Are you making a U-turn in life or just driving by? Jeff Hoffman, an accomplished entrepreneur and innovator, joins Jen Du Plessis as they talk about achieving success and attaining the freedom to enact change and create a positive impact on the world. Jeff shares the story of how he was inspired to enact change and how he took charge and found ways to solve some of the world’s problems. Tapping into the importance of owning the DNA of entrepreneurship, Jeff and Jen also discuss the need for leaders who can provide solutions that leave an impact on history. Furthermore, Jeff then talks about his mission to help women around the world become personally independent.
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Enacting Change: The Goal Is The Starting Point With Jeff Hoffman
I have a wonderful man with us, Jeff Hoffman. Most people don’t know Jeff’s name. I found him when I was speaking on a stage with him. I said, “Who’s this guy?” We want to make sure that everybody knows how impactful he has been on our lives every single day. To start off, number one, he is an accomplished entrepreneur and an innovator in all kinds of fields like the internet, eCommerce and entertainment. He was part of the team that developed and grew PriceLine.com. He is the inventor of the kiosks that we use in the airports when we check-in without using a person. Those are two of his great accomplishments, but there’s more to Jeff, and that’s why I invited him on the show. Jeff, welcome.
Thank you. I’m happy to be here.
We know you’re successful, but the thing that I love about you, Jeff, is your heart beats big. I can tell that when we were both speaking at City Gala. Everyone else seemed to be giving me statistics about their success and all these paths and the story, but there’s something about your story that penetrated with me. That’s why I reached out to you right after you spoke and said, “We need to talk.”
When we’re talking about Success to Significance in this particular show and the audience that’s reading is multifaceted. When I say target breaking through glass ceilings, it’s not financial glass ceilings as much as it is any glass ceiling that you encounter in your life. Many of us go through many of these ceilings. The Success to Significance was started with me transitioning from a 35-year career in the financial sector into this impact that I want to have on people’s lives that are also in that sector. Taking my experience, my failures and giving that to them and saying, “You too can be successful.” Maybe I can compress that time for you based on my experience. Someone’s reading and they’re saying, “I’m moving from the corporate world to being an entrepreneur or I want to do more charity work,” any of those types of movements. That’s what I want to talk about specifically with you. I want to hear about your story before you became the Jeff Hoffman that we’re talking to here.
First of all, I love the title of your show, Success to Significance, because all along, we thought that success was the goal. It turns out that success is not a destination. It’s a platform that enables you to do something that matters finally. Everybody’s trying to get rich or famous, or whatever their definition of success is, and then you get there and you discover that was never the goal. That was the starting point. It enables you to do things you couldn’t do if you hadn’t worked that hard up to that point.You may be successful, but do you matter? Click To Tweet
For me, way back when money and fame was never a focus of mine, I never cared about anything like that. There were two things that early on, I knew were important to me. One was freedom, freedom to be able to pursue things that I thought were worthwhile. Freedom to live in a world I have some control over and some designing. I’m going to give you a quick example because when I got out of school, I had an Engineering degree. I got a job at an engineering company, which turned out to be the only corporate job in my case I ever had. I didn’t last long, but one of the moments and this is especially significant to you because of how strongly you support women in business, which I have been doing too.
I had a boss that if you weren’t a white male, you weren’t management material. He didn’t look at women the same way. He didn’t look at minorities the same way. One day, it was frustrating for me on behalf of my coworkers that I remember thinking, “I have two choices here. I can hate my job, which a lot of people do. They go home and complain about their stupid boss, or I could design the company that I’ve always wanted to work in.” One day I said, “Why don’t I start a company where there is no gender?” There’s only contribution. Where there is no race, there’s only your value as a human being.
Early on, what I wanted was to design the place I wanted to work. I wanted the freedom for us to work on things that mattered not just pay the bills. You’ve got to pay the bills, but I wanted to pay the bills and still do something that has a positive impact on people’s lives. Early on, those were my drivers. At that time, I’m the child of a single mom and we’re all broke. I’m in a little town that nobody ever leaves. I have nothing to help me start on this journey other than a strong vision of what I want things to look like one day.
That’s powerful. I love that you’re saying that you want to take some action. A lot of us see things that we don’t agree with and want to enact change, be an innovator as you are as well, an inventor, we don’t take action on it. When you said freedom, “I wanted something that had freedom,” where do you think that stems from in your childhood that you said, “I want to be helpful?” A lot of people could have the same childhood but never take action to make a difference in the world. What do you think it was other than this desire to have this freedom? There’s something in that core that pushed that.
That one’s easy. It was honestly my mother. By the way, this is why I am such a strong believer in mentorship because not everybody has two parents. I’m going to be honest, they may not have a parent that is motivating and inspiring them. A mentor can do that by helping. Early on, I was on the board for a bit of Big Brothers Big Sisters as an example, because mentorship matters, but I was lucky. Even though I didn’t grow up with my father, my mother was the kind of person that would drive past the same problem that everyone else was driving past, look out their car window and say, “Look at that,” but keep driving. My mom would make a U-turn and I say, “What are you doing?” My mom said, “I’m not going to stand for this. I’m going to go over there and see what I can do.” Other people would say, “It’s none of your business.” She would say, “It is now.”All along, we thought that success was the goal. It turns out that success is not a destination but a platform. Click To Tweet
I had an example of somebody that stepped up and took action. One day, I remember my mother overheard one person say a horrendous racial slur to another person. My mom is tiny and these people are not. She jumped in between them. You should see in their eyes were like, “What do you think you’re doing?” My mom says, “This is not okay. You’re going to apologize. We’re going to fix this.” I was looking at her like, “Mom, those people are about to beat you up.” My mother stood her ground. She said, “In life, you’ve got to take action. You can’t drive-by everything. Somebody’s got to do something.” She always did it. If it was a lost animal, it was at our house until it found a good home because my mom’s like, “Everyone else is just driving by. Let’s go get that dog.” My mom was the role model for me of, “Don’t just stand there, do something.”
That’s a soundbite, “Are you making a U-turn in life or just driving by?” You should write a book. You can take it. It’s okay. Go ahead.
It’s a soundbite world.
Thank you for answering that and digging a little deeper because I think that the reason that we do things that we do stems from our childhood. It’s the DNA that gets planted. That then brought you into this innovation where you’re thinking about different ways to solve problems in the world whether they are technical problems, like in the case of the kiosks, but also the problems in the world that are human and of the heart. That’s wonderful. You’re always looking for those ideas. Let’s talk about the kiosk to let us get in your head a little bit about where did this idea come from? It must have been you were standing in line and sick of it?
It was driven by a couple of things. The first one, being real to your readers, is impatience. My number one character flaw as a human being is I’m the most impatient person ever. While that’s a bad trait many times, it’s also a good one sometimes. That drives me, my impatience. The second part, which is the part that’s the DNA of entrepreneurship, which I didn’t know then. This is back to the U-turn. When you see a problem that’s upsetting you, you have two choices, go home and complain as everyone else does, and I complain louder because I’m more impatient than ever, or you can own it.
You can stop and say, “I’m not going to keep complaining. I’m going to do something while everyone else is complaining about it.” When you talk about success and significance too, it’s the people that said, “I got this one, I’m going to fix it. You all can go home, you can go and complain, but I own this one.” Those are the people that leave an impact on history later. In my case, I had to quit that engineering job. I was broken and unemployed. I bought an airline ticket to see a mentor, and the line in the airport to check-in was long and I missed the flight standing in line.
That’s an expensive problem. When you missed a flight, then you have to cancel the whole ticket. I was upset. It took an hour to get to the front and I was impatient. When I was making comments, people in line were like, “Shut up. We’re all on the same line. It just takes this long.” I remember thinking, “Why has everyone accepted that it takes this long?” People were like, “That guy is impatient,” which I was. When I got to the end, I realized the woman is looking at your ID and hitting print. Our boarding pass is a piece of paper from a printer. I was like, “This is ridiculous. We are in a long line so you can use a printer.” Do you know what she said to me? “Next?” I said, “Ma’am, I’m talking to you.” She’s like, “Next.”
In that moment of frustration, I said, “Everybody in this line is as frustrated as me. I’m going to fix this one so it never happens again.” I went home and started my first startup. I was twenty-something years old. On that Friday, I took out a sheet of paper and started drawing a kiosk idea. The kiosks were a new technology then that you could walk up to, speak to in English, touch the screen and check yourself into a flight and get a boarding pass. Nowadays, those things are in airports all over the world, but it was a simple solution to a problem, instead of walking away.
I love that because I have to tell you, my degree is in Engineering. I’m a systems-oriented girl and therefore, I am impatient with everything. I’m always naturally saying, “You know how they could do this better is if they did this and this,” and constantly saying that. Hearing from you, I better take some action on that other than suggesting what they do. I should keep it to myself and take action.
You heard me speak at City Summit and other places where I have said that the four most important words in my life are, “There is no they.” Everybody says, “They should fix that. They should do this.” We all do that. I do that. When you’re complaining about something, you drive by a pothole and you say, “They should plug that.” We all live in a “they should fix it” world. One day, I woke up and said, “There is no they. It’s me. I’m going to fix it.” I launched a career as a problem solver. I didn’t use the word, entrepreneur, because I didn’t know that word. I said, “There is no they. They aren’t going to come to save the world and fix stuff. I’ll fix stuff myself.” My whole life, all I’ve been doing is trying to make things better.There's no shame in life in making money. The shame is in not using it to help others Click To Tweet
That’s exactly what leaders do. We’re in someplace in the Coronavirus. We don’t know where exactly we are in whether it’s going to be long-term or short-term. We’ve heard this online. I’m sure you’ve seen it. You mentioned that you’ve been on virtual stages as I have been, as well. Every conversation is about leadership. It’s about not complaining about the problems that we have with us, but rather providing solutions. I love that you’re saying that because that’s what made you a true leader.
It was cool, before you and I started this episode. I was online with Ghana. In Ghana, because it’s poor that they don’t the medical facilities, it’s much harder for them to deal with Coronavirus. Yet, I know people here in the US, we have some innovative ideas, solutions and supplies for it. Problem-solving is all about connecting the dots and ways to make things better. It was cool that I was able to connect a company here, I got them with the people in Ghana on the line and it turned out that it was a square peg in a square hole, a perfect fit. They’re going to be able to help thousands of people in Ghana. That’s the point of being a problem solver is constantly saying, “What’s the next thing I could make better that would have some significance to somebody?”
I love that and you want to make the impact too. That bridges us into all the success that you’ve had financially. You’ve also done a lot of work with entertainment which people can read your bio. That leads me to this transition that you’ve made. I’d love for you to share the story about the house that you saw that there was a need for women to have a home and what you’re doing in that aspect? I know that takes you to Uganda as well because you’re global in your assistance with everyone. Would you mind sharing the story with us?
That is again to the name of this show, Success to Significance. That was the crossover point for me. That was my bridge. Two things happened to me. One, I saw somebody written down these words, “You may be successful, but do you matter?” I remember that whole day thinking, “What does that mean?” It felt like it meant something to me. What it meant was success is making another dollar and doing another business deal. Mattering is making someone else’s life better.
I remember thinking, “I’m doing fine on the success thing.” We failed but we’ve built companies. We’ve sold companies. We’ve taken companies public doing exits, transaction deals or whatever. That’s all success, but it doesn’t matter because that makes my world better. What am I doing to make other people’s lives better? I was thinking about this. I don’t want to be judged by the number of dollars I make in my career. I want to be judged by the number of other people’s lives that I make better.
One day, the story you’re talking about, I was feeling bad. I just sold the company and I’ve been paid. I was feeling bad because a lot of people were out there struggling. I was having good luck in business. The kiosk company, for example, was my first startup ever. People talk about, “You’ve got to fail first.” We didn’t fail at all. We did well. We sold the whole company. I was honestly feeling bad that things are going well for me and they’re not for everybody in the world.
I was turning on a football game that night to distract myself from my guilty feelings about being successful and other people weren’t. Before the game, there was a news report and on the news report, there was a bunch of women in a home crying. I stopped because that home was not far from my area. It was in my town. The story was two abused women had bought a home that they were allowing other abused women to live in for free. The reason most women in an abusive situation are still in it is that they don’t have anywhere else to go. They have no money, no family in town. Where would they go? Lay outside on the street?
They’re stuck in an abusive relationship literally because they don’t have anywhere else to go. These two women who had been in that saved money, bought a house in town and told women, “You can get away now. Come here and live with us.” The women had run out of money. They haven’t paid the mortgage in four months. They’re being evicted and they were all crying. I was watching that show and back to what I said earlier, I remember thinking the football games about to come on, I’ve got to change the channel but I felt horrible for these abused women. I thought to myself, “They should help those women.”
That was the moment where I sat back and I said, “There is no they.” They aren’t going to help those women, because all of us, everyone watching that broadcast or any of you, any problem that you drive by every day that you don’t make a U-turn. Everybody that drives by and says, “They should fix that.” Everybody says, “They should help those women.” If everybody is saying they should help, who’s helping them? No one because we’re all saying they should do it. When I wrote down, “There is no they,” I said, “This is me.”
For that moment in my life, the money that I was feeling bad about ten minutes earlier, I was glad that I worked hard to be in a position to help. I was able to go the next day, pay their mortgage, pay all their bills for a year in advance and give them money for improvements to take care of all those women. What I wrote down besides “There is no they” were this, “There’s no shame in life in making money. The shame is in not using it to help others.”Your success is someone else's miracle. Click To Tweet
I wrote down one last thing, which is when the women were back on the news the next night. They were all crying and the reporter said, “This time, it’s tears of joy.” They said, “What happened?” I did this all anonymously, by the way. I didn’t want to be part of the story. I wanted the story to be about, “We need to take care of these women in our community.” I didn’t give them my name or anything, I just showed up and left. The news reporter said, “What happened? Why is everybody crying happy tears?” She said, “It was a miracle. Some guy came in here and took care of everything.”
I wrote something down that’s important for your readers in business for going from success to significance. I wrote down, “Your success is someone else’s miracle,” because that woman said it was a miracle. I said, “It wasn’t a miracle at all. It was my blood, sweat and tears.” I worked hard so that I can be successful and then I figured out why. You know that old saying, “The two most important days in your life are the day you’re born and the day figure out why.” That was the day I figured out why. Now I know why I worked hard and I don’t feel bad anymore that I make money. In fact, I feel that the harder I work, the more people’s lives I can positively impact.
That’s beautiful. That’s exactly what this show is about. It is about making an impact on people’s lives. I know that you’re doing that every single day. That’s just one story in your illustrious career of the people that you’re constantly helping. I want to say thank you on behalf of everybody reading for what you’re doing. That’s incredible. My last question for you, not Coronavirus because we will get past this. We will rebound and be great. Going forward, what is on the docket for you? What does the future hold for you?
I can answer that because I spend a lot of time thinking about that. The skillset of entrepreneurship is a skillset of self-determination. Self-determination is this process of having a dream, having a vision for a better life for you and the people around you, and then building that vision. What do you have to do to get a better life and to make things better for the people around you? Frequently, the business part of that is taking an idea and turning it into a profitable business which enables you to make things better for yourself and people around. A lot of what you do personally is you teach people how to gain economic freedom and independence.
As I work around the world, especially with women and especially in places like Muslim countries, there are a lot of women that don’t have economic independence. They’re stuck where they are because they don’t have economic independence. If we could teach them how to start businesses, become financially independent, then they could become personally independent. What I want to do is spend the rest of my life working with underserved communities. That means women in business. That means youth around the world. That means even ex-cons that we work with, returning veterans and soldiers, the less served communities, teaching them how to create a better life for themselves by gaining economic independence by becoming entrepreneurs. Take your idea, if I asked them, “Do you want to be an entrepreneur?” They would say no, they don’t even know what that means. If I asked them if they wanted to build a better life for themselves and everyone around them, they would say yes. What we’re trying to do is teach that to as many possible people as we can. That’s what I want to spend the rest of my life.
It’s what many people need. You’re the person who’s coming in and saying it’s possible for people and redirecting their thought patterns to make them feel that it is something that they could achieve. That’s beautiful. I encourage you to keep spreading the good news to everybody that you possibly can. I said in the beginning, you touched me and not many people do. As an engineer, I’ve got a logical mind and not many people can touch me the way that you touch me. I want to say thank you for being part of my life and for sharing your wisdom with our readers because it is powerful information.
Thank you and keep doing what you’re doing. You are lifting, inspiring and educating a lot of people and I’m honored to be part of that.
Thank you for reading. We will catch you next time. Go out and make it a great day and take action. Make sure that you don’t drive-by the next problem you see, but rather that you make a U-turn and make a difference in someone else’s life.
- Big Brothers Big Sisters
- @SpeakerJeff – Twitter
About Jeff Hoffman
Joining with us today is a successful entrepreneur, proven CEO, worldwide motivational speaker, published author, film producer, and has been the founder of multiple startups. Jeff Hoffman is the Founder of Priceline.com which is now valued at more than $60 Billion. In this interview, Jeff will talk about the reality, why he believes that it is important to read and learn about things that have nothing to do with whatever it is that you are working on, and the sooner you embrace his techniques, the better off you’ll be in your life and business. Turn up the volume and get some extremely valuable words of wisdom from Jeff Hoffman when it comes to building an extremely successful business and genuinely grabbing life big!
Jeff Hoffman is a successful entrepreneur, proven CEO, worldwide motivational speaker, published author, film producer, and a producer of a Grammy-winning jazz album in 2015. He has been the founder of multiple startups, has been the CEO of both public and private companies, and has served as a senior executive in many capacities. Jeff has been part of a number of well-known companies, including Priceline.com, uBid.com, ColorJar, and more.
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