Dino Miliotis of ‘There Is No Box’: “The world has changed, but the principles of success are still the same, they always will be”

The world has changed, but the principles of success are still the same, they always will be. It’s okay to fail and it’s okay to succeed, but you have to try. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish if you just try. Don’t “think outside the box,” because you are not in a box. […]

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The world has changed, but the principles of success are still the same, they always will be. It’s okay to fail and it’s okay to succeed, but you have to try. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish if you just try. Don’t “think outside the box,” because you are not in a box. There is no box — you can do anything you set your mind to. You have to keep getting up when you’re knocked down. There are days when that may feel really hard, but sometimes the hardest things are the best things. I want to give people hope and inspire them to hold on to their dreams and keep working toward whatever “success” is to them — to choose to write the book, so to speak.


As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dino Miliotis.

Born on September 8, 1965, Dino grew up in Chicago, graduating from Niles West High School in 1983. All his life, he’d heard, “think outside the box,” but eventually, after a series of highs and lows, he came to a conclusion: There is No Box.

His first rise to fame came with a simple invention: Bug-Ban, a bracelet containing natural insect repellants. Nearly overnight, he was overwhelmed with orders and embarking on a national media tour including Oprah. Eventually, the novelty wore off; Dino wasn’t making the headlines anymore and the orders slowed down.

He built a different kind of business empire, becoming a millionaire once again before walking away from his empire and into the doors of a rehab facility. Now, he’s making a comeback, and this time, he has found a purpose beyond the dollar signs.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

My childhood backstory is pretty ordinary. I grew up in Chicago as part of a family that wasn’t wealthy. My dad was a teacher at a Greek school and very big on education. I went to that school; I had him for three years. Every time they gave out awards or diplomas, they wouldn’t give them to me because they didn’t want to show favoritism toward the principal’s kid. It wasn’t good enough just to be good; you had to be better than the best. So, I had to perform on an entirely different level, I think that’s where I first got my competitive streak.

I’ve always had an artistic flair. I just didn’t like school. Instead, I liked dreaming and fantasy — I liked to lose myself in movies and tv shows. Kids now play video games but I was outside with my friends writing skits and re-enacting them, complete with cheap props we would buy at our local dime store. A cassette tape was always rolling. I wasn’t necessarily an outward personality, but I knew I had an aura. It always felt like everybody would follow me around, everybody wanted to be in my plays.

I was also fascinated with successful people as far back as I can remember. I’d look at two people — one who was considered successful, and one who was considered average — and wonder what the difference was. We eat the same food, we breathe the same air, why is one different from the other? I wanted to find out what made successful people tick.

By the time I was 16, I started my first business and at 19, my second. Still, I found myself so broke at one point, that I had to steal from my kid’s piggy bank to pay for gas to get to a job interview — don’t worry, I paid it back. Everything changed when, one day, I was at a trade show selling collector’s plates featuring Joe DiMaggio and struck up a conversation with the man in the next booth.

He was selling these scented bracelets and I asked if they’d work if all-natural insect repelling ingredients were used. From that, Bug-Ban was born. Nearly overnight, I became a millionaire and went on a national media tour. I was in PEOPLE and Crain’s Chicago, I was interviewed by Oprah and Sally Jesse Raphael. People recognized me on the street and said, “Hey, you’re the bug man!”

The demand for Bug-Ban started to slow down, and eventually, I ended up filing bankruptcy for 10 million dollars. I was able to attain “millionaire” status again through a career in payroll management. At one point I was bringing home more than 2 million dollars in commissions every month. I had everything I ever wanted — exotic cars, a private jet, a beautiful home. From the outside, I was the epitome of success.

On the inside, I was a mess. I felt empty, despite having it all, and began drinking to fill the void. Things began to fall apart and I realized I needed to do something. So, I went to rehab. I decided when I walked through those doors, it would be the only time I did so. I was not going more than once — I was as determined as I’d ever been; I still am. I’ve experienced a lot of ups and downs, and my goal by sharing them in my book is to give hope to others. Now, I’m here, I’m sober and I wrote a book — I’m really proud of that.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

This might aggravate some readers, but there was no book. I never liked studying, and to sit there and read about somebody, that never really did it for me. I was more into going out there and really experiencing by watching. I guess instead of a book, I studied people. I watched their mannerisms, I’d listen to what they say, what they’d do or didn’t do. From an early age, I was a trial by fire guy. I learned by doing.

So it was never a book, it was a walking, talking human who’s successful. I’d ask a million questions, but not like, “how can I be successful,” it was stuff like, “Why did you do that? Why do you get up so early,” I mean, stupid things that meant nothing, but in my mind, I was building this library of traits. I didn’t realize then, but later in life, I’d adopt them.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or takeaway did you learn from that?

Not every memorable experience is in the book, but everything in my book is memorable, including the one that was the funniest — although it wasn’t funny at the time. I started my second business at 19 shortly after dropping out of college. I owned a decorative plate studio; I’d worked for another and thought I was an expert. Our artwork was beautiful and had already been featured in a magazine. My decorating studio was pristine, everything was great. Until I fired the first batch of plates.

I had a potential business deal but had to deliver samples of my plates. I thought, “These will come out great, I’m going to have orders and I’m going to be a millionaire.” Then, I opened up the kiln and I saw 2,000 completely worthless plates. One of the workers had built the rack with the wrong kind of steel, causing it to oxidize. Every plate was ruined and that was the end of my collector plate decorating business. Lesson? Trust, but verify.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

I want to give people the inspiration they need to keep going, especially through this pandemic. When I left rehab and walked into COVID-19 lockdown. The things I was used to doing, I couldn’t do anymore. Month after month, there was nothing to do besides exercise, lunch and dinner. It can really have an effect on your mind. I thought, “I can’t be the only guy going through this.” I knew I had a choice: Take a drink or write a book. I chose to write and I’m glad I did, I realized I had something to say that could inspire people. I think reading my story will help others as much as writing it helped me.

During the writing process, I reflected a lot on my life. I felt every word that I typed — I cried during the lows and laughed at the highs. There was something that was consistent through every point of my life: I was always leading. Whether it was acting out skits in my yard, rallying a network of distributors to sell insect-repelling bracelets or guiding guys at my rehab facility through workouts every morning, I was always leading.

The world has changed, but the principles of success are still the same, they always will be. It’s okay to fail and it’s okay to succeed, but you have to try. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish if you just try. Don’t “think outside the box,” because you are not in a box. There is no box — you can do anything you set your mind to. You have to keep getting up when you’re knocked down. There are days when that may feel really hard, but sometimes the hardest things are the best things. I want to give people hope and inspire them to hold on to their dreams and keep working toward whatever “success” is to them — to choose to write the book, so to speak.

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

I was being interviewed by Crain’s Chicago and I realized prior to the interview that they wouldn’t put my contact information in the story. I needed people to know where they could order Bug-Bans, so I had a hat customized at the last minute (it cost a ton) with “1–888-BUG-BAN1” on it. The plan was to wear it in the photo that would accompany the article.

When it came time to get the shot, I almost forgot the hat. I grabbed it, put it on and posed but the photographer wasn’t impressed. He said to take it off — they didn’t allow that kind of thing. I made a bold move and told him that if I couldn’t wear the hat, I wasn’t going to be in the photo and it worked! That piece led to others in larger publications and interviews on talk shows — I know a big part of that was because I refused to take off the hat.

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

One day I took one of my cars to the carwash and this kid working there asked me what I did to be so successful. We ended up exchanging numbers and he’d come asking for business advice occasionally. I had that happen a lot throughout my life and didn’t think much of it, until one day, three years after I met this carwash kid, he texts me, telling me it would be an honor to have lunch with me sometime. That really brought everything into focus. I go into more details about it in the book, but that was my “aha moment.”

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Pretty much the entire sober living house that I was in started following me around. Their goal was to make sure they were up for my workout. I had one jar of protein powder which I estimated was good enough for 30 days but within a few days, we needed another jar. We were all suffering from the same disease and they were drawn to me; I’d say there were about 20 of them.

I went into rehab feeling like I was nothing, I was less than zero. I left knowing I still had it, I always had it, I’d just fallen off the rails a little bit. I helped them and they helped me.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

We need to do more to increase access to rehabilitation services for those who want help. A 30-day program is not much, even for those who are really serious about getting sober. A lot of insurance seems to only cover a 30-day program, and for those without insurance, the funding isn’t there. People come in, they start feeling good, they have hope, and then it’s just, “We gotta sign you out.” It’s really sad.

I’m not an old guy, but I’ve been around and I’ve experienced a lot of life. What everyone is missing now is how to listen. If you’re a business and you don’t know your customer, you’re never going to make it. The same applies in life. Many people want to tell others what they should think or how they should feel. We need to speak less and listen more.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

In my head, when someone says leadership, I think of a manager — someone who sticks to the book. No. A leader to me is an inspirational person that people gravitate to. I think of someone people want to follow, not someone they have to. You have to walk the walk and talk the talk.

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

My answer is probably not what you’re expecting. I don’t have five things because I probably wouldn’t listen to anything anyone told me. I like going after things without being tainted by someone else’s view. You know how there are people who follow instructions? I’m the guy who throws the manual away. I think that’s what makes me different, and I think that’s something that readers will really like about my book. I’m not preaching, just telling them my story. They can take my experiences and do what they want with them.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

If I can use my own, it’s the title of my book, “There Is No Box.” At the most basic level, it means that there are absolutely no limits to what we can do. One of my mentors had a few really good ones too. He’d always say, “Give it all you got and a little more,” and “Be a man or woman of your word.” I’ve followed both my entire life. There are always people who are smarter or taller or whatever, but if you have a passion, nobody can outwork you.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

That’s an easy one, Matt Damon. I’ve always admired him and his work, a regular guy, an extraordinary performer. It’s funny because I’m thinking my book should be turned into a movie, and Matt would be the perfect guy to play my character. I even mention this in my book, in Chapter 17. How weird is that? What a perfect question to ask me!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

“There Is No Box,” is available on Amazon. You can keep up with me at dinomiliotis.com, as well as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Thank you so much. Right back at you.

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