Broke Selling T-Shirts to $450 Million Net Worth – 5 Keys

Five Keys For Personal Transformation

I’ve never done something only for the money—ever. If you don’t love what you do, you won’t do well at it,” producer Mark Burnett said in an interview as he was preparing for the release of his movie, Son of God. The Emmy award-winning producer and visionary behind Survivor, The Voice, The Apprentice, Shark Tank, and The Bible mini-series openly talked about his faith, his rags-to-riches story, and the keys to his remarkable transformation from T-shirt salesman to a mega successful television producer.

Burnett arrived in America with $200. His experience as a British paratrooper gave him street smarts and skills that would come in handy later in his career, but jumping out of aeroplanes didn’t provide the formal education Burnett needed to qualify for many jobs in the United States. The lessons Burnett learned on his journey provide valuable lessons for entrepreneurs, business leaders, or anyone who wants to reimagine a career path.

  • Believe that you’re just as smart as they are. “Rich people are no smarter than me,” Burnett learned in his first job in America—working as a nanny/housekeeper for a wealthy Beverly Hills family. This attitude represented a radical transformation in the way Burnett looked at the world.
  • Jump in even if you’re not sure you can swim. Once Burnett realised he was just as smart as those who had achieved success, he decided to jump in. “I had no education and no capital, so a simple solution was to sell T-shirts on the beach. I didn’t need a store and it was a low cost of entry.” Burnett quickly discovered that his “low cost” business would cost more than he could afford. He didn’t even have the money to reserve a space on the sidewalk in Venice Beach, California. “I could have given up. Instead, I found another solution and rented ten feet of someone’s fence!” he explained. Burnett learned he could pitch a product and that he could do so very, very well. He bought T-shirts for $2, sold them for $18, and saved his profits.
  • Listen to the call. “I only do things I love,” Burnett told me. “I knew that if I could have a business I was passionate about, I’d have an extraordinary amount of energy that I could put into that business. For example, I loved outdoor and adventure sports so I pitched Eco-Challenge (an adventure race broadcast from 1992- 2002) and that led to Survivor, and it goes on and on.Today Burnett’s ‘calling’ is more profound than ever. Burnett and his wife and co-producer, Roma Downey, are very clear that they were called in a spiritual sense to create The Bible, a massively successfully mini-series on the History Channel, and Son of God, a 20th Century Fox film based on the mini-series. Regardless of faith, Burnett says you must listen to your instinct and, above all, act on it. “People rationalise the reasons for not taking a step forward. They’ll say, ‘It’s too difficult, I don’t know enough. I’m not ready. I don’t have enough money.’ In the case of Son of God, there were a huge number of people who told us that it would be too big a project and that we should stick to The Voice, Shark Tank, etc. There were many reasons why we could have avoided it—too difficult, too expensive, too enormous a topic—but we knew we had to tackle it. You have to listen to the call and trust that it all work out.”
  • Embrace uncertainty. “The path to success isn’t clearly laid out,” Burnett added to our conversation. “You’ll be guided, but if you don’t start walking you won’t get anywhere.” Some ideas won’t work out and Burnett thinks that’s fine as long as you learn something that you can use the next time. Above all, keep the momentum going. “Those who need to know if an idea will work out with one hundred percent certainty won’t do anything. You certainly wouldn’t start a business. In the end, you really don’t know if your idea will work. You need to believe in your instinct, believe in the idea, and go forward,” Burnett says.
  • Don’t let the sceptics bring you down. Burnett says that once you pitch an idea, the first 100 people will tell you “how stupid you are.” Burnett told me that I would have been surprised at how many people tried to discourage him from making Survivor and, more recently, The Bible.

“Oh, there were many people in Hollywood who said, You have several hit television shows. Why take on the Bible? They failed to realise that it’s not a business for us. This is a calling for us.”

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One thought on “Broke Selling T-Shirts to $450 Million Net Worth – 5 Keys”

  1. That is inspirational. In my business I sometimes wait for certainty to make the next move and I know it causes procrastination. I need to learn to embrace uncertainty. Thanks for the great post.

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