A couple of weeks ago I was privileged to meet Lon Safko, probably most recognized as the author of his best-selling book “The Social Media Bible.” In reality, he is also a serial entrepreneur, inventor, and international speaker. Lon is the founder of 14 companies, 19 inventions, and he holds three patents. His “First Computer To Save A Human Life,” and more than 30,000 of Lon‘s papers are in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
Marty: Welcome to Startup Professionals interviews. Tell us what you do these days.
Lon: I’m just getting ready to release my updated book “The Social Media Bible Second Edition” and I just started a new company last week called Extreme Digital Marketing. I’m also a professional speaker so I have been traveling around a lot.
Marty: Tell us a little bit about your entrée into the world of entrepreneurs and some of your companies.
Lon: Being an entrepreneur is my real passion. I have always been an entrepreneur. I think the first sign is that I was really a lousy employee (laughter). I’ve never been able to stay with a company for more than three years; that seems to be the max. But I love being an entrepreneur. I’ve built 14 companies. My most recent was Extreme Digital Marketing. And I’ve also been very lucky.
I developed the first computer to save a human life. That was a company that I ran the longest. I was first to do voice recognition and environmental control. You see that little thing called “tool tips” where when you click on or move your cursor over a button a little window pops up and tells you what it does. That’s mine.
Marty: Which do you enjoy most – the entrepreneur role, author, or speaker/educator?
Lon: You know I enjoyed all of it! I love being an entrepreneur, and building my speaking career is also an entrepreneurial venture. That’s another company that I actually happen to run and it’s got its own set of books and I love that.
But you know what I love the most about all of this is just really helping people. I love to share experiences and about what I’ve done wrong in my career. And that list is actually bigger than what I’ve done right! And if I can help other people become successful and follow their passion…!
Marty: Is there anything in your personal background that drove you to the accomplishments that you have made?
Lon: You’ve heard the term, “The school of hard knocks?” When I was 17-years-old I was living out of the back of my car and I thought it was a big deal when I moved into an abandoned house! So that was my beginnings. But you know, I just got out there and put myself through college by working at part-time jobs, and after I graduated college I started my first company. I was an engineer so I started a surveying company, because that’s what I knew.
But then the other thing was the marketing side of it. I got really passionate about that. I just got my most recent patent about a week ago, on three-dimensional Internet advertising! Staying on the cutting edge of marketing is how I got into social media.
Marty: What do you think is the most difficult challenge for new entrepreneurs to get over?
Lon: The first thing is really, truly understanding your product; knowing it well enough to not have “blue sky syndrome.” It’s going to take twice as much money and twice as much time and nine out of 10 businesses fail.
You’ve got to have capital or know how to bootstrap it. You’ve got to know how to market; you’ve got to know how to sell. That was one of the things that I had to learn early on. I’m good at a lot of stuff and I’m proud of it, but I’m not good at everything. So early on I had to identify what my weaknesses were and then surround myself with those kinds of people who brought that kind of value.
So it’s getting that balance, and too many entrepreneurs think they can do it all.
Marty: How has the social networking world changed since you started your first book on the subject?
Lon: There is more noise and confusion. The one thing I think is really important is having a good strategy. Just because you send out a couple of Tweets and you are on Facebook; you have to have some kind of logical strategy. You’ve got to have a goal, a conversion strategy. From a huge arena of different kinds of tools, we're now down to Facebook, Twitter and blogs…these are the three most important things. And you need to understand those three and you need to know how to integrate them with conventional marketing.
Marty: Any advice you would like to give to someone contemplating a startup?
Lon: Follow your passion! If you are passionate about it you will be successful. If you are doing it for the money or if you are doing it because you don’t want to work nine-to-five in the long run you are not going to have what it takes. Then, as you heard earlier, don’t give up. You cannot lose if you don’t quit!
Build a business plan first. I strongly recommend it because going through that process is amazing, and if you are looking to build an advisory board, if you are looking for investment capital you, have to have a well-prepared business plan.
Marty: Lon, thank you very much for your insights and your continuing role-model leadership for all of us, and best of luck in all your ventures! For more, you can contact Lon directly via email or his personal website.
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