Not everyone is cut out for a 9-5 job. For those people, the entrepreneurial mindset is often the key to success. In this episode, Patty Ann Tublin interviews the founder of ENTRE Institute, Jeff Lerner as they discuss how to empower a person to success. Jeff shares his early challenges that shaped his way of thinking and bought him to the path of the entrepreneur, and he shares what he’s doing to spread his vision. Learn more about entrepreneurship and mindset by tuning in.
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Evolving Your Entrepreneurial Mindset For Success With Jeff Lerner
Our special guest is a man named Jeff Lerner. This guy has been around the block more than a couple of times. He went from being a broke musician, a professional jazz player, and a pianist to a serial entrepreneur who has been incredibly successful. He is the Founder of the world’s first and only higher institute of learning for entrepreneurs.
Welcome Jeff Lerner and put on your seatbelts because Jeff is going to take us for a ride.
I’m so glad to be here, Dr. PattyAnn. I’ve become a fan. My booker said, “You’re going to be on this show with Dr. PattyAnn. You need it.” I went into your world and I’m like, “I am so into this stuff like relationships and emotional coaching.” I know enough to be dangerous in the psychology world and probably enough to do some damage, but I love talking about it. I’m glad to be here and happy to serve your audience.
Thank you so much. We are privileged to have you. You have been to hell and back broke to an Uber millionaire bazillionaire. Share with us your journey. Start anywhere you want. You know us. We all love a feel-good story and I think you got one for us.
I’ve got a little bit of that proverbial rags to riches, Horatio Alger, the American dream story. I started with an American nightmare. I have no regrets and no lamentations. I’ve been very blessed my whole life, even when I was breaking and struggling, but I grew up with successful parents. My mom was an attorney and she was a very good smart attorney. She was the second female partner at 1 of the 5 biggest law firms in the country.
It’s Fulbright & Jaworski, which is now Norton Rose Fulbright. She was a brilliant woman.
What kind of law did she practice? I’m curious. It sounds like litigation.
She does trust and estate planning. My mom was also a great caretaker of people. By being in trusts and estates, she got to prepare people for a very hard thing that they were going to go through and then also get to counsel them through that hard time. She always felt like her work made people’s lives easier, which is not something all attorneys can say.
Do you know what Shakespeare said about attorneys?
No, tell me.
“The first thing we should do is kill all the attorneys,” but that wasn’t your mom.
We wouldn’t want to leave her alone. She was a pretty special woman and my dad was a money manager. My parents were high-end white-collar, successful professionals, but that came with some high standards and I think the expectation was, “I’ll go to a private school and get good grades.”
Where do you grow up?
In Houston, Texas. It’s a city with oil and gas, and tons of energy money. I went to a private school. My parents were successful, but I was around rich people growing up. The major streets in Houston have the same name as the last names of kids I went to school with. It was weird. That was my track, but I never fit. I never saw myself going to college, getting some job and punching a clock. There was no amount of money that seemed interesting to me to say, “I’m going to give up my time.” I had a lot of problems in school. Frankly, I’ve done a lot of therapy now, so I have a pretty good sense of what was going on with me back then.
One thing that’s important to know is I was born with a genetic condition called Waardenburg Syndrome. It’s a syndrome that has multi-aspect, but part of it is a mild cranial facial disfigurement. Growing up, I didn’t look like the other kids. I looked like I might have been mildly retarded growing up or whatever the politically correct term is for that. I got bullied horribly but the thing is, I was a smart kid.
It was frustrating. People are like, “He’s the idiot kid.” They were mean and you know how kids are. That was a defining piece of my life. I knew from an early age that I had this genetic condition, so I developed this notion in my mind of like, “I’m defective. I’m not quite a fit with this species. I’m like a homo sapiens prime, a slight variation.” I never felt like a human, as weird as that may be.
Honestly, I’m looking at you and I don’t see anything abnormal about your face. Did you have surgery?
I was very fortunate to break my nose multiple times. I was able to go in and say, “Fix this and, by the way, fix it. Don’t just put it back but make it better.” I did have my nose reconstructed because I broke it three times in high school playing sports and stuff. When I was sixteen, I got a nose job. Mostly it grew out of it. To be honest, it was probably never as big a deal as I thought it was in the first place but when you’re a kid, you make a mountain out of every molehill.
Jeff, if you had been that disfigured with the means that your parents had growing up, I’m sure they would have had surgery done.
Here’s the thing, it still crops up. I’ll give you an example. Several years ago, when I met my wife, there were members of her family that asked her, “Is there something wrong with him?” It’s subtle. Until I was 35, I never talked about it. It was this dark secret that was a source of shame. I think that always contributed to my sense of alienation and I never integrated very well socially. Fast forward, I dropped out of high school my junior year.
I guess your parents must have been beside themselves.
They weren’t super stoked but when the truancy officer called my home and said, “Jeff has missed 20 of the last 30 days of school. He hasn’t even been to school.” They were like, “What are you doing during the day?” I said, “I’m driving my car to a parking lot and sleeping in my car. I’m staying up all night because I’m starting to develop this passion for music.” I came clean. I was like, “I stay up all night, writing music and practicing my keyboard. I drive to a vacant parking lot and sleep during the day.”
They were like, “Okay.” As a matter of fact, they said, “We’ll pull you out of school, but prospects aren’t that great for high school dropouts. As long as you’re willing to sleep in your bed, if this is the one you want to make, then we’ll pull you out.” They did. They pulled me out. My Parents are fantastic and they bought me a piano. They said, “If you’re going to be a musician, you have to start practicing.” I didn’t start playing piano until I was sixteen. I went all-in on becoming a musician without any experience. I knew that I was reasonably proficient, but I wasn’t like I was some kid prodigy.
Were you good at Math or numbers? I don’t mean in school, but I mean numbers.
I am very good with numbers.
You know there’s a correlation there.
I had a reasonable suspicion that I was going to be a fairly talented musician, but what I’ve learned is starting that late. There’s a biomechanical deficiency that I learned has a lot to do with whether or not you started before or after puberty. I never got that early pedagogy to train it into my arms and my hands. I ended up developing physical problems later. The point is I dropped out of high school and I started practicing piano twelve hours a day like a total psychopath. I would sit at my piano for twelve hours and not leave.
My parents moved away. They retired when I was eighteen years old and they were like, “You can’t come with us. You’re eighteen. We told you, we’d get you to eighteen.” I had to go out and start beating the streets to make a living as a musician. I started taking gigs for food initially and finally got good enough to start charging for my services.
By nineteen, I had auditioned my way into college in a music program, even though I didn’t have a high school degree. It’s at the big state school in Houston, but they had a micro conservatory within the Morris School that was had a big endowment from a John Morris as a software guy. There are awesome music programs and I ended up getting a full scholarship. I played jazz piano, got all my school paid for, and I was a working pianist all through my twenties. It helped shift my life. I probably played 3,000 gigs or I played a huge number of gigs.
Did you travel internationally or did you stay local?
The richest people own their own businesses and they build cash flow producing assets.
I got a little bit of international travel. I had a two-week gig with the United States Navy, where I went to Japan and played all the Naval bases in Japan. A lot more domestic, US travel. I’d go to college festivals, play in bands and stuff. Most of my work was 6 to 8 gigs a week of whatever I could get in Houston. When the Broadway shows would come through town, I would play down in the pit.
I played a lot of private parties and this was a key piece of my story. I was young, hardworking, showed up on time, polite, articulate, shaved, didn’t smell like cigarettes, and I paid everyone with the same brush. If you take all the working pianists in the world and say, “Rate them on a scale of 1 to 10 for who’s presentable.” I was probably like a nine.
I ended up getting booked in the homes of multiple billionaires. Names that people you know, like Tilman Fertitta, the guy that has that show called Billion Dollar Buyer, I used to play piano at his house. Bob McNair, who owned the Houston Texans. Jim Crane, who owns the Houston Astros. Tilman owns the Rockets now. Les Alexander, who used to own the Rockets. Drayton McLane, who used to own the Astros. I played it all these guys’ houses in Houston.
I would get to the gig an hour early to set up and before the guests started arriving. It would be me, the caterers, and the host chilling. I would get to ask billionaires about their lives like, “How did you make all this money? What do you do for a living?” They would tell me. To a person, every one of them is entrepreneur. All the richest people are entrepreneurs. They own their own businesses and they build cashflow producing assets. Between that, I’m reading Rich Dad Poor Dad. I got obsessed in my early twenties with building cashflow and producing assets. Even while I was a broke musician, I’m never making more than $40,000 or $50,000 a year. I ended up failing at about a dozen different businesses that I don’t need to take you through that whole saga.
Take us through one. We know our failure. It plays a pivotal role in our success. Let the readers learn from you.
I had a litany of them. I’ll give you a few. I was doing whatever I could. The Rich Dad Poor Dad thing, I started trying to flip houses. I would do cash advances off credit cards, go buy dilapidated houses, get ripped off by contractors, and that didn’t seem to pan out. I started a party promotion company and tried to produce raves, these big parties where you would rent a warehouse and the kids went wild. I had some cool stories. I invited Wu-Tang Clan to one of them. I got to hang out with Method Man and I met Busta Rhymes, but I ended up getting ripped off by the Houston Black Market party scene people that steal gate fees.
Every business can have a dirty element to it.
That was an exciting one. I would have a rave and we’d have 1,000 people lined up outside. They would call the fire marshal and call a fire threat, so the fire marshal would come and not let anybody in. Everybody would leave and we lose all our money. I had a booking agency. My undoing was when I was 27 in 2006 when the banks were completely insane and they would give money to dead people.
You’re in Houston now and the real estate is through the roof. We know it’s cyclical over there.
I was able to borrow about $400,000 to open two franchise restaurants with federally backed Small Business Administration loans. They gave it to some 27-year-old jazz musician, who’d never made any money and had no successful business experience. The timing was awful. I got the stores opened in 2007. The crash happened.
By 2008, I was $495,000 in debt. I had two closed stores. I had the US treasury coming after me because when you default on SBA loans, the Federal government guarantees the bank and then they come after you for the money. Effectively, at 28 years old, I owed the Federal government over $300,000. I owe two big real estate investment companies, probably $50,000 each, for leases that I defaulted on, plus the State of Texas sales tax, unemployment tax, and the Texas Workforce Commission. They were all coming after me.
I was married. I had a real marriage for a few years in my late twenties but after all the craziness, going broke, facing bankruptcy, and losing our apartment, we had to move in with her parents. She was done. She was like, “I’m out.” I went and lived in the guest room. She lived in her own bedroom that she grew up in. It was the most awkward existence ever being separated from your wife, but living with her in her parents’ house.
It’s worse than a bad date.
It was like a bad date that lasted a year. Here’s the deal, I go into hiding. I’ve got all these creditors coming after me. I tell them, “If anybody calls, I’m not here.” I locked myself in my room and I spent my last few hundred dollars on a credit card on some online business education class or self-directed courses. This was going to be lucky business number thirteen.
You are persistent, if nothing else, even in the face of bankruptcy, adversity, and failed marriage.
Every failure there was always like, “I almost got it right. I learned this and I know I’m smart. I was this close to figuring it out that I’ll do better next time.” I never took on failure as my identity. I took it on as another experience.
Jeff, I want to make sure the readers know that because that’s huge. We all fail. If we take failure, internalize it and say, “We are a failure,” you never move forward. Thank you for that.
You mentioned things that I am naturally good at. I’m very persistent, but also, when I make a decision, I do not reverse course. I decided, when I was sixteen years old, that I was psychologically unfit to ever hold a traditional job. There was no failure that could have measured up to the failure that would have been having to go get a job.
At the end, you knew you would be miserable.
I would make them miserable and it would be like shared misery all around. I wouldn’t want to employ me. I’m too strong-willed, independent, stubborn, and whatever. I knew as long as I could play the piano, I always knew there would be people that it will at least trade food and shelter for my ability to play the instrument.
I never thought I was going to die and then I got to work. I started working on this online business thing. I started teaching myself something that, in 2008, was pretty little known. It was called Affiliate Marketing. It’s more commonly known and talked about now. I was building an online business by referring people to other products and services that I didn’t have to fulfill. I would connect the vendor or the merchant with the potential customer and I would get paid when that transaction happened. Within eighteen months, I paid off $495,000 in debt and I moved out of my in-laws.
Are you doing this relentlessly like you did everything else?
I was in that room, fourteen hours a day. I would sleep and shower occasionally, not even as frequently as I should have. I would use the restroom, eat food, and work. That’s all I did. When you’re $500,000 in debt and you feel like you spent your best decade. I had gotten to the end of my twenties and I had learned a ton, but I dug myself a huge hole. I felt like, “If I don’t get out of this fast, this is going to become the defining condition of my life and I’m never going to dig out.”
If you didn’t pay the money off significantly, would you have gone to jail?
I don’t think I would’ve gone to jail. These are Federal liens. It feels like tax debt. I don’t think I can take you to jail for defaulting on an SBA loan, but I don’t think you can bankrupt out of them. This would have hung over me forever. In eighteen months, I paid it off and I emerged from my cocoon. I was like, “We’re financially free. We don’t have to stress anymore.” She was like, “Screw you. Get out of here. I don’t want to be married to you anymore.”
Jeff, did you think that would have kept the marriage together?
I did. It wasn’t like after eighteen months, she had no idea what I was doing. All along the way, I would show her. I’m like, “I paid off $40,000 this month. I make more in 2 or 3 months than your dad makes all year. Give me some time. We’re going to be okay.”
She’s thinking, “We’re living in my parent’s house.”
Her parents were not my biggest fans and I have no hard feelings about any of it. My life is great now and the best stuff is happening. Finally, I emerged and moved to New York City. I did that for a year and I met my wife now.
Why New York?
Everybody has a current state and a desired state. As long as we’re making progress in that direction, we feel happy.
Can I say that on your show?
You can say that on my show. I want the real deal, raw and what’s going to help people. We all know life is not lollipops and rainbows.
I started attending these events. People would have me come speak and train at their events because I’ve got to be pretty well known as a good affiliate marketer. I was speaking at this event in Boca Raton, Florida, and I got a call from her and she said, “I want to move to New York because I want to go to Design School.”
I’m like, “I’m making money. I’ll pay for it. Let me finish up the event and I’ll meet you there.” I ended up going home, I got to pack, and then I ended up moving to New York with my bags. I’m ready to live in New York and make this new start with her. I’m at LaGuardia, I call her, and she doesn’t answer. An hour goes by and two hours goes by, and finally, it clicks like, “I think she moved here to ditch me.” I think she didn’t have the heart to say, “I’m going here and I don’t want you to come.” She let me come and she disappeared. She ended up moving in with a friend of hers who I knew and her friend would not tell me where she lived, and she would not tell me where she lived.
She’s like, “She went into witness protection.” I’m in the city like, “I’m here. Meet me for lunch, have a conversation with me, and let’s hash this out. If we’re not going to be together, I’ll leave. There’s no reason for me to live in New York.” She’s strung it along for three months. She would say that she was going to meet me, and then she wouldn’t.
As I said, when I make a decision, I’m serious about keeping it. To me, getting married was a decision. I was going to fight this. I was trying to fight for it and eventually, I’m not a masochist. I got the memo but by then, I had been in New York long enough. I started to enjoy it and I’m like, “I don’t have to leave. This is New York City.” I stayed for a year and I was at another event. I met Jacqueline, who I’m married to now. She lived out here in St. George, Utah. After a few months of long-distance dating her, I moved out here.
I have to ask, what was the second wife’s name? Give me the first name.
Her name is Laura.
Did you ever get a chance to reconcile that relationship?
No, I never got a great resolution for that.
The reason why I go there, Jeff, is because entrepreneurs were different. I would be shocked if there’s more than a handful and that’s being generous of entrepreneurs reading this blog that has not had some type of similar story. I think that people are relating, too. That’s why I asked you for that.
Her dad was a mechanical engineer. He was smart, but he was a corporate guy. He worked in an 8 x 8 office with no windows for 35 years straight. She married the wrong guy.
She initially married someone that she wanted to be, not like her dad, but lo and behold, she realized that’s not what she wanted. She might have done a bait and switched on it.
She was not neurologically equipped to deal with the stress and the chaos that I brought into her life. I recognize that I’m glad she’s free of that.
Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. There are peaks and valleys, so we get that. We wish her well. Maybe you don’t, but I do, and the story continues. Now you’re in St. George, Utah, which is a beautiful place. People ask me where I’m from even though I live in Connecticut now. I do say I’m from the center of the universe. Somebody once looked at me and said, “Chicago.” I’m like, “What?”
I’m in St. George now. I moved here in 2011.
What business are you doing?
When I got here, I was still on the tail end of my affiliate marketing days. From 2008 to 2012, I generated close to, give or take, about $10 million in commissions on the internet.
In the middle of a recession, mind you.
I was doing great. I moved out here. I was getting burned out on that business and I was always fighting with Google and algorithm changes. It was technical and annoying. I took about a year off to be here and get married. My wife had three kids at that time and I ended up adopting those kids, so they’re now my kids too, which is wonderful. That is the best thing that ever happened to me. In 2013, I started a digital agency. I said, “I’m ahead of the curve here on the shift from analog to digital in terms of marketing and advertising.” This was in 2013.
This is when your average local business owner, like a plumber, a roofer, a pizza parlor was tired of wasting money on Yellow Pages ads that didn’t work like they used to, and they were going, “I got to get in on this Google thing or this internet thing,” so I started an agency. We created some low-level products that would help small business owners migrate onto the internet off of their old paper and traditional advertising.
I scaled that a little over five years. We ended up doing close to $35 million in revenue in five years. I was the sole owner and had a 20% profit margin. I had a great life and was doing well. I ended up being on the Inc. 5000 a couple of times. In 2018, I sold that business to a software company that wanted the customer list.
All they wanted was the customer list?
They want to take my customers and migrate them onto their software. It was a small but multiple seven-figure exit, so I had a payday. I remember taking stock, and this was September 2018 when I did that deal. I looked at where I had been ten years prior. I have my tax return from ten years prior, where my income was negative $40,000 and I was $500,000 in debt. At that time, I was 39 and I was ready to retire.
I’m like, “I can’t stop. I got to tell everybody how I did it because there’s nothing I did over those ten years that the average Joe out there couldn’t have done.” I’m smart and persistent but put most of us against the wall and we can be smart and persistent. I have pretty high regard for what the average human is capable of, and most of it is about limiting beliefs, self-doubt, insecurity, taking on failure as an identity, and never letting go of that mean comment that our granddad made to us when we were six years old. There was nothing I did that anybody else couldn’t have done. I’m like, “I need to go start telling the world these different aspects of what I’ve done.”
First of all, professionally and financially. The mechanics of how did I use these new opportunities of the digital economy to create not only financial abundance but also an awesome lifestyle for myself, where I’m not having to commute and not having to clock into work. All these things have now become fashionable post-pandemic. I started creating for myself back in 2009 because I was using an online business.
Back then, you are a unicorn.
I’m like, “I need to teach people that.” I’m also passionate about both physical wellness, personal development, psychology, and stuff. I bundled together with this whole conversation that I started having online around how to level up your life? I started putting out free content in October 2018. I published my first video and these videos caught on. I think part of it is I wasn’t selling and asking for anything. I was a real person that had a real story that checked out. I was a dad, had four kids, and a husband. I seem to pass people’s sniff tests and I was having honest conversations about what it takes to be successful in the modern world.
Are these videos will put on YouTube?
I was putting them on Facebook and YouTube but mostly, I was getting a lot of traction initially on Facebook. I started that in September of 2018. By July 2019, which was about ten months, I had 2 million people watch my videos on Facebook. Facebook lets you retarget people that have watched your videos.
Your average college campus may be a change of environment, but that is not an environment that is conducive to success.
What I did was I put together a course called the ENTRE Blueprint. It takes about a week to go through. It’s a one-week class on the fundamentals of becoming a modern entrepreneur. I launched the course. I started running ads that targeted all the people that had seen my videos and it just caught on. I’m still selling that course. I’ve built a whole infrastructure behind it, but that’s now the bestselling online business course industry, I think.
What do you think it is about that course that so resonated with people?
We’ve sold 210,000 units of that course. It’s pretty crazy. Anybody that goes through it, you can see all the comments. They’re unfiltered. If somebody has a bad comment, we don’t filter it out or anything, but we never get them. What people always say is, “This is the first online business course that I’ve ever been through that tackles the entirety of my life and talks about physical.”
We have an anchor concept called the 3P’s, Physical, Personal, and Professional success in that order. I say a lot of stuff in this course that is counterintuitive if your goal is trying to sell courses on entrepreneurship because I’ll say to people, “If you haven’t demonstrated through consistent daily habits that you have the ability to take good care of yourself physically and then secondarily are next to the people close to you personally.”
“If you don’t have great relationships with yourself and the people close to you, by what right or sanity can you say, ‘I’m going to go out to the market and give value to thousands of people and expect them to pay me, transact and I’ll take great care of you all. Never mind the fact that I can’t take care of myself, but you can trust me with your money because I’ll take great care of you, Mr. Customer.’” That doesn’t even make sense. I’ll hit people where it’s at and be like, “You came here because you want to make a lot of money and build a successful business. Try getting up early and going to the gym for once.”
I don’t find that counterintuitive at all because I work with people in all different aspects of their relationships. Depending upon what platform I’m speaking at, I’ll ask the question, “What’s the most important relationship in your life?” If I’m talking to business partners, they’ll say my business partner.
If I’m talking to someone that’s entrepreneurs that are a couple, that talk about their intimate partner, I’m like, “No, look in the mirror. It’s you.” When you say that, they’re like, “Ah.” We’re at this juxtaposition of when you say you take care of yourself. Sometimes you’d be narcissistic out there. There’s plenty of narcissism out there but you can’t pour from an empty cup.
Self-interest is not narcissism.
Self-growth is not. That’s a great platform, and if you don’t take care of yourself in all the aspects, including physical, how are you going to have the energy to take care of anybody else?
I’ll tell you how I came up with this philosophy. I moved here as a successful internet marketer in 2011 and making decent money. Life is good. Moving in with my wife and her three kids, who I’m now beginning to become the father figure too, I had a lot of existential challenges, like, “Who am I? What do I stand for? What do I do for a living? What value am I creating in the world? How do I deserve the respect of these children?”
How old were the kids when you first moved in?
They were 8, 7, and 2.
The 8 and 7 were boys and the two-year-old was a girl.
I asked because you know the dynamics are different with boys and girls, but there’s nothing like having children in your life, in any capacity, but certainly living with them that makes you wonder about everything.
Here is the thing, they didn’t have to accept me as their dad. Their biological dad passed away, so there was a void, but it was still on me to earn the right to fill that void. I had a lot of questions about myself and we ended up going to therapy and did a lot of therapy. I’m a therapy junkie. I went to therapy to improve myself personally and to heal some emotional and psychological wounds.
I had no idea how much better therapy was going to make me at business. Things like empathy, responsive listening, thinking win-win, communicating softly, non-violent communication, and substituting encouragement for praise. All these concepts I was learning like parenting concepts or marriage concepts, I started applying them in business, and that’s why my agency did so well, honestly.
You don’t have to convince me. I started out doing marriage therapy and an entrepreneur asked me if I could do it for their business. I’m like, “I don’t know.” As you know, there are very few real business problems. There are personal problems that show up as business problems. Empathy and trust are key. I am so happy you had such a great experience because therapy can be a lot like coaching. There are great ones and there are horrible ones.
It’s a slow burn. It takes a lot of time. I’ve probably done 5,000 hours of therapy, either group work classes or individual sessions. I did close-knit group work for four hours a week for two years straight, helping people work through abuse and addiction. I became a light facilitator. I reached a level in the class where the therapists would have asked me a lot to help and support. I developed some proficiency or some competence in how humans worked.
It paid such dividends in business that, when it came time to create a business class, I ended up spending most of the class talking about physical self-care, physical habits, personal habits, personal communication style, and transactional analysis of human interaction, and then I would paint the picture of the business landscape like, “Here’s what’s out there.” It wasn’t like, “Here’s how to run a Facebook ad,” which I think is what people were expecting. It was so refreshing that it caught on.
It’s funny you say that because whenever I coach or consult, especially with businesses, I always first ask personal questions like, “Tell me what you’re comfortable with?” They’re always shocked because they always expect the business coach or a consultant to come in and go right to the bottom line. I’m like, “I need to know who you are because hopefully, you have a whole life outside of this job and wherever you go, there you are.”
If we’re working with them, it’s our business to show them that they’re missing a whole piece of themselves. If you think about it, being a parent, as you mentioned earlier, what is a better breeding ground for growth and being a parent? You could be having the best day on the planet. I have four kids too.
You walk in the door and your kids cut you to the quick. You could be walking on air and they say something. It’s the whole balance of life. You grow from it, you learn, and there’s brutal honesty there that you take that, you bring that into your business, and you’ll be very successful. I’m so impressed. Good for you.
I have a lot of friends in the online education space and these guru guys that make these courses. I remember talking to a few of them about it, and they’re like, “Jeff, that’s crazy. That’s not going to work. You can’t say that and you can’t lead with that. If people buy a business course, they do not want to hear about personal development and mindset. They only want the tactics.”
I’m like, “I refuse to give tactics to people that are not strategically and systemically equipped to be successful with those tactics. I’d rather tell them the truth upfront and then they can go refund the course.” Apparently, when you err on the side of radical candor and transparency, there’s an appetite for that. All these people that were supposedly going to refund instead, they ended up telling their friends.
You can’t teach a blind person to see. That’s what all these other people are doing. That’s why there’s so much noise out there.
It’s been an amazing ride. ENTRE is now the fastest-growing education platform in the world. We’ve roughly two and a half years in July 2021. I don’t want to beat my chest, but we’ve put up some pretty crazy numbers. We’re enrolling more students right now than every university in the State of California put together.
Who is your ideal client or person?
Honestly, that’s one of the reasons we’re successful is because we deal at a very fundamental human level. We’re not saying you have to quit your job, have certain technical skills, be naturally salesy and get on the phones. I want to make a TV show. I tried pitching this to a TV producer and I had the email wrong, so I need to find the guy and resend it.
I want to make a TV show where I work with ten ordinary people that make average incomes, health, relationship, lives, and give me a year. I don’t think there’s anyone on Earth that I can’t help find their path and unlock their potential of what they were born to be in this world. In ENTRE, we take them all. That’s why I think we’re doing well.
Stakeholder capitalism is buzzwordy and it’s all the new rage, but you have to mean it.
I know there are several and you’ve mentioned several, but what do you think is the biggest obstacle to most people’s success/happiness?
I believe very much in the concept that happiness derives from the sense of progress. If we’re moving in a direction that we see as roughly the desired state of our life, everybody has a current state and the desired state. As long as we’re making progress in that direction, we feel happy. Honestly, even if we never get there.
We could spend 85 years generally heading in that direction and never even arriving because you never arrive anywhere in life, I think we’d feel happy. The sense of feeling stuck or stagnant is synonymous in most cases with unhappiness or even a lot of depression and such. What we do with a lot of people is hacking away all the brush and pulling apart the foliage so they can see a path.
They can see a path in the modern world that reasonably leads to where they want to go, which we call Personalized Education. I think Uber has disrupted transportation. Airbnb has disrupted lodging. All these platforms have been disrupted but education hasn’t been disrupted yet. It’s been technologized and digitized, but it hasn’t been disrupted because until people are getting the education that is personalized and based on where they want to go with their lives and begins with their end in mind, all the stakeholders in education have an agenda for the students.
The colleges want you to be employed at certain places, be a part of certain alumni groups, and make certain alumni contributions. The employers want you to have certain majors. The professors, banks, credit card companies want this. The government wants you to take FAFSA loans and spend 25 years repaying them. Nobody has created a platform that is what we’re calling personalized education. That’s the category.
I think there’s an expression something about, “Don’t let school get in the way of your education.” I’d like you to address this. Education spent with some basic tenants. If you’re going to be an engineer and physician, there are certain skillsets you have, but for the average person, and by definition, most of us are average, education is supposed to teach us to think critically.
Now, that’s the process of it. That is the value of education so that we can understand, sort out, create, interpret knowledge. How can you address that challenge? I have two Master’s degrees, a Doctorate, and all these other certifications. I was a formal educational junkie. I don’t think I would be that not because everybody has an agenda for what they are teaching you. It’s almost like the news. Can you give me a newspaper or a channel to watch that is the facts? I can interpret them for myself. I don’t need some yin yang interpreting it for me. How has your platform addressing that?
We have something we call the Wheel of Growth. What we do is define all the different factors that contribute to where you are in life and the current upper limit of your potential in life.
Is that from Paul J. Meyer?
No, this is something we create. We quantify knowledge as an important piece of the equation but also your environment, which is your family, community, and society. For so many people, that’s the governor of their potential. That’s the foundation. Until they maybe do a lot of work, environmental restructuring, and even internal work, they’re never going to be able to transcend whatever thermostat setting their environment has set for them.
That environment, in fact, sets the internal.
Your average college campus may be a change of environment, but that is not an environment that is conducive to success. It’s conducive to a lot of other things. There are four parts to the Wheel of Growth and each part has three subparts, Knowledge, Environments, Habits. You are what you do every day. What does it say? We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not a virtue, but a habit, that’s Aristotle, and resources, your capital, your tools, your strategic relationships.
You can look at traditional education and say, “It doesn’t do squat when it comes to developing physical or personal habits.” There are three types of habits, Physical, Personal, and Professional. It doesn’t do squat for physical or personal habits. There are three types of knowledge, Strategic, Tactical, and Intuitive. For the most part, we only deliver tactical knowledge.
Your environment, school is of no benefit. You swap out one environment for another, in many cases, and resources, capital tools, and relationships depending on what degree you get. Maybe you’ll get some strategically valuable relationships. It’s going to hurt you on the capital side because you’re going to come out of it with debt, not credit. They don’t even come close.
What we do is we’ve built an ecosystem, a platform, that has strategic components that address every single aspect of that wheel. We educate the whole person and empower the whole person. We’re willing to have conversations that I think universities or our schools are scared to have. We’ll tell somebody, “You’re in a sales position and you’re 80 pounds overweight. Nobody is going to buy from you because they don’t trust the guy that can’t put down the donut.”
A guy can get away with it even more so than a woman, if the truth be told.
God forbid that a university says that to someone, but we will because they came to us to help them be successful.
We all know the truth.
They don’t want us to lie. We don’t get paid to lie to them. I guess we could, but we’d rather tell the truth and give them the complete puzzle set.
Here’s what’s so interesting to me. I’d love to say that I came up with this, but I didn’t. In the book, The Art of Impossible. As a relationship expert that drives the bottom line, I truly believe that. I always say, “All success, all of it, every aspect of your life, is predicated upon the ability to create, nurture and sustain healthy relationships.”
With the ultimate possibility talked about in terms of getting into the flow, and even though I knew this, they said it in a way where I was like, “I can finally speak about coherently.” People that have support systems and healthy relationships in their life will be more successful when faced with the challenge. It’s a gross oversimplification. Why? It’s because they have a cheering squad. As opposed to getting in their head, “I don’t know if I can do it.” I know I can speak for myself.
In everything I do, my husband is amazing, I’m like, “I don’t know.” He goes, “Are you kidding me? Of course, you can. If you don’t, you’ll learn an unbelievable support system.” He didn’t like my books. He’s not on this show with me now, but he created an environment that created a structure that supported me. It’s after 5:00 now and I haven’t even thought about dinner. As a matter of fact, I won’t think about dinner. He’ll think about dinner because he knows I’m doing this. That is invaluable. You don’t hear people talking about that in a business success capacity, but it sounds like you guys do that.
We teach people pretty profound concepts around communication. In the ENTRE Blueprint, I talk a lot about Nonviolent Communication, the work of Marshall Rosenberg, which you may be familiar with and retraining how people think. Are you a psychologist or a psychiatrist?
I have PhD in Clinical Psychology, but I do coaching. It helps me understand human beings.
You know all about Nonviolent Communication. As far as I know, at least in terms of online business courses, I’m the first person to connect that to how it’s going to help your professional life and how to help you build alignment, loyalty, camaraderie in a different culture within your team. I use this stuff every day inside of ENTRE, and I look at the culture. Now that we’re a big hyper-growth company, we have people that have come to us from Coca-Cola and LinkedIn. They’re like, “I cannot believe there is a successful company that has a culture like this.”
For the record, your company is known for having one of the best cultures.
That’s sweet to hear. Please elaborate. That’s exciting.
It’s true and I’m not going to say it to make you feel good. You talked about Coca-Cola and LinkedIn, an iconic brand. What are you doing? What did you create that differentiates you from everybody else? By the way, you’re the fastest-growing company online educational platform. What are you doing?
We had a conversation on a leadership development call. We’re in leadership development. I think our company has actual employees. It’s 130 counting key vendors and contractors of 190. I’m in the office and it’s only me in here. It’s down the road from my house. About a quarter of our company is part of a leadership development group, probably closer to a third. It’s over 50 people.
Jeff Bezos, we don’t have to love everything about him and people can take shots at Amazon, but the guy knows a thing or two about hiring great people. If you look at what Amazon has done and he has three conditions for hiring that he talks about. What I love about him is he has nothing to do with somebody’s technical or tactical aptitude for the role that being hired for.
He hires along three lines. 1) Is this person admiring? 2) Is this a person that will raise the level of effectiveness of any team they’re a part of? 3) Along what dimension will this person be a superstar in a way that has nothing to do with their job. What I was telling the team, I was like, “This is so cool because it assigns a qualitative value to the human being, not the worker in the role.”
Show gratitude to your people. 90% of all people that quit their job, when ultimately asked why, say it was because they didn’t feel valued.
In ENTRE, I want us to always be evaluating ourselves as managers and leaders, not by, is the work getting done? Are the boxes getting checked, but are my people thriving? Are they turning into superstars? Are they blossoming physically, personally, and professionally? The same thing that we teach our students, we must be the stewards and the best students of ourselves. There can be no hypocrisy here. Everybody that works at ENTRE knows they’re in a place where we genuinely want them to thrive.
We want them to say, “It’s been a year. I can’t believe that, working at this company, my marriage has changed because the energy I come home with every day or when I log off of Slack or Zoom or whatever is different. I’m in a different space.” We bring in metaphysics and qualitative concepts. We talk a lot about psychology.
We don’t differentiate between the result we’re trying to provide for our students and the result we’re trying to provide for our employees and our team, which is to create a better quality of life. The thing is we mean it. We just don’t say it. I know a lot of people say a lot of this stuff is buzzwordy and stakeholder capitalism is all the new rage, but you got to mean it. You got to be willing to lose money to mean it.
You know when you mean it when you give your people permission to fail. Now you fail, you fail fast, you fail forward and that person gets promoted. The last time somebody failed when companies say it’s okay to fail, and then now, of course, there are all these other variables involved. Richard Branson said, “Take care of the people and they’ll take care of the customers.” That’s a no-brainer. If you go to the corporate world, it’s such a broken bottom line every quarter. It’s inhumane. It’s lost all compassion.
You’re seeing it, and that’s why 4.5 million people a month are quitting their jobs and not going back. As far as I’m concerned, they can keep doing that because a lot of those people are coming to ENTRE.
One of my nieces has three girls. One of my other nieces has four boys. They’re both working. They’re home. The kids are home. They’re not home. They’re quarantining. I had four kids, my oldest daughter and identical twins. My third son was born and my oldest for two. I had three boys, two are preemies, two are under. That was not a walk in the park for a couple of years. It was great now, but for two years, my husband and I did not sleep more than two hours in a row. I’m not joking. I have the Baxter to prove it.
I had my daughter, so I had four kids in six years and no complaints. I am blessed. They are awesome, but I will tell you, I was exhausted when everything went according to plan. I’d be at work and like, “It’s a Wednesday. I’m getting out early.” I went on a coaching call with somebody and the CEO doesn’t care. It’s like, “Shoot me now.” I can’t imagine what working parents now are doing in this environment. You must be in the middle of it with the COVID and everything with your kids. Are you guys dealing with the whole kids at home or not home?
They were home for a while. They’re back in school now.
What about your employees? Do you know what they’re dealing with? Do you have your finger on that pulse?
It varies. We have employees or staff members in 11 or 12 different countries.
My point is when you address that whole person, that need will get met. There’s not a lot of companies out there doing that, and that’s why they’re flying.
The companies make this so complicated. If somebody is reading and you’re in HR or upper management at a big company, let me tell you, stop making it so complicated. Show gratitude to your people. Ninety percent of all people that quit their job ultimately asked why are because they didn’t feel valued and appreciated. It’s freaking free. You’ve got all these expensive initiatives. You’re installing foosball tables, cereal bars, childcare, and you’re building a library in your office that nobody even wants to be at. Let them know that you value them. How hard is that?
I said this to a CEO, what would happen if you picked up the phone and said to a middle-level employee, “How are you doing?” They’ll be like, “Good.” “I’m just checking in. I want to know how things are going.” Be nice. If you knew if they had a spouse, call them in the first name if you knew a little bit about them. They will get off the phone and they will start texting, “You’re not going to believe it. So and so text me.” That creates that culture of concern and caring.
I think companies should be taking the wind that they’ve been given to not try to bring people back to the office. You know what we don’t have in our company are cliques of cool good-looking people. We don’t have it because everybody is somewhat faceless. You know how it is. It’s like, “So-and-so in accounting is hooking up with so-and-so and HR now they’ve got a thing. They triangulate and they exclude so-and-so.” We don’t have any of that stuff. It’s a meritocracy. All communication bridges are equal. Nobody is in closer proximity to anyone else. I think that companies should be using this as an opportunity, not to try to get back to the way things were, but to own how badly and how miserable they made the workplace.
I read this before companies were saying, “We need people in the office because of the productivity.” Productivity went through the roof. Now they’re saying, “We need people back for the culture.” I think I read this on LinkedIn. They said, “Every time you read that and you see the word culture, substitute the word control. We need to control people.”
The problem is they’re trying to use an old solution for a new situation. It’s a new paradigm shift, but that’s a whole other conversation. I have a couple of questions for you before we stop because I could talk to you forever. I think our readers have gotten so much value. I am dying to know. Do you have the next gig in mind or are you still all in with this?
We’re going big with ENTRE. We’ve got ambitious goals for 2022. We’re right in the middle of a unicorn hyper-growth story. Even as a good entrepreneur, I could be an entrepreneur for 100 lifetimes and never have this opportunity again. We’re simultaneously disrupting and creating a category. We’re doing education what Airbnb did in hotels several years ago. I’m all in on this one and I’m going to see it through. I do have a book coming out in August 2022 I’m excited about it. This is called Escaping the Broken System. It’s like, get out of the ditch, the rat race and create your dream life, the new economy. It will be all over in bookstores. It’s not self-published.
It’s by BenBella Books. It’s coming out in spring 2022.
August 2nd, 2022 pub date. I’ll be doing the media circuit.
I want people to find out more about you, but I have two more questions for you. One is, what is a major misconception people have about you that you’d prefer not to correct?
I think it works pretty well. At least for the time that a lot of people think of me as like a guy that teaches you how to make money because money is the least interesting part of the whole equation for me to talk about. I recognize money as a long-term outcome of doing a lot of other things intentionally. If people think that Jeff has some magic oracle skill to anoint you to make it to be a higher-earning person, then that probably serves me.
I do think that’s a misconception because when people read about you and your company, there is a lot about that on the internet.
That’s what people want.
People see what they want to see. The other thing I’d like to know is, if you could be any musician in the history of the world, who would you want to be and why?
Honestly, Johann Sebastian Bach.
It’s because of his endless creative outputs and his ability to improvise. This may not mean much to a lot of people but he could improvise fugues.
What is that mean?
A fugue is a fairly complex melody line. Take a song that has a fairly complicated melody line. A fugue will take that line and start it at different times running it in parallel. It will start playing it and four bars later, it will start playing it again in a different hand. It might even cross it back up to her. Now one hand is playing the same line in the same hand but in different places in the line at the same time, and then it comes in a third line in the left hand.
He could improvise four-part fugues. The only way I can describe it is, imagine four people reading a poem at the same time but starting at different times and one person being at the center of that able to keep track of all of it and do it all themselves somehow. It’s hard to translate to non-musical terms, but the guy was a pheno.
Let people know how they can find out more about you or tell them about your book, whatever you’d like people to know.
Come to YouTube or Instagram and look for Jeff Lerner. I have about 700 free training videos on YouTube. You could spend months, if not years, learning from me for free on YouTube. I talk about all kinds of stuff. A lot of success, mindset, some tactical marketing, copywriting, some stuff that’s skills-based and then on Instagram, please follow me there but also be wary that there are some scammers out there in the world that like to pretend to be me.
How do they know?
I’m still going back and forth with Instagram and that is a whole separate conversation, but I’m the only @JeffLernerOfficial. If you follow JeffLernerOfficial and you get hit up by RealJeffLerner or JeffLerner.Official, I’m the only one.
Thank you, everybody. I knew Jeff would deliver. That was amazing and since I do know that you love this show, make sure you like, comment, share and subscribe to the show.
- Jeff Lerner
- Rich Dad Poor Dad
- The Art of Impossible
- Nonviolent Communication
- BenBella Books
- YouTube – Jeff Lerner
- @JeffLernerOfficial – Instagram
About Jeff Lerner
In 2019 he founded ENTRE Institute, the fastest growing education company in the world, where over 200,000 students have studied how to grow a business. In 2021 Jeff set his sights on solving one of his students’ biggest pain points and launched Entresoft which fast became one of the most popular small business software suites on the Internet. Jeff is also an active real estate investor with a personal portfolio nearing 8 figures. Jeff’s interest in entrepreneurship began in his 20s when as a pianist he was often hired to play in the homes of successful CEOs and business owners.
In 2008, at age 29, after multiple failed ventures including a restaurant franchise that left him with a half million dollars in debt, he found his first success online and paid off the debt in 18 months. He currently maintains an active schedule of speaking events and media appearances while working day-to-day in ENTRE, hosting a top 100 business podcast, growing his YouTube channel, and working on his first full-length book “Escaping The Broken System” which is scheduled for publication by BenBella Books in Spring 2022. He is married, an active father to 4 children, and still enjoys playing the piano 1 hour per day…