Why waste time making avoidable mistakes when you can have the guidance of those who have already made them? The world was built through mentorship.
When Don (DJ) Siclari was a child, there were four things he wanted to be when he grew up: a priest, a warrior, a doctor, and a businessman.
When DJ was in high school and college, he was quite busy with extracurricular activities, causing his girlfriend at the time to remark that he was “way too motivated.” During those four years, he completed a two-year apprenticeship in acupuncture and Chinese medicine as well as intensive wilderness survival programs, firefighter school, and EMT school. DJ found it difficult to find the funds for all he wanted to do, however.
DJ started his first business, a payment processor called InChek, while he was a firefighter/EMT and studying paramedics. InChek grew organically from an initial investment of $250 — all that DJ had in his account at the time.
His next venture, L’Oracle, a training facility for Cirque du Soleil performers in Las Vegas, came to be after he met a few performers who began teaching him their art. He continues to manage both ventures with his sister Stephanie, who began working for him on his soil-testing business when she was five.
In 2005, DJ teamed up with three friends to form Metrofly, a New York City-based fundraising organization that hosted events at some of the hippest venues in town. As an avid writer and speaker, DJ also created a program called The Art of Personal Storytelling, which focused on helping others develop the skills to share their wisdom and life experiences in compelling ways. Today, he’s a coach to those who strive for more than an average life experience.
DJ’s never-ending quest for knowledge led him to train in professional executive protection. After receiving his training from former United States Secret Service agents, he specialized in helping people deal with stalkers and often works on a pro bono basis.
DJ has been on a search for spiritual truth since childhood. When he was a teenager, he met several masters of ancient martial and spiritual traditions who were able to point him in the direction of the truths and skills he was seeking. Since that time, he has studied and continues to study as a direct student of elders from Japan, China, and Native America. DJ also investigates the paranormal.
Where did the idea for InChek come from?
I was a college student working part-time as a paid-per-call firefighter/EMT. A fellow firefighter told me about his mother’s company, a check-processing business, and said, “You have a good personality. Why don’t you try sales?”
I thought, “Well, I’m living on about $400 a month, so why not?”
Not long after, I branched off and started my own company. I only had $250 in my bank account and spent $99 of it on a fax machine from a clearance rack. The main focus of the business morphed from check processing to payment processing. And here we are today.
What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?
It really depends on where I am. When I’m in Europe, I tend to use mornings and early afternoons for “me time” and don’t really get busy with work until the evening. While in the U.S., I start work much earlier in the day and usually include some combination of an acrobatic workout, organic foods, social activity, meditation, and ancillary projects.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I’ve always had a natural penchant for manifesting things. I set my intent and let the universe provide the path. The key, I think, is to make sure any factors that may become obstacles (such as self-doubt, belief systems, and external sources of negativity) are removed. Once your intent is set, the obstacles are eliminated, and you allow the universe to pave the path, it becomes easy to manifest ideas.
You probably think that sounds rather esoteric. Here’s a more grounded way to approach this: When you have an idea, focus on it, eliminate any doubts, and keep looking for the resources you need to make it happen.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The new model of empowerment in business. While spending time with Richard Branson on his private island, I asked him for his thoughts on giving staff members detailed roles, expectations, and job descriptions as opposed to giving them a general vision and room to implement it on their own. His response left me with a renewed sense of the value of empowering your managers to blaze their own paths, make mistakes, and learn from them.
The newer model of business is all about empowering people. This has always resonated with me. Not everyone has the desire or capability to be an entrepreneur, but everyone has the ability to contribute and find fulfillment in his or her contributions. Empowering that sense is really exciting for me.
What’s one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I have the ability to work from anywhere. This allows me to always keep my excitement and not get stuck in any ruts. My ability to network has also been the foundation of my success. I began networking when I was in middle school and picked the brains of people who were much older and highly talented in their fields. I’ve never felt jealous of successful people. Instead, I surround myself with them and am constantly inspired by them.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had, and what did you learn from it?
The worst job I’ve ever had is also the best I’ve ever had: working as a paramedic. My passion for EMS, helping people, adrenaline, and medicine made it the best job ever. However, the negativity within public safety organizations made it an extraordinarily depressing job.
You’re constantly surrounded by miserable people — from co-workers to managers to patients to hospital staff. And the kind of calls you see on TV are few and far between. The majority of calls are routine transports of extremely unhealthy people, drunks, drug addicts, criminals, etc. You really see the worst elements of people and society.
I learned the importance of possessing proper management skills, hiring a positive-minded staff, and keeping an open heart and not becoming jaded toward people. I’ve applied these lessons to how I select my clients. I only work with people who are positive and excited about their businesses.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
What wouldn’t I do differently? I was an inexperienced 20-something with a huge learning curve when I started my company. I often think that InChek would’ve grown faster had I brought in an experienced investor (or two) and a more qualified executive than myself.
I wish I had known from the get-go that it’s better to be genuine than to pretend to be someone you aren’t. In the beginning, I only wore suits in an attempt to impress my prospects and prove myself. Now, I realize that it’s totally possible to bring clients into your world. I’ve since developed a no-nonsense, direct, honest communication approach. My clients and co-workers seem to prefer this style.
As an entrepreneur, what’s the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Keep finding mentors! I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having excellent mentors in your life. Why waste time making avoidable mistakes when you can have the guidance of those who have already made them? The world was built through mentorship. Historically, knowledge is passed down through generations via these types of relationships. I’ve been seeking out mentors since childhood; some have been famous, while others have been unknown masters living humbly in the mountains.
I’ve always strived to surround myself with people who are the best at what they do. Even though I might never be as good as they are, I find inspiration in being around mastery.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
My direct, no-nonsense, honest approach to clients has done wonders for our growth — as has my ability to be selective and not accept every client who wants to work with my company. Applying this strategy has brought me to the point where all of my new clients are referred to me. I don’t work with cold leads anymore.
What’s one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I made the pretty big mistake of using my heart instead of my head when choosing a partner for one of my ventures. I really shouldn’t share too many details about the situation at this point. Let’s just say that this mistake created a huge mess that was difficult to clean up. This reinforced my belief that emotion clouds intuition, and any time you feel emotions about a decision, you need to step back, detach, and wait until you get into a neutral space before making the decision.
What’s one business idea you’re willing to give away to our readers?
There should be a travel app that tells you what to pack based on where you’re going. It should also suggest where you could go to buy items that you forgot to pack once you’re there.
What’s the best $100 you recently spent?
This might seem simple, but sometimes, the simple things make the biggest difference. When I was packing for my recent trip to London, I didn’t even consider the weather as I filled my suitcase. I packed a leather jacket and some shirts but no scarf or anything warm.
As a result, I nearly froze every day! I kept hoping it would get warmer so I wouldn’t have to spend money on a jacket. I wore as many layers as possible — a thermal undershirt, a button-up shirt, a windbreaker, and a sport coat on top of everything. When my sister came to visit and saw how ridiculous I looked, she suggested that I just buy a warm coat. I finally gave in.
We went to TK Maxx (the U.K.’s TJ Maxx) and bought a coat and scarf. This $40 decision changed my life. I have so many coats in the States, and I kept telling myself, “It will get warm starting tomorrow,” so I couldn’t justify buying yet another coat. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me sooner that there are budget options in the U.K.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
Uber, Fly Delta, Gmail, the London Tube app, and my iPhone’s calculator and flashlight apps are in heavy rotation. I never rent cars anymore. I love that I can call Uber from anywhere and see how soon a driver will arrive. Then, when the ride is over, it’s already paid for. I wish I had thought of this brilliant idea.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Yanik Silver just gave me a copy of his latest book, “Evolved Enterprise.” I’m really enjoying it so far. It addresses the newer business models I mentioned earlier in this interview and an “entrepreneurial lifestyle” that incorporates philanthropy, adventure, and fun into your business life. Yanik is a maverick entrepreneur who has a lot of great advice to offer.
I also recommend reading Richard Branson’s books. In getting to know him on a personal level, I can assure you that he’s a wealth of wisdom and full of advice for any aspiring entrepreneur. But here’s the caveat: A master (of anything) at his level isn’t always aware of how he does what he does, so be prepared to read between the lines and learn by absorption. Yes, it sounds esoteric, but that’s how these things work. Learning is a process of taking on, and mastery is a process of letting go, so if you want to learn from a master at that level, you have to be able to absorb the lessons.
For self-improvement, there’s a little-known book called “The Craft of the Warrior” by Robert Spencer that one of my teachers made me read when I was a teenager.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Most of my mentors aren’t well-known people, but in terms of public figures, I would direct you to the Dalai Lama, Richard Branson, Stephen Hayes, and Eben Alexander.