Experience — There is no substitute for experience, preferably where you’ve failed, tried again, and learned from that experience to improve. In my own career, I’ve almost lost my business 5 times, I’ve been through more ups and downs than I can count, and 13 years in the digital space practically makes me a dinosaur. However, those years of experience and lessons learned are invaluable when it comes to my growth and future success of my business.
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nathaniel Berman.
Nat is an online publishing entrepreneur, the CEO and founder of Uncoached Corp, a digital media company comprising a portfolio of 9 websites in various verticals reaching over 6 million visitors a month. Uncoached Corp’s web properties are focused on finance, real estate, entertainment, pets, home and design, and other topics. During the past 13+ years, Nat has built extensive relationships with hundreds of premium online publishers, publicists and other digital media professionals, staking his place in the industry as an expert and thought leader in digital media, time management, sales, and work/life balance. He’s passionate about public speaking and teaching others how to succeed as an entrepreneur and live life unapologetically.
Prior to founding Uncoached Corp in 2007, Nat spent 6 years as a recruiter in financial services, working as a director focusing on Funding Banking and Sales and Trading at FMG Partners. He earned a B.A in Communications from Tulane University, and currently lives on Long Island with his wife and sons.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I started my professional career as a financial services recruiter in NYC. Throughout my work, I couldn’t ignore the feeling of not wanting to work for someone else.
In 2007, I discovered a new blogging platform and it changed my entire career and life forever. Six months later, I quit my job and never looked back. My journey in digital media began with the creation of one website. Today, the portfolio of 9 sites reaches 6 million visitors a month and spans numerous verticals including lifestyle, entertainment, pets, home, finance, and more. To date, I’ve never taken any funding capital and have never had an employee.
These days, I have a flexible schedule which allows me to pursue some of my personal interests, which include playing piano, reading as much as I possibly can, staying healthy, and most importantly being around my wife and two boys.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
By the time I began working for myself in 2007 (while still holding my full-time job), I was a VP at my company earning very solid money, but I began to realize that I would be able to handle my own business. Recruiting hit a bumpy road with the 2008 financial crisis, and while I wasn’t earning enough money to sustain myself through my growing side gig alone (growing my websites at night), I had enough in the bank to give it a try for at least 6 months. I ended up leaving my full-time job in 2008 and never looked back.
In the past 13 years, I’ve grown my business larger than I could have ever hoped for. While I haven’t had any full-time employees, I’ve managed well over 30 people, worked with a business partner, and have been burned and rewarded more times than I can count. Nothing will be able to replace the experience I’ve gained, which helps me lead today and enables me to navigate my way around digital media, a space most folks don’t last in very long when it comes to building profitable websites.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
The day I t earned my first 5 dollars on Google Adsense with my starting website is still the most memorable day of my career. Nothing gave me a more satisfying high and affirmation that I could do what I was doing for a living. And to this day, no day has ever matched it emotionally.
Another great moment was sitting on my first panel. I was running a sports-oriented site and was chosen to be on a panel with professionals from ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and some other big names in the sports industry; this was a great opportunity for me, considering I had only been operating in the space for about a year. When the panel started I discovered I wasn’t nervous at all, and knew I could belong in this industry with those who had more experience, which was an amazing feeling.
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?
I think that any mistake that involved me pretending to know something I didn’t wound up being pretty hilarious in hindsight. At the time these mistakes bit me in the ass and hurt pretty badly, but now when I look back I laugh at how naive I was being.
There were a few instances where I pretended I knew something I didn’t, like when I first began cold calling and would try to pretend I knew something about the person I was calling and I would get called out on it (completely, and embarrassingly!). I can only imagine how much the person on the other end of the phone must have been internally giggling — when I look back on these mistakes now, I can also laugh at how naive I was. The lesson here is don’t ever pretend you know something you don’t. Always be the first one to raise your hand in class to get the answer you don’t know.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?
I would truly consider a thought leader to be someone who has proven success and experience in their area of expertise; So much so, that those in their industry respect them and look at them as a top figure in the said field.
This differs from a typical leader because a thought leader doesn’t have to “lead” anyone, at least in the sense of a traditional workplace setting: They can work for themselves but still be masters in their craft. When I think of traditional leadership, it involves one person being the catalyst for others in a specific role, like the CEO of a company, head coach of a team, etc.
With regard to a thought leader being different than an influencer, thought leaders are just that: “thought” leaders. Their thoughts aren’t designed to get people to do anything, but rather provide perspective and education on how someone might decide to do something. An influencer steers, while a thought leader provides insight that the consumer can do with what they’d like.
Let’s look at an example. The best financial thought leader of my generation (or probably any other) is Warren Buffett. He has offered his advice time after time after time, although not enough of us take it. He’s not asking us to take his advice, but rather simply offering it to us based on his experience. He doesn’t need any proof or validation, as his proof is his vast financial empire. To me, that is thought-leading.
On the other side, there are quite a few figures on the internet that I would say are popular and influential, although are not offering advice as much as they are selling products; which is a vastly different goal. These types of influencers are using their “influence” to drive purchases, rather than using their knowledge to let consumers make informed decisions as the thought leaders outlined above would.
Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?
The biggest benefit is credibility and in today’s world, credibility is more important than ever. The more you are endorsed by other credible and influential sources, the better off you will be. Once that’s established, the sky is the limit in terms of how far you can go in your given field, so taking the time and putting in the resources around this credibility to continue building it and nurturing it, are vital to reputation, brand, culture, etc etc.
Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?
The opportunities are endless, although it also depends on how integral that thought leadership is. I can use my own experience working with clients as an example, as I’ve taught numerous people how to do exactly what I do. When they listened and implemented the right steps, within two years they had their own websites that were making enough money to sustain them.
The same formula can be applied anywhere, in whatever industry or platform you’ve carved out a space for yourself as an influential figure or thought leader. In my own personal experience, there was a time when I was a top user on platforms like Digg and Reddit back in 2009. Just from being a top user on these platforms, I landed a 3-month consulting gig and eventual job offer.
Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.
- Action — Nothing is going to get it done more than simply getting it done. You have to put yourself out there and just start immersing yourself in whatever you do. There’s only so much you can educate yourself on about your business, but until you actually DO it, you can’t learn everything you need to know. In my own career, this looked like putting in more time on publishing sites, writing more articles, and reaching out to more experts with questions than anyone else I knew. I spent two years taking this action until I became the one giving advice.
- Experience — There is no substitute for experience, preferably where you’ve failed, tried again, and learned from that experience to improve. In my own career, I’ve almost lost my business 5 times, I’ve been through more ups and downs than I can count, and 13 years in the digital space practically makes me a dinosaur. However, those years of experience and lessons learned are invaluable when it comes to my growth and future success of my business.
- Lean into your authentic self — Who you are is what people will gravitate towards, and is why people will listen to you. If you’re shy, be shy. If you’re loud, be loud! Never compromise your authentic personality or composition, as there’s always an audience for what you have to put out there. My authentic self is the guy who “tells it like it is,” because frankly I just can’t live any other way.
- Listen and accept — While you don’t necessarily have to agree with everything people say, I do think that listening is essential to earning someone’s respect and trust. You can disagree in the end, but accepting other’s opinions is critical to showing how you can be a thought leader.
- Get in the mud — I believe that every thought leader needs to be humble enough to do every single task in their respective industry. Never be afraid to show your audience your willingness to do everything necessary to show that you’ve been there, you empathize and that you’ll do what has to get done to be the best at what you do.
In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.
I’ve always respected what Neil Vogel has done with Dotdash. This is a man who has a vision and understands how to build a successful portfolio of organic websites. He sticks with his plan, and never deviates from the formula unless the rules of the game have changed. A ton of larger publishers got destroyed in recent years because of arrogance, raising a ton of money on empty promises, and zero willingness to stick to a plan. Vogel gutted About.com, turned it into a multi-vertical website empire, and stuck with what always worked: producing informational content that was digestible, credible, and search engine friendly. And he’s still doing it to this day.
I’ve always thought of my portfolio sites as a “mini Dotdash” because I do all of this on my own as opposed to having a 150+ person staff.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
I think that phrases come and go, while actions truly show people who you are way more than catchphrases do.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
First, make sure you set up a specific system that will prevent burnout, whether it’s a certain routine or daily ritual. If you feel any kind of burnout start to creep up, I would advise to take a step back and pay attention to how you feel, then course correct from there. I dive into these steps more deeply in my article on avoiding burnout.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire 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’d love a movement entitled “cut the bulls**t.” Too many people concern themselves with things that bog them down — I value doing what matters, doing what counts, and cutting out all the garbage. Which is easier said than done!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite has always been Churchill’s “When you’re going through hell, keep going.”
Although there have been tough times, I’m still here and my business still exists. And if one day it doesn’t, I’ll find another, and another. You have to keep moving and go with your feelings, not against them. If things get rough, let them be rough — it’ll pass. If things are amazing, great, that’ll pass too. The key is to keep moving forward and focus on what needs to get done. If you’re doing that, everything else can and will fall into place eventually. Rinse and repeat.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Not surprisingly, Warren Buffett, whom I’ve always respected. There’s something about the way he’s lived his life that I love, and it has zero to do with how much money he’s made. I read his 850-page biography “Snowball” and I feel like at no point in his life did he ever not do what we wanted to do, for better or for worse. There’s a reason he’s still doing this in his 90s: It’s because it’s WHO he is. But what I respect so much is all the things that he accrued because of his passion. His life is “busy” but in ways that are illuminating: He’s made countless friends, had amazing relationships and is constantly busy, but in a good way, simply because he’s always stuck to doing what excites him most. It’s a life I emulate.
How can our readers follow you online?
My website Uncoached.com is where I write an article each day about the things I’ve learned and offered suggestions on how to live what I consider to be a good life. On the site, you’ll also see links to all my social media accounts where I post other content like videos on a daily basis.