Paul Oberschneider is a start-up entrepreneur who has built businesses worth over 200 million starting with $400. He founded the largest single-branded real estate company across five countries in Central Europe, developing a portfolio of hypermarkets in Eastern Europe, constructing over two million square feet of retail space.
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3 Key Points:
- Someday, somehow, you will lose interest in life—so start creating that meaningful life journey.
- Delegation is what enables entrepreneurs to scale their businesses.
- It’s often easier to make money than to keep it.
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Time Stamped Show Notes
(click the time stamp to jump directly to that point in the episode.)
- [01:18] – Paul started working in Chicago for Steve Fossett
- [01:26] – He was fortunate to start a career with the Chicago Board of Trade
- [01:51] – He got caught up and ended up in New York trading
- [02:03] – Paul hasn’t finished university
- [02:36] – He found himself broke and on the streets
- [03:27] – His expertise is in pulling people together and building teams
- [05:52] – One BIG and Unique Value Bomb: Delegation allows entrepreneurs to scale. You don’t have to be an expert – you can hire the expert to work for you
- [07:43] – Worst Entrepreneurial Moment: In 2008, a week before the crisis, Paul sold his last business. After 3 years, he hit rock bottom. He found himself without an identity
- [10:18] – Plan for your life journey
- [10:52] – Entrepreneurial AH-HA Moment: Paul opened an agency with as many storefronts as he could because he wanted to reach more people. Positive leverage is his big thing.
- [12:24] – In any business, “The trend is your friend”
- [13:16] – What is the one thing you are most FIRED up about today? “I wrote a book, Why Sell Tacos in Africa? – 16 life-changing business strategies you can use anywhere from the man who turned $400 into $200 million”
- [15:07] – The Lightning Round
- What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur? – “It was my over looming shadow of addiction to alcohol”
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? – “Anybody can make money, the hardest part is keeping it”
- What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success? – “I’m very organized”
- If you could recommend one book to our listeners, what would it be and why? – Fifty Years with the Golden Rule
- [19:32] – Get Paul’s book here!
Paul Oberschneider: I’m smoking. I ready for you.
John Lee Dumas: Yes! Paul is a startup entrepreneur who has built businesses worth over 200 million starting with $400. He founded the largest single brand real estate company across five countries in Central Europe developing a portfolio of hypermarkets in Eastern Europe, constructing over two million square feet of retail space. Paul, take a minute, fill in some gaps from that intro and give us a little glimpse of your personal life.
Paul Oberschneider: Well, how does an American end up in Central and Eastern Europe in 1991, 1992 with $400 to his name? So, John, there’s a back-story to all this, you know, and it’s not a pretty one. I mean, I was a Wall Street – I started in Chicago as a guy working for Steve Fossett who was an options and equities futures trader, and I was really fortunate. I started a career on the Chicago Board of Trade and I was young, irresponsible, it was the late 70s, early 80s. So, I’m dating myself here. And everything was okay as long as you showed up for work the next day, you could do whatever you want and everything was permissible. It was wild time, and I got caught up in all that and I went from one job to a better job and I ended up in New York trading on the New York Stock Exchange for a better group of guys and with a trading account. And, I was still quite young. I hadn’t finished university; I’d dropped out.
And I didn’t know what the value of a dollar was and I was trading a big proprietary trading account in futures and equity options. And I went out every night and partied at Studio 54 and all the rest of these places. And while my friends wanted to stop and say, “Okay, time to go home,” I just kept saying, “Well, where are we going next?” And that was my life for a long time until it killed me. And basically, I found myself broke and basically on the street without a clue or knowing anybody, really, that would help me. So, you know, I’d grown up thinking that you needed all the answers, so I’d never ask anybody for help. So, I was in a pretty dark place, John. That was 1987.
John Lee Dumas: Wow. Well, I just love that story because it shows the ups, it shows the downs, Fire Nation. It shows that Paul was there, living life, getting experiences and he’s applied those quite a few times in his most recent journeys. But before we get into that, Paul, what would you say today, right now is your area of expertise? What do you specialize in in just a couple of sentences?
Paul Oberschneider: My expertise. I mean, I’ve built lots of retail shopping space, two and a half million square feet. I’ve built hotels, I’ve built retail centers, grocery stores, strip malls, residential, and if you ask me about any of those things in particular, I would probably give you some very disappointing advice because I put deals together. I put people together and I just try to find people that are better than me because I don’t know half of this stuff. My skills, I think, are really with people and building teams.
John Lee Dumas: Now, within that, what’s something that we don’t know as entrepreneurs that we probably should know about that area of expertise?
Paul Oberschneider: So, when I landed in Central and Eastern Europe, I had $400 to my name. I didn’t know I was going to be building these businesses. But, I need help and I didn’t speak the language. So, I had to learn how to delegate very quickly, entrepreneurs by their very nature are controlled monsters. I am, too. You probably are. And we all want to do everything ourselves. But not speaking a language forced me to delegate. And strangely enough, that allowed me to multiply the things that I did five, tenfold because almost by itself, I was able to expand on a business rather quickly because I was getting people to do things for me. Now, there’s this 10,000-hour rule that everybody talks about that makes you an expert. And, you know what? Most people don’t think about it, but you can hire 10,000 hours in a minute. You can have 100,000 hours in a few minutes if you’re just willing to go and find the right people that have that expertise. So, you your help don’t have to be the expert, you’ve just got to go find the experts.
John Lee Dumas: Fire Nation, if you’re going to build a team, you need to learn how to delegate. You need to learn how to leverage and scale your time and your knowledge. And by the way, you need to be focusing on what you are best at – that one, two, maybe three thing that you can do better than everybody else. Then, all of those other things that you can’t do better than everybody else just because there’s only so much time in a day, you’ve got to find people to step up into that void so that you can amplify your strengths, and then, they can minimize your weaknesses. Now, Paul, moving forward, you love to tell stories. So, let’s tell a story right now of what you consider your worst entrepreneurial moment to date. Take us to that moment in time. Tell us that story.
Paul Oberschneider: It’s 2008. It’s the week before the crisis, and I have just sold my last business. And I’m suddenly a guru, and I’ve made a [inaudible] [00:05:22] and I bought a ranch in Argentina, a house in Buenos Aires, I’m playing high-goal polo. I’m traveling, I’m spending money, and I couldn’t have been happier. And, I did what all great entrepreneurs that make money do. I took a bit of time off. I left the scene of the crime. The worst moment is three years after that and I found myself, after I had sold everything, without an identity. I had sold all my assets, all the buildings with my name on it were gone, all my employees were gone, everybody was gone. I had moved from Central and Eastern Europe where I knew and built a network for 18, 19 years, and I put myself in London where I didn’t know anybody, and suddenly, I was lost.
John Lee Dumas: But, you were playing polo!
Paul Oberschneider: Yeah, but… great, great. You can do that for only so long. You know, that gets a little tiring. But, I had lost my identity as a person, as someone who wants as an entrepreneur to see tangible results; I had lost all that. So, I found myself, once again, in a very dark place because I felt completely empty. I had a lot of money, I had done some great things, pictures on the wall, but I was just sitting in a chair by myself.
John Lee Dumas: Fire Nation, this is a struggle that successful entrepreneurs could potentially face. And, I can tell you what. You said the words, Paul, “I lost my identity.” I actually like the phrase “relevancy.” You stopped being relevant in life. You used to be the boss of employees, you used to make things happen.
Paul Oberschneider: That’s right.
John Lee Dumas: You used to make the world go around in the industry that you were in, and that stopped. You lost that identity. You lost your relevancy to life, and the same thing happened to me when I got done with my four years as an officer in the U.S. Army. I’m like, “I want to take a break and do nothing.” And I was just like, “What am I doing? I have no identity.” So, Fire Nation, you have to plan for it. You have to realize that life is this journey, this progress that, as humans, we want to keep moving forward. So, just realize that. Have eyes wide open so that you know your next step is going to be the right one. And Paul, shifting a little bit because you’re a guy that’s had a lot of success, made a lot of money, you’ve learned a lot of life lessons, what would you say one of your greatest ideas to date is? Take us to that moment that you had that idea, then kind of walk us through how you turned that idea into success.
Paul Oberschneider: It’s quite simple, really. I mean, if you own one bread shop on the corner, you’re only going to sell to that neighborhood. So, I just figure the more bread stores I had, the more lives I would touch. And that’s what we did. So, we opened, I’m talking about my agency business. We opened as many storefronts as we could and then, of course, as marketing changed. But, it was all about leverage and whether it’s people, whether it’s visibility, even money. The power of positive leverage can just transform everything.
John Lee Dumas: So, within that, what would you say the biggest lesson learned that you experienced during that moment? I mean, you just shared, of course, you can only sell bread to your neighborhood, definitely, so you had more bread shops. But, what’s that one tangible takeaway that us as entrepreneurs can apply to our lives that you experienced when you actually did that and successfully?
Paul Oberschneider: If I had to do it all again, I’d build more bread shops. I’d buy more land. So, whenever I built a shopping center, I should have bought the place next door to it. My old trading buddy, Herbie, on the New York Stock Exchange used to say the trend is your friend. And that can’t be more true in any business. And if you find yourself on a winning formula, you just need to put the foot down to the pedal and just take it as far as you can go. And I think so many of us are afraid to do that, and where scarcity minded. You know, we think that we can’t do this, we don’t have enough time, we don’t have enough money, we don’t have this and that. There are not enough people that can help us. Well, you know what? Just go out there and do it. If you’ve got a winning formula, make it work. People will come to you.
John Lee Dumas: So, here we sit in 2017, Paul. You know, you had that great success; you’ve traveled the world, playing polo, doing your thing, losing your identity, finding it again… Today, right now, 2017, what are you most fired up about?
Paul Oberschneider: Being alive. I’m really excited about it. You know, I wrote this book Why Sell Tacos in Africa, and it’s a metaphor, of course, for doing different things. But, I originally wrote it for my son. And it was going to be called 33 Things I Wish My Father Had Told Me. And it wasn’t meant to be sold commercially. And I started writing that book and it just didn’t feel right. So, I decided to write my story and the touching this is, actually, my son has actually read this book. But, he’s 14 years old and of course, I’m the most uncool person in the world. So, I thought maybe if I put my thoughts on paper, he might someday look at them. So, I wrote this book and I’m really excited about that because it’s touched a nerve for a lot of people, a lot of millennials, who are just overloaded by information and technology. And everybody’s trying to sell them the right way to do things. And this is a really simple book of things that I did that I think anybody can bite into and get some inspiration from. So, this is what I’m really excited about, and I didn’t intend it to be that way at all. I just decided to do this thing and I was going to self-publish it. And eight months later, I’m doing something completely different and I’m actually using it as an education tool.
John Lee Dumas: Why Sell Tacos in Africa, and Fire Nation, we’ll be chatting a little bit more about that in a couple of minutes. But first, we’re going to thank our sponsors.
Paul, are you prepared for the lightning round?
Paul Oberschneider: I am.
John Lee Dumas: What was holding you back from becoming and entrepreneur?
Paul Oberschneider: Well, it was my overlooming shadow of addiction to alcoholism. I’ve always been a loner and I’ve always been sort of driven by adrenaline and risk. So, it wasn’t a question of – I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I always wanted to be my own boss, and what got in my way was my shadow. My big ego. And it was only when I was able to sort of get that under control that things started to change for me.
John Lee Dumas: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Paul Oberschneider: Don’t go into farming. Let’s see… Well, my uncle who’s a very successful French Industrialist once told me, “Look, anybody can make money. The hardest part is keeping it.” And I’ve found that to be very true. So, if you’re building stuff, if you’re doing stuff, save some. I was reinvesting 90 percent of everything I made living off of 10 percent for so many years. And, you can get pretty wealthy doing that. So, not many people do that, but I was doing that. But, you’ve got to save some. You’ve got to put some aside because if not, you never know. Your business will just absorb it.
John Lee Dumas: What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?
Paul Oberschneider: I’m very organized. But, I’m an old-fashioned guy. You know, I use pencil and paper, and I’ve got a lot of young people that I work with. And I’m 58 years old, I have a lot of young people that I work with that are clearly far smarter than I am in technology and stuff, and I carry around a notepad. And these guys are all into all kinds of learning tools, and efficiency tools and I just show up with my pad of paper. And, I’m probably the most organized guy there.
John Lee Dumas: Love that. If you could recommend one book to join Why Sell Tacos in Africa, which, by the way, Fire Nation, are 16 life-changing business strategies you can use anywhere, what would that book be and why?
Paul Oberschneider: I’m going to really fish out of the barrel here. I’m going to pull out a book that I’m sure you’ve never heard of. And this is a book that was published in 1931. I’m always looking for these obscure books. Now, this is called 50 Years with the Golden Rule, and it’s written by a gentleman by the name of J.C. Penney. And I don’t know if you remember that chain of stores, but he opened his first store in Wyoming, in Kemmerer, Wyoming as a dry goods store in 1902. And then, the depression came, and the stock market crash came and he lost it all. Or, he almost lost it all. And he had one of those life-changing moments where, you know, he was at that point of darkness and he turned it all around again. So, I think this is a really inspirational book, and it’s one of these things that I find because I’m always looking for these sort of stories. They inspire me, and so that would be a complimentary book that I would recommend.
John Lee Dumas: Yeah, I love finding those timeless books. I mean, of course, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, How to Win Friends and Influence People, we’ve all heard about. But, these obscure ones, Paul, I’m really glad you brought this to my attention. And let’s end it today with the best way that we can connect with you, Paul, and then, we’ll say goodbye.
Paul Oberschneider: You can get my book for free. The handle for that is simply, whyselltacosinafrica, all one word, .pauloberschneider, all one word. O-B-E-R-S-C-H-N-E-I-D-E-R.com/fire. I’d love to hear from people that read it, any comments or suggestions, please. You’ll find my site; you’ll be able to find me. So, that’s the gift that I’m leaving you, and I hope you enjoy it.
John Lee Dumas: Well, I know we will, Paul, and we enjoyed this chat today. And Fire Nation, you know that you’re the average of the five people you’ve been spending the most time with. And that is PO and JLD today. So, keep up the heat. If you head over to eofire.com and just type “Paul” into the search bar, his show notes page is going to pop right up with everything that we’ve been talking about today. All the links, time stamps of every part of this interview, everything you need right there. And, of course, that free gift will be linked up in the show notes because I know you probably lost Paul somewhere around Oberschneider, which, I totally get. So, we’ll have the link ready for you, Fire Nation, for his free book Why Sell Tacos in Africa: 16 Life Changing Business Strategies You Can Use Anywhere. And Paul, thank you for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today. For that, we salute you, and we’ll catch you on the flip side.
Paul Oberschneider: Thanks for having me! Good to talk to you.
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