I have to see how you, this man has become one of my friends over the last couple of years and really a mentor at first from afar and then a colleague and now somebody that we consider a close brother in Christ and a brother in many ways. In terms of what we do. Jon Gordon is a bestselling author, like a real bestselling author, like the kind of best selling author that sells thousands and thousands of copies of books every single week, not just like once every couple of years. And, uh, he is also one of the busiest speakers in the world. Uh, we’ve shared the stage several times, you know, he’s the author of the energy bus, the carpenter training camp power, positive leadership. Uh, the power positive team is one of his newer books and he’s been featured in pretty much every major media. The today show, CNN, CNBC, and you know, he speaks on amazing stages, works with lots of professional sports teams, the Dodgers, the Falcons, um, big companies, southwest airlines, the clippers, Miami Heat. So He’s just awesome. He also graduated from Cornell University. You know, he has all these like impressive accolades, but I think he has a great story that we’re going to enjoy hearing in terms of how he got his whole start as an author, speaker and just the reality of what that looked like. So Jon, welcome. But it’s thanks for being here.
All right, great to be with you. And now I get to ask you for advice all the time.
Well, so when I really want to hear how you got started in this, cause I think like you are when I say, you know, a real best selling author, I say that kind of jokingly, but it’s, it’s also very true. Even even, you know, people who are New York Times bestsellers, they might be on the list for, you know, a few weeks or a couple of weeks. But I mean you’ve got books that have been on there like weekend and week out in the top 10 for years. And I think, you know, when someone looks at you and you speak on these big stages and you know you’re featured in all this media, how did you get started? Like what are the early days look like and can you just give us like a high level overview of the timeline between who John Borden is today and how long did it really take for that to all happen?
2002 I said I wanted to write and speak. I knew that this was my calling. I was miserable, negative, unhappy. My wife honestly almost left me. I knew I needed to change. I asked what I was born to do, writing and speaking came to me. I said, all right, I’m going to start doing this. And I literally just started writing a weekly positive tip in 2002 I want it to be more positive. So I started writing [inaudible] research and ways that I could be more positive and that sort of sharing that with others. And that led me to then get a following started with my mother, my brother, my best friend from college, Sears. So we had five subscribers to the newsletter initially and that became our primary source. Now everyone has a blog, social media. Back then there was no blogs there, there weren’t any social media accounts.
And so I was sending out this weekly positive tip that I started with the facts and then we moved to an e newsletter. Constant contact was our, our first a provider of that early on. And that’s what started this journey of just sending out these weekly positive tips. And then I would reach out to people and say, Hey, I want to write and speak. And I tell everyone, create an overview of the talk you want to give. Create a brand around that talk, you know, something that is memorable and then share that overview with various people where you want to speak. And I would send this one page out and I would literally tell friends, Hey, I’d love to come speak to your company. I would tell sports teams, I’d love to come speak to you. You name it. I was sharing that I wanted to go speak and I did about 80 free talks when I first
so tell me about that like part of it. So you, you kinda like whipped together this one sheet, you know you don’t have like a lot of people don’t have a lot of money when they’re starting. So it, was it super fancy or was it kind of just like a word doc? Like did you have someone design it up for you and make it,
I had a designed, it was a one pager that started as a word doc and then I, I had it designed by a graphic designer to make it look nice and I even created a website with everything I wanted to be in do. So I had events even though I had no events, I had media. If I had media section, even though I didn’t have a media, you have to start acting as if, so I put up this website as myself as a speaker and then I initially became internationally known because I had one friend in London, so I was internationally known. And
so you are selling like you were selling it, like you were selling it but you were so were you, you were just like sending out emails, stuff like you just be like, y’all want to go speak to the Atlanta Falcons and so you just go to their like, I mean at that time they didn’t have websites but you would just like find an email and just send it and hey, I want to come talk to your team
number and email, phone calls, a ton of ton of emails and there were websites back then so you would, you would contact them via their website of their marketing person or the event planner for this event. But that didn’t really lead to a lot of events, you know, doing the outreach like that really didn’t lead you too much. I have hundreds and hundreds of emails still in a folder that I have saved of emails that I sent out. Hey, I’m John Gordon and I’d love to come speak at your event or to your company. But a lot of it came through friends. I had a friend who worked for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was in charge of sales. So I spoke to the sales team and now the Jaguars was, was now a client. Then I had a friend at Cingular wireless. I spoke at a sales meeting. I now had Cingular as a client.
That’s how long ago it was. There was a company called Cingular wireless that um, I think it’s not Verizon, but, but I did that. And so one thing led to another and then I went on a tour. I went on the tour, one of my first book came out and that allowed me to go around and start sharing a message and I, through the newsletter would say, Hey, I’m going to be in these cities. And five people showed up and 10 people showed up in 20 showed up. We never, a lot of people that showed up, but some shows,
what can you this, what year is this?
2005 2006 at the time. And then [inaudible]
five years later, it’s just like they still like four still like three, four years later you’re going out speaking for free and five, 10, 15 people are showing up.
Yes. But I did have a restaurant at the time. I opened up a Moe’s southwest grill, second mortgage, second mortgaged our home, $20,000 in credit card in order to try to pay the bills that would then allow me to write and speak. And at first it didn’t go well, but then the restaurant started making money. So I had this restaurant making money and now I’m doing events here and there, maybe two or three a month was what I was doing, but I’m building the brand. I’m speaking as much as possible. I’m doing the newsletter that’s growing, but I sold the restaurants in 2005 knowing that I needed to do this full time, but I wasn’t making a lot of money at the time, but I knew I needed to do it. So I gave up the restaurant business and I was making a few hundred thousand dollars a year off the restaurants. They were doing pretty well, but I knew I needed to sell them. So I sold the restaurants and said, okay, I’m now going to focus on this. And that’s where it wasn’t going well. But I then had a lot of time and energy to start thinking and
your item, I’ve found that to be true. It’s like you either have time or you have money and so it’s like if you don’t have time it’s because you have money and you can hire people to do stuff or you have money but you don’t have, or yeah, you have money but you don’t have time. So you hire people or you have no freaking money and that’s because you have all day to like sit around and do some stuff and get some stuff done. And that sounds kind of like where you’re at then
and exactly. And my wife said, what happens if this doesn’t work? Like when I wanted to sell the restaurant, we cannot sell these restaurants. I said, there, there are no other options. We have to go for it. There are no other options. I have to do this. This is my calling. I have to do it. And I wrote the energy bus in 2006 after selling the restaurants, about six months, seven months later, walking and praying. The idea for the energy bus came to me and when I wrote that book, I knew I had something that I was going to really focus on is this book now brought me to the corporate business market. And my goal was to start speaking on leadership and to businesses in a bigger way. And this was the book that I felt would propel me forward. So, so did
you write the book first? Did you do an a book proposal? Did you have an agent? Did you like what, what, how, how did that, how did that happen? Right. Like I want to write a book. You’re walking on the street and you know, God goes, Hey, here’s your book. You know? Okay, great. I have an idea. There’s a long way from that moment to a book that sells 2000 copies every single week.
Yup. I started writing the book right away. Okay. I wasn’t waiting, I wasn’t writing a proposal. I wrote the book first. I tell people this all the time, don’t think about the proposal. Don’t think about who’s going to publish it. Actually write the book first when you have some that you can hand to a publisher and say, here is something I wrote and then you add a proposal to that. It’s so much more powerful to have something concrete and so I wrote it first and about three and a half weeks I have to give God credit. There was a lot of divine inspiration writing that book and then we pitched it out though I found an agent, we pitch it out to a bunch of publishers and got rejected by almost all of them except one. John Wiley and sons agreed to publish this book, but it wasn’t right away. I was getting rejection after rejection, after rejection being told my dreams not going to happen full of fear, anxiety. What happens if does doesn’t work? What about our future? I told my wife, sell the restaurants, which we did and now I was betting on this and it’s not going well and I’m getting rejected. I remember those were some of the scariest times in my life.
So then what now and I as a first time author, did they, I don’t imagine they came and gave you like this monster advance and said, hey, you know, here’s a half a million bucks. Like we think this is gonna end. All your problems are solved. It, it, it, I mean, I’m, I’m guessing it was still, you know, they gave you a deal. You, you took it and then you just like went all in to make it work on, Huh?
Yeah. Well we have to back up a second. I did do two other books before that, but these were books that were more self development books, more mental, physical, emotional energy kind of books. One was called energy addict. I don’t even really talk about those anymore. In other words, 10 minutes energy solution. A small publisher out of Atlanta Along Street press publish this book because he got my newsletter and said, I think this would be a great idea. I want to get behind it. He winded up not doing a good job, had a lot of issues there. I got the rights back. Next thing you know a penguin parish g agreed to take it on cause I was getting on the today show. So they took one book on and then said, all right, let’s do the other one. We did those two. The second one I did a failed miserably and that’s when I made the transition to, alright I know I’m here to talk more about business.
I’m moving away from self development away from the self-improvement mode. I changed at the time I got, I became a follower of Jesus. And so for me I was, I was really more in a different state of mind. I really in a many ways was a different person. And so the energy bus represented this different person, this, this, this platform. And I was going out that I knew that this was the work I was going to do for the rest of my life and the other two are my past. So, so I had the failure of the second one. And so it made publishers weary to want to take me on. But John Wiley and sons said, you want to take it on but we can’t give you much money. But we wanted to do it. And so Shannon Vargo agreed to take me on for boss said, if it doesn’t go well, it could be your career. She said, no, I want to do it. And so I said, let’s go. And so it was pretty much all in in terms of I’ll take whatever you got. I don’t really care about the money, I just want this book out there.
And then when that happened, like we till you finally get this deal and you know, we have a similar story about how we got the deal for take the stairs and uh, it was, it was a long, long road. But what did you do for that first launch? Cause that books still sell. I mean it’s been 15 it’s coming up on 15 years. That book still sells. Like did you, what did you do back then when you were just starting out to like get the word out about that?
Yeah, we were, the energy bus was number 10 last week in the Wall Street Journal Bestseller list. It came out in 2007
that is so awesome. I love, I love, I see it every like every time I look I’m like, gosh, it’s still there. Like just crushing it.
It sells several thousand copies a week. It sells more every year than the year before I think about it. I’m now 48 I wrote that book when I was 35 and I now am speaking still all over on a book that I wrote when I was 35 yet with so much more knowledge and wisdom and things I’ve learned over the years, which is what my new books represent, but it really is cool for that book to still do what it’s doing and it’s a special special book. People really connect with it. I have to say one thing, it’s funny that a lot of people say to me, you know, I’ve heard that before, or oh yeah, that’s just, you know, that’s, that’s accepted. I had a friend of the, they said, yeah, it’s accepted. And they heard it before because it’s been out for 13 years. So they don’t know that the energy bus has been that long.
That’s why you’ve heard of before. And again, it’s sold 2 million copies. So in the United States, so a lot of people have have, have understood this. So when it first came out though what I do, I went on a 20 city tour, paid for myself, our good friend who you know as well, Daniel Decker was selling into advertising at the time. I had the most restaurant and he was telling me into our advertising for my restaurant. We became friends and I was going this tour and I said, Hey, I’m going to this tour. I need someone to help you PR, do you want to do it? I can pay you this much a month. He said, yeah, because I really loved the whole book thing and author world. And now as you know, Daniel is one of the top book launch people in the world. And so he basically helped me launch this verse book and I was going from city to city again, just sharing the message, getting on some local TV shows of you radio shows. Everywhere I went we were doing an events in libraries or a coffee shops, some universities, but it wasn’t very promising. The most people we have were a hundred people in Des Moines, Iowa, and they thought Jeff Gordon was coming. That’s why they showed up.
Well, I mean, we’ll take it, we’ll take it if you buy some books, like give me a car.
So I get home from that and that’s when you know, again, I put everything I had and it was exhausting and I was tired and I didn’t know if the book was going to do well or not, but I knew that I just went out there and I gave everything. I had to share the message in this book. And that’s what began this journey. That was now 2007 next thing you know, Jack del Rio gets a copy. The coach of the Jaguars, he reads it. I get a call from him out of the blue, he wants me to come meet with him. I go meet with him. He asked me to speak to his team. I was fired up. I said, I’ll speak to your team if you get everyone a copy of the book. I was really bold. I just said it like that. He said, I’ll get everyone a copy. But you got it. He did spoke to the team and that began this journey of all these sports team started to read the book and use it with their team.
Wow. So I mean a lot of this stories interesting like a lot of these early speaking gigs and even Daniel, it’s people close to you. Like you were, you were leveraged, like people close to you or helping you. You were hustling, you were sending out messages like you were doing. All that stuff is. Um, so, so when you, so you went and spoke. So was that, would you say that was like your big break or did you, did you have a moment that was like, let me, cause that’s a lot of hustle. Like in your story, very, very similar to two hours and and to a lot of people, I think you know this, this, we’re interviewing lots of people in a similar story. Was there a moment where you had like a big break, like a big breakthrough?
It wasn’t one moment. It was a series of moments because a TV show or radio show would lead to a speaking engagement. We’re a school district reaching out from that tour. I went on principal, a principal saw me and invited me to speak to their school. A business person saw me. Next thing you know, I’m speaking Adele. So it was one thing after another of people seeing you in one place. I tell people all the time, you gotta get out there and do it. I called the big guy years ago before they were great summits like this and I said, hey, I want to be a speaker. What should I do? His name was ed foreman. Ed Foreman said, speak, speak everywhere and anywhere. The more you do it, the better you get, the more people will hear your message and it will spread from there.
If it’s good. And so I knew I just needed to get out there and speak and I want to tell people that’s what you gotta do. Don’t worry about making a lot of money early on. Don’t worry about your wall. I have this value. Go do everything you can early on because you need exposure. Yeah, people need to hear your words and your message. And the way people get booked is through people seeing them or hearing about them or hearing them on a TV show or radio. That’s how it happens. Now with social media, it’s about people seeing you on social media. You know you’re a speaker, you put a video up, you share, hey, I’m interested in doing speaking engagements. Let me know if, if you like to have come speak. There’s a lot of ways to do that now, but you have to put yourself out there and just get out there. As you create the demand, your price will go up as more and more people want to book.
So can you, so talk to me about social media a little bit because I think there’s a lot of speakers who you kind of come from the old school and, and, and this, you know, it’s a lot of, uh, like they’re speaking a lot. They’re kind of hall of Famers, they’ve had solid careers and it seems like now the big trend is a lot of the people who are getting the big speaking engagements are the ones with the big social media following. And, and you do both, like you have a, you have a very large social media following. Um, which clearly is something that you kinda like built along the way. But what, what is your attitude about social media or your mindset or like how do you use it? How do you use it to get speeches to sell books? Like do you not really ever mention that and you just try to provide value or like what’s your whole overall philosophy or strategy with how to use it?
Yeah, I think you’ve got to use every medium possible to promote yourself and what you do. And so I don’t have a huge following on Instagram. Only say 40,000 people. And some might say that’s pretty good, but not compared to a lot of people who have hundreds of thousands, if not millions. There’s a lot of big Instagram names out there that maybe they’re getting some gigs, I don’t know. But I believe that the more you can build your platform with sharing value, providing value to people, sharing tips, sharing advice, really sharing the message that you know you want to share an and and creating bite sized chunks so that people can digest it so that you can give them little tips here and there. A lot of people who are doing this in a, in a, in a great way, Lewis Howes, right Bey Dros is doing a great job with this other people in social media doing a great job.
And so you’re just sharing a lot of good tips and a lot of value. People naturally gravitate towards you, but those people may not necessarily go to events, they may not hire speakers. So there’s a combination that has to happen here of the social media. But then also you have to be seen as someone who can be brought into these corporate events, to these business events, which I know you do a lot of, and I did 86 events last year. I did probably 90 something the year before. I make over $1 million every year in speaking, and I’m not saying that to brag on myself, but over the years of being heard and being hired and then people reading my books and then see on social media, it all contributes to it. Some people seem me on social media and they see a clip, they get interested. Some people now read a book and they want me to come speak.
So again, there’s going to be a lot of of ways that you’re brought to the event, but by providing yourself, by putting yourself out there, by providing value, that’s how you’re going to get gigs. I’m a big believer in showing clips of you speaking and Keith Johnson does a great job of this. I show a lot of clips, little clips where you providing value, you’re sharing a message and people can see that on social media. I believe you should say, hey, just spoke to so-and-so today and you show a picture of you speaking to so and so. So people know this person is a speaker. Cause a lot of times you may be a social media personality, you may have a great book, but people don’t even know that you speak. I get that all the time. People say like you do speaking engagements, I, I cracked up when I get that this book or Hey, um, can you do this event? We have $500 Oh you know, I’m not $500 anymore but I can provide you with a $500 speaker who is part of my team. And now I have some younger people who I’m mentoring and I am helping them get out there sharing their message.
Is that probably that the primary way you monetize? I mean, so you, you, you like your business model. Just it, if you look at the various revenue streams, cause you know, some people are probably watching a thing going, yeah, you know what? Like I don’t think I want to be a speaker. You know, I got really young kids. I don’t want to be on the road or or whatever. But it, is that the primary way that you generate revenue?
For me it is. For me it’s speaking. It’s also writing books and my royalties, which I get a significant amount of royalties. I’ve been fortunate that way where that’s a revenue stream for me. I didn’t start writing books to make money. I didn’t think I would make as much as I’m making over the years with writing books. It’s a blessing. But the speaking is what I’ll do no matter what. Like I just love doing it. I’m building a training that we have consulting. There’ll be a point where I don’t need to speak up. I don’t want to, I actually don’t need to do. I could probably do half of the event. So if I ever have that I do. But why do I do more? Cause this is what I’m called to do because I love to do this. If you’re not called to do it, maybe you just love the social media part.
Well good. And then you’re more of a media type personality. And then what you’ll do as a mastermind where you’ll provide an online university, an online school, some other way to monetize a podcast that makes money. There’s different revenue streams down for people. This just happens to be mine where you’re like, we have positive university as a podcast, which I can’t wait to have you on. But in terms of of that, we’re not looking to monetize with that. We’re looking to provide value with that. If something comes from it. Great. Our newsletter over 200,000 subscribers now started with five. We never monetize that in terms of sponsorships or anything like that. But we share my books in it. We share their trainings where we have upcoming. So in a way it is monetized. But again, the goal was to always provide value and now you look back and go, Oh wow, we were doing something smart and didn’t even know we were doing that. But that’s, we were doing.
Yeah, I that so, well that’s interesting to see how it’s all sort of grown. Is, is so, so talk to me about, you know, we, we study reputation, right? Like that’s what we have now set at brand builders group is like it’s really reputation strategy and I think, you know, building a personal brand as sort of somebody who wants to monetize their reputation. How do you think this, this kind of this work of like developing your speaking skills and your writing skills, how do you think that applies to the corporate world? Like indeed, do you think it’s important for like corporate executives and people that sort of have a social media presence this day? Like even if they don’t want to be an author or speaker or, or do you think now it’s not really, you know, if you’re like a corporate person, they’re not really doing it. I mean just this more of just, I’m just interested in your opinion about how you know, social media clearly as a part of our profession and our industry, do you feel like it is trickling in a significant way into like the regular corporate career and that like a corporate career person should be building their sort of personal brand and following? Or do you think it’s really just for the person who says like, you know, I want to spend my life like being a messenger sort of a thing?
Great question. You know, I believe we all have a presence now online and it’s about wherever you want to take that presence and share that presence. So some people won’t go on Twitter, they have no interest in Twitter, but maybe they’ll post on Instagram or linkedin. Everyone’s on Linkedin in the corporate world now. So in a way you develop a presence that way. So I really do think it depends on what you want to do. I know a lot of football coaches who are in the media all the time, but they don’t have social media presence, social media presence. Sean McVey, who’s 33 doesn’t have a social media private presence online. He’s not into it. And so it just depends for each person. I don’t think it’s necessary, but it just depends on what you want to build and what you’re here to create an and what you want to share.
Pete Carroll is very big on social media, always engaging with the fans that way. Some people do not want to do that in the corporate world. You have to be careful, right? Because what you share on social media, you can come back to bite you. So you want to make sure whatever it is you’re doing on social media, why am I on here? What message do I want to share? Like what’s the medium in terms of that that I’m going to use and, and then what message you want to share with that medium. And I think it’s important to understand like the purpose of why you’re on the first place. Would you want to do with it? Who Do you want to reach and the impact that you want to have. But I don’t believe it can hurt you if you’d do it the right way. I believe that can only help you if you build a presence and a reputation. Your social media shouldn’t be a conduit for your reputation to reach the world.
Hm. Yeah. Amen. So, um, alright, so, so w w w one, one little thing. I got one last sort of question before I asked you that though. What do you, um, like is there any, any where should people go to connect with you to like learn more about John Gordon and you know, what’s the best way for them to hook up with you?
John gordon.com is probably the best way. My website junk. We’re not Khan, but Instagram and Twitter, I need more followers on Instagram. So at Jon Gordon 11 at j o n Gord 11 Twitter is the same thing at Jon Gordon 11.
Okay. And so here’s the last, my last little thing, John is, so going, going back to let’s say like 2005, like some of those dark moment where you’re like, I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to build this brand. I’m not sure if this is really, you know, your wife is like, oh my gosh, what are we doing it w w what piece of advice would you give to somebody who is like in that moment right now, sort of experiencing that self doubt or not having the win or just, you know, they feel the calling, but like the results aren’t there yet. And is there anything that you kind of either wish you would’ve known then that you know now or anything that you would say directly to that person out there with, with the dream who’s like walking through that valley right now?
First and foremost, it’s gotta be driven by your purpose. We don’t get burned out because of what we do. We get burned out because we forget why we do it. So you have to have a why in this. Your purpose must be greater than your challenges. So what is your vision? What is it that you want to create and why do you want to create? What is your purpose for doing this? It can’t be, I just want to have a great brand. I want to be famous because that doesn’t last. You will face adversity, you will face negativity and setbacks, but your belief, your positive energy, your faith and your purpose must be greater than all the challenges. Again, this is stuff that I share with everyone, but especially if you truly believe you have something to share and you know that you can make a difference, I believe you have an obligation to get out there and share it because people can benefit if they don’t hear it from you because you will say it in a unique way that hasn’t been said like that before.
They haven’t been, they haven’t heard it in that way before. You know, Rory, your message may be similar to mine, but the way you say it, the way you convey it, there’ll be people who resonate more with you than with me and vice versa. That’s the way it is. That’s why there’s a lot of different stations on the radio. It’s about sharing it in the way that you feel called the share it and people receive it. So I believe that you just have to persevere, fight through it, and understand that it’s going to take a lot of grit. And what is grit? It is driven by love. It is fueled by optimism and belief. It’s inspired by vision and purpose, right? And ultimately there are times when you want to give up, but it’s also revived by resilience and kept alive by good old fashioned stubbornness and a desire to prove oneself and also a fear of failure that continues to drive you. So if you’re afraid, let that be a good fear that continues to propel you forward. So you don’t want to fail, but don’t allow the fear to consume. You know that the love of what you’re doing and the love and the purpose that you have for sharing it and making a difference, that’s really the greater energy that will take you forward.
I love it. Well, John Gordon, my friend, my brother, I’m so glad you made the journey and thank you for sharing Sharon, a little bit of the history here and we just, we appreciate you and your work. Um, so much so. Thank you for the encouragement,
Roy. Thanks for having me. And you know what? It’s easy to talk about this now, right? I always try to put myself into position of what was I thinking then? What was it like then? Because you look at us now, we’ve had successful books. I’ve sold 4 million copies, I think over a million a year speaking. I never thought I’d beat to this. Wait, but to that person that’s starting out, you have to have the vision, the belief that it’s possible. So I was trying to think about, did I ever expect this? No. And that’s the thing. You don’t expect it. You just gotta show up every day and do the work.