Ep 1: The Decade Of The Personal Brand
The next ten years is going to be the decade of the personal brand.
We’ve had the industrial revolution and we are in the midst of the digital revolution. But as a major part of the world goes remote, we are seeing another revolution taking place. The next ten years is going to be the decade of the personal brand. This new economy of people sharing their expertise online has been going on from some time but it has still has a long run to it moving forward. Author, entrepreneur, real estate investor, and influencer Ken McElroy has this much to say about that: if you haven’t already created your personal brand, it’s high time you start to. Listen in and learn why host Scott Harkey couldn’t agree more.
Ken, I know you as an author, an entrepreneur, a real estate investor, a fun guy to golf with and a mentor, but for those people who don’t know your background, maybe give some background on you as Ken the businessman.
I was born and grew up in the Pacific Northwest. My parents never went to college so we grew up below middle-class. My mom was a hairdresser and my dad is a sheet metal worker. It’s an environment that nobody was expected to go to college. I ended up wrestling. I got a scholarship. That is what got me into college. Even in the first couple of years, I didn’t appreciate the education at all. I was there to go to the Olympics and that was it. I realized I was not that good. I ended up having to figure out what was next. I went to work in the property management business in Seattle and that is when I learned the world of real estate, managing and buying apartments.
I did the property management side for eight years. One day, I realized and I was like, “If I’m going to make money, I’m going to have to be on the other side of this. I’m going to have to own these buildings and I’m going to have to hire guys like me.” That is when I made the leap and jumped over. That’s when I learned how to buy apartments, commercial real estate, raise capital, deal with lenders, hire property management companies. Now I own a little over $1 billion worth of apartments, self-storage, office buildings. I started with a two-bedroom, two-bath. I used my own money. I then had to figure out how to raise money and I have been doing that. I have about 250 employees and we are in multiple states.
Through learning how to grow a business, I got into EO and then I got into YPO, which is Entrepreneurs’ Organization and Young Presidents’ Organization because I didn’t know how to run a business. I wanted to learn how to run a business, how to create a company culture, how to hire better, all the things that happen in a silo as a business owner. There is nobody to talk to. You can’t sit down with an employee that you hired and start to talk to them about money issues, people issues, merger issues or whatever it might be. Those organizations afford me the opportunity to be able to dip my toe into all these topics that I didn’t know anything about.
I remember when I met you, you were like, "You got to get to EO," which I did. It has changed my life too. I didn't graduate from college. This was my college. It was learning from people and learning from business owners. Mike Noble in one of our companies. He’s in EO now. It’s a cool group of businesspeople.
Along the way, I met Robert Kiyosaki. For me, he was another guy that I was raising money from. At the time, Rich Dad Poor Dad was out and doing well. I was looking at him as somebody to fund one of my deals. I started to learn a lot more. I started to dive into personal development because Robert is a massive personal development guy. I started to read more, go to more seminars, watch more stuff. I started to learn the power of immersion into self-discovery and personal development. One thing that Robert said to me was, “Be careful of who your teachers are.” That always stuck with me because who you listened to is important.
When you met Robert, how long did you know that, “I’m going to be an author. I’m going to coach and inspire people to be investors and business people like Robert?”
I didn’t know. He had just written Rich Dad Poor Dad.
It’s the best business book I have ever read. That book changed my life.
It was on the New York Times bestseller list for twenty years. He happened to be in town, which was great. He said, “You need to write a book.” I go, “I don’t know how to write a book.” I wasn’t very good at it. He said, “We will figure it out.” I did and that is how I met our friend, Kathy Heasley who helped me write my first book. From there, I have now written five more and started a podcast and a YouTube channel which is on fire right now. I think we passed 230,000 subscribers.
I remember you started a year ago and I came on like, “That’s cool. Ken had started his podcast.” I was doing research on Yukon and I was like, "Holy shit. This thing has gone through the roof.”
It’s insane and what’s happened in a good way is our people have come out of the woodwork from all over the country and all over the world. We are getting good questions and good information. In addition to that, some of the influencers that are on YouTube now are coming and said, “Can we be on your channel?” It’s got this momentum that has been wonderful. The message on financial freedom, which is my thing, has been great. It’s been a great journey. Our company is doing great and I’m enjoying myself.
I talked about creating content. A lot of times in advertising and marketing, people overthink it like analysis by paralysis shit. Just start creating content. If you are passionate about something, if you have the knowledge to provide, go like an old-school entrepreneur and try shit and figure it out. Would you subscribe to that or do you need the perfect strategy before you go?
I don’t think that exists. Here’s what I’ve learned, I’ll do a YouTube video or a podcast that I think is amazing and the public tells you it’s amazing, which I love. I need to up my game. I need to figure it out. Either talk less or interview more or whatever it might be. I’m always trying to figure out how to make the next one a little bit better. That is what I love. When you go to a restaurant, how many stars did you get? Did people like it or not? They like it and they watch it or they don’t.
From all the questions you get from entrepreneurs and people you mentor, what do you think is the best question that a business person in America could have that you have a great answer for it in life. There are people struggling out there and getting their asses kicked. We have gotten our ass kicked. What do you think is one of those questions that stick out to you?
I always tell people to find a problem and solve it. That is all I say every time and it’s that true. If you look at Uber, which started during the last recession. They found a problem and they solved it, and then Lyft copied them. They find a problem and solve it so that is it. Could it be daunting? Yes. Do you know how to raise the money? Probably not. Do you know how to put the team together? Probably not. There are all these things that stop you. Your own head says, “I can’t do that. I don’t know how to do that.” Everybody has those doubts, every single person. There is nobody that doesn’t have doubts.
What about the money-raising part? I get that question all the time, “I don’t know how to raise money.” For me, I didn’t start raising money. I cowboyed the company and sold to clients, but you raise money for a lot of deals. What do people miss when they think about raising money?
What you will find is there is a tremendous amount of money out there. It’s in stocks and Bitcoins. It sits with wealth managers or whatever. Most people are uneducated about money. They turn it over to somebody else and they hope that it goes up, and they meet with their person once a year or something. My experience has been that most people aren’t that educated around money. I found that a good business idea or plan attracts money if you thought it through. In other words, you have to take it to the next step. You have to know what an investor is going to want. They are going to want their money back and they are going to want a return. If you can prove that, let’s say you need $100,000 to start something. You can show that in a year, you are going to be able to start paying that back, I’m guessing you are probably going to be able to raise that money. A lot of people invest in people.
You told me that. I love that line, “I used to invest in companies. Now, I invest in people.” That stuck out to me. As I have done deals or thought about things, I’m like, “That is so true.” It’s all about the horse a lot of times.
I know plenty of people that had okay business plans, but they were never going to lose the money. They are never going to lose the company. They will work all night, all day. I then know other people that are like, "That didn’t work. I’m going to move on to something else” and the money is gone. You got to have both. You have to have a business that people want. You got to have something that works, that people will pay for and the revenue can come in, but you have to have that fire in somebody. You got to have that competitiveness of, “I’m housing somebody else’s money and how do I get it back to them?”
It’s attitude and mindset for sure. You said something that sparked my interest. Bitcoin is so hot. I will never forget the first time I met Kiyosaki for dinner. He pulled out this like a million-dollar bill from some country in Africa. He takes it out of his wallet. It’s very dramatic. It was awesome. He’s like, “You know what this is?” He has this whole talk about inflation and it stuck with me. I have been thinking a lot about it. Forget the show. I just want to know this. With all the money coming in from the government and Bitcoin’s on fire, what do you think about inflation? What do you think about Bitcoin? What is the future look like?
What he pulled out because I was there was $100 trillion from Zimbabwe. That was real money. What he was trying to point out is that certain countries will print money and devalue the money. What Robert always says is, “Savers are losers.” They are not really losers but even Yellen said, “2%-plus inflation.” If you go by what they are telling you already, that means that if you save your dollars, they are going to be worth 20% less in ten years. If you got $10,000 and it’s buying $10,000 worth of stuff now and you still have $10,000 in ten years, it’s going to buy you $8,000 worth of stuff. That is what they are already telling you, but now this new stuff is all this new money that is being printed and given to people. I personally believe we are going to see some high inflation. What you want to do is you want to get into products that are inflation-adjusted or that hedge inflation. That is why I laughed at the Dave Ramsey thing because he is like, “Get out of debt.” The truth is if you can get in debt at 3% and lock it or fix it, you are going to pay it off with cheaper dollars later.
It is why real estate and Bitcoin is going crazy because people freaked out about inflation and interest rates are low. Do you think real estate will continue on that path? I feel everyone’s like, “I remember 2006 and I lost everything.” There is that trauma of the housing crash. Is that what we are facing again?
I believe they are. It’s going to depend on what they do to give more people more money and kick the can down the road. They kept the eviction moratorium down the road until June. We still have this forbearance in place, which means that the lenders can’t foreclose on people. The last I looked, there around three million people that were 90 days delinquent on their mortgage and that’s just homes. I think at some point, that has to end. Softly it could. It depends on the money that they throw out there and what they are allowing to do.
We have an office in Vegas. We did a lot of hotels and tourism kind of stuff. In Las Vegas, it’s like we are going to see the roaring twenties. I think we might be on a cocaine binge situation and then, is it crash? If you are in real estate and that crashes, but yet the inflation is going to happen. I’m confused.
It’s a confusing time. I will tell you what for sure is going to happen. Hotels are in trouble.
Is it Airbnb’s model or in general travel?
The travel industry and the corporate travel industry are down. Those are in trouble. They are already on thin margins as you know. I believe that retail is in a bit of trouble, so malls. I think that office buildings are in trouble over the long haul. As people’s leases start to renew, they are going to downsize. I know friends that have lots of space like yourself that might be looking at 20% less or 50% less or whatever it might be. I own some office buildings and we are seeing that. There are sectors of the commercial side that are going to do well. Apartments are going to do fine because people are going to fall out of single-family.
It seems that it’s expensive to buy right now. I don’t even own any apartments. I know people that do. They have been tough but you still like it because it’s almost a mutual fund bond kind of safe deal.
It happened in 2008. That’s what created this run. The housing bubble burst. People came into rentals and there weren’t enough. It created a massive demand and this little run we had.
I watched a video talking about a lot of people living with their parents that we will see another run for apartments too.
We passed 27 million of those. It’s a big number already.
I want to briefly touch on marketing because part of this show for me is about hard things that people face in life and almost like therapy-driven things. I have an interesting background with that, but also marketing and authenticity and how those things relate a little bit. What do you think you see out there in marketing for companies and what do people miss? It’s easy for a marketing person like me to say things. I think sometimes people can roll their eyes a little bit, but you are a business person first. What do you see with marketing? What are some insights that maybe people could test?
The next ten years is going to be the year of the personal brand. Everybody got to hide behind a lot of that, but now with all this remoteness and the consulting work. People are getting together with consultants in groups and doing project-based things as opposed to having a big overhead, especially now with revenues down in a lot of businesses. I think this is the time to create your personal brand. If you haven’t already, you need to. Even myself, I started the YouTube channel during COVID. I already had a decent brand. It’s gotten a lot bigger in a year’s time with a little bit of effort, not a ton of effort. Now people are asking me all these questions.
That has been bigger than your best-selling book stuff. That is insane to me
It has been crazy and then you will laugh, but I did not know that YouTube paid me when I started.
I saw some ads going on. I was like, “I need to ask him what he is getting out of this.”
I was like, “What?” All of a sudden, those money starts showing up in our bank accounts. Once you get to a certain number, YouTube starts running cashflow. The key to my YouTube channel has been education, not selling. If you go on YouTube, you find a lot of people trying to sell stuff. For me, I was trying to educate and that’s proved to be a good strategy.
I couldn’t agree with you more about personal brands. It’s the year of the underdog brand too. Major corporations are shitting on their pants because they don't stand for authenticity in a lot of cases. I think individuals and personal brands have certain advantages if they are authentic and coming from the right place. Media distribution models have changed more than we have ever seen. The distribution of products has changed more than we have ever seen. It’s a wide-open game.
It’s a great time. If you are sitting there and you have some skills, some experience. Trust me. You need to put yourself out there because you never know. There are a tremendous amount of people that need services and remotely. It’s crazy. You can hire people all over the world right now. It’s the greatest thing ever.
I have met with an exec from a major television station. He reminded me that 40% of their revenue was down in less than five years in that business. I don’t see the television industry making major changes to make some crazy innovations that they already haven’t made. The year of people creating their own content, niche content and content of choice has been going on for a long time but it’s still got a major run left on it.
You just look at Parler and Clubhouse. These are all startup. It’s fascinating to me. I love watching this stuff. The food delivery and all that stuff. People decided to start different things. Whenever the guys got shut down and you think of these food delivery services. Now, there were some in place but there are others that are racing to get in front of the other ones so this is my point.
Do you think we will look at this as the same time when the industrial revolution and the computer space hit? Do you think we are in that other decade where we'll create more billionaires during this time in history?
I also think that people need to be paying attention to the US currency as a world reserve currency, and take a look at the IMF and what’s happening at that level with Bitcoin. The reason Bitcoin is rolling like it is, it’s because people don’t trust the US currency. That is what I believe.
Would you put money into Bitcoin?
I would, 100%. Not a lot though. I’m not afraid of it at all. I don’t look at it as an investment.
The Bitcoin, the branded one or Ethereum or the smaller ones?
I will do Bitcoin. I have talked to a lot of people and you stick with the bigger. I also think that the Fed is going to come after Bitcoin.
They going to break up companies like Facebook.
They did it before. Go back to standard oil. They have been doing it. In the ‘30s, I think they’ve said that you couldn’t own gold. They have done it before. I’m not sure but people need to pay attention to the currency piece as well. In addition, it’s the greatest time for entrepreneurship right now.
I agree with you. I appreciate you coming on. Every time I talk to you, I learned so much. Thank you for coming on. If you like what you heard and you want to follow Ken’s channels, please share us, give us some feedback. We want to optimize our stuff too. Ken, if you want to give a shout-out to some of your social handles and some of your content.
Thanks for coming on.
Scott leads a stable of marketing agencies and services offering the world's biggest brands speed, value and results. OH is an independent agency built to serve today's brands through consumer-centric marketing and strategy.