Drew Plotkin is an Emmy-nominated journalist, the founder of Derm Dude and the Launch DRTV agency, as well as the co-founder of Global Mobility USA, a non-profit delivering wheelchairs to people in need. He’s appeared on the cover of AdWeek and produced global campaigns for numerous celebrities and high-profile individuals over the last thirty years. He lives in Southern California with his four magical kids and dog, Rufus.
Tell us about your childhood and where you grew up
I grew up in central N.J., although a very impactful window of my life was spent in Long Beach Island, part of the Jersey Shore. (Very different than what people saw on the reality T.V. show called ‘Jersey Shore”). My most memorable summers were spent lifeguarding during the day and bartending in local Jersey clubs at night. My father was a big influence in my life in many ways. Having never attended college, he worked his way from the most entry-level jobs possible to ultimately becoming CEO of a company he founded and took public. His work also required him to travel around the globe several times per year, so I was very inquisitive about ‘everything’ at a young age. I was not a fan of school in any way other than lunch, gym class, or history class. I was always fascinated with history, especially when it focused on historical world leaders and events that shaped and reshaped the world I was growing up in. As far as other classes like math and science and pretty much all else, I really could not keep focus. I would zone out and mentally drift all over the place. Endlessly. I was the type of kid in school who got an A or an F. I was and still am always 100% IN, or I am 100% OUT. Never anything in the middle for me. For some reason, I was somehow chosen early on to participate in a special program designated for a small group of kids believed to have a higher level of unique learning potential. This small group of kids met regularly with specially selected educators who practiced a more modern ‘free style’ type of learning. The curriculum was far less cookie-cutter than otherwise taught back then. We had a strong voice in the type of projects we worked on and the independence to step outside normal classroom boundaries. This opened a path for me to step outside boundaries and never step back in. I believe growing up in N.J. overall impacted my life as I think we are all, to some degree, a product of our environment. Sometimes we absorb the good, sometimes the bad, and most often, a bit of both. There is a no B.S. tone and unwritten rule of law that tends to internally govern people who grow up in N.J. the way I did. That doesn’t wash off or disappear just because you hop in your car and drive cross country to California. It stays embedded in your DNA.
How did you get started as an entrepreneur?
Growing up with a father who was always in business for himself had a big impact on my path to becoming an entrepreneur. Even when I was very young, and my father was not yet overly successful, I always knew that he made his own decisions at work. He was in charge of his own destiny, win or lose. And I observed when his decisions went well and when they did not. It was pretty clear to see it on his face, hear it in his voice, and how the family functioned. When I was very young, we would hold annual garage sales to clear out our garage and make a few dollars by selling old stuff we didn’t use anymore. I loved this annual garage sale and would plan for it all year long. I would set aside items to sell, think about how to price them, and even how I would present the items to potential customers. My favorite part of all was the day of the actual garage sale. I watched strangers look around and assess the merchandise we had sprawled out on display across our driveway. As soon as someone seemed remotely interested, I sprang into action, just an 8-year-old kid going into pitch mode to ‘close the deal’ on items ranging from .50 cents to $50. I also remember finding genuine happiness inside myself when someone purchased an item they were very excited to get at a price they could afford and felt good about. It was my first hands-on, real-life experience with a win-win business. The ‘win-win’ concept was also something my father installed in me over the years. It did not matter if the deal at hand was very small or very big; he always believed the best deal in any business is when both parties walked away happy. I believe that very much to this day.
What is one business lesson you would tell a startup founder?
Don’t be afraid of objections. Expect them. LOOK for them. Seek them out and embrace them. They always exist. If you ignore or hide from them, you will never be able to overcome them. Think of any objection as nothing more than a question yet to be answered in a way that addresses a concern. And by addressing the objection, or the concern, everyone ends up in a better, stronger place to move forward. Also, try your best to always be the dumbest person in the room. If I don’t surround myself with people I can learn from, I am a dictator and not a ‘founder’ of a brand that thrives on creativity, inspiration, and collaboration. Yes, as the founder, I get to have the final say. But I don’t need to remind people of that. I’d rather spend my efforts encouraging our people to think and dream without walls or limits. Be outrageous in your ideation. It is far easier, faster, and cheaper to dial in an incredible idea into a workable format that leads to success versus constantly pushing boulders uphill because you never risk or take chances to succeed and innovate beyond the obvious. Lastly, you will fail more than you succeed. That is a good thing. It means you don’t settle for mediocre, and you don’t just go to the edge…. You are willing to go over the edge to truly find greatness. The most successful people fail far more than they succeed. The difference between true success and failure is simply how fast (and non-stop) you get back up off your ass when you fail and how aggressively you optimize and grow your b*lls off when you connect with a home run pitch.