“I simply did what most people aren’t willing to do.” With Penny Bauder & Corey Lawson

I simply did what most people aren’t willing to do. I worked. I’d go to my day job and I’d come home and work a second job, which for me was planning a business. I had no clue how to start a business. I read books, researched and most importantly, acted. So many of us […]

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I simply did what most people aren’t willing to do. I worked. I’d go to my day job and I’d come home and work a second job, which for me was planning a business. I had no clue how to start a business. I read books, researched and most importantly, acted. So many of us start to take the steps necessary, but when it comes time to act, people get scared. I figured out how to sell the idea and make it come to life through sheer grit. Back then, and even now, I’m no smarter than anyone else. I just made the choice and didn’t give up. Courage is the key.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Corey Lawson. Corey is the President and Co-Owner of All Volleyball, Inc. A framed quote, “Demonstrate Then Teach” hangs in Corey Lawson’s home office. Since a very young age, the husband, father (of three boys under age seven) and entrepreneur, has allowed those three words to influence much of his life. As a teen, during the Great Midwest Floods of 1993, Corey started his first business selling Blow Pops, bubble gum and song lyrics. The business became so successful that he hired his older sister Shannon to help. Eventually his school shut down the operation, but not before donating $1,000’s to affected families in St. Louis County. In his 20’s, Corey went to graduate school and left his first job in less than a year to open a restaurant with his friends. In three years, the restaurant won numerous awards, but more importantly started “Serving a Cause” which allowed guest servers to raise money through serving customers and getting tips. The weekly tradition raised over $50,000 during his ownership. In his 30’s, Corey earned the title President & Co-owner of All Volleyball, Inc., a family-owned business started by his dad nearly 25 year ago. One of the first things he did was establish a giving initiative called “All Volleyball Serves” and since then has raised $100,000+ to support The Side-Out Foundation and the fight against breast cancer. Most recently, Corey has led All Volleyball’s efforts to give back during the pandemic. His team launched the #Volleystrong program that provides cash gifts for frontline workers and volunteers in the volleyball community. In less than two weeks All Volleyball has already given over $2,000 with the goal of giving out at least $75,000 in 2020.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

Igrew up in the midwest suburbs, which was a very middle class area of town. My parents always provided well for us, even during the seasons our family struggled. It was a charmed life. I played in creeks and rode skate boards until I was a pre-teen. Once I started getting interested in girls, I also started playing sports. There was a correlation between the two, so by the beginning of high school, I was a full on jock. Baseball took me to college and then on to grad school. My first job was in advertising and I loved it. I just wasn’t very good, so I quit and convinced seven of my friends to open a restaurant with me and a bank to lend me some money. Three years later we sold it right before going out of business. My parents hired me at All Volleyball, Inc., but only because it was that or I had to move back in with them. A couple years in I officially became an owner and president of the company. I now lead the nation’s most trusted provider of volleyball products and services which is the best job in the world. Along the way, I married up and had three boys all under the age of seven. Peeking over the fence at 40, it’s still a charmed life.

You are currently leading a social impact organization. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

I believe our best chance to change the world is through the private sector, specifically, small businesses and the people who work every day to make them successful. I made the mistake early on of trying to do too much. I wanted to “change the world” without understanding how a business can use their profits and inspire their staff and customers to drive real change. After lots of trial and error, I realized that a business must be profitable first, then purposeful (a close) second. Without the #1 you can’t have #2. Then I realized “changing the world” is way too intimidating and in many cases unrealistic for small businesses, so it’s really about “changing your part of the world.” Lastly, I realized that often this vision can become cloudy and unauthentic if you don’t get your entire team to believe in it. Your words must follow your actions and my team has humbled me in my ambition. Small businesses must think big, but start small and not give up along the way, regardless of what you’re trying to change.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

Years ago, I read a statistic that one in eight women will fight some form of breast cancer in their life. At that time, we had 16 women working at All Volleyball, three of whom were my mom, sister and wife. It was a sobering realization that statistically two of them could be affected. I was already familiar with the Side-Out Foundation, so it was a no-brainer for us to become their largest supporter. Most recently with the #volleystrong program, I simply felt called to challenge our company to find ways to directly support the heroes in the volleyball community who are sacrificing their own well being for the sake of others during the pandemic. There was no organization that we could contribute to that was willing to be that targeted with their giving so we decided to do it ourselves and give cash gifts directly to families, coaches and administrators. The big idea is to create a movement in which the volleyball community takes care of the volleyball community.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

We are based in St. Louis, MO. and we had a customer in rural Kansas that needed their order the next day (Saturday) to play. There was no possible way that Fedex, UPS or any other carrier could deliver on time. In less than a minute of trying to figure out what to do, one of our staff members calmly said he’d drive the package nine hours overnight to their home. He didn’t volunteer his time for a promotion, pay or recognition. It was simply the right thing to do and if it wasn’t him a number of us were willing to do the same thing. At that moment, I knew we can and should be doing more to give back to our community. This sparked our formal giving initiative, All Volleyball Serves.

Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

I simply did what most people aren’t willing to do. I worked. I’d go to my day job and I’d come home and work a second job, which for me was planning a business. I had no clue how to start a business. I read books, researched and most importantly, acted. So many of us start to take the steps necessary, but when it comes time to act, people get scared. I figured out how to sell the idea and make it come to life through sheer grit. Back then, and even now, I’m no smarter than anyone else. I just made the choice and didn’t give up. Courage is the key.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

The first year I was officially in charge I had to give my parents, sister and wife a performance review. At the time my feedback skills were terrible so each got a perfect score. I remember vividly my sister, Shannon, calling me out for being a wimp and not telling her the truth. It was a great reminder that leading a family business is one long, never-ending interesting story.

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

The first “real” business I started was a restaurant. It was with seven friends I knew from high school and college when we were in our early/mid-twenties. I, along with two other full-time partners, quit our jobs to renovate a building. We had no clue about how to renovate a building. We spent weeks chipping up layers of tile floor with putty knives and hammers without once stopping to ask ourselves if there’s a better way. In one of our 100’s of trips to Home Depot, we came across the tool rental section and found an electric-powered tile stripper. What a surprise! For $60 we rented the tool and in one day accomplished what had taken over three weeks to accomplish. I learned the value in, “planning, questioning, exploring THEN executing.”

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

My parents have been mentors my entire life. Not in the sense of direct teaching and coaching, but simply demonstrating the highest level of servant leadership I’ve ever witnessed. Of course they’ve also been my biggest cheerleaders too. It’s fascinating to watch them live their life and frustrating that I can’t be more like them! Along the way I’ve certainly had people throughout my life that have influenced me greatly, particularly my high school coaches, but having the privilege to work alongside my parents has given me a front row seat on how to be an excellent human being. They’ve set the bar high.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

The money we raise and donate to fight breast cancer goes to developing personalized treatment plans for patients who are in the later stages of the disease. The later stage treatments are the least funded. Unfortunately, because these are clinical trials we do not get to know the people personally. That said, we do know that the treatments have been scientifically proven to give more quality time to the patients to spend with their loved ones. More recently with our #volleystrong program, we’re providing cash gifts to the frontline works and volunteers in the volleyball community. Our most recent gifts have gone to two families with dads/husbands that are risking their own well-being for the sake of others. Their stories can be found here along with some additional information about how we support the Side Out Foundation through the Dig Pink Challenge.

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

The root problem we’re trying to solve isn’t cancer or COVID-19. It’s apathy. It’s pervasive in our community, society and politics. Here’s how I think we solve it.

  1. Care about caring — In all socioeconomic circles, we don’t have enough people that care enough about finding something to care about. Their own agenda is more important. This takes effort and most people aren’t willing to put in the work.
  2. Stop fixing the world on Instagram — We have more life coaches and motivational speakers on IG than we do volunteers at our local food bank. You “demonstrate first, teach second.” We’ve got it backward. Why? Because demonstrating means doing the actual work with something other than your thumbs.
  3. Politics won’t solve YOUR problems — Your problems are YOUR problems, not anyone else’s. Especially the government. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for our government helping, but the reality is, our system doesn’t do a great job. Most of us pay into it, so it’s okay to lean on it (if needed). Just don’t rely on it. Definitely don’t depend on it.

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

Young entrepreneurs (by age or experience) see these fairy tales of success either by the .0001% that actually “make it” or by people who are not genuine. The reality is that most of us have to put in significant time, over the course of many years, getting paid basically nothing, at the risk of losing everything (including relationships), without a break or reprieve before anything of significance happens. You have to be able to accept the first four points before you can get the fifth.

  1. You won’t have more time — For the first 10–15 years, I worked. Harder and longer than anyone I knew. And it wasn’t from the golf course, beach or my private plane. I was there, at the business, showing up every day to serve my customers and my staff. I was so serious about this, I rented a run-down apartment that was literally in the back parking lot of my first business. Technology has changed this dynamic (i.e. e-commerce and remote work) but the principle is the same. Expect to work 2x the hours for 2x the amount of time.
  2. You won’t have more money — For years I could barely afford to pay myself and so often I didn’t. I also made some decisions that cost me greatly. My first business was a restaurant. On a night we were closed there was a double-murder in our parking lot. Although it had nothing to do with us, our restaurant was closely linked to the incident in the media. I handled our response terribly and made some very poor business decisions. I went into even more debt closing, renovating and renaming the place with no real plan on how to make it work. I was fortunate enough to sell the business to someone for just enough to pay back all my debt but along the way, I lost my personal savings and literally sold everything I owned. Expect to be broke for a period of time (along with major risk) and don’t become an entrepreneur to get rich.
  3. You won’t have more friends — My first 10–15 years I had no time and I had no money. This made maintaining friendships difficult. Not to mention seeing my friends would force me to lie about my success or be brutally honest about my struggles. Not to mention most of my existing friends were not entrepreneurs which made it nearly impossible to relate. Although I had no time and no money, I made up some ridiculous excuses about why I couldn’t go to my best friend’s bachelor party. To this day, I still regret that decision. Expect to lose your old friends, or at the very least, work harder than ever at keeping them.
  4. You won’t have more hobbies — If this doesn’t make sense, go back and reread 1–3. I used to hate that I didn’t have hobbies. But in my 20’s and 30’s I had no time/money and my friends were off doing things I couldn’t. Now that I can it’s a bit intimidating because I suck at most stuff other than being a husband, father and entrepreneur. Expect your hobbies to be your work. If you’ve been called to be a spouse and parent, that too (For what it’s worth — those are best and most important hobbies anyway).
  5. You will have more time, money, friends and hobbies — Most small businesses fail, most entrepreneurs don’t make it, but if you can grind for 10–15 years with no time, money, friends or hobbies chances are you’ll get it all back in abundance. This is where I’m currently at in my journey. Nothing is guaranteed and nothing is forever (it’s why we still live a conservative lifestyle), but I now have what I thought I’d get 12 years earlier. Expect the struggle to be great, but the rewards to be greater.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

If not you, then who? Embrace the chaos, enjoy the struggle and lean into the opportunity you have. Our future leaders will change the world one day and what you do today will determine if it’s for better or worse tomorrow.

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. 🙂

I have a bit of a man crush on Craig Groeschel. Below is my list. It might also be because of the chase. He talks a lot about his routine so breakfast or lunch is likely out of the question. Unless I get invited on his podcast (insert shameless plug here).

  • Excellent leader in the private sector
  • Great family man
  • Great pastor and preacher
  • Leader in rethinking his industry
  • Develops valuable, practical content
  • Unbelievably disciplined personally and professionally
  • Dynamic speaker

How can our readers follow you online?

Well, I’m on Linkedin (@coreywlawson), Instagram (@corey_w_lawson) and Facebook (corey.lawson.w) but fair warning that my social game needs a lot of work. I’ve been focused on building my company and not my brand so that’s what I’ll be working on for the next couple years. I’ve got something to say about the choice many of us have in being an excellent spouse, parent, friend and entrepreneur. I’m looking forward to sharing and slowly entering into the next season of my life/career.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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