Entrepreneurship Podcast post

Dream Big with Liz Elting

George Grombacher November 3, 2023

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Dream Big with Liz Elting

LifeBlood: We talked about how to dream big and find the success you desire, the value of starting with the end in mind, developing grit and weathering difficult times, and what it means to turn passion into purpose, with Liz Elting, CoFounder of a billion dollar company, philanthropist, speaker, and author.       

Listen to learn why dreaming big is crucial to success!

You can learn more about Liz at LizElting.com, Facebook, TwitterInstagram and LinkedIn.

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Our Guests

George Grombacher

Liz Elting

Liz Elting

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:02
Liz LTN is an entrepreneur, a philanthropist. She is the co founder of a billion dollar language solutions company. She is a columnist, a lecturer and author of her newest book, dream big and when translating passion into purpose in creating a billion dollar business, Welcome, Liz.

Liz Elting 0:19
I charge so great to be here. Thanks for having me.

george grombacher 0:23
So excited to have you on. Tell us a little about your personal lives more about your work and why you do what you do.

Liz Elting 0:30
Sure. Okay. Thank you. Well, so let’s see. So just in a nutshell, I, I started my company way back over 30 years ago in 1992, with the goal to grow it into the world’s largest language solutions company. And I sold it five years ago in 2018. And right before we sold, I had accomplished that goal of building it into the world’s largest, the premier language solutions company with offices in over 100 cities around the world. And since then, I’ve started a foundation. And in my foundation, I focused on helping support and empower women, and people from marginalized communities and really achieving equity in the world for all. And I’ve just finished my first book, and published it actually last week. And so I am super excited about that as well. And, and I can tell you a little more about the book, but basically, it’s sharing the lessons based on what I did, right, and the many things I did wrong in building and growing my company. And so that’s, that’s what I’ve been doing.

george grombacher 1:45
Well, congratulations on on all of it. I think it’s just amazing to set an intention, you know, 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, and then to see it actually come to fruition. That’s got to feel good.

Liz Elting 1:57
Thank you. Yes, it is. Thank you so much.

george grombacher 2:01
In writing the book, was it hard? Was it easy to I mean, 30 years of entrepreneurship, that’s a lot of lessons and successes and ups and downs.

Liz Elting 2:11
Yes, yes. So thanks for asking. So and actually, the reason I wrote the book was when I was in my 20s. And I was looking for every business book I could get my hands on first when I just had my first job. And then when I started my company, I couldn’t find anything quite like it. So the idea with this book is for it to be and I think it is authentic, vulnerable, entertaining, but also with many practical tips in it for business. But as far as how difficult it was, yes, it was hard. And you know, I think part of why it was hard is certainly we all have a lot of people in our lives. And we don’t want to offend anybody who’s important to us. And then a number of those people are quite private, and they might not want to open up about themselves or or me to say things about them that I would say about myself. So there was that issue. And then finally, I think I tried to be careful about getting into specifics. related to my my partnership with my business partnership, which ultimately ended in it was a challenging ending. It was a lot of drama. It was all very public. It’s it’s all over the internet, and in court rulings. But I tried to stay away from that because I thought I wanted this to be an upbeat book, and I wanted it to be helping others. So it was it was challenging, but it was so much fun. Nice. I

george grombacher 3:39
appreciate that. So as you were, as we’re talking about setting the intention, you’re in your dorm room. And it almost strikes me as odd to think about somebody a college age person sitting there and thinking I want to create the biggest best language learning company in the world. That’s is is that odd? That young person?

Liz Elting 4:07
What No, it’s it was an odd thing to do at the time. It definitely was because but what but what I can tell you what had happened is I had worked at another translation company after college actually. So I I love languages. I studied four languages through high school and majored in languages in college, and then worked in another shortly after graduating, learned about the industry absolutely loves the industry, but thought it could be done better. So I went back to school, got my MBA from NYU, and then briefly tried out finance total of six weeks, realized it was not for me, and that’s when I started the company out of the dorm room. But the the thing that was a little unusual is there weren’t too many people starting companies out of dorm rooms or even garages back then this was in the early 90s before that the Facebook’s and the goobers and all of that, and the Googles. So anyway, it was a little unusual. But I thought I knew I loved the industry, I thought I could do it better. But if I was going to do it, I wanted to build the biggest and the best, because at the time, there was actually a lot of competition, there were about 10,000 Translation companies out there. So I thought, Oh, I’m only going to do this if I’m going to offer something different and better. So that was the idea.

george grombacher 5:28
Nice. And you did it.

Liz Elting 5:31
Yeah, I mean, many, many challenges, many mistakes along the way. But yes, ultimately, after 25 years, accomplish that ultimate goal.

george grombacher 5:42
Do you think that if you had just thought, I want to create a successful company, that you would have just created a successful one and not the most? Is that the dream big is that is that there’s there’s obviously magic in that it’s why you named the book that?

Liz Elting 6:00
That is? No, you’re absolutely right. I think it’s a case of the bigger you dream, the more you accomplish. And sure, I think, if I had just said, Okay, I want to create a company that’s successful, that has a handful of people and I can pay my bills, that’s probably where I would have ended. Because I think as people who dream big, no, you have to keep pushing and doing more and staying with it, when the times get tough. And, and so absolutely, I think the key to creating a big, billion dollar company or even a major company is to dream big. And then if you do, and if by chance, you don’t make it, you’re going to get a lot closer to that ultimate goal than had you just said, I want to be a successful entrepreneur.

george grombacher 6:52
Working hard sticking with it. All of these things. I think about the word grit, what do you think about that?

Liz Elting 7:00
I love the word grit. Because I think that’s really my, my greatest strength. I’m definitely not the smartest person in the room. I’m not the best at much of anything. And constantly hiring people who were smarter than I was and better at all the different, you know, skills that needed to be done. But grit, yes, I think that’s critical. It’s about sticking with it, and putting in the hours when others won’t, and not quitting. And doing whatever needs to be done. Wearing all the hats, and most challenging of times. So I think grit is the absolute key.

george grombacher 7:44
When did sometimes when I hear people talk about you know, I’m just not that smart, but I can hire smart people. And I’m not saying that you’re just saying that. When did you realize that you’re obviously an intelligent, capable person, but that it makes sense for you to try to hire really, really the smartest people that you possibly can, even if they may be smarter than you?

Liz Elting 8:09
Oh, I think I realized it pretty quickly. Because in the early days, what I did is I worked intensely on sales, just sales, sales, sales, revenue, revenue revenue, because we didn’t have outside funding none. We were completely bootstrapped. So I had no choice but to bring in revenue. And was doing that. And we were fortunate to get some sales in those early days worked very hard for those sales. But then when we did, we needed to hire quickly hire people quickly, to help us carry out the jobs, the projects. And that’s when I hired people and I made a bunch of mistakes, I realized, wow, perhaps they’re not so good at this. And they’re not so good at that. And it’s not, you can’t just have a body in there. You need someone who’s good, who’s smart, who’s motivated, who’s detail oriented, who’s ambitious, you have all of those things. So after a bunch of mistakes and turnover, because I hired the wrong people in a hurry. I realized, wow, these people instead really need to impress me in that interview. They need to say things and do things and show things in that interviewing process. That showed there’s someone that what I could see myself working for, or I can see being here in five or 10 years and managing 100 people. So that was when I learned it after making some hiring mistakes early on.

george grombacher 9:39
I appreciate that.

Liz Elting 9:42
I mean, one other thing I’d even say as someone that I would want to be business partners with because ultimately, those early employees, those key employees, I mean, certainly they are like your business partners and then even ultimately all of the employees in some way so that was really what I was looking for.

george grombacher 9:59
What You see, when what? What does it mean to win?

Liz Elting 10:05
That’s a great question. Because I think it means a lot of things to different people. But the reason I wanted that in the title is, a lot of people dream big. They liked the idea of it. And I think you have to have a dream, to, to go and push yourself to do something, you need to have a vision. But I also think it’s not enough to have a dream, you need to carry out the actions every day, you need to set goals, and give yourself deadlines and make sure you do it. So I think if you do those things, you win. And as far as winning, it means accomplishing your ultimate goal. And in my case, yes, I said what my ultimate goal was, in some people’s cases, it might be something different. But I didn’t want to just focus on dreaming big or, yeah, just leaving the end goal on unaddressed, because in the end, I think it is about winning. And I also think the people who accomplish the most in life are very competitive, and competitive with themselves. And I think that’s critical. I think that’s critical in order to be successful, and to bring on people who are going to help you be successful. So someone who, who wants to win, both against themselves, and of course, against the competition as they go about it, but ultimately, always wanting to do better against themselves.

george grombacher 11:31
The relation relationship between passion and purpose. Tell me a little bit about that.

Liz Elting 11:38
Sure, I think it’s a lot easier to be successful if you’re passionate about what you’re doing. And I definitely was, fortunately, I knew I love languages. And then I saw quickly, wow, there’s a need for language solutions. And there’s even a purpose behind it. It’s a way to bring the world together. It’s a way to bring people from different cultures together. It’s a way to handle global business, and all of those things were necessary. And my whole goal my whole life. And what I what really drives me, is breaking down barriers between people. I was always very much about diversity. And I was fortunate to live in five countries, where I studied, I worked, I, I live, and just lived as a kid. And I loved meeting people who are different and breaking down those barriers, barriers, and language does it right. And so for me, that was the purpose. And it was related to my passion as well. So that made the whole thing much more doable. But I do believe that people are much more likely to build something if they’re passionate about it, and they can look at the purpose behind it the bigger purpose.

george grombacher 12:54
That certainly makes sense to me. And and yes, so many of the barriers that exist between human beings before you and your company came along was just our inability to communicate and speak with the same language. As you look around today. It seems like we all speak similar languages or can understand each other. But there’s still these barriers between us. It’s more of a philosophical company, as you’re striving for, I think that you said equity. Tell me a little bit about that.

Liz Elting 13:24
Right. And that’s precisely why I started my foundation, because certainly I was one of the lucky ones, I had the right tools I had, I would get I had a great education. My parents paid for my undergrad and business school. So that’s huge. And I was brought up with the right values really hard work. I mean, I wasn’t given a lot at all, I was actually taught to work when I was very young, I was told you need to be financially dependent on yourself. But anyway, the point is, I was one of the lucky ones. And then my timing was good with my company. And I brought on the right people and we were able to achieve the dream. But a lot of people don’t have that good fortune. They they’re born in the wrong zip code. They’re born to the wrong family, they don’t have the money. They don’t have the or the money to pay for the education. They don’t have the resources. And that’s what I’m most focused on helping the people who didn’t have the advantages I did, because I also, you know, as I mentioned, as the company grew, and we became the largest, there were 1000s of people at our company, but most of them had a good opportunity to but then we have this whole world out there. And this whole country out there that doesn’t and that’s what I’m focused on now helping with things like education, in vesting and donating and teaching about entrepreneurship. And then a number of other causes women’s causes hunger, gun safety and heart disease and cancer just because all these people have these things happening to them, not their fault nothing they can do so because I had good fortune now. It’s my job to step in.

george grombacher 15:05
I appreciate that. I was just thinking the other day about that when you look for where responsibility has been, maybe the doors open there, there was an opportunity for me to step in order for you certainly with your knowledge and expertise and resources to be able to step in and have an impact. And there’s problems everywhere we look. So you named a couple of them. How do you how do you look at it now? How are you? How are you deciding where to put your attention and your resources?

Liz Elting 15:46
That’s a great question. Because it’s really hard. For sure. It is I mean, I that’s what I probably could be doing better. I I’m not as focused as a lot of philanthropists are and I find it challenging I, I tend to say entrepreneurship and education are the great equalizers. So they’re important areas for me to focus on. But as I mentioned before, women, that’s a big area. And then of course, I mentioned all the others. And I think what is happening to me is the longer I’ve been doing it, the more people I’m meeting and I hear their story. And I mean, for example, if I hear someone like Nicole Hockley, I mean, Nicole Hockley. And she lost her son in the Sandy Hook shooting 11 years ago, when I met her. And I heard what she did, that she had started Sandy Hook Promise. Of course, my heart broke, and I thought I have to be involved in that. How unfair is that? How wrong is that? And so But that’s an example. But the point is, I meet people and I see situations and then I’m getting involved in it. So the answer is I’m not doing the best job of being focused. Because I just see the problems and you meet the people. And then of course, you’re touched, or I was touched, and I got involved, but I need to, over time, really focus better on all of that.

george grombacher 17:10
You can do whatever you want, you know? No, have to do anything, Liz. Appreciate that your kids in terms of of writing? Are you now a full time writer to be are you going to keep writing?

Liz Elting 17:26
Um, so I’m excited to have this first book out. I don’t know what’s next. As far as writing, what I am doing a lot of is I’m going and speaking to groups about the book and what I talk about in the book and all they’re all different groups. I mean, everyone from college students, to business school students, to people at financial institutions, to entrepreneurs, to women, to all kinds of people. And so I’m really enjoying that, because then we get into the q&a, and we get into specifics that might be relevant to those people. And I’m so enjoying that right now.

george grombacher 18:05
I appreciate that. It certainly makes sense that just about any audience would benefit from from hearing your story. So I think that that must be a cool opportunity.

Liz Elting 18:16
Thank you. Thank you so much. I really appreciate that. George,

george grombacher 18:20
is there one idea or lesson from the book that is maybe your favorite?

Liz Elting 18:27
Yeah, there are a bunch. And I always have trouble narrowing it down. But I was thinking about it when I, I I’m afraid I’m going to end up giving you five and I know that’s not what you want. But maybe if I throw them out quickly. You know, don’t don’t confuse being an entrepreneur with being an inventor. Virtually all the people who’ve been enormously successful have not invented something entirely new, instantly, just change something about what was already being done. And that’s what we did with trans perfect. So I think that’s super important. Another thing it’s all about, not just dreams, but actions. So give yourself goals, and actions and deadlines to accomplish those goals. Another is, and I think this is so important, no matter what business you’re in is spoil the client with service and quality. And then I learned over time, also spoil your employees with the best culture out there because then they won’t want to leave and of course, they’ll spoil the client as well. Work hard, don’t quit. One of the things I like to say is work today like no one else will so you can live and give tomorrow, like no one else can. And one last one because when you asked me the winning question, I thought, okay, I felt like my whole life I was trying to win. But I think there’s a good lesson that I talked about in the book, which is that I used to go skiing every Saturday when I was a teenager and I grew up in Toronto. I was living in Toronto at the time, and a bus would pick us up at six in the morning to go skiing. There was a massive snowstorm one day, like horrible storm. And it turned out that most people decided not to go that day, two hours north two and a half hours north to Georgia and peaks. Okay. And I thought, well, I have to go, because there’s a race today and I want to win that race. And so only about a quarter of the people went because it was pretty crazy out there was probably danger, a little dangerous. But I went, and I was able to win that race. And I’m not a great skier. I’m not even a very good skier. The only reason I won is because I showed up. And then you know, I, I basically learned from that that’s what you have to do show up when others don’t. And that carried us through a lot of stages with our company. I mean, a another business example, or a business example of that is when Goldman Sachs needed a job done an important job, and it happened to be over Christmas, in our first couple of years. And everyone was else was saying, I’m sorry, we’re closed the week between Christmas and New Year’s. We said, we’ll do it jumped in there did it. And then Goldman Sachs became one of our biggest clients. So showing up when no one else does, I think is also kind of an interesting lesson. And that can also help you win.

george grombacher 21:20
I love those stories. I love it, especially the one about the scheme. Like I’m getting on that bus. I want to win that race.

Liz Elting 21:29
Right there was the only way I was ever going to win a race as skiing race was by going when only a quarter of the people went when almost no one else way.

george grombacher 21:39
However, it worked out you you were the winner, Liz. That’s awesome. Thank you so much for coming on. Where can people learn more about you? And where can they get their copy of dream big and when translating passion into purpose and creating a billion dollar business.

Liz Elting 21:55
Thank you. So I’m on social media at Liz Elting on all the platforms. And then also as far as the book amazon.com Dream big and win. And that would be wonderful. And I I would love it if you would buy the book.

george grombacher 22:13
Excellent. Well, if you enjoyed as much as I did, shows your appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas, fun lives on social media and I’ll link all all the spots in the notes, and then get your copy of dream big and win on Amazon and we’ll put a link to that in the notes as well. Thanks good, Liz.

Liz Elting 22:32
Thank you so much, George. great being here.

george grombacher 22:35
Till next time remember, do your part and doing your best

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