Michael Portman, co-founder of Verb Products, was campaign consultant and writer to a President (Vicente Fox, Mexico), a Dallas ad agency creative director (American Airlines, Sprint, Cinemark), national magazine writer (Elle, GQ) and served as an executive communications director for the Walt Disney Company during his five years living in Los Angeles writing screenplays. Michael is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, which he finished in three years.
Who is your hero?
What’s the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today, and why?
Learn by doing. I graduated college as a Creative Writing and English Lit major. All the better writers were going on to master’s programs in writing and I was the anomaly, having graduated early and itching to get out there. I was lucky enough to have the novelist Julian Barnes as a teacher and mentor and he said, quite simply, “You know how to write. Go out there and experience something to write about. A garbage collector’s stories are more interesting than an academic’s.”
I went into advertising, not garbage collecting, but still. That was a major fork in the road moment for me.
What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in your business, and what did you learn from it that others can learn from too?
Verb (hair products) is my second company, formed five years after our first, Birds Barbershop (with five locations in Austin). Since we were trying to achieve the same overall goal with hair product as we had with haircuts — affordable yet professional quality — we made the mistake of transferring a lot of the look and feel of the first onto the second. We ended up developing a product that looked like “Birds in a can” vs. something with its own distinct feel. We learned early on that just because the goal is the same, services and manufacturing are very different beasts and there is no one-size-fits-all across different sectors.
What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?
After taking my kids to school and reading the paper (print, always print), I walk my dog through Zilker Park to clear my head and discover the questions I need to answer throughout the day. It may not sound like part of my business day, but it is the only quiet time I have, and without it I’d just be stuck in an inbox with no broader perspective.
What’s your best financial or cash-flow related tip for entrepreneurs just getting started?
You need more money than you think to do it right. There are no exceptions to this rule, no matter how frugal you are, because you have yet to get into the thick of it and realize what is really needed to make it.
Quick: What’s ONE thing you recommend ALL aspiring or current entrepreneurs do right now to take their biz to the next level?
Go talk to someone who has done what you dream you could achieve and write down every word. Give them a piece of the action. Know that you don’t know everything. Not even close.
What’s your definition of success? How will you know when you’ve finally “succeeded” in your business?
Success to me is free time without worry. Not sure I’ll ever consider myself a success.