Unlocking Potential #14: Q&A With Rob Shapiro

Rob Shapiro

I’m glad I went down the path of Journalism as well as PR. Without my passion for journalism, I may not have come across Muck Rack, and, by extension, Rob Shapiro.

Rob does what everyone linchpin needs to do: connects, creates, and crushes it.

If you’re clicking into the Unlocking Potential series for the first time, you can always go back to read the past Q&As with remarkable people here.

Without further ado, welcome, Rob!

1) What got you into entrepreneurship? (What’s your story?) Why entrepreneurship?

I’ve always liked building things – especially things that people value enough to pay for. I don’t know the exact moment I started playing with LEGOs (my mom and dad definitely do), but they were certainly my first creative outlet. I started my first “business” around 7 years old when I bought a snow cone machine from SkyMall (R.I.P) and sold cups of flavored ice at neighborhood softball tournaments. My next venture was to design and create prototypes of a combination bookmark/glasses case.  By high school, I was designing and selling t-shirts that featured our school’s basketball players in unique situations (like our starting five as the heads on Mount Rushmore). Making things and selling them to people who wanted them was not only fun, but just seemed the logical thing to do.

The real entrepreneurial bug bit me during my freshman year of college (majoring in graphic design/communications). I was heading home for Thanksgiving and tragically left my computer on my dorm room desk. Sitting at the airport, I needed something to do. So I bought the book with the coolest looking cover I could find– Gary Vaynerchuk’s Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion. I finished the book in 24 hours and quickly realized I wasn’t thrilled with the direction my life was headed. I had no idea what I wanted to do or who I wanted to be, and I absolutely could have been labeled as an emotional mess. At that moment (literally Thanksgiving night), I decided to transfer schools, focus my college studies on entrepreneurship, and build out my toolbelt with business and creative skills.  I wanted to be prepared for when I found my passion (whatever that proved to be), ready to cash in on something I truly loved.

2) A quick look at your LinkedIn/Muck Rack profile shows you’ve left a lot of breadcrumbs in the startup and marketing industry.  Where do you find your motivation to keep creating, keep connecting and keep making your mark?

I have a lot of energy and passion for achieving success.  But I still haven’t figured out exactly what being successful means. That makes it easier to continue trying to find opportunities and adding new tools to my entrepreneurial toolbelt. Frankly, I don’t know if I even want to have a definition of success. I’d rather keep hustling after the unknown.

3) What are some signs of a born entrepreneur? Any skills that define a destined business owner?

A long time ago, someone told me that you either build the product or you sell it. While there is some truth to that, I think that born entrepreneurs have an inherent knack for both.

Outside of that, it’s incredibly difficult to associate a specific skill with any enormous group of incredibly unique people. However, I think one of the skills successful entrepreneurs share is the ability to delegate. Most business owners understand they can’t do it all themselves.  Finding people who bring value to their organization or project is crucial for scaling anything.

They used to say in the civil war that the laziest people became generals because they often had great ideas but weren’t able or willing to go fight in the battlefield. I don’t think that’s directly related, but it’s a short story I’ve always found ironic and fascinating.

4) What are three habits every entrepreneur must develop to be successful in business?

There are a lot of smart, talented people in this world. I think what distinguishes entrepreneurs from everyone else is the ability to work harder, faster and smarter. If you learn how to hustle first, (the other two) more habits will come.

5) What do you regularly see entrepreneurs, business owners and startups fail to see and do? Essentially, what’s preventing them from being successful?

I don’t think there is enough true dogfood-ing going on in most businesses. A lot of entrepreneurs see a market need, fill it with their product, think their job is done and that the solution will continue meeting their customer’s needs. When a product is adopted into the market and the initial problem is solved, the customer’s needs continue developing and the product should too. For continued development, it is so important to sit down with those using the products and truly understand that user’s story (why/how they’re using the tools).

I know we’re all so busy, but it’s something I think more people could dedicate time toward in their day-to-day. It’s proven to be insanely valuable for me and actually saves me time in the long run. Knowing my customer definitely helps me make better decisions more quickly.

6) Do you have a business or life motto you follow?

You never know what you’re best at and capable of until doing until you try.

I’d still like to find out if I’m a really good NASCAR driver, I’ve just never had the chance. I always love a good challenge because it’s an awesome opportunity to find out about a new skill I didn’t know I possessed or identify an area where I could be stronger.

7) For readers who are unsure what their muse is, what would you suggest they do to find it?

Learn how to be alone. It sounds a bit depressing at first, but you can learn quite a bit about yourself if you’re willing to be your own wolfpack once in a while. Don’t be afraid to eat a meal by yourself without checking your phone every few minutes. Find a time to grab a coffee and stare out the window and have some serious “me time” to let ideas and thoughts bubble up to the top of you brain. Giving those thoughts consideration, no matter how obscure, can be quite energizing and quickly can provide a spark that can start your fire.

8) What makes a business or even a public relations or branding strategy remarkable?

This is a tough question to answer, because there are a ton of remarkable strategies out there. I think a commonality between them is that they are well thought out with the eventual customer in mind. Sometimes it’s so easy to think about good ideas for a business, but if that idea doesn’t resonate with your customer, it’s not gonna provide the needed bang.

For PR strategies, I think it’s all about providing value. Our company, for example, ultimately should be providing value to both the journalist and that journalist’s audience (hopefully their customer). Whenever providing value for someone else – in any facet of their life – it’s far easier to build real relationships. Real relationships quickly translate to customers.

9) What is the best way a business owner can get coverage by the press? Could you share an example of a business that did it right and got the spotlight?

Try your very best to build real, human relationships with journalists and people that can help tell your story. It shouldn’t be terribly different than any other facet of your business. You probably try to build real relationships with your customers. Why not do the same for the people that help you communicate those very same customers?

I constantly see business owners and PR people who assume their company’s unique story is that they’ve started a business. When you’ve got a unique founder or a product that’s truly first to market, that may work. For everyone else, we need to be more creative. If your business helps connect two groups of people that otherwise wouldn’t have found each other, you may be better off sharing the details of their success stories, rather than the fact that you’ve been trying to start this business for the last X years.

10) How do you make sure the best results are always achieved in what you do?

I put a lot of emphasis on instincts and critical thought. Instincts help you make decisions quickly and on an emotional level. To balance that, thinking critically about those emotions and instincts can be a logical and rational process. With that balance, I find that I’m able to quickly assess situations, be it from previous experience or foreseeing potential future events, and justify those ideas with more traditional and rational logic.

That being said, I’ve learned a ton on this from everyone I work with at Muck Rack – specifically our co-founders Greg Galant and Lee Semel as well as our Senior Vice President, Natan Edelsburg. When I first started at the company, I too believed that I always needed to produce the absolute best/perfect results (I’m definitely part perfectionist). They were quick to push me in directions that asked for less perfection and more experimentation. Instead of searching for the best idea that I assumed would produce perfect results, I’ve learned (and still work on) creating multiple ideas with various inputs and outputs, to produce a multitude of results. It’s a rather awesome process as we often find a few ways of accomplishing goals and producing multiple “best results.”

11) I know you well enough to know you’ve got a list of ideas and projects you would like to see to fruition in the future. What’s the project you would start first if you had all the resources available for it?

You’re absolutely right, and I’m incredibly lucky to be working on the team that gets to see Muck Rack to fruition every day – something I don’t plan on stopping for a while. I am a bit of a dreamer. I am constantly coming up with different ideas, but I’d actually prefer to think about who I’m working with, rather than what I’m working on. I want to work with the best – no matter what they do.

If you absolutely made me answer this question, I’d keep doing everything that I’m doing today, and start putting together some plans for a vineyard with an awesome selection of pickles and olives. I really love pickles, olives and wine.

12) Lastly, how can people connect with you? There a place people can go to see what you’re up to? Any way readers can show their support for you? (Shameless self promotion here)

Absolutely, I’m based in New York City and always down to grab a beer or cocktail to chat about any and all ideas.

I also use the internet to build relationships with people. You’ll find my Twitter account is a bit more Muck Rack/business focused.  If you’re interested in that world, follow me at @rob_shap. If you want to get to know me as me, head over to my Instagram account.

If you’re curious about what we’re working on at Muck Rack, want to chat through your companies PR strategies and how to build better relationships with journalists online, shoot me an email at rob@sawhorsemedia.com.

Definitely do not be shy (especially if you like pickles).


Stay Positive & Go Create Real Value For Real Relationships

Take The Time To Provide Feedback

Take The Time To Provide Feedback

You're Doing It Wrong (Feedback)

Feedback is one of the many practical, but often difficult practices of a leader, manager or the alike. It’s often ignored because it’s an uncomfortable practice to criticize someone’s work meaningfully; to provide legitimate advice that doesn’t pain the emotions of the one being critiqued.

To sit down with a person and carefully show them all that they’ve done wrong is not something anyone – whether  they are in a leadership role or not – looks forward to, which is why so many resort to sending an email instead. I plead you refrain from that method.

Providing in-person feedback is vitally important for the future success of those needing the critique. Not only do you both work through being uncomfortably vulnerable and leave having learned from mistakes, there’s also a behind-the-conscious interpretation of feedback on the receiver’s end.

By receiving feedback, they know they can keep improving, that you believe there’s more to them than what they’re showing, and it gives them something to strive for.

Consider this perspective: What are you telling them when you don’t provide feedback? When you don’t provide feedback, you communicate that you don’t think they can do better, that they can’t learn from their mistakes, that you don’t see them as capable of improvement. Is that how you want your employees, partners, friends to feel?

Feedback. Provide it.


Stay Positive & It’s Time Well Spent, It’s An Investment, It’s Worth It

Photo credit

What You Don’t Realize You’re Getting Paid For

Right now, as you’re reading this, you’re getting paid to ignore the trolls, turn your shoulder to the critics and shun the naysayers. Invite this belief into your world: you get paid to mute those who try dragging you down. I have yet to measure an action that receives more return on investment than ignoring trolls.

Concerned there’s an honest opinion that may help improve your work somewhere deep in the paragraph of disdain. Why not ask a friend to read the comment for you and let you know if they agree with anything. The thing about trolls is they will keep on trolling. The thing about friends is they can provide true, helpful criticism.

Ignore the trolls. Keep your faith, your motivation, your passion.

Listen to them. Lose everything.

It’s a downward spiral.


Stay Positive & You Can’t Please Everyone (Nor Should You Want To)

Is A Decision

Cutting this to do that… is a decision.

Being busy… is a decision.

Staring at the blank page/canvas/map in front of you instead of forging on… is a decision.

Admitting defeat… is a decision.

Picking yourself up after rejection… is a decision.

Picking yourself to lead… is a decision.

Wearing two different socks… is a decision.

Running from fear… is a decision. So is dancing with it.

“I don’t have time”… is a decision.

Your motivation… is a decision.

Cutting corners and making shortcuts… is a decision.

Being in it for the long-haul… is a decision.

Not moving forward with a project because your partner back out… is a decision.

Everything you do throughout the day you decide to do. So it is with what you think, how you feel, who you talk to, who you ignore. Noticing each decision may not make you feel comfortable or safe. In fact, it will likely be the opposite. Yet, it’s exactly how you will get to where you want to go: quicker, stronger, happier.

Controlling your life… is a decision.


Stay Positive & No One Said Steering A Boat In Rough Waters Was Easy



Using All Your Potential: Bullying And Psychological Cardio

There’s extreme power in balance, in meditation, in flow. I just don’t believe you can use all your potential that way. If you think of an idea and proceed to ruminate, perhaps you’ll reach a symbolic conclusion. Then what? What if you think of an idea and then run with it, try it out, make it happen? Psychological cardio.

Forget all adjectives used to describe ideas. An idea is an idea. The real meaning of it is defined by what you do with the idea, how far you run with it, what you shape it into. Don’t tell me what kind of idea it is. It doesn’t matter. Show me.

How do you run with an idea? That’s where bullying comes in. I’m not fond of the connotation bullying has taken on; it’s completely negative. There’s so much more we can learn from it. We are our own best bullies.

Track coaches are great bullies too. They push you to run further, they yell at you to run faster, they blow their whistle to get you to try the jump again, only this time, jump higher.

B2B bosses are great bullies too. They’ll tell you to go back and do something again until it’s right, they hold meetings with you just to tell you where you are failing and how to improve, they adapt negative reinforcement strategies into their training.

And as I said, we are our own best bullies. We have the chance everyday to steal our own lunch money, to trip ourselves up on a project, to hate on ourselves when we half-ass something. However, we can also yell at ourselves to get up off the ground, to blow a mental whistle signaling to try something again (practice, practice, practice), and to threaten ourselves with unemployment.

Every person I’ve spoken to who states they are self-employed, also tells me “my boss can be a real ass sometimes.”

Rightfully so! As a friend Tweeted at me yesterday, it’s not about seeing just the forest or just the trees, it’s not all in or nothing. She means that it’s a dance. We can institute positive reinforcement, but if we want to reach our fullest potential, there must also be negative reinforcement. To get the most out of our rumination, we also need to act on our thoughts. Think about it in terms of bullying.

What you hear about bullying is only the negative extremes of it. You never hear of bullying gone right even though it happens in our lives everyday and turns out some of the most talented artists.

You have a chance to redefine bullying, you have a chance to build up your psychological cardio, you have a chance to use all of your potential. You can read all the inspirational quotes you want, but follow them up with the crack of a bull whip.


Stay Positive & Yes, Bullying CAN Be A Good Thing

Don’t forget to help stop the bad bullying