Today’s inspiration is how one of my entrepreneurial heroes, Patrick Combs became a professional speaker. Against all odds, and right out of college. Story is as he recounted it to me, rendered with minimal editing.
I was on the court with a friend, a basketball coach, and we were shooting hoops. We were talking about our future.
“I want to be a speaker, and I want to put good purpose into people and help them elevate their lives” it burst out of me. He looked at me, and he saw a guy who couldn’t shoot hoops – that was my first inaptitude. He knew I went to San Francisco State University, and I just graduated. Promptly, he started firing off all the questions that were appropriate.
“You, a speaker? Do you have a book?”
“You can’t be a speaker without a book. Did you have an advanced degree I’m not aware of? I thought you just had your bachelor’s?”
“Yeah all I have is my bachelors.”
“Come on, you need to be a doctor, at least a masters to be a speaker.”
“I don’t have that.”
“What would you talk about?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Let me get this straight. You don’t have a speech, you don’t have a topic, you don’t have an advanced degree. Are you secretly something I don’t understand, are you secretly a millionaire? Are you secretly a guy who summitted Everest? Do you have some amazing life story to tell?”
He was hosing me with all these questions, while I’m missing baskets in our one on one game.
As I was listening to it, and I was starting to feel very small.
But on the inside I had this little voice that was “Yeah I want to be a speaker, I think I want to be a speaker.”
But I had a lot of votes against that idea.
Not all the votes were coming from outside people. Most of the votes were coming from inside myself. And that’s called resistance, self-sabotage. But anyhow, getting back to the story, I wanted to be a speaker, and I started doing the work required to be a speaker. “Work” is my favorite four letter word.
What was amazing about the work is that I enjoyed it.
Two scenes come back to me very vividly. One is that first part of the work was letting people know I was in business. I had a long list of Universities to contact; 1300 of them. “Hey I’m in business, in case you want to hire me as a speaker.” That means that I had to get together 1300 mailers. So I made an assembly line in my studio apartment. A poorly written cover letter – in hindsight I can tell how poorly it was written – with a terribly ugly thumbnail photograph inkjet printed on that cover letter.
People should have thrown this in the trash at the very first glance of the cover letter.
Next set on my assembly line was the flyer that I had made myself using a template. That was probably the best thing in the package. But it lacked so much. Then there was an envelope to put it in. Then finally the mailing label, that was hard as heck to make. Do you remember printing labels on an inkjet printer, on the adhesive labels that would stick to the printer on the inside? If you think internet marketing is hard you should try printing those labels!
Next was a set of stamps. Here’s how it went. I would grab the first sheet, put it on top of the second sheet, I would tri-fold it, I would put it in an envelope, then I would seal the envelope by licking it.
I’d put on the return address label, then I’d lick the stamp and apply the stamp. I needed to do 1300 of those. I was doing the work required to be a speaker day after day after day.
To this day my most fun memory about doing that was that I was so stupid that I never thought about getting a return address stamp so that I wouldn’t have to print those labels.
And I was so stupid that I never thought of getting a sponge to put the stamps on, so that I didn’t have to lick them. So I was clear-coating my tongue 1300 times with stamp-glue.
By the time I was done, I did what expert and author Seth Godin says is the most important thing that we do as entrepreneurs, is that we ship. We put it out the door. We put our product into the world. It took me weeks to assemble, and I’ve shipped them. I’ve put them into the postal box. And now I actually had a chance. I was actually in the game. I have moved from in my room where nobody knew what I was doing – couldn’t know what I was doing – to front of 1300 prospects.
I was living the big dream. Then, the big dream started to return the big results. 40 people out of 1300 responded, and that was very exciting. 40 people sent me back some kind of notification that said, “hey we might be interested” in hiring me as a speaker.
Now my job was to do the work that’s also required to be a speaker in the world – and that was to call people. Call people I’ve never met in my life before. Tell them about myself. Try and find the words that I didn’t have that would inspire confidence in people to hire me, who had never done a speech before in his life. Who was way too young for the job, supposedly. Who didn’t know how to sell myself on the telephone. Me, who stumbled over my words, me who didn’t have a book, me who didn’t have a doctorate or a masters degree, me who went to a state school.
I was so scared of the phone calls. But – if I wanted to be a speaker, that’s the bridge I had to pass over. So one phone call at a time, I picked up the phone, and I took my chances. Which brings back to me this phrase our mother always said to us, when we were growing up, which was “Boys, chances aren’t given, chances are taken“.
I was taking my chances, one phone call at a time, knocking out a few phone calls a day. I started in September, and in January I was out of money from my bank account, and I had 35 “NOs”. September I got NOs, October I got NOs, November I got NOs, December I got NOs. January I got more NOs, and I’ve run out of money. By that I mean I ran out of my ability to pay any bills whatsoever. So I had until February, to come up with some money to pay my bills. And I wouldn’t be calling any relatives for that money, because there were no relatives that could pass me any money.
I panicked and I went to get a job. I was working as a temp. I was on the second day of the job, working for this guy in Oakland, California. I was taking the BART train over there.
He was an entrepreneur, and I became one of his entrepreneurial minions. I was now working on his dream, and my cut was 12 dollars an hour. I was being re-sold to him for something like 20-22 dollars an hour by the temp agency. There I was, sitting at my desk, commodified, and I started running the numbers. Twelve dollars an hour, times the 8 hours I’ll be here today, is about a 100 dollars, and then they’re going to deduct taxes. When they deduct taxes I’m going to be left with 65 dollars a day, hanging out, working for this dude building his dream.
Plus I’m paying for the train, so let’s call that 50. Fifty times 5 is 250 dollars.
I had just sold my dream of being a speaker for 250 dollars a week.
I left, and I never went back to that guy’s place. I left and I never again was employed by an other person in my life. That one moment of clarity changed everything. Because I gambled on myself. Even though the chips were down, even though I was so far behind that game.
Patrick – 0; NOs – 35 is how it was at that point.
Even though I didn’t know how I was going to pay my rent, a voice inside said “there’s no way I’m going down for 250 bucks a week”.
I think my dream is worth so much more than that. Not just in terms of dollars and cents, but in terms of satisfaction, fulfillment and meaning.
I went back to my studio apartment. I only had 5 leads, and I failed 35 times trying to do this. Still, I picked up the phone again, and I called. I’d like to tell you it was the last phone call, but I don’t remember. All I remember is that I was down to the last 5 leads, and I had just a few weeks left. I’ve burned the bridge with the temporary employment service. Out of those 5 leads, 4 of them continued to say NO… “No, you just don’t speak right over the phone. You don’t inspire confidence in me in any way”.
But one of them said YES. “Yes, we don’t have much money”, but yes. The amount of money they had was 1200 dollars. I would have to pay my own airfare out of that money. I’d have to cover everything out of that. The place was in Wisconsin, at a small place called Blackhawk Technical College. If I could get there and I could afford to do it for 1200 dollars, then I could be what I dreamed of being, every moment that I was licking and stamping those envelopes, every moment that I was doing the work, every moment that I was suffering the rejection.
As long as 1200 dollars was OK with me, – the woman was saying on the phone – if I could handle that, then yes, she would gladly have me to be a speaker for her university students.
What she didn’t know, was that 1200 dollars was completely, totally, wildly exciting to me. Because I’d get that for one day of work.
So far I was led to believe that I was only worth 250 dollars a week.
I was so very thrilled to have done the work.
I flew out there and I did the speech, and I got a check for it. It was proof of concept.
I’m terrible at basketball, you know. But if I make one hoop – if you make one hoop – then you know it’s possible to make one hoop. Then you also know if you practice more your could make two hoops, and pretty soon making hoops becomes easier, right? I’m actually still not very good at basketball, but I’m so much better of a speaker than I was in the beginning. And that’s the way it went with getting speaking engagements too.
The first one took me September to January, a total of 5 months.
Then I had the second one in February.
By the end of that calendar year I’d have done about 10 speeches. The first accomplishment was the one that the Universe wanted me to earn with the most action, with the most work, with the most fortitude and the most determination. I’ve really come to feel like the Universe often times does ask us “How bad do you want it?” and “Are you willing to do the work?”
CALL TO ACTION
Lean into your dreams with all your might. Bring it on, and do the work.
Hate “work?” Just make sure the work you’re doing is coupled to your dreams; it’s not going to feel like the 9 to 5 at all.