The first thing I wish someone told me is the amount of time it takes. When I first started I thought most things would be a breeze, but whatever you have budgeted for time you should probably double it.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Derek Scarzella.
Derek Scarzella is a writer who works and lives in the Washington D.C area. Over the course of his life, he has worked as a car salesman (where he had a car stolen from him), a security guard (where he saved a building from exploding), worked in a comic shop, a software company, and an advanced manufacturing company. During his college years was in the band Afro Sheen Explosion, a No Wave group that played in and around the D.C area. He went to college at the University of Maryland, where he received a degree in English and Literature. He is currently the publisher of Action A Go Go, an online portal for entertainment news. He has written two novels, The Vicious Game and Knuckle Crack Bone. He is currently working on a slew of new projects across different genres.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I grew up in the D.M.V area (District, Maryland, and Virginia) but when push comes to shove, I am a Maryland boy. I’m Italian, and my family owned a Flower Shop for 65 years, and I spent a lot of time there working into my teens and early 20’s. My Grandfather ran it and gave me a strong work ethic that helps drive me forward to this day.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
My whole life I have been obsessed with entertainment and art, to the point where friends and family used me as a resource for anything movie or T.V related. Not only that, but I would also come up with grand stories and characters, more than just ideas. With the internet booming, and the cost so low to create anything, it just made sense to use my talents as a way to make money.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
Focus. focus, focus, and focus. I love all art, from painting to classic movies to great design and amazing architecture. They key is finding that spot on “the long tail” of a subject where you can shine. Action movies are perennially popular, cross cultural barriers, and people are always looking to consume or share opinions about them. The same goes for what you want to create as well. Markets exist for a reason, and studying and understanding what has or what has not been done yet can be the key to success.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
Do not be afraid to start small. Starting a business can feel daunting, but it is surprisingly easy and low cost once you educate yourself. The same said can be said for a website. There are so many services and options out there you are bound to find the right mix of services that can get your dream kicked off for far less then you think. The rest is spreading the word.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
Variety is the spice of life, and the same thing can be said about business. Apple Computers didn’t “need” to make the iPhone, but it took a huge risk and turned itself into one of the most successful companies ever. Shaking things up and going in new directions can not only keep you from mental atrophy but can lead you to new successes you didn’t even think were possible.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
The best part of running your own business is when you share your ideas or services with someone else and you see their eyes light up and you know “they get it.” Being able to affect those around you and make their life better is a huge reward, and knowing that started with your ideas and hard work is incredibly satisfying.
The downsides are if you do not move forward, the business does not move forward. Also, not every decision is an easy one and there are real consequences. Growing up in a small business I saw my Grandfather and Grandmother have to make hard decision with a front row seat, but at the end of the day you need to do what is best for you and your customers no matter what.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Everything! Of course, I am kidding, but the incredible thing is just how fleeting a consumer’s attention can be. Some people are super engaged, but because of the nature of the internet it is amazing how people just bounce in and out, and how fast it can happen. When you are the consumer it all looks so easy and everything just runs but being on the opposite makes you understand how precious a commodity time really is.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so, how did you overcome it?
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Well, as the Editor in Chief it was my job to wrangle writers and make sure everything was in order, articles were flowing, etc. It was all wine and roses until members of my team came to me and talked to me about my “editing” mistakes. Like, actual grammar. Some titles misspelled, some sentences that did not make sense. It wasn’t an alcohol or drug problem, but it was a great reminder to practice what I preach and double check my own homework and that sometimes slow and easy wins the race.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
My Grandfather. When he was a boy he never made it passed the 7th grade because of a few terrible car accidents (yes, a few) that kept him out of bedridden for months on end. Regardless, he started his own business at the age of 14 with the help of his family and ran it for 65 years until he retired. His work ethic was astonishing, as he was always early, never late, and practically everyone I can think of loved working with him. That was a huge part of his success, and something I strive to emulate to this day.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
If helping make the world a better place includes helping people discover and create new things, then yes, I would say we have hit the mark.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
The first thing I wish someone told me is the amount of time it takes. When I first started I thought most things would be a breeze, but whatever you have budgeted for time you should probably double it. The second thing would be that you should expect most things to not work and that is ok. Just because you are out there doesn’t mean that people will magically follow you and love everything you do. Third, success isn’t so much about doing new things all the time, but repeating what works. If you stick to what works you will be able to sustain your business. I use this with my writers as a way to guide them and ensure they are maximizing their time. The fourth thing is to sweat the details. You never know what your customers are going to find and criticize, and since they are always right the best way to make sure they don’t have ammunition is to cut them off at the pass. The filth thing is to not be precious about everything. Business is about doing what’s right and what works, not about doing what’s perfect or what makes everyone happy. You need to make decisions, run with it, and move on. Time is the most precious resource we have and we can’t waist it chasing the perfect when the good will do just fine.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote is “If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?” It’s from the classic musical South Pacific, and always reminds me to keep looking forward.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Steven Spielberg! His career is legendary, and his work has been a huge influence of mine. Beyond the movies he’s made I’d love to talk about how he views leadership and how he keeps reinventing himself and his art after such a successful career.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.