Gary Bredow On what it takes to Start a Business — Online or Off
“It’s still so new, it’s like the Wild West right now.” Gary Bredow says. “I think, that we’re just scratching the surface on how people are going to be able to use YouTube in building businesses.”
Gary should know. He’s the creator and host of Start Up, a PBS show about successful small businesses. Gary has interviewed and featured more than 150 small business owners from all over the country. Each show tells their stories and gives tips on starting up that range from the high tech like 3D printers to the low tech skill of beekeeping.
As Gary describes it, “We feature compelling entrepreneur stories. Small business owners who overcame the odds and were able to start a business on their own, with their own sort of passion and made something great happen.”
We caught up with this production entrepreneur who says that Start Up is his greatest start up. We asked him what it takes to get started and get running. He says that what is true of making your YouTube channel into a start up business is the same for every small company.
A Heart for the City
Gary’s love for telling these entrepreneur stories first began with a heart to revive his own city. He was working in an old neighborhood of Detroit. “The auto industry had completely fallen out. Everybody had lost their jobs. I wanted to do something to kind of reinvigorate my community.”
Gary did it in the best way he knew how, recording compelling stories and looking for a way to get them out to the public. He had been fairly successful making local commercials, so he already had the gear. He just hit the streets and started asking questions.
“There were a few businesses that were remaining.” Gary tell us, “I hoped to just have a local show that would inspire people to get out and start to rebuild the Detroit area.” His idea went far beyond the Motor City. “We took it to our local PBS station and they said this is too relevant — too good.” They helped Gary get connected to a Midwest regional distribution. “Regional said the same thing and they sent it off to national. We were tied to PBS national only weeks after creating the pilot!”
Currently the program airs on 96 percent of PBS member stations and each episode is viewed by about 1.5 million people. They have web extras on their YouTube channel, and the entire series is available on Amazon Prime.
Passion is the Key
If you ask Gary what he has learned about business from all of his interviews, he’ll tell you, “Passion has to come before profit.” That is true of just about everyone that has been featured on the show. “The first thing is to look deep into yourself and find out what makes you the happiest person. From there, you’ve got to find a way to make money doing it. I’ve learned that over and over again.”
One example he uses is from a show that will air in the fall. It’s the first episode of the show’s fifth season. The business is the Lower 9th Ward Market in New Orleans. Owner Burnell Collins has poured a passion for his community into a landmark start up.
It’s been 12 years since a hurricane devastated the 9th Ward, a section of Metropolitan New Orleans. “It looks the same,” Gary reports, “It looks like Katrina just hit.” There was no place to buy food, no place to do laundry — there were no businesses at all. Burnell’s passion led him to take matters into his own hands after seeing long time resident who had to take three busses just to buy a loaf of bread.
“This guy built a grocery store by hand. He spent every single penny that he had and he built a walk up window grocery store.” Gary says of this inspirational entrepreneur who didn’t just stop there. “The market led to a laundromat and that turned into a small barber shop and now a little internet cafe. The people in the community gravitate to that place because it’s all that’s there.”
ALMOST EVERY BUSINESS THAT START UP HAS FEATURED HAS GONE TO YOUTUBE FOR SOME LEVEL OF SUPPORT.
How did Burnell do it? With very little money, he turned to YouTube. “He wired his entire building electrical up to code from YouTube.” Gary says. When inspectors came to sign off on Burnell’s work, they asked him who had done the wiring. Burnell proudly answered, that he learned it from YouTube. Gary assures us, “Everything was perfect, up to code. He had never wired anything in his life.”
Gary points to this story as one that has truly touched him. “The commitment that this man has and his undying spirit. His love, his passion was to give back something to the community that they could be proud of and he did that in spades!” It is passion that led Gary and Burnell, and it is what can drive us to start a business.
Gary tells us that almost every business owner that they have featured has gone to YouTube for some level of support. “People are always looking for education or how-to’s. From somebody learning how to do social media marketing for their small business, or just building something. Nearly every person interviewed, in some capacity, uses YouTube as their form of education.”
One company featured on the show is Robo 3D. They are a San Diego based 3D printer company that is featured on season four of Start Up. They credit their entire printer design to “YouTube University” as they call it.
Gary met them as they were just getting started. He was shocked to find neither founder had a background in engineering. “They were both marketing and sales people. They went on YouTube and learned how to make a 3D printer” He laughs when he says, “They went down to their local hardware store and out of wood and screws and ordering a few electronic components, were able to make this crude, wooden 3D printer.”
They took their design to Kickstarter and initially planned to raise about 50,000 dollars in seed money to start the company. They raised over half a million dollars. Gary says that this was great news, but they now had to fulfill a massive number of orders. All they had was a crude, wooden prototype. “They quickly had to hire on a company that could mass manufacturer and fulfill 1000 of these printers. Now they’re in Staples. That was crazy!”
Let’s Get Going
If you have the passion and the right motivation, Gary says that you might be ready to start your own business. There are some critical questions that you need to ask: “Who is it that you want to be? What is the service that you’re providing? Who do you want to reach? I think, it all comes down to defining your brand.”
After that, it’s time to look for resources. He says that resources means more than just money. “Surround yourself with people that know more than you, that are smarter than you, that are experts in their field.” Listen to them and ask them lots of questions. Gary says that you might be surprised to find that many people who do what you want to do are more than willing to sit down and give advice. “People are willing to do it. Just be willing to humble yourself enough to ask for their help.”
When it comes to money, Gary cautions that crowdfunding usually takes more than your think. There is video production and fulfilling whatever the incentives are that you want to give to your supporters. He says that you should not rule out a traditional methods like visiting your local bank and building a relationship, “Tell them your plan at day one and ask them to reverse engineer what will it take for you to qualify for a loan. Then work toward it.”
Finally Gary reminds us that starting a small business is not easy. He would say that it’s ten times harder that working for someone else: “Being an entrepreneur, starting a small business is exponentially harder than doing a job. But if you love what you do then you really don’t work a day in your life!”
Gary’s Next Steps
If you are looking to start a YouTube business or any business, Gary gives us the steps to take:
1. Find your passion. Gary says that the key to a successful start up comes from the inside. “Truly understand what is it that you love to do most and find a way to make money doing it.”
2. Proof of Concept. You have to get some unbiased opinions about what you do. “Whatever it is that you decide you’re going to do, find a way to do it in a very small source capacity. Then get it out to more than just your grandma and your friends to see whether or not this is actually going to work.”
3. Create a business plan. There’s lots of online help, but this is a critical step. “Where it is and where you want to go. Once you have a business plan people will start to take you a bit more seriously.“
4. Get some advice. “Set up meetings with people who you think can help move you forward, whether that’s a bank or a local investor, a local community leader, anybody that’s smarter than you that may have some knowledge.” Then use that knowledge to get going.
5. Don’t overspend. “When you’re funded and it’s time to go, really pay close attention to your budget. A lot of people get out there and want too much too fast.” Gary tells us that slow growth is always better. “If you rush something to market, the chances are much greater that it’s going to fail.”
6. Don’t celebrate too early. There are always more challenges ahead. “That’s another one I’ve learned over and over.” Just getting started is not the win. Staying in business is the key.