Gerard Adams has seen more success in his 31 years than most experience in decades. The serial entrepreneur is best known for co-founding EliteDaily.com, the media site acquired by Daily Mail last year. He also launched online investor relations firm Wall Street Grand (which Adams says reached $10 million in revenue by 2008, when he was 24, ahead of the economic downturn).
It hasn't been an easy path. Adams opened up about a series of early failures during a keynote speech at the Propeller Conference in New Jersey on Friday afternoon. The event brought together thousands of founders and executives -- from companies including Uber and Jet.com -- as well as up and coming change makers, such as Michelle Gall, the founder of Digital Girl, a non-profit that encourages inner city girls to pursue STEM careers.
"Growing up, I really wasn't the smartest kid," Adams said. "I got into a lot of trouble, and definitely could have ended up taking the wrong path."Despite being accepted into and enrolling in Caldwell University, Adams grew disenchanted with academia, and dropped out to launch an online ratings forum for investors and traders.
"Everyone was disappointed," he said. "Everyone looked at me as a failure."
The decision was a good one in the short-term. Companies took notice of his startup, and Adams was soon courted to become the director of investor relations at mPhase, a nanobattery maker. After months of marketing for the company, however, he experienced another failure, when he introduced mPhase at a major pitch meeting - and the battery didn't work during a live demonstration.
"All my hard work went to shit. I was devastated. I thought my career was over," he recalled.
Ultimately, that moment became the inspiration for launching Elite Daily, along with David Arabov and Jonathon Francis, in 2011. "I went to my parents basement, and I decided, you know what, I'm not going to let this stop me," Adams explained.
The ultimate sale of Elite Daily allowed Adams to pay off his parents' mortgage, and support his sisters -- though he was then faced with pressing existential questions. As a generation, Adams said: "we want to build so much, we have so many ideas, but to foster that, to understand the core values that you stand for, that your company stands for. That's what people are going to remember."
It was Tony Robbins who helped Adams to realize what he wanted to do next, at a recent event that Adams attended, when he insisted: "Success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure."
"That really helped shape my life," Adams said. Thereafter, he decided to launch Fownders, a non-profit that aims to get young, underprivileged students in Newark involved with entrepreneurship.
Adams' biggest piece of advice to aspiring leaders: "When you put good energy into the world, and you push forward day in and day out, I guarantee you that opportunities will manifest."