Gerard Adams, Co-founder, Elite Daily
At 18, Gerard Adams dropped out of college after one semester. That semester was all it took to confirm what Adams knew all along. Like all entrepreneurs, he just wasn’t built to follow the rules. The idea of getting a degree, to eventually get a job, to eventually retire, wasn’t going to be the life for him.
“That’s when I made the decision to … really put the pressure on myself to learn how to build businesses on my own,” Adams says.
While most people would go out and look for mentors by joining a community of some sort, Adams brought the community to him. In order to pursue his interest in investing and stocks, Adams built an online community for stock traders and investors, growing it to more than 10,000 active voices, and allowing him to learn from the best of the best.
From there, he had his share of wins and losses, from getting a job where he helped build a company to 18,000 shareholders, to having the product demonstration fail in a live demonstration. He then built his own marketing agency and started generating hundreds of thousands of dollars, which he then invested heavily into the stock market, only for the 2008 recession to hit.
No matter what, though, Adams was always learning.
Taking everything that he learned from his experiences, together with his co-founder, Adams built Elite Daily, a news site for millennials, a place where Generation Y could be given a voice to talk about everything from economics to health. Over the next three-and-a-half years, they grew their WordPress site to a company with more than 200 employees, with 80 million unique visitors to the site per month, and 80 to 100 articles a day. The eventually sold Elite Daily to the Daily Mail for $50 million.
That was two years ago, and since then Adams has invested in multiple startups and mentored many young entrepreneurs by sharing his years of experience.
- The blessing and the curse of raising capital and what it means
- Adams’ amazing story of going from college dropout to the voice of a generation
- What it takes to build a media company that reaches millions
- How to judge a company through brand equity versus revenue
- The true cost of being a founder and what it means to be a leader who inspires
Full Transcript of Podcast with Gerard Adams
Nathan: Hello and welcome to another episode of the “Foundr Podcast.” My name is Nathan Chan and I am your host of this show. And I’m also the CEO and Publisher of “Foundr Magazine.”
All right. So what’s been happening in my world, really, really aggressive on growth at the moment. We’ve got a lot of products going out. We’re scaling our content, paid and unpaid. We’re posting at least five to six articles on the blog per week now which is really, really exciting. And this is, like, really, really high quality content.
Now, one thing that I’ve learnt that I just wanted to share with you guys along the journey of, this is my first business, I’m learning it all along the way and one thing I learned is I really stepped outside recently and thought about what is it that we exactly do at “Foundr.” You know, we’ve got a magazine, we’ve got a podcast, we got all these courses, we’ve got a book, we’ve got all this content, we’ve got these social media channels. And I really thought, you know, at the end of the day, our core business is content whether it’s free or premium.
So, in order to grow the business, to be able to make an impact, which is our goal now, this is what my dream and vision is, is to build a household name, entrepreneurial brand that impacts the lives of tens of millions of people with our content on a monthly basis. In order to fulfill that mission, when you scale up content, you know, it’s only gonna go so far. And I think, you know, a lot of people say it’s all about, you know, quality content. I agree but it’s all quality content at scale. Every single successful media startup founder that I’ve spoken to on this podcast, you all know. Like, if you listen to these episodes with, like, the founder of The Next Web, or the Founder of Greatest [SP], or even Gerard that’s coming into this episode, they publish, like you know, 10, 20, 30, 40, 100 articles a day which is insane but, you know, this is how it’s got to be if we’re gonna build a brand. It’s a household name. We have to produce content at scale.
Free and premium, that’s where at Foundr, we’re a little different. We are an education startup as well and that’s like the main back end of the platform. So, you know, we have to scale up courses as well which is really, really exciting. So, that’s what we’re working on and I just wanted to share that little golden nugget that I’ve learned on my journey that’s really affecting the way that we work. And you can see, I take so much from these interviews. A lot of them, I am selfishly asking questions that I want to know and I hope that you’re enjoying this podcast. If you are, please do leave us a five star review, it’ll help more than you can imagine.
And I also want to remind you guys, speaking of courses, we are launching our first course which is gonna be one of eventually hundreds, I hope, and what we’re all working towards. Our first course, where we’re getting an instructor to teach, someone outside of the Foundr team. And pretty much, we’ve found out that you guys, a lot of you guys, haven’t started a business yet, we’re working on “How to Start an Online Store course,” you know, if you want to start an ecommerce business, sell physical products. We’ve teamed up with someone who’s an absolute superstar. She actually has been on this podcast and actually lives in Melbourne. So, if you go to foundrmag, foundrmag.com/ecommerce, you can find out more. And we’ll be launching a beta test group of that course early May.
All right. So, now let’s talk about today’s guest. I’ll stop rambling but pretty much guys, Gerard Adams, he started a company called elitedaily.com and he sold it to Daily Mail for over $50 million. Massive media startup. Very, very smart guy, I was lucky to catch up with him in Sydney about six months ago, learnt a lot from him. This is a great conversation, we talk about leadership, we talk about teamwork, we talk about investors, we talk about raising capital, we talk about bootstrapping, we talk about growth. we talk about content, we talk about social. Very, very cool, really great. This is a really, really, really, really valuable episode. I know you’re gonna get a lot of gold from this one. One of my favorites of the past few that I’ve done, I’ve liked. All right, that’s it from me. Now, let’s jump into the show. So, the first question I ask everyone that comes on is, how did you get your job?
Gerard: My job. Well, I don’t really look at it as a job. I look at it as just living life man, and doing what I love every day. I think, you know, that’s saying that, “When you find what you love doing, you never work a day in your life.” And I guess that’s half true because I definitely feel like I work harder than I would than just working as for someone else’s dream, you work twice as hard on your own. But I gotta admit, it doesn’t feel like a job, you know. And I guess, it took me to about, 18 years old, my first semester in college to realize that I wasn’t built to go and get a degree, to go and get a job. And that’s when I made the decision, I’m gonna drop out of my first semester and just really put the pressure on myself to learn how to build businesses on my own.
Nathan: So, what was that first business that you did because you’re co-founder of Elite Daily but you’ve been doing this for a while now. So, can you talk us through your background which I’m really, really curious around.
Gerard: Well, it started right around that time, 18, I dropped out of the University and I wanted to learn about the stock market. I was very interested in how these companies became successful and what the Wall Street was all about. So, I created an online community where people can come and talk about the companies that they were investing in, they were trading, they were interested in.
And what I realized was, one, I wanted to create a community so that I can learn from other people that were gurus at picking stocks and investing so that I can, you know, basically get some kind of mentorship through the community. And then, two, I just saw an opportunity in the marketplace where it was something that I was looking for. There were other forums back then, and online communities but none of which you can click on a member’s name and had a rating system so I decided, “Hey, well, why can’t I just take a rating system similar to eBay or Amazon and implement that into an online community for people who are interested in stocks.”
And therefore, if you click on Nathan Chan’s name, it would show, you know, that he invested into Apple at, you know, $50 per share, here’s why. And you kind of give some sense of credibility. So, if you had four or five gold stars, it meant that you were ranked over a hundred times and you can actually see that he was a…that he knew what he was doing. So, that kind of rating system is what worked. And I ended up getting about 10,000 active members talking back and forth on the site and that was a lot back then and I guess, it still is in a way.
You get 10,000 people talking, it’s powerful and that, kind of, that was my first business, you know. I did it because I wanted to learn from other people that were interested in the same thing and that kind of organically led me to a company reaching out to me saying, “Hey, how can we advertise on your website?” And I was like,”Oh, wow. I can actually make money doing this.”
And that’s when I started going all-in on, you know, how I can take what I’ve learned from creating this platform and build a real business around it. And that was the very first online business, I guess, if you would call it the real business back in, you know, back in elementary school where I was flipping lollipops. And then, in middle school, t-shirts. And then, high school, you know, everything from fake IDs to car parts, you know. But yeah, my real first real business was this online community called StockSpot.
Nathan: So, what happened next man? You started advertising, started building it up?
Gerard: Yeah, so building it up and then basically, the first company that reached out to me to advertise, said to me, “Hey, I don’t think you understand the value of what you’ve created. So, why don’t you come here, meet with us and we want to teach you, we want to offer you a position.” And they were kind of… Back then, advertising was done in a, for small companies, was done in a very traditional means, press releases, road shows, you know, magazines and things. And they were very interested in how to leverage the internet to tell us their story and to get exposure for their company. This was back in, like, 2004-2005 and they looked at me as a young guy that understood the internet.
So, they brought me on board. I helped them redo their website, did video marketing, PPC advertising, got them written up on my forum, got them written up with other bloggers. And they taught me what was called investor relations and public relations, to understand the, kind of, the investor side of things, and the, you know, and what PR really was.
And that led me to my first real failure, that kind of opened up my eyes. I helped built that company out to the largest shareholder base, any small cap company, 18,000 thousand shareholders. I was getting their content viral everywhere, I was excited because my platform was being built and the CEO was like, “Hey, I’ll allow you to build your, you know, your website while working for me as long as you get your job done, you know, get your work done.”
But then, it led me to doing the first ever live demonstration of their product which is the Nano battery. And that day, I got 200 people in the room from, you know, stock brokers, investment bankers, VC’s, the media. And that was the first day I did public speaking, I looked like a baby, I was nervous. CEO pushed me out there. I said a speech and introduced the management team. They came up and they were basically about to prove the concept of the Nano battery, showing that no energy was being used. And they told me to turn the device on, then it would shoot energy, creating this infinite shelf life battery that had power on demand.
And they did the demonstration, I hit the button. I’m on pins and needles, like, “This is it. This is my big break.They’re about to raise millions of dollars to take this into mass production. All the marketing I’d done over the past year, this is it, this is my chance.” And crickets man, it doesn’t work. And my career, yeah, that was like, you know, I was devastated. I mean, people were out crazy, yelling, “What the hell is this.” You know, the stock starts freaking tumbling. And, you know, I thought my career was over but a couple guys came up to me, said, “Hey kid, I’m surprised you got me in the room. Call me.” And then that’s kind of when I decided, “You know what, I actually can learn something from this.”
And I have ability to do marketing, and then tell a story. So, I decide to open up my own agency to do that for other companies and I went all-in. I didn’t sleep, my friends were partying at college and I was up till 4:00 in the morning, printing out every company that I can get to maybe give me a chance to hire me. And then, you know, I’d fax them, email them, call them, send them a direct, you know, mail, all to give me a chance. And I got my first client for $750 a month and then turned that into hundreds of thousands of dollars in retainers, and about 10 million in revenue by the time I was 24. And it was the best, it was amazing. I was flying around the country, meeting all these innovative companies and learned helping them tell their stories.
And I was a writer and I enjoyed it but eventually, I got tired of building everybody else’s company and I said, “How can I take what I’ve learned and start implementing that into my own companies and start owning, you know, my own companies.” I was making everybody else millions of dollars, I was like, “I gotta start leveraging this for myself.” And you know, the money was great, you know, but I was like, “I want to do something bigger. This is not how I want to build the legacy and maybe known for this.” And something drastic happened to me. I started taking what I learned within the market and I started investing it heavily into the market and I was up $20 million. And by the time I was 25, and the market recession, like, hit the United States, if you remember around…
Gerard: This was right around 2008 to 2010 and I lost everything. And this is when I had a really big, like you know, ego check where I was like, you know, I thought I was this young guy in my 20s that had everything, you know, had it all. I finally gotten my first Bentley, Penthouse, I was flying all over the place, I thought I was invincible to now, boom, it all disappearing. And it was like, “What do I do next?”
And that’s when I started to… You know, my mother told me a story how my parents…actually, my grandparents who immigrated to United States from Italy and my mother’s side from Venezuela, although she was born in Colombia. And she told me that when they were here, they lived in a studio apartment, you know, with a family of five and one day, that apartment caught on fire and my family lost everything. And my mom had to, like young teenager 14, 15 years old, had to drop out of school which was very hard, the teacher didn’t want to give her, sign the permission slip but she had to cry and beg saying, “If I don’t go and get a job, my parents aren’t gonna be able to put food on the table.” And my mother told me how she finally convinced the teacher and the teacher said, “If you take night classes, I’ll let you go and drop out.”
But she couldn’t get a job in New Jersey where we grew up because she was only, you know, 14, 15 years old so she ended up going into New York City, to a place called Canal Street. This is kind of where they sell all the fake handbags, and watches and stuff. And she had to, in the middle of the winter, watch so that nobody stole the fake handbags, just to make a little bit of money, to help put food on the table with my grandparents. And she told me, “If I was able to do that, and bounce back, and put this roof over you and your sister’s head, you best believe you better get back out there and do it again.”
So that was the only motivation that I needed. So, I started looking at, “Okay, how can I use my expertise to do something I felt was needed in the millennial generation?” See, at that time, around 2000, now going 2010, everybody was paying attention to the Kim…still, almost till today, the “Kardashians Show,” “Jersey Shore” was a big show, very much reality TV. That was what was really big but nobody was paying attention to the true economics of what’s going on with the United States and we we’re in this major, major national debt crisis. All my friends are graduating from college at that time and they can’t get a job, they got a worthless degree and I’m going, “What the hell is wrong with our country? No one is even paying attention to the economics.” Like, they just, not paying attention to inflation.
So, I started doing documentaries on the economy, and I started doing documentaries on gold and silver commodities, and building a newsletter based on… I still, to this day, have the website, inflation.us, talking about the economy. And I did a documentary on the student loan debt crisis, which was one of the first to expose that got on news, Bloomberg, Fox Business. And my passion for content grew. And I started to leverage that not only to do documentaries and build my own newsletter but leverage it to help other entrepreneurs with digital marketing for their companies while partnering with them.
And one day, I had a young guy, 18 years old, named David who was interning for me and he said, “I want to do this website called the Elite Wall Street.” And I was like, “You’re crazy. Wall Street is tainted. If there’s anything that you wanna do, let’s do something bigger.” Let’s look at all the publications out there that are handed down to us right now. We got all these huge publications, they’re all run by old people, you know, baby boomers and there’s nothing that’s run by millennials for millennials, that hits every vertical from business to health to lifestyle, you know, to dating, you know, you name it.
And I was, like, “We’re gonna create that.” And we kind of called it like, The Huffington Post of Generation Y, and our slogan was, “The voice of Generation Y.” And we created the name The Elite Daily. We brought it in the GoDaddy for $9.99, it was in my apartment, it was just an idea, we weren’t journalists. And we just started freaking hustling, man. We just started interviewing each other, building out WordPress site, you know, freaking, hitting up every friend we had to share our post on Facebook. You know, real, like, guerilla style grassroots marketing to get it going but we loved every second of it and we were all in.
You know, we were completely committed. And little by little, we were able to figure out how to get content a little more viral, figure out what was working, what wasn’t. Build our team little by little, all the way up until about, we had 200 employees over three and a half years, got it to 80 million unique visitors per month, 80 to a 100 articles per day, did a raise, finally got to a point where we weren’t bootstrapped. We got some of the lead investors like Greycroft, some of the biggest venture capitalists to get behind us which was a blessing and a curse at the same time.
And we strategically saw Jon Steinberg leave BuzzFeed to go to the Daily Mail. So, I tracked him down at a speaking event and I said, “Hey, you gotta check out this, our company.” And got him to check it out, got him as an advisor and little did we know that, you know, it was planned that we wanted to get an acquisition, we just didn’t think of it happened so quickly. And he made an offer within six months and that was, you know, one of the toughest decisions of our life. We didn’t, I didn’t wanna sell. I was the blocking vote, long board meetings, but we started just seeing how Facebook was changing algorithms and there was a risk that our traffic could have gotten hit and we wanted to give security to the 200 people that believed in us, day in and day out.
So, we ended up going through with the deal. Man, we cried, we laughed, we cheered and that day was the beginning of, I think, when I finally took a step back and even though people asked me to come talk about Elite Daily, I realized, “Wow, that was 14 years of freaking rollercoaster of a ride.” And I think, there needs to be more role models out there that actually truly talk about real-life experience of being an entrepreneur rather than just the people out there that are just trying to sell people on the dream and act like entrepreneurs, “It’s the cool thing to do.”
You know, that’s when I decided to really, finally take all the tactics I’ve learned over my career to build businesses and start implementing that into my personal brand, to be a better leader for the generation. And then that’s when Fownders was born.
Nathan: Yeah, wow. Man, that’s a awesome, intense story dude.
Gerard: Yeah, I can’t believe it, you know, it’s crazy. You know, I look back and I feel like it all has happened so quickly but at the same time, when you’re in the grind and you’re in the moment, day in and day out, you, you know, you don’t know, right. You got that uncertainty, what’s gonna happen the next day. And some days, you don’t want to get out of bed, some days, you’re upset, some days, you have problems and you’re like, “How am I gonna overcome it.” And then, you know, that’s part of being an entrepreneur but one day, you will get there and you’ll look back and say, “Holy shit, every step of the way, everything was worth it, it was entirely worth it.”
And hopefully, like, my YouTube series “Leaders Create Leaders,” that you’ll pass it on. You’ll learn how to, you know, use it as a tool to mentor others. And, you know, I feel like being an entrepreneur is like a fellowship. We all kind of, we really all have different stories, we all have different paths, we all have different obstacles but it’s about sharing those experiences, sharing those stories, coming together, you know. And to me, you know, that’s one of the greatest parts of being an entrepreneur is overcoming all of that and then looking back one day and saying, “Hey, let’s do it all over again.”
Nathan: Yeah, I know your exact feeling, man, it’s exciting. And dude, I’ve taken a ton of notes from all that story. So, we got a ton of questions for you.
Nathan: First one, you said when you raise capital for Elite Daily, that it was a blessing and a curse at the same time. What did you mean by that and what are your thoughts on raising raising capital for your company?
Gerard: Great question. I think a lot of entrepreneurs today, first and foremost, they think when you have an idea, you’re early-stage, you think like, “Okay, cool. Like, let’s go raise money, let’s go raise, you know, a million dollars or $2 million at a $10 million, $20 million valuation because, you know, this is a billion dollar industry and, you know, we can make these projections.”
And first and foremost, I’ll tell you to stop. You know, don’t build a company because based upon raising capital. You know, build a company because you’re passionate about it. And prove yourself and how you can get traction being resourceful and getting a team to believe in the purpose of the company, the why and why you’re doing it more than just, like, trying to be call yourself an…. You know, be a tech entrepreneur and go raise a lot of money and then spend a lot of money. I think it’s important that you learn how to bootstrap, that every dollar matters. And I think that makes you a better founder and a better entrepreneur.
Reason why I said it was a blessing and a curse is, you know, there does come to a point where when you do get traction, like, Elite Daily did, you need growth capital. If you want a scale, you need some growth capital because you want to build your team faster, you want to add more talent to the team, maybe you want to have a little bit more of a marketing budget, maybe you want to, you know, there’s certain things you need to grow. And it’s just imperative that you get the right investors on board that understand your vision as a founder and don’t just look for money, look for the right people. And I know, maybe you’ve heard this before, the people listening, you know, getting strategic investors but I cannot stress it enough and I would try to tell you to, you know, steer away from venture capital.
Look, at the end of the day, I’m blessed and shout out to all the VC’s that that are out there. You guys bring a ton of value and if it wasn’t for our investors that got behind the Elite Daily, we wouldn’t have maybe had the success we did. But at the end of the day, VC looks at you as like, kind of, like a number man. Like, they care about one thing, one thing only and that’s that percentage, that ROI at the end of the year. You know, I feel if you can raise money from some more strategic angels and get people that really understand your vision and will be there for you every step of the way, that will really bring contacts to you, that will really pick up the phone.
You know, I had an investor, Ryan Blair, who became a dear friend of mine. Now, he has an amazing book called “Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain” and “Rock Bottom to Rock Star.” He became one of my investors, he’s was an angel. When he came in, he… You know, I mean, throughout the whole acquisition process, he would be in, like, Holland, you know. And it didn’t matter what time it was, if I called him, he’d pick up the phone and guide me, gave me advice, work me through the deal.
You just need really good advisors and really good strategic investors because VC’s… I got a threatening letter when it came down to the exit, I won’t say who but one of the biggest VC sent me a letter, threatening me that if I didn’t sell the company that they were gonna basically try to oust me out, you know. And VC’s can be, you know, they can, they talk. So one thing I’d noticed too is that when you go to do another round, the VC’s will call each other, talk and they’ll work together to try to get a better valuation for themselves. And then sometimes, they’ll even wait until you’re running out of money and they know it because they got your financials. So, they know you’re running out and you gotta burn and like, they’re gonna wait until you’re ready to bleed so that they can get a better deal from you. So, you gotta be careful and really pick your investors smart.
Nathan: Yeah, that’s interesting. So, if you could do it all over again with Elite Daily, you would’ve raised venture funding or you still would’ve… It sounds like you, within this particular instance, you didn’t have a chance to control your own destiny, is that always the case when you raise venture funding, you think?
Gerard: I think VC’s puts hurdles, it gets harder to focus on the business, you know, there’s a lot of meetings, they wanna have board control. You gotta be very careful how you set up your board, you just gotta to be careful. But there’s also a lot of benefit, you know, a lot of good that comes with some certain venture capital funds and they give you a sense of, a level of credibility. If I were to go back and do it again, I would do it the same way because one of the things and reasons why we went and got, you know, venture capital was, it solidified us in the marketplace. We were going up against BuzzFeed, guys who were raising over $100 million, we were going up against major publications.
And when you’re… So, getting a level of, you know, of a big sea behind you, does give you a layer of credibility, unfortunately, right. You start getting written up in TechCrunch, you start getting, you know, more phone calls from other VC’s and it definitely helps give you this layer of credibility. So, you know, I wouldn’t really change anything there. There was a partner early on that came on board that we gave a little bit too much equity in the beginning, thinking that they were doing more than they actually did. And, I would say, “Make people earn it too” Like, “Make people vest and earn your equity.” It could be, people can sell you the dream and how much they, you know, they’re gonna do. At the end of the day, protect yourself and make people earn it, don’t just give equity away.
Nathan: I’m curious, you said you didn’t wanna sell, why?
Gerard: Well, you know, we were being valued on revenue and revenue is important but I believe that there’s this intangible value you can get on a brand. And brand equity is legit, you know. And, you know, when I would fly to freaking… I remember, I landed in Italy, Milan because because I had a…one of my other companies was doing something there and, you know, people, they knew Elite Daily. Like, we were in Elite Daily shirt and people would come up to me, like, “Holy shit man, I read your…I read this every day.” You know, and it’s like, there was a loyalty and there was a value to the brand that people resonated with it. It was something that they read in a daily basis, it was part of their routine, it was a trusted source that they loved going to, whether it was for, like, just for laugh, to get some authentic news, or to stay in tune with what was really happening with business. It was part of people’s daily routine and their company was valuing us just off revenue.
And a lot of times, when you’re building your company, the first two years, three years, you’re focused on your product. You know, Nathan, I’m sure you’re going through that, right? Like, you’re really focused on your customer. If you want to build something great, you can’t focus. I always say, “Money never leads, it follows.” You need to focus on a great product. Make sure that you’re building something, you’re putting it out to the world, and it has to be something that you really, you know, you’re putting them first before yourself.
And there’s a lot of people that will just focus on the revenue, revenue, revenue. They need to monetize quickly, quickly, quickly. You know, revenue is extremely important but your product is everything, and your customer, and the people that are, you know, that are gonna be using it. So, we focused on that for a long period of time and built this brand equity. As you can see, the traffic was 80 million unique visitors. So, when you have a billion-dollar company come to you and say, “All right. Well, let’s see, we looked at your revenue,you know, ten million. Okay, we’re gonna offer you $50 million. You know, five times revenue.” You’re like, “Man, that’s bullshit.” There’s such a value in the Elite Daily name, there’s such a value in our users and the people that rep… you know.”
So for me, that’s the reason why I didn’t wanna sell. I thought we weren’t really, I thought if we held… If they wanted revenue, shit, we were just scratching the surface, right? We just really started getting bigger deals and more native advertising and, you know, we were solidifying our brand so that, you know, big companies were started to pay us. So, I was like, “Hey, if we just go one more year at the very least, we’ll get double, triple.”
So, that was the reason why, the real factor, why we didn’t push through with it, was because Facebook was truly changing their algorithms and making it much harder for you to generate traffic from people sharing it on Facebook back to your website. And we didn’t wanna risk that so that was probably the biggest thing and we felt like, “You know what, we finally did it.” This was, like, bigger than us, we knew that this was gonna give security to all 200 people that believed in us. And it was gonna live on no matter what.
So, you know, we did it. And, you know, to be honest with you, that was, like I said, “One of the hardest decisions.” We looked each other in the eye and was like, “No, man.” Like, “This is the right decision to make right now. We started this together, we’re gonna finish it together and we’re gonna do this.” And it was scary. I was depressed for a little while after the exit, like, not knowing, like, if it was the right decision. But looking back now, our traffic did fall in half and Facebook did make those changes and it got way harder to continue on the growth trajectory that we had in those three and a half years.
So, the timing was right. And honestly, whether or not I could have got more money or whatever, the fact of the matter is the experience alone gave me such a wealth of knowledge. And it led me to now, I think, something that’s way bigger. With Fownders and with more of a legacy play, I think, it was a step to what’s next. So, I’m grateful for it and feel blessed.
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When we caught up in Sydney, you said something to me that I felt was really striking. You said to me that one thing you did at Elite Daily, that you were really, really good at, was building culture within the company. I’d love for you to share some insights there. I think, yeah, we would be doing a disservice to our audience if we didn’t ask you because sounded…yeah, you know what’s out there man and that’s so important bro.
Gerard: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, look, your team and your culture is literally everything. Every time I give a speech I say, and you know, I continue to this day, say, ” I owe it all to the team.” You need to build that kind of, like… You know, it’s crazy because we live in such a world where you could be this digital nomad and you don’t need an office but I look back at like, if we didn’t have people working together under one roof and vibing off of each other’s energy, I don’t think we would be that great of a company, I really don’t.
I think you need to create an environment where people can thrive. And one thing that we did was, everybody who joined the company, we didn’t base it on a college degree. We met them and we would talk to them about, “What are your personal goals? Where do you want to be in life?” And we made them feel, really, a part of Elite Daily, as a family and we want to help them achieve their goals.
And we understood like, “Hey, Elite Daily could be a platform for you. But in three years, four years, five years, we understand you may want to go on and do other things.” We want you to be able to have that freedom but this is a… Right now, if you give it your all, that you will be in a better position to use this for your future and be a part of an amazing team and building something that’s bigger than any one of us.
One of the other things is like, we never had separate offices. It was never like, “Hey, it’s CEO, President, COO,” were all on these separate, you know, little glass door, glass window offices. Like, everybody worked together in a very collaborative, open space. And every Friday, we… First of all, we celebrated everyone’s birthdays. Every time it’s someone’s birthday, we celebrated it and they had to give a speech in front of everybody.
Little things like that, you don’t think about it but little things like that creates a bonding experience with everyone where they feel tied together. We also did events together, we took everybody to the Hamptons and threw a Hamptons house party, everyone got to stay the weekend. Every Friday, we had pizza parties and we had invited, they were able to invite their friends. And we invited in a speaker to come in and speak to the group and the team.
We did things where they also can learn. So, we would have our CTO for just to help build culture, once a week, teach a coding class. Hey, you’re not gonna be coding for Elite Daily, but maybe you’re one of our writers, but hey, maybe you want to learn a little bit, you want to learn the basics of how to code. We offered that so that you can learn.
And then it was, like, the typical stuff, right. Like, if people wanted to smoke a joint in the back, we allowed that, as long as it doesn’t affect your work. If you wanna go play video games, you win, play video games for a break. You were expected to go all in and work, and not have just a nine-to-five mentality. You felt like you’re a part of the company and we expected you to work like it but we gave you the freedom to also, kind of, how to be flexible and be creative and have fun. It’s about that, you have to have fun. It’s the only way you get people to truly work for something that’s that big, you know what I mean, that’s bigger than just, like, their role.
So, those are just a couple of different things. And honestly, it really also comes back by leading by example. The co-founders, if you’re a founder, you need to be completely all in committed, leading by example so people thrive off of that energy. You need to do that, you can’t think because you’re the founder, you’re the big hotshot, you don’t need to be leading by example. You need to be leading by example, and you empower all the rest of them to also be leaders.
And then I think, this is a very key thing to culture, you have to be willing to fire, cut out cancer. Especially when you start becoming the hot company, and then people from all over will wanna work for you. People will call on you, coming in, people work for you, their friends will be wanting to get in the doors. You need to know, specifically, what those values are of your core company, you should put it on the wall and, like, if anybody wavers away from those values, they’re gone. You gotta fire them, you gotta cut that cancer out because one bad person in your company that doesn’t have the right, same work ethic, doesn’t have the same integrity, that’s lazy, or anything, doesn’t meet those values, that that can have a ripple effect.
Nathan: Mmm. So, can give us an instance where you, just an example, an instance where you saw that happening and you had to, unfortunately, let them go?
Gerard: I mean, it goes on constantly. I mean, it’s a constant thing. I mean, even to this day, I can’t give out any specific names but there has been times, where we had people that, they took advantage, right? You give people…you let them, what’s that saying, it’s like, “You let them skate a little bit. Next thing you know, they’re figure skating.” Or, you know, “Give them a string, they take a rope.” You know, some people that we know, like, if they came in and we noticed, we’d give them a little bit of that freedom, and they start taking advantage too much, right. They’re now smoking a blunt, now they’re freaking being lazy. You know, there’s been instances where we’ve definitely… And just the quality of the work, you know, if someone’s just not up to the quality standards, there’s been instances, where we’re just like, “Hey, you’re just not, you’re not performing at the highest level. And we apologize but it’s not gonna work out and maybe this isn’t for you.” And, you know, it’s happened many times.
Nathan: Interesting. I’m curious and I’m sure a lot of people will be curious about this as well, how do you get people to go all-in? Like, you talked about the vision, you talked about getting that buy-in but, you know, I’m asking also from experience I think, like, how do you get people to care or will they ever care as much as you do as a founder to go all-in, is that possible?
Gerard: Yes. Yes and I know people will think the opposite. I’ve heard many interviews where people say, “No one will ever care as much as you because it’s your baby.” There’s some truth to that, right. What I think is, it has to start with you and it has to stay with you. You have to be the one that cares the most, there’s no doubt about it. You have to be the one that, you know, drives it every single day. You know, you’re the founder but, you know, there’s, like, my team right now, I’m doing it again. I mean, they’re ride or die. I mean, something happens to me, they’re still going, they’re sacrificing, they’re building and they’re leading by example.
I think it just comes to good leadership. You need to have people, you know, that feel empowered, you know, and are obviously properly incentivized to care as much as you. And for me, I try to always make everybody feel like they’re important, nobody’s unimportant. I always say, it’s like, “I don’t care if you’re the…” We were friends with our janitor, he was, you know, Marley, the dreads, like, this guy was like the coolest guy ever. We made him feel part of the family, it’s like, it was making everybody feel that their role…every single person’s role is important to the bigger picture and you celebrate people’s mistakes, you celebrate the small wins.
And all that stuff is is really important. I think, it just comes down to people understanding the vision, right? Like, this is not about, I guess particularly, I can go into Fownders a little bit but it’s less about the fact of like, “Hey, we wanna have the best startups that come out of Fownders as an accelerator.” No, we wanna make impact, we wanna be a human accelerator, we want people that join Fownders to feel that they’re becoming better human beings, not just in business but in real life. It’s part of them. And that, we wanna funnel that into the community. So, it’s like people that join Fownders and that are working with me on my team, they feel like, they’re working on something that is bigger than any one of us. And they understand that vision and we ingrain it, we’re like, “Hey, this is something that we wanna, one day, it’s gonna pass on. You know, we wanted to impact a billion lives, being communities, nationwide throughout the United States in inner cities.
And when people understand that vision clearly and everyone know their role and how important it is, I can honestly say that, you start to see that they are ride or die. They do care just as much and you’ll notice it. Like, I’ve literally… I can’t even explain you how blessed I feel because it doesn’t come easily but once you get over the hump, for me, it took me about a little over a year. Now, I have the culture, now I know they’re ride-or-die.
Even though we had a snow day today, there was a huge snowstorm today, nobody can get to the office, the first time I worked from home in a little while. Everybody’s jumping on the calls, everybody’s motivating each other through slack, everybody’s still pushing forward no matter what. No one’s looking at it as, like, this opportunity to just, like, slack off. Everyone is involved putting in a 110% effort and that to me is like, when you know you have something that’s just great and not just a cool startup.
Nathan: Yeah, really interesting. So, talk to us about Fownders and what you’re doing, you know, in Newark. So, are you still doing anything with Elite daily anymore, since you’ve sold the company?
Gerard: No, no, not at all, You know, just telling the story but not working with the company. When we did the buyout, I said, you know “I wanted to be a 100% cashed out, not tied to it, with new corporation,” because I didn’t know how that would work out. And right now, I’m just, you know, focused on Fownders and focused on my social currency which is a term I’ve trademarked and coined which is like the power of the personal branding which I can’t believe how powerful it’s been for me. I’ve always focused just specifically on my businesses and now, I’ve taken all my marketing expertise and poured it into me as an influencer, as a personal brand form.
And I’ve been able to leverage that completely and it’s allowed me to attract the team almost, you know, like, through Fownders in Newark. And just for those that don’t know, Fownders is a social impact accelerator for entrepreneurs by entrepreneurs. And by accelerator, you may have heard of incubators or accelerators. You know, Google has one, you know, you got Y Combinator, Techstars. There’s very big accelerators out there, they’re very much tech based and they’re very much backed by venture capitalists.
I wanted to create something that was more for entrepreneurs and by entrepreneurs and also do it in not these big major cities. What I’ve noticed is that, when I was only asked to speak all over the country for Tec [SP] in Silicon Valley, New York City, all these bigger cities, they had these ecosystems to support startups. But you’re not seeing those startup ecosystems in inner cities and, you know, the communities around these big cities.
So, I really decided that we would build this, provide a live-work-play business model similar to how we work has now shifted to, we live, but it’s nuts about co-working and it’s more about creating a culture with it. We’re all entrepreneurs who’re working together and it’s not in individual cubicles, it’s in this open collaborative space where we bring in mentors from all over the world, some of the best-of-breed mentors, speakers on it, all over the world that are the best speakers. We run a curriculum called Seed To Scale, that’s a 12-week curriculum, and it’s heavily focused on mindset, emotional intelligence, leadership skills. Then it goes into business development, marketing, sales.
And it’s, kind of, a curriculum that I wish I had when I first started. And we’ve just created this live-work-play environment, where the entrepreneurs can live upstairs, they can have the incubator downstairs, they had the accelerator program that they can get into. There’s mentorships that are brought to them. And there’s the aspect where we work with the community. So, we’re now teaching entrepreneurship to the middle school in Newark. We’re running an internship program at the high school students. We give grants to, you know, minority entrepreneurs that otherwise wouldn’t have the resources to get their idea off the ground.
So, it’s also about giving back as well. So, you know, that’s kind of , I guess the high level vision of Fownders. And our goal is to franchise the Fownders brand, kind of, like WeWork did to these inner cities nationwide.
Nathan: Awesome. Well dude, we have to work towards wrapping up. Few final questions before we wrap.
Nathan: I’m curious, when it comes to, you know, going back to Elite Daily, the scale. You were talking, you said you guys were publishing 80 to a 100 articles a day. Man, that’s crazy, like, were they all internal guest contributor or the mainly guest contributors, how are you guys managing that? That’s crazy. Do you still think that it’s, like, that kind of scale is required?
Gerard: Nathan, if you want to bring me on as an advisor, you just gotta ask. Just saying. Well, it is definitely about, in order to scale to that, you gotta get the contributors, you gotta get guests contributors. For us, you know, the business model has very much been tied to universities, the same thing with Fownders. We’re opening them up, all gear tied into universities, it’s the same kind of model. We created a culture at universities around the country…in world, it ended up going global, where we allowed people to wanna write, we wanted people to write for us, we embraced that. And, you know, we were able to get to 2,000 contributors and that’s how we were able to maintain, we had to build a process for editorial and to review and actually publish.
So, we had a whole editorial process to manage those contributors, to make sure that it was up to our standards which took time but the goal was to create a culture for students that were at these universities to now have an outlet to tell their stories, and what was on their mind, and how they saw the world. And it took 2,000 contributors for us to manage 100 articles per day.
Nathan: Wow. And when it comes to leadership, what kind of a leader are you?
Gerard: What kind of a leader am I? I think that, I’m a relentless leader. I am a leader that will always put others before myself and therefore trying to allow, you know, the greater vision of the people around me to rise up before myself. And I think that that’s what really makes a great leader. I mean shit, after my exit, Nathan, I mean, the truth of the matter is that, I was like so close to moving to Miami, for the main reason was because of taxes. You know, here in the states, you know, New Jersey and New York, tax is very high. If I were to move to Miami, I would have saved millions of dollars from state income tax. And I was ready to do it and I decided, you know, if I were to do that though, am I really putting myself in a position to do something that’s bigger than myself? What does legacy really mean? In Newark, at that time, 80% of the kids in Newark didn’t have Wi-Fi at home.
It’s got one of the highest crime rates and lowest income as far as for each citizen compared to all the states, nationwide. Like, it was a bad place that needed help, needs jobs, needs these skills to be taught, needs, you know, better education, needs a real change. And I sacrificed going and saving all that money. And I’m talking real money, like millions of dollars, real money. And I paid the taxes to stay and go back home to where I was from, where my grandparents immigrated, and lived in North New Jersey to build this Fownders out. And I think, if you’re a leader, you gotta sacrifice and realize, like, how are you gonna truly, truly do something that’s gonna lead by example and allow people to rise up.
You know, it’s not about being on the top of the mountain. You know, it’s about how you can bring people up with you, you know. And for me, I’m just the kind of leader that, I want to show that, what makes you great is not how much money you have, you know, not by what title you have but by your actions on how you will help those around you, how you will truly, truly, like, impact people’s lives, you know. So, that’s where I’m at right now.
Nathan: Yeah, amazing, man. Last question because I know you’ve gotta wrap in a second but best piece of advice and just parting words for our audience, and then yeah, please share the next best place people can find you?
Gerard: It’s an interesting question you get at the end of interviews. I think, best piece of advice I would give you all that I just did and I consistently have done this over the past couple years since my exit and it’s helped me out significantly is, I will tell you that for a second, take some time to slow down, really truly, truly look like, internally. Like whatever you want, look in the mirror or you want to meditate or you want to pray, you know, whatever it is, look really, really internally and ask yourself, like, “What do I truly want in life? Where am I going? What is this all truly for? What are people gonna, how are people gonna feel when they see me in 10 years?” Like, really dig down deep inside. You know, we all have that desire to wanna like, you know, to be more, and to have much bigger accomplishments. Trust me, I know, I wanna 10x-ing what I did with Elite Daily, I wanna 10x-ing, right, we talked about 10x-ing.
I wanna do that too but I would ask you, like, really take a step back and dig deep as to why you’re doing everything, what are your values, like, reanalyze yourself. It’s okay to do that, like, almost look into yourself, are you really leading the path, you know, of where you want to be in 10 years. You know, and like, start making better choices. Like, really truly ask yourself, like, when you’re going and making your choices for your business, for personal life, is this the right choice that’s leading me closer to where I wanna be, you know, over the next ten years. That’s the piece of advice I’ll give you.
Nathan: Awesome, amazing man. And where’s the best place, people can find out more about yourself and your work?
Gerard: Cool. So, I’m actually, right now, launching something around social currency. If you guys are interested in learning more about it, kind of my strategies, with content marketing and how I’ve been able to leverage that for my business with Elite Daily and now, Fownders as well as from a personal branding perspective, you guys can just go to gerardadams.com and also just hit me up on Instagram, it’s just @gerardadams, feel free to shoot me a DM, you can email me [email protected] And Fownders, if you guys or anyone’s interested in Fownders, it’s spelt with the word, “Own” in it. So, F-O-W-N-D-E-R-S, that we’d want you to…we kind of teach entrepreneurs, you gotta own it, own everything about your life, own your past, own, you know, your mistakes, own it, like, owning business. So, check us out, fownders.com, feel free to email me over.
And I’m really, really impressed Nathan, with everything you’re doing at Foundr. If there’s anything I can ever do for you to bring value to your community, past just this podcast, let me know, let’s definitely do some more collaboration. I embrace your community, if anybody wants to hit me up and just kick back and have some questions, would love to do that. I mean, I appreciate everything, Nathan.
And I’m really, just so your audience knows, really excited to get you on “Leaders Create Leaders.” If you guys haven’t seen my series, I do like, really high production on modern day leaders on my youtube channel, Gerard Adams TV and we’re definitely looking forward to getting Nathan on there, telling your stories so appreciate it, brother.
Nathan: Awesome man. Yeah, look, thank you so much for the kind words and everything you do. It’s really inspiring, dude. Awesome. We will wrap there but man, thank you so much for your time.