At the age of 39, Ryan Blair has an impressive list of accomplishments that include becoming a multimillionaire CEO and venture capitalist, as well as a best-selling author.
But those achievements are even more noteworthy when you discover his background: Blair is a high school dropout and former Los Angeles gang member.
In a recent interview with Yahoo, Blair reveals that he was arrested 10 times by the age of 16. But after developing a mentor relationship with the man who gave him his first job, Blair worked his way up to become vice president of the company, and has gone on to found and invest in a number of businesses.
Blair’s new book, Rock Bottom to Rock Star, aims to share what he affectionately calls “lessons from the business school of hard knocks.”
Here are some of my favorite pieces of Blair’s advice:
1. Principles and values over all else.
Blair tells the story of how he pulled back on the decision for his company to go public, and accept a buyout instead.
“As an entrepreneur, [an IPO] is like the dream, it kind of certifies you…especially if you’re an ex-gang member and you’re ringing the bell on the NYSE. It kind of says, ‘you’ve made it,’ in terms of transition,” says Blair.
So why did he change direction?
“My ego wanted to do that IPO,” says Blair. “But my fiduciary responsibility was to my shareholders.” Once the public valuation of Blair’s company matched the number value of the buyout (792 million dollars), he decided it would be in everyone’s best interests to pull out. “I had to say no, because my principles and values just knew it was the wrong thing to do.”
2. Hiring great people is a given. But it all starts with you.
Blair has worked hard to build a stellar brand, run his company, and take care of family responsibilities. When asked how he juggles it all, he responded:
You have to hire great people. So I hire the very best of the very best, but I do it all myself at first to master the process…Once I get the process down, I then turn [it] over.
We’ve all seen CEOs (or even project managers) who serve as the right hand, while having no idea what’s going on in the left. To effectively lead a company or project, you must get familiar with the ins and outs. That way, others will respect that you know what you’re talking about, and your direction will have true impact.
3. Never get comfortable.
“Most people don’t start businesses because they’re afraid that they have something to lose. For example, the middle class, they may have a mortgage, they may have a car payment, they may be trying to keep up with the Joneses and so they’re afraid to start a business or they may be comfortable in the middle class,” Blair says. “I didn’t have that comfort zone. I was always uncomfortable.”
Blair’s confesses his biggest challenge now is maintaining that attitude. “Companies are getting killed today faster than ever, because some entrepreneurs are attacking big companies with that same mindset of having nothing to lose.”
When it comes to our personal development, it’s important to develop a commitment to continual growth.
Because if you’re not moving forward, you’re heading in the wrong direction.