I’ve found that the difference between successful entrepreneurs and everyone else is that they don’t hesitate to try out their ideas.
Anthony Johnson is the founder and CEO of American Injury Attorney Group, a company committed to raising awareness of potential claims for people harmed by dangerous drugs, defective metal-on-metal hip replacement devices, semi truck accidents, product recalls, and other personal injury cases caused by the negligence or fault of another.
In addition to practicing law, Anthony’s interests include business and tech, and prior to becoming an attorney, he had careers in the SEO and web development space, Internet startups, and finance.
Where did the idea for the American Injury Attorney Group come from?
Necessity. I graduated from law school and knew nothing about the practice of law — or even the business of practicing law, for that matter. But I did know one thing: how to build a website. Prior to law school, I built websites and did web marketing for many local businesses, including law firms. So, armed with marketing acumen and nothing to lose, I hung my shingle and began to do what I knew best: web marketing.
Inherently, I had an unusual problem for most young solo lawyers: I had too much work. So I decided to partner with lawyers and split fees while I learned about practicing law. I quickly realized that most lawyers spend years — even decades — honing their craft, and even then, they can only confidently stand among their peers in a few areas of the law. So when I stumbled into my first medical device litigation case, I realized that there was an entire echelon of complexity that I didn’t know about.
That was when it hit me: Lawyers should work with other lawyers. Think about it this way: Most people don’t have to hire a lawyer in their lifetime, so the average consumer knows little to nothing about where to start — much less who to hire. Well, lawyers do know which lawyers to hire, especially when it comes to national litigation against major pharmaceutical companies.
So we decided to form our company with the mantra that, despite sharing fees and profits, collaborating with lawyers is best for the clients and the attorneys. We learn more, we work more effectively, and our clients get more out of the service.
What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?
I don’t set my alarm. I’m not a nine-to-five kind of businessman. I wake up, check about 150 emails, get ready, and go to work. I have a clean system of scanning email, flagging tasks, delegating, and sorting and prioritizing my tasks. Then, I start at the top. Much of my day is getting pulled in every direction at the office: answering questions, giving direction, etc. For that reason, I typically work until 2-3 a.m. Then, I sleep and start the process over again. While it’s a bit strange, it’s the only way I can do work, and I think it’s fun!
How do you bring ideas to life?
I’ve found that the difference between successful entrepreneurs and everyone else is that they don’t hesitate to try out their ideas. So to answer the question, I think all my ideas are great. I typically just start running with them as they pop into my head. At the same time, I try to be quick and decisive in realizing that 99 percent of those ideas are garbage. But you never know when one of those ideas will be a hit. I’ve built every company that I’ve ever started on failed ideas.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The digital marketing gold rush excites me a lot. It’s amazing to think about how Google completely disrupted an industry that was engrained in tradition and archaic sales pitches about demographics and age ranges. The granularity of consumer data is becoming overwhelming — even for the smartest tech-savvy marketers.
I love the idea of complete transparency and accountability. I love performance marketing in the way that marketers must put their money where their mouth is. I love data-driven decisions, real-time cost per acquisition, and ROI calculation. And I hope that the availabilities of data continue to grow and overwhelm the market. I accept the challenge, and I can’t wait to see which companies take the advertising market share — a space that’s been one of the largest profit industries for centuries.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Immersion. I have a serious problem leaving places. I can’t stand leaving before a project is completed. As a result, I dig in when projects get difficult. Between that and my compensative nature, I’m surprised that I ever go home. I always joke that being an entrepreneur in an exploding vertical takes me on a roller coaster of emotions — from shaking with excitement to fetal-position-like fear once every seven minutes. Either way, it motivates me to work harder and faster than those who are trying to pass me by.
What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?
I was a dishwasher at Cock of the Walk, a small country restaurant down an old dirt road in the suburbs of Little Rock, Arkansas. I learned that manual labor and terrible bosses are for the birds. I also learned that working so hard that your toes get sore and getting paid nothing to do it is some serious bullshit. Now that I think about it, that job (and that boss) may be the reason I’ve never worked for anyone else in my professional life.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Obviously, I would change a ton if I knew what I know now. But at the same time, there isn’t much that I can assuredly say that I would have done differently. We stumbled our way into an almost serendipitous course of events that propelled us to where we are today. I couldn’t imagine a better situation to be in at this point in my life, so minus a brain download (http://discovermagazine.com/2013/march/1-matrix-learning) to make me smarter, I’m very happy with what we’ve done and the decisions we’ve made to get here.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Choose to build something rather than do nothing. Every day is a decision and a struggle to not lie around, watch TV, and eat Pizza Rolls. So I’d say my recommendation is to find a reason to pursue a passion. If you don’t have that one core belief or absolute truth behind your actions, you’ll end up rolling over one day, skipping the hard work and effort, and eating Pizza Rolls until you die.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I always make sure to attack the peripheries. We’re in an ultra-competitive space, competing against numerous billion-dollar companies. So instead of matching checkbooks or doing things the same way, we decided to take what we could get and expand from there. Our marketing was hyper-localized. We used long-tail keywords. We did everything we could to acquire business more cheaply than our competition, and once we established that the model worked, we threw gas on it.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I’ve started more failed companies than I can remember, so I can’t really identify one over the rest. If something fails, you just do something else. The only true failure is giving up.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I keep a list. I have to deliberately force myself not to start businesses, and since I’m putting 100 percent of my time into the one that’s working well, I’ve got ideas to spare!
The idea that I keep circling back to is based on two trending conversations in the digital space: crowdsourcing and online/offline retail. So here’s an idea for that guy out there with too much time, too much money, and an itch: Build an app that would allow the everyday American to access interior designers and stylists through crowdsourcing.
Rather than having to spend thousands of dollars on a professional interior designer in their homes, users would simply notice a bare spot on their wall, take a photo, and then hundreds of people would give them advice on colors, decor, etc. Those users would get reviewed and naturally curate themselves at the same time.
Then, as the profit model, you become the marketplace for actually selling the products to the user. So the designer suggests furniture or paintings, but the consumer doesn’t see anything except a rendering of that product in his home and a price tag. You’d cut in the designer and keep the rest of the profit. I think the same model could be used for styling clothes, especially for men. There are some gold nuggets! Go pick ’em up, and put ’em in the bank.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
At 6 feet 2 inches, I’m the shortest guy in my family. But since I’m 50 percent Asian, I have no complaints. Yet, my 6-foot-5-inch-tall dad and equally tall uncles still give me shit about it. I guess that with my 5-foot-tall mom, it could have been much worse. Although, I’m pretty sure I could have been in the NFL if I had those extra 2 inches.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
I tend to use well-supported, open-source, cloud-based software and services. I like the idea that millions can contribute to making it better. Improvement and iteration seem to move more quickly in those companies, as well. Finally, I like that I’m not constrained by the boundaries of the software developers’ ideas or limitations. Nothing is more frustrating than someone telling you that software can’t do something when you know that it could.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“The Rum Diary” by Hunter S. Thompson. He’s the best, and every once in a while, we all need to read something for fun while drinking a few Coronas with our toes in the sand.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
This is probably my biggest weakness, but I’ve never been a current events guy. I don’t watch much news; I don’t read tweets or most social media (unless someone is directly talking to me); I don’t read blogs outside of marketing, law, or business.
I read TechCrunch during law school just to pass the time, but I haven’t really followed it in years. I read Moz to learn, but I don’t follow any one person. This makes me think that I should find someone to follow! Honestly, I get bored easily, and I always feel like I have too much going on to concern myself with one thing.
But I do have a core group of close friends, and outside of my family, they’re probably the biggest influencers in my life. We hold an annual retreat where we scrutinize one another’s businesses and brainstorm ways we can grow and improve.
We couldn’t be more different. For example, one friend is a lobbyist and Ivy League grad that came from the trailer park. Another learned to speak English when he was 13 by reading the dictionary, and now he has the largest residential roofing company in the state. Yet, we’re all tied together by the way we attack life. Sometimes, the people that influence you most aren’t people who change the world; they’re just kindred spirits that you happen to connect with.
Anthony Johnson: https://johnsonvines.com/about-us/anthony-c-johnson/
American Injury Attorney Group on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AttorneyGroup
American Injury Attorney Group on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/american-injury-attorney-group
Anthony Johnson on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/anthonycjohnson
American Injury Attorney Group on Twitter: @awesomeattorney
Anthony Johnson on Twitter: @anthonycjohnson