Get out of your comfort Zone!

Many  eclectic jobs  led me to where I am today:

Here is a short list, in no logical order:

  1. Paid Baritone for a Presbyterian church.
  2. Insurance agent for Mutual of Omaha.
  3. Basic construction, ripping up sidewalks, building fences, etc.
  4. English teacher in Taiwan.
  5. Art model for my college’s life modeling class.
  6. Volunteer firefighter (no pay, but a unique experience)
  7. Balloon Twister 4 Tips in countless restaurants.
  8. Owner of a balloon twisting talent agency.
  9. Burger flipper at Dairy Queen.
  10. Waiter at many different restaurants.
  11. Lifeguard at several lakes and pools across South Jersey.
  12. Swim Instructor for children.
  13. Rollerblade instructor in Taiwan.
  14. Selling gold plating services to car dealerships.
  15. Selling deregulated energy door to door.
  16. Managing large door to door crews that sold deregulated energy.
  17. Selling underwater scuba camera equipment over the phone.
  18. Selling mortgages over the phone.
  19. Selling employment advertising over the phone.
  20. Selling solar and energy efficiency door to door, in NJ, PA and FL.
  21. Selling cars (mostly Toyota) in MD and FL.
  22. Mowing lawns and basic landscaping.
  23. Auctioneer’s assistant and go-to (when I was 12 years old)
  24. Delivery driver for Naple’s pizza in Mullica Hill.
  25. Substitute teacher all over South Jersey (my 3rd year in college)
  26. Package sorter on the midnight shift at UPS.
  27. Direct Sales with Amway and Life Leadership.
  28. Getting paid from sales of my first book on Amazon.
  29. Sales consulting for 2 marketing firms in Philadelphia.
  30. Goofed off with the EB-5 investment program in Taiwan, never made a dime.
  31. Imported Super Sonic Spheres from Taiwan, same result as #30.

I’ve tried so many unusual things in my life that nothing is that weird or unfamiliar.

In college every single time I got fired from one job (I had a big mouth and it got me in hot water) I would look around and try something different.

I feel bad for the person who turns 18, gets a job that he hates, then stays in that job for 40 years because he is hooked to a measly paycheck. How boring, right?

Be open to new ideas and experiences, and as you get older you will continually expand your comfort zone. When you stretch yourself you will learn how to be resilient and adjust to anything.

Trying many different things also teaches you to be resourceful, a great quality to develop whether you are an entrepreneur, teacher or any profession.

Once you’ve taken off every stitch of clothing in front of a room full of art students, or traveled 12 time zones away on a ONE WAY ticket to a foreign country to work, everything else is small potatoes.

I started Balloon Distractions (when I was 29) because I never found a job that I actually liked.

Previous to that I could never hold a job longer than 24 months.

When you move OUT, way OUT, from your comfort zone you will gain tremendous confidence and trust in yourself. After living in Taiwan and learning how to speak a bit of Mandarin Chinese I was not afraid to live somewhere very far from what I knew growing up.

Moving to Florida in 2003? No big deal, at least it’s still in the USA.

Consequently I feel at home everywhere I go here in the States. The entire USA is within my comfort zone. As I traveled around the United States building Balloon Distractions I always felt at home, whether in Seattle, Miami or Houston.

A little job or hobby that you try out in college can lead to something significant down the road. When I was twisting balloons in college I never would have guessed that it would lead to Balloon Distractions.

More recently I got involved in residential and commercial solar with Tampa Bay Solar. Here I was, learning a totally new industry at 43 years old! I’ve been making a great income and learning a ton. I feel like a million bucks.

Be thrilled by the potential of the unexpected, and don’t hesitate to get out of your own comfort zone! The only thing you risk by trying something new is loss of time.

Ben Alexander

blog was originally written in 2014, updated in May of 2017.

Going on Shark Tank, January 17th 2014

sharktank

Back in September we shot a segment for ABC’s Shark Tank at the Sony Studio lot over in Los Angeles. This segment is scheduled to air on the ABC network Friday evening January 17th, 2014.

With teams all over the USA we knew that we would get a ton of national exposure by appearing on the show, but with over 30,000 applicants the competition to get on was ridiculous.

Balloon Distractions made it onto the show on the merits of our unique idea and the highly visual nature of what we do.

If you want to see whether the Sharks tore us to pieces (or not) tune in on the 17th!   

 

WhiteWater!

There is a great business book out there called “Predictable Success” that talks about the various stages that businesses go through as they scale from start-ups to fully mature companies.    

One of the stages of development is described as “Whitewater”. At this stage many companies flounder around  and struggle a bit as they put together needed systems in order to grow to the next level. The last 2 years have been a little turbulent as we sorted out BD’s finances and figured out that we were better off just focusing on what we are really good at: sending entertainers into restaurants, and booking parties and events.

In 2010 we were NOT running at full efficiency. Since then we’ve made dozens of small changes, like paying our people via direct deposit, and major changes as well, like a total rewrite of our compensation plan.       

Three years ago Balloon Distractions was a little bit like an old rickety car going 90mph, we could do that speed for a while but it was pretty shaky; the engine was knocking, there was smoke coming out of the tailpipe, the wheels were about to fall off, etc.

8 engine, not only can we scale up to 100 mph and run at that pace all day, but we can also put our foot on the gas and speed up to 150 mph with steady confidence.    

To run a national company you need experienced admin staff, strong training programs, tightly managed and measured financials, a decent website,  robust IT, call checkers to maintain our quality control, and a compensation plan that can be scaled up as the company grows.

All of these tools cost money and time to create and maintain, just our IT and remote server costs us $12K a year, but our online scheduler is crucial to the day-to-day operation of a company with hundreds of entertainers working across 34 regions in 4 time zones.

With the structure we have in place right now we can triple the size of our gross revenue with no further structural changes or invested capital. The entire framework is there and ready to go.

If you know of someone who lives anywhere in the USA, and they want to work part time and develop an extra $3-5K per month in income please ask them to reach out to me. We are recruiting Regional Partners in cities all over the United States, we will train and mentor them to success, all they need is a great work ethic and a positive attitude to match!

Systems and Complexity.

I’ve been reading books on soil microbiology, capitalism and the growth of railroads from 1850 to 1900 and (last but not least) a book by Kevin Kelly on the evolution of technology in the last 50 years. All three books have a common underlying theme: through the use of well developed systems  a problem is solved with sublime balance and simplicity.

All three books are really about evolving systems: from the way protozoa eat bacteria in soil to the way railroad companies organized freight schedules to the progression of technology from vacuum tubes to the modern high speed internet. The evolution of technology is by far the most rapid of all three because modern progress is continuously becoming a more complex and interwoven system. Case in point: an advance in material technology leads to a faster computer processor, which helps a geneticist unravel a viral genome, and from this another doctor figures out how to graft human skin onto a metal prosthesis, which leads to more human-like robots, etc.

Even singing in a choir you need complex systems… taken in pieces the notes are very simple and unremarkable, but when they are combined in the complexity of voices and instruments a complex and multi-level beauty emerges, all from the organization of simple notes on a sheet of paper.  Perhaps this is why so many scientists and engineers are also musicians on the side…..

Inherent in everything is a quiet system at work. Even the words that you are reading right now are a small part of a highly evolved language system that was started 10,000 years ago and continues to develop even to this day.

Language enabled humans to pass along knowledge from one generation to the next, our forebears learned how to make weapons, which mushroom it was safe to eat… or which root would help cure certain illnesses. We are the products of a vast system of oral and written knowledge that has been modified and grown through ten thousand generations.

Look at any form of biological reproduction: from bacterial replication to mammals bearing live young to a dandelion being visited by a pollen-hungry bee. Vastly different in implementation, but the goal of all three is the same.

The most successful businesses use systems internally, and the largest companies on the planet sell systems that help the consumer simplify their lives. All IT companies sell systems, from Apple to Microsoft to Google.

Take a look at the entire world around you, there is a system quietly humming right there in front of your nose, from the orchid blooming on your desk to the swirling electrons and organized binary bits inside your computer that manifest the words on your computer screen.

As technology moves into the Conceptual Age everything will revolve around clever systems designed to solve a problem.

You might invent the next billion dollar system!

Ben Alexander

2010

Silent Night.

There I stood, a third grade child onstage at the VFW hall, alone in the hot spotlight at the Christmas Concert for Alice Costello Elementary School in Brooklawn, New Jersey. My music teacher Mrs. Monihan looked up from the piano and began to play the introduction to Silent Night. I took a deep breath and began to sing the first verse, in the clear soprano voice that I inherited from my mother:

Silent Night, Holy Night, All is Calm, all is Bright….

As I sang the rest of the third grade class stood behind me and used ASL to sign the lyrics with their hands. The only sound was my voice over the microphone and the piano. Mrs. Monihan, our music teacher with perfectly coiffed hair and impeccable red nails, had chosen me to sing in front of the 1,000 or so folks that always packed her amazing Christmas concerts.

Holy Infant so tender and mild…..

Even at the tender age of 8 I had already sung this beautiful song countless times, my family attended the Methodist church in Brooklawn, the very same church that my parents had been married in many years earlier. When Mrs. Monihan heard my voice piping up above the others in our 3rd grade music class she knew I’d be a good fit for the solo.

Mrs. Monihan was the type of teacher who poured her entire being into her work, she had a wicked laugh and she played the piano at breakneck speed. She would take a bunch of kids from our blue-collar town and teach us to sing and play instruments and feel the wonder of music in our hearts. Many years later, after I was in college on a scholarship to study vocal opera I would think back on Mrs. Monihan’s tremendous influence on my life and the wonderful gift inside me that she unwrapped with her boundless enthusiasm.

As I stood there singing in the bright circle of light on the stage I only had a very vague understanding of the evil out there in the world, I was very blessed to have loving parents who took care of me and made sure I was safe, fed hot meals and taken care of with a roof over my head. Other than the usual mischief that little kids get into at that age I was innocent to the horrors of the world.

In that moment, at the crowded VFW hall, I was able to sing a beautiful song and move the hearts of the people in the audience.

When the song was over there was a moment of silence, and then the audience erupted and clapped and went bonkers. It was a great moment.

Fast forward 30 years…….

December of 2012 was a really busy month for me, I was running Balloon Distractions and also doing consulting work for a company headquartered in Philadelphia. I was constantly on flights between Philadelphia and Tampa. It was one of those rare days when I was home in Tampa and able to work from my home office.

I was doing some admin work when I took a break and clicked over to Slate to check out the news. I saw a story about a shooting unfolding at an elementary school in Massachusetts. I got up from my desk and walked out to my living room to watch CNN on the TV.

As the details about Newtown unfolded on my TV screen I sat there on my couch and began to cry. I wept in that profound way that empties the caverns of the heart and makes sorrow easier to carry. This tragedy, more than any others, shook my faith and stirred something deep inside me. As the owner of a business that makes children HAPPY the Newtown massacre brought me down for a long time after, and even now represents a permanent shadow in my heart.

I wept because we were so close to Christmas day, a holiday that is all about love for children, a holiday that celebrates the BIRTH of a child. I wept because of the love I have for my own daughters… I could only imagine the pain those parents were going through when they learned the news.

Any mass shooting is a horrible tragedy, but the Newtown massacre extinguished the lives of 22 children who woke up that morning with an expectation that the world around them was a good place in which they were loved, well cared for, and kept safe from the evil is OUT THERE in the world.

My only consolation is that the children from Newtown all went to heaven as a group, and I’m positive that there were many people “up there” to greet them, comfort them, and hold them close. If you are not a person of Faith then I suppose you believe that those innocent souls are truly gone, snuffed out like a flame from a small candle, but I sincerely hope that is not the case.

Sometimes it takes two extremes to really understand and appreciate what is out there in the universe. After Newtown many people lamented that the world is a bad and evil place, but that is only because the Adam Lanza’s of the world get more attention than 100,000 good people like Mrs. Monihan.

Every day, in small towns and large cities all over the world, there are good people who wake up in the morning and then go out to work hard and do an excellent job. Some of these jobs might be high profile, like the mayor of a city, or they might be very humble jobs, a janitor mopping a floor in a high school, or a domestic changing sheets in a hotel.

Sometimes no one notices the good job that they are doing, but they do it anyway because they have pride and abiding respect with themselves and THEY know whether they did a good job or not.

Good work is a counterbalance to anyone out there doing BAD work, and doing something to make a child smile counteracts (in a small way) the bad things that are happening  to children elsewhere.

Bad things happen, but I choose to believe in the good that is out there, the people like Mrs. Monihan who choose to be a beacon of light.

-Ben Alexander

2015

17 year locusts and Sacred Geometry.

The more I read and travel the more I run into the inherent strangeness that is out there in our everyday world. The UNIVERSE has ALWAYS been multi-faceted and bizarre, and the oddest things are not always that obvious at first glance.

Case in point, sacred geometry: www.soulsofdistortion.nl/soda_chapter5.html

Sacred Geometry can be applied to modern business in many ways…. it is used to influence and persuade the general public in such a manner that we do not realize we are being influenced.

Lots of weirdness also sits on the Internet, waiting to be discovered. If you get curious about Ch’an Buddhism you are 2 clicks away from digital pics, video and a few blogs about it as well.

With platforms like Facebook you can post a weird YouTube clip on your Wall and share it with the 8 bazillion people linked to your profile…  in many ways technology facilitates the rise of stuff that most people would never know about before the internet.

I work from a home office and when I glanced out of the window yesterday there were 2 lizards (brown anoles) getting funky on the windowsill overlooking the garden. I’ve lived in Florida since 2003, I’ve seen them procreate before, but I still stopped for a minute and watched. I’ve observed these little lizards hunt bugs for food, fight each other, get eaten by birds, and when they molt they will eat their own cast off skin!

Disgusting, yes, but a bit fascinating as well. The entire lizard soap opera unfolds right in the rose garden, from procreation to death.

I’ve never seen a Cicada in North America with this interesting coloration.

When I visited Taiwan in July of 2010 I saw and heard plenty of stuff that one would not normally find here in Florida: tropical mountains, pet squirrels, cable cars that went high into the clouds, Hakka, Mandarin and Taiwanese spoken around me, bullet trains and snakes for sale as food at the night market.

One key to a dynamic life?

Stay curious and question stuff… and observe the world around you with fresh eyes.

Build the Lever.

Archimedes once said:

“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” 

A small business can only give so much to the local community, but a national business that generates 10 or 50 or even 100 million dollars per year can do so much more. When I started BD it was just a concept in my imagination, a wild idea with which I had no idea whether it would work or not. As I write this today we provide a living for many of our Regional Partners and great part time income for the high school and college kids on our teams across 42 cities.

It all started with a crazy idea in 2003… a tiny seed that sprouted into a nationwide business. 

I have another crazy idea and I’d like to share it with you. If you are brand-new to our company this idea might have an impact on your life, as well as the people you bring on and train as you move up through our system.

Imagine for a moment that we have scaled up to 200 regions across the United States and we start opening day camps each summer that employ our balloon artists as counselors and teach children positive thinking, balloon twisting, face painting, comedy, magic and (maybe even) juggling. Our counselors would make a great hourly wage each summer and our camps would be a great training ground for our next generation of entertainers. Our summer camps will be unique, fun, and cater to that offbeat child who might not fit in at soccer, cheerleading or football camp.

To GIVE BACK we would offer 20% of the enrollment at a reduced rate (or free) to kids in the neighborhood who normally would not get to enjoy such a neat experience.

What kind of impact would BD have if we gave a child from a rough background the opportunity to learn something joyful like balloon art, magic or face painting?

What if we encouraged that child to get better each summer and brought them on as an entertainer when they turned 16 years old? … What IF when that child reached 18 they were awarded a Balloon Distractions scholarship to help them get through college?

Could we take a child “under our wing” so to speak and change that child’s trajectory into adulthood? 

Could a little BALLOON talent agency do ALL that? As I write this we are like a small lever that provides a modest income for 300 members of our team, but when we are in 200 cities with 10,000 children in summers camps we can do AMAZING things. Balloon Distractions then becomes a huge lever that can do great things and impact the lives of thousands of children in a positive way.  

Granting 100K in annual college scholarships is not possible at our current size, but is becomes tenable when we are in every city in North America.

If you are reading this as a new member of our team consider the impact that YOU can have in the life of a child. Perhaps your Faith called you to join on our team and to lend your talents to our mission.  

Balloon Distractions does AMAZING things in the lives of the children we entertain, the college students and Regional partners who earn an income from this business model and the lives we save through our clean water efforts in Central America. 

The bottom line profit is important in any business, but with Balloon Distractions you are a part of a higher purpose than just making money.

In my personal life I don’t need a bunch of fancy JUNK with which to impress people.  My greatest reward will be going to the college graduation of a young person who entered our summer camps as a  child with NO CHANCE in life, knowing that my company gave him that shot at success, an opportunity to learn, grow and work hard to see tangible results at the end of the day… or when I’m in Honduras and make a balloon for a child who is healthy and thriving because they have clean water to drink.

The summer camp concept will take a few years to fully develop, but if you are a Regional Partner right now consider the fact that you are already teaching your team a skill that enables them to go out and average over $20 an hour in income on a regular basis, and over $50 an hour when they perform at special events. That skill will also make your team well suited to working as camp counselors once the summer camp concept is launched in your region.  

As a Regional Partner you are making a positive difference in the lives of all the people you train and develop, and you can’t predict the end result of teaching just one person this new skill. I’m sure the guy who trained me back in the 1997 had no clue that I would go on to start a company, and that BD would go on to train over 4,000 balloon artists so far.