An Interview With Paul Meunier – Executive Director YIPA

by | Mar 30, 2022 | Youth Training

Kindly give our readers an introduction to your business. Please include what your business is all about, in which city you are located and if you have offices in multiple locations/ cities.

The Youth Intervention Programs Association (YIPA) is a membership association comprised of youth-serving organizations that work with young people who are experiencing toxic stress, trauma, and/or abuse. We help them build highly trained and motivated staff with our suite of learning opportunities called The Professional Youth Worker. We also lobby the state legislature for funding for organizations in Minnesota. YIPA was formed in 1978 by a few youth-serving organizations that wanted to have a united front at the state capitol. In 1984, YIPA was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit. YIPA is positioned to scale and expand our market share and we are implementing a new business plan to reach our goals. We are headquartered in Minnesota and all our team members work remotely. We have members in 19 states and a few different countries too. While we are a non-profit, we are truly a social enterprise because our goal is to earn revenue in the marketplace.

Kindly give us a brief description about yourself (it should include your brief educational or entrepreneurial background and list some of your major achievements).

I have a master’s degree in psychology and for over 20 years I’ve provided direct service to young people. Most of that time I was the lead of the therapeutic team in a separate school for young people that were not doing well in mainstream schools. My job was to ensure our team of mental health professionals were using best practices in the field at the time. I was also responsible for training the academic staff and paraprofessionals so they could earn the trust of the students and help them make educational progress. I am a former elected person and I first became a city council person and then mayor of my city here in Minnesota. That work prepared me well to take on the lobbying work at the state capitol. My extended family has a history of entrepreneurialism and I broke the mold by pursuing an education in the human services field. Having the chance to now grow YIPA with the same entrepreneurial rigor of my extended family is something that I fully embrace and enjoy.

What inspired you to (start a new business venture) or (to make significant changes in an existing business)? How did the idea for your business come about?

I have been in the youth development field most of my life. Over the years, I have seen the situation with young people become worse, not better, despite the valiant effort of many well-intentioned individuals. It became abundantly clear that systems needed to be disrupted. I found many smart people that communicated together in their bubble, tweaking things but never really finding ways to innovate beyond the status quo. My emphasis in undergraduate psychology was organizational psychology, with a focus on training assessment tools. Most of my work has included training of some sort, and YIPA has provided exceptional training for years now, but no one in the industry is acting as a trusted partner to help youth work leaders determine their teams’ training needs and providing them with a customized training plan. That is how we are going to disrupt the industry because that is one of the biggest problems youth-serving organizations have and no one is working to solve that problem. While it’s not a new idea, it’s much needed in the youth-serving industry. I have watched 1/3 of youth workers turnover for years and teams not fully prepared to meet the difficult needs of young people. It’s been an idea in the making for many years.

What three pieces of advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

First of all, be prepared that your plans rarely work out as you think they will. Being a good entrepreneur means your main job is to overcome obstacles in your pursuit to build your organization. You’ll need to adjust or you’ll be stagnated at best, or obsolete at worst. Second, surround yourself with smart and dedicated people. You don’t have to know all the answers. Be willing to lean on others that have skills sets you don’t. Good leaders aren’t intimidated by people who know more than they do, they rely on others to have answers. Finally, be willing to fail. Your failures will teach you so much more than your successes. I firmly believe that if you are not failing, you’re not leading. It has become clear to me over time that leaders are the ones who fail the most. We focus on their successes, but it’s the failures that have led to the successes.

What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

The main skill is a high degree of risk tolerance. I do not mean throwing caution to the wind, but making informed decisions knowing that your ideas may not work. Without risk there are no rewards. Without rewards you are not going to be able to address the imperatives that will make your organization grow. Second, you must have confidence. When you take chances as a leader you are guaranteed critics, or at the very least people that disagree with your assessment of things. You simply must overcome the fear of being wrong and not listen to the people that tell you that you’re wrong. To build something meaningful, you have to swim upstream and ignore all the people who don’t see your vision. Third, you simply must have a passion for your work. To build a successful organization it must be tied to a just cause that fuels your passion. And there is a component to passion that entrepreneurs must also embrace, and that is sacrifice. The world is full of passionate people, but it’s the ones that will do the hard things and give of themselves over and over again that change the world.

How many hours do you work a day on average?

I typically work 10-12 hours a day and 50-60 hours per week on average. However, it’s not unusual to top 70 hours a week at times. Much of the innovation we do occurs when I can work during the weekend or evenings without the distraction of daily business.

To what do you most attribute your success?

I love this question. I believe about 50% of success comes from hard work and the other 50% comes from luck. And it’s the hard work that makes luck have meaning. It’s been said that luck is when preparedness meets opportunity, and I believe that to be very true. If you’re not prepared to leverage luck because of your hard work, then that luck just becomes another missed opportunity. I have known some entrepreneurs to be extremely lucky, but most I know are willing to do whatever it takes, at any time to make their organizations a success.

How do you go about marketing your business? What has been your most successful form of marketing?

Most of my work with YIPA thus far has been developing focus, establishing standards, and building processes. Our growth thus far has been organic and word of mouth. It has provided us good steady growth but not enough to gain the revenue we need to disrupt the youth work industry. We are heavily focused on content marketing and recently began to work on optimizing our websites. We also plan to begin digital marketing now that we are in position to scale our services. Finally, we are in the process of developing a referral program with our current members to gain qualified perspective members.

Where did your organizations funding/capital come from and how did you go about getting it? How did you obtain investors for your venture?

This is an interesting and somewhat frustrating question for me. YIPA is a non-profit and the great thing about that is we don’t have to pay some state or federal taxes. The downside is that we cannot seek venture capital to expand the way we need. For the last several years I have run budget surpluses to build a supply of capital that we are ready to expend as a means to expand. I have not fully ruled out incorporating as a Benefit Corporation (B Corp) as a rational strategy for growth to impact our just cause, the well-being of young people.

What is the best way to achieve long-term success?

You must have a strong and diverse team. A leader can set the direction, but it’s the team that implements what needs to be done. The team must also have the freedom to question and challenge the direction and decisions of the leader without repercussions. One sure fire way to prohibit long-term success is to create an echo chamber. The totality of ideas, individual backgrounds, and perspectives is what will allow an organization to adapt and pivot as needed to secure long-term success.

Where do you see yourself and your business in 5 – 10 years?

In five years, I expect we will have expanded our membership to all 50 states in the US. In addition, I believe we will have created and implemented an average of one new product each year. YIPA will be a creative business in the digital space that will advance the field in ways not seen to date. I see YIPA as a leader and this will only continue to gain traction. But I want to be clear here, we don’t want to be a leader just because we want to lead. We want to be a leader because we care about the well-being of young people. It’s our just cause that will drive innovation.

Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?

I really like the company that hosts our podcast, Buzzsprout. They are excellent at building community within the industry and provide wonderful tools and services for podcasters. What is so impressive is that all of this is content marketing. They seem to fully understand what is needed to build loyalty and they exceed my expectations by regularly making improvements that typically make my podcasting experience better.

How important have good employees been to your success?

Effective team members have been and will be essential to my success. My goal is to develop leadership in all my team members. One of the three main imperatives of any successful organization is to take care of the people side of things. To ensure long-term success and short-term innovation, my team must be high functioning and able to own and carry forward the mission. I’ve had poor performers on the team in the past, and it had a toxic effect on everyone and the organization. It’s taken me some time to understand that if I am willing to accept sub-standard performance, I have to own what it does to the group and not attribute it to the poor performer.

How long do you stick with an idea before giving up?

Oh gosh, that depends on what the idea is. Sometimes, I let go of an idea right away after we try it and it proves unsuccessful. I have no problem with that. This only means the idea didn’t work and I would rather try and know it didn’t than wonder if it would. Other times I will hang onto an idea much longer if it seems important to overall success of YIPA or our members. But I am always aware of the sunk cost effect. I am wiling to let things go when the time is right. In general, letting go means you are on to bigger and better ideas. And I love that.

What motivates you?

I am motivated by challenges. It seems life has always thrown me into situations that are nearly impossible. For example, when I was on the city council, my political persuasion was 180 degrees different than the other council members. I am proud that I never once backed away from my values and there were many 4-1 votes where I was the lone dissenting member. Or when I took over YIPA, we were losing money year over year and lacking a plan to pivot into a new model. It was at risk of closing and needed to be rebuilt while keeping it afloat. I’ve known from a very early age that I thrive on change. While many people resist change, I look forward to it and seek it out.

What are your ideals?

When I was in college, I wanted some sense of how to live my life – I wanted morals to live by. Raised Catholic, the ten commandments seemed insufficient, and I wanted my own version to make it more meaningful to me. So, I wrote Eight Morals to Live By. I am proud to still live by them, and my wife and I have raised our daughter to live by them too. They are:

  1. Enjoy life, family, and friends: Choose your attitude. Life is too short to worry. Companionship is essential to human happiness.
  2. Respect your body and emotions, improve yourself each and every day: Take care of the temple you reside in. Understand your inner self and be congruent between actions and feelings. Find your weaknesses and improve on them. Develop what you despise and immerse yourself in personal interests.
  3. Give of yourself: donate time, effort, personal belongings, and money: Success is measured by how much you can give back, not income. Altruism is the true measure on integrity.
  4. Be respectful to others and treat them with dignity: The more you give the more you receive. Require it of yourself but don’t expect it from others. If you look down on someone, you’ve stooped too low.
  5. Protect yourself and loved ones from others who intend harm in any way: Others will harm if allowed. Be vigilant of those around you.
  6. Be kind to animals and all living creatures: Life is precious, it’s the center of our experience.
  7. Protect the land, air, and water: Our bodies are our temples, and our environment is our home. Accepting conservation improves our existence.
  8. Take good care of personal property: Be grateful. Physical materials improve life and happiness.

How do you generate new ideas?

I feel that I am an especially good idea producer and what makes me good is the ability to see the dots and figure out how to connect them. I get bored quickly and love looking for new ways to do things or improve our services at YIPA. As is the case in life, often the things we are best at can also cause us problems. Having a team member that can slow me down at times is a complementary personality type that I reply on. Most of my ideas come from action. There is a quote I was exposed to in my freshman year of college by Aristotle that I still love. He said, “For the things we have to learn before we can do, we learn by doing.” I am a firm believer that until you start something, you don’t know the right questions to ask. You truly learn and generate ideas once you implement action.

How do you define success?

Hmmm, that’s a tough question because success is always relative to your reference point. I would say that success is measured internally more than externally. For me, I know success when I see it, and it doesn’t matter to me if others don’t agree. Data helps you measure your success, but it’s how you choose to interpret it that matters. Setting goals is a great way to move toward success, but it isn’t the only variable. For YIPA, the ultimate success is that every young person fully develops into a happy and healthy adult. That is unlikely to happen, so the measurement we determine short of full success is subjective. How I measure success about myself personally is not based on whether my idea worked or did not work. I consider myself successful for having the courage to try, win or lose. Not doing is the main regret most people face in their life-review developmental stage of life.

How do you build a successful customer base?

To me, it really boils down to your brand. Yes your products must be exceptional and they must provide real value…that’s a given. Your competitors can do that too. So that’s not what keeps people coming back and it’s not what wins people over as loyal members. Customers want to feel a sense of belonging. They want to be involved with your organization because of why you do what you do. They want to feel a deeper connection and know that you share values with them. They not only want you to make their lives better and solve a problem for them, but they also want to like you for who you are. Your brand is what determines that.

What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?

Oh, that’s an easy one. I love building! I like taking an idea and figuring out how to make it happen. The obstacles that get in your way are exhilarating. If you have the right team, there is nothing that can stop you from solving all the problems. I also love that you don’t know what you’ll discover along the way. So often, obstacles lead to ideas that you have never even thought about. And sometimes, they are better ideas than what you set out to do in the first place. To be honest, I love everything about being an entrepreneur.

What has been your most satisfying moment in business?

My best moments are when my team excels. I like what I do, but I’m never really satisfied with my own progress or success. Like a lot of entrepreneurs, it’s a drive to always get better. But when I see one of my teammates take on leadership roles and excel, it makes me emotional. I get such great satisfaction from their success and knowing that I have created an environment that not only allows them to succeed, but encourages it and expects it from them. I said it earlier, your organization will never be more than adequate unless you develop incredible people around you.

What do you feel is the major difference between entrepreneurs and those who work for someone else?

I want to be clear here, I don’t believe one is better than the other. Every organization needs both to function effectively. Entrepreneurs are people unsatisfied with status quo. They see problems and want to fix them and are willing to take chances, including putting their own reputation on the line. An employee is someone that prefers to give the responsibility of vision and innovation to someone else. They are wired to carry out tasks while hopefully looking for innovations, but not setting the vision of the organization.

What kind of culture exists in your organization? How did you establish this tone and why did you institute this particular type of culture?

We have a culture of fun, professionalism, respect, and intentionality. Because the people of your organization are critical, I set out to find people who thrive in this culture. As an association, and an association in the human services sector, we are in the business of relationships. My team must feel appreciated and valued first. When that’s established, they can share that with our members and potential members. Here is what I find very interesting about the field of youth work, quality relationships with our members matter just as much, if not more than anything else. Our loyal members will forgive our mistakes if they know us personally and understand we are fully committed to making their lives better.

In one word, characterize your life as an entrepreneur.


If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?

I’m not sure I would do anything differently. That isn’t to say that I haven’t made a lot of mistakes…I’ve made too many to count. But I am fully happy with who I am. All the decisions I’ve made along the way have caused me to be who I am today. I firmly believe that we are a product of the people we spent time with, the life experiences we’ve had, and genetics. It’s that simple. Hard stop. If I wished to do something over, I would then wish I was different than I am, and I do not.

How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?

Oh wow, someone that works as much as I do simply must have an amazing family. I can say with confidence that nearly everyone that knows me well would tell you that I work too much, and they are likely right. But my family respects that I am passionate about things and they are willing to afford me the space to pursue them. That said, I have started to simplify my life so that I can spend more time with them when I am not working. I think this has been a welcomed improvement to family life.

What is your greatest fear, and how do you manage fear?

My biggest fear is complacency. Without question, not trying is something that I fear more than trying and failing. I think that comes from the fact that I feel confident that I can succeed at things I am willing to put my mind and effort into doing. Clearly, I understand my limits and weaknesses and not everything is within reach. I would like to run a marathon as fast as Eliud Kipchoge, but that ain’t happening! But, I could set out to run a marathon and with proper training and enough effort, I think I can do that. Wondering if I could run a marathon and not trying it to find out is more fearful to me than trying and not making it. At least I’ll know.

How did you decide on the location for your business?

It was already established and there was no reason to change. Plus, our team all work remotely so it’s not too relevant. However, some day I plan to have people living in different states and even in different countries working for YIPA.

Do you believe there is some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?

The common denominator to entrepreneurship is leadership. And that gets into the debate about whether leadership is inherent or learned. I have come to believe that leadership is both. To me, you must have certain characteristics that can convince others to follow you. But you also can learn how to lead when given the opportunity. Because every industry is so unique, I don’t think there is a common blueprint for people to follow. However, I do think in today’s climate, you must be willing to self-disrupt your own organization for the sake of continuous innovation. The world is changing so quickly that either you innovate or you become obsolete.

If you could talk to one person from history, who would it be and why?

I would love to talk with FDR. In my opinion, he is one of the greatest leaders the world has ever seen. His ability to always be inspirational, despite the serious health issues he faced, is beyond comparison. He understood that to lead people you must understand their needs. He rallied an entire nation and built loyal support from all walks of life. His optimism and toughness have left me in awe of him. If I could talk to him, I would ask him, “How do you have so much confidence.” I am certain he would say that he doesn’t, rather he would say to just trust your instincts and things will work out.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

Without doubt, one person has had a larger impact on me than anyone else. Lee Carlson was the founder of a small non-profit where I first began working after earning my master’s degree in Psychology. Until then, I had no idea the level of altruism a person could reach. She taught me to care for others like I never imagined I had inside me. Her lasting impact on me has been my inspiration to keep going, sometimes against impossible odds. I am forever in debt to the greatness of this remarkable woman and miss her very much.

What book has inspired you the most? (OR what is your favorite book?)

I love reading non-fiction books and I am not sure one has been a favorite more than others. One that stands out is the auto-biography of Lee Iacocca, the former CEO of Chrysler. Reading it as a very young adult influenced my fascination for leadership. Maybe it was because I watched in real time what he did to turn around a failing company. I was amazed by his foresight and ability to reimagine how a company operates and the products it produces. To this day, I still gain my energy from change and the notion of seeing a future and working to get an organization there. It’s very motivating. Not too long about I read the book by Simon Sinek called The Infinite Game. This book, and Sinek in general, have unleashed a new perspective about leadership for me. He argues that for any organization to be successful, you must have a just cause behind your actions, whatever that just cause may be. My lifelong work for the well-being of young people has been my just cause, and it’s refreshing to place that into the heart of everything YIPA does.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made in business?

I would have to say that some of my biggest mistakes have been around the management of individual team members. As a trained psychologist, I have always believed in personal growth in everyone. But hanging on to the belief while running an organization has been detrimental to my team and YIPA as a whole. I have learned that building the core team around you is the most influential thing you can do for the success of your organization. If I allow someone that is toxic to that culture to remain, the effects are long lasting and difficult to repair. My advice to anyone starting out their leadership journey is this, be willing to let people go. It’s best for you, your team, your organization, and likely that person too. If there is a mismatch, recognize it and stop it as soon as you can.

How can you prevent mistakes or do damage control?

I have a long-standing philosophy about people and mistakes. Mistakes are going to happen, it’s inevitable because we live in an imperfect world. I am going to make mistakes, many of them to be sure. It’s how I handle them that matters. Owning and admitting mistakes not only is the moral response, but it builds trust in others. Humans are incredibly forgiving and most often they find it refreshing when people admit that they messed up. I have learned that mistakes are powerful and positive if handled correctly. Don’t be afraid of them, use them to your benefit and to the benefit of the organization that your run.

What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?

My hobbies have changed a lot over the years. That’s not too surprising since I thrive on change. I love running and took it up a couple of years ago. Since then, I have engrossed myself in the benefits it provides. I feel in better shape now than I have since I was in my 30’s, I love the energy I’ve gained, and the way I look and feel. What surprised my most is how positive the running community is towards each other. Since most of us will never win a race, it’s all about setting your own personal best time in a race. Really, you’re competing against the limits you put on yourself. One last thought about running, it seems like it’s mostly a physical activity, and it is, but it’s also a very challenging mental activity. To me, it’s the perfect metaphor for entrepreneurism; you must endure despite constant obstacles and the easy way out…simply quit and walk away.

What makes you happy?

The little things in life are what make me happy. I find the things that choke me up with pride are when others are successful. Just this morning I watched a story of a wealthy person who announced he would fully pay for impoverished high school students in Chicago to attend college. Many of these students are so bright, but the notion of attending college was beyond reach. Knowing that these young people were just awarded a life changing moment, I teared up with joy for them. I have no idea who they are, but I was so happy for them. I was born into privilege, seeing young people of color given just a tad of what I had, gives me hope and happiness in humanity, and a sense of optimism we can reach an equitable society someday.

What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur?

Not many. It would be easy to say that I have invested so much time into my pursuit that I missed out on things, but I have willingly chosen to do that. I am happy with the decisions I have made and openly accept all the consequences and benefits of them. I am happy and pursuing something so much bigger than me…how is that a sacrifice? It’s not.

If you were conducting this interview, what question would you ask?

Ah, that’s fun. I would ask, “Where did your passion for entrepreneurism come from?” For me, I love building things. There is nothing that gives me more joy. And to be building a new paradigm for the field of youth work, my just cause, it matches what I believe is my purpose for existing. And that is the idea I can help others. I am serving something much bigger than just me, and that’s a passion worth fighting for.

Business Name: Youth Intervention Programs Association

Address: 3020 160th LN NE, Ham Lake, Minnesota55304USA

Phone: 763-434-4190

E-mail Id:


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