This post is an interview transcript. Click here to watch Simon Sander’s interview with Antonio Centeno.
Voiceover: Welcome to Entrepreneur Decoded, the show which reveals the habits, fears, failures and joys of today’s most inspiring and successful entrepreneurs seven days a week. Now, here’s your host, Simon Sander.
Simon: Welcome! My name is Simon and you’re listening to Entrepreneur Decoded. Let’s get into the show without wasting any time. With me is Antonio Centeno. Welcome!
Antonio: Hey, Simon! Great to be here.
Simon: Antonio is a men’s style expert and founder of Real Men Real Style, a website dedicated to educate the average man about style. He went from no online presence to building a huge email list of 700,000 subscribers on YouTube.
Let’s jump right in, Antonio. If you could teach everyone in the world one thing, something you learned throughout the years, what would it be?
Antonio: I would be very clear that it’s not one thing that makes you a successful entrepreneur. We all want shortcuts and we want it to be easy, but it’s not. It is daily getting better and realizing that if you’re taking two steps forward and one step back, sometimes two steps back, and you don’t go anywhere, but to be consistent and to always try to be better than you were the day before. It’s a tough journey, but it is the most rewarding journey you can go on.
Simon: Yes. Success is not guaranteed and there are no shortcuts. Tell me about those small steps you were talking about.
Antonio: You know, I think that’s the key, is just simply taking action and realizing that not all things are of equal value. Earlier, I was just talking with an entrepreneur right before this call and she has so many things she wants to do. I always recommend — and you can just Google it — the Eisenhower Matrix or the Priority Matrix. You need to identify those things which are screaming at you, but are not important, and just say “no”. Realize those things have to be ignored.
You need to focus in on things which are important and urgent, and important and not urgent, and that latter, the second one’s most important because the important things that are not urgent, those are the things that we need to get done, but because they don’t scream at you, you keep putting them to the side and you don’t do them.
I can’t tell somebody what is important and what is not. I know for me, one of the things that I have, I’ve got my “do not do” list. I tell you, I try not to spend much time in email. I don’t spend much time on social media, yet if you look out there — you just mentioned I’ve got like 600,000 or 700,000 subscribers on YouTube. I know we’ve got Facebook pages with almost 100,000 followers and all this other stuff. I don’t go in there. I don’t spend time.
I was just talking to a woman who says, “Gosh! You’re prolific on LinkedIn.” I’m laughing because I log in to LinkedIn once a month, but I do have people who I figured out what’s the return on investment and I’ve got an assistant. One of them, she’s a social media manager. I trained her very well and she goes in and she speaks with my voice and she makes things happen. At the same time, they are watching out — we get 200 emails a day. I said email is a big time-waster. I have 200 personal messages a day. People are just so nice. They’re so friendly. They come to me and they’re like, “Antonio, your videos have changed my life,” “Antonio, I love your emails,” “Antonio, I love your blog posts.” They love my stuff, love my infographics, but I tell you, I wouldn’t be able to create that stuff if I spent time just always answering.
So I’ve set up systems so I can still be reachable, but you have to jump through a few hoops. You’ve got to actually ask that great question because what I discovered is people, they need help, but the vast majority of them really don’t care about me. They care about how I help them solve their problem. And if I can do that, if I can scale that, I can make a huge difference in this world.
Simon: When was your first hire?
Antonio: The first one was probably by accident. You mentioned you’re over in Europe. Actually, my wife’s Ukrainian and I had a friend over in Ukraine and I knew he was looking for work. I needed some help. He didn’t have any experience really in the tech. He didn’t have a tech background but I’m like, “Ury, can you help me make this stuff happen?” They say that all Ukrainians are good tech people.
Simon: Oh yeah.
Antonio: But it seems like you get a lot of people, I find, of Eastern European descent. I think it’s just the schooling and the way that they think, but I’m like, “Ury, you are a Music major. You can figure this stuff out,” and so he did. He was able to help me in basically dealing with propagating websites and WordPress, basic stuff that I just didn’t want to deal with. And from there, I realized — and it was a small amount I was paying him every month, and I can tell you, now I pay him ten times what I initially paid him because he’s worth it and we’ve expanded.
Now, I’ve got ten people like him all over the world who are very specialized and they have their things that they have to do from a social media manager to an email manager. I’ve got backups for those. I cross-train people because I realized I don’t want to be doing that stuff. I need to focus in on the things that matter in my business.
Simon: So you set your business up in a way so you have time to focus on the things that matter to you.
Antonio: Yeah. I’ve got the same 168 hours that every single person has, but I’ve got four young kids. I’ve got a wife I love and I want to spend time with, and I just made a decision — and I’ve got this sign up here — is this project worth time I could be spending with my family? And I’ve just become really good at saying “no”. I really want to help people.
I get people that somehow find my phone number and are calling me all the time. I just don’t answer the phone unless I have a set time with you and I know who you are. I just can’t do it because if I say “yes” to you, you know who I say “no” to? I say “no” to my four-year-old, Adriana, or I say “no” to my 11-year-old, Sasha. Tonight, I’m missing one of his games and I feel really bad about that, but I make almost all of his other games. I’ve got a video I need to film and we’ll make it up and I can do that. I’m very conscious that I’ve got a limited amount of time with my kids and with my wife, and if I’m going to make an impact, I have to say “no” most of the time.
Simon: Antonio, you’ve been in the game of entrepreneurship for a while. Let’s go back. There seems to be a time in every entrepreneur’s life when they realize one or two things about themselves that they just couldn’t work for someone else anymore or they have this huge calling to make a big difference. Which side of the fence do you see yourself on, Antonio? Take us back when you discovered it.
Antonio: Well, I don’t know if I’m on either side of those, but I am in the area of I got fired from a job and I knew that no one would hire me. I realized what I wanted and I just wasn’t going to get there. So here I am, I just showed up to a town, bought a house, and I’m fired within three months of working as the CFO at a manufacturing plant. I realized my goals, my ambitions, the only way I’m going to reach that, everything I read, everything I learned — because I don’t come from a family of entrepreneurs. Everything, business ownership and starting your own company is the surest path to wealth.
Honestly, I’m not like Scrooge McDuck. I don’t dive in and love to play around with money. I do love checking my account balances and I love seeing it grow, but to me, money is a representation of freedom and I want the freedom to be able to easily travel the globe with my family. Like I said, my wife is European, so we’ve got to go back to Ukraine every year. We’re going to go back there actually to live this fall for a while and just raise the kids over there, get them to really get to know their family. I want the freedom that I don’t have to worry — I’ve had to worry about paying my mortgage and I never want to have to worry about that again. It’s not something I enjoy because there are bigger problems out there.
At some point, I’m going to get sick and I’m going to die. I don’t know when that’s going to happen, but I want my family prepared for it. Something is going to happen. I really hope nothing happens directly to my family, but we’ve had things just happen, and I want to be that rock in my family that whenever we need 5000 bucks for something, whenever we need 10,000 or something, it’s not a big deal. I can make it happen. And I’ve been really proud that I’ve been able to start doing that because that to me is where I’m making a difference and I’m adding value to my direct family, and that’s what drives me.
Simon: Right after you got fired, tell me about the first few years when you were growing and trying to make it work. Tell me about those times.
Antonio: Oh, it was tough, 80-hour weeks trying to figure it out, making lots of mistakes. Looking back, I was very hardheaded and I kept hitting my head against things and trying to make things work that weren’t going to work. I shut down my first business. It’s called A Tailored Suit. The website’s still there. It gets about a hundred thousand visitors still a month and I don’t really do anything with it. I guess it’s a lead magnet now and I’ve turned it into an information portal, but I discovered that I kept trying to push on a business model and instead of focusing on — I heard a great quote about bet on the horse that wins. Focus on in your business what works.
I realized I’m pretty good at content creation. I enjoy taking style and being able to figure out new ways to approach it like taking business school models or making style, breaking it out into formulas that make it really easy for a guy to understand, and guys like that. So I’m like okay, let’s do this in a manner — we played with infographics. We still do that and we get pretty good traffic there, but I found that video was my natural fit. John Dumas over at Entrepreneur on Fire, I was speaking with him. We were on another business together called High Speed Low Drag to help veterans and we were talking about this.
Some things are just an easy lift and you’re going to trip over a lot of things, but you’re going to find something that you do that you’re really good at and it’s easy for you to do. Don’t fight that. Just run with it. For him, it’s podcasting. For me, it’s video creation. I don’t mind getting in front of the camera. I film video. I feel I can speak pretty good on my feet and I can just make videos, and that right there has become one of the most profitable parts of my business, is the video creation.
Simon: I want to touch on a point which is a myth that a lot of people fall into after that we have to be perfect from the start. Antonio, even though you’re a natural with producing video content, it wasn’t easy for you, I assume.
Antonio: My first videos sucked. My first 50 videos sucked. If you look at some of my videos, I’m yellow. I think I’m green in some of my videos. It looks like I have jaundice in some of my videos, but you get better. Every single day, I’m trying to get better.
Right now, my good friend, Aaron Marino over at Alpha M Image Consulting, this guy, he’s got over almost two million subscribers. He’s just killing it on YouTube and he’s really pushed me to improve — and it’s tough because you see things that work but on the other hand, you want to stay true to your message and not, as I view it, sometimes sell your soul.
One thing he’s pointing out, you need to have better thumbnails and you need to have better titles. Sometimes I get so specific in what I’m talking about that honestly it applies to a very small segment of men and that’s why we wouldn’t get crazy views, but I started to learn that YouTube’s algorithm is looking for you to consistently hit really good. I’m like, well, can I deliver my message and be a little bit more — I had a guy the other day, unsubscribed, where he’s like, “You’re just putting out clickbait now.” I’m thinking about this. This guy has never bought a product from me. I obviously hurt his feelings because he wrote to me, but I looked under that video and it was like 98% thumbs up, 2% thumbs down, and I really gave my heart and soul in that video.
You know, some people are just not going to like you especially as you start to shift from where you started. You’re not doing this for random people that you’ll never meet on YouTube or out there on the web. You’ve got to have your why. You’ve got to have your definition and you just got to keep moving forward.
Simon: Yes. This really gives us hope for us regular people that we don’t have to be perfect from the start and it’s a learning process. Antonio, when you put out content and you don’t see the results you’re looking for, how do you know that something is worth your time and money and energy?
Antonio: All right. Well, I’ve only been in this, I’d like to think, for about eight years. You see it a long, long time and like, “Man, maybe he’s like a hundred years old.” I would say go back and look at what works. If your stuff isn’t working — understand that you’re throwing it out there in the market. First, you need to realize it’s probably something you’re doing. We have an ego. We want to believe we’re all special snowflakes. It is something that’s tough to swallow and I fail most of the time. Seven to eight out of ten projects I work on still fail, but what people seem to notice or what people pay attention to are the ones that do really well.
So fail fast, move on, have your numbers and don’t give up too quick especially if you believe in it. I’m always testing things and when I see something that works really well, I zero in on it and I try to get my team, and that’s been the hardest thing, is how to get my team to be a little bit more agile and to focus in on our winning projects. A great success we just had the other day, for the longest time, we had no Facebook group. We had Facebook pages and things. Okay, I opened up a Facebook group. It sat there for a year, three people, and finally I just announced it in a video in my email list. Within a week, 10,000 members in this Facebook group and I’m just like, holy cow!
So I’m kicking myself for not doing this sooner, but it was something we just tested. We’ve got now systems in place, but what I’m realizing, this is a great — I’m not monetizing it to its full potential, but I like Facebook groups because they get a lot more reach, I think, than Facebook pages. And what’s cool about these groups is that it’s just a deeper connection with your audience. Now, I’m posting videos there early so that people can give me feedback, but also because we get a lot of good indicators that give me feedback on infographics and images, which is helping my artists do their job better.
So getting back to the content creation, if you don’t see your stuff working then try something else. Experiment. Don’t beat your head against the wall. Your video production, if you’re putting videos out there and you put out a hundred videos and you’re still only getting ten views per video and you only have ten friends, why aren’t you promoting this to your mom? Why isn’t your mom passing this around?
A lot of people, they need to truly — do you really believe in what you’re talking about? Because a lot of people say, “Oh, I don’t want to share it with my family and friends or my personal network.” Well, you should believe in what you’re doing enough to be able to share with them because that’s where it’s all going to start.
Simon: Antonio, you’re in the men’s style industry, which is quite a unique niche or industry to be in. Why this one?
Antonio: Well, I fell into it and I saw an opportunity. I entered it as a mercenary. I just thought that I could go in and it just seemed a low-hanging fruit. I remember meeting a traveling tailor when I was at the University of Texas and this guy told me that he made half a million dollars working six months out of the year, so that was how I got into the fashion industry. After I lost my job at Texas, I thought this guy had a 4th Grade education out of India. I think I can do a little bit better than him and I can build this up. I didn’t know much about suits, so I taught myself. I didn’t have a degree in fashion or style. I just simply was self-taught, went out there, read a lot of books, a big believer in just educating yourself.
And the more I got into it, the more I realized it actually connects to everything, and that’s when I realized — you say my industry is specific, but the people I engage with, they have broad things that they’re into and that’s what I discovered, is that I’m able to capture and engage and build trust with somebody who buys all types of things. We just got a sponsor the other day, audible.com. You’ve heard of Audible, right? It’s an Amazon company. Why are they advertising with me? Because they realize, my audience, “He cares about style, but he also reads. He listens to audio books.” We’ve got insurance companies we’re speaking with. We’ve got car companies we’re speaking with because my people drive. My people buy insurance.
You realize that you can build an audience anywhere and realize that these people, it’s about trust and it’s about really delivering value, and then you can simply make recommendations. There are so many ways to monetize with this.
Simon: I hope you don’t mind, but I want to take a bit of a different approach now. There are a lot of new mediums coming and going, and there are a lot of business owners in the audience. What is something that’s really working for your business right now?
Antonio: I would say really grabbing people’s attention, headlines and thumbnails on video. That’s one thing I’m focused on this summer, is getting up the average view of my video. When you send out an email, a lot of times people spend a lot of time — we used to spend so much time focused in on the actual written content, which I’m not going to say is not important, but where I was missing the ball is nobody would read or less people would read my stuff because I didn’t grab their attention with the title.
And so, as unfair and as cruel as it sounds, you’ve got to think through the process of how people discover you and not be afraid. If you’ve really got a strong message, if you’ve got something great in this crowded world, find a way to break to the front and it doesn’t have to be a headline or a thumbnail. It could simply be that you actually go to a live, physical event to find those JV Partners for you to actually — we have a conference out in Atlanta called StyleCon, and me and Aaron Marino were partners and we run it together. People view us as competitors. I called the guy up in the day and we’re learning from each other.
The thing is we’re strengthened because we come together and we bring the rest of our competitors — a.k.a. competitors — to this conference and we all hang out together. We speak, we have a good time, and we really are trying to build up this industry, but I’m always amazed that people want to work with me but yet they’re not going to travel out to come out and meet with us. I think that if you can find that way to that partner or to that business or to that customer and really build that trust, which I always think in-person is best beyond that video, sending out multiple emails, build that trust.
Simon: Yeah. Those one-on-one relationships are so important and it seems like you have so many things going on, projects, businesses, and you still have time for everything and you do everything really well, Antonio. Tell me about your work ethics.
Antonio:Well, you need to condition yourself. It’s something that you can lose and you can gain. Sometimes I go through — right now, I feel I am out of my best or I’m not living up to what I need to. I used to be a little bit more disciplined, but honestly, I’m at a point in my business — I think it’s 50 Cent who talks about this in the book, The 50th Law. The most dangerous thing for a man and women in general — sorry, I target men so I usually talk to men directly — but the most dangerous thing is your mind going soft.
It’s really easy to happen especially when you start to see success in entrepreneurship. You start to have opportunities come to you. You start to make enough money that honestly you’re doing fine. Once you’re paying yourself a set amount, do you need to really make more? Everyone seems to be happy. I want to spend more time with my family and my kids. But then you also realize that you’re slowing down. I still have a lot of goals I want to achieve.
So I think it’s something that you need to be able to hone. Today, I’m actually interviewing two people for an accountability coach position and I simply want someone to help me get back to that high level, so you need to condition yourself. You need to train yourself. And you need to, if need be, call in someone to help hold you. It’s not about you just being mentally strong. It’s like a glass of water, your mental capacity. You only have so much in a day and once you drink that glass of water, you’re done for the day. And if you spend that time early on again doing things that don’t matter — so make sure you’ve got that “do not do” list. If you’re spending your most important time on that, you’re losing all your willpower, and yeah, it’s something you need to train on.
Simon: So when you’re getting yourself an accountability partner, what does this job description read and what kind of skills are you looking for?
Antonio: You know, I threw it out there. I put it in one of my videos. I’ve got 200 applications in a period of about two days, so I was a bit overwhelmed, but again, I had great assistants that helped me weed through and I only had to look at the top 20% and I quickly look through them. I’m looking for someone that has a track record. You can’t predict the future based off the past, but I can see if somebody already is writing and blogging about this, the guy that I’m probably going to go with, he already has been developing a course and he’s written about productivity and accountability for ten years.
I have a feeling if he’s done this for ten years, he can work with me for ten months and he’s probably going to stick to it versus when somebody comes in and just tells you what they’re going to do. That’s good, but that’s not as good as someone that you can see what they’ve done. And then when somebody comes in to a busy person and simply says, “Hey, can you tell me more?” I don’t have time for that. Those are the worst ones, or if somebody came in and said — because I did offer a thousand bucks to anyone — I’m going to pay them straight upfront. That was the title of my video, was how to make a thousand bucks in a week, and I talk about you get a job from someone and you get them to pay upfront. That’s a very easy way to make an extra thousand bucks quickly. Now, you’ve got to deliver things.
And so, I am taking a risk on that, but again, I can see the guy’s track record. I can see he’s already developing a course. Why would he risk his reputation of ten years for a thousand dollars? So all those things go into my mind when I’m making my decision, but the worst thing, you know when someone comes in and — as entrepreneurs, this drives us nuts when someone says, “Hey, I need a job. Can you give me one?” Don’t do that if you’re ever out looking for a job.
Simon: So what’s the plan long-term? If you get yourself a partner, will he or she check in on you once a week or Skype? Tell me more about that.
Antonio: Well, I don’t want it to be like an app. I don’t want it to just be emails because honestly, I ignore emails. I don’t have time for more emails. You’re going in the wrong path. Now, we need to have a Skype call or a phone call. And so many people are afraid, again, to meet people in person. People just don’t like getting on the phone nowadays, but you know what? That’s a very valid form of communication especially — if someone in your family, Simon, were to pass away, how do you want to get that, text or phone call?
Simon: Well, I guess in person would be the best.
Antonio: And preferably in person, yeah. Whenever someone would die in the military, we would send soldiers or Marines or sailors directly to their door with the chaplain. If that’s the way you really want to emotionally — if you’ve got a real strong message, why aren’t you using that channel? Yes, it takes a lot more resource, but you know what? It has a lot more effect.
Simon: It seems like mentors have played a huge role in your life. Antonio, what is the right time to hire yourself a mentor?
Antonio: You’ve got to have tasted some success because otherwise, you’re going to waste their time. You need to be putting the time and the effort to be able to ask the right questions because if you’re asking bad questions, you’re going to get either a mentor that — and not all mentors are good. If you want a good mentor, you’re going to have to rise up to his level. A good coach is expensive because they’re a good coach and they simply have a lot of demand.
Now, there are diamonds out there that you can find, but I would say first, you have to put in time and effort. I don’t know what that is for somebody. For somebody relatively young, maybe who’s 18 and just starting off, maybe you put in two to three years of hard work at 70 hours a week. If you’re in college, you actually have access to a lot of mentors there, but be careful. There are a lot of charlatans there as well. If you are in your mid-20s or in your early 30s, at this point, you’ve got less time, or if you’re in your 40s or 50s you’ve got less time, so this may be worth it, but you also have oftentimes more resources.
So at that point, this is something I think that you need to spend resource or money on because you want it to be somewhat painful. You want it to be something that you — because if it’s not, you’re going to take it for granted. You’re not going to show up always prepared. Whenever I’m hiring a coach or someone, I’m paying 500 bucks an hour. At that rate, they better deliver the goods and I’m going to show up on time and ask good questions.
Simon: It’s been so great talking to you, Antonio. I want to wrap today’s talk on the topic of happiness. What brings you joy and really makes you happy in this life?
Antonio: There are some very simple things, accomplishing what I set out to accomplish. I think a lot of entrepreneurs don’t do this. They look at what they didn’t accomplish at the end of the day versus celebrating the small things, the small wins. I’m really happy when I have a nice cup of coffee in the morning, so that sometimes is enough to get me motivated to wake up. I give myself a really nice coffee with whipped cream on top.
I’m building a playhouse with my son and it feels good to see him taking everything that I’ve — he’s going to be 12 years old soon. And to see him not only build this playhouse but having woke up early and followed his checklist of putting away the dishes, getting out the trash and all these things, that brings me joy.
I’m a pretty simple guy and I find that if you keep your tastes simple, you’re going to be happy with things. I do enjoy really cool things. Flying first class on Virgin Airlines, that’s pretty darn awesome. This week, I’m going to be going with a bunch of buddies out in Tennessee and we’re going to be driving Ferraris and all this other stuff. That’s cool, but my life will be fine without that stuff.
If you keep your tastes simple and you keep your joys, you realize the best things in life are free. The second best things in life, they’re pretty darn expensive. I just focus on the best things and I really hope that entrepreneurs and business owners and anyone going down this journey remember that. I see too many entrepreneurs destroy their personal life because they’re focused on the wrong ball.
Simon: Great piece of advice, Antonio. What’s the best way to find your line and connect with you?
Antonio: I’ve got a contact form at Real Men Real Style, which I think Cal Newport wrote about in Deep Work and I always like people to go through that because they get to see how I have a bit of fun and humor to get people when they reach through me and they have to jump through a few hoops, nothing crazy, but that’s probably the best way.
Simon: Thank you so much for coming in and sharing your journey with us, Antonio.
Antonio: You’re welcome, Simon. Good talking with you.
Voiceover: Thank you for listening to Entrepreneur Decoded. For killer resources and free content, go to entrepreneurdecoded.com.
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