Scott Duffy – Experience Necessary
Serendipity is often referred to as a happy accident: an occurrence that unexpectedly, unpredictably leads to the discovery of something good or helpful. And although ‘happy’ is the last word to describe a traumatic car crash where one narrowly escapes death, even that can be somewhat serendipitous. Scott Duffy is living proof of that.
Today, Duffy is a successful entrepreneur, speaker, author, and strategist. His past roles also include a number of stints as an innovator at small internet companies, which became major players.
Throughout Duffy’s career, one of his operating principals is to withhold judgment to a given event until the final outcome is evident. This wisdom was passed along to him by his former employer, Tony Robbins.
“I told Tony about the accident,” states Duffy. ”He said, ‘You have good days and you have bad days but you don’t know which is which until sometime down the line, because you don’t know what you’ll make of the experience.’”
Duffy started his career as a field sales rep and sales trainer for Robbins. His job was to speak to groups of people with the intent of selling tickets to upcoming Tony Robbins appearance. This meant that Duffy was speaking in front of up to 100 people, up to seven times a day, up to seven days a week, which gave him an incredible amount of experience in a short time.
To land his position with Robbins, Duffy decided to, dare I say, think outside of the box.
“I got this tall cardboard box,” Duffy relates, “and I filled it halfway with newspapers. Then I put in my resume and things that were important to Tony. I filled it the rest of the way with more newspapers and I wrote on the top flap, ‘How can Robbins Research benefit with Scott Duffy as a member of its team.’ The idea was that he’d have to dig for it. They dropped it off and I got a call. I got my dream job.”
That would not be the only time that Duffy employed creative methods to get hired.
“At a certain point, I realized that I wanted to build companies,” recalls Duffy. “I left the training industry to break in to the internet business. My college roommate and I started a consumer internet access business in 1994. It didn’t go anywhere but I got exposed to some of the new consumer sites that were developing online and I decided that I wanted to go work for one of these companies.”
He was living in L.A. but would take frequent trips to the Bay Area to search for that opportunity, which eventually exhausted his money, leaving him with a critical decision to make.
“All entrepreneurs face this at some point,” Duffy says, “having to decide whether you are going to stick or let go.”
Duffy pawned everything he had, paid his debts, and with $200 in his pocket he said goodbye to L.A. and moved to the Bay Area. There he made a deal with a local Domino’s to clean up the store in exchange for discounted pizza.
Duffy relates the rest of his plan. “I would put my resume on top of a pizza so that they had to peel it out if they wanted to eat it. I would walk a pizza into the front door and say ‘this is for the sales team.’ Sales people will eat anything especially if it’s free. I eventually got a call.”
That began a string of positions with internet startups where Duffy would prove time and again his ability to help small companies innovate, grow and ultimately merge with larger brands.
His initial opportunity was in 1996 with Quote.com; the first company in the U.S. to get permission from the exchanges to put stock quotes on the internet.
“My first role there was to build distribution,” says Duffy. “One of the challenges that entrepreneurs have is they’ve got the greatest idea, that in many cases nobody ever knows about. So our strategy was to partner with other sites that had users that would be interested in our service.”
Duffy put together a network of over 100 sites and Quote.com’s traffic rocketed. Then he focused on starting an ad sales program, which led to the company becoming one of the top ten ad revenue-generating sites. Quote.com eventually sold to Lycos for close to $100 million.
Duffy’s next stop was at Sportsline USA where he helped launch sales and open offices right about the time that the business was being bought by CBS. The deal to create CBS Sportsline was the first time that a broadcast company and an internet company merged.
Following that, he helped launch Xoom, an online content direct marketing business. Duffy again worked to build traffic and generate revenue.
“I was much more involved in bringing money into the company early,” remembers Duffy, “bringing syndicate banks into the IPO. We did a merger with NBC and I was involved in that process.”
The sale was valued at $4 billion.
Duffy’s next venture was a re-launch of FoxSports.com. It originally was the property of a separate company, as were all of News Corp.’s online assets. That company closed and the assets had to start from scratch.
“When we started we had nothing,” Duffy says. “It’s kind of funny to think that we were a sports website that had been operating for years but when the business closed, everything was wiped out.”
So they partnered with another sports website with content and placed the Fox brand on it. They eventually became the sports channel for a major search engine and immediately had access to millions of eyeballs.
“It is now one of the two biggest sports sites on the internet,” says Duffy.
These opportunities provided him with invaluable experience on charting out a course to grow a company and make it attractive to a larger company.
“I’m also fortunate because I had the chance to learn from amazing and very different entrepreneurs,” Duffy adds.
Of these successful endeavors, how much was due to smart strategy and how much was due to good fortune?
Duffy responds, “A lot of times we wonder, ‘are successful people lucky or smart?’ I think that they’re smart enough to know when they are getting lucky, and they push as hard as they can at those times to get everything that they can out of those experiences.”
Much can be gained from dire experiences also. The serious accident that Duffy survived is a case in point.
It happened his junior year in college. He and three friends were on their way to San Felipe in Mexico for an end-of-semester camping trip.
Duffy recounts, “We were 60 miles south of border out in the desert in Baja on a two lane highway with a ten foot embankment on either side. There was a truck that had gone off the side. He drove back up the embankment and he didn’t see us. He popped up on the road and we hit him going 75 miles an hour.”
All four were knocked unconscious. Duffy’s head went through the windshield. To add insult to the injuries, the men in the truck stole everything they could and left. But a couple who was headed to the same campsite, stopped, put the injured in their RV and drove them to a clinic in Mexicali. The first person of the group who regained consciousness, requested to be treated in the U.S.
The American consulate was called and they arranged to have ambulances take Duffy and his friends to Scripps Hospital in La Jolla. All four lived and fully recovered but the accident left Duffy with two brain hemorrhages, which severely incapacitated him.
“I couldn’t get out of bed much,” says Duffy. “I couldn’t read, listen to music, or watch TV. Everything made me sick.”
Eventually he was able to listen to books on tape at a very low volume. At a friend’s suggestion, Duffy started to listen to motivational books.
“While I was lying in bed, I would listen to the legendary speakers of the time, all day and all night,” Duffy recalls. “When I got strong enough, I made the decision that I wanted to work for one of them.”
Not only did the near-fatal accident lead Duffy to a starting point in his career, it also gave him a new philosophical foundation to lean upon.
He explains, “At the times of my life when things have been the toughest, there has always been somebody that at the right time reaches down and pulls me out.”
In 2003, Duffy went back into business for himself, founding Self Storage Capital Group, which invested in public self storage facilities. This venture led to Duffy’s first book, “How to Invest and Make Money in Self Storage”.
A couple of years later, Duffy discovered an untapped opportunity in the aviation business and launched Smart Charter, an online booking company for private jets.
The idea for that venture arose from a discussion that Duffy had with a friend about industries that were currently thriving. The two hit upon the charter plane sector, which was growing considerably due to the added aggravations of traveling on commercial jets post-9/11.
“The growth of the private aviation industry looked like the internet business had in the 90’s,” explains Duffy. “I had never seen anything like it. So I decided to take a look at the space. And I saw this huge hole.”
What he found was that there was no system in place for convenient online booking of charter plane travel because no one had aggregated the supply of aircraft of the approximately 2500 private operators in the U.S.
His innovative company caught the attention of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, which acquired it in 2009.
Duffy’s newest venture is Always Good, an internet marketing company that specializes in products and services in the personal development industry. It is set to launch in early 2013. Duffy’s future also includes the publication of a book about taking responsibility in all aspects of your life.
“It’s about how we take control and how we create the lives that we want versus relying on others,” Duffy explains.
And how does he feel about the future of Southern California’s economy?
“I look at the future and I get excited,” he exclaims. “There are so many entrepreneurs, so much creative talent in this area, and the right people always figure out ways to build great companies. And it’s less expensive to start a business then it has ever been. Everyone is starting on the same playing field because we all have access to the same information through the internet. We have been forced to become smarter as entrepreneurs.”
But he acknowledges that the economic landscape has been vastly changed by the recent slump. This includes raising capital. He advises entrepreneurs to be better prepared, more accountable, and focused on doing one thing and doing it “insanely well.” Also, when putting together a business plan, he suggests starting with the last page first.
“The last page is your financials,” Duffy reminds. “If you figure out where your income is going to come from and what it’s going to cost you to build the business, the rest of the plan is going to write itself.”
Experiencing the economic downturn has provided other insights.
“The one thing that I’ve learned the most in this economy,” Duffy states, “is the value of getting out in front of your customers quickly, and being responsive to their changing needs. That’s one of the most important things to do to get through these times successfully.”
Duffy admits that the entrepreneurial experience has its obstacles, including individuals that may doubt you. But to that, he offers this:
“People with small visions themselves can’t have a bigger vision of you. It’s important to not focus on them.”
Interview by Mike Dahl
Photos by Don Haynes