Brian Freeman is CEO & Co-Founder of Heartbeat, the leading network connecting 195,000 women ambassadors with over 250 brands on social media to promote their products. Prior to starting Heartbeat, he founded Wyldfire, a women-powered dating app. Brian has worked in startups for nearly 10 years in sales, strategy, partnerships, product & design.
He holds a Bachelors of Business Administration from the University of San Diego. He is a Contributing Writer at Forbes with whom he has been featured in as well as Business Insider, Huffington Post and Techcrunch.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
I grew up in San Diego. I’ve been a techie my whole life. By the age of 10 I had taught myself HTML & used Photoshop to create the images for my first star-wars themed GeoCities site to manage my clan for an online game. That clan grew to 300 people before they realized how old I was and quit, so I guess I have it in me to motivate and lead. I’ve started more entrepreneurial experiments than I can count, from burning CDs for my friends in high-school to building computers for family friends to make money the summer before I started school. I worked in finance through a good part of my twenties at the behest of my brilliant but conservative father who was sick of the starts and stops on businesses that didn’t seem to lead anywhere. I eventually got into working in sales at a startup after abandoning the mind-numbing finance role and got my first taste of what being at a high-growth startup was like with MOGL in San Diego. Within a year and a half I worked my way up to working directly for the CEO where I learned what it took to run a startup. I started my first company Wyldfire moonlighting at MOGL, and went full-time on my first FUNDED startup (although still mostly a bootstrap environment) with the dating company Wyldfire on Feb. 14th 2014 (yes I get the irony).
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I start the day around 8:15 with a target list of tasks that I’ve prepared the night before. I try and get the biggest items off my plate before noon, but that’s not always a possibility. I often have 75% of my day planned with calls, meetings, and project planning in the prior week so I try and make each of those as productive as possible when I can and fill in from my task list in between those events.
How do you bring ideas to life?
My process usually starts with a line drawing in a sketchbook I carry with me everywhere accompanied by some free-flowing writing. From there I will reach out to people I trust and bounce that concept off of them before doing any additional work on the concept to gauge a response. I will also do some preliminary web searches to see if anything else out there matches what I’m thinking.
Ideas are a dime a dozen as CEO, the most important thing you have going for you is your team. If you can get buy-in from the intelligent people around you, and have them run with implementing something, the end result will be better than if you tried to run the ball down the field yourself. So generating buy-in and consensus is usually my second go-to step.
From there I might take the concept to design, or do a product wireframe, and sometimes the ideas die on the vine there if they don’t have what it takes to make it into the product.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Hyper-Personalization is something that excites me immensely. Right now we’re seeing products just start to tap into this. Some of the best examples of personalization we have right now is on Amazon through recommendations, or readers like Flipboard that learn what you’re interested in reading. These are great machine learning based concepts of personalization, but once we really start to introduce AI into the manufacturing process, we could see spectacular examples of fitted clothing arriving at your door, or groceries designed to maximize your metabolism based on a genetic test in your medical records. Things are going to get very cool.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I never stop studying. Every morning the first thing I do is jump into flipboard and read 2-3 articles on the marketing industry and technology trends. On my way to work I’m listening to podcasts like Acquired, Freakonomics, Masters of Scale, etc. My downtime at work is flipping through Techcrunch, and when I ride my mountain bike on the weekend I’m listening to audio books. Keeps me sharp and thinking about the next big move as a company.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Get good at hiring early. It took me a lot of hard lumps to figure out how to hire well. One of the catch 22’s of this is that early startups tend to be very hard risk, and talented people know that. Your job is to find the high-quality workers out there that can get over the risk factor, then you have to convince them to come onto your team for low pay. One of the greatest challenges you’ll face, but take the time to hire right.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
The Ready Player One VR world is right around the corner. Also working from home is terrible for a startup.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Ask for help. I am constantly bugging the people in my network for advice. I think I drive advisors and mentors of the business crazy, but I love to learn from other people’s success.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Making people who work at the company feel like they’re generating wins. I can be a tough boss sometimes as I will whittle at a problem until I feel it is just right. But that doesn’t mean you have to berate the people you work for when they haven’t arrived at the solution you want. You have to make people feel like winners and that you’re on their side if they haven’t done something right. If you have brilliant and hungry people working for you, they’ll crave this type of feedback system. If you have low-performers working for you, their rejection of feedback and a continuous cycle of improvement should be obvious early and you should help people like that find a new place to work.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
One of my biggest failures in life was my Freshman & Sophomore years of college. I went to a Christian high-school and had an awesome very SOBER high school experience. When I got to college, I got a bit out of control that freshmen year and ended up putting some really low grades. I also didn’t pick my major (originally Political Science) correctly, and ended up changing at the end of my Sophomore year. To make things even worse, I was pretty bad about registering for classes and crashed every class I took, and I took most of the senior classes for my major first, so all of my GE’s ended up being at the end of my college career. Bottom line, I was so behind at the end of my Sophomore year with classes from a major I needed to change to Business, with multiple D’s from Freshman year on my transcript. Total chaos.
So, I changed my major to business, took a stacked course load and added community college in for the GE’s to save money all while working two jobs. I ended up getting a new major done, retaking the courses I screwed up, and getting all my GE’s done at community college all over the next 2.5 years and ended with nearly a 4.0 in my new major Business w/ a focus on Entrepreneurship. That was a longer example, but I think you have to have grit to overcome big F-ups and stay the course if you want to win big.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I actually started this ideas as an invention then abandoned it. I have issues with my feet that would be solved by being barefoot most of the day. I created a concept I was calling “SoulFeet” where you would take a human-safe glue produced by 3m and apply it to a flexible rubber material that goes on the bottom of your feet and can be produced in a variety of colors. This was before the now very popular medical tape that helps stretch muscles, which is what I would use now. What you get is like a second foot-sole that allows your foot to build muscle and improve posture by simulating being barefoot, without the dangers of walking around barefoot. Great for summer or beach days, and has the added benefit of protecting you from hot sand. Ok somebody make that!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I racked my brain for this, and can’t come up with anything for $100, so I’m going to say what I spent $499 on that I tell everyone about. There is a scooter-share company in Santa Monica named Bird that buys their scooters from a Chinese company named Xiaomi. We don’t have parking at our office in Venice, so I wanted a way to quickly get to the office from wherever I had to park in Venice. If you’ve been to Venice in the summer you’ll know why this is a huge issue. I now own my own Xiamoi scooter which comes with a connected app for diagnosing issues and locking the scooter if you go in a store/restaurant/etc. It also folds up and fits nicely in the trunk of my car. Huge win.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Evernote. I use Evernote to log every idea and task I have to do. It’s availability cross-device is huge, and it has a ton of integrations that make it a very powerful tool. The other obvious answer is Slack.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. This is such a great book, especially on audio as Phil reads some parts of it. You hear the emotion in the experiences, and it’s incredibly well done. It is also inspiring if you’re facing challenges that feel overwhelming.
What is your favorite quote?
The man in the arena by Theodore Roosevelt:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
- Make people who work at the company feel like they’re generating wins.
- Ask for help and learn from other people’s success.
- Take the time to hire right and find high-quality workers.