Passion Never Goes Out of Style—For Entrepreneurs…and Intrapraneurs

On March 30, 1981, Ronald Reagan and I both got very lucky.

Some of you may recall...or you can look it up...that on that day outside of the Hilton Hotel in Washington D.C., the then President of the United States Ronald Reagan narrowly escaped an assassination attempt.

By all accounts, he literally and figuratively dodged two bullets...

And I’m not sure he would have agreed with one of my favorite quotes from Winston Churchill:

“There is nothing more exhilarating than being shot at without result.”

I use that quote often to describe the marketing wars I’ve been involved in over the last three decades...but I’m not so sure I like using it anymore when we’re talking about live ammunition.

In Reagan’s case, it was no laughing matter when the result was one bullet in his arm and another in his chest, puncturing a lung.

Reagan was courageous through the experience...he even joked about it (asking his doctors if they were Republicans!)...and his popularity rate rose to over 70%.

I got lucky that same day because I started working for Marty Edelston. [Editor’s Note: The late Marty Edelston was the founder of Boardroom Reports, publisher of Bottom Line/Personal and several other newsletters and a giant in direct-response marketing.]

My first day at Boardroom was far from a full day of work as we watched the news about our President being shot...and little did I know that was the day I was beginning a 34 year career helping build one of the most successful direct marketing empires ever.

We went from around $3 million in revenues in 1981 to a high of almost $160 million in the mid-2000’s. 

Quite a ride.

We may not have had the sales or profits of some of the other star companies in direct marketing over the those 34 years...but because Boardroom was a true “learning organization,” we always worked with the smartest people, produced the highest quality products and we spent as much time teaching and sharing as we did profiting.

We also sent some of the most amazing marketers out into the world after they left Boardroom and many blazed their own trails using the skills they honed while working for us.

Of course our financial advisors often told us: 

“How about a little less teaching and sharing and a little more selling?”

But we couldn’t help ourselves.

Marty always treated me like a partner in the business and together (with some of the most talented people both internally and externally), we grew Boardroom into something very special.

And clearly I was spoiled.

I had all the advantages of an entrepreneur with a lot less risk.

Once becoming Marty’s partner, I had the freedom to think of new ideas daily with phenomenal resources at my fingertips: 

The best copywriters, consultants, database experts, list mavens, numbers gurus, 20,000+ articles and pieces of world class content and a database of customers and former customers that fluctuated between 5 and 10 million names.

What a playground for anyone...and Boardroom was more like the best amusement park ever for serial direct marketers like Marty and I.

Don’t get me wrong...we had risk and we went through tough times.

I remember in 1983 when we had a mailing ready to go out and we did not have enough cash in the bank to pay the postage.

And over the years, there were many pay cuts for the ownership and management teams when it was necessary...and we had layoffs that coincided with downturns just like everyone else.

34 years is a long time. 

The amusement park was lots of fun but the roller coaster had many ups and downs.

But it will never be lost on me that it was Marty’s courage to go out on his own in 1972, from his basement, and using his life savings, to launch Boardroom Reports, which created so many wonderful careers and legacies...including mine.

(NOTE: If you are interested in additional background on Marty’s thinking about launching the company and the “brand” Boardroom Reports, read my post entitled “
Branding without getting hives”).

I am well aware that I didn’t start it...just helped to build it in a huge way...which is why I say I was a bit spoiled.

I am not apologizing for not starting Boardroom...just creating the proper setup for my topic today which is all about “Intrapreneurship” (which spell check will always underline so it’s not even a word)!

But I will make it a word and hopefully an important concept for you to consider after you read this post...

“Intrapreneurshipvs Entrepreneurship”

I wrote this in late 2014, upon resigning from Boardroom and going out on my own.

More about that shortly. 

But in the interactions I have had with many of you, I learned that a good percentage of you are working in different kinds of companies for someone else—but itching to go out on your own. 

And of course, many of you are on your own already

This discussion of “Intrapreneur vs. Entrepreneur”will be relevant to both groups. 

Intrapreneurs need to show up big; entrepreneurs need to take notice of who is showing up big.

My thesis: Being innovative and resourceful can never get old or tired, no matter what your ownership percentage is of any business.

In my post “
Come for the information, stay for the inspiration,” I told you about an experience I had speaking to 400 entrepreneurs in France...many very young…and all with incredible drive to go out on their own (despite whatever “day job” they currently hold).

And I’m not sure if the Americans on this list realize that every country does not have the same entrepreneurial spirit we have in this country…in some countries it’s even frowned upon to be entrepreneurial…and it’s definitely not as common outside of the U.S. to meet large groups of people who are sick of “working for the man.”

However, the entrepreneurial spirit is becoming more global every day—which I find so inspiring!

Back to my friends in Paris.

They were so impressed with my success and accomplishments—they treated me like royalty.

And frankly, it made me uncomfortable.

I told them the day after my keynote, after I had 24 hours to reflect on their warm reception:

I am so grateful that you think I am some celebrity from America, here to dazzle you with my brilliance and my achievements. 

But I want to remind you that like you, I put my pants on one leg at a time (however that gets translated into French!)--and it is YOU who I look up to.

I got lucky...I landed in an entrepreneurial organization, worked hard, read everything and learned something new every day for 30 years...but I never had the true entrepreneurial experience where I had to “kill what I ate” (not sure how that translated either!) in the same way that you will have to do when you strike out on your own.

I am not apologizing for being an Intrapreneur...but please know how much you inspire me to truly be an “Entrepreneur Libre” (“Free Entrepreneur,” the name of the conference).

And when I came home from France, I realized it was time for me to leave Boardroom after 34 years.

I saw a bigger mission for myself to deliver on one of Marty's biggest missions that he told me before he passed away:

“Brian...we have to teach this stuff.”

He and I had been doing teaching where we could in smaller doses (i.e. modest events and workshops) since the mid 1980’s -- and we talked about doing something bigger shortly after the great Gene Schwartz passed away in 1995.

However, we never got around to it the way we talked about it…until,ironically, Marty’s death inspired the epic event, “Titans of Direct Response,”in 2014. 

“Titans”took our mission—almost a dream—to the next level. 

I guess between that event in September and the subsequent epiphany in Paris, I knew I was ready to go out on my own.

As I said earlier, I have had the freedom that most entrepreneurs have for much of my career…without the same initial risk—and I was thinking about what I could share about that experience that could be useful, whether you’re simply working in a company as an employee or you’re on your own already as a bootstrap entrepreneur.

Here’s how I think I can be helpful

For the employee: 

How can “Intrapreneurship” be present for you? What kind of mindset do you need—and what do you need to bring to the party to make it most fulfilling?

For the entrepreneur: What can you do for your staff to create an environment of Intrapreneurs?

To give some specific advice, I’ll refer to Marty’s “four pillars to becoming extraordinary,” which was my opening session at “Titans”:

1) Outwork everyone: 

Dan Kennedy jumped on this one when I shared it with him—and I believe it’s why he agreed to come and speak at “Titans.” 

For today’s discussion, this means that you always need to make sure the person signing your paycheck not only knows who you are, but also knows every idea, contribution or collaboration you creatred for the company.

It’s true that you may not always get the recognition, but you’ll always get the experience and learning—and if you are lucky enough to have a mentor like Marty, you will get noticed.

2) Have insatiable curiosity: 

Always be the “idea guy/gal”…keep your ideas in the air as long as possible while listening to everyone else’s—and never stop asking questions. 

Don’t look for credit; look to create wins.

And as I said in a previous post, there are no losses…only wins and lessons.

3) If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room: 

Many times in my early days at Boardroom, being the “list expert” made it too easy to show off in that one area. 

But I worked hard to stay humble while sharing information in the area I was most expert in—and then I became a total sponge about everything else from everyone else. 

Internally and externally.

The odds are high that you are surrounded in your organization by superstars who have infinite knowledge in areas you don’t know squat about. Please take full advantage of that every chance you get. 

It will serve you well when you’re out on your own—where you MUST look for expertise in areas you are not an expert in.

And look to the outside for teachers and mentors in those areas as well.

You will never succeed at the highest level as an entrepreneur if you don’t do the things that are YOUR “unique ability” (credit: Dan Sullivan) and delegate the stuff you don’t like to do and the stuff you are not especially good at.

More on this third pillar to becoming extraordinary in the P.S.—and how I might be able to help you even more.

4) With your “work”…whatever it is…always think about changing lives/saving lives: 

Those lives can be your eventual customers/clients, outside vendors, partners, consultants... or your co-workers.

Passion never goes out of style. It gets noticed—and it will help you find your true calling.

Marty used to say: “You only go through life, once so you might as well be the world’s best.” 

I can’t emphasize that one enough—whether you’re an intrapreneur or entrepreneur.

I would love your feedback on this concept and how it has played out for you in your career—and I would love to share some of those stories (and possibly lessons) in future posts.

I’m hoping this topic resonates with many of you.

I know it sounds corny (and maybe a little dreamy too) to hear all of the good things you can still do even if you are feeling like you’re prisoner to a paycheck and the creature comforts of a full time job.

As someone who ran with an opportunity to be an “Intrapreneur” at a very satisfying level, maybe there is something in my story that could be helpful to you (although I understand I had some wonderful luck as well: a learning organization and an amazing role model and mentor).

However, don’t underestimate how much of your luck you create yourself (re-read the four pillars above).

Want the short version? 

Never stop believing in your ideas.
Never stop asking questions.
Learn from anyone and everyone around you.
Stay passionate about what drives you the most. 

Now…if you are one of the many bootstrap entrepreneurs on this list, the heroes I look up to above all others, it’s time for you to give ME advice!

I’m all ears…

PS: If you would like to take a look at the most useful collection of direct response materials ever assembled from “the event of the decade”(per Dan Kennedy), go to

In 30+ years with Boardroom Inc., Brian Kurtz helped create one of the most successful direct response marketing companies ever. His new company, Titans Marketing LLC, aims to bridge the eternal truths of direct marketing from the past to the gold standard in marketing in the present…and the future. Opt in to Brian’s list at no charge and read/listen to more of his wisdom at 


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