National Guard staff sergeant Gideon Connelly was only 21 when a motorcycle accident took his left leg. Nasty scene: the throttle jammed on his bike, and he lost control of it just as a car was coming around the corner. He (and the bike) flipped a few times, landing on the curb. The damage: his left foot was severed at the Achilles tendon, and his knee and right arm were snapped in half. He lost blood and consciousness. Taken to Walter Reed Hospital, he was given a choice: wait three years for his leg to possibly recuperate, or amputate now.
That was in 2011. In 2016, he’s training to run with a prosthetic leg. His goal: to be part of the U.S. Olympics track-and-field team.
In 2014, at the Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, he ran the 200-meter dash in 29.4 seconds. At the Invictus Games in 2016, he ran 100 meters in 13.46 seconds, and 27.48 seconds in the 200-meter competition. At the 2016 Paralympic Nationals, he ran 12.9 seconds in 100 meters and in the 200-meter race, he ran 27.2 seconds.
Throughout his post-accident ordeal, his eyes were on the prize: after the hospital, he wanted his old body back. He started lifting and running again. He had to learn how to use a prosthetic correctly, to get the energy return out of it. In Maryland, he went through two coaches, trying to learn technique, style, track workouts, and functional movement. As well, he was working a full-time job.
Training for the games, he gives himself no slack or sympathy. He goes at it four hours a night, in the gym and on the track, often by himself. Of this ambition, he says, “I’m trying to grind, but I’m also trying to become both a better athlete and a better person.”
Gideon was always driven. At age 20, in addition to being in the Maryland National Guard, he bartended and worked weekends at Home Depot. Those 70-hour work weeks – plus his military signing bonus -- gave him the dough to buy a house, a motorcycle and a car.
“I forged my own path,” he says, “and got what I wanted.”
His mother had left him with relatives when he was 14. He had been in and out of homes. No dad in the picture, but two uncles who were incredible role models, and very supportive.
He was on his own again after finishing high school. He wasn’t a natural student, but the one thing he did love in school: running track. After his accident, he decided to strive for returning to the sport, but it wasn’t a straight and narrow path.
“I went through a phase where I just wanted to give up,” he recalls, regarding his post-accident hospital stay, “but I was 21-years old, so I figured I still had a whole life ahead of me, and made the decision to keep pushing.”
His Uncle Lonnie has a medical background and is a devout Catholic. He drove up to DC regularly from Baltimore to help with Gideon’s rehab, prayed with him, helping him navigate through the ordeal.
He received a donated prosthetic running leg from a company named Ossur, which makes them. From there, he took off.
When it came to rehabbing, Uncle Lonnie took him to New York, the best place in the world for walking (if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere). It’s there where Gideon learned how to use his prosthetic leg.
The push led him to Tampa, Florida, where the Maryland native is still on active duty with the Guard, now as a chaplain’s assistant.
“My job is teaching resiliency to others,” he says. “How to overcome, and how to embrace your positive side, even through your negative times and tragedies. That’s what I’m teaching in the military at this point. I’ll be doing speeches at yellow ribbon ceremonies, for post-deployment troops coming back from Iran and Afghanistan.”
Funny how life throws in some surprises – a new life is created out of adversity and, frankly, a lack of a plan.
“At first, I had no plans,” he admits. “I knew I wanted to run here [in Florida] and find a coach. Nobody in my family has ever moved away from Maryland. But I never gave up my military obligation. I moved from aircraft mechanic to chaplain’s assistant. I want to help others with counseling: financial, family, illness, injury, and loss.”
The accident, ultimately, did him more good than harm. He says, “I was a self destructive person before -- vain and negative. I couldn’t change. I was into bodybuilding and competing, always into looks and aesthetics and always trying to be the best I could be. After the accident, I lost 95 pounds. I lost muscle. But that’s what I needed to bring out the real me, the person who helps others, the one who wants to be a good-hearted person.”
His Catholic upbringing ultimately led him back to the path, but as a chaplain’s assistant, he’s open to all religions and ideologies.
“I just want to connect with you on a human level and guide you,” he says. “I just want you to know that I’m here for you.”
He recalls, “I really wanted to change my direction in life. I want to be motivational, inspirational to others. Education is not my realm; going to school is not my realm. That’s not me. So what do I do?”
Training, for one. He trains every day with Rey Robinson, a professional coach; and with a small team. On the side, he offers personal training.
“I have to make sure that I train to the best of my ability and succeed,” he says. “Everybody has hiccups and problems along the road, but I block out all my problems, get out on the track, and push through it -- I give 100% and just push through it. I’m not living by anybody else’s rules at this point. I’m just living by my own rules. I’m trying to make a path for myself.”
Along the way, he’s gaining quite a following on that road.
“I’m not a preacher,” he says. “I won’t preach to the world about what I’ve done. The people who are inspired by me are never the people I reach out to and try to touch. Instead, they're the people who see what I do, what I give every day – those are the people who are inspired by me. Those are the people who come to me. They think the path that I’ve chosen is great, but not everybody can give up everything and pursue their dreams 100%. But I don’t want to be the person at 50 who says, ‘I wish I would have given that a shot.’ I don’t want to be a shoulda-woulda-coulda kind of guy.”
Follow Gideon – and his race toward his goal -- on Facebook and Instagram @gideoncon
Kristen shares what she’s learned as an entrepreneur. She tells us how marketing tricksters use “greenwashing” to pull the wool – and the sheets – over our eyes when it comes to believing a product is actually organic, nontoxic and safe
Nobody but nobody would have predicted the fate of Barbara Corcoran. The Shark Tank investor and native New Yorker left a trail of straight D’s in school, and began her adult life working a series of odd jobs (secretary, hospital admin). She suffered from dyslexia, a disorder that had yet to have a name or an understanding. That didn’t stop her – nor did anything else – from working 18-hour days, punching clocks.
As a diner waitress, one of her customers became her boyfriend, and he gave her a thousand-dollar loan to start a business. The result: a real estate company called The Corcoran Group. In 2001, she sold that company for $70 million, but not before becoming one of the most powerful brokers in New York. To this day, The Corcoran Group remains a real estate juggernaut, and Barbara’s story has become legend.
Since then, Barbara’s honesty, genuineness and street smarts have earned her a place in the culture as a grounded, sensible, trusted voice. She and the other Sharks have helped teach America the value – and challenge -- of being entrepreneurial.
We look to Barbara for insight as we pursue a path that is rocky, unpredictable and filled with ditches and dead ends – but that same road can also lead to promise, opportunity and a rainbow’s end.
Here, Barbara tells Three Commas about what it takes:
Back when you were waitressing, did you ever believe that you would achieve the American Dream?
I didn’t even have that kind of American Dream, frankly. I was just happy doing my work. I always assumed that I would be working very hard. I always had many jobs, often two at once, even when I was in college.
Waitressing, by far, was one of my favorite jobs, always. I didn’t really see it then, but waitressing really is the same as sales. You’re in charge of your own counter, so you have your own territory. You make friends with your customers. I made friends with everybody who walked in. I gave them a big smile, because I genuinely like people. And based on the job you did – based both on the delivery of the food and talking them up – the more tips you got. It felt – for me – always fair.
I anticipated the fast pace of my life, but anticipating the quality of my life now? No. If you think about it, the quality of life has to do with -- more than anything else -- being happy. I was a happy kid, I had a happy family, I had a happy mother. I felt I could work and provide for myself because I always had, so I felt confident and happy. I always felt I would have a confident, happy life.
In some ways, it’s almost easier to have that when you don’t have money than when you do. Money complicates things. It spoils your kids, gives too many options, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what their real motives are, you second guess a lot when the other objective that people might have has to do with money. I wouldn’t want to say that it’s easier to be happy when you’re poor, but it was less complicated.
You speak well of your mom, who raised nine kids and kept a good attitude. How did she feel about your success?
In the beginning [when I first appeared on Shark Tank], the established Sharks were mowing right over me and I couldn’t even get a question in. Upset, I called my mom, and she said, “Barbara, put the two little angels on your shoulders -- your dad and I -- cheering you on.” And I found my voice.
My mom got more of a kick out of my success than I did. Moms like to brag on their kids. There were nine of us, and she bragged on all of us, but I think she got a special kick out of [my success] – and maybe I’m not even right on that – maybe if I talk to my sisters and brothers, they would all say that.
But I think she got a special kick out of my life because she saw it as a giant adventure. She was a real New York girl. And before she got married and started having babies, she was a real New York working girl. She talked about it all the time, and I was living that enchanted kind of life that she had a taste of.
What advice or reassurance would you give to yourself if you could go back in time and sit down with that waitress?
I would say exactly what my mother said to me -- and I didn’t listen: “It all works out. Just keep working hard. You’ll see. Everything works out.” I say it all the time now.
On Shark Tank, entrepreneurs look to you for advice, guidance and hopefully an offer – but do you ever learn anything new from the entrepreneurs who appear on the show?
What I have learned is that very few people have the capacity to succeed in building a business. People may be passionate about a product they can sell, but as far as turning it into an empire, so few of them are able to do it. So few people really have what it takes. They may have the desire and the belief, but they don’t have what it takes to get there.
Of course, you have to have the dream. You can’t get anywhere unless you can visualize it. But you also have to have the talent; you have to have good judgment. You have to have tremendous perseverance. Most entrepreneurs don’t have all of that.
Do you ever miss selling real estate?
I don’t miss the selling of real estate, because I sell for a living today, selling the entrepreneurs on coming into a deal. I’m even selling when I want to hire someone for a support staff position. And I’m selling when someone already has five offers, because everybody knows they are good. I’m selling all the time to get everything I want. I’m selling all the time. That’s like breathing to me.
What I tremendously miss – and I miss it every day of my life, truthfully – is the thousand people at that business [The Corcoran Group] and seeing this huge, happy family. My management team, especially – great managers who helped me run the business. I miss my business partner, who was my operations lady, so I didn’t have to deal with all the crap I didn’t like to deal with.
Also what I miss: thinking of an [idea] in the morning and executing it in the afternoon and seeing if it flies. Anything I could create, I would write on a blackboard, and I would have it get done. That creativity board and the ability to execute on anything I could think of and see it play out and come home and make money for me -- that’s so satisfying.
How digital are you?
I run my entire life by texting and I love that. You can track everything and it’s easy to find. I love social media, but not because I know a damn thing about it. But I hired someone who knows an awful lot about it, and they’re doing a great job for me on that. But for me, I’m really surprised when I’m using anything modern.
One thing all the Sharks seem to have in common: charisma. Do you think charisma is a necessary quality to possess in order to succeed in business?
Charisma is selling -- the ability to get someone to listen and get on your side. And, if all goes well, do what you want them to do. Charisma is powerful, because if people like you, you already have a sale. And we’re all selling. We need to get people to do what we need them to do -- family, business. I never buy into any Shark Tank businesses unless they have charisma.
Making a pitch on Shark Tank seems like it would be the most difficult thing in the world!
The ones who are comfortable in their own skin are the ones who shine and the ones who get the offers.
We have After The Tank to catch up on our favorite entrepreneurs. You seem to be very good to your partners and treat them like family. How do you bond with your partners and how does it help grow the business?
I did that kind of thing for two years before Shark Tank even knew about it, and then Shark Tank wanted to cover it. The whole objective in getting [all the businesses] together is to become friends. I find that if everybody really likes each other, and they continue the friendship and start sharing ideas, my businesses do better and they have fun.
Most of my good businesses are owned by two people, so they have each other. But when they [connect with] other teams running other businesses, they really bond well and they stay friends. What that really does for us is it makes us a family. Then the business kind of happens.
For Shark Tank contestants, it often feels like an American rags-to-riches story.
For all the entrepreneurs, it’s exactly that way, with the magic of Shark Tank sprinkled on top. It’s an amazing ride for each and every one of them. Even the ones who don’t succeed are thrilled with the ride.
You and Mark Cuban seem to have a good rapport on TV. Have you learned any entrepreneurial or business lessons from Mark in the years you’ve worked with him?
Mark is the smartest person on the set, hands down. Every Shark has their thing – Mark is people smart, which I think is my talent too.
He’s great with people, but he’s also great with technology. I don’t even try to know that space. So with Mark, that’s a double-header: people and technology.
With Mark, I did learn one thing that I use again and again. He said he never invests in a business [that features a large tech component] that is not run by a techie. And I’ve learned to do that too. I’ve learned that from Mark.
As an entrepreneur, how would you create something magnificent out of a massive blank canvas?
Ryan McCord, president of McCord Development, Inc. (MDI), can answer that question from experience: his company is developing Houston’s Generation Park, a 4,000-acre, master-planned enterprise community. And take the word “developing” literally, as in “from the ground up.”
“It’s a remarkably energizing opportunity,” he tells Three Commas, “and we always want to make sure that we are the right stewards for this asset.”
McCord Development, a Houston-based real estate company, focuses on acquisition, development, and management of office, industrial, land, single-family and multifamily assets. Since its founding in 1973, it has acquired or developed projects across the country worth more than $2 billion (that’s billion with three commas).
Generation Park, though, is big, even for Texas.
“This is the last frontier,” Ryan says.
Here’s the Big Picture, according to Ryan: MDI is the second-largest landowner in the third most populous county (Harris County) in the United States. This county – which includes Houston – does not require zoning, and that fact is no small detail. Most major cities in the country wouldn’t even think to forego its control of zoning.
Ryan says that this makes Houston truly the land of the free: no zoning review board is going to stand in the way of development or growth – no committee is going to strike down a hotel or a mall; the city is completely market-driven. The objective, then: to pursue a strategy that can produce the most value.
A tall order, but that old real estate rule of thumb fits nicely here: location, location, location. Generation Park is ten minutes from the main airport, 20 minutes from downtown Houston, 15 minutes from the ship channel, and close to all the major sports teams.
It didn’t take a sporting event for McCord to score a dramatic victory. The biggest win so far was landing a big fish: FMC Technologies – a Fortune 500 company, known as FTI on the New York Stock Exchange. Within the next ten years, FMC’s goal is to consolidate all of its ten Houston facilities, including its corporate headquarters, to a single campus: Generation Park.
This summer, the first waves of FMC employees moved into their new offices, which begat an evolution -- over half a million square feet of retail, and miles of residential development. Earlier this year, a deal was closed on the park’s first hotel: a Courtyard Marriot.
It’s a remarkable change, and a fast one; the quiet rural area that used to welcome hunters is now seeing jogging trails filled with office workers in sneakers. Time lapse: about 24 months.
“It takes time for fruit to ripen on the vine,” says Ryan. “While nothing happens quite as quickly as you would like, FMC coming to Generation Park was the catalyst of us taking off.”
Of course, the FMC deal did not just fall out of the sky. Getting them to even consider the park – let alone, say yes -- was a challenge, and a big one.
“At first, they were not interested in coming to Generation Park,” Ryan says of FMC’s many lucrative location options, “but we persuaded them to at least let us be part of the contest -- part of the site selection process. We understood that the odds were stacked against us, but we wanted to [use the opportunity] to learn to tell our story and learn to compete. One of the things my father [the company’s late founder, Frederick McCord] taught us: get the decision maker to see the real estate. We were able to get their key executives on a pretty dumpy old tour bus. They then recognized their potential -- and our potential. It’s a major decision for the company and one that will define their existence for the next 30 some odd years.”
Entrepreneurs understand this: taking big chances while naysayers are watching from the sidelines, shaking their heads.
“We were swinging for the fences,” Ryan admits, “concentrating on that bigger company. We would have to be successful or completely reassess our strategy. It was a complete game changer. It was a catalyst for thousands of homes being built in the area.”
Generation Park has also welcomed well-regarded schools like Lone Star College and San Jacinto College, which are building new campuses at Generation Park. Ryan says that, although Houston is a very pragmatic city, he is constantly inspired to push the envelope.
“At Houston’s core, it’s a manufacturing/energy-based economy with no real tourism. It doesn’t have the glitz and the glam of New York City or Los Angeles. But my father said, ‘son, you have to ramp it up. You have to step up your game.’ And we’re doing it in the most sophisticated and thoughtful manner ever executed in Houston -- raising the bar high, with businesses not afraid to learn from each other and share their experiences.”
McCord Development, which is in for the long haul, realizes its responsibilities to this growing community, including the complex demands as small as local traffic patterns and as large as global warming. Its partnership with FMC, Ryan says, has formed an alignment of interest, with trusted bonds forming over time that will help Generation Park keep growing.
“It’s a generational strategy, which is why we named it Generation Park,” Ryan says. “It’s not just for the McCord generation; it’s for all the people who live and work in the area now and in the years to come.”
Find out more about Generation Park here.
Blake Drummond, a New Jersey native and long-time Manhattan resident, spent most of his career putting out fires in the high-stress, detail-oriented, get-it-done-yesterday world of TV production (30 ROCK, UGLY BETTY, WHITE COLLAR). When his last job got cancelled (MADE IN JERSEY), he seized the opportunity to become his own boss, and that begat Diagonal Media (DGNL), the content creation company he now runs in NYC. The offerings: branded video production, original web series, graphic design, website content and blogging, social media, and more.
However, the devil offered one more fork in the road before Blake was finally free at last: his entrepreneurial dream vs. a full-time job. A maddening choice. Yep, here’s yet another door opening: a producer called him with a job offer for a production gig on a new network show, with all the sweet honey that comes with it: steady salary, health bennies, 401(k), and union stuffings. He thought about it, all right, but all the security in the world did not make Blake feel secure, so instead he took the road not taken.
How Blake built a client base and gathered experience: volunteering. He bought a camera and checked out Craigslist. Before long, he had gigs: a volunteer choir in Midtown, band promo videos, audition tapes for piano recitals at Juilliard, a wedding shoot in Connecticut ($250, including editing). He had a mentor too – cameraman and video editor Ed Caraballo – who shared some mad skills.
Suddenly, Blake was in demand, and not just because he was good, and he was. It was also because video had exploded onto social media. Every businessperson learned quickly: include video in your marketing mix or get left in the dust.
From here, the story moves faster, so try to keep up: Blake travels for jobs in Vegas and France. He’s pitching series and documentaries. He’s hiring subcontractors to help him with the work overload.
It’s only with this momentum that he can now have a clearer vision of how his company can grow: content creation. This includes brand awareness, vlogs, animation, graphics, viral videos, tweets, Pinterest, LinkedIn posts, Facebook Live, and 360-degree tour videos.
What he’s generating: “bespoke” content (Blake loves that word, “bespoke,” which means anything commissioned to a particular specification, tailored to the taste of the client). The ultimate goal: delivering recognition and eyeballs; in short, bringing it.
Does he miss the old 9-5? Are you freaking kidding? He makes his own schedules, works from home or remotely, and spends more time with his boyfriend, who is a graphic designer and also involved in the biz. Sure, it’s endless work, but a more enriching reward, and a much higher quality of life.
Some entrepreneurial words of wisdom shared by Blake:
Have faith. Blake knows that if he didn’t have the faith to keep on going, he would have failed. This cannot be emphasized enough.
Trust yourself, and trust in the vision. Other people share the vision when you talk about it and communicate it to people.
Don’t run your business alone. At a certain point, you have to start delegating and diversifying. You have to reach out and ask for help. If someone can help you grow your business, be open to a plan that benefits both of you. More people, more connections -- it’s all about networking.
Opportunity presents itself. It can come out of nowhere, and often be immediate. And, in most cases, the opportunity is actually better than the one that may have escaped your grasp. It’s more than just “when one door closes, another opens;” it’s a more fabulous door.
Create a juggernaut that can be like – boom.
Find out more about Blake and DGNL Media.
Think of pre-feminist entrepreneurs and very few women come to mind – Mary Kay, maybe. In LIFE OF THE PARTY, journalist Bob Kealing explores the story of sales entrepreneur Brownie Wise, who, in the 1950s, was the brains and charisma behind the meteoric rise of Tupperware. The actual plastic storage system was invented by Earl Tupper, but his good idea gathered dust on store shelves. The concept was sharp as a knife, but Tupper was dull as dishwater – he couldn’t sell it. The product didn’t need retail – it needed something more personal – and what used to be called “a woman’s touch.”
Enter Brownie – a divorced mother, which was practically unheard of then – who joined forces with the inventor and created a marketing concept called the Tupperware Party. This soft-sell home gathering rallied suburban troops who were interested in buying and selling modern food freshness. This person-to-person sales concept was not new, but due to the innovation of the product, it felt revolutionary. The Tupperware line sold in the millions, and kept evolving.
We may laugh about this postwar tradition now, but at the time, it provided entrepreneurial opportunities to housewives and paved the way for women to become self-starters in business.
The fresh story soon spoiled: Brownie was ambitious and driven, and became a business powerhouse when most working women never advanced beyond the title of secretary. In 1954, she became the first woman to grace the cover of BUSINESS WEEK, and that’s no small feat. However, her rise was soon shot down, under mysterious circumstances. Her legacy was wiped away, and she was written out of the company history. She was given a tiny severance upon being fired, while Tupper was granted part of the company fortune.
Now, the story is told, as the Tupperware company is working to restore Brownie’s legacy. Bob’s book has been optioned by Sony Pictures, with Sandra Bullock attached to star (not too shabby).
Here, we ask Bob about Brownie’s business contributions and legacy:
What could entrepreneurs learn from Brownie’s success and failure?
It doesn’t take a Harvard MBA to succeed when you have drive, belief, and a solid plan for success.
From failure, you must consider the historical context of what she was doing, when she was doing it. Nonetheless, Brownie started reading and believing her publicity. She developed an air of infallibility and felt no one could question her. Don’t ever believe you know it all and remember your instincts, at times, can be wrong.
Why was Tupperware initially a bust?
Tupper did not know how to sell his first proprietary product. It needed to be demonstrated. He needed to buy in to that belief. When he did, sales exploded.
In what ways did Brownie Wise and Earl Tupper need each other in order to succeed in business?
Tupper had dogged tenacity and an inventor’s genius. His mind seemed to have a bottomless well of ideas for new Tupperware products (although not all of them -- the dagger comb for instance -- were embraced by the sales side).
Like no one else, Brownie Wise knew how to talk to the wishes and dreams of her dealers. She feminized home selling and set rigid standards for her dealers to follow. For the first time, she brought them recognition outside the kitchen and the bedroom; for some, that recognition was a currency more important than money.
Is charisma a necessary trait in being successful in business?
Yes. You have to know how to make someone believe in what you’re telling, and selling them.
Despite changing times, in what ways is it just as hard today for a woman to succeed in business?
Unlike Brownie’s days, the glass ceiling for women today has been shattered in most work environments. Equal pay for equal work is a very real issue. So is sexism.
Why is Tupperware so woven into the culture, yet Brownie Wise faded into obscurity?
Wise faded in to obscurity as the result of a very real, cynical and mean-spirited effort by Earl Tupper -- and a small number of executives who have long since passed -- to claim all of the credit for the rise of Tupperware and erase Wise from the company’s history.
The product itself proved to be very useful, durable and saved people money. It became part of America’s culture because it was one of a kind at the time and it worked.
What has Tupperware done to restore Brownie’s legacy?
Fortunately -- and finally -- in the last several years, Wise’s legacy has been embraced at company headquarters. The company’s heritage center puts Brownie in the same high regard as Tupper, as it should have all along.
The week this book came out, the company also announced plans to donate $200,000 to build a park on the site of the home Brownie lived in before she was pushed out of the company and told to move out of the house. Yet her grave remains unmarked.
What surprised you the most in researching this book?
What surprised me most was the enormous amount of primary source material available at the Smithsonian’s Museum of North American History, the Osceola County Courthouse, and from people who were early home party pioneers, worked alongside Brownie, and were willing to share their stories.
Did it turn out to be the story you wanted to tell?
Very much so. With this story, we have a better, more balanced sense of Brownie’s remarkable rise, fall, and posthumous return to the public spotlight.
Find out more about Bob Kealing and Life of the Party.
Bob Kealing photo credit: Marc Rice