There are some “rules” of business success most entrepreneurs abide by. But many also have their own “secrets”—things they do or believe that helped them achieve success. In “Secrets of Success,” a weekly interview series here at Web.com’s Small Business Forum, I ask some of today’s smartest, most innovative, most successful business owners to share their insights and success secrets with you.
Meet: John Espinoza, the founder and CCO of MyBrand. John’s spent more than 20 years perfecting the art of branding and marketing strategy, working for several Top 10 ad agencies on accounts such as Hilton Hotels, Pizza Hut, Nestlé, Disney and Century 21 Real Estate, to name just a few.
John then started Green Street Ads Inc., which was all about providing innovative solutions for his clients. While working with a client, John developed a pilot version of MyBrand and decided to make the program available to all companies last year.
MyBrand includes a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Custom Mapping feature that allows companies to make custom-branded maps. John says his “desire for creating memorable design that results in smart branding that is accessible and affordable for everyone” is the reason he started MyBrand.
Rieva Lesonsky: What did you want to be when you grew up?
John Espinoza: I wanted to be an architect; I actually declared that as my major at Cal Poly Pomona. Before entering Cal Poly I had already been to Art Center College of Design as a high school scholarship student and loved that experience. Design seemed so distant within the Cal Poly program that, after the first semester, I changed gears and got into the Art Center and have been happy with that decision ever since.
Lesonsky: Why did you start your own business?
Espinoza: When I was about seven, I visited my Aunt Lena’s home. Her home had a red door, and going inside her house, everything was so well designed that I felt different. I felt a kind of vibration. Since then I have noticed that well-thought-out advertising, design and branding gives me that same kind of buzz. Now I want to give other people that sensation one gets from good design, by creating products and services that make it accessible to more people.
Lesonsky: Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?
Espinoza: Montebello High School had a great mix of people, world-class achievers like tennis star Jack Kramer, actor Edward James Olmos, and on the other end of the spectrum a whole bunch of guys who were just trying to get out of high school without doing too much. I was somewhere in the middle, coming from a family of nine, with superstar older brothers all on the college prep path. I assumed I too was going to college and was taking all of the pre-requisite college prep courses.
I also really enjoyed art and design and took an art class as an elective. I was in class with students that were OK with underachieving while I took the class pretty seriously. My teacher, Mr. Van Dyke, noticed I was showing up and paying attention and nominated me for a high school scholarship to the Art Center College of Design. I got the scholarship—and when I first entered through an orange door, I saw the student exhibits and was blown away. That moment changed my life.
Lesonsky: What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?
Espinoza: My dad told me, “If you want to start your own business, you had better do it soon. Because if you wait ‘til later you won’t want to do it as you get older.” He had a way of challenging me that made me want to reach for more and with that bit of advice I made the decision to start my own business in earnest.
Lesonsky: What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?
Espinoza: Marketing—it’s the neglected necessity. After six years over 60 percent of small businesses fail. Research also shows that customers are increasingly researching a company online first before making a decision to do business with them. Small business owners need to do market research and use the intelligence gathered to shape their marketing strategies. Owners think that it’s “too expensive” or that “I don’t have the expertise to do that.”
There are free tools, such as Survey Monkey, you can use to find out what your customers are interested in. Measuring tools like Google Analytics help you gauge the effectiveness of what’s working in the digital world and weed out what is not. Use social listening tools like Hootsuite to see how you are perceived in the marketplace. You can reach out to your market with these tools to perform better, and it’s all free. If you want more information, I wrote an easy-to-understand eBook and it’s also free on the website as a resource for anyone to use.
Lesonsky: Do you have a 2015 small business prediction?
Espinoza: A lot more prospective buyers will be using mobile devices to find out about your business. They’re going to look you up on their iPhones or Android phones when they are in the moment thinking about your product or service, so make sure you are mobile friendly.
Lesonsky: What’s your favorite book?
Espinoza: Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, by Walter Isaacson. I had first read Isaacson’s bio of Steve Jobs and then read his bio of Albert Einstein, followed by the Benjamin Franklin biography. The Franklin biography stuck with me because I love reading how successful people often face seemingly insurmountable obstacles and find a way to persevere and ultimately make a difference. Benjamin Franklin’s life wasn’t exactly perfect, but he succeeded in becoming a great man.
I also enjoy reading historical fiction like The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. I was so engrossed with his description of how great cathedrals were built by hand without sophisticated tools and by ordinary people. I went on to read many other of his books, including the trilogy, Fall of Giants, Winter of the World, and recently Edge of Eternity. If history class had ever been this entertaining I might have become a history major.
Lesonsky: Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?
Espinoza: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.” – Henry Ford
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