HOW ENTREPRENEURS & SMBs ARE ADAPTING DURING CRISIS

Rad Intelligence for Enterprenuers Podcast with Jeremy Barnett and Erik Huberman

May 14, 2020 Entrepreneurship, SMB, Startup Grind

Jeremy Barnett (00:01):

This week Jeremy Barnett speaks with Erik Huberman, CEO of Hawke Media. Hear how Erik and the team at Hawke Media are supporting SMBs and Entrepreneurship during isolation to emerge even stronger. Erik explains the key differences between leaders who win VS people that quit during times of crisis and how business owners always need to be prepared for life’s ups and downs.

Begin Interview (01:01):

Welcome to the first episode of Rad Intelligence for Entrepreneurs. I have one of my favorite people in the universe here today for our inaugural episode, Mr. Erik Huberman, CEO, founder of Hawke Media, and thought leader for pretty much anybody that’s in the e-commerce game. So Erik, I’d love to hear a little bit about just what you’re doing for starters at Hawke Media. And then this is a little bit of a special episode, so before we go too far down the trough, I want to hear what you’re doing at Hawke, and then even more important for our listeners today is how are you keeping your sanity during this unprecedented time with COVID-19?

Erik Huberman (01:46):

Well, honored to be here. Thank you for having me. Love being the guinea pig in the first one. Yeah, so I can go quickly into Hawke, and then get into the sanity check. Hawke Media basically is an outsourced CMO and marketing team to companies. So we go into brands, identify holes in their marketing org, and then are able to spin up different experts, all a la carte and month to month to plug those in. So it could be a Facebook marketer, an email marketer, fractional CMO, et cetera, to really help companies get access to great marketing. And so I started the company six and a half years ago. We’re about 160 plus people, offices in LA, New York and Boston usually, though those are all obviously closed right now. And we manage marketing for about 500 brands.

Jeremy Barnett (02:31):

Wow. Well, so full disclosure to our listeners, we have used your services a couple of times, and listen, if you’re in the SMB game, we know Hawke Media. I think what I’m curious about is really number one, as the leader of the company, what are you doing right now? This is an unprecedented time, and I know what’s going on for my company, but I’m curious, one of the things I’ve seen with other people that are leaders that are out there is everybody’s kind of putting on their pants one leg at a time right now, and we’re sort of in this thing together. And I want to hear about what you’re doing to stay, not just focused and sharp, but to stay motivated.

Erik Huberman (03:18):

I’ll kind of go through the life cycle of this, which has been about a three week life cycle for me. Because I… Let’s say it’s been a couple months, but I’d say up until three weeks ago, it was a lot of like, “Ah, it doesn’t seem like it’s that bad. Ah, maybe this will be bad. Oh, it looks like it was kind of bad for China. Okay, now it’s here. Maybe it’s going to be something, Oh, we might need to send people home. Oh, we should be careful with the people that are at risk in our company. Okay, now we need to just kind of let anyone that wants to work home. Okay, we need to get everyone out of the office.” That was up until about three weeks ago when we sent everyone home.

Erik Huberman (03:50):

And at that point, I will say that weekend, so we sent everyone home Friday, three Fridays ago. So whatever that date was. And that weekend was an incredibly stressful weekend for me, because it was this weird thing where I didn’t know if Monday, because they were calling all these shutdowns and everything, if I was going to get called by half my clients telling me if they need to stop all marketing immediately and the whole world’s ending. So I’ve not been through this. I graduated in 2008 in the last recession, and so I’ve heard about big drops in revenue and blah blah blah. But I didn’t know. This seemed, and we know it is, completely unprecedented. They literally shut down all brick and mortar businesses overnight. And I didn’t know what that meant for us.

Erik Huberman (04:34):

So a lot of stress, a lot of tossing and turning, trying to keep my cool. And then Monday hit, and don’t get me wrong, we had some clients that had some pain, and that week was actually kind of annoying, because you kind of have half… We had about 10% of our business that was affected. 5% of our business was actually affected, meaning car washes and gyms and brick and mortar restaurants, things that were like they can’t do their business anymore, there’s nothing to market. But then you have the other half of that 10%, the other 5% that was just people panicking and acting irrationally. And that went from me playing triage to me just getting frustrated honestly, because I’m watching these people self sabotage and just be morons in a panic. And that was not fun. And that’s continued a little bit, but it’s died off a little bit.

Erik Huberman (05:19):

But with that first week, or two weeks, this week’s a little less, but the first two weeks, the amount of people that were having to bet, and by the way, e-commerce, a lot of it’s up into the right and performing really well, because people are ordering direct to consumer because they’re stuck at home. And it was only 13% of purchases last year was direct to consumer. So any decrease moved from brick and mortar to that would be huge growth. And so to me it was like, there’s an opportunity here. And so anyways, that’s what I saw. That was the part that was frustrating and painful.

Erik Huberman (05:49):

The other side of it is once I came in Monday and I kind of came to terms with the fact of whatever’s going to happen is going to happen, and you kind of have two options here. You either attack or defend. You either retreat, or I should say retreat, not even defend. You kind of run away from this. You lay off your people, you cut every expense you can, you hold onto your bank account for dear life and hope that this doesn’t last too long. That’s one option. The other option is pivot, change, adapt and do something about it so that you can either succeed or thrive in this situation, which a lot of the company’s done. And what I’ve watched is a lot more people are doing the latter than the former. And so lately I’ve lost a lot of respect for people I’ve watched do the former, where some of my favorite restaurants, some are doing delivery and doing takeout and throwing parties on Zoom, and other ones are just shutting their doors completely and not even trying. No respect for the latter.

Erik Huberman (06:36):

And I’m sure there’s people in there that are exceptions, that there isn’t that option, but there’s a lot of people that just folded their cards before they even looked at them. And so with our own people, I was just very clear like, “Hey, I don’t know what this is going to do. I think we’re all right. I think that we’re diversified enough and that we’re in a place that people need us, and it will be okay, but I need my sales team to work their ass off. I need my marketing team to do some new things, and I’ll go into that in a sec. I need my services team to not take no for an answer, and make sure that the only people that cut their marketing are people that should. And anyone that’s trying to cut their marketing because they’re just acting irrationally, to fight back.” And we did that. And we ended up coming out of March pretty much even with February, which is shocking.

Jeremy Barnett (07:18):

That’ a huge win.

Erik Huberman (07:19):

I think we’re down 1%. So we were down 1%

Jeremy Barnett (07:22):

Yeah. So it’s interesting, though. You said a couple things that I want to circle for a quick second, because as a population, we are really good at panicking. If anything, the one thing I’ve learned is how easy it is to evoke panic amongst a massive group of people. And you know, as an entrepreneur, CEO, founder, there’s constant chaos, right? And the things that are associated with constant chaos and the roller coaster of building a business, running a business, motivating people that are around you, that constant chaos almost becomes the norm. And look, your company’s already successful. You’ve got 160 employees. So your challenges are a little bit different than some of the challenges that we, for example, are facing here at Rad. But what I see is the same criteria and DNA that you have today with what I would consider to be a very successful company. What you’re doing is the same criteria and DNA for the people that are not going to accept this.

Erik Huberman (08:22):

Yeah, we pivoted heavily in the past few weeks to make sure we could thrive, and we’ve brought on, as a marketing agency, 49 new companies hired us in the past month.

Jeremy Barnett (08:31):

Wow. 49 new activations.

Erik Huberman (08:33):

Yes, marketing with us.

Jeremy Barnett (08:35):

Amazing. Amazing. What would you say if you were going to circle the one thing as the reason why that happened?

Erik Huberman (08:43):

If it was one reason, I think it’s the… We trained our team heavily. The nice thing about this whole working from home and being stuck in front of a computer is I can spend a lot of time with our people, because it’s super efficient. There is an efficiency it. So I’ve been on calls every single day with our entire sales and marketing team talking about the proactive side of this, what the talking points are, showing the success and the opportunity in this, versus talking about the doom and gloom. Because I’m watching marketing agencies that are telling their e-commerce clients to hold off on ad spend because it’s maybe inappropriate to market right now.

Jeremy Barnett (09:13):

That’s crazy.

Erik Huberman (09:15):

It’s ridiculous. And to me, I even got asked that on an interview, “Do you think it’s appropriate to market right now?” I’m like, “Yeah, as long as you’re not selling garbage and snake oil.” Like if you believe you provide a good product or service, there shouldn’t be an insensitive time to market, as long as you’re providing something people want and need. And so what we’ve seen is like… It’s funny, two of our competitive agencies I won’t name, put out studies that like, their clients are down 30% month over month. [inaudible 00:09:41] They’re not skyrocketing. But I’m like [crosstalk 00:09:44]

Jeremy Barnett (09:43):

Right.

Erik Huberman (09:44):

And what we did, like across the board. So I had my services team pivot creative and pivot messaging quickly to speak to the times, because we didn’t need to glaze over it. We have to speak to the fact that we know people are different right now. We definitely pivoted targeting too, like everyone’s a startup all of a sudden. And that’s what people have to realize, startup mentality becomes super important right now, because your whole business just changed, no matter who you are.

Erik Huberman (10:06):

And so for us, a lot of our business is driven by going to events, hosting events, that kind of thing. And so three weeks ago when all of the events I had on my… I was going to be gone for almost all of Q2 on the road, and everything got canceled. And I went, “Well that sucks. How am I going to meet people? How am I going to be around them?” I guarantee everyone else is dealing with this, too. So we decided to throw an online conference literally overnight. And so we’re throwing the quarantine conference on April 7th, next Tuesday. And it’s…

Jeremy Barnett (10:32):

Badass.

Erik Huberman (10:34):

[crosstalk 00:10:34] Badass about it, because nothing else is going on. Daymond John is keynoting, Anthony Scaramucci, we’re announcing him as a speaker tomorrow. So this is the first public announcement of it. We’ve got Dan Price, the guy that raised all his employees to make 75K a year plus, and took it out of his own salary, that was famous in Seattle. So all these amazing business leaders that are now going to be speaking and that we would have never gotten before. But now that we’re [crosstalk 00:11:00] together, and by the way, we have thousands of RSVPs. So for us, we’re servicing all size businesses, we’re now putting ourselves… And we’re doing this for free, to help a bunch of businesses.

Erik Huberman (11:12):

And the translation is going to be business for us. It’s also just a good thing to do, and we’re making lemonade out of lemons, like jump into it. I’m doing constant sessions. I’m doing a weekly YPO call for how to pivot to digital and just answering questions for people, like just leaning into it versus running away from it. And that’s I think the biggest thing you got to do, no matter who you are, because running away from it just means you’re going to lose your business, unless things cure themselves. You’re not doing anything to help your business in that situation.

Jeremy Barnett (11:40):

So I think that what I hear when you’re talking, even before you connect all of the things that you’re doing right now, the right mindset is 100% what needs to be a part of any CEO, founder, thought leader, anybody that wants to do anything that I would quantify as legendary in life. And maybe it’s a business, maybe it’s not a business, but before you can do anything spectacular, you 100% have to have the right mindset. What I want to do is I want to take that mindset, and I want to understand your mindset. Because right now you guys are in a position to where you can be a thought leader during this time. But let’s just be real, you’re a thought leader whether it’s this time or two months ago when everybody was just going about their merry day.

Jeremy Barnett (12:26):

But in order to get to that place where you have that mindset, in order to get to that place where you’ve overcome challenges, you’ve gone through some trials and tribulations. Every entrepreneur has. And you know what I was thinking about the other day, I was like, “What am I going to talk to Erik about?” Because we could talk about marketing, we can dive really deep there. We could talk about what your company does, and we can go really deep there. And those are all really interesting topics. But I’m interested in really understanding what it was that you went through at a certain period of your life that was like a crossroad. Like when were you getting the friction? When was it the time where you woke up one morning, and you were like, “Dude, I cannot do this anymore.” Did you ever have self doubt? What were the failures that got you to the point where you were able to do what you’re doing right now?

Erik Huberman (13:10):

That’s the thing. I think it’s not the point… Like you go through that all the time. This is my fifth business. You’re going to always have self doubt. You’re going to fail at things. Things aren’t going to go like you expect them to. Especially most entrepreneurs are pure optimists, so you’re going to be let down sometimes. You know, it’s a combination of a few things. Early in business, like a month in, I had an employee, and this was when I had like five employees, take off on a Monday morning. He met a girl over the week… I got an email on the Monday morning, and it said, “Hey Erik, long story short, met a girl on Saturday, fell in love, asked her where she wanted to go in the world, she said, Hawaii, we’re here now. I’ll be working remotely.” We didn’t work remotely at that point.

Erik Huberman (13:48):

This was out of the blue on a Monday morning, so I couldn’t get ahold of him. Finally got him on the phone Monday afternoon and said, “Hey, just make sure to handle your stuff, please.” [inaudible 00:13:55] “I got it, don’t worry.” Tuesday all of his clients, which is half my business because we were tiny, call me complaining and pissed off because he didn’t deliver what he was supposed to. I call him and I’m like, “What the fuck? What are you doing?” And he goes, “Erik, I got to stop you right there. This is the happiest day of my life. I’m getting married today. I just need you to respect that,” and hangs up on me. So at that point, my now business partner basically became my business partner because he was my Director of Operations, and he goes, “I guess I’m going to go learn how to do email marketing and make up to all these clients,” and figured it out, [inaudible 00:14:26] grabbed it for me.

Erik Huberman (14:28):

I get on the phone with my dad, who’s a pretty good entrepreneur, and told him the story, and I’m speeding through it now too, but let’s just say it took three, four minutes to tell this story. And my dad’s response is, “Oh yeah, that shit happens all the time. I got to run, I’ll talk to you later.” Click.

Jeremy Barnett (14:42):

Not that big of a deal.

Erik Huberman (14:44):

I always go back to that line, because it’s the best unintentional advice I think I’ve ever gotten, which is, yeah, running a business is hard. Like running a business, I’ve talked to my… My siblings are employed. They don’t run their own businesses. My wife has a [crosstalk 00:15:00] job, but she’s not. And like, I’m jealous right now. Sincerely, because they’re all like, “Oh yeah, I’m only working like four or five hours a day because there’s just not as much to do.” And they’re working plenty, but there’s not any weight on their shoulders. They’re just doing their job from home and spending some time at home.

Erik Huberman (15:14):

For me, right now in this process, you’re waking up every morning going to fucking battle. And you just have to understand that whether it’s the coronavirus, or just a shift in your industry, or a new competitor, or a lawsuit or something, you’re going to battle. And you just have to be ready that that’s part of the job. And once you come to terms with that, then it’s just… It’ll knock you off sometimes when it’s a new fight you haven’t dealt with. As I said, it knocked me off for a few days a few weeks ago, but then you’re like, “Oh yeah, this is the fucking job. This is what I signed up for.” And there’s the upside of it, which is amazing. But the downside is you don’t get to check out, and when shit gets tough, you really don’t get to check out. Like when things aren’t fun and there are big problems, that’s when you have to step up as a leader. And again, once you come to terms with that, my partner and I talk about it all the way all the time, the line is, it’s always something.

Erik Huberman (16:07):

And it’s all in context. If it wasn’t the coronavirus, it’d be something else that we’re dealing with, like a person quitting without notice and all their clients are pissed off. Or whatever it is, there’s always going to be some problem that bubbles up to you because as the owner, you’re always going to deal with the biggest problems.

Erik Huberman (16:21):

And so you have to understand that that’s a trade off in entrepreneurship and being a business owner. You get the benefit of the freedom. You get the benefit of, if you built a good business, you get a big financial benefit. The downside is the buck stops with you. And so in these bigger issues, you just got to be okay with that. And again, once you are already okay with that, once you’ve come to terms with that, then it doesn’t fucking matter. Then it’s just another day. It’s like, “Okay, so what are we going to do today?”

Jeremy Barnett (16:45):

Yeah. I was explaining my current CEO journey with a friend of mine, and I was telling him, I said, “It’s kind of like playing startup Jenga.” You just don’t… I mean, all of the data and the stats, everything points to, there’s no way you’re going to be able to fucking do this shit. Not a fucking chance. You’re not going to do it. All of the data points to, it’s way too risky. I think it’s really important too, to understand what your own personal criteria is. Like in other words, if you are going to be a leader of a business, then it’s not, “Am I going to figure out, maybe I can, maybe I can’t.” There has to be absolutely no doubts almost, in a way that is not necessarily rational.

Jeremy Barnett (17:28):

And that is the one thing I’ve noticed with the people that are around me, is there’s a tremendous amount of unity right now, not just with my team, but I’m noticing a lot of really good will with other leaders, not just in my local entrepreneur communities, but people across the world. This is definitely looking like, and from at least my perspective, the people that I’m talking to on a daily basis, there’s a lot of people stepping up right now. And there’s also a lot of people that are watching too much Fox News or watching too much of the doom and gloom situation [crosstalk 00:00:18:01].

Erik Huberman (18:02):

Turn that shit off.

Jeremy Barnett (18:03):

Turn that shit off. Listen dude, I did this one fucking night. What was it? It was about a week and a half ago. I stayed up til 3:00 in the morning watching Fox News, and literally the next day I was completely blasted. And it’s interesting, when you start thinking about perspective and what is the lemons to lemonade as you said about this, you are probably going to come out of this even stronger as a company, because you’re doing what you need to do to just be out there.

Erik Huberman (18:35):

I want to be clear, because it’s easy for me to do, I’m a digital marketing agency. Like everyone’s going digital and e-comm, like things are going to shift, but it’s probably a small bit of short term pain and a long term success for me. And that’s kind of a given if you manage things right.

Erik Huberman (18:47):

My favorite story that’s come out of this, on a personal level, was a friend of mine owns about 25 gyms across Canada, and done it for 20 years. And literally whatever, two weeks ago, three weeks ago, there was no warning, they were just like, “Starting today, you’re closed.” He wasn’t ready for that. He was expanding, it was an upmarket. You’re buying, you’re spending money, you don’t have the balance sheet. And he thought he was going to be ruined, and he was stressed out for a couple of days. And then he just said, “Screw it. I have a personal training gym. We’re going into virtual training. We’re going to get this doing.” Not only has that actually succeeded and he’s doing fine, he now has a whole new revenue stream he never had before, that when his gyms reopen, he’s probably going to be a bigger business. That’s a gym. That’s a company that was completely shut down three weeks ago, and he has pivoted fast.

Erik Huberman (19:30):

So it’s not just like… E-comm companies can’t complain about anything, there’s plenty of opportunity for companies that are already digital, but if you’re a brick and mortar business, there’s still opportunity. One of my best friends is the sous-chef at a Michelin Mexican restaurant in New York, in Brooklyn. They got shut down overnight, and they pivoted to do be doing at home fiestas, where they’re sending people… They’re known for their mescal, which by the way, New York and California at least opened up alcohol delivery to restaurants, so you can deliver shots of mescal with these platters of great food and let people have their own home Mexican parties. It didn’t cover everything, but it’s covered enough to keep the kitchen staff and the rent paid. They had to furlough their waiters, but at least saved some people. And then they’re not going to be completely bankrupt when they try to come out of this. They’re just going to cut wages for people that frankly now with the CARE Act are making more money on unemployment that they probably made in the store.

Jeremy Barnett (20:19):

There’s these SBA loans that right now startups can get, as long as you’ve been in business for one year. And you are going to get a real, real easy 30 year, 3.7% interest, and these are things that no startup would ever get unless it was right now.

Erik Huberman (20:37):

We’re applying for it. Because why the fuck not? That’s great financing. If I can’t find a way to make 3.75% on my money and my business, I’m failing.

Jeremy Barnett (20:46):

We got approved, I’m putting it out there, we got approved for SBA loan the other day. I honestly feel like I was the first person in America to get my application in. I was pressing refresh on my computer screen as if I had a bet on the Chargers football game, waiting for them to release the information. So I want to tailor some advice from you to the small, medium sized business owner out there. Somebody who’s doing a few hundred thousand dollars a year on Shopify or WordPress, and they don’t know what the fuck is up or what the fuck is down. If you are going to give them a few pieces of nuggets right now, what would it be?

Erik Huberman (21:24):

Yeah, number one, have a good product. Because if you’re just trying to launch some bullshit on Shopify, just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it’s good. And I say that flippantly, but seriously, the difference between success and failure in business is a good product or service. You just got to have something people want. And then from a marketing perspective, start scrappy, leverage press, reach out to influencers, make friends, get some revenue driving in, start to learn about your business before you just go dump money into Facebook ads. And then once you’re at mid six figures, seven figures in terms of run rate, then start looking at a full marketing mix. People love to just get on the hamster wheel with Facebook ads. And the moment that something shifts there, they’re screwed.

Erik Huberman (22:06):

People do the same thing with Google. And you’ve got to diversify your marketing strategy, just like you diversify a stock portfolio. Have a bunch of different things going, trying different things, because they drive different types of customers. They have different effects, and it all works in synergy. And so we talk about on our marketing, it’s all about adding things as you go, not taking things away. Like I hate the concept of, “We’ll see a Facebook works for us.” If it doesn’t work for you, you’re fucked. So all these [crosstalk 00:22:32] work for you, because if the idea of putting your product or service in front of people can’t convert customers, that’s a problem. And then continue to add on as your company grows and find the right veins to go with.

Jeremy Barnett (22:43):

Erik, when is the right time, if I am running my online business, when’s the right time to hire a Hawk Media?

Erik Huberman (22:52):

It’s at any stage you’re ready to hire people. I mean, really what we say is when you’re first starting, if you have no funding and you’re just getting started, you got to do the work. And so we’re happy to provide guidance there. But the moment you want to either hire an internal person or hire an agency we’re worth talking to, because we’re cost-effective. Our mission statement is accessibility to great marketing for everyone. So we want to be accessible, we want to be easy to work with, but we’re also really good at what we do. So we’re a good option the moment you’re ready to hire outside people. But there’s no supplement for that. If you’re not ready for that, you need to do it yourself. And then we’re happy to provide guidance on what to do.

Jeremy Barnett (23:28):

Awesome, man, awesome. Erik, it’s been a pleasure having you on our first show, and if people want to attend your quarantine conference, what do they do?

Erik Huberman (23:38):

Yeah, it’s Q-C-O-N dot LA, Qcon.LA, and it’s free. The whole idea here is we’re really trying to help push this idea of, lean into this, figure out how to adapt. We have speakers talking about the things you can do, this is for people that want to figure out… This might be here for a while, and either way I believe that you’re best off trying to run at it and figure out a way to adapt to it. And that’s what we’re trying to put together.

Jeremy Barnett (24:04):

And if people want to connect with you personally, or with Hawk, what do they do?

Erik Huberman (24:08):

Yeah, it’s at or slash Eric Huberman on all social media, at or slash Hawk Media on all social media. So.

Jeremy Barnett (24:16):

Easy to get ahold of. Easy to get ahold of. Brother, it was good to have you on our inaugural podcast, and really appreciate it. And entrepreneurs listening in, thanks for getting some rad intelligence this week. We’ll see you next Wednesday at 10:00 AM.

Jeremy Barnett (24:29): Thanks for joining us at Rad Intelligence for Entrepreneurs. You can follow me on Twitter @Radintelligence. And please shoot me an email with any comments, questions, or concerns at show@radintelligence.com — I hope you subscribe wherever you listen, and I’d be grateful if you could leave me a review on Apple podcasts. And remember, you’re listening to this podcast because you’re on a journey. I truly hope you see that mindset is the foundation of leadership and superpowers. See you next week for some rad intelligence.