Aaron Young is a lifelong entrepreneur, trusted advisor to CEOs and business owner and creator of The Unshackled Owner, a program for entrepreneurs looking to build a business and not just a glorified job. He is Chairman/CEO of Laughlin Associates. His experience founding, acquiring and directing multi-million dollar businesses sets him apart from the crowd as a voice of real world knowledge and authority.
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- It’s completely fine to live somebody else’s dream for a little while, but be sure to recognize it and know that you have your own dreams, too.
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Time Stamped Show Notes
(click the time stamp to jump directly to that point in the episode.)
- [01:02] – Aaron started his first business when he was 18 years old
- [01:18] – He married at 22 years old and just celebrated his 30th wedding anniversary in Cuba
- [01:27] – They have 4 kids and a couple of grandchildren
- [01:43] – Aaron was on Episode 813 of EOFire
- [02:21] – Aaron’s area of expertise is in starting, buying, and selling companies
- [03:40] – One BIG and Unique Value Bomb: When working in a business, people sometimes lose the magic that is inside the business. Most people are doing things backwards – measure what you have to, and be fluid where you have to
- [05:20] – Worst Entrepreneurial Moment: Aaron’s first big company was in the cellphone business in the 1980’s. Aaron thought he knew better than the market, so he doubled down on the business while others were closing. He was completely wrong and ended up hundreds of thousands in debt while his wife was 9 months pregnant
- [06:37] – Aaron felt it was completely his fault
- [06:48] – The market knows better than any entrepreneur
- [07:38] – Aaron and his wife were both positive people, so they’ve always believed they would come back after filing bankruptcy
- [08:33] – Somebody came along and asked Aaron to work for him
- [08:58] – Aaron took the job
- [09:16] – He became Vice President for that company for 3.5 years before he resigned
- [09:41] – Aaron started companies after that experience
- [09:51] – It’s alright to live somebody else’s dream
- [10:35] – Entrepreneurial AH-HA Moment: Aaron was at his beach house with his wife. After a couple of weeks, people were questioning how he afforded to do that. Aaron was surprised that not all entrepreneurs knew how to build a business that they can leave running, without them actually being there
- [11:32] – Aaron put a post on Facebook asking if anybody was interested in learning how he did it
- [11:42] – Over a thousand people responded
- [11:57] – He taught an 8-week class
- [12:18] – People requested to make the class simpler and easier
- [12:37] – A whole new world opened up and Aaron founded The Unshackled Owner
- [13:44] – Most people are very busy being busy – they don’t a have a specific place they want to get to
- [14:24] – Founders stay in startup mode, forever
- [15:04] – Business owners know how to make money, but they don’t know how to build a business they can sell
- [15:37] – Productivity, for JLD, is producing the right content, and thus moving your business and life forward every single day
- [16:18] – What is the one thing you are most FIRED up about today? “I’m really loving teaching this class, which is a big surprise for me… and I’m doing a podcast!”
- [16:57] – Aaron is in the development stages for a TV show for small to medium sized businesses
- [18:01] – Don’t shy away from business
- [19:00] – The Lightning Round
- What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur? – “Nothing”
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? – “If you’re standing in line, you’re probably in the wrong place. If you’re with the crowd, you’re probably in the wrong spot”
- What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success? – “I make sure that I have a planned out, romantic date night with my wife every week”
- Share an internet resource, like Evernote, with Fire Nation – Mobile Passport
- If you could recommend one book to our listeners, what would it be and why? – Relentless – “A really great book about working hard enough to be the leader in your space”
- [22:12] – You CAN arrange your life the way you want it
- [22:21] – You can create your own power, your own magic, by just choosing to do that
- [22:49] – Get Aaron’s Freedom Formula on his website
- [23:11] – Connect with Aaron via email
Aaron Young: I am ready. I'm here, JLD. Let's go.
John Lee Dumas: Yes, love it. Aaron is a lifelong entrepreneur, trusted advisor to CEOs and business owners, and creator of the Unshackled Owner, a program for entrepreneurs looking to build a business and not just a glorified J-O-B.
Aaron, take a minute, fill in some gaps from that intro, and give us a little glimpse of your personal life.
Aaron Young: I started my first business that actually had employees and so on back at 18. I'm almost 53 now. And so, I've been signing my own paychecks for all these years. It's been a fun, interesting rollercoaster of an entrepreneurial ride.
I married a great girl when she was 19, I was 22, and we just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary over in Havana, Cuba. We've got four kids and a couple of grandkids, and just it's been a fun, fun way to live a life.
John Lee Dumas: Wow. Well, I love that, and I love that you're coming back on after, by the way, 840 episodes. You're joining us back on EOFire. You were Episode 813.
And, Fire Nation, it was a doozy of an episode. Aaron talked about his worst moment, and it involved jail, so that's always a little bit of a doozy.
And his greatest idea that he shared was just like this really cool idea that a lot of people could kind of shackle onto in a way and kind of understand what it took to become successful after having this great idea.
And what we're gonna be doing today is a little bit different because he's gonna be telling some different stories because obviously a lot's happened over the course of, a.k.a., 800 days since we last chatted.
But before we start, Aaron, on that stuff, what's your area of expertise, if you could break it down?
Aaron Young: Last time I was on, we talked a lot about asset protection and how to build a good foundation under your business. But the truth is, my whole life has been starting companies or buying and selling companies.
And so, I would say my areas of expertise is to see a cool opportunity or see something that's underperforming and get my hands on it and do something fun with it.
And even though, most of the times, when people hear me speak around the world, it's about one of the things one of my companies does, I think really my gift is finding that kind of missing key. What is it that's sort of not happening at its best, and how do we turn that key and get that company performing? That's really what I love to do, and I love working with the people in the businesses.
I'm not super smart, John. Really, I'm not. What I'm pretty good at is kind of an X-ray vision into the core issues. And, I don't know, I like that. I like being there, and I'm thankful that means I get to work with a lot of smarter people than me, which is always the best way to go.
John Lee Dumas: Aaron, what are some mistakes that people make when they just don't know, getting into your area of expertise? What's something that we, as entrepreneurs, should know about your expertise that we just don't?
Aaron Young: Super good question. I was asked to be the opening keynote in front of all these lawyers and CPAs who specialize in helping sell companies, helping get companies ready to sell.
And I said, "Well, you've got all these 800 professionals. Why do you want me to come? You know, this is all they do every day." And they said, "We need you to tell these lawyers and CPAs, what does a company have to – how do they have to be set up so they're worthy to be sold?"
And I think the thing that most people get wrong is that when you're working your business, especially if you're the founder, most people get things backwards. The marketing stuff, which everybody thinks you have to be this great, creative genius, really, marketing is about math and measuring stuff.
And then the people side of it and the deal-making side, that's all the artistic side, the creative side because if people get bogged down in, "Well, this is how we do it. This is how much we sell something for. This is how we hire people, how we −" if you get locked into stuff, you end up missing out on the magic inside the business.
So, most people are doing things backwards. They're not measuring what they should be measuring, and they're trying to be too rigid where they should be fluid. I don't know if that's too broad of an answer.
John Lee Dumas: It's pretty broad, Aaron, but we're gonna let you get away with it because you've got some good stories to share. And, anyways, most people bomb that question, so you can join that crew.
So, what would you say your worst entrepreneurial moment is to date? Of course, we talked about the jail, which you consider that time your worst, and maybe it still is your worst. But what's that other story that you have cooked up for us today that's really gonna get Fire Nation tingling?
Aaron Young: The jail thing was the lowest moment for sure. But before that, my first big company where I had a lot of employees, multiple locations, all this sort of thing, was in the cellular phone business in the '80s. And that whole business utterly changed in the early '90s.
And I was young; I was still, like, 28 years old or something. And the business all changed in one meeting, but I was pretty big and pretty successful and kind of cocky, and I thought I knew better than the market.
And while a lot of older people were shutting down the business, I kind of doubled down and went big. And I was completely and utterly wrong. I thought that my bravado would build and save the business, instead of really paying attention to the market.
And what ended up happening at this young age of 28 years old, I was hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, and while my wife was nine months' pregnant with our second baby, we were sitting in bankruptcy court trying to work things out. And we had to turn in our automobiles. We went from being on top of the world to being really, really dragging the bottom in about 18 months, and it was a very, very difficult time.
And it was the one time in my career that I felt that it was completely, as I look back, completely my fault because I thought I knew better than the market. And let me just tell you, folks, the market knows better than all of us do. That's why Warren Buffet's been so successful because he pays attention.
And I never have been in that position again. Even with the prison stuff, we still grew through that time because the business was paying attention to the market. I thought Aaron was so darn freaking smart that he could outsmart everybody else, and that was a bad time. But the good news was we've never even gotten close to it again because I've never allowed myself that vanity.
John Lee Dumas: Now, let's get to the turning point there though. So, you've obviously come back from that, but when you got to that point where you were in the court, and you were hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, what was that thing that took you from that low that started to bring you back up, I mean, didn't just get you there immediately, but what was that one speck of light?
Aaron Young: One thing I will tell you is that my wife and I are both pretty positive people, so we never felt that we were poor. We knew we were broke, but we never thought we were poor. So, we always believed we would come back.
And I have to tell you, the only time I've had a job in 34 years was after that bankruptcy. I tried starting a couple other small, little ventures with my basically zero dollars that I had, and they did okay. We managed to keep our house and our health insurance, and that was about it.
I wanna say this one little thing, too, because there are people out there listening to us that are in this position. For a while, my wife had two car seats in the back of her little, old, beat-up Hyundai, and the only way that she could start it was to roll-start it. So, she had to park on a hill anytime she stopped that car. And I was driving about a 450,000-mile Ford Taurus. I mean, we were struggling right then.
But somebody came along and asked me if I was interested in coming to work for him. He was CEO of a publicly traded company, pretty large 350-offices company.
And I went home, and I talked to my wife, and she said, "Honey, you're an entrepreneur. We can keep fighting it out." And I said, "Yeah, but I think we'd better do this because we got these babies. We've got to take care of these children." And I said, "I'm gonna take the job." And you should have seen my soldier of a wife just melt into this, "Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you." She would have stuck with me through the whole thing, but we needed to do that.
So, I took that job, and we did very well. I was the VP of sales for this big multinational for three and a half years, made so much money in the stock that I just went in one day on a whim, no problems or anything, I said, "Hey, this is your dream, not mine. I'm gonna give my notice."
And so, after three and a half years, I walked out of there, from being flat on my backside broke, to having run away for several years, and started buying companies.
John Lee Dumas: I love that phrase, "Hey, this is your dream, not mean." Fire Nation, how many of you are living that life right now because I know I was for a while, when you knew that you were living somebody else's dream, which, by the way, is absolutely okay. I had to get some bankroll. Aaron had to get some bankroll. That's part of life. We had to take care of business. We had responsibilities, etc. So, no harm, no foul in that.
But recognize it at least, so that doesn't have to be the end all, be all. You don't have to continue to push forward through that for 60 years. You can do it for three and a half years, come back and say, "Okay. I've done well. I've worked hard. Now, it's about me. Now, it's about my dream"
And shifting, Aaron, to that next story that I wanna really bring out of you is one of your greatest ideas that you've had to date. And, again, it's been 800 episodes, slash, 800 days since we've talked, so maybe one in the past few years that you've had that I think would be really cool for our listeners to get.
Aaron Young: There was no mention of this thing called the Unshackled Owner. That's all happened since you and I talked 800 days ago.
I was at my beach house. We were spending a couple of months at the beach, my wife and I. And at first, people get real excited for you on Facebook. Like, "Oh, it's so nice. That's so beautiful. That's so great." And then, after a couple weeks, they're going, "Oh, that's good. How long are you gonna be there?" And then, after a month, they start demanding answers, like, "How did you do this?"
John Lee Dumas: Seriously, tell me now. If I see one more picture of your feet and the ocean, I will kill myself.
Aaron Young: Yeah, what the heck is up with you, dude? And, seriously, my aha, I thought all business owners knew how to do this. I mean, I sincerely did. I've been so busy running my companies that I didn't know that people didn't know how to build something where you could leave it for an extended period of time.
And so, I put a little post on Facebook, and three paragraphs down, I said, "Would anybody be interested in learning how I do this stuff?" And over 1,000 people responded back to me, John.
John Lee Dumas: Wow, come on.
Aaron Young: No, I know, and that was my thought, too. I was, like, what the heck is going – I keep wanting to swear because these were such big moments, they were swear-worthy.
John Lee Dumas: Right.
Aaron Young: But, anyway, the point is, I thought – so then I said, okay, well, I'll teach a class, which I put together an eight-week class, which I'd never done before, ever. I'd never done like a coaching, training thing. So, I put this class together. I put it out. We had, like, a dozen people sign up for the first class.
And every class, I was sweating it, like, are these people – am I gonna be giving too much? Are they gonna go, "I've heard all this before"? And what it turned out was they said, "Can you simplify this class? Can you make it easier?"
And, all of a sudden, a year ago, April, I thought – so probably about two years from the time this airs, I went, "Oh, my gosh, people don't know this stuff." And it was like a whole new world opened up.
So, then I cleaned up how I put it out there, and then we've just been since kind of flooded with companies, not solopreneurs so much as people who have employees whose life has been taken over by their business, and they don't have a life.
So, they make money, they have a nice house, a nice car, but they don't go to the kid's birthday party, or they don't go to the baseball game or whatever, and we're showing them that there's a way. And that was the aha. I didn't know people didn't know how to do it.
John Lee Dumas: Well, Aaron, everybody gets a second chance on EOFire, and since you didn't do so great with your first chance at giving us that real specific tip, tool, or tactic, what's something you can tell us now that you were just shocked at, that again maybe you thought that everybody just knew and is that cursive knowledge because, of course, you had that cursive knowledge, so you knew it, but nobody else did?
So what's that one thing that you're just, like, wow, this is the thing that really, people, once they understand it, boom, they're off to the races?
Aaron Young: Yeah, okay. I'm gonna tell you, and I think you're gonna push back on me, my friend.
John Lee Dumas: What else am I here to do besides push back, right?
Aaron Young: I love it. I love it. You bring out such good stuff. I'm just gonna tell you, most – almost everybody I meet, whether they're running a million-dollar company or a $50-million company, they're very busy being busy, but they don't have a specific place they're trying to get. They're just trying to get another sale, get another deal, get another speaking gig, get another whatever. They're trying to make the next deal, next sale.
And what I learned from way back when I was 18 was build a business that you know exactly what you want it to be when it grows up. And then what happens is you get there a lot faster because you're working towards a specific outcome instead of just working towards making more money.
And this is why so many businesses fail because the founders stay in startup mode forever, and they never learn how to mature the company to where it doesn't require them to be the only key employee, and they actually go, "Oh, I arrived somewhere."
I think I've watched you, as I've listened to your podcast over the years, your money has come from different places −
John Lee Dumas: Totally.
Aaron Young: − because you show your financials. It's because you've matured it out of just selling a course −
John Lee Dumas: Yeah.
Aaron Young: − to becoming a major media outlet. And your company's changed, and you've written these books, and you've done these Kickstarters. You've matured your company, so you're not just a great podcaster. You're like a leader, a thought leader.
Most business owners and I bet a lot of the ones you've interviewed, they know how to make money, but they don't know how to build a business that they could actually sell because it's still 100 percent dependent on them. And as long as you're in that zone, you're always gonna be a slave to that company.
John Lee Dumas: Well, listen, you're not gonna be getting any pushback from me on this because I just got done with the entire campaign of the Mastery Journal, which is all about mastering productivity, discipline, and focus.
And to zero in on the productivity part of it, my whole thing behind that is, listen, everybody thinks that they're busy, and you can be incredibly productive and efficient, but not get the right stuff done.
Being productive for me, my definition, the JLD definition is producing the right content that's moving your business and life forward every single day, not just getting that next sale, not just getting that next follower, but building something so that you can go to an island like Puerto Rico and put your feet up for a few weeks and still have that business running or make it saleable down the road.
So, no pushback here, could not agree more. This is something that you want to be thinking about, Fire Nation, as you're spending your time intraday. Hey, am I just working on that next thing, or am I working on the overarching vision and goal that I wanna be building here?
Now, Aaron, for you, fast-forwarding to today, right now, what are you most fired up about?
Aaron Young: Thanks for asking. So, I'm really loving teaching this class, which is a big surprise to me. I never saw myself as that guy. But I'm loving it because I'm hearing great stories, so I'm enjoying that. I'm doing a podcast.
John Lee Dumas: Yes.
Aaron Young: I had a good podcast a while called, The Lookout, which was great, but it didn't have any real outcome. So, we started the Unshackled Owner podcast, which I'm loving. And that led to me speaking – okay, I'm gonna announce something that I have never told anybody right now. And this is one of those deals where I could fall on my face, but I'm gonna tell it to you anyway because – I don't know – you brought the jail story out of me for the first time, too.
John Lee Dumas: I love it.
Aaron Young: So, here's the truth. I was sitting on a panel recently with a vice-president of Paramount Studios, and at the end of the panel, she leaned over to me, quietly whispered in my ear and said, "I wanna put you on television."
So, we're in development of a television show that will be a real show. I don't know. It's pretty cool. I've never been through this Hollywood stuff before, but it's gonna be a really cool, small-business, small-medium-sized business show, live audience, kind of What Not to Wear meets Dr. Phil. And so, your audience that has ever watched enough cable, they'll know what I'm talking about.
That's what I'm really excited about because it's outside of anything I've ever done. And the cool thing, Fire Nation, is, listen to this: I said to her later, "Why did you move so quickly with me on doing this?"
And she said, "Most people, if you mention something about, 'Would you like to be on television?', they hem and haw, like, 'Oh, I don't know. Why would you want me? Blah, blah, blah,'" and she said, "You said yes and even had an idea for what to do." And she goes, "That separates you from about 99.9 percent of the rest of the people out there."
John Lee Dumas: Interesting.
Aaron Young: So, don't shy away from opportunities, guys. Here's something about being in a successful business. Successful, really successful people, they might be busy, anxiously engaged in a good cause, but they have time to stop and do whatever they feel like doing. They can always shift gears and say, "Oh, yeah, I can meet with you. Oh, yes, I can −" I mean, John, I hope that's been your experience. It's not that they're not busy. They're not sitting around on the beach, at the pool, but they have flexibility, and they control their time. Time doesn't control them.
John Lee Dumas: That has totally been my experience. And congratulations on wherever this goes, just because you said yes. So, even if nothing happens, you can at least look back and be proud that the fact that, hey, I stepped up, you know, I put myself out there, and we're gonna see what happens. And that's really exciting stuff.
So, Fire Nation, when are you gonna say yes next? And, hopefully, it's at your next opportunity. Now, don't you go anywhere. Aaron, we're about to crush the lightning round after we thank our sponsors.
Aaron, are you ready to rock the lightning rounds?
Aaron Young: Okay. I'm ready, I'm ready.
John Lee Dumas: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Aaron Young: Nothing, nothing. I started at 18. But I will tell you what was holding me back. I played relatively small, local for a long time. I had to finally get the confidence − like I did with the TV thing – I had to get the confidence to say yes to playing a national game, a bigger game. So, I would say, if there was anything holding me back from my destiny, it was not being brave enough to think big.
John Lee Dumas: What's the best advice you've ever received?
Aaron Young: If you're with the crowd, you're probably in the wrong spot.
John Lee Dumas: What's a personal habit that contributes to your success?
Aaron Young: I make sure that I have a planned-out romantic date night with my wife every week. I'll tell you, when my marriage is in flow and just perfect, which is most of the time, I can accomplish anything. When that's even a little kinky, a little off track, it pulls my brain. So, I make sure that my most important relationships are always in good shape.
John Lee Dumas: Yeah. Another way that I'll put that is, there's a great book by Cal Newport called, Deep Work, and he talks about residue. When something in your life isn't quite right, you might think that you can turn it off and shift somewhere else, but there's always this residue that's there from anything that you're doing. So, you've got to take care of the important things.
Aaron, share an internet resource like Evernote with Fire Nation.
Aaron Young: So, I'm doing a lot more international travel, and I was recently turned on to something called Mobile Passport, and you just walk right through customs and Immigration, like, boom. You fill it out four hours before you get off the plane. You put all your info in it. It gives you a QR code. You walk in. All they do is scan it, and you're done. You skip the lines. It's very cool.
John Lee Dumas: Mobile Passport, is that something where you just get off the plane, and then you can actually just go, and they have a special line for you?
Aaron Young: Yeah, yeah, you follow the yellow stripe, and it's just you skip all the lines. You have everything in there for all your immigration – I mean, you still have to go through, when you're going into a country, you have to get your passport stamped. You have to look at that. But all the stuff coming back into the States, it's like, I'm telling you, it's five minutes. You're through all of customs and immigration.
John Lee Dumas: Wow.
Aaron Young: It's amazing.
John Lee Dumas: If you could recommend just one book, what would it be, and why?
Aaron Young: The book – because I'm gonna give you a different answer than 813 – my current favorite book is Relentless by Tim Grover, really a great book about working hard enough to be the leader in your space. And it's not just good and not just great, it's relentlessly, like, awesome, and it's a great book.
John Lee Dumas: Aaron, let's end today on fire with a parting piece of guidance, the best way that we can connect with you, and then we'll say goodbye.
Aaron Young: Warren Buffett has a quote. He says, "I really like my life because I've arranged my life, so I can do what I want." I just want everybody to know that you can arrange your life, so it can be the way you want it. You don't have to be always blown by everybody else's winds. You can create your own power, your own magic, and make your life the way you want it.
But you have to choose to do that. And if that sounds cliché, it's way more than just talking points. You have to do the work to change your life, but if you do it, you're gonna own your life, and it's gonna be better than you've ever imagined.
If you wanna learn how to get a hold of me, or if you wanna learn sort of my overarching thesis for how we're teaching that, you can go to theunshackledowner.com/fire, theunshackledowner.com/fire, and get my freedom formula. It's the exact things that we're teaching – it's the exact format of everything I'm teaching at every level, and it will give you the exact recipe to create the life that you wanna have.
And if you wanna write directly to me, you can write to [email protected], and I will respond to you, and I'll tell you what. I don't care how many downloads Entrepreneur on Fire gets; almost nobody will write to me, so I can confidently give my private email, [email protected] −
John Lee Dumas: Oh, Fire Nation, let's prove him wrong, [email protected]; that's correct?
Aaron Young: Yeah, yes, sir.
John Lee Dumas: Fire Nation, just send him a thank you. Just send him a question. Just send him a blank email – just kidding; don't do that.
Fire Nation, you're the average of the five people you spend the most time with, and you have been hanging out with AY and JLD today. So, keep up the heat, and head over to EOFire.com, type Aaron in the search bar, and this show notes page will pop right up, as well as Episode 813, which was epic. Listen to that one, as well. These are the best show notes in the biz, timestamps, links galore. Go check it out.
And, of course, head directly to theunshackledowner.com/fire for your gift courtesy of Aaron Young. And email [email protected], say what's up, say hello, prove him wrong.
Aaron, thank you for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today. For that, we salute you, and we'll catch you on the flipside.
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