Living in YOUR Top 1% INTERVIEW SERIES
The goal of the “Living in Your Top 1%” interview series is to break down the qualities of people who excel and to show that you can be successful and achieve personal greatness from any starting point in your life. The interview series looks at people from all different careers and industries. Some names will be familiar and others may not. The purpose is to understand and borrow from the “best practices” of winners to develop a roadmap to your TOP 1%. We will share a new story every two weeks.
This week’s guest is Allan Sahagun. I spent time with Allan at the Milken Institute Global Conference in LA in May. He is a determined, smart, and incredibly nice person who is already making a difference in this world and he’s just getting started. He is an amazing example of redefining what’s possible from any starting point (both of his parents are immigrants). Allan founded Alumwire (he recently successfully exited the company) from his Harvard Universtity dorm room alongside his brother Aaron Sahagun and Geoffrey Lee while they were on the other side of the country attending UC Berkeley. Allan was named by Businessweek as one of “The Top 25 Young Entrepreneurs” and was featured in The Boston Globe as one of the “Best of the New People and Ideas.”
Alissa Finerman: 1. What’s the most important strength you possess that allows you to be successful in your role?
Allan Sahagun: As an entrepreneur, the core strengths that have allowed me to be successful are self-belief with professional humility. You have to really believe in yourself – entrepreneurship requires a tremendous amount of confidence in your ability in order to bring something to life. Not everyone is crazy enough to believe that they can build castles out of air, but an entrepreneur has to be. At the same time, you also have to possess the humility to say, I do not currently know the answer to something, or I do not have the skill to accomplish this, but I can learn and I need to find someone to help me. That’s an extremely challenging thing to do, because most of us want to believe we can do everything, we want to believe that we are an island. But no man is an island. The sooner I realized that, the faster I headed towards achieving my goal as an entrepreneur.
2. What motivates and inspires you on a daily basis to keep going?
AS: Ross Perot has a quote that I really like: “Something in human nature causes us to start slacking off at our moment of greatest accomplishment. As you become successful, you will need a great deal of self-discipline not to lose your sense of balance, humility, and commitment.” It’s really easy to rest on your laurels and believe that just because you did something right once, that you can begin to cruise and not have to work as hard, since you’ve already accomplished something. There couldn’t be anything further than the truth. While it’s important to recognize that you have talent – it’s that talent that got you started in the first place – talent alone is not enough. The harsh truth of life is everyone is talented. At the end of the day the person who works harder than you will accomplish more. I have a hand-made sign in my room that says “Talent is not enough. Work harder.” That motivates me.
3. What role has mindset played in paving the way for what you have accomplished?
AS: Mindset is everything. You win or lose in your mind before you even start playing. There’s a quote that I really like “Losers quit when they’re tired. Winners quit when they’ve won.” You have to believe the impossible is possible, and the minute you do that you are one step closer to accomplishing that goal. You just have to keep pushing until you get there. One day, you will get there. Often times, the only reason people don’t accomplish what they perceive as impossible is because they stopped too soon. If you can muster the drive to continue pushing, reaching, and working towards that goal, it’s just a matter of time before it becomes a reality.
4. What role do goals play in your life? Tell us a few words about your goal setting process.
AS: Goals are important because you need to continue moving in life. I live life as if I am crossing a desert. There’s a powerful image from The Alchemist that comes to mind: “Once you get into the desert there’s no going back. And when you can’t go back you have to worry only about the best way of moving forward.” Retreating is just as hard as – if not harder than – moving forward. You must be decisive and figure out the best way to move forward.
When I set goals, I first think about what I want from life. I contemplate whether or not it’s something I want to do. I need to buy into the idea before I seek it out. Then I write the goal down. I need to see what the goal looks like, outside of my head. It needs to manifest itself in some form. Then I tell someone. At this point I am now accountable to myself and to someone else to accomplish the goal. It often helps to have the person I share my goal with also share one of their goals with me. This way we create a support system for each other and achieving the goal becomes that much more possible.
5. What’s the toughest challenge(s) you successfully overcame?
AS: Taking the unconventional route of pursuing an entrepreneurial path as a teenager was one of the toughest challenges I have successfully overcome. Bringing a business to life is a difficult task, but doing it at such a young age when the odds are really stacked against you can feel insurmountable at times. As a young business owner you always have to be focused, ready and prepared for whatever may come your way. The best way for me to move forward is to acknowledge that while I may not know everything, the answers are out there – I just have to be humble enough to seek them out. Having mentors in my life has been instrumental in me growing and acquiring the necessary skills to start and run businesses at such a young age.
6. What’s the best way you have found to motivate employees?
AS: At the end of the day, my employees are my teammates. We have to work together in order to win. Winning is a team effort, no single person can drive a company to the top. One person can pose great influence, but at the end of the day it is the team that drives success and each member of the team should feel that sense of accountability and reward.
7. What are some of your most meaningful accomplishments?
AS: The most meaningful part of being an entrepreneur is seeing something that was just an idea become a reality. Knowing that what I helped conceptualize is now creating jobs and opportunities for people is truly rewarding. At the end of the day, life is about the impact that you make. Knowing that I have been a positive force in people’s lives is beyond rewarding.
8. What are the qualities that help the top performers excel?
AS: (1) Mental discipline: Mental discipline is necessary because it is key to accomplishing any goal – you have to be able to put your stake in the ground and say, “This is what I want. I will achieve this goal by doing x, y, and z and I will not stop until I get there.”
(2) Heart: When your body is too tired to continue, you need heart to keep you going. It inspires your teammates and the people who are instrumental in helping you achieving your goal. Their heart also lifts you up when you need it most.
(3) Curiosity: Curiosity makes life interesting. Asking questions and constantly trying to think of why things are the way they are forces you to generate creative solutions to challenges and think outside of the box.
(4) Courage: The willingness to seek out the answers and not being afraid of what you will find. “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.”
To learn more about Allan, please visit Sahagun Ventures.
The “Top 1%er” interview series is presented by Alissa Finerman, an Executive Coach and Gallup Certified Strengths Coach, speaker and author of Living in YOUR Top 1%. She works with managers, C-suite executives and teams to leverage strengths, shift beliefs and achieve meaningful goals. Alissa has an MBA from the Wharton School and a BA from the University of California, Berkeley. She has worked with Ross Stores, Petco, BNP Paribas, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Brookfield Property Partners, Neutrogena, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Dress for Success. To learn more about coaching with Alissa, please visit her website and follow her on Facebook