Around 17 years ago, James had hit rock bottom – beaten down by life, with shattered self-esteem. His addictions had resulted in jail time. He was financially, emotionally, and spiritually bankrupt. At the lowest point in his life, he met his future wife and business partner, Steph, and together they pursued a vision of becoming more.
Along their journey of personal growth and self-improvement, James and Steph saw an opportunity to disrupt an industry that ironically appeared to be perpetually stuck in the dark ages – the personal development industry. As a rag to riches, a non-formally educated, successful tech founder with a serious interest in philosophy, James recognized the uniqueness of his position to disrupt the personal development industry for the better.
Together, James and Steph felt an urgency to pursue their life mission to inspire individuals to tap into their unlimited potential and push humanity forward through a personalized combination of philosophy, science, technology, and community. They agreed it was time to launch their next venture, Powerful U, The World’s First Personal Evolution Company. James and Steph and their team have published a book, produced an award-winning movie, developed a game-changing personal perception assessment, and launched the Powerful Universe, a global platform for teaching and learning personal evolution. James has built strong international partnerships and an influencer network that already reaches over 50 million followers. Onstage and on camera, James is compelling, authentic, riveting and has enriched audiences around the world.
StarCentral magazine recently caught up with James to discuss his journey to entrepreneurship and here’s what went down:
Could you please tell our readers a brief background about yourself and how you started your business?
Only two years removed from solitary confinement in jail, I began my journey into the tech world. In 2007, I took a chance on a small construction software start-up called PlanSwift. I quickly ascended to Vice President of Sales and then, a year later, took over as President and became an equity partner in the company. Under my leadership, PlanSwift grew from $8,000 a month in volume to over $1,000,000 a month in volume and over 50,000 customers in 24 countries, becoming one of the most well-known and largest technology companies in the construction industry.
In 2013, I lead the M & A process to sell PlanSwift to a firm outside of Chicago called Textura. Shortly after joining Textura, I helped the company go public. Over the next few years, I ran four different business units at Textura and played an instrumental role in facilitating a $650 million exit of Textura to Oracle. I spent six months working as a Vice President at Oracle before negotiating the purchase of my original business, PlanSwift, back from Oracle. Again at the helm of PlanSwift, I quickly led the company to generate sufficient revenue to repay the purchasing costs, positioning PlanSwift as an attractive acquisition target. With PlanSwift firmly established, I negotiated a lucrative sale to a large competitor, allowing me to exit and pursue my dream of creating the world’s first personal evolution company.
Can you describe your journey to success? When did you start? Did you ever imagine you would become this successful?
I started my journey to success in a jail cell, solitary confinement as a matter of fact. As I was standing there envisioning what I would make of myself when I got out every night I would yell as loud as I could that I would make the greatest comeback of all time. So yes, I imagined it but believing it took a while.
What is your main source of income?
After selling my technology company, I made some fairly strategic investments, one of which was a large commercial real estate office which is currently my largest source of income.
What are you currently doing to maintain/grow your business?
Our business is a little different than most peoples. In an attempt to start a grassroots movement in the personal development space, we’ve spent a lot of time and money to build platforms and services to reach people at scale by facilitating access regardless of their social-economic status. Most of our focus to this point has been geared around impact, not revenue. We believe that by focusing on impact first, generating massive amounts of revenue will be a natural byproduct of the massive impact we create in the world.
What social media platforms do you usually use to increase your brand’s awareness?
Mostly Facebook and to a lesser degree Instagram. We believe Facebook still has the largest reach and impact for the population at large.
What is your experience with paid advertising, like PPC or sponsored content campaigns? Does it work?
In my original technology company, we did massive amounts of paid advertising campaigns but success in that area is always dictated by having a substantial number of people already searching and looking for your products. Another key piece is having a price point associated with your product that supports that type of advertising model. Lower cost viral type initiatives do not work without massive amounts of investment money to fund those types of companies in the early stages of their development.
What is your main tactic when it comes to making more people aware of your brand and engaging your customers? How did your business stand out?
To this point, in our new business, we don’t have one because we are just now starting to take our products and services to the market. In the early stages, it’s important to try all of the different tactics to see which ones resonate with your potential customer base.
What form of marketing has worked well for your business throughout the years?
In a business to business software technology with an established market, Google ad words seem to be the most effective. In the early stages of this new business which is direct to consumers, it’s looking like social media marketing is more effective.
How did your brand stand out from the rest of the other brands out there that is similar to your niche?
We strive to have the best quality products and services that are based on solid scientific principles at the most affordable price.
What is the toughest decision you had to make in the last few months?
In every business that I’ve ever been involved in, there is a point in time that tests your conviction about what you are doing to the ultimate test, and very often it is the difference between success and failure. When you can stand and make a commitment to put it all on the line or more than you ever thought, that is the true test of an entrepreneur. With my new business, that test has come in the last few months as it related to continuing the business in lieu of what is going on in the world with the pandemic.
What money mistakes have you made along the way that others can learn from (or something you’d do differently)?
Do not put all of your assets into things that cannot be liquidated easily in an economic downturn. The worst thing that can happen is something like a pandemic that comes along where you find yourself in a cash shortfall even though you have plenty of money tied up in different things like real estate projects.
What have you learned in the process of becoming wealthy that others can learn from?
Accumulating wealth is never about doing, it is only ever about becoming which is why so many start-ups end up firing the original founders. They focused all of their attention on what they needed to do rather than what they needed to become and their own businesses quickly outgrew them. The thing you need to know is that your business can never grow faster than you do and if it does you will no longer be a part of it.
What new business would you love to start?
I could tell you but I would have to kill you! No, good entrepreneur give their secrets away. Just kidding! I am already running the business that I have always wanted to start.
If you could go back in a time machine to the time when you were just getting started, what would you do differently?
Put simply, enjoy the journey more.
If you could go back in a time machine to the time when you were first making a name for yourself, what advice would you give yourself?
A simple understanding that not everybody is going to like you.
Do you have any favourite business-related or personal development related books that you can recommend to other entrepreneurs?
Its called “Perception: Seeing is Not Believing” by James & Steph Purpura. Outside of the book my wife and I wrote sharing all of the information we wish we had before learning the hard way, the “Optimal Leader” by Mark Hattas is also fantastic!
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
Success and all of the wonderful things in life were only ever about being of service to others. The way to get what you want is by helping others get what they want.
What advice would you give to a newbie Entrepreneur setting up their first business?
Fail early and fail fast. Don’t be afraid to fail.