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About Nathan Johnson

Nathan Johnson - About Me On January 31st, 1983, I was born in Winter Park, Florida. I was a fighter, which is good because my first year of life  I was always in battle with one ailment or another –  including food poisoning and a hernia (unrelated). To this day, I’m convinced this irrevocably stunted my full growth potential and shattered my dream of making it big in the NBA (or, for that matter, becoming a starter on a low-to-mid-level high-school basketball team).

From an early age, I understood the power of marketing – especially the power of positioning. Positioning just means being different than the other competitors in your category. In my case, let’s call the category “my siblings” and my position “the troublemaker.” This worked perfectly at attracting attention since my three siblings were all so well-behaved.  I made an effort to be consistent in living into my positioning as a trouble maker, and was quite successful.  So much so that  my mom once scheduled a whole day to do nothing but discipline me. No joke. She planned it in advance. Set aside a whole day. Even got extra sleep the night before just to have extra energy to continuously punish me all day long.

Mostly though, I just remember my childhood being fun – filled with adventure and imagination and possibilities. Oh, and nudity. Judging by the photo albums, I don’t think I was clothed until the age of 5 or so, which is pretty standard in Florida.

Good business genes run in my blood. My dad is an independent financial consultant. He started his own business over a decade ago and it is still thriving. His dad started up a hugely successful construction company in Jacksonville, Florida. And my Mom’s Dad is a brilliant engineer. Don’t believe me? Check out this patent he got in 1977 for some kind of multiple source tracking missile system. I have no idea what that is, but I’m impressed.

Early Career Lessons

The first job I remember was my weekly allowance. Make no mistake. In the Johnson family, you had to EARN your allowance.

Here’s how it worked: At the beginning of each week, five dollars in all dimes were placed into a glass jar. Each “misbehavior” throughout the week resulted in the loss of one dime. At the end of the week, everyone kept whatever dimes were left in his or her jar.

This system worked great for my three siblings, who consistently retained almost 100% of their dimes each week.  For me though, the system was a disaster. I actually lost money each week (which I didn’t even realize was possible). Eventually, I had to dip into my “Christmas savings fund” to settle my debt, which was a devastating financial loss for a five year old, and nearly bankrupted me. In retrospect, though, paying a dime for misbehaving was probably a bargain.

 K-12

Alright. I’m going to let you in on a secret. I was home schooled. I don’t tell this to a lot of people right off the bat. I’d rather let them get to know me first before coming out of the home-school closet. Which I mean quite literally. I did most of my school work literally inside my bedroom closet.

Ok. That part isn’t true. But I do feel that many people have weird associations with homeschooling. Which may be justified. I’m known some pretty weird home-schoolers myself. All I can speak to is my own experience as a homeschooler.

Before I started homeschooling, I spent kindergarden and first grade in a private school. The environment there made me feel completed confined. I couldn’t sit still. I exhausted myself trying to keep quiet and act “well-behaved.” I nearly wet my pants one day in kindergarden because I didn’t want to interrupt my teacher (who fortunately noticed I was grabbing my crotch, and excused me). Needless to say, I had a headache after school every day.

Homeschooling liberated me. My mom knew I could actually learn better while I was jumping up and down on the couch or hanging upside down on the monkey bars than I could in the classroom. The headaches went away and I starting enjoying learning. And when I started enjoying learning, it didn’t feel like work anymore, and I started doing well. I took the College SAT in 5th grade, and scored better than the average High School senior. And in high school, I did well enough on my tests to get paid to go to college. And this is really a testament more to my parents than it is to anything I did.

Yes, I had a good work ethic, but I never killed myself studying. In fact, most days I was done with school by NOON. I mean, I was completely done. No more school work for the day. No homework late at night. Nothing. This was a big lesson to me – that when you cut out all of the extraneous stuff that happens in a typical school setting, it’s amazing how much you can get done! In a lot of ways, its the same model I’m trying to follow now. Cut out distractions. Be intentional at the task at hand. And eventually, it will free me up to pursue other things.

The College Years

A lot of people ask what the transition was like from being home schooled to going to the University of Florida. Was I shell-shocked? How did I manage?

The transition wasn’t hard at all. I was already used to having a ton of freedom with how I spent my time each day. I knew how to study on my own without supervision. And I enjoyed learning new things.

My concentrations were Marketing with a minor in Mandarin Chinese. Of these two, the marketing concentration is easier to explain. I wanted to get the concentration that I thought would be the most useful training for entrepreneurship. Between Finance, Management, and Marketing, the decision for me was easy. Finance is incredibly important, but I didn’t feel it was creative enough to prepare me for the creation act of entrepreneurship. I’m convinced that “management” as a concentration is completely made up. Its just a default for people who don’t really want to pick anything. Marketing was just the right mix of everything for me. Part creative. Part analytical. 100% kick-ass.

The Chinese minor is a little harder to explain. Part of the reason is that I went on a trip to China right before going to college, and loved it! Part of it was that I knew China would soon be the next business super-power. A lot of it was that it just sounded like fun to learn. Unfortunately, I haven’t kept up with practicing my Chinese. The little that I remember is just enough for party tricks and surprising Chinese people in elevators.

My First Venture

The summer of my Sophomore year, Home Imaging Solutions was started partly for fun, partly out of desperation. When my plan to go to Shanghai was cancelled because of SARs (thanks Al Gore!), there wasn’t time for me to get an internship. And I didn’t want to work at Burger King.

What exactly was Home Image Solutions? Well, I took an inventory of what I had at the time – a computer, a video camera, and a bedroom in Orlando – and did a brainstorm of what I could do with those things. The best idea I had was to make digital home inventories for friends and family in Florida and put them on DVD. The DVD could then be stored in a safety deposit box and easily retrieved if there were any disaster (like an annual hurricane).

It was a solid idea, but I knew that it was only for a few months, since I would be going back to school. And I didn’t want to make a career out of it. So I didn’t invest enough time or resources to really get any momentum going. But I did earn pretty good money, and even better experience through the whole process.

My First Taste of Corporate America

The next summer, I wanted to diversify my experience and have something more “corporate” on my resume, so I took an internship with Kraft in their sales department. The job description sounded amazing. But the work itself turned out to be not so amazing. Here’s a typical day: I would wake up at 5:00am, drive an hour to a Publix Grocery Story, and then rearrange waffle fries in the freezer section all morning. I didn’t have gloves (living in Florida, why would I?) and so my hands would be blue and completely numb by the end. This just reinforced to me that I wanted to be the guy making the decision of where the waffle fries should go, rather than being the guy who had to go and actually move them around. Better to be the brains of the organization than the feet.

Corporate All The Way

When I was graduating from college, there was only one job that I wanted. It was a brand marketing program with a top “Consumer Package Goods” company. This job was literally one in a million. There are only a handful of top CPG marketing companies out there, and 95% of them only hire out of MBA schools, not undergrad. So there are maybe 10 spots like this in the entire country. I stupidly decided that this was the only job I would apply for. If I didn’t get it, I was meant to either start something myself, or go straight into an MBA program.

After what seemed like 12 rounds of interviews, I got the job. I don’t think anyone was happier than my parents, who realized this meant that I would not be moving back home with them.

And then…

Well, I could write whole books with stories of  the 6 years that followed. I could tell you about my first boss resigning just a month into my first role, and the surprising ways that opened opportunities for me. Or about how I ended up staying in Philadelphia when I was supposed to go to Jacksonville. Or about how an ad-libbed joke helped us make a difficult new product sell-in. Maybe one day I will.

But for now it is enough to say that I was extremely blessed to have the opportunity to work with some of the most talented and gifted people in the industry, and to work on some great brands. In the process, I’ve had quite an education, too. All together, I got to spend over $375 MILLION in marketing dollars, and the brands I worked on through the years collectively generated more than $1.4 BILLION in revenue.

A New Life

And that brings us to today. When I resigned from my job [just a few weeks ago as of the published date], it was to set out on an experiment in entrepreneurship. And the experiment is this: that if I apply myself with the same rigor and passion in pursuit of my own wealth generation that I have pursued to date for corporations, then I will ultimately become more successful. At this moment, though, success is not a foregone conclusion. Today, I am making zero dollars. All I have is everything I’ve learned through the years, the support of my wife and the encouragement of you – my friends, family, and fellow entrepreneurs.

I’m incredibly excited about what the future holds, and I’m glad you’ve decided to come along on the journey! I have a lot to learn from each of you, so I really appreciate your participation in my life and your comments.

Stay tuned my friends…

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KEEP READING

The First 30 Days Is Your Business Planking? 5 Reasons for Entrepreneurs to Skip Business School 

LEAVE A COMMENT

What are your earliest “career” memories?  What would you do if you had a shot to start your own company? Any questions that you’ve always wanted to ask a real home schooler, but were too afraid?

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Loc Van August 12, 2011 at 11:24 am

Thanks for sharing so much Nathan. Your charm spills thru in your words. I can’t wait to see what happens next for you.

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Karyn Childs August 12, 2011 at 7:37 pm

Hey Nate,

Congrats on an awesome blog and vision. My only advice would be to continue to think with your heart (as you clearly are) and have your main goal as ‘To make a difference’ rather than ‘To make money’. I love this time of awareness and knowing what feels right. I’m ooking forward to following your journey.

Kia kaha.

Karyn

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Nathan Johnson August 12, 2011 at 11:03 pm

Karyn – thanks for your kind words! I really appreciate the good advice. I think it is easy to look primarily at money as the measure of how successful or unsuccessful I am, but you are right! Making a difference is ultimately the measure of success in a person’s career or life.. and it leads to greater joy, too! I’m excited to see what the future has in store for you in your new endeavorers as well… I really believe that you will make a differences in the lives of LOTS of people!
-Nathan

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Karyn Childs August 12, 2011 at 7:39 pm

Hey not only am I ooking forward I’m also looking forward lol

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Mark Childs August 14, 2011 at 6:58 am

Hey Nathan

My awesome Sis posted your link on FB, great blog mate, I love it when people like you have the courage and insight to pull yourself from what seems like a ”comfortable” situation to then make a difference to the world. You sure are showing some gonads (Kiwi slang for the testie). And also, I have witnessed some superb planking in our parts as of late, I’ll try and get some evidence to you, some solid technique is on show down under!! Once again, nice read and keep up the great work.

All the best.

Mark

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Connie Fitzmartin August 15, 2011 at 11:04 am

Hey Nathan! I’m so proud of you starting your own business. I’m confident that you’ll be incredibly successful.

I liked what you said in one of your articles about concentration. Focus is definitely key. When I trained for the Disney Marathon I learned the power of focus. It’s like a laser beam that will cut through anything–sickness, laziness, bills, other people, etc. You are very wise to embrace the lack of meaningless trivialities from a job and instead focus on the goal.

I’m excited to follow your process!!

Blessings,

Connie

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Tom Fitzmartin August 15, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Nathan,

Just wanted to express how disappointed I was not to receive a mention on the “good business genes” list, nevermind the small detail of not actually being a member of your gene pool.

This, of course, forces me to threaten to reveal childhood tales of embarrassing exploits known only to a few. We’ll talk later.

Congratulations on your bold experiment. Connie and I have all the confidence in the world that your success, which will be huge, will not change either your character, which is excellent and your outlook, which is wonderful (and contagious).

Regards,

Tom

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Matt Poli August 16, 2011 at 5:57 am

It takes balls to play tennis, way to go Nathan, Good Luck!
“Jimmy” says hello look him up next time your in Hawaii.

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Nathan Johnson August 17, 2011 at 10:30 am

JIMMY!!! What is he doing in Hawaii?

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Hollis August 17, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Grandpa has a patent? Hmm… doesn’t surprise me. And OMG, i knew you were my favorite cousin when your family came to visit ours when we lived in Arkansas. You kicked your mom (not hard, but it certainly shocked everyone in the room) because she wouldn’t allow you to do something-or-other. Her jaw dropped. And then she asked, quite calmly “Nathan, did you just kick Mommy?!?” I thought to myself, “OMG, i’m going to see a kid get killed today.” You didn’t answer, and everyone waited silently. You dad approached, and with a level of calm, cool-headedness i’ve never seen in my own father, he repeated the question, more slowly. “Nathan… did you just kick Mommy?” …and then it came. You bellowed, “YES I DID AND I HURT MY TOE!!!” …and then nothing. It was like… you’d won, and my world shifted. No one knew what to do, so no one did anything. I think your dad might have said something or other about that “not being very nice,” but seriously, you became my hero that day. I did wonder at your ability to “position yourself” as you say, to be not only noticed, but get your way simply by acting as no one else had ever acted before. …i’m sad to admit, the same tactic failed miserably for me when i tried it out myself. Further proof it’s not originality, but the unexpected nature of the action that wins. Once you did it, i was merely a bad copy cat, and i got my butt beat. LOL. :)

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