Today's guest is entrepreneur, keynote speaker, and unapologetic Canadian, Scott Stratten, who explains how his biggest mistake drove a mind-bogglingly successful viral video production company into bankruptcy--and how he pivoted back into success.
You can find this and other episodes of the Professional Confessional podcast at PC-Podcast.com or on your preferred podcasting platform of choice.
Do you want to come on and share your biggest professional mistake? Head to PC-Podcast.com/BeOurGuest to schedule your professional confessional.
In the meantime, please share this episode with someone you think needs to hear this today -- and share what you needed to hear in a review! The more often we rate and review our favorite podcasts, the more people will find out about our community and the more episodes I can make.
That's all for this Professional Confessional. I'm Ashley Stryker. Thanks again for tuning in, and I hope you'll join us next time. Talk soon!
Ashley Stryker [00:00:07] Welcome to the Professional Confessional: How the biggest professional mistakes we've ever made fundamentally changed our work, our careers and our approach forever. Gain wisdom and perspective through these audio absolutions.
Ashley Stryker [00:00:21] Today's guest is entrepreneur, keynote speaker, and unapologetic Canadian, Scott Stratten, who explains how his biggest mistake drove a mind-bogglingly successful viral video production company into bankruptcy--and how he pivoted back into success.
Scott Stratten [00:00:42] In the 2000s -- in the mid-2000's -- I ended up running one of the most successful viral video companies in the world. It just happened to work out that way.
Scott Stratten [00:00:51] My biggest mistake that I did back then, and I also did a few years ago, was... I really can sum it up with, I lost my curiosity. Because complacency is what the mistake is, but my signal for that is losing my curiosity.
Scott Stratten [00:01:08] So I'm running this viral video company. I have to do barely anything for it now. I have a staff. I have I have the results. I have a high margin product.
Scott Stratten [00:01:18] And I pretty much played Xbox for three years--and loved it. I found the secret to it, but then the recession hit and I was bankrupt. And that's my biggest business mistake as an entrepreneur -- was not seeing the signal. Because once I lose my curiosity, I lose my passion.
Ashley Stryker [00:01:40] Did you know that before?
Scott Stratten [00:01:43] Umm a year ago, that's when I realized where my signal was. Because I lost my curiosity a few years ago as well.
Scott Stratten [00:01:48] I got to the top of the heap in speaking -- in my level, I'm not the top of the heap in speaking in general, but in business-speaking, I'm at a level of non celebrity that I always wanted to achieve. And then you just kind of rest on your laurels type of thing.
Scott Stratten [00:02:03] And it's not about curiosity, meaning hustling and always doing business and always doing stuff. It means that if I claim I'm an expert in marketing, then shouldn't I have a curiosity of all things marketing coming up?
Scott Stratten [00:02:13] And the problem is we get to a point, whether it's age, whether it's accomplishments that we're like, now we've turned the corner. And now, our only job is to tell people what we think versus listen -- versus pursue things and go down those Wikipedia or YouTube rabbit holes of curiosity. Because, you know ... reading books, like what? Why would I read a marketing book? We've written six. You know what I mean?
Scott Stratten [00:02:38] So it's kind of the complacency plus arrogance equals curiosity is non-existent. And I'm also not as a good a human that way. That curiosity means I'm interested. I want to find out what other people think.
Scott Stratten [00:02:51] And I had a very long time there where I didn't want to know because almost my entire career -- to be honest? -- is me giving my opinion. My consulting, coaching, speaking author, podcasting, posting, content marketing -- I'm brought in for my opinion. And also, I never get checked. I can just say crap and walk away.
Scott Stratten [00:03:11] And, that's just not the way...it's not good for anything or anybody. Certainly shows confidence in things. But there's a fine line between confidence and arrogance. And I err more into the arrogance than I admit sometimes. And I'm trying to really correct that.
Ashley Stryker [00:03:25] When you lost your curiosity and you realized that you were becoming complacent, what was the risk? So you realized that during the pandemic a year ago, you say -- what was the risk that you had if you continued to be complacent? What was the risk from a business perspective?
Scott Stratten [00:03:39] Well, from a business perspective, it would be the same thing again, which is not seeing trends, not seeing where markets are going where.
Scott Stratten [00:03:45] Because for me, if I was focusing in the 2000s, I would have known that the market for a glorified slideshow with stock music and photography was drying up, because the automation software and the algorithm and AI could do it easily as well now. And I wasn't looking for that, because we were the top company in the world.
Scott Stratten [00:04:04] I wasn't looking for...I wasn't looking at strategy. I wasn't looking at where do we go next? And if you're an entrepreneur, you're the leader of your company -- even if it's a company of one -- if you are a person in management or leadership in a company, then a huge chunk of your job is supposed to be looking forward and looking where to steer the ship.
Scott Stratten [00:04:22] And I didn't care where the ship was going. I just liked the cruise.
Scott Stratten [00:04:27] I've never been that person to have quarterly goals and annual goals, and I never -- I don't have that type of brain that way. But I also know when I'm in the groove, when I'm focused -- when I'm doing it right and well -- I can come up with some pretty cool stuff and some pretty stuff that's compelling and resonates with people.
Scott Stratten [00:04:48] But I also... like today, this isn't about, "OK, I wanted to drive so I can keep doing business." It's about looking forward to say, "Hey, do what we have right now -- is it going to be sustainable?"
Scott Stratten [00:04:58] Like in the past 17 months, right? Our main driver of revenue is me flying somewhere and going on stage. I did 60 to 70 keynotes for ten years from 2010 to 2020. And, that's a pretty good sign, because once you get to that level, then it's just word of mouth; it's just referrals.
Scott Stratten [00:05:18] And to the point where you look at it and say now, like... I need to be able to make sure that, is this sustainable for us, what else could we do?
Scott Stratten [00:05:26] But when I'm not curious and want, I'm just caught up in how great either I am or how it's going. You don't create a succession plan for your yourself, your company or anything else.
Scott Stratten [00:05:37] And, I just think that if you still want to... once you kind of ignite that curiosity again, it changes things for everybody.
Scott Stratten [00:05:44] And, this is not just a business thing. This is a life thing for me at this point -- is understanding that I want to be more curious about my country of Canada and our origins and where it went. I want to be more curious about what our kids are doing and and get even more into it. So, it's more of a life thing.
Scott Stratten [00:06:03] Because I don't buy into the separation of business and life, when people say, "It's just business; it's not personal." Everything to me is personal because the business is us, and it's ours, and there's no such thing as business not being personal to me.
Ashley Stryker [00:06:14] How have you then sought to correct your mistake of complacency, deliberately, when you realized it?
Scott Stratten [00:06:22] What I did was, I removed almost everything around me that was a distraction or noise. I [had] created a bunch of things, and I ran different communities to the old fat guy softball league in town -- you know, us 40 year olds trying to relive our glory. And, from running this to running running that and -- you open it up and say, "So these are taking up emotional space or mental space to me. But, it feels good because I'm leading it. I'm running it. And nobody else wanted to do it for this or this."
Scott Stratten [00:06:50] And so... I'm talking to my therapist. (Therapy, by the way, is one of the greatest things in history I've found, and I should have found it twenty years ago.) But one of the things the therapist did for me, which was incredible, was put it in perspective, which was ... Because one of my things [is] I want to help. I want to do things, but I also want to run things.
Scott Stratten [00:07:05] And she says, "Is one of the reasons why you want to help or do these things -- is one of the reasons, not the whole reason, but because you think you can do it best?"
Scott Stratten [00:07:12] And I'm like, "You....!" I think you have a point to quote James Kastor, the great comedian from the UK: "Never in my life have been so upset with something I 100% agreed with." And that's where he realizing it.
Scott Stratten [00:07:25] So, am I matching my priorities that I have in my head to my actions? And if my priority is, family, if my priority is Alison [Stratten], who's who's not only my business partner and the coauthor of the books, but luckily for me, my wife? (We have five kids. We combined families about seven years ago and we have incredible group here.)
Scott Stratten [00:07:45] -- And they're the ones I want to spend the most time for and with. And I can do that. I don't have to fill my plate with a lot of other things.
Scott Stratten [00:07:53] And then, I have time to do the things I want to be able to do and the things I think I will be enjoyable for both parties -- like doing this [interview] right now! But this allows it to do that. And I think I'm much different because I'm not trying to fit this interview in, if that makes sense. I'm like, "This will work, I want to do it, and I'll enjoy it" versus being in an airport trying to find a quiet corner and doing the thing I'm supposed to do, because that's what I'm supposed to do.
Scott Stratten [00:08:17] And I I'm not supposed to do anything at this point. I'm supposed to do what we think -- what Alison and I think as a family -- that is a right for us and for the children, and then for the community and for your friends, and that circle expands out. But I never want to contradict the inner circle for the outer circles. And that's just kind of the way I look at it now.
Scott Stratten [00:08:36] And this past year and a half is really giving me time and perspective and change. And it's been the Great Pause. I haven't been home for any extended length of time since the kids were born. My job has been on the road a lot of times and I can't -- before all this, I had to go to the stage. And this has been a great time and great pause to understand, "Yeah, I dig this. I dig being here, and this is the life I want."
Ashley Stryker [00:09:01] How can somebody else tell if they're committing the mistake of complacency? You think, oh, well -- at what point do you think... what flag should people be looking out for regardless of whether they own their own viral marketing company or just are your Joe Schmo in the cubicle? What do they risk if they stay complacent? When can they tell they're being complacent?
Scott Stratten [00:09:21] I think I think everybody knows when they've lost passion for something. And I don't -- I'm not a person that says... I really don't believe in the thing where, "If you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life." I don't buy that at all, because I also don't buy that your passion has to be your business. I don't think you have to monetize everything. I don't have to think you have to hustle everything. I don't think you have to do those type of things, for me.
Scott Stratten [00:09:44] But I think you feel when you've lost that that spark, that flame inside you, to do something. But I think one of the biggest things to understand is think of yourself, when somebody ...
Scott Stratten [00:09:55] If somebody's talking, are you waiting for your turn to talk, or are you listening to what they're saying? And if you're a leader in a company, in a business, in an org chart that ... A leader is not a title; leading is a verb. And I think John Maxwell was the one who first put that out, but it was "Leading as a verb, and you're a manager by title."
Scott Stratten [00:10:17] And people have to do what you say, but they don't have to follow you. They don't have to follow your leadership. And that's where I came down. Are you a leader by title, or by testimonial? Meaning, are you leading because you're the director of something? Or, if you ask the people that worked for you to give you a testimonial... How many how many LinkedIn testimonials do you have from your people who worked under you that you did not ask for?
Scott Stratten [00:10:40] We don't want to admit where we have a hole or a weakness or whatnot, nor did I. And so, I can't sit here and say just because I'm reborn in my thinking, I can't just turn around...
Scott Stratten [00:10:50] It's like that person who quit smoking yesterday, it's just like, "Oh, that's disgusting."
Scott Stratten [00:10:54] "Like, dude, yesterday I bummed a smoke off you."
Scott Stratten [00:10:57] Like, it's not the way this works, right? So you don't want to.... I have to be careful with that, too. Look, I really think you know, in your gut, your heart, that something is missing -- whether it's that lack of passion.
Scott Stratten [00:11:11] I love passion and whether it's my own self-driven passion for something or, like, I love witnessing passion for a craft, an art or performance -- it's why I love seeing performers on any level. I don't care if you're your Yo-Yo Ma. I don't care if you're Cirque de Soleil. I don't care if you're Slipknot. When a performance with passion, when somebody is giving their all? I resonate with that. And the problem is we lose a lot of that through time and work.
Scott Stratten [00:11:38] I remember my first day out of college, I worked my first job was working at Goodwill Toronto. I was in H.R. (I went to college for H.R., if you can believe that!) And I went to the job and I'm just giddy. I'm working a job. I don't have a punch clock. I don't have a name tag. I'm working white-collar in an office just like my dad thought I was going to. And I'm going to go up the corporate ladder.
Scott Stratten [00:12:02] My first day, and I'm just giddy. I'm just bouncing down the hall and walk by someone. Somebody's like, "What are you so happy about?"
Scott Stratten [00:12:09] I'm just like, "I'm working. This is cool!"
Scott Stratten [00:12:12] And she just looks at me and goes, "That'll change. That'll change."
Scott Stratten [00:12:20] And I'm like, oh, damn, like, where did I sign on to work, here? And I realize it was the great kind of soul sucking type of thing, and it just it doesn't have to be that way; we do it to each other.
Scott Stratten [00:12:33] Corporate culture doesn't exist. There's no such thing as corporate culture. It's the people you have there and what they're like. Corporate culture is just a way to remove blame from humans, especially leaders, and say, "Well, this is our culture."
Scott Stratten [00:12:48] It's also a good excuse to not hire somebody you don't like -- "Well, you won't fit our culture." It's how we it's how we act towards each other. And we all have a part in that.
Ashley Stryker [00:12:57] So Scott's biggest mistake was his lack of professional curiosity and overconfidence in his approach and product that left him blind to industry updates and progress. Ultimately, his loss of curiosity led to the bankruptcy of his previously successful video business in 2008 and the complete erasure of his speaking gigs during the Covid pandemic a decade later.
Ashley Stryker [00:13:19] On realizing his mistake, Scott eliminated distractions that only reinforced his error of self-admitted arrogance and proactively sought out opportunities which forced him to learn new things and make time for what really mattered -- personally and professionally. Professional enthusiasm was key.
Ashley Stryker [00:13:38] Today, Scott Stratten is resuming his keynote speaking engagements -- though on a greatly reduced schedule by design -- and experimenting with new platforms, including video-on-demand courses and live LinkedIn webcasts under his Unmarketing brand. You can find out more about Scott on Unmarketing.com, through any of his six business books coauthored with his wife Allison, and on Twitter @Unmarketing.
Ashley Stryker [00:14:02] And you can find this and other episodes of the Professional Confessional podcast at PC-Podcast.com or on your preferred podcasting platform of choice.
Do you want to come on and share your biggest professional mistake? Head to PC-Podcast.com/BeOurGuest to schedule your professional confessional. Again, that's PC-Podcast.com/BeOurGuest.
In the meantime, please share this episode with someone you think needs to hear this today -- and share what you needed to hear in a review! The more often we rate and review our favorite podcasts, the more people will find out about our community and the more episodes I can make. When we reach twenty five reviews, I promise, we'll vote on a special edition deep-dive into a major mistake in history that is still relevant and affects how we do business today.
Anyway, that's all for this Professional Confessional. I'm Ashley Stryker. Thanks again for tuning in, and I hope you'll join us next time. Talk soon!