When successful entrepreneurs look back on their journey, they realize that the obstacles they over came were a part of their path. Failing forward is the first step to success, you just need to learn how to change the rules and change the game so that opportunities line up for you. Founder of Avanti Entrepreneur Group David Mammano teaches his students that every entrepreneur suffers failures, but their success is dictated by their ability and willingness to keep going forward and learn from their mistakes. David shares how he helps businesses see that failure is the path to the next level.
Our guest on The Successful Pitch is Dave Mammano who hosts his own podcast called Avanti Entrepreneur. Avant means going forward in Italian and Dave is somebody who definitely goes forward. He’s written many books, including one called Make Love in the Workplace. He assures me it’s G-rated and tells an adorable story of something he did for his employees, kids that make them feel part of the family. He said, “If you don’t like the game, you’ve got to change the rules.” He has some really key insights on when to pivot, when not to pivot, and what lessons to take with you when you do pivot. Finally, he shared some really important insights on goal-setting, and how you have to make things a habit, much like brushing your teeth or breathing, otherwise, it doesn’t get done.
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Change The Rules, Change The Game with David Mammano
Our guest is America’s entrepreneur coach. His name is David Mammano and for more than twenty years, he’s been a serial entrepreneur. He started no less than seven businesses from scratch. Clearly, he likes to start and grow businesses. He thrives in helping others start and grow their businesses, and he has so many different ways he does that. He was a three-time Inc. magazine 5000 Growth Company. He is the host of his own podcast, the Avanti Entrepreneur. He’s a TEDx speaker. He contributes to Forbes and he has a summit. He’s done it all. He sold franchises. He just got a podcast sponsor. He’s going to share with us the secrets he learned there in pitching. He’s got a book out called Make Love in the Workplace. Dave, welcome to the show.
Thanks for having me. I’ve done all those things but it’s been over a number of years. To hear them all at once, it’s like, “I’m accomplishing things. Good.” As entrepreneurs, we’re rarely looking back. We’re always looking forward.
I always like to ask my guest to take us back to their story of origin. You can start any way you want from being a child, right out of college, your first of seven startups, wherever you want to start the story.
I’m going to start at six years old because that’s when I look back and realize that I was meant to be an entrepreneur. I live in Rochester, New York where we’re known to have a very vibrant winter. I’m six and it’s February in Upstate New York. There’s lots of snow and I was going to shovel the driveways and make some extra cash. I went house to house and everybody was politely saying no. “I have a plow service. My father does it. My son does it. My sister does it,” whatever, somebody was taking care of it. I remember walking back home being a little discouraged. All of a sudden, I stopped and I realized that, “I’m a six-year-old kid. Let me use the cute factor.” I changed the rules of the game with this new idea.
I walked over to the next street and I started shoveling the driveway first. Then I would go to the door with my cute little six-year-old smile and held the shovel a very certain cute way. I would say, “Hi. I just shoveled your driveway.” Inevitably, if they were human, they would give me a dollar, a couple of bucks, $5 and sometimes $10 And I walked home with a full pocket. I remember thinking that I look back at that and saying, “I changed the rules.” There was a game and it wasn’t working for me so I had to change the rules of the game, which is what entrepreneurs always do. A lot of times there’s an idea and it doesn’t work out and instead of giving up, we say, “How can we do this differently better or more unique?” I look back and that was the start of my entrepreneurial career. I was that stereotypical kid that had the lemonade stand. I delivered newspapers. I sold magazine subscriptions for boy scouts. Everything you could think about, I did. I sold t-shirts at rock concerts with a friend of mine that did screen printing. I always have that gene of wanting to be in control of making my career. My first business, I was 25 and I started a magazine called Next Step. It was all about helping high school students with college, career, and life planning. It was free. We printed 10,000 copies here in Rochester, New York. I delivered them in bulk to every high school in the area and we made our money by selling advertising, mostly to colleges that wanted to recruit those students. We made a profit, expanded it to Buffalo and Syracuse, started to neighboring cities and made a bigger profit, went to all New York State and made a bigger profit, and then decided I want to go national. We didn’t just go national with one edition because I would lose a lot of my career advertisers. Most colleges are very regional in their recruiting.
What we did is we ended up creating a separate company to be a franchise corporation and we sold Next Step magazine franchises all around the country. For instance, somebody would buy it in Texas and for that they would own that state, all the advertising accounts, etc., and we would do the magazine for them. We would do the cover, the design, the articles. What they would do is sell ads in their state or region. They were allowed to produce some local editorial that we approved and they would pay me on a per issue basis. We had magazines all over the country. We were in every state, 25,000 high schools, five times a year. What’s nice is we sold ads in each other’s magazines, too. For instance, a college in Texas did want to recruit New York State, he would place that ad in my magazine and I would pay him a commission, and vice versa. We all became freelance sales people for each other too, which was a nice little side benefit. Since then, I’ve spun off a lot of that, just magazines and themes and prints. That’s no longer cutting edge technology. That’s all online now. We license that to schools and charter schools and boys and girls clubs.
I’m spending most of my time with my new company called Avanti Entrepreneur Group. Avanti means move forward in Italian which is like Next Step. About two years ago, I got a call from a 25-year-old kid and he just called to thank me. He goes, “I want to thank you, Dave. I have my own business now and did really well. You met with me five years ago when I was graduating college. I picked your brain, I took tons of notes and you gave me some really great advice. I’m doing well now. I look back at my notes and it’s because of a lot of what you told me to do.” He thanked me and before I got off the phone, he goes, “You should really make a living out of this, helping people start businesses.” It just hit me at the right time, right place. I had launched about six businesses by then. I made a lot of mistakes. I’ve done a few things right and I was in a very great state of mind to teach people. I thought, “I’d really enjoyed that.”I got back to the office. To Diana Fisher, my marketing VP, I said, “We’re going to start a new company that I’m going to be a coach and help people start and grow businesses.” She’s like, “What we’re going to call it?” Avanti came later. At first, it was just DavidMammano.com.
[Tweet “If you don’t like the game, you’ve got to change the rules. “]
We still have DavidMammano.com that has a lot of my speaking, you can buy my book, and things like that. We launched Avanti Entrepreneur Group. It is the house for my podcast, our events. We have a lot of Avanti Entrepreneur Summits. They’re one-day events where we bring in some great entrepreneurs, speakers. We do panels as well and we sell tickets. They’re one-day boot camps for people that want to start and build businesses. We’ve created a one-stop shop for people that want to start and grow businesses between the content we put out, between my podcast, we’re starting a YouTube show, we’re starting a new magazine for entrepreneurs, our events, I started an online course for entrepreneurs, and then my coaching services and my speaking services. Everything that we do is very focused on helping people starting to build businesses.
I don’t know how you’re able to juggle all that but it seems to me that it’s under the theme of “I know who I help and what problem I solve.” You started out with having a lot of empathy for the students. The fact that that’s still going on is quite impressive. To take that out into the world, the more you have empathy for customers’ pain points, the better you have the solution. The fact that you heard from someone saying, “You should do this,” versus you trying to figure out, “Do I have an idea? Is anybody interested in this?” I love that takeaway for everybody from your story here of let the market tell you what they need and then decide if you want to give them that. If you do, en your business will probably take off. One of your topics is change the rules, change the game. You talk about twelve characteristics to win the game. Can you share one or two that you think are important?
It’s my new keynote that I’ve been giving. It really came from me thinking about what inspired me to bring my game to the next level. As entrepreneurs, we tend to set a goal, we reach it, and we’re happy for a little while, maybe a day or two, and then we want a new goal. It becomes our drug of choice. We’re always wanting to grow. It’s just a matter of growing the right way. Looking back at the entrepreneurs in the past that have constantly been successful with everything that they touched, that sometimes means failing, but using their failure not as a place to give up but as a learning lesson and a part two. Every entrepreneur that has succeeded has probably failed much more than they have succeeded. The difference and what makes them a successful entrepreneur is they kept on going until they figured it out. I have twelve characteristics of being a successful entrepreneur, and that’s one of them. It’s failing forward. I’m not saying, “This didn’t work out. I’m done.”
One of my favorite quotes that actually inspired me to start my first business was from Tony Robbins. The quote goes something like, “If you are committed, you will always find a way.” That stuck with me. It’s like, “You’re right. I’d be totally committed.”If my first business doesn’t work out, I’ll use those lessons to fuel my part two to say, “I know what doesn’t work. Let me start another business and use those learning lessons to be more successful on my second one.” It’s just keep on going and not giving up and being willing to be adaptive and change. Failing forward is a big characteristic of being an entrepreneur. If you look at Steve Jobs, he got fired from the company that he built. Somebody could say, “That’s failing.” At the time, he viewed it as a failure, but if you read his biography, he said that looking back, that was the best thing that could have happened to him, and because of that, he was able to come back and bring Apple to the next level. We probably never would have the iPad if he wasn’t fired. He would have made better computers.
Another characteristic is being agile, being willing to pivot, but knowing also when to pivot. Pivot’s a big word now in the business world, and I agree. There’s two things about pivot. One is don’t pivot too soon. Sometimes your idea’s good but you’re just not giving it enough time. Maybe you haven’t given it enough endurance to at least see if it’s going to work. They were about to pull the plug on Seinfeld back in the day, but they said, “Let’s do a few more episodes. See what happens.” Good thing they didn’t pivot and cancel that show. After the instincts that you’ve given it all you’ve got and this is not working, instead of giving up, how can you change the model? Change the rules of that game to make it work. For instance, one of my “failures” was I started a college planning center called The Next Step College Planning Center. It was like a Sylvan, like a Huntingdon, but instead of doing everything that they do, we very hyper-focus on college and career planning.
It’s almost like an outsourced guidance counselor on steroids. There’s a retail center, great location, very suburban across from the most popular mall in Rochester above Starbucks. It just didn’t work out. There was not enough individual families to pay for the service where we were able to make it a profitable business model, paying the rent, paying the instructors, etc. We ended up closing that retail center, but we pivoted it. I looked at what we had and we had created a world class college planning curriculum. That was the crux of the program. That was created by a PhD in the college planning filed, four-year veteran PhD. We created this incredible college planning curriculum.
When we closed the retail center, we put it online with videos and downloadable homework and resources and articles and training videos for counselors to deliver it. It became an online college planning curriculum that I would license to boys and girls clubs and charter schools and high schools and YMCAs. From the ashes, we picked up what was still a really good product and took that retail model and turned it into a really robust online college planning curriculum that now we license to boys and girls clubs and some charter schools, etc. It’s still the same business, still the same employee identification number, but it went from this failed “retail center” to all online. We pivoted. That’s another big trait of successful entrepreneurs, that they know first of all when to pivot and have the courage to pivot, and so keep all of the endurance and energy that they had when they originally started the business to make sure that they can make the second go of it a great success.
I love that because you’re not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. You’re taking the lessons learned before you pivot onto the next thing. Once you do that, there’s a great deal of learning there which is really fantastic. I can’t let you go without talking about this very thought-provoking break-through-the-clutter title, Make Love in the Workplace book as well as one of your keynotes. Everybody knows the importance of having a good culture and a good team. Tell us what you mean by Make Love in the Workplace.
What’s really important to me especially as I built my national magazine was always culture first. People first, culture first. It’s just my nature. I just love people and if I hired somebody, I want to make sure that they were empowered to be engaged and take ownership and really want to do as great a job as they can. What we did is constantly brainstormed different strategies, different ways to keep people engaged in the workplace. I started writing a blog about it.
Then I got asked to do a TEDx Talk about my workplace culture stuff. I named it Making Love in the Work Place. The TEDx Talk was very well received and very popular. Someone suggested I take that and write a book about it, so I did. I put all those ideas together and expanded them. It’s a book that talks about how great it is to have a great workplace culture. I actually give you very tactical things that you can do, that you can bring into your company. Most of them are free. Some of them cost a little bit of money. They’re just a lot of takeaway tips and tactics that you can implement in your company to reach the potential of what your workforce can be by showing them that you care about them in different ways. One of my favorite ones is when someone starts working here, they fill out a general application. We ask them on the form the birthdays of their kids, anyone under eighteen. A lot of times, they’re like, “Why do you have to know the birthdays of my kids?” We’re like, “Just fill it out. You’ll see.” What we do for the kids’ birthdays is we get a birthday card and everyone in the company signs the card. “Happy birthday, Nate. I can’t believe you’re nine already.” Personally, I held Nate when he was first born so I’ve known Nate for these nine years. We all sign it and then we put a gift certificate, a $25 gift card to the movies, and we mail it. Nate is nine. He never gets handwritten mail. He gets to the mailbox, he gets to his mail and he’s thrilled. He’s like, “I got a gift card. All of mommy’s employees and coworkers signed it.” He feels great. The icing on the cake is little Nate tells mommy, “Mom, I love your work. You work at the coolest place ever.” “You’re right. I know.” It goes back to work. It’s a little selfish in that respect but it’s keeping them engaged.
Why that’s so great is sometimes parents have to make sacrifices and miss something or be late coming home, and the kids start resenting their work. If you can create a way for the employee to have their child see their work as, “Not just a place you go to make money because we need to pay the bills, but a place that cares about me like you do,” then you’ve really got a love culture.
[Tweet “Be agile and fail forward. “]
It’s filled with a lot of ideas like that, things you can implement in your workplace to keep people there. A lot of these are not only retention but also attraction, so when you’re hiring people, you could put in the ad some of these things that you do for your team. If you’re marketing what a great place it is to work, it becomes a recruiting tool.
You mentioned your podcast, The Avanti Entrepreneur. You recently pitched and got a sponsor, so clearly, you know how to pitch for a lot of things. Let’s hear what lessons you could give us on pitching as it relates to a sponsor. I’m sure they’ll be takeaways for pitching anything.
I really learned a lot about this from our mutual friend, Stephen Woessner who runs the Onward Nation podcast. He had a guest named Linda Hollander on his show. Linda is someone who created her own events and sponsorships for those events. She teaches people on how to get sponsors for your events. I ended up calling her, reading her book, and I’m doing an event. We’re talking about getting sponsors and she says, “What else do you do, Dave?” I said, “I have a podcast. I’m starting a YouTube TV show. I’m starting a magazine. I have my website, my email list, etc.” She goes, “Don’t just sell the event. Sell something that you can help your sponsors all year long with everything that you do.” She called them properties. She goes, “You have multiple properties.” What I ended up doing is I went to Paychex, the payroll company, and I asked them if they wanted to reach beginning to middle-stage entrepreneurs, because that’s who I reach with my properties, my products, and they were like, “Absolutely.” I put together a proposal based on what I learned from Linda. What Linda does on Stephen’s podcast is spell out her outline for a proposal. I listened to the podcast over and over again, printed out the show notes. I followed her advice. I was a very diligent student and wrote my proposal based on Linda’s advice that I learned on Stephen’s podcast. I sent it to Paychex and got a call two days later. They were like, “Dave, we’re going to do it.” I gave it to my boss and he was like, “It’s the best proposal I’ve ever seen. Let’s give it a shot.” It’s $30,000. It’s $2,500 a month for a year. I call it spreading peanut butter across the whole bread. They’re going to be across all my properties. We’re integrating them into everything that we’re doing, events, podcasts, etc. The whole idea is that by the end of the year, we’re going to get a bunch of new prospective clients and they’re going to be very happy and renew.
I’m always telling people when they pitch, paint a picture. You just painted a really great picture. Spread the peanut butter across the whole bread, Get into my bread and butter and be part of the team and be integrated with it like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is. Another topic you talk about is goal setting. I’d love to hear your take on goal setting because clearly, you’re able to achieve a lot of goals.
A lot of the goal setting work that I’ve learned is from a friend and mentor, Darren Hardy, who’s the former publisher of Success Magazine. He runs a lot of insane productivity events. He runs a three-day learning event called the High Performance Forum. I learned a lot about goal setting. I use a document that I created. It’s a combination of a lot of the things I learned from different people, and I just made it work for me. Essentially, it’s thinking about where do you want to be in a year and let’s reverse engineer there, quarter by quarter, month by month, week by week, What are the steps that I need to be doing every day, every week? I don’t know if you saw the movie What About Bob? Baby steps is the theme of the movie. How can you baby step into some of these big goals? Darren Hardy is always saying that when you think about the goal, many people get anxiety, they get nervous, they stop doing it because it’s like so unattainable.
If you break it down into bite-sized chunks and steps, and you say, “This month, this is what I need to do, ” then it becomes more attainable. Don’t look at the whole staircase at once. Look at the first step. What do you got to do to get to that first step? Then the next one, and then the next one. Just do it step by step by step. Before you know it, you’re at the top. You don’t even know it. Look at all those steps. I created a spreadsheet every day, it’s a Google doc, and I list in a column all the things I need to be doing everyday in order to be baby-stepping towards my goals. I check those off if I do. Some things I have to do five days a week, three days a week, seven days a week. I’ll check off if I do it, and that helps me stay accountable. At the end of the day, execution. I schedule a lot of these things into my schedule so that I don’t have to rely on my own discipline. It’s there and it becomes almost like brushing your teeth. You don’t think about it. It becomes part of the schedule.
That’s the real trick to achieving goals, just to schedule it or just make it part of your habits where you don’t even have to rely on your own discipline. Often if you rely on your own discipline, it fades away. If you rely on your own discipline for breathing, you’d probably die because it’s automatic. You brush your teeth but you probably didn’t even think about it. It just became part of your day, part of your habit. About five years ago, I was 30 pounds heavier. I created a whole new lifestyle for myself. I got on the scale and realized I was at maximum density and said, “All right. I got to stop the insanity.” I started eating a lot better. I got some exercise programs and equipment. For a while, it was an effort. Now, every morning six days a week, I don’t even think about it.
I just wake up and before you know it, I’m downstairs in my basement and I’m working out. If I don’t, something’s off. It’s like if I didn’t brush my teeth, something is off. I probably will, at some point throughout the day, go work out, maybe after dinner instead of in the morning, but I just need to do it. I want to write my next book. That’s a big audacious goal right now because I want to write what could be a New York Times’ bestseller. It’s crazy when I think about it all at once, but what can I do this month to take a baby step towards writing that book? Recently, I contacted an agent. She likes my idea and now I have to write a proposal. I’m going to spend this next month writing a really great proposal for my book. I haven’t been thinking about writing the book yet, just writing the proposal. After that, I’ll be thinking about chapter one. That will be the next goal, little by little, and scheduling time to do it, not relying on my discipline to say, “Sometime today I’m going to write the book.” No. At 5:00 AM, whatever it is, or at 7:00 PM, “I’m going to spend an hour and work on this. It’s scheduled. It’s on my calendar.” If you want something done, schedule it.
The Avanti Entrepreneur Summits that you’re doing throughout the year, what’s a big takeaway that people have told you from attending previous events?
The immediate takeaway is that they’re very inspired and excited. I like to think that my energy and my enthusiasm is contagious, but that only lasts for so long. You have that only for a while. I just had coffee with somebody who attended my last Avanti Summit. She said, “You gave me so many great tips on what I need to do to build my business.” She talked about some of the tips that she was implementing. I’m all about giving stuff. I’m going to give you things that you can actually do. I’m not only going to pump you up and make you want to run through that brick wall behind you, I’m going to give you tactical things that you could implement in your life, in your habits, in your company to help build it to the next level. That’s my big thing, I want to give meat, not only the gravy and the wine and the nice stuff. I want to give you meat that you can actually use to bring your business and your life to the next level.
[Tweet “Take baby steps towards your goals so you don’t get over. “]
I’m sure anybody who gets to be even a little bit of peanut butter on any piece of your bread is lucky to learn from you. I can’t thank you enough for being on the podcast today, Dave.
It’s been very fun. I can’t wait to talk to you more and learn from you a little bit as well. As you know, I have my own podcast, the Avanti Entrepreneur Podcasts, and we got to get you on my podcast as well.
People can go to your website, DavidMammano.com. Let’s give out your Twitter handle in case people want to follow you there, too.
It’s @DavidMammano. We have another website which really houses all of our properties. It’s called AvantiEntrepreneurGroup.com. From there, it’s linked to all the content and events and everything that we’re doing as well.
Thanks again, Dave.
Thank you, John. Have a great day.
- Dave Mammano
- Avanti Entrepreneur
- Make Love in the Workplace
- Diana Fisher
- Avanti Entrepreneur Group
- Avanti Entrepreneur Summits
- Tony Robbins
- Onward Nation
- Linda Hollander
- Darren Hardy
- High Performance Forum
- @DavidMammano – Twitter
- Making Love in the Work Place – TEDx Talk
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