Today I'm sharing the interview with one of my favorite entrepreneurs, Lane Nemeth. Her story is so rich and full of amazing events, I hope you enjoy it almost half as much as I do.
Millionaire Success Story Lane Nemeth
Founder, former CEO, Discovery Toys
Married, one daughter
Bachelor’s in English Literature, Master’s in Education
I met Lane through a series of people, the last being Laura Udall.
After obtaining her education, Lane was managing multiple day care units and therefore had experience with educational toys.
You wanted to buy some great educational products for your daughter Tara and you couldn’t find them anywhere?
They were only available if you were a teacher and could go through a teacher supply house with a purchase order. I couldn’t do that so it became very complicated.
B:You asked them if you could pay with a personal check and they still said no?
Yes, that’s when I got mad. They said they couldn’t sell it to me. It was a state funded institution through California and the state said I couldn’t piggyback on the purchase order with my own check. I lost my temper.
B:You’re an emotional and passionate person, is that right?
B:You got mad and that anger caused you to find a solution.
Correct. I wasn’t just not going to take care of Tara. She was way too important to me.
B:You said in a previous interview the only thing an entrepreneur hates to hear is “no.”
B:So you just went to work?
B:You scraped together $5,000 from friends and family?
My grandmother gave me $5,000.
B:Where did you go to buy the toys?
The first thing I did was write every toy manufacturer I could learn about through Thomas Register [a list of all the manufacturers in the U.S.], thinking that they were going to be so excited to hear my great idea.
I got three responses; one was for basketball nets. It was a joke. I didn’t know what to do. It wasn’t where I needed to go. Then I found out about a wholesale toy show in Los Angeles. I don’t know how I heard about it; I absolutely cannot remember that.
[Prior to hearing about the show] I taught in Pittsburgh, an inner-city environment. Their philosophies and my philosophies were extraordinarily different and I began to think I was going a little crazy, so I went back to the junior college to take some early childhood classes to reassure myself that I knew what I was doing.
One of the teachers [there] became my best friend and mentor. When I thought about going to this meeting in Los Angeles, I couldn’t in my wildest dreams visualize going by myself. I asked her if she wanted to come with me and have some fun. She said yes; otherwise I don’t know that I would be in business because I don’t think I would have gone by myself.
B:Doesn’t it seem that there are small decision points that turn big levers?
Yes, and you wonder whether they’re coincidence or meant to be. Who knows these things?
B:With the benefit of hindsight they worked out, but in the moment you just don’t recognize it, right?
Oh, no, of course not. I just was thrilled that she said yes, because I didn’t really have any big plan in mind. I was just kind of exploring the whole thought process. I didn’t know how to run a business. I was thinking I would open an educational toy store, but I hadn’t really gone that far yet. I was looking at properties and learning about signing leases; I didn’t know what I was doing at all. I knew if I was going to do any of it I had to get product.
We went down to this show and as is typical of the toy world, most of it was nothing that I was interested in. There were a couple of manufacturers from Europe that were exactly what I was looking for and gave me hope that this idea wasn’t completely stupid and that maybe I could find enough products to put a line together.
[Before going to the show] I was in the process of thinking about signing this lease and I was telling my dad all about my great idea. I was going to open a store and every half hour I was going to run different seminars, because all I really know how to do is teach. I was going to teach parents how to use educational toys because I understood they didn’t know.
My father is the most positive man ever and was my guiding light in my life. He was always very encouraging with things like, “You can do anything you want,” but when I told him my idea he said, “That’s the worst idea I ever heard.”
I was so devastated because he never said “no” to me.
He said, “You’ve got too much energy to sit in a store and wait for people to come to you. Think how to market it.”
I’m looking at him like, “What do you mean market it?” My husband was sitting in the same meeting and said, “Honey, why don’t you try it like Tupperware?”
Well, when you know nothing about nothing, you’re not scared. I had absolutely no preconceived notions of anything so that seemed as good a way to do it as any. What did I know? I had never been to a Tupperware party, but I did know what their thought process was; I thought I did anyway.
I called a bunch of friends and said, “I have this great idea for educational toys. Would you be willing to host a party so you could show your friends?” Everybody was very receptive and very willing to be helpful. I did a bunch of parties and a lot of people liked what I had to offer. We had some real sales.
Then I couldn’t deliver anything because it was late in the season. By then it was almost December and the educational supply houses don’t keep a lot of inventory on hand. They don’t need to because schools are willing to wait a reasonably long time to get stuff.
I wasn’t off to the best start in the world, but it didn’t really bother me that much because the whole thing was just one big experiment. It wasn’t a joke, but I wasn’t terribly serious. I was just playing with this whole thing. I did think that there was enough interest and response that it sounded like a really good idea.
I decided to see if I could get serious. After that is when I went down to the toy show and then I realized if I’m going to buy stuff at wholesale, surprise, surprise, I have to pay for it. How am I going to do that? That’s when I borrowed money from my grandmother, the $5,000, to get just a little bit of stuff I could put in my garage.
I was very lucky because my grandmother believed in me. We started with $5,000 and very quickly started selling way more than that and the $5,000 wasn’t going to keep me. I was extraordinarily lucky that I had a brother-in-law who made his own money and was willing to lend me $50,000.
I had to make some projections about how much inventory I should buy. How do you know that? I stuck a finger in the air and said, “What’s the biggest amount of money I could possibly sell and be very successful?” I came up with the figure $100,000. I have no idea why. That just sounded to me like huge success if I could do that.
There is a thing in the industry called “dating.” If you buy X amount by say, June, you don’t have to pay until December, so the $50,000 was able to stretch. We ended up our first year having sold $250,000.
It was a nightmare. I had absolutely no idea how to project inventory. I kept running out of everything. I was delivering a quarter of what was ordered. It was not fun. It was just hard.
I spent December writing letters to people who had ordered stuff apologizing that I couldn’t send it to them and I understood this was a Christmas gift and I was really sorry and I won’t let it happen again next year. I sent them a little something as an apology gift. Most people were pretty cooperative. I didn’t get a lot of hostility back.
Then I had to get through my second year and I thought, “How much should I project? How do you do this?” We didn’t have computers in those days; we didn’t have anything. It was a nightmare. Being the crazed human being that I am, I said, “I think next year I can sell a million dollars.”
Most businesses don’t quadruple in a year, but that’s what I thought I should be able to do.
Between the little bit of profit that we were making and the dating, I was able to buy enough inventory to not be in quite such a mess that time. We sold almost a million dollars that year – $900,000.
It was a very successful idea because nobody had heard of educational toys before. It was still the era of the stay-at-home mom who had time to play with her kids, so it was just the right time and the right place.
The end of that year I was so proud of myself because I was so successful. A friend of mine walked into my warehouse in January and said, “It strikes me that you have too much inventory on your shelf for a toy company in January.”
I said, “Oh, don’t be ridiculous. I did so well, I’m so successful.”
He said, “I don’t know, just a gut feeling.”
What I hadn’t done yet was pay all those dating bills. I had no way of understanding what my cash flow was; I wouldn’t have known how to make that judgment. I just didn’t know anything.
Once I paid all my bills, I was $100,000 short. I couldn’t pay my manufacturers. That was really scary. I called everyone who I owed money to and said, “I’m in a horrible position. We sold almost a million dollars this year, but I ran out of cash without realizing it. I will find a way to pay you, just please stick with me, don’t throw me into bankruptcy. Just let me see what I can figure out.”
Pretty much everybody said, “Because you called, we really appreciate that, and we’ll hang in with you for a while.”
Then I found out about a factoring outfit–I don’t even know if those guys still exist–where I could borrow money at 27 percent interest. This was the days when interest was probably 18 percent or so.
I borrowed this money, not having the foggiest notion that there was no way that I could pay that kind of interest. On top of that, they charged me $500 a month to secure my warehouse, which meant they put a notice on it that said my inventory belonged to them.
It was very rapidly deteriorating to the point where I was going to go out of business. I didn’t see any other options; the banks wouldn’t talk to me, they just laughed. It was very scary and very tough. Then the phone rang. The voice at the other end said, “My name is Phil. I’m a venture capitalist,” which I didn’t know what the heck that was, “we’re interested in investing in your business. Are you looking for an investor?”
I practically dropped the phone. I was virtually going out of business. I had no way of keeping myself alive and here’s this guy saying he wants to invest and it was like, “Yes.” It wasn’t very hard to figure that one out.
I was so incredibly naïve. This guy came out to meet me. His wife had gone to a toy party and told him that this was the hottest thing going and he had to invest in it. That’s how he found out about me. He asked for my financial statements. I had turned all my books over to an accountant because I was incompetent. I didn’t know what the financial statements said. I couldn’t read them, I just got them.
I gave them to him and he was very readily able to see that I was out of business. He saw it more clearly than I saw it. He danced around with me for a couple of months until the point where we were down to zero cash. He had said during those couple of months that traditionally they give businesses like mine $100,000–magic figure, because that’s what I needed to pay back these factoring guys–for 10 percent of the business. I was thinking maybe I could talk him into eight percent or something.
The day came when I was flat out bankrupt and he said, “Here’s the proposal. We will give you $100,000 for 20 percent of the business and we will take a management fee of $10,000,” so in effect I was only getting $90,000.
I said, “Wait a minute, you said all along that it was going to be 10 percent.”
He responded, “If you were naïve enough to believe that, it’s not my problem.”
I said, “Naïve enough to believe that? If you’re that much of a liar and a cheat, you’d be the last person on earth I would want to do anything with,” and I stalked out of his office. The problem was I could stalk out all I wanted, I was out of business.
I thought about it for a couple days and decided which was worse, going out of business or working with him? So I called him up and said, “Phil, I really don’t like you and I don’t trust you, but you and I both know that I’m in real trouble and I have no choice but to take your offer. But I don’t want you to be on my board.” Why I thought I had alternatives around this, I don’t know.
He said, “OK. We’ll put somebody on your board that I think you’ll really like.”
He wrote a contract, but instead of the typical warrants and demands and all that stuff that they usually ask for, he wrote a very simple one page, “We’ll give her $100,000 for 20 percent of the company.” That was basically it; no out, no nothing. His thought process was, “In two seconds she’s going to need more money and then we’ll own the company so I don’t have to go through this enormous contractual procedure with this angry lady now because we’re going to own her anyway.”
My thought process was, “I will never take another dime from this man as long as live, I’d rather go out of business.” I was so mad.
[Phil’s company] helped us go through the SBA [Small Business Administration] process to get a line of credit, which the SBA had not done to that point; they’d only done long-term loans. They also introduced me to Bank of America.
Six months went by and we were literally out of business again. I didn’t have another dime to meet payroll. The SBA line of credit still hadn’t come through. I went to the bank with my board member and said, “You can’t do this. You’re putting me out of business.”
He said, “I’m really sorry, but the SBA is really slow and there’s nothing I can do without their permission. I cannot give you this loan.”
I said, “I’m not leaving your bank. I will sit here and call the media and you can call the police and the media can show you taking a woman entrepreneur out of your business in handcuffs because I’m not leaving without this loan. If I do, I’m out of business.”
The guy thought I was just being silly, but I meant it. I did not leave his conference room.
It wasn’t fair. We had done really well. It was our third year and we were around $2.5 million in sales and I knew I had a really big success on my hands. I just flat out wasn’t going to let it go under because of bureaucracy. At the end of the day, he came into the conference room and said, “Are you a Catholic?”
I said, “No, I’m Jewish, why?”
He said, “I’m going to light a candle and say a prayer because I’m going to give you this loan and if the auditors come in before SBA does, I could lose my job. I really believe in what you’re doing and I believe the SBA will approve this loan, so I’m going to go ahead and give it to you.”
It was a miracle. I’ve had a lot of miracles happen in the time I was in business; this was one of them. We were able to keep going without having to get more venture money. From then on, I lived the entire 20 years underfunded because I never took another penny from anybody except bank loans, which is no way to survive because you’re under-capitalized.
We lived on retained earnings, which were never that high, but I meant that I would rather go out of business than deal with a venture capitalist again.
Our next major tragedy came at the end of 1982. We hit $10 million. Phil and I had made peace and he said, “Ten million dollars is where entrepreneurs fail because they don’t know how to take it from that to the next level. You’re a typical entrepreneur, you have had no business experience, you really need a CEO. You should continue to work with the product and the field.”
I was so exhausted. You can imagine what it’s been like, and I had a young child. Plus, it was very obvious the massive changes that were happening in the business. We were going from a non-professional to a professional organization that needed a warehouse manager that knew what he was doing, it needed a CFO; it needed a lot. It was obvious to me that I was in over my head as well.
I let my entire executive team go and got a new one. It was a very painful thing to do because these were people who had started with me.
We hired a CEO who turned out to be an alcoholic, among other things. Our October financial statements, which by then I understood how to read, showed a $400,000 loss, which there shouldn’t have been. He had a really good story for everything. I chose to believe him. I just didn’t want to know anything different. The thought of having more trouble was more than I could handle.
November 11th I got my financial statements and we were $800,000 in the hole. Bank of America called on the 12th and said, “We’re pulling out. We’re not going to fund you anymore.” I was virtually bankrupt and at the same time our computer system crashed; it could not handle the volume we were putting through it and the company wouldn’t come out and fix it.
I went home and it felt like I had been in a severe car accident. I just went to sleep. I didn’t even take care of my child. I woke up the next morning and lay there thinking, “If Tara was in intensive care in the hospital, I wouldn’t be sitting here feeling sorry for myself and worrying about what to do. I’d be in the hospital yelling at doctors and finding a way to make sure she could stay alive. So what am I doing in bed?”
I put on my one business suit and put in my contact lenses – I decided I had to look as professional as I could look. I pulled my executive team together and said, “Here’s the reality of the situation: I don’t know if we’re going to be here in January, but between now and then let’s see what we can cut in the way of expenses. I’m going to fire our CEO. I’m going to get a CFO in here from our accounting firm to get some temporary help and figure out what happened and where we go.”
I got a temporary CFO in and at the same time I threatened the computer company with a $40 million lawsuit. They came out and helped us limp through the rest of the year, but by then we were so far behind that we didn’t deliver any December toys. It was a nightmare.
Jim, the new CFO said, “I’ll see you through until the next couple weeks. We’ll see if we can figure out what’s going on and maybe we can talk to a bank.”
He found fraud and helped us get bank financing. After getting the financing, Jim was planning to quit. I said, “You absolutely can’t quit. I will be lost. You’re like my white knight.”
He said, “Alright, I’ll see you through until tax time.” [He ended up staying longer.]
We overcame the computer challenges, including someone having a nervous breakdown, by building a new system. Jim headed up that project and literally turned the company around with it.
Then came December the next year. Everything was up and running, we had a great year, and Jim had a heart attack and died. At that moment I almost gave up. I was very close to saying, “I can’t do this anymore.”
The good news was that in 1984 I had hired a new operations vice president, Mike, who became my partner, and COO, for the next 10 years.
Mike was an absolute genius and we were a marriage made in heaven. I’m the creative/sales/marketing side, he was the operations/finance side and we did brilliantly together. We had a great CFO from then on. The company hummed along and then Mike developed cancer and died at the age of 45.
That was a blow I no longer could tolerate. I went into a mild clinical depression and didn’t know it. I felt so tired and frustrated and lonely.
AVON had tried a number of times over the years to buy the company and in 1997 they re-approached me. They said, “You’ll run the United States and Canada, all we need is your product and your understanding of party planning because we don’t know anything about that, and we’ll take over the international business and you’ll make money on it.”
It was the right time because I was so exhausted and it was so exciting to think that I could do all this international business without having to be the one who did it. They bought Discovery Toys and we had a really good relationship for about 15 months.
We were in the process of doing all the legal work for Brazil and I was going to New York because Jim, the CEO of Avon whom I loved, wanted to meet some new regional managers I had hired. We met in the afternoon and he was going to have dinner with us [that night]. He said to me, “I can’t meet you for dinner.”
The hair stood up on the back of my neck and I thought something’s wrong; it’s just not his style.
I said, “What’s the problem?”
He said, “I have a conflict, but I’ll join you guys for a drink.”
He asked me to come by the office the next morning. I had a flight out, but you don’t say no, so I changed my flight. I had that same feeling that night that a truck was about to run me over. Everything in my body said something massively wrong was about to happen. I had no idea what it was; I just knew I was in big trouble.
I walked into his office the next morning and he said, “Lane, I don’t know how to say this to you, but we had a board meeting last night and I’m no longer with AVON. The new CEO is from Duracell Batteries and he doesn’t think that AVON should have a toy company so we’re going to sell Discovery Toys.”
I just looked at him. I had no response. Me, who talks, just sat there. I cried the whole way home on the plane. I thought, “This is one too many. I cannot do this anymore.”
They asked me if I was interested in buying it back. I didn’t have it in me; I couldn’t take another blow.
They sold it to a private investment firm and I consulted with them for a little while. It was not a good relationship so I ended up leaving the company completely.
At that point I had a nervous breakdown, literally. A complete breakdown and went into a massive clinical depression where I couldn’t leave the house for a year. I was really black; I was suicidal. It was just awful. One day I was the head of Discovery Toys and we were going international and the next day I’m not part of it? I didn’t know who I was, I didn’t know what happened to me. My second-born child had been taken away. It was a very bad nightmare and it took me years to recover.
One day during this time Tara came home with a little three-pound King Charles Cavalier Spaniel and I thought, “He’s so cute.” My dogs were 110 pounds and 50 pounds, big guys, and here’s this little, tiny, stuffed animal thing. I said, “Oh, honey, we’ve got to go shopping for the puppy.”
I didn’t remember what puppies needed because my guys were 10 and 12-years-old. We went to all the big box stores and one of the local boutiques and came home with nothing because nobody could tell us what puppies needed; nobody cared. I came home very discouraged, very upset, and very sad.
Tara brought home the puppy again and I was re-motivated. I happened to be back with Discovery Toys on a very part-time basis and was flying over to Hong Kong with my long-time friend and toy developer in Discovery Toys.
On the plane we had nothing but time and I said, “I have this notion that dogs have about the intelligence of a two-year-old. Everything goes in their mouths. They learn everything by touching, by tasting, they have very short attention spans, they need a tremendous amount of attention, and they need training. They just strike me as two-year-olds. I wonder if we could do educational toys for dogs.”
We started laughing, but we thought maybe it’s not so stupid after all. We started designing stuff on the airplane, just fooling around with ideas. I asked my toy developing people over in Hong Kong, “Do you think I’ve lost my mind or is any of this sensible?”
It was the beginning of an uplift for me because everybody was like, “Lane, if you’re going to do it, we’ll back you. Anything you want, we’re here to help.”
It was incredible. It was such an affirmation for me. I was really excited about that.
On the plane home I said, “I can’t do this because that means I have to sell to Walmart and PETCO and PetSmart and I know what that’s like. I’ve watched the Toys R Us buyers for years and I can’t be on the other end of that. It’s not who I am.” So I dropped it.
About three months later I woke up at midnight, woke up my husband, and said, “Honey, I know what I’m going to do for the rest of my life. I’m going to go back into direct sales, the [heck] with Walmart and PetSmart.”
The other thing that had happened is Tara, when she brought home the puppy the second time, said, “Mom, you’re killing our dogs by feeding them Science Diet,” which I thought was top-of-the-line food.
I said, “What do you mean I’m killing them?”
She said, “Have you read the label?”
I said, “What would I know if I read the label?”
She explained to me what was actually in the food. I almost passed out. She explained what I should be feeding them.
I started doing a whole bunch of research in the pet world and pet industry. I thought, “There’s a huge need for education because most pet parents know very little, way less than we think we know, and there’s terrible product. I think I can go back in direct sales and teach people about pet parenting.” That’s how Petlane was born.
As I interview people I ask, “Did you ever have written down goals?” “Did you use visualization techniques?” Folks are telling me no.
B:You didn’t go into this saying, “I’m going to be a multi-millionaire. I’m going to create fantastic success for other people.”
My thought was that if I could teach every parent in the United States how important it was to play with their children and how important it was to use some of the right tools when you did that, you could change the child’s self-image and increase it dramatically.
If I could raise a generation of more secure kids then Tara would have all these wonderful people around that she could be friends with and could want to marry and it would be a better generation.
I was just a maniac mom so I wanted to change the whole world for my daughter. It had nothing to do with money. I was making $5 an hour and my husband was out of business, what did I know about living like a wealthy person? It was a foreign concept to me. That wasn’t what it was about.
If you were to go back, what would you change?
I would get more funding because it was just too fragile. I would have gotten more professional staffing earlier. When Mike died, this is all hindsight, I would have sold the business. I lost my passion and once that’s gone, you need a partner.
You’re getting out of Petlane what you originally wanted out of Discovery Toys because you wanted Tara to take over Discovery.
Yes I did. I wanted to work with her in the worst way.
She wouldn’t do that because she always felt she would be in my shadow. But since we started Petlane together, she feels like a partner.
Are you having some of the same frustrations that you had with Discovery Toys?
Different. Things like computers for example. There’s software out there that has been built for multi-level companies so I just had to buy one, I didn’t have to invent it.
I hired Laurie from Discovery Toys so we’ve created 30 of our own products already. Creating catalogs is easy, I know how to do it.
The hard part is figuring out how to recruit people and help them succeed. But that’s probably always the hard part. Discovery Toys spread virally. Petlane is slower. There’s a whole Internet component that I am not of that generation. I’m learning quickly.
Once I decided it wasn’t going to be a mystery and I stopped being scared of it, it’s not hard to learn.
You have some strong opinions. How has that helped you and or hurt you?
It’s helped me far more than it’s hurt me. I have very strong opinions, but I like to hear everybody else’s opinion and have lots of dialogue. I’m very verbal so I find that the most exhilarating thing is to debate an issue.
I’m always willing to change my opinion. You give me a better reason than I have and I’m there. I’m never afraid to say I’m sorry. I’m never afraid to say I’m wrong because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being wrong. I’m wrong a lot. Strong opinioned is just good backbone for a CEO. It’s leadership, but it’s good leadership because I’m not a dictator at all.
What was your passion 30 years ago? What is your passion today?
My passion 30 years ago was to make the world a better place for Tara.
As Tara grew up and out, my pets became my new kids so I put that same love and desire and cherishing into them. I’m really passionate now about helping other people who love their pets as much as I do become really good pet parents.
When you were 10-years-old, what did you think you would accomplish in life? At 15 or 20-years-old, did things take on a different shape?
It depended what day you talked to me. One day I wanted to be a theater critic. Another day I wanted to be a writer. Another day I wanted to be an actress. It just depended on the moment. I had no preconceived notion.
After I graduated from college, I was very drawn to and stayed in the human services. I had one experience in business and hated every minute of it. I really loved being out with people in human services. That’s where I thought I’d end up, and really I did. It’s astonishing to watch in direct sales what happens to people’s personal lives and their confidence. That’s the part that exhilarates me.
You mentioned that you were Jewish. Is that still the belief system that guides your life?
I’m almost an epicurean Jew. We eat a lot of good food. We get together on all the holidays as families around the dinner table.
I was never religious. I never went to temple. I would say that the strong family principles and strong education principles that Jewish families hold are very much my guiding principles, but I wouldn’t say there’s a religious background to it.
Did you have any mentors along the way?
My best mentors were Mike Clark, my COO, and Jim, my one-year CFO. Employees really were my mentors.
B:You didn’t have a formal mentor relationship?
Were there people that inspired you?
My dad. He was always a sales/marketing executive. I think I developed his personality.
He’s an exceptional human being. He was very tall and handsome, very skilled athletically, very skilled with people, and very successful. He supported me and gave me unequivocal love, which not too many of us get.
When I was little and would spill my milk, he would congratulate me on trying to hold the cup. He was amazing and a very optimistic man.
How did you balance time with your husband, Ed, and Tara as you were building Discovery Toys?
Tara wasn’t hard for me because I would get home by 5:00 or 5:30 p.m. every day–I was never one who stayed at work until 9:00 p.m.–and then I would be with her until 8:00 p.m. About 8:15 p.m., I kind of collapsed and my husband, who’s a night person, would take over.
On weekends, usually I was exhausted, so Saturday my husband would take Tara on an adventure and then Sunday was family day.
It was wonderful. We’re a very close family, but if anybody lost in the battle, my poor husband came third. That was very tough. It was some real rough times that we came out of, thank God. He didn’t like being last and I don’t blame him.
He’s a very special human being. I don’t think most men could have put up with it.
We got married at 21. I fell in love with him at 17, and I never fell out of love with him, so despite whatever hardships we went through, there was such a close bonded love that we were willing to fight through it, with marriage counseling at times, if necessary; whatever it took.
What is your greatest joy in life?
Working. When Tara was younger, being a mom was number one and then working came number two. I don’t have a lot of hobbies. I don’t really have a lot of time.
Do you have a restless spirit?
Yes, extremely. If I’m home on a weekend for more than a couple hours, I’m like, “What am I going to do now?”
Are there opportunities presented to everyone in life?
I think so. I think there are constant opportunities. It’s just a matter of if you can see them.
B:How do you see them? The success books tell you to keep an eye out for opportunity or to create opportunity; is that possible?
Anybody can create opportunity. It’s a matter of how driven you are and how much you want it. One of my father’s famous statements is, “Anything that’s worth doing is hard to do or everybody would be doing it and there’d be no opportunity.”
I used to complain, “This is so hard,” and he would say, “That’s why you’re going to be successful, because other people can’t imitate you.”
The level of passion and commitment that you have to have if you’re going to be successful at something is really striking. I don’t care what it is: a relationship, a mother, a businesswoman, an Olympic athlete, or whatever. You have to have so much passion and drive that all the things that come your way–here’s the secret–you look at them as challenges not problems. I almost get excited when things go wrong because it’s a new opportunity for me to stretch my brain and figure out what to do.
When things are too smooth, I get bored.
Most people tend to look at problems as problems and then you’re dead because we all have loads of them. If you get beaten down by a problem it’s finished. You’re done.
Other than that perspective, what has made you successful?
I had a mission. I was going to change the world so my daughter could grow up not bullied in this wonderful, magic place called the world.
That mission was so overwhelmingly strong that I had to do it. There wasn’t a matter of “nice to do” or “I could do” or “I wanted to”; I had to, so everything that came along that was trying to prevent me I thought, “Get out of my way, you’re not going to stop me.”
Was the journey relatively easy or hard?
It was extremely hard, but it was a lot of fun. The high times, the fun times, were so exciting that they made up for the really difficult times. Some of the high points were convention and incentive trips and the recognition; people whose bosses or husbands or friends never said, “Good job” were queens on stage. That’s worth a lot. What I got from my dad I reproduced for others.
And by the way, the self-help books are good. Putting that kind of positive energy in your mind is a good thing. I don’t think any of them have “the” answer because there is no “the” answer, but a lot of them say the right stuff and at least keep your mind taking those problems and making them into challenges.
How many books a year do you read?
I don’t read any of those. I fully support them and I recommend them to other people, but I don’t read them. I read a lot of novels.
How would you define success?
Accomplishing something that you set out to do. That can be tomorrow’s idea, it could be running a $100 million business. There’s a million, trillion steps along the way so really it’s a matter of waking up in the morning and saying, “I’m going to accomplish X today” and then doing it.
It makes you feel good when you accomplish what you say you’re going to do.
Is there advice that you would give to people who are looking to be successful?
Don’t beat yourself up. If you set a goal and don’t achieve it, don’t beat yourself up about it. If you have come further than you would have by not setting it, then you’re successful.
Most people are afraid to set a goal because they’re afraid they can’t meet it, so they never set it to begin with. A goal is just a thing to aim at. Mike used to say, “We’re going to head north. We’re going to go a little south, and a little west, a little east, but we are constantly heading north.”
If you want to be successful, head north and know that you’re going to detour all over the place, but ultimately you keep getting closer to north.
What do you wish someone would ask you?
I wish people would be able to achieve their dreams more than they do. I don’t know what stops us. I see so many people start Petlane and so many start Discovery Toys with these great intentions and then they never go anywhere.
I always wish I could wave a magic wand and help them get to where they really want to go. I guess they really don’t want to go there badly enough, but they think they do. The first couple of challenges they’re done.
I feel very sad because whatever they thought that goal or dream was they’re not going to get there.
If you keep saying, “I want something,” and you keep not getting it, all you do is feel bad. You need to look at your own behavior because your behavior tells you what you really want, not your words. Decide whether that behavior is what you’re happy with and go for it or change your behavior.
In this country, maybe around the world, there are people who believe that somewhere there’s a get rich quick easy scheme that they just haven’t found yet. It’s kind of a lottery theory. I’m here to tell you, it isn’t going to happen. Anybody who promises you you’ll get rich quick, run from them as far as you can because all they’re going to do is take your money.
Lane’s discussion about depression is so valuable that although I didn’t include it within the context of the questions, I’ve included it here below.
That depression as horrible as it was, and there are still moments where I have to fight it, really gave me a depth of understanding. I always thought that you could do anything and if you didn’t do something, you chose not to do it. I had very little compassion or empathy.
I have a tremendous amount of empathy now for human beings, realizing that an awful lot of life we create ourselves, but not all of it. Sometimes there are things you can’t avoid. However, I think even with the depression, antidepressants only do a very small amount and the rest of it is up to you to fight like a steer to get out of it. There’s no magic medicine that will do it.
You have to get the exercise, food, and sunshine, and you have to wake up every morning and say, “Today I’m going to try to not allow myself to get depressed,” and fight it. To a point you can and to a point you can’t, but medication is only a small part of the answer.
I couldn’t control so much of what happened to me, but I could control if I got out of bed and put on my business suit or if I quit.