Olenka Cullinan is the Founder of Rising Tycoons & olenkacullinan.com, speaker, best-selling author, TEDxer, & Gen Z and Millennial success coach. Rising Tycoons has impacted thousands of youth & adult influencers nationwide and globally.
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[01:06] – She came to the US with $450 in her pocket to live the American dream
[01:58] – Olenka came from Russia; the $450 was from her uncle who lent it to her
[02:09] – She met a girl on the plane, became friends, bought a $450 car with her money and rented an apartment with her new friend
[03:11] – She ended up in Arizona because she received an invitation from the University of Arizona for their exchange program
[04:16] – Her areas of expertise is helping teens and millennials learn success skills that are not taught in schools
[04:51] – Share something we don’t know about your area of expertise that as Entrepreneurs, we probably should: It’s up to you to start – #IStartFirst
[05:25] – The GPS Approach – start with the final destination and work back to where you are today
[06:11] – Most people either coast through things or get disconnected success
[07:31] – “Start with the end in mind”
[07:56] – Worst Entrepreneurial Moment: A couple of years ago, Olenka had a meeting with a man named David who was a previous acquaintance. Olenka took a tour of his office and discussed mutual connections. At that point, Olenka still didn’t understand how they were connected until David mentioned the foundation that works with The University of Delaware. It was at that moment that Olenka realized David was the founder of the foundation—he was a huge philanthropist who works with thousands of youth across the country
[10:32] – “Always know who you’re meeting”
[11:37] – Entrepreneurial AH-HA Moment: Olenka has always been enthralled by Darren Hardy. She was invited to his training session and she told him that she wanted to be just like him, but for teens. She requested an hour of his time to talk about working together and he said, “yes”! Olenka went home thinking about what material she was going to send Darren
[13:05] – Olenka said she might not have the experience yet, but she definitely has the guts
[13:20] – She took a blank check and wrote a proposal to David—she said that if he doesn’t find any value in their meeting, he’s free to write any amount on it
[14:05] – David was impressed with Olenka’s move and invited her to be mentored
[15:15] – “I would rather be rejected by greatness than be accepted by mediocrity”
[15:45] – “Take that bold move!”
[18:30] – The Lightning Round
- What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur? – “The fact that I watched my mother crush it in her business for 37 years”
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? – “Authenticity trumps everything”
- What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success? – “Accountability call”
- Share an internet resource, like Evernote, with Fire Nation – Promo Video
- If you could recommend one book to our listeners, what would it be and why? – Passionistas: Tips, Tales, and Tweetables from Women Pursuing Their Dreams – “it was an exciting time in my life to co-write the book”
[20:58] – “If skills are learnable, success is learnable, too”
Olenka Cullinan: I am already on fire. I’m so excited.
Interviewer: Yes. Olenka is the founder of Rising Tycoons. She’s a speaker, bestselling author, TEDxer, and millennial success coach. Rising Tycoons has impacted thousands of youth and adult influencers globally. Olenka, take a minute. Fill in some gaps from that intro, and give us a little glimpse of your personal life.
Olenka Cullinan: Awesome. Awesome. Thank you so much for having me. I’m super excited, obviously. Yes, it’s been quite a journey, arriving here with $450.00 in my pocket, getting on the plane and coming to build my American dreams from Russia. I had no idea what I was doing, but it’s been quite an amazing journey. Establishing Rising Tycoons just because I saw such a need for teaching youth success skills because I’ve always kept thinking, “How did I do that? How did I go from $450.00 to going and building my own company, going on to TED Talks, doing some incredible things, meeting speakers and being mentored by people like Darren Hardy and Kyle Wilson, who was Jim Rohn’s partner, and being a part of the book this year?”
It’s been an absolutely incredible journey for sure. I think part of it, you’ve just got to stay on fire to get it done.
Interviewer: Well, I’m excited to hear more about your journey, Olenka, because it is quite a fascinating one. Where did you come from?
Olenka Cullinan: So I moved here from Russia. I literally borrowed $450.00 from my uncle, and if you know my uncle, you know I had a percentage back. I got on the plane. I met a girl on the plane whom I never met before. You sometimes meet people and you become sort of friends out of circumstances. What happened, we became those friends. We bought $450.00 car with my money, and we rented an apartment with her money, and that’s how the whole situation got started.
Interviewer: Now how did you choose Arizona, of all places?
Olenka Cullinan: Well, I actually moved to the Midwest originally because I was working as a camp counselor. I first came to the US when I was 19, and then by the time I turned 20, I met a college professor who said, “Your English is great,” and that’s sort of a secret of my mother, who will never admit the fact that she only wanted me to learn English because she was a CEO of a company for 37 years, and she needed me to translate paperwork.
She suggested that I would learn English early, and I started speaking it when I was seven. That helped. It turned out to be an incredible skill, so I moved here, and then I actually ended up in Arizona because I was chosen by University of Arizona to come and run their summer exchange program. Then I worked and did my master’s degree, so go Wildcats.
Interviewer: And Fire Nation, it’s all about taking that initial step of action, and look at the path that just kind of unfolded in front of Olenka because she just kept saying yes. She just stayed on fire. Olenka, I am a huge college basketball fan, so congratulations Arizona’s preseason ranked No. 1 in college basketball, and my Providence College Friars are preseason ranked No. 25, so not nearly as high, but we’ll see what happens when we meet in the post season. Good luck to you.
Olenka Cullinan: Yeah, yeah, thank you, thank you, sir. Yes, I’m not gonna complain about our basketball team, let’s just say that. They’re definitely better than our football team. Coincidentally, I now work with Arizona State University, so I’m like Switzerland. I run in between.
Interviewer: You’ve got to be neutral. I love it. Well, what would you say, Olenka, if you could just sum it up for us, is your area of expertise, that one thing that you really specialize in?
Olenka Cullinan: Absolutely. I work with two areas, teens and millennials. Essentially I turn teens into tycoons. I have a title, Chief Tycoon Maker, and we teach them success skills – entrepreneurship, leadership, and personal development skills, which are not really taught in schools or anywhere – any really educational institutions. And with millennials, we inspire them to turn their dreams into startups.
Interviewer: So what’s something that you find a lot of people in Gen Z and millennials, what don’t they know that you really let them know? What’s that kind of secret sauce that you bring to the table?
Olenka Cullinan: Oh, absolutely. One of the things we teach them that I love and I sort of discovered early on, I have one hashtag that I use. I’m sort of a hashtag queen, so I use a hashtag called I Start First. Because I discovered very early on that it’s up to you. Nobody is gonna save you, and there is no miracle dust that’s being shined on. You kind of have to figure out what change you want to be. There are so many people who just talk too much to change the world.
I was the kind of person who just jumps in and kind of learns in the process. One of the things we teach is what I call my GPS approach. It really works. I’ve coached some personal clients who are multimillion dollar companies all the way to start ups and teens with the same approach. It’s essentially – and let me ask you if you know this, actually. So if I was to drive from here, which I am in Phoenix, Arizona, to Tucson or to any other city in California, how does GPS calculate your route? Do you know that?
Interviewer: No, I just assume there’s something floating in the sky that’s got a pinpoint on me.
Olenka Cullinan: It kind of does. But essentially what most people don’t know is it actually calculates backwards. It finds your final destination, and then it calculates it back to the beginning where you are today. And so this is exactly the approach we teach to life because most people, as you know, don’t live life that way. Most people do one of two things. We have people who coast, and that’s mostly the young generation. A lot of times they thrown into things because their parents suggest it, their mentors suggest it, their teachers suggest it, so they kind of start coasting through life and fall into jobs.
And then we have a lot of successful people who really never sat down at looked at, “What type of lifestyle do I want to live? Where is it that I want to be? Where do I want to be? Who do I want to travel with? What type of surroundings do I want to be in?” So they experience what I call disconnected success. It’s where they make a lot of money, and they have all these amenities, but they still have that huge disconnect where they don’t spend time with people they truly love.
So we teach the GPS method. We teach them how do you find your end result, where you want to be, the lifestyle you want to live? For example, I never wanted to be in a cubicle. I would die. It’s just something that doesn’t work for me. I wanted to have a lifestyle where I can travel, and what better could I build than a company where I can literally look on the map and say, “Huh. What country do I want to work with teens or youth with? Let’s look at universities in London,” and I can literally go and see where I can go speak or work with them, and that works for me. To me, that GPS approach changes a lot of things in your life.
Interviewer: Fire Nation, that’s a great mindset. Start with the end in mind. Work backwards from that. Now, Olenka, if someone was to stop listening to this interview right now – believe me, I don't know why they would, but if they did, they would just assume that everything you touch turns to gold because that’s what it seems like has been the case, but you and I know that’s not true. Take us, Fire Nation, to your worst entrepreneurial moment to date. Tell us that story.
Olenka Cullinan: Oh, God. This is kind of embarrassing because something you should know about me is for a couple of years now, my nickname Olenka en fuego, which is “on fire” in Spanish.
Interviewer: Oh, wow. It was meant to be.
Olenka Cullinan: Yeah, so this is awesome. I’m a great connector. One of the most things I pride myself on is the network of influences that I’ve built. So this is really personal. I’m going deep to serve Fire Nation.
What happened is a couple of years ago, I had a meeting. I’m usually – I’m Russian, so I always joke I’m like KGB. I’m not, just so we’re clear, but I do a very thorough research on people I meet. I love meeting new people. So what happened is that I went to meet with someone, and it was a very bizarre email that was introduction for like five years ago. I went this man named David with a small company here in Phoenix. Never really looked into that, couldn’t really understand the connection that was made, but I thought it’s okay, we’re local. I want to see what they do, so I would show up in this office.
They give me a tour, and it’s a company that essentially provides services for other companies, and David and I are talking. He is explaining to me what they do. We talk about the mutual connection that introduced us, and I’m starting to think that I’m really not understanding how this company that provides phone services, how it’s related, and what the collaboration points are. But we also always look for mentors, so in my head I’m thinking that’s gonna be the mentorship approach. Until David says this one thing where he says, “Have you heard of this foundation that works with the University of Delaware that works with entrepreneurship?”
At this moment, he says the name of a foundation, and I think of the last name on this email that never connected until that second where I realized that the gentleman sitting in front of me is the founder of the foundation, who is a huge philanthropist, who works with probably of thousands and thousands of youth all across the country. I go, “Wait a second. You are David, who started this foundation with your wife?” And he said, “Yes, I am David Horn of the Horn Foundation.” And I actually told him the story after. I said, “I cannot believe that this happened, but just have to be completely honest. I’m so humbled and grateful, but I never made the connection until now.”
It was a very interesting story, but for me, being the networker that I am, what a lesson. What a lesson that you never know where your connections come from, but you should always have to know who you’re meeting, even if it comes from a random email. It is on you to take this responsibility. For me being a networker, I definitely learned my lesson and definitely realized that it doesn’t matter how people introduce you. You should always do full blown research to connect the dots and cross the Is before you go and meet them. Definitely a lesson.
Interviewer: Well, don’t cross the Is. You cross the Ts, Olenka.
Olenka Cullinan: Cross the Ts. That’s true. It’s the Russian in me, you know?
Interviewer: It’s the Russian in you. So Fire Nation, in this day and age, there is literally no excuse. You have Facebook. You have LinkedIn. You have ways that you can use, like Rapportive. You can find out what you need to find out about an individual, so do the due diligence. Respect yourself. Respect the other person. Make it happen. Now Olenka, let’s talk about another story. This is one of the greatest ideas that you had to date. Take us to that ah-ha moment that you had, and kind of explain how you turned that ah-ha moment into success.
Olenka Cullinan: Absolutely. This is one of my favorite stories that I share with a lot of people I work with, whether youth or adults, because it truly changed my life. So I’m gonna absolutely tell you a life changing moment.
Olenka Cullinan: What happened is that I was always enthralled by Darren Hardy, and I was following him for Success magazine, and I know you’ve been featured, so what an amazing coincidence. But what happened is I was invited to his training, and he asked me what I wanted to do when I was young. I got up, and he smiled because the bubbly Russian accent me there said, “I wanted to be just like you, but for teens.”
And he smiled and he said, “That’s great.” And then I approached him, and I want to state that my company at the time was only about three weeks old. And I said, “I really want you to give me an hour of your time, so we could meet, and I would like to partner with you.” And he just smiled, and he said, “How old is your company?” I said, “Oh, it’s about three weeks.” And the Darren Hardy that he is – he is amazing – he said, “Yeah, why don’t you send me something to look at?” and he gave me his mailing address.
So I went home and I thought, “What can I send him?” because obviously somebody of this caliber that you obviously admire, and there is not much at that time when you start up that you can sort of bring the value, and you don’t know how to truly approach this. So this is what I did, and it absolutely changed my life.
I said, “I’m gonna show him that I may not have the experience yet, and I may not have all the values built up and all the credibility behind me, but I definitely have the ballsiness in me that will absolutely change the face of my business.” So I took a blank check, and on that check – so I wrote a proposal to him, and I said, “I would like an hour of your time, and if you don’t find value in what I’m about to show you, you can enter any amount in this check,” and I mailed that off.
So I want to talk about a couple of things. First of all, obviously, I was a startup, so I didn’t know what I was doing. Second of all, I was really excited because I knew that a person of his caliber, and any of his people of his caliber that I work with are exceptionally kind and gracious and would never fill in the check with the amount that they’re worth. Third of all, I was that much sold out into my company that I was really willing to do something like that. So needless to say, he was really impressed with my move, and I got a call, and I was invited to be mentored by him.
I’ve been incredibly blessed. Because of him, I met his partner that he has worked with on multiple projects, Kyle Wilson. And then I met Erika de la Cruz, and we became Passionistas together. That one moment of doing something like this, where you can get attention of someone who you admire, is absolutely changed this whole face of my business. I’m a startup on steroids. Rising Tycoons has been around for three and a half years, and yet we’ve worked with over 8,000 teens just in Arizona, over 1,500 educators. We just launched India. We’re about to launch a couple of other countries. Our goal is to take 21,000 teens through our programs – and millennials – by the end of 2018.
So that one gesture in showing how sold out I was absolutely the whole idea. I literally teach my youth this phrase – and millennials. I always say I would rather you be rejected by greatness than accepted by mediocrity.
Interviewer: Wow. I mean, Fire Nation, if that’s not inspiring, what is? When’s the last time that you’ve actually taken a step forward and done something so bold, so crazy like Olenka did? Guess what? It was a calculated move. She knew that Darren wasn’t gonna write down a million dollars. And if he did, hey, the check would have bounced anyway. No big deal. Olenka is not quite there yet, but some day she will be, and then they could be kind of a scary check to see cashed out of your bank account.
But take that bold move, Fire Nation. Take that action. I love the fact, Olenka, that Darren Hardy, Kyle Wilson, Erika da la Cruz, all amazing entrepreneurs, by the way, Fire Nation, all past guests of EOFire. You can go check them out any time. They share some great stories. And if you think Olenka’s been sharing some great stories, well, she has value bombs to come in the lightning round. So don’t you go anywhere because we’ll be right back after thanking our sponsors.
Olenka, are you ready to rock the lightning round?
Olenka Cullinan: Absolutely.
Interviewer: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Olenka Cullinan: The fact that I watched my mother crush it in business for 37 years. To be honest, I always had that doubt. Can I be just as good or better? Obviously, I want to be better. So that definitely held me back.
Interviewer: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Olenka Cullinan: Authenticity trumps everything. I truly believe that if you can stay true to who you are in your personal life and in your business, it will absolutely change everything.
Interviewer: What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?
Olenka Cullinan: Accountability call. I have an accountability partner, and no matter what, no matter if we’re on vacation, rain or shine, or where we are, we do a 45-minute call or in person meeting once a week where we talk about three top goals, and where we are in the progress towards the goals. We basically check in everything single week, no matter what.
Interviewer: Recommend one internet resource.
Olenka Cullinan: I don't know how many people are familiar with Promo Video. It’s a video app that’s fairly new on the market, but they create beautiful videos. It’s sort of your fast food video where you can plug in your information, but they’re absolutely beautiful. I love doing that because if you work with content nowadays, video is king.
Interviewer: Recommend one book and share why.
Olenka Cullinan: Well, I would recommend a couple. One obviously is because I’m a co-Passionista. How could I not recommend Passionistas: Tips, Tales, and Tweetables from Women Pursuing Their Dreams? It was an absolute exciting piece of my life to co-write the book and to see all the chapters of all the other millennials’ stories and women who are literally building their businesses and turning their dreams into reality. For any young – I mean, really, for anybody out there who is trying to figure out how do you take your dream and turn it into your dream job or career, this is a fantastic book.
Then I’m a big fan of Entrepreneur Roller Coaster by Darren Hardy just because of its authenticity.
Interviewer: Olenka, I want to end today on fire with a parting piece of guidance, the best way that we can connect with you, and we’ll say goodbye.
Olenka Cullinan: Awesome, yes. This has been such a fast 30 minutes. One of my favorite pieces of advice that I sort of made up and I would like to share is if skills are learnable, success is learnable too. I think too often people think that success is sort of this magical unicorn that just exists, and especially in younger generations. It’s nothing but a combination of skills. I really have no business of doing what I’m doing. I’m an immigrant who moved here. This is not my first language, and I literally moved here with not a lot of money. All you do is just – I learned a lot of skills. I never asked for less problems. I literally just developed more skills, and that’s how my success came to be. So I think that’s something to keep in mind.
I definitely have a gift I would love to share with Fire Nation. If they go to olenkacullinan.com/fire, there are couple of gifts there. There is a book that’s sort of my e-book that I live and breathe by called Stop Preparing, Start Doing. So check that out, and also there is a registration for early bird for any young teens and millennials, so if any parents are listening, we’re starting this digital course. We would love to have all Fire Nation next generation to come and join us, so there is a registration link as well. It’s olenkacullinan.com/fire.
Interviewer: Fire Nation next generation, I love how that sounds. And Fire Nation, if you have a next generation, make it happen because you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. You’ve been hanging out with OC and JLD today, so keep up the heat. Head over to eofire.com, type Olenka in the search bar. Her show notes page will pop up with everything that we’ve been talking about today. These are the best show notes in the biz. Timestamps, links galore. And if you’re wondering how to spell Olenka, it’s O-L-E-N-K-A. And, of course, head over to olenkacullinan.com/fire.
And Olenka, thank you for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today. For that, we salute you, and we’ll catch you on the flipside.
Olenka Cullinan: Thank you. I love Fire Nation.
Interviewer: Hey, Fire Nation. Hope you enjoyed our chat with Olenka today. If you’re ready to accomplish that one big goal, visit The Freedom Journal, and you’ll accomplish it in 100 days. Plus, if you use promo code podcast, you’ll get a nice little discount because I want to thank you for listening to my podcast. Fire Nation, I’ll catch you there, or I’ll catch you on the flipside.
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