Jay Villa is the publisher of StreetSeen Magazine, a publication focused on the low-rider culture that currently covers five states and is expanding each year. He’s also a photographer, graphic designer and all-around web master who is a self-described “jack of all trades” when it comes to running his growing company, Villa Entertainment Company, Inc.
So how does a self-confessed, 10th-grade drop-out make the journey to being a successful entrepreneur in the incredibly competitive publishing world? Jay recently took the time to share his story and hard-earned wisdom with BusinessOpportunity.com’s Entrepreneur Exchange:
Tell us about yourself and how you’ve managed to achieve all that you have?
Since I was a kid, I have always been interested in low-rider culture. Being Latino, I kind of grew up around it. At 17-years-old I opened a low-rider bicycle store. For those who don't know, low-rider bicycles are the tricked-out, kid versions of the cars we cover… Google® it to see some images. That business only lasted a couple of years before I closed down. During that time though I developed a love for photography. In 2001, I started an online website dedicated to the parties and car shows that I attended on a regular basis. It's then that I developed relationships with the major car-show promoters in the state. In 2007, I decided to quit my regular job and move full speed ahead with developing the website and preparing for a print magazine (which is something I wanted to do since I was a kid). In January 2008, StreetSeen Magazine moved from the digital world to the print world. Since then, the brand has grown from being just a Texas magazine to a regional magazine covering a five-state area. This year, we also ventured into new territory when we covered events in Wisconsin, Michigan and California. In 2011, we plan on covering car shows in even more states.
How does someone know if they have what it takes to own their own business? Tell us a bit about how you made the decision and why.
There are no guarantees in life. I have started several failed businesses in the last 16 years. If you let that get you down and consume you, you probably don't have what it takes to make it in business. If you can get up from your failures, dust off and keep moving forward with a positive outlook on life, then chances are that you might. Look at biographies and stories on successful people on TV. Many successful people share the same qualities and traits. If you're saying to yourself, "Hey, I've done that," “I believe that," "I've said that too," then you may be a successful person in business as well. Success is first created in your mind and in your heart. Successful people know it and feel it inside. Even if you never reach millionaire status, you are still successful because of your beliefs.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your first six months in business? How did you meet that challenge?
The magazine business is a tough one. I have seen many come and go over the years, independent and national. I knew that if I wanted to last longer than one or two issues, then I would have to do something different than what other people were doing. Until now, most startup magazines were following the model of national magazines. That doesn't work because they don't have major magazine dollars. They spent their wad on their first issue, selling one or two ads only to leave the magazines on consignment with several shops around town. They didn't take the time to learn photography, graphic design or even proper English to write articles. They lost their rears financially because advertisers weren't getting their money's worth out of the ads, books didn't sell and they didn't look past the first issue, so they didn't have any capital saved.
I had to swallow my pride. I wanted the big glossy 8.5x11 magazine from the go, but knew starting from nothing that it was a plan for disaster. So I connected with a very influential show promoter in the local car-show scene and offered him an obscene amount of commission if he could get some of his sponsors to advertise in the new magazine I was working on. It was a digest-sized book that I gave away for free. That guaranteed my advertisers were going to get seen because nobody turns down anything free. We did that for a couple of years, building our brand and recognition with show promoters, participants and spectators before moving into our larger size at the beginning of this year. We're now getting ready to begin our fourth year of printing the magazine.
What is the single strongest piece of advice you would have for someone just starting out in business for themselves?
Don't expect to fly overnight. Be willing to try new things and take calculated risks. You will fail plenty of times before you get the formula right. Don't give up. Success is not an overnight thing and it is not easy. If it was, everyone in the world would be successful and there wouldn't be anything special about it. Be ready to eat, sleep and breathe your new venture. If you're the kind of person who believes in taking a day off of work to enjoy your birthday or anniversary, then you better get that out of your mind now. Being your own boss means 18+ hour days, seven days a week. No holidays, no special occasions... at least not in the beginning. Your reward will come one day in the form of success. At that time you can treat yourself.
What marketing strategies have you found to be most successful in growing your business?
Branding. Put your name on everything. I drive a fully colored, graphically wrapped van to each and every car show I attend. I wear shirts with my logos on it. I have large, full-color banners in my booth. It's on the envelopes I send to subscribers, on the towels I wipe my sweaty face with at hot car shows, on the boxes of magazines I display on store counters. If there's a spot to print your name or logo, then put it there.
What is it about the business/industry you are in that made it so attractive to you?
Let's be honest. I work in an industry where there is a party going on 24/7. Immaculate vehicles, gorgeous, half-dressed women and celebrities are part of my regular world. I love photography and graphic design and have wanted to run my own magazine since I was about eight years old. It was a no brainer for me.
What did you do before you decided to become your own boss, and how have those skills helped you in your current business?
I decided to become my own boss at a young age, but didn't have the opportunity to enjoy that until just a few years ago. That means I had to have a regular job like everyone else. I used to work as a DJ at several radio stations. This gave me the skills I needed to communicate directly with my audience. At one station in particular, I had the honor of meeting a very sharp and business-minded individual who was my boss. He is now VP of Programming for Univision Radio and oversees every one of their stations across the country. He taught me the power and importance of marketing our brand and embedding it in our listeners’ minds. In radio, you were sometimes fiercely fighting for listeners at every event in town. Nobody wanted to be working at the station that lost market share to the other. That meant most often a format change... where the General Manager would call everyone into a meeting to tell them, "We don't need you anymore. We're flipping the station from Top 40 to Classic Country and we will be bringing in a whole new on-air staff."
If you work from home, what are the greatest benefits to doing so? What are the drawbacks, and how do you manage them?
Working from home means low overhead. It means you can maneuver more easily than larger companies who are held down by massive budgets. It means in a recession, working from home is a benefit because you don't have to worry about making two mortgage payments. It can be easy, however, to get distracted by the television, the refrigerator and family. Remember that, unlike a regular job where somebody might be around to pick up your slack, at home, if you leave work until later, it will still be there until you knock it out. You also don't want your home to feel like a prison…being there for several hours of work then being there throughout the night. Get out when possible and breathe the fresh air.
What is/are your favorite motto and/or quote when it comes to business? Any final words of encouragement and/or inspiration for the budding entrepreneur?
In life you have to take a chance. Not everybody who takes a chance will be successful, but EVERYONE WHO IS SUCCESSFUL HAS TAKEN A CHANCE!