1918 – Unlocking Your Potential with Jeff Lerner

Lerner Wide

In this episode of the Thoughtful Entrepreneur, your host Josh Elledge speaks with the Founder and CEO of ENTRE Institute, Jeff Lerner.

Jeff is the founder and CEO of Entre Institute, an author, musician, podcaster, husband, and father. His early experiences performing in affluent homes inspired his pursuit of entrepreneurship, drawing parallels between jazz improvisation and business innovation.

Jeff openly shares his struggles during the 2008 recession, which left him deeply indebted, but these challenges paved the way for his recovery. He found success in the internet economy through online marketing and lead generation, leading to the creation of a digital agency that he later sold, allowing him to retire at 39.

Jeff emphasizes the importance of freedom and creativity, which motivated him to start the Entre Institute. This educational platform focuses on reshaping the mindsets and skills of aspiring entrepreneurs.

Key Points from the Episode:

  • Jeff Lerner's personal journey and experiences as an entrepreneur and leader
  • Jeff's unconventional path to success and his transition into the online marketing and lead generation industry
  • The establishment of Entre Institute, an entrepreneurial education platform
  • Key skills essential for entrepreneurial success, including technical, organizational, and human skills
  • Introduction to love-based leadership and nonviolent communication as transformative concepts in work environments
  • Resources available for aspiring entrepreneurs and business leaders, including Jeff's book and the Entre Institute's YouTube channel

About Jeff Lerner:

Jeff Lerner's journey from a struggling jazz musician to a distinguished entrepreneur with over $100 million in online sales exemplifies a dramatic transformation driven by his “3 Ps of Success” (Physical, Personal, & Professional). His tale has amassed a considerable social media following and motivated millions to take charge of their futures. In 2019, he founded the ENTRE Institute, an innovative educational platform dedicated to entrepreneurship, which has since instructed over 150,000 students and earned a place on the INC 5000 list under his leadership.

Beyond education, Jeff has continuously expanded his entrepreneurial pursuits to address specific needs within his community. In 2021, he launched Entresoft, a popular small business software suite, to alleviate significant pain points for his students. Simultaneously, Jeff contributes to various initiatives, including hosting a top 100 business podcast and actively growing his YouTube channel. Despite his business commitments, Jeff remains a devoted husband and father, ensuring he spends quality time with his four children and continuing his passion for playing the piano daily.

About ENTRE Institute:

ENTRE Institute positions itself as a pioneering platform, uniquely blending entrepreneurship education with life design since its inception in 2019. The institute differentiates itself with its holistic approach, offering an all-in-one solution for entrepreneurs keen on building successful ventures. This encompasses a comprehensive suite of services, including education, coaching, community engagement, software, and live events—all designed to help entrepreneurs achieve their business goals.

At the core of ENTRE's educational philosophy is the provision of “Transformational Education” delivered by successful entrepreneurs. This method ensures that learning is transactional and transformative, aiming to change students' personal and professional lives profoundly. ENTRE emphasizes a well-rounded development strategy focusing on physical, personal, and professional growth, ensuring that entrepreneurs achieve success and fulfillment. This approach is supported by a strong community, ENTRE Nation, fostering connections that contribute to immediate success and lasting legacies.

Tweetable Moments:

02:18 – “I always felt disconnected, and I view that as a huge blessing because it led me to ask questions most people never even consider.”

14:24 – “Until work is a loving environment, we're not going to be fully loving people.”

Links Mentioned in this Episode:

Want to learn more? Check out ENTRE Institute’s website at

Check out ENTRE Institute on LinkedIn at

Check out ENTRE Institute on Facebook at

Check out ENTRE Institute on Instagram at

Check out Jeff Lerner’s website at

Check out Jeff Lerner on LinkedIn at

Check out Jeff Lerner on Facebook at

Check out Jeff Lerner on Twitter at

Check out Jeff Lerner on Instagram at

Check out Jeff Lerner on Youtube at

Check out Jeff Lerner’s book “Unlock Your Potential” at

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Josh (00:00:05) - Hey there, thoughtful listener. Are you looking for introductions to partners, investors, influencers and clients? Well, I've had private conversations with over 2000 leaders asking them where their best business comes from. I've got a free video you can watch with no opt in required, where I'll share the exact steps necessary to be 100% inbound in your industry over the next 6 to 8 months, with no spam, no ads, and no sales. What I teach has worked for me for over 15 years and has helped me create eight figures in revenue for my own companies. Just head to up my influence comm and watch my free class on how to create endless high ticket sales appointments. Also, don't forget the thoughtful entrepreneur is always looking for great guests. Go to up my influence. Com and click on podcast. I'd love to have you. With us right now. It is the founder and CEO of Entre Institute and the author of the book Unlock Your Potential The Ultimate Guide for Creating Your Dream Life in the Modern World.

Josh (00:01:17) - It's Jeff Lerner. Jeff, thank you so much for joining us.

Jeff (00:01:20) - Thank you Josh, grateful to be here.

Josh (00:01:22) - I would love to hear it from you. about you know, who you are in the world, your impact, who you serve. and again, I just say it's great to have you thank you for the work that you've done to inspire and lead and guide, you know, great entrepreneurs who just trying to make their mark in the world as well.

Jeff (00:01:40) - No, I appreciate that. yeah. I'll give you the, the, the quick version and then you can ask me to double click or expand on anything you want. yeah. I think I'm a I'm a guy that had a sense at an early age that, we were, I don't know, forgive the terminology, but we were kind of living in a matrix, and maybe there was more than than meets the eye, and I really, I mean, that I had this palpable sense at an early age that, like, I don't I don't know if I like, am I on the right planet? Am I sure this is supposed to be where I'm supposed to be? And I literally used to have dreams that aliens were coming down to check on me because they had left me behind, either intentionally or by accident.

Jeff (00:02:18) - Like, like, I mean, it was very visceral. and I think some of that stemmed from I was born with a genetic disorder called Wattenberg Syndrome. And, so I kind of looked like a little different growing up and, you know, looking different amongst children. It's not always such a positive thing. Right? I'm sure some of us have seen or read Lord of the flies, and, you know, they can be pretty brutal. so I just always felt, like, disconnected. And so I actually view that as a huge blessing because I spent my whole, youth asking questions, you know, sort of, I think of like a, I was a fish questioning water when in a world where most fish didn't even know what water was because it's the only, you know, it's their entire existence. And I'm like, wait, what is this? This does. And so fast forward all that, like I dropped out of high school. Not because I was, you know, into gangs or drugs, but because I was literally like, I feel like I'm on.

Jeff (00:03:10) - I'm in. I'm part of an assembly line that is trying to construct me. I'll reference the Clockwork Orange concept of Anthony Burgess. Like they're trying to mold me into this cog to fit into this societal machine or this economic engine to to get a job and to take on the student debt and to, you know, hold out for retirement so that I can, you know, play some golf, some like none of it made sense to me. And so I dropped out to pursue a, an emergent dream. It wasn't like a thing I had thought about, but at the time I was like, oh, man, if I'm going to if I'm going to get out of the system, let's call it, I got to have a fallback plan. Well, what could I do that would give me maximum freedom? Both, circumstantially like to travel or, you know, survive wherever and also within the work itself. I would feel free and expressive and creative. So I decided to become a jazz musician.

Jeff (00:04:02) - So I dropped out of high school and became a jazz musician. And I had, a really nice career in my 20s. I mean, I'm skipping over a lot of details, but I, you know, I was able to make a good living, a decent living for a jazz musician, which is not very good for anything else. But, in my 20s, I survived as a jazz musician, and I started getting gigs in the homes of very, very wealthy, successful people. I got in with this one agency that started booking me for private parties in the homes of literally some billionaires and CEOs. I played. I played a gig in the CFO, of Enron's house about two years before that all collapsed. Like, you know, some crazy stuff, right? And, and I was exposed to this world where I'm like. I'm like, These people, they seem kind of free to, like, they're not worried about, you know, making it to the the morning commute or I got to go to bed early because my boss is going to be mad, like, and they actually know how they're going to pay their rent at the end of the month, unlike me.

Jeff (00:05:02) - In fact, they own their own home and in fact, their home is worth $20 million. So what if they figured out that I didn't? And I started created this connection between jazz, you know, creative improvisation on top of established forms and concepts where you kind of take the known, but you reinvent it in the moment, like, oh, that's kind of like entrepreneurship. Like there's fundamentals to business, but unlike most people that are just sort of subject to those fundamentals, these are the people that get to conduct it and create it, and they make a lot of money. So I got sort of romanticized this idea of becoming an entrepreneur. And so while I was playing gigs at night, I was always starting businesses during the day. I was undercapitalized, I didn't know what I was doing, and I failed over and over and over. And then in 2008, after landing in a mountain of debt because I had borrowed money during the Great Recession to open these franchise restaurants, and then the whole economy crashed.

Jeff (00:06:00) - So I was like half $1 million in debt as a piano player. I discovered the world of the, the internet, basically the internet economy. And I started doing things like affiliate marketing and e-commerce and, you know, selling digital products. And I got, you know, well, I guess I have a knack sitting at a keyboard, whether it's being a self-taught jazz musician or a self-taught internet marketer. And I, I literally paid off $495,000 in debt in 18 months from 2008 to 2010. And so, as you can imagine, that was just like a massive reset of my life. And it was really good that happened because not only was I in so much debt, but I had started to develop arthritis in my wrist. and I was not going to be able to have a career, a lifelong career as a pianist. And so, I paid off all this debt. And then basically since then, since 2010, I've been doing well. From 2010 to 2018, I did a number of different things that that would all be considered part of the online economy.

Jeff (00:06:57) - and most notably, from 2013 to 2018, I had a digital agency where we provided online marketing and lead generation services and reputation management services for small and medium sized businesses. that agency ended up servicing about 11,000 customers over almost six years. So it was a pretty high volume business. and I was able to create some really good processes to deliver these products at scale. and then I was able to sell that because we had such a big customer list, I was able to sell that, not the business, but just the customer list itself. I was able to sell to a software company that wanted those customers for its software. And it was cool because its software basically replaced what we were providing as a service. So it was a very smooth transfer. and that. Gave me an exit at 39 years old, and I was basically retired in 2018. And started looking at my life and going, man, in the last ten years. Well, first of all, I dropped out of high school. You're not supposed to do that.

Jeff (00:07:56) - and then went through all this stuff. I basically did everything you're not supposed to do, right? I didn't I didn't run one play out of the book that they give you as a kid to say, this is how to have a successful life. And yet there I was at 39 years old, retired, successful, content and free, which had always been my primary currency. I'd always valued freedom more than and creativity more than money. That's why I became a jazz musician. And it's like, Holy crap, this gamble worked. that started all the way back at 16 when I dropped out of high school. And so I started creating social media content to kind of tell the world, you know, a longer version of that story and, and some stuff I'd figured out along the way and some theories that I felt like I had kind of pressure tested and validated that, like, there really is kind of a matrix, and I don't really think the world is designed the way they tell you. And I think that we are steering a lot of children wrong and that we as adults have a lot of angst because to some degree we were steered wrong by the conventional thinking of ages past being being issued to us inside a world that was rapidly changing, but we were being taught by people that didn't understand that.

Jeff (00:09:02) - And so we're all now we're just confused, like, how come we're getting to 65 years old and the math isn't penciling out. We can't retire when we did everything we were supposed to do. And so I kind of built this framework of, of call it re-engineering our mindsets and our, our life skills and our professional skills to, you know, if it broke jazz musician can make millions of dollars on the internet. Presumably more mature professional people could do. And that grew into what is now an institute which, after five years, has enrolled 280,000 students and as far as I know, might be the largest entrepreneurial education platform in the world. So.

Josh (00:09:37) - Well, congratulations on that. You know, getting to that topic of, you know, great advice that entrepreneurs can follow, I'm sure you see things or ideas discussed or taught or sold, that maybe not necessarily would fall in alignment with what you teach. Would you mind maybe, just maybe, sharing some philosophical direction or, you know, kind of strategic direction of, you know, in terms of like what I see working well today for an entrepreneur who wants to make it, please try to focus more on this and less on maybe some of these other things that you're hearing.

Josh (00:10:11) - What would be some of those key things that come to mind for you?

Jeff (00:10:15) - Yeah, I appreciate that. So I think first and foremost, I have, I've identified, there's really three main buckets of skills into which, you know, that ultimately roll up into the entrepreneurial success equation. And first is the technical skills specific to whatever the business it does, the product or or services. Right? I mean, that could be everything from knowing how to unclog a septic system. If you're in that business to knowing how to run ads on the internet, if you're at a digital, you know, an e-commerce business to, you know, knowing how to, you know, fill a tooth if you're a dentist, right. Those are the technical skills. And then you have the call it the the organizational or leader. Actually, leadership is probably a straddling word. So let's call it the organizational or the the broader entrepreneurial skills. Right. How to structure a business. How to how to hire, how to, manage people, how to benchmark what you pay people, how you know, how to correlate headcount to revenue, how to there's like, you know what? And some of this is, is somewhat technical in nature.

Jeff (00:11:29) - Like what communication platform should I use to manage a remote organization. Right. Like there's all this other stuff that I think you would say, oh, that's what you learn in MBA school or management. It's like how to how to build a business that's totally different from how to deliver a product or service within a business, the technical skills. Right. But then and so those are the two I think people start with one. They start with the technical skill of how to do a thing, and then they go, okay, I want to I want to build a business to do the thing, create some leverage. So I'm going to learn these organizational skills, how to scale the thing or do the thing across more people than just me. But there's a third bucket of skills. Which are the human skills. And that's where I said leadership, I think, is a straddling word. And so I rescinded it because that straddles between the organizational skills and the human skills. Right. How to create an environment in which people.

Jeff (00:12:20) - But want to want to work with you and align with you for reasons beyond a paycheck. How to create an environment in which. People actually feel like their life is is progressing and that they're growing and developing as human beings during the time that they're in your employ, or that they're working in your organization, rather than the typical transactional mindset of I go to work, I clock in, I do my job, I get my pay, I clock out, and then I go home and I live my life like, how do you how is leaders? Do we start to lead organizations that actually help make individual humans better and by extension, make the world better within the fulfillment and delivery of our product or, you know, XYZ service. And that has grown. That's actually the thing that I'm most passionate about and has grown into a concept that I now, I now teach and evangelize called love based leadership, which I actually think, you know, the biggest challenge that I think we have in the world today, I'm going to pontificate for about 60s and then I'll stop is that we're all trying.

Jeff (00:13:28) - Like I think I think we've become pretty aware around mental health, trauma, generational trauma, even epigenetics and how we carry trauma. And and even this term, micro trauma, which, you know, is a little bit of a weaponization, but it's like not all trauma is like a rape or a murder, like trauma could be just something that happens when we're a kid. We don't understand and we draw a wrong conclusion, and then we carry that conclusion for the rest of our life and make bad choices on the basis of that. Right. But like, we've all kind of and the way epigenetics, we carry this stuff through generations, like we've all kind of become somewhat aware of that. But there still is this bifurcation in society that like, hey, you know, shut all that down, go do your work, do a good job, get paid, and then go home and deal with your stuff. Don't bring it to work. And. But the reality of most human lives is that work is the greatest expenditure of time and energy that will have.

Jeff (00:14:24) - And so until we figure out a way to be love based and very messily human, and have that be safe and okay within the context of work and not only safe and okay, but even embraced and nurtured and and valued within the context of work. We're not really going to heal this world. We're not going to heal society. We're not going to heal as individuals. Because if you're having to park yourself for ten hours a day so that you can go endure the job because your workplace is very, you know, mercenary or let's call it inhumane. you know, we're at the we are a product of our environment. And until the until work is a loving environment, we're not going to be fully loving people.

Josh (00:15:07) - And in our own organizations. Now, speaking to business leaders who listen to this program, like if we want to instill more of that within our culture. you know, if you were to sum up maybe two action items that that a leader could do, anything immediately come to mind.

Jeff (00:15:26) - Yeah.

Jeff (00:15:26) - And this is where, entrer. My my business has been a pretty big experiment, let's say, where I've tried to. You know, I will say, as an entrepreneur, it's nice to start a company when you don't need the money. Because you can sort of try things and it takes some of the pressure off. And at Entrer, you know, I skipped the part of the story where my, my, my third wife, my current wife, my, my wife, who I believe is truly the one, who I met was as a single mom who had three kids and I was coming off a divorce and somewhat of a spoiled, entitled, you know, just person that didn't know better. I'm not going to be too hard on myself. And again, I skipped some of that story. But, you know, we did a lot of therapy together, and we decided that those are her kids who are now my kids were worth we're worth figuring ourselves out for. And, that's where I installed a lot of the foundations that have grown into these love based leadership ideas that are pretty anchored to, you know, real like bona fide psychology, whether it's Adlerian that came, you know, post Freud, Alfred Adler, the, the work of Albert Ellis and rational emotive behavior therapy that Martin Seligman and positive psychology.

Jeff (00:16:39) - I've kind of melded this stuff from psychology and human development and tried to weave it into entrepreneurial theory and essentially create a way to operationalize it inside of work, not just in our homes. and that's my love based leadership principles. But, so I've taken some concepts that are the kinds of concepts you get exposed to and let's say marriage counseling. And I've tried to draw them in. And the number one, probably the biggest one that I would say in answer to your question is a school of communication theory called Nonviolent Communication, which is based on the work of a psychologist named Marshall Rosenberg. And. Essentially to operationalize a leadership style within a work environment. That, first of all, is is not just nominally, but in true, it literally even to the level of spirit is about servant leadership. It's kind of the inverted pyramid where it's not top down management, it's bottom up service where the the CEO is, is actually at the bottom saying, I'm holding up my team in service and support and love, right? I mean, it's basically like, if Jesus ran a business, how would he do it? It's just I mean, to just be blunt is kind of what I'm trying to to solve for, but, but but Nonviolent Communication is this incredibly elegant communication framework that literally creates healing.

Jeff (00:18:11) - And nurturing simply through ordinary language. And I would just encourage anybody. I mean, if I say, you know, observations, feelings, needs and requests is the kind of the NVC framework you can have any conversation, no matter how difficult. You can have a downsizing conversation. You can have a cost cutting conversation. You can have a a performance, you know, a subpar performance assessment conversation through needs, feelings, observations or sorry, observations, feelings, needs, requests, framework and basically to install nonviolent communication in corporate America or in corporate Earth. Would completely transform the world. And having done so in Entrer, I can tell you that, you know, I get I have people at Entrer that they take pay cuts to work at Entrer. They come in from from fortune 500, even fortune 100 organizations. I mean, we're a, you know, we're a medium sized business, you know, 40, $50 million a year run rate. And I have people on my executive team that come from NBC Universal and Amazon and LinkedIn because they're like, this is just such.

Jeff (00:19:21) - I've never experienced a culture like this, and NVC is a big part of that.

Josh (00:19:25) - Yeah. Jeff, I hate to wrap up so quickly, but we're out of time. I want to make sure that folks know where they go next. obviously there's your podcast, which we didn't talk about. We haven't even talked about the book. obviously there's an institute in that website is Entrer Institute. Com you have a really great YouTube channel, which I just subscribed to. Jeff, where else would you recommend that people go from here?

Jeff (00:19:53) - I think it kind of depends on the audience. if somebody has a business and they. And they want to learn more about these concepts, and how to start to sort of transform their business through their transformation of themselves as a leader and a, and a servant. the YouTube channel is definitely the place. I think if somebody is more aspirationally, an entrepreneur, like, listening, like I would, I would love to branch out or be able to quit my job or start a thing that could grow into to a life, that that them I would send to my book.

Jeff (00:20:25) - Unlock your potential is truly for the the person that wants to live a different sort of life, but feels very boxed in to the roadmap they were given in school and, you know, by most people. Again, most fish don't even know how to describe life outside of water, and the book would be a place to start.

Josh (00:20:43) - Great Jeff Lerner again, your entrepreneur, musician, author, podcaster, husband, father your websites. Well, first off, to our friend that's listening to our podcast, just search for Unlock Your Potential with Jeff Lerner. Jeff, your website, I've got Jeff Lerner official. Com and I mentioned Entrer Institute. Com and of course, your book is Unlock Your Potential The Ultimate Guide for Creating Your Dream life in the Modern World. Jeff Lerner. Thank you so much for joining us.

Jeff (00:21:10) - Thank you. Josh.

Josh (00:21:17) - Thanks for listening to the Thoughtful Entrepreneur show. If you are a thoughtful business owner or professional who would like to be on this daily program, please visit up my influence.

Josh (00:21:28) - Com and click on podcast. We believe that every person has a message that can positively impact the world. We love our community who listens and shares our program every day. Together, we are empowering one another as thoughtful leaders. And as I mentioned at the beginning of this program, if you're looking for introductions to partners, investors, influencers, and clients, I have had private conversations with over 2000 leaders asking them where their best business comes from. I've got a free video that you can watch right now with no opt in or email required, where I'm going to share the exact steps necessary to be 100% inbound in your industry over the next 6 to 8 months, with no spam, no ads, and no sales. What I teach has worked for me for more than 15 years and has helped me create eight figures in revenue for my own companies. Just head to up my influence. Com and watch my free class on how to create endless high ticket sales appointments. Make sure to hit subscribe so that tomorrow morning.

Josh (00:22:34) - That's right, seven days a week you are going to be inspired and motivated to succeed. I promise to bring positivity and inspiration to you for around 15 minutes every single day. Thanks for listening and thank you for being a part of the Thoughtful Entrepreneur movement.

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