#12: CEO Hacks with Gresham Harkless Jr.

by | Nov 18, 2020 | Podcast

Guest Intro

Gresham Harkless, Jr., the CEO and founder of Blue 16 Media, which helps entrepreneurs and business owners to increase their visibility and generate more opportunities using the web, and the CEO/Founder of CBNation, which helps businesses utilize their resources to increase their visibility and be successful. He also runs the CEO Chats + IAMCEO podcasts, CBNAtion.tv, Rescue a CEO, Teach a CEO, Hearpreneur, DMVCEO, and many more!

What You Learn

  • 0:00 – Intro
  • 2:10 – Becoming an Entrepreneur
  • 11:00 – Podcasting & Hiring
  • 16:01 – CEO Hack #1
  • 18:04 – CEO Hack #2
  • 22:18 – CEO Hack #3
  • 25:16 – What Has Gresham Learned Recently?

Episode Links



Sean Weisbrot: Welcome back to another episode of the We Live to Build podcast. Our guest today is Gresham Harkless, Jr., the CEO, and founder of Blue 16 Media, which helps entrepreneurs and business owners to increase their visibility and generate more opportunities using the web, and the CEO/Founder of CB nation, which helps businesses utilize their resources to increase their visibility and be successful. He also runs The CEO Chats and I AM CEO podcast, CB nation TV, Rescue a CEO, Teach a CEO, Hearpreneur, DM CEO, and many more. In total, his network is comprised of over twenty thousand entrepreneurs from around the world. I first met Gresham by responding to a helpareporter.com request he’d submitted asking entrepreneurs to be on his podcast. My episode with him aired earlier this year and will share a link to it in the show notes found at welivetobuild.com. It’s rare in today’s world that you meet people at Gresham who make you feel like he’s totally present, attentive and an open book, willing to share from south without thinking about what he can get back in return and that’s why I asked him to come on and share some of his favorite CEO hacks. So, today we honor his passion for helping CEOs grow their identities and expanding their reach. Let’s give Gresham a warm welcome.

Becoming an Entrepreneur (2:10)

Gresham Harkless, Jr.: Sean thanks so much for me on the show I appreciate it. Sean Weisbrot: Yeah, what do you think of the intro? Gresham Harkless, Jr.: I loved it. I got all warm and fuzzy inside, so I appreciate that that all the things that you, you know that you said so much and, and you’ve been a great guest on my shows I appreciate you for coming on and providing so much value as well. Sean Weisbrot: let’s go into this quickly when did you become interested in entrepreneurship? Gresham Harkless, Jr.: I was the kid that, you know, sold potato chips on the playground. I had a family newspaper when I was ten, so my dad went TDY, went a completely different country and as a way to connect with him, you know, pre-Skype, Zoom all these kind of technological things that we have at our advantage to be like face to face with somebody. We used to just talk on the phone once a week. Uh, we would get emails through AOL, uh the old dial up, and then we would send him care packages. So, him not being able to know what was going on in the in our family for that year so that he was away in the military, basically I created this family newspaper. I got all the news that was going on our family and then I basically just put it into a word document, got some fancy clip art, printed it out, and then would send it over to him every single month and then I would sell the subscriptions so my family members and, and those that were close to our family. And that was like those things that I went back to when I was trying to figure out what I want to be when I grew up, that was like okay, well, you seem to have some entrepreneurial tendencies even though you probably don’t even know what the word entrepreneur is at that time. So, fast for a lot of years trying to figure all that out, I started to really interview entrepreneurs and business owners because I read a little bit about it. I was like Hey this sounds like something I would be interesting and sounds like something that I’m, you know, is in alignment with who I am, and then next thing you know I started out with the blogs and everything. I mean at the bases that was just like, hey, you have a business, I would love to learn from you, could you tell me some of the things you wanted to do when you started the business, maybe things you felt like you could have done better, and it just kind of evolved from there. So, I would say that I kind of found that I wanted to be an entrepreneur but it found me before I even knew exactly what it was. Sean Weisbrot: I’ve heard a lot of people talk about the first thing they did was they would sell food at school, or they would you know like you said creating this newspaper. I never had anything like that I mean I took Ritalin as a kid, and I always used to talk it under like the couch you know in in between the couch cushions because I really didn’t want to take it. If I was a born entrepreneur, I probably would have been like selling the Ritalin to the other kids. Gresham Harkless, Jr.: Correct, right. Sean Weisbrot: Five dollars a pop, ten dollars a pop. But I didn’t think like that honestly. I never had that mindset. It’s interesting how I find myself immersed in entrepreneurship and I, I love it and I, I love listening to people’s stories and figure out how I can help them and, and what I can learn from them as well, like you. But a lot of people I talk to have a similar story and I, I just don’t have it, I don’t know why. Gresham Harkless, Jr.: Yeah, but you’re still doing phenomenal things. It’s so funny that, you know, that’s the beauty of the story as you kind of touched, touched on when you have that opportunity to hear how somebody got started and I think you know from learning through the podcast that nobody’s story is always the same and that’s what makes being human and being an individual so, so magical, and awesome. Sean Weisbrot: I talked about this with another guest before, so I won’t go too deep into it now, but my first real interest in business was when I moved to China and I started watching how Chinese people did business and how I thought they were doing it strangely. I thought, but if you just did it like this then maybe you would make more money so I started learning by, by predicting how you could do things better and I didn’t know how to sell, I didn’t have a desire to be a business owner, I had to start my first business and go broke doing it, only to find a mentor who taught me how to, you know, make money and understand my value and that’s when I started to be successful when he, when he helped me to understand how to sell. So, yeah my journey’s been probably very different from the average entrepreneur I would say. Gresham Harkless, Jr.: Yeah, I think people call that the accidental entrepreneur. Sean Weisbrot: Right. So, who was your inspiration for getting started and how was it they inspired you? And I don’t mean that the newspaper stuff, I mean kind of more with Blue 16 Media. Gresham Harkless, Jr.: I think I came from a family of people that always had like the, this side thing that you did. I think me seeing my mom started her embroidery business was huge because I remember I think for Christmas I got a like a business plan book and things like that actually leafed to a more than maybe she probably even dead my Grandad he sold a lot of different things and it was just always on our blood so to speak. But I don’t know that anybody was really like going all in to try to go full-time, so what you said kind of resonated with me because it was like seeing something and saying how to potentially do that full-time and have a legit business. Sean Weisbrot: So, what made you be interested in having a media company? Gresham Harkless, Jr.: It went back to the family newspaper. It was one of those stories that I felt was unique enough to where it might speak to who I was as an individual, and it just started out with writing in in being interested. I always say I am a journalist at heart and, and love to ask questions and hear people’s stories, so it was just finding a lane that kind of resonated with me, and mine ended up being entrepreneurship and business. But, not to say that I’m not you know interested in other things but I think that was the thing that just spoke to me at that time, but I was trying to figure that out. And a lot of it was just discovery and understanding that this is what entrepreneurship means, but how really do you run a business and really asking those questions of people that were running business were really what kind of led me into that and, and building the media company. And because of journalism, kind of, I don’t wanna say crashing and burning, but kind of evolving and changing tremendously, um, it was just one of those times where I, I really looked at an industry that has really been, you know, really badly affected. How can I potentially create like some type of model or some type of change that can help out people in that industry but also help people get the news that they want. Sean Weisbrot: We used to be able to look at the news and see positivity ,you know, oh, someone saved it you know this person’s cat like local news and now all of it is people overdosing from oxycontin or kids being shot in schools. I think it’s important that we find things that we can be positive about, so I think what you’re doing by a working with entrepreneurs and helping them is a very important and positive thing. Gresham Harkless, Jr.: In this day and age, we all have the opportunity to have our own media companies and that’s good and some aspects sometimes is bad it because everybody has kind of their own microphone, has their own notepad in, in their own video camera, so to speak to be able to say whatever message they’re, they’re hoping to say, and that’s you know really great sometimes, really not so great at other times. So, I just try to hopefully use, you know, the powers that I have so to speak to hopefully bring out some good in the world. Sean Weisbrot: Everyone knows that starting companies isn’t easy, so I’m curious to know what was the hardest thing about starting Blue 16? Gresham Harkless, Jr.: A lot of times with running a business, there’s so many different things that go wrong. There’s so many things you don’t know, you don’t know that you don’t know, you feel like you’re the only one that doesn’t know, but in reality, you know, we’re all kind of figuring it out, you know and taking steps along the way. I think that loneliness while sometimes it allows you to be able to just chart your own path and you choose your own lane and go with it, at times when you’re unsure of yourself, unsure of what you’re doing, and, and how exactly, um, decisions that you make will impact certain things, you’re just confused. You don’t know set that environment that allows you to succeed is, is probably one of the, the biggest challenges overall and I think that you have to be very aware of who you’re surrounding yourself with. Sean Weisbrot: When I was first looking to go to China, my family was never like, oh you’re gonna fail. My brother was the most vocal about it, but my, the rest of my family was like, do you have to go like why can’t you stay? America’s, you know, such a great country, but I, I need to do my thing. As far as the loneliness I definitely understand. I’ve been working remotely for seven years and, you know, not having a support network, not having the people around you that understand you, you know, sometimes you can’t really talk to your employees the way you might want to talk to someone like yourself. So, like while I have a very open relationship with my employees, and they know I give them a weekly report of what I’ve accomplished so they know what’s going on outside of their own realm in the business but even then, sometimes you can’t really say everything you want to say. I mean, so it’s hard to find people like that because entrepreneurs are so busy, it’s hard to find entrepreneurs that have the time to be your support network, which makes it even worse because the only people you find yourself wanting to know are other entrepreneurs because they’re the only people who understand you. So, entrepreneurship is a blessing and a curse on multiple levels. You have two podcasts, I’ve just started my first. It’s hard, I’m doing it alone, why the hell did you want to do 2?

Podcasting & Hiring (11:00)

Gresham Harkless, Jr.: So, the, the first podcast that I had, it still is kind of going, it’s not as regular as the daily podcast I have. CEO Chat podcast was a podcast I literally just started because I was interviewing entrepreneurs and business owners for the blog. I would listen to the recordings and then I would write up a blog post and then send them the blog post and just have the recordings for myself. And I was listening to some of the recordings, are like, Hey this is like pretty valuable information, so that’s really how that podcast started. Fast forward about two or three years, I had it up to being a weekly podcast, but one of the things that we kind of touched on in the very beginning that I love you did so well is that you get that opportunity to really build connections and relationships through podcasting and it can blossom into other things and other opportunities. So, I had the goal of creating a daily podcast and I knew that the way that the CEO Chat podcast was set up was not equipped to be daily. I really went back, and I figured out what are the best questions, what are the most impactful questions, what questions can I ask consistently that the guests know what’s to come, I know what’s to come, but at the same time it lends itself to be like kind of conversational. So, that’s the only reason I started it because I always try to show my why at the front, which is hopefully it’s to create great content and information to help people’s lives better. Sean Weisbrot: I don’t know how you do it like I said I, I do this all on my own right now.. I wish I had help I’ve, I’ve found some software that helps to automate some of it, but it’s not easy that’s for sure. Gresham Harkless, Jr.: That’s why I’m so appreciative to be here, that the time and energy and the, the being present is so big in any opportunity you get to have somebody’s time, because I know we’re recording no, but there’s a lot more you do after the fact and that’s why I’m appreciative of everything that you’re doing. Sean Weisbrot: Do you have people you’re working, with are you do it on your own? Gresham Harkless, Jr.: Yes, so I have an editor and then I have someone that helps in editing just the video part, the audio part, and then actually creating the blog post. So, I’m really just doing some of outreach right now, and even that I’m hoping to kind of delegate that out. One of my internships I had, my, my boss said don’t let the perfect get away from the possible, and I tell myself that all the time, because it’s definitely an art, and I appreciate my editor and it seems so much, because I know that that wasn’t in my zone of genius and I know that the quicker that I unloaded that would allow me to kind of be present in you know interviews and get the opportunity to really you know hopefully provide value a lot more. Sean Weisbrot: So, at what point did you realize that you needed to delegate all of your things, because you have like ten blogs and two podcasts. Gresham Harkless, Jr.: Yes, I tried to delegate from day one, honestly. I understood that I wanted to start a business and I know that I didn’t want to do all the things. But I tried to take on jobs or opportunities that I knew that I could do, and hopefully start delegating them out and using things like UpWork to be able to find people that are still on my team, you know, as of eight years ago. The reason that I try to do that is I didn’t read the book at the time, but there’s a book called E-Myth, and it talks a lot about how people really great at what they do when they decide to start a business and they realize that running a business is about so much more than the work that they’re doing and so they get overwhelmed and they don’t realize like there’s different aspects of business. So, what I really try to do is understand that often we are the bottleneck to our business as leaders. What can I do to kind of take myself out of it and it’s still kind of attention that I have is especially when things don’t go as well as I want them to go or, you know, somebody messes up on something with a client you know you want to jump in, and just do it, and just like I’ll just take care of it, but I know that is one of the worst things that you can do because you really want to kind of teach and empower the person, granted if it’s the right person. Sometimes that happens or is not the right person, but soon as the right person you want to coach them up, and get them going to give them the information, so that they don’t do it the next time or at least you are going to, you know, communicate so that things go well. Sean Weisbrot: I try to understand every position, like what is the expectation that I should have of this person if I were to hire them, and then I learn as much as I can about those, the skills that they need, the software they may be using, things like that. And then when I’m ready to hire someone, I’ll have a standard hiring process ready, like what is a hard skills test I can give them to make sure that they actually know what they’re talking about and they’re not lying to me, you know, that I know they can actually do the things that I know they’re supposed to be doing, and then a personality test and interview and you know these kinds of things. I need to know that I can trust this person, and the only way I know that I trust them is if I’ve done it. I don’t have to be good at it, but if they’re better than me, I’ll know instantly. Gresham Harkless, Jr.: Well, I should say too that a lot I have done it before or I hired somebody so wasn’t like I was completely, you know, unaware, so I think you bring up a phenomenal point. I usually have different levels to where person is, so often, they first get started, they work on something that’s internal that won’t be anywhere close to the client facing, and usually takes some time before they get to client facing work. Again, because a technical it’s not like we’re building a house or anything, a lot of times if things aren’t going the way that I want them to go I can see that before it, you know, becomes live and I’m putting the nail in the wrong place, like if you’re building a house that could be a lot more costly and destructive to a business and, and the people that would be living there.

CEO Hack #1 (16:01)

Sean Weisbrot: So, let’s get into your hacks. So, tell me about your first hack that you love so much we talked about it last time, your 365 Gratitude Journal. Gresham Harkless, Jr.: Funny enough, I’ve had it for about a year now, haha it’s called the 365 Journal and it’s a way for me to end the day. It allows you to really get a different prompt on a different topic. Usually it’s around gratitude, it’s around things to be appreciative of. Basically, somebody writes the prompt and you have an opportunity to respond to that prompt, like how or in what ways do you see that people are coming together not being, you know, torn apart, you know, in the world. So, I would, you know, basically respond to that, and then at the end of every single day, you have three things that you are appreciative of for that day. The reason that I, I love it is because so many times I found myself always wanting to go to the next thing. I’m just, I guess just constructed that way where I enjoy accomplishments, I like them, but I can’t say that I really celebrate the wins as much as I should. So, a lot of times that forces me to really say these are three things I’m appreciative and even if I have had a major when sometimes it’s all the little, small things like my dog or my girlfriend or my parents, people like that that sometimes you forget about. You forget about you know being able to lay in bed you forget about having running water just all of these things become a lot more appreciative of those things because you map it out every single day and I’m forced every day to think about three things that I’m appreciative of, even it’s a really terrible day. Sean Weisbrot: Sometimes if I’m having a really crappy day or if I feel extremely stressed, I’ll like put everything down and I’ll just start thinking out loud to myself like, you know, I love my mom, I love my dad, I love my dog, like they’re amazing, they’re this and that. It makes me feel good pretty fast. I’m thinking about who is in my life and why they’re there, and what they’ve done for me. I guess that app is a more concentrated and more consistent version than what I do for sure. Let’s talk about your second hack, the insight timer.

CEO Hack #2 (18:04)

Gresham Harkless, Jr.: I was like I, I really want to get into meditation, didn’t really have a kind of a framework of how to do that. I actually started out with an app called Headspace first that has a really good way that you can learn about meditation which is really big for me because I was really kind of teaching myself and just kind of learning from there. And I think the thing that I take most from that app was being able to kind of look at your thoughts like balloons. And it’s not that you aren’t being present, it’s that when you’re trying to be really present on something and then something else pops into your mind, you really take, take it like a balloon and you let it go. So, you are more aware when you’re not being present then you are all the different things that are happening, and the reason that, that’s stuck with me so much is because with the chaos that is running a business and the different things that happen, there so much out of your control that is so important kind of approach it just like that balloon. So, Insight Timer is really to get more aware of being present. To again, kind of drive home the gratitude that sometimes it has different prompts, and I usually go through all the different aspects of getting focus on your day and visualizing how exactly you want to see your day. What things do I need to focus on, how can I be present to this moment? I can hear the air conditioning above my head. I’m really being present to all of the things that are around you, because so many times you just skip over things, and I’m notorious for like wanting to start my day, so I just jump into my day, but it was really bad, that allows me to really get focused, to kind of calm down, so that not only does it help me out in the beginning of the day and get my day started out right, but I think that as we talked about when those chaotic times happen at twelve o’clock or one o’clock in the day, you can really take a step back and be more at peace because you’ve been practicing that for those times that happened like that. Sean Weisbrot: Yeah, I think it’s really important for going to meditate it’s been an extremely important experience for me and understanding who I am and when you mentioned the headspace app teaching you about using balloons, I was never taught like that. What I was taught what is your thoughts are there. They’re gonna be there no matter what you say or do. You can curse your thoughts, you can ignore your thoughts, they’re gonna be there. And when you meditate, your thoughts are gonna pop up into the, your conscious mind and you have two choices, you can allow them to control your emotions, or you can learn to accept them. Through meditation, you can kind of step outside of yourself with the goal of observing those thoughts and when you become an observer to your thoughts, they have no control over your emotions, and therefore by observing them you can come to understand them, and through understanding, you can come to accept them, and once you accept them, they become your friend. Through being your friend, they don’t bother you anymore. When I start meditation every day, those thoughts are there but then within thirty seconds to a minute, I get deeper into meditation to a point where the thoughts are gone. There’s literally nothing, it’s just me and silence for thirty minutes and it’s beautiful getting to that point where you literally go so deep that you hear nothing and you feel nothing and you’re just kind of in darkness with yourself in a positive way, is such an amazing experience because it’s just quiet. And we’re so used to noise that this period of quiet is just so peaceful and amazing. It’s like, thirty minutes of meditation is like sleeping for several hours for me. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced anything like that. Have you? Gresham Harkless, Jr.: in my experience and kind I think in line with what you just said there’s so many things that are pulling from you and kind of getting closer to that you know this is a gas tank analogy but getting closer to E, that a lot of times you don’t have enough to continue on so when we go to sleep we’re re-energizing ourselves but I think when we’re able to kind of just be you know quiet and have peace not have things pulling from you, it also allows that opportunity to be able to do that I think that. It’s so powerful again, I’m not, you know, sixteen years in, and I think it’s something that I’ve seen such a valuable thing because my default was to get up and to start doing something every single morning. Sean Weisbrot: You can do two things, one check out the insight timer and two, go to welivetobuild.com/meditate and you can sign up for my free email series about how to get started with meditating. Gresham Harkless, Jr.: Even better. Sean Weisbrot: Okay so let’s talk about the third hack, I am coloring.

CEO Hack #3 (22:18)

Gresham Harkless, Jr.: Yes absolutely. so one of things I wanted to do was that by having you know the daily podcasts was to get an opportunity to really do something creative, to be able to connect with the people that have been on the show and I created kind of like this coloring book essentially, and a lot of times we forget that coloring as a child was something we did for fun and enjoyment, and I think that one of things especially creatives can do is always get into their inner child so to speak, and do those things to take themselves away from the hustle and bustle which is I think consistently with all these hacks that we kind of focused on, so I created I AM COLORING book and I basically has like different brands but has an opportunity for people to basically color each of the different pages. In each of the pages has a brand in kind of a message related to what exactly the message might be. So, like that the Blue 16 media one says, you know, “visibility equals success the name of the game is being found.” On the CB nation one has “visibility plus resources equal success” so it’s just kind of giving you a short message, but gives you the opportunity to really color and there’s a lot of, and I’m no, you know, doctor or anything like that but there’s a lot of studies that show by coloring it allows you that opportunity to reduce your stress, reduce frustration, allow you to focus more, a lot of the things that we talked about with these other hacks. So, it, it’s so interesting that as leaders especially in business sometimes we have a lot of problems that we’re dealing with and things that we’re trying to figure out what the correct solution is. And often we feel like a lot of times it’s just drilling down, working harder, but a lot of the great ideas come about why you’re walking your dog, while your potentially in the shower, or why hopefully you can be coloring as well too because it takes you away from what you’re doing on a regular basis to be able to exercise the creativity to think about the things that you’re doing right there rather than think about all the problems that are going on and trying to create solutions and a lot of time I stepped away to allow you to come back even stronger and better. Sean Weisbrot: I can definitely understand psychologically why coloring can help and I also find that when I’m going on a walk in the park, or if I’m getting a massage or something, then I definitely will come back to something I’ve been thinking about or if I just like stop working and go play a video game for twenty minutes, I definitely find it’s easier to think of these problems because when you’re thinking of the problem you feel stressed because you want to solve it but when you stop thinking about the problem and you do something else then the problem gets solved because you’re not thinking about it anymore. Gresham Harkless, Jr.: Exactly, it’s crazy. Sean Weisbrot: How can people find the coloring book? Gresham Harkless, Jr.: So, it’s available at Iamcoloring.com. Sean Weisbrot: That’s a pretty good URL. Gresham Harkless, Jr.: Yes it is, I’m lucky I got it. Sean Weisbrot: Yeah, for sure. Did you have to buy it from someone, or was it just available? Gresham Harkless, Jr.: Surprisingly, it was available, so…

What Has Gresham Learned Recently? (25:16)

Sean Weisbrot: Cool! What have you learned recently and how do you plan to implement it? Gresham Harkless, Jr.: I feel like I’m the culmination of all the people that have been guests on the podcast. I’m always really trying to figure out you know different hacks and in different ways that people are being successful and I’m going through a really cool book called Blue Ocean Strategy, I don’t know if you’ve heard about it. That’s a phenomenal book in that especially during times like this where a lot of our services and businesses can be commoditized, how do you figure out how to, as I usually like to say, not run somebody else’s race, or run your own race so that you’re not competing with anybody. How do I take the different kind of pieces that I have and continue to kind of innovate and not be like a cookie cutter of something else that already exists but I think that’s something that’s you know we’re always kind of working through I think that book is and has been helping me out as far as like doing those exercises to get clarity on that and figure out how best to execute and to kind of pivot during a very transformational time. Sean Weisbrot: Elan Musk does a pretty damn good job of creating blue ocean businesses that are inspirational for humanity. So, what is the most important piece of advice you can share with everyone listening? Gresham Harkless, Jr.: On my mirror last year, I have a theme every year. It was “make sure to keep your oxygen mask on,” and I think so many times especially people that could be of service to so many people that we forget about ourselves so much so if there’s one thing you know continue to do, continue to experiment, continue to create, but don’t forget to put your oxygen mask on. Don’t forget to keep your Cup full, because all those things allow you to serve even better and I think along the lines of the hacks and things that we talked about it’s all about how to fill up your cup as much as possible because the more you can give the bigger your cup is, the more impact you can make in and I think that’s what we’re all hopefully trying to do. Sean Weisbrot: So how can everyone find you online? Gresham Harkless, Jr.: Yes I appreciate you Sean, and my website that has links to everything is Iamgresh.com. But, it has links to CBNation.co, blue16media.com just everything that I’m working on the and Iamcoloring coloring book as well too you can find all the links there. Sean Weisbrot: All right great, so I’ll actually just put links to Iamgresh, the gratitude journal, insight timer and Iamcoloring through your business directory and all that so everyone can find it and yeah thanks for your time it’s been a fun conversation. Gresham Harkless, Jr.: It’s been awesome, Sean, I appreciate you for letting me be a part of this. Sean Weisbrot: Always looking forward to the next time and remember entrepreneurship is a marathon not a sprint so take care of yourself every day.

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