The Atlanta Small Business Profile – David Liniado, 19Y Advisors

On the latest episode of Atlanta Small Business Profile, host and small business expert Ted Jenkin sits down with David Liniado, co-founder and managing partner of 19Y Advisors, a premier consulting firm that helps C-Suite executives unlock big growth opportunities.

Transcription:

Ted Jenkin:
Hey, everybody. This is Ted Jenkin, small business expert, right here on this week’s Atlanta Small Business Profile. And today we’re going to be talking about all kinds of stuff from the automotive business, to talking about texting, and of course, really most importantly, how do you accelerate your business as an entrepreneur? I have my guest today, David Liniado. He’s a co-founder and managing partner of 19Y Advisors, and David, thanks for joining me on the program today. And before we get into the business of 19Y Advisors, I know that you’ve been a serial entrepreneur, like many of the people that view the TV program, and you started out with something and stumbled into a business, and all of a sudden, you had an early seven-figure exit. Tell me about that.

David Liniado:
Sure, Ted. Well, it’s great to be here on Atlanta Small Business. Well, being a native of Atlanta, I think with a lot of people that are in college, if there’s any young people watching, I was a sophomore at Emory University right here in Atlanta-

Ted Jenkin:
Wow.

David Liniado:
… and didn’t have anything on my resume. Shocker. A college student that was … I’d worked at a couple of restaurants. And so, I had a summer internship, Ted, at Texaco. a cubicle, a real job, and was at the office at 8:00 and left at 5:00, and buttoned down, and I hated it. I have to tell you that it was in 1991, so I’m going way back here, aging myself. And the light bulb went off. I was driving on 85, heading north, and just said, “I want to be an entrepreneur. I want to start a business for myself.” And that decision led to joining the entrepreneurship club at Emory-

Ted Jenkin:
Wow.

David Liniado:
… finding a business that I thought was interesting, which was a membership product, kind of like Groupon before Groupon and-

Ted Jenkin:
Before it was even popular.

David Liniado:
Yeah. Nobody had heard of these things then. And you know, then it was called a coupon book or a discount card. And that led to a business called Student Advantage, which as I say, the rest is history. And it’s funny, you say seven figure. I think now making a million dollars or having a multi-million dollar exit might sound small to some people, but having your first exit at seven figures, it’s pretty amazing.

Ted Jenkin:
A million dollars is still a lot of money. And then you also were involved in building a great business called iZigg. Why is texting such an important platform? I think even with the coronavirus and the pandemic now, David, that there are so many businesses that have to realize that maybe traditional marketing won’t come back. Why is texting such a big deal for businesses?

David Liniado:
Yeah, it’s amazing, and the idea of texting, which I think a lot of people would have thought is a old idea, text marketing, I started in text marketing, I think now, 15 years ago, Ted. And I know it’s crazy, and look, the most powerful device that anybody has even today is your mobile phone. And with attention spans getting more challenging every day, because we’re all very distracted, the most powerful means of communication is still text marketing.

David Liniado:
So by building a group, and you know, it really opens up a conversation just about staying in touch with people, and instant notifications, everybody’s working on. Every minute matters. And I really just fell in love with the text marketing. At the time, it was because we were communicating with university campuses, and then that evolved to the business with iZigg, which is still going today, which allows people to create their own group, and you know–

Ted Jenkin:
You do two businesses. You do Student Advantage. I know you’re involved in other entrepreneurships. You exit out of iZigg, and then for some reason, you go back into the corporate world and now you work for a very big and successful company here in Atlanta, Cox, especially in Cox Automotive. And I know you know the car business and what’s changing in the car business with technology more than just about anybody that I know. So, how do you think this whole shared mobility is going to change the way that people operate in the automotive space and consumer preferences?

David Liniado:
Yeah, I mean, I got really fortunate. I think it was first being with the internet at the right time and then following the wave with the mobile phone. And then I’d say the third one is really mobility, and the mobility of moving goods, people, and services from one place to another. Joined Cox in 2013. And you know, what’s interesting, Ted, is there’s this huge shift with Uber and Lyft, but then the pandemic happened, and nobody wants to get in a car with a driver. And I think the trend right now is personal mobility, and I think we’re going to see a rise in those bird scooters. You see them all over Atlanta?

Ted Jenkin:
I’ve seen them. I wouldn’t ride one, but I’ve seen them.

David Liniado:
Well, you got to be careful. You got to be careful where you’re walking, careful. But I think that that’s just beginning. I think we’re going to see more electric vehicles. I think we are going to see three-wheel vehicles. I think we’re going to see … I like to talk about the sub-$20,000, sub-$15,000 vehicle that just gets you from point a to point B and it’s all electric.

Ted Jenkin:
I always say it’s like the modern age Vespa is coming back somehow. It’s going to look something like that. Maybe before we get too old, David, they’ll bring back something that’s Jetsons-like. I was always thinking that that would happen at some point.

David Liniado:
Put the pack on and just–

Ted Jenkin:
I’ve seen a few prototypes for them. But you know, in all those entrepreneurial ventures that you’ve done, what would you say is the biggest failure that you had that you could teach or tell other entrepreneurs? Because you’ve obviously had huge success, probably made some mistakes along the way. What’s the biggest thing that you could have learned from?

David Liniado:
Yeah. You know, I think a lot of people like to say, “You learn the most from your failures.”

Ted Jenkin:
That’s so true.

David Liniado:
And then no one likes to talk about those. But I’ve had my fair share, and I’ll tell you one of my biggest lessons. It was with one of the mobile marketing companies that funding fell through. I think a lot of people can relate to this. I thought that I could carry the company myself and go out and raise money, which I did. And to be honest, I fell in love. I fell in love with the idea and the company, and stayed too long.

David Liniado:
I think one of the things that I’ve learned as an entrepreneur, when it doesn’t feel right, you need to move faster to exit. And I think that can be whether things are going bad, or frankly, sometimes when things are going really well, you got to know when to pull the rip cord and move on from that business. And frankly, that one, I probably stayed at at least a year, if not a year and a half too long. Like some house guests, I overstayed my welcome on that idea.

Ted Jenkin:
Yeah. I think it’s true in the stock market and true in business. A lot of people know how to get in, but the hardest part is to know when to get out. And that brings me to your newest venture, which is 19Y Advisors. Tell us a little about what 19Y does, and how did you see a need for this service?

David Liniado:
Yeah. I think this is really the culmination of 30 years of being an entrepreneur, and you asked me kind of what was a failure. I’ve had the unique opportunity of raising capital three or four times. I’ve probably raised over a hundred million for different ventures, being involved in companies at a very small stage, being involved with Cox with a big company mentality. So how do I wrap all that experience up and help companies, I like to use the word, amplify or accelerate their growth?

David Liniado:
And we do that for big companies in Atlanta. We do it for really small companies that are trying to go from the seed stage to A, or really even a small business that … You work with a lot of small businesses that have eight or 10 people. And I often say, the same business that’s eight or 10 people could really be a hundred-person company. They just need a little bit of help, they need a coach, and that’s where 19Y comes in–

Ted Jenkin:
What does that really mean when you talk about this idea of being an accelerator? I think people hear that in the world of venture capital and entrepreneurialism, it’s like, “Hey, we’re an accelerator.” But what does that mean in terms of the size of the business and what you do for the business? What does that look like?

David Liniado:
The size of the business doesn’t matter as much as a word, and there’s a book out, called Traction. Helping a business get traction every day, I mean, everyday urgency. The thing about a business is without urgency, without somebody holding you accountable to those milestones … And then what we do, Ted, is we get in the trenches with those businesses. So, we’re not just a phone call. We join the teams, and I think that’s what’s a little bit different. We call it unconventional consulting for disruptive companies. We don’t really think of ourselves as consultants. No one on our team’s ever been a paid consultant until this venture. And we really just feel like we jump in and we become part of teams and then fill gaps and help them grow.

Ted Jenkin:
So, when you look at that and you’re thinking about investing in a business, because there may be people who are at home saying, “Yeah, I’ve got an idea for a business,” or, “I’m in need for capital.” Do you select a business based upon what you think the potential is going to be? Is it selected based upon the management team? Or are you really looking at the nuts and bolts of the financials and saying, “Well, it’s got to financially make sense”?

David Liniado:
I mean, I think it’s all of the above. I mean, we like to find trends, so we like to jump aboard trends that are happening, but I use the term, in the trenches. We don’t make investments in companies that we’re not involved with in one way or another. So, we’re generally joining as an advisor, joining as a team member, and then once we get involved in the company of, you said the word team, I mean, team is obviously critical, the viability of the business from a unit economics. And we do very simple math. I’m not a CFO, but we do … Something I learned a long time ago is really simple unit economics. And then can we all scale this together, Ted? Can we move it to the next level? And if so, we put together some funding based on our networks.

Ted Jenkin:
So, when you invest in a business or people that are out there that have their own business, we talked about this at the top of this interview, everyone knows when to get in. I have a great idea. It’s something I’m passionate about. How do you know when the right time is to exit a business? Is there a right time to do that?

David Liniado:
Yeah. I mean, you said something about the stock market, and the way now, I mean, 30 years later, I’ve learned a lot, is you need to think about your small business as a portfolio. And at some point, if your business has reached a valuation or a size that either A, has outgrown your abilities, or B, you need to diversify your portfolio, I’d say to any entrepreneur listening, bring in a partner, diversify, take some off the table. And I think you’re right. Oftentimes the hardest time to do that is when things are going really well.

Ted Jenkin:
Well, it’s interesting because I think everyone believes in their business, that the run will happen in perpetuity. But as we know in any entrepreneurial cycle, it never happens. We saw it in 2008 and 2009 in the construction business, which is now booming again. And we’re seeing it today in the restaurant business. The restaurants had a great run the last decade, but the pandemic unfortunately has put a real dent on many restaurateurs and people that own hotels and on their business. And so how do you think that business has changed with the pandemic here in general, and what kind of trends do you see in the future here that may be here in perpetuity? I was thinking to myself, “Boy, it’d be a great time to buy one of those outdoor businesses that sell patio heaters because the winter is coming and people are going to need them.” But what are you thinking the trends might look like?

David Liniado:
Well, I tell you, this interview, first, is a trend that I think isn’t stopping, so work from home. I’m sitting here in my home office and I know that millions and millions of people are certainly here in Atlanta. So, the work from home trend isn’t going to stop, but what does that change? It changes your ability to participate in multiple businesses. So if you’re an entrepreneur and you’re really good, let’s just say, you said construction, you can probably bring those same skills to building other types of businesses. So, you could become an advisor to others.

David Liniado:
And so 19Y, we’re growing our team right now, because you’ve heard the term gig economy, Ted.

Ted Jenkin:
Yes.

David Liniado:
I think a lot of people think Uber and Lyft drivers or Instacart drivers. Well, I think the new gig economy is people that are helping share knowledge. And I think you can get involved in multiple projects at the same time, and really, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a full-time job, you’re an entrepreneur. Because of the work from home, because of Zoom, I think the age of people having one single source of income is really shifting to people participating in multiple projects at the same time, and I think that’s really exciting.

Ted Jenkin:
Yeah, it is. So, now that you have offices in Atlanta and Los Angeles and San Francisco for 19Y Advisors, are you thinking about taking your models to different cities now that you’re on the West Coast and East Coast?

David Liniado:
We definitely are. I mean, frankly, even outside the US, we’ve got conversations going with individuals like myself that have been there, done that, experienced entrepreneurs, executives that frankly just are excited to get involved in different projects. And so, what we’re getting really good at is assembling project teams, so you come to us with a problem or an opportunity, and then we bring the right individuals around that. So, yeah, we’re actively recruiting right now for people who want to join 19Y, and want to get involved in different, interesting projects in new areas.

Ted Jenkin:
Well, in my mind, having known you for a long time, you’re a legendary marketer. If you were to give advice to a startup business today, what do you think is the single biggest marketing mistake that most small business owners make?

David Liniado:
Oh, geez. Well, first off, I’ll start from something from the 1990s is, once you put up your website, it’s a static brochure, so you need to be changing that. And how do you change it often? Just bring people from different platforms and create content, content, content. So we’re doing a lot on LinkedIn right now. I’d probably say that’s the platform of choice for 19Y. You can follow our business page or follow me personally.

David Liniado:
But I don’t know, I’d probably say analysis paralysis. I don’t overthink it, and just put content out and create your own voice. I mean, you’ve done a great job, Ted, with this, but don’t overthink it, and more content, the better.

Ted Jenkin:
Well, I want to say thanks for coming on the program today, sharing this wisdom with people at home here in Atlanta and other small business owners in the community. And I have to tell you folks, as a wrap up on this, you really need to check out David’s profile on LinkedIn. I saw recently here, some 25,000 people saw David get into an ice bath. And one of the questions you might be asking yourself is, “Does breathing matter as an entrepreneur?” And I think you find out it probably does if you want to make better decisions.

Ted Jenkin:
Thanks so much David, for coming on the program today, and thanks for you at home for watching me, Ted Jenkin, small business expert right here on this week’s Atlanta Small Business Profile.

David Liniado:
Thanks, Ted.


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