6 Business Tips from a $6 Billion-Dollar Man
Tilman Fertitta on what it means to be an entrepreneur in the 21st century
Tilman Fertitta is not your average businessman. He built his first hotel at 26 and bought his first private jet at 35. He always knew he wanted to make it big as a kid. Whether it was mowing somebody’s yard, washing cars or selling lemonade to the construction workers, he started making money really young, and his mindset paid off.
Today, Fertitta owns hotels, casinos and other entertainment venues, mostly through the company he helped launch back in the 80s: Landry’s, Inc. He took the company from a $30 million valuation in the 90s to controlling more than $3.2 billion in assets and running 600 venues. Fertitta also bought the Houston Rockets for $2.2 billion in 2017.
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With a net worth of over $6 billion and a spot on the 2021 Forbes 400 list, Tilman Fertitta is definitely good at doing great business. In an interview he gave on Tom Bilyeu’s Youtube show in 2019, he had some great insights on what it means to be an entrepreneur in the 21st century. Here are his best lessons.
1. Take the word “No” out of your vocabulary
“Somebody will order scrambled eggs at 11:02 at the hotel and we’ll tell him: “We don’t serve breakfast anymore.” And I’m like: just throw a couple eggs on a skillet and give them some scrambled eggs.”
Especially in the hospitality business, Tilman always likes to remind his employees to avoid saying “No” to customers. Just because it’s 2 minutes over the “official” breakfast time doesn’t mean customers shouldn’t be allowed to get some food.
There is an interesting nuance here, because in business in general, “No” is a very important word. It enables you to define your priorities, and Steve Jobs was a fan of the word. In the 2 years after he returned to head Apple in 1997, he took the company from 350 products to 10. That’s 250 Nos, not counting anything else proposed during that period. Warren Buffet also famously said:
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
Progress is made through many Nos and only a few Yes, but what Tilman really means by taking the word “No” out of your vocabulary is this: number one, customers matter more than anything else. And number two, if you stop at the first obstacle on the road, you’ll never get anywhere.
2. There are no spare customers
“We’re only as good as taking care of that customer.”
No matter what type of business you own, if you don’t take care of your customers you’re going down. If they’re unhappy with your service, they won’t come back to your restaurant, your store, your casino, your blog, you website, your app… Customers are the number one driver of any business, no matter the industry.
Focusing on the customer experience/satisfaction is one of the main reasons Jeff Bezos was able to build Amazon into the largest online retailer in the world:
“If there’s one reason we have done better than of our peers in the Internet space over the last six years, it is because we have focused like a laser on customer experience.” — Jeff Bezos
3. Use the 95/5 rule
“95% of everything is right, so look for the 5% that’s wrong. Tell that general manager to go stand out on the parking lot and take a look at the building […] If you look for the 5%, there are cigarette buds in the parking lot. There are some weeds growing. You get up to the front door, one of these plants is dying. There’s a crack in the window […] You’ve got 1 burnt out light bulb out of 92. But you know what, 95% of everything was right, and I haven’t even walked in the front door yet.”
Steve Jobs had a similar analogy for the way Apple designs its products:
“When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.”
Make no mistake, most of every successful story in life is defined by whether or not the people in charge took care of the 5%. Sure, you can become successful with just the 95%, but you’ll only get so far. The difference between a business that’s doing okay and a business that’s doing excellent is the 5%.
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4. Separate yourself from everybody else
“Always strive for perfection […] It’s easy to separate yourself from everybody else. You just have to want to do it.”
In the interview, Fertitta takes the example of the sound guy on the set. If the sound guy makes sure to worry about every little detail and to excel at his job, a few people might notice him. Then maybe one day, somebody out there needs a sound guy, and they reach out to him because they heard good things from friends in the industry. So that sound guy ends up getting a great gig, and another one, and soon enough he is known as the best sound guy in all of LA. Only because he’s paying attention to details that other people don’t, and he’s going all in on his job.
No matter what you do in life, you always have the opportunity to be the best at it. Whether you have a high paying job or you’re making minimm wage. Whether you work for somebody else or you own your business. Even if you don’t actually become the best, you can always try, and you may still end up in the top 10, top 100, or even the top 10,000 at what you do. Your success story starts at trying to be the best.
5. Find talent
“I will look at somebody’s résumé and I can say: “You know what? You’ve never been with the right company. And that’s why you’ve never excelled, that’s why you’re here today.” So many people choose the wrong company to go work for.”
A year ago my CEO sold his company for $30 million dollars. It’s nowhere near the $6 billion Fertitta is worth, but at one of our recent Christmas parties, he gave a speech and he brought up the same topic: it’s all about the people.
It sounds cliché but it’s true in any business. When you surround yourself with the right people, the right investors, the right employees, friends and family members, that’s when you create the dynamics that will push you up and keep you going.
It’s already hard to build and maintain a business, so you shouldn’t waste time with toxic people, naysayers that will slow you down and take your focus away from what matters. It’s hard to find the right people for your business and yourself in life, but it’s absolutely crucial.
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6. Don’t fear anything but worry about everything
“When times are really bad you forget they’re ever gonna be good again, and when times are really good you forget they’re ever gonna be bad again […] The day you stop worrying in good times, the paddle will get you behind. As great as things are in life, I know I’m only a few steps or a few incidents away from something bad happening, I can never forget it. I’m taking the next step right now to get to the next level.”
The bigger your company gets, the more there is to worry about. The point here is not to be constantly stressed, overworked and panicked, but to find the right balance between delegating 100% of your tasks because you don’t want to hear about them, and overseeing every little detail.
A lot of bad things happen in the economy because the people in charge closed their eyes for too long and/or trusted everything was fine. The economy works in cycles, and those cycles greatly influence the health of the businesses around the world. Don’t always fear a crisis, but always do your homework. The more knowledgable and interested you are, the better you will be equipped to face the uncertainty of the future.
CONTRIBUTED BY Joseph Mavericks
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