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One Mic Stand: Alex Kuhn of Born to Lead

Interview by Jonathan Kersting

One Mic Stand

Alex Kuhn, founder of Born to Lead,  helps purpose-driven entrepreneurs become the leaders they were born to be and start, grow & scale 6, 7 & 8 figure businesses. With more than 200+ known success stories, Alex's work has helped leaders build businesses that align with who they are, resonate with who they want to be, and intuitively fulfill the where they want to go. 

Alex has awesome insights whether you are looking to start a new venture or need a little guidance navigating your current scenario.




This is Jonathan Kersting with tech vibe radio, bringing you the one mic stand with our friends at Huntington Bank from our virtual Huntington Bank studio these days and I got a really cool guest with us today really excited to get into this because part of why we do TechVibe in the one mic stand is we like educating folks. We like inspiring folks. And I want to find people from around the country around the world to do that. Typically, we talked to folks in Pittsburgh, but we're stretching out a little bit today. And we are talking to Alex Kuhn. He's the founder of Born to Lead. He's all about purpose driven entrepreneurship. And this guy's got some experience and made over 200 plus noon success stories. I mean, you work with some really high level, folks. And you've got some really cool, very honest insights around succeeding as an entrepreneur. And I'm just excited to talk to you today. Alex, thanks for taking the time to be part of the TechVibe Radio One Mic Stand.

Yeah, and no pun intended. Thanks for bringing such a joyful and positive vibe to this episode. It's a I just like we were just jamming before. That's right, let's do this. Let's get this going. I told you I aim to have fun with these things. And if you're not gonna have fun, then why do it as far as that goes, I enjoy my job so much to meet people all the time. And when the cool thing was you actually work with a Pittsburgh, actually a member a client of yours, who's a member of the Pittsburgh Technology Council are guys a wizard it with Andy bradburn. I was like, Oh my goodness, now like, I just saw it on your website. And I'm like, I gotta call you up and say, Hey, what's up? Apparently, you're working Really? Well. he's doing he's doing great. I mean, he's a good success story you can look at is a great success story.

And he's just a great guy. You know, it's just, he's the type of guy that you say, Listen, I mean, he's clearly a smart guy. He's a bright guy. But you know, first off, you say, wow, this is a great business man. Or you don't say, wow, this is this entrepreneur, and yet, he's doing fantastic. And so I think it just is a reminder that, you know, the end of the day, when it comes to building a business, you know, it's not this personality, or it's not this risk tolerance. It's just literally, you know, what is it that you want to do and finding something that works for you?

Absolutely. So I got so many questions for you today, because like, over the many, many years, I've been covering tech and tech entrepreneurs, I've seen the good, the bad, the ugly, it's sometimes I feel like I have this like honorary, like, I don't want to call it an MBA, but I can sniff out some winners if you know, I know where things commonly tend to go off the rails during the course of a business. And I just love getting insight from folks like you because like I said, He's so mature that that magic sauce where it helps that person who's an engineer that has a product idea, and they're going to turn into a company, but they don't necessarily know some of the the ways around being an entrepreneur and you kind of bring that to them. So quickly. I mean, what's your background? And how long you've been doing born to lead for and what got you all fired up? to do your own thing? Oh, man, I mean, I, you know, the funny thing is, is that I don't even think I ever said to myself, I wanted to be an entrepreneur, all I know is is that I've just always been somebody who is loved coaching, who's love serving and truly who loves leading and boring lead, I guess, I guess leadership is kind of in the, the cause of what I always wanted to do. Back in, you know, 2011 I think every entrepreneur could talk about, you know, those earliest, you know, struggles and those early failures. And for me, here's, you know, one business fail another business fail, the third business failed and you start to question like, is, do I got what it takes, you start to say yourself, maybe I have to give up everything in my life, if I really want to be a successful business, because many people that know me, I'm a family, man, I've got a 19 month old, that is my world, just like my wife's my world. And I would never sacrifice them for anything that we do in the business. So, you know, I think there's this motif that like, you just gotta hustle and grind your way to success. And that's the only way to do it, then, you know, thankfully, and gratefully, I feel that over the past six years starting and selling to my own business, after my first three failures and starting lean, I really want to show the entrepreneurial community that there is a way that instead of thinking of the business world as this systems and structures that need to start thinking about as an organism that we can create that works with our vision works with our towns, work with our strengths that ultimately will achieve what we really want to be I think most of us want to feel fulfilled and happy. And that's at the end of the day, what I've been very grateful do with thousands and thousands of people all over the world. That's awesome, man. I mean, I can tell this is your passion. This is your calling, this is your thing, because this is not work for us just what you'd be doing in matter what. So that's, that's always that makes things so much fun. As far as that is it before we get started off. I could pick your brain about so many things. I feel like I'm a little like all over the place. But you mentioned the word failure, three failures. And one thing I know in Pittsburgh, particularly, we have not fully embrace the value of failure, and that it's okay to fail. In fact, you got to fail in order to really make things happen here. It's like, well, if you didn't succeed at your first venture, and you're done and go back to the corporate world, or something like that, and so how can we embrace failure and turn it into a positive? I mean, obviously, you said you had three bouts of it yourself and you kept going. I was somebody who's just knew this and knows there's a good chance of failure no matter what you do, how do you embrace that learn get yourself pick back up again and walking down the street. Yeah, I think the the word I always talk about is preparation, and not the idea of we're preparing to fail. But just understand that there is going to be a moment where your butt is going to get kicked, it's going to get it's gonna get kicked from a client, it's going to get kicked from maybe your what you think is your biggest supporter. I always tell people when I started my entrepreneur, I was actually dating a woman that I was in love with, I thought was the one I thought was I was going to marry.

And after I started my entrepreneur journey, you know, with the excitement, enthusiasm and positivity that nothing, I'm clearly going to succeed. You know, three months later, struggle, struggle struggle. It just wasn't what she felt was the right path for her and like literally left me devastated. So I think this idea of saying, Can you be prepared for everything? Of course not. There's no way when you decide to go down this journey, like you do not know how life how business how this word is going to kick you. Just understanding that Listen, I know I'm going to get hit and I'm going to get hit really hard. But I also know I'm not going to be toughest skin, I'm going to be rubber, which means that it's going to bounce off me I'm gonna get back up. Okay, neither the attitude you got to have is not this. I'm tougher. I'm stronger. No, no, I think you just got to laugh it off, shake it off. just laugh with the punches. They oh my gosh, is gonna be a great story someday. That to me is the the best ads I've seen time and time again, with entrepreneurs that continue to be resilient, even when they hit failures. Gotcha.

That sounds good. That sounds good. That's a new take on that as well, too. I really appreciate. So you're out there. In this day and age, someone's thinking like, Okay, I got this idea. It's my dream, I'm gonna go for it. Before you do that you kind of have that kind of come to God moment where like, Am I really made for this, and you talk a little bit about like, kind of four ways to know if you were born to do this. You're born to lead born to be an entrepreneur, I actually like leadership and entrepreneurship go hand in hand. They're almost interchangeable. I think at that point. So what are what are some of those four ways to know like, Okay, I got these four things. I can move forward to this point.

Yeah, I think a lot of times, and this is a thing I've seen time and time again. And this is when we're saying time and time again. I mean, thousands and thousands of studies talked about people that failed. And I asked this question, I do this in a training all times I always ask the same question. It's like, what do you think breaks first and the business? Is it the business itself? Or is it the leader of the bin? Interesting, okay, almost everybody. Everybody instinctively says, well, the leader must break down first. And the answer is That's right. Every single time I see the leader emotionally break down, are they financially break down? Are they they are trying to do so much out of their own wheelhouse that they really at the end of the day, just literally say, why am I going to do this? Why am I going to put myself through all of this, for this potential 1% shot dream, right? Most entrepreneurs understand this is a long shot. But at the end of the day, we want to succeed. So why don't you put myself through so much pain? And so my idea is this is that for many people that when we talk about the idea of born a lead, there is a different type of leader that as for example, that you are Jonathan versus me. And so at the end of the day, why are we going to build even if we were in the same industry, even if we were selling the same product? Why are we going to try to build a business the same way? It doesn't make sense.

You got to build it towards what your strengths are and what works for you. Right? Always. Yeah,

so I would talk about these four types, you know, the architect, the motivator, the developer, and then finally, the visionary. And we've all heard these terms and different things. And we all want to be architects, right? Yeah. Yeah. It's just it's one of those things that at the end of the day, I look at so many of these leaders and I say to yourself, like, they are natural motivators, but yet they're trying to just architect a business from the very beginning, or their natural architect, and they're trying to motivate people, right? So it's okay, if you flip that around, then Hmm, you can you just start with what works best for you. And ultimately, everyone's gonna have to find a team and everyone's gonna have to find complementary strengths. But at the end of the day, you should start building the business that comes naturally for you and showcasing how that works. Whether you're in a product business or service business there, you know, even taking like Andy, for example, you know, Andy is clearly an architect. He's got this mind that he can basically say, Okay, I see your problem, I see your ID problem. And I know exactly what you need to do, what software is this and that Bubble bubble. He's like this. So to put have Andy just go out and try to sell all day, it's just not in line with what he was born to do.

Exactly. Right. Right.

So what we did for him was simply say, listen, show case studies, show consulting things actually say if you can put together the plan before they even have the buy, to show them that they would, because that's his genius. And that's how he's actually built such an incredible IT company here in Pittsburgh.

That's why I think it's so important for people to think about on their journey, that it's actually it's a good thing and it can be a very wise investment to come to a resource like yours because you can do that outside forces. You can you can see the forest of the trees of the trees of the forest. However that thing goes. Because all the time to me in the middle of building his company he's doing he's trying to make payroll, and he's trying to do all these things. And you can come from an outside perspective and say, here's how you got to do it, because you can see where his strengths are, and then they can realign things, and he can actually see progress. That's why I think that as an entrepreneur, like no one you can't solve everything, like reading a book on marketing this weekend isn't gonna be doing marketing genius, per se, yes, you're smart, but you're maybe not smart, you think you are. So rely on resources outside of you bringing in athletes queuing up to, in order to kind of jumpstart what you're doing.

Yeah, I love the idea that I tell people that, you know, there's something to be said for experiences. And I think at the end of the day here with everything that's happening with YouTube, and videos and stuff, and don't get me wrong, I'm putting out content. And I'm trying to put out insights that really valuable people, I think, at the end of the day, I think all of us, you know, when we try to grow, right, if I'm trying to go lose weight, it's better for me to go work with a personal trainer than to just read something online and tried to do it myself. And I think that's what I hope to bring to any client or really even anybody that ever he, whether they pay me or not, the idea is that can they have an experience where they feel like, Whoa, this has left an imprint. And that's going to change the trajectory of how I move forward with this business and how I move forward in this direction. And that's always what I'm trying to do every single time and on podcasts like this, and you know, anywhere true,

I love it. I love it. So back to the four things, we the architect, were some of the three other ones real quickly, just so we can get on.

Yeah, so um, yes, three other types. You know, the developer developer is that person that you just instantly bond with them. They just know how to coach you. They just know they feel like they feel like they help you find the answers that you were struggling to get themselves. They're really natural coaches are really natural managers are really good at just basically getting a team together and getting the best out of them. a motivator. And that's this is my natural strength. You know, motivator is that person who's just has this knack for getting people to say yes, you know, think of the natural salesperson, the person that instantly says, You know what, I like this guy, I trust this guy. I don't feel like he's selling to me, I just feel like, yeah, I need what he's telling me I need so yeah, I'm, of course, I'm gonna say yes to them. And then finally, the visionary and the visionary we we all hold as this holy grail of the CEO, whether it's the Elan Musk, or whoever. But really the all the visionary is, and by the way, these are all skills that yes, people are innately natural talents, but they bring that to your to your, your being right.

Yeah, exactly like you can that like, you can be natural one. But it's like anything, right? You don't want to have any weak spots in your leadership game. So you should be working on all four of these at the same time. But you know, the visionary is the person that's literally anticipating the future, they have an intuitive and analytical way of looking at how things are happening, and being able to know exactly what's going to happen. You know, Gary Vaynerchuk is is a natural visionary when it comes to social media, and hence why he's worth, you know, hundreds and hundreds of million dollars because he knew exactly what to invest in before everybody else do what to invest in, I want that kind of vision.

Don't we all?

Amazing stuff. So like I said, earlier, in the podcast, you're saying I like the fact that you're pretty like you're down to earth about this. And this next thing is like, I love this, how to not be a dick in business. Like, I just think it's so important. Because sometimes those two words go together too Well, sometimes. And I don't always think they have to. I think that in business, there's winners on both sides. It's not about someone winner takes all is the fact that things happen where like, as you're growing a business, you can make things happen that are good for you. And for the ecosystem around you and everything going on. What are your thoughts on this? I can't wait to hear what you got to say.

Yeah, I just I the one thing you'll probably know about me, I grew up on a I grew up to be south of Pittsburgh, but I grew up on a farm. You know, I grew up in, you know, hard working, you know, honest living there. And so when I got into this, this was not I was not meant I was meant to, you know, find my sweetheart in high school, get married, find that job, you know, read for the Steelers every Sunday. And that was supposedly my life, right? That's all I'm supposed to do. But you know, at the end of the day, like there was just something I think that called me to go do something bigger, something larger, and something that really, you know, propelled me to get to where I am today. And the one thing that I found I've never just been that jerk. I've just been always the nice guy. And I think we've all heard that expression, you know, the nice guy finish last and the friendzone and stuff like that. But what I look at when I've been in the business, here's what I found. And maybe this is this the shift that's happened in 2020. And maybe this is the new age of leadership, but that at the end of the day, people over profits is not just becoming a slogan, it's actually becoming a real tangible determinant in terms of how successful your businesses I know for me that if I was that jerk if I was that dick, I know 99% my clients would leave me tomorrow like why would they ever want to work with somebody that literally is not a not Bria that doesn't or B they don't want to spend time with I'm seeing this in many industries and seen as many leaders I can tell you with a lot of the leaders that I work with there I find time and time again they're either one or two things either a they are the nice person they are concerned that That personality traits can hold them back and we show them listen, that has nothing to do with it. In fact, it's actually your Trojan horse to be successful, or BSc that the person who actually feels like they have to be a dick or they have to be that jerk or they have to be so cool, because that's the only way to do it. And we shouldn't like, Listen, if you show, if you open up and you're more vulnerable, what's gonna happen is you're gonna get more buy in from your teams and more buy in from your clients, ultimately leading to greater success. So I think at the end of the day of just the cold hearted businessman, the jerk, the person who literally, you know, basically only sees black and white, I think that leaders dead, I think we're in the time for a new age.

Yeah, I would agree with you. I feel like yeah, there's there's definitely that gentler side of business that realizes it's not as cutthroat winner take all that if you do care about people, and don't be a dick, is much better, as far as that is. So Alex, one of the things I've learned over my years, I've hung out with so many people, and there's a wait great Ron Morris, who's a serial entrepreneur here in Pittsburgh started a bunch of tech companies over the years got to know the guy really, really well. He's to write some articles for me in our T Q magazine. And one thing I remember from him that more than anything is is to really know whether you're a brake pedal guy or gas pedal guy, in the fact that you can convince the person you see in the mirror every day of anything, as far as that goes. So first and foremost, like, I mean, how important is to recognize that you're a brake pedal guy or a gas pedal guy, and then based on that, know how you could slot into the entrepreneurial thing. And then how do you not believe your own bs? Because I believe I don't want to believe my own bs every day, but looking in the mirror, because I can find myself doing that if I don't think about it too much.

Well, it's funny, you said that because I know it, you're a reminds me of this story. So I was a big swimmer. That was that was my sport growing up. And I'm working with a sports psychologist. And I remember I just had all this negative talk and his Bs, the, you know, the imposter syndrome, whatever we're calling it the negative words. him saying like, Alex, what if that all those negative words, all that stuff that's telling you to stop? What if it was in the language you didn't understand? What would you do with it? Hmm. And I thought, well, I probably wouldn't really wouldn't let it bother me. Or if I would say, What's it? What's the saying? If I couldn't understand it? Oh, well, I'd move on, right? He's like, exactly. So at the end of the day, we get to decide what negative language or what words, we actually get to listen to our head. And I think that's the first thing is just like, our and I'm like that. Yeah, I mean, that's putting you in control the situation there? You do, because, right. I mean, listen, we all know that. And I don't want to say this is in any sort of way, this situation with COVID has been tough on businesses. And I know that I want to be, you know, heartfelt and mindful of every situation here. And but what I worry about with most businesses is that they don't feel like they can actually control their future. And they don't feel like they can actually shift the direction because well, this is out of my control. And this is out of my control. And just like I said, some things are gonna just kick your butt way more. And this is clearly one of those situations. The question is, this is like, what do I control? What can I do? What positive Can I take? And as I said, what, how do I make a rubber? So I can bounce back? And how am I going to bounce back in this situation? So I think it's just having that. And then this idea of the gas in the gas pedal and the brake pedal guy, and I think we were kind of talking about the idea of like, when you're not a risk, you know, risk, high risk entrepreneur, like, what do you do like are can you actually build an entrepreneurial business? And I don't know about you, but I found this I actually found this time again, like, yes, you it's a more risky as you start. But I found the people that have really, quote, unquote, made it and really couldn't be successful. They are more conservative than anybody I know. Because they don't want to lose what they got. Ah, that makes sense. Okay, that makes a lot of sense. So I think the big biggest thing for anybody who's conservative, and by the way, I saw, I'm speaking to my wife, my wife is not the natural entrepreneur, you know, she's that type of personality, and hence, yet she lives with an entrepreneur. So I can imagine I know, some days that's stressful, or I just tell people listen, like, yes, there is some risk of this, there's no, there's never going to be not a risk to this. But understand that there is a line that everyone can achieve. And in fact, when you get there, you tend to be even more conservative than you are right now. So I think anybody can do this, if they really want to.

I like it. That's very inspiring. I think people need to hear that right now. Because I'm speaking of COVID. I know lots of folks do too. COVID had kind of been forced to become very entrepreneurial in nature, because they were at a job and were either downsized or moved out of it. But then they're starting their own consulting business, or they had their idea for a company they wanted to do. And now they feel like is the time to do it. Are you seeing an uptick in that as well, too? And, obviously, any any advice based upon starting a business in such unusual times? Dare I say?

Yeah. And there's so many I do see an uptick. I mean, I think I don't know what the stats were exactly, but I think they said like 40 million Americans are on unemployment or something like I mean, it's a number sounds so staggering when you say it out loud. But I'm also seeing a lot of people not wanting to just sit back and just say, well, I've lost apparently I've lost I'm just gonna have to wait this out. I see people trying to rise as he people are trying to step up. And the one thing I think that most people end up forgetting is that Listen, I mean, there's a lot to learn about business and what happens I think people try to learn everything. If you decide to start a business You decide to be a consultant, maybe you're trying to do this just to get by either way, it's totally fine. But just understand that this is not about trying to figure it all out in one month or two months or three months, or hitting one goal here, one goal there, but just really having a growth mindset perspective, and just literally taking it day by day, asking yourself, what's the most important question for you and your business right now. And there's these there's sequences to it, there's there's things that are more important now that are not going to be important till they're down the road, etc. But just really saying, Listen, what can I do that's going to help me learn how to run this business better? What can I do that is something actually people are willing and able to buy right now? And I think so starting with just with some simple questions, and just working on those, as opposed to try and say, I got to build a business, how am I going to do that is going to be more tangible, easier to comprehend, and also going to help you grow a lot faster.

Very, I like the

way you make that like, like digestible, it's not like all this at once, but it's step by step. So it's like you can build that success, get momentum going, get your confidence up. And all that starts to make a huge difference. I tell you what, I could talk to you for hours about this stuff. There's so much going on. But it's like in the podcast world. It's like, I don't want to have our listeners go for two hours. I think this could be like a multi part series. You've given us some great stuff. Any other key takeaways that we have not covered? That you think people need to know when it comes to you becoming that born leader? Yeah, I think this is my biggest, biggest takeaway. And because when people hear the word born to lead, they think that Oh, only there's, ironically, there's a controversy, this idea of can you grow into a leader and learn leadership? Or are you born a leader and you just can't figure it out. And I'm a big believer that I found time and time again, that it's a marriage of both, okay, at the end of the day, the people that are listening to this, whether it's the struggling entrepreneur, or the homeschooling parent right now who has three kids, and is still trying to raise their kids and make money and do everything's going on. The one thing I found that really is so beneficial is to start to identify yourself as a leader right here, right now, right in this very moment, and understanding that leaders always figure out a way. And if you got that identity, if you've got that mindset, man, you're gonna see a major shift in all areas of your life.

I love it, man. You're charging me up. It's like, I want to do something beautiful outside. So yeah, let's do it.

Absolutely. I know what a pleasure to talk with you. There's so much that people can learn so much more about you is Alex hyphen.

Yes. Kuhn just like the I know, we're in Pittsburgh here, the grocery there. And if people are on Instagram, you know, it's Alex Kuhn SEO, if you just type analysis Q and you'll find me there. That's where I that's where I share my stuff every single day. I love it. Great, great stuff. So glad we got to have this conversation. So glad to get to hang out in the virtual Huntington bank studio that make these conversations possible. This has been Jonathan Kersting of course, the Pittsburgh tech Council and tech five radio Alex, you're the best. Thanks for being part of the show today.

Likewise, my friend.

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