“If you want to succeed as an entrepreneur, Make No Small Plans shows how the Summit team did it.”—Ray Dalio, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order
In 2008, with no event production experience and two college degrees between the four of them, Elliott Bisnow, Brett Leve, Jeff Rosenthal, and Jeremy Schwartz became business partners and set out to build a global events company. With passion and tenacity, they began cold calling as many inspiring company founders as they could and tried to convince them to attend their first event. In the beginning, only nineteen people said yes.
Since then, they have grown Summit into a global community with events all over the world, hosting luminaries including Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Shonda Rhimes, Brené Brown, Kendrick Lamar, and Al Gore. In 2013, the Summit founders acquired Powder Mountain, the largest ski resort in the United States, with a dream of building a mountaintop town of the future.
In Make No Small Plans, they reveal the triumphs, mistakes, and cornerstone lessons from their journey, which began during the Great Recession and continues today. Alongside teachings from some of the most inspiring entrepreneurs of our time, the authors offer takeaways such as:
• No idea should go unspoken.
• Reputations are earned by the drop and lost by the bucket.
• The road to success is always under construction.
• Become a favor economy millionaire.
Entertaining and empowering, Make No Small Plans shows that anyone can think big and—with a thirst for knowledge, a talented team, and a little humility—accomplish the impossible.Praise for Make No Small Plans and Summit
“[Make No Small Plans] neatly crystallizes the teachings and takeaways—basic truths—from the past 15 years of Summiteering: ‘authenticity trumps perfection,’ ‘no idea should go unspoken,’ ‘opportunities can come from anywhere,’ and ‘when you know how to listen, everybody is a guru.’”—Forbes
“Making big dreams come true starts with learning the principles of those who did it before you. If you want to succeed as an entrepreneur, Make No Small Plans shows how the Summit team did it.”—Ray Dalio
“Elliott, Jeff, Brett, and Jeremy have a singular capacity to bring together leaders and inspire them to do more. I’m grateful that they have paused long enough to put their story, and their lessons, in writing.”—Christina Sass
“Summit provides a unique opportunity for thought leaders from all sectors to come together and exchange ideas to innovate and solve pressing global challenges.”—Al Gore
“I had a great time at Summit. The people and conversation that took place there were inspiring.”—Kendrick Lamar
“Summit changed my life, expanded my thinking, and made me believe in what’s possible. Reading Make No Small Plans will do the same for you. If you’re ready to go after your biggest dreams with all you’ve got, you owe it to yourself to read this book.”—Alex BanayanElliott Bisnow, Brett Leve, Jeff Rosenthal, and Jeremy Schwartz are the founders of Summit, a global company that has produced more than 250 events over the last decade, and the co-owners of Powder Mountain, the largest ski resort in the United States. They were early investors in startups including Uber and Warby Parker, and they are actively involved with Conservation International, Beyond Conflict, and the Anti-Recidivism Coalition. All four are sought-after speakers and have been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, Bloomberg Businessweek, Time, and Fast Company.
There’s No Better Building Block than Trust
If you were thinking about starting a company back in 2007, it’s safe to say we wouldn’t have been your first-round draft picks.
Elliott Bisnow was a socially awkward twenty-two-year-old living in his childhood bedroom who’d dropped out of college to sell ads for his dad’s online newsletter.
Brett Leve was working on commission at a real estate brokerage firm just as the housing bubble burst.
Jeff Rosenthal was frustrated in an associate position at Macy’s, while attempting to create start-ups from a cramped shoebox apartment under a Manhattan highway on-ramp.
And Jeremy Schwartz was playing in a punk rock band named after a science fiction novel and touring the country, living on $8 a day.
We weren’t exactly the Beatles. However, like many of our favorite bands who came together serendipitously, our story didn’t happen overnight.
And it all started with Elliott.
He had just dropped out of the University of Wisconsin—the only college to accept him out of the seven to which he’d applied. Not that he wasn’t smart. He just had his priorities in his own order. For example, one day as his sophomore finals approached, he headed to a study group with his girlfriend. While she took her studies seriously, he spent more time thinking about starting a business than he did attending class. But finals were finals, so he promised he’d join her study group for the cram session.
They stepped into the hush of the Helen C. White Library, where everyone in the group reached into their backpacks and quietly unloaded stacks of books onto the solid wood table. Elliott, however, pulled out a copy of The Wall Street Journal instead. The others looked at him like he was joking, but he began to read in earnest. After finishing the front page, he flipped to the next one, and a silence-shattering crinkle reverberated through the hall. Every head over every table lifted and turned.
“What are you doing?” Elliott’s girlfriend whispered.
“I’m studying the world.”
“This is the time to study for exams.”
“But I need to learn about business. I heard that if I read The Wall Street Journal every day, I can learn how business works.”
Her eyes closed and she slowly shook her head. The relationship wouldn’t last, but Elliott’s interest in the mechanics of the outside world would. It seemed to Elliott that everybody in college was working on the same problems that had already been solved by students the year before, and others the year before that. But Elliott didn’t want to solve his professors’ problems. He had his own problems to figure out.
During his freshman and sophomore years, he’d tried to start a T-shirt business that failed to sell any T-shirts. Then he tried to start a creative consulting firm that never attracted a single client. After his sophomore year, he went home to Washington, D.C., and got a commission-only job selling ads for his dad’s online real estate newsletter. He was terrible at it to start. But that hadn’t deterred him in the past.
For instance, Elliott had started playing tennis at age twelve, years after many other kids got their first lesson. He was so hopelessly behind in the beginning that he lost most of his matches for the first four years. Determined to get better, he played for five hours a day, every day, eventually working his way up to ranking in the top thirty-five amateur players in his age division nationwide. He even received a tennis scholarship to college.
Now, he figured, he just needed to apply the same level of perseverance to being a salesperson.
After a few steakhouse lunches, he got lucky and made a couple of sales. From there, he identified three hundred companies to pitch, typed their contact information into a spreadsheet, and took the list back to school for his junior year so he could make calls from his college apartment.
As it turned out, selling local real estate ads was a lot tougher from 850 miles away. The distance gave him his first appreciation for the value of face-to-face connection. Cold calls could open doors—but then he needed to walk through those doors, shake hands with someone, and get to know them to close the deal. Over that semester, he managed to make a few successful sales, and he finally got his first check in the mail. The way Elliott saw it, the reason everyone went to college was to get a job. Holding that check in his hand, he realized he had a job.
When he went home for winter break, Elliott decided to take a semester off to see how he would fare working full-time with his dad. He attended every networking event in the D.C. metro area to drum up leads. He eventually met a young twentysomething who had the innate ability to connect and easily relate to all kinds of people: Brett Leve.
Brett had grown up in the suburbs of Boston. His dad owned gas stations and was the type of business owner who would personally empty the ATM machines at his business. Brett pumped gas and made sandwiches for pocket money as a kid, but a summer job after he graduated high school changed his outlook on working.
He’d received an advertisement in the mail about selling Cutco knives to family and friends. He learned the pitch and can still recite it to this day: “American-made. Full resin handle. Five-A medical-grade stainless steel. Guaranteed forever, not just in your lifetime; you can pass them on. Your kids can call us and we’ll sharpen them forever.”
Brett sold $50,000 worth of knives in a single summer. At eighteen years old, he ranked fifty-second out of eight thousand sales reps across America. The lessons he learned during those few months would eventually help save our company years down the road.
Back then, Brett saw the money he earned as a means to travel—to get away from the gas station aisles he grew up in. He enrolled at George Washington University in D.C. and started throwing college parties at local clubs. After he graduated, he took a job working for commissions at a real estate brokerage firm. Normally that would’ve been a great way to learn the building blocks of land development--if not for the timing. The gears of the housing market ground to a halt in the run-up to the global financial crisis. With no deals to be made Brett was forced to pay his bills by continuing to throw college parties around the George Washington campus. Which, coincidentally, is how he met Jeff Rosenthal.
Jeff grew up in Dallas, Texas, and moved to Washington, D.C., to study international business at American University with a soccer scholarship.
His childhood was shaped by his grandfather’s philosophy: “A large extended family is the greatest luxury in life.” His grandmother Joy—all four feet eleven inches of her—was the matriarch of the family. She held seventy cousins, aunts, and uncles together by hosting family dinners nearly every weekend. Jeff also grew up with learning differences. His ADHD precipitated his bouncing between schools for most of his youth, and he never felt like he fit in.
Growing up, Jeff had been a goalkeeper for elite soccer clubs. His team competed for national championships, and he was admitted to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, a school that develops players for the U.S. National Team, as well as hundreds of pro athletes in a wide variety of sports.
His dreams were stopped short—literally—when he stopped growing. He watched as bigger, more athletic players saved more goals than he ever could.
Because he couldn’t get much playing time in college, he quit the team sophomore year. For the first time in his life, he was left with an abundance of free time. He began making friends outside of sports, many of whom had come to study in D.C. from around the world; this had a profound effect on Jeff’s worldview, personality, and interests.
His new free time led him to take an internship with Congress, which turned into a full-time job as a floor staffer and congressional wrangler for the Rules Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Around this time, Jeff’s entrepreneurial qualities emerged. He started an online vintage clothing company that did moderately well, and began to throw parties for his AU classmates, which is how he met Brett. Years of competition and exposure to a championship team culture had taught Jeff that players sharpen each other like swords. The camaraderie and shared aspirations of a team create a feedback loop where members have to continuously better themselves—and each other—in order to be exceptional.
This created a problem for Jeff once he was no longer on a team. Without a crew around him, Jeff found it difficult to motivate himself.
He spent close to a year traveling the world, spending what little money he had from his college ventures. Afterward, he moved to New York City, rented a tiny apartment, buoyed a couple of small start-ups, and took an entry-level job as a junior buyer at Macy’s, just as the economy faltered and all of retail shuddered.
Without realizing it yet, Jeff was a player in need of a team as much as we were a team in need of players.
|Make No Small Plans
|Elliott BisnowBrett LeveJeff RosenthalJeremy Schwartz