“Being an entrepreneur isn’t all high fives and wins all day every day,” Matt DeLong, Chief Technology Officer at Real Life Trading says. He’s reflecting on the biggest challenges he faced in his career to get to where he is today, when he remembers an episode several years ago when he was CEO of a software company. “We had a team in London, Nashville, and India, we were growing, winning awards, life was good. We were bringing in millions of dollars in revenue, setting records, and things were on track,” he says. “Then something unexpected happened, and everything changed in 2 seconds. We were hacked. Over 250,000 credit card numbers had been stolen.” During a crisis of that scale, DeLong had to take responsibility. The impact of the hack would cause ripples through the company, resulting in resignations and turmoil in his personal life. “It seemed in those moments that I was at the bottom of a pit with no way out, I felt trapped,” he says.
Not only was this a reminder of the challenges that being an entrepreneur at that level brings, but it brought DeLong back to the core “why?” Why did he want to be an entrepreneur? Why did he feel like he had something of value to offer to customers? Why was it worth pushing on through all of the struggles? “In that dark time, I realized that my thoughts were produced from my mindset, and my mindset was produced from my beliefs. Was this really salvageable?” This confrontation with the truth allowed him to persevere, turn the situation around, and in time, return better than ever.
For DeLong, this ability to bounce back is perhaps one of the most important attributes to success. “As an entrepreneur, you have to have thick skin, a strong stomach, and be comfortable with the idea of ‘being uncomfortable,’” he explains. “You have to learn to adapt to changing environments and most importantly, have grit.” DeLong is no stranger to the stubbornness that entrepreneurship requires. In fact, he had to work harder than most people to even get on a level playing field with his peers. “I have met, hired, and worked alongside some of the smartest business people I know, despite having graduated high school with an eighth grade reading comprehension,” he says. “I created my own destiny. Even though I dropped out of college, I read 10 years’ worth of Entrepreneur Magazine cover to cover and have read two to three books a month for the past 20 years.”
But when it comes to longevity, DeLong insists that having laser focus is the key. “Over the years, I have shifted my focus from seeing everything as an opportunity to more of a focused lens by further defining what I want my life to be about.” Now, for every opportunity that comes his way, he simply asks if it fits into a greater plan. “I have learned from being successful, that all the money in the world doesn’t matter if you are sick all the time or if you are alone. It’s hard to hear that truth when you are knee-deep in business debt and everything seems to be failing.” He adds: “It makes decision making a breeze.”
It’s one thing learning these lessons, but another to set up a framework to pass on the lessons to hopeful entrepreneurs. DeLong now does this by teaching others the science and skills of stocks with Real Life Trading. Here, he’s able to offer the practical skills, but is just as eager to pass on his values. “Most fledgling entrepreneurs focus on outcomes and goals, rather than focusing on solving a problem, adding value, and making a difference,” he says. “For example, if you want to lose weight, standing on a scale twice a day won’t get you there, but putting in the workouts and measuring with a scale will.” He emphasizes that it’s important to not focus too much on the scale, but what really matters to customers.
In his line of work, he’s also seen how money can bring out the worst in people. “Money doesn’t change people. It simply amplifies who they already are,” he says. “So if you are a jerk to the waiter, with more money, you will become a 10 times worse version of that person. If you are a caring, kind and compassionate person, as you grow and build wealth, your kindness will amplify 10 times, and you will start to see that you can actually make a difference in the world.” He says this is what motivated him to launch the non-profit Real Life Foundation in 2021 to raise money for causes that are important to him, like fighting human trafficking, cancer research, and world hunger. “Not only can we make money, but we can be a force for good and use that money to make a difference in the world.”
Any good entrepreneur knows that there’s always more room for growth. So now, DeLong asks himself three questions every time he’s faced with a new opportunity. Am I working with a team I want to work with? Will I be working on a product or service they are obsessed with? Will I be working on something that really matters? “This last question usually fails the test for most companies,” he says. “This idea of real purpose means that it’s important work, we aren’t just selling things, we are making a difference.”