By CINDY YAP
One can’t help but to be inspired by the energy of Rick Cotton, chairman and founder of eXfuze and VivaKids.
An astute entrepreneur and a dynamic speaker, Cotton is well respected in the direct marketing industry not only for his understanding of the industry, but also for his immense passion for the community.
VivaKids is a non-profit organisation founded by Cotton dedicated to providing for needy children around the world, whilst eXfuze is a network marketing company primarily distributing a revolutionary nutritional drink, SEVEN+.
Behind the success of eXfuze, which has since expanded to some of the strongest direct selling markets in the world, lies a humble story of the real reason why eXfuze was formed.
Cotton shared with The Leaderonomics Show how he wanted to create something to fund his community efforts on a long term basis in his mission to “make the world a better place”.
He and his team then researched to identify what was working best in the marketplace and as a result, eXfuze was born.
In the beginning
Cotton relates the story of how he, an American footballer-wannabe, went to Ukraine right after university to play American football and was given the opportunity to work with underprivileged children for 30 days while there.
“I had the chance to work with kids who didn’t have what we grew up with and weren’t as blessed as we are. It absolutely changed my life,” says Cotton.
Thus began his extraordinary journey to, in Cotton’s own words, get children off the streets. Cotton stayed in Ukraine for two years, Venezuela for five years and Mexico for the next couple of years, serving as a missionary and hosting short mission trips around the world and establishing schools for the underprivileged children.
He busied himself with a non-profit ministry developing businesses and programmes to benefit the mission. This is when VivaKids was formed.
“Working with underprivileged children in 40 different countries taught me incredible principles about leadership and giving back to the community,” says Cotton.
“Through my experience, I learnt that leadership is about serving others; which is displayed by all great leaders in the world historically and at this modern age,” shares Cotton.
Cotton claims that his experience also taught him to be contented in life. “When you have the chance to experience something of this nature, you realise that the life lessons they are giving you far overweigh what you are providing them,” he adds.
“I vividly remember waking up one day nine years ago while living in Mexico and saying to my wife – ‘We are going back to the United States to build a billion dollar company and to change the world!’” he recalls.
“We slowly put the pieces and the right people together and as a result, eXfuze was born throughout the world, including Malaysia,” beams Cotton.
Making the world a better place
When Cotton and his wife, Ann started eXfuze, one of the mandates was that 1% of the gross sales should be channelled back to VivaKids.
“Ann and I remain dedicated to our mission to provide for needy kids globally. Profits are never our focus,” explains Cotton.
“The earlier years were a challenge, as we weren’t making money and were in the red,” he recollects. “It’s a little easier now to contribute a bigger amount month after month as we are now profitable.”
Cotton further adds that the main challenge faced in setting up and building the business back then was putting the right people together and building the right dynamics of a great team, as “it involves blending people with different cultures and laying the right foundation.”
“It is, in fact, a challenge which we have to work on every single day. I always tell my leaders to bring us the right people – people who really want to make an impact and not just to make money,” he says.
“Money is a great tool, but that’s all it should be – a tool,” offers Cotton.
One can really witness the passion in Cotton when the topic of VivaKids is brought up, as he speaks about VivaKids with such burning desire.
“We have missions all around the world, primarily in the Dominican Republic where I worked for 12 years, the Philippines, Mexico and different unique projects globally.”
Cotton adds that in many of these countries, full-time employees who are effective and experienced run the missions.
“Basically, we take kids that don’t have the opportunity to even have a hot meal and education, take them all the way through high school, sometimes to college and link them to relevant people,” he elaborates.
“We really believe in the importance of having an education. It’s not just about writing a cheque every month,” he stresses.
On mentoring and leadership
“The only way to grow as a leader is to put oneself in the right community and work with the right people.” On that note, Cotton counts it a blessing to be able to work with John Maxwell, an author, speaker and pastor who has written numerous leadership-focused books, and Anthony Robbins, a world-renowned life coach, self-help author and business leader and counts them as his greatest mentors.
“John taught me earlier that listing down a goal and making an affirmation are just the beginning. It is your daily agenda that makes the difference – those little things that you do every single day that you compound.”
“John also taught me to learn to ‘fail forward’. Whether it’s hiring the wrong person or making the wrong decision in entering the wrong country at a wrong time, learn from that failure, move forward and build on that experience,” he remarks.
“That was one of the best life lessons I’ve gotten,” Cotton muses.
Cotton opines that an ideal leader is someone who has a tremendous heart, gives back to the community and lifts others up to be better than them. It is his wish to instil such leadership culture within the company, although he acknowledges that such a leader is a rarity in our society today.
“That’s the reason I like direct selling – it cultivates leadership, which involves influencing people. We have an inspiring story in Japan, where we encountered a group of young men who came out of gangs and rebel lifestyle. I shared what eXfuze can do for them to change their lives,” Cotton adds.
“Great leaders give people second chances. This is what we’re doing in eXfuze.”
Business growth despite tough times
Cotton feels blessed that eXfuze remains one of the few companies worldwide that continues to grow and expand despite tough economic times globally.
He attributes its continuous growth to having a product that is second to none. “Our product changes lives,” Cotton quips. “But even more important is the culture and the people that it is made up of”.
“Tony Robbins identifies six fundamental human needs that everyone has in common and one of it is contribution, i.e. the desire to contribute something of value to support others.
“In eXfuze, we build our team around this need with people who are doing right in the world.”
Success nuggets for budding entrepreneurs
Cotton readily admits that direct selling is not for everybody, but advises: “University teaches us certain principles, but fresh graduates must invest in themselves to pick up vital leadership qualities and to nurture the entrepreneurial spirit.”
When asked on his advice to leaders who are keen to grow a business like eXfuze, Cotton guffaws: “Join us!”
On a more serious note, he has this advice to offer:
1. Get out of your bubbles: Start looking at the international world we live in, understand the different languages and join arms with the different cultures.
2. Work hard and be determined.
3. Find something you are passionate about.
4. Always bear in mind that money is just the means to an end.
5. Bring out the driving force within you: Identify what drives you through disappointments – when people say “no”, when you can’t get those investors, when you hire the wrong people or when relationships go wrong.
“Ultimately, these are the positive attributes which we strive to inculcate within eXfuze,” Cotton concludes.
Moving forward, Cotton wishes to see VivaKids and eXfuze continue to multiply around the world to benefit the needy children – who are the very reason for their existence.