Ty Allan Jackson – Author, Publisher, and Founder of Big Head Books

If there is something in your heart and soul that you know you’re supposed to do, pursue it with reckless abandon. Don’t let anyone control your destiny.”

Ty Allan Jackson is a children’s book author, publisher, literacy advocate, two-time TEDx presenter and motivational speaker. Ty travels across the country empowering children of all ages about the joy and power of reading. His books have been used by companies such as Google, The YMCA, The Boys and Girls Club and The United Way, as well as numerous financial institutions and countless schools across the country, inspiring children to dream big. He is also the co-founder of the Read Or Else movement, created to shine a light on the problem of illiteracy and to provide books to children in homeless shelters across America. You can learn more about Ty and his mission to promote literacy at BigHeadBooks.com and ReadOrElse.com.

Where did the idea for Big Head Books come from?

The idea for my book and mission of promoting literacy all came about when my son asked if he could open a lemonade stand. With that stand he made $50.00 in three hours which prompted him to ask, “Dad, what am I going to do with all this money.” I then went to Barnes & Noble to find a book on finance and entrepreneurship for children. Much to my dismay there weren’t any, so I wrote one titled Danny Dollar Millionaire Extraordinaire – The Lemonade Escapade. After contacting 150+ literary agents to publish my book and was rejected by everyone I decided to create my own publishing company, Big Head Books, and now I have five titles of which four are my works. Today my book Danny Dollar, that was rejected so many times, has become a theatrical play, a weekly serial story in numerous newspapers across the country and, in collaboration with an economics professor, we just launched Danny Dollar Academy, teaching elementary students from low-income communities about finance and entrepreneurship.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

The first 90 minutes of the day I dedicate to bettering myself. I start every morning with 5-10 minutes of mediation before hitting the gym. I go over my tasks for the day. If I am not heading to Big Head Books Headquarters, I’m visiting youth organizations and schools across the country, speaking to students about the importance of reading. I have an assistant and PR representative who assist me in getting these speaking engagements. Every weekday I must meditate, workout, read and write. These things are non-negotiable. Having structured tasks are vital my success. Everyday at lunch time (weather permitting) I take a 30 minute walk to clear my mind and keep me active. This helps me recharge for the second part of the day. At 4pm I stop what I’m doing and write for at least an hour. The day goes by so quickly that if I don’t make a set time to write, I would probably shrug it off. During the evening I read for at least an hour before going to sleep about 10:00pm. Getting a good nights sleep is vital to having the energy to kick butt again the next day.

How do you bring ideas to life?

My stories and ideas come from reading and observing the world around me but I also look at the needs in our society and how they need to be filled. Danny Dollar is a perfect example of that. Finance isn’t taught in schools and sadly it’s often not a conversation had in the home so my book is a great way to get kids thinking and starting the conversation about money. As a speaker with two TEDx Talks under my belt I enjoy watching other TED, motivational speakers and comedians speak. This helps learn how to be a better speaker by observing others.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Social media. I know it’s mainstream and not much of a “trend” at this point but it’s ever evolving and still under appreciated in many businesses. The main sites like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter are changing their formats almost weekly and new sites are popping up regularly too. Social media is how the world communicates. It’s awesome to see how it not only connects us but how it’s used as a tool for marketing and promoting. I also believe it’s not being utilized to its potential by most businesses. Many people, especially in Berkshire County where I live, use social media predominately for social networking, but in my opinion it’s the most valuable tool there is for communicating with your customer.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Playing off my previous answer, paying attention to social media. Social media accounts for about 70% of my book sales and it’s also responsible for the majority of my speaking engagements. I’m on sites at least every other hour marketing my products and services and connecting with like-minded businesses. This has expanded my business to dozens of cities across the country and even a few places international. It also keeps my finger on the pulse of what’s trending in my business and what’s happening in the market. If you’re not paying attention to social media, you’re not progressing.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Write things down and keep a journal. I can’t tell you how many great ideas I’ve had that I should have written down only to forget them by the end of the day. Utilize your phone and keep an up to date diary or journal of completed tasks and ideas throughout the day. Jot down ideas immediately so you don’t forget them.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Protesting doesn’t work, especially social protesting. Whether it’s against Wall Street, equal rights, etc. in my opinion it does nothing more than gives the protestors a false sense of accomplishment. If you want real change you have get in the room of those you are up against. Instead of standing outside a government office and yelling or using hashtags to create awareness start a committee, run for office, boycott. There must be some form of long-term action to really make a significant impact because once the protests are over and the momentum goes away, more than likely the thing you were protesting will still exist. Take the “Stand Your Ground” law for example which has not been abolished in any city yet tens of thousands of people around the country protested it when Travon Martin was killed. Now no one thinks about it.

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

Network! I go to as many functions as possible and connect with as many people of influence as I can. I even go to events that have nothing to do with my business or mission. You never know who may need your business or service. It’s important to be visible in your community. You are your company’s biggest asset. The more you are seen and the more you connect with people, the more people will associate with you as being relevant to the community, even if they don’t know what you do. And always carry business cards and have your 20-30 second elevator speech ready to go.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

I’ve always believed that people are people. Regardless of title or status everyone is human. We are all flawed and vulnerable. Knowing this I have no fear going up to a person of influence and pitching myself and business. People don’t intimidate me. I believe fear of engagement is a huge factor of failure. It’s true that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. So tap that CEO on the shoulder and introduce yourself. And if you’ve been networking and making yourself visible and relevant then maybe the CEO will even know who you are and be delighted to finally meet you. That just happened to me as I tapped on the shoulder of the president of a local college. He told me he heard my name numerous times and wanted to meet for tea. That connection could be extremely valuable and it may never have happened if I was too timid to tap him on the shoulder.

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

I had a huge grant that I applied for and was a shoe in to get it. I built a relationship with the woman in charge of the grant but for whatever reason the grant fell through. That grant would have really boosted my business gotten me in a circle of future customers. I was really depressed about losing it. I maintained and even grew my relationship with the person responsible for the grant so strong that when the grant came around again she submitted my application again without me knowing and it went thought. Success in life is about building relationships. Personal or professional doesn’t matter. Failure is not the opposite of success, it is part of success. When you fail (and you will) keep your head up and stay focused on what and who can help turn your obstacle into a win.

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

I’m a huge superhero geek and have bunches of Marvel and DC action figures but I’d love to have a action figure that looks like me. If someone created a company that custom made personalized action figures I would be the first to buy….or invest!

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Last year I went to Vegas and played blackjack for the first time in my life. I’ve never gambled but always wanted to try. I went to the table with only $100 and was prepared to lose it. I told everyone at the table I was a rookie knowing that they would probably take advantage but that didn’t matter to me. With their help and even the help of the dealer I went up to about $250.00 but ended up losing it all. For the 30 minutes I was at the table I had more fun than I had in a long time. I learned how to play a game I was unfamiliar with and got out of my comfort zone. I had zero expectations of winning money so I wasn’t disappoint when I lost it all. I love exposing myself to new things and I really love taking risks which are necessary components to being a successful entrepreneur.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

I’m always selling. Even out for a cup of tea at Dotties, my favorite coffee spot in Pittsfield, MA I’m pushing my products. At least once a week I bump into someone who wants to buy my products, so I have my Square app ready to go. I can then run to my office, which is a few blocks away, to get their product or ship it to them later. Using my phone for credit card transactions makes commerce seamless.

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

It’s impossible to recommend just one book because it was reading two books back-to back that completely changed my life. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne introduced me to the Law Of Attraction to mentally shift my thoughts in a more positive and constructive direction. Then the previously mentioned The Success Principles by Jack Canfield gave me the blueprint to build the life I deserved. Anyone who heeds the content of those two books is destined for greatness. No doubt about it!

What is your favorite quote?

Again it’s impossible to have just one especially since the two I am about to state go hand in hand. Mark Twain said “The two greatest days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.” SO POWERFUL! Many go to their grave not knowing why they are here. The day I wrote my second book I knew and my life hasn’t been the same since. The second is by industrialist John Shedd, “A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.” In other words, if you want to be successful you have to take risks. It is impossible to be great at anything and not have risked or sacrificed something.

Key Learnings:

  • If someone won’t open the door for you, create your own door: If there is something in your heart and soul that you know you’re supposed to do, pursue it with reckless abandon. Don’t let anyone control your destiny.
  • Whether you love or hate social media it is how the world communicates, especially the business world. Learn to embrace it or hire someone who does.
  • Networking is an essential part of being an entrepreneur, especially when you’re first starting out. Attend as many business and social events as possible and as the face and spokesperson for your company be fearless in engaging people of influence about your product or service.
  • Greatness is inside each and everyone one of us so realize that you can’t be great without risk. Get comfortable being uncomfortable knowing that risk and failure are part of the formula to success.
  • READ, READ and READ some more. Study and read about those in your industry who have succeeded and mimic their formula while putting your own spin on it. Remember, “success leaves clues”.