If you google Jordan Axani you will find thousands of articles about a man who went viral in 2014 for taking a girl on a three week trip around the world after his breakup. Her name? Elizabeth Gallagher; the same name as his ex.
The story was featured on every major publication and thrusted Jordan into a limelight he was far from comfortable with.
That was three years ago. Today, Jordan has leveraged the fame into a fascinating entrepreneurial career. He talks to everyday people about faking it on his podcast, Impostercast, tours North America with his mental health program, What’s Your Big Lie, and he recently became the Director of Disruptt, a leading provider of social issue educational programming. Somewhere in between all of his projects, he manages to eat a meal or two. (I hope!).
I, along with the numerous lives he has touched, am inspired by his authenticity and purpose driven life, and I’m thrilled to feature Jordan as July’s #Truboss!
Jordan talks about social responsibility, the highs and lows of being an entrepreneur, his biggest fear, and more!
BT: Jordan, you’re back! I’m very happy to steal a bit of your time while you’re home! Thank you for being a part of this. Before we get started, I know how much you love music. What have you been listening to lately to get you fired up in the morning before you conquer the day?
JA: Oh god, I feel like this is a gotcha question because you know me so well, Brig.
Truth be told, I am on this “R. Kelly in the morning” kick. The guy knows how to write a catchy jam — but note that catchy jams don’t make up for the awful things he’s done. Often, I’ve got “I’m A Flirt” on repeat. My favourite line is in like the seventh verse where he says, in his R. Kelly wail, “She be callin’ you Kelly, when yo name is Tommy.” It’s magic. Shameful, terrible magic.
But, to temper R. Kelly, I then listen to The Daily by New York Times, Wilco, and 90s grunge in the morning.
BT: Hey, you don’t have to like the guy to like this music. Now, you were just on a pretty heavy duty speaking tour earlier this year, travelling all over Canada and the US with What’s Your Big Lie. Tell us about the keynote and how the tour went!
JA: It was wild. I’m still making sense of it. So it was like 45 events in 7 weeks, largely focused on the West Coast (Southern California up to central British Columbia), but with some jaunts over to places like Virginia and Indiana a handful of times too.
Here’s what I learned: Everyone is carrying around so much pain, everyday. It doesn’t matter if you’re a kid or a geriatric, if you’re rich or poor, if you’re straight or LGBT, if you’re brown or hopelessly pale like me. We’re all in this.
The thing about the program is that What’s Your Big Lie? uses an anonymous platform so the audience can share their deepest, darkest secrets from their phones. The submissions pop-up on the screen. And whamo, we realize the audience gasps as that same time when everyone realizes that they’re not alone in carrying the pain that they do.
But then the real magic comes when members of the audience come on the stage with me and share the lie they’ve been living and how they’ve fought through it. There’s a lot of tears, hugs, standing ovations for the bravery of the peers that come up.
Somehow the program has been in front of well over 100,000 people from Grade 4s all the way up to parents, teachers and executives in a year. Now we’ve got to up our curriculum, workshops, facilitators, and really work to crush it in 2018. We’re onto something awesomely visceral — and I can’t help but appreciate how rare that is.
BT: It’s been so inspiring to watch you grow this brand so rapidly. Even more inspiring to see how students have responded and how they’ve opened up to you about their own big lie. Did you know that your keynote would have this kind of impact on so many?
JA: When I came up with the idea and pitched it to the RCMP (Canada’s FBI, for any of you guys in the US), I said in an email to them that, “This is so crazy it might work.” Even after they approved it, I thought it was a total crapshoot.
(It’s worth noting at this point that everything had just failed — I just lost a TV deal, my startup had to criminally charge our lead investor, our charity was in shambles, and I was climbing out of a massive hole personally).
But then, six weeks later, I found myself on stage in British Columbia for the first presentation of it. There were 500-ish Grade 7 students from 11 schools regionally. And as soon as we got to the sharing part of the talk, the floodgates just opened. All of the submissions were honest, heartbreaking and beautiful. And then when students came forward to share… well, that’s when I knew we had created something pretty special.
And the best part is that it has nothing to do with me. It’s using the tech and using a different term (big lie) that works so well to dig into where we’re all at today.
To give you guys a sense of what happens. It is entirely normal for people to come forward and share their stories of abuse at home, self harm, drugs, uncertainty bullying.
I’ve had people that are bullies cave to their knees in tears in front of their schools while apologizing. I’ve had people talk about how they tried to complete suicide the night before. I’ve had people tell stories about having homeless parents, being raped, getting out of drug cartels, feeling unsafe, not trusting themselves, or just simply feeling entirely freaking alone.
But you can imagine what happens when someone gives a harrowing account of their life on stage, only to have someone in the audience stand up and say “I am there too.”
It’s beautiful beyond comprehension to see that.
I’ll share a cool nugget with ya. Frank and I just booked our first double-header date in Nebraska in October. So, I’ll be doing some sessions in the afternoon and then he’ll be doing a community-wide PostSecret Live event in the evening. Frank is my hero. So this is the freakin’ coolest thing ever.
BT: It takes a lot of courage for these students to speak up. It also takes a lot of courage for you to speak in front of thousands of people you’ve never met before and share your own secrets on stage. Tell me, is there anything that scares you?
JA: Being honest about my story and where I’m at doesn’t scare me anymore. But what does scare me is what I can do with it.
I have an innate ability to build trust with just about anyone very quickly. They get vulnerable fast. I listen closely and don’t judge. That means that I need to always do what I say I will, and more importantly, set boundaries. I can suck at both of those things. Even just in the last couple of days, I’ve hurt a couple people because I am managing expectations far too late. I can’t be there for everyone I meet. I can’t support them how I’d like to. And it means that I can’t pretend that I can — because I can talk the talk, but not always walk the walk.
That’s what scares me, a lot. Because it’s great to use my natural strengths for this kind of work. But if it’s ever to manipulate or let people down… that’s awful. Fortunately, I’ve shaken most of that off. I just have to be hyper realistic about what is and isn’t possible.
BT: Courage is a quality that I believe every successful entrepreneur should have but in your opinion, what are other qualities/key characteristics a self starter should possess to make it through the highs and lows in the entrepreneurial world?
JA: There’s a bunch, but I think the biggest thing is to remember that building a business is not about you. It’s about your customers or users. It’s hard to remember this in the age where we romanticize entrepreneurs so much. The truth is that businesses have existed as long as there has been currency of any kind. Entrepreneurship is nothing new. What is new is how we project an image as if we’re an Apostle.
So when in doubt, swallow you pride and crush your ego, and go back to the starting place: What do your customers need? I suppose this is a kind of intense empathy. Do that and you’ll win — or at the least, keep your business alive.
BT: Great advice! Switching gears a little bit, can we expect Impostercast to come back?
JA: Yes! It’s just a matter of when. The show worked out really well but it was incredibly intense for my co-host Megan Refuse and I to produce (with the help of our friends) every week. Meg and I are in the same place. We both just expanded our businesses, are responsible for a bunch of people, and are working to find peace in the chaos. Our pact is that we’ll get back to it once we’ve found our feet.
Plus, we have a big surprise for our listeners. Dun dun dun…
BT: Cliffhanger! You know, it’s incredible to see this common thread through all of your work. From What’s Your Big Life to Impostercast, and now your directing duties at Disruptt. What kind of legacy do you want to live behind?
JA: I stopped thinking about legacy a while ago. The idea of it was stressing me out. I found that for me it was holding me back a lot from just doing stuff and figuring out what works.
My high level mantra is to live by values in everything I do (cough… Drew Dudley… cough). And from there, I feel like there will be good things left in the wake.
I will say this though… The biggest, scariest thing that I see in the world is how much pain people hold inside. Think about how much violence, suffering, greed and fear comes from a perpetual inner pannick. We feel so alone in our own experience of being human. I’ll always be working on projects that chip away at that problem, in one way or another.
BT: Who is your favourite #Truboss and why?
JA: Oh god, I have so many.
In the spirit of you knowing him as well and BECAUSE HE JUST GOT ENGAGED, I want to say Blake Fly. (Hi, Blake!). Blake is possibly the truest person I know and in doing that helps others be true. And that’s a freakin’ profound role to play.
And shit, I just realized I didn’t return his call last week. (Sorry Blake!).
BT: What kind of advice can you offer aspiring entrepreneurs who are looking for a little push to launch their own business?
JA: Talk to people about your idea. It’s that simple. Get out of your head as early as possible.
Because your first mission is to validate your idea. It can literally be calling 5 friends, posting on Facebook or sending out a quick email saying, “Hey guys, I am making this. Does this solve a problem for you? And would you pay $1 for this?”
Take that data and figure out two things: First, narrow the problem your business is solving; and second, identify who your early adopters might be (because they’ll be your champions).
Once you figure that out, the rest will be figured out through the process. I know so many entrepreneurs that are at it for years without being able to do those two things. (I’ve been one of them!).
The sooner you stop saying, “I’ve been thinking of an idea for a while” and start asking, “Hey you, what do you need?” you’ll be exceptionally better off.
Business isn’t the hard part. People are. So solve for people first.