We’re so excited to have Brian Leung, a serial entrepreneur and owner operator of SwiftAds.io join us on today’s episode. Seeing his father and uncle struggle to find success in their own entrepreneurial journeys inspired Brian’s mission to help small businesses grow through improving or starting their online advertising.
“My uncle was very successful … but still unable to grow their businesses because they weren’t able to tap into … good marketing understanding … I'm on a mission to change that because it's kind of cathartic for me to help … the little boy in me that couldn't help my dad or my uncle can now go out and help other people with what I know now."
We’re chatting about rock climbing, entrepreneurial misadventure, the benefits of mentorship, grounding yourself, and challenging business owners, marketers to build a digital storefront.I take a lot of risks when it comes to business. A lot of calculated risk that you can see in my hobbies. I love rock climbing. I have this strange relationship with fear of heights. There are moments where I'm deathly afraid of heights, especially, when you're 50, 60 feet off the ground. You look down and think. “This is kind of scary.”
Then there are moments where I'm just sitting, hanging on the rope and just loving every moment of it. There’s a direct correlation with being a business owner or entrepreneur.
Nicole Donnelly: I think as entrepreneurs sometimes we're gluttons for punishment. You have to embrace the discomfort and the uncertainty. It’s such a beautiful push and pull, if you will.
I think something that is the foundation of my entrepreneurial spirit is growing up, we weren't very well off. What my sister and I thought was normal was just us being dirt poor. My parents were first generation immigrants. They had no education growing up. They had to pick up odd jobs. The only way for them to break out of that cycle was to start their own business.
My father starting businesses, failing, starting again, et cetera, all of that kind of inspired me to understand how one can succeed given our circumstances. To be quite honest, when I was younger, I was just very motivated by making more money and being able to provide financially for my parents.
Nicole Donnelly: I love that you're keeping that legacy alive.
I worked with a few of my friends that were still in school for filmmaking. I knew how difficult it was to break into the filmmaking industry. As artists and students, they were in a position where there was no capital for them to start their projects. I graduated during the financial crisis, but I was fortunate enough to be hired right out of school which put me in a better position than a lot of my peers. So I decided to help my friends and fund some of the projects.
When you're young, you feel invincible. You feel like you know everything and we were gungho. We're gonna break down all the barriers. Carve our own path. Then reality hit us.
Our first, most successful project was a dating advice show on YouTube, in 2010, before any type of scripted shows were popular on the platform. We lacked timing, experience, and an understanding of the amount of grits and commitment it takes to keep a project like it going.
Bills had to be paid. Some of the talents moved on to different projects that paid more. Life just got busier for a few of us and the project just fell to the wayside.
The biggest thing I learned is nothing replaces experience in any field. It was a very hard lesson to learn. Quite rightly, it put me on a path of more humility and learning. If I were to do it again, I would probably hire a mentor that had way more experience than me. Someone who is a steady hand, a veteran or an expert in the space to guide me, guide the ship would have made an entire world of difference.
My second venture was also film adjacent, but more within the marketing sphere. I joined a team to market a documentary but I was really, really bad at networking and maintaining those relationships. At the time, I was fortunate enough to connect with a lot of founders but didn’t stay in touch with them because of my introversion and overconfident attitude that I can do this by myself.
As entrepreneurs you trust your gut, your instincts a lot - which involves a lot of confidence. But you should also be humble and willing to listen to people to help balance out the risk aspect. I do a better job now because my amazing wife, she's amazing. She is that type of networking person and has helped to build and maintain relationships.
Nicole Donnelly: It sounds like your wife has really taught you a lot. She's been a mentor for you.
She’s an absolute rock in my corner and my best supporter. The first one to point out my flaws and she keeps me grounded.
How are you leveraging the systems in place, on the internet, to grow your business? You can’t afford slow growth. You need to work yourself into the system that is set out for you.
In the past, before the internet, you would rely on a good storefront, making sure you were listed in phone books, and disperse flyers. Now that storefront has shifted onto the internet. It becomes necessary to appear on Google search, making sure you take advantage of all the other directories as well.It can be encompassed into the broad category of SEO. I tell everyone it's never too early and it's never too late to start SEO. So if you haven't started, start today!
But let's say you don’t find a good, digital storefront. Maybe you are tucked away in a different corner of the city. In the past, you might have hired a sign flipper to stand on the business corner. Or you might buy a billboard. The digital equivalence of hiring a sign flipper is running Google Ads.
SEO and running Google Ads are the main main ways you can market your business nowadays. And it's the most accessible. You can't just redesign the website.
Nicole Donnelly: And very scrappy. If you're a sign flipper on a street corner, you're trying to capture people that may not even be thinking that they need what you're offering. So you might not even have a captive audience of people who are really intentful about what they're looking for. With Google Ads, you're literally putting yourself in front of people who are searching for exactly what it is that you are offering to them.
I think a lot of people are scared of the idea of losing everything they have. If you set up your business correctly, there shouldn't be a mistake so egregious you would literally die. There are some but very few.
If you think about rock climbing, an accident can kill you. That's true. But then an accident can kill you basically in everything you do in your life. So as entrepreneurs or business owners, you kind of need to rationalize the risk in a way you control the risk. When you go and take a calculated risk, you control what you can control and just let go of the things that you can't control.
The way I rationalize my risk is by looking to my parents. They came to Canada with a hundred American dollars in their pocket and whatever they had in their suitcases. They were basically refugees. If they're able to get to where they are now with that little, whatever happens, I know I can build from zero again. No problem.
This frames everything for me in terms of the risk I'm willing to take. Even if everything goes to zero, I'm okay. We'll just start from scratch. Kudos to my wife. She's with me. So for people who are taking risk and sort of scared about mistakes, frame the risk in a way that allows you to still go out there.
Nicole Donnelly: What tenacity and moxie they had, frankly. If they can do it, I can do it. Right? That's how I feel with my father, my grandfather. I look at their example, if they could grow a business and they could pick themselves up when they fall down, then I can do it too.
The best place to find me is on SwiftAds.io and they can try it out. It automates your advertising from creating it to monitoring and optimizing it. If you're not ready for ads, we also have a free directory listing which helps business owners boost their SEO.
Nicole Donnelly: Make sure you connect with Brian. He's just doing such great work for small businesses, helping them with their digital storefronts.
Thank you to Brian Leung for his appearance on Tales of Misadventure.
Looking for more resources on growing your small business? Check out the DMG Digital Learning Center and blog for insights articles.
ABOUT BRIAN LEUNG
Brian is a serial entrepreneur and owner/operator of SwiftAds and Treebud. SwiftAds was created to help advertisers 10x their revenue by automating ad creation, campaign monitoring, and optimization. Treebud Media is a full-service digital marketing agency.
Brian's on a mission to reach and help 1,000 small businesses improve or start their online advertising so more people can discover their businesses and ultimately, experience growth.