Steve Olsher, Co-Founder & Chairman of Liquor.com
From the Lowest Lows to the Highest Highs: Steve Olsher is the King of Reinvention
Steve Olsher knows a thing or two about reinvention. In fact, he’s recognized around the internet as America’s Reinvention Expert.
As one might expect from a reinvention pro, Olsher didn’t start his career thinking this is where he’d end up. Instead, he merely knew that he wanted to work for himself. Since he was old enough to rake neighbors’ leaves or shovel snow from their driveways, Olsher has been operating on an entrepreneurial spirit that’s taken him to some of the highest highs and lowest lows a founder could imagine.
Out of these trials and tribulations Olsher has emerged as the best version of himself—both as an entrepreneur and a human being. Now he’s made it his mission to spread the gospel of reinvention to as many people as possible via his massively popular online brand and New York Times bestselling book, What is Your What? Discover the One Amazing Thing You Were Born to Do. Here’s how Olsher came to be an expert on the topic.
From Owning a Nightclub to Riding the Dot-Com Boom and Bust
Olsher started his adult career in entrepreneurship at the early age of 19, when the former DJ opened a nightclub. It went well for a while. “Then, like any other business run by a 19 or 20 or 21 year old, we hit some bumps in the road and it was time to call it a day,” says Olsher.
Unfazed by the dissolution of his first venture, Olsher partnered with his mother to build Liquor by Wire, which offered worldwide delivery of wine, spirits, and gift baskets. The business launched online in 1993, went fully e-commerce in 1995, and became Liquor.com in 1998.
And so Olsher became one of many entrepreneurs to ride the crest of the dot-com boom. By the time the boom really got rolling in 1999, the company was already churning out millions of dollars in revenue.
“All our heavy lifting was done,” says Olsher. “We just needed money to get the word out about who we were and what we were doing.” Unfortunately, that’s when things started to go wrong.
Olsher and his mother sought the involvement of an investment bank, which recommended the team establish what Olsher refers to as “lettered saviors”—CEO, COO, CFO, etc. Without any experienced mentors weighing in, says Olsher, “I bought into it hook, line, and sinker, and signed away the management rights to the company.”
Thus indelibly transformed, the company was ready to go public in March 2000—or what those who lived through the dot-com bust identify as the beginning of the end. The NASDAQ started to tumble, and the money dried up before the company made its public debut.
“It became clear that the folks we brought in to do the job ,” says Olsher. What’s more, Olsher and the new CEO clashed over differing visions and management styles. “I knew that one of us was going to have to go,” says Olsher. Because he no longer had management rights, Olsher essentially had to sit back and watch the business he had spent nine years building implode.
In the end, Olsher walked away from everything. He lost his company, his domain, his salary, and everything else associated with the business to which he’d devoted nearly a decade of his life.
From Dominating Real Estate to Creating another Digital Enterprise
Despite the loss of his second venture, Olsher didn’t spend much time grieving. “There’s no doubt that it hurt… And there’s no doubt that I blame myself,” says Olsher. But with bills to pay and a family to feed, he quickly set his sights on real estate development.
Olsher made sure to take the lessons he’d learned from the loss of Liquor.com with him. “I never brought on a true partner in that business because I wasn’t going to make the mistake of signing away my right or my responsibility to make those decisions,” he says. He also made sure to seek out mentors who could offer guidance and experienced input. By 2005, Olsher’s real estate development company had reached $50MM in transactional asset value.
That might sound like the end of the story—after all, most founders would be thrilled to achieve that level of success. But it’s far from it.
In 2006, Olsher got the opportunity for yet another reinvention. By a bizarre twist of fate, he was able to reclaim the Liquor.com domain after randomly tracking down the new owner, whom he found in Panama. “The guy never had a good answer as to how he got it,” says Olsher. But on Christmas Eve 2006, he wrote to say he would return the domain to Olsher.
Olsher promptly turned around and put the domain up for sale. He received several offers, and accepted one for $4.25 million. The buyer made the first few payments and bailed on the rest, so Olsher kept the domain.
At that point, Olsher decided the domain’s return to his life after more than half a decade was some kind of sign. So he assembled a team in San Francisco to create a site focused on mixology and cocktail culture—and it paid off. To date, the site has generated the world’s largest database of bartenders, attracted more than two million subscribers, and excelled at SEO.
In spite of his earlier lessons, Olsher essentially signed away his management rights to the San Francisco team. This time, the decision wasn’t based on inexperience, but on the desire for a greater sense of fulfillment. Over the years, Olsher had started to grapple with a pressing question: “Am I doing this because it’s a commodity value opportunity, or because I really want to and have a love for it?”
From Running a Business to Writing a Book
As it turns out, Olsher doesn’t really love the alcoholic beverage industry. “I had to look myself in the mirror and say, ‘Do I want to run this company?’ And the honest answer at the time was, ‘I don’t’… The work I was doing was good from a financial perspective overall, but not really from a fulfillment perspective.”
There was only one problem. Olsher wasn’t sure what he did want to do, and all the personality and career placement tests on the market left him with more questions than answers. So he decided to write the book he needed to read.
“That’s the genesis of my reinvention and my work around reinvention: having to answer that question myself,” says Olsher. “Really, what the hell am I doing here? What is it that comes as naturally to me as breathing? What is that makes me feel I just don’t have enough hours in the day to do?”
In the process of answering these questions and writing his book, the entrepreneur who had reinvented himself countless times realized something surprising. “Reinvention has nothing to do with changing anything about who you are. It’s really just about… getting back to who you truly are and honoring that.”
Who Steve Olsher is, apparently, is an experienced entrepreneur and a human being who wants to provide as many other people as possible with strategies for identifying “what it is they’re most naturally wired to excel at and… what it is that puts fire in their soul.”
Olsher is quick to counsel people that the way they achieve fulfillment may evolve over time. And he has the experience to back up these claims. After all, it took stints in the nightclub, liquor delivery, real estate, and digital content industries for Olsher to tap into his own fire.
Steve Olsher’s Tips for Career Fulfillment
- Don’t sign away your management rights. No one knows your business better than you do. (And you can always hire out for skillsets you don’t have.) Don’t let someone else raise your baby.
- When choosing a niche, emphasize financial and emotional fulfillment. Don’t just start a business to chase a commodity-driven opportunity. Most of the time, these end up competing on price and turn into a race to the bottom. It’s a zero-sum game you can’t win financially or emotionally. Instead, create something that’s sustainable both from an economic and fulfillment standpoint.
- Really consider that you are the solution to someone else’s problem. “You may not have… all your ducks in a row… but you know more than the person three steps behind you,” says Olsher. “When you don’t honor the gift you’ve been given and you don’t share that with strategic abandon, you’re not only doing a huge disservice to yourself but also a disservice to those .”
- Hard truths you need to know when bringing on investors
- The importance of needing good advisors and mentors you can turn to when you need it
- When you should and shouldn’t listen to your gut as an entrepreneur
- How to find out what your “what” is, and how to figure out what your purpose is
- Where to find your winning business idea
Full Transcript of the Podcast with Steve Olsher
Nathan: Hello and welcome to another episode of the “Foundr Podcast.” My name is Nathan Chan and I’m the CEO and publisher of “Foundr Magazine,” and also the host of this podcast. I hope you’re having a fantastic day wherever you are around the world. And I just want to say thank you so much for taking the time to listen to this podcast. If you are a new listener, we interview super successful founders, hard to reach founders. You might not know the person’s name, the founder’s name, but you might know their company. They’re usually number one or two in their industry and, yeah, we just have great conversations picking their brains and finding out what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur where they share experiences.
All right. So what’s been happening in my world? Well, a lot’s been happening. Learning a lot about hiring great people, building an amazing team, getting the team aligned. But, yeah, things are working really well. We’re getting back on track because things…yeah, it’s difficult scaling and growing a company, guys. I reckon it’s even much more difficult than starting which is interesting. But let’s not digress. Let’s talk about today’s guest, Steve Oshler.
He’s an amazing entrepreneur and founder. He is the founder of Liquor.com. And he also shared around how he really started that company, lost that company, then got it back and all the other cool things that he’s up to. He’s also a New York Times bestselling author, and really helps people find their purpose and reinvent themselves. Kind of like how I did. You know, I started Foundr. I knew nothing about magazines, publishing apps, podcasting, blogging, you name it, media, growing a business, scaling a business, hiring people, and just kind of worked out myself. So, yeah, Steve was a great interview. An amazing story around how he started Liquor.com, got it back. I’m not going to go into it too much but a fascinating story, a lot of lessons learned on what it takes to build and grow a successful business.
All right, guys. 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?
Steve: So here’s the good news. The good news is I really don’t feel like I have a job because, ultimately to me, kind of the definition, you know, of a job is really when you have to be somewhere at a certain time and then you have to stay for a certain amount of time. And so, that’s one of the main reasons why I’ve really always gone down this entrepreneurial path is I just work some really strange hours, man. I mean, I can take the whole day and just be with the kids, and then other times, you know, during that period of time, I’m just, you know, kick it from 8:00 at night till 3:00, 4:00 in the morning. So that’s one of the, I guess, the benefits and the curses of having what you might call your own thing going.
Nathan: Awesome. I love it. So tell me about that first thing that you started? You know, you’ve been an entrepreneur sounds like for a long time then.
Steve: Yeah, I’ve been an entrepreneur pretty much since I was old enough to pick up a rake and move some leaves around or grab a shovel and, you know, do some snow shoveling, clear sidewalks, driveways, that kind of thing. I don’t know, man. It’s just we’re all naturally wired to excel in very specific ways. And for me,I’ve just always been wired to try to rub a couple of dimes together and make that quarter. So the first gig that I was involved with that I would call, you know, really my first entrepreneurial venture was, believe it or not, I opened up a nightclub when I was 19.
Nathan: Oh, wow.
Steve: And, yeah, back here in the States, the reality is that if you want to have a club that serves booze, well not only does the owner of course have to be 21 but the patrons have to be at least 21 years of age. So at 19, I’d been deejaying and for a number of years and thought I had a pretty decent following and wanted to always kind of get my own thing going. So at 19, I knew that it couldn’t be an alcohol-based club. So I actually had an idea to open a nonalcoholic club that would cater to the teenagers, basically those up to 18 years of age from maybe 8 to 11:30 or so at night, and then we were close and clean up and then reopen at midnight and stay open as long as we wanted for those 18 years or older. And so, that was the general concept. And it went pretty good man for quite a period of time. And then like any other business run by 19, 20, 21-year-old, by the time I finished out there, you know, really hit our bumps in the road and it was time to call it a day.
Nathan: Okay. Interesting. What happened next?
Steve: So after that, I got involved in the catalog space. And so the catalog business was pretty much just like FTD is for flowers or Interflora, I think is how they have it internationally, where basically for wine and champagne and spirits and gift baskets, we would provide local delivery. And so the idea was you were in Australia and you want to send a bottle of Dom Perignon or something like that to a friend in LA who just closed a big deal or a business partner, whatever. And we would take care of that in terms of having the order processed by our local retailer so that that business started out with the name of liquor by wire which eventually launched on CompuServe electronic mall in ’93 with a fully functioning e-commerce site in ’95, and then that business became Liquor.com in ’98 when I acquired that domain.
Nathan: Wow. Okay. So tell me how did that business go? What happened next?
Steve: Yeah, it was a very interesting period of time. So in ’98, ’99, for the first year…so let me just back up. So the catalog was great, the CompuServe stuff was great. When we launched online, I saw the writing on the wall really early. You know, we started doing some things there that turned out to be very lucrative for us, great in terms of exposure and so on. And by ’99, there was this whole movement around dotcom. And being here in the States, there was this whole frothy bubble that we built up here where basically ideas on a napkin were being funded, right?
And the idea was, “Look, we can sit down with somebody who is a venture capitalist, we can pitch this idea to them, and we’ll get funded.” And, like, literally, the dumbest things were being funded kind of like today in a lot of ways, but the dumbest things were being funded. And we’re talking millions of dollars, man, like, just money being thrown around like it was going out of style. And here we are, get a great domain. You know, I mean it’s Liquor.com for God’s sakes. We were doing millions of dollars in revenue. All of the “heavy lifting” was done and really all we needed was money to get the word out about what we were doing and who we were, and it would be smooth sailing.
And so we were blinded by the dot.com light, I mean, by all definitions and brought in an investment bank to take us to the promised land. And part of what the investment bank wanted us to do was to put in all of these, what I would call lettered saviors, the CEOs, the CTOs, the CFOs etc. because in their eyes, Wall Street wanted to see more gray hair as they put it. And so, being young and dumb and really just full of myself at that point driven by the ego and seeing the dollars that were being thrown around here, I bought into it hook line and sinker and signed away the management rights to the company. We brought in those lettered saviors.
And in March of 2000, we had the S-1 filed and we were ready to go public. That was the plan. And, of course, March of 2000 was the beginning of the end. That’s when the Nasdaq was at 5600, 5700. And that’s when it hit its peak, everything started to tumble and explode and implode from there. And before we knew it, our IPO, we couldn’t get out. We couldn’t get it done. The money dried up, and my hands were tied because I had signed away management rights. And literally, it became super clear that these folks who we brought in to do the job really had no clue what they were doing. And because my hands were tied, I couldn’t do a darn thing about it. So I literally walked away from everything including the domain after nine years of building that business.
Nathan: Yeah, wow. I’m curious. So you said you, your CTO, was your COO signed away the management rights of the business?
Steve: That was me. It was me and my partner, right? So my partner was my mum. I worked with my mum for nine years. And we signed away our management rights to bring in the CEO and the CFO and those sort of folks who Wall Street wanted to see because they didn’t think that we had enough experience to run a publicly traded company.
Nathan: Got you. So when you say signed away management rights, does that mean that you gave away a certain amount of equity to these investment bankers so they owed a reasonable portion of the company so they can majority share to say what goes?
Steve: So basically, when I say signed a way management rights, what I mean is yes, of course, there was dilution. I mean anytime you bring in outside capital, there’s going to be dilution. So, of course, there was dilution on that front. My mum and I still owned a very good sizable chunk of the company, but what we did was the stock that we took basically was nonvoting stock. And so, the control of the company lied in the hands of the board of directors.
And, you know, the fact is that when you look at how a company is structured, there are certain decision makers that decide what takes place. Sometimes it’s on a board level, sometimes it’s on a C-suite level. And what we ended up doing was we took positions ostensibly as the employees of the company, I believe, that I was president and COO of the company or just CEO. I can’t remember exactly which one it was. Doesn’t matter. But what ended up happening was even though the title was there and the stock ownership was there, the voting rights weren’t, and I still had to report to this CEO that I had brought in. So it was, you know, was one of those things where even though I still owned a large chunk of the business, I didn’t have the ability to say what would take place with the business on a day-to-day basis.
Nathan: Yeah, wow. So I’m curious when…you said that you were young and, you know, you made some wrong mistakes. I’m really curious one, two questions on that, so our audience can learn potentially from you. In your gut, did it feel right and did you have any mentors or advisors of that company at the time that were saying you shouldn’t do it so it just all was gravy?
Steve: Yeah. And I think the operative word there is potentially learn something from me. So that’s good. I’m glad you prefaced it. So, you know, the reality is, first and foremost, no, we did not have anyone who had been through that sort of experience before. So we didn’t have the mentor. And, you know, that’s a huge mistake. You know, I mean, it’s a sad, sad thing to say that we thought we knew enough about the process to do this on our own. And the only sort of counsel that we got was from our legal counsel who, frankly, they were paid based on the number of hours that they build. And so, the more work that they could do on behalf of this organizational shift, the better it was for them. So the advice that we received was very specific to, “Hey, this is something that could be very good for the company.”
And in the long run, it may have been had the dotcom implosion not taken place. But what we should have done was read your magazine, which didn’t exist at the time, and really sit down with some founders who had been through similar experiences. That would have been invaluable, but we were based in Chicago, and really, there weren’t a lot of dotcom pioneers in Chicago who had been through a similar experience.
And so, you know, ultimately, I think the lesson that I hope people take away from this is just don’t sign away your management rights. No one knows your business better than you do. Even though someone might say they can help, that’s all well and good and they may have certain talent that they bring to the table but at the end of the day, it’s your baby. And do you really want someone else to raise your child? And that was a question that I didn’t ask myself, and that is a question that I would suggest everyone asks about their business whether it’s bringing on a partner or doing something larger in terms of bringing in equity or trying to go public or one of those things.
Nathan: Yeah, no, this is amazing. This is a really good story because it gets better. So what about your gut? What did your gut tell you? Like, did your gut tell you when you met these guys? Did you feel like do they really know what they are doing? Any alarm bells at all?
Steve: Nothing but alarm bells, man. You know, and that’s the thing is as you look back on it, as I look back on that experience, and I’m sure you can look back on your own life and recognize those, you know, those really gut-wrenching moments, if you will, you look at those moments and you say, “Geez, I knew in my heart of hearts that was not the right decision,” and yet you still did it. That’s certainly where I was with it. I knew unequivocally that signing away the management rights to the company was not the right plan of action for me personally. It may have been the right plan of action for the business as a whole. And sometimes, that’s where it gets tricky. That’s where it gets fuzzy where you try to separate yourself in terms of what could be good for you personally versus what could be good for the business as a whole. And, for me, I believe that the decision that I made was based on, is this the right decision for the business? And in hindsight, I needed to be more considerate of if it was the right decision for me.
Nathan: Yeah, that’s interesting. So, yeah, because when you follow your gut, it is…I don’t know. Would you say that’s an emotional choice?
Steve: I would say it’s egotistical. I would say that no matter how you slice it, you know… I’m not one of these people that believes that God has a plan for all of us.
Nathan: before your guts, sorry.
Steve: Yeah. No, no, no. I know and I’m saying that I don’t think that God has a plan for all of us. I don’t think he’s got that much time. You know, so reality for me is that when you follow your gut, you’re really doing it based on ego. I think that that is the driving factor in terms of the decision making process. The gut itself is driven by either your past experiences, where you’ve had an opportunity to experience something in life, and you recognize that same situation and therefore that gut check is really just a memory check. It’s really just going back into your memory banks to say, “Geez, this happened in this way before. What makes me think it’s going to be different now?”
And so, there’s that whole thing of being, you know, burned by the oven. You put your hand on, you know, that hot stove and it’s like, “Okay, I don’t want to do that again.” But then there’s a part of us that says, “Well, jeez, you know, it was hot before. Maybe it won’t be hot this time.” And reality is that that seldom is the case. And so what I ask you to really think about is when you say it’s a gut hit and you go with your gut, so to speak, is that in fact a sign? Is that some sort of intuition? You know, is it just simply a fear popping up or is it ego-driven leading you towards the outcome that you believe you want?
Nathan: Yeah. You’ve really got me thinking now because I’m of the opinion, Steve, that every time I haven’t followed my guts, things don’t work out the way I anticipated or planned every time I don’t. And that’s why I always try and follow my gut. However, I’m wanting to ask you in this situation, you know, you said there were alarm bells. Does that mean that’s, you know, because you made the decision for the business but you said there was alarm bell, like, this was, you know, I guess a big part of, you know, your entrepreneurial career and your life? Did this shape the way that you follow your gut or follow your intuition for future business decisions?
Steve: The answer is yes and no. The answer is, yes, in some cases and no in other cases. So fast forward a number of years, I actually was able to… So I walked away from the whole company. I literally walked away from the business. I walked away from the domain that I owned. I walked away from everything. And it was literally out of sight out of mind for almost six years. I got into real estate development after the whole fiasco there with Liquor.com. And in that case, yes. I absolutely listened to my gut from the standpoint of recognizing that the business that I wanted to create around real estate development, even though I didn’t know anything really when I started in the business I knew that no matter what happened in that line of work, I was going to be the one responsible for making the key decisions.
Now, I learned from that in terms of the Liquor.com experience in terms of going out and finding mentors who were in the real estate world and finding out how they did their development and what worked for them and what didn’t. But ultimately, I never brought on a true partner in that business because I wasn’t gonna make the mistake of signing away my rights and my ability to make decisions for that business. Now, that would be an example of where I did not allow this sort of experience of what had taken place in the past to blind me to the decisions that I needed to make in the present.
Unfortunately, I’m still learning just like we all are still learning, because in 2006, I was able to reclaim the Liquor.com domain. It was an interesting story. I literally was out of sight out of mind for five-six years. And one day, I was walking the dog reading what I think people call the newspaper. They still have those things somewhere, I believe. You don’t know anything about that because you have a digital magazine. But somewhere there are these things still floating around called newspapers, and I was walking the dog, reading the Wall Street Journal. And the cover article basically said something to the extent of domain name prices approaching pre-bubble values or something of that nature. And it clicked and I was like damn, “Whatever happened to that domain.”
And so, I started doing some research and I tracked the domain down to a guy in the country of Panama. And we started having some conversations. You know, I never threatened litigation but it was pretty much like, “Hey, buddy how did you get this domain?” Kind of questioning, you know, that sorta line of conversation. And he never really did have a very good answer. And Christmas Eve of 2006, he finally wrote back to me via email and said, “You know what man, I’ve decided I’m just gonna give you back your domain.”
And so it was like one of those moments that you’ll never forget. You see that in the inbox. And, of course, I jumped on the opportunity and said, “Well, yeah, of course, I’m accepting this gift from you ostensibly,” because that’s really what it was at that point. It was a nice Christmas gift. And gave in the code of my account. He put it in the account. Twelve-seconds later, I changed the password and there it was. Liquor.com was back in my possession. And put the domain up for sale. Immediately thereafter, I ended up with a number of different offers for the domain and they accepted one at four and a quarter million.
And the guy made the first few payments, bailed on the rest. So I kept the money and I kept the domain. And then I said, “Jesus you know what? If I’ve got this thing again, this must be some sort of sign that I need to do something with this business.” And that’s when I assembled the current team which is based out of San Francisco. I’m in San Diego. And that’s when I assembled the current team that has built it to where it is now where we focus specifically on mixology and cocktail culture. So it’s been an interesting track.
But unfortunately, I didn’t listen to my gut once again if that’s the terminology we’re using because the team that I brought in to run this thing, I didn’t trust myself enough to build this company. I wanted it to be based out of San Francisco because that’s where Silicon Valley is, wasn’t willing to move to Silicon Valley. So I once again said, “Hey, let me put this in the hands of others and let them run it.” You would think I would have learned? But clearly, I’m just a dumb ass who has really just, I don’t know, shit for brains.
Nathan: I don’t know, man. That bad. You’re being harsh on yourself, dude. So I just think it’s incredible that you’re able to get the domain back. So what happened to the company after you left? Like, you obviously… Take us back to that experience, like, how you were feeling at the time? Like, that must have been the most, just… Like, I imagine, I couldn’t even begin to imagine if that happened to me at Foundr, man. Like, that would be just so terrible. So what happened?
Steve: And it is truly one of those moments that I can remember as clear as day. Almost from really the get-go when this letter savior, the CEO, came in to run the company, we clashed. I mean, we just had different ways of operating, we had different ways of dealing with personnel. We had different visions. And so, almost immediately, the writing was on the wall. I knew that one of us was gonna have to go. And after this whole implosion in the dotcom world and we were unable to go public, within a matter of just a month or so, that’s when I knew I wasn’t going to be staying. And we had, I don’t know, some kind of blow-ups, something took place and basically, I quit. I literally walked away from the company that I had spent nine years building. And was walking home. I had put my office, we bought a building that was fairly close to where I lived, and so I was able to walk to and from work.
And I remember walking home thinking nothing more really than how am I going to explain to the missus that I walked away from the business, from the domain, from the job, from the salary, from everything that was associated with Liquor.com at that point. And it wasn’t so much that it was painful enough in terms of, “What am I going to do?” You know, I cried for about 16 seconds, I think, on the way home, because it hurt. I mean, there’s no doubt that it hurt, there’s no doubt that it stung, and there’s no doubt that I blame myself. You know, had it been a different situation, Nathan, where I could look to someone else and say that it was because of that someone else that things got to where they were, then I may have felt differently. But I knew that we were exactly where we were because of the decisions that I made. I couldn’t blame anybody else.
And so, I really had two choices. I could just wallow in that grief, just say, “Poor me, poor me, poor me.” Or I could own up to the fact that, you know, this was a decision that I made. I got myself into this. I’ve gotta get myself out of it. And so, you know, I grieved for about a good quality 16 seconds and shed those tears on the way home because I knew that I had to walk away from something that had the potential for being great. And pick myself up from there, blew my nose, and got to the house and had to explain to the missus, you know, what had happened. And we had mouths to feed and bills to pay. So I really didn’t have time to continue the grieving. I had to figure out pretty quickly what it was that I was going to do for money and it had to happen fast, because every dollar that I made in that business, in that company I reinvested into the business over those years. So other than, you know, a few small things, you know, to say I had assets to my name. I really didn’t have anything to fall back on.
Nathan: Yeah, wow. So, you know, the company Liquor.com when you left, What happened to it? How did this guy randomly have it six years later? Like, just the domain, like, what happened to the company? How did he acquire that domain? And you said that you still legally owned it or something. Like, how did that all work?
Steve: Yeah, I had signed… I’d never… But here’s the smart move for you guys who may be in a position like this in the future. What I should have done is I should have kept control of the domain. I should have basically leased the domain, if you will, to the company for them to use in perpetuity so long as the company existed and in the case of dissolution, I would have gotten the domain back. That would have been the right structure. I wasn’t nearly that smart. Looking back, that’s what I should have done, because it was real estate. I should have leased, I should have basically rented out the real estate if you will. It was online real estate, and kept ownership of the domain. But the honest answer is, Nathan, I don’t know.
When I walked away, I literally walked away and I wanted nothing to do with the business, I wanted nothing to do with the dissolution of the company when it got to that point. I don’t know how he got it. My hunch is that it probably went to some sort of auction or they may even, I mean, just let that dang thing lapse, and he may have just picked it up. I don’t know. But why he gave me back the domain, it is really best to just say it’s one of life’s greatest mysteries. I don’t know that answer.
Nathan: Good things happen to good people.
Steve: If I was a good person, I would say absolutely. But no, I can’t lay claim. How about this, my wife is Buddhist. Maybe it’s some karma. Like, maybe in the past 100 lives or something, I was really good because at this point, yeah, it’s definitely not from what I’m doing in this lifetime. No doubt.
Nathan: Yeah. Well, look, I’m so glad that you did get it back. And it’s kind of like Steve Jobs’ Apple story so it’s really fascinating to hear. So talk to us about you’ve got the…you know, you got the domain back, you’re working on Liquor.com, you’re crushing it. How’s things going right now?
Steve: Yeah. So right now, the team that we have in San Francisco is doing a really, really good job. Oh, I tell you, they developed relationships with all the biggest brands in the world. We’ve got the world’s largest database of bartenders at just over 100,000. We’ve got a database of almost 2 million subscribers people who basically raised their hand to say that they are interested in mixology and cocktail culture. And we’ve been able to do some pretty impressive things on the SEO front. I mean, we’re number one or number two for virtually any search term you can think of. If we’re number two, it’s usually just because we’re behind Wikipedia. And there are some things that are going really, really well.
That said, I still made the mistake of signing away, so to speak, my management rights because I didn’t really wanna run the company. You know, and that’s one of the things that I ask you to think about, is are you doing something because it’s a commodity-oriented opportunity or because you really want to do and you have a lot of love for it? And what I realized when I got back the domain after I had tried to sell it, the guy made the payments, bailed on the rest, I kept the domain and the money, what I realized was that, you know, Nathan, I really don’t have love for the beverage alcohol industry. It’s just it’s not my thing. I don’t really drink. My drug of choice is weed, so, you know, I’m not a liquor guy.
And so, it was one of those things where I had to look myself in the mirror and really say, “Do I want to run this company?” And the honest answer at the time was I don’t. Even though I had the domain, I just didn’t really have an interest in running the company. And so, that’s why I assembled the team that I assembled. That’s why we brought in a lot of outside capital to help build the company. So at this point, I’m still one of the largest shareholders, and I am chairman of the board. I’m certainly founder of the company. But I don’t have any day-to-day with it, and frankly, I like it that way.
Nathan: Yeah, wow. This is really interesting. So talk to us about reinvention. You’re New York Times bestselling author. You have a massive personal brand. Talk to us about reinvention.
Steve: You know it’s interesting the book that I put on the New York Times list is called “What is your WHAT – Discover the One Amazing Thing You Were Born To Do.” And in Author land, they say that you write the book that you most need. And so, that book really is the byproduct of trying to answer that question of, “What is my what?” Of course it’s a phrase that I coined and it’s not something that was in existence. But, you know, through Myers-Briggs and StrengthFinder and “What Color is Your Parachute,” and those sort of modalities, I mean, I always had that question of, “What is it that I’m really here for? What is it that I’m really good at?” And unfortunately, all of those tests and the things that I did with the existing technologies just left me with more questions than answers.
And so that’s why I created the “What is your what framework,” because I needed it and because I knew there had to be a simpler way to give people a strategy to get started today with what it is that they’re most naturally wired to excel at and identify what it is that puts fire in their soul. And so, that is, to me, really the genesis of my reinvention into my work around reinvention, which is having to answer that question myself of really what the hell am I doing here? You know, what is it that comes as naturally to me as breathing and what is it that makes me feel like I just don’t have enough hours in the day to do and the work that I had been doing whether it was real estate or Liquor.com, you know, good from a financial perspective overall but not really good from a fulfillment perspective.
And so what I’ve really come to realize is that reinvention has nothing to do with changing anything about who you are. It’s really just kind of shedding the shackles of the of the clothes and the personalities and mitigating the whims and the agendas of others who try to say what you should do, why you should do it and where and how you should do it, and just getting back to the essence, to the core of who you truly are in honoring that.
Nathan: I see. And we have to work towards wrapping up. I know this is gonna be a big question because I know there are some people in our audience that, you know, haven’t started a business yet or don’t know what their want is, but what would you all, you know, if you give us three pieces or two pieces or even one piece, what’s the biggest thing that people can do besides purchasing your book? You know, right now, like, what could they do to find out what they are supposed to do and what they need to do?
Steve: Yeah, and I love the concept and to the work around three is that 3s are a theme in my life. And what is your what framework is based on three things and these are three things that you can do right now, which is, number one, and whether it’s through my book or through, you know, an introspection or whatever, it doesn’t matter, you can do this. Because the what is your what framework is so simple. These are three things that you can do.
One is really gain clarity on what your core gift is. And we all have a core gift whether it’s communicating or teaching or healing or entertaining or enrolling. If you look back on your life, you’ll see that there is typically a thread that runs between the things in your life that you have found success and now it doesn’t always have to be monetary success. It could just simply be the success of helping someone. So look back at some of the things in your life where you’ve had success, and try to find that common thread that then reflects what that gift is for you.
For me, my core gift is communicating. And you’ll see how this plays out because the second piece of the puzzle, the second thing that you can do right now is really give thought to what’s the primary vehicle that you will use to share that gift. And so for you, Nathan, you could argue, I don’t know what else you’re doing, but at least on the surface and what I know about you, I would say that your primary vehicle right now is Foundr, right?
Nathan: Yeah, 100%.
Steve: Yeah, 100%. So that’s the platform if you wanna think about it that way. That’s the platform that you use to share your gift.
And then the third part of the equation are the people. Who are the people that you are most compelled to serve? In other words, think about all of the times in your life where you really felt most at peace, where you really felt like you were sort of caught in that zone. And think about the people that you were with and what was taking place in those moments, because that will often provide a clue insofar as who the people are that you’re most compelled to serve. And, you know, like a tripod, if you take away any one leg of the equation, it really doesn’t work, because if you know what your gift is, you know what your vehicle is but you don’t know who your people are, you don’t know who to serve and how to serve them. If you know who your people are but you don’t know what your vehicle is or maybe you don’t know what your gift is, then you don’t know how to help them. And etc., etc., you can run it six ways from Sunday. But, you know, most people go through a lifetime without ever identifying one piece of the puzzle let alone all three.
So if you lack clarity on your gift, your vehicle, or your people, I mean, don’t worry. You’re certainly far from alone. But it is something that you can dive into, again, on your own that is the framework. You can dive into that on your own and come up with the answers. But just keep in mind that your gift is gonna be static throughout your life. You’re going to have that core gift. It’s in your DNA. But the vehicle that you use and the people that you serve, those are more fluid, those are more organic. Those can evolve and change over time and that is totally completely to be expected.
Nathan: Interesting. So if someone says they wanna start a business, don’t know where to start, don’t have any ideas, what would you say?
Steve: I would say 150% start with the people that you’re most compelled to serve. And that begins typically with creating what I call an ABP statement which is, it reflects your attributes, your beliefs, and your perspectives. Do we have time for a quick story?
Nathan: Of course.
Steve: Okay. So let me just share a quick story here and this might help you. So I would start wholeheartedly with the people that you’re most compelled to serve because you’ll be able to back into the vehicle, and you’ll be able to back into your core gif if you have clarity around that. And then so, I just want to share a quick story about a gentleman, a friend of mine out of Chicago. His name is Jonny Imerman. Johnny has got a great organization called Imerman Angels.
Now, this organization didn’t exist, you know, 7, 8, 10 years ago however long it’s been now because Jonny was in commercial real estate. He was a commercial real estate broker. He would help people who had businesses get into buildings. He would lease space. He would sell space, you know, that sort of thing. He was in commercial real estate. And so, his core gift was enrolling. I mean, that’s what he had to do. He had to enroll people into his vision of, “Hey, this is a great space, this is a great building. Here’s why you should be a part of what we’re doing here etc., etc.” So he had to enroll people onto his vision and that was the core gift that he was using.
He was diagnosed with testicular cancer. And when they found the testicular cancer, it was in a very advanced stage. And so, they literally had to put him into the hospital for treatment the next day. And he had a long hard battle, but eventually, he beat the cancer. And while he was going through his treatment and his recovery and his treatments and his recoveries, he was often surrounded by people who really loved him, his friends and his family. And he credits his ability to recover to having that love in his life, and having those people around him who provided that strength that he needed to get through it.
But in those moments when those people weren’t there, and in those moments where he was alone and he would be able to walk around the cancer ward, he saw quite often that there were people who were suffering a lot. And it broke his heart. And he swore that if he beat the cancer that he would make sure that people who were going through whatever affliction of cancer they were dealing with would never have to suffer alone again. And so, when he beat it, he started something called Imerman Angels. And what Imerman Angels does is it matches cancer sufferers with cancer survivors of any age of any stage because, you know, no matter what your friends and family can do to try to help you get through something, if they haven’t been through it, they don’t really understand what you’re dealing with. They can try to help but they don’t really understand.
And so, what Jonny did in creating this organization was gave people the opportunity to connect with those who really understood the trials and the tribulations that they were going through. And so, he used that gift of enrollment to create the vehicle of Imerman Angels to serve those with cancer who needed support. And so those are the people. And so, he still uses that same gift. He enrolls people in his vision. He asks for donations. He uses that core gift of enrollment just not through commercial real estate, but through creating the support that he needs financially, and of course, organizationally to help people who are suffering from their particular, you know, cancer affliction.
And so, that’s a way to think about it. And, of course, in his ABP statement, one of the attributes that he would put down is that he’s a cancer survivor, right? So somewhere between your attributes, your beliefs, and your perspectives, you may find that there are certain things that just jump off the page at you in terms of like, “Yeah, I totally am fired up about that.” And perhaps the thing to do is then to go dive in to that arena in some way, shape, or form and get around people who are in that space and that will likely lead you towards how you can leverage the gift that you’ve been given to create a vehicle that completely fulfills you.
Nathan: Man, that’s amazing. I love that story. That is incredible.
Steve: Yeah. I mean, it’s such a touching story because if you had asked him seven, eight years ago, and, you know, again, I’m losing track of how long ago he started, but basically, if you had asked him before he started that, you know, “Hey, Jonny, do you think you’re ever gonna create a nonprofit that matches cancer sufferers with cancer survivors?” He probably would have laughed you out of the room. But yet when life dealt him the cards that he was dealt, he took those cards and he played it out to a royal flush.
Nathan: Yeah, wow. Well, man, I think that’s incredible these tools that you’re giving us. So we have to work towards wrapping up. A few final questions. One, when it comes to, you know, everything you’ve done as an entrepreneur, what’s your, I guess, we’ll go back to the threes, with your three biggest pieces of advice and then where’s the best place people can find you?
Steve: So three biggest pieces of advice. Number one, don’t be stupid. Sign away your management rights to your baby. Don’t let someone else raise your baby, right? I mean, I think that’s the biggest takeaway that I hope you get out of this, right, is just no one knows your business better than you do. Even if someone has more experience, you can always hire out for the experience that you need or the talent that you need. So don’t sign away your management rights no matter how big the opportunity is.
Number two, make sure that when you get into business, you’re not doing it from the standpoint of chasing a commodity-driven opportunity, because, ultimately, commodity-driven opportunities end up doing one thing and that’s most of the time competing on price. And when you get into that game, it is a zero-sum game. It’s a game you cannot win. And if it’s not a financial zero-sum game that you cannot win, it’s an emotional zero-sum game that you cannot win because if you’re just simply, you know, hocking widgets that you don’t give two hoots about, there’s gonna be an expiration date on that and you wanna create something that is sustainable.
And then number three, I would ask you to really consider this, which is, you are the solution to someone else’s problem. And there are people who are literally praying for you to show up in their life right now. And one of my favorite expressions is to a second grader, a fifth grader is a God. And that’s really how you have to think about this which is you may not have all your shit together, you may not have all your ducks in a row, you may not know exactly what it is that you’re supposed to do to get to where it is that you want to go, but you know more than the person who’s three steps behind you. And that person right now is literally waiting and praying for you to show up in their life. So when you don’t honor the gift that you’ve been given and you don’t share that with strategic abandon, you’re not only doing, of course, a huge disservice to yourself, but perhaps more importantly, you’re doing a huge disservice to those who are literally waiting for you. And ultimately, if you can create something and live this life in a way that not only impacts those who share this lifetime with you, but also those of lifetimes to come, I think you’re gonna be pretty proud of how you look back on your life in your final days.
And so, those will be three words of advice. And in terms of how folks can get a hold of me, first and foremost, if you wanna grab a free copy of the New York Times bestseller, “What is Your WHAT – Discover the One Amazing Thing You Were Born To Do.” You can do that at whatisyourwhat.com/free. So whatisyourwhat.com/free. And then if you want more information about me, I always suggest taking a listen to an episode or two of Reinvention Radio. and if you survive that on iTunes or stitcher or wherever you find Reinvention Radio then go to steveoshler.com, and there’s some good stuff there as well.
Nathan: Awesome. Well, look, thank you so much for your time, Steve. You’ve been absolutely amazing man. And, yeah, thank you so much for sharing your story and your lessons. It’s been an incredible show.
Steve: I appreciate you having me on, brother. Keep up the amazing work.
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