Small businesses are what fuel our economy in many categories. Big-box competitors and things came into fruition because of small businesses. Alec Stern, an award-winning keynote speaker, startup mentor, and entrepreneur, has a passion for small businesses and nonprofits. He joins Dhomonique Murphy on today’s podcast to share the ten pillars he’s created to achieving small business success.
Listen to the podcast here:
The Pillars Of Business Success With Alec Stern
Sitting Down With Thought Leaders In The Self Help Industry
I hope you are doing well. I am sitting in Alec Stern‘s living room. We’re eating pizza and we’re hanging out. Alec, welcome.
How are you? Thank you for coming over.
Thanks for having me. I’m phenomenal. This is great. This has been incredible, hearing your story of resilience, success, drive and determination has been uplifting and motivational. Thank you for being transparent and sharing your true story with our audience.
It’s my pleasure.Big-box competitors and things came into fruition because of small businesses. Click To Tweet
We wanted to talk a little bit more about you and your story. For those of you who are joining us for the first time here, Alec Stern is a mega powerhouse. Where do we even start with Alec Stern? He is an entrepreneur, many companies. He’s an investor, a motivational speaker, a mentor, a coach, and an advocate. He has a passion for nonprofits and he’s an all-around kind, man. Let me give you guys an example. When we arrived here in Boston, Alec offered to come to the airport to pick us up. That doesn’t happen. Alec, thank you. You’re so kind. Tell us your story for people who A) are joining us for the first time or B) if they want to hear a little bit more of where you came from and how you got to where you are.
I won’t tell the longer version of that, but I’ll tell you the beginning. I was born in Boston. I lived here for five days because my mom was from here. My dad was from New York and they were living in Connecticut. She came back up to Boston to have my sister and I both separately. I have a birth certificate from Boston, but five days later moved down to Connecticut to start my journey. I went from Connecticut until I was a teenager. We went to New Jersey and I went up to Syracuse University for college, but we had family up here in Boston. Ever since I was eight, I kept saying I want to move to Boston someday. I got my first job up here and against my dad’s support because he’s like, “You’ve got to join a company that everyone knows like IBM or this one or that one. You’re going to some unknown company.” It happened to be a company that when I was at Syracuse, we did a case study on a company called Prime Computer at the time.
I love the company. A longer story, I wedged my way into getting a job there. They didn’t hire out of college, but I was the first college grad that they hired. Since that point, I created a program and I helped them create it for once to follow, but I was determined to get that job and I got it. That was a bigger company and then my career moved down to smaller and smaller, leaving there and joining a startup with someone who was several levels above me at Prime. That startup went public. I had my first experience of an initial public offering and I got a taste of what that meant and what this piece of paper of shares meant. I said, “How do I do this?” I went on and started a founding team or a co-founder of a few others. We had some early success of selling and then ultimately took some time off and then met the co-founder.
Three of us in an attic who was the original co-founder of Constant Contact. We joined forces. He was on the technical side, Randy and Margaret on technical, and I was on the business side and we went off to level the playing field for small businesses against their big competitors and provide them a digital marketing offering. Originally email marketing, eventually a suite of products. Ten years later, we went public and eight years after that sold it for $1.1 billion with 1,500 people in the company, amazing employees that got us there. Not without the 750,000-plus customers and 8,000 partners. The success was fueled by all those around us and an amazing story to help main street businesses level that playing field against their big competitors.
Alec, you are the king of visualization. I want to spend a little time on this because there were multiple times in this interview and other ones that we’ve had where you say something to the effect of, “I knew I wanted it, I focused on it and I got it.” How important is the act of visualization?
For me, I experienced it in everything in life and I manifest it and everything in life, especially in business. I will visualize the outcome of a situation and I make sure and be diligent about the steps that I work on to lead to what I was visualizing, whether that’s signing that partner, getting an investment from that firm, getting that customer to be a success story, or getting that strategic advisor to want to mentor us. Even in the earliest days, we sought out to get those that we wanted to be involved in the mix and you lead with value and you support them.
Next thing you know, they’re doing everything for you and it’s a beautiful thing. They want to do it because they like you and they care for you. Asking for someone to do something for you can be done in a lot of different ways. If you lead offering value to somebody and then they turn around and then want to do something for you because they like you and care for you, that’s better than because they feel they owe it to you. I will always visualize the outcome of situations. The majority of the time, it’ll come to fruition by manifesting that and taking the steps to what I visualized.
You have a passion for small businesses. Why small businesses?You've got to think about what you can do to look, act, and become big. Click To Tweet
The small businesses are what fuels our economy in many categories. Growing up and all the experiences that we had, a lot of those shaped who we were. We wouldn’t have had a lot of the experiences we did if not for small business. Big-box competitors and things came into fruition later. Back in the day, there were ones that would operate and I don’t know if Kmart is of the example, Ben Franklin or certain stores around the country, but it was going down Main Street. That’s where you got your hair cut. That’s where you bought your clothes for school. That’s where you had your meals with your family.
It was always a part of my life. When I started in the business after my first company, the next 3 or 4 so far have been centered around small business. It meant a lot to me to be able to work on a product or service that could help them succeed. If you can increase revenue or help them with the engagement and staying in touch with their customers or lower expense or saving time however you’re going to help them, they need it. For me, it meant a lot. Small businesses have been in my DNA since I was a kid. As I got into the business, it fueled my passion to want to help them in any way I can. I’ve been doing so for a long time.
You have created more than ten pillars to achieving small business success. Tell us what these pillars are. I don’t want you to give them all away, but maybe tell us about 1 or 2 of them.
The pillars to achieving success are spawned from early days lessons learned, things that I personally experienced in starting businesses and starting to bring them forward, testing the ideas and then ultimately giving it a go and then scaling it and so on. There’s a variety of them that if you’re starting a business or you already have one and you want to figure out how to scale it, these apply. Oftentimes, I’ll speak to audiences like the US Chamber, which is big business and small business said, “We understand that you center around helping small business. We have a lot of businesses that are big business. Is this talk going to be interesting to them?” I’m like, “Yeah, of course, it will be. Are you kidding?”
The point was that some may have done some of these before and then got off it or they grew out of it. I had many of the bigger businesses coming, running up to me saying, “That’s how we used to do things. We don’t do it that way anymore and we should get back to that. We hadn’t thought of it that way.” It does help all, but for a small business or someone who’s getting going an entrepreneur with an idea, how do you bring it forward? I’ll give you a couple of sampling I have a couple of them. The first one is what’s the one core thing that you’re going to do in business to succeed? We oftentimes want to do too much and we’ve talked wanting to satisfy and provide for our target market with all different products and services, but you got to start with one. No matter if you’re a new business, you’re a startup, you’ve got to pick one. If you’re an existing business, you’ve got to stay in that lane to have success.
If you have success, you’re going to get revenue and then it’s going to fuel you doing more. What’s the one core thing is one of the pillars. There are some art and science around that. One of the other ones, which we touched on a little bit was the look big acting, become big. This is around perception. In the earliest days, how do you put your best foot forward? How do you brand yourself and put your best foot forward so when someone sees you, they think you’re real and they’re going to take you seriously? As simple as branding your email to your domain, not have Gmail and Hotmail in your email, or don’t put MyCompany@Gmail or MyName@Gmail because no one’s going to take you seriously. Think of the ways that you could put your best foot forward to look big. If you start operating and acting big, you will visualize yourself being bigger than you are. Others will come back and say, “You seem so big. How many are you in the company anyway?” If I were to answer that in the early days, it was the three of us in the attic, but if I count me, myself and I, we’re 5.
The bottom line is you’ve got to think about what you can do to look, act and become big. I’d say one other quick one, humanize your voice and you have the opportunity as a startup or a small business to be able to have people get to know you as a business, get to know you. Humanizing your voice is giving you an opportunity to let them get to know you. Don’t be caught up in the marketing speak and all the things that big companies focus on. Especially if they’re in regulated industries, lawyers are looking at the marketing speak, but you have a chance to let them get to know you. The voice could be yourself, partners, employees, customers and board. If you’re a nonprofit, your board or volunteers are recipients of services.
Letting people hear the voice of what’s important to you and who you are and get to know you builds a relationship beyond someone buying a product or service or writing a check to a nonprofit. For me, it’s important to know in the case of a nonprofit, what is their mission? Who are they serving? What is the effect that they’re having on the people that are serving? Get to know all that. Tie someone to want to be passionate about supporting that and not just write that check, but maybe want to jump in and volunteer. Maybe want to help throw an event, pull others into the mix and find them sponsors, donors, corporations that want to potentially have their foundation write a check. If you let people in and get to know you and they get passionate, the world is wide open to what people will do to help.Every day, there are challenges in life and business. We have to find a way to have some fun and celebrate the small wins. Click To Tweet
We’re all hungry for more information. We heard a couple of pillars. There are more than two. How do people get their hands on these other pillars? How can we learn more? Tell us.
I’ve created a short workbook that has a bunch of them on there. Not all, but a bunch of them. If somebody texts to 59925 the word, PILLARS, then it will ask for your name and an email. It will bring you to a landing page. There’s a little video on me. One of my talks is on there. There’s a fun music video that I recorded a song that I wrote for Constant Contact using someone else’s song, but my lyrics. If one person watches, it’ll trend on YouTube. There’s the workbook and then there are also a couple of other things. The second thing is if they go to my website, AlecSpeaks.com, they can learn more about me and there are all my social channel links and we could connect.
Alec, anything else you want to add?
This has been amazing. I would say the best thing that I learned early on, which I live by is to have fun. Every day that there are challenges in life and in business and multiple times a day, we have to find a way to have some fun and celebrate small wins every day. You might have that vision and that five-year out thing you’re focused on, but what are you doing to get there? What are you celebrating that’s on the path to get you there? Pull others into the mix. If you land a customer, ring a bell and everyone celebrates. Let everyone know that’s involved in the business that they had a hand in doing so. From the executive assistant or the receptionist who’s answering the phones at the front desk all the way through to the people in engineering to marketing, to anyone who’s supporting the customers and fielding calls, everyone has a hand in the success of the business. Make sure you can find ways to celebrate and have fun.
Alec Stern, thank you so much for taking the time to enlighten all of us. We appreciate your time.
Thank you so much for having me.
Make it a great day or not, the choice is yours. Thanks.
About Alec Stern
Alec has more than 25 years of experience as a founder, mentor, investor and hyper-growth agent for companies across various industries. He is an innovator with extensive expertise in growing and scaling companies, startup and operational growth, go-to-market strategy, strategic partnerships and more.
As a primary member of Constant Contact’s founding team Alec was one of the original 3 who started the company in an attic. Alec was with the company for 18 years from start-up, to IPO, to a $1.1 Billion-dollar acquisition. Alec has also been a co-founder or on the founding team of several other successful startups including VMark (IPO & acquisition), Reacher Grasper Cane and MOST Cardio amongst others.
Performing hundreds of keynote addresses Worldwide, Alec has become known as America’s Startup Success Expert for his popular sessions at conferences like Secret Knock, CEO Space International, City Summit, Powerteam International and Habitude Warrior. In 2019 Alec is the Keynote speaker at three out of the top five “Inc. Magazine Must Attend Conferences for Startups and Entrepreneurs in 2019.” While on tour, Alec has shared the stage with the likes of Tom Bilyeu, Jack Canfield, Les Brown, Kevin Harrington and Mark Victor Hanson. Alec appears on the Influence 100 Authority List by Influence Magazine which recognizes his contribution to helping and advancing startups and entrepreneurs worldwide. He has also recently been featured on the covers of several other magazines including “Small Business Trendsetters,” “Success Profiles” and “Business Innovators.” Alec was honored with the “2020 City Gala Visionary Award” and the “Habitude Warrior Conference Global Awesome Visionary Award” for all his accomplishments as an entrepreneur as well as speaking before thousands of entrepreneurs and startups each year.
Alec advises a variety of early stage companies and serves as a judge, mentor and advisor for nationally known startup accelerators and programs including TechStars, MassChallenge, The American Business Awards, The Stevie Awards and speaks at Universities including Harvard and MIT.
One of the Northeast’s most accomplished entrepreneurs, he is a limited partner in Boston-based G20 Ventures, which provides early traction capital for East Coast enterprise tech startups. Alec is also an angel investor in a number of rising startups in various industries.
Only a sideman when it comes to music, Alec is an accomplished drummer and has had the honor of sitting in with a number of musicians including Toby Keith’s house band in Vegas.
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