The Time I Picked Up 2.1 Million Dollars

I took a breath as I walked through the glass door and into the lobby of the television network’s headquarters. I was 17 years old.

The girl at the reception desk was cute, and well dressed. I wasn’t. She smiled at me. I smiled back as I walked up to her. I had a spring in my step, but it wasn’t for her. I was on a mission.

“How can I help you?” she asked.

“I’m here to pick up a check,” I said, as casually as I could.

“OK. For…?” she started to ask.

“For TWO POINT ONE MILLION DOLLARS.” I blurted without thinking… too loudly and excitedly.

She shifted awkwardly and gave a slight smile. I could tell she was trying to figure out what to say.

“OK… Um… I meant… who is the check for?” she asked.

“I’m such an idiot!” I thought.  “Oh, umm… It should be in an envelope for John Muldoon,” I said shyly.

She reached for a stack of papers on her desk.

“Ah, yes here it is,” she said, as she handed me an envelope, smiling a little bit at my awkwardness.

“Thanks! Have a great day,” I said, and I turned to leave.

When I got back to the car, I set the envelope on the passenger seat and looked at it for a few seconds. My name was written on the outside.

I picked it up and studied it. It was lighter than I expected somehow. I opened it up and looked at the check.

Amount: Two million one hundred thousand and some other thousands and hundreds dollars, and even some cents.

It wasn’t a round number, which surprised me for some reason. I was 17, what did I expect? An aluminum briefcase?

Pay to the order of: [the company I worked for at the time].

It wasn’t my money. I was just sent to pick it up. I’d helped do some of the work to earn it, but mostly not. Still, it felt pretty crazy to hold two million dollars.

Someone walked past on the sidewalk and looked in at me holding a piece of paper. “They have no idea I’m holding two million dollars right now. They probably think I’m looking at a parking ticket or something.”

Anyway, I called my boss, the CEO of the company I worked for, and told him I was on my way back with the money. He asked me to read the amount to him. It checked out. Great. I started to drive back to our office, about 45 minutes away.

While I was driving, I kept looking over at the check on the passenger seat. I thought about what I could do with all that money. Not that I was going to take it, but I just thought about how much freedom that could buy.

I wanted that kind of freedom some day. You know, sometime after I finished high school. I thought about what it takes for someone to give you two million dollars. Sure, I knew what the money was for. We did a few big projects for this TV network, and this was our final payment. But I knew I didn’t want to be in the same type of business forever.

I thought about it deeper. Why did they want to give us this much money?

Every successful entrepreneur in the world knows the answer to that question.

People pay you for what they value. So, your job isn’t to make products or features or services or build companies or technology.

If you want people to pay you, you have to make things that are valuable. That’s it.

Why am I writing a post about that? Because it’s really important, and some people treat business like it’s complicated, or that it’s all about, but it isn’t complicated at all. You don’t need to get an MBA to figure out how to be helpful and valuable to someone. If you want a lifestyle business, or any business, that’s what you need to figure out.

Years later, when I started my consulting company, I worked with a lot of small businesses. At first, I didn’t really know what small business owners valued. But I learned pretty quickly. They valued time and money. Big surprise.

Time & Money

So, I figured… all I need to do is figure out how to help someone make more time or more money. That’s how I could create value.

I realized there was a problem with helping people get more time. Time is a limited commodity. I can’t help anyone get more than 24 hours in a day. So, helping people get more time isn’t very scaleable.

I wanted my income to be scalable, so the value I created had to be scaleable too.

I decided I would help people make more money. I actually knew something about how to do that, too. Awesome.

I’d only had one job in my life, from the age of 16 to 18. It was for the company that got the two million dollar check. My job was to work on special projects for the CEO and on project teams. I also helped the accounting department and HR and bounced around a lot.

That company started with $100k in the bank, and ended up doing $100MM in revenue within a few years. I was there for most of that journey, floating around, sitting in on meetings that were over my head, watching people build a really great company. It was the best business education I could hope for.

I knew how to grow a company, in theory anyway. So, I decided to see if I could help my clients make more money.

My second client ran a retail store. She’d run it for 15 years. It made a couple hundred thousand dollars a year, and had made that amount for a few years, sort of plateauing off at a comfortable level.

She seemed pretty happy with it. It was a good business. One day we were drinking some lemonade (true story), and I said to her. “I have some ideas on how you can make a lot more money. For the ideas to work, you have to trust me a bit.”

She trusted me, and we made some changes to her business, and a few months later, her business was making twice as much money. She was really happy and paid me well and introduced me to a lot of other people who ended up hiring me. Over the years, maybe a hundred clients came out of that one relationship. Cool.

So, what? Two really important lessons came out of that experience.

  1. I learned how to create the kind of value people would pay me for.
  2. I never had to do “marketing” for myself.  Which is good, because I suck at self promotion. Other entrepreneurs heard about that story and wanted to hire me.

Wait, what’s the point of this story?

If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re in the business of creating value. I don’t care what you do all day, or how you create value–those things don’t matter very much.

Other things that don’t matter… No one cares as much as you do about your marketing or branding or logo or website design or your press mentions. Your customers don’t care about where you went to school or what you studied. I’ve given more than 500 companies strategic business advice, and none of them has ever asked me where I studied business (I didn’t study it at all. Oops! Doesn’t matter.). Your customers don’t care about that stuff.

They care about other things. Your job is to figure out what those things are and then make them happen. That’s the definition of being an entrepreneur.

It’s also a skill you can practice, and it makes all the difference in the world. If you do that, you can have a lifestyle business. If you follow the two most important rules, you can have a really successful one.

If you want someone to give you 2.1 million dollars, you have to help them make 10 million dollars. Or something. The numbers don’t mean anything.

When you’re talking to a customer or client, you should be asking yourself over and over, “How can I help this person get more of what they want?”

It doesn’t matter what your business does, you get paid when you answer that question. - Click to tweet.



  1. Wow. Great posts, two days running. And since our consulting talk yesterday, I’m grocking this. Yes to providing value!

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