Steve Wells: [00:00:05] I'm Steve Wells.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:00:06] And I'm Jeffrey Feldberg. Welcome to the Sell My Business Podcast.
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Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:01:44] Welcome to episode 38 of the Sell My Business podcast. J.B. Bernstein is a genetically wired entrepreneur who has helped fund and successfully launch businesses in Packaged Goods, Trading Cards., Digital Content, Sports, TV, Supplements, Building Blocks, and New Tech. J.B.'s most recent investment in AviSight, a leading drone-based Industrial Inspection company was so intriguing that he accepted the role of CEO and is ushering in a generational paradigm shift in the industry for Oil, Gas, and Power companies worldwide.
As a 35 plus year veteran of the sports marketing and package good industries. Mr. Bernstein has been called an evolutionary force multiplier in business and is widely respected for his creative problem solving in positive results. J.B.'s early work includes positions with Grey Advertising, Procter and Gamble, Upper Deck, and Major League Soccer before starting his own sports agency.
As a founder of Access Group of Miami, LLC, J.B. represented some of the greatest athletes of all-time including Barry Bonds, Barry Sanders, and Emmitt Smith. J.B. was responsible for creating groundbreaking programs, such as Smith's Run With History, which is now the standard deal in NFL for milestone marketing. J.B. has also helped orchestrate Barry Bonds departure from the MLBPA licensing group, making him the first baseball player to successfully operate outside of their auspices.
Most notably, J.B. co-created the Million Dollar Arm contest in India, which yielded the first two Indian men to ever sign pro sports contracts in the US. J.B.'s story was the subject of a Disney motion picture release worldwide on May 16, 2014. The film starred John Hamm as J.B. Bernstein. J.B. serves as the Chair of the Las Vegas Tiger21 group, the premiere peer membership organization for high net worth wealth creators and preservers, helping them navigate the challenges and opportunities that success creates. He also sits on the board of directors for other sports startups.
Mr. Bernstein graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and has also achieved graduate degrees from USC and LSE. J.B. currently lives in Las Vegas with his wife and daughter.
J.B., welcome to the Podcast. An absolute pleasure to have you on board with us. And I know I've had the privilege of having a number of conversations offline, and you have an incredible story.
For our community I'm excited for you to meet J.B. and even more excited that you're going to hear true in the trenches entrepreneurial stories. This is the stuff that legends are made of. That said, J.B. why don't you talk to us about your story and we'll take it from there.
J.B. Bernstein: [00:04:54] Sure. I was born into a family that was lower middle-class, not poor, but certainly, not incredibly successful or any kind of liquidity event or anything like that.
And as a kid growing up I believe that instilled the one thing that's made me successful against everything I've ever faced, which is that it made me hungry. And hunger has allowed me to make the sacrifices necessary to be successful. So, as you go through the story and, I blew through school, I blew through high school.
I moved through college. I went through everything very quickly to get to the point that I could get to a career. I've had an interesting start of my career in formal package goods. And then that's pretty much after two years of that, it's all goes in a million different directions. But I think the most important thing I learned about the early part of my career was that your first job at a company like Proctor is probably your real business school irrespective of whatever your MBA says. And the second thing I learned in those young years was how well that hunger would serve me.
So, I was a brand manager at Procter and Gamble. I ran Downey. I made some discoveries at Procter and Gamble that put me on a fast track, but ultimately, I wanted to be in sports. I just didn't know how to affect that change.
And like every kind of young person working in a big company who had big dreams and wanted to be an entrepreneur, I really didn't know how to make it happen. And for me, I caught a very lucky break. One of my business professors was consulting to a guy who ended up being my mentor, but it was a guy who was starting a baseball card company.
And he introduced me to this guy and the guy just for whatever reason he liked me and took me under his wing and his name was Richard McWilliams and the company was Upper Deck. And so, I was a head of business development there for a long time at the early stages through till 1994. And I had the opportunity to do pretty much everything at that company at the rate it grew. We did 180 million bucks in our first six months and by our third year, we were doing a billion dollars a year. And a category that had grown from 300 million to 3 billion in just under four years. Most of which obviously, Upper Deck and driven. The first company to do a TV commercial with Michael Jordan, by the way, for trading cards. We pushed the limits in advertising, push the limits in product, in promotion, and sales in every possible way.
So, it was an amazing lucky break, not just to get into sports, but to get into a real entrepreneurial role with, a guy I consider to be one of the greatest entrepreneurs. So, the biggest lesson he taught me was about having skin in the game. And even if it was just a little bit, he said, if you come into somebody's office and you're asking for money, and the guy sitting across the desk and he's worth a hundred million.
And you're asking him for 10 million bucks and you're worth 50 grand. You got to at least be willing to put five grand in the deal and tell the guy you're only worth 50 grand. You'll put up 10% of your net worth, whatever it is. He said, just to show the guy that this is everything to you.
And he taught me some just great lessons about how to respect capital, how to respect the opportunity. And the most important lesson of course, Richard told me is he used to get really mad. He had a gavel and anytime anybody said something like thinking outside the box, he would smash a window and he'd say no boxes.
We do whatever we want. We do it whenever we want. He goes the market. Doesn't matter. We make the market. And he, he was eccentric but he was right in so many ways is that if you take that attitude of market leader and you take the responsibility of market leader seriously, you can create a massive business.
And that was really exciting to be part of that and to get into sports. And I guess the other recurring theme of my career is lucky breaks. I had some sweat equity in the deal. So, when I was leaving the company, he was the one on the line. It was private company. He could have basically just said, screw you kid. And he definitely did not have to do anything.
And he made me an offer for those shares. And I took the offer. I couldn't believe it. The, I was a young kid. I was in my early twenties and it was, it was not what it should have been in retrospect, but at the time it seemed like a massive payday and I was so grateful and he spent the next 12 to 15 years reminding me that he would have paid five times that and that he was shocked that I didn't even counter and what a wus I was did get some retribution. He was toward the end. I sent him a copy of the Million Dollar Arm script and he's Oh yeah, it's a good movie.
It's going to be good. Yeah, that'd be good. And he says to me he goes you would have had a lot more going into this movie if you had really countered at all back then. And I was like, you're still on this thing from 1994. And I said, hey Richard, I said, who plays you in your movie? And so, I finally got a little retribution with my mentor, but unfortunately, he passed, but one of the greatest forces in business, in an industry to walk into a category that was 300 million bucks at the best year tops and all these guys had ever had at wholesale.
This guy walks in never being in the trading card business, not in the printing business, didn't know anything didn't have any sports connections. He had just gotten a $25 million liquidity event and put a hundred percent of it into this business. And ultimately the rise and fall of Upper Deck and his rise and fall was pretty crazy.
But at the height, the company was worth about 1.4 billion, which is what I think Bandai. Bought it for. Four years later, he bought it back from Bandai for 400 million. I imagine the company is probably worth somewhere around half a billion. Now he died in his heirs have it, but it, it's really an amazing story that has yet to be captured maybe someday.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:10:55] So, J.B., it's amazing. You're this young kid you came out of the corporate world. Found yourself really in your own pirate adventure at Upper Deck, doing these wonderful things.
You came out of the Upper Deck and then something interesting happened that led to something even more interesting. Why don't we do a deep dive on that.
J.B. Bernstein: [00:11:12] Yeah, absolutely. I just skipped ahead only because I wanted to tell that story about Richard. I wanted to get that on the record.
He is my buddy, I think when I left Upper Deck it was really interesting. I was I had a company that I was founded that was doing some really interesting stuff in the gift industry. It was completely outside of what I had done, but they had a really cool technology for doing printing on blocks and doing these little Christmas villages and things.
And it was a kind of a Hallmark type of a business channel and I guess there, I learned three big lessons about business in quick succession. The first one I learned about my liquidity event was that about 60% of that money that I bet on others ended up not doing so great. And about 40% of the money that I'd bet on myself and set myself up in business that ended up being everything I have today.
And the first lesson I learned is that, although you can't bet a hundred percent on herself you should give yourself better credit than I did. I went 60/40 in favor of others. Probably should have invested a little bit more of myself.
Steve Wells: [00:12:21] Let me ask a quick question. So, when you say betting on others, so you're saying you were investing in other people's ventures and companies versus doing your own venture.
J.B. Bernstein: [00:12:31] You get a little money in your pocket, you come out of an entrepreneurial venture. You think you're a genius. You can smell success. This guy's got it, this guy doesn't and, so I made a couple bad LP poles and, and then the stock market was volatile in the mid-nineties. I'd never been in the market before you, again, you think you're a genius.
So, I made a lot of the typical mistakes that people make after their first liquidity event, especially not married, no kids, young. I was in sports. I'm lucky I got out with anything. The second lesson I learned was that we got a foothold in this block company and we had two products that people really were sparking to one of these printed magnetic blocks that you could make villages.
And it was really a nice product for kids. The other one was Archiblocks, which were blocks in the style of architectural modes. So, there was a postmodern, there was a Roman, a Gothic, but really what it was cool shaped blocks that you couldn't get, normally you just get squares, triangles, rectangles.
So, these were columns and squares and all kinds of weird shapes and they made cool stuff. So, for the parents that we're selling these in the nature company. Oh, these are educational and kids will like these. Columns are awesome gun targets. So, it was a great product and it started to get some footholds.
And we were approached by a company that does massive business in school supplies. And I'm like, you know what? This is perfect. I don't have the stomach for this. I can hand it off to them. Our concept gets in, this inventor who invented it, this gets into schools everywhere. It's his dream.
Everybody makes a little bit of money and I can go back to what I'm doing. And I learned about something called the defensive buy. So, they paid, a couple million bucks for the company. They bought all the patents and the IP, and then they threw it in the garbage. Because the blocks were so expensive to make versus squares, rectangles, and circles, that it was cheaper to just buy us and shelf it, which I had, I could never even have conceived of that a company would do that. Why would you spend a couple million dollars? But to them it was cheap. Because why compete, why we're not going to try and make our own blocks. We're definitely not going to make yours cause they're too expensive. And you're just some dumb kid that I can buy this company from a couple million bucks, which is what happened.
So, I learned a really important lesson about defensive buys and also about when you exit what your goal is. Our goal wasn't to make a couple million dollars, although it was nice to get some money. The goal was to get a bigger distribution for what we thought was a great product. And what we ended up doing was getting this guy's IP tossed.
And it’s one of the things I really caution entrepreneurs is that, when you put your exit plan together, really understand when you hand your baby off, what that handoff is because it's emotional a lot of times and some people don't want to let their businesses go. And if you're one of those guys, I was never necessarily like that.
But in this particular case, because there were other people involved who had expectations, I felt like I had let them down. But again, never would have even considered a defensive buy. Have you guys ever experienced anything like that?
Steve Wells: [00:15:54] Not personally, but yeah, but so my quick question was when you made that sale, we’re they holding back anything on performance, or do you have stock or was it a pure cash sale?
J.B. Bernstein: [00:16:03] We were a tiny little company out of Virginia, Vermont, as where they manufactured the stuff, it was, a tiny little company. It was this architect and his dream was just proliferating this stuff. It wasn't going to be a big dollar generator. So, it just seemed like this was a good out for everybody.
It never occurred to me that they were just going to shelf it. That was the best business solution.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:16:26] So, J.B., it sounds like not only a defensive buy, but what we see so much, at Deep Wealth is that you had an unsolicited offer from a sophisticated buyer, flashed some money in front of you guys and you're young, you're not experienced.
Here's this money. We can cash this check tomorrow. We got all this money and we don't have to go out and go through the process and hire an investment banker and do the due diligence. How much better does it get? And let me ask you this.
Hindsight's always 20/20, but looking back now at that point in your life where you were, I'm sure the money was a welcome thing. Would you have done that, knowing what you know now, would you have done that again? Or would you have taken a different approach?
J.B. Bernstein: [00:17:06] And again, so no on two levels, right?
The first level is financially, I would have realized that if those guys came in unsolicited, I should have started picking up the phone and calling every other company in the category saying, Hey, these guys are calling me unsolicited. So, I know I have something good. You guys should make an offer to so I should have, for sure again, I was a young kid.
I wasn't really an entrepreneur. I didn't understand how to motivate a market. I didn't understand how to draw competition. The other thing though, that was the real disappointment again, and it goes back to the bigger point, which is what do you want your exit to accomplish?
Everybody wants money. When I talk about Million Dollar Arm, though, it's a perfect example of deals. So, every deal changes you financially either lose money or make money, but every deal changes you financially. Some deals you can get very lucky and involve the community and involve people who are less fortunate and have them benefit as part of your deal.
And that's a really cool thing. And then there are these deals that come along to change you on a fundamental level. And most of the time, unfortunately it's negative. With Million Dollar Arm, it was positive and it kind of switched my life. But most of the time, those lessons are negative. The deals teach you in a very harsh way.
And in this particular case, if I had run that company and hired a guy who wanted to go door to door and get out there and sell that thing, I probably could have gotten another three to five times that money in a year. Number one. So, financially for sure it would've been a much better outcome, but the product would have been more entrenched.
And it would have been harder to shelve it. Because there would have been an actual customer base looking for this stuff. And over the year we probably would have made some inroads into schools and I would have figured out the other distributors. And so, we would have avoided the trap of probably being shelved as well.
So, it would have been a better outcome on both ends, for sure. If I knew what I knew now, But I guess that's the purpose of a lot of what you do Jeffrey is that, there are these unsuspecting entrepreneurs out there who, they see the shiny lure in the water and don't see the hook that's basically, but to fall for it, you can't I don't feel any regret or shame or anything like that. This was, I was one of the guys who had to learn the lesson the hard way I didn't have a string of entrepreneurs who took me under the wing. The one guy who did, unfortunately, he probably would have been just as shocked about a defensive buy too. He taught me how precious money was. He could, he would never, ever spend 2 million bucks to shelf something. Either your stuff was worth buying and putting in his stuff. Or it was shit.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:19:48] Fair enough. Before we go to the Million Dollar Arm was what would be the third lesson?
J.B. Bernstein: [00:19:54] So, the third lesson is taking a little time coming out of that liquidity event. I was literally almost working through it, into this block company and then to the sports management company where I was working with companies.
So, one of my biggest clients was Major League Soccer. I actually worked out of their office and I was one of the people who helped found that league. And then I was working with other brands. Pepsi and a couple of other sports teams doing promotional stuff, concession work, all kinds of different consulting, but not thinking about being an agent at all.
The mistake I made here, I should have taken some time. Thought about setting my money up, investing it where I want to do, what I want my next play to be, but I was young and I was just so into this as my routine. What would I do if I wasn't working?
I just immediately started working again. Had I paused, I probably would have ended up in the same place. It just would have been a lot less messy. I, and in some ways, I wouldn't have had the block company or Major League Soccer. I probably would've gone straight to athlete representation, but as it turns out I guess the university asserts itself.
And yeah, so those are the three big lessons I learned, but after I was working with Major League Soccer and had my own business for about a year, I got a call from Barry Sanders and he said, Hey, man, I heard you're not working at upper deck anymore. And I said, no, I'm not. And he said, what are you doing?
And I said I have sports consultancy and working with Major League Soccer and some other things, and he said, Hey, do you want to be my agent. And I just laughed. I said, I'm not an agent. And he just said, he goes, come on, man. He goes, if my guy can do it, anybody can do it. And so, I laughed, but it was, yeah, true.
At the time there were thousands of agents for 1,200 players or something. And so, it w it was ridiculous, but I became an agent and Barry became my client. The big thing that I did that probably made my career. And so, this was one decision that I'm really proud of. The entire market of agents was focused on player salary.
All they cared about. And I knew player's salary was going to be a diminishing returns business. At the time the most you could take was 3%. So, on a 10 year, a hundred-million-dollar deal, you make 300 grand a year. It's not a ton of money okay. The other guy's making 10 million a year, which is deserved because he's getting hit.
And people were trying to kill him and you're just sitting there reading a contract. So, to me it seemed like a fair trade, but I could also tell that why would somebody give me a percentage over time? People are going to go to flat fee on this. You watch and see, I said, but the one thing athletes will never cry about is marketing.
Because you're bringing them those deals. It's easy money. They love doing it. It helps their brands and it feeds their psyche and their ego. I bet you, if I focus on marketing, that's the better side of the business. And I bet you, a lot of these agents that I'm friends with from Upper Deck would give me the marketing rights to their clients because they see that as a nuisance.
They don't want guys calling them saying, Hey, put me on a Wheaties box. They don't want to deal with that. They want to do your contract. And then five years later do another one, but they don't want day to day work and the other thing was I came from packaged goods background, so they didn't really know how to talk to a brand manager, but I could deliver a turnkey program to a brand manager.
And so other agents are saying, oh they walk up open up your coat, like in central park, I got Movado. I got Rolex. I represent these 30 guys and a brand like Gillette would say, what do I do with those guys?
Where our agency would come in and say, here's the guy. We noticed your campaign and what you're doing, this is how it folds into it. This is how it's augmenting. This is the audience we're going to deliver this how much it's going to cost. This is how you're going to be able to take part of the money from your promotional budget.
Part of it from your sales allocation, you're going to be able to steal some money from ACV [annual contract value] and features. And I spoke these guys' language, and I just knew that would be a great path. The other thing I knew that. If I got you a million-dollar deal from Pepsi, I could take 20% of that. So, on a million-dollar deal from Pepsi, I was making almost as much as I was making as a hundred-million-dollar deal from the team.
And I felt a lot more proud about it because I'm creating that. I'm the one getting punched in the face for that deal.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:24:34] J.B. before you go on, you’re a natural with this, one of the things that we really focus on at Deep Wealth is actually our first step in our nine-step process, we call it X-Factors to insanely increase the value of your business.
And you honed in on the biggest X-Factor and that's your business model. So, I love how you looked at the business model and you said, Hey, I see where the current business model is going, not happening. But what else is out there? What else? In my sphere of influence, can I be a market leader in, can I create a market disruption in, and ultimately you created a blueprint, on how to optimize your value for yourself.
It was a win-win-win. A win for you, a win for the people, the athletes that you representing and a win for the companies that they're representing. And everyone wins and that's just amazing. It was intuitive to you, but congratulations. That's incredible.
Steve Wells: [00:25:28] And J.B., it seems to me, you really created your own blue ocean in a way, so you weren't competing against other people that were doing the same thing as you almost created the category, is that correct?
J.B. Bernstein: [00:25:38] There are brands that have leveraged athletes before. I was the first guy to treat athletes like a brand like Downey or a brand like Tide. And to think about that brand in terms of category development index, and brand development index by market.
And to think about how to best proliferate your brand across many different product lines. So, look, it’s one of these things where I just caught myself in a lot of positions leading up to this moment that all are contributing. Obviously being a brand manager on a huge brand of Proctor and Gamble gave me a perspective and a big advantage at this point.
There, there was not a single agent in the business that wasn't a lawyer. I'm the only guy in the world. So, I don't know if I created the only sea, but I was certainly the only guy in my business at that time when marketing was really getting hot.
Steve Wells: [00:26:37] I think what you did, which is unique, which we give this council to other companies is that your potential competitors, all the other agents, now became actually one of your distribution points are how you're going to find other business. So, you really weren't competing with them. You've actually made them a part of your product or part of your marketing, their customers.
J.B. Bernstein: [00:26:59] At first, the lot of the other agents were excited because I was solving a problem for them too.
You talk about win-wins, for an agent who didn't want to hear a player complain about how he should be on Wheaties or he should be the Nike guy and he should be this for someone who didn't want to hear that complaint. But, for me, I called up and said, Hey, I want to be in a Nike commercial, I don't know about Nike, but let's get on the phone.
Somebody will put you in a commercial, let's go. And I think that again, it was just a different background. And then obviously Upper Deck taught me about licensing both in and out. So, we were a massive licensee of all the sports leagues and players associations. And then we were also a massive licensor everything from Meade school supplies, we would license out the trading card images for all kinds of products. When I came to this moment in my career, I understood the marketing and merchandise side of business, and then at Upper Deck. The last two things I worked on were Wayne Gretzky's 802nd goal and Dan Marino's 420th touchdown, which basically proved my theory that you could create the same milestone for players when they break a record that you would create for the Super Bowl. At the end of the Super Bowl guys what's the first commercial that comes on? You sell you the hat, the t-shirt and the video. It doesn't matter who wins that stuff's ready to go, ready to ship, ready to sell. Then at that moment, I said Wayne Gretzky breaks that record.
If you don't break in on QVC, if you don't sell right then at that moment there on the broadcast in this stadium. If you don't have the pro no one cares because by the next game he's got 803, he's got 804. I was like, you have to hit it that record. And that's why they weren't capitalizing on any of these records.
So, I was the first one to really push them, to do athlete milestone marketing, the same way you do event milestone marketing. So, yeah, overall, all of those things came together. So, when I got into athlete marketing, I was doing a lot of things that, that other agencies weren't doing or was thinking about because they didn't understand the gold in them their hills.
And then when the internet hit. We were very far ahead of the curve on that as well and social networking. So, we've always stayed one step ahead from a marketing standpoint, because we're marketers first. We're not really agents in a traditional sense. So, in that respect, you're right. I didn't know you call it the X-Factor, but that when you look at the market back then.
The handful of agents that focused on marketing, and some of them, probably did a really good job of marketing themselves. It was something I always shied away from, but my buddy Lee Steinberg for sure. And Drew Rosenhaus had done a massive job marketing themselves, although, Million Dollar Arm sold more copies than both of their books combined.
We'll say that, but then again, I put John Hamm on my cover.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:30:06] J.B., no competing there.
J.B. Bernstein: [00:30:08] And the 119,000 women who thought my book was about Mad Men, too bad.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:30:16] So, J.B., on the Million Dollar Arm. Amazing story. The universe threw you into probably one of the preeminent companies for marketing products and then on licensing and it was setting you up for something huge.
You didn't necessarily see coming. So, give us the play by play of what happened with Million Dollar Arm and the story from there.
J.B. Bernstein: [00:30:36] Yeah. So, it’s funny how in my career, I am proud of a lot of things. But it's funny how the it's what you become known for.
And so obviously, no matter what I accomplish, I'm always going to be known as the Million Dollar Arm guy. Because that's the movie. It was a really interesting point in my career was mid two thousand’s. So, the movie is very true by the way. There's a lot of truth to it.
There's a chapter in my book that talks about what's not true. I wasn't really hurting financially, and Brenda was not a doctor. She sells planes for a living. But ultimately loosely, it's a really very close to how both my family came together and this deal came together.
And the interesting part about the beginning of it was I was recruiting a guy who was a top running back and it was an indication that the market was shifting in a direction that I wasn't going to be comfortable with for agents. And it's the first time I'd ever faced it, but I'm sitting across from a guy.
And at the time, remember I represent Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, and Curtis Martin from marketing. Those three guys, and their number one, two and four on the all-time rushing list. So, if you're running back and then also, obviously, as from a marketing standpoint, those are the three of the greatest marketing brands in NFL history.
And so, you're sitting across from this kid is a running back who, he's a great running back. He's probably going to have an amazing career. And he wants a million dollars cash in a duffel bag under the table. Uncle Sam doesn't need to know about it, he says, I'm like, hey man, I don't know if they teach tax law, the university you go to, but Uncle Sam definitely needs to know about that.
I cannot give you a million dollars, tax-free under the table for the privilege of signing you. And I was like what if you get hurt and, I got to generate 5 million in marketing just to break even. And that's not like it's undoable, but you know what, if you get hurt, and then it hits me. This is the new thing. Is these big companies that have come in are just, they'll just say to a guy, look, we don't care. You'll be a loss-leader, we'll sign you for a million bucks. As long as the other agencies don't get them and it's become a defensive buy market again, this defensive buy is chasing me.
And so, I am distraught and I'm thinking, not about this client, but just is this really the industry now? And it's disappointing. And to make a long story short, I'm sitting around and I'm thinking about India and I'm talking to my business partner and we're looking at this cricket match he's making me watch.
And the thing that I noticed was not really the bowlers, what I noticed was everybody except for the bowler threw normal. They throw like a regular baseball would, so the fielders and the pitcher and everything they know how to throw. It's just the one guy has the pitch like the that, but everybody knows how to throw.
And so, it occurred to me. There are 300 million men in India under the age of 29. There's no college athletics. So, there's no college sports. There’re no scholarships. There’re no pro leagues in India of any sport. At the time, there was only a national team, like our soccer team Coby Jones and Alexi Lalas remember those guys.
Before major league soccer there were 20 jobs. So, I'm thinking, let me get this straight. There’re 20 jobs for 300 million men. A hundred percent of them grew up playing cricket. You're telling me none of them are born with the natural ability to throw a baseball.
It would be, statistically impossible. So, I actually, put together an equation. And I started looking at probability of finding someone in the United States and then applying that to India. And even if you had 1/1000, the chance of finding a guy in India, there should still be 10,000 or 20,000 guys that have the raw ability to throw a baseball that you could teach, how to pitch the question was how to find them. And so, I always have to be embarrassed when I tell the story, but I'm at like a diehard American Idol guy. I'm sitting around with a couple of my friends and watching American Idol and it just hits me.
I'm like, that's it. I was like, we're going to go to India. We're going to go and it's going to be like American Idol, and it will be a TV show, but no microphones. We're going to give a guy baseball. No judges. It's going to be a radar gun. We're going to find the guy in India, that throws the fastest, bring them back to America, and teach that guy how to pitch and that's going to be it.
And my friends all looked me the and go that's the worst idea I've ever heard, and then that became Million Dollar Arm. It all started out of me thinking I got to go somewhere else. I've got to find a different talent pool. I've got to find a different way to get talent. And the success of Yao Ming at that point was so incredible that, and so the most important lesson, a Million Dollar Arm there really two. The first one is about how you deal with adversity. I must have heard no about a hundred million times on this deal. My mom told me this was the worst idea she ever heard. Every single person in the planet told me this is the worst idea they ever heard, except for the handful of people that we went into business together and did this thing.
Maybe it was my dating life that set me up for hearing the word no, a lot. But I can tell you that no, to me is not the end of negotiation is the beginning. And what I learned was that if someone was willing to listen to your whole pitch, number one, they're in the market. Number two, it's not, they're not saying there's no way in hell I'll ever buy this. They're saying yeah. It's not good enough. Make me a better offer, is there any flexibility on price who knows what they're asking? Who knows what they're thinking, but no is not, oh, thank you, sir. Click. If I had done that and I never would have gotten married to Brenda or any date for that matter if I had taken that first no. And I think that was a big lesson in Million Dollar Arm where the perseverance of just busting through those no's, understanding why getting them to see what I saw. That process was really important. The other big lesson I think that people should walk away with when they think about the story of Million Dollar Arm is that the American dream here in the United States is really still alive.
And for two kids from small farming villages with rolling electricity and 1,500 people in the middle of nowhere to come to LA and within six months signed contracts with the Pirates show up at sprint training, end up within a year's time, they get their first win in the minor leagues for the Pirates.
They meet the President of the United States, give them sign copies of their jerseys for the Presidential archive. They met the prime minister of India and movie made about him, a book about them. One of them played four years in the minors and now is in the WWE and the other guy played two years in the minors and now works for me back in India as the contest continues.
And so, if two guys who couldn't speak English, 18-year-old kids couldn't speak English, can come here and within six months accomplish all that. And people say how and I say they were willing to make the sacrifices necessary to be successful. Yes, they had the raw, the talent, but they were willing to do everything necessary to be successful.
And so, I never thought in my life, the biggest lesson I would learn would be from these two Indian kids about how precious opportunity is. And that the one thing I'll never forget, sitting with them and they have such a great view of life. And it was the night before their second trial.
The first trial was a complete disaster, all my fault. Just like the movie, I thought they'd be able to make a go of this mound that was a mess. The long story short I blew it. But I got them a second tryout and the night before can try out, I said, guys are you nervous? And they said, no, And I said, how could you not be nervous seriously?
Are you just being tough? And they said, sir, life is about preparation and execution. We've done everything we could possibly do up to this moment. And we're going to go out there tomorrow and give it everything we got. Sometimes you're good enough to win. Sometimes you're not good enough to win, but we'll have no regrets because we'll look in the mirror and know that there's not anything we could have done differently.
And I, I couldn't believe I'd say most of, Oh my God. The greatest lesson, maybe I've learned in my life. I just started from these two 18-year-old kids who, in broken English, explain it to me. But yeah, it was amazing because when you really think about it, that is the essence of success.
It's the core of success at a level that only the minute few obtain. And she's amazing to have that kind of mindset.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:39:26] J.B., you're preaching to the choir here at Deep Wealth because we're all about preparation and whether you're a startup, whether you're an established company that's been around for decades.
When you're prepared, you have, again, you have that blueprint to optimize your value, you can't time the market, but you can do what you want to do in the marketplace. So, keep a thriving profitable company forever. Sell it tomorrow. You choose. And they're both great choices, but let me ask you something in the first lesson from the Million Dollar Arm, from failure and no and everything else, I'm going to make an assumption. You never said this in what you're sharing with us just now, but it was a passion for you to go out there and do this.
You were passionate. You saw something there that perhaps moved you. It wasn't just the money, as opposed to so many business owners were just going out there. I'm going to make a zillion dollars. And you get your first few set of no's and because of the passion isn't there and perhaps you're not solving a painful enough problem. You just stop and you don't continue. What was your mindset like as you began that journey before you started getting the no's and as you started to get the no’s, what are you thinking about at that point in time?
J.B. Bernstein: [00:40:36] It's funny. So, this deal was a for-profit deal for me. So, when I'm getting these no's, I guess there's a passion, the passion in this case to succeed. My mind shifted really dramatically. So, when we talked earlier about, the three types of deals in the last one, which is the one that changes who you are fundamentally, Million Dollar Arm.
So, I started that venture looking for Yao Ming. It's my sole focus. I'm like, man, his agents made over a hundred million dollars in commissions. Yao Ming has made over $1.3 billion in 12 years. And most of it's been marketing. That's the, all the high commission stuff. And so, I'm like, man, you know how to get, Yao Ming.
That's the one. And What happened? Both in my truck to India. I was there for over a year and a half, and having the boys live with me and really being immersed in that culture and having Brenda come into my life it just it, I went from thinking about this as a for-profit business to saying, Hey, there's 700 million kids living in these villages in India who, before Million Dollar Arm, they were like Rinku and Dinesh.
If you ask them what they wanted to be, when they grow up, they'd be like, Sir, what are you talking about? I just going to be what my dad is. Because that's what they've been doing for 4,000 years in these villages, they don't leave the village. They would never dream of being President or an actor.
And unlike the United States and most other countries where there are tons of examples of people, just like you, downtrodden, who have made it. Those examples really don't exist in these villages. And there's no way to proliferate that kind of inspiration and hope. So, it's funny, you talk about a passion.
I always have a passion for business, so that drives me. But my passion for this project has changed immensely from a for-profit venture. We have Dinesh the right-hander. He goes from village to village showing the movie and talking to the kids and saying, what are you good at?
What could you be? You'd ask that first question to get kids thinking like that. But when you think about, if I could find a pitcher. There's, 700 million kids. The kid who cures cancer out there is the kid who cures any other disease, world peace who figures out how to create endless power.
Who knows who's living in these villages. It's changed for me dramatically. So, my passion is probably becoming more fierce for Million Dollar Arm as evidenced by the fact that this year we were canceled for COVID, but next year we'll have our third year. We're back in business with Major League Baseball.
One of the first guys who told me this was a terrible idea, it doesn't work for baseball anymore, but he was the head of Major League Baseball international. He said, you've had a lot of crazy ideas. This one will never work. And now we're partnered with Major League Baseball for three years now.
So, I'm always excited about that, but yeah. Yeah, the passion's always there for me in business, but you're right. To notice that it has shifted dramatically on this deal to something I never would have imagined and something that almost doesn't resemble business anymore, it almost feels like a charity social investment out there.
Now, every time we go out there, I'm not thinking, Oh, eventually we will find the right guy, but how many people can we inspire along the way? That's what I'm thinking now.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:44:06] Every part of that journey had its place. It had its purpose, which led to the next stage.
As you look back from the business side selling businesses, defensive buys creating new businesses the whole, just the whole genre of all of that. When you look back at that now, if you were to be speaking to business owners out there and our business owners in our community who have established businesses.
Perhaps they become a little bit tired in the business. Perhaps you want to reinvigorate it, perhaps they want to say, you know what? I've had a I'm at the peak. I'm at the pinnacle. Now is the time for me to work on the next chapter of my life. And we help them through the preparation of that. But J.B., you've had an incredible journey and you're still having that incredible journey.
And you've touched so many different parts of society through that. What would you be saying to the community based on your experience of where their mindset should be as they look to themselves and they look to their business because you've touched on so many facets of our 9-step roadmap is like you wrote the book, you can turn it into a movie
J.B. Bernstein: [00:45:09] I wish I had the book. I probably could have saved a lot of time and money.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:45:14] Someone listening in, Hey, J.B. this kid from very humble beginnings who really found a way to break through, what would you be telling our business owners from your experience?
J.B. Bernstein: [00:45:24] There are three things I always like to remember as a business owner, as an entrepreneur. The first thing is, my success is deserved. I deserve to be sitting where I am, the decisions I've made have led to this success. Good and bad. And I always take count of that. The second thing I always tell business owners is figure out what the purpose and timing of your exit is going to be.
Is it just because you're bored because if you're bored, that's no reason to get rid of the business. Number one and number two there are plenty of great ways to invigorate a business and I'll give you a very quick example is targeting. In 2004, post September 11th, it was hard to get athletes these big million dollar a day show up for Pepsi, commercial.
So, Barry Bonds is one of my clients and my friend represented A-Rod and, they were looking for big paydays and rather than try to find one person who could afford to pay a million dollars for one day. I wonder. If we could find a few hundred people to pay 10 grand and accomplish the same thing.
And yeah, we've we literally 10 grand a ticket and sold it out almost immediately. I think we did 300 tickets. And then the next day we did a signing with the guys where it was $500 bucks to get a signature from each guy. And we ended up generating a couple million bucks for each guy in a day.
Everybody says, Oh, it's so smart. I said, what was so smart about that was the targeting. And so, if your business feels like it's not fresh, it has no growth. I always say, think about target. You can always find some new way to proliferate your business out or a new branch of an existing business or service based on what you're doing.
And that'll be exciting and it'll reinvigorate you and it'll bring new clients in. Boredom is no reason to sell. But the third point I would give somebody is that if they're resigned to sell their business, I would really have a good plan for that six months after, as part of the exit.
And part of that is just to make sure you don't make a bunch of the mistakes a lot of people do coming out of business. One is either to check out too long or one is to just get right back into it. And I think if you really have a plan about how you want to get to your next 2.0 or 3.0 or whatever it is. It'll serve you well, but that time's really important too I think to let go. I don't care what anybody says, it’s your heart, it's your baby. It's your blood, your sweat, your tears, the late nights, the bad flights, in my case, the mama's meatloaf from bad recruiting visits in the sticks. There's so much that goes into these things.
Don't discount the emotional part of that separation.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:48:15] Some terrific advice there, J.B., and certainly some life lessons in there as well. You've had some terrific gems of wisdom. Plan your exit ahead of time. You know what you want, why you're doing it, but also think about life after the exit.
Let's talk about that in between stage for just a moment, the actual exit itself. And you've shared some with the defensive buys. One of the things that we at Deep Wealth like to say is your future buyer knows a whole lot about you. They really know everything about you. What do you really know about your future buyer?
And you shared a terrific story of. Hey, if I had gotten to know my future buyer at the time for the blocks I probably would have done something different. I would have known what the intent was, perhaps there wasn't, as we like to say that cultural alignment, that cultural fit of what was there and maybe that unsolicited offer isn't quite the offer that it appears to be on paper.
As you've gone through your career and you've gone through exits, what else would come to mind in terms of that middle part, when you're actually going through the exit, you're now dealing with buyers, you're going through that process. That's a whole conversation in and of itself, but does anything come to mind from your experiences that you can share?
J.B. Bernstein: [00:49:26] Absolutely. And it's really funny, you bring this up because I think about this a lot in that part of the deal process. So, I'm an agent. And so, a brand X, Pepsi wants to work with client X and I say this is what it costs We're not pay that. The guy's not worth that. And he, but he got in trouble last year and dah, this, and but they can't say that to the guy's face. There's an intermediary in there that takes all the emotion out of these communications and all the unnecessary information. So, then I would go back to my client and say, this is the best they can do. It's a tough budgetary year. And then you get the deal done. When there's no way agent in that process, I do think that sometimes remember these people are negotiating to get the best deal.
If they thought your company was so bad and they thought all the things they were saying to beat you down on price, then why the hell are they trying to buy your company? You can't take that stuff personally as part of the negotiation. So, you just play along with it or get an agent.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:50:28] I love that. Preaching to the choir at Deep Wealth and the Deep Wealth Experience were all about, Hey, don't do this on your own. I know you think you can. And it’s Type-A personalities and as entrepreneurs, but when it comes to your liquidity event, whether that's a full exit or you're raising capital or something in between, don't do it on your own, get the professional help.
You'll get a better result when all is said and done. So, I'm with you there, J.B.
J.B. Bernstein: [00:50:51] What you guys do is amazing, because if I had this option, when I was coming out of Upper Deck, I'm sure the first thing you guys would have talked, it was counter, and every other step along the way for a young entrepreneur to not have to learn those lessons the hard way.
Look I'm excited to be able to do this. I'm excited about creating a friendship with you Jeff and hopefully we can help a lot of entrepreneurs learn from all of our mistakes.
Steve Wells: [00:51:16] Hey, J.B., I'm interested. It's really not quite on point. And when I hear your stories, it is really two questions?
So, you can either answer one or both. A lot of people come up to me I'm sure they come up to you. They're young and they want to start a business. They always want to know how to do this, or they get some idea they want you to back, and what would you tell those people and the follow-up, why are you in business?
What is it about business and what you've done that keeps you going?
J.B. Bernstein: [00:51:41] I like them both. I'll answer the second one first.
For me, my motivation in businesses in some ways at a base level is the same for everybody is, up until a certain point in my career, it was to provide for my future in my life. And now have a family later in life to provide for them. I wasn't a guy who was thinking about setting things up generationally as a young kid because I wasn't married and I thought I would never get married.
So, when I really think about my motivation for the last 20 years, I have gotten excited about being part of generational paradigm shifts within industries. That excites me about changing the way an industry does business. Changing the way people think about a brand or a product.
That's the kind of stuff that's challenging to me. If I can derive a challenge from it then it's probably worth my while to get involved and, you can make money off anything. I've been very lucky in my career that I've been able to make enough early to pick and choose the things I do later in my career, which is also a great luxury of being a successful entrepreneur early in your life, because yes, you make a lot of mistakes.
You learn a lot of hard lessons, but you do set yourself up for the ability to be more selective with what you want to do. And the first question you were asked was?
Steve Wells: [00:53:02] With these young people would come to you and they go, you know I think I want to be an entrepreneur or start a business. What do I do?
J.B. Bernstein: [00:53:07] So, the first thing I say to anybody who thinks they want to be an entrepreneur. I asked them the most important question is how much are you willing to lose? Because if the answer is not everything, then you shouldn't be an entrepreneur. That's really what it comes down to.
There’re no guaranteed lunches for an entrepreneur. We eat what we kill. It can be a very tough road. And for all of us, three sitting here, there are lots of entrepreneurs who were just as smart as us with great ideas that failed, caught bad market conditions, caught a bad break, ran out of money, whatever. The bottom line It's not for the weak.
And so, the fact that you want to do it, I don't even think is enough is you're born an entrepreneur. It's all you can think about. It's all you can do. If you don't feel that way, you're better off sitting behind a desk at a big company, getting into your golden handcuffs, work your way up the ladder. And there's nothing wrong with that.
It's a great life. But if you want to be an agent of change, and I think that's part of really what drives entrepreneurs. Yes. They want to make money. They want it to be their own. But they want to do something that's never been done before. I get that the sense with most entrepreneurs. And so that's what I would say to somebody who starting out in business is don't take this lightly.
This is everything. It's your whole life. If you fail, you could end up living in your car. A lot of guys do.
Steve Wells: [00:54:31] I agree with you wholeheartedly. Not to disparage higher education, that's the business we sold, we were online learning. We're the, one of the pioneers and millions of students and getting with business schools.
And you mean you reference MBAs, but I see these MBA programs are going, you're going to teach someone how to be an entrepreneur. Certainly, you can learn a lot of principles in accounting. It's the same way really in exiting your business. People go I can just read books.
It's all written down. I'm going to take a lesson from a University or read an author on how to sell my business or how to be an entrepreneur. It just doesn't exist.
J.B. Bernstein: [00:55:04] It would be like trying to learn how to fly. By reading a book and Oh, the weather is different today.
There's wind. There's ice. It's a crazy thought, but yeah, I agree with you I think that every industry where people smell money, you get a big influx of people who aren't really seriously into it. So, whether it's YouTube, trying to be influencers, there's a handful of people make a ton of, and then there are just millions of people posting tons of garbage, making it hard for me and you to do a Zoom.
And, but that's the reality of what we've created because there is some gold in them their Hills and in each of these kind of niche things, and the being an entrepreneur is a big catchall, you can create a business card and say you're the president of put a logo on there and you're the president but is that creating anything? Is that changing anything? Is that adding value? That's where I think you and I are aligned Stephen is, if you want to be an entrepreneur, it’s almost if you want to be a politician, have something to say, if you want to be an entrepreneur, have something you want to accomplish something you want to change in the world
Jeffrey Feldberg: [00:56:08] J.B. as a follow-up to that. And you're spot on. I agree with what you're saying. It's interesting as entrepreneurs. We figure out how to master the skills and the strategies to build a successful business. What's frustrating. And I see it time and time again is so many business owners. Maybe they sold a company before. Maybe they raised capital before.
Maybe they haven't, but they have this thinking I'm going to represent myself. I don't need an agent. Back to your earlier example, they've drunk their own Kool-Aid. But for most business owners having some kind of liquidity event, you don't do that every day. How can you master something that you've never done? Or if you've done it once and you probably didn't do the best of jobs in it, and you don't even know it. As business owners, we're the change makers.
We make the world go around. We find these painful problems. We solve them. We create jobs in the community, but really in the mergers and acquisitions world. We are one small cog in a very big wheel. And to your point, there's a lot of money at stake and you have these sophisticated experienced buyers.
They know every trick in the book. They're hoping that you don't, they play on collectively our egos, our weaknesses flashing dollars at us right up. Hoping that we're making a mistake because every mistake that we make, it lines their pocket with our money. Depending on who you speak to, and we speak to a lot of investment bankers here on the podcast as well as offline and depending on who it is, they're sharing that anywhere from 50% to more than 100% of the deal value is left on the deal table.
And one example, we had one investment banker who came on the podcast and said, listen, I have one company in market and we're running an auction, which is what they should be doing. But we have values anywhere from $11 million up to $70 million. And how many business owners would take the $11 million offer leaving $59 million on the table. Yet that's exactly what happens. We're here to not only level the playing field, but tilt the playing field in favor of the business owners. Because when you're prepared, when you know what you're doing, when you know how to have that blueprint to optimize your business value, you call the shots and you're not falling victim to, so much of what's out there.
J.B. Bernstein: [00:58:34] I totally get it. This can happen to a, an established company. So, I read an article just because I'm in the trading card business about Collectors Universe. They sold at a company sale and I think it was either 20% or 30% above list price. If you're holding the stock and it's been going up you've had it for a while, it's going up and now you get 20% above price offer.
The company took it. And now they're being sued by their investors because they think that, its 25 bucks too low. This is a mistake that is not just going to be made by entrepreneurs. It's made by big, massive hundred-million-dollar company. And so, I always feel like in everything in life, having a good wing man.
Someone who's seen a million of these things, even for someone like me, who's an experienced guy has been through a few and have some hard knocks to have a team like you guys in our corner. I was going to sell access group, to have your input as we're going through the process, to be able to bounce stuff off someone who's seen tons of these deals who can catch a lot of the intricacies and stuff.
What you're doing is exactly what you said is, a young entrepreneur, whatever company, by getting that extra input, by getting some more feedback, you can get any of that from $11 to $70 million spread back. In your pocket. And so, each nugget you're getting from people you're clawing that money back towards you.
And so that's a, if you think about its kind of a slide, there's this much money in and you can either have it all here or you can have it all here. In that process, it's so critical to have people like yourselves. Like I said, if I were having my business, I could use you guys.
If I had you guys at that block company or at any of these other key junctures in my career, it would have been a huge difference in impact. And I can say that unequivocally, I'm not, being paid to do the advertisement. It's just, it's obvious that the opinions and advice from people who've seen a lot of these would have helped me avoid some pretty big mistakes.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [01:00:33] Thank you for the kind words, J.B., Really appreciate that. As we start to wrap things up here. I want to ask you, it could be business. It could be life. It could be both. Any thoughts that that you want to share with the community. And while you're thinking about that, I know we, we have a tradition where Steve asks our guests this one question that we have as a a parting question.
But as you look over your journey and as we've been talking about this incredible story. And once again, congratulations on the tremendous success and you've earned your success. And as business owners, we do earn our success. Unfortunately, too many times we don't get the fruits of our labor that we've earned when we don't know what we're doing.
And others take advantage of that. But that said, J.B., what would be some insights as you look back that you can share with our community, from your journey.
J.B. Bernstein: [01:01:23] I guess it's always like in the military, right? Tell them what you're going to tell them what you told them.
For me, the biggest lesson that I've learned has been reinforced at almost every key juncture, but it's about having the hunger to succeed. And really being willing to make the sacrifices necessary to be successful, especially as an entrepreneur. Nowadays, you really need to be hungry in any company's situation because of the amount of competition and the contraction of workforces.
The other thing I would say to people is there's no way to underestimate the power of being positive. Of always trying to find the positive solution. People will come and say, it's not working because of this. It will work if you do this, and I think, in business and in life you'll have a lot more success.
And you'll ultimately be happier focusing on the positive side and the positive impacts that change in business can make. And then the last thing I would say is take more time personally. I made that mistake younger in life where I pretty much worked 20 hours a day, seven days a week.
No weekends off, no holidays for the better part of 15 years, I was doing that. It's okay to take some time. And you're climbing this Mount Everest when you're an entrepreneur and if you look up only, it feels like you're never going to get there. The top is just unreachable. Every now and again, look over your shoulder and you're like, Whoa, I'm a mile in the air.
I've come quite a bit already. And so, there is some benefit to looking back over your shoulder and taking some credit for what you and the team have done along the way. Those are probably my three big things. I like to tell people.
Steve Wells: [01:03:15] So, J.B. you may have even touched on some of these, but let's say you can jump in a time machine or it's a DeLorean and you're back to the future and there's the young little J.B. or smaller, younger, we should say J.B. and he's getting started out and you can step up to them and go, listen, I got something to tell you. I just, here's some things I want to tell you about the future. What would you tell your younger self?
J.B. Bernstein: [01:03:41] Three things first do not be afraid to ask out Cindy Mandera. You should see what she looks like on Facebook in 2020. She would have been lucky to get you J.B.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [01:03:56] Love it.
J.B. Bernstein: [01:03:58] Second thing I would tell him is that yes don't ride so high don't ride so low. Not everything is the end of the world. Not everything is the saving of the world. Come back a little bit more towards the middle and, everything was either very superlative at that point in my life. And then the last thing I would tell him is don't lose sight of how important family is. You can get drawn into business and it becomes myopic. As I've reconnected with my family more later in life, it's probably the only thing I regret my entire career was that I just was so myopic on business that I allowed those relationships to wither and anything in life they you can't expect to neglect these relationships, even with your most modern family and expect that to just be okay.
Ultimately that's not a stress that you need to carry in life.
Steve Wells: [01:04:55] Great advice for young J.B.
So, he wouldn't have listened to that's the problem. You have to come back a second time and knock him over the head a few years later.
J.B. Bernstein: [01:05:05] He would have asked me for a hundred bucks?
Steve Wells: [01:05:09] Listen, it's been really great. How would people find out about you? What forms of communication can they reach out to you? We'll publish, in the show notes information and any direction there?
J.B. Bernstein: [01:05:20] Yeah. I'm on LinkedIn and I posted a lot of content on LinkedIn, so a lot of young entrepreneurs follow me there and that's probably the best place from a content standpoint, in terms of things I'm going to post. Unfortunately, most of my other social networking is clogged up with athlete giveaways and things like that. So, it doesn't have great utility for entrepreneurs. LinkedIn's probably the best spot.
And then to find out about me personally, I have a website about the public speaking I do, and keynote speaking, which is JBBernstein-speaker.com.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [01:05:52] And of course we can always rent the movie.
J.B. Bernstein: [01:05:54] Hey, I'll get my one, 1 millionth of a penny.
Steve Wells: [01:05:59] Great. Thank you so much.
Jeffrey Feldberg: [01:06:01] Thank you, J.B. It's been wonderful.
J.B. Bernstein: [01:06:03] Thank you guys. I really appreciate it.