An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
It will always take longer to build…before they come; You must plan for a long adoption cycle, increased cost, and lower ROI in the early years.
As a part of our series called “Making Something From Nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bryan Smeltzer.
Bryan Smeltzer is a successful consumer products business executive and entrepreneur. He has held executive-level roles in business development, product, and marketing with some of the world’s most prestigious brands, including; Oakley, TaylorMade, Adidas, K-Swiss, and Schutt Sports, among other international brands. He also founded a men’s apparel brand, successfully running a profitable business for ten years, eventually selling to a VC firm.
He also hosts a Podcast called The Visionary Chronicles. In addition, he released his first bestselling book this year, The Visionary Brand, The Success Formula Behind the World’s Most Visionary Brands. He recently received the prestigious Readers Favorite Award for BEST Non-fiction, Marketing Genre book.
He is also a member of the Board of Advisors at UCI’s BCIE along with their New Venture Program, an Innovation Advisor at the UCI’s Applied Innovation program at the Cove, a Mentor/Advisor to UCLA’s Price Center Venture Accelerator Program, and a Mentor/Advisor at the San Diego Sports Innovators Accelerator (SDSI) center.
Bryan currently oversees LiquidMind Inc., a global brand strategy firm that partners with start-ups and established mid to large-cap consumer brands to empower businesses to think differently, be different, drive a passionate culture, and execute relentlessly.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
Having grown up in a blue-collar family environment in North Dakota, we were taught early on how to be independent and find a way to always provide for ourselves. Having two hard-working parents who, month to month, were trying to make ends meet, it was a tough life for a family of five living in a small trailer through brutal winters.
I always knew I would leave at some point. I needed the moment to propel me into this new world outside North Dakota. This moment came during my last semester at the University of North Dakota, where I would move to California to finish my engineering degree, never looking back and with nothing in hand. I survived my first year, eventually finding a role with an aerospace company in Manhattan Beach.
After five years in the aerospace industry, I found my true calling was in consumer products. At this point, I started my apparel company, UTOPIA, an upper-tier men’s apparel collection. But, again, I started with nothing in an industry where I knew virtually nothing, eventually building over ten profitable years into a brand when I sold it to a VC firm.
After selling my apparel brand, I transitioned into consumer products, moving from my own company to working for some of the world’s most iconic brands. I started with Oakley, successfully building the Athletic Division, then I would move on to K-Swiss, where I would lead their global apparel/accessories and licensing. Eventually, I would end up at TaylorMade/Adidas Golf as their Vice President of Global Softgoods and Accessories product lines. Also, I would lead several international brands such as; SKINS performance apparel out of Australia, ARENA swim out of Italy, and ZAMST bracing/supports out of Japan.
Each was a unique experience, eventually leading me to LiquidMind, a global brand strategy firm out of Southern Cal. Having been with so many international brands, I found that this served me very well in founding LiquidMind, as I knew there was a significant void of brand services available to these companies.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There is a portion of a scriptural verse from Ephesians 6:13, “Having done all…stand.” This verse is relevant to me, especially as I was going through the trials of being an entrepreneur and throughout life when barriers to success seemed to come out of nowhere.
Overcoming and conquering fear through faith and courage are foundational values everyone should have. Still, most do not, and this verse is a constant reminder to do as much as is humanly possible and leave the rest for divine intervention.
I have found in building my own company and eventually selling to a venture capital firm that you are only human, and all the worry in the world will not change your circumstances. So it is always best to do the best you can and stand firm, stand tall through the storms of life, both personal and professional.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that significantly impacted you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Yes, there have been many books I have read over the years, and each has provided a building block for my foundation to achieve success both in life and business.
These books are timeless. Each provides insight through situations you will face and offers practical knowledge for achieving your goals, the leadership to inspire teams, and knowledge to drive disruptive brands that move beyond the status quo.
My favorite biography so Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. The book provided direct knowledge into Steve’s life, mission, and successes and failures, and it is the only book commissioned by Steve to be written by Walter.
For inspiration, I read a timeless book by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale called Bible Power for Successful Living. When you go through life, it is always good to have an anchor to hold to and to know you are not alone in your Journey. This book has been my anchor, the soul of what will lead you to a purposeful life and not lose sight of how to live your life, not just live.
For knowledge, I am an avid reader of Tom Peters. Between Steve Jobs and Tom Peters, through them, I created a foundation for my product, design, and marketing inspiration that served me well, along with a good dose of Oakley’s passion injected as well.
These are all inspirational books, but each has a specific purpose. I am an avid reader, and it is always challenging to come up with one, but this is a great start!
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. Can you share a few ideas from your experience about how to overcome this challenge?
Ideas are the beginning of a long Journey. The Journey can be one where it is to aspire to become an entrepreneur or provide an idea to drive the brand forward.
Each has its challenges, but both are full of barriers and often lead to frustration and failure — those who understand that these are stepping stones to accomplishing the most in life. I often reference Thomas Edison, who is an excellent example of perseverance. He had 999 successful failures before inventing the light bulb. So it is, first and foremost, your ability to persevere through failure. It should not be your goal to succeed without failure. If you go in with this attitude, you are sure not to succeed, for no great idea has succeeded without first failing. Failure is a badge of honor and is what all great visionaries embrace.
In my new bestselling book, The Visionary Brand, The Success Formula Behind the World’s Most Visionary Brands, I discuss this process, the formula all Visionary brands embrace to succeed.
Some of the most successful brands embrace the following.
- Failure | fail fast, fail often, for each failure leads you one step closer to success.
- Risk | always take risks; unless you risk something, you will never accomplish anything meaningful.
- Vision | define your Vision, set your foundation, and lead your brand. Never compromise for short-term gain.
Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?
When thinking of new products, define what you want to solve, define your customer, and determine the addressable market. Each of these is critical to ensure your idea is viable. There are so many variants of products in the marketplace that it is impossible to ensure no one else is doing the same product or process. The key to success is either to reinvent a current product or process, making it either easier or faster, or a revolutionary product, something new or different way to do something already established, a breakaway opportunity.
I am a big believer in “breakaway” products, which set you apart from the competition and allow for drawdown products. In building this platform, you are creating something that may not be your best seller but sets you apart from your competition and provides talking points to marketing and sales. For an idea to gain oxygen and live, you must first give a path to life, and this is done by setting a vision to provide a better way or an entirely new direction. Neither is easy, and why are so few brands, and millions of commodity imitators?
For the benefit of our readers, can you outline the steps one has to go through, from when they think of the idea until it finally lands in a customer’s hands? In particular, we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.
I will provide a short answer to a highly complex question. I have written a book called The Visionary Brand, The Success Formula Behind the World’s Most Visionary Brands, and inside I have written extensively about this “formula” brands integrate into their foundation.
Their foundation, once established, does not change, it shifts with the times, but its character and original principles on which the company was built do not. The difference between a brand and a commodity. Brands innovate, are disruptive, and provide a lifestyle experience. Commodities do none of these.
I mention this because you must first have a defined brand or what you would like to be or provide. Then once this is established, you can build products around this positioning. This is mandatory for you to be considered authentic. With DTC becoming more critical and dominant, your ability to engage, provide value beyond product, and be consistently excellent will seal your success.
Your path to commercializing the idea is knowing who, what, when, where, how, and why. These essential questions must be answered before deciding to spend money on prototyping. So, first, concept, answer these questions, and third do a proof of concept (POC). Once you thoroughly vetted the idea through this process, you will need to build a detailed business plan and brand deck to solidify your investment and thought process.
Once these are completed, you will need to source your product for proto, ensuring you have defined all production parameters. Never go with a factory that does not have the core competencies or capacity to build your proto properly or fulfill your production as you move forward. There are many items on the checklist, too many to mention, but this provides a good start.
Having patented over 15 different products with Utility Patents, first, I would say do not bother with a design patent; always strive to get a Utility Patent, and be realistic with your chances of successfully getting a Patent. This is usually where other ideas come out of the woodwork, some in retail, but many are not. But remember, either way, the inventor has the rights to the product design or utility.
Finding a retailer starts with having a great idea, not after the fact. The retailer will be the culmination of commercializing your idea, one which you are passionate will succeed.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started Leading My Company” and why?
The five things I wish someone would have told me before starting to lead my company;
- It will always take longer to build…before they come; You must plan for a long adoption cycle, increased cost, and lower ROI in the early years.
You must be able to ride out these first initial years when the failure rate is the highest. Manage expectations for growth and always have a plan for alternate scenarios. Expect the best, but plan for the worst. This provides the confidence to have a dynamic strategy and adapt to market conditions quickly.
2. It will cost more than you planned or anticipated; always plan for higher investment, be honest with projections and realize why companies fail, with cash flow being near the top of the list.
Have a detailed Budget, track it religiously against actuals and adjust where necessary to ensure you are maintaining cash.
Also, a rapid understanding of growth can kill off a business as quickly as no growth. If you do not have time for a “cash flow breather,” it may be too late, and you will choke off your business.
3. Bootstrapping is necessary; since it will always cost more than anticipated, it should be a common practice.
However, it becomes a hindrance if you do not know how to prioritize investments. Yes, investments in your future, your livelihood as an ongoing company.
4. You will wear all hats at some point; you must understand all aspects of your company. But, unfortunately, you will not be able to hire this expertise, at least not initially.
If you do not know how to manage the financials, learn it before turning it over to someone else. The more you learn, the more prepared you are for managing the ups and downs that inevitably happen when starting and running a company.
5. It’s Lonely; when you build a true start-up with a high risk of failure, it will feel very lonely at the top.
You will not have others to lean on in a crisis, and you must be both a leader and a preacher. So you are leading the company through trying times, continually preaching that everything will work out and we will succeed, even when you may not be convinced.
It is a highly stressful feeling and one you can not necessarily share with others at work and do not want to bring home.
Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
First, define the who, what, why, how, when, and where? These are broad questions, but each has a specific purpose in ensuring you are thinking through what you want to achieve, how you will get there, and what it will take to realize your Vision.
There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out independently?
If you have a good handle on developing a product or process, then my answer is an absolute no; however if you have an idea or a concept, but no idea how to create a prototype, then maybe. I do not say yes in either instance, as you will go through many steps before needing someone to support your product proto-build.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs. looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
You will be hard-pressed to get anyone interested in an idea. Therefore, it is best to first conceptualize your story with a “beauty deck” that will both impress and explain what you are looking to achieve by creating your product.
I recommend bootstrapping, finding a mentor with no ulterior motive, or an accelerator group. These two avenues for support will guide you to mentorship in areas where you need support with your weakness. Everyone has flaws; the sooner you strengthen these and improve your strengths, the better off you will be near and long term.
In deciding between the two, you must determine how comfortable you are with telling your story around the idea or if you have the current skillset to complete all aspects of the business planning process. If not, find mentors, complete these tasks, prepare through dry runs with mentors, and present to venture capitalists, but spend most of your time on DIY (do it yourself).
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
There is not enough support for the Entrepreneurs community, true Founders, starting with nothing and building something of value to others.
I know their struggles and the trials or barriers they have to overcome daily. This stress sets in and eventually bleeds into their professional and personal lives. They need support and may not always know where to turn or find a trustworthy resource with no ulterior motive.
This is why I started the Christian Entrepreneur Leadership Ministry at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA. Yes, the same church was led by Pastor Rick Warren, author of Purpose Driven Life.
I hope this Ministry provides a valued service to those in need of support and a trusting environment for other Entrepreneurs with no ulterior motive other than to serve others.
I also give back time to young Entrepreneurs through voluntary mentorship. I am a Board Member at the University of California, Irvine, Beall Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, and UCLA’s Price Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, where we mentor young entrepreneurs throughout the year and provide funding to get them started in their Journey.
You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Find inspiration through Faith, the Faith to know that all things do work together for good. Stand tall through your trials, and know that you are not alone.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Bryan can be followed through these sites;
The Visionary Chronicles: https://bryansmeltzer.podbean.com/
- Google Play
- Apple Podcasts
Email: [email protected]
Making Something From Nothing: Bryan Smeltzer Of LiquidMind On How To Go From Idea To Launch was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.