Bryan Smeltzer of LiquidMind: “You will wear all hats at some point”

You will wear all hats at some point; you must understand all aspects of your company. But, unfortunately, you will not be able to hire this expertise, at least not initially. If you do not know how to manage the financials, learn it before turning it over to someone else. The more you learn, the […]

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You will wear all hats at some point; you must understand all aspects of your company. But, unfortunately, you will not be able to hire this expertise, at least not initially.

If you do not know how to manage the financials, learn it before turning it over to someone else. The more you learn, the more prepared you are for managing the ups and downs that inevitably happen when starting and running a company.


As part of our interview series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bryan Smeltzer.

Bryan Smeltzer is a successful consumer products business executive and entrepreneur. He has held executive-level roles in business development, product, and marketing with some of the world’s most prestigious brands, including; Oakley, TaylorMade, Adidas, K-Swiss, Schutt Sports, among other international brands. Also, Mr. Smeltzer founded an apparel brand, successfully running a profitable business for ten years, eventually selling to a VC firm.

He currently oversees LiquidMind Inc., a global brand strategy firm based in Southern California.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

After founding my first brand, a men’s apparel collection, I would eventually sell to a Venture Capital firm after ten years of profitable growth. After the acquisition, I secured executive roles with iconic, global brands such as; Oakley, K-Swiss, TaylorMade, Adidas, Schutt Sports, and international companies Arena and Skins. Each unique, each respected within their specific product category.

With each brand, I would head up global business development, marketing strategy, and product creation. After almost 25 years of multi-brand, multi-functional experience worldwide, I decided to start LiquidMind Inc, a Global Brand Strategy firm based in Southern California. After having been with each of these brands, I felt there was a significant void within the services industry to provide brand strategy support from those inside the bloodline of a brand.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

It was a more difficult Journey with my first brand, as this was a difficult transition into an industry where I had to learn everything from the bottom up. With no direct support or mentorship, I found myself having to baseline everything required to run a brand properly.

I was young but very energetic, thick-skinned, and engrained willpower inbred into me from my childhood. But, nevertheless, there were times, as is the case with “true” entrepreneurs, who started with nothing and created something of value.

The Journey with LiquidMind Inc was more a matter of leveraging longstanding relationships with both people and brands. It was also challenging to transition from punching the W2 to building a global brand strategy firm. Fortunately, I had very talented people who wanted to partner with brands and me looking for what we had to offer!

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

From a farm in North Dakota, my upbringing, growing up in a true blue-collar family, taught me how to persevere and make it on my own. Being resilient, smart, and knowing how to limit your “at-risk” is key to your success.

Life, in general, is not easy, and when you purposely choose to disrupt the status quo, you must be willing to have the drive to succeed, work through the barriers you face, re-fill your tank, fuel your passion, lead others and let go and let God take care of everything else. Have the faith that all things do work together for good.

So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Yes, my first company, Utopia, went through many trials and heartaches, but eventually, we realized success. It was a grind almost every day, but I knew I must always stay positive regardless of the situation, provide a Vision for our future, and provide a strategy around how we will realize our dreams.

To achieve success, you must balance risk-taking with risk avoidance, sensitivity with directness, and Vision with reality. Each is a delicate balance, but you must be the one to provide the answers and build trust with your team to build long-term loyalty.

Iron sharpens Iron, find a way to succeed, or you’ll find yourself realizing failure. Most businesses succeed not because of their idea but rather the inability to stay the course, break through barriers, and eventually find the light at the end of the tunnel.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

While building my first company, one of the first orders from a massive sporting goods retailer, we mistakenly interpreted the quantities on the purchase order. Funny, but it turned out to be a mistake and one that affected our cash flow position.

Lesson learned, “MEASURE TWICE, CUT ONCE,” always double-check to ensure your calculations are correct.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

With LiquidMind Inc, we purposely built it to be a “plug n play” Brand Strategy firm. A firm where both global brands and start-ups have access to experienced former executives and services across all functional areas and international business development.

When I was working with several global brands, TaylorMade and Adidas, as an example, I found the marketing and branding agencies we would engage had great book smarts, but not the understanding of what it truly takes to build, run and execute an internal brand strategy. I needed a partner, one who had been in my shoes and instinctively knew what I needed and was able to get the job done proactively. This ongoing issue is why I built LiquidMind Inc.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

To avoid burn out you must recognize what causes burnout. I say this, knowing myself and many other entrepreneurs may not always realize what was causing the continual build-up to eventual burnout. It is not a one-time thing. It is not controlled reactively but rather proactively; it must be continually managed and recognized to control the feelings and symptoms of burnout. Having a routine that took your mind off work, sticking to a strict plan of the family time is sacred, unplugging and unwinding, being in and with nature is a path to peace.

To thrive, you must be healthy, both mentally and physically. Exhaustion, feeling overwhelmed, and feeling trapped are barriers that cause continual stress in one’s life. Control it, or it can control you, your choice.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My wife is my rock and the one I turn to when I need support. Having someone who knows you can be honest with reality and encourage you when needed. To succeed, you need someone who can provide honest feedback and can be there to both listen and intuitively know when something is not correct.

When I was starting our first company, she was by my side, supporting my Vision, and was my biggest fan and advocate. But, she was also my reality check when I did not realize what was ahead and blinded by what I thought was real.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Yes, I am fortunate to be able to give back to those in need of support, encourage or need, whether personal or professional. I am blessed and now want to be a blessing to others.

I have started an entrepreneurial Ministry at Saddleback Church, Lake Forest campus. Yes, the same Saddleback Church led by our Pastor Rick Warren, author of A Purpose Driven Life. This is a Ministry I wanted to start, as I could have used the services we now provide to entrepreneurs and small business owners (SBO’s). So many times, entrepreneurs and their families get lost in the support mix and burdened with the most stress, so we provide services, guidance, leadership, and ongoing support on a global scale. Very proud of this Ministry as it currently serves entrepreneurs across six countries in eighteen different industries.

Also, I have been fortunate to give back to young entrepreneurs through UCI’s New Venture Program and UCLA’s Venture Accelerator program, where I serve on the Board, an Advisor, Mentor, and Judge.

I have been very blessed and feel privileged to now be able to give back.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1 . It will always take longer to build…before they come; You must plan for a long adoption cycle, increased cost, lower ROI in the early years.

You must be able to ride out these first initial years when the failure rate is the highest. Manage expectations for growth, and always have a plan for alternate scenarios. Expect the best, but plan for the worst. This provides the confidence to have a dynamic strategy and be able to adapt to market conditions quickly.

2. It will cost more than you planned or anticipated; always plan for higher investment, be honest with projections and realize why companies fail, with cash flow being near the top of the list.

Have a detailed Budget, track it religiously against actuals and adjust where necessary to ensure you are maintaining cash.

Also, understand rapid growth can kill off a business as quick as no growth. If you do not have time for a “cash flow breather,” it may be too late, and you will choke off your business.

3. Bootstrapping is necessary; being it will always cost more than you anticipate, bootstrapping should be a common practice.

However, it becomes a hindrance if you do not know how to prioritize investments. Yes, investments, investments in your future, your livelihood as an ongoing company.

4. You will wear all hats at some point; you must understand all aspects of your company. But, unfortunately, you will not be able to hire this expertise, at least not initially.

If you do not know how to manage the financials, learn it before turning it over to someone else. The more you learn, the more prepared you are for managing the ups and downs that inevitably happen when starting and running a company.

5. It’s Lonely; when you build a true start-up, one where the risk of failure is exceedingly high, it will feel very lonely at the top.

You will not have others to lean on in a crisis, and you must be both a leader and a preacher. So you are leading the company through trying times, continually preaching that everything will work out and we will succeed, even when you may not be convinced.

It is a highly stressful feeling and one you can not necessarily share with others at work and do not want to bring home.

Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?

Highs:

With LiquidMind Inc, I attained some high-profile, global consumer products brands who understood our strategy, positioning, and the value we were providing.

It was an extremely rewarding time, and many of these brands have turned into long-time, valued clients.

With UTOPIA, we had just released our new men’s apparel collection. In addition, we were in the process of attaining NCAA licenses with some of the most prestigious universities in the nation (Harvard, Notre Dame, USC, Duke, etc.). 
We were betting on a new concept, NCAA licensed Men’s Apparel Collection targeted to white-collar business people. This concept had never been tried before. So we were excited that these universities provided us with license rights and quick adoption within the business community!
This was a very high time for our company and reflected our passion as a company around our Vision.

Define your Vision, create your products around this passion and be authentic with those who are part of your targeted audience and community.

Lows:

There are times when you lose business or a client, which can be a very draining period. You prepare, define your competitive advantage and provide a path to success, but in some instances, it is not enough.

There is a point in every entrepreneur’s life cycle of running the business you feel is time to let go. The signs of this timing are your passion for continuing to drive your Vision forward. You think your tank is almost empty, and wanting to fill it again does not fulfill you.

This can certainly, and usually is, a low point for an entrepreneur. You have built something from nothing, nurtured its growth over the years, and now you are ready to let go of your business. A decision no one takes lightly, but for an entrepreneur, you usually know when the timing is right, and for me, it was quick. I did not want to have this decision linger, being indecisive and letting the flame burn out.

Over the years, you would wake up with a burning passion for wanting to continue building, growing, and leading others to realize an enduring vision. When this is no longer a driving force in your day today, it is time to give your jewel to someone else for them to care for and be the new light to carry on what you had started.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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 feel there is not enough support for the Entrepreneurs community, those who are true Founders, starting with nothing and building something of value to others.

I know the struggles they face and the trials or barriers they have to overcome daily. This stress sets in and eventually bleed itself into both their professional and personal life. They need support and may not always know where to turn or find a resource they trust with no ulterior motive.

This is why I started the Christian Entrepreneur Leadership Ministry at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA. Yes, the same church led by Pastor Rick Warren, author of the Purpose Driven Life.

I hope this Ministry provides a valued service to those in need of support and a trusting environment of other Entrepreneurs with no ulterior motive other than to serve others.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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