Gene Petrov: Leadership Expert, Mentor, Coach, and Founder, LDRBRND: “There Is More Than One Path to ‘Success’ (However You Define That)”
Gene Petrov is the founder of LDRBRND, an online leadership, teaching, and coaching business geared towards marketers. He has over two decades of experience in leadership. He has worked in a mom and pop shop, corporate retail, and served in the U.S. Air Force. He also gets to experience and teach leadership as the dad to adopted triplets.
Gene’s Original Story: “There Is More Than One Path to ‘Success’ (However You Define That)”
I grew up in a very tight knit, Christian family. My dad was a refugee from communist Bulgaria. My Puerto Rican mom was raised in the projects of Brooklyn where gang warfare was an everyday reality. We didn’t have a lot of money (my mom used to joke that we were “upper poor”) but my parents worked extremely hard to provide for us. My parents taught me deep, fundamental principles around faith, family, patriotism, and hard work. I didn’t always like this but I grew up to be a high-achieving and highly responsible adult who believes in the American dream. This is the land of opportunity and we are not fated to stay in the same socio-economic level of our birth. This is what inspired me in my entrepreneurial journey.
Even before I left corporate America in August of 2016, I knew I was on the right track. I had a deep spiritual and emotional sadness that lifted as I began to plot life after work. I discussed it at length with my wife and other family members. I sensed a surge of excitement as I described the possibilities. I was bolstered by some books I had read about online entrepreneurship (The End of Jobs and 7-Day Startup). The timing seemed to be right. The barriers to entry were low. My wife wanted to return to a corporate job. Our family needed one parent at home for our special needs triplets. So we made the switch.
But the realization of “this is what I love to do” didn’t hit me until six to nine months later. It was at that point I found the people I was meant to serve with my gift. At first, I thought I would teach leadership to everyone. It turned out that I needed to focus on a group of social media marketers who loved to participate in Twitter chats. When my messages began to resonate deeply with that audience, I felt like this is what I was meant to do.
As far as education, I have a Masters of Science in Management. I am grateful for my time in the military and the G.I. Bill that afforded me the opportunity to get that degree. It gave me an interesting place to continue from as a student and practitioner of leadership. But the ideas quickly became obsolete. The focus was on management (processes), when the business climate was changing to emphasize leadership (people). As I progressed through my career, I noticed that ideas in psychology were more relevant than ideas on how to iron out inefficiencies (think Six Sigma and lean manufacturing). Happy employees will take care of the processes. So I spent a lot of my time in informal education unlearning management so I could focus on leadership. Then I decided to tie leadership principles to the marketing industry (because I could see major connections).
“[My degree] gave me an interesting place to continue from as a student and practitioner of leadership. But the ideas quickly became obsolete.” – Gene Petrov
Of course, there was one issue there: I needed to learn marketing for myself. I had one undergraduate class from years before and didn’t remember anything. That didn’t stop me though. I found ways to learn on the job (OJT). OJT was a powerful concept from my military days. The basic premise is that we learn best by doing. Some book knowledge is good but getting hands-on makes it real. I did my own marketing (specifically social media) and even tried my hand at a website and email newsletter. My best teacher, though, was other people within the industry. I participated in a lot (and I mean a lot) of Twitter chats, initially. That is a high-leverage learning activity. I like to say I got a Masters in Marketing via those chats. These days I don’t do as much social media marketing (it’s better to pay someone who can do it better). I focus on my special gifts: learning, researching, analyzing, writing, teaching, and coaching. I don’t spend any time in management these days. As a polymath, I look to learn across a wide variety of disciplines including psychology, parenting, leadership, education, math, and more, so I can make valuable connections back to the marketing industry.
For me, the biggest challenge as an entrepreneur was finding that initial audience. I knew I had important wisdom to share from my experience and education concerning leadership. But I didn’t know exactly who needed to hear it. It took some trial and error to pinpoint. But once I did, the business began to turn around and even be fun for me. So, I would advise beginners to find that customer base first. It is way easier to find an audience, research their ailments, and then devise a solution from there. I took a much harder approach that not everyone can handle. I have an extremely long time horizon and the benefit of this being my secondary gig (my first being dad to those triplets). I would also say that time and money are a big constraint in this journey. So plan ahead.
Getting paid for leadership is difficult (see Ch. 2.3). It begins with real expertise that can only be developed over time. It continues by sharing that expertise liberally and building trust. That trust brings people together. We call that “community building” now. That is the not-so-big secret. The hard part is having patience and putting in the work (sometimes over years). It’s a different paradigm (selling yourself as a service versus selling other products and services).
It may seem odd that I would say “skip the degree” since I have a graduate degree. I’m not being hypocritical here. I just believe there is more than one path to “success” (however you define that) in your career.
I grew up with parents who came from a poor background. Their generation valued stability, especially. They found a job (often with the government), stuck with it for 30-40 years, and then retired with a pension. The way to get that good job was to get a degree first. My parents pushed me in that direction and I rebelled against it. I was certainly smart enough but it didn’t seem right for me. I wanted to design video games. But my parents said there was no money or future in that (they were wrong!). My parents limited opportunities. As a parent, teacher, and coach, I want to open up possibilities for people.
Trade schools (HVAC repair, plumbers, electricians, mechanics) are a perfectly legitimate and financially sustainable path to career and business success. Being a YouTuber, online business coach, freelance marketer or writer, or even a sports star are real possibilities, too. Don’t let people crush those dreams. They are worthwhile endeavors. But be prepared for hard work over the long term. There are a lot of shysters out there trying to make a quick buck with their “hacks.” Don’t fall victim to their scams. If you want to learn more about your chosen trade, profession, or possible business, look for the people who are caring and generous teachers and leaders. They think beyond the dollars and think about the bigger impact. They think about legacy, love, and service. They strive to make a difference in this world and leave it in better shape than they found it.
“If you want to learn more about your chosen trade, profession, or possible business, look for the people who are caring and generous teachers and leaders. They think beyond the dollars and think about the bigger impact. They think about legacy, love, and service. They strive to make a difference in this world and leave it in better shape than they found it.” – Gene Petrov
Find more from Gene Petrov at LDRBRND.