Steve Gumm – CEO of 18 Stories: The Idea Factory

[quote style=”boxed”]The thing is that it’s not until much later that you often realize your greatest successes are largely due to some of the shit you went through. It’s like a great movie; without the adversity you simply miss out on the whole story.[/quote]

Steve Gumm is a serial entrepreneur who started his first business at the age of 19 and hasn’t looked back since.

Steve is the chief creator of Unfair Advantages at 18 Stories: The Idea Factory, a paradigm shifting, inbound marketing and promotional agency based out of Chicago.  The Idea Factory is also responsible for, a creative headwear production company, and several other incubator projects.

Steve has traveled an incredible journey of ups and downs over the years, experiencing everything from hugely successful product launches and dot com era success to a real estate development company that nearly bankrupted him in 2007. Steve is a proud member of The Entrepreneurs Organization: Chicago Chapter where he sits on the board and is currently focused on the Global Student Entrepreneurs Awards event in Chicago, to be held in October of this year.

Steve is a nationally recognized and requested speaker on topics ranging from the entrepreneurial experience to inbound marketing and B2B marketing trends and strategies. Steve is happily married to his high school sweetheart, and is the proud father of two beautiful little girls. He firmly believes that regardless of what you’re going through, each day presents an opportunity for you to turn it all around and make your mark!

What are you working on right now?

Right now I’m working to create a major paradigm shift in the B2B2C markets. In most cases it’s B2B2B2C. We’ve developed a strategy, along with complementary platforms, that is currently being rolled out in the home goods space. It’s a really big deal and has amazing industry support. We couldn’t be more excited about the potential for business and for the businesses we’re helping.

We’re also working with a multitude of individual clients to create shifts in their marketing and sales methodology. We have created our own, unique, inbound marketing approach and strategy that is having a huge impact on our clients. In short, we are trying to change the way companies and entire verticals think about how they interact and go to market. Then we build the platforms, plans and strategies to make it all go–and keep going.

Where did the idea for The Idea Factory come from?

We became very good at providing what we call an unfair advantage. It became very clear that our approach to marketing and our ability to build strategies that were transforming previously flat or slow growing companies was very effective. We’ve had almost a decade of experience with trade associations and buying groups, all of which are comprised of hundreds of companies and vast amounts of intellectual equity. We decided to take our individual client approach and tweak it slightly to provide complete managed programs–for these groups–that benefits every company, saves time and money, and breaks down the barriers that limit shared knowledge, great stories and people.

The Idea Factory is really our way of saying we never stop innovating. Every single day we’re looking for new ideas, tools and strategies to keep moving the needle for our company and our clients. We never want to get complacent or create products/strategies that aren’t designed to continually evolve.

What does your typical day look like?

I’m up at 6:30 a.m., not by choice but because I have two little girls whose internal clocks say it’s “go time” early. I typically get them ready with my wife and begin my workday around 8:00. I like to get something positive done right out of the gate, so I may write a blog post, send out some thank yous or even read a chapter or two in a new business book, just to get the juices flowing.

By 9:30 I’m in “full steam ahead” mode, calling clients, creating content, dealing with designers and simply managing the workflow and strategies for our clients and projects. I’ll try to cut out for an hour around 12:00 to workout, just so I get it in. If I’m traveling or in meetings in Chicago all day, I’m usually at the mercy of the day–planning kind of goes out the window. At 6:00 p.m. I’ll take a three-hour break and shut everything down for some family time. Once the kids go to bed, I’m back on for a good hour or two, watch a few of my shows and crash out between 12:00 and 1:00. Then it starts all over!

How do you bring ideas to life?

I tend to dive right in. I’m not big on planning right out of the gate. I like to take ideas from concept to something tangible as soon as possible. I’m willing to invest in that because I honestly cannot stand analysis paralysis. I’d rather get it going and then make it perfect as we go. This obviously costs a bit more money and causes a few headaches, but it’s worked for me and I’ll continue to do it. You can spend forever worrying about all the “what ifs” or trying to make something perfect. I’d rather get it out there and let the market dictate what’s great, what’s bad and what we need to do to create a great product or service.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Inbound marketing. We’re a HubSpot partner and have been on the inbound thinking for years. I love how this is transforming the way business is done. Inbound marketing is not one-size-fits-all; every company needs their own methodology and strategies to create a working, successful version of well-leveraged, inbound marketing. The reason I love the changing landscape is that it puts the power in the hands of consumers and forces companies to be great. You can no longer be mediocre and hide behind big ads. Consumers want answers to challenges, and the companies who are able to make their clients and the market at large better will win.

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

Oddly enough, the job I have now. I was in a bad partnership and simply learned that a healthy partnership and company culture is critical to the success of any project or business. Entrepreneurs have to look at the skill and culture fit equally. It’s amazing what a bad relationship at the management level can do to the energy and culture of an otherwise amazing company. It’s equally amazing what a unified, highly positive energy culture can accomplish, even with mediocre talent.

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

That’s the million dollar question. I don’t think I’d do anything differently, except make the decisions I made quicker and not let things linger. I made decisions based on what I thought was best at that time. Some turned out nightmarishly bad and others turned out amazingly good. The thing is that it’s not until much later that you often realize your greatest successes are largely due to some of the shit you went through. It’s like a great movie; without the adversity you simply miss out on the whole story.

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

Read and learn. This seems silly, but too many entrepreneurs get bogged down with their daily grind and fail to open up a great biography or business book. Every time I read, take time to watch some TED talks or purchase a training product, I get something out of it and seem to get a little jolt of motivation. There’s been times where the lessons shared have really pushed me to make it through the tough times. They gave me added fuel to create great things.

What is one problem you encountered as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Not delegating. I took on far too much, and probably still take on more than I should. The fact is, you don’t see a successful restaurant that has the owner sitting you down, running back to cook the dinner, delivering the meal, checking you out and then cleaning up. It’s impossible to create efficiency or be great at anything when you’re trying to do everything. I’m great at running companies and creating innovative concepts. I’m good at doing the work. Given the choice, I’d prefer to be great rather than good.

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

I think a “smart card” would be awesome–a card that consolidates all of your point and reward cards into one card (Starbucks, Barnes and Noble, your local sandwich shop, etc.). This would allow you to log in and see all of your cards, balances and rewards in one place. And here’s the best part: it would be tied to a personal bank account so that unused balances on cards could be transferred back into your bank account after a set amount of time (that you would set). This would eliminated all the unused dollars on those reward and/or gift cards.

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

Education. It’s really become a disaster in the United States. I can’t speak for the global community, but the U.S. really needs to rethink the way education is provided in an evolving, technological society. There’s really no reason every kid isn’t getting access to the best teachers, regardless of their geographic location.

In short, I’d like to see a site that houses videos of teachers teaching classes. If a student misses a day or week, they could log in and sit in on those classes they missed. This educational hub would house millions of lessons and allow users to rank teachers. If a student is interested in math, they should be able to log on and sit through full semesters of class from the best in the country, right from their own kitchen table. So many things could be solved if the education of our kids was improved and re-evaluated.

Tell us a secret.

My hair is thinning a bit (no secret there), and I’m seriously thinking of just cutting it all off. I always told my wife if it ever gets to a point where it looks like I’m trying to deny the fact that my hair is leaving me, I need to know! She’d kill me if I did it, but at some point–it’s gotta go. Good thing I have a headwear company!

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

  1. Jing: I use this tool probably a dozen times a day for simple image or screen grabs.
  2. Timely: I tend to do my reading at night, in blocks, and Timely allows me to easily add tweets to a queue that’s then kicked out on an automated schedule. I love this tool.
  3. TED Talks: It’s inspiration at your fingertips.

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

Endurance. I read a lot of books, and this is in my top three without question. In short, it’s a true story that reveals amazing human qualities and lessons on leadership, friendship, building a team, perseverance, attitude, goal setting and of course, endurance. If you haven’t read this, go get it right now–seriously.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

  1. @ducttape: John is great. He is authentic in his effort to deliver value, and he always comes up with the best resources and articles. I get a lot of great tidbits from him.
  2. @stevegumm: I always grab my favorite resources and articles and share them. I’m also want to look super cool by having you as a follower.
  3. @markcuban: While I don’t always agree with Mark, he’s dialed in to the startup tech community and is constantly starting new businesses or engaging with followers about Shark Tank. He’s authentic in a “love-me-or-hate-me” kind of way.

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

A few minutes ago. We always like to create and watch really dumb videos or get unexpected ideas together. We saw one online video of a kid who wanted to give us a shout-out hip hop style, and he was really funny. It was almost uncomfortable to watch, but I was peeing my pants. I love that kind of stuff. Dumb and Dumber is my all-time favorite movie.

Who is your hero?

My dad, no question. No one else even comes close.

What challenges are B2B companies having in the new digital age?

Simply making the shift from a traditional marketing and sales methodology to a new way of organizational thinking. We see so many B2B companies that simply transfer their antiquated habits to the online space and hope something magical will happen. The truth is, it won’t. Companies need to stop looking at the tools available and start rethinking their corporate culture, as well as their marketing and sales methodologies.

What’s the toughest thing to deal with as an entrepreneur?

For me it’s the mental swings. One day I’m taking over the world and the next I’m going out of business. There’s so much going on for companies in the $1,000,000-$10,000,000 range that the roller coaster can become a bit much. I’ve learned to take a step back and enjoy the ups and downs, but I still have bouts of anxiety, followed by euphoria, followed by fear, followed by fearlessness and so on. It’s challenging to deal with the swings and still maintain the fearless leader persona, but it comes with the territory.

As an entrepreneur, where do you go for advice or support in your personal or professional life?

I’m very fortunate to be a part of EO, the Entrepreneurs Organization. This is a group of peers who can relate to having an amazing month and wondering how to cover payroll. Unless you’ve really been there, it’s hard to relate. I go to my EO family for advice and support.


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