An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Do not go cheap on your business accountant/bookkeeper. Doing this right from the beginning will save you tons of pain down the line.
As a part of our series called “Making Something From Nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Thomas Drew.
Thomas Drew is an entrepreneur, public speaker, and co-founder of 1AND1 LIFE, a mental health and wellness digital platform that empowers consumers to become the best versions of themselves through media/content, digital products and services. 1AND1 LIFE is a product of Thomas’s love for brand building and storytelling, colliding with his passions for health, wellness, and self-improvement.
Born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Thomas graduated from Davenport University. He earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration with a Marketing concentration in May of 2015. Thomas moved to New York City following undergrad to pursue Graduate School and earned his Master’s Degree in Strategic Communication with an emphasis in Brand Strategy from Columbia University in May of 2017. Thomas was chosen as a Student Ambassador of his Cohort by Dean Jason Wingard.
Prior to 1AND1 LIFE, Thomas Drew led successful marketing, social media, and brand strategy initiatives and campaigns for companies like Samsung/Verizon, The U.S. Army, The St. James, and more. He is currently sought after for his brand and marketing strategy expertise as a consultant and motivational speaker.
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”?
My childhood backstory is a very interesting one. I was lucky enough to grow up in a two parent home, with Stephen and Clarice Drew — the best two parents that any child could ever ask for. While my Father was at work during the day, my Mother would stay back to raise me and teach me things before I was old enough to start preschool or kindergarten. My Mother noticed that I picked up on things very fast, and she created her own homemade version of “Hooked on Phonics” for me. Because of this, I was reading chapter books out loud by the age of 3. This, and a multitude of other factors, caused me to skip the 1st grade and go directly from Kindergarten to the 2nd grade. My Mother would always say that it was clear that I was a “gifted” child because I would grasp/figure out things extremely quickly, and then I would move on to the next thing. After skipping a grade, I was placed in advanced/AP courses throughout my grade school, middle school, and high school years. During this experience, I was seen as a nerd, younger than everyone else in my class, and didn’t fit in. I also was overweight, and hadn’t yet grown into my body. Because of this, I experienced a great deal of bullying by not only a handful of students, but at times teachers. Looking back, these experiences powered my passion for wellness, mental health, and self improvement.
The craziest story about my childhood is the story of what I wrote in my class autobiography when I was 7 years old. In class, we were given the task to write about our lives in a book: who we were and what we wanted to be when we grew up. At this young of an age, I wrote in the book quote “I want to be an entrepreneur and own 7 businesses. I love basketball, I love reading and I love New York City.” I believe I was the only kid in class that wrote down that he wanted to be an entrepreneur. Fast forward to now, whenever things get hard, or I need a reset, I bring up this picture and look at what I wrote as a child to reconfirm that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. Childhood me would be proud, and it’s up to me to keep going and manifest my own destiny.
Something else about my childhood that was/is very notable is that I watched my Dad and studied him extremely closely. My Dad was, and still is a business owner of a very successful law firm in his own right. Growing up, I saw his consistency in leaving for work every day in suits and ties, and his routine. I spent time at his office once I was old enough and watched him work, take meetings, and oftentimes watch him be the last one to leave the office since he was my ride home. Watching my Father work hard, grow/lead a business, inspire his people and others cemented that in me from a young age. I understood that I had a legacy to uphold, a torch to carry, and a standard to live by, just by watching his actions and results.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite Life Lesson Quote is “Don’t miss your moment.” It’s pretty simple, but it means so much. I’ll never forget when my mentor, and first big private investor in my company, told me how he went about preparation when looking to get a deal done. He told me that “The deal is won before you enter the room”, meaning that he put in a ridiculous amount of time, attention and effort on studying, learning and preparing for who would be in the room. Life is all about moments, and having the awareness to understand the severity and importance of certain moments so that you can prepare for the moment and fully succeed in the moment. Tom Brady is the greatest Quarterback of all time because he didn’t miss his moment. When Drew Bledsoe was injured, and Brady’s number was called, he was ready for the moment. He had a sense of the moment, controlled the moment and performed in the moment. Tom “not missing his moment” set the tone for his whole career. I have tons of other examples of this in my personal and professional life, but this quote/philosophy is a huge part of my personal ethos.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Think And Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill changed my life in more ways than I can mention. This book was instrumental in my personal journey with mental conditioning, refreaming my mind, and reprogramming my subconscious. When I first moved to New York in 2015 it was a new experience for me. I knew I could make it in the hardest city in the world, but nothing could’ve prepared me for how hard the journey was actually about to get — and it’s still hard. I read Think and Grow Rich for the first time in 2017 after I finished Grad School at Columbia. This time period was a serious strategic inflection point in my life, and the book set me on the right path mentally. I would recommend this book to anyone that is looking to go on a journey of self awareness, self-discovery and enlightenment. This book made it apparent to me that if you have a clear vision, and you pair a burning desire to be successful with that vision, you will attract it, and the only thing that will get in the way of you getting what you deserve is giving up at any point along the way.
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?
As we all know, good ideas happen all the time, but execution is the hard part. This is the formula that I’ve distilled it down to. Success in business is a combination of execution, perseverance/persistence, diversity of thought, a consumer driven focus, access to the right capital, adaptation, curiosity, clear vision, timing and luck. There are some other things as well but I believe that this is the core.
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?
Oftentimes when something has already been done, that tends to be a good sign — that means market validation has been achieved. Instead of worrying about someone that has already done what you’ve done, put all of your time, energy and effort as a founder to think about how you can differentiate through your product, communication, community niche, and storytelling. It’s not about who does it first. It’s about who does it best. For example, Apple and Nokia at one point were making the same product (cell phone) at the same time, and Nokia was the leader in the space. Had Steve Jobs dismissed his ideas, we would’ve never had the iPhone and Apple may not be a 3T market cap company and.
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.
This is never really a one size fits all approach. In my experience, it depends on the business model and what you’re trying to bring to the market. For example — if you’re running a digital business that’s based on content and media, you won’t need a manufacturer. Instead, you’ll need writers, editors, researchers, an SEO team, etc. If you’re creating a DTC physical product it’s a different ballgame. That being said, I would break it down like this:
1. An idea is an idea, but execution is far more important. Once you have your idea, look for validation either through the market or through asking your target consumer questions. Yes, it is possible to create something that people don’t yet know they like, but it’s harder. It’s easy to find product market fit when you get a real pulse of the consumer first and meet them where their needs/pain are.
2. The journey of starting a company is easier when you don’t do it alone. I can tell you from experience that starting and running a company is truly one of the hardest things in the world. It can get lonely, extremely difficult and depressing at times. Having a co-founder or business partner to go on the journey with you can make all the difference. For my business, 1AND1 Life, my co-founder Corey Lewis and I have been in it together since the beginning. Without each other, we definitely would not be where we are today, and we both know that and are upfront about that. If you’re lucky enough to find a co-founder that aligns with your inner drive/what’s important to you, and if their weaknesses are your strengths and vice versa, you should seriously consider going to battle with them. It will make all the difference in the world and allow you to keep going when times get tough, because you have someone fighting in the trenches with you that you can trust.
2. Before you spend any money on creating your product, put all of the time, energy and effort that you can into understanding who your target consumer is, what they want, what their pain points are, what drives them, who they admire, follow and listen to. Understanding your consumer in this way will give you the ammo to create your product or service’s unique value proposition.
3. Create an example of your product, or a prototype, which is commonly referred to as an MVP “minimum viable product”. Take this MVP and give it to people to test, use and give you feedback. If you get a good amount of people, let’s say 50–100, that believe in, need, love, and would use your product then you’re on the right track.
4. There are two things in entrepreneurship that you shouldn’t go cheap on — your accounting (financial management) and your legal counsel. Set up your company, figure out your structure, get your roles and responsibilities, voting rights and other things set in stone before you really start moving.
5. If you can bootstrap your company and find ways to support it other than with outside capital to start, then do that for as long as you can.
6. Obviously after you have your product, marketing and distributing it is important. I could share a ridiculous amount of information here but it really boils down to your customer experience from the top of the funnel to the end of the sale. You should be thinking about packaging, landing page experience, email nurturing, follow up sequences, unboxing, literally everything from start to finish. The consumer experience is more important than anything, and a good consumer experience almost always equals better LTV (Customer lifetime value).
I could ruminate on this forever but those 6 are good as a start.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started Leading My Company” and why?
1. Start with understanding the consumer first before you create your product.
2. Make sure you know how to build and read a financial model as the founder so you can truly understand and simulate the business from the beginning.
3. Do not go cheap on your business accountant/bookkeeper. Doing this right from the beginning will save you tons of pain down the line.
4. It’s going to be way harder than you think. Way harder. Your “why” behind your business will be the reason why you continue to persevere through the times where you get punched in the mouth.
5. There’s nothing more important or powerful than building an audience or community organically. You do this by investing in storytelling. Nothing is more powerful than storytelling, so invest tons of time in the story early, and use it to build loyal brand stewards over time that connect with your ethos, mission and communication style.
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?
Similar to what I said above, but I would first trust my own gut and conviction. Try to have that conviction backed by research and make sure that there’s some data that points to your idea or solution being relevant. Whether it’s big data or small, it just makes it easier for your invention to have some legs. Think about the brand, the communication, but most importantly the story behind the product. Make sure that this story connects with the target consumer intrinsically. Those are some good first steps. Also doing research on competitors in the niche early, figuring out what they’re doing well, but more importantly what they’re NOT doing well — this is also a huge key in figuring out your value prop/product differentiation strategy.
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 on their own?
I think only YOU know as the founder(s) what you want the vision to be, the little nuances, etc. You have to trust your vision. There’s always room for consultants but there’s something to be said for figuring out your vision and doing it your way for a while. You never want to get in rooms with potential investors or supporters of your business and not be the one with the institutional knowledge.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
Always bootstrap when you can, and for as long as you can. There’s something to be said for working towards having a profitable business, and also something to be said for not giving up too much of your company too early and regretting that later. VC’s are great if they’re the right fit, but if you align yourself with the wrong VC, they won’t care about you, may even push you out and see you as a cash grab. Only take money when you truly need it. The best way to think about it in my opinion is if your business gets to a point where the main thing in the way of scaling what you’ve already built is cash, then you know you’re in a good spot. Try not to take someone else’s money to build something out of thin air if you don’t have to. It’s always easier to put gasoline on the fire when you know where to put it in order to produce the most powerful flames.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
My personal philosophy is Acts Of Kindness Change The World. The more I receive, the more I give. And the more I give, the more I receive. If I can use my personal platform and business story to inspire people and let them know that it IS possible for a young black man to do what I’m doing, and that in turn is a spark for other young entrepreneurs, then I’ve done my job. I just want to be the spark — the one wave that creates 20 more waves.
I’m grateful that through 1AND1 Life, my business partner Corey and I have built a purpose driven business that actually changes lives. We’re in the business we’re in because we know how many people we’re impacting now, but the addressable audience of the people that need what our company is doing is where we can continue to make the biggest impact. I love being able to look at the comments on our Mental Health Podcast, Off The Cuff With Danny Lopriore, for example. We get DMs and comments from people on the podcast pages about how the show has saved their life. It’s little things like that that really get me up in the morning each day to continue to build on this mission. I don’t see myself as successful yet, and I know that may seem self-deprecating and might not make sense to some, but I will FEEL a deeper sense of successful once I’m able to take a step back and truly see my impact on a large scale with the amount of people I’ve helped, businesses I’ve advised, doors I’ve open and capital I’ve given. I still have a long way to go, but please believe me when I say that I have plans to do this at the largest of scales.
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.
I appreciate you saying that and that’s very humbling. I have a long way to go. But as I said earlier, my mission is this: Act Of Kindness Change The World. I want this to be the movement. One good deed inspires another. One moment of selflessness, compassion and care inspires another. The more people that do good deeds for others without expecting any in return, the better our world will become.
We are very 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.
Great question. I love music, art, film etc, so in that world it would have to be Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) — I look up to his creative genius for many reasons and I at some point in my career I would love to be as polarizing/successful as him, but in the world of business — doing it with a similar flair and attention to detail. In the business world, I’ve been humbled/grateful enough to meet many of my idols, but someone that I haven’t met that I think very highly of is Marcelo Claure. I just think what he’s done throughout his career, not just at SoftBank, is truly phenomenal and his dedication to investing in entrepreneurs of color is super inspiring to me for obvious reasons. Growing up, I wasn’t aware of many successful investors, CEOs, entrepreneurs etc. that weren’t white men. If my memory serves me right, I believe that currently only 4 or 5 CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are black. Someone like Marcelo as an investor, CEO, etc. has been and will continue to be the exception. Sidenote/fundact: I actually had a meeting at a coffee shop in New York City a month or so ago and saw Marcelo sitting by himself having a coffee. I was going to go up and introduce myself before my meeting but he quickly walked out before I was able to. I actually ended up having an incredible meeting with a VC fund at that coffeeshop, so maybe that was a cool sign from the universe. Time will tell!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Making Something From Nothing: Thomas Drew Of 1AND1 LIFE 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.