We had the opportunity to interview Justin Breen for our latest weekly leadership series. Each week we bring you a leader who is making a major difference on this planet to allow our readers to get an insight into the thinking that it takes to be a true leader. Check out the interview bellow !
What inspired you to start your current business? / What is the story that inspired the name of the company? (response below answers both questions – this also is an excerpt from my book, Epic Business)
In a five-minute meeting on an early Friday morning – Feb. 10, 2017 – I knew my career as a journalist was over.
In less time than it takes to purchase and pick up a special coffee drink, two decades of climbing the journalism ladder all the way to an amazing Chicago news site was extinguished.
It was a horrible feeling.
I have loved journalism since I was a boy reading the Chicago Tribune sports section as a toddler on my father’s lap. Being a journalist was all I had ever really wanted to do.
After graduating from the University of Illinois with a degree in News Editorial Journalism, I had several job offers – from Chillicothe, Ohio to Nampa, Idaho – but I chose a sports writing position at the 15,000-circulation Michigan City News-Dispatch in Northwest Indiana because it was the closest spot to Chicago – about an hour’s drive away. I figured when I started that position in 1999 that I’d be a Chicago reporter within five or six years – at most.
It didn’t turn out that way. Slowly but surely, I moved up the ranks – first to the Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana (60,000 circ.) then to The Times of Northwest Indiana (90,000) – before finally landing a position at DNAinfo Chicago – a startup news site that had launched in New York City and was expanding to Chicago in 2012.
After a rigorous interview process that lasted several months, I received a phone call that I had been hired as a Senior Editor at the site. After failed interviews with the Tribune, Sun-Times, Crain’s Chicago Business, Daily Herald, Associated Press’ Chicago Bureau and numerous other Chicago-area publications in the previous decade-plus, I had finally made it to the big time.
For those who don’t know what DNAinfo Chicago was, it was a journalism Valhalla. Our fearless staff of awesome reporters and editors for the most part got to write and cover the stories we wanted to – fun stuff, interesting stuff, very neighborhood focused to the street corners. There were efforts to grow the business, build a name, a big following, take the model to other cities around the country.
It was super exciting.
And then it all hit the fan.
On a Thursday afternoon, I received an email from our managing editor that I needed to come to the office early Friday morning. I knew that wasn’t a good sign as Fridays were usually my writing days and I never went to the office.
The next day, after running on Northerly Island as the sun rose, I entered the office and sat down with the managing editor and the site’s owner. It was explained that due to cost cuts, I was being demoted to a reporter position and my salary was essentially being cut in half. A few other folks had their positions terminated, so in a way I felt blessed to still have a job and some salary.
But I knew journalism was done.
And I had to figure something else out – and soon.
So I did what most others do – scrambled to find a full-time job. And for those who are trying to find jobs know rather well, it’s a black hole applying for positions. It’s a nightmare. Demoralizing. A total mind suck.
Over the next month or so, I reached out to my thousands of contacts that I had built over the years and basically begged them for help. I had bills to pay. My family lives in the North Shore of Chicago – it’s not cheap to set up shop here.
A few breaks led to some freelance work running social media sites and pitching stories to keep me afloat while I also worked full-time as a DNAinfo Chicago reporter. It was the equivalent of clocking 80 hours a week to pay for the same 40-hour salary I had made as an editor.
On April 6, 2017, my wonderful wife, Sarah, surprised me with a trip to Kohler, Wisconsin, for my 40th birthday – which was four days later. Devastated with the job search but somewhat excited about my freelance opportunities, it popped into my head to just go for it and start my own thing. Just after passing the Bong Recreation Area sign heading north on Interstate 94 in southern Wisconsin, the name “BrEpic” came out of my mouth as the name for the company.
It’s a ridiculous name – Br for the first two letters of my last name; Epic because frankly I just use the word constantly in stories, in conversation and on social media – but I thought it would be really catchy, too, because people are always saying Epic as well.
On April 16, I officially incorporated and spent the next six weeks reaching out to 5,000-plus people to land BrEpic’s first five clients. I told myself that when I hit the five-client threshold, I would resign from DNAinfo. The goal was hit on June 1, I resigned June 2 and officially announced BrEpic’s arrival on June 5 through a great story by top media journalist Robert Feder.
How has being an entrepreneur affected your life?
Besides marrying my wife and the birth of my sons, Jake and Chase, being an entrepreneur has been the best thing that’s ever happened to me. It’s allowed me to have freedom of time, relationships, money and so much more. I LOVE being an entrepreneur and genuinely helping people on a global level by creating intros and relationships that are truly life changing.
What motivates you?
I have an endless drive to succeed and win. All the personality tests I’ve taken lean heavily in those aspects. Every successful entrepreneur I know has “failed” so many times, they lose count. I’m the same way. Failure drives me. It propels me forward to greatness.
How do you generate new ideas?
I spend most of my day talking to some of the best entrepreneurs in the world. My brain is like a sponge. I love being the dumbest person in the room. I am constantly – constantly – learning. My brain’s two superpowers are connecting people on a global level – I don’t write anything down; I can just remember things from conversations that stand out – and getting my clients in mainstream media at a high level.
What is your greatest fear, and how do you manage fear?
My greatest fear is dying before my children are older and have their own children. My father died when I was 13. He was my hero. I know what it’s like to have the best dad ever and then have it taken away. So I base everything around my family. Everything else is gravy. I manage fear by working on my brain every day. My brain has evolved tremendously in so many ways since becoming an entrepreneur.
What are your ideals? (attached/see below)
Synergize with connected, caring givers who always do the right thing
Energize with abundant geniuses who never quit and always respond
Partner with visionary thinkers who epitomize the investment mindset
How do you define success?
My 10x-ing in life is expanding my global network and experiences with my family. Revenue means nothing to me. Having a successful business is a byproduct of having a successful family and a successful, thriving network where we genuinely help each other for mutual gain.
Do you believe there is some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?
Yes – my core values above sum that up nicely
What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Having the freedom to spend as much time with my family as I want to.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Every day is satisfying. I created a business based on things I love to do and what I’m really good at. So this is never “work” for me.
What do you wish this company to accomplish within the next year ?
I get that question 5-10 times a day. I always laugh because I don’t look at things like that, especially since Covid. Since I talk to so many exceptional people on a global level all the time, I am amazed at the opportunities that come into my life every single day. I live in the moment. It’s so much fun.
What do you wish this company will accomplish within the next five years?
Haha – see above!!!
What does proper leadership look like to do, what is an example of leadership you have seen that is not proper?
Leadership is all about caring about people and genuinely giving to give, not giving to get.
For the aspiring entrepreneur reading this what advice will you give ?
My book Epic Business is filled with 30 lessons I learned from some of the top entrepreneurs in the world in the first 30 months of my companies. The top three I learned are: 1. Do what you love to do and what you do best; only work with people who look at things as investments, not costs; when you start a business, it takes 2 years to really figure things out.
What final words do you have for all of the supporters?
Every successful entrepreneur I know has been through either incredible depression, setbacks, unimaginable failures or some other obstacles. They never gave up. If you never give up and believe you will succeed, you will succeed.