David Brim on business, marketing & life.

8 Success & Life Lessons You Can Learn From Harris Rosen

Contributor: David Brim February 11, 2020

Earlier today I had the privilege to listen to Harris Rosen share his story and business lessons  at the Startup Studio Global Entrepreneurship Summit.

Harris Rosen has had a truly abundant, inspiring and impactful career. He shared that he currently has 8 hotels, 7000 rooms, and not a penny of debt. More importantly, he has a profit for a purpose mindset. He has committed himself to using the profits and success he has achieved to improving the lives of his employees, the local community and world. To date he has directly contributed $55M+ to charitable causes.

Here are the top 8 business lessons that I’ve learned from Harris Rosen.


1. Sometimes failures put you in a better position for success

I found the backstory that Harris shared to be very inspiring. He grew up poor in Manhattan. After graduating from Cornell University he had ambitions of working at Disney and volunteered (worked without pay) as Whinny the Poo just to get into the door. He was eventually hired, but was told that he would never become a Disney Executive and was fired. He was depressed and disappointed. At this difficult time, he saw an opportunity. There was an Oil Embargo and consequently hotels were depressed and many were going under. He decided that it was a great time to buy a hotel.


2. Take risks to accomplish your dream

Harris found a bankrupt hotel on iDrive. He purchased the hotel for $20,000 cash and assumed a $2M+ mortgage. The $20,000 was nearly all he had to his name. Despite his family warning him to stay out of debt, Harris invested nearly all the cash that he saved and assumed a multi-million dollar mortgage. The mortgage took him roughly 15 years to pay off, but the investment paid off and gave Harris a great foundation for future success. It is important to note that Harris indicated that today in the position he is in his philosophy on debt has changed. If he cannot purchase or develop a new hotel or project with cash then he doesn’t do it.  Nevertheless, his startup story required some bold risks. These risks are often an essential part of  reaching great levels of success. Harris has demonstrated that and it is wonderful to see the levels of success he has reached since that first investment many years ago.


3. Work harder than humanly possible

Rosen is an extremely hard worker. He advised the audience to work harder than humanly possible to accomplish your dream. He indicated that he never took a day off in 16 years. He also lived in the hotel and would often be found picking up cigarette butts on the property, which many owners would never be found doing.


4. Love what you do

In order to keep you motivated and working hard, especially in the challenging times, it is essential to love what you do. Harris shared this suggestion numerous times. Love what you do and it will show.


5. Don’t give up.

When Harris hit tough times early on after acquiring his first hotel he dug deep and wouldn’t give up. He hitch hiked to NY because he couldn’t afford a ticket. He cut deals with travel bookers to write the room rate they wanted to pay and indicated that his hotel would honor it for 2 years. These rates averaged $7-7.25 per night, but increased business and introduced people and potential partners with influence of the quality of his hotel.


6. You know when you’re doing something wrong. Don’t do it.

Harris Rosen is a man of integrity. Some business people sacrifice their morals to achieve success. Harris is not one of those people. He advised the audience to be honest and try to keep silly things to a minimum. He said “You know when you’re doing something wrong. Don’t do it.”


7. Treat others how you want to be treated

Harris indicated that he doesn’t have employees, he has family members. His hired staff becomes family and the culture of care and love that Harris built shows. He provides his staff the best healthcare in the world. He shared that the only healthcare expense that his team would ever pay is $750/year. He shared a story of an employee that had a pre-mature baby. After being in NICU the baby racked up a hospital bill of over $1M. The employee paid the first $750 and Harris paid off the $1M balance over the course of three years. He also pays the college tuition for employees after they have worked at his properties for a few years. He cares about his team and goes the extra mile for them. Consequently they go the extra mile for him.


8. When you become successful don’t sit on your toosh.

Harris explained that wealthy and successful people have certain responsibilities. Making a true difference in the world and our local communities is up to the private sector. Not the government. He mentioned that when you become successful, don’t sit on your toosh. Do good things. God will appreciate it. Harris has done immense good throughout his career. He recently asked his accountant to calculate the charitable giving that he has done over his career – it amounted to over $55M. Recently his investment in Tangelo Park has led to graduation rates skyrocketing and crime decreasing. Harris created a system for free-day care for Tangelo Park families. He also covers the tuition to Florida public Universities (including room and board) for all Tangelo Park seniors. Harris also developed the Rosen School of Hospitality Management at UCF. This hospitality program is the second best in the country behind Rosen’s alma mater Cornell (by a very slim margin).What amazing, generous and meaningful gifts he is providing! Harris has committed to spreading this spirit to other wealthy people across America. He indicated that they can change America one under-privileged community at a time.

Harris Rosen is an extremely inspiring man and a fantastic human being. In a world where many say that the rich should pay their fair share, Harris is a shining example of the good that good people that amass wealth can do in the world and their local community.


A poem for you, Dad

Contributor: David Brim May 6, 2019

Today is my dad’s 80th birthday. My dad has been such a wonderful and positive influence in my life. But what gift can you purchase for someone that has everything materialistically that he wants?

I decided to craft this poem expressing my gratitude, some of the lessons I’ve learned, and experiences we’ve had. I’m sharing it publicly to celebrate how wonderful my father is on his special day, but also to spread some of the impactful lessons I’ve learned.

Dad, it’s your 80th birthday and not just any gift will do.
So, I decided to write this poem for you.


There’s so much to say…
Where do I start?
You’ve loved me from day one with all your heart.


You read to me when I was small while I sat on your knee.
And often put me high on your shoulders so I could see.


We’d add license plates up to work on my math,
and by the time I hit school I was far down the right path.


You encouraged me to develop my voice and speak my mind
and address problems head on so they don’t sneak up from behind.


You were always there for me and did what a father should
and corrected me when I was wrong and not being good.


You’ve always had my back and picked me up when I fell.
You inspired me to dream and pushed me to excel.


You encouraged me to be great in all that I do
and taught me the process for making my dreams come true.


Stay focused and work hard to persevere…
and find the best mentors to be in your ear.


You dedicated so much of yourself to help me achieve,
investing so much time that many would not believe.


We spent many hours in the gym at Greenway, Duquesne or Pitt…
I’d have to make 10-20 in a row before I could quit.


You were at every game and never missed a beat,
and would drive us long hours where my Cleveland team would meet.


And when I was down or feeling blue,
you gave me the wisdom and perspective to help me get through.


You inspired me as a leader, a principal with thousands at your school
With rival gangs, fights and challenges you always kept your cool.


We’ve shared so much together and had many fun times.
Way too many to pack into these few rhymes.


Trips to Giant Eagle, you’d leave all the workers with lots of smiles
A short trip would always take a long while.


South Dakota, Arizona…so many places we’d go.
In Jersey we got stuck in a hotel for days due to snow.


No itinerary needed, you and I always had a blast.
We’d sit and talk and let the time pass.


Being a new parent, I appreciate you and Mom so much more.
Lindsay & I didn’t know all the hard work we had in store.


Alana & Cruz are very blessed to have their grand-dad’s love
Whether from Pittsburgh or one day shining down from above.


And even though you’re far away and can’t teach them directly
The lessons you taught pass through me effectively.


Through it all I know this much to be true,
I couldn’t have asked for a better dad than you.


And Daddio, I have one more final thing to say…
I wish you a very happy 80th birthday.

Love Always,



16 Uplifting Ways to Soar in 2015

Contributor: David Brim January 1, 2015

There is something about being high up in the sky that really changes your perspective.  You see far more than you do on the ground. Last week my wife and I were on a flight back to Orlando from Pittsburgh. As we traveled over 500+ mph through the air we covered a vast amount of ground very quickly. In a single glance from the plane window we observed land as far as the eye could see, bodies of water, thousands of homes, big buildings, and specs of light moving from tiny cars driving on the roads below.
town from plane window

I couldn’t help but think about all of the people far below us living their lives. People facing good times and bad. Some dealing with joyous heart-warming moments and others figuring out how to face the world amidst a tragedy or loss. Some people making good decisions and moving in the right direction, while others flirt with disaster or remain stuck by their restricted thoughts, environment or situation.

It is easy to get wrapped up in daily life and routines. Many people turn on auto-pilot and do not take time for meaningful “high level reflection” that could lead them to a change in perspective resulting in a more fruitful reality, whatever that may be for the individual.

Here are 16 Ways to Soar to New Heights in 2015…

    • Determine your final destination (Have a clear vision)

      If you do not know where you want to go then how will you know when you get there? There are unlimited possibilities and opportunities in this world. As Sun Tzu said, Opportunities Multiple as they are seized.” If you decide to travel down a given path and seize a certain opportunity then related opportunities will present themselves. This being the case, it is very important to have clarity and know the type of life you want to live. This clarity doesn’t mean that you will always know what decisions to make to bring that vision into existence. That is where your values come in.

    • Ensure your compass is calibrated (Define your core values)

      Years ago I had the opportunity to work with an extremely successful entrepreneur named Peter Thomas (Founder of Century 21 Canada, Venture Capitalist, CEO of Thomas Franchise Solutions, Developer of the FourSeasons resort in Scottsdale Arizona, and many more impressive accolades).One thing he regularly expressed is that your decisions are much easier when your values are clearly defined. Having clear values is very much like having a calibrated compass. Your values can help guide your life in the right direction.

      In this circumstance, rather than think about moral values (another topic), think about values in terms of what is important to you. I defined my values after my conversation with Peter as – Health, Integrity, Wisdom, Freedom and Abundance. This is not to say that other things are not important. It is just my belief that the other things that are important to me will all flourish if I remain true to the core values I shared. For example – If I have good health, a sound moral compass of integrity, wisdom and freedom then I can create abundance in my life and those around me (family, friends, those in my community in need, those I work with, entrepreneurs, etc). This abundance could include nourishing experiences, positive seeds of wisdom that can bear fruit, financial upside and more. If you haven’t taken the time to do so yet, define your core values. It truly does make your decision making process much easier. If you have a significant other it helps to understand their values as well and define shared values for your relationship.


    • Make sure your auto-pilot is functioning properly (Develop uplifting habits)

      Habits can be your best friends or worst enemies. Routines of behavior become habits. Assess the current routines and habits you have in your life. Are they supporting your overall vision, life goal, or health? Understand what new routines you can work into your life that will create new habits to add value to your life…then stick to them. Discard negative routines and habits.


    • Travel with the right crew (Surround yourself with good people)

      My wife Lindsay is starting an equine assisted learning non-profit organization called Crossroads Corral with several others. She recently attended training in Texas and told me of an exercise called “Temptation Alley”. In this exercise she and another girl were tasked with getting a horse down a path filled with treats, food and other distractions. They couldn’t touch the horse at all and if the horse grabbed any food or got off path they would have to start over. Lindsay thought this would be impossible, but her and another girl came up with a plan. They decided to stand on each side of the horse, get excited and encourage him to move then run along with him down the path. To everyone’s surprise they completed the exercise in record speed.After the facilitator commended the two girls, another trainee rebutted….I don’t think it was that impressive. The horse didn’t even see the temptations along the path. To that point Lindsay replied…

      “When you run with the right herd they can stop you from noticing temptation. The temptation may still exist, you just don’t even notice it.”

      Just like Lindsay in the temptation alley horse exercise – those you run with should excite you, keep you focused on your path to accomplishing your goals, and help you stray away from temptation. It is important to assess those you spend your time with and determine if they are the right crew to take your life to new heights.


    • Travel outside of your comfort zone

      I have certain relatives that are scared to death of flying. They have never boarded a plane and didn’t even attend my wedding in Florida years back because of this phobia. Consequently they missed out on one of my biggest life moments and one hell of a party! It is easy to stay nice and cozy while living inside your comfort zone. However, if you do this you are really cutting yourself short. Take a chance in 2015. More risk, more reward. Of course that risk should be assessed and the decision should not be impulsive. If the decision seems too risky…consider building a runway.


    • Build yourself a solid runway to help you take off

      Runways give you the room to prepare for take off to accomplish your goals. For instance, if your goal is starting a business there are many types of runways you can build. Personally in the early years of my business career I built the following runways: Leveraged my time and the resources available in college, purchased a duplex in the early years of my business with my fiance (now wife) to decrease our expenses, started a marketing agency to give me flexibility and provide low cost resources to my tech venture, joined the technology incubator to provide low cost rent early on, etc. All of these runways gave me the freedom to explore, take advantage of opportunities and take off. There are many other runways that can be built or utilized depending on your goal and current situation.


    • Seek higher ground if you need a more fertile environment to grow

      If your environment is not fertile to support your goals, values or vision it may be time to for a change. This higher ground could mean a change in your employment or overall profession, living situation, romantic relationship, friendships, etc. Some changes may be small, others may be large. In 2006 I made a decision to Orlando thus leaving all of my friends, family and girl friend to put myself in an environment I felt was more fertile for my success. This was one of the best decisions of my life. Though many did not agree with this decision they understood my reasons for the change and the ones that matter are all very supportive and happy for the success that this difficult change has brought me.


    • Re-program your mental computer

      Your thoughts shape how you experience, interpret, feel and act in the world. Just like a computer, it is important to instill the right programs and information in your mind to improve your “operating system” and life. There are many things that you can do to accomplish this mental reprogramming. Meditation, self affirmations, reading, writing, developing new habits, speaking with inspiring or experienced people, etc. About six months ago I crafted a page long personal affirmation statement. I committed the statement to memory and say each morning and night. I did this so the affirmations can soak deep into my subconscious mind and ensure my thoughts, words, actions and consciousness all align with the life I want to live. I’ve noticed a big difference and suggest that if you are looking to bring about a change in your life that you give this a try.


    • Be a good pilot (Know your strengths and weaknesses)

      Over the last few years I have taken several well-known personal assessments: Meyers Briggs and Strength Finders. My wife Lindsay also took the assessments as well as many of our friends. If you have not taken the time to take these assessments and better understand yourself then 2015 is the year to do it. Learn more


    • Stay focused

      There are a lot of distractions that can deter you from reaching your final destination. It is important to stay focused. To a large extent this goes back to many of the other suggestions that were previously discussed – having a clear vision, understanding your values, developing good habits, being around those that will support you, etc.


    • Get to know other passengers (build new relationships)

      I’m amazed by the great people I meet when experiencing life. It is true you can meet great contacts at networking events, but too often people neglect to start up conversations with new people they encounter in their daily lives. I’ve met some wonderful people on flights, shopping, at the gym, etc. Great entrepreneurs, politicians, non-profit directors, etc. I’ve really enjoyed my conversations with many of these people. In some cases it may even lead to new business or referrals to others in my network who can add value to their efforts. Take time to talk with those around you. You never know what you’ll learn, what introduction it could lead to, or how you could help one another.


    • Stay motivated through turbulent times

      Everyone encounters challenging obstacles in their life at one time or another. Learning to pick yourself up and move forward during difficult times is an essential asset to pack on whatever trip you are taking. Understand what positive triggers can give you an extra boost or lift you when you face set-backs.


    • Get rid of excess baggage (Declutter your world, space and life)

      When getting caught up in the daily activities and routines of life it can be easy to accumulate clutter, or excess baggage. Removing what you don’t need in your home, car, computer, email, drawers and life can be time consuming and hard at times. However, it is a great feeling once it is over. A decluttered environment can make you feel good, increase your productivity, improve your mental clarity and more. This not only relates to physical clutter that you may collect, but also emotional clutter, past negative experiences and toxic attitudes. Ditch the excess baggage in 2015!


    • Don’t forget to watch your belongings (Be thankful for what you have and treat it as such)

      Take time to be grateful for what you are thankful for in your life. This could be your health, skills, people you value, your time, clothes, car, house, animals, job, clients, business, etc. When you are in a mindset of gratitude you tend to find ways to express that appreciation. This expression could be taking better care of what you have, giving thanks to those you value or keeping what you value top-of-mind. All of which could inject more appreciation and joy into your life.


    • Enjoy your trip (Take time to relax, have fun and enjoy your life)

      While striving to grow and reach our potential it is easy to forget to “take time to smell the roses” as my mom always tells me. If you’re like me you love what you do and it doesn’t really seem like work, but it is. This is especially true to those around you. My wife is great and truly supports my entrepreneurial activities. This didn’t happen initially, but through the course of 10 years of being together and many conversations. Through that time I also came to understand what she enjoys and was able to find more balance (this is often hard in startups, but gets easier as your business and team grows). Regardless of your stage of business it is still important to set aside time for fun, relaxation and enjoyment. Many people think that you cannot have a balanced life as an entrepreneur. The thought is that you must sacrifice your health, relationships and fun for the price of success. This is not true. It is true that sacrifices must be made at times, but I know many successful entrepreneurs who have abundance in various aspects of their personal and professional life. It is very possible. You just have to have the vision and values to support the life you want to develop.


    • Upgrading yourself through reflection can lead to rapid rewards

      Taking quiet time to reflect on your life and various situations can lead to great improvements. Many think that if they are not working on something tangible that they are not being productive. Granting yourself the upgrade of assessing your situation can lead to rapid rewards. Learning from various experiences can often be one of the most productive things that one can do. Don’t ignore it.


Final thoughts…

I hope that you enjoyed this post. If you have a clear and consistent vision along with the values, thoughts and habits to support that vision you are more likely to bring it into existence.

You may be wondering why I chose to share 16 suggestions and not 15. This goes back to vision (the first point). In order to excel in your current situation you have to have the vision to see past it. 16 therefore is a metaphor to encourage you to think past our current situation and time. Think big…just like when you look out from that window on an airplane.

I hope that all of you have a safe, healthy and prosperous 2015. Make it the best year yet!

Two Proven Resources to Help You Better Understand Yourself and Others

Contributor: David Brim October 25, 2014

We all interpret the world in a unique way based on our past experiences, education, attitude, dominant thoughts, needs and goals. These factors act as a lens and shape our perception of what we experience which cause us to respond to people, events, and stress differently.

Each of us also has natural character traits that can either be strengths or weaknesses in various situations.

As a leader, or manager, it is important to understand those on your team.

  • How do they see the world?
  • What are their dominant thoughts, needs and goals?
  • What are their natural character traits that can help them to excel or fall short depending on what is happening?

Once you understand them you can more effectively translate a message or truth you are seeking to convey in a way that is easier for them to grasp through the lens they see the world through. You can also put them in situations or roles to maximize their likelihood of success.

It is also extremely important to understand yourself…especially if you are (or are looking to become) an entrepreneur. There are times when things may not go as planned. These trying times can can be stressful and test you mentally, financially and emotionally. During these times of stress you must know how to pick yourself up, make well informed and balanced decisions, be a good steward of capital & resources, and able to embrace uncertainty with faith and confidence.

In order to do this you must carve out time for reflection and know how to re-align your dominant thoughts during times of stress to ensure that the decisions and plans you make take you, and your team, down a fruitful path. This cannot happen without a true and deep understanding of yourself.

It can take a great amount of time to gain a deep understanding of yourself and others in your life. Though deep understanding takes time, I have found two resources that have been helpful in my business and personal life. I thought I’d share…

Strength Finder 2.0 Assessment

strength finder logo

The Clifton StrengthsFinder is a Web-based assessment of normal personality from the perspective of Positive Psychology. It is the first instrument of this type developed expressly for the Internet. Over a secure connection, the Clifton StrengthsFinder presents 177 items to you. Each item consists of a pair of potential self-descriptors, such as “I read instructions carefully” versus “I like to jump right into things.” The descriptors are placed as if anchoring polar ends of a continuum. You are then asked to choose the descriptor that best describes you, and to identify the extent to which that chosen option is descriptive of you. You are given 20 seconds to respond to a given pair of descriptors before the assessment automatically presents the next pair. Source

My Results – Strength Finder Assessment

I took the assessment several months back after it was suggested by a successful angel investor and entrepreneur I am close with.

Strategic: People strong in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.

Futuristic: People strong in the Futuristic theme are inspired by the future and what could be. They inspire others with their visions of the future.

Relator: People who are strong in the Relator theme enjoy close relationships with others. They find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal.

Activator: People strong in the Activator theme can make things happen by turning thoughts into action. They are often impatient.

Self-Assurance: People strong in the Self-assurance theme feel confident in their ability to manage their own lives. They possess an inner compass that gives them confidence that their decisions are right.

Based on my understanding of myself I thought this assessment was spot on. I also had my wife Lindsay take the assessment. Though she had none of the strengths that I ended up with we both thought  her results were very accurate as well. See a list of strengths, or take the StrengthFinders assessment yourself.

Myers Briggs Test

The purpose of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) personality inventory is to make the theory of psychological types described by C. G. Jung understandable and useful in people’s lives. The essence of the theory is that much seemingly random variation in the behavior is actually quite orderly and consistent, being due to basic differences in the ways individuals prefer to use their perception and judgment. Source

Similar to the StrengthFinders Assessment you are asked a variety of questions. Based on your answers you determine the following….

Your Favorite world: Do you prefer to focus on the outer world or on your own inner world? This is called Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I).

How do you process information: Do you prefer to focus on the basic information you take in or do you prefer to interpret and add meaning? This is called Sensing (S) or Intuition (N).


How do you make decisions: When making decisions, do you prefer to first look at logic and consistency or first look at the people and special circumstances? This is called Thinking (T) or Feeling (F).


Structure Preference: In dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided or do you prefer to stay open to new information and options? This is called Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).


Your Personality Type: When you decide on your preference in each category, you have your own personality type, which can be expressed as a code with four letters.


There are 16 combinations available. Here is a breakdown of the frequency of each type in the general population:

Myers Briggs Frequency by Population


My Results

I have taken the test several times and have come up with (E/I)NTP each time. Typically my results end up with an E (extroverted), but at times I have ended up with an I (introverted). The E/I is related to where you gain your strength – from being around others or internally. Not necessarily how good your communication skills are. The ENTP is a “Visionary“.

Career types for an ENTP include:

  • Lawyers
  • Entrepreneurs
  • Consultants
  • Psychologists
  • Marketing personnel
  • Sales reps
  • Etc
I found it to be very spot on especially considering that I originally was a psychology major before changing majors, considered law school in the past, and currently am a marketing consultant and entrepreneur.

View all of the Myers Briggs Personality types.

Once you know your personality type, or that of another person you can also access great resources to assist you with communication, career growth, relationships, and more.

Final Thoughts

Whether you are an entrepreneur, manager, college student or simply someone looking to improve themselves or others – I highly suggest exploring these resources. Consider sharing them with your spouse, co-workers, manager, employees and friends.

Once you have taken the test drop a comment and let me know what your top strengths via StrengthsFinder, or your personality type via Myers Briggs ended up being. Cheers to continued growth!

11 Sizzling Success Lessons from the Founder of 4 Rivers Smokehouse (BBQ)

Contributor: David Brim September 25, 2014

The UCF LaunchPad always seems to have something cookin! Yesterday I was on campus for a lunch meeting and happened to walk through the Student Union. I decided to stop by the UCF LaunchPad, a center championing entrepreneurship on campus, to say hello and am glad I did.

I was informed that John Rivers, the founder of 4 Rivers Smokehouse (AKA – The best BBQ you will ever eat!!!), was speaking in a few minutes. I decided to attend.

4Rivers-John RiversJohn Rivers is quite a remarkable man. He has a strong presence, yet is very approachable and down to earth. He communicates very well and connected with the audience by sharing many personal anecdotes along with words of wisdom that he learned throughout his journey. His charisma, faith, sincerity and passion were very apparent.

I found his talk to be very inspiring and meaningful. This being the case I thought I’d share a recap on my blog so that others who were not able to attend could find value from it as well.

With that said…Here are the 11 sizzling success lessons I learned from John Rivers, the founder of 4 Rivers Smokehouse.

  1. Put yourself in a position to learn the business you want to be a part of
  2. When John was younger he wanted to be a cook, but didn’t actually become one at a restaurant until he opened his own. However, throughout his life John invested significant time into learning the restaurant business. He held many positions in the restaurant industry including doorman, bar tender, bus boy, dishwasher, etc. By working in these various positions he was able to see many aspects of the restaurant industry. John took a break from the restaurant industry and worked his way up to become a CEO of a major healthcare company. All the while he never lost his passion for restaurants. When he traveled to new areas for healthcare meetings, or other business travel, he would have his personal assistance arrange times for him to visit BBQ spots in the area they were visiting. After visiting each BBQ spot he he would note what he liked and did not like about each. This gave John in depth knowledge about BBQ and helped him create a solid foundation for 4 Rivers.

  3. If you can’t do something you’re passionate about…inject passion into what you’re doing.
  4. John Rivers - LaunchPadJohn shared a story with us about a time when he worked in a restaurant. John wanted to be a cook, but after the manager hired him he was assigned to washing dishes. John had a choice. He could be discouraged, or up-set, or make the most out of the situation. He told himself “If I cannot do something I am passionate about…I can inject passion into what I am doing.” He decided to create a small tiki hut around his assigned dishwashing area. He brought in a tape player and began playing upbeat music. More and more employees began engaging wish John and he indicated that the morale improved substantially. He then began to time himself to see how fast he could wash dishes – essentially creating a game, which causes his dishwashing experience to be more enjoyable.

    What a great story!

    John was able to change a situation he was not pleased with into a positive one by shifting his perception, thoughts, attitude, surroundings and actions. Consequently he had a better time working, positively influenced others and improved team productivity and morale.

  5. Follow your dreams…no matter how late in your life it may be
  6. One day, when John was a CEO of the major healthcare company, he found himself sharing his dissatisfaction about his job to a friend. John mentioned that throughout his management career he frequently coached his employees to do what they love, or find something else to do. Once John realized that he was no longer doing something he loved he knew that it was time to do something else. After he retired from the healthcare company he began focusing more on his dream cooking BBQ and sharing it with the world.

    He mentioned that some said “The last 20 years kept you away from your dream.”…He responded by saying “The last 20 years prepared me for my dream.”

  7. Don’t set out to accomplish a plan, but a purpose.
  8. John indicated that business plans written in stone rarely are executed successfully. Many variables arise that cause entrepreneurs to adjust their plan to meet unforeseen circumstances or opportunities. This being the case he indicated that rather than focusing on the plan…it is much better to focus on the purpose. Plans can be beneficial, but be sure to hold your purpose close to you, listen to your gut and follow your heart.

  9. Share your gifts with the world and your community
  10. One thing that I didn’t know about 4 Rivers is that their BBQ was initially never meant to be a business. John began cooking BBQ out of his garage as a fundraiser for those in need. He went on to start John’s Ministry and would donate his BBQ to help raise money for causes and distressed individuals.

    After starting his business he had a very large following from all those he had touched and made a positive impression on over the years.

    Today donations and giving back is still a cornerstone of their business and culture. This is clearly evident in their mission statement that appears on their corporate website:

    4 Rivers Mission

    To use our God-given gifts to support the local community, schools and charity organizations by building a business that distinguishes the 4 Rivers brand on the foundation of exceptional products, customer appreciation and uncompromised honesty, integrity and respect.

    We hope you enjoy our products as much as our friends and family do. More importantly, we hope you consider joining us in support of the multitude of wonderful, important charitable organizations we support.

    Source: 4 Rivers website

    John indicated that they have donated to over 467 organizations. Rather than invest money in advertising this charitable giving produces substantial awareness and goodwill that helps fuel the continued growth of 4 Rivers.

  11. Trust your Gut
  12. When John decided to launch the first 4 Rivers restaurant in Winter Park everyone told him that opening a BBQ spot in that location was a bad idea. Nevertheless John followed his gut and continued. He mentioned that if he would have known all of the hardships he would have faced he likely would not have started it in the first place. He referenced a concept Steve Jobs shared and indicated that it is easy to connect the dots looking back, but difficult to connect them looking forward. Because of this it is important to trust your gut.

    John trusted his gut even in the toughest of times and encouraged us to do the same.

  13. Keep your faith even during the toughest of times
  14. This suggestion goes along with the previous one. When John decided to take the leap of faith and open the first 4 Rivers store in Winter Park, Fl he faced some difficult challenges. He initially budgeted $188k budget for first store, but the project went significantly over budget. After investing nearly $500k and having only a few months of funds left in their personal bank account the contractor John had hired went out of business. Yikes!!!

    At the same time John was offered a big job as the CEO of a newly founded healthcare company that included a very large compensation package. John spoke with his wife and she supported whatever decision he made. Something inside John told him not to take the job and continue following his dream with faith.

    John soon was connected with a contractor who helped him complete the construction of 4 Rivers. John was now in business!

    By the way..The big healthcare company that offered John the CEO job soon went out of business.

  15. Know how to handle business growth

    John brought up the concept of being able to manage company growth (cash, resources, capacity, etc). He mentioned that it is very much like stretching a rubber band as far as it will go without breaking. Just before you hit the breaking point you then invest in a larger rubber band and repeat the process. I can relate to these entrepreneurial growing pains and wrote about them in a previous post. I like his analogy of a rubber band and thought that it illustrated his point very well.

    He went on to explain that he has a philosophy of strategically choosing the order and locations of his smokehouses. He imagines a series of rings around stores – I’ll call refer to them as Brand Awareness rings. He explained it by mentioning that the rings closest to a given store have the darkest rings (most brand awareness). As the brand awareness rings go away further from the store they get lighter and lighter. He tries to open locations that touch the far edges of his brand awareness ring. Each time a new store is opened he begins drawing a new conceptual brand awareness ring and starts over. With this strategy in mind he can leverage the momentum and brand awareness that he has gained in surrounding areas. Based on this strategy he will not jump ahead and open a store in New York or Las Angeles prematurely because the costs of increasing brand awareness and gaining support in those alienated areas would be substantially higher than following his focused roll-out plan.

  16. Invest a little…learn a lot.
  17. This suggestion made by John falls very much in line with lean start up principles and business model canvas. Don’t throw a large amount of resources behind a project without testing it first. This may sound contradictory with the suggestion of following your gut, but there is a difference between being naive and being smart by testing the viability of your concept before investing heavily into it. It is best to invest a little, and learn a lot…then proceed accordingly.

  18. Have a Great Product
  19. John didn’t spend too much time talking about his product, but from personal experience…it speaks for itself! Their BBQ is the best I’ve tasted. 4 Rivers has extremely high quality food and that commitment to quality starts from the top. I remember the first 4 Rivers location had a line around the building. The lines were similar to those at an amusement park. John mentioned that they go through 15,000 lbs of Brisket per week per store. Roughly 1.7m lbs per year of delicious, yummy brisket. (Sorry if I offended any Vegetarians!)

    4 Rivers line

  20. Don’t fear mistakes…learn from them
  21. John mentioned “We celebrate mistakes at four rivers…we learn from them.” He explained that everyone makes mistakes, but it is essential to learn quickly and grow from those mistakes.

I enjoyed listening to John Rivers and hope that you found as much value from his success tips as I did. 4 Rivers was founded in 2009 and has quickly exploded into one of the fastest growing restaurants in Central Florida. They just signed a lease for their ninth location! I wish John and his team at 4 Rivers much continued success!


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