A successful business requires years of hard work and perseverance. Many who look to become entrepreneurs don’t know when and where to start and what it takes to become successful. Often, fear cripples them from moving forward. Jerry Brazie has an excellent reminder to the aspiring entrepreneur: You can’t have fear. Fear will stop you. You can do all the right things, but if you let fear control you, none of it will matter. You have to learn to conquer fear or work in a state of fear. Make decisions and move forward.
Jerry Brazie is a fearless and headstrong entrepreneur from Portland who came from humble beginnings. He has had every disadvantage—low-income family, no education, poor living conditions; every reason you can think of that, in most cases, would predetermine the kind of life you’re going to live. However, despite the rough upbringing, Jerry persisted. He proved that other people’s truths didn’t have to be yours and redefined what was possible. He’s overcome all kinds of adversity just by making the most out of what he had—himself and his grit. From his first job washing dishes at 11 years old for $3.15 an hour, Jerry is now an owner/operator of more than a dozen companies over the last 23 years with a combined sales of over $500 million.
Jerry shares the story of his arduous path to success. Learn what he has to say about how to develop fearlessness, why perspective is essential, appreciating the people you meet along the way, becoming an entrepreneur, and finally starting your own business.
Covered in This Episode
Early Life and Background
[01:44] Family Life
[04:58] First Job at 11 Years Old
[09:01] Independence at a Young Age
[11:11] 20 to 25 Jobs in 17 Years
Principles and Influencers
[09:53], [54:26] Fearlessness Perspective
[13:33] Living Through the Worst Case Scenario
[17:18], [40:23] Breaking Down Self-Limitations
[16:35] The Concept of Burning Ships
[18:51] A Lesson on Self-Reliance
[26:02] How His Seventh Grade Teacher Changed His Life
[31:41] Don’t Rush Life
[43:52] Reminder: Change is Constant
[47:09] A Good Mentor Should Piss You Off
[51:18] Consciously Entering the Uncomfortable
[58:29] How to Contact Jerry Brazie
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/JerryBrazie/
Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/Thejerrybraziepodcast/
Chris Ippolito 01:01
Jerry Brazie 01:03
Chris, how are you doing?
Chris Ippolito 01:03
I’m doing great. Welcome to the “Get Coached Podcast.” I’m excited to have you here because this is a little bit of a different episode for me in the sense that you’re not a professional coach. But when we connected, which was on a Facebook group, and I heard your story, I had to extend the invite because I think there’s just going to be a ton of value and lessons learned just from your personal journey of what you’ve achieved. Do you mind sharing a little bit about your background and where you came from and how you came to be where you’re at now?
Jerry Brazie 01:41
Sure. I’ll tell the very end to help so that we understand the beginning. I have owned and operated and bought and sold over a dozen companies over the last 23 years, and those companies have generated almost, I’m about to hit, $500 million in revenue and I’ve had 10,000 employees. That’s where I am now. And it’s important to know that, I think, when I tell you where I come from, and that’s really the message that I’m trying to get out.
I am number seven of nine children. Believe it or not, my mom and dad had six kids when they were 22 years old.
Chris Ippolito 02:25
Jerry Brazie 02:26
Yes. They started at 17. And my mother had a zero-year-old and a five-year-old, six kids, if you can imagine. They’re less than a year apart on average. My mother was pregnant for six years. They were good Catholics and had the kids, and then seven years go by and I was a mistake. They had me on accident and didn’t want me to be an only child, so I have a little brother and a little sister.
And that was my beginning. Very poor, very humble beginnings, lots of powdered milk. To anybody who’s never had the government give you powdered milk or cheese, yeah, it’s something to be experienced. Probably the worst part of all the things that happened to me as a kid was having to deal with powdered milk.
And that was the way of life. Because I was younger and I had such older brothers and sisters and food was at a premium, my mother would literally have to hoard the food for us because my older brothers in particular, they’re so much older than me, 10, 12 years, they’d get their hands on it by the time I was 5 or 6 years old and me and my little brother wouldn’t be able to get to it. We resorted to stealing. We figured out a really good shoplifting program when I was eight or nine and my little brother was seven or eight. Now what we were shoplifting was not what you would call food, obviously, because what’s a seven and eight-year-old going to steal, given the opportunity, right? It’s a bunch of fruit pies and candy. But we started stealing food when we were that age.
I had a sister die when I was 13. When I was 14, I went blind in one eye. A life of violence and fights. I saw five people murdered by the time I was 21 and three suicides. And I grew up in the ’80s right in the middle of the drug epidemic in the toughest part of town at the toughest school in town, and just all of that. And ultimately it culminated in when I was 17 years old, I found myself on the street living in a $25-dollar-a-week, we’ll call it a hotel, a skid row hotel. Shared bathroom on every floor, with primarily heroin addicts and hookers. And that was where I lived when I was 17 years old.
And the thing I say about that, being poor, the first meal I ever ate I bought for myself. And I got a job when I was 11 years old. Believe it or not, I paid taxes as an 11-year-old on $3.15 an hour washing dishes for a restaurant up the street every Saturday from 6:30 until 3:30. And then I’d take that check, I remember the very first time I got that check, it was $17 and change after taxes. And I took that check and I went down to a local store, I cashed it, and I got all $1s. And I got all $1s because that’s what the rich guys did, right? They got that roll and they could thumb through those bills.
Chris Ippolito 05:30
Yeah, the wad of cash.
Jerry Brazie 05:32
Yeah, it made me look like I had a lot of cash. And that’s what I did because I always had a sense that I wanted to have money and I wanted to be rich. I didn’t even know what that meant really outside of comic books and television. And that was the way that I did it. But that job at 11 years old and buying my first meal is what put that work ethic into me as I’m 17 years old with no direction, no education, nobody telling me what to do, doing everything I can just to stay alive. I always went to work.
And in a brief nutshell, that’s my childhood. And we can go into a lot more specifics if you like, I’m happy to talk about it all we want to. But over that time I had 25 different jobs until I had my last job when I got fired at 28 years old, and here I am now today at 51.
Chris Ippolito 06:27
Sorry, did I miss where you grew up?
Jerry Brazie 06:29
I grew up in Portland, Oregon.
Chris Ippolito 06:30
Jerry Brazie 06:32
I was born south of Portland, but I’ve been in Portland my entire life.
Chris Ippolito 06:35
Right. And then you mention the last job being at 28. Was that the first step to business ownership and entrepreneurship?
Jerry Brazie 06:46
Yeah. And I want to make sure that your listeners understand. I mean functionally I’m an idiot. Right? There is nothing special about me. There really isn’t other than my work ethic. So much so, I have so little education, I bought a house when I was 21 years old because the opportunity came to me and I was smart enough to jump on it without knowing what a mortgage was. I didn’t know what interest rates were. I didn’t know anything about anything. All of this was completely foreign to me, but I was smart enough to go to work and listen.
And by the time I got to 28 years old, I had been running a company for a lady for six or seven years. And I was poised, I suppose, to go and do it, but I don’t think I knew what an entrepreneur was, I don’t think I knew that word. I don’t know this specifically, but I don’t think I knew that word when I became one. It’s thrown around a lot more today, and obviously social media and technology makes it easier, but it’s thrown around a whole lot more today than it was when I was a kid. Legitimately, I don’t think I knew what one was when I was 28.
Chris Ippolito 07:55
Yeah. What do you figure were some of your biggest lessons learned? I mean you started working at 11. Your last job, that’s still 17 years’ worth of working. For most people that would put them into their late 30s, early 40s maybe, and you were already well into that experience at the age of 28. What do you think were some of the biggest lessons learned when it came to developing the life that you ultimately ended up developing?
Jerry Brazie 08:30
Well, first, I have to give you credit. I’ve done I don’t know how many podcasts and the question that you just asked me phrased that way is the only time I’ve ever been asked this. And I’ve never thought about it in terms of I worked for 17 years before most people are getting out of college. I never thought about it that way. Kudos to you.
Chris Ippolito 08:49
Jerry Brazie 08:51
That’s why we do these things. We all learn every time we do them, right? Kudos to you for that question.
There’s a couple of things, and there’s a couple of very specific aha moments that I can point to in my life that put me where I am, but I’ll answer you. I don’t want to forget about those, but I’ll come back to that. I’ll answer your question specifically. We were latchkey kids in every sense of the word. That is that there was nobody watching us and we were pretty much just allowed to run free. And my school that I went to was on the other side of town and I would get up at 5:30 in the morning and take two buses, two public transportation buses, transfer out of downtown and back onto the other side of town. And I did that for seven years as a kid starting when I was six years old. And then as soon as I was seven, my brother six, and then we would do it. And we would get kicked off of the public system and have to find other buses to get because we were such terrible kids.
But I grew up very independent. I mean you can’t even imagine what I did as a six or seven or eight-year-old on my own by today’s standards. And that gave me a very strong sense of independence. And it also gave me a fearlessness that I think has benefited me tremendously. I tell business owners all the time, and I have lots of conversations about business. And the one thing I tell them, before you start or do anything, you can’t have fear. Fear will stop you. You can do all of the planning and you can do all of the money in the bank and all of the “this is what I’m going to do” and all the performance and all of the balance sheet projections and everything else. But if you have fear, you’ll never get to any of those steps. You really have to learn to conquer that fear or work in that fear state, make decisions, and move forward.
I was avoiding all kinds of violence when I was 10 years old and that fear, I’m assuming, and I don’t know this but this is what I attribute it to, was probably beaten out of me at a very early age. And when I got my job at 11, it was natural for me. It wasn’t any big deal as an 11-year-old to be working. It wasn’t, it was natural. I don’t remember it being anything other than “this makes sense.”
And then here’s the thing about where I used what I learned secondary that has gotten me where I am, I think. That first job at 11 I was like, “Oh, I see. I can get paid for doing this work. That’s cool. Who will pay me more?” And then at 12, being the kid that I was, I moved to International House of Pancakes because they would pay me 30 cents more to wash dishes Saturday and Sunday, and I had to be there at 6:00 in the morning and I’d get off at 3:30 in the afternoon. And I did that for a year.
And now I’m 13 years old and the next job would pay me a little bit more, I went and helped install carpets on the weekends and at night. I’m a grade schooler. But each job that I got, I was not afraid to move to that next job. I had no fear about it. If you’ll pay me more, I’ll go to where the other job is. Now always gave two-week notice, always gave the people I was working for the opportunity to pay me more. But if they wouldn’t, then I moved on.
One of the best jobs I ever had in terms of what’s helped me here today is I worked at McDonald’s when I was 16 years old. And working at McDonald’s, I use systems that I learned at McDonald’s today. And I worked there when I was 16 for 9 months. And I learned programs then that I use today in my business, and I’ve used today in my business for 20 years.
And then Safeway paid me more than McDonald’s were to work in their produce section, off I went. And on and on and on. And I probably had 25 jobs. If I were to sit down and write them down, 20 to 25 jobs in that 17-year period. And really I worked at one job for six or seven years. You’re talking about a 10-year period I had 20 jobs. Anybody that would pay me more, I would go work for them. I was promoted at almost every job I ever had. And we’ll talk about work ethic and what I think it takes to get ahead, but almost every job I got promoted. What that did is it just put me in demand. And because I wasn’t scared, I moved on to the next job, it didn’t bother me to go to the next job. When I’m 28 years old and the opportunity presents itself to go into business, something I knew nothing about, when I tell you the specifics of it you’ll go, “How do you do that?” It didn’t bother me at all, it made sense.
And this is the thing, too, perspective is so important. I’ve been poor, I’ve been as poor as you can be poor. It doesn’t scare me. Maybe I have a leg up on everybody else, and people like me, there are a lot of people like me that have a leg up on everybody else. Because I don’t have to deal with the same emotions that most people have to deal with relative to their business.
Chris Ippolito 13:56
Right, the fear of the worst case scenario isn’t really there because you’ve lived through the worst case scenario.
Jerry Brazie 14:05
Yeah. And honestly, that’s exactly right, and you never worry about the worst case scenario. That’s just it. You give it some thought. You’re like, “Okay, this could happen, but what might happen? Okay, now what’s the math on that happening? It’s a very small percentage, it may be 30% that it could go bad, but it’s 70% it could go good. I’m going with the 70%.”
And then it’s funny you say that because I just had this conversation with my son last night. He’s trying to get into the military. He wants to go in the Army, a very specific thing in the Army, he’s got to qualify for it very specifically. And he’s having to get extra doctors’ appointments and all of these different things. And we went out to dinner last night and he says, “If I don’t get it,” he wants to be a cop. And ultimately he wants to go to the military, get his college degree, have the military pay for that, and then become a policeman, he’s got his program. And he says, “Well, if I can’t get in here, I don’t know if I’ll go into the military, I’ll just go become a cop.” And I was like, “Uh-uh, uh-uh, uh-uh.” He’s 18 years old. “You know better than that.” And before I could finish it, he’s finishing my sentence for me, “100% on what you’re doing until you’ve exhausted every opportunity you have to get that done.” And then if it doesn’t work, move on to something else. But I never think for a second that what I’m working on isn’t 100% going to work. I don’t doubt it.
And this is what I get thrown at me all the time, “Well, you’ve got to prepare for the worst.” Prepare for the worst, do your thought, do your process, go through it, figure out what your risk is, what’s your risk tolerance. In my case, I think I’m Superman, I think I can fix anything, I think I can make everything work. Now this has cost me millions of dollars, but still it’s made me millions of dollars on the flip side to it. I think that’s important for understanding the mindset of an entrepreneur, particularly one like me. I always think I’m going to come out on top, and I never look at the negative once the decision is made. Make the decision, “I’m in the deep end, I don’t have a choice. I’m surrounded with water and I’ve got sharks going around me if I don’t perform.”
Chris Ippolito 16:08
Yeah, I like that. Because I think it’s the, what’s that phrase? “Burning the ships” kind of thing. What you’re suggesting is be aware of the worst case scenarios and the risks and whatnot, but don’t have this plan B always in the back of your mind. It’s just go 100% focus in the endeavor that you’re pursuing.
Jerry Brazie 16:32
I wrote an article on Medium, oh, I don’t know, a couple of weeks ago specifically that said one of the things that you need to do, I think it was number three, burn the ships. You have to burn the ships. And that’s probably the hardest part for people to understand and realize and do, is burn the ships. And I’ve been down this road many, many times with many people as I’ve brought them into the company and tried to move them through the company. If you don’t burn those ships and you have that thing to go back and rely on, it’s just not the same. You’re not making decisions the same, your dedication isn’t the same, the way you look at it isn’t the same, your attitude isn’t the same. Nothing is the same as when you have no options.
And I say all the time, Chris, if anybody could look through my eyes for just a minute, you’d be amazed at what’s possible. I always think that people have more value than they think they do because I’ve seen the worst and I know what people are capable of. That’s why the military breaks you down to your bare minimums, and then puts you back together again. Until you’ve been broken down, you have no idea what you’re capable of. People will tell me, “Well, I can’t work 60 hours a week, I have this to do,” or, “80 hours a week, that’s incredible, I can’t do it.” I say, “What if I put a gun to your mother’s head? And if you don’t work 80 hours a week, I’m going to pull the trigger. Then what would you do?” “I’d work 80 hours a week.” “Don’t tell me you can’t work 80 hours a week, because you can.” Now it shouldn’t take your mother having a gun to her head, but as an example I was like, “Okay, now work 60 hours a week. Can you do that?” “Yeah, I could probably do it now that I have perspective on it.” That’s what I mean when I started out by saying perspective is important, also.
Chris Ippolito 18:13
Yeah. I suppose it’s almost a question of finding the right motivation, whether that could be a negative motivation, similar to your example. “The carrot or the stick” really is a good analogy. Are you pursuing a reward and that’s your main motivator or are you running away from some pain? But yeah, you had mentioned aha moments earlier. I want to hear a little bit more of some of these aha moments you were thinking of.
Jerry Brazie 18:48
I have two very specific aha moments, and the first one I had when I was, oh, 14 or 15. It’s hard for me to remember exactly, but 14 or 15, a young teenager. And the second one I had when I was 28 and I went to start the business. I’ll tell you both of them.
When I was 14, 15 years old I got rolled by a bunch of guys. “Rolled” is I got robbed. I got robbed by a bunch of guys at a mall out front on a very busy street in a crappy part of town here in Portland. And they put it to me pretty good, broke my nose, bloodied me up pretty well, left me underneath the bench at a bus stop facing away from the traffic, where I wake up 40 minutes later or so. And, “Okay,” roll myself out. And, “Now what do I do?” Bleeding everywhere.
But this is in the ’80s, it’s just a different time than it is today and there are no cell phones and all of those. I cover myself up as best I can, now I have a two-bus transfer and a two-mile walk to get home. And I made it off the first transfer, got off the bus and passed out under a tree in front of a park. I woke up about an hour later. Again, got back up. The whole time I’m holding my nose like this. I have a big bump right here on this side of my nose. And I’m holding it like this and just trying to stop the bleeding. And I get down to the next stop and I get off the bus.
And now I have a two-mile walk. It’s right here in Portland. I can’t drive by it. Whoever’s in the car with me, I tell them this story because I can’t drive by this spot. I can remember it like I was standing there yesterday. Right before I went over the freeway on this bridge, I’m standing there holding my nose covered in blood, just got beat to a pulp, both my eyes are completely blacked out by this point, and I said to myself, “You know what? There’s nobody waiting for me when I get home. You’re by yourself. You’re on your own. The decisions you make are no one else’s fault and anything that happens to you, good or bad, is on your head, it’s all your fault. You’re all alone. Make the right decisions, take care of yourself, no one’s going to help you.”
And I remember that like it was yesterday. And I don’t know that it took the next day. These things tend to take time, and then you have some experiences that you can incorporate that into. For me, from an independent perspective, that brought together the life that I had had up until that point at 15 years old, and then it set the stage for the life that ultimately I was going to have. I’ve never forgotten that, that you can’t rely on anyone else. I’m not saying that you can’t rely on anyone else, I’m saying that figuratively you can’t rely on anyone else. And for me, being a manager and having people and growing a company, I think about that all the time, that it 100% rests on my shoulders, and any decision I make or gets made on my behalf is my fault.
Besides getting rid of passive-aggressiveness, if there’s anything I could point to in business that would be of benefit, it’s that everything is your fault. And as soon as you’re mad because the employee made a bad decision, you’re hurting yourself. Your decisions don’t get made, you’re entering emotions into the situation that you don’t need to have, it blurs your vision. And, again, ultimately business is all about making good decisions. And I don’t suffer from any of that. I’ve had mistakes that cost me $100 grand in a year, billing mistakes. And I was like, “The person should have caught it, they should have seen it, but they didn’t. What did I do that caused that?” Fix the problem, learn from it, and then you don’t let it happen again.
And that’s what I’m talking about. Certainly you train the person or discipline them or, if they stole it, you fire them or whatever it is. But it really stayed home with me that you have to take responsibility for everything. And I learned that holding my nose shut.
Now conversely, I got home, went into my bedroom, and for three days I held my nose like this until the bone kept coming apart. And for me that was medical care when I was a kid, that’s how I fixed it. I have this little thing on my nose to remind me my nose got broken and I fixed it by holding it together for three days.
Chris Ippolito 23:03
That’s so crazy. There was a great book on that topic, Extreme Ownership, by Jocko Willink. It’s crazy. And this is why I wanted to have you as a guest, because you’re learning some of these lessons just through your life experience. Jocko Willink, I think he learned it, but he’s realizing it, he’s coming to that realization. But he learned it in war. It’s so crazy. And then he writes this fantastic book on it. And then somebody like me reads it and goes, “You know what? I never thought about that.” But here you are at 14, was it?
Jerry Brazie 23:45
Yeah, 14, 15.
Chris Ippolito 23:45
After getting rolled, like you said, and just the epiphany of it. And it’s so crazy, the experiences in which we go through and the lessons we ultimately take away from it, it’s just fascinating to me. But the other thing that I always find really fascinating is that somebody else could have gone through the exact same experience as you but not received the same message and lesson, whether it’s the universe or God or whatever you ultimately believe in. But what do you figure that would have been attributed to though? Right? Like I said, somebody else could have gone through the exact same thing but not had that realization. Maybe they went even further in that downward spiral, whereas you went the opposite direction. Why?
Jerry Brazie 24:38
Honestly, most people that grew up like that went where you would expect them to, and that’s where most people go. I say all the time I have friends who are a year older than me, I’m 51, they’re 52. I have two friends that are great-grandparents. They got pregnant as a very young teenager, their daughters got pregnant as teenagers, and now the granddaughter got pregnant as a teenager, if you can imagine it. Now you’re 52 years old and you’re a great-grandmother. That behavior just continues. It’s institutional generational poverty, it never goes away.
And for me, very young, that independence that I got as a young kid, I just had a mindset about me. Now you’ve got to remember I have way older brothers and sisters, a whole family ahead of me. By the time I’m 12, 13, 14 years old, my brothers are in jail, they’re dealing drugs, they’re addicted to drugs, they’re in trouble, they have kids, they got married as teenagers, all my sisters got married as teenagers. I had these examples in front of me that, if I just stopped and paid attention a little bit, it could change my life.
But having said that, I’ve got to tell you a much more important story. For me, I say all that to say all of your experiences coalesce and that’s who you become. For me, it’s one person, when I was in the seventh grade. Right after I got rolled and right about the same time, I’m in the seventh grade, moving into the eighth grade, and I get introduced to a seventh grade teacher. I’m from Portland, Oregon. I’m a huge sports fan and nobody in my family even plays sports or any of those things, I was in an island by myself already. And I met this guy who was my seventh grade teacher and he was a youth pastor. And he and I hit it off. And he was a big Dodgers fan, that’s why I’m a big Dodgers fan to this day. And he and I hit it off.
And my sister died in my seventh grade year in December, and my family moved off to Montana. My parents had a restaurant, they bought this little restaurant in Montana and ran away from it all. And I didn’t want to go and he let me live with him. And he had two daughters, one was five years younger than me and the other was six or seven years younger than me. Younger daughters than I was, about half my age, and his wife and him. Now I ran that thing out, nine months later they had to send me packing because I was such a punk. But for that nine months, I mean, they fed me. The first day of school I had a lunchbox like a construction worker would carry and I thought I was carrying everybody’s lunch for the whole family, and I was happy to do it. Because this sucker was heavy. And you open the top and, instead of where the thermos should have been, there was a whole can of canned peaches. And I thought, “Okay, there’s four peaches in there, there’s four of us going to school. Everybody gets a peach, that’s cool.” I thought, “As long as I can drink the syrup, I’m happy.” No, it was my peaches. I remember that. Chris, I’m 13, 14 years old and I remember that like it was yesterday. That’s the first time I ever got fed like that.
And I saw how a family can work and I saw how life can work. And he’d play catch with me and take me to softball games and we went on a vacation. And I didn’t know what a vacation was, right? “What? Families leave and go do things together?” And we went to L.A. and we saw a Dodgers game.
Two things from that. Ever since my kids were little, we rent a house down in L.A in the summertime, they’d go do their swimming pool and stuff, and we’d go to Dodgers games at night. We pick the 10 days that they’re in town the most and we might see seven games, since my kids were tiny, because of this person. Jump forward, those changes don’t happen right away.
And go forward 30 years, I had never talked to this guy since they kicked me out of the house. Not for any reason, you just move on. All of a sudden it hits me, I’m in my 40s and I was like, “If it wasn’t for that guy, I think I’d be dead or I would be in prison, one or the other.” In fact, I’m pretty sure. Because I don’t know how I survived past 21 anyway. And I said, “I’ve got to find him.” And this is 10 years ago. “I’ve got to find him.” And I tracked him down, him and his wife, very happy to hear from me. I said, “We need to go have dinner, I haven’t seen you in 30 years.” We went to dinner and I said, “Here’s the reasons why I needed to take you to dinner. If I had the kind of impact that you had on my life, I would hope the person that I impacted would tell me. Because I’m here today, I have three wonderful kids, I’ve been married for 20 years.” At the time it was 15, however long ago it was. I’ve been married for 22 years now. And I owe it largely to that one person.
And the reason, and I’m sorry to take so long answering your question, is because, while it wasn’t a hockey stick in change, right? I had to learn and I had to go off on my own. But I say I’m like a rock. My family and my history and my friends and everybody else just kept skimming along the surface, but I bounced off. And slowly, as I bounced off, I was able to pull out of it, until ultimately I was able to take advantage of an opportunity when I was 28. I was responsible enough to do it up until that point. And I think it’s the influence he had on me to just, when you’re making the wrong decision, think about it. Stop and think about it.
Chris Ippolito 29:56
Yeah, the power of association. And it’s a pretty common piece of advice if you’re looking to elevate your life standards, level up, whichever, I like saying “level up.” But if you’re wanting to level up your life, go and hang out with people that are in that category. And part of the reason for it is, like in this example, he just basically opened up your eyes and showed you there is a different path that you can go. Right? Now all of a sudden you’re going, “Oh, I don’t have to do what everybody else in my family has done, I can choose to do something different.” And then it probably got you thinking, “Well, how do I do that?” And here you are.
Jerry Brazie 30:45
Particularly as a teenager, all of my friends, their dads were in prison for murder, their mothers were crack addicts, they were on heroin as a 16 or 17-year-old. I had some friends that weren’t, obviously, but you understand how that works. And I think Adam Carolla always says it, he grew up like I did, and he’s always, “I was just going to dig ditches the rest of my life.” Well, I dug ditches and it sucked and I hated it. But you have that feeling of, “What are you going to do for the rest of your life?,” “I don’t know. I’m 17 years old living on the street. I’ll go pick up trash?” I mean any job anyone will ever let you do for them. And that’s where you come from and that’s your mindset coming out of there. Having that influence on me, combined with my independent streak, ultimately, to answer your question, is what got me here.
Chris Ippolito 31:38
Right. There’s something you just said there that I want to dig in a little bit more. You had mentioned that at the age of 17 you’re like, “I don’t know what I’m going to do. Maybe I’ll dig ditches.” And maybe this is a bit of a commentary on just the expectations that we have on the youth as they’re coming out of high school. But what are your thoughts on that as far as, “Okay, you’ve done high school”? And in a sense we’re putting pressure on these 17 and 18-year-olds, saying, “You should know what you’re going to do for the rest of your life because you’ve got to pick it. You’ve got to go to post-secondary, you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that.” What are your thoughts on that and maybe, just through your experience, what could be a different option or a different path that you would suggest a 17 or 18-year-old exploring to really figure things out?
Jerry Brazie 32:32
I can answer this specifically because I have three kids, one is 23, one is 21, and one is 18. And what I did when they turned 18 and 19 years old is I put them on airplanes and sent them to China and sent them to Europe. No plans, no schedules. “Just go, have fun, you’ll figure it out.” And then they’d come back. My daughter and my son spent 3 months in Europe and the next year spent 30 days in China. And the point in that is, I tell them and I’ll tell anybody else, you have your whole life to make decisions. Right? “Your worst day at school is the best day of the rest of your life,” is what I say. And we don’t realize that when we’re in school. And this need, this hurry to grow up, when you grew up the way that I did, I was an adult at 11 years old, maybe younger when you talk about stealing food. I grew up very, very early. There’s no reason to do that. There’s nothing in my 51 years that I’ve ever seen that says, “When you’re 18 years old, you graduate high school. And when you’re 19, you do this,” maybe short of than military. And even then I’d take a year off in between because it’s a benefit to go into the military early when you’re younger. But other than that, I wouldn’t worry about it.
College for me, I have zero education. Maybe I have a jaded thought process on this, but my opinion is that you can do whatever you want. Look, you can’t become a doctor, you can’t be an engineer, that’s what always gets thrown back in my face. I get it, some things you need. But this belief that you need to go to college, you need to go into $50,000 and $100,000 worth of debt and have this degree, I’m sitting here telling you as somebody who’s in the top one-tenth of 1% in the United States I know nothing. As I said, I didn’t know what an interest rate was. And this is pre-Internet. You could learn everything you want to know about anything today. I doubt you could type something in YouTube and not have the information sitting in front of you, specifically to trigonometry or how to put a brake set together on a ’51 Ford, right? I mean it’s all right there for you. Everything you need to learn is right in front of you. And what people don’t realize is the opportunities they have because they view people like me as something different than what we are. And this is important. We are here for you guys. Meaning if you want something, come and get it.
I have a buddy of mine, young kid, that I’ve been mentoring for, oh, three, four years. He wants to get into advertising. And he’s convinced he can’t get in because he doesn’t have a college degree. And I keep telling him, “Well, just go in for an interview.” “They won’t let me in.” I said, “No, go for an interview. Go to the reception.” “She doesn’t let me through.” “No, no, no.” What would I do? I’d go to the receptionist every day until she lets me through. And I’d bring her something every couple of days and I’d say, “Hey, did Mr. Williams come out yet?” “No, he hasn’t. Jerry, I told you I can’t.” “Yeah, I know, but maybe just drop Mr. Williams a note. He’s not answering my call, that’s cool. I’d love to work here, I’m happy to wait all day if you can just get me a minute.” You don’t know what you can do until you do it, and that’s the kind of effort it takes with or without a college degree. That’s the kind of effort it takes to get ahead regardless of what you do, and that piece of paper isn’t going to make the difference between whether or not you get it or don’t get it.
I’ve never hired off of a piece of paper in my life. 10,000 employees, I’ve never hired off of a piece of paper. I could care less. I want to look across you at the table, I want to look in your eye, I want to have a conversation with you and pick the best person. In fact, many times I pick the smarter person with a lot less knowledge. Right? But they’re smarter, I can tell. Maybe a little bit more street smart, maybe a little more common sense. And it’s not 100%, right? We fail in everything we do. But generally speaking I’ve been very successful because I hire you, the person. I don’t care where you went to school, I don’t care what your degree is, I don’t care about whether or not you’ve even done the job. Billy, my producer for this podcast and all of my social, had no idea how to do any of this. And I interviewed a bunch of very strong, professional people before I hired him. He was the least qualified and he was the best person for the job, as an example.
Chris Ippolito 36:51
Right. And what is it that you’re seeing? Because obviously a lot of this is coming from your life experience and having to just, like you said, mature a lot faster than your average 11-year-old. Do you think you could put it into words, into context, what it is that you’re seeing, like in somebody like Billy who wasn’t the most qualified but obviously is doing a fantastic job? Because I’ve watched the production, I’ve checked out the social media. What is it that you’re seeing?
Jerry Brazie 37:25
The thing that I think we don’t do well enough is life has become so regimented for all of us. If you go online, as most people do, and you listen to guys like me and guys like you who are sitting here trying to give advice and have podcasts and let people learn, the space that we fill is so full of redundant sayings. Right? Redundant things that people just regurgitate all of the time. And when you’re online and you’re trying to learn how to buy a house or buy an investment property, they’ll give you every box to check. Right? And I can tell you that buying an investment property, and I’ve bought I can’t remember how many, I check half those boxes. And the other half, here’s the important part and the answer to your question, I have to wing it. You have to trust it. Right? “Is there enough money to put 10% of it into a maintenance fund so that 14 months down the road, if something does happen, I’m going to need that?” “No.” “Okay, I pass on it.” Do you know how many of those I’ve bought that didn’t have a 10% maintenance fund that I never heard back from that house again, it just paid rent every month year after year after year?
It’s good, I’m not saying don’t do it. I’m just saying, for the ones that get ahead, you make that call and that decision based on your gut. And life in success is a lot about gut and a lot less about emotion, I said that earlier. You’ve got to take the emotion out of it. You’ve got to take the “I think I’m doing the right thing about it because I watched somebody online that told me how to hire and fire people, and check boxes, and ask questions,” all of those things. No. Sometimes you’ve just got to take that piece of paper, throw it away, sit down, and have a conversation. That’s what you’ve got to do.
That would be my answer. And it’s just in the conversation, like this. You get to know somebody when you sit down. I don’t know. Billy is sitting across from me here, we probably talked for two hours the first time you came in? And I interviewed 8 or 10 people for the job, but I had two hours that I set aside for each one of them. It was a job like this one because they’re going to be working directly with me. And I don’t need two hours, but you get to know people very quickly when you just have a conversation in the context of building a friendship maybe or building a relationship, not building employee-employer, not having that dynamic. You’ve just go to relax it and talk to people. And we don’t talk to people, we’re busy checking boxes.
Chris Ippolito 39:56
Yeah, I like that a lot, actually. I had a question I wanted to ask. Oh, is it possible to develop that gut instinct, in a sense? Is there an active way to get better at listening to your gut? Or your “intuition,” I suppose, is a different word that somebody else could use.
Jerry Brazie 40:20
Yeah. It’s a buzzword for me, and it’s perspective. Introspection and self-assessment is so important. Because as long as you’re aware of what stops you from doing something, you can then do something. I’m not a proponent of do what you’re really good at and concentrate on that and let other people do what you’re not good at. I’m not a proponent of that at all. I may not do it. I hate accounting, I hate the minutiae. I can’t sit still for two seconds, I have the attention span of a fruit fly, right? I can’t do it. But I need to understand it, I need to know it inside and out, because it affects me. I dig in deep, I sit down and concentrate hard, and I understand that now inside and out. But it’s not what I’m good at, I hate doing it.
What I’m good at takes care of itself and I never have to think about it. What I’m not good at, which is what can hurt you the most, is what I advocate for everyone to concentrate on. But in today’s feel-good world we want to do things that make us feel better. In that context of doing those things that you’re uncomfortable with, that makes you face yourself and understand that I have to fail on a regular basis, which is growth in and of itself. But by failing on a regular basis at something you’re not good at and something you don’t know about, clearly you get better at all of those things, but you also get better at everything. And part of the thing that you get better at, particularly being that introspective, is developing those gut instincts, because gut instincts come from perspective and experience. And if your perspective is in the right spot and your experience is in the right spot, it will help you immeasurably.
I’ve hired many recovering addicts straight out of prison and drug dealers. I’ve had three or four in the last 15 years, and one of them runs one of the biggest companies I have now. And you don’t know. And they came in and started at minimum wage answering phones, whatever the job was, but you see something in them. And regardless of what it says on their résumé or where they’ve been, I look at the person. And for the most part, it’s worked for me.
Chris Ippolito 42:37
You’ve said something a couple times, now I have to ask. I feel like I have a developing skill in reading potential in people. I meet them and I go, “I see great potential with this person,” and you’ve mentioned it, too. Like you see that, and then it sounds like you give them the opportunity to almost prove themselves that they’ve got that opportunity. This is a bit of a loaded question I almost feel, but do you find it difficult in the sense that you see so much potential in somebody and you want to invest in them and/or you’ve already started investing in them but they’re just not living up to that potential you see? What do you do in those situations? Do you just cut off your losses and you go, “It looks like this person is not going to work on themselves or develop,” or do you keep going? I don’t even know if that was a very clear question. Do you understand what I’m trying to say?
Jerry Brazie 43:49
Yeah, no, I get it. The hardest thing for me to do is letting somebody go that I’ve invested in. And I’ve carried people for multiple decades that really I shouldn’t have, but they were loyal to me and I was loyal to them because I have this hiccup related to the street that I come from. And how you survive on the street is these relationships that you form with people. And they’re bonds, you’re in a foxhole literally with these guys. And I have that ingrained in me, I’m 100% aware of it. I try, I really try, but I give way too much and rarely do I get back anywhere near what I give, and yet I just keep giving. I’m too stubborn to learn and my assistant is always going, “Are you sure you want to do that?” And I’m like, “Yeah, it’s the right thing to do,” or, “We’re going to do it anyway. I know it’s going to screw me over, but I’m going to do it anyway.” I want to preface it by saying I’m speaking from that experience that I’m terrible at this.
But, in business, you have to change today what you changed yesterday. You cannot be scared of that. Any of you entrepreneurs are new to it and you’re thinking about getting into the game or any of you struggling business owners, you have to change today what you changed yesterday. That’s operations, that’s policies, that’s procedures, that’s employees, that’s locations. It doesn’t matter what it is, you have to change it. It could be getting rid of customers. Back in 2005 and ’06 I realized that my two largest customers were 90% of my workers’ comp claims and that took the value of those customers to the point where I wasn’t making money. And in 30 days I cut $2.5 million worth of revenue, in 30 days. I saw it, it’s on paper, I verified it, I made the decision, and I moved on.
So many of us manage our businesses up here, and we’re supposed to be managing it from this bottom line. And you learn those lessons very difficult if you’re not listening to me and a million other people like me. And that “changing today what you changed yesterday” mantra should be on the front door of every business because you have to. No matter how difficult it is, you have to cut your losses. And I’m very bad when it comes to the human side of it at cutting my losses because I’m loyal to a fault.
Chris Ippolito 46:12
I wonder if maybe therein lies the strength, in a sense. Because you’re always giving, though you said you maybe don’t get as much back in return, you’re still getting probably more than if you hadn’t always been giving and looking to invest so much in them.
Jerry Brazie 46:31
Yeah. You’re probably right. You miss that part and you see what it costs you. You remember the terrible stories, you don’t remember the successes.
Chris Ippolito 46:42
Right. One question I had prepared in advance, because I was checking out some of your YouTube channels and there was one headline. I didn’t actually watch the video yet, I will. But I think this headline, word for word anyways, was “A Good Mentor Should Piss You Off.” Do you want to expand a little bit on that one? Because that one really caught my attention.
Jerry Brazie 47:06
Yeah. I don’t know. We’ve been talking here for 45 minutes, or however long it’s been, and anybody watching this, or you, probably have some sense. And if you go online and you see me, I’m pretty intense. Because success is a no-BS game. It is very hard to BS your way to success. And the thing for me is, when I started my business at 28, I got introduced to a CEO group when I was 29 years old. At 29 years old I belonged to this CEO group where everybody was 50. Now I’m 50 and everybody is in their 70s, it’s funny. And we’re still together 20 years later. And people come and go because they’re not able to handle it. There’s been a core group of guys that has stayed together, but people come in and go out because they just don’t want to hear the truth. If it’s not their truth, they don’t want to hear the value or the benefit of everybody else’s experiences. I’ve seen people that have lost their companies leave this group who has given them solid advice because they almost lost their companies on how to avoid that and go, “That doesn’t work for me,” and then quit the group.
A good mentor, like these guys did, pissed me off. I’ve ran guys out of the group because I just grilled them too hard and they didn’t have answers. Just answer the question. If you don’t have to worry about it, just answer the question. But a good mentor should dig up underneath your fingernails and make you uncomfortable. Because if they’re not, they’re not doing it correctly. They’re just not. It’s good. Right? They can show you the value and they can give you the advice, but they have to pull you apart before they can put you back together again. And if they’re really invested in you mentorship-wise, they have to be brutally honest with you. Otherwise, particularly if they’re getting paid, I don’t know, I see too much where people are just hearing bromides, they’re just getting the little sayings, or they’re just doing the same kind of thing.
And I’m talking about digging in, set all this stuff aside, “Chris, let’s, you and I, have a conversation. What’s going on with business?” And then I’ll stop you and say, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Here’s why this is dumb.” And then I’ll give you the value of my 35, 40 years of experience on that one subject. And you’re free to take it or not, obviously. But that’s the whole reason we’re together, is you want to find somebody when you’re looking for a mentor who’s been there and done that, somebody who has experience, somebody who’s been through the wars, that’s the best mentor that you can find. And if that person has been through that and they’re sugarcoating with you, I would check the rest of their résumé because chances are they didn’t get where they think they got by not telling you the truth and being straightforward.
I call them adult conversations. Everybody has to have adult conversations. They’re hard to have, that’s why they’re adult conversations. Either in life or in business, either way, to find success, it requires adult conversations. There’s no passive-aggressiveness in business, there’s no passive-aggressiveness in a successful life. And it’s a disease, passive-aggressiveness. If I could bottle an elixir and sell it, I’d never have to work again a day in my life to get rid of that passive-aggressiveness. That good mentor should piss you off 100%. And by “piss you off,” I mean make you think, challenge you.
Chris Ippolito 50:22
Yeah, like make you feel uncomfortable, exposing false beliefs and whatnot.
Jerry Brazie 50:29
Another one of my Instagram posts, if you kept looking through it there, a video, is you have to live in the uncomfortable. My life, I’m not comfortable unless I’m uncomfortable. You should always be uncomfortable. Because when I’m comfortable, I get nervous and I look around. I’m not doing something right, money is walking out the door. Early on I was much more uncomfortable than I’ve been as I’ve gotten more successful, and I probably cost myself more money today than I ever did back then by being comfortable. And my instincts go nuts when I’m comfortable. Something is wrong, I’ve got to tear something apart. I’ve got to go after that, I’ve got to look at this. You have to live in the uncomfortable to find success. And again, for me, living in the uncomfortable in life and living in the uncomfortable in business is what has gotten me success in both.
And to that, let me tell you my second aha moment. Because it dovetails right in, if I can real quick. I was 28 years old, I got approached by an outside group to start a company. I was running this other company. They sent me some paperwork, it was a pro forma and a balance sheet and a P&L statement. I was running this big operations, I’m 28 years old, people were twice my age that I had been managing for years, and I didn’t know what I was looking at. And I opened it and I was like, “Okay, this is nice.” Because I had trained everybody in town and had a reputation. And I was like, “Okay, this is cool. I don’t know what I’m looking at.”
And I had an aha moment holding that piece of paper in downtown Portland, I could tell you exactly where it was. I could tell I was facing to the north sitting at my desk. I looked at this piece of paper and I didn’t know what I was looking at. And I said to myself, “Man, I don’t know what this is. If I don’t shut up and listen, I’m going to be sitting here when I’m 50. I’m going to be doing the same job when I’m 50 years old. Because I know everything about this over here, and I’m good and comfortable at knowing everything about this. And my life revolves around everything going on over here because that’s my hotspot.” I said, “No, no, no. I’ve got to go find the smart people.”
There’s so much more to life because that piece of paper I was holding in my hand showed me that there was so much that I didn’t know. For me, that’s when I really entered the uncomfortable consciously. My life had been pretty uncomfortable up to that point, but that’s where I consciously entered the uncomfortable. Because I got rid of all of my friends for the most part. Because all we did is go to sports, watch sports, play sports, hang out at the bar doing sports, drinking and playing sports, the whole nine yards. It was all revolved around that one thing. And in that one thing I was the dominant person and had the biggest opinion. And I’m 6’4″ and 260 pounds, I’m the biggest guy and all of that.
I had to go talk to the 5’8″ attorney. Right? Because he’s so much smarter than I was. And I surrounded myself with accountants and attorneys and all of these people that were so much smarter than me. And I just stepped back, I got out of the way, and I shut up and I listened. And I’m sitting here today, again, those two aha moments I gave you combined with the person who came into my life in the seventh grade are really the reasons I’m sitting here today. That company, I did $3 million the first year. This company came in and financed me at 28. They didn’t have the money they said they did, I grew the company too fast. I went back at 29, started it all over again myself, and we just celebrated our 22nd birthday.
Chris Ippolito 53:50
Congratulations on that.
Jerry Brazie 53:52
Chris Ippolito 53:52
That’s awesome. This has been an awesome conversation, Jerry, I really appreciate it. I personally took a lot of value and I’m sure the audience did, too. I like to wrap up every episode with asking my guests, coming out of our conversation today, because we did cover quite a bit, what would you say is that one thing though that the audience should really focus on to apply and level up in their own lives as aspiring entrepreneurs or new entrepreneurs?
Jerry Brazie 54:23
I said it earlier, and I’ll just reiterate it. The one is not being scared, or dealing with making decisions while you’re scared. Because there’s no not being scared. You can’t work yourself to not being scared. You can’t find that success without risk. You just can’t. I don’t care how many months of bills you have in your checking account and all the rest of that. Plan on everything you’re going to do is going to go wrong, because I guarantee you it will. And you just can’t be fearful of the unknown and you can’t be fearful of the risk. That’s the two things that probably stop people from making that next step.
And I break it into two groups, really three groups. One group is the people that are happy being on the 7:40 train and the 5:10 train, is what I call it. The people who are happy working 9:00 to 5:00, and they’re content, and they like the consistency of the job, they’re happy with what they’re doing. And I’m jealous of those people, I really am, good for them. It’s not for me, but good for them and I’m happy for them that they found their place. But then there’s the people like me who go out and do our thing and could never work for somebody if we had to. But it’s the people in the middle that I’m trying to reach, those ones that maybe are working that 9:00 to 5:00 but hate it and complain incessantly about it. But they feel stuck and they feel like they can’t go anywhere. And that’s where I want them to hear what you can do. That fear that you feel, that risk aversion that you have, that uncomfortableness that you have, we all have it. You have to set that aside. Don’t listen to the expert to tell you you need all this and you need to do all of these things. You don’t need the money, you just need the idea, what do you want to do, and then go find it. But you won’t get there, you won’t even start, if you’re fearful.
Chris Ippolito 56:03
Yeah, I think that’s great advice. I like sharing a little bit of my own personal journey because that’s what’s going on, but I’m experiencing that right now. And I have to remind myself, “Set that aside, push forward anyways.” Because you’re just going to grow your comfort zone, in a sense, right? The more you stretch yourself, the more those previously uncomfortable or scary things become less scary and more comfortable. I appreciate that.
Jerry Brazie 56:40
And I know this is cliché, but life is short. That’s living. Risk it all. It’s great going home and sitting on the couch and watching TV, and then repeat and eating dinner when the street lights come on and you’re shopping at Costco every Wednesday at 7:30. Good for you, that’s great. But living is not knowing. That adventure, if you will, that experience, my life is so much fuller for it.
And I’m not trying to downplay how difficult making those decisions are. When I started my business at 28, I got out of the job I’d had for six years. I had a half-built house and a 10-month-old son. And I went home and said to my wife, “This is what I’m doing.” She was like, “Okay.” And we didn’t get a paycheck for six months and I didn’t get a regular paycheck for two years. And I went and refereed basketball on the weekends and at night, I did everything I could to bring in other money while I was building my companies. While those companies were doing millions of dollars a year, there wasn’t enough cash flow to pull out of the company. But making that first decision, with a half-built house and a 10-month-old baby at home and my wife was pregnant again, you just do it. I just did it. I don’t want to play like it’s easy, because it’s not. But just know that, I don’t know, for me that’s living.
Chris Ippolito 57:51
Awesome. Yeah, really good. I very much appreciated this conversation.
Jerry Brazie 57:57
Chris Ippolito 58:02
I don’t like using this term, but in a sense it’s inspirational. But it’s more like a nice kick-in-the-butt kind of reminder of, “Hey, everything you’re experiencing right now, that’s what every entrepreneur has to experience on their path to success.” Thank you so much, I really appreciate that. Where can people reach out to you or connect with you? What’s that one place that is the best place for people to find you online?
Jerry Brazie 58:26
Everything is under my name at “Jerry Brazie.” Wherever you go, just look for my name. That’s J-E-R-R-Y B-R-A-Z-I-E. The best place to connect across the board would be my website, which is jerrybrazie.com. That’s how you can go see everything about me. If you want to get in touch and participate, I just started a new Facebook group, The Successful Mindset. And it’s brand new and I hope to bring people together. There’s no cost, no charge, I don’t charge for anything. I love business, I love the game of business, and I’m happy to talk with anybody about anything as long as I can make the time. And I thought, “I’ll start a group and maybe the group can help each other out. And then I can moderate the group and you’ll have direct access to me and any questions you might have and that sort of thing.” The Successful Mindset is the only non-Jerry Brazie branded social out there. But otherwise, just search for my name wherever you want to go. And we put out content every day and there’s videos coming out every day and there’s always something I’m commenting about or making trouble over.
Chris Ippolito 59:28
Awesome. I’ll make sure to include your website and really everything in show notes in case people just wanted to use the show notes to find you. But I said it already, and I’m going to say it again, I really appreciated the conversation. I thought that was fantastic, and I’m sure the audience feels the same way. Thank you so much and I really appreciate it.
Jerry Brazie 59:49
Yeah, Chris, I thank you on one real quick thing. The stories I tell in my life growing up, I have two things, I have humility and I have a giant ego. And that allows for people to knock me over whenever they want because it doesn’t bother me, but I never forget where I come from. And when I dispense these stories and tell you guys this advice, it’s from the heart. I get nothing from it, no one is paying me anything for it. I just want people to know what’s possible. With all humility, I appreciate in humbleness that you got that from that and other people get something from this, because that’s my intention.
Chris Ippolito 1:00:22
Awesome. Thanks, Jerry.
Jerry Brazie 1:00:24
All right. Thank you, Chris.
Chris Ippolito 1:00:25