Don’t Be a Crappy Yellow Page Ad

“If you don’t know the fundamental facts and information of whisky, you’re a useless sommelier. But if you only talk about facts and information about whisky, you’re just a sh!++y wikipedia.”

That’s a quote from my friend, Jason Sowder. 

Jason came into the school years back and is one of our few level four whisky sommeliers. He’s also an instructor with Whisky Marketing School, the Stave and Thief Program, and one of the better presenters I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching teach.

What Jason said about Whisky Sommeliers is also a fundamental truth about marketing. 

I would phrase it as, “If you don’t have an excellent product or provide an excellent service, you’re a useless business. But if all you do is talk about the product and service you provide, you’re a sh!++y yellow pages.”

Too many business owners want to spend all their energy talking about the facts, details, technology, and unique selling propositions. But no one cares like you do about your business and the industry you’re in. If they did, they’d already be a competitor. And trying to educate the customer on the threaded nuance of your approach is like trying to force someone to go to school.

I’m certain there are unique things about your business. But they are rarely about “how” you do what you do. They’re almost always found in “why” you do what you do. Because the “why” of your business is the part that is human. 

Why did you chose this path? Why do you keep getting up and going back to work? Why do you get there early and stay late?Why do you keep wanting to talk to people about what you do and how you do it? 

Simon Sinek says, “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.”  

Wizard Academy says, “Win the heart and the mind will follow.”

To do that you have to be vulnerable. You have to tell stories. You have to help people see the human beings behind the logo plastered vans and branded uniforms. 

And it’s not just you. It’s the way YOUR story overlaps with THE story of being human. 

We respect excellence and information. We identify with weaknesses and vulnerability. 

If you want us to fall in love with you, you have to show us why and who you are. When we realize your story is a part of our story, we’ll follow you to the ends of the earth. 

And that’s how brand ambassadors are born. 

Daniel Whittington

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Get in the Room

Just get in the room, do the damn thing, and sometimes luck will find you.

In 2010, my band was trying to build a career. We were aiming for more momentum and larger venues, but all that was available in our local town were small tourist pubs that had iffy attendance.  But given the choice between not playing and playing, a musician always chooses playing. 

So we ended up playing at a mostly empty club in Avila Beach, California. And we played it like it was Madison Square Garden. All the energy, all the rock. One month later, I got a call on my cell phone. The voice on the other end said, “Hi, I’m the owner of Mr Ricks, and I happened to see you guys play a month ago when I was coming through town. I really loved your show and your energy. Are you guys interested in opening up for Aerosmith?”

In 2013, I got a call on my cell phone that asked if I was interested in learning about a place called Wizard Academy. Even thought I wasn’t technically looking for a job, I decided to postpone my recording session and have a cup of coffee. One month later, I was standing in the Wizard’s Tower in the new office of the Vice Chancellor.

In April 2016, I started talking about whisky on our Wizard Academy youtube channel. Primarily it was to show our whisky sommeliers how to talk about whisky without being snobs. I also saw it as potential marketing content for Whisky Marketing School. 

I posted two or three across the span of 6 months. 

But, in December,I decided we needed some sort of momentum and content growth. I decided to do a whisky advent calendar to create consistent content and jumpstart into the new year.

It turns out the first video was of a whisky that had never existed before. On December 1st, thousands of people opened their advent calendars and then went online to google the whisky. My video was one of two links on the entire internet that talked about the whisky. We went from 50ish subscribers to thousands almost overnight. 

Does luck drive things?  No. Do coincidences favor the prepared? Yes.  You can only benefit from amazing coincidences if you’re in the room.  So get in the room. 

If you’re waiting to start something, this is your sign. 

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Step Into the Unknown

The Rowan’s of the world are worth spending any amount of gold to have on your team.

Worth any sacrifice to have as a friend. 

In 1899, Elbert Hubbard wrote a book called “A Message to Garcia”. Really more of a booklet than a book. It mentions a moment during the Spanish American war.

General Garcia is fighting on the side of the US, but is buried deep in the mountains of Cuba with no way to reach him or communicate with him. Someone tells the president “There’s a man named Rowan. If anyone can find him for you, he can.’” So they send for Rowan. They tell him what needs to happen. Rowan takes the message, wraps it in oilskin, straps it to his heart, and leaves. Three weeks later he’s back, having successfully delivered the letter.

And that’s the important part.

The moments of the journey, struggling through mountains and jungle, evading capture and certain death, arriving at Garcia triumphant.

Those details are all left to the imagination. 

Maybe someday a keen and imaginative soul will write that story.

The main point Hubbard wanted to make was this: McKinley gave Rowan a letter to be delivered to Garcia; Rowan took the letter and did not ask, “Where is he at?”

Hubbard said, “It is not book-learning young men need, nor instruction about this or that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies; do the thing – “carry a message to Garcia!”

Here’s the full excerpt:


You, reader, put this matter to a test: You are sitting now in your office—six clerks are within your call. Summon any one and make this request: “Please look in the encyclopedia and make a brief memorandum for me concerning the life of Corregio.” 

Will the clerk quietly say, “Yes, sir,” and go do the task? On your life, he will not. He will look at you out of a fishy eye, and ask one or more of the following questions: 

Who was he? Which encyclopedia? Where is the encyclopedia? Was I hired for that? Don’t you mean Bismarck? What’s the matter with Charlie doing it? Is he dead? Is there any hurry? Shan’t I bring you the book and let you look it up yourself? What do you want to know for? 

And I will lay you ten to one that after you have answered the questions, and explained how to find the information, and why you want it, the clerk will go off and get one of the 2 other clerks to help him find Garcia – and then come back and tell you there is no such man. 

Of course I may lose my bet, but according to the Law of Average, I will not. 

Now if you are wise you will not bother to explain to your “assistant” that Corregio is indexed under the C’s, not in the K’s, but you will smile sweetly and say, “Never mind,” and go look it up yourself.


Every year we teach and equip more small business owners to charge into the jungle and carve a path for others to follow. But doesn’t save you from having to leave this campus and step into the unknown.

Here’s to someone who sees something that needed or worth doing, and simply steps in and gets it done. 

That’s our kind of people. 

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The Enemy of Creativity

The blank page is the enemy of creativity.

Creativity doesn’t thrive in a land of no limitations. Creativity thrives when it’s forced into false constraints. That’s the basis of all great problem solving. And great music as well. 

The cornerstone class we teach at Wizard Academy is Magical Worlds of Communication. It forms the foundation for every other class, including the Whisky Marketing School and the Whiskey Vault Youtube Channel. In that class we talk a lot about Third Gravitating Bodies, and we spend a large portion focused on music. I’ll talk about that in detail later for everyone that hasn’t attended Magical Worlds. Essentially it is the inclusion of something that doesn’t belong, but fits perfectly once it’s added.

Roy Williams applied his analysis of attraction and memorability to hit songs across the decades to show the application of chaos theory in art. It also explains anything with magical attraction including truly great food, businesses, and musical hits. 

One day, we were standing to the side of the room during class, and I asked Roy, “Have you ever tried creating music with this theory instead of analyzing it?”

He turned to me and said, “No. But that’s what you’re going to do. I’ll pick the hit songs, and you make them dark and moody. The only rule is that you keep the original lyrics and melody. Everything else you can change.”

That began a 6 month recording project I called “Bring the Dark”. Roy would send me songs, and I would take them apart at the seams and rebuild them. 

How do you create something magical from scratch with no guidelines or rules? After hours and hours of sitting, staring, and accomplishing nothing, I realized the answer was.. you don’t.

I took the first song which was “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees, and decided to just learn the progression as a starting point. As I was playing it on acoustic guitar, I slowed it down and discovered the progression was almost identical to “Heart of  Gold” by Neil Young. 

And that’s when I had my epiphany. I could take the song I thought it sounded like, mimic the style, instrumentation and vibe of that song and then overlay the new pop hit melody and lyrics over top. So “Staying Alive” turned into a Bee Gees cover by Neil Young. 

Nights on Broadway, I ripped off Fleetwood Mac. 
Take A Chance On Me, I ripped off Bonnie Raitt
Dancing Queen, I ripped off Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt.

Sometimes stealing from your heroes is the best way to jump start something new. 

Pablo Picasso is widely quoted as having said, “good artists borrow, great artists steal.” 

The same idea occurs in business. Are you defining your company culture? Look at a few companies you love, figure out what makes them tick, and combine them in a way that’s unique to you. The same goes for marketing strategies. 

If you have an hour and truly want a deep dive into this idea, go watch the best keynote speech ever delivered in the history of South by Southwest (an Indie Music Festival in  Austin, TX) given by Bruce Springsteen. It will change your view of creative work forever.

Keep your inspiration on your sleeve. 

Don’t be afraid to build on the shoulders of giants. 

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Joy is Contagious

Complaining, criticism, and negative outlooks are contagious. 

But joy is more contagious. 

No matter the size of the company, some questions are the same. 

How do you fix employee morale? 
How do you get people on board during change? 
How do you get everyone pushing the same direction? 

The first answer is fairly simple. David McInnis is famous at Wizard Academy for the phrase,  “Sometimes the cure for company morale is to fire all the unhappy people.” That sounds so simplistic it’s almost a truism. But sometimes the key to improving morale is more complicated.

Joy and possibilities are fundamental outlooks on life. Hire intelligent people who view the world as full of possibility, and it’s not hard to teach them the fundamentals of almost any job.

But an incredibly smart or qualified individual with a bad attitude is still just an employee with a bad attitude. It’s a cancer that will eat you alive until you remove it. 

Find people who do their work with joy, and everything changes. 

But joy doesn’t need to be focused only on the work and the job. There’s joy to be found in the people you labor beside. 

It’s easy to see how people are broken, and certain kinds of insightful people love to brag about how quick they are to realize other people’s flaws. Those pompous pedantics love to parade their insight and intelligence while they caricature people as the sum of their flaws.

The real magic in life is seeing past people’s brokenness to the hope and possibility they carry inside. If you can spot that, wake it up, and nurture it, you can give them hope. People with hope in their hearts will move mountains. 

It can be hard, I know. Brutal even.  And sometimes there’s a point where you need to cut ties, even if it’s just for healthy boundaries. But it’s rewarding to get past people’s flaws so you can truly see them. It makes it easier to find joy and expands the horizons of possibility.

So here’s to you and your magically broken, beautiful self. Pursue hope and joy in yourself and your journey.  

Make it a point to find the same in others.  

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Does Business Need a Reason to Exist?

Does a business need a reason to exist? 

I’ve got a friend in the whisky industry who has a sort of guiding principle that I think is valuable.  He believes that a whisky needs a reason to exist in order to put effort into creating it in the first place. 

I think what he’s talking about is the opposite of the money grab combo. Design a fancy bottle, source something from a bulk supplier, bottle it, and then promote the crap out of it. 

An artist can feel that violation down to the tip of their barefoot toes. Or in the almighty words of Jeff Goldblum, “You are so preoccupied with whether you could, you never stopped to consider whether you should.”

It can be frustrating to put your heart into something and struggle to make it. It can be frustrating to watch people with no soul in their work walk away with armfuls of cash. 

But forget whiskey.  What about plumbing? HVAC? Jewelry?

Is the fact that you’re good at something and can make money reason enough for something to exist?

I think it could be. But only if it doesn’t stop there. 

I’ve heard Roy say a thousand times, “Passion follows commitment”. Which gives us two seemingly conflicting truths. 

On one hand, don’t burn away your days on something without depth and meaning. Life is too short, and our time on this planet is too fragile. 

But, as Niels Bohr said, “The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.”

Sometimes the importance of a job isn’t just in the technical aspects of execution. Sometimes it’s the deeper meaning behind the service you provide. You change the lives of your employees and the families that you help feed with your payroll. You take care of your customers. You keep houses safe and warm. 

There’s a deeper impact you can have on the world around you by simply doing something well with grace and thoughtfulness. Especially in the service industry. 

Maybe that’s the direction in which passion lies. 

Maybe that’s the reason your business exists.

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12 Nuggets from 2023

Whenever I hear a useful nugget of wisdom, I write it down.

I’ve amassed a collection of these insightful crumbs and leavings. 

As a 2023 look back, here are 12 things from my storeroom. I present them to you in no particular order. 

·      Tell me what the last three things your company celebrated and I’ll tell you what your company is about.

·      Never ask Do you? Have you? Will you? Instead, drop off those first two words and get straight to the noun and verb. Frizzy hair? Back pain? Ever dip your toe in ice water?

·      The 3 rules of content creation. (1) Make Fresh New Content, (2) at a Consistent Pace, (3) and a Predictable Schedule.

·      Inspirational stories are never about accumulation. They’re about sacrifice. What have you sacrificed and why? Are you willing to tell that story?

·      As a rule of thumb, Facebook Groups sell for either 1x annual revenue or $0.03 per active member. Podcasts sell for 1x annual revenue.

·      Online/Digital basics are not the same as digital marketing. They’re like utilities and rent. You just have to do them.

·      What do people buy Before, During, and After they buy what you sell? (E.g. You sell cars; people buy hitches, roof racks, floormats.) Can you increase revenue by selling BDA’s? 

·      Successful advertising is a simple formula. If you entertain people then they will give you their attention. If you have their attention long enough then they will eventually give you their money if they believe you and need what you sell. 

·      You’re entitled to your own opinion, not your own facts.

·      Marketing tactics are not the same as marketing strategy. To tacticlize before strategize is a fool’s errand.

·      In radio ads, sound effects should be felt not heard. If you notice the sound effect it failed.

·      Good writing, I mean really good writing, is an act of capturing chaos. And that cannot be taught, only learned through force of repetition.

Thanks for being a part of my 2023.

– Zac Smith, VC

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On His Deathbed

I often think about the kind of advice I would give if I were on my deathbed.
Because the deathbed advice you hear is often quite different than the advice you get day to day. And that disparity intrigues me.
It makes sense, though, the difference when you look through the lens of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
When you’re dying, and you know it, you don’t need food, shelter, or money. The idea of “safety” suddenly become comical. “Power” means nothing. “Fame” is useless.
So instead, your brain leapfrogs up the pyramid and focuses on different priorities.
Love, relationships, and self-respect. Those seem to be the themes of people’s last contemplations.
And then there’s the final burning question, “Did I live a good life?”
I think about this because I’d like to say “yes” to that question. And I suspect being able to say yes doesn’t happen by accident. So, I fling myself into the future. I’m on my bed of death. People whisper to one another, “Not much longer.” They shift about, wanting to do something but knowing there’s nothing they can do. I’m dying, but it’s ok.
I rest there with a satisfied smile looking back to right now.
I remember that I asked myself an important question.
When you don’t need food, shelter, or money; what makes a good life and am I living it?
I suspect happiness lays at the feet of the answer.
– Zac Smith, VC

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Winter’s Work

It’s getting dark earlier and earlier.

The sun sleeps long in the North.

The streetlights come on before I’m home from work.

Eight thirty feels like midnight.

And I love it.

For night is when we dream. Not just in sleepy heads on our beds, but around the table. On the couch. In the car.

When the sun goes down the odds go up.

Dreams feel more possible at night. It brings the things we strive for just a little closer. Makes them realer. Makes them truer.

Be we fools feeling in the dark?

Nay, say I. We are planners, strivers, doers.

Do not decry the fuel that drives our dreams. Let us linger in these longer nights.

Let us chock our talk full of fancies and delights.

The sun will rise soon enough.

Soon Summer will bring days with work.

But it’s Winter now.

So let us live with our dreams.

And perhaps, just maybe, we will reach that which we seek.

– Zac Smith, VC

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You’d Never Guess This About Me

I am a complex being with contradictory feelings and opinions.

I hate eating because it takes me away from whatever I’m working on just to fuel this frail body. It’d be so much easier if food was optional. But I also love eating three-hour lunches and savoring good food.

I love bright sunny days. I love dark damp rainy days.

I enjoy being happy. I enjoy a good cry.

I love challenges and overcoming obstacles on my way to a goal. I love when it’s easy and handed to me.

I love the mountains. I love the beach.

I love reading. I love doing.

I love dogs. I love cats.

I like Coke. Pepsi sucks.

What I like, what works for me, depends on so many variables. I am a complex being. And know what?

I bet you are too.

Know what else?

I bet your customers are too.

Basic psychology teaches us that groups are reasonably predictable, but individuals are not.

Beware investing in over targeted advertising. You’re gambling that your ad is seen by the right person and that it’s also on the right day.

Play the safer spend. Bet on group predictability. And what is it we can predict? What works on the masses?

Be likable. Be memorable. Be there when they need you.

On those three pillars, you can build a marketing strategy that takes over the world.

– Zac Smith, VC

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Houseplants Doomed to Die

If it weren’t for you your houseplants would die. (Although the opposite is true for some people.)
Think about it. A houseplant has no natural access to food, water, or sun. It’s completely dependent on you. It lives or dies by your hand.
Kind of fun to play God, isn’t it? Especially when your plants flourish.
This modus operandi works for home flora, but do you know where it fails?
Small business.
You’ve seen them. The super hero small business owner putting out fires. Solving problems. Kicking butt. Taking names. Always at the ready.
Some business owners love being that person. It makes them feel needed and important. A god in their own universe.
Other business owners are the backbone of everything but for different reasons. Usually, it comes down to control and distrust. If they don’t touch it, how can they be sure it’ll get done right?
Whatever the reason, the result is the same.
No vacations. No retirement. No sellable asset.
From that vantage, being important or in control doesn’t sound so nice.
A business that dies the moment you’re not tending it is a weight around your neck. Perhaps you can carry it for a while, but friend, at some point we all have to swim.
Don’t worry, though. There are things you can do to make your business independently profitable.
And it starts by honestly asking, do I own a business or a houseplant with employees?
– Zac Smith, VC

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Horror Vacui

“Nature abhors a vacuum.”

Perhaps you’ve heard that before.

It’s a postulate attributed to Aristotle. A concept in physics that means nature requires every space to be filled. That there are no naturally-occurring empty spaces because denser surrounding material immediately and always fills a void.

Nature may abhor a vacuum, but artists are in love with them. 

A quick Google search will yield a plethora of love note quotes from artists to their vacuums. You just have to know the lingo.

In the visual arts, vacuums are called empty, or white space. And in music, the code word for vacuum is silence.

Here are two such quotes:

“I really believe in empty spaces…Empty space is never-wasted space.” – Andy Warhol

“The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

If it is indeed true that there are no naturally-occurring empty spaces because surrounding material immediately and always fills a void, then the next natural question is this. 

What exactly is filling the void of empty space and silence?

I believe the answer is “attention.”

As we consume visual and auditory art, it is the silence and space that pulls our attention in. It’s the silence and space that leaves a void our attention must fill.

If you need proof, talk to any parent with a sleeping infant in the car. It’s not the driving that wakes them up.

How can use this to practical effect? (Besides driving baby around the block a few more times to stave off the inevitable.)

If you run radio ads, and the station will let you, put 2-3 seconds of well-placed silence in your ad. Dead air. The effect will be an immediate inrush of attention. Then, just make sure once you’ve got their attention you say something meaningful. 

But again, if the radio station will let you. 

Much like nature, station programmers abhor a vacuum. 

– Zac Smith, VC

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