Founded by Benn Rosales in 2007, The American Genius is a primary hub for entrepreneurs, bringing a unique perspective to policy, national issues, technology and marketing in the entrepreneurial space.
Over the years, the company has evolved to offer even more services to the growing self-employed community, which include a real estate section called The Real Daily and a series of events for the Austin area. Not to mention several private Facebook groups for niche areas.
Benn’s wife and business partner, Lani Rosales, shares how it all began and how she and Benn make a marriage slash business relationship slash mentorship thrive.
How did it all begin?
Before this all began, my husband was in PR for several major organizations. Prior to working here, I was in commercial real estate.
The American Genius was founded 10 years ago by Benn Rosales. After work he’s my husband but, during work, he’s my boss. He originally started it because there wasn’t anything that spoke to the counter-culture in the entrepreneurial space—so he started his own publication aimed at a more skeptical mind that wants to dive deeper into industry topics and look at things more critically.
He started The American Genius while still working a full-time job, and it grew really quickly from there. After only 3 months, he was already seeing 30-40 thousand unique visits to the site each month. And back in 2007, that was huge.
It’s definitely evolved over the years. We’ve added events and found other ways to serve the community. But at its core, it’s still a hub to serve entrepreneurs and SMBs who may only have time to read one thing a day. We work really hard to meet them where they are and offer them meaningful and relevant stories.
Going from corporate real estate to a small startup. What was that like? How did you navigate it?
In commercial real estate, I worked in the development world, which means I reported to a series of like 10 bosses. So to go from that to the startup world and then grow into a leadership role has definitely been daunting at times.
The biggest challenge is making sure I’m doing a good job. When you’re in entrepreneurship, the risk and reward system is very different.
When you’re in entrepreneurship, the risk and reward system is very different.
In real estate, when you’re doing a good job, someone has to notice it. In the entrepreneurial world, there is often no one to notice if you’re doing a good job or not. So the only way to know if you’re doing a good job is whether or not you’re producing. You either eat or you don’t.
I was lucky to have a lot of mentorship from our founder (and my husband) Benn. He already made that transition from the corporate world and knew how to get me out of my own head.
What are some of the biggest lessons learned along the way?
One of the biggest challenges of entrepreneurship is balancing ambition with core values. It’s hard to exist solely on the fact that what you’re doing is important because survival depends on whether or not you’re making money. So, finding the sweet spot between those two things is key.
Something my mentor told me once is: Don’t just remember who you serve, but why? Look at your product or service and remember that you are giving someone something that they need—and find motivation through that.
At the end of the day, life is super short. Several years ago my husband had a heart attack. When you watch the person you’ve built a life and company within an ICU bed, you suddenly realize what really matters. I want to leave behind a legacy that’s more important than how many dollars we’ve left behind.
Sounds like having a mentor was really beneficial for you. Do you, in turn, mentor anyone?
I do! We got connected via the Women Communicators of Austin LinkedIn group. It’s an amazing group of writers, PR specialists and communications marketers.
The president asked me to come speed-mentor. So, I show up to a room full of college-aged women. Each of them had 5 minutes to spend with each mentor (there were about 30 of us.)
There was one young woman who sat down and said: “After graduation, I’d like to move to NY and do PR for luxury hotels.” I just knew I wanted to be part of her success story. She was someone with such specific goals. So the next day I emailed her and offered to be her mentor. It’s been 3 years now.
How often do you connect with your mentee?
I used to meet with my her every single month. We’d spend a couple of hours talking about her goals and how to accomplish them. Since then, she’s moved to NYC – which was one of her goals – so now we speak on the phone (which sucks because I miss her.)
I think everyone needs a mentor they can reach out to, especially for freelancers and solopreneurs, since you have a different accountability system.
I think everyone needs a mentor they can reach out to, especially for freelancers and solopreneurs…
Working with a spouse, let alone being mentored by one, must come with challenges. How do you set boundaries to ensure the mentor/mentee relationship is successful?
I think there are two types of couples: There are the couples that really enjoy their own activities and doing their own thing and then there’s the rare couple that’s inseparable from day 1. We happen to be one of those weird couples!
As soon as we could, we were working together full-time. I think that establishing boundaries and roles is important for any relationship, but especially important for the working relationship.
We are both A-type personalities, so establishing those roles was very important for us. Benn founded the company and has built it from nothing so he’s the visionary; I’m more the workhorse. And this set-up works really well for us.
Describe the legacy you hope to leave behind with The American Genius and it’s moving parts.
We want to know that we helped the entrepreneurial community make better decisions and improve their businesses. What better legacy to leave behind than that? We think of our role as one of service (which is not the tradition in publishing.)
What’s next on the road to leaving this legacy?
Step one: Live forever. [laughs]
Step two: We have lots of small goals but they are all to meet a larger goal: To expand our audience.
If we can reach more eyes, then we can serve more people. If we can bring meaning to more lives than we’ve improved the entrepreneurial ecosystem and that’s good for all of us.
Learn more about Lani and The American Genius:
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about the author
Amanda is a content editor at FreshBooks, writing and producing blog content to help small business owners achieve their goals and enjoy (yes, actually enjoy!) running their business. Amanda’s background in education and customer support makes her a natural communicator who loves empowering others to succeed. When she’s not writing and editing content, Amanda takes her dog, Jonny, on adventures searching for the best coleslaw in Toronto.