Michael Nicklin – Founder and President of The Nicklin Group

[quote style=”boxed”]There are countless small decisions I would make differently – as the expression goes, “hindsight is 20-20.” But my ‘big picture’ view is that I would change nothing, because the journey has far exceeded my expectation.[/quote]

Michael Nicklin, is a Los Angeles-based business strategy consultant and independent media and theatrical producer. A self-proclaimed “serial entrepreneur,” Nicklin has not had an employer since university. Nicklin launched his first business during his junior year, and never looked back.

After two decades of launching several successful start-ups, Nicklin was hired in the dot-com heyday of the mid 90s as a contract strategist for a multinational corporate incubator. He focused on developing and identifying technology investment opportunities, supervised acquisition and investment activity, and incubated several start-ups. He and his development team created effective plans for building the “go-to-market” product or service, putting the right partnerships in place, acquiring the necessary funding, and engaging market adoption.

Nicklin then founded The Nicklin Group, a boutique consulting firm with a mission to bridge the gap between organizational performance and the unrealized potential for clients in the retail, shopping center, and hospitality industries. The firm provided strategic consulting to more than three hundred small business owners and several corporations and performance-based training programs for Marriott, Universal Studios, Bally, Four Seasons, Westfield, Macy’s, and other leading corporations.

As a keynote speaker, Nicklin also delivered more than 500 presentations globally, on employee engagement, performance improvement, and consumer trends.

What are you working on right now?

To employ an expression that is often overused, often humorous, undoubtedly cliché and frequently accurate for producers and entrepreneurs – I have numerous projects in various stages of development. As an independent producer, I am developing two feature films to be shot overseas, and producing a documentary short. I am serving as a Consulting Producer on “The Devil You Know,” an R & B musical that will celebrate its world premiere in L.A. in spring 2014.

Each of these projects share my foundational intention to encourage, support, and facilitate the production of captivating media content that highlights a plethora of significant social and cultural issues, and serves as a catalyst for positive impact through audience awareness, understanding and engagement.

As a business strategy/brand development consultant, I am working on behalf of a number of entrepreneurs on various facets of their start-up ventures to ensure the integrity of their socially conscious corporate citizenship, incorporating their philanthropic actions into their business plans and public relations strategies, and connecting for-profit and non-profit business to their mutual advantage.

With several diverse projects on your roster, which one are you most passionate about and what was its inspiration?

I am working as a consultant with a pre-launch startup on its highly unique ‘Pay it Forward’ mission. The company is called ‘love’ and its first iteration will be a global family of facilities that will offer a spiritually oriented healing spa, organic salon and yoga center. Their first location will launch in Greater Los Angeles, CA in Spring 2014 followed by an escalated national rollout. Hand in hand with its family of clients, ‘love’ will pay forward by giving more than 50% of its net profits to organizations who are driving meaningful change. Much of the remaining 50% will be used to expand to new locations so that the love impact can become exponential.

I am working with the ‘love’ team to structure and promote their ‘give’ program. I could not be more thrilled to be working with a pre-launch startup on this mission! Companies in mid-life don’t come with a clean slate, and are often motivated more by compliance than integrity. The ‘love’ team is passionate about its philosophy and I am confident that corporate citizenship will be firmly embedded into the brand’s DNA from personnel to policies to public outreach.

Where did the idea for your consulting practice come from?

The present incarnation of my consulting practice emerged from the desire to live the popular Ghandi quote “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I joined the countless individuals who want to “give back” more than we “take” of society. I found that I was not sufficiently moved by checkbook philanthropy, and my volunteer efforts did not appear to have a satisfyingly broad reach. I now strive to align myself with projects that have the potential to serve as a catalyst for more rapid positive transformation in society.

For entrepreneurial start-ups, being a good corporate citizen is no longer about simply making a donation to a good cause. Not only are consumers making purchase decisions with corporate citizenship in mind, they are also supporting purposeful brands, according to a recent Edelman study. The study also found that a staggering 80% of global consumers believe it is important for companies to make them aware of their efforts to address societal issues. The global tribe has spoken, and the terms “Corporate Social Responsibility” and “Corporate Citizenship” are being redefined on a daily basis by both consumers and businesses.

I now work exclusively with entrepreneurs who are committed to firmly embedding their cause platforms into their business models, product offerings, and marketing/advertising platforms to make a greater societal impact.

How early can you trace back your desire to be an entrepreneur?

My mother instilled in me the concept of money at an early age – how it works and what to do with it. As an adolescent, a high level of independence was important to me. That was the first of many characteristics I later learned were those of a child entrepreneur.

In one early memory, I remember setting up a stand in the front yard the day after Halloween and trying to sell my Halloween candy. In primary school, I made potholders out of jersey loops and successfully sold them in my neighborhood. I raised tropical fish in my home for sale, and at one time had 14 aquariums. In seventh grade, my friend Keith and I set up a roadside stand, provided guacamole sampling, and made to us what was a small fortune every summer in junior high school on the yield of my family’s avocado tree. The business grew. I began selling to a local market. And I bought my first car with the profits.

As a bona fide entrepreneur since 23, I founded and presided over a number of businesses during the first two decades of my career. I began a successful boutique consulting practice that provided strategic consulting for performance optimization in the retail, shopping center, hospitality and entertainment industries. In the late 90s, I also began consulting as an e-business strategist. A remarkable opportunity emerged to work with an overseas corporate incubator to support the development of several start-ups and spinoffs. I also served as a consumer lifestyle trend expert which encompassed lecturing, published writing and more than 300 television interviews.

The entrepreneurial spirit commands the use of one’s creative powers to bring something new into the world, and I was always encouraged to do so by two very patient parents!

How do you make money?

As a lifelong entrepreneur, I have continued to make money in three ways. The first is to reap the rewards of my entrepreneurial efforts via the stakeholder profits of successful business ventures. The second revenue stream is generated by passive investments from a portfolio built upon those past stakeholder profits. The third is through the monetization of my intellectual capital as an entrepreneur. Stated more simply, I generate income through consulting fees for working with entrepreneurial startups and early stage companies.

At this stage of my life, my passive investments generate my sustainable income. This enables me as an entrepreneur to make even more bold choices than I have in the past relative to the “risk-reward” evaluation of a business concept, and to what extent I might perhaps accept stock or stakehold in a new venture rather than monetary compensation for my consulting fees.

What does your typical day look like?

My definition of a typical day has always been atypical. I do not often separate work and leisure time because as a serial entrepreneur some of my most creative ideas come forth during leisure activities like hiking an Alaskan rainforest or walking an isolated beach in Port Douglas, Australia.

Having said that, the day begins after eight hours of sleep, with my wake up time varying based on when I chose to end the previous day. I have worked in many time zones, so my body is very cooperative in allowing me those eight hours whether going to bed at 10 p.m. or 3 a.m. I usually begin the day with a French Roast latte, and a catch up of world news online. I will usually have one or more brainstorms related to what I see in the news and how it relates to my investment portfolio and projects. I then respond to my business related emails that have come in overnight. Next, I try to routinely exercise. The next few hours are either spent meeting with clients or advisors, either face to face or virtually.

When I am in an entrepreneurially creative mindset, it often feels like a state of mild meditation. I once referred to it as a state of entrepreneurial self-hypnosis.

My evening usually consists of a homemade dinner and two to three hours of media, either a film, documentary, or broadcast media. Because I balance my work time between entrepreneurial consulting and media production, I feel it is important to commit a portion of my days to being an audience of either medial or live performance. As a theatre producer, I try to partake in what are typically no less than 100 plays or live performances taking place during any given week in Los Angeles. My late night ritual is to again return to my computer to check the state of the world, conclude my business and personal virtual communications, document the results of any more brainstorming and visualization results and then hit the sheets for a rejuvenating night of sleep.

On the day I am answering this question, I just contemplated my response while walking the Ka’anapali Beach on Kauai. As I said, atypical is my typical.

How do you bring ideas to life?

By nature, I am a solutions-oriented thinker. As a small business consultant for a number of years, my role was to meet a client’s presented challenges with a solutions-oriented mindset and offer on-the-spot problem solving. This solutions-based idea-generating process is almost instantaneous for me, as I create and validate a solution. Whenever consulting on an existing concept, system, project, device, business model, or design, my most efficient and productive work comes when I encounter obstacles presented by the client and need to offer solutions. The effectiveness of this system is even more dynamic when reacting to isolated events rather than institutionalized systems and processes with proven and accepted performance track records.

As simple as it sounds, I bring my ideas to life by implementing them. Above my desk is a framed saying, “Reality is the Best Fantasy.” I am now an avid risk-taker, however in my early years as an entrepreneur I overcame psychological blocks in order to create with ease. Many entrepreneurs with great ideas are often stalled by fears of the unknown or failure or perhaps even success. I actively work to challenge and eliminate the roadblocks that keep me in an analysis-paralysis cycle.

Paying attention to possibilities in my daily business life often leads me to a new idea. Because my mind is wired to first focus on opportunity rather than obstacle, when an idea enters my consciousness, it typically does so with a great deal of realized vibrancy. I rarely encounter mental roadblocks when initially envisioning the idea as a living entity. Reflecting upon an idea often reveals both flaws and improvements in the plan. During the research phase, an idea may substantially change. Adaptability to change is a necessary trait during this process.

Developing an innovative project requires optimism, expertise, discipline, research, planning, perseverance, tenacity, and money. I am fortunate to have had a number of years of project management experience in the new business incubation process. When developing an idea from within an organization, one must identify the human capital with relevant expertise and devise organizational processes and workflow to bring those ideas to the next level in commercialization. I will typically begin discussing the idea with the creative team and road test the vision outside my own mind. The first step is to clearly identify the opportunity or concept. I then visualize the development process to turn the idea into actionable steps. The next step is to assess its feasibility through market research and competitive analysis. Then comes the identification of the unique selling proposition, preparation of the business plan, projecting startup costs, a prototype if relevant, and presentations ranging from an elevator pitch to a full length multimedia presentation to engage investors.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I have always been captivated by the cultural anthropology of trends, their tipping points, and their societal impact. I have also always been intrigued by the psychographics of early adopters of trends. For two decades, I served as a consumer lifestyle trend analyst and media contributor. I also lectured across the US on leveraging consumer demographic and psychographic trends to optimize business performance. A large part of my consulting practice was dedicated to assisting clients to leverage those trends in the development, marketing and sales of products and services.

One trend with global reach that resides both on the business and consumer sides of the equation that has and will continue to have a profound impact on business and society at large is that of corporate citizenship and consumer expectation and demand for it. This movement is gaining momentum and its impact can be seen in the media every day. In fact, 87 percent of global consumers believe business should place at least equal weight on society’s interests as on business’ interests, according to the 2012 Edelman goodpurpose* study.

Some trends are micro-focused and enjoy a relatively short lifespan. This growing trend focusing upon social consciousness and corporate citizenship will have both global reach and long-lasting impact – to the extent that the trend spawned the most recent shift in focus of both my consulting practice and media production.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I have had six jobs in my life, all in the retail sector, and the last one ended when I was 24. The winner would have to be when I was a sales associate in the men’s department of a small department store chain. I remember that I rarely worked when the department manager was working, so training and leadership were non-existent. There was very little customer traffic in the store, so I did a lot of dusting and folding which equated to mental atrophy. That job lasted less than six months for me, and was one more valuable step toward my life of self-employed entrepreneurship.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

There are countless small decisions I would make differently – as the expression goes, “hindsight is 20-20.” But my ‘big picture’ view is that I would change nothing, because the journey has far exceeded my expectation. Every potentially bad choice yielded valuable lessons that altered the journey. Every lesson has made for a greater adventure. Personal experiences, good or bad, are the best teacher.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Competitive analysis. In today’s very crowded marketplace, it is important to gather competitive intelligence very early in the incubation or start-up phase of a new business. For many, it is a race to the starting line. Foregoing or delaying a competitive analysis will likely cost you valuable time and money during a critical window and you run the risk of creating product or service offerings that are not highly competitive. I have seen many cases in which a competitive analysis prompts either a modification of the original product or service, or may spark the idea for an entirely different concept.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

One rookie mistake, which I later found to be one of the most common mistakes that small business owners make, was in using my surname to brand a new business, which later made that business near impossible to sell. Investors in general were (rightfully) unwilling to purchase the business as it was tied to my surname.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I envision a hybrid Knowledge Management software application to facilitate the codification, excavation, management and sharing of a company’s intellectual assets. This application would also aid in the identification, classification cataloguing and management of IP assets to track activity-based documents including license agreements, royalty payments, and more. Standard Knowledge Management (KM) software commonly facilitates the management of data to facilitate functions including customer support, FAQ management, help desk knowledge, and document management.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

My answer, “entitlement” refers specifically to what I feel is a cultural epidemic most centric to the United States. A sense of entitlement reflects an inflated view of one’s own importance, rights, and expectations. Entitlement infiltrates almost every aspect of living in today’s culture. The excesses of all the celebrities, reality TV stars, and pop culture icons add to the jealousy factor and the “where’s mine?” mentality.

America’s growing entitlement culture is far more pervasive and top-down than people realize. Many Americans have the perception that everyone is getting rich but them. When they see leaders who aren’t held accountable making millions they don’t appear to deserve, many Americans become resentful, selfish and angry. The fact is that America’s burgeoning entitlement culture is coming from many directions – from our perception of capitalism, from our civic and business leaders, from our schools, from our popular culture, and from the media.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I was adopted at birth.

My mom and my biological mother were friends going to secretarial school. When my biological mother discovered she was pregnant, (the result of an extramarital affair) she sought the counsel of her best friend, my future mom, and they agreed that there was only one choice: abortion.
Long before Roe v. Wade, an abortion was a very different process. Women who could afford to pay doctors or go to another country had the safest abortions. In the 50s, roughly a million illegal abortions a year were performed in the U.S., and over a thousand women died each year.

They consulted with a family doctor who said he could not perform one as he was “being watched” and said that if my biological mother went to nearby Mexico, she would probably not return alive. My mom discussed my biological mother’s plight and my parents decided to adopt me.

What are your three favorite online resources and what do you love about them?

a.) www.DonorsChoose.org – Founded in 2000 by then social studies teacher Charles Best, DonorsChoose.org enables citizen philanthropists to browse through classrooms in need to fund specific resource requests from teachers in U.S. public schools. DonorsChoose.org validates the project request and purchases the resources for the teacher. This dynamic organization has funded over 350,000 classroom projects by giving people a simple, accountable and personal way to address educational inequity.

b.) www.kickstarter.com – Kickstarter was designed to help artists raise money for their creative projects, and quickly became the world’s largest funding platform. As a producer of low-budget independent media, crowdfunding is an invaluable resource to help get projects made. A Kickstarter campaign is also a great way to get feedback on my projects or on the way I communicate about them, and to help build awareness for our project with a network of people who want the project to succeed.

c.) www.elance.com – This site can comprehensively serve as a virtual human resources department for contracting and managing a virtual team. Use it to find a logo designer, website developer, software engineer, virtual assistant, social media marketer or to fill many other creative and administrative roles to help build, support, or grow a successful virtual business. With more than 1 million freelance jobs completed through Elance annually, this model is clearly working.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Creative Visualization” by Shakti Gawain. First published in 1978, the book has now sold more than six million copies. The cover states “Use the power of your imagination to create what you want in life.” Long before the popularity of “The Secret” and countless other books on this concept, Gawain was my initial inspiration to explore the necessity for entrepreneurs to engage in right-brain thinking. According to its publisher, the book has been successfully used in the fields of education, business, creative arts, sports, and health for nearly four decades.

Creative visualization is the action of using your creative imagination in a conscious way to create mental pictures, still or live action, of what you want to manifest. Active visualization engages the power of your subconscious mind to shape beliefs and desires into achievable goals and create desired outcomes. I believe that a clear vision is crucial to success. Whether I’m preparing for a board meeting, planning to lead a brainstorming with an executive team, or preparing for a TV interview, I regularly use visualization to prepare.

Harvard marketing guru Ted Levitt once said, “The future belongs to people who see possibilities before they become obvious.” Though the tool has been used extensively for many decades to improve sports performance, it is a concept that many business professionals tend to dismiss. This is perhaps due to the propensity for left-brain thinking in business. I believe that the key areas in which a business, whether large are small, can apply visualization are in strategy, leadership, research and development, marketing and customer service.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

With millions of people sharing links on Twitter every day and highly viral content being re-tweeted countless times, I find it both challenging and time consuming to cut through the noise. One of my favorite content curators who sifts through the infinite sea of content and brings his vetted best to my attention is @GuyKawasaki with nearly 1.4 million followers. I also seek out those who I consider visionaries and thought leaders – and two that do so with a touch of whimsy are @ElonMusk and @RichardBranson. Admittedly, I follow more organizations than individuals: @BBCBreaking for the most important things I need to know, @UberFacts for the most unimportant things, and @Lifehacks for the most productive.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

Yesterday, I burst out laughing in a quiet room. I was reading an email response about a business matter regarding the musical I am co-producing, “The Devil You Know.” One of my fellow producers, and the co-writer of the musical, David Carey Foster, is a brilliant writer not only of stage and screen, but in his personal communication as well. In his written notes, there is an irreverent wit that constantly makes me laugh out loud. It is quite a pleasure to receiving humorous musings from a talented writer as part of a daily routine while doing my job.

Who is your hero, and why?

My hero is my mother, who chose to adopt me at birth and instilled in me an entrepreneurial spirit from a very young age.

I was born in the conservative and conformist decade that produced the archetypal housewife. Though in the 50s she would have been called that, my mother was the financial manager of the family and led the charge on several real estate investments that yielded her significant passive income in her later years. A child during the great depression, she was profoundly affected by the experience.

In my childhood, media bombarded women with the assurance that the kitchen was their domain. I was always confused by the difference between what I saw on TV and what I observed in my home. Women were supposed to fill certain roles, such as diligent homemaker and obedient wife. The perfect mother was supposed to stay home and nurture so society would accept them. Yes, my mom delivered on these societal expectations, but she also built and managed her investment portfolio. Though the external world perhaps perceived that she exhibited conformity, my mom was a true non-conformist – and she wore a dress and heels to lunch.


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