Maxwell Ivey is a totally blind man from Houston Texas who has transformed himself from a morbidly obese failed carnival owner to successful amusement equipment broker to award-winning self-help author, sorry-telling motivational speaker, online media publicist, host of What’s Your Excuse, and founder of the WYE Network. If you have a question for him, no matter how awkward, just ask.
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Let’s learn a little about you and really get to experience what makes us tick – starting at our beginnings. Where did your story begin?
Maxwell Ivey: I grew up in a family of carnival owners. All I ever wanted to do was be part of the business and someday run a show of my own. I started working on the midway at 5 when my grandmother put me to work boxing popcorn, squirting the butter on them, putting syrup on snow cones, and doing odd jobs for her. I sold novelties, ran kids’ games of my own, set up and took down rides, etc. After college and a short stint working for the Internal Revenue Service, I came back to the family By that time I was almost totally blind and focused on doing the bookings and operating kids games.
I was lucky enough to get to spend over 15 years working alongside my dad and brothers before my father:s death lead to the closure of our small traveling show. I knew that I needed to find another way to help support the family, so I started doing the only thing I thought I knew how to do. Which was helping other people sell used rides and games. I started the Midway Marketplace in September of 2007. I had no money, talent, training, or experience. This was also pre-word press, wifi, and Facebook. But I managed.
I did this primarily by being willing to ask for help and accept help when offered. I had to learn so many things in the beginning. Including how to hand-code HTML, recruit clients, set fees, write copy, start a blog, build an email list, learn social media, record videos, etc. People were inspired by my willingness to take on difficult challenges and opportunities with joy and asked me to share more of what is to be a blind entrepreneur. I finally relented and started a second website as The Blind Blogger. From there I wrote my first self-help book on a dare. I have written three more and am working on four more or my fifth in total. Prior to starting as the blind blogger, I took an opportunity to appear on a radio show on blog talk radio hosted by Brian the Hammer Jackson.
I did that show for about six months before realizing there had to be many more radio shows and podcasts out there that I could share my story and promote my two businesses. Five years ago people convinced me that I have a talent for getting people booked on these platforms and encouraged me to start offering my services. Over the past 8 years, I’ve been on over 350 shows. And over the past 5 years, my clients have been on at least another 200. I have since started offering courses and one on one coaching to help people become that next rockstar online media personality.
Along the way, I also started my own podcast. It is called What’s Your Excuse. Because so many people have said if Max can do it then what’s my excuse. I interview people who have overcome adversity and thrived in spite of difficult life circumstances. After years of being a podcast guest, hosting my own show, and booking people on podcasts; I realized that I am in a perfect position to help other people with disabilities navigate the difficult path of launching, growing, and monetizing a podcast of their own. So, this year I launched the WYE Network, the letters standing for what else What’s Your Excuse. I just helped my first host launch her show. It is called Shredding For Gold, and it is hosted by a blind snowboarder from Vancouver Canada named Emily Trepanier who is chasing Paralympic gold in downhill snowboard racing.
The final piece of my story has to do with being a public speaker. In 2017 Joe Pardo, the host of the Dreamers Podcast, invited me to speak at an event in Philadelphia. In spite of the distance, I just knew I had to do it. I took a 1500 mile solo train trip so I could be there and rock the mic for the first time. I’m popular on social media where I’m more about building relationships and helping others than about numbers of friends, likes, and shares. And I have been asked to review or endorse several products. I’m no Instagram star, but I love helping spread the word about a quality product, service, company, or individual. I’m a storyteller at heart who loves a good story. Mine has gone in so many directions before getting to where I am now. I love to sing, and I often sing during my podcast, when being interviewed, or when giving a public talk. My favorite song is the River by Garth Brooks. It is such a perfect metaphore for my life. And even at this point I still can’t wait to find out what is around that next bend.
Was there somebody in your life that inspired you to take that specific journey with your business?
Maxwell Ivey: There have been so many great people who have encouraged and or challenged me along the way. But I would say the most important one is a lady named Adrienne Smith. She used to be well-known on the internet as the blog commenting superstar. She taught me everything I know about relationship building online. She made me understand the power of helping others or solving their problems. And showed me how often those gestures of friendship would lead to new opportunities like a guest post, being featured in a round-up post, or having a piece of your content shared with their larger audience. The most important thing she did for me was to convince me that
I was capable of so much more than selling used amusement park rides. She argued with me for over two years before finally convincing me of my power to inspire, motivate, and challenge others. She finally did this with the following explanation. She said Max you have a perfect built-in excuse. She went on to say that if you wanted to sit at home watch tv and eat junk food; no one would say a thing about it because you are blind. Then she told me that there are so many people in the world who don’t have an obvious reason or excuse holding them back and they still don’t show up in their lives as you do. She said they sleep-walk through their lives afraid to risk their comfort for the possibility of something better.
She finally got me past my image of myself. Before this, I would have told you that I was just a guy who showed up every day and worked his butt off to build a business to help support his family. Now, I know I am an inspiration to millions. I just have one request. If you are going to call me an inspiration, please tell me of one single act I inspired you to take. Because to me, inspiration without action is meaningless.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons you learned from that?
Maxwell Ivey: I’m going to share two. One from when I started my first business the Midway Marketplace. And one from when I finally accepted my role as an inspiration and started the Blind Blogger. When I started the Midway Marketplace, I didn’t have much in the way of assets. I had a burning desire to accomplish the goal of first getting my website online and the willingness to find creative solutions. I didn’t have the money to hire a webmaster, and wouldn’t have easily found the courage to trust someone else with my baby if I had had the money.
I started asking lots of questions online and was eventually directed to the w3c online tutorials for developing a website. I went through them one at a time until I could perform all the basics. And I thought I was doing pretty well. I was doing my best and focusing on what I could actually do something about. However, I am blind, and a lot of the decisions you make with a website are visual. So, imagine me picking the colors for my site from memory.
I chose yellow for the background because I remembered that the stuffed toys on the midway always looked better on yellow than white. I chose blue for text, red for linked text, and orange for previously clicked links. I would later find out that the yellow was an eye-screaming yellow, the blue was a dark navy, the red was a bright red, and the orange was a fluorescent orange like what you would see on the side of a honky-tonk bar.
More than once people told me that the website was so bright that Stevey Wonder and Ray Charles could have had an argument over it. You combine that with not being able to edit the photos people sent me. Meaning that I might have multiple different sized or resolution photos on the same page together. But for me, the point was people could see the rides, games, food trailers. And that was the point of the site. I could have obsessed over how bad the site was…
I could have taken it down and refused to start my business until I could have a better site. But instead, I focused on what I could do something about. I worked on recruiting new listings, promoting the items I had for sale, and building my brand in the industry As a result I was able to sell hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of amusement rides on five continents before converting the site into something more traditional. Perfectionism kills more dreams than lack of money or breath of competition.
I learned that good enough is often better than perfect. And I learned to focus on things you can do something about and ignoring the things beyond your control. Second, when I started the Blind Blogger it was after a time of refusing to accept that I was an inspiration. So, my first post was titled I think I am ready to be an inspiration. At the time I was working on two posts at the same time. I was adding a used park train to the Midway Marketplace while creating the first blog post for the Blind Blogger. somehow I got the photo of the park train mixed up with the photo of me I was going to use for the blog post about being an inspiration. I ended up with this photo of a train engine.
I am actually blind, so I didn’t know this until after the comments started coming in. I found about a third of the readers were upset that I had made the mistake. They drew my attention to it and urged me to fix it. The other two-thirds chose to see the positive in my post. They talked about how their parents or grandparents had read them the book the Little Engine that Could. they complimented me on the brilliant metaphor. And they thanked me for making an important point while bringing back childhood memories. I left the post just as it was. Because I learned that sometimes mistakes are happy accidents. Sometimes your mistakes are better than what you would have done on your own.
But most importantly there is nothing wrong with mistakes. If more people shared their mistakes honestly with the world we would probably be happier. The most important thing I learned is that mistakes aren’t the worst things that can happen. Being afraid to make mistakes is the worst thing that can happen. Both of these examples show the value of being your real honest authentic self and letting the world fall in love with you and root for who you are. Not trying to fool them into thinking you are something you aren’t because you think that is who they want you to be or what they want to hear. As our parents told most ion us just be ourselves.
Resilience is critical in critical times like the ones we are going through now. How would you define resilience?
Maxwell Ivey: I think resilience is more a process than a thing. I also know from personal experience that you only learn resilience by experience. I like to say that I am really good at picking myself up because I have spent so much of my life on my backside looking up at where the sun ought to be. Sometimes literally, but usually metaphorically. And a big part of my resilience process centers around a focused effort to find the positive in every meeting, experience, or event. I’m not saying to ignore the negative things that are happening to you or your business.
I’m saying work at finding the positive. I even have an expression for this. I tell people that finding the positive is like finding the tv remote. You know it is there somewhere, and you keep looking until you find it. Sometimes this will lead to a messy living room, but it often also leads to you sitting there with a snack, a cold drink, and a smile while watching that favorite show. Finding the positive in life works the same way. I will warn you that it is hard at first. So, don’t wait to practice this skill until you have a disaster you need to recover from.
Get up every morning expecting at least one good thing to happen to you. For example, I once booked a speaking event by replying to a spam message and asking the organizers why I wasn’t on the stage. This is because I had the right mindset before I opened my inbox. The pandemic is hard. It is the hardest thing our world has had to live through since the Spanish Flu or World War II respectively. But we can make it through. However, times like this will challenge all of us to see things differently. The more often you look for positive things, the more of them you are going to find. And when you focus on your capabilities you will think less about those things that are beyond your control. It’s a muscle just like a bicep. So, start practicing today.
When you think of your company, 5 years from now, what do you see?
Maxwell Ivey: I see the most potential for growth in the podcast network I have started. I feel that in five years it could be a huge instrument for changing the way the world thinks about people with disabilities. By helping other people with disabilities launch a podcast of their own, I’m going to give them the freedom and the power to tell their stories in their own words on a platform where so many more people will hear them. We will do this by building a community of hosts who help each other grow their audiences and attract sponsors.
We will also support each other emotionally. The network will be home to four groups of hosts. First and foremost are people who want to start a show but need help to overcome the many obstacles to launching a podcast. Some of these people will go on to build a business around their show. And others will simply use it as a creative outlet. But all will develop new skills that will definitely have value in the future economy. Second, there are those talented creative podcast hosts who are currently toiling in obscurity. We will syndicate their shows giving them access to a larger audience by being part of the community. Third, we will have shows hosted by people who aren’t disabled but who want to help improve the lives of people like me.
And four, we will have shows hosted by nonprofit organizations and government agencies. By having a place where all these voices can work together we can make real progress. Both as individuals wanting to make a sustainable living and as a community wanting to be understood and more fairly treated. I can even see a television platform beyond simply a youtube channel. Perhaps even with an arm that offers book publishing, television production, and regular shows broadcast or syndicated worldwide.
Can’t wait to hear that one of my hosts has won an emmie or been bought for millions of dollars. Or that a book written by my host has just become a New York Times Best Seller. Or most importantly that by having a podcast a forgotten human being feels wanted and needed. Giving people a purpose, teaching them skills, and promoting their work while building my own WYE Brand sound amazing to me.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
Maxwell Ivey: As a blind person I learned from an early age to be a problem solver. So, creative problem solving is number one. It’s important to know that coming up with solutions is often the easy part. Being willing to implement solutions that you don’t like in order to achieve your goals is the hard part. Another skill my vision loss taught me was patience.
Wrapped up in that is a willingness to admit that you control very little in your life. And accepting that fact, as many of the Japanese knows, can be a very freeing decision. Sometimes, patience requires accepting your responsibility for creating your impatience. And often patience comes from knowing yourself and the people you spend the most time with. Third, is something I have a hard time accepting. That being my courageous spirit.
I don’t think of courage in the traditional sense. I think of it as a willingness to do things you may not be quite ready for. It has involved taking off on trips when I had much less in my wallet than most would think prudent. It meant starting a podcast network when I had to openly admit to my first host that I don’t know everything about what I’m doing yet.
And most importantly it has to do with asking for opportunities for myself and my clients. Most of them don’t think they are worthy to appear in a publication like this one. Me, I know I’m not quite ready. But I know I will never be ready. If we wait until we think our stories are good enough, we will never tell them. And the world would suffer as a result. This courage has lead to my favorite saying. My dad used to use it, but I have made it my own. “If you don’t ask, they can’t say yes.” This applies to help, challenges, or opportunities.
What have you learned about personal branding that you wish you had known earlier in your career?
Maxwell Ivey: I have to start by saying that I am not an expert on branding in the creative stage. I didn’t choose any of the names or brands that I am known for. As owner of the Midway Marketplace the fans of a defunct amusement park in Ohio started calling me Mr. Midway. As for the Blind Blogger that started on linked in when fellow group members wanted a shorthand.
They called me the Blind Blogger because I was the only blind person they knew who happened to be blind. And this whole What’s Your Excuse thing started when people left blog comments saying if Max can do it then what’s my excuse. Even my logo is someone else’s idea of me. I agree with the idea of me as a cape-wearing superhero of the online world come to save the day by helping people overcome their excuses. The most important thing I can teach you about branding is this. Whether you come up with the concept, or someone else gifts it to you; say thank you and run with it.
Using a brand and growing into it is the hardest part. Protecting it and allowing it to involve is critical to its long-term success. Helping your employees, clients, and fans understand what your values are is really important. Live the brand. Be true to the brand. Don’t ever do anything to disappoint those people who are invested in your brand. I guess what I’m trying to say is the t-shirt isn’t as important as how you wear it. Wear your brand with pride.
What’s your favorite leadership style and why?
Maxwell Ivey: I think it would be a partnership approach. Realizing from the beginning that ownership of a company doesn’t mean you have all the answers. Being willing to collaborate with employees, staff, team members, whatever you call them. Being honest with each other about your abilities, intentions, expectations, and shortfalls. I say shortfalls because that implies a poor performance and not a poor employee. Sometimes it takes an honest conversation about what you aren’t good at to get to the point where everyone is in roles that fit them as perfectly as possible.
Another part of this involves storytelling. If I am a leader and not a boss, I need to get my people to buy into my vision of the company and the goals for it. In this area, I like to lean on a sports metaphor. They say the most important thing a winning coach has to do is get the players to buy into his approach. They do this from a common starting point each having worked hard for years to develop their bodies and understand sports concepts. In business, we have to do this with storytelling. So having the workers understand who we are and why we do things is critical to success as a leader.
My dad once told me there will be people you can’t argue with. But you may be able to tell them a story. I do this with my fans, followers, and customers as well. They know my story because I tell it often. Your company story should be as familiar as to how you met your spouse. Because great teams are made up of people who have bought in. They have accepted your story and want to be a part of it. And when done well they will be so much better employees and so much better representatives of your company as well. We have to have a team. Whether they are employees, contract workers, or volunteers; we all have to have a team.
So, let’s approach it as more of a collaboration than as a person n charge yelling orders that are intended to be followed no matter what. I hope you will start your next day by having a casual friendly chat with each of the people in your team. They may surprise by ideas, opinions, solutions, or even unknown passion.
What advice would you give to our younger readers that want to become entrepreneurs?
Maxwell Ivey: I would say try lots of new things. Research professions, industries, organizations, etc. Don’t just settle on the first thing you feel you are passionate about. In fact, maybe you are even too young to be certain you will be an entrepreneur. Some young people start businesses out of a desire for money, attention, or to avoid pressure from family. I know that my family expected all of us kids to work. That was how it was done back then. Just like not every high school graduate is a good fit for college, not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur.
As most people know more businesses fail than succeed. My dad used to tell people that going into the carnival business was the only field where insanity wasn’t a disqualification. He would go on to say in his opinion it was a necessity. Given the time we are living in many will think starting a business is just crazy. But it takes a little bit of crazy. Plus the recent hardships caused by the home loan crash followed by the pandemic have made people realize that a lot of so-called safe professions aren’t safe anymore. I would say the most important thing I can tell them is to see everything as a learning process.
Read as much as you can. I read at least 40 books a year about half of which are biographies or personal development books. I listen to many podcasts. I’m not going to give you a list because I can’t risk leaving out someone important to me. I attend conferences and learn a lot through meeting new people and having great conversations. I take online courses, and I do have a bachelor’s even if it is in political science. Learn how to research the things you are curious about. Learn from others about creating a business plan, pitching your ideas, and creating that elevator pitch.
Take every opportunity to practice your communication skills. And start building a community now. Having a community of people you can trust during difficult times can be critical to your success. Learn from those who have gone before you even if you think they are all idiots who would never understand your idea. And most importantly never let a setback, failure, or disaster crush your entrepreneurial spirit. There is an old line from W. C. Fields. He once said in a movie. “The only way you can lose is to die or quit playing, and you look pretty healthy to me kid. ” SO, just keep playing.
What’s your favorite “life lesson” quote and how has it affected your life?
Maxwell Ivey: Over the years I have learned that we are not meant to accomplish big goals on our own. In fact, we will accomplish them so much faster with less stress and more joy if we will let people help us. I find that asking for help is scary for most people. They are worried that others will think less of them for admitting they don’t know everything. They fear appearing weak by having to ask for help. I have found this quote very freeing for a lot of people. “When you refuse to ask, you rob the other person of the joy they would have received from helping you. ”
Think about how good you feel when you do something for someone who can do nothing for you but say thank you. Think about that other person. Maybe he or she has spent years even decades accumulating information, learning a skill, honing a talent, etc. Just imagine how good you would make them feel if you came along and said: Hey, I know you are the expert in this field. I know you know everything there is to know. I am really struggling, would you please help me. Just think you are making their day harder and greyer by not asking.
Ego quite often gets in the way of our success. I often find putting the focus on the other person and trying to see things from their point of view can really free us from our ego. Asking for help is hard, but accepting help is even harder. Most people immediately think who do they think they are. They get insulted and defensive. But it’s important to remember that it took that person more courage to offer than it would take you to ask. SO, even if you don’t want their help to accept it with love. I am lazy in a good way. I don’t want or need to do all the work.
I am perfectly happy letting other people help out. I love letting them become part of my journey and my story. And I especially love it when I get to show my gratitude by mentioning them in a book, blog post, podcast episode, interview, or public talk. Why not try using interdependence. That is what it’s called when you let others help. Start small and see how it works. Who knows, maybe someday you will be asking me for my help directly. Or you will be sharing your story with me about the amazing progress you made when you found the freedom to ask for help.
Larry Yatch, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Maxwell Ivey for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Maxwell Ivey or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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