Every challenge, every failure is an opportunity to learn. Even the most difficult.
Brandon Frere is the founder and CEO of Ameritech Financial. Based in Sonoma County, California, Brandon’s company helps student loan borrowers across the nation apply for federal repayment plans that are intended to lower their monthly payments and end in forgiveness after 20 to 25 years of enrollment. The programs are offered by the Department of Education but are often confusing for borrowers who don’t have the time to do the necessary research.
Brandon lives an active lifestyle, believing that wellness of both body and mind are important for both business and life. He strives to find success in all areas of life and focuses on the positives of growth, in himself and those around him. He’s always seeking to learn new things and encourages those around him to do the same.
He believes in helping people, especially those who cannot help themselves, and aims to provide his clients and employees opportunities to focus on self-improvement. Brandon loves to see those around him reach their personal, financial, and professional potential. He believes providing guidance and support toward a financially healthy life is a crucial service in today’s society. While financial services are the what of Brandon’s endeavors, the why is this: to help as many people get what they want out of life, and have fun while doing it.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
I had my own student loan debt after leaving college, and, as student loan debt became an American crisis, I had a visceral understanding of the pressure that borrowers felt when they’re unable to get their lives off the ground after leaving school. It was plain to see that borrowers had no advocates in the system, that the interests of the loan servicers were not the interests of the borrowers. As someone recently said, for student loan servicers, the borrower is the product, not the client. They needed someone to treat them as a client. They desperately needed someone to work on their behalf. I could even more clearly see that I could build a system to guide them to available federal programs that, due to the purposeful complexity of the process, were just out of reach. I wanted them to retain control of their money and help them regain control of their lives.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
The first thing is I don’t set an alarm. I made a promise to myself that when I became a CEO, I would wake up when my body told me it was rested. To be clear enough to have the vision and openness to continue building solutions while responding to more immediate challenges, I find that being fully rested is critical for me.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I am always architecting out solutions, always building. I see what needs to be done, and then begin. Once on the path, though, it is incredibly important to remain open to feedback, data, and to the process itself. For me, the key is to be as absolutely clear as possible. That requires humility and vulnerability. This is not about feeding the ego, it is about finding the best solutions to complex, shifting market and technological challenges.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I am very fired up about financial technology. Fintech has so many applications. Organizations are aggressively seeking to determine the specific problems these technologies can solve, partnering with the emerging fintech industry to build solutions to existing challenges. Of course, there is also an amazing amount of disruptive potential blockchain technological advances. Blockchain can eliminate the need for a central intermediary to authorize a transfer of property or money, and makes the transfer faster with a more efficient auditing trail. There is a lot to work out. We’re going into the phase where fintech potential is being converted into implementation and deployment, but, with strategically taken risks, the rewards are high.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Everyday, I meditate. I use guided meditations and find that I am more productive and creative. Meditation is as important as eating well and staying fit. Brain and body need to regenerate. You need to keep cortisol in check and increase endorphin production. Though there are dozens of studies that show the importance of taking the time to slow down and replenish, I know experientially that regular meditation is beneficial personally and professionally.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Every challenge, every failure is an opportunity to learn. Even the most difficult. I am not saying to go out there and fail on purpose. But, when you do come up short, it’s because there is some piece that is unaccounted for, maybe something within you, or some missing experience or information that is critical. Either way, if you are going to make it, you have got to unflinchingly determine what it is and immediately figure out how to resolve it. This requires faith that what you’re going through is essential and leads you exactly where you need to go, that every challenge and failure is an opportunity to be better.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I truly believe that, though money can smooth out the ride, it won’t solve your problems. When I have been up against adversity, there really only seems to be one reliable way forward, and that is working harder, which doesn’t cost anything. Don’t get me wrong, I want to make money. I want to see everyone around me better off—my clients, my employees, my friends and family. But, I know that I have been happy with or without money, and that money has never untangled my most complicated problems. The only thing I know that can do that is perseverance.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Every day is a chance to give back. I give back to my customers. My job is to make sure their lives are better after they have given us the opportunity to help them. I give back to my employees. I want to be sure their experience here is amazing, that they have jobs they love. These circle back on one another. More satisfied employees give us more satisfied customers, which gives us more customers and the need for more employees.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Growing slow gives me the chance to more fully understand my options and to keep my priorities. For example, I have always believed in focusing on customer satisfaction. Grasping blindly at growth without discipline may tempt my organization to cut corners that decreases customer satisfaction solely for the sake of growth. That can’t happen. When we slowly, deliberately add value to the lives our customers, we have grown at that same steady rate.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
When I started my business, I thought that with an idea and money, there was no way I wouldn’t succeed. What I didn’t think about was what happens when that money runs out. I had a moment years ago when my business was on the verge of failing before it really began.
Completely alone on a rainy night, unsure how I was going to fill up my gas tank, let alone keep a business going, I got on the phone and started doing deals. I realized that in my zeal to be a CEO, I had forgotten the importance of rolling up my sleeves and doing the work that needed to get done to make my business thrive. The only way to overcome failure is to dig in and get to work. There are no shortcuts.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I feel there is a tremendous opportunity out there for software that reduces natural language into text that is queried against a set of predetermined rules to allow phone representatives to know, in real-time, the sentiments of a caller. By monitoring dashboards on their screens, this software could give phone reps real-time measures of how they are presenting themselves to callers. If it’s a customer service call, is the customer feeling satisfied? If it is a sales call, is the customer leaning toward buying? This could be a SaaS based program with users paying monthly, based on licenses used.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best $100 I spent recently was taking my son to an aviation show. He learned about the history, the engineering, and the mechanics of airplanes. My grandfather was a pilot in WWII and aviation is near and dear to my heart. It was worth every penny to share this magnificent experience with him. Seeing the excitement and energy in his eyes brought me a tremendous amount of joy and I would absolutely love to support him if he wants to become a pilot.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
I use Salesforce everyday to get the reports and sales analytics I need to focus my efforts to mitigate areas of poor performance and to capitalize on areas of strength. Salesforce is critical in providing the perspective I need to constantly work toward short- and long-term operational goals.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now talks about committing to the present moment, to spend less time looking back and projecting forward. Tolle urges you to commit to the moment that is in front of you. For those in business, there are opportunities lost by not being present. Every time you are lost in a past conversation or challenge other than the one that is right in front of you, there is a possibility you are going to miss something important. You need to have keen, piercing vision, and every single piece of missed information or dropped data is going to weaken your vision. Anything that goes unseen might just make it impossible to succeed.
What is your favorite quote?
Eckhart Tolle says the secret of life is to “die before you die.” It is imperative to become aware of who you are in any given moment. You have to awaken to your subconscious responses to any given situation, and then to let go of them. When you become aware of your emotional responses, you acknowledge them without letting them make decisions for you. You miss critical things when you don’t.
- Business leaders need to constantly build solutions. To do that, it is essential to remain open to feedback, data, and to the process itself. -The key is to be as clear as possible, which requires humility and vulnerability and a willingness to be absolutely present.
- Entrepreneurship is not about feeding the ego, it is about building precise solutions to complex, shifting market and technological challenges.
- Entrepreneurs need to unflinchingly determine what is causing something to underperform and immediately figure out how to resolve it. This requires faith that the full process, successes, and failures lead them exactly where they need to go, that every challenge is an opportunity to be better.
- Grasping blindly at growth without discipline may tempt an organization to cut corners that decrease customer satisfaction. That can’t happen. A company needs to slowly, deliberately add value to the lives of their customers and grow based on focused priorities.
- Give back to your employees—be sure their experience is amazing, give them jobs they love. This creates a positive feedback loop. Satisfied, motivated employees create satisfied customers, creating more customers, more employees, and solid, steady growth for an organization.
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.