Meet Andrew Yang. He’s the founder of a marketing execution firm called 3 Avenues. His focus is on using technology and creativity to help his clients launch themselves forward. Fun fact, he originally wanted to be an astronaut or an astrophysicist, and he didn’t actually end up studying business in school. He graduated from Queen’s University with a degree in… math.
Math is super cool and all, but what? That’s pretty unorthodox. But we’ve just hit the tip of the iceberg.
Andrew is the founder of the FLOW dance club in Kingston, now one of the largest organizations of its kind. Of course, that means he’s pretty good at dancing. So good, he once performed as the opening act for a certain Canadian band by the name of Hedley.
20,000 people? No. Big. Deal.
We talk about his experiences being bullied, being broke, and everything in between. So I hope you enjoy Nick’s interview series with Andrew. The motto is “I like to have fun with everything I do…. And make a little bit of money, too”
Introduction. What is your company about?
This is where Nick get roasted for sounding really awkward. Andrew finds this hilarious and starts laughing his head off.
Andrew is the co-founder of a marketing execution company called three avenues. He hated seeing companies and small mid-sized businesses getting scarred and screwed over by small web development and graphic design businesses calling themselves digital marketing. Essentially, Andrew’s company helps these smaller businesses by providing real marketing expertise from real marketers.
He ventured on this entrepreneurship path because that’s where his career led him: to become a marketing technology expert. It was destiny. It just made sense. Andrew dislikes working for other people and has the drive to work on his own, so starting and running his own business is perfect for him.
What was your career path that led you to where you are right now?
Andrew has always liked to keep busy. Since the age of 14, he has had 50 different jobs. In university, he started a dance organization called FLOW. He went from teaching a single class to now being the largest hip-hop dance organization at Queen’s. It has now been running for 11 years.
Andrew attributed the success of FLOW to good marketing and being able to get his word out. So, with his math degree and a passion for marketing, he applied to various marketing positions. His first job was a marketing coordinator at a software firm, then he got promoted to a marketing technologist. After two years, he quit to pursue “his own thing.”
He decided to start his own business in web development, but, unfortunately, it didn’t work out. He went back to work as a marketing technologist for 3 different firms, but again, he realized that he didn’t like working for other people, so he quit.
With his drive for entrepreneurship and a passion for marketing technology and execution, Andrew started his business, three avenues. Fast forward 3 years, Andrew is still passionate about working on 3 avenues.
What took you so long to find your perfect career? How did you know that this was what you wanted to do?
It is crazy how different marketing tech was from what Andrew wanted to do in high school. He wanted to work for NASA or SNOW laboratory where he would do research, figure out string theory, and all this other stuff. Originally applied to Queen’s, Waterloo, McMaster, to study astrophysics. He soon discovered that he loved to work with the numbers but absolutely hated the labs. HATED THEM. Liking the analytical stuff made it easy for him to transition into a math degree which he graduated with. His path through education was flexible [so don’t worry about ‘making the wrong decision’ yet!]
Don’t get us wrong, this was process was very hard. Fortunately, Andrew knew that he understood himself from an early age. Growing up, he saw family members who did not enjoy their career, even though they made money. He didn’t want to waste his life away in the same manner.
Andrew has been working since he was 14, having a variety of different jobs. He used to teach math and reading to children, and really loved being able to help them grow.
The takeaway? It takes almost a lifetime to figure out what you want to do. If you’re close enough to what you think it is, then go ahead and try it out! There is no harm is disliking it because you can always move on and try something else.
Many students are trying to figure out what they what to do with their life, especially with university looming. Based on your experiences, is there something that will help them decide?
Experience anything and everything you can and as early as possible. Andrew has done many different things amongst his 50 jobs: he has taught dance and music classes and even done a couple of radio shows and tv. He tried so many things when he was younger (around age 16) because he knew that the things he does in his 20’s will set him up for the rest of his life.
It is important to learn who you are as an individual and how to have fun. Having fun is very important. In order to learn, you have to experience everything you possibly can in terms of your career, social life, hobbies, and people you want to be around. Learn as much as you can. Meet as many people as you can and learn from their own experiences.
There might be something you will love out there in the world, but you may not know it exists. Experience as much as possible to find what you love.
You’re young, you have energy. Just go out there and do it [#noregrets]
Any crazy stories from dance?
No biggie, but Andrew has open for Hedley, in front of 20000 people.
He talks about dance so often because it has “literally taught [him] so much.” It was an outlet for him to express who he was without having to explain it. He grew up being a really shy, sheltered kid with strict parents. When he got to Queen’s, he knew he wanted to “get out there.”
Dance gave him a confidence boost because if he could get up on stage and dance in front of 100, 5000, even 20000 people, then he could certainly sit down and have a conversation with just one.
Dance undeniably helped him in every aspect of his life.
20000 people? How did that happen?
Hedley came to Kingston, and they asked around town to see if there were a couple of dancers and couple of opening acts that people have heard of. Word got around, and they asked Andrew and his crew to perform. And so they did, and it was epic
What advice do you have for students who are struggling with their confidence?
Confidence is a thing that you have to force yourself to work on and give yourself a goal.
Andrew was a shy person, and so he forced himself to meet people. At his first networking event, he was visibly nervous, drenching every hand he shook in sweat. Still, he forced himself to go to a 2000-person event hosted by Google. He set a goal of talking to at least one person, otherwise, he would not go home satisfied. Talking to his first person of the night got the ball rolling. Even though Andrew had no clue as to what he was doing, he knew he could do it. So he did it again, and again.
Before he knew it, people were coming up to him on the street asking “wassup, Andrew?” At first, he would have no idea who they were, but after a brief conversation, they would both know each other. He had succeeded.
Another big thing is to truly know yourself. If you know what irritates you then you know which conversation to walk away from. You know who you should become friends with.
One more tidbit: walking away is a sign of confidence.
How do you balance confidence with humbleness?
Don’t be materialistic. Under-promise and then over-deliver. Set expectations low.
When someone asks about you, what do you say?
“I work with a few companies, no big deal”
Some people may find you pretentious. How do you respond to that?
“You can’t fix that. But I try to set my tone down and just let the other person talk more about themselves.” (Side note: the more questions you ask about other people, the easier it is to connect and thus be confident)
You will meet people who you know are confident but will be complete jerks because they let their ego run them. The key to staying humble is understanding and acknowledging the hustle and grind it takes to become successful and happy.
Some people see success in terms of materialistic things like money. How do you define success?
Success = Freedom
Just recently, Andrew realized that he wasn’t in entrepreneurship to become the next millionaire or billionaire. Yes, he did want to make some money, maybe build a 10-20 million dollar business, and have people who enjoy working for him. But, he values entrepreneurship because of the freedom it gives him.
Andrew isn’t restricted to a 9-to-5 job, so he can go out whenever he wants. Of course, he still has to get all his work done, but he gets to meet people, have a variety of clients, and pick and choose who he works with.
Truly being happy by targeting and reaching the goals you want out of life is essential. For Andrew, working for other people may not have been the problem. It could simply have been the environment: people watching and judging all the time. He understands the value of his work. His clients understand the value of his work. He realized that he doesn’t need a middleman executive telling him what he needs to change.
Being an entrepreneur, he can have a direct relationship with his clients, and that is what he truly enjoys. Obviously, money plays a role because you have to afford food, but freedom is key. If Andrew was motivated by money he “would be building every single technology and trying to sell it to Google. Right now.”
There is a trend of people who want the sort of lifestyle and freedom that is associated with entrepreneurship. Do you have any tips? Or mythbusters?
There are a lot of news on the internet about entrepreneurship, hustling, and being the next billionaire. Andrew advises not to take these at face-value and fall into the same pit he did. The thing is, these are all product-based. Andrew, on the other hand, is service-based. He has to sell his knowledge. There are not enough articles out there discussing services. There is little out there for artists, musicians, marketers, accountants, etc…
Many articles say “Just work harder. Hustle. invest cash wisely.” But what the heck does this all mean? They don’t give any tangible actions. How do you work harder? How do you hustle harder? Do you even have to work harder?
Andrew’s biggest tip is to set a goal and know what you want. Knowing what you want is key because it will help you set a goal you will actually work towards and achieve. Next, find the right motivation: it doesn’t have to be money. If you enjoy traveling the world, center your goal around that. There are so many opportunities out there.
Stop believing in the hype. Believing will cause delusion. This is the reason so many entrepreneurs fail. They jump on the hype train, then they get screwed over. There are some people out there who are better suited for a 9-to-5 job, and if that is you, stick to it. “If you want to be an entrepreneur, just get ready to be screwed over.”
Finally, you have to be able to appreciate success and failure. If you cannot accept failure, and you let it emotionally drain you, then you are not fit to be an entrepreneur… yet. The more you accept failure and accept that you are not reaching your goals, then you will be a successful entrepreneur in your own right. It all comes down to how much you understand who you are.
Would you say that you have experienced this?
Andrew says that he has definitely been there. It got to a point where putting food on the table was a struggle. It turns into a humbling experience.
Sometimes you question yourself like ” maybe I wasn’t meant to be an entrepreneur,” but you push through. That is when you are truly successful. You’ve overcome self-doubt. You accept failure and learn from it. This was one of the scariest moments in Andrew’s life.
Do you think creativity can be learned?
The only creative thing Andrew did as a kid was music class. Dance taught him to stop following the mold of everyone else and to build his own style and combination of moves. You have to train and copy from other people at some point to learn the foundations, but you get to that point where you know enough to start experimenting.
You aren’t born creative. People have to learn how to be, but with the many resources available today, it is easier than ever.
What is the most important thing for students to learn in this day and age?
Learn to experience the world around you. Everybody is influenced by their environment. But stop letting external factors determine who you are. If you don’t know who you are, what you want, then you are just chasing something endlessly.
Unplug and reflect. With phones and the internet, you are exposed to so much. Take a break to realize that there is a lot going on around you, but you need to know what is going on with you.
Don’t simply get your opinions from articles and the internet. Defend your opinions based on your own personal experiences. If you don’t filter stuff out, you are going to lose yourself to external factors.
You mentioned you are the sum of your environment. How do you make an environment in which you will be successful?
A lot of your foundation is set by how you grew up as a child. But in high school, you start to form opinions and squabble. You know who you don’t like, and this is when all the drama starts. Drama is just conflict you don’t know how to deal with.
Learn to accept your likes and dislikes, and then surround yourself with things you like.
For example, Andrew doesn’t like people who always complain and are just flat out negative people, so he just doesn’t associate with them. Simple.
You need to set a goal for yourself to discover what makes you happy, and it all comes back down to experience as much as you can.
How do you set goals for yourself? What is your goal right now?
In the long-term, Andrew’s goal is to build a 20 million dollar business. He wants to travel the world when he is 4o, own a couple of properties, and flip houses all while living in the country with a dog and a family off the grid.
His short-term financial goals include building his business to 1 million dollars by the end of the year, 5 million in 3 years, and 12 million in 5 years.
But the most important goal he has is making sure he doesn’t lose sight of happiness and freedom. If you lose that, then you essential just built yourself another job instead of being an entrepreneur. He wants a career he can be happy in.
Going back into time, with what you know now, what would you do differently and what would you do differently?
There is nothing Andrew would do differently. He hated high school because he got bullied almost to the point of depression. Despite this, he learned from this and became a stronger person.
But the reason why he is successful today is that the bullies made him realize that he did not want to be like them. The experience motivated him to give back to his community (including doing this podcast with us!).
Andrew always likes to tell people that every time you hit a failure, you can either let it bring you down or let it motivate you to become a better human being. He just had a tendency to keep being a better person.
His ultimate message is to think long-term. Use these negative experiences to motivate you to create a better future for yourself. After high school, even university, you have the opportunity to start new. Use your opportunities in school to build the person you want to be and find the people you want to hang around with.
Think long-term –> make long-term goals –> always have something to aspire to. Nothing will bring you down from there.
Thank you, Andrew, for sitting down and sharing great advice with us! Big shout out to Nick for this amazing podcast!