For my 20th post and the second edition of my guest interview series, I would like to introduce my friend, Brian Robben! I have a guest for every 10th post and it is always an entrepreneur that I am inspired by, is passionate about doing great work, and is making an impact.
Brian is a serial entrepreneur and the Amazon bestselling author of 3 books. He runs the fast-growing digital marketing company called Robben Media, and he also founded TakeYourSuccess.com, a top website on entrepreneurship that attracts half a million readers a year. Brian's work, which focuses on motivating and equipping people to reach their potential and live a successful life, has been featured on Fox News, AOL, 700 WLW, and other major publications.
I've known Brian personally since 2014 when we both attended St. X for high school. He was a senior on the basketball team when I was a freshman and he helped me out while I was transitioning to playing on varsity. We also went to Miami together and he was there my freshman year. Fast forward to the early part of 2018, I had started seeing some of his posts on social media and started watching his videos. Learning about his story and how he decided to become an entrepreneur was inspiring. Senior year, right before I came back to school from spring break, I asked him if he would be willing to meet with me so I could pick his brain about what being an entrepreneur is like and some of the struggles that he had faced. We traded some ideas and he told me that my head was in the right place and to keep learning and pursuing my dreams and goals.
Around October when I started my blog, he reached out to me and told me that he liked what I was doing with the blog and I was putting out good content. I then asked for his opinion on my site and what he thought I could improve on. He gave me a couple tips on how to drive more traffic to the site, gain more subscribers, and add value to the reader. Part of what he does with Robben Media is doing just that and I hired him to do some site revisions for me. I liked what he had done so much that when I came up with the Rod's Recommend Reads idea and needed to add that to the site, I went back to him to make the site additions and it was a success! I liked working with him because I felt like we had a genuine relationship and even on work-related calls we would often branch off and talk about other business-related topics or things we were seeing in the marketplace. As a young business starting out, he really wanted to help me and would take time out of his schedule for calls or texts and give me a lot of tips to help me out. All that said, here is my interview with Brian Robben!
Rod: After doing some research on you, entering college your goal was to become a lawyer and attend Harvard Law School. You then went out and achieved a 3.97 GPA through college. Why did you place such high expectations on yourself and what were some of the challenges and sacrifices you made in order to achieve that? We may have some readers that are considering a career in Law.
Brian: Setting the bar as high as I could for Harvard Law was a mind trick on myself. I knew if I set it any lower than that I’d coast through college and God knows end up in some kind of deep trouble. I recommend everyone reading this to set the bar higher than where they have it now because scary goals get your attention, and where your attention is, you can make crazy momentum that transforms you into something better than you thought you could become.
I stopped going out because every minute in the day counts and if you count up all the time getting ready to go out, pregaming, being out, the after party, sleeping in the next day, not feeling good enough to get to work until late in the day, it just took more value from my life than it produced. Also, some friendships suffered as I naturally had less time for everyone. Not a lot of people appreciate someone like me who is really going for it because it makes them feel bad about themselves, so I’m sure my popularity on campus suffered.
Rod: After all that dedication, before your senior year you realized that you didn't really love law you loved the qualities, prestige, and pay that came with it and after realizing that you felt entrepreneurship could give you some of those same attributes. What made you decide to pursue entrepreneurship and not another field like finance, marketing, engineering, etc..?
Brian: While on the phone with a top law school consultant who I was paying $300 an hour, he asked me how studying for the LSAT was going, and I said I’m doing fine but not enjoying it. That comment pushed me to realize if I don’t enjoy the LSAT, I won’t enjoy law school and I won’t enjoy BigLaw.
That’s when I put a stop to it and decided to become an entrepreneur instead—truly one of the best decisions of my life. Thank God! Looking back, I’d always done my own thing and been a rebel, so the decision made perfect sense.
Rod: All that being said, do you still think college makes sense for people today?
Brian: I don’t. Even Apple and Google agree with me as they don’t require college degrees. You tell me why some of the smartest companies who look for the smartest employees don’t require degrees? Because they’re looking for skills, not a certificate that says I’m competent enough to go to class and not fail out. Take skills over degrees every single time. The only reason college makes sense is if you’re entering a field where you literally can’t work in that field without a degree. But for most people, forget about it.
Rod: Growing up how did you view entrepreneurship? Was anyone in your family an entrepreneur or did you just think that having a traditional 9-5 job was the only route?
Brian: Well my dad first told me entrepreneurs are people who say they’re an entrepreneur to hide the fact they’re unemployed with no money, which is funny and often true. That’s one thing I remember.
My great-grandpa, who made it past 100 years old, owned a watch company and my grandpa invented some inks for a company he worked for, so maybe a bit of that passed down to me. Honestly, I’m the trailblazing entrepreneur of the extended family and I enjoy how people can’t say I was handed anything like other second- and third-generation entrepreneurs.
But I didn’t really think about it much growing up. I was more of a doer than a thinker. Looking back, I was always creating new ways to make money, get in trouble, or organize my friends to do something, like I introduced fantasy football to my school and was the league commissioner, and I also introduced betting and March Madness brackets which were always a blast to organize it, collect money, talk smack, and see who won.
Rod: You started your first business TakeYourSuccess.com in January 2015 and then started your first sales job after college in June of 2015. Why did you decided to start it, and did you ever think it would grow into something that would actually give you enough income to provide for yourself?
Brian: I started TakeYourSuccess.com as a senior in college and 100% believed I’d make money from it. My plan was to write three articles a week and build up an audience of email subscribers before I monetized anything. So, while I was learning a ton about blogging, SEO, web design, email marketing, I wasn’t making any money my first 9 months as a blogger. Then my book The Golden Resume came out and it started making me passive income every month, which gave me the confidence that with a little time I could make a solid income from this online business. Every big company has small beginnings. So be proud of where you come from and don’t quit.
Rod: After 9 months you quit your sales job and started down the path of entrepreneurship. Talk about how you decided to take the leap and how you overcame family and friends advising you not to. Also, talk about the not so pretty side of becoming an entrepreneur that people might not know about and how hard it actually is to become a successful one.
Brian: It didn’t feel right to be pitching products to businesses when I knew I had the creativity and know-how to pitch my own services that would help businesses in more valuable areas. Also, I’m not one to listen to many people and I trust myself to figure it out, so I wasn’t too bothered by the lack of support around me. After I quit, I started doing social media marketing for clients and never looked back. My first client. Dr. Puder, paid me $300 a month to grow his Instagram client and I’ll never forget him and the opportunity he gave me because that started it all. He’s still a client to this day and a great guy who is full of wisdom.
There’s a dark side to being an entrepreneur, for sure. It’s lonely, not many people understand what you do, the pressures and responsibilities pile up, the work put in compared to the income is awful in the beginning, and you never know if you’re going to “make it” or not. But all of that also makes it fun and pushes you to your best effort. I wouldn’t trade the challenge for anything.
Rod: How do you manage to balance being a full-time entrepreneur but also make time for yourself, family, and friends? And what are some things you do to block out distractions and make sure when you are working you are being productive?
Brian: There isn’t much balance and that’s how I prefer it. You pretty much have to pick one or the other if you want to be great. Also, my friends have turned into my team and clients since I spend so much time interacting with them. I wouldn’t have it any other way than grinding in the foxhole to build excellence.
Great question about blocking out distractions. For one, I don’t answer unplanned phone calls even if it’s from important clients. Also, I turned off all notifications on my phone. Doing these two things puts me as the master of my phone instead of my phone running my daily schedule and running my life. Set aside a time to check your phone to reply to emails and messages during the day, then get after it. No one accomplished anything worthwhile on their phone all day.
Rod: What is your advice for someone who is thinking about making the leap and becoming an entrepreneur but just aren't sure if they should?
Brian: Get your money in order, and then go for it. By that, I mean start saving money from your 9-5 job or summer job or start it out as a side job until you have some recurring monthly cash flow from customers, then make the full leap into entrepreneurship full-time. Starting a business is stressful enough on its own. It only gets worse when you’re worried about paying rent or thinking about where your next meal is going to come from.
Rod: Currently your main company is Robben Media. Could you talk a little bit about what it is you do with that and what are some of the things you've learned from working with a variety of different businesses whether that's the size of the company or what type of products they offer? And how important are branding and social media marketing in today's environment?
Brian: Every company with an ounce of ambition needs marketing. Because marketing is the process of putting a message out there to get the attention of potential customers, and then ultimately helping the business sell more products or services. So, we partner with businesses to help them grow, and the way we do that could be running Facebook ads, redesigning the website to improve conversions, or getting their site on the first page of Google for keyword searches related to their niche.
Even if you have more customers than you can handle, I recommend a business still invests in marketing their brand. Because there will come a day when a competitor enters or a new technology hurts your business, and if you’ve built no brand your company could be successful one day and out of business the next.
Rod: Who are you studying and watching to take yourself and company to the next level and do you think that getting guidance/mentorship is important even as you achieve success?
Brian: I’m studying Warren Buffett as he started from scratch to build an empire in Berkshire Hathaway, which is a top 5 company in the world. His patience and mental fortitude to go against the mainstream crowd really sticks out to me. And then, of course, some of the top marketers and marketing CEOs have knowledge that I’ll study to best serve my clients.
The older I get the more value I place in mentorship, whether it’s 1-on-1 or reading a book from someone who passed away, there’s always more to learn to improve your business. And feel free to study players in different industries because you’ll start to see patterns that transcend all lines of business and it’ll only make you smarter for seeing them. Of course, you want to research your industry, but often the best solutions come from thinking outside of the box and trying new tactics that are uncommon to your industry.
Rod: What is the ultimate goal for you to accomplish and what steps are you going to take to achieve it?
Brian: The goal is to become a global brand and a Fortune 50 company. To reach that scale, we’re talking 60 billion in revenue or more, I’ll need to build a parent company that owns multiple companies at the top of their industry. It won’t be easy, but the fun is in the challenge.
My plan is to turn Robben Media into a hundred-million-dollar company while using some of the cash flow it produces to start buying real estate and insurance companies that pay more monthly cash flow, and then reinvesting those funds into acquiring other companies. If I can keep that game going, then anything can happen.
Rod: Where can people find out more about you if they want to stay in contact with what you are doing?
Brian: You can ask me a follow-up question to this interview or just say hey by messaging me on Instagram @realbrianrobben. If you’re a business owner and want to work with my marketing business, then go to robbenmedia.com and drop your contact information.
Thanks Brian for the interview. I hope you guys enjoyed hearing some of Brian's story. If there was anything that stuck out to you, leave a comment below! Also if there is an entrepreneur that you know and is doing great work, drop their name in the comment below for a chance to see them get interviewed in an upcoming post!