As an aspiring professional in Chicago, being able to find and connect with industry leaders can prove difficult for those not well plugged in. Enter Life Lessons from The C-Suite, where you gain insight and learn from those that have achieved levels of success we aspire towards even if they can’t be our one-one mentors. Life Lessons from the C-Suite’ hopes to serve as a mentor bridge, where Chicago or Chicago connected industry leaders offer advice and share insights that has helped them on the path of success to help inspire next generation leaders.
John Rowady, on title is the founder and CEO of integrated sports marketing firm rEvolution but deep diving into the path he took from working in a corporate setting to finding his own path in entrepreneurship, he is a man fraught with advice and great life lessons. He has grown the company from its early beginnings and counts major brands such as Redbull, NBA, Northwestern Mutual, Goose Island, Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series Chicago America’s Cup as clients.
In part 1 of our interview he shares what the path to success requires, when he knew it was time for him to go out on his own and pursue his vision for the future that combined his passion for sports with his ability to build relationships and sell. This interview sparked a few lightbulbs and ideas to elevate the Life Lessons series, so sit back, learn and take notes.
If you don’t begin to imagine what your future looks like and make a roadmap for that future that you envision, you’ll never get there because you never envisioned it.
SociaLifeChicago: How did you get your start?
John Rowady: Though sports is what I loved, I didn’t initially start my career in sports. I took my dad’s advice to go into the industrial sector. I did that and it was a good job but what I kept going back to was that I really loved this sports thing. My first job exposed me that there’s business you can do with sports and I became enamored with that. I found my way into sports by selling advertising, building relationship and from there it became an apprenticeship. I made it my own because I loved it so much; the deal making that was going on, everything about it and the global nature of it. I moved up in the sports business and at the time the next jobs people were 10-20 years older than me and I was 30 years old at the time. There came a time when I asked myself “what could I do in this sports business that I can call my own and make real change?” That’s when I started.
When I started my own business, I spent about 10 years trying to figure out who I was. I had to gain a closer relationship with myself. What am I good at? What am I not good at. I had about 4 jobs and what I found was that I would promote myself. I wanted to be nimble and grow faster. I would achieve my goals, I was so goal oriented with a growth mindset without even really knowing this about myself at the time, but I was always goal oriented. The good thing about being in your 20s is the world allows you to have trial and errors, so you can fall down a lot more and get back up. Back then, I would write a list at the begining of the year of all the things I wanted to accomplish and all things I didn’t like about myself that I wanted to eradicate. It says a lot on learning about yourself and I would always promote myself to the next job;
I was a relationship and sales person. After about 4 jobs I realized, I hit a ceiling and there was nothing containing me for longer than 2-3 years then I started to look into the future and thought you know i’m going to get older and won’t have the ability to have the environment to keep job shifting, it’s going to catch up to me. So I said to myself, I need to find something that can put me on a path that’s flexible, I can re-invent growth over a long period of time and be able to stay engaged, interested and continue to enjoy what I do and be able to give back. That became the idea of rEvolution and starting my own business.
SLC: Did you come from a family of entrepreneurs?
JR: I came from a family of engineers and corporate people.
SLC: What’s one quote that resonates with you in business?
JR: My dad gave me this quote right as I was leaving college and I live by it: “Fail to plan. Plan to fail.” For me it was really true. If you don’t begin to imagine what your future looks like and making a roadmap for that future that you envision, you’ll never get there because you never envisioned it. That really helped exploit a characteristic about me I didn’t realize I had which was that, I enjoy peering into the future and envisioning how I could change things and how to make it better than it was. I want to be a change agent. I wanted to be a game changer in the sports business.
Be courageous. Jump in and become the #1 evangelist for your idea over anybody else. You can’t halfway do it, you just have to go for it. You have to let yourself go for it!
SLC: What 5 things/advice would you give someone looking to start their own business?
JR: If you have a passion and you can evangelize what you are doing, you have to remember that hard work pays off and you need to outwork everybody. In order to approach starting a business today before you begin my advice would be:
1) You have to have a plan of attack. Its the hardest thing that you are ever going to do and you are going to experience bigger highs than you’ve ever experienced in life but you are also going to be more scared than you’ve ever been. Life wants to be challenged and if you don’t go and challenge life it’s not going to challenge you back; its going to get bored with you and you won’t accomplish everything.
2) You have to write a business model that’s going to fill a need in the marketplace. Some business models are meant for infinite unbridled growth and some reach a peak. Its really important to have one.
3) Make sure you have a safe haven at home. If you are married, that your spouse is on board because you’re going to need their support. While I’m out trying to build a business and as alone as that is, being able to go home and have a place that feels safe and somebody that’s supporting and backing you, don’t realize how important that is. So many people I’ve seen that haven’t shored up their home life, or risk imploding their home life are just floating. You need that home base!
4) Where is your funding coming from. You have to plan for three years minimum. The basics is time and money. The reason the stats are so high on failure is you run out of time or money. You run out of money, you ran out of time. Your idea could be bad but you don’t know its bad if you don’t give it enough time. If you think you’re going to start raining in cash in a year, don’t start a business. It’s probably more possible now but not everybody is going to be able to build an app that everyone wants. You have to remember, Silicon Valley is still somewhat of a membership organization. It’s hard to break in if you don’t know anybody. Are you willing to risk all your source of funding and possibly go into financial ruin where you might not even be able to afford rent? Those are things you need to ask yourself.
5) You have to know the basics of business. You have to know what taxes are; How to market and communicate, what kind of IT you need, insurance. Technically you can do all this before you leave your job but if you don’t, you’re going to spend about 6-8 months doing all this. For example if you are selling the greatest sunglasses in the world or an ice-cream shop. There are basics you will need: TIN, communications plan, accounting system, brand, vendors, products, distribution.
A lot of people don’t realize the 50 things you need to have just for a basic business infrastructure.
6) Be courageous. Jump in and become the #1 evangelist for your idea over anybody else. You can’t halfway do it, you just have to go for it. You have to let yourself go for it!
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