Presented by American Billionaire Society
In a world of fake entrepreneurs and rich kids flexing daddy’s money, there’s nothing quite like a truly self-made success. While there are only a few thousand truly self-made millionaires under 30 across the U.S., there's even fewer who have emerged from the Rust Belt of the Midwest to build a bootstrapped, seven-figure operation. This is just one of many things that make Mike Clum--a media company founder and CEO based in Cleveland and Miami--one of the most intriguing young CEOs in America.
Here, a Q&A with the one and only Clum:
Q: How did your journey get started?
Mike: It started basically back in 2011. I was in college at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. I hated it and wanted to do something more exciting than the traditional path. I dropped out, bought a camera and started selling music video services to musicians in Cleveland. That eventually evolved into Clum Creative, a video production company producing commercials for businesses, and became the fastest-growing company of its kind in America. From there, we’ve launched other successful video-related businesses under the Clum Group, including Teddy Baldassarre, a fast-growing e-commerce company in the luxury watch category.
Q: Was it hard coming from a smaller region like Cleveland?
Mike: Not really, I didn’t know any better and with the internet there’s really no excuse not to grow. You can always find a way to make money and build a business with a WiFi connection.
Q: So you started very early, only 18, what was your first taste of money?
Mike: I was 21 and I was producing commercials for businesses in Northeast, OH and charging roughly a few thousand per video. All of a sudden, I came across a larger company who was willing to pay me $25,000 for a commercial and I remember getting the check and it changed my entire perspective. From there, I kept pushing for similar clients and saw my bank hit $100,000, and then $250,000 by my 22nd birthday. It’s been all up from there.
Q: What set you apart in terms of your ability to grow beyond the million dollar mark?
Mike: Well there are certainly many more successful people than me out there, those who invented new products or technologies but I was simply determined to make the most of what I did have which was a video camera and a vision to create a company. I’m able to balance dreaming big, with the short term grunt work that’s required to make money appear now.
Most people find a way to make a little money, and then get busy and stop growing. If you want to be truly successful, you have to hire full time employees and build a real organization. You can’t freelance your way to big success. You need employees, and overhead, and to be able to build systems to get new customers at scale. I’m a logical problem solver, and I’m good at picking and organizing people around a goal. I find great managers and employees, and then put them in place to make it happen. That allows me to then go solve the next problem of growth.
Q: What’s your tips for someone looking to build their own business from scratch?
Mike: I’d say unless you can invent a new idea, which is rare and hard to do, think very small and pick something very practical that you can start selling today. For me, it was selling $50 music videos, but if I was great at painting, I might have started selling residential painting or something. Pick a business that aligns with your interests, and that you know how to sell, and just get started. Raise your prices overtime and find a way to get successful.
Q: What's your day to day look like?
Mike: Well, I’m usually up pretty late, so I’ll usually get up around 8am, and lounge around for a bit, and then I get hit with a wave of urgency to get out and make things happen. I’ll leave the house and go to my office. I usually stop at Whole Foods, and I’ll eat something and get some caffeine.
From there, I’m at the office talking to people, and pushing along growth actions. I’ll call my business partners, and we’ll ideate about the next steps in our company, or I’ll call my managers and move things along. I work until I don’t feel like working anymore, and then head home and do it again.
Q: So your wardrobe seems fairly simple; black shirts and black pants. What’s the deal with that?
Mike: I’m sure I could look cooler if I switched it up, but it’s pretty easy and I enjoy not worrying about matching clothes. Black is a favorite color, and it’s simple.
Q: When you aren’t building your companies, what are you doing?
Mike: I’m usually resting, watching interesting things on YouTube, playing piano, or just going on a walk and thinking about the future. I am lucky to have businesses that are closely aligned with my hobbies, so I can spend most of my time working and it’s mostly always interesting.
Q: What do you spend your money on?
Mike: I spend it all on trying to make more, in other words - investing back into my companies. This keeps my employees happy and supported, and is ultimately the smartest way to spend your money if you can find effective ways to spend it.
For example, an investment in a former employee of mine, Teddy Baldassarre, helped build one of the largest YouTube channels and luxury watch retailers in the watch industry. He’s now my partner and we’re building an awesome business together, which is fun and financially rewarding.
The key is finding a way to enjoy life on as little cash as possible, and being patient with your investments. This taps into the power of compound interest and allows you to build real wealth. Outside of that, I do travel some and try to stay in the warmth most of the year, so I spend some money on traveling.
Q: What does the future hold for you?
Mike: The future is a lot more hard work, and a lot more growth. My goal is to employ 10,000 people. Right now we’re at 33--so many more to go, but there’s plenty of time.
You can keep up with Mike’s journey on Instagram, @mikeclum.