Intro to Entrepreneurship with Alex Charfen
This year at Funnel Hacking Live, we had a wealth of amazing speakers take the stage and support ClickFunnels, Russell Brunson, and the movement to help entrepreneurs grow and develop their skills. One of these amazing speakers is Alex Charfen. It was incredible and truly powerful listening to him tell his story and I had the great fortune to speak with him after he took the stage and set up an interview for our customers and blog readers.
For those of you who don’t know, Alex Charfen is the head of Billionaire Code and is one of the top coaches in the industry to help companies scale and grow through team development and intelligent business strategies. His podcast: Momentum is helping define the Entrepreneur Personality Type that he is driving promote and educate the business world about. If you’re not following Alex, you should be. Catch him here on Instagram for continual updates and motivation that he is offering his followers. It’s such a value.
Without further adieu, I’d love to dive into this interview for entrepreneurs to really enjoy. Get all of the information you can out of this interview and make sure that you’re following Alex for more great information!
How did your entrepreneurial journey begin?
I was the kid who was always different. I didn’t really get along with kids like everybody else did. I was completely socially awkward. The one thing that when I was younger, it made sense to me was business. I started working with my dad when I was about eight or nine years old and that always felt comfortable and it felt like where I should be. So I was that kid who started businesses before I was 10. I sold the other kids in school candy, like I was always doing something to try and get ahead because honestly, the reason is I felt like I was completely screwed. I didn’t think I would ever be successful when it came to the metrics in the world that show people’s success. How well you do at school, how many friends you have, how did the people around you like, you, you know, all of those things. I was terrible at. And so I didn’t think that there was anywhere where I was really going to quote unquote succeed. But there was a saint called business where at least it seemed like there was more rules than the rest of the world and that’s where I focused.
So it’s always been there inside of you. I think that’s something that you’ve seen a lot of entrepreneurs.
Yeah, I don’t think if I tried to do anything other than being an entrepreneur. I couldn’t. I had a hard time following other people’s systems and other people’s rules. And I don’t say that to say like, “Hey, I’m this big rebel,” it’s more. I just had a hard time doing it. Anyone else in this way because it was hard for me to see things their way. So I had to do it myself.
At Funnel Hacking Live, you shared your story about how you were in real estate investment before the Recession. You talked about how it all seemed to come crumbling down and how you had to adapt and keep fighting. It was an incredible story of recovery and a new rise in your life to something greater. Was that moment of adaptation immediate or, when was the moment you knew you needed to act?
So in 2007, the economy started hurting really bad in south Florida and everybody in the rest of the country was saying, “Oh, it’s just a Florida problem. Not the whole country it’s just Florida.” But it wasn’t just a Florida problem. Like I saw it coming and we knew that there was nothing we could do in Florida. So we went bankrupt and I wish I could tell you Korbin that liked, I went bankrupt and immediately had this great idea that did not happen. Like we went bankrupt. Like from the day that we were at the attorney’s office, I think it was probably two weeks from when we decided we were going to declare. I don’t think I talked to anybody. It was really, it was one of the hardest periods of my life, you know, here I built international businesses, I’ve helped people create billion dollar companies.
I had put, like literally put entire product categories into retails. I’d accomplished things in my career and here I was publicly and um, as, as, as graphically as you can declare a failure, you know, legally publishing the shit in the newspaper and saying I’m bankrupt, you know, and um, and it was devastating and it was probably two weeks in. I called a friend of mine and I said, I told him the story and um, I remember I said, “Alan, we looked at all our options and we realized we didn’t have any choices. So we were going bankrupt.”
And he was like, “Alex, I’d suggest you look at it a different way. You had a lot of options. You could have gone to California, you could have gone to Mexico, you could have ignored it. You could have run up your credit cards like other people are doing. You could have liquidated properties and gone and spent the money like a lot of people are doing right now, so you could’ve made a lot of different decisions. You made the decision to go bankrupt, quit whining and own it.”
He’s like, “You just need to go do it now. Go, go bankrupt as fast as you can and get past this period in your life.”
And I remember, like Korbin, I was looking for a shoulder to cry on and I called this guy and then he was like, get your head out of your ass. And I remember thinking like what he said for a second. And then I thought, yeah, you know what? Alan is totally right. Like I need to stop screwing around. Something needs to happen next. Like what am I going to do? I’ve got a kid, a wife, like I can’t just sit around and be bankrupt.
That’s not a job. And at that same time is when the foreclosure notices started showing up at our house and we had already talked about like maybe educating a little bit around distress properties and I started reading our foreclosure notices. Started looking at the content that we had and that remember I was sitting at my desk one day and I’m like, we need a population to go out and help these homeowners or nothing’s going to happen here, and at first I thought it was going to be mortgage brokers, so I started like looking at the relationship with mortgage brokers. There was no way. Mortgage brokers stuck. They weren’t going to do it. Here’s why. They didn’t care as much as real estate agents, real estate agents actually cared. So we started talking to real estate agents, put our content together, did the first class, January 23rd and 24th of 2008.
I taught our first class. We didn’t have credit card processing, so Katie and I had relationships in Boca. We were completely bankrupt. We had no money. We were trying to get a credit card processing account as you’re going bankrupt, like I can tell you that it’s not easy. And so we had gotten a conference room at a hotel that was on a 30 day payment. Like they said, hey, we’ll give you 30 days because they knew us Kinko’s, the Guy Kinko’s, Kinko’s doesn’t give credit to anybody. The guy keeps us like, hey man, if you pay me within a week will be fine. And so like everybody was helping us do this and do it in front of a room of 62 people that every one of them owed us 250 bucks and the $12,000 from the class was what we were going to pay, like the hotel and our bills and everything else.
And Day one we don’t have a credit card processor. So I taught an entire day of class without knowing we were going to get paid. The next morning the credit card processing came through and I’m in front of the room and I’m talking and teaching them. And at one point I was like, “Hey, I just wanted to make sure you guys all knew something. This is a new class. We wanted to make sure you really were OK with us charging you. So is it OK if we run all your cards?” And they’re like, “You haven’t run our cards.” I’m like, “No. This is the first time we taught this class. I wanted to make sure everybody was really satisfied doing.” “Oh, you can run our cards.” And so we turned it into a benefit and by the end of the day we started running the cards and we were able to pay all the bills. It was a panic.
That is awesome. When did you make the decision to move to coaching?
Well, I think in a lot of ways I’ve kind of always been a coach. Here’s what happens, Korbin. It’s… It’s like, I think I just made the decision to finally call myself a coach or because as a consultant, here’s, here’s what happened, you know, I would be, I was contracted by usually the CEO of a company or if it was a really big company like the division leader or the person who was in charge of what was going on. And I worked directly with somebody at a very high level. And so I’ll give you an example. My I, I had a friend named or I have a friend named Mike Hummel. He started a company called CD Stopper and it was a long time ago back when people use cds. It was this product where you could, you could put a label on a CD and it would stay centered. It was like this little plunger you pushed down and picked up a label and you could do it like on your desktop. When I started working with Mike, he had like three people and it was selling 10,000 units a month of this $25 product.
Six years later he sold his company to Avery for 78,000,000 bucks and he took home about 40 and the guy in the warehouse–The guy in the warehouse, who made like $40,000 a year and who came in early and stayed late. He made a million dollars! That day was one of the greatest accomplishments I’ve ever had. But when I look at like that whole relationship, sure we helped Mike put that product in the right places. We helped them move into the right stores, but the entire time I’m coaching him to keep his head together because he watched his business go from under a million to over $20,000,000 in sales and like Walmart, Office Depot, Comp USA, Computer City, Circuit City, Office Max, Staples, and all the stores in the country had his product. Like you have to coach people every step of that transition. And so I think… I think I have always naturally kind of been a coach and it was just sometime around 2011 where we started talking about it.
Do you think every entrepreneur needs to have a coach?
I don’t think they need it; because need is, to me, oxygen, water and food.
But, I think that if you don’t it.. See, here’s the problem, if you find the right person, it’s the single largest accelerator that you’ll ever have in your entire career. Like for me, I’ve used coaching my entire career. Like right now, I have two coaches. I have Russell and Taki Moore and I always have a coach for at least one thing. If it’s not two or three–wait, I think I actually have three coaches: Taki Moore, I have Russel and I have Emily Hirsch. I’m trying to think. I know there’s at least one other person that we’re getting advice from right now. At any given time I look at like where do I have a deficit in my organization, then I go buy the expertise. So I think that every entrepreneur–anyone who’s trying to build a business–if you’re not buying expertise as shortcuts, it’s crazy.
Just as an aside, when we were at Pirate’s Cove with Russell, he’s like, “You know, I tell people all the time to do stuff like this, but they never implement it”. And I was like, “Man, when Russell tells me shit, I’m never going to be that guy. He knows what he’s doing.” So when he was like, “Dude, put a podcast together.” We had it from the day he told me that I should do it. And then he and I talked about it and I was like, “Yeah, he’s right.” We had out in 10 days.
That’s totally one of the things that like just an office I picked up, like you can tell when people are listening to what he’s saying and implementing it and then there are people that are skeptical about it. It’s like you’re not going to go anywhere until you start doing things that your coach is telling you, you know? It’s not going to work out.
I mean, if you’re skeptical of Russell Brunson, when it comes to marketing, I mean, I don’t know who you think you are, but like, seriously dude lives and breathes this stuff. I mean, when Russell says, “Hey Alex, you should do this.” I just take out a pen and start writing down everything he says.
How do you start your mornings as an entrepreneur?
Um, I have a written morning routine that is a pre programmed, written morning routine. It takes care of all the foundation of what I need to do. I try and make the first hour of my day the best hour of my day. I get up relatively early, around 4:30 or 5:00. So by the time I’m on my morning huddle at 9:30 with my team, I’ve done more than most people will do all day. I’m hydrated. I’ve created. You had nutrition. I’ve moved in a way that did improve my body. I’ve oxygenated. I’ve meditated. I’ve had everything that I need to do to make sure I’m foundationally set up for success and that it happens in that first hour of the day and I don’t react. The one thing that I do not do when I first start my mornings as entrepreneur is: I do not allow myself to react. I don’t check email, I don’t go on social media, I don’t even look at electronics; because the vast majority of the world today, especially with entrepreneurs, they get up and get reactive and we’re already too reactive. As a society and as entrepreneurs were to reactive. We get angry, we get frustrated, we get irritated. And so I’m removing that reactivity and stepping into proactivity every morning to a written routine is my rule of law. Also go see the routine. You can go to morning.charfen.com.
Here’s a question. I want your opinion on. Lots of entrepreneurs starting out, get freaked out by the idea of overworking and balance. What’s your opinion on balance?
I think balance in the entrepreneurial world is a myth that you will chase forever and be disappointed by. There’s no such thing as balance. I think especially when we talk balance, I don’t like to be in the room or I just started heckling them because there’s no such thing. Like Korbin, do you feel like you could ever balance all the time you spend in your job with something on the side? You’d have to have an additional equivalent amount of time. And so whenever somebody says, you know, “How do you feel about work life balance?” My reply is “It’s bullshit.” I really do, like I say, it’s bullshit. There’s no way. Like don’t give me that crap about balance and if there’s a consultant who tells you, “You can get your life balance.” Bring them to me so I can embarrass him. Because, the fact is: as entrepreneurs we should be looking for integration and combination, not balance.
Like how do we make those things work together. Like as an example, I work out of my house and my daughters are home schooled and my relationship with both of my girls is really important to me. So I have a rule that if I’m working, it doesn’t matter who I’m talking to, It doesn’t matter how many people are on my zoom call; if one of the kids need something, they just walk in and tell me and the rest of the world can put up with the interruption that I have with the kids. Because for me, having, you know, a minute or 45 seconds or 90 seconds of an interruption and my kids know that they’re the most important thing in my life; to me, that’s work-life integration. But there’s no way I could possibly balance it; because I’m in my office here eight hours a day, sometimes 10 hours a day! I can’t go and create another eight or 10 hours a day to make that balance. I think that when we think about integration, it becomes a reality. when we think about balance, it’s like an entrepreneur walking a tight rope their whole life. If you walk the tight rope your whole life, sooner or later you’re going to fall off.
What is one thing that you see that’s a trend in entrepreneurs, that are coming up right now, that you think people should avoid. Things that you think are harmful to the process of developing a business or your idea or your vision?
Creating a persona before they’ve done anything. This new, um, this new–I don’t know what it is, Korbin! But there’s this new thing where a lot of entrepreneurs who have decided that they’re going to brand themselves and become somebody and do videos and do something. But if you’re not selling something, nobody cares. You’re just making noise. And, there are these entrepreneurs that you go on their Facebook page and they’ve got like professionally designed covers and all this other stuff; and you look at them and they don’t even sell anything. They’re just brand names. So I think one of the biggest mistakes that entrepreneurs are making today is investing in branding and image advertising without selling anything. First, the best branding in the world is to sell shit. Like when somebody gives you money, you are building your brand at the highest level.
You know, I had never been in real estate. In 2008, I was a zero and unknown in real estate. Like nobody knew who I was in 2012 or 2013. By 2013, we had sold 45,000 units of a real estate product. Today, if I go to a real estate convention, I can’t walk from one side of the room to the other. Like I don’t need branding. I don’t need pictures. I don’t need Facebook. I’ve sold so much stuff that if I go to a real estate convention, people take pictures with me. It is really funny. Well Dude, that’s not because I had an awesome facebook presence. I never did the whole time we were in real estate. We didn’t know image advertising. For me, we just sold stuff with my picture on it and everyone knew who I was. So, I think today there’s this misconception that if you create this cool online image, everything else will follow and it’s just not true.
I talk to people that are like, “I’ve spent like $21,000 on my brand!” And I’m like, “Oh? Well, what do you sell?”
“I haven’t figured it out yet.”
“Well, I wanted to see if I could get a following first.”
I’m so lost. What are they following? Even if you’ve got a following, who doesn’t start selling?
Alex, if you could go back in time, to when you were younger, what is the key piece of advice that you think you have right now that would be the most valuable to you?
That nobody cares. Nobody cares. That’s really the key piece of advice; because when I was a kid, I used to be so worried about what other people thought and what other people’s impression was and I was worried to do things, just because I didn’t want to look bad or get judged. I didn’t want to stand out in the wrong way. And what I realized, as an adult, is that you have to realize everybody else has their own life. Everybody else has their own stuff going on. You’re not that important. You should just go do as much as you possibly can, as fast as you can. And if I could coach my younger self, I would say make mistakes faster and quit trying to do everything perfect; because, for so much of my life, I would think about things until I had analyzed it to the point where like I was nervous about doing it and then it got harder and harder to do.
In retrospect now, it’s funny Korbin, like, I can tell you how many times in my life where I was like, “I think I should do this thing. Maybe I’ll do it. Maybe I’ll do it? Nah. Maybe I’ll do it.” And then I finally did it and everything changed. If I could go back and say anything, it would be say: make the mistakes faster and just go forward and nobody cares when you screw up.
We all are so worried about screwing things up. Take it from a professional failure! I went completely bankrupt! I lost dozens of properties to foreclosure! I mean I got sued by every major company in the world! What was really funny was we were being sued in foreclosure by Bank of America, Chase, Citi Group and Wells Fargo; and they were partners of ours in our company. So on the one hand I’m getting foreclosure paperwork from them and on the other hand, they were JV partners. So if you ever needed an example of how nobody cares when you screw up. There it is…
What do entrepreneurs that are starting right now? What do they need to focus on most on when they’re just starting out?
The people that you are going to serve. Far too many entrepreneurs have created a product without ever thinking of what population they’re going to sell it to. It doesn’t matter if you have the best widget in the world. If you don’t know who cares about it, who wants it and who’s going to buy it, then it doesn’t matter. It’s not a real product. And I think one of the biggest mistakes that entrepreneurs make is they say, “Hey, I’m going to go make this cool product,” but they never say “I’m going to make this cool product for these people.” And for me, when I’m working with beginning entrepreneurs, the switch that changes everything is getting them hyper clear on who is going to be their market and who is that Avatar they’re going to serve? Can you pick them out of a crowd, you know? What do they eat, you know? What do they look like? Do you know how they make decisions? Do you know what they care about?
And once you understand that human being or that population of human beings, everything changes and I think you know. We make the mistake of looking at evidence in the world and saying, “Oh, that’s how you do it.” Like as an example, people look at Apple and they say, “Man, Apple is such a cool product company and I want to make cool products.” Apple is not a product company. Apple is a company that has catered to unique thinking individuals for over 20 years. And when you go back to the very beginning of apple, what were they were is the anti-everything else company. You’ll get it in their advertisements: Think Different. What was Apple really selling? They sell a lifestyle. People look at them as a computer company, but they’re a computer company that changed telephony and videos and music and distribution and all of those things. Why? Because they cater to you and I. Steve Jobs said “We’re going to go after the difference makers, the game changes, the people that are different, and than the people who look at the world like nobody else does.” And from the very beginning, the reason that Apple has been successful is they have gone after that population, respected that population, and gave that population a voice. And for most entrepreneurs, if they would start there and say, “Hey, here’s why I care about everything.” their business would change.