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Ivan Misner - BNI founder - The world's largest business networking and business referral organization

Q1. How did your career journey start? Or Who / What inspired you to start this business / Entrepreneurship? I would like to tell yo...

Q1. How did your career journey start? Or Who / What inspired you to start this business / Entrepreneurship?

I would like to tell you that I had a vision of an international company with thousands groups on every populated continent of the world, but the truth is that I was looking for referrals for my consulting business and I started a group that was focused on building strong relationships in an environment of accountability.  Soon after I started the first group, someone came to me and asked if I would help them open another group.  Since the organization only takes one person per profession in a chapter, I told her yes and we started a second group.  People came to that second group who asked if I’d help them open a third and then a fourth and so on.  After one year, we opened 20 groups throughout Southern California.  BNI became a great example of “necessity being the mother of invention.”  What I discovered in that first year is that business people want referrals but they don’t know how to systematically generate them.  We don’t teach this in colleges and universities anywhere in the world.  What we did was help them generate referrals in a structured, positive, supportive environment and it took off.

Q2. Kindly share some information about your Business, products and services here.

BNI is a referral marketing program that allows one person per profession to join a chapter.  The primary purpose of each group is to pass referrals amongst the members.  Last year, BNI members passed over 7.7 million referrals to each other and generated more than $9.3 billion (USD) in business for our members.  

Q3. What kind of challenges did you face while starting/doing business?

I discovered early on that people, like water, tend to seek the path of least resistance.  They tend to want to do what is easiest, not what is best.  The truth is that the “secret to success, without hard work, is still a secret!”

My challenge early on was to create a system and process which I could prove worked if people followed it.  Creating that process and fine-tuning it took several years.

Q4. Do share with our readers about your discovery period when you were facing difficulties in your business?

I have found that during challenging times, the key was to get as much collaboration and engagement as possible with the stakeholders of the organization.  From the early days of the company, I created advisory boards made up of clients (members), Franchisees, (Executive Directors), Master Franchisees (National Directors) and outside advisors.  These boards have been instrumental in helping navigate through challenges over the last 32 years.

Q5. Share with our readers about your experiment period after the discovery period?

We actually incorporated an “experimental program” within the framework of the company very early on.  When someone came up with what we thought was a good idea, we would test in a structured way.  If it worked well locally, we expanded the concept to a few approved regions to test it further.  If that worked well, we then incorporated the concept world-wide.  We found that this “structured experimentation” was a great way to test out new and innovative ideas.

Q6. What are your future plans? Or now what is your vision for next five years?

I believe an entrepreneur is either working in the their flame or working in their wax.  When they are working in their flame, they are on fire.  They’re excited about what they are doing and it shows in their voice and their actions.  This is the part of the business they love and it is apparent in their actions.   When they are working in their wax, their energy is being drained.  They are tired of what they are doing and that also shows in their voice and their actions.  This is the part of the business they have grown to dislike and it shows as well.
I have spent many years working towards being in a position that I spend almost all of my time working in my flame and not in my wax.  For me, that means spending almost all of my time writing about business and networking as well as doing interviews and speaking engagements on these topics.  My goal is to continue to do that with the company for a long-time to come.

Q7. How would you advice/suggest new entrepreneurs who want to start & sustain in business?

I think the biggest mistake that new entrepreneurs make is to continually chase bright shiny objects.  That is, they constantly chase some new idea without really investigating it thoroughly.  If you want to be successful in business, I believe you need to do six things a thousand times, not a thousand things six times.  Use trusted mentors and advisors to help you select the “right” six things.  Then do it over and over and over again.

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