Paul Bresenden | Childhood Entrepreneurship, Building a Creative Agency, and Increasing Member Retention Rates

Paul Bresenden is the Founder and President of 454 Creative, a marketing agency based out of Orange County, California. The company specializes in designing marketing strategies for mid-market firms with a focus on credit unions and higher education. Paul is also the Managing Partner of KidCEOs, an entrepreneurial startup for kids, and a board member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO). He is the seventh of nine children, born to Russian immigrants.

In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran sits down with Paul Bresenden, the Founder and President of 454 Creative, to talk about Paul’s entrepreneurial journey and the business lessons he learned from EO. They also discuss the KidCEOs initiative and the strategies Paul used to increase his EO chapter’s member retention rate.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • Paul Bresenden’s entrepreneurial ventures as a child
  • What Paul learned from growing up as an immigrant child among nine kids
  • How Paul started working with computers and built a web development company
  • Paul talks about rebranding his services
  • Why Paul joined the Entrepreneurs’ Organization — and the strategies he used to increase his chapter’s member retention rate
  • How to promote financial literacy among kids
  • The people Paul acknowledges for their support 

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Sponsor: Rise25

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Episode Transcript

Intro 0:14

Welcome to the revolution, the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now, now, your host for the revolution, John Corcoran.

John Corcoran 0:40

All right, welcome everyone, John Corcoran here. I’m the host of the show. And you know, for those of you who are new to this program and haven’t checked out any of our archives, I always recommend you go and check them out because we’ve got some great interviews with smart CEOs, founders and entrepreneurs, companies ranging from Netflix to Kinkos, YPO, EO, Activision Blizzard, LendingTree. We did Redfin the other day, all kinds of great interviews in the archives. And of course, this episode brought to you by Rise25, which helps b2b businesses to get clients referrals and strategic partnerships with done-for-you podcasts and content marketing. And you can learn all about some of our different strategies and ideas at And my guest here today is Paul Bresenden. He is the President and Founder of 454 Creative, which is a marketing agency based out of Orange County, California, that focuses on designing marketing strategy for mid-market firms with a focus on credit unions and higher education. And he’s also the managing partner for KidCEOs. It’s an entrepreneurial startup for kids. And he’s also a board member with Entrepreneurs’ Organization, EO, which is how we connected. And so we’re going to talk a bit about his background, his story, how he got into entrepreneurship. He’s a seventh of nine children, Russian immigrants who came over to the United States with literally nothing. So just an amazing story. I’m really excited to get into it. And Paul, you know, we were chatting beforehand. And I love to ask people about how entrepreneurial they were as a kid, whether they’re doing lemonade stands or things like that. I’m in a period right now, where my 12-year-old is really into doing that we’ve done a couple of different lemonade stands, or coffee stands or things like that, because it’s winter right now. And he just like, lights up when he does that. And you said, not only do I have paper out, I had like three or four paper routes at a time. So how did you do that?

Paul Bresenden 2:26

Well, you know, my older siblings, I’m number seven out of nine kids, they started in the paper out, you know, business. So they were a little bit older and kind of carried it through. So it was but I was old enough to do and I remember junior high and like, you know, getting up at 530 or six in the morning and folding all your papers and stuffing them into plastic bags if it was raining and loading them off to the side of your handlebars. And coming back. It’s I was started with the paper out added to the second paper out starting to make some decent money for you know, elementary school junior high kid started recruiting my brothers, my brother younger brother to help or some friends to help them just started adding at some point I think we had as kids, I had the most paper outs of anybody that was employed by the newspaper. We would also they would have like, once or twice a year competitions and who could throw the paper the furthest or the most accurate, we would always win those. Perfect, right? I mean, so they they’re sort of responsible and how many routes you get. So when they get desperate, and you’re good, they’ll give you whatever you want. They’re all sort of connected and tied to each other. Yeah, it was it paper outs, we did lots of stuff, we you know, we’re very resourceful when you’re when you’re poor, and you know, seven or nine kids, you kind of have to figure out how to entertain yourself. And my parents didn’t have much money raising. So we would make her own toys, make her own stuff, fix, fix cars, or bikes or whatever we wanted to do.

John Corcoran 3:51

I’m super impressed that you said that you hired your friends and hired younger brothers. Because that’s a key distinction. Because when I ask now, you know, current entrepreneurs about their childhood, there’s an interesting divide between the ones that did it themselves. And of course, what do you expect, right? They’re eight 9 10 years old. Like they don’t know anything about delegation, usually at that age, but some do. And some learn that lesson really well. And I think it’s really, you know, usually is a sign of an entrepreneur has got it together, because you can learn that lesson at 7 8 9 years old, that by the time you’re older, you you know, you don’t need to struggle with it, like I did, right. Like when I started my own business took a while to learn that lesson.

Paul Bresenden 4:32

Right? I mean, that’s sort of the entrepreneurs dilemma, right? You, you’re good at something and you think I can just do this thing and make more money at it. And that’s like, you know, that’s the myth. Right? I just do this, you know, I’ll be better at it versus the people that are thinking, Okay, how do I actually improve or change this process? Yeah. And so that that might be somebody else doing it and me kind of putting together a process. I I struggle with that and every business I do, it’s, you know, there are some people that are just pure process people I love the I love the work right? But I love kind of inventing a better mousetrap for the work too. So there’s, there’s a Yeah, I’m kind of straddling both sides of it,

John Corcoran 5:09

probably, what was some of the highs and lows of having so many siblings running in, in a household growing up in a household like that, with so many kids running around?

Paul Bresenden 5:19

Oh, you know, the, your content you what’s the phrase, right fish don’t know that the water they’re swimming in, right? Like we didn’t realize we grew up poor, we just thought this is how life was we didn’t realize that as immigrants. I think a lot of my successes running a marketing agency is what I would call the immigrant gift for me and growing up as you you step into somebody else’s world, and you quickly have to adjust and learn their context as opposed to yours, you’re always thinking that you’re sort of this outsider trying to understand their perspective, and how do I fit in? Or how do I? How do I see it from their shoes? How do I get them to see it? How do I present it in a way that it seems like it’s their way? I remember, you know, elementary school you would have, I would fail the standardized tests all the time, like Captain Hook was a, you know, I didn’t know who Captain Hook was be. I didn’t know what a pirate was. That was none of my, you know, cultural vernacular. And so you learn to adapt and learn quickly, you know, I gladly I think they’re fixing all of that stuff, or have fixed all that stuff and standardized tests, that doesn’t exist anymore. Yeah, it forces you to learn quicker, it forces you to, you know, understand what other people are knowing and how they’re viewing the world and the lens that they’re putting on. And so that that, to me is a gift even now, right? When I step into an engagement, where I’m trying to sell something for a client to market a specific service, to view it from the audience’s perspective, rather than the organization’s perspective. And when you hire an agency, that’s really what you’re paying for usually, is objectivity being able to see something from a messaging perspective, or a design perspective, or some sort of usability perspective, to frame it in a way that makes sense to the end audience. That was, that was sort of the learning all through, like you can I can kind of name moments in every stage of life, like, Oh, that was a big aha.

John Corcoran 7:04

Yeah, or like I, you know, I look at my son now with the lessons that I’m trying to impart on him with, you know, independence, the first stand the first, you know, lemonade stand that we did, I said to him, like, you’re gonna have to borrow money from me, and we’re gonna get this started, because you don’t have money to do it. So I’m gonna lend you $40. And you can use that and you’re gonna, we actually sold coffee from Starbucks, we went and bought buckets of coffee from Starbucks. And when we sold it, in the end of the day, after he gathered all the money, then we took the expenses that you pay back my loan, you pay me back. And now look at all this money you have now you’re not dependent on me anymore. And your sounds like you learn that as a young kid, because you have eight other nine other eight other siblings. And so you learned that I, you know, in order to generate my own money, I need to go out and make something, which is a really powerful lesson, because then now you know, you can, no matter what happens to you, you can do something to

Paul Bresenden 8:01

take care of yourself. Yeah, I mean, yeah, totally write your story. That reminds me, like, for me, a lot of that was just necessity, right? Like, if you wanted money, you had to go earn it. And I think I think to my kids, now, they don’t have a need for anything. Right, like, and that’s something that as entrepreneurs or as people that are a little bit more successful, we’re, it’s more of a struggle to teach our kids financial literacy and independence, because we learned it through hardship, usually. And we want to retain that sort of grittiness to people’s lives and that, and so you have to invent that constraint for your kids. I remember and, I don’t know, fourth, fifth grade, we would, I would ride my bike with my little brother to school, which is a far distance maybe three miles. And I wouldn’t let my wife would never let my kids back to school. But we would stop at a donut store. And we would buy donuts and sell them at school. And so that would be like, then we would there was always something right, we would the snack shack wouldn’t sell soda. So we would buy cokes and put them in our locker and sell cokes for you know, so it was always that sort of angle of how do I make money? I don’t even know where that came from. It just kind of was the natural outcome. Maybe that was me and not every kid. But I think that’s, you want that to be entrepreneurial, but part of the goal is seeing the gap and what’s what’s out there. And how do I how do I, you know, step into

John Corcoran 9:21

the school does not have a soda machine. Kids like soda, I go buy soda, bring it there, and I sell it. Yeah, it was just something else my son’s been doing, he’s been bringing bars of candy and then going around selling to other kids. I’m so proud of them. Anyways. So you you graduated from high school and you had obviously had to pay your way through college. And you also started designing websites and doing building computer networks and things like that talk. Talk about how you ended up did you were you always interested in computers?

Paul Bresenden 9:52

Um, yes, actually. I mean, we had a computer at home, you know, what was that the three 86 in the 486, and I built our 486. And, you know, gratefully, I don’t I don’t know where my parents got the money for a computer, but that we did have a computer growing up. And I was always sort of interested in that. And in high school, you know, I, we went to a great church, and there’s a lot of like media professionals that were there that were sort of volunteering and running the sound system at the church are lighting and video, like, the guy that I learned video at church now runs all those like big remote trucks for the NFL. You know, and so I learned the guy, one of my mentors in the eye, and at that stage, you know, just jumping in and doing audio, video stuff at church and a big orchestra and choir and band and all that other stuff. And so, I would get up early at, you know, 630, or seven on a Sunday morning and go set up 30 or 40, microphones and wire it all in and run the soundboard. And, you know, at some point, we replaced the slide projector with actual video screens. And this is like back in the day where they’re not easy to do. Not easy to do. projectors were 3000 antsy, you know, 3000 lumens for a $10,000 or $15,000 projector. And the thing was the I don’t know the size of an engine block, it was massive. And so we’d have to build out these shrouds, do we you learn how to be a lot more innovative. There’s a lot of work back then to do all that stuff. And so, you know, I learned to be relatively technical and learn the technical aspects of all of that stuff back then.