Boston has many successful business owners. Some have even made The 50 Wealthiest Bostonians list created by Boston Magazine. Steve Belkin is listed as the 45th wealthiest Bostonian, but in my mind he is the most successful. To me, net worth does not reflect how successful someone is. Plus, I am sure the numbers are off some. Sure, it’s up there, but you need to be well rounded to impress me. Belkin is an inspirational speaker and has his own soft way of delivering. He is always very positive. He takes a negative and makes it a positive experience as often as he can. This is a big deal to me. I have watched this video [realplayer needed] a few times and each time I learn something new about how his mind works. He thinks things through with a systematic approach. It’s really interesting. In his mind nothing needs to be perfectly thought out because things will change along the way, they always do. Steve Belkin is someone I can certainly identify with. Obviously, he is in a league of his own but I have the same passion for business, sales, marketing and making a difference. He is the ideal mentor for any entrepreneur who wants nothing more to succeed.
A Little History
Steve Belkin grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He came from a low middle income family. His parents argued often and his mother blamed the arguments on monetary stress. She believed that if they had money they would argue less. Steve believed his mother when she said this and it became the driver that fueled his desire to make money. His goal was to make enough money so he wouldn’t have to see or hear his parents argue. Through his successes, Steve has been able to give his parents the money his mother always thought would end the fighting, but sadly the battles haven’t let up at all. However, according to Steve his parents have been a motivating factor in his life nonetheless. So those fights were beneficial in some ways. See how he can turn anything positive?
Steve Belkin attended his undergraduate years at Cornell then went on to Harvard Business School. He gained most of his knowledge from Harvards extensive Case Studies. He believes these Case Studies gave him the knowledge he needed because he was lacking real world experience. I guess this is what happens when you go business school directly after Undergraduate studies. I have to believe those Case Studies had a profound effect on him because he has created more than 26 companies over the years. However, not all of them have been successful, but each failure has brought him success in one way or another. Again, he is always positive.
He did something many entrepreneurs including myself have done; he used credit cards to get his start up off the ground. He couldn’t find venture capital money at the time so he asked a few friends in exchange for a few free trips per year. Brilliant move. He also also launched his first company from his apartment but he didn’t let people know this. All meetings were scheduled to outside his “office.” All his meetings were done at Logan Airport to make it seem like he was always on the go meeting with partners. I have also done something like this. When I started I would meet my potential clients at Starbucks. I met them at a location near them to make it seem like I was making it easier for the potential client. Worked like a charm and I never lied about not having a real office. They were so impressed by my eagerness that they didn’t care.
Again, Steve is a very positive person. He believes that there is nothing wrong with failing as long as you take something away from the experience and apply it the next time. I believe this as well. Failing is unavoidable and its just a part of the process of doing business as an entrepreneur. A lot of people who work 9 to 5 do not understand this and it can be tough to explain. I have always said that failing is just an expensive type of education. I have paid my dues and I expect to keep learning. I always try to learn from my mistakes. I don’t care what people think as long as I learn something and I turn the negative into a positive.
Thinking Outside the Box
Belkin thinks beyond the scope of things and I do too. For example, when he started TNT Travel everyone thought he was in the travel business, but in Steve’s mind he was thinking more deeply and strategically. Sure, on the surface to consumers he was running a travel business, but he was thinking more along the lines of direct mail marketing. Why would he box himself in by just focusing on one industry? He wouldn’t, he is too smart. The backbone was a direct mail marketing company and one of his products was travel. After he created his first product or company depending on how you want to view his way of doing business he decided he needed to do something different. For all you Seth Godin lovers, Steve was developing a Purple Cow.
Steve knew he needed to do something different to make his business successful so rather than market his product to consumers like a regular travel agency, he focused on selling his travel services to affinity groups like the American Bar Association, the American Medical Association etc… Genius move. This gave Steve’s service credibility and when you have a new business it is essential to ride on the coat tails of others. Why is this important? It’s really rather simple. My father is an attorney who gets a lot of mail. If he receives a letter from a group that he belongs to like the American Bar Association he will likely open the letter whereas if he sees a envelope from TNT Travel he would likely throw it away. By pairing up with the affinity groups you gain credibility. This opens up many doors. People welcome your offerings because they feel like they are getting special treatment by being apart of the affinity group. In fact, most of Belkin’s income is via affinity distribution.
Belkin has done a lot to build his success but the reason why I look up to him is because he seems like a genuine person who understands long term value. He believes that the leader of the company should get his/her hands dirty. He feels that establishing a culture that creates an entrepreneurial environment is important. I have read about many founders but none of them have have struck a chord in me like Steve Belkin has.
He encourages his employees to take on risk so they can grow. He allows his workers to create businesses within his organization and he backs off so they can feel the ownership. To me, this is such an amazing opportunity. I don’t know too many business owners who home-grow entrepreneurs. Once an idea is identified and approved, Belkin allows the worker to spend between 50%-100% of their time on the business. How amazing is this? This reminds me of Google’s 20% Innovation Time Off in which they let all engineers create new products or services of their own for 20% of their work time. I would love to have this opportunity since I am always thinking of new ways to create meaningful products and services. To have a mentor like Steve Belkin in your corner must be amazing. I would give my left arm to sit in on one of his brainstorming sessions. Boy, would I like to have Steve Belkin backing my beta projects. Having him as a mentor would be amazing.
Another great thing about Mr. Belkin is how he views work-life balance. He believes balance is key to remaining fresh. He doesn’t let his employees burnout. The weekend is for relaxing so you can be energized during the work week. People work better when they are feeling good about themselves. This is something I believe as well. It is best to put someone in position so that they can flourish because it will make them more productive personally and professionally. Belkin is also a believer in Philanthopy. He feels best when he is giving back and measures success by how much a person gives rather than how much a person receives.
You can tell by the way Mr. Belkin speaks that he has faced failure. He is human! When you are successful nobody realizes that you reached success by failing. People think you reached success by hitting your target but in reality the course was anything but direct. He says, starting a business is like being on a sail boat. You have a destination and a route (vision) in mind about how to get there but a direct route is not realistic because you never know what will happen along the way to that destination. So you will need to keep tacking from side to side as you move forward. Each wave resembles an obsecle that all businesses face as they mature.
As an entrepreneur you need to believe in yourself. According to Belkin, you have to “conceive it, believe it, and achieve it, with the emphasis on believing it. You have to believe in yourself to be a successful entrepreneur and to be a successful leader.”
I could go on and on about Steve Belkin since he has done so many great things as an entrepreneur, but I will leave the rest up to this great video [realplayer needed] Check it out. I am proud to say he resides somewhere in Massachusetts. Maybe some day I will get the chance to meet him or even better do business with him as an entrepreneur in residence (EIR), but I am not holding my breath or counting on this happening. He is probably a little too busy to let me hold his golf bag – never mind talk business.