Jeff Desjardins is from Vancouver and Founded Visual Capitalist, a media site that creates and curates enriched visual content focused on emerging trends in business and investing. Founded in 2011 and reaching millions of investors each year, Visual Capitalist’s work has been featured in Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insider, The New York Times, and has even reached the front page of Reddit.
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John Lee Dumas: Entrepreneur on Fire 800 in three. Boom, shake the room, Fire Nation. John Lee Dumas is here, and I am fired up to bring you our featured guest today, Jeff Desjardins. Jeff, are you prepared to ignite?
Jeff Desjardins: John, if you’ve got the matches, I’ve got the gasoline.
John Lee Dumas: Love it. Jeff is from Vancouver, and founded Visual Capitalist, a media site that creates and curates enriched visual content, focused on emerging trends in business and investing. Founded in 2011 and reaching millions of investors each year, Visual Capitalist work has been featured in Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insider, The New York Times, and even has reached the front page of Reddit. Jeff, I’ve given Fire Nation just a little insight, so share more about your personally and expand upon the biz.
Jeff Desjardins: In the bio, I’m from Vancouver, BC in Canada, and yeah, I’m just coming to the end of my 20s, in my last year of my 20s now. Been an entrepreneur since about 2011, when I started Visual Capitalist. I actually started doing some consulting and stuff before that, which sort of led into it. And yeah, I’m a pretty average Canadian. I like hockey, all that good stuff.
John Lee Dumas: So Jeff, we’re going to do a deep dive into your journey, my friend. So we’re going to talk about your successes. We’re going to talk about your aha moments. We’re going to talk about your failures. In fact, that’s where we’re going to start. But before we dive into that, share with us a success quote and why you chose it.
Jeff Desjardins: My success quote is out of Onward, which is a book by Howard Schultz which is – he’s the CEO and founder of Starbucks. So my quote is “going against conventional wisdom is the foundation for innovation.” I feel like if you’re following conventional wisdom, you’re not going to disrupt anything. You’re going to be faced with tons of competition as an entrepreneur or business person. And yeah, just some of the stories recently, especially in the technology industry, of people disrupting the space, it’s all about questioning that conventional wisdom. Like if you look at something like Uber, I mean when you think, if you want a ride somewhere, the conventional wisdom is I’ll take a cab.
But Uber said, no, let’s build a whole new paradigm that completely changes everything. And yeah, it’s just about – I guess that’s one of the ways to find opportunity is to question that conventional wisdom.
John Lee Dumas: Yeah, and you even look at this month’s Inc. Magazine, and they’ve put their entrepreneurial company of the year as Air B&B. I mean talk about a disrupter. This is a pretty controversial choice, to be honest with you, because here you have a major magazine saying, Air B&B is the best entrepreneurial company of 2014, and you know, here we are, Jeff, we’re actually chatting right now to Fire Nation on the 2nd day of 2015, so it’s going to be kind of crazy to see what the No. 1 show of this – or the No. 1 company of this year ends up being. But the reality is, there’s a lot of people that are upset at Air B&B.
There’s a lot of massive hotel chains. There’s a lot of governors and mayors and governments in general that are just furious because they feel like Air B&B is somehow endangering humanity and doing all these other things. But guess what? They’re disrupting, they’re thinking at things a different way, just like Uber, just like Lift, just like Cy-Car, like you were mentioning. So really cool stuff. It’s setting a good stage and a good theme and a good focus for our chat today, Jeff. And now it’s time to talk about you, your journey, your failure. Take it away.
Jeff Desjardins: Yeah, I’d like to start on the failure front. I’d like to start with another quote actually, from, this time from Winston Churchill, and you can’t leave him out of the conversation if you’re going to go for quotes.
John Lee Dumas: Never.
Jeff Desjardins: Yeah. Success is not final; failure is not fatal. It’s the courage to continue that counts. So I don’t see a failure as being an absolute event that happens as some sort of beginning or end or any sort of thing like that. I think it’s all part of the process. And so this failure helped set me up for what I’m doing today, and it’s just something that was part of the process along the way.
John Lee Dumas: I’m excited.
Jeff Desjardins: It’s a very – it’s not some sort of mind-blowing moment. It’s more of a personal story of me, now as an entrepreneur, thinking, okay, I’m an entrepreneur. This is what I’ve always wanted to do. I set up a very strategic meeting with someone that I think could be a big piece of business for me. So I head over to his office and at this time, I’m consulting with public companies about investor relations and marketing and things like that. And so I show up at this guy’s office. I had met him at a networking event previously. And I got into the room and I didn’t know what to say at all. I didn’t have any – I wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t able – like I knew that I knew important stuff that could help his business, and change the way that they’re operating for the better.
But I wasn’t able to communicate it. And so it just ended up being a complete dud of a meeting, a complete bombing. And I got home and I was just like, I can’t believe I did that, and I didn’t show up basically.
John Lee Dumas: Let’s kind of do more of a deep dive here. Because there’s a lot of things that we can pull out from duds. There’s a lot of things we can pull out from just failures and flops. Like when you put yourself in that room, Jeff, like what’s going through your head? Like what are you thinking you want to get across? And looking back in hindsight, which of course is 20/20, how do you approach that situation differently? And I’m not talking about preparation-wise. That’s already out the window. What would you have done in that room?
Jeff Desjardins: Well first of all, I felt way over my head. And I think that that’s an intimidating factor for people, all entrepreneurs. Because at some point, you’re going to feel completely over your head, and you just have to be comfortable with it, and you have to take command of the situation, and you have to be able to take things back to the track that you want to talk about, the things that you want to talk about, how you can help them. And don’t worry too much about them because they’re going to try and dictate the conversation. So from my perspective, I guess I just had to really bring things back to the things that I knew, being able to communicate those points, showing how I could help this potential client, all of those factors.
And instead, I just kind of flopped it.
John Lee Dumas: Okay, so let’s just do this. For Fire Nation, pull out one thing that you really want us to walk away with. Just not even from specifically that failure moment, but just from your knowledge, Jeff, of what you’re acquired now. Like what’s something that we, our listeners, myself included, can learn from your struggles in life, from your failures, from your setbacks.
Jeff Desjardins: That’s an excellent question. For me, and one theme, I guess, that applies throughout my life and throughout my entrepreneurship is the theme of positive optionality, which is something that I got from one of my favorite books, which is by Nasim Taleb, Through the Black Swan and Anti Fragile, but it’s just about being able to evaluate risk and evaluate opportunities under uncertainty, and being able to pick out those opportunities that have the positive optionality where you’re not laying down a lot on the line, yet you have the opportunity to really prosper off of it, in the event of uncertainty.
John Lee Dumas: Fire Nation, all we have is time. So we need to identify which opportunities actually have the opportunity to have a great return. Because if they don’t, then we need to just pull out of that and spend our incredibly valuable and limited time on other things. And there’s a great book that just came out recently, Jeff, by Anthony Robbins called Money. And to talk about this in kind of the investment perspective, all of the top investors that he interviewed for this book – and they were the top investors in the world literally – every single one of them said, “I always limit my downside and keep my upside as wide open as possible.” So much so that some people have only a 3 percent downside.
And then of course, an unlimited, 1,000 to 2,000 to 10,000 percent upside. Those are the kind of games you want to be playing, and those are the kind of odds that you want to be focusing on, Fire Nation. So identify and evaluate, is your time being spent in those type of situations? And Jeff, let’s shift, my friend, now to an aha moment, to a light bulb, an epiphany. Tell us the story, Jeff. I want to be there with you when you have this moment. Go.
Jeff Desjardins: Okay, like many other entrepreneurs, I think that the aha moment can come from taking the lessons from one industry and applying it to a new one. And so that is sort of – like my background is in marketing and media. I was in the advertising space and the media space, and then I ended up consulting for these companies in the capital market. So publicly traded companies that are trying to reach investors and trying to get exposure. These are typically smaller companies, small mid-cap companies, that really want to get out to a public audience.
So when I started consulting for these companies, the first thing that I realized was that 1) they’re forced to pay a lot of money to push their media through all of the pre-established sort of cookie cutter media websites to get exposure to an investor audience. And then the second thing is that everything was just covered in text, and there’s not really anything enticing or shareable or interesting, and it’s really hard to understand all the lingo and stuff that these companies are using. So as an average investor, you feel sort of alienated looking at their content.
So basically this big graphic came across my desk, an infographic that someone had sent me. I said, “Wow, what a cool way to explain a concept to someone.” And we decided to take that and apply that to public companies so that they can use visual content that’s shareable and has that organic reach, and has the potential to go viral, to use that content to reach a whole new audience that they were not reaching before. Paying to disseminate your content sucks, and so you want people to pick it up and spread it for you. You want people to share it with their friends. And that’s how you use the scalability of the Internet for better.
So the aha moment was just saying, “Let’s take this great idea that I’ve seen used for all these other purposes, apply it to a new industry, and see what happens.”
John Lee Dumas: So Fire Nation, here Jeff was. He saw something that someone was doing right, and he picked up on it. He saw the opportunity to apply that in other areas, and that can be replicated in so many different fields, so many different niches, so many different industries. It’s a great way to just double down on what’s already working out there in a new way, in a new light, with a new twist. So Jeff, what do you want Fire Nation to really absorb from that aha moment that you had?
Jeff Desjardins: Yeah, again, it’s sort of the over-arching theme here, it’s 1) take something that’s conventional knowledge. So they were all rolling with the plan that they’ve used for 10s, 20s of years, of just – it’s all very text-based and cookie cutter, and all stuck through the same media outlets, and they’re all getting overcharged. And I just said, “Okay, well that’s the conventional way of doing things.”
John Lee Dumas: All right, Jeff, I’m going to break in here for a second. Just take a deep breath. We’re going to cut this part out. Just give us one clean take-away.
Jeff Desjardins: Sure. Okay. Yeah, I just think it’s all about looking at the conventional wisdom of the situation and finding a way to disrupt that.
John Lee Dumas: So Jeff, what I want to do now is continue to move forward and have you continue to really take us to these moments in your journey, in your life. And you’ve been featured on Reddit, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes. What is your proudest entrepreneurial moment? Take us there. Describe that to us.
Jeff Desjardins: Sure. So the proudest entrepreneurial moment was when we figured out that we were onto something. It wasn’t necessarily the actual big moments, but it was that one moment where you realize, you know, this could actually – this could be something. For us, we had been taking a really iterative approach of trial and error, and you do something, and nothing really happens. But you didn’t really risk that much. And then you try something else and then you get maybe a little bit more of a reaction and you’re slowly getting better and better. And about three years ago is when we had that sort of positive optionality come through.
We started taking these visual pieces, the infographics and data visualizations, and they had not been getting that much traction up to that point. We had been doing them for press releases of companies. We had been doing them for over-arching views of companies, and then finally, we had this opportunity to explain an entire industry for a client in a new industry that nobody really understood. So we put this piece together, and then all of a sudden, our entire website and traffic blew up. Everyone was calling us because it had spread virally through all the different ends of the industry.
And for us, I mean that was the moment that we realized that we were on to something, and that’s when I knew that we had to keep doing what we were doing and make it better. And that was my proudest entrepreneurial moment.
John Lee Dumas: See, Fire Nation, a book comes to mind here. Seth Godin’s great book, The Depp. I mean you’re always going to have these moments where you plateau, where you start to kind of feel like you’re slipping backwards, or you’re just not getting the kind of traction that you want. But if you just keep persevering, if you keep putting things out there, if you keep asking for feedback and engaging, then you can start to see some results. But it takes that perseverance. It doesn’t just take throwing one dart out there into the universe, and expecting to hit a bulls-eye. It’s a process, and Jeff is all about the process.
And Jeff, bring us to today. What is the one thing that has you the most fired up right now?
Jeff Desjardins: Today, it’s just having – just like you, having a great audience that spreads and gets your content out there. But for me, we also have another side business that we started about a year ago. And that is one of the things that I’m very fired up about today. Basically we – and it’s sort of a tangent, but sort of not. It’s more on the financial and trading side. But we essentially, we found that a lot of these companies that we we’re dealing with, that investors are having a hard time comparing them. And so we created this completely new way of doing investment research on these companies by comparing 20 to 25 different quantitative variables, and essentially coming up with a score for each company, based on all their publicly available data.
John Lee Dumas: So like a clout score, but for these investment companies?
Jeff Desjardins: Exactly. And so what’s really cool about it is it’s a completely objective, independent view that’s using quantitative and empirical data that’s already out there, so you know that we’re not making it up or anything. It’s all coming from the same spot, and you see where it’s coming from. And as a result, as an investor, I like to – a clout score is a good way to put it. I like to think of it as sort of a credit score. So if you’re an investor and you’re looking at a company, and they’re rated a 20 out of 100, then you know that you might want to do some more due diligence before you throw some money in that stock. But if someone’s a 70 or an 80, you can tell that there’s a lot of metrics that are going their way.
John Lee Dumas: So that’s a –
Jeff Desjardins: That’s called Ticker Scores, by the way, sorry.
John Lee Dumas: No, no. Go ahead. Say that one more time.
Jeff Desjardins: Yeah, that’s our –
John Lee Dumas: Yeah, but just pretend like I didn’t interrupt you. Just say what the name of the company is.
Jeff Desjardins: Yeah, the company is Ticker Scores, and we started it at the end of last year.
John Lee Dumas: So Fire Nation, again, you’ve just seen that Jeff’s just keeping his eyes open. He’s seeing opportunities that are out there. He’s taking them as they come. He’s providing value, and that’s huge. And Jeff, we are about to enter the lightning round, my friends. But before we do, let’s take a minute to thank our sponsors. Jeff, welcome to the lightning round, where you get to share incredible resources and mind blowing answers. Sound like a plan?
Jeff Desjardins: Loving it.
John Lee Dumas: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Jeff Desjardins: As a kid, I’d always dreamed of being an entrepreneur. I remember being on Geocities when I was 13 years old, with a website that was a web design business, even though I basically didn’t know how to design anything. And obviously I’m 13 and using Geocities site-building application. So that didn’t go anywhere. But I definitely had that mindset since the very beginning. It was always a dream of mine. But in terms of holding me back, I guess I just had to go out and do it. I just never completely felt comfortable with it, as a lot of entrepreneurs are in the same situation, I think. For me, I wanted to get a bit more life experience behind me before I actually went out and did it.
And it all really stemmed from, in 2008, I was working in the marketing and media industry, and I ended up being in a car crash. And we actually – I walked out without a scratch. There was about $25,000 to my car. My car was completely totaled. I quit my job and went and traveled for eight months to 21 different countries. Came back and I said, “You know what? Now is my time to do this. Life is short and let’s start a company.”
John Lee Dumas: Boo-yah. Jeff, what’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Jeff Desjardins: I would say this is more life advice, but I think it’s also applying to entrepreneurship. It was from one of my profs in university, and he was a really young prof, really energetic. And he basically told us, don’t get financially tied up in your 20s and when you’re young. If you get stuck in a mortgage too early or if you get married and have kids too early, even though that’s for some people, for me I knew that I have more options and more flexibility without that. And so I definitely took his advice to heart. He was doing all kinds of cool things. Like, he was doing his PhD while he was remotely traveling through Europe and other places in the world. And I just thought that was such an inspiration.
And so I’ve always lived with that sort of mantra of – at least up until now – don’t get tied down too early and just experience life. Travel, try and learn as much as you can, and there’s always time for that other stuff later.
John Lee Dumas: So Fire Nation, what Jeff is saying is that getting married, having kids, will truly ruin your entrepreneurial dreams. Jeff –
Jeff Desjardins: Exactly. No, not quite, but –
John Lee Dumas: Totally kidding. Jeff –
Jeff Desjardins: – but having flexibility, right?
John Lee Dumas: – share one of your personal habits that you believe contributes to your success.
Jeff Desjardins: Sure. For me, it’s about self-knowledge, continual learning, and rational humility. I know that I don’t know everything, and I’m always reading, podcasts just relentlessly. Like I don’t have too many other habits that I think stand out, but this is one thing that I know is true every day. It’s a steady diet of books, podcasts, everything to keep you learning, business news – everything from philosophy to history to economics. I’m just an information sponge. I love learning. So I think that for entrepreneurs, just keep learning and keep getting new knowledge.
John Lee Dumas: I love that phrase, rational humility. Love that. Jeff, if you could recommend one Internet resource, like Ever Notes, what would it be?
Jeff Desjardins: Can I give you a resource and a podcast?
John Lee Dumas: Sure. As long as the podcast is Entrepreneur Fire. Just kidding.
Jeff Desjardins: So my resource is Slack. I know that it’s become quite a big thing over the last little bit. It has over a $1 billion valuation now. But essentially it’s collaborative software. And we’ve been using it as a company for the last few months here, and we love it. It’s just so intuitive and simple to use, and it really does help cut down the amount of work and communication we need to do as a team. And then my podcast is not super business related. It’s Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History.
John Lee Dumas: That’s so good.
Jeff Desjardins: Which is so good. And to us, I mean with our work that we do, we do a lot of storytelling through our infographics and things that we do. And the storytelling that Dan does is just mind blowing, and I learn something every time from him, and I can’t get enough of him.
John Lee Dumas: I just wish he would actually have a daily podcast like me, instead of a quarterly podcast.
Jeff Desjardins: I know, I know. Quarterly four-hour podcast.
John Lee Dumas: They are epic when they come out. And Jeff, if you could recommend one book for our listeners, what would it be and why?
Jeff Desjardins: Yeah, I would have to go back to a combination of Black Swan and Anti Fragile by Nasim Taleb. It just changed my perspective on risk so much. And it was one of those – like a lot of books that you read, you pick up a thing here and there, and you’re like, “Okay, that was interesting.” For me, Black Swan and Anti Fragile just turned my world upside down. For anyone that invests or anyone that’s an entrepreneur, there’s just so many things that apply to decision making and uncertainty, risk, forecasting, and all these different areas. And he also has this really cool ability to combine information and work from the classics in philosophy, and weave it into it. It’s just such an eye-opening book to me.
John Lee Dumas: Yeah, and Fire Nation, I know that you love audio, so if you haven’t already, you can get an amazing audio book, like either one of these, for free at eofirebook.com. Jeff, this next question’s the last of the lightning round, but it’s a doozie. Imagine you woke up tomorrow morning in a brand new world, identical to earth, but you knew no one. You still have all the experience and knowledge you currently have. Your food and shelter is taken care of. But all you have is a laptop and $500. What would you do in the next seven days?
Jeff Desjardins: In seven days? Okay. I’m of the school that I don’t think you have to have an earth-shattering idea initially to be a successful entrepreneur. I think you have to – like I like to work with as much fluidity as possible, and to be organic as possible. And having that rigid and stubborn plan is not really my way to go. So I live to pivot and have as much information. I think in that situation, with $500 and a laptop, my goal would be to meet as many people out there, visionaries, experts, try new things, and find opportunities that way to take advantage of, and just keep on going until you find an opportunity that can blow your mind.
And it can be the smallest thing or the biggest thing, but it’s all about information, talking to people and learning new things. So I don’t have a specific thing, but more of a strategy of how to find something.
John Lee Dumas: Jeff, let’s end today literally on fire, with you sharing just one parting piece of guidance, the best way that we can connect with you, and then we’ll say goodbye.
Jeff Desjardins: Sure. I think that my parting piece of advice is yeah, keep hungry and keep looking for opportunities, and yeah, it’s all about finding stuff with limited risk and lots of potential upside. And for us, we focus a lot on that on our website, which is www.visualcapitalist.com, which is a business and finance site. It’s all done through only visuals, so infographics, data visualizations, and it’s all stuff we create or curate from other places on the Web. And you can subscribe to our daily emails and all of our good social media stuff at visualcapitalist.com/subscribe.
John Lee Dumas: Fire Nation, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with, and you have been hanging out with Jeff and myself today. So keep up the heat and head over to eofire.com. Just type Jeff in the search bar. His show notes page will pop right up. And Jeff, thank you for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today.
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