top50stl person of the week: Brian Lunt

This is a personal post, but I think it’s important to explain why top50stl exists. Basically, I’ve got the dreamer’s disease. I believe in a world full of possibilities and I’m on a mission to see whether I can create a better planet.

I’ve spent the majority of my career in financial services (13+ years) and I‘ve just never fit in. Part of it was the culture of the bank where I worked, part of it was the fact that I worked for my father, but most of it was me. Banking is a very rigid industry. Government rules and regulations have added so many layers between the customer and the people trying to help them that there exists almost an implication that the bank wants to screw you out of your money and if it weren’t for a layer of government protection, the big bad bank would steal your house and leave you penniless and homeless. It’s hogwash of course. Community banks operate just like any small business and hope the best for their customers. A successful customer is in a much better position to repay their loan. I add to that my father’s perspective over the last several years of first trying to save the bank from the economic downturn in 2007-08 and then trying to insulate the bank from additional risk moving forward. In an industry that makes its money on risk, it’s a very confusing position to be in. I’ve met a lot of people over the years I knew I could help and who I felt were worth the risk, but my father wanted to protect the bank from just about everyone that didn’t fit into a very specific risk profile, so I had to send a lot of people on their way to find financing elsewhere. It was a constant tug-of-war that wasn’t very fulfilling.

In 2012, I decided to open a financial planning office inside our bank. I felt that it would provide an additional revenue stream for the business as well as provide me a new challenge. All it really did was add another layer of regulation and oversight from the overlords of the government. (Side note: I am naturally suspicious of authority; I always have been. Not, because I don’t believe in rules or regulations, actually it’s the reverse. I believe I can regulate myself just fine because I have a moral compass and believe in ethics. Because of that, I’d rather not rely on others to approve of my behavior. I’m a lover of freedom and a hater of paperwork. So, it’s silly for me to be in any industry that’s overly regulated.) I’ve learned a tremendous amount from my financial firm but once again, it was a bad fit. Not with me, but between the financial firm and the bank. The bank is simple and focused on stability; my financial firm is forward thinking and looking to grow, a lot. Plain and simple, it just didn’t work.

My desire to start a financial planning office originated from a business concept I designed in my final class at Washington University while earning my MBA – The Hatchery. The Hatchery is a course that allows students (and outside people) to test an idea, collaborate with others and see whether the concept has potential to be turned into an effective business. My concept was sound, but unfortunately we got a little ambitious on our financial projections so it didn’t get any further than the class. The concept was to create a set of programs for high school- and college-aged kids to better determine their unique abilities and strengths. In doing so, they could better determine where to attend college and where to steer their career. It’s amazing to me how many students (and parents) invest tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars on just going to college without a clear sense of direction simply to get an education. I value education, as much if not more than most people, but when it comes to getting a return on your investment, some colleges (and a lot of majors) just don’t make financial sense. If you just want an education, the public library can provide you the same resources for free. Nevertheless, I still believe in helping people (especially young people) better determine their life path, but it didn’t work out with that idea (which was called Pathfinder). The closest real world application I could get started on was a financial planning office, but it sounded better in theory than it ended up being in reality.

My foray into business design infected me with the entrepreneurial bug. I think I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart; I just wasn’t in a climate conducive to starting new projects, which I’m very good at (it’s the execution that’s the tough part). After I finished my MBA, I sat in my office for a few years dreaming up big ideas with the assumption that some day I would be in a position to launch one (or maybe all) of them. I finally reached my breaking point when the thought of continuing to do the same job day in and day out was too much to bear. I had to free myself from the walls that confined me. So, I made the decision to step away from a good, steady, full-time job to see whether I could hack it on my own.

My original idea was to challenge myself to launch a business every week for a year…..or at least a business concept. I rounded the number down from 52 weeks to 50 so at least I can have a couple of weeks vacation. At the same time, all I was hearing in the news was negative stories in and around St. Louis. Ferguson, Mizzou (my alma mater) and the Rams leaving for LA…it was depressing. So, I took my 50 weeks concept and decided I’d do my part to help balance the scales by highlighting the top 50 positive stories about St. Louis each week. So, every week I aggregate my favorite, positive stories about St. Louis on top of an economic development idea, a new business idea and a featured person, charity, restaurant, book and quote. That’s the format.

In April, I’m scheduled to start a radio show under the same concept. The format of the radio show will include the top 5 stories of the week, a segment highlighting good and bad business ideas that I’m calling Yay or Nay, a segment where I review progress on my personal projects, a guest segment for people doing positive things in St Louis and a list of the other features on the site. It’s my first time on radio so I’m basically making it up as I go along.

I feel like I’m making some progress on a few of my concepts. I’m working on a commercial complex that includes an auto body, restaurant and a co-working space. I’m working on a photography museum. I’m working on a health and wellness conference and a food science conference. I’m also working on a television series about St. Louis. Basically, I’m juggling a ton of different projects with the hope that one of them will work. My theory is that out of 50 ideas, one ought to be good, right?

At the same time, I’m trying to shine a light on the good things about St. Louis. It’s my home and a good city, but I believe it has the potential to be one of the great cities of the world. I think the energy within the start-up community is the most positive thing we have going right now. I think that is where the change and progress will stem from. St Louis certainly hasn’t progressed under the status quo. The same politicians and elites who have been running the city for decades haven’t done much to move us forward. It’s time for change, it’s time for progress and I think the spirit of the entrepreneurial community is just what we need so that’s where I want to be.

I just opened top50stl’s headquarters in the city. We’re getting established at the Tech Artista space in the Central West End, which embodies the collaborative culture I want to be a part of. I have no idea what the future holds, but I’m hopeful it’s moving in a positive direction, both for me and for Saint Louis.

If you’d like to collaborate in any way, please don’t hesitate to contact me at top50stl@gmail.com.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Brian Lunt

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