Gene Hammett turns everyday entrepreneurs into forces of nature in their market. He sorts through the complexities of business strategies to help clients stand out and has been a business leader for over 20 years. Gene has started and run multiple million-dollar companies. He’s a coach, speaker and author. On his podcast, Leaders in the Trenches, Gene has interviewed hundreds of world thought leaders. He’s been featured in Forbes, Success, Business Insider, and Inc. Magazine and is also a contributor to Entrepreneur Magazine.


In This Episode

Money may make the world go round but it certainly can’t buy happiness. After losing $3 million in one day, Gene Hammett had to reflect about where he was going with his business and life. He shares the conclusion he came to, how he attracts hyper-growth businesses, and a sneak peek of his new book for budding entrepreneurs in this episode of Modern Ontrapreneur.

Topic Timeline:

0:55 Be Different

Even if it makes you or your business not apply to everyone, that’s ok.

2:18 Don’t Get Trapped by Success

Learn to take more calculated risks to avoid pain later down the road.

4:56 A Natural Strategist

Combining business strategy with the inner workings and mindset of entrepreneurs.

6:34 How Hyper-growth CEO’s Are Shaping His Business

Turning deep conversations with hyper-growth CEOs into new clients and relationships.

11:16 How to Create Those Relationships

Take the value you create in your business and use it as leverage.

13:05 Stop Chasing Money And Start Chasing Significance

Losing $3 million in one day makes you rethink your situation.

15:48 More Impact, More Service, More Philanthropy, More Giving Back

Serving his family and those around him is all Gene wants to do for the rest of his life.

17:27 Too Many Shiny Objects and Distractions

People are getting stuck because there are too many options; pick the one that you can just iterate on and improve.

I was making money, and I thought that was enough. But I was empty.
– Gene Hammett

Show Transcript:

LR: Welcome to Modern Ontrapreneur. I’m Landon Ray. This is Gene Hammett, who turns every day entrepreneurs into forces of nature in their market. He sorts through the complexities of business strategies to help clients stand out. He’s been a business leader for over 20 years. He’s started and ran multiple million dollar companies. He’s a coach, speaker, author. On his podcast, Leaders in the Trenches, Gene’s interviewed hundreds of world thought leaders. He’s been featured in Forbes, Success, Business Insider, and Inc. Magazine. He’s also a contributor to Entrepreneur Magazine. Thanks so much for being here, Gene.

GH: Awesome to be here.

LR: We really appreciate it. So, I said I wasn’t going to ask you about your decisions, so you wore the pin. So tell me about your decision, Gene.

GH: So I just came off stage at the Ontrapalooza event, so thanks for having me. And I shared a couple of moments in my life where I was emotionally frustrated and just really connected to where I needed to move forward. So I shared with the audience about making these decisions. One of them being at the end where I talked about a book that I wanted to do five years ago, which is here, The Trap of Success, which we could talk about. But my decision as it relates to business was that I wouldn’t be like everyone else. I wouldn’t be just another business coach. I wouldn’t try to fight against the markets. I would want to be different. I would want to be seen different. And if that meant I didn’t apply to everyone, that’s okay. I want to find the ones that are right for me. And the way I do that is through what I call emotional connectivity. The speech I gave is called “Be the Choice, Not a Choice.” And that’s my decision…. was to do that in my own business and my life.

LR: I’ll be curious to hear exactly how you did that. But I think we’ll get to it in a second. So you’ve been at this for over 20 years?

GH: Yeah.

LR: Which is a long haul. Actually, right before we got on here you just said to me, “Doesn’t everything take longer than you think it’s going to?”

GH: It does.

LR: It does. So tell me what you would have told yourself…. if you could fly back in time and give your younger self a bit of advice on how to make it all easier, what would it be?

GH: So I started a business in 2010 that really took off fast. And got to $1 million right away. Not a lot of profit, but $1 million in sales. Proved my point. And I was able to scale that to about $5 million building the team and whatnot. And I began to coast, honestly. I made a lot of money. I had free time to do this. And I wanted to do more. I wanted to innovate. But I wouldn’t let myself. I wouldn’t let go. I was trapped by my success. Right? That’s the reason I wrote a book. Because I got to the point of financial freedom, but I wouldn’t go forward. So if I were talking to my younger self I would say, “Take more risk; calculated risk. Be smart about this. But actually go and do the things that are inside you. Don’t ignore them.” Because that’s what I missed, and it caused a lot of pain in my life later because I didn’t pay attention.

LR: So just to, like, nail it specifically down, you got to a certain level of success, and then suddenly you had something to lose, and so you stopped being willing to take risks? Is that what happened?

GH: Yeah.

LR: What you’re saying to your older self is, “Don’t stop,” basically.

GH: “Don’t stop growing. Keep going. Keep innovating. Keep pushing. Keep going for that next thing.” And not necessarily more money. What I was really missing was significance.

LR: Yeah, interesting.

GH: The ability to contribute to the world and make an impact. I was making money, and I thought that was enough. But I was empty. And so that’s what I would go tell myself, is like, “Do that thing that you wanted to do that makes a difference in the world and everything else will be better because of it. You’ll be happier and the money will still come.”

LR: And also I think it’s a thing that helps us get through those tough times. Right? Like, everything does take longer than you think, and if you’re not doing it for a reason that actually matters for you, then you don’t end up making it through. Right?

GH: No, you’ll stop. Right? How many times have people stopped because they weren’t grounded enough into where they were going and what they were doing? I mean, I heard your story today about your product roadmap. I mean, great story. “Well, we thought it would be one year, but it was four.” Right?

LR: Yeah, exactly.

GH: It just takes longer. And you’ve got to be committed to that. That’s something that you have to learn and see for yourself. And that’s the reason … that’s another thing in my decision. I committed. I didn’t turn back and I won’t turn back.

LR: So what is it you think your unique skill set is that you bring to the table?

GH: Good question. I talk about uniqueness on stage so I should be able to answer this question.

LR: Yeah. Well, let’s see.

GH: I have built many businesses and grown them. I work with hyper-growth companies: companies that are growing at 1,000% a year.

LR: Whoa.

GH: And I help them really understand some of those challenges of chaos, and really keep moving forward. Some of it’s about some of the things that they were missing; some of those foundational position elements. So when I’m working with companies I really do help them come up with new ideas. They’re looking for something different. So I’m a strategist. I look at what they have, what’s available to them, and I can come up with new ideas that are very powerful, usually pretty simple, that they can test and iterate on. That’s another one of your messages yesterday, about testing smart things. Like, most people aren’t testing enough, and not quick enough. So great example yesterday in your speech. My special skill is about combining strategy with what’s going on inside the head. We do stop ourselves. No matter what it is, if we think that we can’t do it because we lack something, or we’re not enough, or we don’t have the skills or experience, we stop ourselves. And I’ve stopped myself many times. I mean, I didn’t … I told the story about my business, not moving forward. I stopped myself. So I’m working on the internal as well as the strategic. I don’t get in the tactics, but I’m really quite … this is genius level, what I think I do with the strategy and the mindset stuff for entrepreneurs.

LR: Interesting. It must be a challenge. Like, if you’re working with 1,000% growers, those are rare. Right?

GH: Yeah.

LR: Either they’re rare, or they’re tiny little businesses that are growing from $10 to $100 or whatever. But these are hard businesses to find. What are you doing that’s working to have you attract these kind of businesses as customers?

GH: That’s a good question. So I have just finished some research and reports and conversations with about 45 CEOs of the hyper-growth companies. I had a few clients make the Inc. 5000 list, and I’m like, “Okay, what are other people doing?” So I reached out to them, much like I reached out to you, and I interviewed them. And I have talked to them about their disciplines of hypergrowth. And I am basically shaping the next book, and shaping some of those elements, and it’s already producing that. So I was able to easily get into conversation with 45 really busy CEOs about what made them. And then a lot of my clients want to know that information. Right? So in some of those conversations, being honest with you, were if there’s a fit for what I do we would move forward that conversation. And I’m doing it … It doesn’t scale very well, I’ll be honest with you, but I’m validating those points and having those conversations, and then deepening my own knowledge, and just getting really clear about hyper-growth. So that’s turning into new relationships and new clients.

LR: Yeah. Well, you know it’s actually interesting, if you don’t mind me laying out how that happened from my perspective?

GH: No, go ahead.

LR: You know, because the strategy is a wise one. So many people come, especially if you’re aiming at targets that are hard to reach, you know, people that are hard to reach are hard to reach for a reason. It’s because we get hit up, like, 100 times a day. Right? And everybody gets hit up 100 times a day anymore. Right? It’s not just CEOs. It’s like, we’re all just getting bombarded. Right? So how do you reach out? Yesterday I was talking about being relevant. But another thing that you’ve really nailed is not just being relevant, but bringing value to the table. Right? The initial conversation with you wasn’t, “Hey, Landon. Let me pitch you my services about whatever.” It was, “I write for Entrepreneur Magazine and I want to do a story about you.” Right? Which is interesting. Because I think most people don’t think through all the possibilities. Like, that’s real strategy. Right? That’s all the possibilities that they could bring to the table for how to get the conversation started. Like, it’s not impossible actually to write for Entrepreneur Magazine. You could go, like, “What can I bring to the table for a CEO? Maybe I can figure out how to write for Entrepreneur Magazine online, and go out and make that relationship, and then bring that to the table.” Right? I mean, is that, like-

GH: That was my plan. That was part of the choice, kind of step into authority. I was blogging on my own website and getting some traction. But let’s be honest, like, in the beginning it hurts the pride to put something that you put an hour, or two hours, or three hours into and then it gets seven views.

LR: Yeah. That’s how it goes.

GH: That’s how it goes. So I just started looking at, like, “What are those ideal people reading?” So they’re reading Entrepreneur, or they’re reading Inc. Magazine, or Success Magazine. So I was like, “Well, how could I write for those platforms?” And so I intentionally reached out to them. So I started writing for Entrepreneur a couple years ago. And picking up on one of the things you’ve said, yeah, we’re all busy. So I’ve learned, sometimes the hard way, we want to make it about us because we’re trying to move our agenda forward. But if we slow down a little bit we actually can speed up. Make it about them. I interviewed you three, four months ago. Article’s coming out on Monday, by the way. I think I told you that: October 9th. And you’re one of the three people I featured in there about million-dollar marketing secrets.

LR: All right. Who knew?

GH: I don’t know if you knew.

LR: I didn’t.

GH: But I made it about you to build a relationship. It wasn’t to sell you anything. It’s like, “What happens next?” Well, I am interested in what you guys are doing, so I said, “Hey, how can I support you guys at your event?” And so I started talking those channels, and that actually led me to the stage an hour ago.

LR: One thing after another. Right? One thing after another.

GH: So it just … some of those things, just, you have to slow down. Take a breath and be intentional and move forward. And that’s what I’ve learned. And we want to speed them up. We want to send out 200 emails and get the response. But maybe that’s not the best choice sometimes.

LR: Yeah, being strategic.

GH: Be strategic. Be personal. I sent something very specific to one person to say, “Could I interview Landon about this?” I needed to put someone in this space. I had a couple other great people, and you were going to be the third.

LR: Yeah. So the question then is, like, “What can I bring to the table to create those relationships?” Like, when we have no leverage, kind of, like, nothing to offer, “How do I build leverage in a conversation? How do I build leverage in … ” not like leverage in a bad way. But, like, literally, “What value can I bring to the table if I don’t have something of value? Then how do I put that together so that I do?” Right?

GH: So great question, because a lot of people go, “Well, I’m not writing for Entrepreneur, so what do I do?” So what do you have available to you? What are the skills? What are the strengths that you have? If you’re in business and you’re creating some value, let’s assume that you are, how does that allow you to help others? Right? For one of my examples, Derek Hart is a web design company who works with speakers. And they were really figuring out how to really go deep into this whole speaker thing. And I introduced him to … I said, “Make a list of strategic partners that you would love to have on your list,” and one of them was a “coach to speakers.” And he was able to have a conversation with him. Now, he went a little bit beyond what I thought would happen. He actually said, “I’ll do your website for you.”

LR: Oh, wow. Nice guy.

GH: That’s a big investment. But that relationship paid off. That relationship moved to the next level. And she was so, you know, the contact was so grateful for that. She’s bent over backwards to refer business to him for 18 months or two years. And it’s been a, like, almost 50% of his business is the referrals that came from that one relationship. Some things don’t scale. But use your specific skills, like Derek did, or like I did with you, to build those relationships that could move forward. And don’t try to pitch yourself too early. Hold back on that what you want and just try to give first.

LR: Yeah, awesome. So what for you is, like, the cutting edge? What is the thing you’re wrestling with, the challenge you’re trying to solve? What are you learning right now?

GH: I mean, I’m trying not to plug this, but this is it.

LR: Do it. Go ahead. What is it?

GH: This is it. This book. This book is the story I talked about before. It opens up with a very touching story, you know, painful for me, hopefully entertaining for others. I lost $3 million in one day. And it caused me to relook at my life, and stop chasing money, and start chasing … really focusing on significance. And so the The Trap of Success. I know some people go, “Well, I haven’t reached success yet. I don’t need that.” But what if you wanted to make sure you avoided this and you actually got on the right path? Because many of us go get the success trophies. So my biggest challenge right now moving forward is how do I get this in more people’s hands? I had a great moment, and I’ll share with you. I never had this moment before, but it really kind of touched me in a special way: flying on the plane to come out there. This is my only copy. This is what they call a proof. Right?

LR: Oh, awesome. There it is. It looks good.

GH: The proof is so I can look at it, hold it in my hands and make sure there are no typos. We fixed them, now it’s coming out on Tuesday.

LR: Good. Congratulations.

GH: And I’m sitting next to a woman and she goes, “What’s your book about?” And I said, “Significance.” Just one word. And she thought about it and she said, “I’ve kind of been struggling with that. Would that book help me?” And I’m like, “Why don’t you read it? Read as much as you want. It won’t hurt my feelings. But read the introduction. And if you like it, you’ll probably love the rest of the book.” She reads it, Landon, and a few minutes into it she’s crying. She’s got a tear coming down her face. She’s like, “Something’s been going on inside me and I’ve been ignoring it for too long, and this is opening me up. Can I read the rest of the book?” And I’m like, “You can’t have it, but we’ve got four hours before this plane lands. Go as far as you can.” She got to page 133, and she was just absolutely … At a moment she was giggling, and I didn’t know I wrote jokes. I go, “What are you giggling at?” And she’s like, “Oh, this is so true. This is so true. I struggle with this. I have that kind of doubt.” And so she’s like, “This book changed my life.” So I’d been nervous about getting it out there in the world, but I think this book will change people’s lives. And so the biggest challenge I have going forward is how do I get more people to know about this and want to take that chance forward, read it, actually apply it. And I think it’s well worth that time and investment. It’s not the money.

LR: No, of course not.

GH: Let’s be honest. It’s the time to read this and actually internalize it and go, “What will I do different because of it?” And that’s what I’m jazzed about; is getting people to know this message.

LR: Well, I look forward to reading it. How do we get it?

GH: Pretty simple.

LR: Okay. Easy. You’ve been at this a while. You’ve got obviously some career ahead of you still. If you think forward a decade or two, what would you like to look back and have your legacy be?

GH: More impact, more service, more philanthropy, more giving back without worrying what comes in return, being able to write a check for something and knowing that it’s going to go to do something, working with, whether it’s hyper-growth people, or maybe it’s the people that are merging into hyper-growth, help them really get clear about where they’re going, and create that business that is the choice, not a choice. I mean, I could see me riding this wave for a long time. I don’t think it’s going to get old. I don’t think there’s going to be less competition. I don’t think there’s going to be less content. I don’t think there’s going to be less noise. I think it’s going to get even more important that you understand these principles and you become the force of nature that you can be within your business and activate your teams. When I say I work with hyper-growth, I work with teams to help them understand how to put everyone in this. I was sharing with you the other night about the importance of putting the entrepreneur spirit inside the company, getting them to feel ownership, getting them to really feel like they’re a part of what we’re doing and contributing; is a big part of, probably, your success. You have a young team. Right? They want to contribute. So one of my big legacy things is writing more books, speaking on more stages, maybe dancing on stage like we talked about before, because that’s a new thing that I’ve been putting in and thinking about. But just doing that so that I’m impacting people. That’s what I want to do for the rest of my life. And serve my family, and serve the people around me.

LR: Yeah, good. So we call this thing Modern Ontrapreneur. We’re trying to point at what is it that’s unique about this kind of moment in history, where everything is changing so fast that you can’t keep up, but you still have to figure it out in some way. What do you think it is that’s unique about the opportunities that we have today, the responsibilities that we have today as entrepreneurs?

GH: I think a lot of the reason why we aren’t moving forward and making the impact we want is because there’s too many opportunities. There’s too much distraction. There’s too many options that are pulling us a little bit here, a little bit there, a little bit there. So one of the points I talked about in this is where could you go deeper? Where could you be really going deep? I interviewed 45 CEOs of hyper-growth. That’s deep. So I really think one of the big things going on for the modern entrepreneur is how do you let go of that shiny object? How do you let go of some of those things and pick the one that you can just iterate on and improve? Some of the things you just talked about, like, how do you find that smart idea? And you just test the hell out of it and really iterate until you make that impact. I think this moment in time, there’s too many choices. And that’s keeping people stuck.

LR: Awesome. Gene, thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate it. Would you sign our wall?

GH: Yeah.

LR: Thanks.

GH: Which wall?

LR: The one right behind us.


Want more Modern Ontrapreneur Podcast?

Check out the previous episode featuring Ryan Levesque of The Ask Method.


About Ben Cogburn
As Ontraport’s Traffic Manager, Ben Cogburn spends most of his time in our parking lot. Just kidding, he’s our resident digital advertising guru. As a geology enthusiast, Ben graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara with a degree in Environmental Studies. So to say that he likes rocks is an understatement. You can find Ben hanging out with his rock collection, playing video games or hunting down new figurines to add to the impressive display he has on his desk.