So where were we…
So far, I’ve been setting the stage. I talked about some Las Vegas legends like Steve Wynn, Annie Duke, and Lefty Rosenthal.
I haven’t finished my Steve Wynn story, but you’ll read it in this email.
I had to set up the story about going to the Mirage, and in this email, you’ll get all the way to that conversation at the Beverly Hills Hilton.
But first, it’s back to where I left off, me and my old man at the Mirage in 1994…
We decided to play golf at the Dunes. It was one of only two golf courses on the Strip. The other was at the Desert Inn, an old-time mob-run casino that was a dump surrounded by old bygone casinos that were now scabs on the landscape—places like the Stardust.
So we were playing, and a guy plays up on us.
My dad was a five handicap and a consummate hustler on the golf course. I was not.
We offered to let this guy play through to spare him my poor play.
He asked if he could play with us.
I said, “If you’re willing to put up with my hacking up this course, we would love to have you join us.”
It turns out the guy was the head of security for the one and only Steve Wynn.
As we played, the new MGM came into view. Another mogul, Kirk Kerkorian, was back in the game and building the world’s largest hotel (at the time)—an Emerald City-inspired monstrosity.
My dad commented on the size of the MGM. It dominated the skyline. This was the second MGM Grand. The first MGM Grand is now the Horseshoe.
Kirk Kerkorian’s gambling empire would eventually buy Steve Wynn out in the twenty-first century’s casino consolidations.
The guy we were golfing with says, “Wait until you see what Mr. Wynn plans to do here. He is going to build the most luxurious hotel in the world based on Lake Como. The hotel will sit in the middle of a lake, and there will be a water show with water skiers and dancing waters.”
Steve Wynn never lacked vision.
Do you have a similar vision for building a story empire?
You may not have one, but you can see how empire-building can compel your business to new heights.
Who knows how much of what was happening in Las Vegas was driven by the economy? Things were good, and more people were traveling. A portion of this expansion was ego and one-upmanship.
Guys like Steve Wynn and Kirk Kerkorian were prominent personalities. They were risk-takers and liked to be the big dog.
If your vision as the investor is to build a content creation empire, that has to be baked into the higher-order investor needs.
Conversely, protect yourself from the trap of chasing someone else’s dreams. I’ve observed several cases where authors see someone they determine is further up the mountain and try to follow their path. Only to find out later that it leads them somewhere they never wanted to go.
The problem with trying to mimic others is that you don’t know if they are on the right path or have thought through an end game.
I’ve met with several successful authors following a rapid growth strategy. They all ended up in a cash flow crunch because the model they followed made them the operation’s financier. Eventually, there was a conflict between what they wanted as the investor and what the business needed to continue at its current growth rate.
Growth for growth’s sake isn’t a sustainable strategy. Not in a business that has one person doing all the work.
More concerning is that growth isn’t what you want. This is the critical part of understanding your investor’s needs.
Guys like Kerkorian and Wynn weren’t building billion-dollar hotels with their own money. In the old days, you went to the mob or the Teamsters to borrow that money. Wynn had help from people like Michael Milken, who provided commercial debt to less credit-worthy ventures.
The mob and Milken were investors, and what they wanted was money laundered or high-interest.
As the investor, the better you are at identifying what you want from your business, the better results will be because you’ve ACTUALLY defined your vision.
Saying I want to make six figures will mislead you. You can do that and spend thirty percent of your revenue on ads to hit that number. While you can claim the goal, you still may not make the money you need to become a full-time writer.
You can write a book a month and reach a revenue goal but then find you can’t get off the treadmill.
You can use stacked promos and discounts to increase traffic and then wonder why you can’t sell higher-priced books in your series because you built an audience of bargain hunters.
Are any of these things you want? They are all results of focusing on the wrong indicator.
Another issue associated with your investor needs is what you are prepared to do or can do to achieve your vision.
My first observation of this was in 2017, when authors were becoming obsessed with rapid release.
The systematic release of books in a series will benefit your launches and audience building. There is nothing to dispute with the method.
What I saw as the issue was that these authors did not understand the capital needs for that plan.
If you plan to do a rapid release and the funds for books two and three are contingent on the success of book one, then the project was doomed before you started.
Furthermore, the cost for an on-market book cover had escalated in specific genres, making the investment with editing in the low four figures.
Going into the plan without the money would be like hiking up Mount Everest and expecting to summit. The probability to summit is sub-one percent, and the likelihood of you dying in the process is double digits.
Don’t let others’ goals or your poorly-defined vision drive your business to poor performance.
Instead, your vision should strike a balance between what you want and what your business can do.
Back to meeting Steve Wynn…
Years later, I was the CEO of a business. As part of my personal development, I was part of a group called TEC. That stood for The Executive Committee.
Now it’s called Vistage.
This was what masterminds were before everyone was running masterminds.
Michael Milken owned Vistage.
If you don’t know who Milken is, he was the guy who created the market for high-yield debt.
He is adored and vilified.
Steve Wynn would tell you that Milken is a genius that allowed him to execute his vision by providing the financing he needed.
Others would say that his high yield debt fueled the consolidation of corporate America.
The facts are back in the eighties, Michael Milken controlled the high-yield debt market. He was the guy who got deals done. Eventually, he was convicted on over eighty counts of SEC violations and tax issues and sent to jail.
At this point in the story (2000), Milken was out of jail and banned for life from trading securities. After a bout with prostate cancer, he became a vegan philanthropist, and his principal thing was a think tank called the Milken Institute.
Because he owned TEC, we got the chance to go to the Milken Institute’s Global Summit held at the Beverly Hill Hilton.
If you ever get a chance to go, do it.
I’d never been to something where there were so many thought leaders speaking on varied subjects. Here is an example of the types of speakers. You name a top-level CEO, financier, thought leader, or politician. They were all there.
In TEC, there was a group facilitator. Mine was Dennis Klepper. Dennis is no longer with us, but he was a gentle soul who had an enormous impact on making me a better person. He pushed me and challenged me in a way that was kind and confrontational.
On the first night, TEC had a mixer at the Global Summit. It was an opportunity for you to meet other members from all over the world. At one point, Michael Milken joined us. He took the time to say a few words. He was saying how appreciative he was of small business; he talked a little about his cause of workplace obesity and then did something exciting.
He stuck around.
This guy is hosting this global conference with ex-presidents and billionaires in attendance, and he mingled.
He didn’t say much; he mostly asked people about their business and listened.
Nice touch, in my view.
Dennis was also at the conference, so we got to spend time together. He asked me that night to make a plan for what I wanted to get out of this conference. Not just what sessions I wanted to go to but who I wanted to connect with.
I saw that early one morning, they were going to have Steve Wynn speak.
I told him I wanted to speak with Steve Wynn.
“Why?” he asked.
“I don’t know other than I admire what he has done, and I’d like to speak with him.”
“Great, then go to his session and have a question prepared to ask if they have a Q&A session.”
I thought all day and night, formulating what I would say if I got the chance.
Wynn spoke at an early session in a small room in the hotel with maybe one hundred people.
To put my question into context, Steve had just sold his entire company to MGM Casinos, making them the 800-pound gorilla in Las Vegas. There had always been a rivalry, and it was seen as a coup for MGM to get those Wynn properties.
Furthermore, Wynn had just purchased the Desert Inn. THE DESERT INN.
At this point, I would sleep on a bus stop bench on Las Vegas Boulevard before staying at the Desert Inn.
This part of the Strip was old and dying, and he just bought that property. A legend that had lost its luster, but just like the dunes, the Desert Inn had a golf course (golf course = lots of land).
At this session, Steve Wynn, along with the president of AOL, is sitting at a table. In walks Michael Milken and he takes the microphone.
Milken introduced the speakers and asked Steve if he would share his Burgess Shale story.
I hadn’t ever heard of the Burgess Shale.
It is a fossil-rich geological formation discovered by Charles Walcott.
Somehow, 500 million years ago, a mudslide trapped and preserved some of the best fossil specimens. Walcott and his team collected thousands of fossils of great import. Many were well-preserved soft parts of creatures that gave a full picture of the type of life abundant after the Cambrian explosion.
It wasn’t until fifty years later that other fossils were discovered to validate what they found at the Burgess Shale.
Wynn shared that these fossils, while important, were cataloged and not thought about until Stephen Jay Gould’s book Wonderful Life in 1989.
Gould’s theory was that an important part of evolution was contingency. There was far more biological diversity in anatomical body plans than there is now. Many of them were well-adapted to survive, yet there is no evidence that any current species have evolved from them.
Gould introduced the idea that there was unpredictability involved in evolution. Fitness doesn’t necessarily guarantee long-term survival.
Now, this isn’t about random adaptation or mutation. That is a given. This is the idea that if you could rewind and run another loop of time, different life would have developed on Earth because, through the results of different random events, other species would have had the chance to evolve.
Steve used the Burgess Shale as an example of how randomness must always be accounted for. A portion of your success is tied to luck. This was my first introduction to the idea of promoting probability in your favor.
He discussed what motivated him to sell. Changes in the reporting of winnings to the IRS and the opening up of Macao had changed his view on where the probabilities of success lay.
He wrapped up his story and made his way to the exit.
Most people don’t know this, but Steve Wynn is legally blind. He is also a little vain. So he doesn’t use a cane or a guide dog. He had a secretary he held on to that helped him navigate.
This lady was walking him out, and a flock of people surrounded him.
With no Q&A, my only chance was to try to ask him now as he walked out. I was nervous and unsure if I could get a word in as people were yelling out to him questions as he walked.
I gave it a shot.
“Mr. Wynn, I want to share a story with you about one of your golf courses.”
Steve Wynn loves golf.
He had just sold Shadow Creek along with his other properties to MGM. Shadow Creek was his private course he designed with Tom Fazio.
The only way to get out on the course was an invitation from Steve Wynn. When it opened to the public, it was $2500 a round.
He stopped and smiled, “I’m on my way to Lakeside.”
The whole mob had stopped and was listening now. I was self-conscious. I was trying to remember my question.
“My dad used to play every year in the Lakeside Invitational,” I replied.
He waited for me to continue.
I shared my golfing story with his head of security and how he told us about what he planned to do for the Bellagio with it being in the middle of a lake with water skiers. I said, “Seeing what you did at that end of the Strip, I’m excited to see what you’ll do with the Desert Inn. I expect you’ll start a renaissance on that part of the Strip.” It wasn’t a question as much as a statement of admiration.
He let go of his handler and grabbed my arm.
“That’s right, we were going to build the largest man-made lake in Las Vegas with the hotel in the middle, but the fire marshal worried we couldn’t get all the people out of the hotel if there was a fire and didn’t approve the design.”
“Let me tell you how things are going to change. When I built the Mirage, I modeled it after Caesars Palace. We had figured out the drop (what the casino made) was double the concessions (restaurants, shows, stores). So if you had 250 million in concessions, you would get a half-billion drop. Then I just doubled it at Bellagio to be the first casino with a billion-dollar drop.”
“But all the casinos are the same. We are like carnival barkers trying to get you inside. We focus everything on grabbing your attention from the street and getting you into the show. That’s over!”
“When Sheldon built the Venetian, I thought he was a fool to make such nice rooms. Who wants people in their rooms? You want them in the casino. I was wrong—people love hotels with nice big rooms.”
“Now, it’s going to be different. When you see my new hotel, it will be the exact opposite of Las Vegas today. We will focus everything from the walk from the elevator to the view out the window on the customer experience.”
“The other thing that will change is Las Vegas won’t be the gambling Mecca of the world. Macau will take that away.”
It took him another ten years, but Wynn is one of the major players in the Macau gambling scene.
“My hotel will be the first to be built from the point of view of the customer experience.”
I never really got to ask him a question, but he gave me so much for just taking that risk of reaching out. If you have time to visit the Wynn, you can see how it’s different.
Time has played out, and putting aside Steve Wynn’s recent fall from grace, look at what has happened.
He did it.
The Wynn and Encore are similar to Bellagio in aesthetics but different in how the focus is the customer.
Here, you can see the latest version of the lake of dreams—the EXACT opposite of the fountains at Bellagio.
I’ve been going to Las Vegas for over thirty years. When I go to the Strip, it has become a nearly unrecognizable abstraction of itself.
What I mean is that in its effort to attract attention, use space, and grow more prominent, it has become hard to comprehend the scale, and what I see is a building for me to go inside.
Like the vampire bat, most of Las Vegas has become a slave to adaptation. Adapting to endless, intense competition.
The result is that a few mega-corporations own most of the casinos, and they all do the same things. Guys like Wynn may have gone the way of the Chicago Outfit, their glory days past.
All of what Wynn did may have been to feed his ego. The reasons don’t matter as much as he defined how the Las Vegas Strip would look today because he saw where he wanted it to go decades ago. He wasn’t following someone else’s plan for success. He had his own.
Is your vision actually your vision?
Are you mimicking some other person’s success?
You don’t have to have a grand vision of dominating the gambling market or building the most luxurious hotel, but you need to be doing something that you believe is worth doing.
The actual value that this series can offer isn’t another blueprint but a way to think through drawing your blueprint.
McMansions aren’t for everyone. Some folks envision an old restored home, others want to be off the grid, and others want to live in an RV.
We need to unpack some ideas I’ve shared and help you see some essential tools you should use to draft your blueprint for the next twelve months and beyond. I’ll do that in the next email; until then, define your vision and think through how it ties to a paying customer.