How to Make It in America


Those crazy guys starting a denim line on the hit HBO show aren’t the only ones with dreams of money and power. In order to find the secrets to success, we sat down with James Marshall Reilly, a musician turned entrepreneur turned author. He founded The Guild Agency, a talent management company, and was recently honored at the White House as one of the top 100 entrepreneurs aged 30 or under. He recently authored Shake The World, a book of life advice from a variety of young business leaders. Reilly was curious about the success of young entrepreneurs that were both valued and passionate about their careers. Perplexed that these success stories rarely included a wealthy grandfather or an Ivy League education, he set out to grill these game changers at companies such as TOMS shoes and Zappos. A quick and informative read, you can pick up the book (out on December 29) at Amazon. Until then, here is Reilly’s advice about getting the career you want.

Give a S#@t!

Aside from a passion for junk food and playing Angry Birds, Reilly believes that leaders are motivated by their curiosity and interest in a real subject, which means first identifying what you love to do. “It means asking questions and doing little things such as starting a website and possibly generating a small amount of money.” Reilly advises. It doesn’t necessarily mean you quit your day job. “After I quit my job, I was looking for something temporary and ended up picking up some extra money teaching soccer camp on Saturdays. I ended up making more money in a day than some of my friends were making in a week,” he says. Don’t limit your possibilities and, once you identify your passions, allocate some time to nurture them by starting a blog or volunteering. “The whole thing is you cannot predict where stuff might take you.”

Don’t Settle

During times of economic crisis, most people are quick to take the first job offer they get. This may not be the best way to engage in a career. Reilly notes that many people toil away at companies where they don’t feel like a stakeholder. “We seem to opt into everything else, from what we eat for dinner and what we watch on television. But with work, we take whatever is available,” he notes. Instead he recommends focusing on firms with goals beyond the bottom line, such as a dedication to social change, sustainable resources and innovation. “Everyone seems to be applying to the same companies, but I recommend working for a small business. There is a new breed of business out there.” Finding the right company will make it easier to enhance your skill set and move up the corporate ladder.

Rage Against the Machine

Reilly spent a considerable amount of time with Shawn Fanning, the founder of Napster (better known as the geek-turned-playboy in the film The Social Network). Fanning, who currently works on a variety of businesses as an investor/consultant, is a perfect example of an individual who acts, as Reilly puts it, a “disrupter.” Fanning doesn’t assume knowledge, but constantly questions how things are done and why they are done. He also avoids confining himself to imaginary boundaries. This means networking with those outside your industry and taking on new opportunities regardless of the short-term outcome.

Fail, Seriously

Shaking the world requires a risk and may not immediately lead to a corner office suite. “I consider myself an entrepreneurial person and, while I was growing my business, I was dabbling in other stuff. All of them failed, but I learned a ton.” The trick is to use the lessons from failed attempts and apply them to current efforts. Ultimately, Reilly says, “it’s about latching onto what we find interesting, taking risks and challenging ourselves. Even in a small way, we can accomplish more.”

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