Is there anything worse than a bad speech? We’ve all been there, eyes glazing over, mind wandering to what we’re going to cook later for dinner, head nodding off. A bad speaker can make an hour long event feel like it’s dragging into days but a good speaker will keep you absorbed and entertained to the point where you don’t even notice the time flying by.
Whether you’re looking for a speaker for an event or you want to advance your career as a public speaker, go check out Great Black Speakers (GBS), a site that connects African American public speakers with jobs around the country. Founded by Young Entrepreneur Council member Lawrence Watkins, GBS is all about making sure that people with great knowledge get paid to share it with the world.
We caught up with Lawrence and the resulting interview is just as articulate and interesting as you’d expect from someone who’s dedicating his life to promoting public speakers. Check it out. He’s got some great things to say about the art of entrepreneurship and more.
How’d you come up with the name for your company?
It was actually an accident. I was working with my older brother, Dr. Boyce Watkins, to help him grow his speaking career. Things were going well with him and we came up with the idea of booking others for speaking engagements, just like I did for him. We actually wanted to call the site BlackSpeakers.com, but that name was taken. So, the next best thing was Great Black Speakers and we went with that. It’s worked out well so far.
What’s the very first thing you do at work everyday?
Follow up with prospective speakers that want to be a part of Great Black Speakers. They are the life blood of our company and we need to have the best product possible. So, I spend the first 30 minutes on Contactually reaching out to speakers about how GBS can be of benefit to them.
How many people did you start the company with and how many people work for you now?
The company started with just me and was like that for the first year. Then, I decided to hire Diana Atkinson, who is the Executive Director of GBS. She handles all of the bookings for speaking gigs. We’ve kept the team pretty small since the early days. Currently, we have 4 employees as well as many different contractors to do different tasks. I stay on Fiverr pretty often.
Remember the early days starting up? Maybe you can share one anecdote that describe the struggle you went through?
It was very difficult in the early days because no one knew anything about me or Great Black Speakers. I remember calling people and getting hung up on. However, I just kept at it and then both speakers and organizations started to come around. It turns out that dangling thousands of dollars in front of a potential speaker usually gets a return phone call. I think the biggest thing is expressing your value to others in a confident manner. If you couple that with the ability to think differently about problems, then you are on your way.
How do you handle frustration? When/how was the last time you dealt with frustration?
I handle frustration by reading inspirational stories by other entrepreneurs. One of my favorite books is “Founders at Work” by Jessica Livingston. Also, I read the first few chapters of the Four Hour Work Week to keep me motivated. I have to remember that I chose this life and it is my duty to make the best of it.
I experience frustration on a daily basis and I think that is part of the growing process of an entrepreneur. My latest frustration is turning GBS from an agency into more of a technology platform to help professional speakers grow their brands. I never learned how to code, so it has been a challenge learning enough to communicate effectively with hard core programmers.
What’s your office environment like? Is it the kind of place where everyone is bumpin’ away to house music or is it more traditional?
Actually, it is virtual. Everyone on my team works in another part of the country. It’s great as we can all make our own schedules and work in the best way for each individual. It is bad because you have to have an extreme level of trust to make sure everyone is doing what they need to be doing. Luckily, Diana is my cousin so we have built that trust over many years. However, if you hire undisciplined people in key positions, you are headed for disaster as a virtual company.
How do you picture your company in 5 years?
Our aim is to be an information and inspiration disseminator whose goal is to deliver powerful messages to the masses. In five years, I would like GBS to have a hand in all of the ways that people learn. I view GBS as a tool to help speakers win in the marketplace of ideas. As technology continues to change, so does the way that people have to influence. We want to stay on the forefront of that.
Who or what inspires YOU? Role models? Quotes? Running? Video games? Snack food? Give us the deets, dude!
There are so many people that inspire me that it would be impossible to list them all. Tim Ferris wrote the most important book for me as an entrepreneur. Latest inspiration is Thomas Peterffy, who was featured in the book “Automate This.” I liked the way he thought about seemingly debilitating business problems and solved them over time.
Favorite snack food are peanut butter Twix, and peach rings. I also like brownies. I have such a sweet tooth.
I’m not a huge video game player. When I do play, it is Fight Night Round 4, Tekken, and DJ Hero.
I don’t like to run, but I do like to lift weights. My girlfriend has been trying to get me to do crossfit, but I’m afraid I will be too tired after to actually work!
What is the best thing about being an entrepreneur?
The ability to create art. I was never a great painter or musician. Business is my way of self expression and I wouldn’t trade it in for the world.
How’d you fund this venture? VC? Self-funding? Crowd-funded? Where’d you get the money, man?
I’ve been bootstrapped since day one. Sometimes I think about raising cash, but I kind of like having total control of my company. I got the seed money for GBS from one of my brother’s speaking engagements back in 2006. We launched in Jan. 2007.
Got any great bootstrapping tips for the lean startups out there?
Make sure you use your money extremely wisely. I recommend that you learn about all aspects of the business and then outsource from there. Also, make sure you focus on the right things. A lot of people get distracted by B.S. Don’t do that.
What would you be doing if you had one year off and $500,000 to spend (and you couldn’t spend it on your current startup / projects)
I would probably spend my time becoming an advanced skier and learning 2 other languages. I used to live in the Dominican Republic, but my Spanish has deteriorated. I would like to learn that and Mandarin. I would also do work around black male development through some new startup venture, but am not completely sure what that would look like.
Do you consider yourself a successful entrepreneur right now? If not, what’s it gonna take to make you feel successful?
I feel successful when I look at my career as a whole, but not really on a day to day level. There are so many disappointments that happen every day. It’s hard to wake up and think I’m winning in life. However, I think I am when I look at my life in its fullness. I just need to continue to grind every single day.
Website you couldn’t live without and why?
The Kissmetrics blog. I think it is the best blog on internet marketing. I visit their site all of the time and learn from them.
Mobile App you’re in love with and why?
Spotify!! I love it. I love it. I love it. It allows me to play entire albums that I haven’t heard in many years. I play it all day while I am at work.
Dogs or cats?
Hmmmm. I’m going to go with dogs, but I like cats too.
iOS or Android?
iOS. Not because the phone is better, but the apps are better for business.
What’s the greatest thing about your website?
It allows people who have great ideas, but no voice to expand and grow. A lot of times, great ideas and inspiring people toil in obscurity. GBS is a way for people to gain an audience and tell the world their message.
Where can our readers get ahold of you?
Courtesy of founder