Pivoting Towards Being A Successful Solopreneur With Alex Brueckmann
Many people's lives changed after the 9/11 attack. And one such case is our guest for today's episode, Alex Brueckmann. He was working as a journalist and was forced to quit since 95% of the people where he was working were cut off. He had no other choice but to restart his career. That is where his journey in the corporate world started, from co-creating a company to breaking out in the world of solopreneurship. Learn how he made the shift, the setbacks he faced, and the lessons he learned. Find out how the terms 'entrepreneurship' and 'solopreneur' evolved for Alex and why he believes having the right ecosystem is crucial to success. Don't miss out on this great conversation!
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Pivoting Towards Being A Successful Solopreneur With Alex Brueckmann
It is my honor to introduce my guest, Alex Brueckmann. Alex is a strategy entrepreneur, author, and a speaker. He built and scaled companies in Europe and Canada and led client projects across the world. His passion lies in helping clients build profitable businesses that make an impact socially and environmentally.
In his new book, Alex presents a framework called The Nine Elements of Organizational Identity to help you build better businesses. Based on the book, he has launched a brand-new strategy course for business owners and entrepreneurs. He lives outside Vancouver. Gardening is his passion and keeps him sane. He loves riding motorcycles and spending time with his son. What is your son's name, by the way?
It's Caelum, the Latin word for sky.
I want to welcome you to the show, Alex.
Thank you very much, Tony. Thanks for having me.
It's been an honor getting to know you. I'm looking forward to digging in and getting to foster this relationship going forward. One of the things we do on the show is creating a space to reveal some of the stories behind these people who are doing great things in the world, which you do. How did you get there? That's what we're going to reveal through this conversation is how did you become you? What was the journey that you went on to get there? We're going to reveal you through what we call flashpoints, points in your journey that revealed your gifts into the world. How do you feel about that?
Let's do it. I'm excited about it.
I'm looking forward to it, too. With that, what we'll do is we'll let you take it from here and along the way, let's pause and see what's showing up from there. Take it away.
The first thing that comes to mind is what you asked, “Why am I doing, or why did I land what I do now? How did I even get there?” If I thought back to why this whole thing spiraled out of control, it was several years ago when two airplanes hit the towers in New York and Washington. This was an extreme moment for everyone. For me, it came with a massive change in my job.
I've been until then worked as a music journalist. For me, music was everything, especially rock music metal. The harder and the louder, the better. At that point in time, I was the Editor-in-Chief of a news agency. Shortly after 9/11 and all the economic fallout and insecurity that came with it, that company cut down 95% of its staff.
The official lingo was, "It's because our customers cut back their marketing spend. Therefore, we don't have the budgets anymore." I personally think now, after having studied Business Administration and been a Manager and leader for the better part of a few decades, I better understand that this was more an excuse than the reality. The fact is I lost my job and had to completely rethink who I am because, at that point in time, it was basically impossible to score another job in journalism.
Regenerating is a very good word because you cannot force it.
It was very difficult. I found myself in a dead-end street because what I had not considered is everything that I wanted to do in life required a college degree or university education. I couldn't go to university because I've finished school early, which means I didn't have the entrance criteria. I went back basically full-time for two and a half years to get what we call in Germany, Abitur, which is your A levels that allow you to enter your university. I did that and started Business Administration. From there, it makes more sense to see where I am now working with entrepreneurs and business owners and helping them build companies that are rooted in a deep desire to make this world a better place. At the same time, build a very profitable business case.
I want to pause right there and say, "That's a humbling experience to restart your career." Some people make pivots and say, "I'm going to take some existing skills and move from this to that." In this story that you shared, it's almost like thinking of it as a restart. It gives hope to people to say that no matter where you are, there's always hoped to move into something completely different if you're willing to take the steps.
I was 24, 25 years old at that point in time. It was a complete restart. It was full-time, back to school for two and a half years, doing a Bachelor's degree for three years in Germany and Uruguay to understand Business Administration, and doing internships and everything. It has nothing to do with what I did prior to that. It was a restart.
That's a powerful shift. In some ways, when you do that restart, you have this drive. You can speak to this a bit more to want it to work.
You do because it costs the hell out of money to do that. I paid for it myself. Having said that, you stop earning money, and at the same time, you're spending money for your education. Those first two and a half years were financially still very stable. I was working as a semi-professional DJ at that time. I still had a lot of fun, earned some money, and could make ends meet to a certain degree, when I started studying Business Administration at a private university, a business school that cost a buttload of money.
That money needed to come from somewhere, and it meant student loans. You've read, you want to make it work when your own money is on the line. That gives you even more drive other than never wanting to go back where you were before. That feeling of losing your job and not knowing what to do because you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, I never wanted to end up there again.
I love that you kept your passion close by, this deejaying and staying connected to the music, which has a powerful influence on you. That's great to see that you stuck with that. Tell me what happens next in your journey. You're pursuing this new path. What was the next big challenge or moment where you were tested?
I realized that what I learned during my studies is basically useless when you enter a corporation. You have to relearn how to live, trying to understand corporate culture or lingo and how careers work. The very concept of a career was new to me. I started my post-university career at one of the largest media organizations in the world. The sky is wide open. There is a lot of opportunities. It went with the flow. My back-then boss, several months into my role, asked me whether I would like to join him on his new endeavor. He was being promoted to a member of the board and had a huge job to restructure one of the business units with that media company.
I embarked on this journey with him. This was the first time I got in touch with creating and designing corporate strategies from scratch. You don't often get this opportunity to rethink a business. I worked as a client in that sense with some of the biggest consulting companies in the world. That's soaked up that knowledge and how they operate the questions that they ask. At the same time, I struggled with some personality traits that I had.
At that point in time, 30 years old, coming from one of the most renowned universities in Europe, you think you made it to a certain degree, but you already realized that you're still at the beginning. My ego kicked in fairly often. I had the opportunity to work with a coach to help me understand those equal patterns better and deal with them.
Those two things combined started to form something new inside me and a desire to work with people in a strategic context. It's helping leaders become better leaders and more strategic at the same time. That ended up years down the road in my ex-executive coach and me restarting his company, the two of us, and building it into something that now works with leaders around the world.
The company has made itself a very good brand name in large organizations when it comes to forming the next generation of leaders and helping them become more strategic and better leaders at the same time. I'm not working for that company anymore. A few years ago, when my girlfriend and I decided to move to Canada, where she's from, it was the next big moment in my life. I had to say goodbye to that baby, the company that I co-created. I'm still associated with the company. Technically speaking, they're a client of mine. It's nice to see how the company prospers, but I'm now in Canada. I'm doing something else now.
I want to capture a theme here that I love about the way that you've navigated your life and career. You said the word rethink. Your ability to rethink and challenge your own thinking over and over again is a powerful thing. When you're able to not hold too tightly to a particular thought but let it go and bubble up into something else is powerful.
It connects to what I know about you this desire to work with businesses that want to make an impact on society and nature. I think of it also being regenerative and thinking about it from that perspective to say you can't arrest in this one place. You have to continue to think about what's next. “How am I evolving into that next place where we can regenerate ourselves?” Your story fits well with what you do.
I learned that regenerating is a very good word because you cannot force it. It's not working that way. You can't say, "I want this. Therefore, I get this." Being humble enough to understand your limits helps you to use the resources inside you and around you in the best possible way. I still believe that the sky is the limit. You can achieve whatever you want if you're willing to give it your all and focus on it. There are certain limits to what makes sense to do. It's the moment I realized that the sky's the limit. There are also things that make sense and other things that are moonshots. It helps you find an abundance within limits, if that makes sense at all.
It comes back to this thing that I often think about, which is that structure creates freedom. You have to put some boundaries around the things that you most want so that you can play in that space.
It totally links to what I do with company owners. I help them let go of FOMO, companies that have no clear-cut strategy, just have a fear of missing out. They will pigeonhole themselves if they define clearly who they are. They miss out on all the other stuff. It's about moving from FOMO to JOMO, the Joy Of Missing Out, understanding why all of these other things are shiny objects. They might be great for anyone else but not for you. The moment you embrace that, that's what you said, Tony. That's exactly that spot.
I love that you would do this work. This is where as much as we talk about it here, most people miss this point. In some ways, they have to experience it to know what it is. We have to be advocates for that. Tell me more about the journey. Were there any moments along the way that you felt were setbacks? Being an entrepreneur is not an easy endeavor. People always see the end result, the outside. Tell me about the challenges that you faced as you started to build businesses.
You can achieve whatever you want if you're willing to give it your all and focus on it.
I would even go one step back. Before I became an entrepreneur, one of those moments, setbacks, I remember myself doing a semester abroad in Uruguay. At that point in time, my Spanish was probably enough to order a beer and a taco, and that's it. I hadn't realized that I was the only foreign exchange student in the entire semester. I'm not in that one course but there was no one else like me.
I felt a little alone in the beginning and totally overwhelmed because there was literally one class. I sat there 3 or 4 times and still didn't know what the class was about. I didn't understand enough. That was horrible. All of a sudden, this fear of failing kicks in, and you're like, "What if I mess up this course? What if I get an F? What does it mean for my career in this business school? Do I have to redo the semester?” All of these crazy things go through you.
Your world is about to collapse because there's this tiny little thing that's overwhelming. I sit on my bed, 28 years old, grown man, crying like a child because I wouldn't know what to do. I was sitting there in a country where I didn't understand the language, fear of failing at the university, and all of these things. This was one of the most defining moments in my life because I realized that there is always a way. At the end of that semester, four months later, I wrote the final exams without a dictionary.
If you allow yourself to go all in, embrace that fear and say, "This is going to be hard but I can make this work." You will make this work. Your brain is an amazing, super thing that works if you allow it to work. I had to remove this fear, and my back-then girlfriend and later became my wife, played a super important role at that moment because she was several years older than I am. She had been through that fear through her own university career. She's helped me to gain perspective at that moment.
Gaining perspective starting from that moment helped me in my entrepreneurial journey. Always trying to get perspective, not only my own perspective, other perspectives, other thoughts, trying to find the wisdom in a perspective that you don't like, and that has been defining for me throughout my entrepreneurial journey. Whether it's working with clients, hiring people, working on my own because my parents are still there. I need to work on and keep them in check constantly. Perspective is probably the key in my entrepreneurial journey that helps me.
I want to dig into that for a moment to say, is it introspective or also perspective coming from outside extrospective, I call it, that it makes the difference or both?
The introspective, in my case, often comes through an external trigger. The extrospective is the starting point for me very often because I'm often so focused, have blinders on, keep working and go my way. The extrospective is often tickling me and starting to trigger an introspective. I always had a very hard time meditating, for example. I don't get a handle on it. It doesn't work for me for w reason. I often felt like I was a failure because I couldn't meditate. The whole world is meditating, and I can't. It's not that that didn't try hard. It's not working for me. For many people, the journey starts within. It’s introspective. For me, it's often the other way around.
It's surprising that we need a little bit of nudge from the outside world. If that comes from a coach, a partner or somebody, once those kicks things off, the journey starts within. It starts to create that internal dialogue, introspection, which is powerful.
For me, it's the books that I read. Sometimes it's a question that leads to another question. Those nudges are super important.
I love that you say that the books are important, but it's also being careful. You said earlier about how the boundaries we need to create. Choose wisely, like what you choose to take in, because some of those things will not be very helpful. Those perspectives are not always helpful.
It's important to understand your own framework. When I read a book, I read the first 50, 60 pages. I'm like, "Does it work for me? Is there a value in it for me now?" I then say, "Yes." I keep on reading. Sometimes I say no, and I put the book aside and revisit it maybe years later. Maybe there's some wisdom in it for me at that point in time. I'm a different person then.
Tell me more about the later part of your journey when you stepped into being an entrepreneur. You're a solopreneur now. What was it like when you went on your own?
When you build a company with all the support systems in place, and you hire people, you forget how it was when you were on your own. It's shocking, rejuvenating, and humbling to a certain degree. It's super exciting to be out on your own again. All of a sudden, you need to take care of the things again yourself. I make very conscious decisions on what I do on my own and outsource. I love to spend time with my son, for example.
If I did everything on my own, I wouldn't have time for him. It's a constant struggle between outsourcing something and doing it on my own. One person I collaborate with calls me PLS, Privileged Little S***, because I still think sometimes like the managing director of a bigger company. I'm like, "I don't need to take care of that. You are going to take care of that. That's in your responsibility."
She was like, "Yeah, I'm going to do this for you this one time but you realize that this is not my job." I'm like, "Yeah, I realized it now." Being out there on my own as a solopreneur is a challenge. Not because of the work that I do but because of how I live that role and embrace it. If you've had that support system around you, with your assistants, program managers, and people that do all the work that you hired them to do because you know you're not good at it and it's not the best use of your time, then having to do all these things on your own again is humbling.
The power of being able to enlist people in your mission to support what you're up to makes a big difference. It also is super smart to think like you're thinking. You realize that if you continue to think, “I'm a solopreneur, I have to do it all on my own,” what you'll be left with is no time to live a life.
Solopreneur, to me, doesn't mean you do everything on your own. Solopreneur simply means you run a one-man business that has a support system around it where your scores work from. I have 4 to 5 people that I'm constantly working with. One of the reasons is that I don't hire them is they are entrepreneurs themselves. They don't want to be an employee. I totally appreciate that.
However, our ideas are aligned. We want mutual success. We collaborate to help each other. It's not a typical employer-employee relationship. I don't know whether that's the right way to put it but it's more on eye level. One person is dependent on a job, and the other one isn't. I liked that concept of co-creation based on eye-level partnerships. Having said that, I realized that there is nothing stopping you from having the same relationship in a company with your employees.
A solopreneur doesn't mean doing everything on your own. A solopreneur simply means running a one-man business that has a support system around it.
The one thing I would take away from this is that every solopreneur who's reading or want to be a solopreneur has to realize that building the right ecosystem to support you is crucial to be successful. It's crucial to know that the right people surrounding you and treating them the right way allows you to prosper.
The hobbies that I have are time-consuming, gardening, riding motorcycles, and I wouldn't call my son a hobby. I don't believe in the hustle culture, for example. That's not working for me. I am conscious of the time that I have on this planet. I want to spend it as wisely as possible.
As we're coming further on in the journey of discovering who you are, tell me what are the messages that you love to share about what you do in the world? What are the key messages you'd like to share about doing business?
When it comes to entrepreneurship, it took me some time to realize that small companies have an over-proportionate power that they don't realize very often. As small companies, we don't have the buying power of a large corporation. We don't have the political weight but what we do have is direct access to decision-makers because it's often us. We take the decisions. The moment we make a decision, we can implement it. Why is that important? We can make change happen to contribute faster than any other big company.
What that means is if we decide to support a local food bank, sponsor a community football team or pull together a team that does an ocean beach cleanup or whatever it is, we can have a direct impact on our communities, the people around us. We can use our businesses as a force for good. It doesn't mean we run an NGO that is focused on providing clean drinking water in Sub-Saharan Africa. That's not what I mean. It's using your business as a force for good, leveraging it by creating awareness, funding what's important for you personally, as a company owner to fund. If all smaller companies combined did that a little bit more than they do now, this world would be a much better place to be.
I love this message you're sharing because there's something about it that's leading by example and creating a ripple effect into the people that you're serving to let them know that this is how I like to operate. This is how you can operate, too. When we make this impact, we show other people the way to be in the world. It's not selfish to want to make money. We have to feed ourselves first and also can feed others as well. It's almost creating this real win-win-win on many different fronts.
That's exactly the term that I always use. It's not about sacrificing your own life to make the lives of other people better. It's about taking the issue of money and providing for your family off the table, making it a non-issue. You have the headspace and the capacity to think bigger. Ask yourself, "I have achieved a certain standard of living that I'm super happy with. What is the living legacy that I want to create apart from raising my son in the best possible way?"
The next step logically and also from the heart is to help others to give back, use your business as a force for good as something that creates a ripple effect into society, where people realize that what they think, say, and do does matter. If we all embrace that, it would be powerful. I see more and more entrepreneurs and business owners do that. It's not only cool. It's super fun to see that because it changes the world one company at a time.
It's great to have that sense of hope in the world. We can make an impact one business and person at a time. It is regenerative, the word that keeps coming up in this conversation. As we come near the end of the conversation, I wanted to ask, what are the things you've learned about yourself in this amazing journey you've been on that you haven't already shared, maybe 1 or 2 things?
I shouldn't take myself so seriously. I was so insightful and often selfish in my life, especially in my younger years, as a young adult. Looking back at that person, I sometimes feel pity for that person. It's often very quickly replaced by a feeling of if I could only go back to you and give you a big hug and tell you that everything's going to be okay, that would have helped me a lot.
I always felt that I had to fight a struggle. In that headspace, I was taking myself too seriously and realized that it's not all about me or what I want in life. It's very often taking myself out of the equation and asking myself again, “Twenty years from now, if I took a look back, what would I tell that person at that moment?” Very often, it's, "Dude, you got to relax."
I hope that twenty years ago person is not going to punch you in the face. One last question for you, and that is what are 1 or 2 books that have had an impact on you and why?
I took those two books out of the bookshelf because I knew that question would come. I have them right in front of me. One is going back to that topic of rethinking and that Adam Grant, who you probably have heard of everyone out there, I hope, released a book called Think Again years ago. He calls it, The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know. It's about asking yourself to rethink anything that you think.
If you start that, it can lead you down a rabbit hole, but if you don't allow that, it's a super tool to ask yourself, “Are the assumptions that I take on a daily basis, are they right? What's in it for me if I think differently or approach things from a different perspective?” It's a powerful book. It did not only help me in my business but also in my private life.
The second book has a German title called Vom Mann, der auszog, um den Frühling zu suchen, which means the man who went into the world to find spring. It's a journey to rediscover the ease of life. It's a beautiful story with a slightly tragic ending, but I leave it to everyone else to read this. It's a book by Clara Maria Bagus. It's a wonderful book that you can easily lose yourself in, and it has nothing to do with business whatsoever.
First of all, I had a feeling you were going to bring Think Again into the room. That book's been on my mind. It's one of my favorites, and it fits you perfectly. I love that you bring a book in that obviously has not been recommended yet. It's going to be great to have that included in the list of brilliant books on this show. Thank you so much for bringing that.
You're very welcome.
Alex, this has been great. I always feel so blessed to have to be in your presence. Your stories are great. Your insights are amazing. I want to make sure that whoever's reading now knows how to find you. Where's the best place to learn more about your work and connect with you.
If you dare to write my surname, go to Brueckmann.ca. If you want an easy way, you go to AlexTheStrategist.com, and you will end up at the same landing page. AlexTheStrategist.com is basically my home presence on the internet. It links to all the socials from there. You'll find tons of free resources that will help you rethink your business, especially when it comes to thinking about the future. Letting go working in the business and on the business for a change and making conscious decisions, intentionally building out your business strategy.
Thank you again. This has been such an honor to have you.
Thanks so much for having me, Tony. I loved the conversation with you. I love the questions.
Thanks to the readers for coming on the journey. I know you're leaving with so many great insights. Do reach out to Alex. He is definitely someone you'll love the conversation with. That's a wrap. We'll see you later.
- The Nine Elements of Organizational Identity
- Think Again
- Vom Mann, der auszog, um den Frühling zu suchen
About Alex Brueckmann
I’ve spent the majority of my career consulting with some of the biggest companies in the world on their strategy, direction, and organizational identity. What that means is that the big guys call me when they need to figure their stuff out. And I’m now bringing that enterprise-level knowledge to YOU - in a way that will make sense for you, no matter the size of your business.
See, it’s really, really easy for big companies to end up with a bloated way of doing things. Little things, tasks, actions and tactics accumulate over the years… until one day, they realize they’re not efficient or intentional when it comes to reaching their goals.
And whether you have 100 team members or you’re running your business solo - the same thing happens to you. ESPECIALLY when you consider the number of opportunities, tactics and techniques that are out there…
The courses you can take. The programs you can follow. The processes you can put in place.
Every single one of these has the opportunity to overwhelm you and your entire organization…
Until now. This training is your best next step to creating your own PERMANENT PRODUCTIVITY system in your business and focus on only what matters most RIGHT NOW.
I can’t wait to help you kick overwhelm to the curb and finally stop spinning those plates.