East Atlanta CEO Shares the Blueprint for Entrepreneurial Success
Kevin D. Johnson started his first businesses while a student at Morehouse College. Today, at 33, he runs a multi-million dollar media marketing and communications company.
Kevin D. Johnson isn't one to sit still.
I first interviewed him in 2001 as a 21-year-old senior at Morehouse College.
At the time, it was for a story on how he and those of his generation were part of a trend of college students who were student entrepreneurs who formed companies while still in school.
The website he started then, which was focused on events of interest to students of Atlanta's historically black colleges, earned $500 a month.
Fast-forward 12 year years, Johnson, now 33, is chief executive of Johnson Media Inc., a privately-held marketing and communications firm based in downtown Atlants.
Johnson Media, whose clients include Eli Lilly & Co., Coca-Cola Co., H.J. Russell & Co. and BMW, is a multi-million dollar enterprise, which recently inked a deal on a $40 million project.
Despite his company's growth, Johnson still sees himself in the same light now, as he did when he was a Morehouse student: an entrepreneur.
The deals may be bigger, but the tools of success remain the same: an idea, discipline and a plan, as well as learning from instead of fearing failure.
It led him to write The Entrepreneur Mind: 100 Essential Beliefs, Characteristics, and Habits of Elite Entrepreneurs. The book, which officially hits booksellers March 5, aims to guide other entrepreneurs through the ups and downs of launching their own businesses based on the lessons he learned from his 13 years of experience.
As it happens, more Americans are joining the entrepreneurial ranks at record levels. In a study released last year, Babson College and Baruch College reported a 60 percent spike in new entrepreneur activity in 2011, the highest since 2005.
More telling, the stiudy noted the majority of that activity stemmed from people who wanted to start their own companies because they wanted to, not because a layoff or downsizing forced them to.
I asked Johnson to share some of his insights with East Atlanta Patch:
Q. What led you to write the book?
A. In March of 2012, I started a business blog that discussed various ways that successful entrepreneurs think. The blog became popular with readers from all around the world and received tens of thousands of page views within weeks. Before long, I was encouraged by some of my readers to write this book. Furthermore, I wanted to provide a comprehensive body of work and advice for the many people that I mentor. Ultimately, I think publishing this book and extending The Entrepreneur Mind brand in other areas are great ways to teach entrepreneurial concepts.
Q. All of us have successes and failures. As an entrepreneur, what would you tell other entrepreneurs regarding failure or the fear of it and not letting it paralyze them?
A. Above all, I tell other entrepreneurs that it is normal to fail and have fear. I also try to disabuse them of the common notion that failure and fear will subside as you become more successful. That is certainly not the case. What’s most important is how you channel these emotions into positive outcomes. For example, I transform my fear of failure into tremendous focus, discipline, and diligence.
Q. What's the single most important piece of advice you've been given?
A. I have been given so much great advice, but the most important is to never give up. While it is trite, it is true. There have been many times in my twelve years of business that I wanted to give up. When I was at my lowest points, major opportunities would eventually come my way. Had I given in, I would not be where I am today. Although it is very hard to do when facing unfortunate circumstances, I know from experience to keep moving forward.
Q. What type of person or personality traits make for a good entrepreneur?
A. My book discusses this topic in detail. In general and according to extensive research, the most common personality traits of elite entrepreneurs include being honest, disciplined, amiable, and diligent, and having great leadership skills. These traits, many of which are soft skills, are very important — even more important than grades. Ironically, most wealthy entrepreneurs aren't extraordinary students. In fact, they are quite ordinary, averaging about a 2.9 grade point average and having SAT scores in the 1200s.
Q. Is there anything different or extra that women or minorities face that men don't with respect to stepping out into entrepreneurship?
A. I sometimes hear that the perception of women and minority entrepreneurs is that they are less professional or less capable than others. In my book, I discuss briefly this unfortunate reality. Perception issues aren’t restricted to women and minority entrepreneurs, though. I offer universal suggestions on how you can “improve” your image to win more business. For instance, hire or contract people that will project what your buyer considers a winning image. Ultimately, it’s about giving the merit of your offer the best chance possible. The entrepreneur’s job is not to reform the buyer. Understand what makes the customer tick and adjust.
Q. You've embarked on several endeavors. Entrepreneurs have to work to make their ideas reality and ultimately, a success. How do you balance that while allowing for other facets of your life and taking down time?
A. I balance by making sure that I do the things that really matter like spending time with my family. Specifically, I schedule leisure time, family time, time with my friends, etc. It’s important that you pull away from work frequently so you can come back energized. I provide in my book some of the ways that elite entrepreneurs balance their lives and how it makes them better.