Noel Wax is a former CBS VP executive turned entrepreneur. As President of GroundSwell Group, a cause-marketing network that connects brands with their consumers through the causes they support, he has cultivated a culture of corporate social responsibility at GroundSwell Group and inspires those around him to push the envelope.
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- Face your fears head on.
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Time Stamped Show Notes
(click the time stamp to jump directly to that point in the episode.)
- [01:07] – Noel is a family guy
- [01:41] – Noel’s area of expertise is “cause marketing”
- [02:28] – One BIG and Unique Value Bomb: As a consumer, you can choose who you want to support
- [03:27] – Companies that are behind something doesn’t mean their consumers should be, too
- [04:24] – Worst Entrepreneurial Moment: I started a restaurant delivery service. I thought my business would be selling and delivering food. My worst moment was when I planned a trip with my girlfriend to Southeast Asia in the summer while my business was thriving and I didn’t have an exit strategy. I decided to shut the business down and it never picked back up like before.
- [06:44] – JLD shares insights about momentum
- [07:12] – Simplify and go for it!
- [07:28] – Don’t forget to collaborate
- [08:11] – Entrepreneurial AH-HA Moment: I was sitting with 3 board members from my company and they looked at me and asked, “Noel, where’s the revenue?”. Within 30 days, we figured it out.
- [09:59] – Noel focused on what the companies needed most
- [11:11] – Another AH-HA Moment: I decided to deal with my baggage. I left university in 1993, one class shy of graduating, and told people I graduated. I tried to take the class again but things got busy. Then I made the commitment to face what was holding me back.
- [12:06] – Deal with your stuff and you’ll be able to move forward
- [12:46] – What is the one thing you are most FIRED up about today? Connecting companies with non-profit organizations
- [14:12] – How GroundSwell came up
- [14:48] – The Lightning Round
- What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur? – I was so scared to fail.
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? – Take some risks.
- What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success? – I want to start my day with wins so I start my day with 3 things: make my bed, meditate and journal.
- Share an internet resource, like Evernote, with Fire Nation – GuideStar, Charity Navigator, Score and AllBusiness
- If you could recommend one book to our listeners, what would it be and why? Influence: The Psychology Influence of Persuasion –it’s a guide for me.
- [19:10] – Do the best you can to face your fears head on
- [20:03] – Connect with Noel on his website, on email, Twitter and Facebook
Noel: JLD, I am pumped and ready to go.
John: Yes. Noel is a former CBS Sports executive turned entrepreneur. As president and co-founder of Ground Swell Group, a next generation cause marking agency that connects brands with their consumers through the causes they support, he has cultivated a cult corporate social responsibility over at Ground Swell Group, and he inspires those around him to push the envelope. Noel, take a minute, fill in some gaps from that intro, and give us a little glimpse of your personal life.
Noel: Well, thanks, JLD. Yeah, you described it very well. Personal life, I’m a family guy. My favorite time is the morning when my two kids, 5 and 3, wake up and come running upstairs and give me my morning hug to start my day. I’ve got an amazing wife.
I live in Los Angeles, California, where I was born and raised after stints in San Francisco and New York as a corporate exec, so happy to home with family around me. That’s my driver, is just getting up in the morning a getting ready to work after the big hug from the kids, so it’s a fun life right now.
John: Well, I love that. I also know that you’ve developed a lot of different areas of expertise over your life, but if you could say, what’s your current area of expertise? Expound upon that in just a couple sentences.
Noel: Yeah, my current area of expertise. We are a cause marketing company, but what I specialize; a we’ve flipped the model upside down. Usually, you have a company that attached themselves to a case. It’s a great cause that they wanna support through the DNA of their company. What we’ve done is flipped that model upside down a little bit, and we allow the consumer to drive the decision on what companies support and how they support them.
It’s a marketplace that we create, so my expertise is in, generally, cause marking, but then creating new marketplaces for consumers to do business with businesses, and then connects that with causes that are really important to them.
John: Noel, within that, share with us, Fire Nation, we are entrepreneurs, we are small business owners, share with us something that we don’t know in that area of expertise that we probably should.
Noel: You do have a chose as a consumer with who you support. While big companies may go out there and say, “Here’s what we’re all about,” there’s 1.6 million registered charities in this country, so there’s something for everybody. Just because a big company says they support something doesn’t mean that you as a consumer have to do that.
It’s a really important thing these days for Baby Boomer generation on down to the millennials to say, “I have choice and control in how I’m consuming products, and I want them to support things that are meaningful to me as an individual.” Than an important thing for people to recognize these days.
John: Noel, I don’t wanna be presumptuous, but when companies say something like, “This is what we’re all about,” you can really be like, “Well, what you’re really all about is having me buy your products, your services, your communities, whatever that might be, so you want me as a consumer, so you’re really all about what I’m all about.” Of course, that company putting the power into their consumer, making their consumer happy, I mean, that just seems like a win-win for everybody, isn’t it?
Noel: Yeah, it absolutely is, and I think for companies to get behind something is important, but again, that doesn’t necessarily mean their consumer has to be behind that thing. Yes, they are all about sales. We’ve met with many, many companies that say, “Ultimately, it is about the sale, but we wanna be perceived as a good corporate citizen doing good in our local communities across the country,” so it is important.
If it’s part of your DNA, you as a company will usually figure out a way to do it, but until now, consumers didn’t really realize they had choice in that I process as well. As individuals, we certainly do, but when we’re consuming products, it isn’t just about what they support.
Yeah, it’s great model, and we were thrilled with enough runway to get there that we figured out a way to do it and create a marketplace for consumers to have some control.
John: CBS Sports executive turned entrepreneur. You’ve had your ups and downs, both in the corporate world and in the entrepreneurial world. What I want you to do now, Noel, is take us to your worst entrepreneurial moments. Take us to the lowest of the low, that moment in time, and tell us that story.
Noel: JLD, I’m gonna have to take us way back because I’ve bookended my entrepreneurial career. In college is when it started for me. I started a restaurant delivery service. It was called Dining in Style. I was a bartender. I was a full-time student. I lived in downtown Santa Barbara, but I wanted to do something on my own create some opportunity for myself some money and for some friends to have a chance to make a couple of bucks as well.
I start a restaurant delivery service. It was so fun. I bought a chop top station wagon. By girlfriend at the team was a graphic artist. We painted it. We started with screwdriver, so anyone at the time to have taken it for a drive. It was part of our advertising campaign.
I thought my business was going to be selling and delivering food. As it turned out, advertising in the menu books, which we presented 10000 every quarter, became the business.
It became a thriving business in the first year. I was on the cover of the local school newspaper. I got a lot of friends jobs. I got a chance to make $20.00, $25.00 a night, which was good for beer money at the time.
My worst moment was I’d planned a trip with my girlfriend to southeast Asia at the end of summer, my business is thriving, and I didn’t have an exit strategy, so I walked into it a week away from going on this trip, and I’m like, “What am I going to do with my business?”
It was at that moment I realized that I have to have a little bit more of a process, a little bit more of a plan as I get into these things, and know where I’m going at certain points. There’s always gonna be surprises, but in that moment, I made what was a really bad decision.
I decided to stay with the commitment to my girlfriend and say, “I’m taking the trip. I’m shutting the business down. A couple people will be out of delivery service at the school campus. When I come back after summer, we’ll try to pick it back up again.” I was never able to pick the business back up again because obviously, walking away from it, somebody else walked in, took the idea, and thrived.
This was all pre-cell phone, pre-mobile phone, pre-technology. I lost a really good opportunity to continue a thriving business by making, at the time, thought was a good decision, but it certainly wasn’t long term.
John: At first, I was like, “Oh, woe is me; Noel’s business is too successful for his own good. This is really shaping up to be quite the bad moment,” but it did turn out to be quite devastate when you walked away and you came back, and you just couldn’t get that engine, so to speak, started again.
That’s tough, Fire Nation because I’ll give you the one word that I’ve realized in business, and specifically entrepreneurship, that’s so hard to crush, and that’s momentum.
It’s so hard to get that initial momentum going. There’s so much noise, so much disparity in the marketplace. If you can get that momentum going, you gotta do everything you can to keep it rolling. That’s my take away, Noel. What do you wanna make sure Fire Nation gets from your story?
Noel: In that story, it’s having a plan, but being flexible within the plan to make different decision and be able to pivot. I mean, I think that’s a pretty common thing people say. A big mantra for me is to simplify and to go for it, and as things get too complex and too complicated for me, I tend to get bogged down in too many details. When I’m able to simplify it and assume, “Hey, these are the certain steps that I need to take to get there,” take those action steps, have plans, have backup plans.
The big piece of this thing is to collaborate. It would have been really easy at the time for me to bring somebody in and say, “Hey, can you help me out while I’m gone? It’s starting to be a pretty good business here. I’ll pay you while I’m gone, when I come back, I wanna have something to come back to.”
I didn’t really trust people at the time to build a business around. Now, I know how important that is to collaborate and bring people in that you trust and can ride this wave up and down with them, and it’s really important to have other people involved in the process.
John: Simplify and go, Fire Nation. Just go. Noel, let’s talk about one of your greatest ideas to date, one of those ah-ha moments you had that you ran with, you turned into a success. Take us to that moment that you had that idea, and then walk us through the process of turning it into that success.
Noel: I’ve got two. One ah-ha moment that I think a lot of us probably have but for me it wasn’t clear, I had actually started this business before I had left CBS. I was on the board of advisors for the company. I loved the direction that they were taking. I put together my fellow board members.
I remember sitting at a dinner in New York with three trusted board members of the company. I was excited about all things we were doing. We’re building a non-profit marketplace. People are gonna love what we’re doing. We’re supporting all these communities, and people, and all the causes, and all this great work that we’re dong.
The three of them looked at me, and to a person, they said, “Noel, where’s the revenue?” I fought it at first. “That’ll come, it’ll come.” It was a self-funded adventure. I didn’t feel like going out and getting venture capital at the time, and I thought, “The revenue will come as we build it,” but I was getting close
In my heart of hearts, I thought, “I’m bleeding through this a little bit right now. How a I gonna continue the process?” Every one of them said, “Where is the money gonna come from?” I walked away from that meeting saying, “My focus needs to change. I need to figure out how I am going to drive revenue through this business today.”
That became my singular most important focus, and within 30 days, we had actually figured it out, which was a nice thing. That ah-ha moment was them directing me.
The funny thing, JLD, was that I had told so many people this before as they had come to me as an advisor, I’m great at giving my opinion, giving you advice, but I as in the middle of at that point and hadn’t even taken my own medicine.
That direction in that moment to say, “Revenue, revenue, revenue, make it the focus,” and within 30 days, we were on track and really haven’t looked back since, so that was important. Can I give you a second?
John: Yeah, but before you do, let’s not get too deep in the weeds on this one, but can you tell us how you went from just people being like, “Dude, you gotta generate revenue,” to within 30 days doing just that? I mean, what can you share there?
Noel: Well, for me, it’s, again, once I simplified and went for it, I went out and got a little bit of funding to give me a little bit of runway to get to a certain idea, and I focus on the customer side, the brand side, the company side, of our business, not so much on the non-profit side.
At that point, we knew what the non-profits wanted, we knew what they needed, they needed money, they needed publicity, they needed volunteers.
100 percent of them need those three things. Okay, I get it. I don’t need anymore conversations with non-profits to understand that side of it. The companies, what do they need? Once I focus on what their need was because they’re the ones that are paying the bills for us and to the non-profits. Once we figured that part out, we just went for it.
I had a lot of relationships when I left CBS, so it was a question of calling the people that I knew and saying, “Hey, here’s the model. Here’s what works for you. What am I missing? If we were able to do X, Y, and Z, will you jump on board with the business?”
I can’t say 100 percent of the time, they said yes. It was usually, “Very attractive, Noel. If you figure out a way for us to generate sales, or increase our brand influence, then of course we’d be on board.”
It was having the conversations with the right people that had the money with a compelling story, and then making them part of that process of how we can create a solution for them based on the marketplace that we had created.
John: Alright, No. 2.
Noel: Thank you. No. 2, this is a little bit more philosophical and psychological. The ah-ha moment was when I decided to deal with my baggage, I made a major break through. By that I mean all of us are them, skeletons in our closet.
As an example, I left University of California Santa Barbara in 1993. I was one class shy of my graduation. It had never come back to haunt me. I told people, “Yes, of course I graduated.” I had put it it on my resume. It was misleading, absolutely.
I tried over the period of 15 years or so to take the one class. Things got busy, it never really – but until I made that commitment to deal with the stuff that was holding me back, and there literally was a day, and I said, “If I don’t deal with things, I am not going to be able to beak through with the idea and the concepts. I gonna always gonna have this in the back of my mind.”
From some of the interviews that you’ve done, I’ve learned from other people to break through those things, take care of your baggage, take care of the little things, and move forward. That ah-ha moment was I finally realized deal with the stuff, and you’ll be able to move forward. That was another moment for me that was critical in our success.
John: Fire Nation, that’s why meditation can be so key because if you can just clear your mind, if you can just get rid of the nagging mental baggage that we are all carrying around because of notifications because of X, Y, or Z, you’re gonna be so much more clear, focused, and productive with the time that you have.
Meditation can do that, clearing up little things in the past that were always nagging at Noel. That can do that as well, so just make it happen. Now, Noel, let’s move forward to today because with Ground Swell, you have a lot of cool things going on, but what’s the one thing that you are most fired up about right now?
Noel: It’s this marketplace. It really is something we created. Our clients are so excited to work with us because there are so many options that they have, and most of the time, they don’t have the bandwidth to deal with the size and scope that we deal with. We love working with clients who say, “I love it, I’m just too busy. I can’t make 5000 calls to figure all the different non-profits that are in our space to to work with.”
What I’m fired up about is when it works. I don’t care if their corporate culture is set up to say, “We wanna do good in the community.” If they just say, “We wanna support certain causes, that’s enough for me because I know I can help them drive their business, and at the same time, I can leave a lasting, or help leave a lasting impact.
For us, we just call it the oh, by the way. You’re growing your business, you’re increasing sales, you’re influencing brand preference, and oh, by the way, you’re changing somebody’s life by working with us and through us, and that didn’t exist before.
If that means we are able to provide a wheelchair for a veteran because we gave $250.00 to an organization, that person can now get to and from work, or to and from the bus, they can feel good about themselves, they gain confidence.
That is life changing from, literally, the ground up, and every single person can make an impact on somebody else through business or through personal. I am so pumped that we figured out a way to connect those two things, the brands of the companies with the non-profits so both of them walk away ultimately executing what they’re all about. I’m pumped about that.
John: I heard you just say from the ground up. Can you just quickly take us through, maybe, how you came up with the idea, Ground Swell?
Noel: One individual person, one individual company, one individual thing at a time collectively or aggregately, getting together to make a resounding impact on communities and worlds and business. Ground Swell is the perfect model for us.
As we looked it up, we realized there was something out there that had some political affiliation. We certainly don’t have that, but Ground Swell is as it sounds, building a ground swell of support, small, medium, and large across the board, across the country, across the world, to make a lasting impact one small piece at a time.
John: Well, Fire Nation, we’re gonna make a lasting impact in the lightning round after we thank our sponsors. Noel, are you proposed for the lightning rounds?
Noel: I am. I’m ready to go. Let’s do it.
John: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Noel: I was so scared to fail. I didn’t wanna disappoint people. I was so comfortable in my wonderful executive corporate job. It was great, making good money. I was so scared to fail, and telling other people, “Go for it, go for it, go for it.” I couldn’t do it myself. That was it. I was scared to fail.
John: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Noel: My dad. My dad said to me, “Noel, take some risks, son.” It was that simple. “Take some risks, son.” I think he regretted not having taken some, thought it would be a great opportunity for me. My dad is my mentor and one of my closest and dearest friends, and so when he said that to me, it really hit home and said go for it, and that’s what I did. I started taking some risks, and so far, it’s paid off.
John: What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?
Noel: I wanna start my day with wins, so I do as much as before the rest of the family gets up. I mention earlier about having my kids run up and giving me a hug. Before that even happens, I start my day with three things. One, I make my bed. I mean, that’s the easiest thing to do. I feel accomplished. If everything else goes wrong that day, I have one victory.
I meditate in the morning. If I don’t get to in the morning, at some point in the day, whether it’s five minute or 15 minutes, I set aside some time, I sit with myself, and I figure out. That’s where I find a lot of solution to the things that are grind at me, so every single day, I meditate, and I journal.
I write things. Whether they become public information or not, I write my thoughts to myself, and it gets me directed on the things that are important for me to focus on during that day. If I start my day with those three things as a personal habit, I know I’ve got three wins under my belt, and the rest of the day, it’s not always great by any means, but I know I’ve got those in my back pocket to go out there and try to set the world afire.
John: Share an internet resource like Evernote with Fire Nation.
Noel: Mine are appropriate for me, and there’s two companies out there. One’s Guide Star, and the other’s Charity Navigator. Those are the first two sources I go to find all the information about these organizations that we wanna work with or connect people to.
A little bit old school is Score. It’s a government organization. It’s how I got my start and got the courage to go out there and do some things. It’s a great source that the government offers to us. There’s advice, there’s mentorship, there’s programs, there’s templates for things, there’s coaching, and training, and guidance, and seminars, and webinars.
It was really important early on in my entrepreneurial cycle to use that source. Now a little bit less so, but I always recommend other people go to that.
The last one is All Business, Allbusiness.com. I go there a lot for resources, blogs, data, information. If I need templates on anything, I certainly don’t have all the answers. Between those four, those give me all the things I need to get through my day.
John: If you could recommend one book, what would it be, and why?
Noel: With your permission, I’ll give you a title, and if it’s okay, I’ll dive into it a little bit.
Noel: The Psychology Influence of Persuasion. It is a guide for me, and really was a guide because it’s a lot of stories on social studies. My favorite story out of that was they went to a college campus and they interviewed 100 people. They tried to get people to volunteer their time for a senior citizens’ assisted living home. They went about it two ways, two different pools of 100 people.
This is an example from the book. First 100, they asked one question, “Will you give one weekend of your month to volunteer at a senior assisted living home?” The answer was 17 percent of the people said yes.
The second pool of 100 people, and I may have the numbers a little bit off, the second pool of 100 they asked two questions. First question was, “Will you give three out of four weekends to volunteer your time at assisted living home?” 6 percent of the people said yes.
The follow up question was, “Will you give one weekend?” 86 percent of the people said yes. Just by virtue of how the psychology influence of persuasion and how you communicate with people, that book is so influential because a lot of times, we think we’re working really hard, but we’re not necessarily working really smart, so that book really helped me guide my way to how to ask questions and how to communicate with people effectively.
John: That’s fascinating statistics. Let’s end today on Fire Brother with a parting piece of guidance, the best way we can connect with you, and then we’ll say good-bye.
Noel: Do the best you can to face your fears head on, mostly because they’re rarely as bad as you make them out to be. We make them up in our minds, and we give them this big, devilish thing, and they’re the incredible hulk, and we’ll never accomplish them. If you’re able to face them and face them early on, either in your day or in your cycle as an entrepreneur, they’re never as bad as they seem.
As you get through each of those things that have in some way been holding you back, you gain confidence. Every time you do it, you wipe another one away and you gain more confidence. By experiencing that and getting through them, there’s a mantra around it.
To fear is to fail, to dare is to do. A lot of people talk about their fears, but they don’t have to be as intimidating as you make the out to be. That was a life lesson for me and a really good piece of advice I can pass on to anybody, is face them, deal with them. They’re never as bad as they seem, and as you get through them, you’ll gain more confidence.
On the second part of that, the best way to connect with me is through our websites, Ground Swell Group. We’re on Facebook, we’re on Twitter. I love to connect with businesses, entrepreneurs, non-profits, people that wanna figure out a way to communicate. I give eight hours of my time every week to just to giving back. What that means, a conversation with a charity or non-profit, donating or volunteering my time.
Directly, I’m [email protected] I’m also at Twitter and Facebook. You can find me @Noelwax on either of those social sites. I’m fairly active there, but that’s how you connect with me. I’d love to communicate with your entrepreneurs, people that listen, anybody that’s interested in having that conversation.
John: Wow. Well, Fire Nation, you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with, and you’ve been hanging out with N dubs and JLD today, so keep up the heat and head over to eofire.com. Just type Noel, that’s N-O-E-L, in the search bar. His show notes page will pop up with everything that we’ve been talking about today, best show notes in the biz, time stamps, links galore.
Of course, head over to groundswellgroup.com. Fire Nation, you heard it, Noel will get back to you via email. He loves hearing from Fire Nation, so if you have any desire to ask some questions or what his area of expertise is, Noel, N-O-E-L, @groundswellgroup.com. Hit him up.
Noel, thank you for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today. For that, we salute you, and we’ll catch you on the flip side. Hey, Fire Nation, hope you enjoyed our chat with Noel today. You know this, goals equals success, and with thefreedomjournal.com, you’ll be accomplishing your No. 1 goal in 100 days, and I will catch you there, or I will catch you on the flip side.
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