CEO Stories: Life By Design
Serial entrepreneur Darrah Brustein is living what she teaches: “Do what you love and the money will come.”
FASHIONING A CAREER
An early and unfulfilling foray into the fashion world—after majoring in Italian and religious studies in college—ultimately gave Darrah Brustein the insight that she wanted a career guided by service. She and her twin brother started a payment processing company that solved a major pain point for her former clients in fashion. It was the beginning of a career guided by intuition and being “a chief curiosity officer” at her subsequent endeavors.
DESIGNING HER LIFE
The desire to help—not to pursue money or other people’s definitions of success—led Brustein to develop events that went beyond business-card exchanges and the transactional focus that typically defines networking with “Networking Under 40.” Her interest in people, a knack for making connections, and a steadfast belief in the power of intuition brought her to the next stage in her career: teaching and mentoring.
In 2018, Brustein held a three-day live, virtual summit, “Life By Design,” with 45 speakers—Brustein’s own mentors.
SELF-AWARENESS, SPIRITUALITY, AND CAPITALISM
Among the speakers at the summit was Deepak Chopra, with whom Brustein now does a series of weekly YouTube videos. Brustein says Chopra has served as not just a mentor but a powerful example of how following one’s passion and calling is complementary to building a business. Among her other ventures: helping children understand the power of money and achieving financial literacy through http://www.financewhizkids.com/, which combines “fun, fiction, and finances.”
This Is Capitalism, Darrah Brustein
RH: This is Capitalism. I’m Ray Hoffman. Darrah Brustein asks questions—a lot of them, good ones, pointed ones, informed ones—and not just of others, but of herself. And in part it’s because of the questions she has asked of herself in particular that since graduation from Emory University in 2006, she has gone from the fashion world to building a payment processing system for merchants to event planner and networking guru, children’s book author, and advocate for teaching young people about personal finance, and now co-host of a video series with Deepak Chopra, Diving Deep With Deepak and Darrah. Brustein.
I often ask the question, Darrah, “how far back do we have to go to find the roots of you as an entrepreneur?” And I want to know the answer but it seems to me that with you there are at least two different types of roots that need to be explained, am I right?
DB: There’s probably many roots. [Laughs.]
RH: Certainly entrepreneurism and what you would call spirituality?
DB: So to answer your first question—how far do we have to go back—we probably have to go back about 27 years, which would make me about 8 years old. And if I remember correctly I had two major incidents that I recall as a kid that didn’t feel major at the time but they really do underpin what has transpired into an entrepreneurial career now.
The first was I lived outside of Philadelphia and we lived on a historic farm. And I remember I’d sit out on our sun porch in the back and I would craft jewelry. And any time my parents would have friends over, I would try and sell it to them. [Laughs.] So that’s where that began. And then when the jewelry business stopped and all my friend’s parents and all my parents’ friends had what they needed I moved on.
And my mom actually in her mid or late forties became a professional bodybuilder and I would go to the gym and try and sell them candy bars, which was probably a very early entrepreneurial lesson in make sure you know your market ’cause that was… [Laughs.]
RH: Candy bars at the gym? I wonder…
DB: Yeah not even just the gym but weight lifters, like bodybuilders. So that didn’t go very well.
And then the other piece was I have a twin brother and subsequently he and I now, all these years later, have been in business together for a decade but back in the day I recall we were in elementary school and we’d have those pretty traditional fundraisers where we were asked to sell wrapping paper and things of that sort. And we would go door to door in our small town and he was always really afraid, he was very nervous, it just wasn’t in his personality to knock on a door and meet someone new and see if they wanted to buy something.
So I would leave him at the end of the driveway and I would switch our sales sheets and go door-to-door reversing whether it was his sales sheet or my sales sheet. And it was this interesting way that I learned to sell and it was also an interesting way that I learned that we could partner so well together.
RH: And you’ve been able to get along all these years?
DB: Yes, to varying degrees. We get along great as business partners but ironically we’re actually not great friends.
RH: That’s the story of many business partners.
RH: At Emory University you majored in religious studies, am I right?
DB: Yeah, I double majored in religion and Italian. Not the most practical.
RH: I’m wondering what part of you learned studying religion really applies to what you do today with your “Life by Design” courses?
DB: I love this question. When I went to study religion I did it simply because of two things: one, I deeply believed that you can learn so much about people and what makes them tick by understanding what they believe. And then two, I had my own religious conversion experience in high school and it really opened my eyes to wanting to understand more than what was just available to me.
And I think it has really paid dividends where even if it is not super transparent what someone’s beliefs are, I don’t even know, I think when you get this holistic view of world religions and understand the similarities and differences and what really is at the core of so much of them it really helps you get people. And I think at the end of the day, no matter what you do in life, if you don’t understand people you are doing a disservice to yourself and the potential success that you could achieve.
RH: So there was some Life by Design on your part much earlier on, right?
DB: Yes, definitely.
RH: How does a person who concentrated on religion and Italian, not math or physics or engineering, get involved with and build out a payment processing service for merchants, Equitable Payments, which was your first major business?
DB: Yeah, it does not seem natural and my career has been nothing if not non-linear. And I think much like you can take something like religious studies and take some real foundational elements from it, like I talked about Italian certainly wasn’t applicable but I will say it was another endeavor in my sales training that I didn’t realize I was doing at the time where…
For me to go to Emory, and I went in with the intention of studying business, I said to my parents, “hey, you know what, I’m actually not going to study that, I’m going to study Italian and here’s why.” I said “I’m going to start my career in fashion and in order to do that I think it makes sense that I speak the fashion languages, which are French, Italian, and English.” And I already spoke French and English so I said “this makes perfect sense” and I learned how to persuade [laughs] and went off to study it.
And so while it didn’t explicitly catapult me into where I am today, I did start my career in the fashion industry, although Italian wasn’t something that I needed to do that. And I was able to simply do what I think everyone in a liberal arts education is able to do, which is learn to learn and learn to grow and expand your mindset and get out of yourself a bit.
And so what it did also teach me was how much I loved travel. I studied abroad one summer in Italy and we did 40 cities in 7 weeks. It was this insane pace. And that was just another moment of opening my eyes to something that really became a demarcating thing later in my life where now I travel about 60 percent of the time for pleasure but work wherever I am.
RH: So did you use your Italian in Milan?
DB: Interestingly I’ve never been to Milan. But I did use my Italian in every other spot that we went to.
RH: But you did form a fashion business?
DB: Well it wasn’t my business, it was just my first job out of college. I started working for a wholesale jean company that was based in Los Angeles while I was in Atlanta. And I was a sales rep. And I covered seven southeast states for them, working with boutiques and department stores that were in my territory. And they basically said within three years we want you to sell a million dollars worth of product and in ten months I was able to accomplish that, having nothing to do with the Italian language, but everything to do with learning and my persistence and just tackling it.
So I ended up doing what I said I would do to my parents in the sense of I got into the fashion industry. But I learned very quickly it was not the place for me. It tended to be a bit catty and I didn’t feel like I was learning and growing in the ways that were going to be fulfilling long term.
RH: And this takes you into Equitable Payments, right?
DB: Yeah, after that happened. Basically I didn’t just leave on my own accord there. I got laid off. The company went under about a week before Christmas in 2007, which also happened to be about three months after I bought a home at the ripe age at 23, which I had only done because I had a restraining order against my landlord at the time and I was too afraid to go into another landlord situation thinking that might just happen again.
So here I am, 23, with a mortgage for three months and all the sudden I’ve lost my grown-up job. And it set me on this journey to try a lot of things and really do a lot of tests, which at the time I didn’t necessarily know I was doing, I just felt like I was grasping for straws, trying to find what might work.
And I did everything from I was a personal assistant to someone where I was writing copy for her website and helping her sell her products as well as ripping drywall and carpeting out of her rehabbed renovation properties and just learning everything across the board from what she was up to, to working in high-end home audio/video, selling people $300,000 home theater systems and home automation systems and lots of things in between.
And through the process I got laid off several more times, or downsized, in some of the part-time roles because this was now in the thick of the economic recession. And it started to cue me to realize “you know what? This intuition inside of you that has said since you were a child that you want to have your own business.” I did not have the language of entrepreneurship, I didn’t know that word. I really felt like I needed to pursue that because what I had been historically told—to go school, get good grades, get a job, happily ever after—and that that’s the stable way to go wasn’t turning out to be the case for me.
So it no longer felt like there was real risk in going on my own because it wasn’t stable in the first place. So that’s when I started my credit card processing company with my twin brother and we decided to take the reins into our own hands.
RH: What got you into merchant credit card processing in the first place as a first business?
RH: This is all illogical to me, almost as illogical as buying a house in December of 2007.
DB: That was a poor time to do it. It’s one of those things, you play the cards that you have been dealt in the best way that you know how and it definitely was something I looked back on and felt unhappy about for years but ultimately feel fine about it now as the market has rebounded and all is well.
But how did I get into credit card processing? My twin brother, Garrett, he was living in San Diego, and he called me and he said “listen I’ve been researching this merchant services industry, there is an unrepresented contingent of brokerage models, which is tried and true across financial services but not in this specific credit card processing arena. I think you and I should team up and build a business here.” And I responded, my first reaction to him was “you’ve gotta be kidding me? Why would I want to do that?” I just came from this sexy industry of fashion and this is the last thing I ever considered I would do. But I also didn’t have another idea for what I was going to do in the first place.
So I flew to San Diego, I was jobless at this point, and I devil’s advocated this idea for a week. He had actually gotten started with a small team and I shadowed them, I asked lots of questions, I tried to poke every hole I could. And after a week I flew back to Atlanta and I said “let me go back and talk to all my former clients,” who were all the retailers from the wholesale fashion world. And I asked as many of them as I still could get connected to, I said “what would it take for you to switch your merchant services provider and what has your experience been like with your current one?”
And I kept hearing the same story over and over and they would all say “this is such an integral part of our running our business successfully, to get paid by our customers.” And almost every one of them said something along the lines to me of “I was sold one bill of goods and it ended up being very different from a cost perspective or my contract terms of fill in the blank, and if someone would just be honest and transparent with me I would absolutely give them my business.”
And that was sort of the light bulb for me that even though I wasn’t initially enthusiastic about the service of credit card processing, I could get really excited about the way in which I could interact with and help these small business owners and learn from all their industries and really help their bottom line. And then, transversely, I became really excited about the service itself.
RH: What I’m hearing in this is that you’ve always been a good questioner. Am I right?
DB: You’re absolutely right. I call myself the chief curiosity officer of my companies because I love to ask questions and stay curious.
RH: What was the biggest takeaway from that early part of building out the business?
DB: That it was a lot harder in practice than it was in theory. I think I went in with this expectation of well wow, every business practically takes credit card payments from their customers, this is just the blue ocean, there are so many opportunities.
What I didn’t realize was that there were so many things that were going to be a challenge for us to grow, like that people had been burned so many times in the past so they were really reticent to change or that people had been locked in to contracts and it was really hard for them to get out or that the lies that people were feeding them super intentionally on the sales side were being believed by them. And that often the thing that sounds the best is the thing that people want to believe.
And so it became this situation where I almost felt like the Robin Hood of financial services where I was like I want to steal from the rich and give to the poor and really help people understand how this works and give them a fair shot at it. And over time that worked but I think I had a misunderstanding in the beginning of how long it would take and that it would be a bit of an uphill battle in the early stages to really find the right clients and build up a big enough book of businesses to sustain the company.
RH: Since then you’ve started Network Under 40 and later Network Over 40. I see the first event was in Atlanta in 2011. In starting these, Darrah, I assume you saw something in networking events that could be done better?
DB: Well interestingly this was a situation where a friend came to me who I knew in undergrad and she had just moved back to Atlanta from law school. And she said to me, “hey, where can I go to make friends after college without getting hit on, sold to, or everyone being my parents’ age?” And because I had been in the networking arena in Atlanta for years growing my credit card processing business, I really couldn’t think of a place to send her that hit on all of those things.
So I said, “you know, what my favorite thing in the entire world is to connect people. Why don’t I just start it for you?” So the intention initially was simply to help her solve a need she had with a skill that I had available, not to start a business. But at that first event that you’re referring to, 94 people showed up, the energy was electric, and people said to me, “hey can you do this again?” And they had paid to come. I had just wanted to offset my costs.
And I did it again and then they asked me to do it again and again. And ultimately, as time ticked on, it became this snowball effect where I was doing it every single month and then I had people in other cities asking me how I could help them get it off the ground. And so it became this thing that I realized wow, there is really a demand for this and we have really found this niche in the market that we are approaching in a different way than others are people are gravitating towards it. And it just organically grew over the years to now being 8 years old and where we’ve served over 30 thousand people.
RH: It was an unintended business really.
DB: Completely. Backed into it by accident. But I think it’s because I was staying open and I was listening for cues.
RH: Inc. Magazine said you turned tedious transactional networking events into meaningful experiences. How do you do that?
DB: [Laughs.] For us it’s all about the culture. I think that there is this thing that people think networking is where it’s all about transaction, it’s all about sizing people up, it’s about how do I give as many business cards out and get my needs met. When really networking is none of those things. Networking is just a fancy word for relationship building.
And I think at the end of the day—it’s very Dale Carnegie-esque to say—that you have to know, like, and trust people to do business, or do anything with them. And that starts with the knowing and the liking and to do that in environments that a lot of networking arenas create that become these business card exchanges and all I want to know is “what you do and if there’s something I can get out of you.” That just never made me feel good, it never made me feel seen, it never made me feel like these are people that I’m going to develop a long-term relationship with, which is really what it’s all about.
So our culture from the get-go was, and remains, to be different. Where we say it’s about friendship first and business second. It’s about who you are before what you do.
RH: And how do you maintain the wall between Network Under 40 and Network Over 40?
DB: Well we did for some time host Network Over 40 events as well. And we have never carded people. We certainly have people who have come to our Under 40 event who are biologically older than the age of 40 but for us it’s really about the intention of bringing peers together to grow together when they’re at a similar stage of life and business. And for us, if you’re over 40 but you feel like these are your people and you connect with them, then great, you’re absolutely welcome.
RH: Give me one example. Let me go in a little more granularly into what it is that you do to establish this “friends first and then networking”?
DB: Like I mentioned with the culture, I made sure that at the first event we ever hosted that I stacked the room with people whom I already knew and who would embody that idea. And I shared my mission with them and just said, “listen, I don’t want this to be a place that’s just a business card exchange. I don’t want this to be a place where the first question you ask is ‘what do you do.’” So people knew that. And then anyone who didn’t know me and didn’t know that coming into it was able to understand that by proxy for the fact that that’s the way the room was working.
And then as it grew over time, certainly it’s in our messaging. And then additionally a thing that we brought in, in the later years, that’s really helped, especially as we’ve grown into other cities, was bringing on ambassadors who wear shirts that have our logo and our colors and on the back—it says “let’s talk.” And they become these concierges or buoys for people to go to and they help really keep that culture alive and set the tone.
Additionally we set a question that people answer on their nametags when they walk into an event that is just light and fun and can develop rapport and kinship very quickly without it being “what do you do?” So it could be anything from when the Olympics were going on we said “if you could win a gold medal in any sport, real or fake, what would it be?” Or, “what are you reading right now?” Or when it’s Halloween, “what’s your favorite Halloween costume you’ve ever had” or “fill in the blank the questions” very dramatically. But it gives people this starting point, a jumping-off point to connect and engage with each other on a human level first, having nothing to do with their professional life.
RH: I now can see the thread between the networking businesses and your teaching and mentoring summits, “Life By Design, Not By Default.”
RH: How did that begin?
DB: About two years ago I had this deep intuitive knowing—like if you’ve ever had one of those gut things that you just feel like you can’t kick—it was one of those where I started to think there is something that is telling me that there is a new incarnation of my career on the horizon but I have no idea what it is and I think it’s my job to figure it out.
So I spent about six months, which frankly was more than I probably even needed to, digging deep by reflecting on things and trying to figure out what it is that could be next. And through a lot of the digging deep and brainstorming and circling around the people that I trust in my network and asking them to reflect certain things back to me so I could see some of my own blind spots, I came to recognize the No. 1 thing people were asking me at that stage of my career was “how do you live the life that you do?”
And what I learned they meant by that was they watched me build these companies, they watched me travel for pleasure at the quantity that we talked about, they watched me go to rooms like Davos and TED and the U.N., they watched me work alongside high- profile people like Deepak Chopra and Adam Grant and Robert Herjavec and Shaquille O’Neal and all these people. And I didn’t do any of it because I was trying to impress them. I did it because my life just naturally evolved in a path that led me there. And they watched me ultimately just have freedom of how I spent my time.
And so when they were asking me these things I realized, okay I now understand that if I had stayed on the path I was on right when I graduated and I went with the definition of what other people told me success looks like and I kept grinding on that path, I’d probably be asking the same question as well, when I have spent the last 10 years accumulating this knowledge, being a curious question asker, finding all of these tools for myself, and all of these resources and mentors. And I thought why don’t I just accumulate them, because the thing that I do best in the world is connecting people to people and people to resources, and help get them there faster with a little bit of a blueprint.
So I said I’m going to do a virtual summit so that nothing prevents people from being there except needing an Internet connection. And they can have access to all of my peers and mentors that have helped me along this journey. So I broke it into three categories, which I sort of see as the equation to intentionally design your life which is first figuring out what is it that I really want for my life outside of what society or people in my life are telling me success looks like and how do I begin to map that out and get over the hurdles and fears that might keep me stuck.
Whereas the second part is about how do I design a career or business that integrates and elevates that which I decided that I want for myself rather than consumes it where I’m fitting my life into the nooks and crannies that are left. Which I will be the first to admit, when I was starting the credit card processing company, that was absolutely the story of my life. I was burnt out and constantly saying I value these things but I was putting them off until a later date because I thought I have to get to a certain place in my business first. And I think that there is a balance that you can strike.
And then part three was on the relationship piece. It’s how do you develop community and network to support you and the visions you have for your life and you they as well. Because I know deeply that it is the people who you know and who know you—and of you—who open the doors to the success you’re seeking.
So we had 45 speakers and 20 hours of content. We ran it live for 3 days online and now it’s available online for people to purchase.
RH: Is there one thing you wanted each of these people, the 45 speakers, to bring?
DB: Everyone came with their unique talent and their unique ideas. So they were broken very intentionally into one of the three days based on their skill set. And each one…I interviewed half of them and the other half did solo presentations. But I was very clear in our curation of the entire series to make sure that I was going to help bring to the table and spotlight that which they were exceptional at and not just use it as inspiration but give actionable tools and resources so that the viewers could really do something with it aside from just saying, “well that’s inspiring.”
RH: I’ve looked at several of your Deepak and Darrah YouTube videos and I noticed one of them is about the fundamental question “who am I?”
RH: So I’m wondering how different is the person you are today and in how many ways from the person you were 10 years ago?
DB: It’s a really fascinating question. Because I think at my core I’m the exact same person. I don’t think that I have ever changed in my essence but I think that who I am on some of the levels that go maybe in some of the spheres outside of my core—core essence—have changed a lot.
Because the person that I was 10 years ago was so reactive, I was stressed all the time, my entire identity was tied to things that I could show were my successes on paper. It was “how big is my company, what’s our revenue, what’s the employee headcount?” It was “did I win that award?” It was everything that were these resume virtues that I was stacking up because I felt like if I don’t have these things, then who am I?
Whereas now I feel a lot more secure in understanding that I, just like every other person on this planet, has intrinsic value and it has nothing to do with what we do professionally, it has nothing to do with our titles and accolades, which is why in so many arenas, as we’ve talked about, I’ve really wanted to focus in and hone in on that.
But I think what I am so proud of in my entire life is my emotional journey because the person who I was when I was a teenager, and even in my early twenties, was really emotionally shut down. I was really I think afraid to experience any sort of spectrum of emotions that felt vulnerable, whereas now I don’t recognize that person. Now I feel like vulnerability is strength. I feel like I can use my vulnerability to help invite other people in to learn and know that they’re not alone wherever they are in their journey because I’ve experienced a lot of what they’ve experienced.
And it’s kind of night and day in that way. But the same core of who I was has been there forever, I just had to chip away at the layers.
RH: How many people have visited your summit?
DB: When we ran it live we had close to 10 thousand.
RH: I’m wondering if after building “Life By Design” if you have thought about the relationship between self-awareness, spirituality, and capitalism?
DB: I haven’t thought about it explicitly but you referenced the conversations that Deepak Chopra and I have that we release weekly online and it’s been fascinating to sit side by side with him every week and think about things that way where when I look at what Deepak for example has built, he’s built quite an empire in the business world.
And the irony of it is, and we talked about this in one of the episodes, that he’s never chased it for that as the goal. He has always looked at it from the perspective of “how do I utilize my gifts in service to the world, how do I make sure that I’m having fun and that things feel joyful?” and then let the money come as a secondary component to that. And I think it might feel a little bit hard for people to understand but it’s exactly the adage of “do what you love and the money will come.”
It’s exactly how I build “Network Under 40.” I did something I loved and I was good at and the money came as a byproduct. Same thing here—I didn’t start any of this stuff with helping people design their life to make a profit, I did it because I cared and I wanted to and I was fortunate to be in a financial and time position where my first businesses were completely subsidizing my life and I could step aside and do this. But the money is coming, suddenly this has become a thing where there are revenue models and opportunities that have grown up around it.
So I think from the spiritual perspective, when you can center yourself enough to understand what are my unique gifts and skills and what can I empathize with or with whom do I empathize in the world enough to want to help them in some way move from A to B or A to Z—whatever that might look like. That I think is this beautiful melding of who you really are, which I think is the spiritual being, and how you can grow something in a capitalistic way.
RH: You’ve done a number of celebrity interviews in recent years, many of them for Forbes. Major sports figures—Shaquille O’Neal, Gary Player, Cam Newton—some major entrepreneurs too, Bobbi Brown, for example. Do you find a similar kind of shared insight between athletics and entrepreneurism?
DB: Totally. I remember interviewing Cam Newton and we talked a lot about that and he talked a lot about how entrepreneurialism is not a solo sport, that it’s a team sport and we often think of it as this founder or founders together as lone wolves. But really it’s the people you surround yourself within your company, whether it’s in your team or who you’re outsourcing with and your partners and your clients that make you a success.
And so when I talk to people like Cam or Shaq and you hear how much they were able to parlay their team mentality and what they learned on the field or on the court into their entrepreneurial ventures, it’s really this natural progression.
RH: I have to ask you about Darrah’s Children’s Division.
DB: [laughs] Yes, so…
RH: What inspired you to write the book Money-Making Sunny?
DB: In about 2011 perhaps, the years are escaping me at this point. … Actually, no, it was earlier than that because it’s when the economy started falling apart, so maybe 2007, 2008, I watched the market collapse, I saw the impact it had on me and my friends. And I started to think, like, wow, I had friends from undergrad who were coming to me before the market collapsed and would ask me all these financial questions when they were making two to three times the money I was making at the time and I was always so confused.
And I said how is it that I am able to live relatively debt-free, aside from car loan, house loan, and you’re making six figures in many cases and you’re telling me you don’t have any savings. And when I watched the market fall apart I realized this wasn’t just my friends, this was more of a global epidemic.
And I was able to then reflect on my childhood and realize that the lessons that I was taught and imparted upon me very intentionally by my parents, one being my mom who was an entrepreneur, and my dad, who was an executive in the financial services industry for close to 50 years, that I had this interesting blend and unique upbringing of being taught about the responsibility around money and investing and compound interest and giving back and all of these things that I then realized that was not the norm.
So I stopped and I thought, “is there something I can do to be helpful now that this is the case?” So I did a look across the marketplace—I already knew that there were a lot of resources for adults, especially in the literature space for financial literacy and responsibility because I was a student of it from the time I was about 15—but I realized that there was very little for children.
And I started to do the research on the evidence behind when people learn about money and I found that it says that kids learn about money as early as age three. However they are typically learning through poor habits and behaviors from the grown-ups in their lives.
So I thought if we can intersect a medium that kids are already utilizing, like stories to learn from, and we can put in there lessons on the basics of financial responsibility, then this is great because it takes a parent or the adult in their life out of the bottleneck. Because that was the other piece I learned through my research is that so many parents know this is important but they felt it was taboo or they felt overwhelmed by all the other pressing things day-to-day in their lives or their own lack of knowledge and comfort around this topic in the first place.
So I thought if we can take them out of the bottleneck, put in this methodology of books that they’re already giving to their children and then, in the back of the book, put an appendix so that the parent or the adult in their life can institute the lessons into their home with ease and bake in with it their own value system—cause I’m not prescribing my values to it, I’m just giving the basic parameters of value of money and savings and earnings and sharing and temptation around money and things like that—that could be a really useful tool. And so really for me it was I like to write, I can write, I have this knowledge, how can I help?
RH: And I love on the website financewizkids.com, you have a downloadable coloring book page showing two piggy banks and a ragdoll and a diploma and lots of big dollar signs in the back. And I’m assuming parents have sent you some interesting color combinations.
DB: Yeah, I get really, really sweet videos and images from parents and their kids. I have a friend who tells me about her sons, who will fight over who gets to read the book that night and who saved the most that week. It’s just beautiful to see kids finding excitement and enthusiasm around financial responsibility.
RH: Of all the reaction you’ve gotten to your work and helping children understand personal finance, and I think this is such an important cause, is there one reaction in particular that stands out to you?
DB: It was a gentleman named Bill who reached out and he said to me “I have never known how to draw the comparison with my kids that money is tied to responsibility because they just see it as this thing where money pops out of the wall in the ATM or I swipe a plastic card and we get things for it. But they didn’t understand the consequence on the other side.”
And this gentleman told me this really interesting story that he and his children would be out at dinner, he would leave with his kids and his one son would always be dawdling in the background. And he finally said to him, “Jimmy, why are you always waiting? What are you lingering doing?” And he said, “well Dad, you’re always leaving money on the table and I don’t think that you should waste it so I was collecting it.”
DB: And it was this light bulb moment for him where one, he’s like “well now I’m the cheapskate in town and everyone thinks that I’m not tipping,” but it made him realize that children are learning very literally. And if we don’t stop and demonstrate for them what’s actually happening in these transactions, in these financial moments, then why wouldn’t they see it as Jimmy did?
RH: Let’s look out five years from now. How do you expect or hope to grow?
DB: This question is great. And the irony is when I dove into 2019 I decided that unlike every year historically where I made really clear plans, I had very specific goals, I even had mantras that were adjectives that would describe how I wanted the year to feel and I would narrate all of it so that I could figure out, “what would it really feel like to live these all lived out in one life?”
I decided this year to have less goals and my one goal for the year was not to make any, that I wanted to let life unfold in the way that it should. And that doesn’t mean that I’m aimless, it doesn’t mean that I’m being lazy, it just means that I’m following my instincts and seeing where doors are opening and saying yes to those which seem exciting and of service.
So in five years from now? I don’t know how to answer that question because I really do believe. … Like I think the Deepak series is a great example of that. If you had asked me in 2018 would I have had a goal for a show or would I have had a goal to work with Deepak the answer would have been “no” because I never would’ve conceived of it. And then it presented itself and it’s something I’m so grateful that has happened. So we’ll see.
RH: I was going to sign off right here but now I need to know how you met Deepak Chopra?
DB: Interestingly, when I decided to do the virtual summit that we spoke about, I made a wish list of all the people whose expertise I felt would be ideal for it. And there were a number of big-name folks who had been mentors in the sense of I had been a student of their work but they didn’t know me directly. And I actually think that’s a really great key for people who are looking for mentorship is that someone can be your mentor without them even knowing because they create resources that can help you.
And so Deepak was one of them. And I was fortunate, again through the power of networks and digging wells before you’re thirsty, I got connected to his publicist. And I shared the vision of the summit and it’s a husband and wife couple and they said this sounds really great, it sounds really aligned, let us know who else signs on. And I told them that there were some other big names but they said “okay” and I could just tell they were on the fence.
So I made the decision to reach out to my friend Rebecca, who was someone coincidentally and also in the same vein as everything we’ve talked about, I had met at a conference in Detroit years ago. And when I met her I had no idea what she did, let alone what she did in the past. And as our friendship developed, I came to learn that her job prior to what she was doing at the time was being Deepak’s COO. And I never wanted to reach out to her directly because I knew that that’s a very dear relationship and that she probably would be very…guarding in the right sense of the term about it.
But at that point I reached out and I said, “hey Rebecca, this is where I am with his people, if you would feel so inclined and comfortable to do so, I’d love if you’d let him know that we’re friends and that this is legit.” So about three hours later I got a screenshot from her that was her text transaction with Deepak and shortly thereafter I got a response from his publicist saying “Deepak is in, can you be in New York next week?” So I flew up to New York, we did the interview, it was an incredible opportunity and experience. And frankly I thought this would probably be the end of our interactions.
But as life happens and as serendipity took me, three months later Chase Bank had hired me to be an on-site correspondent for them at their Atlanta conference where he and Cam Newton were speaking. So that’s where I met Cam and that’s where I saw Deepak for the second time and we had a wonderful interaction, he was very kind and gracious.
And then a couple months later this publicist asked me to interview him again and then again. And that was December. So shortly after Christmas, about a week after our last interview, I sent him an email and I said just said, “Deepak, it has been an absolute pleasure working with you this year. I just want you to know that if you need anything in 2019, I’m here to support you, I’m a big cheerleader for your work, just let me know how I can be a help.”
And 15 minutes later he wrote back and that became the beginning of a 15-minute ping-ponging of e-mails that turned into this series of videos. And it really just came down to the fact that I never went in expecting something. I never went in trying to manipulate or engineer a circumstance to happen. I just let it unfold. And the one thing that I did engineer was continuing to stay in touch by being generous and helpful to him, to help his goals get further along down the path by doing the interviews and writing about him for Forbes and things of that nature.
And so for anyone I think who is looking to connect with high-profile people or anyone in general, regardless of their quote/unquote “stature,” that is always the key is you have to be a person who is generous and who is adding value before you are extracting it and who has a reputation that people are going to vouch for you and open those doors.
RH: Well whatever happens, it’s going to be fun to see it unfold. Continued success, Darrah Brustein.
DB: Thank you, Ray, same to you.
RH: This is Capitalism. I’m Ray Hoffman.
About the Series: Featured stories from the intersection of the free market and entrepreneurial success. Here we speak with leading CEOs, academics, philanthropists and up and comers on their contributions and perspectives on the American economy.
About Ray Hoffman: Ray Hoffman, a veteran business journalist, is highly-regarded for his news and analysis features and insightful CEO interviews. Representing BusinessWeek on air for twenty-one years, Mr. Hoffman was the morning business news voice on the ABC Radio Networks from 1995 to 2006. Mr. Hoffman also represented The Wall Street Journal, on air, for eleven years. His daily WCBS CEO Radio feature was recognized by the New York Press Club as best radio business news report in both 2012 and 2015. In this podcast, Mr. Hoffman invites some of America’s most dynamic CEOs to share their stories as business builders and perspectives on free enterprise.