So today Glenn Beck launches his new TV show.
I have watched Beck's previous show on Fox a total of two times. Once, I was actually sitting in a green room at Fox TV and was forced to watch it. The other time I was at home and someone left the channel on and I was too comfortable on the sofa to change it.
Ever seen Glenn Beck in action? It's pretty mesmerizing. The guy just talks, non-stop for an hour. He writes stuff on a chalkboard. He interacts with his reverently faithful audience who are nodding at every word. He looks into the camera with such intensity that you feel a little self-conscious looking back at the TV. He says a lot of stuff that makes a lot of sense. And he says a lot of stuff that just sounds like complete lunacy. That's because he's clearly a smart guy. And he may very well be a lunatic too.
But one thing's for sure: Glenn Beck is the ultimate small business guy. I respect that.
Beck is a year older than me and a hell of a lot more successful. He spent decades in broadcasting, starting as a relatively unknown talk radio guy but building a following and then landing a full time gig on TV in 2006. This is typical of most small business people. We work as unknowns, in industrial parks and incubators and offices above strip malls. We're all looking for the big contract, the home run, the hole-in-one opportunity that makes us rich. It doesn't happen. It's years of work that makes it happen. That's how it happened for Beck. Talent is often involved. Intelligence is needed. Most small business owners have that. The key ingredients, of course, are luck and timing. And very few of us get all the luck we need, for whatever reason. But Beck did. And he took advantage, so give him credit for that.
Beck had a hugely successful show on Fox, yet left the job after less than three years. Like most entrepreneurs he was sick of working for other people. He wanted more control over his life. He wanted more control over his show. He didn't like having a boss or answering to anyone else but himself. So he decided to quit this very lucrative job and go out on his own. For many employees earning a decent living and building a retirement fund this would be inconceivable. But for the guy who today is quitting his job to start his own business, Beck's actions makes complete sense.
I think Beck has a screw loose. I also think he would admit that. He's had problems with drugs and alcohol in the past. He's suffered from depression, suicidal tendencies and mental illness. As sad as that sounds, it puts him in the same class of other highly successful people. Why do CEO's have affairs? Why do talented musicians commit suicide? Why do successful TV stars go off the deep end? People who operate on that level seem to have an imbalance of something that causes them to act that way. Successful entrepreneurs know this feeling -- I speak to many who are so talented at their jobs, yet can't hold together a marriage or have a decent relationship with their kids.
Beck holds another thing in common with small business owners: he works hard. Even though I've only watched his show two times I was amazed at the amount of work the guy puts in to prepare. He rants. He raves. He spews information. And some of it's even factual. But most of it is debatable, which means he can take on anyone who wants to get into that debate. And given the number of people who actually despise this man it's pretty impressive how prepared he is. Even at this stage of his career, Beck could retire into the sunset with his millions. But he keeps going. He's into it. He's driven. He's doing it because he's passionate. And he works a lot of hours. That's what successful small business owners do.
Beck, like many entrepreneurs, has a thick skin. He takes his lumps. He has his opinions. And some of them are ... well ... kind of out there. But he never seems to really lose his cool. This is also a trait of successful business people. Men and women startup their companies because they're convinced that their ideas are good. These same people get turned down, and in often cases mocked, by potential investors who disagree with the potential of their ideas. We've all heard the stories of the entrepreneur who's been turned down 87 times before finally getting that financing and then building a billion-dollar company. It's all about having that thick skin, taking criticism professionally, never losing your cool, moving forward with your passion and not letting the haters get you down. Agree or disagree with Beck, this is exactly what he does. Any small business owner can appreciate that.
Beck's self-confidence allows him to take the kind of risks that most people don't want to take. Granted, few have the financial resources that Beck has. But the risks aren't that different. Not only is Beck sinking a lot of money into his new venture, but he's also risking his reputation. Because, given the controversial nature of him being Glenn Beck there are many people out there waiting, anticipating, licking their chops ... for him to fail. Most entrepreneurs can understand that. People are expecting them to fail. Their friends and advisors are telling them how high the risk of bankruptcy is for startups. Their wives and relatives are begging them to reconsider or wait for the economy to get better. Everyone's got their risks. It's all relative. But like Beck, the true entrepreneurs have the self-confidence (hey, maybe it's just ignorance) to move forward with their dream. And thank God for that.
Beck, like many successful entrepreneurs, has vision. He's not only leaving his job at Fox. He's starting up his own show on his own network -- on the Internet of all places. And he's charging ten bucks a month for people to watch him. Is he worth $120 a year when his fans were used to seeing him for free on Fox? So far so good. He's already got a couple of hundred thousand people signed up. His viewership looks to be higher than Oprah on her own network. Oprah! And has Beck been spying on my kids? Because they watch pretty much all of their TV on the Internet. There's a whole generation of people hitting adulthood who were brought up this way. And many of these people could be (uh-oh!) Glenn Beck fans. And just as many may be happy paying a monthly fee to see their man in action.
So let me be clear: I'm not a fan of Glenn Beck. But I'm not a detractor either. He's a pundit and an entertainer. He says some good stuff. He says some crazy stuff. But as a small business owner I respect what he's doing. I hope he succeeds. I hope any guy with talent who's willing to take risks in a venture succeeds too.
Gene Marks writes weekly online blogs for both The New York Times and Forbes and bi-weekly for American City Business Journals. He runs a ten person consulting firm outside of Philadelphia and can be followed on Twitter.