My latest podcast guest, Willie Crawford, has an incredibly inspiring story. He went from extreme poverty, through college and on to a 20+ year military career. He eventually travelled to more than 60 countries, and learned a tiny bit of 19 different languages.
He’s also built multiple successful businesses, so it’s fair to say that Willie has had a fairly interesting 62 years! And he’s just getting started making a real difference in the world.
What You’ll Hear
● [1:34] About Willie and his background
● [4:52] How he came up with his business idea
● [6:38] What ‘Barter’ is and how it works
● [11:03] How he found the motivation to come up with business ideas and follow through with them
● [14:00] What help Willie has in his business
● How he faced and overcame challenging moments
● [19:24] What success looks like to Willie
● [27:06] The most interesting place in the world he’s visited
About Willie and His Background
Willie describes himself as coming from ‘the poor side of the tracks’, but his high school counsellor encouraged him to apply to college. He applied to the only one he’d ever visited, and was accepted. He wasn’t expected to do well, but was an exceptionally good student.
He switched from pre-med to economics and business, and graduated five years later, joining the US Air Force as a commissioned officer. This gave him the opportunity to travel the world, and saw behind the scenes how countries communicated with each other.
He also paid attention to the economies of each country he visited, and how business people behaved, which gave him an urge to start a business before he’d even left the military. He set up his first online business – selling information products – in 1996, six years before retiring from the forces.
Willie says that people were teaching others how to make money from selling information products but without really knowing what they were doing, meaning there was a huge market for those services. Many were unsuccessful, but Willie had been persistent, speaking at international events as well as running his own.
He also had a podcast, an extensive blog, a book and several software products in his name. “The day I stepped out of uniform, I never went back to work for anyone else.”
How he Came up with his Business Idea
Willie says he looks for real-world problems that people talk about and which need solving. For example, at the moment (early 2021) we’re in an economic downturn, and the dollar has been the international standard for exchange, but we can’t say how long it will stay that way.
Willie has begun exploring cryptocurrency, because there’s a possibility that more cities and countries will follow the example of some parts of China and become entirely digital. He sounds a note of caution, though: “It’s very risky, and much of what I’ve seen is a pyramid scheme.”
He describes the world of ‘barter’, which he’s been active in for the last decade: instead of exchanging money, businesses exchange goods and the ‘barter dollars’ go into a bank account. That is then used to purchase whatever the business needs. Willie says he’ll buy his next house using barter.
What ‘Barter’ is and how it Works
Willie explains that businesses don’t typically advertise they’ll accept things other than cash for goods and services, but one of the things that often causes businesses to fail is poor cash flow. He’s a member of an exchange which covers the USA and Canada which includes 25,000 business owners.
Selling each other goods and services as barter allows them to manage their cash flow better, as the credits they earn allow them to buy what they need. Willie says that he receives advertising, carpentry, car repair and more via barter. He sells digital products, but also buys and sells domain names.
He adds that he currently owns around 2,000 domain names, which he pays an average of US$9 for, and then lists them for sale. The most he’s sold one for is $5,000. He buys domain names which include a location and a service, such as ‘Tel Aviv dentist’, and waits until somebody wants it.
Furthermore, there are 100,000 domain names that aren’t renewed every single day, often with a celebrity’s name in it. If a name isn’t available the first time someone searches, they forget about it, allowing Willie to snap it up.
How Willie Finds the Motivation to Come up with Business Ideas
Willie says he has a dozen ideas every day which he thinks are viable, but he hasn’t got time to work on them all. He’s careful to focus on only a few things, and listens to podcasts for motivation and mindset.
One good piece of advice he’s learned is to not check your phone, emails or social media for the first hour of the day. If you see a problem, your focus shifts to it rather than what you had planned. Instead, he exercises, meditates and concentrates on a couple of key tasks each day. He’s very disciplined, and is careful to make sure that his wife knows he’s not to be disturbed.
What Help Willie has in his Business
Being disciplined is a key part of Willie’s life and business. It allows him to make difficult decisions quickly, a skill he attributes to his time in the military. Very successful people fail as often as they succeed, and it’s important not to make the same mistake over and over.
He says he’s more emotionally balanced than he used to be – his military experiences were often stressful, which led to a period of alcoholism. The military supported him through treatment, where he learned to rely more on other people. He now has a network of people from both business and personal life that he can talk to about anything.
The group of people Willie has around him are all honest with each other, and they are comfortable talking about all subjects. Nothing is taboo and no topic will cause offence. He says he needs this because he relies on them giving him brutal feedback as appropriate. And he has an accountability partner, who he meets with weekly, as well as running his own mastermind group.
Willie adds that treatment forced him to look more closely at himself, what he dislikes about himself and others, and to analyse his motives. Part of his military training required him to pass a lie detector test while lying – he did this by convincing himself that what he was saying was true. However, it meant that he couldn’t always distinguish between fantasy and reality.
What Success Looks Like to Willie
Willie says he’s surpassed his own original expectations, but then he looks at podcasters with audiences in the millions, and they’ve raised the bar for him.
“I envision in the next five years being in the hundreds of millions of dollars, because I won’t accept less. I don’t want it for myself, I want it for the world.”
He wants to go back to his hometown and establish a scholarship for young people who don’t have many opportunities and set up a training centre to teach them about the online world.
Willie explains why he’s keen to support homeless shelters and drug treatment facilities – as well as his own struggles, two of his brothers died on the streets, having had drug addictions.
He wants people to know that recovery is possible, although the figures sadly show that the majority of those in treatment aren’t successful with lasting recovery. He adds that more honest communication and identifying problems earlier would help towards lowering the figures.
From his own experience, Willie says that his job as a navigator was stressful because he had no GPS, relying on the stars and sun to help him work out where the plane was. To unwind from a difficult flight, the crew would have a drink, and after many years it became a chemical dependency, where he didn’t feel normal without it in his system.
Willie points out that most humans are dysfunctional in some way, and he just happened to be in a position where he was obliged to go through treatment and spent time with people who talked openly and honestly. This led him to examine who he was, to forgive himself and others and move on.
The Most Interesting Place in the World he’s Visited
Willie picks China as the most interesting place he’s been to. He visited the Imperial Palace, the Terracotta Army, the Great Wall and the world’s largest diamond. He’s also seen the rice terraces in The Philippines, the pyramids and the Sphinx.
About this episode
Willie Crawford has an incredibly inspiring story having gone from extreme poverty, through college and on to a 20+ year military career. He eventually travelled to more than 60 countries and learned a tiny bit of 19 different languages.
He’s also built multiple successful businesses, so it’s fair to say that Willie has had a fairly interesting 62 years! And he’s just getting started!