know navigating the world of business but you've also went and worked in big corporations like Sony PlayStation. So I'm curious how you took that small town dynamic and overlaid it into a place like PlayStation. Because I mean it's a very different environment than Michigan. So Lake what do you take what you've learned from Lowell and translate and what and in what ways did you have to adapt.
Ok so I'll start with the funny stuff first. The first thing I had to learn is that if somebody gives an excuse for example for being late. You don't try and help them with their excuse you just you're supposed to go OK that makes sense. So for example someone would say oh sorry I'm late. The traffic is so bad. What did you try this different. No you don't go there you just say oh yeah the traffic was bad. It's almost like this cultural thing just let people off the hook because in in Michigan if somebody has a problem you try to solve it with them or if somebody has an excuse you try to remedy it. So I had to learn that if somebody gives excuses and sounds so judgmental but especially in big bureaucratic companies you're not it's NPC to ask them any further Hitchens it out there excuse then just let him slide. So that was number one. The next thing that happened that I noticed that Sony was I had a very strong work ethic because that's another thing from a small farming communities you just have a tremendous work ethic. And one of the things I had to adjust see is that some people in big companies love that and some people hate it. So what happens is if you have a tremendous work ethic you really shine a spotlight on the people that are just coasting. It's a lot of people in big companies coast. Let's face it. And so I was able to bring that small town work ethic in the small town values of really connecting with people and creating authentic goodwill. You know I within a year had relationships with people in three different regions and I started off as a small time kind of trainer and before long I was very close to a senior director of a global operation and yes I think just that small town thinking of just treating everybody with tremendous respect and bringing positivity. They're working hard now created a lot of opportunity but that leader created some problems too.
And so you know young people listening to this early in their career are probably much like you were in the early PlayStation days and I'm curious you know what advice you would give to them in terms of navigating a work environment and being able to build relationships with people who you know ideally become mentors to them.
Wow that's a really really good question. The first thing I would I would say is that if you are hungry and humble you'd be surprised at the amount of executives that want to talk to you. And there are so many executives that want people to just execute. They want to go to coach people and see results and a lot of people think there's this big wide gap between who they are now and who they need to be before they can start taking on big projects are talking and big time executives or who's going to step on who's toes. And for me I always just decided that I wanted to build for example. I was concerned about job security because I was going through going through the recession early in my career I've always been wanting to build security. And I looked at building connections and the company has building a safety net because I'm a big company if you have enough people that love you from all around the world executives are professionals that's going to be good for you. So one of the things that I would suggest is just build a build a nest of relationships. Everywhere you go and then you know you have courage. It For Me. I'm willing to go all in and if I burn a bridge then I'll leave the company. And I just think having that type of courage is really really important and a lot of people just play it safe and are scared and many are on a path to nowhere especially in a big company. In order to make it up fast in a big company you have to make big moves and take risks and sometimes you're going to step on people's toes and you have to figure out who's the winning team in the company and who's the losing team. There's always a big company there's always people on both parties and align yourself with the winning team and just go for it.
And it's funny to hear you talk about winning and losing teams I think back to a sales job that I had and I remember one of my friends said he's like the guys you go to lunch with. He's like that's a losing team. He's like because all they do is complain and you know. And I realized that that group of guys all eventually left the company. But it was interesting that that sort of became like look I recognize it now when I hear you say that I didn't at the time you know I think a lot of people get in a mode that they just really are holding on tightly to.
You know I talked about a bubble earlier and a lot of times in companies man it's a toll it might as well be another small town or like think about high school and a lot of people Alison are out of high school. And when you're in a company it feels like high school all over again. And when you're in high school you feel like the reality that you're in and those moments are just how it's going to be for life. And that's one of the big problems that people run into as they start hating their job or hating their boss or taking on assignments that don't resonate or settling. And it's way better just to not settle and tell you you know tell people what you want. The right people will respect you for it and if you aren't allowed to be yourself you just get out.
Yeah no doubt. Well speaking of high school I think you know one of the other things I'm going to do is I'm going to ask you every question you've told me to ask. Guess so. What social group were you a part of in high school and how did that influence your life.
Sure I wasn't the skater group in high school and that influenced my life. And just a tremendous amount of waste. First of all the skater group is fairly rebellious. And I think that's one of the first entrepreneurial type of influences on my life as a skater you look at the world just very differently so everything out there outside of this concrete.
It's a potential you know skate spot. You're always just looking for opportunity everywhere. The next thing is just I learn how to be just a little bit rebellious and be comfortable with being quote unquote rejected. Even though he has become a lot more cool it was still one of those things where you are choosing to be somewhat of an outsider and kind of enjoy it. So that was one of the things that we had going for us just general willingness and excitement around breaking the rules. Was this something that influenced me pretty tremendously. Yeah and is scapegoating in general I think really led to just my later kind of ability to fail. Because if anyone's watched skateboarders for more than five minutes you'll realize that 80 percent of the things you try you fail all the time. So that was one of the things that I really got a thrill from failing a lot and then getting something right and winning and having a big you know big high from that. Yeah.
You know I really got you brought up a failure because I think building a tolerance for failure or capacity to fail and to get back up again is something that's hugely important. I think I've gotten it from surfing probably you have as well and I am curious you know for people who are at that bone breaking age as I am and you can't get on a skateboard. How do people build their tolerance for failure like you know what have you found have been effective methods that aren't necessarily you know things that could do physical harm.
He's building and tolerance for failure. I think just learning new skills like being willing to take something on you know following your curiosity is one of those things. Something I'll touch on briefly because you asked about high school. It might be fairly telling. I started off in middle school I was I was kind of hanging out with the cool preppy kids and I noticed that the cool preppy kids were making fun of the cool kids and there was this one kid in particular that everyone would make fun of. And I was the only one of the school I wouldn't. And he would come sit by me and all my super cool air quoting right now preppies friends would leave and it would be just me and this kid. And I just thought it was so hypocritical that you know at that point the preppy kind of jock kids they were looked upon as like how these kids are so good and you're part of the cool popular group. I was like Man I don't want anything to do with this so I ended up going with the skateboarders who turned out they weren't any nicer to this kid. But at least they were big. Yeah. So I just want to share that as well. As far as as far as failure failure being comfortable with it I don't know I mean I think I think we have to change our relationship with failure. In general I think a lot of. The believes from failure is that failure is bad and I don't want to sound too cliche but failure is it. I just think people have a backwards way of thinking about failure and failure is just learning. And it's just yeah so I don't know. I don't know how to answer that question and I'm sure it. It's hard because it comes natural to me. The failure is just a big part of my life and I plan to fail a lot more. Yeah.
You know I want to spend some time talking about learning and education because the thing that has always struck me about you is that you know like you said to yourself that you were kind of not categorized as book smart in a classroom but I've spent three years with you. You're quite book smart as far as I'm concerned and you know I'm curious about the choices that you've made in terms of how you chose to learn and how you chose to develop yourself and also knowing that a lot of parents are listening who have children who are in formal educational institutions. What would you tell them based on your experience.
Ok well I hope the school system has changed a little bit since I've been out. I graduated in 2004. But one of the things that that happened when I was young is it is early as second grade. I had a teacher. You know share with my mom that hey there's something possibly wrong with with Brian and it's something that's not going to go away. And ironically enough I was also in advanced reading at that point. So there were some really interesting disconnect happening with my learning where apparently I had a learning disability which I was later diagnosed with just half the population it seems. Yeah.
So what what ended up happening. My biggest fear with the whole diagnosis process is I didn't want to be I didn't want to find out that I was stupid for some reason. Now obviously that's just devastating in general. But just looking back it was extremely frustrating because. I think the studies that I've done as of late especially I think I had some over excitability intellectually that Maje to knavery and what that end up causing was I would get bored extremely easily and a lot of the stuff that I saw in class. I mean I you again don't want to sound super cliche but I just didn't see how it applied to life.
And I would look at the teacher now know how they're doing emotionally and I'd be like I wonder what's going on in their life and I'm not paying attention and it's just the school in general the current system that I was and just didn't resonate. So I ended up going through the grades is like a C student just feeling you know kind of dumb and pretty disengaged pretty jaded. I felt bitter about the whole situation and to the extent that I refused to take my seat or S.A.S. as I by the time I was in high school I really got a grasp of the fact that it wasn't that stupid is that in my arrogance that time skateboarders I just thought I'm smarter than everybody else and maybe just want to beat the system. Yeah and the other my fear with taking these test is I didn't want a test that couldn't understand me to be able to label me. So I really became frustrated with education as. A labeling device which is so clearly is I don't know if it still is today but it was. And it just made me rebel against it and I didn't want to go to college or any of that stuff.
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It's interesting that you know something that every high school student does like when I told my parents I'm not going to take the city they'd be like What the hell especially given that my dad is a college professor. That would never go down. But it's I think the more interesting sort of take away from me is that you didn't accept reality as it was and you actually saw it as something that you could shape to your own liking. And I am curious how people develop that and how that how that has developed over the course of your life since then.
How somebody can develop the ability to shape reality to their own liking.
Well I think I came to the realization that the typical system and way of life as a whole wasn't going to work for me so I had a choice to either let go of any dreams of having something awesome happen in my life or I had to find another path. And I think if people are really real you know you have a quote in the book that you wrote a syllable that I I just shared that I knew where that path led. If I just kept letting you know society label me if I kept not recognizing my own gifts and kept just following through on the typical day to day grind I could see all around me the writing was all over the wall and where that path was going to lead. And I think you know for other people if you're just real about your situation and look at what's working what's not working in your life and that is the system working for you or against you. And I think if you just look at what you're doing now if you map out the next 20 years I think you'll find that it might not get you where you want to go. And then you just have to think OK so this system isn't working so what's an alternate path that you can take.
So I want to spend some time talking about the skateboard company but I want to approach this a little bit differently in terms of how we start it. You know I know that you got to see your parents build a business. Over the course of your life from you know early childhood all the way to actually seeing it be this really successful thing. So I mean I'm curious what you learned from them that you applied to starting a skateboard company into. What in the world gave you the audacity as a high school student to think that you know what I'm going to start a skateboard company.
Okay so question 1 Well my I used to tell my parents in middle school that I never wanted to go on a business because I saw the amount of intensity and commitment that it took and the amount of crap you had to go through. So you'll have people quit on your stab you in the back. You know sometimes lawsuits or whatever and you're working your way harder than the average person. So it's like why bother. And then I saw the excitement and the thrill of it and then some of the rewards of it as I came into high school and it was just fun. It was exciting. And I think being escape or I liked the adrenalin kind of nature of entrepreneurship just having something different every day and something just that stimulating.
So that really impacted me. And as far as the audacity to start my own business in high school I came down from I think it stems just from that all wanting to beat the system attitude. And I thought I can get a really you know crappy job or I could start my own business and probably make more money which I did. But probably it came down to. I really wanted to be a professional skateboarder like you know if you ask any high school or skating or surfing or snowboarding they'd be lying to you if they didn't say they should be professional in that sport. Yeah. And when I started realizing that I didn't have the talent to be a professional skateboarder it was one of those things just like in school where I saw that that system wouldn't support my vision. So I had to create an alternate path. And I thought OK how can I stay in the skateboarding industry live that same really cool rock star lifestyle where I could start a business.
And so at 17 years old I tricked the county clerk into giving me and doing business license thinking I was 18. And we got our first business license. Me and a partner actually beat out a business license and we just got started. And I used the work ethic that I saw from my parents in building that business and within by the time I was 19 and a half we had 27 stores you know selling our products.
You know I want to touch briefly on money stories and I want to come back to this later on. But I'm curious you know how having that sort of level of financial success when you're in high school where you have more money than you could possibly use I'd imagine at an age where that is not normal. Like how did that impact your money story. And what impact did that end up having later on. Well I've never had so much money I could use it. There's never been a problem but that's a lot of money for a kid in high school.
I always had 500 bucks in my pocket minimum which was a ton of money for a kid in high school. And you know how it impacted me. Well it made me never want to have a job because I just saw jobs is extremely limiting and it's just not fun. And I guess what I learned at that age is that maybe you could make more money by having a lot of fun and doing something that you really want to do than just following the normal rhythm of life. And when your quote unquote supposed to do so as far as money story I think deep down I just knew that like I used to say back in those days that I never wanted to make an hourly rate because I think it had to do with not wanting to be labeled again. And now not wanting to have anything put a label on me whether there was a great in school or a dollar amount per hour it just seemed very much just hate and I never really connected that until now. But I think that was part of it is it just made me now want to be labeled again and that in any way.
Well I want to talk about the conversation you had with your mom about going to college which I think is a fascinating conversation because I think the way that you approach it is really interesting and you know what you chose to do instead is really interesting and I want to talk about it and kind of you know tell us about it. Sure.
I didn't want to you know as I shared it because I just thought college was a big scam and in most ways I still think it is. And I just recognized that I was in high school and again I saw the system wasn't working for me. So why go belabour the system in my life. And I told my mom I said I'm a successful entrepreneur. I think she. She would disagree at that point. We're running a much larger business and seeing you know the fact that we didn't have a tremendous amount of runway and all this stuff. But she said My mom had supported you know most everything I ever wanted to do so even as a kid you know I tell my mom I want to be a fighter pilot firefighter this or that. She's always like awesome you should do it. I want to start my skateboard company awesome you should do it. So I kind of expected that when I said hey I don't want to go to college. College is a scam and they said if you don't go to college you're cut off any year year. You have to move out and all this other stuff. And I thought OK well. If I'm going to go I was very disappointed because I just thought I didn't want to be labeled. Now I have to go back and our system is going to label me and by a degree or grade point average or whatever.
So I decided that I was going to go to flight school and I had been exposed to flying and aviation because I wasn't a great student and I had the opportunity in high school to be a part of a like half in school and like half out of school and like some sort of other program type of type of thing is called Kacie. And I got a chance to work on airplanes. And I remember just looking one morning I was watching the sunrise. I even got up early for this which was cool watching the sun rise and I saw a plane landing with the sun sunrise in the background and just something hit me. And I want to fly airplanes. So when I knew I had to go to college then I decided to fly airplanes. So I went to flight school. I was still building my business which didn't go as well while I was in flight school for obvious reasons I just can't focus on quality in high school I was just totally not engaged in building a business. But in college in flight school especially it's just a little bit more difficult than being at a distance from my partner. I had a selling by half of the business. I was in college. So that's how that conversation went. And my mom won. And when I got my pilot's license.
So I mean you ultimately decided not to become a pilot. I'm curious what lessons from the world of aviation you have applied to how you run businesses how you do all the things you do now. Because I enjoy it. There have to be tons of lessons.
Yeah well I decided I didn't want to be a commercial pilot because I always wanted to be an entrepreneur so I didn't actually even finish college. As I got my pilot's license I ended up leaving college at that point but I didn't call all the way through. You know I'm sure a lot of people that are listening are familiar with aviation I didn't go through I only got my VFR license. I didn't go all the way through to commercial. As far as what I apply today I mean it takes a lot of courage to fly an airplane and you have to juggle a lot of things at once and you really have to keep your cool. So one of the things I learned is that I've always been generally good at keeping my cool. But you learn very quickly that in an airplane especially when you're learning and flying by yourself for the first time you just have to keep it together. You have to learn how to take a deep breath and there's a lot of moving parts. And as long as you stay relaxed it's going to work out and you learn that when you when you fly.
You just have to there's no other choice. And even if things are going wrong like I had a point in my flight training where I did panic a bit and that was extremely horrifying and I was on my first cross-country solo which means on my first solo flight that's going at a distance and I just learned from that experience I ended up breathing through it and just relaxing everything worked out. And it just didn't. I just didn't aim for the ground. I just kept going straight and figured it out. And I just learned later that if you just relax into the challenges and just just take a few steps back that you can you can just over overcome it. The other thing I learned is that people told me I shouldn't go to a flight school because I wasn't good at math. And. There I was succeeded and I got my license. I just learned again that letting other people label me was just just a joke.
I mean ironically I'm the Indian guy who sucks at math and you're the one who runs the finances of the business.
I don't like math. That just doesn't have a meaning to me at that point. Now I think math is super interesting. I see all these different ways to use it.
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So something that I personally have not really gotten to ask you about as much depth as I've ever wanted to and I wanted to save this question for this conversation is you know something that you told me and something that I knew would be a huge part of this conversation and that is this notion of talking to 10000 strangers. The fact that you walked up to 10000 strangers and started conversations with them there's not very many people who I think have had that experience. And so I want to talk about one why in the hell did you do that. Because people are like OK that sounds sociopathic if they didn't understand the context. Sure. What did it teach you about human behavior and social dynamics and relationships and how do you apply the lessons from that today which are like four questions in one. But you should do that by now.
Ok so I'll start with why it was only partially crazy and that's when I was in flight school. I sold my skateboarding business and I joined a network marketing company which is just all sorts of things we could talk about with that. And I was with a company called Amway great products the team I was with at the time wasn't a great fit for me. But the thing that caught me was just like all network marketing companies as I wanted the freedom and when I lost the vision to become a professional skateboarder. I still wanted to build my company and have the freedom that a professional skateboarder would have. Then I sold that business I was looking for freedom again and in network marketing I found a group of people like normal well-adjusted adults that had the audacity to dream. And talk about freedom and really want financial independence so I found a place of belonging and decided to to join Amway and really go all in on that. So part of joining Amway is that you're not really allowed to advertise using any traditional means. So you have to go talk to people friends and family and that type of thing. Well you know anyone that's ever tried this stuff before. Well they know that you run out of friends and family pretty pretty quickly to talk to you have a few battle scars. By the end of that. So I was very committed to this idea this idea of freedom and the Amway is a very. Any any network marketing company that's successful is great at keeping a vision in front of you. Freedom they constantly are just pumping you with success story after success story after success story.
So I just wanted to be that. And one of the things that they would celebrate and the success story is the struggle victory and they'd like to paint themselves as the underdog. That eventually became successful which really encourage people in network marketing and Benger head against the wall because you want to be that struggle victory story. I've learned later that the more you crush struggle out of your life the more you can become successful but at the time I thought struggle was great which is very different than skateboarding business. So as far as talking to 10000 strangers after our friends and family to talk to you I started having to talk to random people. So I would go out to them every day after work. I was working in tech support at that point so I left flight school and joined a company called edX which was later bought by Hewlett-Packard and really crappy tech support work in the evenings out spend my time building Amway and I would just go out every day and my goal for good portions of it. I wanted to get at least two peoples names and numbers a day. It later got to 5 people's names and numbers a day and I knew for every four people I talked to I'd get one name and number typically so I'd go off to I'd go talk to you you know eight to 10 people every day strike up a cold conversation gas station or a mall. And then I would get two other names and numbers and then try to show them the presentation for Amway. And yes I spent a lot a lot of a lot of time talking to strangers and.
Yes I learned a lot from it. Some of the biggest lessons are. Gosh I got to see people from how they for first impression to how they behaved whether people were good for their word or not going for their word. I mean obviously I take some responsibility for that being you know the communicator. Sure. But I could I could very quickly pick up even just by looking at somebody move that I walk just walking I could see how open minded they were. I could see if they were happy if they're unhappy if they were. Often I can predict what people did for a living. So there is you know I remember even just one exchange. Stick stands out to me where I walk up to a guy who forgot my opening line. I said Where are you from around here or something. And the way he answered I said oh you're actually law student right. And he said yeah. How'd you know that. I was like I just knew I could tell. And I just got to the point that I could I could read people within seconds of seeing them. And I just got really good at that and then being able to read people now pays off in a lot of ways it can also be fairly distracting because you just tend to you know I guess see the world through almost it's almost over. You have more data than you want right. Yeah I don't. And you me most I learned about myself because it takes quite a bit to just go up to random strangers all the time and get people's names and numbers.
Yeah it was this was so interesting to me because I remember the handful of times you know I've been at a bar with you being single you're like I could probably tell you which girl in this bar will actually give your phone number. That's useful. Like I don't give a shit about Amway. I want to know about that. I'm curious about. Tell me about some of the more uncomfortable conversations that you had to have. The ones where people didn't want to be talking to you. And how do you navigate situations like that. What did you learn from those.
Well there were times where I wanted to hit people you know at the time I really felt like my intentions were pure which which gave me the ability to do that if I felt like it was unethical then I probably wouldn't have been able to go out with the intensity and consistency that I did. So part of it was I learned to like the rejections you'd agree. I learned to like the adversity. Another thing is this started teaching me about about numbers where I knew that if I can get enough people to tell me no. So one of the ways I got through mentally and this might work for sales people are a business owner out there who knows. I would look at the numbers and say OK I just need five people white people to tell me no today. Yeah. And sometimes by the time you got five people to tell you no seven people would have told you yes. So you're just trying to get somebody to tell you you know at that point and it ends up being fun. The other thing I learned is that you have to play offense. If I went out there I used to think about the shield versus the sword and the shield is where you like ducking for cover and you have to be aggressive in offense if you're if you're going to maintain anything like that and really build a strong sense of your own identity.
So when you get five people I guess there's a lot of people out there probably have had five people Tamano in a week or maybe their life but five a day. So I just had to develop my own. Just my own sense of I see something that they don't and I had to be and maintain my own vision which is kind of always have had that. And you just you know you learn to navigate loneliness too because if you're out there by yourself and there's a lot of people do treat you very disrespectfully and you know rightfully so you know in some way and in some regard if I'm just like stopping them at a mall I mean that's pretty annoying. But I just I just had to learn how to develop that mental toughness and probably some of the mental toughness from skateboarding you know came when you came into play there. Zain has to answer your question.
Yeah I mean I think the thing that's interesting to me is is you know you brought up like this numbers. Yeah I was thinking about that in the context of my own writing process right. A thousand words a day. You know I'm like OK if I write a thousand words a day at least two sentences is bound to be semi coherent and usable. You know and it seems to me like a very similar process that could be applied to just about any other area of your life. If you think about it in terms of okay I'm just aiming for a number which is a very much process orientation instead of outcome orientation.
Yeah I mean well you'll end up learning if you want to build any skill or craft or business. You have to you have to really get into numbers and less about the the daily emotion. Yeah.
Interesting. So one.
Ok. So this is another thing. Were there moments in you know talking to all these people where you really just you wanted to quit and you wanted to give up. And what do you do in those moments. How did you navigate those moments and manage your own emotions through them.
Wow. There were so many days I wanted to give up and quit. Part of it had to do with stubbornness because I just wanted to prove to everybody that thought it was stupid that it was him. But I mean there was a lot of lonely nights a lot of lonely nights because I was part of competitions even at that time that I I would go head to head with people and say hey whoever doesn't get their to contacts loses for months at a time actually 30 days at a time. I'd often go back to back so some do some nights it was hard enough and cold Michigan nights that I wouldn't get my second contact and reveal how crazy I am here until like two or four in the morning. I'd have to find places that were open. People are much less receptive to me. I'm going to call tonight. And then 6pm. So as far as managing the wanting to quit. Gosh I think again it had to do with knowing where the path of quitting led me and I just thought if I quit I don't know what else to do and I'm certainly not going to say here in this cubicle job. You know the rest of my life one of the one of the downsides to network marketing and especially that organization is they tend to think the military does this too. From what I've heard is they program you to think that it's either that or your you're good nobody and they'd kind of even though I'd already built a successful company they'd reprogram my brain to a degree and I let me say this is I allowed them to.
It's not their fault it's mine that I just thought it not if it's not this you know there's nothing else I wasn't experienced enough to know that there's a million ways to have financial freedom and enjoy your life or even just make good money. The whole I learned later financial freedom is kind of a joke. It's like it's not that it's not possible it shouldn't be the goal. So part of it was if it's not this then why it. So that was part of it. And actually it wasn't until later and I had this never equipped mentality but it wasn't until later I read a book by Seth Godin and then allowed me to be comfortable with quitting. And that was called the dip in everyone in an Amway at the time which suggests that quitters were losers and all that stuff. And Seth Godin started sharing in this book that oftentimes the most successful business owners in the world quit often they quit fast and they move out of stuff that works. And that was one of the first things that led me to go wow this business isn't working. You know there's a lot of reasons for that. But I did read a lot of people and then the team that I was a part of just wasn't resonating with the people I was enrolling. And yes so later became I finally figured out quitting was a sign of intelligence not a sign of being weak. And I left.
So one other question that I can't leave this conversation without asking you is what is the role that your relationship with your wife played in your ability to do all this.
Oh pretty. You know I was doing it before I met her. And she has said this encouraged me you know quite a bit and been there for me a lot in those dark moments where I didn't want to quit. And she always believed in my vision and believed in me so that that's been really huge. I think part of it too is Herb her belief in me allowed me to think bigger than I have to be successful in this one context. I think that was another thing that allowed me just to move on when I really needed to the other thing was to is like you know I was putting her through a lot. So know I would work all day and then I would go out in the evening and then come home at like 9:00 at night sometimes to 30 at night and that's not a heck of a marriage for her. And all the time most promising promising are all this financial freedom and after you know long enough years of doing that you start to feel like this is not what either of us were were agreeing upon. And I had to just figure she wasn't happy I was unhappy and you know part of the decision to leave it was like hey we've got to find something better for us. And we ended up moving to California and changing her life completely.
But you we're going to talk about that as well. You know one other part that I want to talk about as we wrap up this sort of first segment of our conversation is I knew religion played a big role in your life for quite some time and I'm curious how that evolved over time and also you know one of the things that you and I were talking about is you know part of leaving the situation the UN is basically loss aversion. Right. So let's talk about those things.
Yeah actually that that reminds me of other reasons that I wasn't quitting actually something that we talked about before. Loss aversion and sunk cost. And when you go out there in cold winter nights and you commit as hard as I did. You know it's hard just to walk away from it because you really want to reap the returns. One of the other things was I made it through a point in my life where I was like rebellious skateboarder and I was ready to have some order in Amway broth that I started experiencing mentors in my life for the first time in these cool events of all sorts of almost like Tony Robbins type events in the organization I was a part of was very religious and I wasn't into it at first but I always had kind of like a bent for spirituality. AA had a lot of essential questions as a child. So I finally got around some people that I respected and I joined the religion that they were really really strong about Christianity in one of the things that are happening with that with that business and that team was that these started twisting business and religion together. So it became not just about hey you need to enroll these people to build out a team and make money and have financial freedom but then they started changing and morphing into hey you need to enroll these people so that they could be saved from Hell or you know come to Jesus or you.
And it sounds really weird now but that was a big factor so somehow I started it was almost cultish really to be completely transparent. It was very hard to come out of that. But there was another reason not to quit is my religion started being tied up with it too. And then now I'm getting more real. And then the other thing that happens is when you join and when you're as committed as I am they become your your family and become your sole reference point.
They even train you on how not to seek any validation or really listen to your friends or family. And I learned later studying cults because essentially in my painting I did get sucked into a cult type bubble and I was looking at the pattern and I felt stupid. You know one of my biggest fears as you heard earlier is I just didn't want to ever find out that I'm stupid. And I felt stupid and I was like How can somebody as smart as mean having as great of you know parents and all that stuff. How did they end up in this whole crazy world view. You know I could just buy in a lot different ways. But one of the things that I learned later was that the same patterns that network marketing companies use sometimes some religions or even some corporations or startups is there are very cultish. So if any organizations start telling you to only seek them for validation to stop listening to other people. That's a pretty major red flag and I'm going to have a big problem within the one that that I hear saying something like that. Sure. So that was a big part of it too of not wanting to not wanting to quit. You know when you're when you really get in touch with spirituality especially of religion like Christianity where it's such high stakes where either are people who are going to be in heaven or they're going to be in hell. I mean does it get more high stakes than that.
Oh yeah. So that's how you get this hero complex to that are trying to save the world and all that stuff.
So all that made it extremely hard to leave. And I had to have a lot of really difficult conversations with myself and in order to just unravel all of that just become real with what actually happened and it ended up being I wanted to get in for financial independence. But the more you get sucked and the more you start changing the reason you got in and now you're doing it for reasons that you never even signed up for. No one ever admitted that they were really wanting to get you to be a part of.
So yeah I have a lot of mixed feelings about that that point in my life that season was seven years. No it was a long long window. What was interesting was I still house still holding down successful jobs otherwise like I was moving up in the world and you.
So yeah. You know one of the things that I know you and I have talked about is that these sort of intense periods of our lives periods of grief are periods of turmoil. They tend to leave imprints and imprints that you know you have triggers from years later you know to the point where these things are still on your mind. And I'm curious you know how this is really a big question but how did you how did you finally let go of all that stuff.
I mean because it's a lot to deal with. Yeah well I ended up I had somebody that helped me so strangely enough my wife and I got to a point where we were so frustrated with the leadership because we started seeing how this religious stuff was was impacting the people that we were bringing in. So we had bring somebody into the organization and next thing you know they're talking about how you vote Democrat you're going to hell like just crazy stuff and we're like OK this is really messed up and now we're never going to be successful with these guys. I never bought into any that type of B.S.. So we started being really real with ourselves and going man we were looking all the way up to the organization of the team that we're part of and we saw no one that's capable of helping us. So we really get to our dreams or goals and so we had to start looking around and there was a guy I had respected for a long time in that business. His name is Dean Segi and the night before we met him and we were praying. Again very religious at the time and we're praying that you know we're supposed to be in the business still would that God would give us a sign to let us know it's the next day I ended up seeing that this guy was coming into town and he said Hey if anyone wants to grab coffee and put it in perspective this guy would speak in front of 30000 people all over the world very famous very hard to reach. And I sent him a message on Facebook and said hey my wife and I would love to meet you.
And he said well you can be my guest tonight. And that was just insane because I wanted to meet this guy just enough to shake his hand one day and he came into our life. We talked about everything that we're going through and all the weird stuff and he had been around this business enough to know that there were there was organizations like ours that were just being very in by the way Amway is completely against all this stuff I should say that Amway is a company is against that. They have rules against the type of teachings and things that were happening. But that team was breaking them though Amway was turning a blind eye. They were aware of it. So he ended up explaining to us how weird all that stuff was and how you had to break out of it himself. He was extremely successful multimillionaire in the business and he just looked at us and he was like gosh you guys are. And we stayed up with them until like 3:00 in the morning in a hotel suite. Grand Rapids Michigan. You said you guys are serious about the dreams that you want. I mean it's Clearys like I'm looking to your wife Bryan and you guys you need to make a change. And he said if you're serious you need to move out to California and just get away from all this you need to change your environment you need to start meeting more people need to start meeting successful people that are not a part of this thing and you need to start like detoxing from all this. And so he was you know we had we prayed very hard.
And then the next day that happened and then. We ended up leaving the organization which was very painful because as I mentioned that I was with it for seven years and they become almost like family and I ended up when I told one of my mentors of the time that we are going to explore working with this guy Dean. He texted me and said Nice knowing you. And that was it. And you know and then he went on to tell my other good friends in the business that we had been deceived by state. And then all this other stuff. So just super weird embarrassed even talking about it now. But yes it was pretty traumatic to have happened and it just took it took time it took years. Thankfully I had somebody with me that had gone through something like that. You know Dean help me through it. I just had to learn how to let it all go and you know what when he texted me that I went into shock and I was like shaking and stuff like it was so weird. Just the emotional bullet that was fired up. I just it just takes time and I think changing environments is huge. Like if I was still living in the same house spending time with the same people. Doing the same activities you know being and all the same environments I probably would still be fairly scarred and maybe like far less of a person now. But I just changing all of my environments was huge so I was able to rebuild an identity very quickly by moving across the country.
Well we will pick up how to rebuild an identity in the next half of our conversation.
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Brian Koehn is part of the Unmistakable Creative team. He’s the Chief Executive Instigator and also has a multi-faceted background. He sold his first company by age 19, earned his pilots license at age 21, consulted successful startups in branding and strategy, worked in IT at Hewlett Packard, and took part in learning and development at Sony Playstation.