Welcome to another edition of the Unusual Entrepreneur Interviews and today we have here with us unusual entrepreneur Aj Leon. He is the Chief Trouble Maker of Misfit Inc., a company that is dedicated to traveling the world causing positive trouble wherever necessary.
AJ nomads around the world and makes things happen. He is currently traveling around the world in 1,080 days primarily by land and sea. He is a writer, designer, entrepreneur and humanitarian that has initiated social projects in South Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Malawi, The Philippines and England. He is the author of The Life and Times of a Remarkable Misfit and publishes weekly articles at Pursuit of Everything about living with intention, doing work that matters and changing the world.
I’m so excited to have him on the unusual entrepreneur interview series because Aj is one of the few unusual entrepreneurs who walks the talk about changing the world and profiting from purpose. As a couple, he and his high school sweetheart, Melissa gave up a very comfortable life [ AJ left banking and Melissa left teaching] in pursuit of everything. And today, they are one of the most fulfilled couples I know. Seriously, this is one interview you don’t want to miss. Aj is simply an inspiration!
If you are just joining us for the first time, this is the unusual entrepreneur interview series. It is a parade of unusual entrepreneurs who are changing the world and profiting from purpose. Profiting from purpose by changing the world isn’t an impossible dream as many tend to think of it, but a realistic one as many unusual entrepreneurs have extraordinarily proven. Click here to read more unusual entrepreneur interviews.
Take it away Aj!
Interview Questions Part One
ENTREPRENEURSHIP: Awakening the Spirit of business
1. Can you please tell us a little about yourself and your business? What do you do?, how do you do it?, why do you do it and who do you do it for?
Primarily, I would say I am a writer. I publish articles, essays and books over at Pursuit of Everything about living with intention, doing work that matters and changing the world. I am also the founder and Creative Director of Misfit, a creative agency that specializes in brand repositioning on the client side. We also have a great deal of federated internal projects that we launch into the world, like the Misfit Quarterly, a creative arts journal.
2. How would you describe your entrepreneurial journey into the world of business? Were there any key incidents or life changing events that inspired your decision to become an entrepreneur?
Almost five years ago now, on December 31, 2007, I found myself in my large corner office in Manhattan with tears streaming down my face, wondering where it all went wrong. I was a successful finance executive in New York, but I despised my work and hated the fact that I had traded my life in for a larger paycheck at every turn since leaving university.
It was four days before I was going to be married, I was up for a big promotion and I realized that if I didn’t leave at that precise moment, I was going to be that dude for the rest of my life. A person trapped in a “successfully” average existence mourning the glory of a life that could have been. That was the turning point. I walked out. Left my career. And decided to stop living the life that I was supposed to live, and start living the life I was destined to live.
3. When you started out in business, what specific idea, purpose or vision was your key driving force?
For me, business or entrepreneurship, particularly for small businesses, is only a microcosm of the larger question: What do you actually want from life? I started out not with a great vision of what I wanted to accomplish, but with a clear understanding of the life I didn’t want. From there, I started to work on small web-based projects that interested me, and slowly I began to excavate what my path would be. Today, Misfit in general is a federated amalgamation of the things I love to do.
4. What is your take on the general notion that entrepreneurs should build a business around what they naturally love to do?
Well, I believe at the very best you need to love what you do, and at the very best do what you love. If you are not in either of those camps, then I’d suggest seriously reevaluating just exactly why you are doing whatever it is you are doing.
5. What is your personal life mission as an entrepreneur? That is; what contributions do you want to make with your life or what would you like to be remembered for as an entrepreneur through the businesses you create when you die?
To answer your question, I want to make a dent in the universe. I want to know for certain at the end of my life, that this world was different because I was in it and that I didn’t squander my opportunity to live a life of purpose.
6. What would you describe as the purpose of entrepreneurship? That is; what role do entrepreneurs play in the world?
I think entrepreneurship is just a canvas. It is simply a medium by which to express your creativity, domain knowledge and art. It is more art than science, certainly. Entrepreneurs are the great explorers of our age. They are the Drake’s, the Magellan’s, the individuals with the courage to press into the thick darkness of uncertainty and into the horizon and show us a better or newer way.
Interview Questions Part Two
STRATEGY: The unusual execution of business best practices
7. How do you identify business opportunities and what metrics do you use to measure their viability?
I usually start with the question, “would I give a shit about this if I saw somebody share it on twitter?” If the idea passes that threshold, then I would start to analyze whether this is an “unmet” or “met” need in the market. In other words, am I swimming into a sea of potential competitors from the onset or is this something, more or less, brand new. The most interesting ideas or projects to launch, of course, are when you create something that is both an “unknown” and an “unmet” need. In those circumstances, it’s not about “their product or mine”, it’s around educating potential customers about a solution to a problem they might not have even recognized they have.
8. Do you have mentors, business coach or external consultants that you work closely with to grow yourself and your business? If yes, to what extent would you describe their impact on your business? If no, are there any particular reasons?
I get asked this question a great deal. I do not have mentors. I never have. Not sure why, it just didn’t work out for me, I guess. But I do have my team at Misfit and a very special group of friends I call my Jedi’s who I come to from time to time to bounce ideas.
9. How do you strategically use your time as an entrepreneur? What key activities would you recommend entrepreneurs use their time for?
Most of what I do that helps me as an entrepreneur has nothing to do with business. As a business person, you are only as good as the ideas and solutions you can come up with. As a human, you are quite literally a portfolio of your experiences. Those experiences color and inform every other aspect of your life. I travel, I eat new foods, I attend art shows, I go on photo walks, I write poetry, I read novels and classics and memoirs (basically everything but business books) – I see the world and I ingest every last drop of light I can from it.
These activities naturally permeate into my work. It makes the work I produce more colorful and multi-faceted.
One activity I recommend for every business person, is this: I write one email a day to a member of my community or a customer or a client, thanking them for supporting my work. Because without their attention, I simply could not produce the work that I do.
10. How do you generate profitable customers for your business? What unusual approaches do you adopt for marketing your products/services?
I don’t really spend too much time marketing. I write voraciously about the ideology behind the projects I choose to work on and I realize this very important fact: whenever you launch something of any kind – that something is both your product and your best effort at marketing your next product. If it’s fabulous, people will await your next one, if it’s average, you’ll have to churn out a new campaign or gimmick for every launch.
11. Many entrepreneurs complain about not succeeding in business due to lack of adequate funding, what is your take on this matter and how do you cope with funding issues in your business?
I’ve never taken funding. My focus early on was to build a team of specialists. I taught myself graphic design, my partner taught himself how to code in PHP and Rails, my wife (and also business partner) taught herself about the world of content marketing and video editing. Those three components alone have made it much more affordable and viable to launch any new idea I may come up with.
12. When starting out a new business, who are the likely possible partners or professional service providers you would recommend every entrepreneur work with?
People that you trust and people that you love to work with. If you are planning on doing anything web-based, make friends with an amazing designer, they make all the difference in the world.
13. The pricing of products/services is always an issue for entrepreneurs, what unusual approach do you take when it comes to pricing?
It’s difficult to answer that question because I am involved in quite a few diametrically different projects. It’s a mixture of definitive market research and what you believe it to be worth for your time and energy and effort to produce it.
Interview Questions Part Three
MISCELLANEOUS – Resourceful Recommendations, tools, books, and ideas for unusual entrepreneurs
14. Since you became an entrepreneur – someone who solves problems for people profitably; what has been your most outstanding accomplishments in the context of business?
I run the coolest company on the planet, and I travel around the world as I do it.
15. What would you describe as your major setbacks and what lessons did you pick from them?
Again, a difficult question. One thing I did learn early was to diversify revenue streams. Don’t generate all your revenue from one or two customers without having other revenue generating projects. That is a recipe for disaster.
16. Were there any particular questions you expected me to ask that is beneficial to entrepreneurs and I didn’t? Kindly share with us such questions and their relevant answers here.
Nope, I think you covered it!
What more would you like to know about the unusual Aj Leon? You can ask him further questions below in the comment section and I will be sure that you will get an answer directly from him.
Also, what did you learn from this unusual entrepreneur? What lessons, what philosophy of his strike you the most?
Aj has shared his unusual story with you, now is time to hear from you. Can’t wait to hear what you have to say!