Posts filed under Personal History

Peter J. Burns III: How Do You Eat An Elephant?

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One bite at a time. This was wisdom passed down from my dear departed father when I was faced with the angst of being overwhelmed with major tasks of new business ownership starting at the tender age of 19. My father suggested that I take what was apparently overwhelming and break it down into "bite size" components, attacking each piece one-by-one until the seemingly impossible task facing me was reduced to "wholly consumed elephant."

Thirty nine years later, I am taking Dad's advice yet again. Recently returning from a humanitarian mission in Ethiopia, I have accumulated no less than 42 viable projects that merit development, funding and launching into this remarkable country. Basically, I determined what was needed in that country and matched it up with what was available back here in the States, and which was within my ability to provide.

To that end, I took the "lowest hanging fruit" of a dozen such ideas and created Project Files on each. I had great luck with interns in my past US-based ventures, so I reasoned that I could access a new set of eager and talented young people to assist me this time too. I placed my request for virtual interns with specific skill sets out in CyberSpace and lo and behold, I now have nearly 60 very qualified young men and women awaiting their selection for specific projects and tasks.

Through one such intern, already recruited, I established a Project Management template that each intern will follow. Another intern selected, who is now my virtual Administrative Assistant, has organized all of the various projects (up to 50 something with my US projects combined with the Ethiopian ones) into Google Docs and Drop Box files/folders. Each intern, assigned to specific projects, is granted access to his or her projects and my Administrative Assistant is adding to each project folder as I receive more info, updates and requests on each individual project. It is amazing how much material is flowing through these combined channels and now, so efficiently!

Since I favor a mentoring-style of management and am as far removed from micro-managing as anyone I know, I informally communicate with each intern as regularly as once a week, sometimes more. I am making the move to place a new head of Project Managers, who is, herself, working on one of the major projects and happens to be going to school for a Project Management certificate.

The plan is to create complete packages of multiple projects and have a 5 page (or so) Summary of each project, complete with research, financial docs, etc, so that I can present them to my top financing resources for consideration. Then, I either fund the project myself or take on an interested joint venture partner, put in the internal operations, and assign management to handle each one.

That is how I plan "to eat this elephant." I think my dear father would have been proud. 

Posted on September 5, 2014 and filed under Family, Volunteering, Teaching, Personal History.

Peter J. Burns III: THE NEW (OLD) COIN OF THE REALM: BARTER

According to Wikipedia:

"Barter is a method of exchange by which goods or services are directly exchanged for other goods or services without using a medium of exchange, such as money.[1] It is usually bilateral, but may be multilateral, and usually exists parallel to monetary systems in most developed countries, though to a very limited extent. Barter usually replaces money as the method of exchange in times of monetary crisis, when the currency is unstable and devalued by hyperinflation."

My experience with barter goes back 10 years to when I first moved to Phoenix and partnered with a businessman who taught me the ropes. Brian had a party bus limousine business and he often traded his services through one or more of the established barter companies in the area. Next, he moved into the magazine business and traded ads for barter currency, which he used for restaurant scrip, printing and other services for himself and his business. I moved on to other enterprises and found a use for barter in literally every field.

I was involved in the first Destination Club in the country, Private Retreats, and I actually figured out how to barter memberships (at $100k apiece) and use the barter dollars to both furnish the multimillion dollar residences as well as help the company purchase full page ads in such high profile and glossy national magazines as "The Dupont Registry" and "Ritz" magazine. The results of my introduction to barter and it's adaptation to as-of-yet untested uses like private club members were $900,000 in barter sales!

So, like a duck to water, I learned the "ins and outs" of bartering. This lasted the three years I was partnered up with Brian and then I was involved in other businesses, which didn't lend themselves as readily to barter. That all changed this past year, when I introduced barter to our ever-expanding group at Club Entrepreneur. First, I tested the waters by joining one barter company after another. It took four tries because the first barter groups I tried were so incompetent and/or crooked, that only the most optimistic (or gullible) of souls would ever have remained committed to barter. Finally, I landed in an organization whose integrity and longevity were a testament to what a barter company should really be about.

Tradesource run by the mother and daughter team of Sylvia and Mary Ellen Rosinski has been operating their 1100 member trade company for 24 years. In a barter organization, the members buy and sell their products or services to each other at retail prices, accepting barter currency for their sales to each other. The barter company, Tradesource in this case, acts as the "bank" and makes it's revenue through the 12% transaction charge, which it assesses each member monthly and in cash, for those barter sales.

The "trick" in any barter company is to maintain the quality of service between the members and to balance the books by keeping the value of its currency intact. Hypervigilance is essential, so that "inflation" or "devaluation" of its barter currency does not occur and remains solid. In all candor, the Tradsource dollar is much stronger than our own American "greenbacks" because it really is perfectly balanced.

Having my own organization of literally thousands of Club E members (4500 at last count), I proposed a partnership of sorts with Tradesource. First, I established my own "private label" barter organization that I named the Club E Exchange . Next, I negotiated for a split of the transaction fees for Club E members that I brought into Tradesource. I also negotiated a release from both the membership fee of $695 (cash) and monthly maintenance fees of $20 (cash) for the first six months, for all new members coming from Club E. Tradesource would act as the bookkeeper and "bank" to make certain that everything ran smoothly. It seemed a perfect fit for both organizations.

In the meantime, Sylvia approached me with the possibility of locating one of our CEOs (Club E Office) into one of the new commercial properties that were offered through a new account of Tradesource. These landlords, suffering from commercial vacancies on an unprecedented scale had decided that they'd rather take barter dollars than no dollars for some of their properties. My crew and I staked out a facility and the rest, they say is history.

Club Entrepreneur is now heavily ensconced in a beautiful 8,000 sq. ft. facility in downtown Phoenix, with plenty of parking and a multitude of private offices and open space. We bartered for this "all inclusive" space at less than market rate and for all barter, which includes both the utilities and daily janitorial service. In exchange, we offer the offices and other parts of the space to our Club E members at retail rates - but in barter dollars by signing them up on Tradesource through our own Club E Exchange. Our Club E Office keeps the spread of barter dollars as our profit and spends those barter dollars to maintain operations. For instance, we bartered for the handyman services to assemble the furnishings, which we also purchased with our barter dollars. We used a bartered mover to transport our equipment and furniture to the new facility. We even use a bartered catering service to provide our event attendees with delicious food and beverages at our weekly and monthly events.

Recently, I chanced upon a rather unique application of barter - the retention of skilled services needed by companies who haven't the cash to retain the needed employees. I establish these companies as trade exchange members that then use their excess products or services to generate barter dollars. In turn, the skilled worker incorporates himself and establishes a barter account of his own to offer its services to the company for a 1099 barter exchange. A thorough discussion of this can be read by accessing my blog entry.

In short, there is no limit on how you can make barter work for you, especially in these turbulent times of limited cash and uncertainty. Sign up to an established and reputable barter company, using your excess products and services to generate your barter dollars. Then offset many of your cash expenses for bartered products and services and you will benefit greatly. My own experience proves this out.

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Posted on September 5, 2014 and filed under Entrepreneurs, Personal History.

Peter J. Burns III: Family, What It's All About In The End

Last weekend, my two daughters and I trekked from Phoenix to Santa Barbara to attend a family reunion for the celebration of my father's 85th birthday. Reaching that milestone is noteworthy enough but the gathering had far more meaning for me.

I grew up the eldest son in a proud and achievement-oriented New England family. For many reasons, each of the three sons and one daughter took very different life and career paths and I was the proverbial "black sheep" of the Burns clan. As time and distance grew, the times for family gatherings became less frequent and often, by either situation or choice, I was not included. My daughters took offense at that and even my former wife tried to help mend fences on my behalf but was met with a stone wall of resistance.

You see, I just didn't quite fit into the whole "family dynasty" thing. It wasn't that I was not very proud of who my family was or what they had achieved in life, it's just that I wasn't part of that life, since I left home on my own journey at 17 years old.

Great success was mine at a very early age. I counted myself a millionaire at the tender age of 22. My brothers and sister were just finishing college at that age, preparing to enter their respective fields. The distance between us as siblings grew wider as I flitted around from one farflung business to another and reaped the success of entrepreneurial freedom. My siblings climbed their respective corporate ladders, married and had families. The occasions of sharing time together became less and less frequent.

Along my journey, I had lost my way. Money and power replaced my responsibilities of family and conscience. My marriage collapsed, through no fault of my long suffering wife and my mother died way too early at the same time I got divorced. What relationship threads I did have with my siblings vanished, or were never there in the first place. Instead of being the undisputed leader of the pack, my two younger brothers replaced me and reached the pinnacle of success in their respective fields and my sister had married well and had a large and successful family of her own.

To add insult to injury, my now former wife packed up my two beautiful daughters and moved across the country from our winter home on Sanibel Island to the desert of Phoenix while I was out of town with yet another of my "flavors of the week." I returmed from that vacation to discover that everything that I had owned - houses, businesses, autos, furniture and even clothing, was gone. The saddest revelation of all was that I knew that I deserved it and that I had nothing left to do but to start over.

The next 14 years were spent moving out of my comfort level of an upper-crust East Coast mentality and embracing the "Wild West," first landing in Denver, courtesy of an old Harvard classmate, then to Las Vegas and finally to Phoenix around 10 years ago. To say that I started over from scratch at each turn is a gross understatement. Landing in Phoenix just months before 9/11, I arrived with only $200 to my name and through a series of fortunate events, moved from renting someone's 500 sq. ft. guest cottage to buying a grand manor house of 12,000 sq. ft. (circa 1929) at the venerable Phoenix Country Club in a matter of six months. But that's another story.

In any case, through a series of skillful and mostly lucky business moves, I quickly reclaimed my legacy as a "serial entrepreneur" and in no time was back to my former grandiose lifestyle, driving a Rolls convertible and entertaining the rich and famous at my newly acquired estate. My father, newly arrived from California, moved into the main house with me, much to my siblings' chagrin. It seems I was a "bad influence" on my dear old dad. Oh well, the black sheep is always the black sheep.

That "Hugh Hefner" adventure lasted 8 months until my real estate partner's deception of diverting the mortgage payments caught up with him and the bank took back the house, the Rolls, the antiques, everything. Oh well, on to the next chapter. I ended up in the email marketing business and made some great cash. Next, I moved into the magazine business, pioneering the "insertazine" concept and then started the area's first "Entertainment Card."

I bounced around from venture to venture until I was moved to take my two young daughters on the greatest adventure of all, a pilgrimage to Medjugorge, a tiny village in what was once Yugoslavia and is now in the country of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Along the way, I had returned to my roots of Catholicism and this pilgrimage completely turned my life around.

I returned from this fateful trip and decided to teach school, landing a pro-bono adjunct gig at my daughter's school at Barrett Honors College at ASU. That precipitated the beginning of Club Entrepreneur; the teaching evolved into my starting the country's first College of Entrepreneurship at Grand Canyon University, I launched the eFactory, (CEO's predecessor) and started a number of new businesses.

Step by step and most importantly, I became closer to my children, reunited with my father, became best friends with my former wife and as of my father's 85th celebration in Santa Barbara a couple of weeks ago, am happy to say that I'm even making some progress building back my relationship with my siblings.

Life is a journey and really can and does come full circle, which I dearly hope happens with my family. Because that's what life's all about, family.

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Posted on September 5, 2014 and filed under Family, Personal History, Deep Thoughts.

Peter J. Burns III: NEVER, EVER GIVE UP!

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I often like to paraphrase that great English statesman and warrior, Winston Churchill, who stated "Never, ever give up..." If that isn't the best war cry of the entrepreneur, I don't know what is. As a self-proclaimed "pureblood" entrepreneur, I really do "walk the walk" and have especially done so these past several years. Starting in 2006, I taught my first class in the field of entrepreneurship, as an Adjunct at the Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University. I called the class, "Ready, Fire, Aim" and those 19 students ignited my interest in education in a big way.

I was invited back by Dean Mark Jacobs to teach and oversee four classes that second semester and our enrollment grew to 94 students. My "Barrett Honors Entrepreneurship Program" was gaining great traction and I had high hopes to expand the entrepreneurship curriculum throughout Arizona State University. Naively, I reached out for what I thought was a logical ally, the W.P. Carey School of Business and was soundly trounced as a "non-academic," teaching what would surely prove to be a "fad," according to their Dean. I was disappointed but not beaten.

At the urging of the principals of the Phoenix-based Grand Canyon University, I laid out my ambitious plans to create the unique College of Entrepreneurship, hopefully at their university. I shared my disillusionment at ASU's short sightedness at not working with me on what promised to become a unique differentiator and real asset to their school and we fashioned plans to go ahead together.


Eight months after our first meeting, Grand Canyon University was the first school in the country to offer a College of Entrepreneurship. That was January, 2007. The first students followed me from ASU over to GCU on a full academic scholarship and I set about creating the pipeline of new students to enroll in our new school. Aside from giving me this great opportunity, GCU really didn't commit any effort or resources to market our school but I was wholly committed, so I spent my own money to pave the way for the Nation's first College of Entrepreneurship, figuring that their success was my success.

Along the way, the little-known Grand Canyon University started getting some seriously positive press because of the new CoE. We were written up in the venerable WALL STREET JOURNAL, CNN Money wrote about us, along with scores of other periodicals and online sources that were very interested in the "NEW Business School" model that I invented. Only 6 or 7 months after the school's start, FORTUNE Small Business Magazine named GCU's College of Entrepreneurship as #2 out of the top 5 entrepreneurship programs in the United States. I promptly mailed the story to ASU'S Dean to share with him how my "fad" was doing!

The program at GCU gained great traction and I enthusiastically threw myself into the project. I had created a revenue share arrangement with the school and based upon the anticipated future income, I started spending tens of thousands of dollars on new lead generation software and campaigns as well as advertising in targeted publications for the new school. All this came for naught because after only a few more months I received a termination notice of our deal together, citing the lack of student enrollment. This was ludicrous because we had only just gotten started. I learned of the real motivation for this months later when GCU became the only public offering in 2009 and raised their cap rate to over $1.5B. Apparently, they just didn't want to share.

I went to my attorneys to discuss what had happened and they gave me invaluable advice, "get over it and move on." GCU had way too much money for me to fight back but they couldn't take away the fact that I founded the country's first College of Entrepreneurship and despite what Grand Canyon University claimed, it was very successful. I decided, at my attorney's urging, to find a compatible school, that would actually sign my contract, and start another College of Entrepreneurship. I took this advice to heart.

I am now the Dean and on a contracted rev share basis with the accredited online school called Andrew Jackson University in Birmingham, Alabama. I was made the Chancellor of the new College of Entrepreneurship at Southern States University, which just received their accreditation status. SSU is in San Diego and we're now working on another of their schools which has it's own law school and we're discussing forming the country's first JD/MBA in Entrepreneurship together. I'm also working on a new CoE in Michigan and am even in discussions with the local Indian Nation to open up our program at their university.

As an eternal optimist, (read: entrepreneur) I know that when tough things are thrown at you, it is important to see them as opportunities and that you must "Never, ever give up!"

Posted on September 5, 2014 and filed under Personal History, Teaching, Entrepreneurs.

Peter J. Burns III: The Lost Art of Gratitude

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We're all guilty of it, not being thankful or even acknowledging the help we are given from another. Now, I'm not advocating the constant reaffirming of another's good deed into perpetuity but when a glaring omission just stared me in the face on another's blog entry yesterday I must admit, I was more than a little annoyed. 

Five years now, after a random coffee break at Starbuck's with a friend (I thought), we discussed the plight of entrepreneurship in the state of Arizona. Each of us lamented the fact that while there were efforts in several individual silos, there was virtually zero collaboration and as a result, Arizona lagged far behind almost everywhere else in the country as far as a unified entrepreneurial effort was concerned.

My friend had been involved in helping start-ups and had actually founded several successful businesses over the 40 years she had been living in Phoenix. I was a relative newcomer to the area but in the five years preceeding, I had managed to start half a dozen businesses, sparked the entrepreneurial movement at ASU through my program of four classes at Barrett Honors College and even founded the first accredited College of Entrepreneurship at Grand Canyon University, for starters.

We both agreed that the answer to unifying the various entrepreneurial forces would be to host a consortium or a conference of sorts. Thus, the "First Annual Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference" was born!

Both my friend and I went to work marshaling resources. I reserved the Ritz to host the Conference for several thousand dollars on my credit card to reserve the date. Next, I started to bring in sponsors like the Phoenix Business Journal, Jim Riggs of Shea Commercial and a host of others. The operations aspect and roster of workshop speakers, except for the main attraction, was left to my friend to execute. I bagged superstar Michael Gerber to be our keynote speaker, as well as the most prominent and financially lucrative sponsor, Grand Canyon University.

Next, we started the campaign to bring in attendees, who would pay a fee to attend the many workshops that my friend planned. Others were recruited to help the Conference from a logistics standpoint. I left the minutia in their capable hands. However, when it came to filling the place and footing the bill, all eyes looked to me. When the dust cleared, I had reached into my pocket to the tune of $12,000 and personally covered the cost of 150 attendees out of a total of around 450 that attended our November 2006 function.

To add to my contributions, I recruited key student members of Club Entrepreneur to perform much of the "gut work" to make the first Conference run smoothly. With my connections at Thunderbird, I was able to bring 20 Afghani women in full tribal wear, who were members of Barbara Barrett's pilot program to educate Afghani war widows into entrepreneurship. I also brought the Hollywood premier of "Bella, The Movie" to the Ritz, with the stars in attendance, for a presentation of the Big Screen movie in one of the rooms decked out as a movie theater, complete with snacks and popcorn! That cost me a few more grand, which I happily forked over for the good of the Conference.

In any case, the "First Annual Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference" was a smashing success and its leaders were excited to continue this event in forthcoming years. During the day long Conference, I noticed that the only so-called Arizona entrepreneurial group that was not in attendance was EO (Entrepreneurs Organization) aka YEO or the Young Entrepreneurs Organization, of which I was a founding member back in 1987. I'd been having some pushback from that organization's executive members, ever since I had moved to AZ and joned the local chapter. It seems that my initiatives in entrepreneurship, which I managed with no help from EO, had basically eclipsed their nearly decade old efforts in the State. So they boycotted the conference to basically shun me. Well, let me tell you what resulted from that slight.

At the Conference, I looked around and saw the numbers of bright and eager Club Entrepreneur members from ASU that were helping out. I decided then and there to expand Club E to the general populace. With my ASU members gathered around me, we decided to hold our first open event in February, a couple or three months from then. The gang got to work and at the February 2007 event at the now defunct Tempe restaurant , Grilled Expeditions, we packed the house with over 200 entrepreneurs from every age and business stage. The press was there and Club Entrepreneur was born. In a few short months, Club E's membership overtook the local EO chapter's membership tenfold and today, less than four years from it's launch, Club Entrepreneur's Phoenix-area membership rivals the entire world membership of EO, which has been has been in existance for 23 years! Needless to say, I never looked back, left EO in the dust and more than a few former EO members are now part of Club E.

So, to get back to the point of this blog, gratitude, or the lack thereof. The 2nd Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference became a different animal when my friend decided to take over the Conference herself and make the thrust of that event tech-related only. Same with the 3rd and 4th year events and I'm sorry to say, they bombed, compared to the first Conference. Now, I'm not going to claim that without my spirit, connections and financial backing, the subsequent Conferences were a mere shadow of the first one in which I staked but...

However, I politely withdrew from anything to do with the Conference after the first year, mostly because of the antipathy directed towards me from other Conference do-nothing, busy-bees. I didn't have time anyway, as I was focusing on Club E and my other entreprenerial initiatives. I kept my distance and let the "glory" remain with the others.

Well, yesterday, a blog from my "friend" got my "Irish" up. The subject was the upcoming 5th Annual Entrepreneurship Conference, with flattering, nearly obsequious mentions of everyone that had made the Conference series possible, .except for yours truly. That's right, not one mention of the man that co-founded the event five years earlier, who was the largest financial contributor, not to mention the provider of 150 attendees plus the lead speaker and most, if not all of the paid sponsorships....me.

The blog went on to whine that only 100 attendees had registered so far, the event was coming up right away and blah, blah, blah. I pack 'em in my events every month, over 200 last Wednesday, in fact. My weekly round tables and "Fridays at 5" social hours for Club E regularly enjoy 40, 50, 60 and sometimes as many as 80 attendees.

So, the "5th Annual Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference" will come and go soon and I expect the memories of this event will fade as fast as my "friends" at the 1st Conference "forgot" my involvement in the project's even getting started in the first place.

Gratitude, it really is fleeting.

Posted on September 5, 2014 and filed under Deep Thoughts, Personal History.