In any aspect of life, it can be said that everybody deserves a chance. Minorities in business are those that’s found that chance and grabbed the opportunity to attain prosperity. Tech Entrepreneur Jeff Hoffman gives his insights on why it’s in the best interest of the business industry to help the minority. Having done a startup, Jeff gives his advice for minorities that are aiming for success in business. He talks about the core foundations that you need to prepare when going into business to ensure you stay long enough to succeed.
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Helping Minority Business Owners with Priceline.com Founder Jeff Hoffman
Jeff, I won’t do you great justice in introducing you, but I am excited and thrilled that you’re on MBA Minority Business Access. We’re excited to have you here. What I want you to do is go ahead and tell my audience who you are and what you’ve done.
My name is Jeff Hoffman. I am a tech entrepreneur. I’ve been building tech companies and internet companies like Priceline.com, Booking.com as well as uBid.com. That’s the space I’ve been in. I’m excited to be here with you because I’ve been doing a lot to support underserved communities. For example, I did the keynote at the Black Business Expo in Houston, Texas. That’s about 15,000 black business owners. I did the Blacktech Week in Miami. I did the Bronner Bros. hair show.
I’ve been trying to help communities that get less attention, the minority businesses. Everything we can do to create more, to encourage more people and to help them build their businesses is important to me. It’s a mission I’ve taken so I’m excited to get a chance to talk to you. That’s what I’m spending my time on now. How do we help other people improve their lives and lives of people around them? One of the ways to do that is to turn an idea into a profitable business. This enables you to take care of a community and a lot of other things.
What would be some advice that you have given to minorities in business?
The first piece always starts with education. Education is not equally accessible around this country, but in a lot of cases it’s economically based, etc. That’s an excuse. I work with a lot of ex-cons now and I am tough on them. These are good people that made bad decisions. They’re not bad people. They were in tough situations. They made the only decision they thought they could. Now they want to turn their life around so we’re tough on them. If you can’t get education, find it. We live in an internet age where you can take courses on Coursera. You can study TED Talks. The first step is get educated. Anywhere, anytime, all the time and continue to learn. That’s the first piece of advice we give them. The second piece is about building your network and you build your network before you need it.
I am an engineer. I’m not a finance guy. The list of things I don’t know how to do is way longer than the list of stuff I do. What you’ve got to do is surround yourself with people smarter than you. We teach them the value of networking and how to find and reach out to people that are smarter than you everywhere and build that network around you. The third step is you’ve got some education, you’ve got resources, people to go around you. Now, you’ve got to solve a real problem in the world. Economic prosperity, independence and freedom comes from solving a problem that is valuable to somebody in the world. My first startup when I was twenty years old or something, you used to have to wait in line to check-in at an airport at the ticket counter. My first product was those kiosks that you checked-in at an airport. I solved a real problem. Every airport wanted a kiosk. People didn’t want to wait in line and that enabled me to obtain economic freedom because I solve somebody’s problem. That’s the third thing we share with them.
When starting a business or running a business, a lot of entrepreneurs, especially minorities are undercapitalized. What do you suggest for them?
That is a two-sided problem, you are absolutely right. A big part of that is reaching out to the other end. It’s people that do things like you do. You give back so much and help many people. We need more of the people, once they make it, to turn around, reach back, grab the hand of somebody that needs the help and pull them forward. First of all, we need more business Angels. I like the fact that they use the term Angels because sometimes they are. We need more successful people that came out of a situation that are minority role models to help. They need to reach back and help. That’s the first step. Business Angel networks are important. We go into communities like Ferguson and Baltimore or wherever there was trouble.
We went into a lot of these communities. I do this with Ray Lewis, the football player. He’s a friend of mine and sometimes Jim Brown comes. We’ve gone into these communities to try to fire up the community. After that, we ask the corporations and the companies to step up. People need to help their own. These are your people. These are the entrepreneurs in your community, help them start a business. That’s one end and then the other end, part of the reason that they have trouble getting funding is they haven’t been given the training on how to pitch this stuff. I sit through these pitches and we did one here in LA. We call it Black Tech Day. We had all these minority entrepreneurs pitch businesses. I said, “Has anybody ever taught you guys how to present your idea and how to pitch?” They said, “No.” I said, “If we could get you more training on how to pitch an idea, how to write an investor deck, how to do all that stuff, your odds would go up of getting funded.” There are a bunch of things we need to do at once so they will increase minority funding for businesses.
The work that you’re doing is totally awesome, especially in minority communities. If a new entrepreneur in the minority communities start and it could be male or female, what would you suggest? Other than reading a book and building their network, what else would you suggest?
One of the important things is finding mentorship. That’s the other thing that people you and I need to do. We need to encourage more people in every community to be mentors in their own community. A lot of people say, “I’ve never built a business, how can I be a mentor?” How about because you’re an HR executive at a big company, and you know everything about HR? This entrepreneur doesn’t know anything about hiring people. Almost everybody has some value that they can provide as a mentor. They just don’t think of themselves as mentor.
What you and I have to do is tell them, “Your knowledge is valuable to this community. You need to mentor.” What I tell these people is you’ve got to find a mentor. Mentors aren’t going to ring your doorbell. You’ve got to reach out. The way I found my first mentor, I showed up at a social event on a Saturday he was going. I bought a ticket and he’s like, “What are you doing here?” I said, “Just checking it out.” We met at a social event because I couldn’t get an appointment in his office. I found out he was going to this thing on Saturday. I bought a ticket and showed up, wandered over and met the guy. Go out and find a mentor. Find somebody that can help you. If you’re on the other side of the equation, find a way to be the mentor. It’s important to have someone to turn to.
One of the things I remember is when I started my first business, I was going to get a $1 million loan. I had to call the guy every day for six months. I would call him and they were like, “We have nothing different to tell you.” I said, “I’m just calling to tell you I’m still here.” After the sixth month, he said, “I’m going to do this loan for you. No problem, because anyone who calls me 180 days straight is going to pay me back.”
Persistence is so important. For them to see that in you and that’s good advice to give these startups, is you’ve got to persist.
Don’t take advice from proximity. Take it from relevance.
I have found that the role is very challenging. It’s up and down. When you’re in that low spot and business is not going well, and everyone around you is telling you to abort it and do something else. What would you say to someone?
That is the reason you’ve got to find your tribe when all those moments are going wrong, and everything feels like it’s going down. First of all, all of us have been through failure. Nothing ever goes perfect. Life is messy. That’s God’s plan. If everything went perfect, it’d be a pretty boring life here. We didn’t have stuff to deal with. You have to believe you’re never given more than you can handle. There is that belief as well. You’re being tested for a reason so that you come out stronger. What I mean by finding your tribe is someone that’s been through this, someone that came through the other side. You’ve got to find that person that can give you an honest assessment. One of the things I said on the stage here at this event is, “We tend to get our advice from proximity and not relevance.” Meaning your buddies, spouse, and mom is telling you it’s a bad idea. In fact, they’re not qualified to say that.
If I was a young entrepreneur and everything seemed to be going bad and I got a chance to talk to Solomon, if you said, “It’s fixable. Here’s what you need to do,” I would believe it. I would have connected with someone who’s been there and done that. By the same token, if you said to me, “Jeff, I’m not seeing it. Maybe you should spend your life’s energy on something else.” I would take that advice. Find those people. Find the tribe and the people that have been there, done that whose advice can help you make that decision. If those people tell you to keep going, then keep fighting.
Jeff, for my audience, how do they reach out to you and contact you?
It’s Jeff@JeffHoffman.com. I made it easy. My website, it’s called JeffHoffman.com, so they can find me there. The social media I’m on the most is LinkedIn. I’m on there every day. The other social media, I don’t get to as much but either LinkedIn or Jeff@JeffHoffman.com. I love connecting with people because in the end, the next great idea is going to come from someplace we never thought of. Sometimes people think because they have a low status in society, they’re less important or less intelligent. Intelligence is equally distributed across the whole planet, opportunity is not. That’s the problem you’re fixing. There are brilliant people.
I was dealing with a former drug dealer. He got out and he was trying to turn his life around. He wanted to start a tech company. He knew he made mistakes and didn’t want to make them again. I was teaching him how to run a business. I said, “Let’s talk about cashflow.” He said, “I am all over that.” I said, “Let’s talk about building teams.” He said, “I know how to do that.” “Let’s talk about marketing.” He said, “I already got that.” I said, “Do you know what makes a good entrepreneur unfortunately or fortunately? Drug dealers.” He already knew how to do all this stuff. He had a skillset. What he needed was someone to believe in him and someone to tell him that he didn’t have to go back to the old way. We had to change the friends around him but he’s doing amazing now. People like you and I, we’ve got to be out there pushing them. We’ve got to be out there encouraging them and finding the people that can make a difference because they can. Any one person. This is a guy that society wrote off because he was in federal prison. This is a guy that is going to be one of the world changers now that somebody believed in him.
Build your network before you even need it.
Could you tell us about your greatest success?
Do you know that saying, “The two most important days in your life are the day you’re born and the day you figure out why?” Mine probably has nothing to do with business. I was blessed enough that several of the companies I was part of became multibillion-dollar companies. It’s not that. I’ve been part of IPOs. It’s got nothing to do with any of that. We’ve been blessed enough that we won a Grammy in the music business and we won an Emmy. None of those things came anywhere close to the first time somebody encountered me. This was a 40-year-old black man that was down on his luck. The world had dealt him every bad hand you ever could. He had every reason to give up and everybody wrote him off from society.
I spent a couple of days with him. Years later, I was at a conference and a very well-dressed gentleman like you, very refined, came up and started talking. All of a sudden, he said, “You don’t remember me, do you?” I said, “We met?” He said, “It was four years ago.” I said, “I don’t remember the event.” He said, “I was on the street. I was down and out and I was thinking of committing suicide. You spent a couple of days with me and it turned my life around. You lit the spark that caused me to believe again. Now I own a business. I have employees. My kids are in college and I have a home now. If you didn’t spend that time with me, I wouldn’t be standing here.” That was the coolest moment of my life, to find out that we can change somebody else’s life by sharing our time with them.
That reminds me of a moment because a lot of people ask me that same question and they think I’m going to talk about all being number five or whatever minority in the energy or corner in the technology market and smart homes. I’m like, “No, something a little simpler, more basic. I helped someone and to see them make it. That’s the greatest thing.” It’s helping someone.
We are doing a project. I’m inviting you. I want you to come and see it. We’re doing a project now in Watts. I’m working with the former leaders of the Bloods and the Crips. These are the guys that are now fathers, husbands and they have children. They’re the ones that negotiated the famous gang truce back in the ‘90s of the Bloods and the Crips. They’re now older and they have families. They want to restore Watts in Compton to a family neighborhood that’s safe again. They don’t want their own kids shot on the streets. We’ve been tearing up Watts and rebuilding it. We’re working with these former gang members and showing how a community can reinvent itself. Every time I go there, I feel like my chest is going to burst because of the pride of what they’re doing. They’re doing this themselves. I would like to invite you to come and visit because you will be blown away by people that society wrote off. They are rebuilding their community to make it family-friendly and it’s working.
Jeff, I would love to be there and I would like to thank you so much for being on Minority Business Access.
Thank you for having me.
I appreciate it.
- Black Business Expo
- Blacktech Week
- Bronner Bros.
- LinkedIn – Jeff Hoffman
About Jeff Hoffman
Jeff Hoffman is a successful entrepreneur, proven CEO, worldwide motivational speaker, bestselling author, Hollywood film producer, a producer of a Grammy winning jazz album, and executive producer of an Emmy Award winning television show. In his career, he has been the founder of multiple startups, he has been the CEO of both public and private companies, and he has served as a senior executive in many capacities. Jeff has been part of a number of well-known successful startups, including Priceline.com/Booking.com, uBid.com and more.
Jeff serves on the boards of companies in the US, Europe, the Middle East, South America, Africa, and Asia. He supports entrepreneurs and small businesses on a worldwide basis. He is the Chief Evangelist and a founding board member of the Global Entrepreneurship Network, which works with entrepreneurs in 175 countries, as well as being a founding board member of The Unreasonable Group. He supports the White House, the State Department, the United Nations, and similar organizations internationally on economic growth initiatives and entrepreneurship programs.
Jeff is a frequent keynote speaker, having been invited to speak in over 60 countries. He speaks on the topics of innovation, entrepreneurship, and business leadership, and is the author of the book SCALE, a how-to guide for growing your business. Jeff also teaches innovation workshops to major corporations on a regular basis. Jeff is a featured business expert seen on Fox News, Fox Business, CNN, CNN International, Bloomberg News, CNBC, ABC, and NPR, and in publications including Forbes, Inc., Time, Fast Company, the Wall Street Journal, and more.
Jeff was honored with the Champion of Entrepreneurship Award from JP Morgan Chase, Citibank, and Rising Tide Capital, as well as receiving the George Brown Award for International Cooperation from the US State Department. Jeff received the Commitment to Excellence Award from City Summit in 2019, as well as receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award and being inducted into the Entrepreneurs Hall of Fame for his contributions to the field of entrepreneurship. He was also honored with the Best of the Best Award from the national CEO association (Collegiate Entrepreneurship Organization).
Outside of the world of technology, Jeff has produced TV shows, has produced movies in Hollywood, has produced musical events including concerts, tours, and charity events with such artists as Elton John, Britney Spears, NSYNC, Boyz II Men, and others, and serves on numerous charity and non-profit boards.