From being a BYU–Hawaii senior with no idea what the future held, to helping to build a company in a loft above a brewery, to being the CEO of a successful company, Corey Blake shared how students can succeed in entrepreneurship, including facing immense pressure and finding their ‘why’ of business. Blake, CEO of MWI and Entrepreneur in Residence at BYUH spoke on Jan. 10 as part of the Willes Entrepreneurship Lecture Series.
Blake explained, “Understanding the intense amount of pressure that comes with entrepreneurship, it is crucially important that before you start on this journey you understand you're going to have a lot of pressure. It is important to know your ‘why.’ Your ‘why,’ in my opinion, is what gets you out of bed in the morning. It is what keeps you motivated when things are difficult.”
He then showed pictures of his wife and kids. “This is my ‘why.’ I tell my company this all the time, and I tell other people this all the time: No matter how much I love my business, no matter how much I love serving as a missionary or an Entrepreneur in Residence, none of that matters compared to this. This is the reason I wake up in the morning. This is the reason I work hard. I remember that at all times and in all things and in all places.”
Sharing the analogy of a diamond being formed, he said, “A diamond is a beautiful thing. It is the most cherished thing we have in the world. The way I can explain how a diamond is formed is carbon has an insane amount of pressure over a long, long time. This ugly piece of carbon eventually turns into a beautiful diamond.
“My experience in entrepreneurship is I’ve watched other people, and I’ve seen myself, in moments of intense pressure. In these moments of intense pressure, when it feels like you don’t know if you can pull it off, two things can happen. One is that a diamond is formed and you learn a gem of experience or you take a next step in your profession. Or you explode when you go through the pressure.”
Blake showed a picture of a person with their head on their desk and their computer over their head in frustration. “The reason it’s important to know your ‘why’ is this is where you're going to find yourself at some point as an entrepreneur. In fact, just yesterday I called Bridgette and I said, with my head on the table, ‘I need a pep talk.’ I was overwhelmed, I had a sinus infection, I was sick, stressed. She, being awesome, gave me a pep talk. She said, ‘Take it one day at a time.’
“This is very much entrepreneurship. Anybody who has done anything entrepreneurial knows there are times you just want to chuck your chair across the room or throw your phone against the wall. You really want to give up. In these moments, if you don’t know your ‘why,’ if you don’t have a good foundation, it will be easy to give up. If you have a solid ‘why’ you will be able to push through.”
Blake shared a picture of himself, saying, “At this point I was a senior at BYU–Hawaii. I took this picture from the car dreading getting out of the car to knock on a door to sell a security system to make a little bit of money to make ends meet … I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.”
His wife, Bridgette Blake, explained how after moving to Hawaii in 2012 for work, Blake enrolled at BYUH as an international cultural studies major, graduating in 2014.
Blake said he chose this major because, “Even though it made no sense for my profession, I followed promptings to study something that felt true to my core and divine nature. It was something I knew would really ring true for me.”
He said although he was about to graduate with a degree he couldn’t put to use, he didn’t give up. “I continued to learn opportunities are all around you. At this moment, there are opportunities all around you. Ask for those opportunities.
“After you ask for those things you need to seek them out. Don’t just ask and then sit there. Ask and then actively look. After you’ve sought them out, find them, and get to work. I cannot stress the last three words enough. Get to work. It is not enough to ask, seek, find, and get there. You have to ask, seek, find, and get to work.”
Blake said this might sound familiar to audience members because it is echoes Matthew 7:7, which reads, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”
He shared, “Opportunities are all around you. At that moment, I was a BYU–Hawaii senior, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was looking for opportunities. I was actively seeking out these opportunities.”
He explained how his opportunity came when his brother-in-law, whom he didn’t know very well, approached him and asked him to help with sales for his company Full Occupancy.
Blake said his experience with Full Occupancy led him to a company that wanted SEO. Not knowing what SEO was, Blake said yes anyway, knowing Josh Steimle had experience with SEO. Steimle explained how he actually had a company called MWI which specialized in SEO, but it was nothing more than a website. Blake started selling for MWI, with nothing more than an iPad, waking up at 4 a.m. to make calls.
From there, Blake and Steimle began building up MWI, beginning with meetings in a room they rented above a brewery in Chicago.
On the MWI website, Steimle writes, “In 2013 we almost went out of business. I had a partnership that fell through and I had lost focus on MWI. But as they say, it’s darkest just before the dawn. The challenges motivated me to find my partner, Corey Blake, and together we rebooted MWI. I began writing for Forbes and other publications, and between 2013 and 2014 Corey and I grew MWI by over one thousand percent. Today we have offices around the U.S. as well as in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Shenzhen, China with more on the way.”
Blake said, “I'm still completely in over my head, and I’m still completely loving it … All these experiences would not have happened if I hadn’t capitalized on this first opportunity.
“Great things will happen. Keep getting in over your head and you’ll learn to love it.”