OS 012 - Legacy Interview with Ken Courtright
Ken Courtright is the founder of Today’s Growth Consultant, a two-time Inc. 5000 designee with revenues that have doubled in each of the last 5 years. Started in 1992, the company is now an international, multimillion-dollar enterprise. TGC has worked with over 3,300 companies in 49 states.
Ken is the author of the upcoming book Guerilla Marketing Today, part of the best-selling Guerilla Marketing series, and best-selling author of Online Income: Navigating the Internet Minefield and co-author with Brian Tracy of Against The Grain. He is currently working on his next book Trust Trumps Everything: Why Your Digital Footprint Determines Your Income. He's a popular speaker for business and academic groups.
As a regularly requested guest on business growth Ken has been interviewed by WGN in Chicago, The Daily Herald, The Biography Channel, A&E and USA Today, among others.
In 2012 Today’s Growth Consultant launched “Income Store” which helps individuals, companies and private equity firms buy revenue-generating websites at two times earnings.
He lives with his wife, Kerri, and their three children outside of Chicago.
Here's the transcript:
Interview with Ken Courtright
Hugh: Ken, what does legacy mean to you, and how are you creating legacy?
Ken: Kerri and I have spoken of legacy since day one, since 1992, before children. We were talking about getting into business, creating at least a very strong revenue stream. In the mid-to-late ‘90s, it switched to a desire for multiple revenue streams. Then it became vocal, and we even did a dream board of it in 2006 to where we wanted to ensure that our children started on our shoulders. What I mean by that is we don’t want to spoil our kids. As a matter of fact, our second oldest and our youngest—we have four kids—are at coding camp this summer. They were learning Python and other coding languages. Our oldest daughter, she is 18, just spent ten days at our corporate office in Pennsylvania studying under our chief marketing officer and one of our creative directors so she can work part-time for us when she goes off to college.
Our view is we had some very difficult times in 1999 financially. To put it lightly, we couldn’t wait to be broke. We were in such debt. We were in such a financial situation. We couldn’t wait just to have no money, to not owe people. What we wanted to do was: How do we raise four children in a way where we don’t spoil them; we don’t give them too much; they work for what they get; they have a complete respect for money, time, work, and effort; but at the same time, when they hit young adulthood, they are physically standing on our shoulders with a different vantage point? I don’t want them pulling cones at Dairy Queen, not that that’s bad. I want them getting a different vision, and I want them to be able to hit the ground running financially.
At a very young age, we started teaching them about savings accounts, just like how my dad between 16 and 18 years old brainwashed me that I will not have a credit card, I will pay my home off in five years, and I will buy used cars until I can afford a new car. I lived exactly the lifestyle of my father. We had 17 years in a one-bathroom home with multiple children. We delayed gratification, where the rest of my friends were driving fancy cars and living in massive homes. Today, we have the fancy cars and the massive home on a private ski lake. But because we delayed gratification for so long, our children understand how we did it, why we did it, and more importantly, when we did it. We did it in our 40’s. We didn’t go out and buy a massive home in our upper 20’s to mid 30’s when we could have. We absolutely could have, but we taught our kids through example what it means in this very difficult society of keeping up with the Jones’s to delay gratification. That gets us to legacy.
We also started a business that has evolved overtime that allows my wife and me well over 100 different revenue streams that are all independent of each other. If one or three or ten revenue streams go down, they will not affect our lifestyle or our income. We decided in 2009 to diversify our income and our legacy by helping other people create revenue streams through web properties. Whether you are a private equity fund, an individual, or a business, we might be in partnership with you on a website.
It’s all built in a company that is willable to my kids and grandkids. When it is time to pass this thing on, my one daughter is going to Pepperdine for Business Administration with a minor in Marketing. My second daughter just got out of coding camp and can’t wait to go into writing and programming, which our company needs at a high level. All of our kids are physically pursuing paths with a current want—and we have not asked them—to come in and take over this company. But the key is even if they didn’t want to, and I could just will something to them, we have a portfolio that will run a billion eyeballs in 2017. That will give our kids a traffic pattern, eyeballs, a platform for whatever business they want to start, and more importantly, a revenue stream that will provide them options.
You and I both know, Hugh, that money has nothing to do with people. Money is an inanimate object. If you were a good person before money, you’re a good person with money. If you’re a bad person before money, you are a bad person with money. The odds of your character changing because of a positive or a lack of money, I’ve never seen it personally. What Kerri and I wanted to do was help the kids avoid the trauma we faced in our early years in business of lacking capital and that traumatic event for a year and a half where we almost lost everything. We want to be there for them and give them a legacy that they can respect and grow further.
Hugh: That’s amazing. One of the things that we don’t do well in charities is establish a succession process. What you described is a succession process is your legacy for your company. Thinking of charities and legacy, you support a number of charities in a number of ways. Part of your legacy is helping charities be more successful. Talk about that a little bit.
Ken: As you well know, we support SynerVision and your organization. I think we are at seven organizations that receive 5% of our gross revenue, not net revenue. 5% of gross monthly revenues that come in get dispersed between seven organizations.
My wife’s and my church is the biggest recipient; they are building a very large addition. It’s actually three times larger than the current church that they are building onto the church. We actually had our church on payroll for three years. We physically have God on payroll at $600 a week for no other reason than why not? That does not count as one of the seven. We are a big believer in Malachi 3:8 that says, “You have to give him back the first fruits.” That is the only time in that best-selling book where he says, “Test me on this.” I have definitely tested God on that. I believe we are seeing the results of that as we have hit the Inc. 5000 list three of the last four years. In our early days, we doubled our gross revenues five out of seven years in the early years. Outside of those couple lean years in the middle where I diversified so wide in so many businesses without management, we have been consistently growing. I do believe there is a lot to be said for corporate tithing and dealing with worthy causes because I believe that is why we are on this planet.
Hugh: We did a podcast earlier where you talked about companies asking the legacy question. Could you reframe the legacy question inside of a church or a charity? What is the legacy question that these organizations need to be asking so they don’t go out of business? My church is a Methodist church. Currently they are losing 1,200 members a week. That is typical of most mainline churches. They are not asking the legacy question of what they need to do to maintain our members.
Ken: First things first, you have to understand that a charity or any type of organization is a business. It doesn’t have to be a for-profit business, but it certainly is a revenue-generating entity. Parishioners who tithe and parishioners who buy different books and equipment from churches like CDs and coffee, they are supporting that church. It is a revenue stream any way we slice it.
Let’s get to the fundamentals. The legacy question was built to counter what is called entropy. The definition of entropy says anything manmade or God-made was built to go from order to disorder. It’s built to break down. A business is breaking down; our body is breaking down. Everything is breaking down at all times. It is our job as leaders of businesses, which charities are, to be asking the legacy question, which is the counter to entropy.
The legacy question says: What can we do nights and weekends that doesn’t cost us any extra time or resources that could bring in a secondary source of revenue to our organization? A church for example. Many churches do bake sales or kids’ camps. They come up with 5-20 things throughout the year to raise or supplement income, one of the reasons being they themselves as a church support smaller churches or organizations overseas. For themselves and what I will call “their children,” they want to protect these entities. They are coming up with what I call one-off revenue streams.
For a church or a charity, if they simply shifted the mindset from the bake sale or the kid’s camp and go away from a one-time event to creating something that provides a monthly revenue stream. For a big church, I don’t know why I don’t see big churches getting with what I call the floating pastors who love to go from church to church just to give sermons. I don’t know why they don’t capture some of that information, some of those sermon notes into a think tank, like a Lynda.com. Lynda.com just got sold to LinkedIn for a billion and a half. All Lynda did was turn to the teachers of the world and the universities and ask, “Will you donate to me ten minutes to two hours to ten hours of the greatest video you have of the greatest teaching points of your classroom or institution?” Whether it’s Notre Dame or a mom and pop teacher in Milwaukee, she got all of these great videos donated, and then she simply charges the world what used to be $9 a month and $29 a month for the monthly rates to access the greatest teaching tutorials of the world. She just aggregated great content.
I don’t know why churches and organizations, even the Cub Scouts or the Girl Scouts have these great speakers come in and talk to the kids. Why don’t they record them, transcribe them, and then create some form of 100% monthly contributions getting donated to this church getting put to use and create a second passive revenue stream because that would be what is called an S-curve, or a response to the legacy question? That could be done three times a year. You would pick your head up in ten years, and that church has 30 additional monthly revenue streams that support their church and their expenses and allow that church to grow and then provide the necessary changes that need to take place so those 1,200 parishioners don’t leave every week. Does that make sense?
Hugh: Absolutely. In the podcast we just did, we talked about leaders who dealt with the situation. You hit it head-on. I find a lot of charities are hoping it’s going to change. They have one source of revenue, and you can’t create a legacy if your one source of revenue, which is mostly donors, dries up. Certainly donor money is up and down. Define the legacy question. Be clear so a pastor or a non-profit executive director understands how to frame that.
Ken: For a back-up, I have a 20-25 minute podcast. It was the first episode on Today’s Growth: Growing Business Today. That is the technical name of the podcast. Go to iTunes and type in “Ken Courtright.” There is a podcast that describes in detail what I am going to give you in 60 seconds.
The legacy question, which comes from Jack Welch, the CEO of GE Capital in its greatest growth spurt, says this: What can we do nights and weekends to add a secondary revenue stream to our main source of income? Jack Welch is presupposing that every family, every business, and every charity, which is a business, has a main source of income. We will call that the 9-5 income. So the legacy question says: What can we do 5-9, meaning in our off hours, that doesn’t cost any extra money or time, no extra equipment or expenses, with the creative energies we have to build a second residual repeating revenue stream? Initially, it’s to take the pressure off the main revenue stream. But once you do three or four or five of these, you realize Holy mackerel! One of these has just become bigger than our main source of income. What you do is every couple years, you stack another two to five revenue streams. In the business world this is called the research and development department. You just continually keep stacking as what is now mandatory at every major corporation. There is not a single Fortune 500 company today that does not have a research and development department that is currently spending money knowing it is not going to come back. It gets wasted and exhausted in the pursuit of the next decade’s revenue stream. If major corporations have to have the R&D division, why don’t households or charities have R&D divisions? It doesn’t make sense to me. Again, what you don’t know, you don’t know. That is the legacy question.
Hugh: Do you want to do a summary before we quit here?
Ken: The summary is: The first step of all success for business, a charity, and a household is to stop lying to yourself. As soon as you stop lying to yourself that things are good, things are going to maintain, things are going to continue, the reality is 100% of main sources of income fail. 100% of them. Not most, not half, but 100%. Whatever the main source of income is in that charity, at some point it will fail. If you take a church, that body of parishioners today is not going to be the body in 65 years. They will all die. So the reality is, as the world changes, every organization has got to say to themselves, “Okay, what are we going to do when, not if, our main source of income fails? What is our next source of income?” If they are not asking that question, they are lying to themselves. That’s my summary.