The Founders Manual AMA With Ryan Frederick

Thomas Green here with Ethical Marketing Service. On the podcast today we have Ryan Frederick. Ryan, welcome.

Thanks for having me.

It is my pleasure. Would you like to take a moment and tell the audience a bit about yourself and what you do?

Yeah. So entrepreneur by opportunism rather than, you know, sort of, you know, great brilliance or strategy. So fortunate enough to be part of starting six software companies. And then ten years ago I joined my current firm as a partner of a digital product and data consulting firm. So we help clients build custom software products and solve data challenges and have written a couple of books. Now get the opportunity to wax poetic on stage and in front of a microphone every once in a while about starting companies and building products and company leadership. And now get to angle investors around some of those fun things too. So yeah, that’s the sort of 50,000 ft view.

So you’re enjoying yourself then?

Yeah, I mean I probably still have way too much to do and way over commit and say yes to too many things. And so I haven’t read enough of those blog posts and listening to enough of those podcasts apparently where they tell you to just say no all the time to everything. So I got to get better at that, I guess.

Okay, well you have a book on, correct me if I’m wrong, being a founder or at least that is covered in that. So can you tell me what it means to you to be a founder of a company?

Yeah, I think for me it means, you know, two things. One being a professional problem solver and being a professional firefighter because I think being a founder and entrepreneur by definition is being a problem solver because in theory, you’re starting the company and you’re building a product, you’re providing a service right to help clients and customers to solve a problem.

And then the experience of being a founder is very much one of being a problem solver because whether it’s, you know, you’re trying to raise money and a term sheet comes in late or money is coming in or a customer doesn’t pay or a team member leaves or a team member you thought was going to join the team, isn’t joining the team, and the marketing campaign that you thought was going to work well, it doesn’t work well, and you’ve got to shift the risk there. It’s just sort of this constant state of problem solving. And one of the chapters in the book, the founders manual that I wrote, it talks about running to the fire and I think that really the best founders figure out that they are in a problem solving profession and to the greatest extent possible that they can get comfortable running to problems and not away from problems probably is a great indicator of how successful they’re going to be and how successful the company is going to be. Ultimately, it’s a great point.

I really like that. I’m not sure if this actually covers what you’ve just said, but I did want to ask about when you first became a founder and when you’re a founder of a company, let’s say recently, or if you were to do it now, what the biggest differences between when you did it for the first time and when you’re doing it now, what’s the major differences that you see?

Yeah, I would say the major thing that I’ve learned over time is to get and stay close to your customers. And if you don’t have any customers at the beginning, go find some customers that at least believe in the problem that you’re trying to solve. And theoretically in your approach to the problem form a customer advisory board. Because one of the great mistakes that many of us make in starting companies and starting to roll out services into building a product is we do it in a vacuum and we do it of our own making and sort of our own desires and ego. And you increase your odds of success dramatically. I mean, exponentially, if you build from the beginning with customers at the table and most of us don’t do that because people are messy, people are complicated, customers might ask for things that we have not thought of and were unprepared to provide.

And they might have a different perspective that doesn’t align with our vision for what we wanted the product and company to be. And that’s the thing that I’ve seen over time sort of increase the odds of success of a company and a product or a service is at the beginning, were customers at the table. Or did you build it? And then you had to go chase customers. And I think if you build something trying to chase customers, you’re going to spend so much energy, so much time and you’re going to get so fatigued in the process that you probably decrease your odds of success dramatically. Where if you have customers at the table from the beginning, you know, you might not be wildly successful, but at least you will increase your odds to the point of you’re going to at least have something that’s valuable and then sort of sustainable, that you can then figure out is there greater potential beyond those initial customers?  But that’s the thing that I would do differently now and I still see people getting mostly wrong.

Would you say a summary to that is just making sure that there is a demand? A simplistic summary of what you said is making sure there’s demand for what you do before you do it?

I think that’s too simplistic because I think there’s demand for lots of new products and services, but that’s not enough, right? It’s your approach to the problem, your solution, your view of the problem, all of those things, because there can still be demand. But if you approach it from an incorrect perspective, the fact that there’s demand might not be enough, right? And so I think we’ve got to validate way beyond and that’s where I don’t like the term product market fit because product market fit sort of aligns with market demand, but that’s not good enough for success. Now you have to have customer product fit. You have to have customers saying it. Not only do we have this need, but we know you have a problem understanding that’s deep enough and aligns with the problem that’s valuable for enough that we would be willing to buy and use your product.

That’s a good point.  One thing I wanted to follow up on which was something you mentioned, which I’d not heard before, which is a customer advisory board, it sounds very formal, but if you were to form one, what does that look like?

Exactly. It is kind of formal. It’s more formal than the way that most people go about getting customer feedback validation and sort of iterative work with customers on a product or service and it’s formal to the extent of you invite customers to participate in this board, you set expectations of what their time commitment is going to be, what their involvement is going to be, what your expert expectations of their involvement is going to be, and for what duration you expect this board and their involvement to be. And then you execute under this board the same way you would with a board of directors or any other sort of board in that you’re meeting regularly as a group, You’re meeting regularly individually and for all of these meetings, group or individually, you’re setting an expectation and you’re setting sort of the tone of what’s going to happen in these meetings. And you then need to come to them, prepare for the customers to get value out of it for you to get value out of it. But it’s not formal to the extent of you don’t have, you know, board of director contracts and agreements and the things you might have with another formal board. But I think operationally in mindset it should be a very formal thing.

So how do you incentivise customers to be part of that board?

I don’t recommend that people do because I think that if you incentivise them or give them sort of any monetary benefit as part of it, you’ve now biased their participation because you don’t want customers on your customer advisory board because you’re paying them some amount to participate in it or you’re going to give them some discount on the product.You want customers on your customer advisory board who are going to be straight with you and who are going to give you the best rural real world validation and participation in building the product, not any other sort of compensation benefit. Because I think it changes the dynamic of their perspective and your perspective versus it being about what’s in the best interests of the problem and what’s in the best interests of the product.

So they have to be, would you say, quite engaged in making sure that that product or service comes to life?

Absolutely. They should be participating on a customer advisory board because they value the problem enough in that they probably have enough pain or on the problem that you’re working on that, they say, oh, if this got solved, that would be really good for us and then they have to have enough value in the idea that if we can be part of the solution and that makes sense to us, right, then that would be the equation right for a customer that is highly valuable. Clear problem definition and clear pointer on the problem and then clear value in the right solution to the problem. Those are the customers that you want participating on your customer advisory board because then in some respects, you also have to remove the sort of emotional part of it in that you want customers who care about the problem and the solution, your respective of the fact that you’re the party trying to bring the solution to market and to sort of manifest it. You want them to sort of be impartial enough to say, okay Thomas, if it isn’t you right, we would still be participating in this customer advisory board because this problem is valuable enough and the solution is important enough because that way you’re getting independent customer participation, that they’re not doing it just because they like you or just because they wanted to see you succeed. You’re getting their participation for the raw, right sort of ingredients of, yep, problem matters and solution matters.

Yes. It’s important to get honest feedback around when you’re starting a company, right? So 100% see how that would work in terms of finding those people, would it be? I can imagine it being kind of like here’s a typical profile of what our customer might be and check their in a particular business or scenario, for example, and just approaching them, how would you approach those people, would you say?

Yeah, if you don’t have any sort of embedded customers, right, if you don’t either have any current customers or customers that you’ve sort of already talked to or have expressed some interest. So if you’re approaching it completely cold, then I would say this also forces you to be very specific about, well, who is your ideal customer? Because I think most, most people start companies and they build services and they build products with a loose idea of who their best customer is and who their target customer is. But because we’re flawed, complicated creatures, we often don’t get narrow enough and specific enough because we want to keep our options open, right? It’s like, well, we could, you know, market to these guys and these guys could be our ideal customer. But we also don’t want to shut off marketing to these guys and this group of customers and people that look like this and companies that have, you know, these demographics. And the old adage is if you’re marketing to everyone, your marketing to no one and that’s true. So customer advisory boards are also a great way to force very specific customer targeting and who’s truly the ideal at the beginning. And then I would make a list of, say, 50 of them and I would reach out to them in priority of which of the ones which you absolutely want first and then go and then work that list. And then I would just reach out to them. And I’ve done this in two companies now where I just made that list and I started reaching out to potential customers and I just said we care about this problem. We’re starting to work on a solution. We would love your participation in helping us to build this solution. If indeed this problem matters to you and you see value in solving this problem. And in one case I built a customer advisory board of seven national retailers that would all be household names. Off of those cold emails saying we’re going to go after this problem. We don’t want to do it in a vacuum. We would love your participation in solving this problem and figuring out the right way to solve this problem that you would care about and here are the parameters of the customer advisory board, here’s how often we’re gonna meet, here’s the expectations, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. I only had to reach out to 12 to get seven to say yes. So this is this is not something that we sort of fear, right? That no one is going to say yes to this and that customers that don’t know us, you know, never worked with us are in no way would they ever say yes. I’m willing to help you build a solution to this problem and from a cold outreach. But it works because if truly you’re working on a problem that customers want solved, will they help you build the solution that improves their operation in their business and their lives? Absolutely they will. You just have to make sure you’re going to the right people and that you’re asking.

So I’m very interested to know about of the people who have helped you with that previously, have they all turned into customers?

I have to think quickly about the two situations. Yes. They all ended up becoming customers. That’s a pretty good strategy. I think you could rebrand that as some sort of legion thing and it would be highly appealing to people. But it’s very clever. I really like it well because that’s the other thing. When you’re initially building, you know, a company and a product and rolling out services, you don’t probably have any customers. So building a customer advisory board and having people, you know, having customers validate that you’re on the right track. You understand the problem well enough and that your solution is appropriate. Also means that if you do end up building the solution, they’re likely to convert into your first customers and then you have case studies and testimonials and then you can use them as references to get other customers. Now you have marketing content and horsepower that you wouldn’t have had if you didn’t form the customer advisory board with their participation.

Was there any other interesting feedback that you got in terms of, let’s say big changes that you weren’t necessarily intending on making that came about as a result of having one of those?

Yeah, I think the biggest thing was that they – and this is often the case now in retrospect and not working with other products and people starting companies – is they gave us up internal operational feedback that we never would have otherwise been privy to. So they would give us feedback about yeah, that works okay that way. But I’ve got to train, you know, a department of 1200 people on how to use this product and the way that it works that way, it’s going to be harder for me to train them than if we have a different approach to it or there are 15 different people who have to be involved in this workflow, you guys have accounted for two. How do I account for the other 13 that have to be in this workflow that you haven’t yet accounted for? So there were operational insights that we never could have gotten because we’re not living in their businesses and inside of their processes every day. And so I think that was probably the most valuable insight that we got is sure you understand the problem, you’ve built a solution or are building a solution that solves the problem, but there’s still too much friction associated to it for us to operationalise it and their operational feedback and their process feedback is really what allowed us to remove a lot of friction and have the product to be something that they could use and they could use quickly and get value from quickly because what happens in a lot of software instances is at the surface level.

They say, oh yeah, this looks like it could solve our problem. And then most companies adopt the software and then they realise, oh, this actually doesn’t align with our process is very well. And so the software either gets used to 20% of its value and capability or it ends up just in the graveyard of software that that company tried to use because there wasn’t that operational process alignment. And that’s the beauty of successful software as you have this intersection of software capability and business process alignment that often gets missed and you don’t miss that if you have a customer advisory board and you’re building with customers at the table because they will tell you that function that feature functionality is awesome. The user experience is awesome, but operationally I couldn’t take this into my organisation as it stands right now.

Yeah, I think that’s quite common. I think you touched on it, but I think the intent for businesses to use particular software, for example, and then when they actually try and go ahead and do it, it often doesn’t last very long because of exactly what you’re referring to.

Yeah. And so those are the biggest insights that we got where, sort of, the stuff, it’s the iceberg in many ways, right? It’s sort of, it’s easy to get the stuff above the water, right? Because that’s the stuff that anybody spending any amount of time thinking about and working on the problem could get right. It’s the stuff that’s below the water level, that’s the hardest to get right. But it probably matters to an 80% level versus the stuff above the water being, you know, sort of 20% imperative. And it’s that operational process stuff that it’s just really hard to get right unless you live with it every day and you’re experiencing it every day. And that’s why customer advisory boards are valuable because you get insight that you otherwise, you know, it would be nearly impossible to get.

How long would you say you keep them going for that? They stop after you’ve got a successful product?

Yeah, I would say that they are 69 months usually. I’ve seen some go longer than I’ve seen some go as long as 18 months. It depends on what problem is being solved, what the solution is taking shape to be and how long it’s going to take them for that solution to be validated as having solved the problem, right, initially. I mean, it’s always a work in progress, but I think if the problem is pretty tight, well understood and then a solution can be fairly simple and elegant, then maybe you can get away with a customer advisory board for six months, the level of complexity of the problem and solution that just extends the time of the customer advisory board in alignment with the complexity.

Well, thank you for all that. I thought it was really, really beneficial and I will have to give that some thought. There’s a new concept for me, but I did prep for our conversation. I noticed that you did a Ted Talk. How was it? Did you enjoy it and what do you think when you look back on it?

Well, I haven’t done one yet, I’ve applied to do one. But I’m prepping, right, in anticipation of doing one. And I’ve done a fair amount of speaking over time, but the ability to take something and to communicate it that, sort of, concisely, without much brevity is always a challenge, irrespective of how much speaking you’ve done. Because we often get a window of time that accommodates generally what we want to say about a topic, right? Whether it’s a workshop at a conference, a keynote, a panel discussion et cetera. The thing about a Ted Talk – and I think that’s why they’re so revered by people who do them and people who consume them is it’s incredible. You have to be so insightful about how you want to deliver the message and the value in the message of what you’re saying, that challenge, the value that the audience gets is exponential. Compared to the typical talk, when you think about the investment of time to the value of the message and the content that’s being received. Ted Talk speakers are forced to look at speaking and the delivery of the message in such a different way than they typically have to that that challenge forces them to be better speakers and to sort of think differently about a topic.

Well from the from the video snippet I thought it was a Ted Talk and you’ve got instant authority from it. So when you do your Ted Talk, you know, you have to send it to me so I can actually say yes, you are, you have done a Ted Talk now.

I will. It will be on billboards across the world because I will be so, you know, appreciative at that point.

Well, the talk itself was about creating successful products. If I’m not mistaken, that was the video that I watched. So, have you got any thoughts on that you would want to share today?

My principles of creating successful products are – and we’ve talked about some of them already – get and stay close to customers, do it with customers at the table. The other one is understand the problem at an expert level. You cannot expect customers to want to use and pay for your product if you don’t understand the problem they’re experiencing at least as well, if not better than they are. And I think that’s another one that we mostly get wrong because we’re wired to be builders and to create and that feels like progress and that feels tangible. We don’t spend enough time understanding the problem to an expert level and since we don’t, what ends up happening is we end up building solutions that are superficial and shallow because we build them too by a superficial and shallow understanding of the problem versus a very deep understanding of the problem. I was actually giving a talk at a conference one time and I was, sort of, talking about this and a guy stood up and he said, well, you know, what about Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, you know, and et cetera. And these visionaries and because Steve Jobs famously said at one point, something to the effect of, well, if I went and asked people what they wanted, you know, we would never build anything, you know, kind of sentiment, and my response to the gentleman was, are you putting yourself in a category of Steve Jobs and being a product visionary to that level? And the guy said, well no. And I said me either. So the point is if you understand the problem to an expert level now you have a chance of solving it in a way that customers are going to value. Because if you’re not a visionary, the alternative is you better understand the problem at a deep level and build it with customers, otherwise the chances of that product being successful are virtually zero, right? And so I think that too many people put themselves in that visionary category that I know what people want. I know what people, you know, will value. I know the problem well enough that I can build something to solve it. And the reality is for most of us, the answer is you don’t and this product is not going to take off, and it’s not going to have commercial success if you don’t build it with customers and have a deep understanding of the problem.

Yeah, I think it was we don’t ask people what they want, we tell them what they want, something along those lines, but I can totally understand in terms of probability. If you want to increase the probability of your success, it might be worth getting some feedback and maybe some help along the way.

Yeah, and for me it’s all about increasing the odds of success, right? Because most things don’t work, most new products don’t work and aren’t successful, most new companies don’t work and aren’t successful, so for me this is this is kind of professional gambling, right? And if you want to increase the odds of success then do things that support increasing the odds of success. Don’t do things which are easier and sexier and more glamorous in our egocentric that are not going to increase the odds of success. And so for me, it’s just a choice between do you want to try this or do you want to do it? And if you want to do it then do it based upon principles that at least give you a chance of making it work versus trying it and do it and kidding yourself into thinking that you’re doing it in a way that’s going to be successful when in actuality it’s probably not going to be successful for any products or product creations that you’re particularly proud of.

Yeah, I mean, we work with clients now at the digital pride firm that I’ve been a partner at for ten years. There are so many of them that are a combination of this grit and this problem understanding and this customer-centric city along with being visionary that it just blows my mind. We have a client who is using artificial intelligence to analyse voice recordings to help detect and prevent suicide. And the research behind it is incredible. But then the leveraging of the AI machine learning technology to actually not just get a box from one place to another place better and faster but to actually identify people that are having mental health issues, is one of the best sort of human uses of technology that I’ve seen. And we’ve been privileged to be a part of that. And we have another client that is started out with an award winning piece of hardware connected hardware and I. O. T. piece of exercise equipment that anyone with any physical limitation could use and a fantastic piece of equipment. But the business challenges around getting a new piece of physical equipment installed at rehabilitation centres and hospitals is an enormous mountain to climb because, you know, they aren’t just bringing in new equipment every day, right, to say oh sure, let’s give this a try. So we worked with that client to then say okay, well we have digital guts inside of this piece of exercise equipment that we could take out and we could attach it to any analogue piece of exercise equipment to then make it digital. So that was a good evolution. We then realised, okay, well why couldn’t we just use a camera that’s on a laptop, a phone, a tablet and just, sort of, watch what people are doing, record the exercise and then analyse the video to see whether people were doing the exercises properly. So that client has evolved over the last eight years. I guess it’s been from being hardware-centric to then being hardware-agnostic to now being, sort of, you know, bring your own hardware or bring your own device, right? And just bring a camera and if you bring a camera, right, now that we can see what’s going on and we can, sort of, improve your exercise and have clinicians interface with patients through the videos. And so it’s been a fascinating evolution from something that was incredibly complicated to now something that is still complicated, but it’s complicated in a back-end way versus a user experience way and a hardware way.

And so that’s been just a fascinating evolution. And, you know, when a company and a product evolves like that, from being an award winning piece of connected hardware, to now being a hardware, sort of, non-existent product, right? Except for a device with a camera, there’s a lot of things you do have to give up and you have to let go and then go through an evolution like that. And that’s not easy, right? It’s not easy to build a world class, award winning piece of connected hardware. And then to get to the point of saying, you know, that was awesome and that had its time, but the business doesn’t support this piece of equipment actually being that viable. And so we’re going to move on from it. That’s really hard.

Well, I can certainly see how you would be proud of those two things. Well done.

Oh, thanks. Yeah, we have a fabulous team. So, you know, I get to sort of talk about them publicly and take some of the accolades, but you know, it’s the rest of the smart people here at our clients that make it happen. I just get to be the guy that gets to talk into a microphone occasionally. Well that’s very, very unlike Steve Jobs as well. So one of the funny comedic takes on, you know, his product pitches or releases was that you get all the engineers working so hard to make this amazing product come true and comes true and then he gets up on stage and takes credit for it all essentially, but well done for crediting your team, I suppose. Yeah, well, I think that Jobs and people like that, you know, I mean, that was a different era from a leadership perspective maybe, I don’t know, you know because I see leadership in technology has gone through a niche. It needs to continue to go through an evolution because I think technology leadership and management, there’s too much command and control. And I think servant leadership and some of the other sort of leadership methodologies haven’t made it into the technology world.

I think as much as they should have and have in some other industries and I think that lots of technology managers and leaders need a dose of humble pie because they often become the managers because they’re the smartest people. But being the smartest then is it doesn’t equal being the best leader being the best manager. And so sometimes the best leaders and managers aren’t the smartest people on their team. They’re the ones that have the greatest ability to get the best out of the team, right? And sometimes the technology companies, the smartest people get promoted. But they’re not necessarily prepared capably to be the best leaders. And I think that we’ve got a lot of opportunity, and a lot of work to still do there.

Okay, well, just touching before we move on from the topic of the founder, if you could, just give someone who was starting their own company, a founder, three qualities. I’m going to give you these qualities. What would they be self-aware? No. How no, what makes you tick? Because if you can’t manage yourself as a founder with everything that you’re going to have to deal with, you’re probably going to struggle to manage others and to deal with all the problems they’re going to get presented and dealing with customers and investors and partners. So be self-aware, understand how you tick, what makes you work, what makes you do the things you do, what makes you make the decisions that you make. And then be able to manage yourself well. The second thing I would say is, be very intentional and disciplined because I think intent and discipline trump hustle and all those other sort of attributes associated to hustle in a way that they can’t even be compared, right, because I hear and see a lot of founders talking about the hustle and they’re hustling right in et cetera.

And then when I asked them about it, actually it was at a coffee shop, you know, probably a year and a half ago now, just before the pandemic. And there was this woman who was, sort of, working feverishly in her notebook, said something about, you know, hustle, and I said, oh, you know, what are you working on? And she told me, and she was like, yeah, you know, I’m just sort of working, you know, all the time, et cetera, et cetera. And I said, well, you know, do you have, sort of, a plan around this? And she was like, oh no, I’m just like hustling all the time. And it reinforced for me, she was hustling, but she didn’t know to what end. And so I think be very intentional and discipline because if you’re not disciplined and intentional as a founder and you are just sort of adrift in the ocean, right, it’s likely not going to work. You’re probably going to get incredibly frustrated. You’re probably going to be very fatigued the process.

And discipline is universal and discipline also forces you to do what needs to be done every day and in every moment, irrespective of how you feel about that thing or how you feel at that moment. And so I think discipline is highly undervalued in the entrepreneurial space because most people who want to be founders want to be creative and they want to express themselves, and they don’t look at being a founder is a very disciplined profession, and I think that’s wrong. I think founders, maybe even more than any other profession, need to be incredibly disciplined and much more disciplined than people who are choosing to do something else from a professional perspective. The third thing that I would say is to the greatest extent possible have the rest of your life in order. You’re existence of a founder is going to be so chaotic, it’s going to be so fluid and it’s going to be so dynamic, that if you don’t have the rest of your life in order, when you choose to become a founder and to try to build a company and to build a product, the thrashing that’s gonna then exist is going to be so much and it’s going to be so destructive and so, sort of, energy consuming, that it’s going to be hard for you to be successful.

So if possible have the rest of your life in order so that you have as much energy, time and focus as possible, that you can put into the company, you can put into your work as a founder, great advice, you could snip that out of the video and it would make a great video on its own, wouldn’t it?

I hope so, because I see so many people who are founders and who are starting companies that they are almost doing it because their life is in, sort of, a level of disorder, that now they’re going to start a company in a way to escape. That’s never a good idea because it’s hard enough in and of itself. So I think that there are just some principles that again, it’s about increasing the odds of success, right? And there are just some principles that you break them, you’re decreasing your odds of success. If you reinforce them, you’re giving yourself a chance to maybe make it work because in the end you can still do all the things I’m talking about and the odds are still stacked against you that it’s going to work well.

Coming back to the first one, what is it that you are self-aware about or the things that make you tick?

Good circle back and good question. I know that I have a tendency to want to make very quick decisions and to be able to move on, which is a good trait in some cases, but in some cases there are situations that need more contemplation. So I now know that I need more time to assess. Can this be a quick decision situation or does this matter need more contemplation and more sort of time to think and to sort of assess. So I now know I have to slow myself down to be able to bifurcate decisions into one of two categories, and this is an alignment with the book, thinking fast and slow, right, that there are, sort of, two levels to the brain and two, sort of, thought processes. The one that says that’s reactionary, the one that’s thoughtful. I know that I need to be able to take time and step back and say, okay, is this something that I can just, sort of, decide on now and quickly and I don’t need a lot of information? Or is this something that I need more information and more time to be able to make a wise decision around? And that is it’s an ongoing struggle, right? Because anything that you identify through self-awareness that you don’t, due to the level that you’d like to do or and handle things as well as you would like to. There’s so much rewiring that has to go on inside of that, that it’s never the end of journey around that issue, it’s a work in progress, because you wouldn’t have identified it as an issue is part of being self-aware if you could just, sort of, fix it, you know, in a moment and at the snap of a finger, because otherwise you wouldn’t have identified it as an issue as part of your self-awareness.

And so that can be frustrating because what happens is people then have awareness around an issue and then they want to be better at it, and they wanted to be fixed, and they want the issue to go away as quickly as they recognise that it was an issue and that’s not how it works. This is recognition of an issue that’s now probably going to take years if not a work in progress forever for the rest of your existence to just make sure that you’re handling it and approaching it in a way that gives you a chance to be better at it. Not that it’s fixed. Something sounds yeah, and it probably requires some discipline, right? Absolutely requires some discipline because it’s easy to fall back into whatever your base operating mode is around a particular issue that you’ve identified, you know, and there’s lots of things that can help. I think exercise helps. I think meditation helps. I think anything that, you know, going for – and I guess this would fall into both exercise and meditation – it’s amazing the power of going for a walk and letting your, sort of, mind be free and be open because at that point, whatever you’re thinking then it’s kind of your true state. That’s kind that those are your base thoughts, right? That’s why we get ideas in the shower. That’s why we get ideas when we’re driving because our subconscious can then, sort of, you know, take over and supersede our conscious and our subconscious has a way better sense of who we are and what we should be thinking about and the ways that we should be processing it that are conscious and that’s why meditation and exercise and going for walks and those kinds of things are so good for us and why people often, you know, say that they get their best ideas and their best thoughts and their best way of problem solving during those times.

So one of the things that people can be more disciplined about, including founders, is making sure they carve out time for that open mindedness and for the subconscious to sort of be able to process and take root and supersede the conscious. And those times are, you know, meditating exercise walks, et cetera. And those are things that founders make the least time for most of the time, right? But that time is precious, not just for that activity, but it’s precious so that you allow the subconscious to be able to sort of overtake the conscious because that’s where you really do your best thinking and that’s where you do your best problem solving. Yeah, I’ve heard it compared to, sort of, like the muscles, so your mind acts like a muscle in the sense that if you’re constantly like working out, for example, and you need time to repair and if you’re constantly working and using your mind on a particular thing, you also need time for your mind to relax and then, you know, you can jump back into it again.

Yeah, I liked your explanation better. Would you say you’re disciplined?

I didn’t used to be disciplined and now I’m very disciplined. I do some things without question every day. I journal every day. I exercise every day. I read every day. And those are things that are non-negotiable for me every day to the extent that they’re on my calendar. And I think that one of the things that founders also struggle with is what’s on your calendar is what you see is what you pay attention to. It’s what you care about and it’s what you will do, right? Because now you’ve associated time to do lists are often overwhelming for founders and for product people and other sort of creatives because to do lists end up becoming just sort of this running, you know, shopping list, right, to do list to us mentally and from a perspective to do list isn’t that different than a shopping list really?

But what gets on your calendar and what you attribute time to is what you are truly saying that you value. And that’s why I think that people need to evolve from to do lists to managing those activities in their calendar. Because if you attribute time to it, it means that you value it and that you will then give it its due versus it being just another item on a to do list.

Great point. I only started using calendars when I was doing this and it is 100% true what you say in the sense that it takes priority over pretty much anything else in the day that you got going on because it’s a new calendar and you know, you’re not going to forget about it, so yeah. And I think that I’m also a huge believer in the principle of three areas of focus per day.

So beyond the things that are non-negotiables for me of working out leading and journaling the other three things for me, the other things that I want to identify and focus on in a day, I only put down three in the morning and it’s what three things that day deserve my focus and attention and are going to give me the most value in return for that time and energy. And if at the end of the day you can sit back and you can say, yep, I focused on these three things and it’s not about completing them, because some things are too big to get completed today, but if you can sit back and say I focused on the three most important things today, that’s probably a pretty good day. Yeah, I have heard it said that There are typically, I mean it might be simplification, but there are typically three things that you can pinpoint in a particular business which if you focus on them, they sort of like the 80-20 principle whereby if you succeed at these three main categories, then everything else is going to fall into place.

What do you think about that?

I think I fundamentally agree, but I agree more personally than I do from a business perspective. I think businesses are often more complicated than just three fundamental things. But I don’t think that it’s too far removed from being true, but personally, I absolutely think that’s true, that I think there are certainly if you’re going to be intentional disciplined, there are three things that you can say today, I have to focus and I should focus on these three things, and if they do that’s a productive day for business, you know. I think things have gotten more complicated over time because we could look at even my product firm and we could say, well, if we don’t market effectively, and if we don’t produce content effectively, you know, that we’re not going to generate enough leads and opportunities. Well, the sales team doesn’t then handle those opportunities well enough, we’re not going to convert those into engagements, but if we also can’t recruit the team that we need to execute engagements well enough, then the other two things don’t really matter, and then if we don’t retain the team, right? And then if we don’t manage cash flow well enough, then we were running out of money and, you know, everybody goes home. So I think that businesses are often too – there are too many layers to simplify it down to three things. But personally, yes, but I still fundamentally agree with the principle from a business perspective, because if you don’t know thinking about in that term of three pillars, if you don’t, sort of, force yourself to think about, well, what are the pillars to my business then, you probably don’t manage to those pillars very effectively.

I just think in most businesses it’s probably more than three, it just sounds like a machine when you’re describing, it sounds like a complex machine, a business.

And I think that, right, I think a business isn’t that much different than a car or a bank or an assembly line.

So I do think your point around the three year was a focus for business. You ought to know how your business works, right? And if you had to sort of treat your business as like a machine and assembly line, right, do you know how it works? And do you know how each area is sort of dependent upon the other? And if an area sort of breaks down, how does that affect other areas of the business that I absolutely think that you should know what your goals are, Ryan. I would like to get right now. I would like to get better at selling books than just writing books and I didn’t write the two books that I’ve written, you know, for them to be commercially successful, but my publisher would like them to be commercially successful. And it’s top of my mind for me because I’m meeting with my publisher an hour or so after we have this conversation and I’m sure he’s going to be encouraging me to find a way to sell more books and so I sort of owe it to the publisher to figure out how to get better at marketing and selling books because I didn’t write them, you know, to sell, right, a bunch of copies of the books. I wrote them just because I felt like I had something to say and I really wanted just the challenge of writing the books.

But now, to be respectful of my relationship with them, I now have to figure out how do I get better at marketing and selling books so they can get out of the relationship what they need to get out of it, even if I don’t necessarily need to get out of it what they want.

Well, that’s a nice segue. All right, where’s the best place to buy your books?

I didn’t even plan it that way but that sounds, you know, so insincere now after saying it. The best place is That site has links out to both of the books and some other stuff and then both of the books are on Amazon. So if people just want to look there and that’s their happy place of book purchasing that works well.

Thank you for the value today. Is there anything which you think would be of value to the audience which I haven’t asked you about today?

I read about this in the founders manual. I think many people become founders who shouldn’t be founders. And I think that before just taking the leap, really question whether it makes sense for you from who you are as a person and your makeup and whether you really care about the problem or whether you’re doing it just because you feel like it would be something that would be sort of cool to do. And then the other thing I would add is I’ve been way more successful being opportunistic and then being strategic inside of an opportunity than to, you know, being overly strategic on top of not an awesome opportunity. So there’s lots of books and there’s lots of you know, content about strategy and being a good strategist, but I think being a good strategist without massive opportunity underneath it is sort of an exercise in futility.

So if you’re opportunistic and then you see an opportunity you want to sink your teeth into, do that and then get strategic about it. Interesting, Ryan. Thank you for your time today.

Thomas, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.