[00:01:19] A.J. Lawrence: Makethecut.fm is the team that does all the production work for my podcast, and they make my life so much better. I had so much difficulties trying to find a service I could trust and did a great job, but when I started working with the women from Make The Cut, my life got so much better.
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[00:02:22] Mike Smith is an amazing guy. He’s been a speaker on so many things. He’s done so much cool things. He’s probably the coolest guy I’ve gotten to talk to in a long time. He’s a former speaker, author, content creator. Just goes on and on, how cool. But what’s so cool about the conversation we have is he is a driven, mission-focused, social entrepreneur.
[00:02:47] Rabble Mill is this effort of love that Mike has been putting so much into creating. It started off as sort of an afterschool place for misfits and I loved how he’ll talk about what are misfits cause as a geek in my early childhood who just grew really quickly when I got to be a teenager, I really should have just been left alone in a computer room.
[00:03:12] Just happened to be way, way big so I got forced to play sports. But Mike’s talking about his love for these kids and being one of these kids and what he did to create a place that felt right for them. And then the effort he’s put in over the years to now recently create a full time school, and this is really cool.
[00:03:33] Just goes to show the effort of ongoing following your mission, following that which is most important to you. He’ll talk about how it’s not overnight, that it’s about the sacrifices. If you had just seen Mike talking, doing some of the Red Bull or Flipboard with Microsoft or all these other sponsorships and amazing things he’s done, you would’ve thought he was living high in the hog.
[00:03:59] But no, all of this was going back into Rabble Mill. Everything he was doing was all so he could help progress the benefit of what he was doing for them. And it has succeeded and he’s continuing to build it with the school and even further efforts. So I think that’s gonna be a really cool thing to talk about.
[00:04:19] And as you think about your own efforts of like how far you’re willing to go and what you’re willing to put into it, think about all right, what you can do and what can be put in. Just really interesting. Probably my most favorite moment of this is we’re gonna talk about what are the KPIs that are important.
[00:04:40] Because here he is, he’s running this organization that takes on government money. Obviously it’s a school they have to work within. It’s a school for kids who need to get educated and do this so they have to play well within government organizations. So they have KPIs they have to deliver on, but what he and his team really focus on is a concept that I totally just fell in love with when he talks about it, is creating significant moments of impact and how they focus on what these moments are. And then tying that to everything else within the KPIs because they do have a very high organizational operational overload that they have to connect with and measure and grow and manage.
[00:05:30] But it’s all about finding these moments of significant moments of impacts for the students. Now, how he does it and why he does it is gonna be different than anyone else listening to the show. But it is something we can start looking at what are the significant moments of impact that we create from our own efforts if we’re trying to become more mission driven. If we’re trying to walk the walk, talk so often in the past with guests and just together of, look, being mission driven isn’t the guaranteed pathway to success. But it is a really good way to help.
[00:06:10] And building it over an incremental step-by-step, directionally-correct process and living this is going to help your business. Looking at how Mike talks about creating these significant moments of impact, I think can allow us to create these, Okay, what am I doing? How can I get there a little bit further. If I create these SMIs on a consistent basis, directionally-correct, incrementally, if we do this, then maybe we’re getting closer to being more mission-driven.
[00:06:45] Just something to take out of this. Look, Mike is obviously a wonderful storyteller, but he’s also just a really great guy. I had so much fun talking about this and I’ve had so much fun even just texting with him since this interview. Enjoy the episode.
[00:07:04] Hey, Mike. Thank you so much for being here. Yes, so here we got our coffees.
[00:07:09] Mike Smith: Ready to do it.
[00:07:10] A.J. Lawrence: This is so great to have you here on the show. I’ve just been gushing to the audience just about your background and all the cool things you’ve been doing. This is so cool to have you on, and since you were just telling me all this cool stuff that’s going on right now with you, with Rabble Mill and everything, can you just tell us where you are as an entrepreneur now? A social entrepreneur, however you define it. But then let’s talk about the cool stuff that’s going on.
[00:07:37] Mike Smith: Rabble Mill is the name of our organization. Basically, we’re a statewide nonprofit that works with youth all across Nebraska. And so we always say we are proudly serving the misfit. So we work with those kids that love skateboarding, music, fashion, hip hop, beat making, just kids who love. Counter culture youth need a place to be themselves and do what they do.
[00:07:58] But there’s so much talent and potential in that space, it’s just gotta be harnessed. I’ve always worked with kind of that demographic and so Rabble Mill’s the name of our organization, and it’s really the merger of two best friends from a small town growing up.
[00:08:12] One started a music nonprofit right outta college. One started a skateboarding nonprofit. We did our thing in Lincoln and Omaha for eight years. We crossed paths a few times doing our org work. And then in 2018, we merged and we joined forces and we created Rabble Mill as the organization. And so we have these programs.
[00:08:29] One is called The Bay, which is this youth center in Lincoln. So it’s this 20,000 square foot warehouse for kids skateboarding. There’s a skate park, coffee shop, concert venues, eSports arena, recording studios, computer lab, like the coolest place ever that no kid ever had growing up. Because every time I talk to adults they’re like, Where was that when I was a kid?
[00:08:50] And I’m like, I know, right? We’re building it. We’re building it right now. It’s open just for kids. It’s open late. This is the spot where youth culture goes down. We’ve had this skate park and it’s awesome. And so one of the things that had happened was during our journey, kids were skipping school to come skate the park.
[00:09:07] So I’d get calls from principals and you’re like taking kids back to school. And you’re like, Dude, what are you doing? You know what I mean, you’re trying to be a good role model. And it’s funny on one hand, but also like they gotta get back to school. And one kid literally just said, Oh man, I wish we could go to school at The Bay.
[00:09:20] And that was like the trigger. It was like that was the new problem to solve, Hey, what if they could go to school at The Bay? And so Lincoln, Nebraska, we have focus programs. So we have a school at the zoo, it’s a Lincoln Public School, but it’s at the zoo so kids learn science focus there, so they get to interact with the animals and the zoo staff.
[00:09:41] And so we have another one called Arts and Humanities, so that school Arts and Humanities is baked into their entire education. There’s one that’s got an AgTech focus and one that’s got a nursing focus. Eight years ago, or whatever this was, six years ago I think, we just started pushing we want to become a school, like we wanna be a place where kids can go to school.
[00:09:59] And so we just pushed and we finally got to the point where three years ago, right before Covid, the school board passes this initiative to open more programs to attract more diverse students. So we were first in line and we were like, let’s do this. And so the week that the pandemic hit, we got the green light to basically raise this money to go try to start this new innovative high school.
[00:10:19] And so on the heels of trying to raise money to stay open as a nonprofit when everyone has to go virtual in a pandemic, we also were tasked with creating enough money and raising. We’d raised around a million dollars as a pass through to basically start this school. And so we did it. Our community pulled together.
[00:10:36] We were able to keep the org afloat, and last week our school opened. And so we opened with our first class of juniors and seniors. And so it’s been so cool to see just how stoked the kids are, how excited they are, and how diverse just their reasons for choosing this school is. And so we literally started a public school, and it’s called Bay High. It’s BMIT, so it’s like Business, Marketing and Information and Tech focus.
[00:11:01] So we’re teaching kids all of this stuff. Podcasting is a class. Content creation’s a class, photo, video. They’re gonna be experts in Adobe, they’re gonna be fantastic at design. So we’re teaching them to think like designers. That’s really the focus is having that thinking is exactly what it is. And so we’re pushing hard towards design thinking cuz it fits right in line with the classes they’re taking.
[00:11:22] And so we’ve created just these really cool clubs and experiences that can add on to the high school day. So our yearbook class is gonna be an after school club. We have Skate club after school, we have a Coffee club where kids will get their food handlers permit and become certified baristas. So part of the club, they’ll learn how to make latte art and we’ll be pumping out some of the best baristas in town.
[00:11:45] There’s a club called Live at the Bay, and so the kids run our venue. They’ll throw the shows, they’ll book the bands, they’ll shoot the content, they’ll run lights and sound, and the door. And so it’s really this like little echo chamber of entrepreneurship for these kids.
[00:12:00] They get to learn all the skills and jobs and tasks that kind of exist in this creative space for them. And we’re sticking cameras in their hands and softwares at their fingertips and just giving them an opportunity to really connect with what they’re excited about. And so we opened it this week and it’s such a fun time for us because we’re in this process of, alright, we were this really cool place for youth to go.
[00:12:21] We worked with after school youth and we run summer camps. We just got back from this insane summer camp. We literally just took 50 kids from all across the state of Nebraska into the woods for five nights and did like a skate camp. It was like skateboarding and be making and adventure. We’re adventure and leadership collide, and we ran this wild camp.
[00:12:41] You have homeschooled kids from a town of 200 who, like the most country kids you’ve ever met nickname is Cowboy, hanging out with our like kids who are in the non-binary cabin who have a different vocabulary and a different life experience. And they’d never met someone like each other and they got to go learn how to skateboard together out in the woods in the middle of nowhere in Nebraska. It was incredible.
[00:13:07] It was like a million problems to solve, but such a cool experience for the kids. And so it was just a rad experience. But yeah, so we’re just in this moment where we’ve got youth culture exploding inside of our space and we’re doing something that’s really on the forefront.
[00:13:23] I’ve never seen a non-profit or a youth organization do what we’re doing at the rate and at the clip that we’re doing it and we’re signing a lease in the next few weeks for our Omaha space. We’re expanding and we’re gonna open another building, another space in a different city.
[00:13:38] I’ve been telling our team, we went from like startup and survival mode for the first 12 years to now we’re like at that scale up phase where it’s like, how do we open another one? How do we create this in more communities? And for me, I feel like it’s like we’re creating the next YMCA. That’s how I feel. Like the power of it. No one’s rethought that.
[00:13:58] A.J. Lawrence: The alt YMCA, yeah.
[00:14:00] Mike Smith: Yeah. It’s like the place where you drop your kid off at 3, you can pick ’em up at 8. The programming’s incredible. Maybe they don’t love sports, but man, they really wanna be a gamer or a vlogger, or a YouTuber or a coder. And it’s like we’re creating spaces for them to learn those skills.
[00:14:19] A.J. Lawrence: As you’re talking about it, I’m both thinking about like my own sort of as a hacker, free runner couldn’t skateboard or do bike tricks, but I could jump over anything. I remember all like the alternative things and then I went to school down south and it was like all the weirdos hung out together. But because there just wasn’t enough density of like X type of people, we all had to hang out together. And I’m thinking like, Oh yeah, it was just random.
[00:14:48] This, you’re creating this structure. And I’m thinking of my kids, who are much more normal than I ever was, as they have their groups and stuff thinking how cool that is because so much of it is just worrying about if there’s gonna be other people who are not the same or one’s different. But sometimes people group.
[00:15:11] So that is so cool that you’re creating and fostering it. This has been a hard 12 years. You were like, Yeah, and a lot of excitement came from it, but 12 years is a lot of work. What about you? Where are you though on this journey now here as the entrepreneur?
[00:15:28] Mike Smith: Yeah, so for me, when you start a nonprofit, you have to make these impossible, insane sacrifices if it’s gonna survive.
[00:15:36] If you just look at the survival rate of business that makes money, it’s not very good. A nonprofit doesn’t make any money, you gotta ask for it. So the survival rate of nonprofits is so small. And so for the first, we’ve been around since 2010, for the first 11 years, I wasn’t even on salary. I never even got paid.
[00:15:56] I was on the board and I ran the thing as the executive director, but I had to find a different way to fund this cuz Nebraska’s a unique place. Lincoln’s a football town, and so I did impossible things just to start. I slept and lived homeless under a bridge for 30 nights in a literal blizzard just to raise money to go into this thing.
[00:16:17] I’ve skateboarded across the state of Nebraska, it’s 430 miles from like the Wyoming border to Lincoln and I’ve literally skated the state on a skateboard three times to raise money for this and just to do it. And then to really create it, I created this whole separate business, I became a professional speaker and was a brand ambassador and a content creator, and had this whole Mike Smith live experience where all of this speaking and these brands and all of the endorsements and things I got went into this organization to fund it and fuel it just to get it to this point where we could hire someone who could write grants.
[00:16:53] And so for me, the journey was, I feel like I went through this personal battle of creating a business in speaking, and I was good at it and creating content, good at it, all those things. Awesome, right? Like you can get really good at something, create a career out of it, and become a professional storyteller. And I do, I did all those things. But it wasn’t because I wanted to be a professional speaker or a storyteller or an author or a content creator, or have millions of views or run my own leadership tours.
[00:17:21] I lived in a tour bus for eight months and traveled the world because of a microphone and a story. But all of those things were fueled by what we do at Rabble Mill. Like I wanted Rabble Mill make it and survive and succeed. And so when I used to fly 250 days a year to schools and to conferences, and events and the motivator wasn’t like, Oh, it’s one more.
[00:17:44] I love working with kids so I’m in the school with youth. I was working in my strength. If I was giving speeches to adults, oh my goodness, like the pay would’ve been better but my soul would’ve left the building long before I started. Adults can’t handle my energy and don’t understand even how to interact with me.
[00:17:58] When I’m in a room full of youth or young people, that’s when it’s like, okay, that’s where my heartbeat is and that’s where my pulse is. And so it was the perfect thing, but I did it to create this space where youth can go and can be. And I think that when I would speak about The Bay to kids around the world, everyone wants this.
[00:18:17] Every young person is like, we need that in our town. We want one of these. Like how do we get one? And so I knew I was like speaking things into existence. Six years ago, I was like we’re gonna start a school. I was like, I’m in the process now. I’m fighting for it right now and I wanna put a school in our space.
[00:18:31] And I started talking about it six years ago, and teachers would be like, There’s no way. You know how many people thought we could never do it? And now, we did it. But I feel like I just went through this like personal battle of creating a business that’s like the most exhausting thing you can do is fly every day and travel every day and rent a car every day, at a hotel every day.
[00:18:50] Every day isn’t romantic. A few times a year is cool, but like every day. People would be like, Oh, my commute’s two hours. And I was like, my commute’s two time zones. What are you talking about? Like I gotta go from New York to LA then back to Orlando and that’s like by Wednesday. Things like that would happen.
[00:19:07] Everybody is like, what do you think of? And I’m like, if I close my eyes, I see a holiday and express breakfast bar. I see some gymnasium with a thousand kids and the terrible audio system that you gotta work magic just to make sure everyone can hear you. And then it’s like hauling ass to the airport or to return your rental car. Then you’re in the United Club, that’s when I would do the stuff I love.
[00:19:27] I’d be on the phone talking about the skate park, what are we doing at The Bay, what’s our programming. I was like a whole different life until 3 o’clock. And then 3PM until wherever I got to where my head rested, I was just building The Bay and Rabble Mill and what we do, and so I’m out of that season.
[00:19:43] Covid got me out of that season. I don’t speak anymore. I’ve retired that lifestyle and now I’m just focused on this. I’m able to get paid and be on staff. It’s like I’m actually feeling like I get to live the start of that entrepreneurial dream a little bit cuz I get to wake up every day and just focus on the one thing that I love the most, and it really is what we’re doing at Rabble Mill.
[00:20:04] And so I’m in my happiest part of this journey. People are like, how long does it take to make it? How long does it take to survive? I lived unrealistically and sacrificed everything for 12 years to get to today. You know what I mean?
[00:20:18] And I think that that’s lost on a lot of people cuz you can follow an overnight success story of I made this and now I make $33,000 a month, and you can too. And it’s like, did you know that person skipped every hang out, breakfast, birthday, brunch, fun time. I’m like, I don’t even, I’ve missed every birthday, Christmas, Thanksgiving, you name it.
[00:20:37] I haven’t been to a wedding, funeral. It’s all the things that sold out for this one thing, and that has its consequences. It really does. And I think a lot of people, because the internet can exponentially make you money quicker than a lot of other things, like it can happen on the internet so much faster. I think that people just want that success quicker.
[00:20:58] And I think that’s what I’ve realized is my quick thing to success was 12 years of just getting to where like now I get a paycheck, now I get to start. You know what I mean? And so I feel like in 12 more years we might be like, we did it. But I feel like I’m just in the start of a lot of ways.
[00:21:12] A.J. Lawrence: You created the foundation and that’s the cool thing in talking about like behind. As an entrepreneur, we do go into the journey and the wilderness. And sometimes that wilderness is even before we know we’ve started a business, we’re just out there doing stuff. But then that’s an intense slog. Your passion for this is obvious, but like 12 years? That’s hard. Obviously you had the active school programs, you had other types of traction that feed that process, but what do you think most helped you keep that passion going for 12 years?
[00:21:52] Mike Smith: I think you actually mentioned this earlier and it’s how I think I got here is my passion wasn’t like build a skate park. It was way bigger than that. My goal wasn’t open up a place where kids can go to do the things, it was way bigger than that. And if I hit a goal, I just move to the benchmark.
[00:22:11] And the way that I try to tell everyone is, People say follow your passion and I have a shitload of passion. But I played college basketball, used to love that. I haven’t touched a basketball in 10 years. The passion for that is no longer. And so passions come and go. If I would’ve chose a career in my passion, I’d be doing something in the basketball field right now. But I chose a different thing, which was youth culture and making an impact in Nebraskan youth specifically.
[00:22:37] And so for me, what I tell people all the time is, Find a problem you are really excited to solve for the rest of your life. And once you solve that problem, find another variation or bigger thing or go duplicate the solution or whatever. That’s what I did. It was like we opened up a really good place for kids to go.
[00:22:54] Then I talked to kids all over the planet and they were like, we need one of these in our town. And then the goal for me was like, Dude, you’re sitting on the next YMCA. You have to just learn and grow and build yourself up as a leader and as an organization. And you’ve gotta go from, Hey, this is how we solve it, to no, this is how we solve it on paper.
[00:23:11] So when you’re doing a hiring cycle, someone can come in and do those things. When you’re a speaker by yourself giving a speech, and I had four or five full-time people and we were traveling the world together and I had content teams, it was awesome. But that company’s not gonna change the world when I’m gone.
[00:23:27] That company’s only gonna be as big as Mike getting on a plane, getting on a stage, and that wasn’t it for me. Building something that is big enough to impact. I saw all the kids around the world, I used to make fun of ’em. I would be like, Do you know how quick you all look the same? A song happens on the internet and then all of a sudden you’re identical from New York to LA to Paris. You guys are the same.
[00:23:46] And it was crazy and I’d see it, and I know what they wanna do what I’m doing, like something that they love, that they enjoy, that’s meaningful. Like they want a career similar to what I’m trying to create for myself. A lot of them do. And so I just know, and I kept. Every time I’d be talking I was like, if you quit here, it stops here.
[00:24:05] The Bay stops right here if you quit right here, is what I would always tell myself. There was enough in me and I’m competitive as hell and there’s enough in me to just, I tattooed a chip on my shoulder, literally that says use it. So I like to compete and I like to push myself.
[00:24:20] And then I think seeing millions of kids, hearing them talk about how a place like this was exactly what they needed. And I knew I was never gonna build it for that specific kid. But what I do know is what we’re building works for kids everywhere, and that was enough for me to say, Okay, dude, like this one’s not for you. This one’s not even for the 10 kids that you know, or the thousand kids that you’re impacting now.
[00:24:43] This is for all those kids that might get to taste this or feel this or be a part of this or experience this if you just kept pushing. And that was why I kept pushing is it doesn’t have to stop right here. And I feel like I was able to push through that. Now, we have a team and now we have enough employees and we can scale this. And our board is in a good place where we can do this and grow this into something that’s bigger.
[00:25:07] But if I were to quit five years ago, we’d have a really cool skate park in Lincoln. That would be it. And it’s cool and that was good. But now, we’re a school and if we can start a public school here, you can start a public school in Omaha. And if you can do it in Omaha, you can do it in Kentucky. And if you can do it in Kentucky, you can do it in Seattle and Kansas. You can do it anywhere if the model is proven.
[00:25:29] People can start charter schools with money. You can start a private school with money. But starting a public school and doing it their way, that’s innovating a dinosaur. Like we’re innovating a dinosaur. Every town is run off of public school, every community. When schools shut down, how the adults do?
[00:25:49] Not great, not great. So our schools really run things. And so we can genuinely show public schools, here’s a dynamic different way to impact those kids that really struggle inside of the environment, let’s give you a 200-300 kid version. You can build it at your school. Just build something that looks like this at your school and watch what happens.
[00:26:11] Find the three or four community partners like us cuz they’re everywhere that can come in and invest in these kids. Watch what happens. That’s what we can show people. And so I think that we got through the ‘we’re just a skate park’ phase and now we’re into the like ‘we can do this in multiple communities and really change communities’ phase.
[00:26:29] And that’s what I’m excited about and that’s what kept me going, honestly. It was that.
[00:26:34] A.J. Lawrence: You were creating incremental value but you kept seeing the bigger value that you could generate in this. And that’s what’s so cool. There’s so much I wanna kinda ask you. I don’t know, maybe dating myself. Do you remember there was a TV series, but the movie Fame, in listening you describe this.
[00:26:52] I so think you guys need to have a movie just cause there’s like, I was never in theaters, never in music, but I had friends who were, and I remember them. For me it was Chariots of Fire, of alls things for running. That just got me so grunt.
[00:27:06] I remember like when that came out, they were like, Oh my God, this exists. And that became such a defining, I could so see kids like, Wait, skating in school? I can skate? It’s just that mind blast. Bringing us back, I’m also gonna just reference your book, because you were talking so much about the things that were of value and talking about you could just do X. You could just be the influencer, the paraphrase, and could have done just that and it would’ve been okay, but tactical structure probably would’ve been cool. But not like the meaning to it. And I think that’s an interesting, since I just, I get pitched quite often of like, X influencer wants to be on your show.
[00:27:59] They can get you this many clicks from their audience and all this. And it’s like, Wow, that’s so cool. You talked about this passion, and not that you use the passion, but then because there’s this problem there, what has helped you keep away- cuz this is a thing I know I failed my last business that I sold when we got bigger. I let the ego get into my efforts. How do you keep it being a game that is about the legacy, not the clicks to call out your book.
[00:28:33] Mike Smith: I was looking, I was like, I think I have one.
[00:28:35] A.J. Lawrence: Yeah. By the way, guys, I will put this in the thing. He has a great book.
[00:28:38] Mike Smith: I don’t even know if you can buy it anywhere other than the Jostens’ website, but it’s called, this was dark mode, it’s called Legacy Vs. Likes and it’s literally for kids. It’ll take you 12 seconds to read it as an adult. It’s for kids, but I made it to look cool and be visually driving. But for me, I never cared. I never cared. I don’t know how to say this any other way. I’m gonna say this cuz I say this to my friends a lot. You can use this however you want.
[00:29:04] But I have said if I was gonna write another book, don’t steal this from me, but if I was ever gonna write another book, I would want to call it something like this. There’s no research, there’s no nothing behind this, this is just what I’ve observed from the whole world as I’ve seen it over the last 12 years, flying around, working with companies, working with famous people, working with rich people, working with the impact sector, and I feel like people are chasing what I call the seven Fs.
[00:29:30] So these are like the seven Fs that I think people run after. People run after Fame, Finances, Freedom, Family, Faith, Fun and Fucking, Those are the seven Fs. Those are it. We are, people are driven by those things. For the cover, I’ll have to put like a little, like a percentage by overly fucking, that would sell. That cover right there would sell if you save that last F for the last one.
[00:29:55] But like I’ve heard people say, Oh, I know this person, they’ve got billions of dollars. And they literally would say they’d rather be famous than rich and they’ll spend all their money trying to go get fame because they don’t want people to care about them cuz they’re rich. They want to be famous.
[00:30:09] I know people who just want freedom. That’s it. They just want freedom. I’m one of those people. I know people who just want fun and they’re tasting fun. I’m also one of those people. I know people who want money so bad that they can’t think of anything else but how to get it. It’s ruined them.
[00:30:24] And there are some people who, I just want a family. I need a family. I’ve had friends, one of the toughest dudes I knew in high school, he was like I just wanna be a dad and that was all I cared about. And I’ve seen the hardest dudes, the hardest skate dudes that looked like a pissed off Jason Statham, would never say anything to you. Now, they’ve got six kids and they’re like Mr. Rogers on the block. They needed that family bucket filled up to fulfill who they are.
[00:30:49] And I think I heard this the other day, jealousy and envy is a bigot. I’m not jealous of someone who’s got a really cool car. I don’t care about really cool, nice cars. I drive old shitty trucks, right? I don’t care about that. But somebody who’s got like 20 acres of property in their own little dirt bike track and a pond and in space, I’m like, Ahh, give it to me. You know what I’m saying?
[00:31:10] I could give two shits how many followers you have on Instagram. I’ve never cared, that’s such a hassle to manage. If your face is every box on your social media, that is so much to manage. There’s so much pressure every day to be a certain way. Mine is, look at this dope event or party or crazy thing we did with kids and young people. I’m behind the camera half the time, it’s awesome. There’s nothing to manage there.
[00:31:31] I don’t have to worry about, do I show people my dinner tonight? God, no. I never do. You don’t care. I don’t care. What I was chasing was insane, it wasn’t to be seen. I wanted to use the internet to spread a message, to build the brand. I created a free show for teachers to play in school for kids that brought famous people on called The Harbor.
[00:31:52] We’ve did 160 episodes. Millions of kids watch this. I go through drive-throughs in Lincoln and kids will be like "do you make videos?", while I’m ordering food. They’ll like hear my voice. But they watched it like every week in schools all across the country. It’s called The Harbor TV, but it’s a locked down piece of content I made for a company that schools use.
[00:32:13] And so it’s awesome, but like Jostens, like the yearbooks, rings, caps gap. Jostens has reps all across the country that work with 80-90% of schools in America, and those reps give that content to those schools that work with them. And so many schools have access to the show. It’s free. Tony Hawk was on it.
[00:32:31] Kelsea Ballerini was on it. Von Miller, John Harbaugh, like really cool people were on this show telling a cool message. Tony Hawk said don’t get famous for being famous. Get famous for doing something, having a skill. Like he said, not their parents. You know what I mean?
[00:32:46] You were famous as a kid. What do you say to all the kids out there that wanna be famous? And he was like, Get famous for being good at something. Don’t get famous cuz you wanna be famous. But he’s speaking to that. He’s seen so many people that want fame for fame’s sake, not for skills’ sake. And so to me, I think the seven Fs to me, it’s okay, what motivates you?
[00:33:05] If you hear family, faith, freedom, fun, finances, fame, all that stuff, you hear that and you’re like, what drives you? And it’s like, I’m not driven by ego. I worked with kids partly cuz I wanted to be a kid. I love working with young people cuz they have my energy and so I’m chasing freedom and I’m chasing fun.
[00:33:23] And you need money to be free if you’re gonna take out school loans and buy a house. You need that, right? I know how to make a lot of money. If I wanna go make a lot of money, I’ll go put this energy on a corporate stage and start speaking and I could go make a ton of money, but I don’t.
[00:33:38] My soul would be like, because I wouldn’t feel free. I wanna ride my minibike around sand trails in Central Nebraska on the weekends and just mess around and have fun right now. Cuz that’s what gives me a sense of belonging and it fills me up and it gets me energized to go have the energy to do this work.
[00:33:55] And I don’t know, for me it’s like I never cared about the money. I just did it. And I think that kept me humble on this train of I’m not driven to make a ton of money. I turned down speaking, I got asked to speak. It was like a White House type invitation, someone who worked at the White House. It was like a government building, government agency, whatever. It was like gonna be 20, $30,000. And I said no.
[00:34:20] And this was like a few months ago. My agent who’d booked for me was like, Are you crazy? And I just said, Do you want to go camping instead? That’s what I literally said to him. I’d rather go camping with my wife than get on that stage right now. Cuz the story I want to tell, I’ll go tell it in 20 years when this season’s done and I’m ready.
[00:34:37] But I’m not there yet. My heart is still in this like freedom and fun stage. And that’s where I’m at right now. That’s where I always was. No matter what happened, no matter how big it got, no matter what cool opportunity came. I was like, that’s not my world. I’m not of that world. I’m of this world and it’s a different one. And I know my world, I know what world I wanna be in.
[00:34:58] A.J. Lawrence: It’s funny because I was just talking with my mastermind group about the why’s that we do things because we’re all different types. It’s just kind of weird thing because too often it’s talked, Hey, you need to know the why, here’s your paragraph. And it means nothing. But when you live your why, I think it doesn’t solve all your problems but as you’ve been talking about, it does help. It’s like a cheat code or conversion optimization.
[00:35:36] You’ve been talking about being able to say no to things that take you away from your mission, and that assumption on my part is that probably allows you to be more effective at creating this value that you want, creating the school, doing all this stuff. By saying no and being able to say no to things that are ego stroking, pocketbook friendly, et cetera, is difficult. I know this quite well.
[00:36:06] And it’s your ability to have that "why" makes everything else not done, but more effective. Seems very much like you can do this better because you have the why.
[00:36:22] Mike Smith: Totally. And I think for me, I have to set hard rules for myself. Like, okay, this chapter is closed so really turn the book and be about something different.
[00:36:31] And so I like feel like I said everything. The last thing I said on my show was an episode called Change. And I was like, Don’t be scared of change, get good at it. Don’t run from it, get good at it. And then the last thing I literally said was, I don’t have anything else I wanna say. And then I walked off and that was it.
[00:36:47] And like the truth is, right now I don’t have anything else I wanna say. So I feel like I’m in a learning stage where I’m trying to now learn from people and absorb, and I got through the grind, hustle. I tattooed ‘grind’ on my hand and ‘focus’ my other one, you know what I mean? But then, I just tattooed ‘slow down’ on the other side, you know what I’m saying?
[00:37:10] I see the slow down one way more. It’s a way better message. But I’m in a different season where now it’s time for me to learn, it’s time for me to reflect. I’m not out trying to have a big social life. I’m spending time focused on like myself, my physical self, my actual self right now. And I’m trying to get as smart as I can so that I’m prepared to lead a team.
[00:37:29] We have 40 on our team now. You have probably had teams add so many zeros. You know how many people are running companies with way more people? Totally get it. Totally get it. You’re building a for profit. Forty is a lot when it’s like everyone’s working with youth.
[00:37:44] That’s when you get into like sometimes principals and superintendents are managing insane things during the day. Like someone walks in their office and they’re like, This happened in the classroom today. And they’re like, I’ll catch you after this finance meeting. And they’re like, Oh my God. In my mind I’d be like, I cannot believe that just happened.
[00:37:58] When kid stuff happens, it feels so gigantic. Do you know what I mean? It’s just gigantic cuz it involves so many other things. But anyway, it’s a season where I’ve gone back to class and school twice and got certified in. I felt like I was good at marketing, but don’t have a degree in it. So I went and got certified in StoryBrand to be like a certified guy.
[00:38:18] Donald Miller’s told like story, you can become a guide. And the reason I became a guide was I learned a ton of awesome marketing language and templates and cheat sheets that I can give to teenagers now when they’re learning this stuff in school. And I can give it to my staff.
[00:38:33] Our entire internal marketing is changing. We’re doing a whole website rebrand. But had I not gone and got smart and learned all this stuff and come back with some templates, my team wouldn’t be any better. But now, we’re way better because I went and did that.
[00:38:46] And then I went through this Design Your Life. It’s an awesome book, it’s by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. Just design your life. But they’re design dudes outta Stanford and so same thing. I’m like, our school’s gonna have design thinking baked into it and really teach kids like this is the process of solving problems. This is how the mouse was created, this is how a computer was created, was this type of thinking. You’re all creatives, think like this.
[00:39:10] I tell our kids this all the time, if you’re not a pro skateboarder by the time you’re like 13, you’re not gonna be in a pro skateboard. Really hard, right? That grind is hard. So instead of saying, I wanna be a pro skateboarder, and this is mind mapping it’s from their book, instead of being a pro skateboarder, write skateboarding.
[00:39:28] And then off of skateboarding, I have them draw 10 lines and come up with all the different jobs that support the skate industry. You could be a graphic designer, you could be a filmer, you could start a nonprofit skate park. You could be a host. You could build skate parks, you could design skate parks.
[00:39:43] You could go work at a skate shop. You could design clothing for a skate brand. You could be a sales rep who travels around the world selling to shops. You could open your own skate shop. Now the kids are going, Oh shit. I could have a career in skateboarding that could last my whole career versus just like hooking myself down some stairs in my early twenties, hoping to make maybe a million bucks if I’m lucky. You know what I mean?
[00:40:05] A.J. Lawrence: That is brilliant because I think it even goes further once you start learning. Like, okay, there are things outside of being the X Game star. You start realizing not just in that industry, but you’re like, Oh, if I have these skills. I got into business because I loved comedy. I couldn’t tell a joke to say it in my life, but I was writing for friends or setting up skits.
[00:40:29] I then got into writing, and I liked writing. But I was like, Yeah, I wasn’t great at that, but I loved the problem, the conceptualizing. And then all of sudden I fell into business, all things, and I fell in love. It was like, oh, it’s problem solving. And my business professor, you know, I was like creating things to then solve problems. Like, no, you have to work within a company. Now it’s all entrepreneurism in business schools.
[00:40:52] But at that time it was like, it was that fault. Like, if I can’t do X, you just don’t stop. You expand out and then all of a sudden you start with time and like the infrastructure you’re creating, kids could start seeing, Oh, these things connect. Which I don’t think trying to tell people like, Oh, if you love this and you really dig into it, and you start practicing everything around it, you could take that into life, into other things.
[00:41:24] Mike Smith: Absolutely. We have a little popup thing called Art and Thrift, and so it’s like all the kids who like to buy old vintage Nebraska shirts at the thrift stores in small towns and they sell ’em for 45 bucks.
[00:41:34] Imagine if there was one place where like 30 thrift booths pop up all their best stuff and there’s music and food trucks and art stuff, and your daughter can come, and then it’s like they’re all right there. And so we do that in our space. But what’s cool is we’re giving that to the high school kids.
[00:41:49] So the kids are running Art and Thrift. Now, they’re the vendors. They gotta run the event. They gotta be the popup booths. They gotta learn to sell their stuff. But we have one of our high school kids who, he bought his car because of Art and Thrift. He was selling skate shirts and selling like Thrasher tees to college girls who don’t skate but will spend 40 bucks on the Thrasher tee, you know what I’m saying? Like he’s got all that stuff.
[00:42:10] And so he bought a $2,800 car and has his insurance and he’s selling every time. I’m like, How you doing? And he’ll unzip his little cash bag and it’s just like wads of twenties cuz he’s just rocking t-shirts. Who knows where he is gonna go, but man, that kid knows what it’s like to buy stuff, sell stuff, mark it up, and then save enough money to buy a car and he’s only 16.
[00:42:30] But there’s a lot of 17, 18, 19, 20 year olds who still don’t know how to do that right now. If you’ve got those skills, and you can learn these things early, man, by the time you get to college you’re seeing the world as a way to make money or you’re seeing ways. Cuz what happens to so many kids is they’re the cow headed to go get branded tagged stickers shot and everything largely on the track that your parents put you on, like it’s their credit card.
[00:42:56] They’re paying for your rent, it’s their card, it’s actually their car insurance. You run outta cash and it’s like, Dad, mom. It’s the text, hey, you overdrew your account. Like, I’m sorry. I just had to get brunch with my friends. Like whatever the lame excuse is. That is 99.9% of the college kids who have the means so don’t do it that way.
[00:43:15] Then there’s the kids who are like grinding it out, like they’re their own support system. They’re their own parents, they’re the ones that paid for their car. They’re fighting for it. You see that too. You see both, but the kids who are grinding and fighting for it, they’re realizing you can make money and have hustles while you’re doing it. And those are the kids who are coming out on a rocket ship cuz companies are looking at them. We just hired a young person who’s awesome at youth programming and was also the founder of her own non-profit driving an art (inaudible) .
[00:43:46] She knows both. So when I talk with them you’re like, You know how hard it is to get grants? And they’re like, Of course they get it. And you’re like, All right, for our grant, we gotta do X. And their understanding of what we’re doing is gigantic because they played every side of it as an entrepreneur.
[00:43:59] But when you’re an entrepreneur, you’re the janitor, the accountant, the insurance guy, coffee maker, marketer. You’re everything. You’re all of it. And the earlier you learn that lesson in life, you might not stick with entrepreneurship. You might not create your own company. But the earlier you learn that lesson in life, the better you fit into the business world because you understand why things are happening around you the way they’re happening around you.
[00:44:22] I have two examples of kids, this will crack you up. I’ve had a millennial kid do this and a Gen Z kid do this so it’s not even generation exclusion here. One kid blew up on Twitter, started this like sports nation thing, killing it. He has all these athletes coming, working with him, and this is Twitter we call it six, seven, eight years ago. He was a a millennial kid and he’s doing a presentation.
[00:44:45] We’re both doing a presentation for banks and he goes before I do. And he crushes it, kills it, does a great job, everybody loves him. He walks away and I’m like, Hey dude, real quick. As I walk up I go, do you know what an ROI is? And he was like, I have no idea. Had no clue. And this kid’s making money, hiring people, getting brands, do you know what I’m saying?
[00:45:02] And I’m like, Yeah, what’s the ROI on a tweet? He doesn’t even care. Those kids are everywhere right now. We’ve got two kids who work for us, they have millions of followers on TikTok. They got like $2,000 e-bikes sent to them for free just so they would unbox it and go ride it around like they’re doing TikTok for Tony Hawk’s team and all this stuff.
[00:45:21] Same thing, you ask him like, What’s an ROI? What’s this? What does it mean? What’s a proof of concept if they wanted you to send them like a proof of concept before you do something. They don’t know what a pitch deck is, like literally never made one. Don’t know what it is. But they’re making real money and have real followers and crowdsourced road trips across the country from the kids that they know.
[00:45:44] And so if you can sharpen and mold that up, whether these kids go on to be famous and have their own TV show someday or they go on to be the director or whatever. They have a language now and they understand the social fabric, the internet fabric, of the world better than you and I ever could because they’re the ones that are driving it now.
[00:46:01] We drove it when old guys knew how to run it in the old days. Now it’s the TikTok generation. It’s theirs. It’s that one Snapchat and TikTok gave the power to the kids and adults were now the outsiders looking in. That’s what happened. We became outsiders looking into it.
[00:46:17] A.J. Lawrence: Every wave of interaction, there’s the You should do it this way crowd and then there’s the crowd that just is hacking it. It is that I’m fucking gonna just do whatever works, and then all of a sudden it’s, Oh, that really is the saying. They come up with new vocabulary. They do this and that. But the reality is it’s, Oh, they’re mixing and matching.
[00:46:40] They’re collaging. They’re taking ideas and playing together because they don’t know they’re not supposed to do X and Z together. So it’s like short thrown together. Oh, that worked? Wait, it’s not supposed to.
[00:46:53] This is so fascinating what you’re doing. If you’ve been talking about this idea that you want to be solving problems and school just launched, you have kids now, God, you must have the coolest teachers. But to kind of get to it, how are you, not the program, not Rabble Mill. But you already said earlier, you’re gonna go solve a problem and use this passion and everything and then go find something else. How are you defining what success is going to be for Mike Smith, the social entrepreneur?
[00:47:25] Mike Smith: I think I’m changing two sectors at the same time and I think that they meet each other. But I think there’s the after school space, the out of school time programming, and then there’s this public school thing we’re doing with Bay High.
[00:47:40] To me, like those are the two big things I want every community to have access to. Like either the Blueprint or yes, we wanna put one in our town. And they can click a button and we’re on the other end of that, and it’s here is exactly how you do it and here’s the playbook. That to me is when I will have reached the entrepreneur-
[00:47:57] the social entrepreneurship success that I’m looking for is this thing is scalable, replicable, and impactful all over. And if that’s just Nebraska in my lifetime, cool. The dude who started the YMCA I guarantee you, he was long gone before he jumped the pond. And they started every, all over the world and he’ll never know, but that’s the trajectory I want.
[00:48:17] The Bay and Rabble Mill, like Rabble Mill’s the organization. But the place like The Bay, these youth centers, those things I think in Bay High, those things I think are replicable in other places. So that’s the big, Hey, we’re not gonna make a billion dollars, We’re not gonna hire 10,000 employees. We’re not gonna have 98% market penetration, whatever people’s big goals are.
[00:48:38] We took KPIs back. I hate KPIs. In my world, they’re so lame. What do you do in my world, it’s like you’re building relationships with young people and it’s like, it’s so hard to have a KPI, right? So you know how many youth that live in a qualified census track were in your skate park after 10:00 PM? Like that would be the federal language we would do. You get what I’m saying?
[00:48:59] That’s a real KPI that we stared out on paper and was like, I don’t think anybody’s gonna be passionate about that one. And so it loses it so you get it. Imagine what our KPIs would have to be and how we would put a soul to ’em.
[00:49:14] So we created a separate system, this is something we’re excited to build and grow, but we call it SMI and it stands for Significant Moments of Impact. And so how do those relate to our core values? Our core values are dream different, people over policy, celebrating others, honoring relationships, making it fun, focusing on solutions not problems. And so those are like the things that raise the tide. That’s how we get better. We raise this together. And so we look at it and it’s okay.
[00:49:41] So I have a great story of when we first started these things, cause we were battling the KPI or SMI. So we’re in a staff meeting and we’re talking about stuff and we’re talking about significant moments of impact and this kid walks in and he’s, Hey.
[00:49:53] Interrupts the staff meeting, this happens in our space all the time, so we all look and he is like, I just FaceTimed my dad. And everybody’s, Oh, cool. He’s like, I never met my dad before. Everybody looks and it’s like looking at it, it’s this Spiderman meme of who’s jumping in, and one of our dudes hops up, puts his arm around the kid, he’s like, Yeah, I don’t really know my dad that well either.
[00:50:09] They like walk out, they go talk, they do their thing. He walks back in, everybody looks at him and he is like, Well, how is that for a significant fucking moment of impact or something like that. We all we’re like, That’s what it is. You know what I mean?
[00:50:20] And it’s like, yeah, we got it and it’s like that’s why we exist. That moment right there, that interruption, our staff meeting, that interruption and that kid. We all have a job so moments like that can exist. And so if there’s this other part of what does success look like for me and it’s "are we creating significant moments of impact in young people’s lives?"
[00:50:41] If we’re doing that and if we’re doing that through skateboarding, through fashion, through bead making, through youth culture, if we’re doing it the way we’re doing it, I know exactly what kind of kid we’re gonna attract. I know exactly what kind of people we’re gonna work with. You know exactly what skills you can teach them cuz there’s a certain type of young person drawn to those activities.
[00:50:59] When you look at those kids and then you look at where they end up in their careers, you’re like, it’s not typically HR, it’s not Finance, it’s not Sales. It’s your marketing and creative spaces and that where they can just flood those industries. We just gotta prepare ’em for it. And so to me, there’s this if we’re not creating significant moments of impact in kids’ lives, we’re never gonna get the privilege to hand them a camera and say, Look what you can learn with this.
[00:51:25] Because otherwise you’re just a teacher in a class saying, Here’s a camera, here’s the rule triangles, or here’s the rule thirds or whatever. And it’s like, learn this skill, hopefully you remember it. Have a good day. In 59 minutes, someone else is coming in in that same exact seat, I’m gonna tell them this as well. We can go deeper than that because we can.
[00:51:41] And so to me it’s about these SMI. We’re gonna scale, we’re gonna grow, we’re gonna build this big thing. And how are we gonna do it? Because we create significant moments of impact through our programming. And that is what drives our staff.
[00:51:52] If you talk to our Bay High teachers and you see our text threads with them. My texts are like, Have an incredible day. Know you’re gonna be out there creating moments of impact in these people’s lives. Today’s all about building relationships. So excited to see what you can do.
[00:52:05] That’s like the work text that they get from their boss as they’re walking in to go work with youth. That’s like what we’re doing. And that is success to me, like creating a space where that’s the job and that’s the goal. And if we can gift that to many communities across the globe and they can experience what we’re experiencing here, whether it’s called the Bay or they call it what they call it.
[00:52:26] If we can create the blueprint and the model and we can democratize how to do this, cuz we’re not special. It’s Lincoln, Nebraska for god’s sakes. If we can do it here, what the hell? It can happen anywhere. You know what I mean?
[00:52:38] And like the most innovative things don’t typically start in the middle of America. They can, but typically, it’s the reason something like this can happen here is you can get a whole community to buy in right away. Cuz Lincoln is Lincoln and we have an incredible community. It’s hard to get New York City to all buy in right away with something like this cuz there’s too many players in the game.
[00:52:58] But if we can do it first here and incubate it here and show people it’s possible and give them best practices and base it in research and show them over a period of time, look at the model, look what we’re doing. Then it’s duplicable. And that to me is where we’re headed.
[00:53:12] A.J. Lawrence: Yeah, we can go into all outside versus inside different things. I think to a large degree, it’s easier to create outside because one, it’s easier to live. As someone who spent 20 plus years living in New York when even after I sold my company, it’s expensive, it’s intense and it takes a lot. Once you have something though, that environment helps accelerate it.
[00:53:39] But nowadays that advantage, still there, it’s still great if you have something and it’s helpful to jump. But like you can get the internet, as you were saying earlier. The Internet’s like New York City 25 years ago. It’s just like there is mass like used to be if you were different. Eventually if you wanted to be among your kind, you went to New York, San Fran.
[00:54:04] Yeah, maybe Chicago, but that was it. Now there’s the internet and there is this idea of being able to find not your kind, but like-minded and people who are open to experimentation among business model lifestyles, et cetera. That is so exciting. Like you’re saying, you’re creating something. It is not in any way tech, but the internet culture allows you to, if you can play off of that and accelerate your capabilities on your value drive, because that exists out there, which is so cool compared to 35 years ago when I was a kid.
[00:54:48] It just has so changed. So sweet. You talked about like your passion, your drive, where you’re going, what is success, how this is going on. We did talk about you going back to school. There’s so many things to like take out of this conversation.
[00:55:04] What is something like someone listening to the show, Do you take donation? What’s something the listeners, the other entrepreneurs listening to the show, what can they do? Can they go check out Rabble Mill? Do you take donation? What can we do?
[00:55:19] Mike Smith: Yeah, I would say there’s two things. One is I will always take money for our organization. That’s my job. I totally, it’s one of my favorite spaces to be in now is, had successful businesses have met successful business owners now I’m choosing to hop into this non-profit space fulltime. But they know and I know and we all know how it works. And so I feel like Robinhood walking in there where I’m like, you’re giving me this money one way or another.
[00:55:45] And we all know it cuz we’re friends and they’re gonna do it. And I know how to talk their language. I’ve never had this much fun asking people for money as I do right now, because I’ve never had so much fun stuff to talk about as we do now. And so if you wanna donate and contribute and get involved, rabblemill.org or you can hit us up, there’s a donate button, click it. If you’ve sold some companies, just add a zero. Whatever you’re thinking, I would just say add a zero. You got it. And we’ll take it. And so totally.
[00:56:09] My other thing I would say is I would love, I am in that season where I just need to keep meeting people who can connect me to people who can connect me to people, the expert to franchising things. The person who can help get these things street like. There are people that I need to meet in this journey as I go from being. When you speak, you’re only a couple stages away from being with the biggest people in the world and you’re fist bumping them on as you pass on the way by. That happens quickly in that world. That world’s gone for me.
[00:56:36] This new world of scaling a socially impact driven space for youth where the money isn’t big, but the impact is great, that’s a whole new arena that I’ve gotta go learn and grow and develop in. And so there are so many successful entrepreneurs out there who went from one gas station to 10,000, from one car wash to jet splash.
[00:56:58] You know what I mean? So whatever it is, I’m excited to hear and learn and just. I’m in a learning season, so if there’s anybody listening to this, I’ll get a virtual cup of coffee with that dude. Or if you find yourself in Lincoln, in Omaha, swoop through. Come check out what we’re doing, and I’d love to take you for a cup of coffee.
[00:57:13] A.J. Lawrence: Cool. No, obviously everyone, if you have a great idea for Mike, please reach out to him. We’ll put his Twitter, he has a great Twitter feed. We’ll put that all down in the show notes. In that way, you can reach out to Mike. Mike, I wanna keep this conversation going. I would love to maybe dive in at another time on significant moments of impact, because I think we just touched that.
[00:57:38] And as an analytics person, I’m like, Whoa, I’m so trying to, even as we were talking, like, Hey, can we merge these two? I would love to dive into so much more here. So Mike, thank you for being on the show today. I really am hoping we get to talk again real soon.
[00:57:56] Mike Smith: Of course. Thank you for having me.
[00:57:57] A.J. Lawrence: Thank you so much for being on the show.
[00:58:03] This episode of Beyond 8 Figures is over, but your journey as an entrepreneur continues. So if we can help you with anything, please just let us know. And if you liked this episode, please share it with someone who might learn from it. Until next time, keep growing and find the joy in your journey. This is A.J., and I’ll be talking to you soon. Bye-bye.