About this episode

This is a very unique episode of The Startup Story because this week I am sharing my story. Listeners reach out to me often, wanting to know more about my story and why I am passionate about what I am doing with this podcast. The hard part for me has been finding the right person to interview me. One of the aspects of The Startup Story that I love so much is the conversational side of the show. I soon realized the perfect interviewer was right in front of me. This week, my wife, Melissa McKinney, helps me unpack my entrepreneurial journey for you.

Allow me to introduce myself, I’m James McKinney, Creator and Host of The Startup Story podcast. With over 30,000 listeners, The Startup Story has unpacked the entrepreneurial journey of some of the most amazing people, including founders like Jason McCann from Varidesk, Larry Namer from E! Entertainment Television, and Clint Harp from HGTV and Harp Design Co.

Throughout our 49 episodes you have heard me relate to founders that have overcome challenges and obstacles. You’ve heard me ask questions about how their marriages were impacted throughout their journey. Those questions are not arbitrary. The reason I asked them was because of my own journey. It’s that relatability to the founder that makes the stories so compelling and why you keep coming back. So, just as we’ve done for the last 49 episodes we have to start each story at the very beginning. My beginning was far from normal. This is my Startup Story.

In this episode, you’ll hear

  • About my early childhood, being a child of divorce and how it affected me
  • How as a child, I watched my dad grow his side hustle into a multimillion-dollar enterprise
  • Some of my early side hustles, dating all the way back to elementary school
  • How in high school I created one of the first direct to consumer CD distribution businesses and the important (hard) life lessons I learned from the experience
  • About being kicked out at the age of 16, living on my own, and how my dad delivered discipline in an intentional way
  • How learning lessons of hard work and determination affected me as I continued to grow
  • My focus and what I wanted to do with my life and how and why I joined the Marines
  • What my life was like after the military, including going to Jr. College and starting a bookkeeping services business
  • Why passion is so important in every person’s journey
  • About building and growing a promotional product business and recollecting on the day I lost it all
  • If you are a married entrepreneur then you need to understand that this journey is not just yours
  • What I did after ending the promotional product business, including working at Disney and looking to provide a stable life for my family
  • How working at Disney led me to believe in myself and owning the title of entrepreneur
  • I answer the question, “Do you believe that entrepreneurs are born or do you believe that they're made?”

“There is a ton of value in the lessons learned when you endure the fire.”
—James McKinney

Resources from this episode

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Episode transcript

The Startup Story - James McKinney

Hi, this is James McKinney, the creator and host of The Startup Story, and this is MY startup story.

Every wildfire began with a spark. Every superhero has an origin story. And every single startup has a moment that they point to as their beginning. And every founder has a purpose that drove them in the midst of all obstacles. THAT is The Startup Story.

James McKinney: Before we jump into this week's episode, I want to say thank you to the team at Fuse Dynamic Workspace for allowing me to use their podcast studio to record this episode. I've seen hundreds of co working spaces, and Fuse is definitely something special. So if you're in the north Texas area, make sure to visit workatfuse.com.

This week's iTunes review comes from None for One 125 that gave the show a five star rating and wrote, "This is one podcast you feel like you have to binge on. Is binging podcasts even a thing? It seems to fit for me. Very well done, James. View Goal is our startup and we will use your topics weekly in our founders meetings to take this free education and inside secrets from other founders. It's like we can get mentorship from some greats through the lens of being a founder. Tim Ferris has concepts of learning from a collection of greats. This is a whole different level for us founders. Wow." Well, wow right back at you, None for One 125, and yes binging podcasts is definitely a thing. Thank you so much for taking the time to write your review. It looks like your startup View Goal is doing something really interesting in the healthcare space and I wish you tremendous success.

So for all my listeners everywhere, if you have found any value in The Startup Story please leave a written review on iTunes and plug your brand, URL, or social media accounts. If you do that, then I will read your review in an upcoming episode and it becomes a mini ad that lasts for years, just like I did for View Goal. It's just my way of saying thank you for taking the time to leave a review. The written reviews mean a ton for being discovered within the iTunes platform. I'm not sure if you've noticed, but Apple Podcast has redesigned their navigation and finding great shows has become a bit more challenging. Climbing the charts on iTunes is not just about listeners, but it's about engagement. Listening is one way iTunes measures engagement but written reviews have a multiplying effect so please leave those written reviews.

This is a very unique episode of The Startup Story because, well, it's my startup story. For months, I have had listeners reaching out to me wanting to know more about my story and why I'm passionate about what I'm doing with The Startup Story. The hard part for me with recording my own story was to find someone to interview me. One of the aspects of The Startup Story that I love so much is the conversational side of the show and I didn't want to lose that when it came to unpacking my journey. The funny thing is that the perfect interviewer was right in front of me the whole time.

Melissa McKinney: Hi, everyone.

James McKinney: Well, there you go. Allow me to introduce you to my wife, Melissa McKinney.

Melissa McKinney: This is going to be awesome. I'm so excited to do this. I think your story is amazing.

James McKinney: Well thanks, babe, but let me finish explaining to everyone why I thought you would be the best person to interview me. Throughout our 49 episodes, you have heard me relate to founders that have overcome challenges and obstacles. You've heard me ask questions about how their marriages were impacted throughout their journey. Those questions are not arbitrary by any means. The reason I ask them is because of my own journey, and it's that relatability to the founder that I believe makes the story so compelling, and why you keep coming back.

Well there really is nobody out there who would know all of the areas to poke at in my life than my wife, and to be honest, she's had to endure just as much as I have on the journey, whether she's liked it or not. But we'll get into that later.

Melissa McKinney: Yeah, we will. Is it my time to take over now or do you still have more intro stuff to cover?

James McKinney: No, no. We're good to go.

Melissa McKinney: Awesome. Now let's jump into this week's episode. Our guest this week is James McKinney, creator and host of The Startup Story podcast. With over 30,000 listeners, The Startup Story has unpacked the entrepreneurial journey of some of the most amazing people. Founders like Jason McCann from Varidesk, Larry Namer from E! Entertainment Television, and Clint Harp from HGTV and Harp Design Co. He even had Kickstarter phenom Emma Rose Cohen from Final Straw, Darby Angell from Darby Angell, and Neelie Powell from The Charleston Shoe Company. Since January, I've listened to almost every episode. Sorry, honey, I'm a few episodes behind. And after each episode, I'm reminded of some parts of our lives together as James continues his own entrepreneurial journey. I've seen James at his highest and I've been with him at his lowest. So for all of you listening that have hit him up on Instagram or LinkedIn wanting to know his story, you're wise for being curious because it's a great one. Just like James has done for the past 49 episodes, we have to start each story at the very beginning, and James' beginning was far from normal.

James McKinney: Oh man, my childhood was a mess. You know it's interesting. So we've had a few founders on the show that speak to them being a child of divorce. There's a little disruption that takes place in that. In fact, one of the things I point to all the time, not necessary in an episode, but the episode with Clint Harp was like I was talking to myself for most of it. We recorded for over two hours because it was just like I was talking with me, and it was the most surreal experience ever. Now granted, I've never been on a TV show or anything like that so there's that element that isn't the same. But just the idea of the childhood and the journey.

So when I think back to my childhood, I really can't remember too much before the age of eight, and the reason being is that my parents divorced at eight. So the only memories before age eight are when I was seven and my dad told me that they were splitting, and that it wasn't our fault. The typical conversation, but I just don't have too many memories before that. I think part of that is the nature of divorce, and every kid processes it differently. I think there's something subconscious that that became like a new marker for me. Whatever took place before age eight was not part of my story or my journey, because I just don't remember too much from that.

Again, there's anecdotal things I remember like the year of Christmas that I asked for everything Michael Jackson because there was this girl on a bus. This must have been second or third grade, and that's amazing to me that second grade I was interested in girls, because you know our son is far from that and he's 12. But anyway, I remember in second grade this girl that I was interested in on a bus was super into Michael Jackson. So that year for Christmas, I asked for everything that was Michael Jackson related. The Thriller jacket, the glove, the lunch box. My entire Christmas list was everything Michael Jackson related. I remember getting it for Christmas.

My parents were so good to me that year. I got everything on that list and the next school day after Christmas break, I put it all on. I had the jacket, I had the t-shirt, you know the muscle shirt that was like Michael Jackson Beat It. I had the Thriller jacket. I even wore the glove on the bus. So I remember getting on the bus and sitting in a chair next to her but behind her one, and just excited for the acknowledgment, and she looks over and says, "I don't like Michael Jackson anymore." And just being devastated that I wasted all my Christmas on Michael Jackson stuff. I just don't remember ever wearing it again. I might have, I just don't remember it. But it's like other than little anecdotes like that, I just can't remember too much before the divorce. Again, it's probably just the disruption of it.

Melissa McKinney: Which is funny because even back then, when you were committed to something, you were all in.

James McKinney: I was all in. I was all in. To this day, I am all in. There is no lukewarm with anything I do. So from the divorce, like most divorces went to live with my mom. It was a lot of instability in that as she tried to find her way like a lot of single moms have to go through. Now, looking back, I know she tried the best that she could. It's just a level of education and coping that she had, and flaws that come with it. But at the same time, as the only boy and I'm one of three from the same parents, and then later on have two more siblings. But as the only boy, I missed being around my dad. That leadership that comes from a dad. So all you dads listening, don't think your leadership doesn't matter because it does.

It wasn't until probably going into sixth grade we were given a chance to live with our dad because our mom was leaving my stepdad at the time. She had gotten remarried and that's where the other two siblings came from. She had gotten remarried and was going through another divorce again, and couldn't afford to keep me and my sisters. So we got to live with our dad. I just remember being so excited. To the moon excited about the idea of living with my dad again.

In that process, between the years of the divorce and us living with him, he had gotten remarried to my stepmom. I was a punk kid and I own it. I own most of it that the tension that my stepmom and I had was because of just me. Me wanting my dad, me missing the years with my dad. Me being frustrated with the divorce. Just again, my childhood I would define it as just disruptive. There wasn't too much peace in my childhood. Some people respond differently to disruption. Some people, they have a level of fear that manifests from it. They become extremely violent from it. For me, I was always trying to seek stability, which is weird looking back as an entrepreneur. I was not what I seek at all. I guess I do seek it, just differently than what other people would call stability.

But I remember moving in with my dad and my stepmom and just being so excited to be with him. But at the same time, for whatever reason, things just started unraveling internally. My grades slipped. Again, back to the point of disruption. Just it got gnarly. But my dad was an entrepreneur and that's the thing. My mom wasn't. She was a 9 to 5. Again, single mom. She had to do what she could to provide. But my dad was an entrepreneur. I remember very clearly, even when we weren't living with him we would visit him on certain weekends that were his. He was starting a print shop out of like a storage unit. So he had this little two color press, little AB Dick press in the storage unit just printing off flyers. He was a Kodak copier repairman was his 9 to 5, but his side hustle was his print shop.

I remember going in the storage unit and seeing him run it, and I'd help in any way I could being in, I don't know what this was, in fifth grade at the time I guess. So I got to see just the idea of doing something beyond the job. Again, I didn't register at the time as a kid, but now looking back there's so many things that I point to in my own entrepreneurial DNA that goes to him.

Seeing him grow that, I mean he grew that out of a storage unit to where it became his fulltime gig. It was called Redtail Press in Santa Ana, California. He had a small shop. I'm going to guess it was probably around I don't know maybe 10,000 square feet. When he got his first multi color press, all those in the print world know what I'm talking about. I think it was a Harris now that I'm thinking about it. Now I'm in middle school and I'm helping jog paper and I'm working this industrial cutter that can literally cut off limbs. I can't imagine letting my son do it, but I guess part of me would be curious to see what he did with it. So I got to see it firsthand.

I also got to see in middle school just the challenges. He was always working. There are elements of it that didn't appeal to me. My dad did really well when the print shop was running. I got to see some of the financial fruit that came from it. The benefit of it as a kid and living with him. But I also got to see how many hours he put in. I got to see sometimes when the stress would carry on him, and even more so later on when he lost it all, I got to see what that did to him and his marriage to my stepmom. I was out of the house at that time, but I got to witness it, and I really just didn't want entrepreneurship at that point. I saw it all. Again, that's fast forwarding down the road in the story.

Melissa McKinney: Well, let's stop for a minute and go back. So when you were in junior high, high school, did any of that entrepreneurial spirit show up in your life on a day to day basis?

James McKinney: You know, one of the things that I love about hearing entrepreneurial stories on this show is the early day hustles. And yes, obviously, that is certainly true. Obviously, there's a bubble gum hustle. I'd only be given lunch money or milk money. I would take that 50 cents, go to the 7-11 or Circle K that was by the middle school, buy a pack of gum and sell each piece for a quarter, so turn 50 cents into, it was what five pieces, so what's the math on that? You're better at math than I am.

Melissa McKinney: $1.25.

James McKinney: Thank you, $1.25. Wait no-

Melissa McKinney: Five pieces.

James McKinney: Five pieces, fifty cents each though. So $1.50. it's a good thing together we can figure out our math. Which points back to Daniel Ehrlich-

Melissa McKinney: That's $2.50.

James McKinney: Wait. Five pieces-

Melissa McKinney: Fifty cents each, that's $2.50.

James McKinney: See, together we can figure this out. So Daniel Ehrlich, the founder of Grunt Style, talks about how his wife was the numbers person, so thank you for being number oriented.

Melissa McKinney: You know, we always joke, it's funny that you don't do well with numbers that are small but when you get to hundred dollars, thousands, millions, he gets the math right every time.

James McKinney: Yeah. If there's commas, I'm pretty good with it. But anyway, yeah so turned 50 cents into $2.50, so the bubble gum hustle. I remember in the early nineties when the Gulf War was taking place, my dad, this is one of the first entrepreneurial things together that I remember, he helped me create this picture of Saddam Hussein with a, well I'm not going to describe the picture but at any rate, it website a patriotic image during the Gulf War, and I printed off hundreds of them just on white paper with blank ink from home.

I printed off hundreds of them and would sell them at school for $1.00 each. It was the Gulf War was one of the most amazing wars we as a country have ever been in. it was so incredibly fast. A really small loss of life, just so efficient. It was such a high patriotic time in our country and this was I think seventh or eighth grade, I forget what year it was. But hundreds of dollars selling these sheets of people that people could put in the front of their binder. I then got in trouble for it because of what the image was, and again it was just controversial. It wasn't anything of race of anything like that, just a controversial image. But I got in trouble for it, but I also made hundreds of dollars. So the entrepreneurial thing, it was awesome. One of my fondest memories of entrepreneurship with my dad, if you will, just the early days middle school stuff.

Then in high school, in my bio I talk about having created one of the first direct to consumer CD distribution businesses, which is true, but the challenge is what I was doing was not legal. So what that was, in high school or end of eighth grade going into freshman year, I would take people's request for what CD's they wanted. Like what music was hot, what CD's they want. They'd place their order and I'd go to the local Music Plus. For those in their forties you remember Music Plus, but for those that don't there used to be these places called record stores where you would go and buy the music on cassettes and CDs, or you'd go to get concert tickets. There wasn't the online stuff.

I would fulfill those CD orders by just stealing them. So obviously margin was great. Moral margin was not great. So after doing that for about a year, I don't even know how many CDs there were, but my collection was growing pretty fast, I just got convicted of just what I was doing was wrong. I remember coming home. Getting back to the divorce, at the time I lived with my dad and would visit my mom on the weekends now. I remember just coming back and telling my dad this is what this is. I don't want to do it anymore. He said, "Look. It's going to be hard to make this right, but you've got to take everything you have and take it back to Music Plus and just drop it off with a note that you won't be doing this anymore."

The volume was significant enough that them receiving this note, I knew they would understand that this wasn't going to take place anymore. They started putting up alarm systems because of me and I was able to circumvent those. I share this not to brag, but the idea that there was another hard chapter where it was like okay, just because I could make money wasn't the right way to make money, and that was never going to happen again. Again, that was during freshman year I'd probably say when that chapter happened. So those are my hustles, but yeah.

Melissa McKinney: All right. So then did you live the rest of the high school year, you graduated and you were still living with your dad?

James McKinney: No. so again, back to the disruption of divorce, and again I own the tension between my stepmom and I. I fully own it. But it reached a point where as an immature youth, I gave my dad an ultimatum. I said, "You either let me live with my mom or I'm going to run away." I just didn't want to be in that house anymore. Again, just poor decision making on the part of a youth.

Melissa McKinney: That was because of the tension?

James McKinney: Yeah, just again, me not respecting the fact that she was my dad's wife, and that the marriage was important. And that I needed to learn to operate in that. I was trying to take too much ownership of my dad as my dad. Again, it's early about the disruption of divorce. Divorce it messes things up on so many levels that most people just don't think about. So this was just one of the ways. And so after y add and I were in counseling together for like a year trying to figure this out. I finally told him I'm living with my mom or I'm running away. And he said, "Well let me think about it." My dad, one of the things that I point to my dad about so much is just how intentional he is. He was always great a discipline. Like man. If a man should write a book about how to intentionally discipline to teach lessons, it is my dad.

Side bar for those that wonder why I might be so good at storytelling. In seventh or eighth grade, I forget what year it was, my grades sucked. They were so bad. My dad said, "Look. If you're not going to learn in school, you're going to learn at home," and this was before the internet. So I had encyclopedias in my room. And he said, "Each week you're going to write a paper. I'm going to give you the topic, but you're going to write a paper. Start it at two pages. I'm going to pick a topic and the only resource you have are these encyclopedias in your room." And he's like, "Look. You're not grounded, but you can't leave your room until you deliver the paper."

So a smart kid would have just done it right away and been not grounded. Me, being just arrogant and stubborn, I was like, "He's not going to control my destiny." I stayed in my room all week and I delivered the paper the night it was due. The reason I even did that was because he said that if I was ever late on delivering a paper, the page count doubled. So I had to do this every week until my grades got better.

So started out two pages and again I can't remember all the topics, I can't remember all the page count, but I will never forget the one week he gave me the topic of the life of the aardvark, and my page count was like 12 pages or something at this point. Again, increases half a page each week. So I go in the encyclopedia, look up aardvark, and I kid you not in the encyclopedia, the aardvark section couldn't have been more than maybe an inch and a half wide and three inches tall. It was just a strip of content. I go to him and I'm like, "Dad, there's not even 12 pages in the encyclopedia. How am I supposed to write the life of the aardvark?" and he said, "Well, you're going to have to get really good at filler." And I kid you not, I point to that exact paper as to why I'm so good at filler and 'filibusting' if you will.

All this to say he was super intentional. So when I gave him the ultimatum of let me live with my mom or I'm going to run away, he came back and he said, "Look. I don't want you to leave. I don't think it's best for you, but I also don't want you to run away. But you have to know that if you make this decision, you can't come back here." He even said, he said, "Jimmy," that's what my friends and family call me, he said, "Jimmy, your mom is going to kick you out within a year or two years. It's going to happen and you cannot come back here if you make this decision." And of course, being a freshman, I didn't believe that at all that my mom was going to kick me out. So I went to live with my mom and sure enough, years later towards the latter part of my junior year, she kicks me out.

I remember walking from the apartment that we lived in to the 7-11, because there were no cell phones, and I remember thinking to myself about that conversation that my dad had with me before that time. It's one of those mile markers in life, where I knew the impact of the decision I had made two years ago when I gave my dad that ultimatum. I remember walking to 7-11 and he was the first person still that I wanted to call. So I called him, and I remember saying, "Dad, my mom kicked me out. I'm not asking to come back home because I remember what you said, but I'm just asking for help because I don't know what to do." And he said, "Well, do you have a place to sleep tonight?" I said, "Yeah, I do." I went to my best friend Steve's house. He's like, "Okay, let's get breakfast tomorrow and we'll talk this through."

So my friend Steve picked me up. Grabbed some stuff out of my mom's apartment and stayed with him. Met with him the next morning and we talked through the situation and the scenario of what happened. It didn't make any sense to any logical human being how it happened, and it still doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me as a parent now. I can see systemically why it got to where it was, to where she would kick me out. But never the less, I can't imagine doing that as a parent.

Now at that point, at 15 about to be 16, he started walking me through what it meant to live on your own and I had to figure this out. And no place is going to rent to we'll say 16 at this time. No place is going to rent to a 16 year old. I went to the For Rent Magazine. Again, before online, trying to find apartments and no place would ever rent. Places had a hard time renting to 18 year olds that were grown adults, let alone a 16 year old.

At the time, I was attending this church in southern California in Huntington Beach called Sea Breeze church and the youth pastor kind of put a little APB out if you will to the people of the church that hey, there's a 16 year old that needs a place to stay, does anybody know anybody. One church member said, "My cousin has a place down by the beach that has a room." This guy was like 24, 25, had a two bedroom townhome two blocks from the beach. So I show up and the guy is like, "Wait, you're 16. I don't know if it's legal to rent to you at 16." I'm like, "Here's my youth pastor's phone number, here's my dad's phone number. They can vouch that look I don't do drugs, this will be totally straight, we're fine." So within a couple days, I get a call and he's like, "Okay, the place is yours."

I didn't understand what had happened, but I just thought man, this is awesome. I'm 16, I have a place two blocks from the water. Again, life unraveled a little bit there just because no 16 year old should be living on their won two blocks from the beach. Later on, what I realized was the only reason that I was given that place was because my dad had prepaid the entire year of rent, and I had no idea about that. Again, just my dad helping me out. Again, he was intentional in discipline. He's intentional to his word and held to his word, but he never would leave you hung out to dry.

Again, I didn't realize it at the time. So I would work and I'd pay rent, and he would give that rent right back to my dad because my dad had prepaid for a year. In that time, I was taking a bus for an hour and a half because my license was suspended, because my mom let me drive before age, I got in an accident and all this stuff. So I didn't have a car. I would take a bus for an hour and a half because I wanted to finish school with my friends.

Again back to that all in type of mentality, I wasn't about to just take a GED. I wanted to be with my friends. I wasn't going to have that stolen from me because of being kicked out. So life was hard. My senior year, life was incredibly hard. You wake up for zero period at 5 a.m., class would get out around 2:30, I'd take the bus to Santa Ana and get there about 4:00 or 5:00, and work until the last bus which was 11:30. Take the bus back to Huntington Beach and back in my townhome in the room I was renting around maybe 1:00, and then four hours later I'm back at school again. But I was just determined. I wanted to finish with my friends. It was that important to me.

Melissa McKinney: So it's interesting to me because you talk about your dad, those early days in the print shop out of a storage unit. And you talk about seeing how many hours he worked, and that wasn't something that you wanted at that point, but then here you are 16 years old and you are now because of the resolve you have that you're going to finish high school with your friends, but now you have to pay for this apartment, and you have to basically forge this life on your own as a 16 year old, you're now working to the bone in order to make this happen. So you're not an entrepreneur per se, but you're just trying to survive. So how do you think that, learning those lessons of hard work and determination early on, effected you as you continued to grow?

James McKinney: One, this is the amazing part of having these conversations. You speaking with someone else, even though we've been married for 19 years and been together for 21 years, there's certain thoughts that get connected right away. Even now, just hearing your estate that fact, I'm like wow. I didn't put together that while I didn't want entrepreneurship because I saw how hard my dad was working, I in turn made the decision to work that hard myself because it's something I wanted. I think that really set the mindset for me that hard work is absolutely worth it if it's for something you're passionate about.

I've never been a fan of working 9 to 5 at a job you're miserable at. If you wake up in the morning and your soul is just sucked from minute one because of what the day holds before you, you can change your mindset, you can fix that, but there are so many opportunities out there. You don't have to be living that life.

I'm not a believer in the pursuit of happiness per se, because I believe there's a lot of lessons that come in staying where the fire is, but never the less, if your life produces no hope you need to make a change. I think it's in that season… I never remember thinking to myself my life is hard. I never had a victim mindset of woe is me. It was my lot in life. This is where my journey was, and I wanted… The easy way would have been taking the GED and been done, and figured out life at that point. But I didn't want that. I wanted what I wanted, and it just meant that I was going to have to work harder than probably anybody else in my senior class, and that was okay. I had no qualms with that at all. I think if I were to take that lesson and stretch it out over my entire life, it's that hard work regardless of the hours is so worth it if it's something you're passionate about. Passion will override perspiration every single time.

James McKinney: I hope you are loving this episode of The Startup Story. Before we continue on with our episode, I wanted to let you know about some exciting Startup Story news. We are preparing to launch our very own YouTube channel. Yes, The Startup Story will be expanding our platform to YouTube. Now, as you can tell the listener experience is critical for me for the podcast, so viewer experience is obviously going to be critical for me for the new channel. I was not about to just record this from my office. I needed to make sure I had some great looking furniture. And yet, furniture shopping is terrible. Over eager sales people, poor quality pieces, and terrible customer service.

So in my search, I discovered Article. I was able to get everything online on my own. No showrooms, no sales people, and incredible pricing because there are no retail markups. Look, I'm bootstrapping The Startup Story, I have to be frugal. Article was an amazing resource and I cannot wait to announce when the channel is live so you can see what I've been working on. But look, you know I'm all about entrepreneurs helping other entrepreneurs. So when I reached out to Article, they gladly put together an offer for all The Startup Story listeners, and it's an amazing discount too. If you visit article.com/startupstory, you can get $50 your first purchase of $100 or more. Once you visit article.com/startupstory, the discount will automatically be applied at checkout. Like always, in case you can't remember the URL, we'll include a link in our show notes. I hope this hookup helps you in a big way. All right, enough about the update. Let's jump back into our episode.

Melissa McKinney: So obviously the goal at that time was to graduate high school. Did you at that point, obviously you were a little different than an ordinary high school student.

James McKinney: Well, my sisters say I was 16 going on 40, and they said that until I was 40. Now I just am an old man, so.

Melissa McKinney: So what did you focus on for the future? What did you think you wanted to do with your life at that point?

James McKinney: It's weird because throughout most of my life, if I were to think of a vocation that I wanted, I wanted to be a teacher. Part of it was my uncle was a teacher. At the time he was a teacher, then a principle, and he ended up retiring as a superintendent. And so I wanted to be a teacher. I can't tell you why other than just pointing to my uncle. So that meant college. So here I am living on my own. I knew how hard life was. I didn't have anybody to tell me how to go about funding college. What I knew was the military would pay for college. That's just what I knew.

So because I knew I wanted to be a teacher, and I needed college, and I didn't know how else to pay for it, it was oh military. So I went to the recruiter's office and took the test. I think I might have shared this story on previous episode but I missed like one question on the ASVAB, and the Marine recruiter was like… and the reason I went to the Marine recruiter was because he was the one on campus all the time. So for all you recruiters listening in the Army, Navy, Air Force, get on campus. Let the students see you if you want to up your recruiting numbers. But Marines are always there.

Melissa McKinney: And there was the uniform.

James McKinney: Well that's why, so the recruiter knows I missed one on the ASVAB and he's like, "You sure you want to be a Marine, son?" and I didn't know what that question meant. I'm like let me think about it. So I go out to the parking lot in Huntington Beach, which it's not there anymore but there was a strip center that had all the branches of the service lined up. Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Army. And in the windows of that strip center were all the dress uniforms. I walk right back in and I'm like, "Yeah, I want to be a Marine. That uniform gets the ladies." And he's like, "You're damn right, son. You're damn right." And that was it. That's how I joined the Marine Corps, and it was really to pay for college.

Picking the job, there's a lot of stories that are funny stories about how I got that job in the military that I was as a generator mechanic. Again, before the internet we didn't have a list online that I could research what jobs were so he pulled out this giant, four inch thick yellow pages is what it looked like of just every job in the military. He was like, "What do you want to do? You can do anything you want with that score." I was like, "Well, I want to do something with aviation." Again, not a pilot. I never had the frame for a pilot. Didn't have the vision for a pilot. I just wanted something to do with the air wing.

He goes through the yellow pages, finds aviation or avionics, whatever it was, and he sees electronic equipment repair specialist, MOS 1142. I'm like, "What does that do?" He says, "I don't know. Probably something to do with radars or something like that." I'm like, "Sweet. I want to do something with radars. That sounds awesome." But again now, kids can research what these things are. I didn't have that. So I go in thinking I'm going to do radars. I'm like it's going to be awesome. I am stoked to be a part of this. Come to find out I'm working for generators for the air wing Marine Corps. For anyone that knows anything, Marines take off from either ships or desert. You don't need a generator on a ship to power the air wing, you need it in the desert. So I was dirt bound my entire… I didn't get to see anything glamorous.

My only great… I have lots of great military stories but that's a whole other podcast. My claim to fame if you will is I was there when Top Gun was moving out of Miramar. So Miramar was where most of my career was. That hanger you see in Top Gun was our hanger. So to see Marines in cutoff denim shorts reenacting scenes out of Top Gun was pretty hilarious. I loved my time in the Marine Corps. One of the things throughout my younger life, not having mentors, having to figure things out myself, to this day I wish I would have retired out in the military. Marine Corps wasn't my wiring for 20 years. I love that I'm a Marine. I love that I get to wear that title, the few and the proud. Love every bit of it. I wasn't able to take that way of thinking for 20 years and so I got out after four.

But had I had a mentor in my life that could have helped me navigate things, I probably would have gone lateral to a different branch and retired out in the military. I love the military. I love our troops. I love our veterans. That's why we spent the entire month of November focused on veteran founders. I love everything to do with our military and I want to stay within proximity to it. But it's just one of those things about not having mentors. Not having a mentor before the military, understanding all the ways to pay for college. Not having a mentor on how to navigate the military itself when you are pretty sure you don't want to be in this branch per se but you still want a career. So mentorship is huge for me now, but early on I didn't have it. I had to figure things out. That's the story of my life really is just figuring things out, and then as you get older in your thirties is when I started having mentors around me to help me understand and navigate certain things.

I got out of the military. Went to college. Junior college first and again, the pursuit was teaching. Still wanted to be a teacher , that never left. Then in junior college, took an Accounting 101 course and it was just stupid easy. So I started selling bookkeeping services. I'm like oh man, I can make money on this. Again, not pursuing entrepreneurship but it's just part of my DNA. Again, being raised by my dad, I couldn't avoid it. Didn't' know I was pursuing it, but I obviously couldn't avoid it. So I started selling bookkeeping services. As I had a few clients, I started thinking well, if this is what I'm going to be doing, I guess I should probably know more accounting than Accounting 101, so I changed majors from I think it was Liberal Studies to be a teacher to Business and Accounting. So that was my path, Business and Accounting.

Went through that route and then the internet became kind of a really big deal. Had a couple ecommerce sites while I'm doing accounting still, because that's my pursuit. But finding enjoyment out of some ecommerce. Muscleinfo.com was my first one, which I still own the URL so if anybody out there is interested in buying it, that's a great URL but never the less, I digress. It wasn't until my last semester of college that I realized I don't want to be in accounting. I really want to be a teacher still, but I was close to being done at that point, so there was no changing. I wasn't going to jump ship and change route, but again I didn't have a mentor to tell me you can still be a teacher with an accounting degree. Didn't have that.

Finished up with an accounting degree, going at night because I was working during the day. From there to kind of fast track through my career. Had a job with a homebuilder and from the homebuilder, they promoted me so moved to northern California. I hated that office in northern California. Like oh man, the So Cal and North Cal culture is so different. We were really active in our church at the time and we were working with the youth. Back to that teacher inclination, I loved helping and teaching the kids, the middle school and high school students. So we're in northern California. I hate my job at the north California homebuilder office I was at. And the church we were at had a position for a junior high pastor. They offered it to me and I thought wow, back to those breadcrumbs of life we talk about, man maybe everything has been leading up to this moment, that this is what my career was going to be was a youth pastor. So I left to be a youth pastor. I remember you pointing out to me specifically, "Remember honey how you always wanted to be a teacher. You're a teacher now." It just kind of came full circle for me.

There's a lot of stories inside of that as well, which will probably make for another great podcast entirely. Maybe the youth ministry story or something like that, because I'm sure youth pastors everywhere have great stories of youth ministry. But as we had our first child, we wanted to be near family. We were at that point a six hour drive away, 550 miles, we just wanted to be near family. So we came back to southern California.

The church we were at wasn't hiring, so I went back to corporate America. I had my accounting degree so I fell back on that. So I left my teaching, went back into corporate. Still loved teaching any chance I could. It was in that time there that really my first true business developed. I had the bookkeeping business that was a side gig. I had an ecommerce site that lost a tremendous amount of money due to credit card fraud. But my first real business came out of that, and that was a side gig because I just wanted to do more. The company was amazing that I worked for. They were great. I had an amazing boss, but it just wasn't for me. So I started doing side stuff.

Melissa McKinney: So let me pause you there for a minute. We kind of jumped from your time in the military to about what 10 years after, right?

James McKinney: Yeah, about that.

Melissa McKinney: I want to address you left the military and it seemed like your pursuit was accounting is pretty easy and I can make money doing this, so you kind of focused on what can I do that's going to make money. Then you kind of pursued that, but then it seems like you were really drawn more to what you're passionate about. So is that accurate? Is that kind of what was driving you first? Because you were passionate about being a teacher, but then you kind of grabbed what you could just do that was, you were still that. It came pretty easy. You could make money.

Was that kind of like a survivor instinct from what you'd been through as a child? And then to where you came to you started your first real business, you described you just had this desire to do something else. So do you think you were striving for that passion? Do you think that entrepreneurial spirit was just there, but maybe there was other distractions that were kind of pulling you?

James McKinney: That's a great question. Genetically, I think one of the things that makes an entrepreneur unique is we are hunters. Whether it be male or female founder, period. An entrepreneur is a hunter. There's a provisional gene there where you've got to provide. I don't even know if that's the right word, but never the less you have to provide for yourself, your family. There's the idea that you control your own destiny, you're creating something. And then it's just the risk of it all. So I think while I love teaching and I still love teaching, genetically there is something in them that has to create. That's why those side gigs were a thing.

Again, back to when I had that Accounting 101 course, the idea I could be making money doing this. It was really that hunting thing. Well really can I make money? I make the claim I can make money, but can I really make money doing it? So it was just kind of that internal challenge. Like well let me see if I can make money doing it. So I think there's an inner competition that takes place with entrepreneurs. Whether it be in technology or not, you have this idea you can do something.

But then there's this question of can I really do it. Sometimes that is grounded in fear, so you talk yourself out of it. Or sometimes there's this drive to prove to even yourself right or wrong. Of course there's a lot of other things that play into whether or not someone pursues it, but for me, it was very much this voice of well can I really do it? Yeah, I'm pretty sure I can do this. So when I was with Reef, which was that real estate investment company when we moved back down here, to me the side gig was more about the business I was growing on the side. Was more about seeing the internet and this massive opportunity to do something beyond the 9 to 5.

At the time, I don't remember thinking to myself that the game plan was to leave that to do this fulltime, but it quickly proved itself to be something that could. I think there was that inner voice of yeah, you can do this. Then I was like well can you really do this? It was kind of that challenge, but I knew I had to provide. Because at this point, we'd been married for I don't know eight years at the time I think. We had two kids at that time and it was an online business that was doing fairly well. It was printing and promotional products. As I started building that business, I left Reef to do this. For those that remember '08 was a really bad economic period, worst recession in US history. I was starting a business during that time.

In doing so, I was introduced to the government sector. So if anyone out there is selling or desiring to sell to the government, hit me up. I would absolutely consider myself an expert when it comes to selling to government, having done it in multiple venues. Inside of that, built a company fairly fast, fairly successfully, and I entered in the government space. I was one participant for LA County, one out of 12 that were allowed to participate in $100 million procurement in printing and promotional product, and I was the only one that was the broker. The rest had manufacturing plans.

So it was a lot of bravado that came with that, that being young at the time. See, that was 28. No, that was 2008 so I would have been 31 I think. Again, not having mentors in my life to guide me through this, having figured stuff out, the arrogance kind of got rooted in me. It started becoming about me in a lot of ways. Now looking back, I fully believe that God led me into these moments, and a moment like this where we're about to describe all that we lost for our listeners, to strictly remind me to remain humble in the journey. It's not about me. I can control the inputs, I have zero control of the outputs.

For myself as a believer, as a follower of Christ, I believe that the outcomes come through the blessing of him and for those listeners who may not be believers, I would love to have the dialogue and conversation with you. But we can control the inputs and not the outputs, and I say it all the time. If you listen to every founder story, you can see that ring true. Things just happen that are beyond our understanding, but all we can control is the inputs. It's not about sitting on your thumbs and hoping something magical happens. You've got to do the work, but that's all you can control. You cannot control so many other things.

Melissa McKinney: And that rings so true in what you had already experienced from getting kicked out-

James McKinney: 100%.

Melissa McKinney: … to your other pursuits, even the military. You just put in and you work hard.

James McKinney: Everything, you know? I didn't control getting kicked out, but I could control what I did with it, and same thing with entrepreneurship. For everyone listening, you are dealt the hand you are dealt w. you are living in the world you are living in, and that world is fallen, that world is jacked up and messed up. It's what you do with it you can control. You cannot change the world. You can impact those immediately around you and what you do with it.

So I built this business in 2008. It was selling to government. There was one particular order with the LA County sheriff's department that really kind of started the downward spiral. Again, not having a mentor, not understanding the creative ways to finance purchase orders and things like this, to me it was about cash. So I got this $600,000 PO and my margin was $300,000, the cost was $300,000. I had to pay $150,000 up front to have it made in China, and then had to pay another $150,000 to get on the boat to get it out of China in order to get it to the US.

One of the things inside of government contracts, again not being educated in, kind of figuring things out on your own, is there is a cancellation clause without cause. I remember having sent that last payment to China, so I'm out $300,000 which was every single penny that we had. Within a day or two, I get a cancellation letter from the LA County sheriff's department. I have never felt more sick in my entire life. It was one of the hardest things to experience up until that point. One of the hardest things to experience to realize within the opening of a letter I had lost everything for us. It wasn't I had lost everything. You had lost everything because of me and it was that weight that came with it.

I can't remember how long I sat on that letter before we had to tell you, but I remember very clearly knowing. In fact, I remember talking to my dad and asking him, "What does bankruptcy look like? What's the process in that?" I didn't share much about his journey, but he lost his business due to some employees, some of their illegal activities. I knew he had kind of ventured through this. I remember reaching out to him, much like I did when I was kicked out just looking for help and guidance. So he walked me through it.

But I remember coming to you and again, I can't remember exactly if this was the case, but in my mind it was a dark and stormy night. I fully remember sitting on the couch. In my mind, it was raining outside. Again, don't know if that's true or not but that's how it is in my head. I remember telling you, about to throw up as I'm telling you this, that we lost everything. I had leveraged the 401Ks, all the credit cards, the house, everything was sent to China and destroyed with a cancellation letter from the LA County sheriff, they didn't want the order they had placed.

As I'm telling you this and just being sick to my stomach, I remember replaying my parents' divorce. Again, they didn't divorce because of money, but money destroys so many marriages. I've seen it in some of my friend's lives, and just not knowing what was going to come on the other end of this conversation. I really had no hope at this point. Again, 31 or 32, I forget exactly. I think it was 32. Lost everything, no idea what's about to happen, and I was just sick to my stomach. As I told you everything, I will never forget your first words and I know you don't remember these first words because I think part of you blacked out internally as I told you this news, but I will never forget your first words were, "Okay. I trust you. Now what?" and it was in that moment, in those words, that while I went into this conversation with absolutely zero hope and zero courage, and zero bravado, it's within those words that all of it came back to me.

I was full of courage, I was full of hope. I didn't have answers. I didn't know what the next steps were, but those words made me a hunter again. Whereas I went into the conversation defeated and deflated, and without hope, I left that conversation grateful for your trust despite how I had ruined it, how I didn't deserve that trust. Grateful that okay, our marriage is going to be saved, and just again a hunter.

There's a lot of things about the suicide epidemic that I don't understand, but the one thing I do understand for those that walk through that darkness is the absence of hope. I was there. Never contemplated suicide in any way, shape or form, but I remember having zero hope in life. Zero. And it wasn't until that conversation that I became restored again in having hope. I guess if there's anything that comes out of that, and we talk to couples all the time about that season because we're real transparent. For listeners, my wife and I are super transparent about that season because we really believe that season was not necessarily, it wasn't just about us and our journey but that it is to help others in the midst of that.

As a spouse, specifically as a male, you women have the ability to absolutely build us up with just small, small words. We are hunters innately and when our wives believe in us, we became absolute warriors and will fight to the end to maintain that trust and your respect. Absolute power. And also, on the flip side, your words have the ability to cut us as well. But in that moment, oh man I was a restored warrior. I didn't know what the next steps were, obviously we had to file bankruptcy to try and save the house if it was possible. That didn't end up working out.

I had to get a job with Disney to help have some level of income, and that was an amazing season to be able to just lick my wounds a bit and figure out what next steps were. Again, I had really after going through what we went through, I didn't want entrepreneurship ever again, at all. You and I talked about oh, Disney's where I'm going to be at forever. And I know you were comfortable with that. You were like sweet. But I guess before we get too far ahead in the rest of the journey leading up to The Startup Story, as a spouse, as a stay at home mom, what was that moment like for you to the best that you can remember? Because I know you blacked out internally probably.

Melissa McKinney: There's a lot of it I don't really… I don't really remember the timeline. I don't really remember the day to day, because I think I did have to black that out. It was challenging. I didn't understand entrepreneurship then like I do now. All I knew was that you were my husband and I was committed to us and our family. And I didn't see other options. I didn't see like oh I'm going to leave. That wasn't an option. Divorce has never been an option for us. So for me it was just I believed that you were going to take care of us. I believed that from the character that you'd shown over the years that you would get us out.

So yeah, I was in a very vulnerable position. I wasn't working. You were all I had. But I also knew that God had us, and so at the end of the day for me that's where I had to rely because you were completely honest and transparent. I think that's so important. I think so many men try to do things on the sly and just kind of cover things. While you had done some of that, you were completely honest and open with me. And so yeah, it was incredibly difficult time. I remember feeling a lot of shame and embarrassment through the process, having to go to court. I remember being sick the day we had to go to court. That was hard for me because in many ways I felt this isn't fair. This isn't fair that I have to go stand before a judge for something I didn't do. Not that I was feeling like a victim, I just remember feeling ashamed.

And we can get into this later as you continue to talk. I've learned so much about the entrepreneurial journey now, and I wish I had mentors myself, women who have gone before in business or with their husbands, just so I understood this more. I kind of thought you were a bit of an alien. I didn't understand this. For me, the most comfortable thing in life was to have this job that you're in for 40 years and you retire from. That's what my dad did. So anyway, not to get too much into that, but it was a challenging time and I really don't remember a lot of it, but I just remember thinking he's going to make it right, and I can still trust him, and I don't have the answers but I don't need to.

James McKinney: That's awesome, and thank you for answering that on the spot. I know a lot of listeners are married entrepreneurs, so I think it's important for everyone, entrepreneur, to understand this journey while it is mainly yours, it is not only yours. So thank you for being vulnerable and sharing that. I know you weren't expecting this, so thank you for doing that.

But as I was licking my wounds and working at Disney now, I didn't want entrepreneurship anymore. I saw what my dad went through. I had gone through something myself. I didn't want it anymore. I just wanted to provide a nice, stable life for our family. And Disney was awesome. I have tremendous memories from my time at Disney. But inside of Disney, within six months of being there, my director came up to me and said, "Hey, do you want to build a business inside of Disney?" and immediately I thought wait, I could be an entrepreneur? I didn't know what intrapreneur was, but I was like I could be an entrepreneur at Disney? This is crazy.

For those that don't know, Disney has a tremendous amount of assets. You go the parks, the studios, the movies, the TV, everything. And a lot of times it's just destroyed and so there was this idea that you could make money on the assets Disney didn't want anymore. So I was responsible for building that business that sold assets the company didn't want any more to employees, to high net worth individuals, again from ride vehicles to signage in the parks I got a chance to build something. And again, knowing the internet is great opportunity, we were able to build a website that auctioned to employees. We were able to partner with other auction houses for tremendous opportunities. We were able to take things on display. It website an amazing, amazing time. And I got to itch that entrepreneurial scratch if you will of creating something, but it wasn't mind.

I think for the entrepreneur, you understand what that means. I got to create something at Disney, for crying out loud. Millions of dollars for the company annually, but it wasn't mine. The company was good to me. No qualms there, but it wasn't my creation that had infinite potential personally. I remember one morning, coming out of the shower, and I did most of my thinking, had this idea for a mobile app. For the sake of time I'm going to accelerate a lot of different things. But I remember I had this idea for a mobile app and came down to you and I was like, "Hey, I had this idea in the shower," and I remember your eyes rolling because you know what that means. Something is about to happen. Something is brewing here.

Had this idea for a mobile app, location based. I still to this day believe that we should not have to use our camera for location identification. Augmented reality is amazing, but I still believe you should be able to use your phone like a remote control and just through location services and mapping, all the data that's out there identify locations. I tried to build it, it didn't work. I raised money from friends and family, I lost money from friends and family. Again, a tremendous amount of learnings in all of that. But in my pursuit of trying to build it, I got connected with a company in Santa Clarita. They connected me with a software development company in Santa Clarita, Status Not Quo was the company. Great group of developers out there. They built really the real first functional version of my mobile app. As I was getting ready to do that full time, they had asked me to come on and do sales for them and that's how I got connected with them. An amazing time.

But that's also the same chapter where I started doing live events around entrepreneurship. Because the company had been in the city for 10 plus years, but didn't really have the name of being the technology source within the Santa Clarita valley. The company is awesome. Again, great founders, great developers, and incredible organization. Really, really talented, smart people. I knew that they should be. There's another big, huge player interesting he valley that was kind of the technology brand at the time. I thought you know what, the way we can do this, let's start putting Status Not Quo on the map by doing live events centered under the Google brand. So did some stuff under the Google brand, live events. Had 100 different entrepreneurs in the area. After 10 months of no sales, I was told to cancel the series. I was so bummed because I loved doing that.

Again, I think there's a bit of teaching involved in that which is why it kind of spoke to the heartstrings a little bit, because I just loved the teaching. Again, it's not academic. It's real life, entrepreneurship with other entrepreneurs. I just loved meeting people. Again, all personality skills, I'm 100% extrovert. My wife will tell you, we'll go somewhere for dinner, group gathering or whatever. After the event, I'm buzzing for like three hours as I'm on this high from being around people, and she's just like, "I'm so exhausted." Am I right?

Melissa McKinney: Mm-hmm. And it's interesting, the people aspect kind of reminds me. You spoke about how you didn't have mentors in a lot of the early challenges, and when we went through bankruptcy and that company. Did that shift at this point? Now when you were hosting these live events, you were at Status Not Quo, you'd gone through Disney and other companies. Did that shift? Did you have a point where you were having mentors in your life? You said that you were obviously networking with all of these different founders and you'd gone through all these companies where you'd met so many different levels of people. Did that shift?

James McKinney: I'd say yeah. I think what shifted was it's not that I understood the idea of mentorship still. What shifted was I knew there were people that knew things that I didn't and I just wanted to figure it out. At Disney, I remember having a conversation with someone that I wanted to be CEO of Disney. I remember having that conversation and I was like, but at the same time I want to be there for my family, so I'm having the conversation with someone can you be a Fortune 100 CEO and still have a functional family. Can you have both worlds? Can you run a massive global organization and still be there for family? The conversation said no. I just didn't understand that. Then why would someone do that? I believe that you could have, so I just went on this pursuit to understand and meet.

So I remember just reaching out to executives that most people were just like I can't believe you did that. Politically, internally they're like I can't believe you did that. Started reaching out to these high level executives to get time with them. I'm thankful that they afforded me the time because I do believe inherently people want to help people, but so many people are afraid to get that help. Again, I didn't have the vocabulary word that this was mentorship that I was seeking, but now looking back, it's exactly what I was doing. I was trying to avoid future pitfalls by getting information first.

Melissa McKinney: Well I think the key to mentorship is admitting that you don't know everything.

James McKinney: 100%.

Melissa McKinney: And that there's someone else that knows a little more than you do. So whether you call it mentorship or not, it's recognizing that and seeking that I think.

James McKinney: Absolutely. So yeah, I'd say at Disney is when I started for sure. But the live events, subconsciously again me getting information from founders that were far more successful than I was. Some of those founders we've had on The Startup Story. Larry Namer, founder of E!, it's been incredible. Baron Davis, I had Rahul Sonnad the founder of Tesloop. I had Rachel Hollis before she was the big deal she is now. Just incredible chance to sit with amazing people. And at the same time, afford that same opportunity to those in attendance.

I remember when that ended, when I was asked to end it because there was no revenue coming from it, I was disappointed. I was bummed because I thought one, it was short term thinking because you can't build a brand in just 10 months. It takes time. And then sure enough, the event closes and a few months later, I book half a million dollars in business that really originated from the event series. But again, just short-term thinking.

But what happened in one of the last events, and I'll never forget this, like three people that didn't know each other at all came up to me and asked me if I had a podcast. I was like, "No, I don't." And it got the wheels spinning. I was like that's interesting. I knew the live series was going to end at some point. I'm like man, I really want to keep doing this. I was listening to podcasts at the time. One of my favorite podcasts, How I Built This with Guy Raz, an NPR show. And I just remember listening to his show all the time and just kind of being frustrated and disappointed at some of the questions just not being asked. Because, again the guy is a journalist. He's not an entrepreneur. There's different questions that you ask when you are of the same person that you're talking with. There's different questions you're asking me because you've been with me for 21 years. You know there's certain areas you can poke a bit.

After that event, I think it was August or September. I think it was August was the last event and September, I remember just asking. My birthday is in September. I remember asking I just want podcast equipment. I didn't know what I was going to do with it yet, just wanted podcast equipment. So I get all this podcast equipment. Knowing what I wanted to do but just not having the kick start yet. So Jackie McDougal was a great mentor of mine that helped me get started in podcasting. She's a podcast mentor. She helped get the wheels rolling and helped me put a timeline together of how things went. So I launched the podcast The Startup Story in January of this year, and that kind of gets to where we are today.

It's been an amazing journey in the, well at the time that this will air in the 12 months, or no 11 months we've been doing this. It's far more successful than I could have ever imagined. And I think it fits a spot that is need in entrepreneurship. Authenticity and transparency is just absent in so much. Again, we can have debates over the impact of social media and all the other things, but that's irrelevant. What comes down to the fact is that so many businesses fail, and I think part of why businesses fail is that they don't have a very clear window on what it's really like.

You hear me say it all the time that there's a selection bias in the media. We love the stories of someone building something and selling it for hundreds of millions of dollars within just a couple years. They make amazing stories and I love talking with those founders. Jamie Schmidt from Schmidt's Naturals will air in January. Within seven years, she sold it for hundreds of millions of dollars to Unilever. From the kitchen to acquisition. There's amazing stories out there, but they're the anomaly, they're not the norm. There is a grind. There is a burden to carry within entrepreneurship and it's a beautiful thing, but you just have to be aware of it. I don't think most people are aware of it because that's not the conversation people are having.

Melissa McKinney: Do you believe that the entrepreneur is born or do you believe that they're made?

James McKinney: That's a great question and it's something I think about often. I don't know if my perspective is altruistic. I don't believe it is, but I believe anybody can be an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship is not an identity. It really isn't. We've made it as such, but it's not. It is a title. It's a job title. But it's a title that carries a whole lot more burden than any other business title out there. I believe that obviously grit and resilience, there's a lot of common traits within entrepreneurship, but I have seen people that are so unassuming that have done unbelievable things within their own creation, their own enterprise.

And again, if you were to try and make entrepreneurship an identity, these are people that would not fall within that identity. So no, I believe anybody can be an entrepreneur but I think part of it has to do with having full awareness of what that means. I don't have a fully thought out definition to provide what it means to be an entrepreneur, but there's things that through the 49 episodes we've done and the dozens of founders I've met before The Startup Story ever launched, there are commonalities in everything.

I would say that's probably the hope that I have with the show is to help people understand that you can create something. That book full of dreams, I often talk about these personas. The want-repreneur, the frustrated entrepreneur, the defeated entrepreneur, because I've been all of them. At some point in my life, I've been all of them and every founder has been all of them. But if my heart were to lean towards any particular one, it would probably be the want-repreneur because the reason that they're still a want- repreneur is because there's some level of doubt that they can pull it off. And my heart leans to that person because it's okay to doubt. But there are so many baby steps. The reason there's that doubt is because in their mind, they're picturing the end game. This big company, this millions of dollars, this selling hundreds of thousands of products, whatever the case may be. They're picturing the end game and they're doubting whether or not they can do that. But that's not the obstacle in front of them at the time. What's in front of them is how do I get started.

Melissa McKinney: Taking that first step.

James McKinney: Taking that first step, buying a URL, whatever the case may be, whatever the business is. What is in front of them is a single step and my heart leans, like bleeds for that person because, and I've said it before, the fear of 'what if' is a thousand pound anchor that will hold you to the bottom of the ocean. And no one needs to carry that, because it's just one step. It's one simple step forward in whatever it is you're trying to build. So yeah, I do believe anyone can be an entrepreneur.

Melissa McKinney: That's awesome. So a couple questions to kind of wrap up here, our time. So you talked about a couple of the businesses you started. One you kind of did a side thing and then you went off on your own, and then the other you were kind of doing on the side as you were working with the company. Are you currently doing The Startup Story on the side or is this your fulltime gig?

James McKinney: The Startup Story is my fulltime gig right now. And full transparency, the show has done incredibly well but I am in a sprint to monetize. I've bootstrapped this thing up myself. We had some sponsors in the first couple months, Movo Cash I'm incredibly grateful for. But I'm bootstrapping it. So now it's about trying to get sponsors. I have a vision for live events again, but much bigger than I did before. I want to do some coaching stuff for some entrepreneurs. I have a book in mind I want to create. There's a lot of things I want to do now, but right now I'm in the grind with you listening right now. Entrepreneurs, I am there with you right now trying to figure out how to monetize things and keep this thing afloat because there's so much I want to bring to you, to the entrepreneurial space. So yeah, this is my fulltime gig and I am in the mix with all of you right now trying to figure this stuff out.

Melissa McKinney: Awesome. So you always ask your listeners, because you believe and I believe that we cannot accomplish anything without standing on the shoulders of other people. So looking back over, goodness, your life which to me seems like a very long life even though you're 42, with everything you've experienced, who do you point to, to thank for where you're at right now?

James McKinney: Man. You would think this would be easy because I've asked it 49 times on the show and obviously the personal conversations that I've had time and time again. First and foremost, again it's for many out there they may not understand this but there are moments in my life that don't make sense that I'm still here, whether it be alive, whether it be married. And I am so thankful to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for carrying me through those moments. I point out everything to His grace and kindness in my life, so that is absolutely first, but it's taken me years to get to that point to recognize that, but that is first and foremost.

Secondly, I am so grateful to my dad for being a man of his word. His intentionality, when I talked before about being intentional discipline, man it's taught me so much. Just being a person of your word. If you're going to do something, you do it, and if you are going to do something, think it through before you commit. I'm so thankful for that. I'm thankful to my step mom for obviously dealing with my nonsense in those early years because she's become my mom so I'm thankful for her. I'm thankful for my youth pastor, Ken Eastburn. I was a mess of a kid and he stayed with me for many, many years. The story of how he stayed in my life is a whole other show just because it' just proof of God's hand in my life. Rachel at Reef and her kindness to me, and how good she's been throughout much of my life. If you know from my director Michael McHamon at Disney in giving me a shot. Most people don't hire entrepreneurs because they're a mess. They don't stay around too long. They're risk takers. Being a corporate employee doesn't make sense, and so he gave me a chance and hired me and allowed me to help our family recover a bit so I'm really thankful to that regard.

Honestly, there's so many people that I can point to with gratitude. And if you're listening, understand I may not mentioned your name is not that I am not grateful for you, I am. But the list would go on forever. There's so many people that have rejected me and I'm thankful for those moments. But aside from Jesus Christ who I thanked first, the most significant one obviously, if it's not obvious then you guys weren't listening to the episode, it would have to be you. That season of hopelessness would have ruined most people but your subtle words in your blacked out moment restored me, and I will forever be grateful for that.

Melissa McKinney: Well now I can't talk. Well that's awesome. Often times you do ask people, so this is kind of a unique episode because we're talking about The Startup Story within The Startup Story, if you were talking to a listener who was that want-repreneur and needed just that push to take that first step and they were dealing with that doubt, that fear, what would you say to them?

James McKinney: You know it's cliche, but it's cliche because it's true, you have to make a decision. There's a phrase out there that we kind of just throw loosely, crap or get off the pot. That's the reality of it. It is that simple. Make a decision. It's not a bravado thing like oh, make a decision to provide for your family. I mean a lot of people hype things up more than it is, but just take some step. Maybe right now, if you're a want-repreneur that step is to simply reach out to me to provide some help in some way, shape, or form.

Maybe part of your hang-up and your holdup is you don't know what those steps are. I don't know what your book full of dreams contains so I don't have an answer for you. I'm not saying or claiming I do, but does anyone in your life have an answer for you? If so, reach out to them to help structure what those next steps are, but a step has to be taken. If you have this idea that I have a mortgage, I'm married, I have too many things, too many responsibilities, that ship has sailed for me, you're wrong. There are people on Etsy that are doing side gigs making hundreds of thousands of dollars simply creating etched Yetis. It is unbelievable what is possible. And I'm not suggesting you create etched Yetis. What I'm saying is nothing should stop you from taking a single step. Period.

And so reach out. On Instagram, The Startup Story, DM me. That is the easiest way. LinkedIn, I'll have links in the show notes but just reach out to me on LinkedIn. I will gladly be of service. There are people, you read the iTunes reviews, you will see from people that have reached out to me and the review was how thankful they were that I helped them in some way, shape, or form. On my LinkedIn, you'll see recommendations from past founders of how I was of value to them. That is all I want to do and I guess, now that I'm talking out loud, that points back to I just want to help teach. I want to be of value and service to people. And so if you are that want-repreneur, I talk about these coffee talks. Obviously if you're not in the Dallas market we can't get coffee, but we can certainly have a phone call and a Zoom call. I'm here to serve.

Melissa McKinney: If there's anything I can tell you about James, it's that he is every bit the real deal that you heard in this episode. When he says he wants to serve you, he really means it. He is unbelievably passionate about entrepreneurship and small businesses, and he wants to see you succeed. So many people will say, "Let's connect!" or "DM me if you have questions," but James genuinely means it. He is your champion and supporter. That's why he always talks about entrepreneurs supporting other entrepreneurs. It's not a tagline for him, it's who he is. He wants to elevate your story so take him up on his offer and DM him on Instagram @TheStartupStory or connect with him on LinkedIn. Just search for James McKinney and he'll be one of the top results. And of course, they'll be links for everything in the show notes as well. He lives what he preaches, so I hope you'll take him up on his offer to serve you.

Well everyone, it's been a blast to be part of episode 50 of The Startup Story. I hope to meet you at one of the live events that James is working on putting together, so stay tuned for that. He has quite a few things he's working on for the show, but The Startup Story is still very much in growth mode so here are some ways you can help James.

James McKinney: The Startup Story community has been so incredible about sharing our podcast with others, but we have more stories to tell and more people to reach. We too are a startup and word of mouth is everything, so please follow us on Facebook and Instagram @TheStartupStory or on Twitter @StartupStory_. If you're on LinkedIn, please search for The Startup Story and follow our company page. LinkedIn is a really powerful way to raise awareness of the show. But the most impactful way you can help us grow our audience is to leave a review on Apple Podcast. Or if you listen to the show via Spotify, then please simply share the podcast directly from your Spotify app or wherever you listen to the show.

These simple actions can make a huge impact in getting these amazing founder stories out to the masses. And please make sure to tag or mention The Startup Story when you do share so that we can connect with you and say thank you directly. I'm so incredibly appreciative of the fact that you listen to the show each and every week, and I look forward to sharing these amazing stories with you every Tuesday with hopes of encouraging and inspiring you to start your story.

If you like this podcast and are thinking of creating your own, consider talking to my producer Danny Ozment. He helps thought leaders, influencers, executives, and authors create, launch, and produce podcasts that grow their business and make a real impact in this world. You can contact him today at emeraldcitypro.com/startupstory.

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December 10 2019
James McKinney, founder of The Startup Story

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