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What the Rolling Stones Taught Me About Being an Entrepreneur with Jeff Stoller

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Kelly Scanlon

Kelly Scanlon


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Whether your dream is to open a new restaurant or to sell a new product or app, you will have to address contracts, licensing, labor and a whole range of topics you may never have thought of before.  On Smart Companies Radio with host, Kelly Scanlon this week, you’ll meet Jeff Stoller, the author of his newly released book,“You Want to be an Entrepreneur,” Jeff is a successful attorney, accountant, consultant and entrepreneur.  Find out why he created the book and his life lesson from working with The Rolling Stones.

To hear additional shows with host Kelly Scanlon visit our archives.


0:36 Kelly Scanlon

Good morning, welcome to Smart Companies Radio. I'm Kelly Scanlon, publisher of Thinking Bigger Business Media. Our guest today is Jeff Stoller. He is the author of the newly released book "You Want to be an Entrepreneur". He is a successful attorney, accountant, consultant, and entrepreneur himself who has launched several ventures that I hope we get to talk about today. Jeff has served as an adjunct professor of finance and business economics at the University of Southern California where he was selected as one of the top 20 professors at the school of business. He is a sought after speaker for universities and business panels and he has been a contributing author to many publications. Welcome to the show today Jeff.

1:14 Jeff Stoller

Good morning and thank you very much Kelly.

1:16 Kelly Scanlon

Let's talk about the book first. Why did you write, "You want to be an Entrepreneur"?

1:23 Jeff Stoller

Well, I really wrote it because I was frustrated. I was frustrated with seeing how many people had ideas and sometimes, they just on their own, wanted to go ahead and just jump into things. And sometimes, you know, you watch some of these people or some of these you know, I'll call them motivational speakers that just encourage people to go ahead and do things without people being fully prepared. And I'm all for, you know, adventures and taking leaps, but I'm also a big proponent of being prepared for what you are doing and understanding what you're jumping into, you know. It's called "looking before you leap" and that's the really -the biggest reason that I did it.

2:06 Kelly Scanlon

Right. And you're so right whether it's gurus or whether it's, whoever, sometimes business ownership is glorified and although I can't imagine doing anything else myself but being a business owner, it's not glorified. There are so many challenges. There are so many things that you have to consider and you are so right. There is an image out there, there is a conception out there that it -- either there may be some risk to it but "Man, if I know how to cook a meal, I can open a restaurant", you know? That kind of thing.

2:40 Jeff Stoller

It really is like that and the truth of the matter is that owning a business and being an entrepreneur is not for everyone, you know? If you, if what you-your passion in life is fishing or camping with the family or doing those things, then unless your business is related to fishing or camping with the family... you know, you're better off having your job doing the best job you can and enjoying the other time being able to leave that job and not having to take home the worries and the headaches and the finances and everything else that goes with being an entrepreneur. Obviously, entrepreneurship has been an important part of my life but it's something that I enjoy passionately and is right for me, but as I have met people over the years and talked to them and said, "Well I have an idea for this and an idea for that"; you know what? Even if it's a good idea, let's talk about how prepared you are to actually make that you're life. And sometimes the conversation goes in directions that they never really would have imagined and they say, "Well, you know, all my friends told me I should do this." Well, just because you're friends tell you to jump off a roof doesn't mean you should do it.

3:55 Kelly Scanlon

Tell us about some of the things that people come to you with that you have to question them on. I mean, for example, I gave you the example of somebody getting complimented on the cookings they did every time or fabulous meals they make and so they should go into a restaurant or open a bakery. But what are some of the other __04:14__ that people overlook? Of course, you have all of the salary and not -- excuse me, all the financial considerations that people tend to underestimate expenses and overestimate revenues, but what are some of the other things that people just don't think about whenever they're starting a business?

4:29 Jeff Stoller

Well, let's go back. The example I'm going to give you first relates to something you just said. It had to do with a food product and this goes way back before-before Churros were really a known product, and a friend of mine -- I was in Los Angeles which of course has a very, very Hispanic community, you know, a heavily influenced Spanish community, and they had a go at this product, which at that time what --- commonly known in the States called a Churro, you know? Today, lots of people know what Churros are and they love them. And this-this person wanted to develop it as a commercial product and we talked about and there's no question that he could have done a very delicious product but -- so often when someone does something that is not protectable and cannot be ramped up to ginormous size very quickly, what happens is, the big companies whether it's Sara Lee or Pillsbury or something will watch that little product, see if it's successful, and then crush you! If they want to do --

5:36 Kelly Scanlon


5:37 Jeff Stoller

--so you know, apart from looking at just the elements of your own business like I talk so much about whether it's, you know, legality or marketing, you have to look at what other people can do and how other people can impact your business and, are you just being the testing ground for somebody else?

5:58 Kelly Scanlon


5:59 Jeff Stoller

Is that really what you want to do? Is that how you want to, you know, create this product? And sometimes that actually means, as painful as it might be or frustrating it might be, sometimes it means shelving idea that is a good idea but you just can't execute it in a way that will give you the benefits that you're dreaming about.

6:18 Kelly Scanlon

Sure. So in some cases a good idea can be detrimental if you're not in a position to be able to ramp up and scale it if it's successful: if you're not capitalized enough or you don't have a business model that's going to allow that, so yeah, that's absolutely -- most people think 'Oh, if it's successful that's a great outcome'. As you say not necessarily.

6:39 Jeff Stoller

Well, I'll give you an example of something that I'm doing right now. You know, you wanted to talk about some of the things that I'm doing. Here's one of them. I have a franchise concept based on my many years of being in the multi-unit hospitality and entertainment business. I have a concept that I'm developing and we are in the process of raising some funds worth -- but I do not want to go to anybody who could it themselves. You know, there is a certain amount that I can protect, there is a certain amount that I can't protect and in my case and in many people's cases, they should pick and choose who they're going to and who they're exposing their ideas to so that they don't just show it to somebody who is totally able, you know, to jump ahead of you with your idea.

7:27 Kelly Scanlon


7:28 Jeff Stoller

So that's another one of those factors is, you know, will someone else crush you and in terms of raising funds, it's one of the most critical things and this is, as I mentioned in the book, is there -- there are a number of mistakes that I made myself and that I learned from my own personal experience and this is one of them. Okay? Don't go into a business underfunded. It's not simply a question of picking the right number it's also, as an example; you know you have a number and you let's say you've projected correctly but you get so enthusiastic and excited about a project when someone says "I'll give you half now and half in six months." Well guess what, businesses don't run on profits. They run on cash flow --

8:15 Kelly Scanlon


8:16 Jeff Stoller

--and the cash flow schedule is so critical that if someone gives you enough money to open an office but not enough money to start your business, the only thing you've got after six months is an office.

8:27 Kelly Scanlon


8:28 Jeff Stoller

And an unhappy investor when he says, "Where are all the products?" and you say, "Well, you didn't give me the money for the products yet," and that can go -- that goes nowhere, nowhere friendly fast.

8:38 Kelly Scanlon

What are some of the solutions to working these things out? Obviously, buy your book; read your book. But what are some of the ways that a person who is considering an idea, a potential entrepreneur can get some of this? Again, keeping the confidentiality because as you said, you don't to give your ideas away but how do you like work through these?

8:57 Jeff Stoller

Well, you've got to find someone you trust and sometimes that's -- sometimes that's a lot easier said than done. You have to think about what it is that you want to accomplish, how you're going to accomplish it because that's where so many of these ideas fall down -- not in the concept, but in the execution and the implementation.

9:20 Kelly Scanlon


9:21 Jeff Stoller

and that's-that goes back to your first question why did I write the book, because so many times people are focused on the idea and it could be a great idea but they just don't have a way to execute it, you know? There was one idea I saw I thought was a phenomenal idea. Problem was it took a billion dollars to start and... raising a billion dollars is not always the easiest thing around so, you know, not in-not in -- I was going to say not in today's market, but not in any market that I'm aware of. So --

9:53 Kelly Scanlon

Yeah, that's a bit of a feat.

9:55 Jeff Stoller

That's a bit of a stretch. That's a bit of a stretch. You have to find someone you can trust and I would also say, I'm going to take a step further, that even when you have your own business and let's assume you've gotten to the point where you're the boss. It's your company and you're doing it. To some extent, you cannot rely on the people who work for you to totally give you their honest opinions. You always need someone outside of the business who you can relate to or either can talk to, will always give you an honest opinion whether or not it's something you want to hear. Because if all you have is people around you who are telling you what you want to hear, you're not going to get the true picture of what's going on in your world. And again that comes back to finding someone you can trust and someone who doesn't have a direct stake in whether or not you move ahead, okay? If you're paying me a commission, I have a stake in whether or not you move ahead. I want you to move ahead otherwise I don't get a commission. Sometimes when you're talking to a consultant, then you say, "Well...Geez, I'd really like to give you a piece of my business." That's not always the best thing to do because then the consultant has direct interest in whether or not you move ahead instead of necessarily giving you the best advice. This is something else that, you know, being in the business and the environment that I've been in is very critical because -- I right now for instance, I work with 25 businesses and I am perfectly free to tell them whatever I think will help them because I don't work for them. And --

11:38 Kelly Scanlon


11:39 Jeff Stoller

--I'm not their employee and I can tell them. They can't fire me, so I am free to tell them whatever I think is the right thing to do because I-I still want them to succeed but my future relationship with them is not conditioned on telling them something they like or don't like.

11:53 Kelly Scanlon

Exactly. And that's really the way your book is too. It's premised on -- you know, you want to provide encouragement but it also just lays it on the line much like you just said. You have nothing to lose and so -- it-it-it's really a wake up to someone people who might be a bit of a dreamer and have a good -- of what perceive as a good idea but nobody has given them a straight talking. And your book gives them straight talk.

12:17 Jeff Stoller

Yeah, I-I really tried to because I-I think the dreamers are essential to our society, you know-you know... Every, every big company -- Apple was an entrepreneurial venture; Microsoft an entrepreneurial venture. I mean, they're billion dollar companies now, maybe trillion dollar companies but they all started with a dreamer whether it was Bill Gates or Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. They're all dreamers and look what happened. So, we need dreamers. There's no question about it. We need dreamers but we need dreamers who have a way to get to where they're going without being diluted either by their own dreams or by other peoples' saying, "Yeah. Yeah. Jump. Jump," just because people just want to see the-see the car wreck.

13:01 Kelly Scanlon

Yeah... (laughs)

13:04 Jeff Stoller

You know, "Yeah, go ahead," you know, "try to take that car over that canyon. Sure, yeah. Absolutely, you can do it." Just because they want to see what happens when the car goes streaming head down into the ravine. So --

13:18 Kelly Scanlon

Exactly. Yeah. They don't have anything to lose. They're not a passenger so. On that note, we're going to take a quick break and when we get back, we want to talk about your entrepreneurial journey Jeff, and what you enjoy about entrepreneurship. You're listening to Smart Companies Radio on Blogtalk Radio. We'll be right back.

14:40 Kelly Scanlon

Good morning. Welcome back to Smart Companies Radio. I'm Kelly Scanlon, publisher of Thinking Bigger Business Media. Today's guest is Jeff Stoller. He is the author of "You want to be an Entrepreneur". We have been talking about having a really big picture when you go into entrepreneurship, when you go into business ownership. What is it really like? It's more than just having that skill that you may be had in a job. You've got all kinds of other administrative, business and financial things that you need to think about: marketing things -- it's just a lot bigger picture that you have to be concentrated on. Now I want to hear about Jeff's background. I mean, you've been a professor, you've been a lawyer, you've also been an entrepreneur. What is it that you enjoy about entrepreneurship?

15:26 Jeff Stoller

Well, first let me say that there are two types of entrepreneurs. The first is someone who just has this burning desire to be his or her own boss; and the nature of the business isn't that important. It's the fact that in some sense no one is telling you what to do and those people just sort of look around for something to do. Sometimes, you know, franchises are good even though technically their franchise format and formula and materials tell you what to do, it's still your business. And then there is the entrepreneur who has an idea and there really is nowhere else to go with it so you have to be an entrepreneur. You have to do it yourself. I was the latter. I was the person who -- I didn't have this burning desire to be my own boss but I had an idea and I was given an opportunity to do something which no one else had ever done before. And that's what I like to do; I love the creativity of doing something that no one else has done before. I think if I could help tout myself in terms of what I feel that -- an advantage that I have and enjoy is that the technical side of my brain and the creative side work very closely together and I can go and I can flip flop back and forth from one side of the brain to the other whether I am designing a promotional material for some business or I am doing, you know, 10 year projections that are detailed down to how much we're spending on spoons. I-I seem to be able to go back and forth --

17:07 Kelly Scanlon


17:18 Jeff Stoller

--very very easily. But what I love to do is -- what I love about entrepreneurship is creating something from nothing, doing something that hasn't been done before and have people say, "Wow!" or just leave with a smile.

17:21 Kelly Scanlon

No, you like doing things that help people.

17:22 Jeff Stoller

I like doing things that give people pleasure, that they enjoy, that they can say, "I had a good time," and -- you know, I am not-I am not an entrepreneur of high tech. I use it. I enjoy it but I don't know anything about. My forte is in low tech. My forte is in things that have to do with relating to people. Like I said, hospitality, entertainment; things that people can touch and enjoy and taste. That's-that's really where my forte is.

17:57 Kelly Scanlon

Sure. And as a-and as a young person you actually got a taste of what it was like to work in a small business and to be around entrepreneurs because you got your start in a family-owned business and then you ventured out yourself and that the one project or the one venture that you were talking about, I believe, was the Rolling Stone calendar that you worked on. Is that the one that you were talking about where it was something nobody had ever done before?

18:21 Jeff Stoller

Well, that was actually an evolution from something that hadn't been done before. A very good friend of mine was a concert promoter and our social environment was a lot of small, new-new bands called "Cars" and "U2" and you know bands like that, so I'm dating myself a little bit. And we really didn't know what we were doing. My friends -- he brought in, you know, he got together with the groups and I put together this product and I was an entrepreneur. I was putting, all of a sudden, I had a calendar project. Yeah, wel-I didn't really think of it as a company. It was a project and it was at -- I was being shown at one of the gift shows in Los Angeles and I got a call from the Rolling Stones management company and they asked me to come in --

19:12 Kelly Scanlon


19:13 Jeff Stoller

--and I was -- obviously, I was kind of blow away and, walked into their office on Sunset Boulevard and I was, you know, a little bit in awe and a little bit intimidated and they asked me if I would like to get involved with them. They saw the product. They liked what I had done and-and -- Here comes probably in one sense, 80% of what I know about licensing. And in all the years that I have done, it all revolves around this one comment that I got from the Rolling Stones management. I said that I appreciated the invitation and it was a tremendous opportunity but I was just, you know, I didn't have a big company. I didn't have a lot of money, I didn't have -- all of the things that I thought a big brand and a big entity like the Rolling Stones would want. And, he leaned forward across this-this giant desk which, again, that was intimidating too. And he said, "Jeff, no matter how much business you do, Mick Jagger's lifestyle will not be affected one iota." They want products that reflect --

20:23 Kelly Scanlon


20:24 Jeff Stoller

--that reflect them, that reflect their primary product which is music. And from that one sentence, my whole philosophy about brand management changed. Prior to that, I thought that licensing was about, "Well, someone has a valuable name. I'd like to use it so I am going to pay them so I can make money," and (crosstalk) I didn't really think about the connection between what I wanted to do and people with the famous name. I just thought it was paying to use someone else's identity. But from this, it changed my perspective totally and it affected everything that I have done since then because I realized that if I could do something that helped enhance that brand, then I would make money if I did a good job. And from that approach, which is very different than "if I have to pay you money I will" to "I think I have something that I can help you". In their case, it was --

21:23 Kelly Scanlon


21:24 Jeff Stoller

--their case was music, but I took that and I was able to go then to other -- some other big brands whether it was Warner Brothers or Playboy and get deals that probably, you know, I couldn't have gotten otherwise. And there is a good likelihood that other people might not, at that time, have been able to get also. Because my approach was very one of synergy between products so that they all work together to enhance the brand, not disjointed items that had no connection and no bearing on what that brand meant. So that was a very important, not only in my development as an entrepreneur, but my understanding of how to execute brand management which over the years I had become somewhat recognized for and that spread on, and work with a number of companies to help them with their brand management too. Amazingly, so many of them still don't get that. So, that's I guess why I have this right now.

22:29 Kelly Scanlon

Exactly. Now, talk to us about whether or not you think that that corporate background is something that is necessary for some of it is, you know, right now a lot of kids are coming right out of school and starting their businesses with no business experience at all or they're starting it while they're still in school. So do you think that you really need to spend a couple of years, at least, in business with someone else before you launch your own or are you saying, "Go for it," right out of school -- as long as you got your eyes open?

22:57 Jeff Stoller

Well, the-the expertise that I have, obviously, makes it easier for me to do things and to put all the pieces of the puzzle together quickly and in one right -- that doesn't mean you can't buy that talent. The risk that someone --

23:15 Kelly Scanlon


23:16 Jeff Stoller

--just coming out of college or out of school and just doing it and never having had any experience at all is that, they're not going to know what they don't know. They're not going to know what they need. They've got a great idea, but you know -- I mean, you can see so many other people who make this mistake on Shark Tank. You know, they just get drilled because --

23:36 Kelly Scanlon


23:37 Jeff Stoller

-- they didn't consider this or didn't consider that. So it would really help if they have someone. Maybe it's a parent. Maybe it's a partner. It would be helpful if they had somebody involved who could give them and say, "Have you thought about this?" or "What about this?" That, that is very important. Is it --

23:58 Kelly Scanlon


23:59 Jeff Stoller

--is it critical that they'd be an attorney or an accountant? Of course not. You know, most entrepreneurs aren't. You know, most attorneys and accountants, you know, practice Law and practice Accounting. I was one of the exceptions but they really need to have someone or some ones around them that can help them avoid the mines because there are mines. They're out there. It's not a guessing game; will there be mines? They're there. The mines are there.

24:25 Kelly Scanlon

Great advice today Jeff. If someone would like to get a copy of your book where can they find it?

24:30 Jeff Stoller

On the website www.youwanttobeanentrepreneur.com.

24:33 Kelly Scanlon

Alright. The book has its own website www.youwanttobeanentrepreneur.com. Go out and check it out. Get a copy of Jeff's book and find out what you don't know. Jeff, thank you so much for being on the show today. We'd really appreciate the time.

24:44 Jeff Stoller

My pleasure Kelly. Anytime. Thank you very much.

24:49 Kelly Scanlon

Thank you. And if you'd like to know more about how to grow your business, please visit our website at IThinkBigger.com. Follow up on Facebook, Thinking Bigger Business Media or on Twitter @IThinkBigger. Have a great weekend. We'll see you next week.