Ep 57 | My Dad and Business Part I : Entrepreneurship
The one thing that remains a contstant for most of us is our values. So even though we didn't know how to respond to the things that are outside of our control, the one thing we can do is stay true to our own character, who we are as an individual, who we are as a spouse and a parent, and we can stay the course with those values and that becomes where most people find their strength. – Tom Bedell
I was thrilled to have my dad join me on this episode, and even better – two episodes! In this episode, we're talking about entrepreneurship and why that's a part of his life, not just a job. And we talk about how entrepreneurship is so important in the times we're living in now.
In this episode you'll learn:
→ How to take you into your business.
→ Why entrepreneurs just can't stay retired
→ What governs Tom's decisions in his business and how he's been successful
Want to skip ahead? Here are some key takeaways:
[4:45] Tips from a seasoned entrepreneur with the ups and downs in the economy. How do we deal with uncertainty and still grow our businesses?
[8:56] Tom's #1 objective has always been to put people above profits and treat people as you want to be treated – the Golden Rule. By doing this you make decisions that support the whole company, not just your financial interests.
[9:50] What is the entrepreneurship mindset and what is it like to start a business at 14? He says you just go for it. You have no idea where to start, the fear isn't there. It's also about following your ideas without a fear of failure.
[16:12] Understand the timing of your industry and the market value of your product. Depending on what the consumers are demanding can really determine the success of your startup or new product/service you've developed.
[19:09] Tom shares his thoughts on moving through different industries and how he's built his business, all being very different.
[22:05] Retirement is something we all aim for. But for some of use we just can't stay retired, so why is that? It can be about where you are in the growth of your business, and it can also be about wanting to revisit your ultimate passion. Building a business isn't a linear path and understanding what fuels your passion is such a big part of being an entrepreneur.
[27:15] Giving back is something important to find in your business. But again it all leads towards your passion. How can you take what you love and build something to support your community. In this case, Tom loves helping people build their businesses and teaching, so he worked to start the Okoboji Entrepreneurial Institute.
[29:51] Messaging is so important. And over the years it's changed from finding your passion to really understanding who you are and what impact you can make on the world.
CEO, TOH Guitars
Tom Bedell has founded several companies but currently has thrown his passion into the guitar industry with Breedlove Guitars, Bedell Guitars and Weber Mandolins. His dedication to the environment has led him down a path of legally and sustainably harvested wood, never using clear-cut trees.
Keep the Conversation Going
[NTRO] Hey there, Sami here, your host of the Digital Marketing Therapy Podcast. And we are about to embark on a two-part episode. I'm, I can't say how excited I am for this. I've been wanting to have my dad on my podcast for a while now. And it just seemed kind of the right time. Tom Bedell has been my biggest inspiration for a long time. And just as a model of entrepreneurship and sharing with us kids about how to run a business, how to be thoughtful about our communities around us how to take care of those we care about. And really just thinking about businesses and entrepreneurship and serving our community as not just the bottom line, but how to do better and make better and kind of leave a bigger impact.
He started his first business when he was 14 years old and has gone through several different iterations from corporate America, to back to running his passion. And so we're going to have him on for the next two of our Tuesday episodes. So today we're going to be talking a lot about entrepreneurship. And what that looks like right now, especially in the times that we are living in, and what to think about and his passion behind entrepreneurship, and why it's so impactful and has really kind of paved the way in his business and also in my life. So I'm excited about that.
And then next week, we're going to be talking about innovation, how to take things to the next level or push boundaries in your business. So super excited. Make sure you check out both episodes and I'm just excited for you to hear a little bit about his story, his journey and hopefully inspire yourself to do something a little bit different in your business or start that business you've always wanted to start.
Before we get into it. This episode is brought to you by Your Business Giftbasket. So this is a program that I'm taking part in. Doors are open now, tomorrow actually, you could well, you can sign up now, and that you can get access to all of the free materials tomorrow, April 1. So what does that mean? Sandra Julian, who was on our podcast a couple of episodes ago, put together 20 plus of us female entrepreneurs to provide freebies or workbooks or tools to help support business owners in their social media, in their email marketing, their website design and development, whatever it is all the tools that you are going to need in order to run your business. And you can go through and pick and choose the freebies that you want, but excited to give you kind of space to pull together all of the things that you think you might be missing in areas where you want to grow and improve on. So check it out. If you head over to the podcast show notes for this episode at thefirstclick.net/podcast. There's a link there for you to head on over sign up for free and then just pick and choose the ones that make the most sense for you, I hope you'll check it out. Again, it's a totally free resource. But hopefully you can get the things that you need, grow your business and in these challenging times, still kind of keep growing your business and pushing things forward. Okay, I've said enough. Let's hop into this episode.
[CANNED INTRODUCTION] You're listening to the Digital Marketing Therapy Podcast. I'm your host, Sami Bedell-Mulhern. And each week, I bring you tips from myself and other experts, as well as hot seats with small business owners and entrepreneurs to demystify digital marketing and get you on your way to generating more leads and growing your business.
[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] Hey, Dad, welcome to my podcast.
[TOM BEDELL] Hi, Sami.
[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] I should say, Tom, since we're being professional. We've been talking about having you on for quite some time. And now we're going to do a two-parter, so I'm super excited. And so today, yeah, today we're just going to talk about entrepreneurship. which I know is one of your favorite topics.
[TOM BEDELL] It's my life.
[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] So I just want to start off, and we'll get a little bit more into kind of your history and all the different businesses you've started, but, um, as somebody who has worked in several different industries, and I mean, you really have been an entrepreneur since the 60s, right? You are what 16 when you started your first business.
[TOM BEDELL] 14 actually. I started importing guitars from Japan and my sister put on our Bedell labels, and we wholesaled our Bedell guitars to retailers around the Midwest.
[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] Awesome.
Yeah. And I want to talk about that a little bit more in a second. But one of my questions for you is, as you've kind of seen, you've seen a lot of upturns and downturns in the market you've seen a lot of things change in the economy and, and 911 you know, wars, all that stuff. So as everybody's kind of dealing with their businesses right now and kind of panicking. Do you have any kind of advice that you can give people to help them emotionally weather the storm?
[TOM BEDELL] Well, the challenge that we all find ourselves in, throughout life right now more severe than others, is we don't have control over what happens around us. We have control over how we respond to it in some ways, but as options change, and all the things that are happening around you, part of the challenge of an entrepreneur is how do I figure out a unique or different or a better pathway for a different outcome than would otherwise happen for me and those people that are part of my world. And the problem that is really frustrating folks during this session.
Well, what's going on with the coronavirus and they're all responses to it is we don't really understand the coronavirus, we don't really understand what the responses from the government are going to be. We don't understand the impact it's going to have on our businesses or our livelihood or our salaries. And so it's a confusing time to know, what are the appropriate actions?
[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] Right. Well, it changes every day. And I don't know that there's ever been a time where you don't know from today until a week from now or even tomorrow, you know, what, what the impact on your business might be, or what the government regulations on your business might be.
[TOM BEDELL] Exactly or, or in fact, is the weather change the transmission rates or do the transmission rates change the people that they impact. And all of a sudden, the one set of assumptions we have yesterday are completely different today. The one thing that remains a constant, for most of us, is our values. So, even though we don't know how to respond to the things that are outside of our control, the one thing we can do is stay true to our own characters, who we are as an individual who we are as a spouse and a parent. And we could stay the course with those values. And that becomes where most people find their strength.
[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] And I think you're seeing a lot of that now with a lot of restaurants that can't necessarily serve the public but then they're opening up food for kids that are on free and reduced lunch or I've seen some photographers that are offering free services to you know, take images of what they're doing now to help support their communities. And I mean, you see a lot of people banding together and offering their services for free or discounted in order to kind of help people continue to move through this whole phase.
[TOM BEDELL] And if that can continue, actually, that's helping us build community. Right, because a lot of those acts of generosity and, and purpose to help make a better outcome aren't focused just on people that are in our direct families or people we know. It's all of us together, caring about the whole community.
[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] I love that. And I feel like that place of service has been a piece at least, that I feel you've instilled in all of your businesses that you've ever been a part of or created.
[TOM BEDELL] Well, our number one objective has always been in fact, I learned this from inherited it from my father, Berkley Bedell. And that is that the number one rule in life should be the golden rule. Treat others as, as we would want to be treated. And if you apply that principle to everything you do, it means you don't lie, because you wouldn't like to be lied to. And means you are kind to others because you'd like others to be kind of you. It means you empower other people to make the right decisions for them in their life and in their circumstance. That's always been the beacon that has led to the way I've tried to provide leadership and whatever I do.
[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] So I want to jump back to your first business because at 14 years old, and I kind of want to tackle this from two things. So number one, I feel like there's a certain type of personality that has is a little bit more entrepreneurial-minded in general. But number two at 14, I mean, how do you even know what to do and where to start? Because a lot of people that I work with are, are plagued by so many all of these things that they don't even get their business started or they wait too long to do certain things or they're so slow to make decisions because they are paralyzed by all of the what-ifs. So at 14 years old, how did you just get started? And why did you know what choices to make?
[TOM BEDELL] Well, you don't.
That's what's so much fun about an entrepreneurial perspective versus a business plan, very organized, perspective. You know, there's not a person that any of us know, that doesn't have great ideas and doesn't have ideas that if executed, could be successful enterprises or services or causes can be successful financially, socially, fulfillment wise, everybody has those.
But most people don't execute because they see the barriers in front of them much bigger than they see the pathway or the opportunity. Probably the biggest difference between somebody with an entrepreneurial personality versus others is, like I don't see barriers. I don't have fear of failure. I have no idea whenever I get into usually how it's going to be successful or the challenges we're going to have or how hard it's going to be or what's going to pop up and get in the way. I spend my time on figuring out how to solve those things, how to get around them how to do things differently than others to get different results. And you have to have a willingness to really not engage the reasons that you might fail. You'd have to have trepidation that you will not fail, no matter what, that I'm going to find a way to see this through and, and to get to the results that I dream up.
[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] Do you think that your 14-year-old version of yourself compared to now in this newest company that you're in, do you feel like you were more of a risk-taker then you are now just because of things you've experienced? Or do you think you still take sort of the same amount of risk?
[TOM BEDELL] Oh, I don't think there's any question when you're 14, you're a total risk-taker. You're, you're completely unrealistic about reality, you don't really know what all those barriers are, are going to be or the least they're gonna confront you because you've ever experienced before. So you don't even think about it, right?
So when dad gave me the name of an agent that he had been working with to import some snaps and swivels for fishing tackle leaders he was making and invited me to come into his office and he had what was called a telex machine. And, well, it was a little slip of paper that you would run through it. And basically you type up Morse code, you know, it had a keyboard on it, but it would punch holes in this paper. And then that would send a signal through a cable that ran from California to Japan. And that's how people got messages. So we didn't have obviously WiFi email, fax, that is any of that kind of thing.
Ashiki got the message and he agreed to go down to Nagoya, where there were some guitar factories. Got catalogs, got price lists and mailed them to me. I was giving some guitar lessons and needed guitars to sell. So I went through the catalogs and, and picked out some samples that I'd like to have, Ashiki send and of course this all this took months, not like it does today. Right? And I got these guitars in and I went around to a couple of local music stores and showed them to them.
I didn't know how to price them. So I just took what my cost was to get them to our house to our basement, doubled it. And I was still half price compared to everybody else that was in the business. Because, well, I didn't have a warehouse. I didn't have any expenses. I was not old enough to drive. So I had to hire a friend to drive the car. So I could go to visit the dealers. But I had no overhead. So all of a sudden, I'm selling guitars to retail stores. And somebody might say, man, that was a brilliant strategy, but I didn't know that having no overhead was an advantage. Delivering direct to the dealer without having to ship as an advantage. I didn't know all those things then. Right.
[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] Well, and because you were in high school and you know did end up going to college, you didn't carry on the business. You also your growth wasn't limited necessarily because you weren't going to go outside of your area. I think it's a lesson in understanding who you want to be and what you want your business to be in that moment. And doing it to what makes sense for what you're doing as opposed to like you had no reason to try to scale and compete with the big companies?
[TOM BEDELL] Well, you know, it's, it's an interesting comparison to what's going on right now in the industry that you're doing a lot of work in the CBD industry.
So, back to the 1960s. When the Beatles showed up on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. I was 14. And the whole culture in America and I think in Europe as well, just changed.
We became a place where learning to play the guitar playing in a band, learning music expressing our ideas, through song and poetry just swept my whole generation. And so it was an insatiable demand for guitars for musical instruments. It was almost like if you could get your hands on a guitar and wanted to sell it to the next 10 minutes it was a piece of cake, because it was insatiable.
Of course, whenever you're in a bubble like that, what happens very quickly, is more companies start up and other companies grow and different inventions happen. And so expectations of consumers change, and an industry then becomes much more mature. And in a way, that's kind of the parallel to what I think I see happening in the CBD market.
Where wow an idea can be germinated, literally, yeah, many years ago, and it was discovered that while there were a lot of medical benefits to this organic plant called hemp and all of a sudden invention started and ways of using a change the ways the process evolved, and fields started being changed from other crops and an old industry exploded. And now we're going to see more people enter it becomes more competitive prices come down. And it'll become a mature industry. Like the guitar industry has.
[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] Yeah. No, that's a good point. And I think just to kind of transition in your entrepreneurial experience, you know, you've been in several so you kind of have started in the guitar industry, you're back in the guitar industry. But you know, even though when you went into the fishing tackle business, that wasn't your initial baby. You were still very much growing it as I would still say as an entrepreneur. And then I guess my question is, when you move through all of these different industries, do you think that some of your solutions and ways about doing business stayed the same and some were different? Or do you think some of the business fundamentals do truly carry regardless of the industry that you're in?
[TOM BEDELL] Well, I would start with your core values and principles and who you, yourself and your company, what you want them to represent in terms of values and character. And those have to get really established and solidified. Those don't change over time. Treating other people the way you'd like to be treated, caring about the planet, wanting to honor the customer as the ultimate decider of whether your enterprise or business is successful or not. Those are to me core principles that have been part of everything, hopefully ever done in my life.
The particular idea or enterprise you go into, so for me, just because it's how I approach a business is, curiosity becomes a critical, absolutely critical component of building a new enterprise, because we have to offer the market something different and better than is already available, or there's no reason for our enterprise to exist.
[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] And I don't want to go too deep into that in this episode, because we are going to do Part Two and talk about innovation and I have a lot of questions for you and how you've innovated products because you've definitely done a great, great job with that. So we'll tease that for the next episode, but don't go too deep into that one now.
Just because I think it's it's fascinating I think Exactly. What you're saying is so true, like how do you take something to market? I think that's a whole separate conversation because I do think that that's part of what sets people just like you said at the beginning anybody everybody has good ideas and anybody can make money but it's how you actually present it and take it to market that allows people to be successful and some don't.
Yeah. Okay, so then I have a question about entrepreneurial personalities and what it was that was tugging at you because you were in the fishing industry for a long time. I mean, that's the job I always have known you to be in growing up and when I was in college, you retired you quote-unquote, retired, sold the company right? And took some time off. And so what is it about you and your personality and your just why you decided that you couldn't just stay retired?
[TOM BEDELL] Okay, so let me answer your first point is why did you retire and then why did you have a hard time staying retired? Then why did you go back?
Our company, when I joined it in 1979, we were doing about $20 million in revenue. When I finally sold all the shares in 2007, we were doing a little over $300 million in revenue and the company we sold to had a fishing division that was doing about $200 million. So by putting those together, it became a $500 million enterprise.
My motivation to sell it was that we had gotten big enough that I was no longer an entrepreneur, I was becoming a bureaucrat. In other words, we had, I'm a CEO and then I had a COO that was running the day to day company. I had a new executive committee and we had long-range planning and we laid out a course of what everybody was supposed to do for this year and next year and the following year and have a three-year plan. And I've never operated like that. I've always wanted to be in the market I want I wanted to know, you know, what do people want that they are not getting? Or what are they getting that they would like better if we could do it this way or that way, or curiosity about different ideas and what other product categories could teach me things about things we could do with our product categories. And I lost the ability to interact individually with people throughout my organization with that kind of curiosity and relationship and marketing and so forth, because I had to be structured by our corporate priorities. Yeah, so it wasn't fun. It wasn't fun for me anymore.
So I decided I wanted to sell it. Which we did. And then Molly and I, my wife, we well, after, let's see, I think my last day on the job was January 8, 2008. And so we had a lot of fun and did a lot of things have some incredible travel experiences and enjoyed life to the fullest.
But I always had that nagging within me of I want to work, I want to make a difference. I want to be around people, I want to have challenges, I want to accomplish things. I want to do things other people haven't done, you know, things that make us who we are. And happily, Molly was very similar, and an extraordinary entrepreneur. And so we instead of that need to get back into the action being a different conflict between us it actually was very synergetic. And the timing was perfect. And we both wanted to go back to work. And here we are.
[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] So I know how did you decide that you wanted to go back into the guitar business?
[TOM BEDELL] Because my fondest days were, well 1964 into the 1970s.
You know, I played in a band, I had a music store I had my own brand of guitars, it was my formative years. It was a product and a lifestyle that I'm really passionate about. So I, I enjoyed very much the challenges and opportunities to build what was Berkeley and Company that became Pure Fishing into the world's largest fishing company. That was a wonderful experience, but the products themselves and the activity were never as deeply seeded in my passion as guitars and music. And I chose to go back to what I really love.
[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] Yeah. Well, I think that's an important point. Because I think a lot of people enter the corporate world or the career path and don't actually pay, you know, we work to make the money to pay the bills, as opposed to really understanding that we can create something different and create our own path and still pay the bills. So I think it's good to challenge that. I think one of the things that you're doing that's super cool is as part of your service things, you created an organization to help college students really get into the entrepreneurial spirit, as well. And so I'm just curious why the Okoboji Entrepreneurial Institute was something that you wanted to be a part of, and kind of what are some of the cool stories that you've heard come out of that are like, you know, moments that you've heard some of these young kids kind of say like this is possible now or maybe I didn't think it would be possible before.
[TOM BEDELL] So, I always have had a, an interest, even a desire to teach. And since I had gone to law school at the University of Iowa and had been involved with investing in some, you know, projects there. I was given the opportunity to well help fund the entrepreneurial incubator, which is a building where students can actually set up their businesses and then people from anywhere but mostly from around Iowa can coach and teach and help connect and network and so forth, these college students actually go into business.
Well, we grew up in one of the most gorgeous places in Iowa, the Iowa Great Lakes. And it seemed like a perfect place for us to hold a retreat every summer with the top 32 entrepreneurial students on the university campuses, University of Northern Iowa State University, University of Iowa and Buena Vista University. And it is now going into the 15th year the summer it's a week-long program where students are really, number one they network with successful people from all over the state. Then whoever happens to be the governor, the time has come every time to address the students. Think through a whole clinic in a game of starting companies and competing with each other. So it's been just a wonderful experience. Empowering. Several of those students who actually returned to the Great Lakes and now live and work.
[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] I think if we could all channel our inner like 22 year old and just go for it. It would be incredible what types of businesses would come out and I think now compare it. So you talked about, you know when you were 14, and you had to wait months to kind of pull guitars together. Don't you think it's easier now to start a business but it's noisier? So like you have to be a little bit more on point like you said with your messaging and your vision and, and how you go about talking about your product?
[TOM BEDELL] Yes, right. When I first started lecturing at OEI, I had one approach And the way I talk to the students now is completely different.
In 15 years, it has changed so much. 15 years ago, the whole speech was about, find your passion, find what you love, find what isn't work. It's just something that you want to do all the time. If you think about it, when you get up in the morning, you think about it, when you go to bed at night, it's your life, etc, etc, etc. That was the speech. And what I learned was that, that it was just going over people's heads and the questions that I would get afterward would frequently be from a lot of the students, how do you know what your passion is? I don't know what my passion is.
And what I've learned is in today's world, the opportunity to be an entrepreneur is bigger than it has ever been if existence of humankind. Things are moving so fast in terms of technology, innovation receptiveness to new lifestyle, new tools, new ways to create connectivity among human beings. Worldwide, the whole thing is opened up into where the sky's the limit in terms of opportunity, but that makes it more difficult it's not like, my dad was a farmer, his dad was a farmer. I'm expected to be farmer, I know what my life is going to be.
So, opening up this really broad landscape that you can choose from so many different things, knowing exactly where you fit in that is really hard. And so now I talk a lot more with students about, figure out who you are. What makes you feel good? How do you feel like you uniquely are able to contribute in whatever way? Not necessarily just in business, in life and in friendship in in every aspect of life. And if you get grounded in who you are, then the pathways that you take will evolve according to things that you become passionate about. Because they allow you to be who you are. They're not asking you to be somebody else.
When you talk to somebody that says, I really don't like my job. What they're really saying is they don't fit their personality or their dreams or their character or how they like to function during the day, doesn't match up with the expectation of the job that they're in. It doesn't mean as a good job or a bad job its a bad fit.
[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] Right. Well, I love this because I feel like as the industry in any industry gets really noisy. I mean, they all are. I mean, I do digital marketing online for a living. And I mean, you want to talk about a saturated market is huge. And so the more like you're saying, you can trust yourself, who you are, there's plenty of business for everybody. So if you can know who you are and what you're trying to target and who you really want to serve, and you really go after that group of people, you're going to be happier all around because you're working with people that are the right fit for you. But then you're also not trying to hit the whole ocean of people you're trying to get a smaller segment. And that is also going to resonate and here resonate with you and how you run your business.
[TOM BEDELL] Right and the other interesting change in culture that I know it's an inappropriate label, but the effect of the millennium personality chapter. It's about patience. If the world doesn't give you what you want or what you think you deserve, you get it. And you get it by being who you are and living who you are, and allowing things to evolve from that.
So when people come out of college, they say, Well, I'm going to get a job, but I'm going to make $150,000 a year and I'm going to take these vacations and have this kind of a house and do this and do that. That's not really how life works.
And I don't even think it's gratifying. Because what's gratifying is when you really are clear on who and what you are and what you stand for and what you find fulfillment and those are the things that will give you lifetime satisfaction.
[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] Yeah. Well and I think that's a great place to end maybe this episode unless you have any other tips for people or last thoughts about life as an entrepreneur and why it's amazing. But otherwise, we can come back for part two.
[TOM BEDELL] Okay, let's go
[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] I want to give my dad another huge huge shout out and thank you for joining me on this part one of this two-part series. I've heard a lot of these stories before but just love hearing them again. He said like I said, it's such an inspiration to me and all of my siblings and hopefully now to you as well. So I love being an entrepreneur myself. I love working with other entrepreneurs, hearing your stories and sharing that kind of growth and impact you can have on your community.
So if you enjoyed this episode, please make sure you subscribe wherever you listen, so that you don't miss out on a single episode. And make sure you tune in next week. Part Two, where we're going to talk all about innovation, pushing boundaries and doing things a little bit differently. We'll see in the next one