Entrepreneur Chris Brogan on Why You Shouldn’t Conform

by Kristine Hansen on June 18, 2014
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Freaks, misfits and weirdos haven’t always been cool. Entrepreneur and author Chris Brogan, publisher of Owner magazine, turns these terms on their heads by reclassifying freaks as game changers.

In his latest book, The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth: Entrepreneurship for Weirdos, Misfits, and World Dominators, out this spring, Brogan (pictured) praises nonconformity in the name of solid business potential. Coaching entrepreneurs in topics like “Not Everyone Will Love You — But That’s the Point” and “How to Be a Freak But Still Be an Owner,” it’s a playbook for those who have always felt slightly out of place but never lacked ambition.

The Intuit Small Business Blog caught up with Brogan to talk about his push to promote the art of not fitting in.

ISBB: What inspired you to write this book?

Brogan: I wrote it first and foremost for my kids. Neither one will likely ever warm up a cubicle in their lifetime, so I had to create a book for them about entrepreneurship — one that I would bother reading. I also wrote it for others who maybe didn’t feel like they fit in, and who felt like they loved business, but not always the same kind of business others were talking about.

In business terms, what is a weirdo, misfit, or freak?

All the terms relate to people who are passionate about something that others might not be. I just heard from a great dentist who said he’s a freak because he loves his customers and clients so much that he sees each one as a relationship and a partnership. Reebok runs a freak business because they sidle up to the likes of CrossFit and Spartan Race to serve their passions. Freaks are just those who don’t immediately fit in and have an urge to do what they love most, in their own way.

Why are there more opportunities for misfits now than ever before?

Technology has caught up at the same time that people are really getting tired of feeling like a number. It’s a world where Kickstarter, Airbnb, Uber and the like allow us to work without permission with the people we want to work with in the way we’d like to work. It’s magic, really.

Is there a point at which one can be too weird as an entrepreneur?

I call it the Perez Hilton “hot mess” line. If you are too weird, then you’re likely not the kind of person others will connect with. Or you might not have any business concepts that resonate with enough people to make some kind of business thrive. But I can tell you this: There are many people who have the makings of a great entrepreneur who are not seeing themselves that way because of the current models out there. I aim to fix that.

What case studies do you include in your book?

I talk with a range of people, from R.J. Diaz, who started an apparel brand called Industry Portage, to Tony Hawk, the professional skateboarder turned businessperson (who still skates every day). I spoke with Marc Ecko, the fashion and design champion, as well as Kate White, former editor of Cosmopolitan, and Marie Forleo, who left behind some big-company jobs to build her own empire. The goal was to give somewhat exaggerated versions of what could be accomplished, but lawyers, accountants, real-estate professionals, and the above-mentioned dentist have all come forth as self-identified freaks after checking out the book.

What are most entrepreneurs missing in the framework of doing business?

Here’s the paradox: We think we hate systems, but we need them. The challenge is that we hate the systems that have been laid before us. We need to create our own and find some ways to work that resonate with us. Without a system, we fail. With someone else’s ill-fitting system, we are stifled. It’s a needle worth threading.

You write about building out the Digital Channel. How do you recommend doing that?

Freaks’ best tool for marketing and sales is the Digital Channel, which includes everything from a web presence to having a YouTube channel or a blog or at least a really strong email newsletter list. In the United States, 40 percent of small businesses have no web presence whatsoever. That’s boggling to me. You can create your own TV show (YouTube), your own radio show (a podcast), your own magazine (a blog), and you can cover the story the way you want, and you don’t want to do that? Revenue comes from this kind of work.

Photo courtesy Raul Colon.

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