Sponsored by our friends at Veeam Software! Make sure to click here and get the latest and greatest data protection platform for everything from containers to your cloud!

Sponsored by the Shift Group - Shift Group is turning athletes into sales professionals. Is your company looking to hire driven, competitive former athletes? Shift Group not only offers a large pool of diverse sales candidates from entry level to leadership – they help early stage companies in developing their hiring strategy, interview process and build strong sales cultures that attract the best talent for early stage companies.

Sponsored by the 4-Step Guide to Delivering Extraordinary Software Demos that Win Deals - Click here and because we had such good response we have opened it up to make the eBook and Audiobook more accessible by offering it all for only 5$

Sponsored by Diabolical Coffee. Devilishly good coffee and diabolically awesome clothing

JR Butler is the Founder and CEO of Shift Group. This is an episode filled with lessons on what it takes to commit to building yourself, your team, and your business. JR is an inspiration and I can’t wait to have him back on to dive into more of his story and the work he is doing with Shift Group.

Check out Shift Group at https://shiftgroup.io and big thanks to JR on the launch of our new partnership to help amplify what he and the Shift Group team are doing to help empower elite athletes with the tools to succeed in technology startups as growing sales leaders.

Make sure to check out our big announcement on the partnership with Shift Group too!

Sponsored by our friends at Veeam Software! Make sure to click here and get the latest and greatest data protection platform for everything from containers to your cloud!

Sponsored by the Shift Group - Shift Group is turning athletes into sales professionals. Is your company looking to hire driven, competitive former athletes? Shift Group not only offers a large pool of diverse sales candidates from entry level to leadership – they help early stage companies in developing their hiring strategy, interview process and build strong sales cultures that attract the best talent for early stage companies.

Sponsored by the 4-Step Guide to Delivering Extraordinary Software Demos that Win Deals - Click here and because we had such good response we have opened it up to make the eBook and Audiobook more accessible by offering it all for only 5$

Sponsored by Diabolical Coffee. Devilishly good coffee and diabolically awesome clothing

Satyam founded UXReactor in 2014 together with his brother, Prasad. Under his leadership, UXReactor has become the fastest growing specialized experience design firm in the USA, with a team of 60+ employees spread over three continents.

Before starting his entrepreneurial journey, Satyam served as Managing Director of Product Design at Citrix in San Francisco, where he played a crucial role in growing the product design team from four members to over 100+ practitioners.

Satyam was instrumental in building PayPal’s Global Design Center in India while leading a design team in Silicon Valley. We explore an in-depth conversation of modern UX, the myths of UI and UX, plus the first principles of design and its impact on usability and business success.

Check out the UXD Playbook here: https://uxdplaybook.com/

Find out more about UXReactor here: https://uxreactor.com

Transcription powered by HappyScribe

Hello, everybody. Welcome back. My name is Eric Wright. I’m the host of your DiscoPosse podcast. Thank you for listening and for watching. Of course, if you want to check out the video version of this and other amazing episodes, you can head on over to youtube.com/discopossepodcast. You can see them all as they happen, which is kind of fun. And thank you for all the people that are watching because we’re actually getting really good uptake on that side of the world. All right. This is Satyam Kantamneni. He is a fantastic, fantastic guest. He’s doing really interesting stuff with his team, UXReactor. He’s also the author of the soon to be released Uxdplaybook, which if you follow the links, go to Uxdplaybook.com. This is a must get so well put together. We have a fantastic conversation talking about his approach to user experience and real user experience. So we separate the myths of UI versus UX, the psychology that goes into creating user flow and experience in general. This can be done in software, in business, in physical spaces. It’s all over. So it’s a real pleasure to take the learnings and the research that Satyam is doing and bring it to this audience. You are going to enjoy this. I sure hope you do, because I came away with a real sort of feeling of being blessed after having gotten all these lessons.

And of course, speaking of reasons why we can have this incredible user experience, I’m so proud to say thank you to the fine folks at Veaam Software who are supporting this podcast and helping me to make sure we can bring more great conversations like the one we are about to listed with Satyam. If you want to learn about everything you need for your data protection needs, whether it’s in the cloud, whether it’s on premises, whether it’s physical servers, even those containerized crazy workloads. That’s right. Those containers, they go away and they’re gone. So you’ve got to be careful. You can actually back up because there are persistent container workloads. There are great reasons to back that stuff up. Hey, I could go on for hours about that, but I’m not going to because you’re going to go to vee.am/discoposse. And you’re going to check it out yourself because you need to do that much much more than what I just talked about.

Go check it out. Go to vee.am/discoposse. And thank you to the amazing people at Veeam Software. And if you want to toast somebody to your fantastic Veeam Protection, then drop it over to Diabolicalcoffee.com. Grab a pound of the fantastic beans. They’re devilishly good. And the diabolical asthma swag. All right, let’s get to the podcast.

I’m Satyam. I’m the co-founder and presently the managing partner at UXReactor. And today you’re listening to me at the Disco Posse podcast.

Satyam, thank you and welcome to this discussion. I really enjoy when we get to explore the topic and the practice of user experience. And as we chatted a bit in our pre discussion, preparing for this, it’s such a loaded phrase. There’s over marketing, overuse of the word. And I think this is a great chance for us to talk to you about UX Reactor, the basis behind your approach, the book, which I’ve been thankfully able to access a preview copy prior to publishing, which is fantastic. But for folks that are new to you, Satyam, if you don’t mind, give a quick introduction and a bio, and then we’ll start to talk about the UX Reactor story.

Absolutely, Eric. I think it always is useful to see. I have a very, I would say an eclectic background. I studied electronics engineering way back when I realized very quickly that I didn’t want to be a chip designer and needed more human aspects of work. I was serendipitously introduced to a professional at that point called human factors, how humans interact with complex technologies. And that became my line of work for the last two decades. So that’s kind of the highest level over time. I’ve studied engineering, I’ve studied design, I’ve studied business. So all three aspects of looking at how things come together. And fortunately, seven years back, I got to kind of spend a lot of time by building a firm, UXReactor, and looking at the intersection of all three of them, especially as the world is getting more tech savvy and more tech pervasive and businesses are kind of driving a lot more tech. But with a design mindset, obviously, Steve Jobs did an awesome acceleration to a lot of these things over the last two decades. So, yeah, I’m kind of right at the cusp of seeing this go through. And being in the Silicon Valley also helps me to kind of be very much plugged in with the tech Mecca that’s kind of it’s become at this point.

Yeah. The surroundings are certainly still despite the fact that we’ve seen sort of a depatriation of the real estate and folks moving to other parts, sort of broadening the locations that people can build from. There is still such a storied sense of history there and so much still active. Right. It’s always amazing to me. And I think the best thing, if you don’t mind, I’d love to just begin with, if you were to type it into Google, define user experience.

It’s often the most misunderstood word in the profession. If you really look at it, every system in the world has users for the system and users come in different contexts and every user has an experience. And the best definition I’ve found so far in my profession is any event or occurrence that leaves an impression is an experience. And therefore you need to kind of look at every event and occurrence that your system actually has. But now if you look at systems like hotels, they have studied this for a long while. Our hospitality, they’ve studied experience for a long while. And that’s why you’re paying a lot more for a red carton than a much more, smaller, cheaper option. But then in the tech world, where you’re starting to look at one of the biggest trends that’s going on as tech is becoming more front and center, is obviously dehumanizing to in a lot of ways, but also humanizing to a lot of ways. Right. So dehumanizing systems that you would call customer service. Now, you probably are talking to a conversational system, but again, it still has to work with a human on the other side.

So that’s why experiences are becoming much more important, especially as those events are becoming tech events, as those movements are becoming tech movements and memories are being created with tech. So you really need to kind of define experience on that end. And that is what is called user experience in the context of the tech world. But honestly, user experience, and the first thing I tell anyone is user experience is a mindset. And then how do you bring that mindset to tech is where I believe is the biggest opportunity. And if you really think about what Steve Jobs did, he did that. And that’s why today Apple is still the world’s most valuable company.

Yeah, it’s funny if we take that sort of Apple example, even within Apple, during and beyond the Steve Jobs era, we saw the introduction of Schemorphic, which was a word that no one needed. They realized they needed to know what it meant. And then on the tail end of that, the poo pooing of Schemorphic as so last year. Right. Like, we suddenly was like, oh, the natural wood texture on stuff. They’ve seen evolution. But the ethos behind the experience is always consistent. And I think that’s what’s interesting in looking at your own background as well. It’s the vision, the ethos. It’s the thing that you want to achieve. The way in which you achieve it may alter by technologies, by whether it’s visualized, whether it’s audible, whatever it is, but it’s ultimately it’s the practice that you’re creating.

Actually, let me kind of dig deep on the word practice there and also kind of sometimes add profession to it because a lot of times people don’t look at that as a skill, then more like a profession. And unfortunately, that’s kind of where a lot of business leaders kind of make the mistake. So I’ll kind of let me unpack that a bit there. When you look at the profession of user experience overall or the practice of user experience, there are different levels of how you can create value. The UI level, which is like, how does the screen look to me? How does it feel to me that’s kind of exactly towards like, Schemorphic style, hierarchy, color, fonts, all those things kind of come to be in that craft. However, when you start looking at it as a next level, you start looking at how does the whole product experience look like. So when you think about Apple, they look at an ecosystem experience. Right. So when you go from and anything, again, when you look at this is nowadays, Tesla has done this really well. They look at the whole ecosystem and they’re looking at the whole product as an ecosystem.

And that’s kind of the next level of how you’re thinking about the user’s experience. And then the third level, which is kind of the level which is much more organizational, where everybody and every element, right, from the lowest end organization, the highest organization, the newest organization, the oldest, whichever way you look at it, they all think about the user first. The users experience second, the design third, and then fourth, the technology. And that’s kind of when you start thinking about every facet of what the business is, that’s the last level and the most important frontier of user experience. And again, every time you think about the user and how this will make them feel that moment or that opportunity, that fundamentally is where value is created. I unfortunately see nine out of ten organizations spending their time in the UI side, and therefore, they only see value there and also make a lot of misteps there.

Yeah. This is the interesting. Like the misnomer, when people say user experience, they inevitably think you’re a front end developer. Like, no human computer interaction is not about which bloody JavaScript framework you’re writing your front end in or response you’re using.


You look up the user experience as a phrase has been coopted by web designers building a single page app. And I have to be careful. So there is a truth that that in itself is a user experience, but that is so niche and so narrow above definition. And the use of the phrase that the same person that will do a fantastic single page app that will draw you through a journey that makes you get to the bottom to use a strong CTA and like you do all of the right things. That is not the same as somebody who like a Tesla, like an Apple, like an IBM, like a Microsoft, like a power company that wants you to do something like you and your clients experience, the user experience goes far beyond you getting to the bottom and clicking the button.

Absolutely. And I think that is obviously the right intent, because eventually that’s how they’re interacting with the system. But it takes a lot of deep understanding of why is the user there? What are they trying to do? What are the motivations? What is the context? The same way as you would design for a kindergartner an education platform is not the same way as you design it for a high schooler. Right. And there’s all those nuances and so much context is there. And that’s where the beauty of user experience is when you can unravel it.

The interesting thing is I like that you mentioned the idea of education built towards a preschooler or elementary school fundamentally different from somebody who’s college age or beyond or perhaps even an octogenarian, right. And it is funny because I noticed things that can seem wondrous to a 30 to 50 year old are instinctual and obvious to a child sometimes. And I always give this example of the simplest thing is you take a coin and you take the coin, and all you do is you make the coin disappear. To everybody else they look at your hand because you can force them to do this. But the first thing that a child does, I’ve got two young kids is they look at the hand that you took the coin. They know right away they know where it is. You can’t push them towards an experience. You can’t guide them because they instinctually have figured it out. But to the user of a system, it’s the same thing. It’s like you have to try and pull them towards something that they didn’t instinctively necessarily believe they needed.

I think there is a little bit of I have a different perspective there. Right. So there’s an ethical element of user experience that you are trying to give people what they need, however, give it to them the way they want it in the context that they are. And the last two parts is where the tricky part is. Right. Because again, in the profession, there’s an element of looking at trying. How do I get you to click on things? How do I get you to not do what I want to do? There’s a lot of dark patterns there. But there’s one aspect of that in the last two years, more or less. Right. So what you have seen is legal has now become a tech system. Right. You have education has become a tech system. You have seen health care becoming a tech system. You’re now talking to telehealth way more openly than three years back. And these are all things that again, giving it to like a kid who’s going to go telehealth kid who’s going to go into education. All of these things are actually now becoming much more where the systems are created without the user in the loop.

And actually, one thing, Eric, I’ll tell you, which is what’s fascinating, as I became a student of this profession, that till the 40% of the products that are shipped out there are shipped without talking to one user. Right. So they’re built out with that construct like let me ship it and they will start using it. And that is just a fascinating thing of how many millions of dollars are spent on building feature sets and building products that actually don’t work for the user. And that’s why you see a product market fit as a failure. I actually think that’s the fastest way of throwing money at something and hoping it will stick and it doesn’t happen.

Now, this brings up a good callback to a famous Steve Jobs saying whether it’s actual or misquoted is the idea that users don’t know what they need until you give it to them. And people hear that. And it’s such an out of context phrase because if you read the stories of product development and product management inside Apple, it was so wrapped into user interviews and continuous research with real users. What was the I forget what it’s called, the creative process, I think, or creative design, I can’t recall. I should look it up. There’s a great book that talks. It was like an early project manager who worked with Jobs and creative selection. I think that was the name of the book. And it’s such a fantastic journey through that. But all people are going to get take out of that is I’m going to create something because the user doesn’t know what they’re doing.

Because along with the Steve Jobs code, another quote that comes from Henry Ford and it also kind of muddies the water, which is like if I just ask users what they want, they’ve just told me about a faster horse. And this was in the context of building the Model T. In both of these contexts I think a lot of people, when they read that or listen to it, they don’t understand the underlying essence. You still have to understand that users and let’s say talk about the Henry Ford context, that users will still have to kind of take care of a horse. There was not a whole family that can sit on the same horse. There is you cannot go faster than a certain speed. There’s a lot of those elements that also are informing how you’re kind of a designing in that context. And those are still user problem the same way as when you look at Steve Jobs, you start looking at he was very in tune with who the users are that he’s building for that he actually what are the pain points for them and what is he trying to kind of build from?

Like, he knew that people were carrying multiple devices, one for music, one for camera, one for personal organization. And then he said, I’m going to bring all of that together. But however, they don’t know how that will look. Like the visioning is a different problem versus the need of the R. And I think a lot of times people confuse the visioning of going and talking to user what they actually need versus what the needs of the R are. And I actually think there are two different facets. And you should really be building a lot more deeper sense of the need of the R. And that only comes when you start observing users and are much more empathetic to the users of your system.

Yeah. And this is, you touched on it before, too. And I talked about even in the way I described it. Right. The idea of leading somebody towards something that you want them to do versus observing them and figuring out how to create a system in which it would naturally draw them to a path.


And you used the word ethical and that we’ll talk a bit at length about that. I don’t want to get there just yet, because that’s a single thread that I really want to spend some time on. But it is interesting that when you observe behavior with the goal of building systems towards the end goal with continuous observation and feeding back to that loop, the ability to have both the patience and the capability to go through that, it’s got to be a unique perspective and a unique person that can do that.

To a large extent, yes. Again, if you care about it enough, you will spend the time studying it, learning about it, immersing yourself in it. Right. I mean, you can talk about building all the software for health care. I’ll give you an interesting anecdote here. This was early in my career. I was designing a system for breast biopsy system for the doctors. And as a young designer sitting in the office, I was like, yeah, this is how the doctor would use it. They would go and I was designing the thing where they actually were hitting the dials in the system so that they can get the right settings for the suction without going too much into the details of how the system works. But as I sat there, I assume that the doctor is hitting those dials and therefore this is how they will look at it. But when you go and observe and you immerse yourself and you see a couple of them, first of all, it’s hyper intimidating, very loud. And more importantly, the doctor is not doing it. The doctor’s focused on the biopsy itself. He’s giving the commands to the assistant who’s actually doing it, just observing how that subtlety works, how the user and the ecosystem work, then you realize, I just designed it for the wrong person.

The doctor would never touch it and it’s an assistant who’s touching it. So the commands have to be much more clear. And if semantics are important, if a doctor says Zoom in and then there’s no Zoom in button there, then the assistant is there’s a lot of those nuances that you really think about. And that just was my first one of my early lessons I learned where you started observing that you really have to immerse yourself. But if I was just sitting on the desk and doing it like most people would, then obviously it’s not going to work well, and then the doctor is not going to use it or they’re going to have more issues or more importantly, it’ll have some repercussions to the patient that we don’t really don’t want.

I guess if you think it’s actually a really good example too, because Ergonomics and physical environment is the sort of the OG of user experience. Right. We’re achieving this through software design and software user interfaces, but it used to be very physical. And I remember even hearing a good example was like in sport performance, somebody Lance Armstrong, love them or hate them, obviously, a well known cyclist, fantastic at time trialing. And so they did is they called them their F1 team. They were like fanatical designers, engineers that were building the best bicycle, and they were doing everything they could to shave every possible second off of a time trial. Because it’s 60 kilometer time trial will be one by 3 seconds. And that’s horrifying to imagine, like, how accurate you need to be and how differentiated do you have to try to be to achieve those 3 seconds? And so what they did, they said in the winds tunnel, the perfect bike design for this was going to be sort of narrowing the pedal width by millimeters. It was almost an insignificant difference. But over the course of a 1 hour time trial, it would take 5 seconds off of the time trial, which is the difference between winning and losing.

And when they put him out on the road with it, he came back and his time was worse. And they said, what happened? And he’s like, my hips are on fire. Because while engineering wise, it was the ideal design. He just physically did not work like it took away from the way that he can physically ride it. When you see the marriage of humans and engineering, you realize that it’s two fantastically different practices that are coming together.

Absolutely. And I think that’s the in the design world, we call it prototyping with the users. We can prototype as much as you want in the lab, but taking it to the users, letting them interact with it, letting them engage with it and then observing it and iterating on it. Absolutely. But again, these are all things that we have already figured out in the non-tech sector. Right. So prototyping has been a big part of architecture. They scale model everything before they actually build it has been a big thing. Industrial design, where they actually prototype and kind of use it. But then in the software world, for as much as we look at it, as I said, 40% of the products are shipped without even talking to one user or showing it to one user. And that’s kind of where I find that as it software is, it still is not behind the curve there.

Yeah. And often, too, even if they feel like they’ve been successful once, like they’ve gotten somebody to download and they see if the numbers are heading the right direction, if they’re going up into the right as far as adoption and retention, because it’s sort of a Schrodinger’s cat problem that would have gone better if we had spent more time with the user. We’re gaining an adoption. Our turn rate is low or reasonable. So how do you define successful but meanwhile both pre products and then post product that’s the other thing is that user experience is continuous. It’s not a thing you do once and say, okay, good, stamp it, mark it complete, it’s now in QA and continuous engineering.

Yeah. And I think you use a good term there. Continuous engineering, actually. I’m very inspired personally over the Kaisen philosophy of continuous improvement. And one thing I always say is if your users have problems, that means you haven’t done your, if any problem in the system. You haven’t done enough design or experience design until your users are in delight mode. And it’s actually interesting because once you get in the delight mode where they’re like someone thought about me or someone thought about my context, that smile that comes in in their face, that’s where you kind of end that phase. Now the irony of this is a year later that’s table stakes. Now you had to score in more delight. And that’s why it’s continuously because now just think about smartphones. Today, anyone who comes out with a smartphone without a touch screen interface, are they even actually viable? Absolutely not. Right. But then when Apple came out with the first touch screen with their construct, a very different anyone comes out with a smartphone without conversational AI – not stable stakes. But that’s where your delight has to continuously be evolving. And as tech becomes more and more powerful, you really have to queue in and what is that pain point? What is that opportunity? And that’s why continuously, every day you’d eat, sleep and drink that as a systems designer or a software systems designer, otherwise you will be left behind.

When did you know that this was a passion and that you had the ability to create a world around it?

I’ve been in this profession for 20 years. I enjoyed this, but I’ve never really knew why. And I think the last ten years is where I’ve started honing in and why. And the why is that when you really think about it, this is one profession that actually you can talk to users, understand the pain points, quickly come back prototype items and then go back to them, talk to them. And when you start realizing the power that has that you actually are as a profession, which is nothing less than when you really think about it as like an innovative. And that’s when you realize that everything can be thought through in that angle, any problem can be solved from this angle. And that’s kind of when I truly started realizing the power as I started growing in rank and like one small change here can make such a telescopic effect. So I would say the last ten years is when I started realizing more and more the power that this can unleash. Obviously a pivotal moment was going to business school and starting to understand more business problems from other peers because I went to an exec program.

But before that, I really enjoyed it, but never really understood why and what are the contours of that interest. But I would say the last ten years has been more so being very aware of it.

Now, this is an interesting point that you braised that I think is very important is the connection of the business outcome to the user experience. Only the measurability, because it is a very sort of touchy-feely type of idea. As we talk about sort of the practice of user experience that people believe it’s like, people will like it more. We use odd superlatives to describe it, but there is measurability in it. So tell me where that differentiates a true user experience designer from maybe somebody who’s involved in user experience, but just more specific and niche is part of the process.

As I mentioned earlier, you can do a lot of user experience on a UI level. Designing a screen, a form factor itself. But all you can design and use experience as an organizational aspect. Now, a good designer is thinking about how do I again, I’ll give you an interesting lesson I learned early on which would probably connect some of these dots. I was working in a company once, and I’m not kidding you. Every team I worked with said we are user centric. And it was a fascinating thing. I’m customer success, I talk to users. I’m user-centric. I am customer support. I talk to users, I’m user-eccentric. I am engineering, I’m building for users, I’m user-centric. I am marketing. So everybody had the frame of mind. You go and ask the user, how is this company for you? And they’re like, man, I talked to support. They will send me one place and they say, go talk to them. Products actually does one thing. And so from a user’s perspective, they were like, I hate what you guys are doing and I don’t like it. So when you look at it, it’s interesting, the intent is right, but the outcome is kind of not coming together there.

So when you start thinking about what a good designer bad experience designer, absolutely good designs are being done on the UI leve., but really bad design is being done on organizational level. So that’s kind of where you’re looking at. And obviously the impact of that, the more higher you go, the more value that you can unlock. But in the most basic sense, I think they’re coming back to something that you kind of started with, where’s the business sense? The UI level is obviously very touchy-feely. Like they feel right, they look right, they’re delighted, all that stuff. But if you really look at all businesses, all business stakeholders, they care about adoption, retention, satisfaction, efficiency, and these are all user efficiency and user engagement. And to get to that level, you really need to understand why the user gets it, doesn’t get it, what’s the context, who the user is. And then you kind of build those experiments and iterate on it. And that’s truly when you start and you can increase adoption, you can increase attention. So many times you make tweaks and e-commerce or transactional experiences, and then you start seeing them back, like just explaining something to someone gets them to sign up faster.

Just getting them to kind of talk to a community and building a community experience gets them to engage better. So these are all things that you need to know, what are the unmet needs? And then because of that engagement, there’s a higher attention, there’s higher adoption, there’s all these nuances that come to it, everything that you do. And that’s also why UX Reactor was founded, because I was just sick and tired personally, where design was becoming very much like a touchy-feely thing. And I said, no, design is a business driver. And I met and that was also the pivotal point for me was finishing our business school and talking to about 100 other business leaders from different contexts. And I could see that they had real business problems that I could solve. And that’s kind of what the genesis. And actually, I think anybody who says that as a practitioner, that designers touchy-feel, that means they don’t really understand the power. And unfortunately, that is still a profession that’s in adolescent. So therefore, there’s still a lot of that going on.

Yeah, I worked in finance and insurance and technology, like in tech support early on in the first part of my career. And it was trying to think it was like 2003, so early 2000s. And even like pre-1999 origin, I worked at Sunlight Financial, anybody who can look at my LinkedIn. So I’m not giving away secrets here. And I remember we were like moving from mainframe terminals to PC. So this is like Windows 31. The first change, adding a mouse to somebody’s life was like, good golly, I’ve never seen one of these things before. What is this? What do you do with it? It was literally that level of change in business process. And then we had this one team that I remember that always stood out to me. And they were the ones that had colored hair and tattoos, and they sat in the middle of the floor of our IT Department for some reason because we had all these printers and they were the design team, and they worked on the only Macintosh computers in the whole company. And they were these sort of odd group of folks in that they were different than the traditional suit wearing insurance folks. We’re still in a very corporate environment. However, the leader of the team was this fellow named Paul. And I learned so many lessons from him, that he could beautifully nurture the creative process that these young, just such interesting people could bring. And they were looking at, like, physical design and like brochures. And then it became email. They became what they did was pervasive to the way the company was portrayed. And then he was sort of like the dad of the group, but who also understood that what are the marketing numbers? What are the ways that we measure it? And that was my first understanding. I’m like, this was design experience versus just print. They weren’t a print shop. They were truly connecting like a textual experience, like tactile experience rather, to a business outcome. And it was like, oh, wow, I knew it was important. And as I saw over years that we moved into software design and software user experience and seeing it done right in some organizations, I was like, you knew that they got it and they understood the impact.

Absolutely. I think I’m a big believer of multidisciplinary thinking. And when you connect the dots, it actually is much more effective. Yeah, absolutely. I think the only thing when you said that that’s one reaction I see is like the creative kind. And yes, absolutely. There are a lot of people that are different and in the creative pursuit and so on and so forth. But it’s actually more of a mindset. And it’s a mindset that I personally advocate that a lot of people can get into, especially now that we all are equally, all the tools and systems and methods are available. It’s much easier to become an engineer if you want to watch YouTube videos and learn in the same way. Much easier to learn design and appreciate design. There’s just so much opportunities to kind of become a student of a lot of different systems. But yeah, I think design is kind of coming in. Most organizations in the Valley, as well as most tech companies, have some investment in design. What kind and where they are and how mature is a different question, but they have some investment. Just to give you one quick story, there is I started my career also in early 2000s, and my title still was User experience at that point with User Experience specialist.

And I had a scrum manager ask me like, oh, so what do you do? And I said, I’m a user experience specialist. I said, okay, what do you code in? I said, I don’t code in anything. And then he’s like, oh, so you just get paid to do boxes and arrows? And I was like, I get paid to do boxes and arrows. But that’s exactly fascinating. But then again, not in any real intention, but just how his understanding was. How can you build your experience without this? But over time, I still kept in touch with that master. And it’s fascinating. I mean, how much the profession has evolved.

If you think of those days. I mean, I remember coming through doing some work in telecom, in schooling, and I went to University, like took some part time courses, and it was all about information technology management. And they were teaching us about legacy telecom technologies that were like decades old. And that was at that time the beginning of what I started to see HCI – like human computer interaction, was beginning to become a subset of computer science. But only a handful of people moved towards it versus today. I would imagine that it’s actually probably core competency and core curriculum, I think, for computer science. So we’ve seen it, be understood the importance and the impact that it can have.

I think absolutely. I think just look at it. Right? I mean, what was that saying? That we have more computing power on our body than the space shuttle that went to moon? And that just is fascinating. I mean, the amount of tech that we have around us, the amount of systems we are interacting with, and if you do not think about the human in the loop and build that around that, then it just is an opportunity lost. And again, with the curve, there will be a lot of people adopted because it solves a problem. And just the same way as I would say before FaceTime and Apple brought FaceTime. And yeah, you could talk to person to person if you knew the IP, and then you kind of plug it in and then you do a thing and maybe kind of figure out the firewalls and all that stuff. But today it’s just like I click on a person’s face and I call them, and then I’m talking to them, and that just is the nature of how technology has evolved. And do they really care about what IP and which country and which location?

And they don’t because the systems take care of it and the human just wants it to work that way. But again, it works with an iPhone. But when I go into my home, it’s kind of a different context. So there’s a lot of those still, as technology is becoming pervasive, I just believe that there will be more opportunities for us to really think about human in the loop across systems.

And I think what we learn is that through those first iterations, just like with Teleconferencing, right. It was like you’d have a Polycom system in one office and a Polycom system in another office. And some poor bugger in the networking team is trying to set up sip trunking and point to point peering and all this really difficult technology to make one meeting happen. And there’s a bunch of people staring at the back of an It guy in one room and staring at the back of an It guy in another room. And then eventually the TV’s light up and it’s all right. Now we can begin and it’s wondrous versus now the natural expectation is I should just be able to walk up and click the button. And then I’m talking to Tokyo. Absolutely. Underneath it all the same, technology exists, right? But we took what was that problematic experience and we’ve gotten through it and we’ve automated and systematized it, which is, I think, where the advantage comes in. And also, like you said, it’s about iteration. It’s about listening, finding the customer problem, and seeing where just in the same way that any design business design, like lean practices, which ultimately came from the work of Toyota and Kaizen.

I read Eli Gold Rat and this idea of the theory of constraints and how this comes as far as flow. Well, experience flow is similar, right? Like find the bottleneck, subjugate the bottleneck, eliminate it, and then look for the next bottleneck and continue to do so until you have flow.

Absolutely. Yeah. It’s more science than art overall. And that’s why I say I’ve seen a lot more correlation with engineering, with creativity, which actually is one thing that because if you look at it, let’s talk about creativity and movie making. Right. If you talk to cinematographer and you kind of understand how they kind of compose the picture, it’s a lot of mathematics, it’s a lot of angles, it’s a lot of equations around light and camera angles and so on and so forth. But no one talks about it that way. You still have to equally be appreciative the same way as dancing, as so much math, steps counts, and all those things that you have to really think about a lot of nuances and designs are very similar. Design is very similar. In fact, I write in the book too about this, which is that a lot of times people pick up when you say design inspiration, it’s always looking for somebody who’s a designer in the craft sense. But I actually think that one of the best designers in the world was often not discussed in the modern context is Da Vinci. And because you think about him, he understands biology as well as he understands engineering as well as art.

And he’s good things to show in each one of them. And perfect. And if you can look back again talking about Steve Jobs or anyone, the construct of being a polymath, construct of looking at how things connect, that’s kind of where the magic is. And then you kind of apply that aspect of the flow and kind of looking at every aspect and every problem and then unlocking it. There’s just so many ways that you can make that magic happen.

And that is Da Vinci is such an incredible example of that. Like as both a creative mind and as an artist, a very literal artist, and what he could create, we could paint and his drawings, but his engineering. And when you look at the stuff that’s not the most popular works that we all know, you realize, like how many thousands of engineering drawings that he has. And this was pre-computer. This is very rudimentary tools that were given to him to do this. And he was creating something fantastic. On the Jobs thing too, it’s funny. There’s this weird thing that people often do is they say, oh, he wasn’t actually an engineer, but he understood the engineering aspect. He understood the technology, he understood the business, he understood the human behavior. And that may have been his strongest focus area. But he wasn’t just a marketing guy that made Apple big because he was really a marketing guy. It’s unfortunate that we kind of try and dumb it down to just like labeling somebody as they do this thus. That’s what they did.

I think it’s a really good thing to unpack. Right. And we say this at the firm of UX Reactor a lot. We say this always start with the user, understand the experience, then design it for them, and then look at the technology. And if you look at how Steve Jobs thought through it, he knew who the user was. He knew what experience he wanted to give them, and that’s kind of the whole thing. When he created the first Apple Store, he perfected it in a warehouse. He looked at every angle, how lights was formed, what the material surface was. He thought about that experience he wanted to give when people walked into the store. Then he thought about the design of all the nuances. And then he goes to engineering and says, I want this. Make it happen. Right. And obviously, engineering is when you have that level of a funnel of thinking, you are always holding engineering accountable for a very different aspect, which is like, I want to give the best experience for the user, and this design is going to look this way. Now, do you need to be the best engineer in the room?

Probably not. Do you need to be the best marketing person? He was a great storyteller. He could bring it down to the world. And I think that is often something that’s not told as much. Now you put it in the marketing hat. Absolutely not. He knew what users care about, and he would tell that well. But the fact is there was a lot of scientific approach. And his process of as you kind of earlier shared this, that aspect is kind of very valid. Now, what’s also interesting is Elon Musk calls himself the chief designer at SpaceX.


And it’s fascinating how he picked that title out. I know many people there’s a lot to read on that line. He’s the best technically the best person in space. I know there are so many other people there’s technically the best engineer on that system. Probably not. But the way he thinks about, again, what’s the vision for the system that he’s building and then percolate down and then get everything done, which is why the designer word, and I call it big d-thinking, big design thinking and not the small craft thinking. And that’s kind of where these people always played.

The Musk example is very interesting, too, because people have trouble trying to fit him into what he does. He’s incredibly technical, he’s incredibly intelligent, so much so that it’s challenging to have discussions with him because he’s thinking at a different level as a great interview experience. I watched and it’s actually tough to watch sometimes these ones Lex Friedman, who’s MIT robotics professor and designer and doing some very interesting stuff. And he’s a great podcast, talk some really amazing people. And Elon on and he talked about how do you think about where it can go wrong? What is it that you do in designing for failure, that if maybe it won’t work, that we aren’t going to get to Mars? Something that was the premise of the question. And it was the most fantastic thing to watch as an interview, because Musk just turned and you could see his eyes were like they’re darting back and forth. He’s formulating it. And the fact that Friedman gave just said, don’t say a word, didn’t cut them off, didn’t try and fill it. It felt like 30 seconds. It was probably ten. But that’s an eternity. When you’re watching an interview, you’re like, is the microphone still on?

You’re literally like, you’re not sure if they’re still on. And he’s like, well, we don’t think about that because there is no option. Failure is not something that we designed for. And he began this, but the fact that he went through and he was looking for the correct answer, not the fastest answer that would sound good on microphone. And it’s a very unique thing. Now he’s a Polarizing figure. Obviously, it’s a challenge to have a conversation about what’s good or bad about Elon Musk’s with a lot of folks. Actually, here’s another one. I bring this up because we did talk about this. You may know this text and this professor. Well, yes, which is why I said I wanted to wait until we got into ethics. I’m a student myself of stuff that BJ Fogg has brought to the world. But before we understood the impact, and now that we do understand the impact and he himself has almost had to kind of put a label warning on his own work because he sort of understands how much he empowered people to take it and do things that were not healthy or potentially not ethical with it.

Let’s talk about ethics of design.

No, it’s interesting. On a side note, actually, my master’s thesis was either studying persuasive technology, which is obviously at that point, or was human robotic interaction. I decided to take human robotic interaction. But I’ve actually been a student of persuasion, how systems like that can be built right if done right, obviously. I mean, because design the way to it just the same way as you kind of showed the coin trick. There’s a lot of illusion to design. There’s a lot of ways that we can get people to do what they want to do and how they want to get them to. If you’re getting them to do it for the right thing, obviously it is what the user intended to and where they got to. I think that’s all ethical when you want them to get to things that you intend to, but not them, probably. And that’s kind of where it gets into the other side. There’s so much that’s gone with the advent of technology. We have just seen a lot of other social aspects of it. Much deeper topic much. But personally, for me, I’ve always tiered here, at least as a firm.

We always said that we want to solve life problems, not lifestyle problems. And there’s still so much more opportunity. But on the highest level. I mean, I’d rather get a student to study better on a doctor to kind of be effective more or financial transactions to happen faster than actually trying to get you to do something or buy something that I don’t that is not right for you or anywhere. There’s a lot of other aspects to that. But the power of design is very much there for us to do anything we want. You’ve seen that over the last four or five years where triggering of polarizing news can get more engagement, getting you to click on a fake queue can get you more clicks. Again, it’s easy to do that because I control the environment that you’re in, and therefore I can manage that. But at the same time, I must say what some of the firms are now doing as a stand to kind of give more power to the consumer and power to them. I actually feel that there is more corporate responsibility that’s coming in. But overall, I just think there is a larger system that people need to realize that technology is getting more powerful and tools that are available are getting much more powerful. And we just need to know that we have to be aware of it.

Yeah. And I’ve applauded the work really, of Tristan Harris and the center for Human Technology and sort of that group that’s wrapped around it. And there are so many people that have really come to the fore who were ultimately all students of Fog and those practices. And I think that’s a good thing. In the same way that if we look at what Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky did in winning a Nobel Prize for economics as behavioral psychologists, that in the same way you talk about design, that it’s matching the business to the human experience and measuring it, that we’re going to use a lot more science to describe the art than the art. And that’s pre Kahneman and Tversky, all we thought was that this was art, that this was anecdotal information. And we were lucky more than right on describing what was happening. And when we took and we put science and data behind it, all of a sudden you can really understand what was going on in that behavior. And I truly like, that user experience is ultimately behavioral understanding, right?

Absolutely. Because I think users have intent, and intent kind of reflects in behavior. Users have trained behavior. So there’s a lot of those elements that you kind of do that. So it’s truly a cusp of that’s why I say you have to be a psychologist, you have to be a student of cultures. As an anthropologist, you need to look at be a technologist, you need to understand. So there’s so many aspects that you bring together to make that magic happen. But, yeah, it’s a powerful system that many companies and I see a lot more companies becoming much more aware of it. It’s just that they don’t get it right because they go in with one quick solution and so on, so forth. But it is a big mindset shift. But once it’s done and people understand that there’s a whole science behind it and a structure behind it, there’s a lot of opportunity.

Yeah. And it’s an interesting mix of, like you said, such a multidisciplinary thing. And even like, marketing campaigns are very much wrapped around creating an experience. And so the words we use, they’re so simple when you get them. But the work to get there. So that really can bring up the question of who was the reason why the first Apple really went to high output? Was it Chia Day because they were the marketing agency behind it? Was it the team that fed them the right data to give them that campaign? There were so many players. But in the end, internally, especially as an organization, when you’re creating a software centric business, user experience design is now fundamental. And this is not something that you can go on to Upwork and Fiverr and find. Absolutely.

I think you can get a lot of people on Fiverr. I think before we start this conversation, anybody with a computer and Internet can be a user experience designer. But to become a really good one in that it takes a lifetime and you still learn. And the technology, as I said, you kind of really broaden up and then also build the depth. And it’s more importantly, I think, something that you called out, which I want to kind of further elaborate on. It’s a very collaborative profession, and it’s not necessary that the most creative person is somebody with a designer title. It’s actually the system of bringing people together, ideating, building it,  iterating on it. It is a collective process, and it’s one of those professions where literally two plus two is not edited. It’s multiplicative in a lot of ways. So therefore, it’s actually a fascinating thing. And I’ve seen so many people who go through a design process, they’re like, man, this is so fun. And I’m like, absolutely, it should be fun because you’re getting your creative juices, you’re trying out a lot of things, and you’re doing it with a larger group of people. And then when you build a structure around it. It kind of gets much more engaging.

Let’s talk about the bringing this to the market as a playbook now. So the user experience design is a practical playbook to fuel business growth. Fantastic introduction to what people can do. And it is such a well laid out, full, true experience in the playbook. Everywhere I went, it made sense. So I can imagine the work that went into creating this has had to have been a lot of hours, a lot of iteration, and a lot of design. But first of all, it’s beautifully done, just visually. And the reading of it, it’s like they say about user experience, when user experience is really great, no one notices. When it’s not great, it’s immediately obvious.


So talk about the book and what drew you to put the time towards this? And I’m going to tell people, get the bloody book is fantastic.

To be honest, the book was never an intent on our end. It all started with I really was about eight years back, I was fairly frustrated in my career because I had spent close to that point about a decade trying to build that user centricity in organizations and teams that I’ve worked on and felt that my career was fairly mediocre. I didn’t have much to show. I had a lot of effort, a lot of activity, and I was just concerned at the same time, you look at the apples, the Airbnb, the Zappos, and all the folks that have actually been able to unravel and deliver much more impact to user centric practices. And I said, I really need to go back and look at it. And I said, either I keep to this profession, in which case let’s go back and understand and study why some companies are able to get there and why some companies are not able to get there. And that became my pursuit for a large level and to do that UXReactor as a firm was created and with my brother, who’s also the co founder and also the very good researcher and this line of work.

And through that last seven years that the company existed, we ran a lot of experiments. We worked with a lot of companies. We kind of understood what are the key things that make it work. And then we finally came down to what was in our we call it the BVD system to drive business value by design. There are four key aspects that need to be thought through, which is the right people in the right process, following the right process with the right mindset in the right environment. And that is what makes a good company in this process of being user centric versus a great company. And what we then started realizing is that we would get questions that a lot of our stakeholders would ask, like, how do I build a team? What’s the structure that goes into it, how do I build a carrier for them? How do I build a roadmap around a user that I care about? There’s a lot of these things that started coming up and we’re like, man, we need to probably write something about it because there’s so much more need. Nine out of ten companies don’t follow any of this structure, though they intend to.

And so we said, let’s write it down and put it out in the public domain. And that’s when the book came to be. And it was also one of the pandemic babies in the pandemic. We just saw every company going tech first, digital first, and then struggling. Right. And education is a classic example. Like just throwing tech on it doesn’t help because what ends up on the user’s side is they have half a dozen to a dozen systems to interact with, one for assessment, one for instruction, one for textbooks. And then that student is having to deal with uncomplicating it, and then experience is the best way to kind of navigate through that and you realize that’s not happening. So the book kind of ended up there. And then we said we wanted to create it with an intent to be a playbook where people from a different perspective business leaders, design leaders, practitioners, collaborators, everybody could take away something from it as a play and then use it immediately. So that’s how the whole construct came to be. And then we took a lot of our tribal common knowledge that we had within our own playbook at the organization and then put that out there.

So that’s kind of how the book ended up becoming a book. And so far as we’ve gone through our own process of iterating and testing with different users who we actually want to leverage, that we hope would leverage this book. And so far, we have only heard great things. And that’s all we are traded on it, and we kind of built on it as soon as it publishes. I’m looking forward to kind of getting the reaction and getting out there. I believe it’s sometime early May.

This is the thing that we see often, right? Is that going I think of Gene Kim and the team that worked with them on the Phoenix project and ultimately the DevOps handbook. The industry may still misuse the phrase DevOps. I see people all the time. They’re like DevOps engineer too, right? Like, that’s their title by HR, and it’s not really related to what they’re doing. In the same way that user experience design will get co opted and misused as a phrase, some poor person out there is labeled user experience designer three. You know, like they’re going to get ranked according to some HR band. But the work that went in the research, the patience that’s required to live the experience and then to take that same patience to bring it to the community through a written work. I loved how that played out in what you and everybody at UX Reactor have done. And like I said, this is the proof in even what I’ve seen. When you tell me it’s still in draft form, I figured it was going to come to be in basically word format like this. If this is draft, then I’ve never written a draft this good in my life.

It’s very well done.

Again, good to great concentration, and I think it’s good right now. And I think we are still trying to make it great, but that’s a perpetual I said we will keep evolving it. We will still have ideas. But more importantly, I think it’s a good resource that we have pulled together from our own experience and roughly everybody. It’s a collective effort. And I hope that even if one company gets to drive this success and that’s kind of the way we are looking at it. And that’s the reason why we want to make sure that more and more people are aware it’s just one of those professions in adolescence and we wanted to mature fast and then start delivering value fast in a way that most users actually. And again, think about it, we have so many interfaces we’re interacting with, and it should be much more easier. I think I have a vision in a decade from now, there will be so much technology, but they should be a simpler way of how we approach it. And you don’t have to go to like, again, I see all these tech companies going through certification programs, training programs.

I’m like professional services. I mean, your system, if it has to be explained, that means it’s not been designed well. Your system needs to be certified on for someone to use on. That means that you haven’t spent the time perfecting it. And it’s just one of those things that I say that and then also because the last two decades has been much more web centric, mobile centric all that is what’s going to come and play in the next decade. So it’s actually a fascinating time altogether.

It is. It is a really wondrous time with the opportunity. Obviously counterbalanced with what we talked about was sort of the ethics and the risks that we do present. But I’d say the dominant work that’s happening is so positive and so just doing great things. What we can do to bring these technologies and these platforms and these opportunities to other parts of the world as well that are underrepresented. And this one I want to tap on before we finish up Satyam is cultural representation in user experience design because I fall victim to this all the time. Right. I typically speak to a dominantly North American market, and so you can use a cadence of speech that’s specific. You can use everything. Platform design, referring to stories. I can talk about a New York Bank or a West Coast health company. It’s almost ingrained into me. It’s all sort of a coded bias of speech pattern and experience design. But then when I speak to audiences that are in the UK, I know to refer to Barclays instead of bank of New York, Maryland. And I know to refer to Santander and to think about the NIH instead of Medicare.

Like, I’ve learned those things. When it comes to user experience design, how do you deal with geo experience locality?

It’s that inbuilt curiosity in a lot of ways and that’s kind of what you tap into. It is a global profession. So if I’m trying to build something for, let’s say Sapsahar in Africa, you either have to go and observe and be immersed in it like one like them, or you kind of go and talk to people there or you kind of find someone who’s kind of much more aware of that. Again, it’s a user research is such a critical facet that how do you understand those aspects or you do all of it and triangle. It’s no different from again, good user research is no different from an awesome intelligence analyst in the military or a financial analyst because you’re connecting dots, you’re kind of connecting this is what this person thinks in this context. This is what it is. And then you kind of build your hypothesis and build your experiments around that. And that’s the scientific part of building experiences. But first of all, being aware that a SubSaharan African student studying is different from the inner city student versus somebody has high end in an expensive neighborhood, because even the subtleties of getting internet set up or even the devices that are around you, all those things can become different contexts and situations.

But again, just being aware that the world is different around you and you are curious to see how they are different, well, itself open up so much opportunity and a lot of times people just go in and I assuming that what you think is the right thing. And I’ll end this with actually an interesting story with my professor when I was in grad school and he finished a class and then I went to him and I said, that just seems like common sense. And he said, absolutely it is common sense. But remember what’s common for you is not common for somebody who’s in the other part of the world or your grandmother. And that is what who we are. We are understanding what common sense is. And that’s actually a fascinating thing that stayed with me all through. And that’s why I’m always looking for what’s common sense. And when somebody thinks it’s common sense, that means I’ve given to them what they want in the context that they wanted.

That’s a perfect way to round it up and leave the assumptions at the door because it is a beautiful and sad to me, your approach is really great and I’ve learned a ton from you. I’ve definitely learned like just even when I’ve had a chance to read through the book. It’s going to be great so I’ll make sure to get this out. Hopefully not too long from the time that people are watching this and listening to it they’ll be able to get so I’ll have links and make sure to share it out. If people do want to get connected to you Satyam what’s the best way to do that?

Linkedin is the best way to connect on there’s also we’re going to create a small community for the playbook I believe. Uxdplaybook.com it’s going to launch around the same time on the book launches so again there’ll be different ways to connect. I really want to kind of be as available and approachable as possible as people are in this journey but yeah I think LinkedIn is a good way if they also can reach out through the company uxreactor.com so there’s different ways to get there. I’m pretty sure if someone wants to truly get to me I’m sure they will find a way but the easiest way is to get on LinkedIn and just send me a note.

There you go folks to follow the links down below because I make sure I have them in the show notes and of course on the YouTube channel this has been really great Satyam. It’s been a real pleasure and I look forward to success for you with the book and with UX reactor and hopefully we’ll get a chance to catch up again in future and here on the other side once it’s out in the world, how the community building around it because that is an interesting aspect that I’d actually like to explore again in future. So thank you very, very much.

Absolutely. Thank you so much, Eric. I appreciate it and have a great rest of the day.

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Randy Crabtree is co-founder and partner of Tri-Merit Specialty Tax Professionals, plus a widely followed author, lecturer and podcast host for the accounting profession.

His approach to helping businesses and entrepreneurs with getting the most out of the business tax system has been also augmented by his own mission to deliver a personal story of health and wealth that we all need to learn from.

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Thank you for an inspiring and enjoyable conversation, Randy!

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Welcome, everybody, to the podcast. My name is Eric Wright. I’m gonna be your host for the DiscoPosse podcast this week featuring Randy Crabtree. Randy is a fantastic human who is also a fantastic accountant, a fantastic podcaster, and somebody who’s got an incredible story that will talk to you at your heart about what we need to value both and what we can do for each other, for ourselves. And he is beyond just being the unique CPA, which is also the name of this podcast. He and his team at Tri-Merit are doing really great stuff to empower businesses to get the most out of their tax situation, which, hey, we’re in the throes of it right now. Tax time is kind of not a friendly time for a lot of folks. It’s part of what we got to do. But how do you make sure you’re getting the best of the best out of that? So you can go check out Randy’s team at try-merit.com for that. Of course, check out the show notes. We got lots of stuff around Randy and, of course, links to his podcast as well. Speaking of links and things that don’t need to be as bad as they are, what happens if you lose your data?

Don’t worry. As long as you got Veeam to protect your backside and your backup, then you are in good shape. At least you’re in better shape than you are with anybody else. So I got to give a shout out to the fine folks at Veeam Software who make this podcast possible. And if you want to check out what they’re doing, go to vee.am/discoposse. They’ll help you out whether it’s data center stuff, whether it’s on premises, whether it’s physical service, whether it’s your cloud, it’s your things like Teams and Microsoft Office 365. You have to back all that stuff up. And most importantly, you have to be able to get it back. The backup is only good if you can recover it. And also completely orchestrated, protected recovery scenarios for business continuity. They cover you from soup to nuts or from end to end, or Coke to Pepsi. Whatever you want to say, they got you covered. So go check it out. Go to vee.am/discoposse. And of course, if you want to make sure that you’re awake and aware while that’s going on. Plus, enjoy some of the most devilishly good brew. You can head on over to Diabolicalcoffee.com and you can enjoy a fresh roasted cup. In fact, it’s fresh roasted the moment you order or not long after. So we only roast when you order. Get on it. Go to diabolicalcoffee.com. All right. This is Randy Crabtree. Enjoy.

This is Randy Crabtree, co founder and partner of Tri-Merit Specialty Tech Services and host of the unique CPA podcast. And you’re listening to the Disco Posse podcast.

Like a pro. This is how I can tell you’ve got professional podcasters that are on microphone because you are ready for this. So, Randy, thank you so much for the chance to chat today. This is something that I know especially for a ton of my listeners. Well, it’s timely with the kind of part of the year that we’re heading into taxes become top of mind. They’re often bottom of priority, but top of mind. And in the way that we’ve seen the world shift in the last couple of years, I can imagine that you’ve seen an incredible amount of change in your industry. But for folks that are brand new to you, Randy, let’s have you do a quick intro, and then we’re going to talk about Tri-Merit, your podcast and congratulations on getting noticed, as it should be. And we’re going to talk a lot about what you’re doing for the world.

Sure. Like I said at the beginning, we’re specialty tax service. Tri-Merit. We deal with really specific parts of the tax code. Actually, tax season for me is not a busy time because I’m normally out educating CPAs on certain aspects of the tax code. But we deal with big things like R&D tax credit, you know, technology, big user of the R&D tax credit. So that’s something that was how we started the business. Over the years, we branched into six other services. A big one that didn’t exist a year ago is employee retention credit that we’ve been doing a lot of work on now as well. But that’s our background. My background is I am a CPA. I actually came out of public accounting. I was one of those generalists that was just doing in and out accounting and taxes. I liked it, was not a huge passion. I found a passion in specialty tax. So the last 15 years has been just an awesome ride. And I don’t see an end any time soon.

But that’s really amazing to see too, that we – I think every industry has this idea of the sort of the early generalist days. And then when you find your niche, your specific thing that you can become passionate about and ultimately then translate to hitting this new target. You know, demographic target market, like ultimately building a specialty practice, that’s really great. And then it lets you just like put all your focus. I really would love to just jump right into the exploration of what is the last two years look like for you? Especially you talked about employee retention credit, like, this stuff didn’t exist two years ago. So it’s probably been a wild ride on your side.

It has been it’s been a wild ride, obviously, for everybody. It’s been specifically wild for at least in my circles – CPAs and the IRS and us. Because everything that’s happened in the last two years from an incentive standpoint, runs through the CPA firm, runs through the IRS. And we’ve touched on that as well. It’s been crazy. CPAs in general have had a non-stop, they’re going on the third year of non-stop tax season just because of all these things that have come out over the last couple of years. You mentioned the one I mentioned as well, employee retention credit. This has been huge for businesses. It has been affected by the pandemic. It’s been able to put a lot of the money back into businesses. At some point help them survive, at some point help them thrive even. But it’s been a really important tool to help businesses that have been affected by the pandemic get through the last two years. And honestly, for us, it’s been an unbelievable ride because this thing didn’t exist two years ago. And now last year and this year will most likely be our highest revenue generating product and probably not the year after, but at least over a two year period, it’ll probably be the biggest revenue generator for us.

So it’s been interesting.

It tells you that the interest that came from the tax system in understanding that we needed to solve this problem, I’d say by regulatory and tax ratings, it was a pretty rapid response. Like this stuff does not move fast. So for us to be able to move fast at many levels of government, look, I’m not saying the government, the sloth image. Obviously, we can sort of poke and joke about some of that stuff, but it is just because of the regulatory environments that they’re wrapped inside. It is difficult to make things move quickly and be responsive. But it feels like, I think this is a good sign that hopefully the system is ready to help people succeed.

Yeah. And this is interesting. It’s an interesting part of the whole looking at tax in general over the life of tax, which is a long life right now. The last two years we’ve seen things happen at a – and it’s not just tax, but everywhere, but happen at this meteoric pace. It’s just unbelievable. And so a lot of these changes, and this has gone through two regimes at president as well. And so it’s kind of continuing on. It wasn’t like, okay, one’s against and one is for it, we’re going to fight about this. People agreed let’s move forward. And it started in March of 2020 when they planned retention credit itself. That’s where it was defined. I can go deep into it. You can direct me there if you want to at some point, but that’s when it’s defined. And then it’s gone through three additional pieces of legislation that have either changed it, enhanced it, affected it, and it just continues go. Not only from a standpoint is it meteoric pace, but it’s meteoric pace and all the changes just keeping up with it. Just trying to because tax code comes out, I get excited about tax code. Other people might not. So I apologize. But this is an interesting area. Tax code comes out. Congress rates something. They’re not tax attorneys, CPAs, they just say, here’s what we need to do. Now, we need to start interpreting that, putting that up against tax code, putting it up against IRS information or documentation that comes out explaining it. And so for me it’s just been a fun, weird word, but fun ride for really the last year and a half, digging deep into this and seeing how we can help businesses with it. So yeah, it’s been really interesting.

It does show right in just the way you describe it, that this is what we need. This is what allows you to stand out amongst the industry and what you’re doing because you have to have that passion just like anybody that looks for opportunity, not just for you, but every client you’ve got. You’re effectively opening the door to the industry because a lot of people do not understand that this stuff exists. They maybe go to, I’m sorry I got to mention, I don’t mean to trash on H&R block, but it’s like that was it right? The moment you can file a tax return, you have no idea how to file a tax return. You go to your local tax shop and the little stand up H&R block or whatever the local tax firms are. They’re not passionate about taxes. They’re just minimum amount in, minimum amount of pain and collect $35 per term kind of thing.

Yeah, it’s a weird area. What you just said is how I got interested in tax. I did not graduated as an accounting degree. I was computer science degree actually, which is more in line with I think your audience probably. Although that’s 37 years ago. So that’s passed me by quite a bit. But I’ve got that background. But the year my wife and I got married, which is 35 years ago now, I started to do our tax return and just like might be a little bit steep to say fell in love with taxes but really enjoy digging into that. And it was a passion for a while, kind of became a little bit of a more of work than a passion as I was doing this for years because traditionally CPAs have had crazy hours during tax season and every business can have an area where there’s crazy hours, but there was crazy hours. And for me this crazy hours just started dragging on and on. But when you mentioned before passion, when I actually merged my firm in with another firm and then started the specialty firm, I talk about passion all the time now.

I talk about passion, how it is for me. I talk about how this changed everything, how I look at everything, how I look at business in general. I talk about this all the time to different groups. In fact, I was on a talking with a gentleman just this morning where we just talked about this whole doing a self-evaluation of yourself, determining your strengths, determining your passions, using that to help you in a business setting and going forward. So for me, the specialty tax became this huge passion. Believe me, if you turned off your mic now and let me talk for 2 hours, I would do it. So we bet I’ll stop there and we’ll see what direction you want to go.

That is the thing. That’s what I love you. I sort of joke you described. This is Randy. He’s forgotten more about taxes then you’ll never know. Right. Like you get those sort of those things. But it’s not about amount of knowledge or time in the system or even dollars per hour that you can ultimately earn. It is what you do and your choice to chase knowledge and turn knowledge into opportunity, not just for you but for your client base. Which led to the business growing, which led to the opportunity to merge those firms which gives you that sort of leg up. You are a founder. Like you are ultimately the same as the very clients that you serve because you’ve looked for that opportunity and have seen, rightly so, an upside as a result of doing that.

Yeah. And it’s funny when you see that opportunity because I get that a lot. People say, well because I’ve started multiple businesses, I’ve had my CPA thing. But opportunity is something that you said, you searched it out. I don’t really search it out. It just comes to you and everybody has opportunity to come to them. It’s in front of them every single day. There’s an opportunity there. It’s just the difference between I guess an entrepreneur and someone. And there’s nothing special about being an entrepreneur. You either do it or you don’t like it. If you don’t like it, you don’t. It’s not like you’re better because you start a business. It’s just you’re somebody that sees the opportunity and then acts on it. But that’s not for everybody. But for me, that’s been a passion. And then when I put that together with the passion for what I do now is really education and speaking events and writing articles and talking to people like Eric Wright, which I am thrilled to be able to do that. Putting those together and you can create something pretty special.

I would posit that your comp sci degree isn’t that far off of what you’re doing right now. In a way that you probably seek or discover systems inside or methods inside systems. And ultimately in doing so, you can exploit them and exploit it in a positive way, sounds like a negative thing, but really truly see that. Heck, look at the way that economics has gone in the past three decades or more. Really in the shift that we had behavioral psychologists who would define the future of market economies with stuff like the work that happened with Daniel Conneman and Amos Tuberski who are winning the Nobel Prize for economics. But they’re behavioral psychologists. Right. So in the same way that you may be doing, you may be a CPA by the designation on the business card but your method and approach were discovered in other ways. And you went down the comp-sci road and you said, okay, here’s another systematic thing that I can do, but I can really do it well.

Yeah, and it’s interesting you say that, because in my mind, I don’t see blow charts and systems and paths and all that. I see something I like doing, and this is something. But when I look at it, I’m like, okay, yeah, I see this now. I do do that because I analyze things, and then I see the next step, and then I see the next step and I don’t see the big picture, I don’t think right away. But what I found is five years ago, and I’m going all over the place, Eric. So you rein me in anytime you this is perfect. So five years ago, I basically stepped down as manager partner of our firm. And it was a passion thing. And there was other reasons as well. One, I had a traumatic event in my life that made me re-look at things. I had a stroke eight years ago. We can talk about that anytime you want, too. So I saw that and changed my role from magic partner, which in hindsight, I realized I wasn’t good at because I’m not an implementer. I come up with ideas. I see I can generate new business. I can come up with a path, but I can’t implement that. I can probably, but I have no passion. And after my stroke, I realized I want to concentrate on things that I enjoy. And I did a whole self-evaluation. Look at things that I’m good at, you know. I realized after 30, well honestly, my first business was at 16. So I look back and for 43 years, I realized I was not really good at running the business. I was good at coming up with ideas and growing the business and all that. But the whole day to day, systematic approach of this is what we need to do and here’s the processes to put in place to get to the here and here’s the team’s make up and how we do it. I just don’t enjoy that. And what I found after this self-evaluation is, it took a while, but I looked and said, if I’m honest with myself, that is not a strong suit of mine. And honestly, I don’t like it. So why am I doing this? And then looking at the things I like, which I mentioned before, is education. Looking at a new tax law that just came into existence two years ago, and being known now is like the expert in the country on this stuff and looking at it and being able to share your knowledge, that’s another big thing with me. Share your knowledge. Don’t keep it hidden. Share it. Let teach people. Let them know what’s there. At some point they’ll know, well, you’re the expert. I need to come to you to do it. You don’t have to sell. You just have to be a good person out there sharing what you’ve got. So looking at that whole re-evaluation and passion and that changed my role in the business. And in the last five years, we’ve got an 800% increase in revenue, partly because I’ll give him credit. A big part is because the process is my partner put in place to really take us to the next level. But in reality, it’s also me getting out there and educating people and explaining and letting them know that there’s these opportunities for tax savings. And that combination for us has been outstanding.

It really is the important thing for any growing company, especially once you hit a point of like stability in business, at least in revenues, you need a COO or a chief of staff. Somebody who really is focused on the processes and they’re good at that. And I’m with you, like every year I have to do my sort of employment self-assessment. And every year I say, yeah, it’s that time of year again where we say, Eric should be doing more stuff around long term project management given his seniority. It seems like this is one area that we don’t leverage and some where he struggles a bit. And like I’m 49 years old, I’ve had the same self-assessment since I was 25. And every year they say let’s find a big project for Eric to lead out and then it will go precisely as well as the last 22 of them.

Which I’m sure is great. Yes.

But it’s like to be given that freedom to explore your strength. I’m glad that I’m here today with you, Randy, because you are on the right side of a major health event. Right. That’s a big thing. And the one thing that I wish we would do better as humans, I wish we could find that passion and that drive and that reason without the triggering.

Yeah. So we mentioned before that I go out and I speak a lot. And so my speech, my webinars, my things have always been on tax topics. And I started writing articles for accounting magazines the last year, year and a half. And some of it’s been taxed, but more of it’s just been I wrote an article about hiring individuals with disabilities, which is a passion of mine because I’m very fortunate. I came out of my stroke with a 100% recovery. Physically, I don’t have any deficits, which I think the number is. And I might be wrong on this, although I should know this. I’m also President of an organization called Stroke Survivors Empowering Each Other. So I should know the numbers, but I think it’s only 8% of us come out fully without any kind of deficit. I’m very fortunate about that. I forgot where I was going Eric.

But this is the idea that you can take that and turn it into a thing that empowers you to get out in the world. And it’s that whole thing of, especially it’s just like the human behavior is so bizarre that we like work, work to a point where you can eventually enjoy the fruits of your labors. By the time you get to do them, your health is degraded, your ability – it’s so upside down sometimes.

I always had a mindset of I’m not going to wait until retirement to enjoy things. So even though I had the stroke, it wasn’t like this is going to change how I look at life. I mentally had issues for five years. Mental health was an issue for me. Physically, it was fine. Mental health was an issue for five years. But I always had that mindset of enjoy life. Work’s one thing, family, life, all that, it’s another thing. Doesn’t mean they can’t be combined too. And that’s a huge thing that I like talking about is that I’m not the tax expert. I am the dad, I am the hiker. I’m the craft beer enthusiast. I’m the whatever else. Being the tax expert doesn’t define who I am. All these other things do. And so we try to bring that into business as well. Is everybody in our firm is not their job. That’s not who they are at all. They’re good at it. They enjoy it, I’m hoping for the most part, we want people to enjoy it. But the stroke didn’t make me change that way. But it did help me re-evaluate what my role in the business was and make sure that I was having more fun in the role that I was doing and using my strengths rather than trying to increase my weaknesses and make them better.

I think that’s in my mind, this is my opinion. I think that’s crap. But if you are your weaknesses, there are weaknesses for a reason. You don’t have any passion. You don’t like it. It’s that you’re not good at it. Why force yourself to be good at that? Look at yourself and say, okay, this is what I’m good at. I’m good at this. I should concentrate on this. I’m good at that. I enjoy this. How do I do those things? And for me, making that change that was triggered by the stroke to enjoy things more in business. Five years ago, I would have told you, I’m going to force myself to work three more years, and then I’m done. After this change, I can’t imagine stopping. I’m having way too much fun. And honestly, I’m really good at what I do because I enjoy it.

The interesting thing too, especially when it’s like health related, where we see those events. I even see it in work context all the time where you tell somebody, like, I need to take a couple of days off, you’re like, okay, let’s make sure we work around your schedule. Do you like it’s always immediately saying, like, how do we fit your vacation into your work schedule? But if I say, hey, I’m run down and I got to head to the doctor. People are like, no problem. Clear your calendar. What do you need help with? We got it. I’m like, God damn it, why can’t we do that every day? I tell people all the time, just take a day. Just say, like, I got to tap out and just say, just call it. Just shut the calendar down. I don’t care how full it is. Tell those people I’ve got something I got to deal with at home. And they’re like, no problem. We should all have that want to do that. And that passion to do that at every day.

That’s what we feel we have in our company is here’s what you need to do. You know what you need to do. Do it whenever you want. If you want to work at two in the morning because you want to be with your kids all day, do it at two in the morning. We just implemented this year unlimited PTO. We know our people are very good at knowing what they need to get done and when they need to get it done. And like me personally, the last two months I’ve just been on the road working. We have plenty of people that do that. They’re just Nomads, they go wherever. We’ve pretty much had a virtual office from the beginning 15 years ago. It’s just the nature of our business. I feel are living that within the business. I guess I would say that the people with internally would say that as well. I try to talk to everybody as much as I can just to talk about things that aren’t work related, which I think is important as well. But I would think that people are happy. Well, I know people are happy working here and enjoy the freedom that they have with the way we set things up.

And on the health side, too, having seen your bio picture and seeing the real picture here, you definitely prioritize health. You look thinner than your bio picture, which is kind of fun. You talked about hiking. You talked about introducing that. How important is that lifestyle? And especially in the work sense, too, where how do you as a team promote each other, staying healthy in every aspect?

Yeah. Well, for me personally, I hate that bio picture I have because I think I look fat in that as well. And I still feel that way. Actually, when I had my stroke eight years ago, it was three months after I won a fitness contest. So fitness has always been an important thing to me. Working out, probably my entire life has been working out serious in the gym. Workout started in 2003. Before that, it was just basketball every day. That was my workout, basketball every single day. And so for me, it’s always important. In fact, my goal, I’m sitting in a hotel in Tukumkari, New Mexico, right now. I’m not sure the right way to say it. As soon as you and I are done, I’m heading down to the gym and getting on the elliptical for a half hour. So yeah, we talk about that all the time, take time to do whatever you want. And that goes back to again. So I have a friend and I mentioned him a lot of times on podcast. I’m on John Garrett. I don’t know if you ever heard of John’s name, but he wrote this book called “What’s your and?” Okay, I felt I lived what you’re and before I met John, but after I met John, now I have a definition of it, what it is. And I kind of mentioned this earlier, it’s not your job doesn’t define you. Your passion is outside of work. You define you. And so that’s what we try to tell people in the business as well. And if exercise is one of it and hopefully it is, prioritize that you can work your schedule around it. And that’s our goal is to make everybody make sure that they’re doing the things they enjoy and work will be one of those things as well. If they have the freedom to do whatever they want.

It really does breed the sense of comfort that that’s a priority as a team and that gives people the ability to embrace it. I remember working. I had a good friend of mine, we became good friends through work and he had done marathons. Then he did Iron Man and we had a deal that our company worked with a gym that was right in the adjacent building and we worked in tech. Right. So we’re working crazy hours all the time. We’re constantly working nights and weekends. And it’s not a lifestyle conducive to health. No. And we got this deal through work where this gym, which was normally like $130 a month, we could get it for $20 a month. And when we found out we got this deal, there was like twelve of us on the team. We sit down in our team meeting. He says, I’m telling every single one of you, I don’t care if you only go there once a month, once a week, whatever it is. He says you have unlimited time to go to the gym, book 1 hour of overtime to pay for it, and sign up today. And all, every single one of us signed up.

There were three folks on the team who had never even they wouldn’t have gone to the gym unless it was on the way to the food court. Okay, sure. Let me give this a try. And next thing you know, six, seven months later, these folks who had never thought about even adding a health regimen or a fitness regimen into their life were now focused on it and getting in there every morning saying no can’t do lunch meeting. I got to go over, I’ve got Pilates class, I’ve got a jump on the elliptical and do whatever, and it became a core of their day. It was so fantastic to see that.

For me, I just feel so much better after working out. And that helps me work. I’m sure it helps everybody work. Your mind is better, your body is better, everything feels better. You have more energy. And working out doesn’t drain you out, at least for me, it gives you energy. And so I guess if you look at it selfishly, as a business owner, it’s going to make people more productive. That’s not the reason to do it. But I think there is a side benefit. And just like what you said, we moved into a new office three or four years ago. Pandemic time. I don’t know anymore what time frame is kind of a blur now. Exactly. But one of the keys was we wanted to have a gym in the office and they were just building it. And I haven’t been to the office. I honestly haven’t been to the office in a year and a half, probably at least. But I was talking to someone there just yesterday and he said, yeah, the gym has been done for a while. He says it’s awesome. Two locker rooms and it’s just part of our fee for renting the space we’re in.

And then most of our people are on the road. Pandemic obviously changed that, but we’re getting on the road again and we have a gym in every hotel we’re at. So getting to a gym shouldn’t be an issue. And really, I tried to talk about exercise and working out as much as I can because I think it’s important.

In going out and doing speaking opportunities. And now with the podcast, let’s talk about taking this passion to the audience now and being able to evangelize. This is such a unique time versus 20 years ago, even ten years ago maybe, where now you can grab a microphone, you can publish, you can get it out there and you have a growing audience and you’re being recognized rightly so for your ability to share this fantastic ways of both storytelling and really bringing important information to the community.

Yeah. This is one reason things have gotten so exciting for me in business, because I get to go out and talk all the time. But yeah, it’s funny because for years I’ve been out doing CPA, continuing professional education for CPA firms. And I’d be out traveling and doing that inside of a firm or at a CPA association event. Occasionally at like a tech event or a manufacturing event. But most of the time we’re working with CPAs, they bring us to their clients. So I was always able to do that. Pandemic when it hit, I’m like, what am I going to do? How am I going to be able to get in front of all these people? And the first few webinars on Zoom or whatever, go to the webinar, go to meeting. Whatever I was on, it was like, yeah, it’s just not the same. There’s no interaction with me in the audience, but I just started thinking about it. The mindset was they’re there, I’m going to talk, they’re still there and I can hear them and they can see me. When I present, I try to have a conversation just never scripted. I have slides that I’m going through, but there’s never a script.

Every single one is different. And I’d like to get the questions typed in. So that has been huge. And in fact, at this point in time, I almost think that I’ve probably had a bigger impact on the industry in the last two years than I had prior. I probably educated 30,000 CPAs on the employee retention credit over the last year and a half. There’s no way I would have done that traveling. So it was pretty interesting to have that change. Now I like still the audience and being up front and seeing their reaction, but this is going to be a blend going forward. That’s been nice. And then in the last year and a half, I started concentrating more on the writing articles, which traveling – I probably would have put that to the side because I probably would have been on planes and I actually work on planes more than I used to pre-pandemic, which I never used to do. So doing that too. But now I’m writing the articles. The podcast has really started right after, right before the Pandemic. I’ve been able to concentrate more on that. So it’s weird how the pandemic changed all that and what I thought would be for the worst.

I think a hybrid approach going forward is going to really work out well. To be able to be out there and impact what’s going on in the industry has been a lot of fun and a lot more able to do that the way it’s gone the last two years.

It’s a funny thing that I get asked quite often, but they’re like, oh, you go to events and you do keynotes and whatever, and they say it must be great. Like you like to talk, I like to collaborate. And when I do a keynote, I’ve described it to people as listening to 500 people at a time and the fact that you’re watching reactions and little things in the audience and it steers. So I’ve never been good at scripting. Partly because I think I just don’t have the capability. Whether I have a poor wrote memory, there’s a lot of things I have dyslexia. So that also really kind of cuts into me reading and talking at the same time. I just can’t do it and I’ve become very adaptive, but mostly in having conversations. That’s why I love the podcast, because then you can do it and you also do it in the mind of 500s, a thousand people watching you. You begin to think like that, like you, I’m able to carry that imprint and that memory of those experiences into these types of conversations, which is so fun, and I enjoy it. That’s why I like your style.

Your delivery is so fantastic because you’re just you’re at home. It’s like you’re sitting next to a conversation. You’d love to slow down. If you were sitting at a table and somebody next to you was having a conversation, you’d be like leaning over a little bit watching. You just want to hear it.

Yes. No, I agree. And what you said about the scripted – we’ve all seen boring presentations and they’re the scripted ones, almost always. The conversations out of the way. And that’s why I said I try to act as if I’m having a conversation with the audience, even on webinars when I’m not. And you just said it as well. And I think that mindset is huge because nobody wants to be read to unless it’s an audio book. Other than that, I don’t want to be read to.

When they do corporate big events, especially when they’re doing stage events, and it’s so painful because they’re great people and they’re basically put up there and it looks like a grade six play about the origin of Thanksgiving. It’s like, so, Peter, how exciting is this year now that we’re going to be able to do this? That’s a great question, Eric. They’ve pre-configured the scripted, witty repartee. And the only thing that’s missing is like when someone says, I think that’s a great idea, exits towards the left. Like they are like line for line range. It’s painful because you talk to these people like you’re a human. You can have a conversation. Just take away the script.

Exactly. Because even on podcast, you’ll hear this where it’s okay, I’m going to ask question one. Okay, tell me about the service you’re working on right now. And then boom, the answer. And at the end of the answer, let’s say somebody says, yeah, but it’s been tough for the last couple of days because my dog died. All right, well, tell us about this. I mean, you can’t go, I’m so sorry to hear that. What kind of dog? It’s like, oh, no, I got question, too. Your dog doesn’t matter to me now, Tax, question two is how are you getting the service out to your clients? I mean, that script just bothers me so much, having a human connection interaction. And like you just said, that conversation, if you’re having it back and forth and someone hears it, they’re going to lean in that’s perfect way to explain that. Eric, you are really good at this.

Misspent youth of watching great conversations. The one thing that is really neat about your approach and you hear it and everything you say is you are so outly focused on other people’s positivity. It’s incredible. You talk about your team, you talk about empowering people, teaching everything you’re doing as selfish as it deserves to be because you deserve to be able to enjoy the benefits and stuff. It’s like the moment you feel 10%, you want to give 90% away. I really get the sense that community and sharing has been a strong part of your life. It is.

And it’s funny because I don’t think of it that way, but it keeps coming up in conversation where people say what you said. So apparently it shows through. But as I mentioned at the beginning, a little bit. I started my first business at 16, partly because I didn’t want to work for anybody else. I ended up after graduation, went and worked as a computer programmer for about a year. That failed. And then really, it was the business I was at. It was just we did nothing. But then I thought, hey, I should go out and sell, because people I know that are selling are making a lot of money. And I went out and tried to sell, and I was awful at it because it was formulaic. Tell me that word I’m trying to say. Formula. Formula trick. Yeah, there you go. There’s a formula to it. And there was like no passion. It was food and it was fun, but it wasn’t even really fun. I wasn’t good at it, but I learned from both those things. I learned a lot. And then I decided to go back to school full time to be a CPA.

This is a long answer to what we’re just talking about. I’ll get to a point here in a second. So then I went back got enough hours in graduate school to take the CPA exam, did that. And that’s where I started thinking after I went to work for a firm, which was a great firm, I really enjoyed the two partners I was working for there. But I started thinking about things that as an employee, I don’t like this or I don’t like that. And I started writing these things down, thinking, okay, someday I’m going to have my own firm. And when I do, here’s how I want to do it, so that people enjoy working here. So I think that mindset, whether I consciously think about it going forward or not, that was developed 30 plus years ago when I started working in public accounting, because I just saw things, not that these people, I really liked working for them, but as an employee, you see things different as an employer. And I wanted to make sure when I was an employer, I would think about the employee first and not anything else. So that was my goal, whether I’ve accomplished it or not.

You can ask the people that work at Tri-Merit, but I feel we’ve done a pretty good job.

I often hear people describe, especially early entrepreneurs. They say, I was unemployable like, you always sort of saw a hole and just being part of someone else’s system, you really get that early taste of, hey, I kind of want to be responsible for the outcome, and especially at 16. I imagine even then that probably wasn’t the first time, you probably thought about it even earlier, as if that was the first time you executed on it.

Probably I’m the oldest, too, so I’m sure being the oldest of four siblings makes it in reality, I’m the oldest of 20 cousins that all lived right around each other, I mean, within blocks. So I think that probably had something to do with it as well, that you’re kind of the leader of the sibling/cousins gang, so that probably had something to do with it as well.

Well, Interestingly, by a common trait of the oldest is actually they’re the most sort of conservative and less lights need to take risk. You’re often the closest to the parents, because if you look at the behavior patterns that you observe are of people who are 20 to 25 years older than you say in the time frame that you and I were raised, right. Now it’s 45 years. It’s a longer gap between the first child and the parents, but then your next sibling, their model of interaction is following you, who is two years difference or a closer age. So they tend to be more free and more they think differently versus your model of behavior tends to be much more mature. But yet you’ve got that really good, rare mix of that responsibility, as well as the sort of sense of freedom that you give to yourself.

Yes, I think you’re right on. And you got my brother to a T, too, when you explain the second. So definitely different. We’re very close family overall, which is nice, but each of us has a separate personality, and I never really looked into that whole 1st, 2nd, 3rd, whatever traits. I know a little bit of it, but yeah, I could see the oldest not being the risk taker. When I look at business, I don’t see the risk. So maybe there’s just a gene missing in me or something, which can be a problem because I always just see the positive. Hey, there’s an opportunity here. Let’s do it. I guess in the back of my mind, I know there’s a chance for failure, but it doesn’t demotivate me. And that’s the difference between entrepreneurs and non entrepreneurs in my mind as they see the risk first, not the opportunity first. And I think you need to see the risk. It’s just I’m not really good at seeing that risk. And for me, overall, it’s worked out. There’s been wins, there’s been losses. But I’m on a big winning streak right now, so I’m enjoying it from a fun standpoint and a business standpoint.

But part of it is you talked before about setting yourself up to be positioned against a team, a partner, somebody who else can pick up that piece that you know that you’re not going to be the best at. Like why in goodness name would I spend? If it’s 50% of my time but 80% of my mental effort to do this task, then why in goodness name, if we afford ourselves the ability to staff somebody to do this, by God, get them in that role and let them be fantastic at it, and then let me be fantastic. So it’s funny that there is a difference between an entrepreneur and a visionary. Sometimes an entrepreneur is just like somebody who’s willing to go it on their own because they kind of want to manage the process. But visionary is somebody that’s like you. And I said, not just like you, you are a visionary. And that you’re saying, I’m going to go with this crazy idea, I’m going to go with this big idea, and I’m going to see if this can work. And then you find, you hypothesize, you bring it out, you test it, and then you look for people that can help you to bring that vision into a reality, which is exciting.

Yeah. It took me a long time to realize that was my strength. I just thought it was as an entrepreneur, you’re supposed to do everything in my mind. It took a long time to figure that out. But when I did, I mean, when I look back to five years ago, when I stepped out as a major partner and my partner took over and I had mentally fought that, I wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do. Man, I should have done it years ago. In reality, at the time, it was perfect. I wouldn’t have changed anything. But he is so good at the managing of the business part of things. He is so good at the implement. He is so good at the processes. He is so good at all that. Where I have no desire to do any of that and really never looked at myself internally to realize I had no desire to do that. It’s just something I wouldn’t pay attention to getting that team approach. One thing I tell people, because everybody says influencer, I don’t influence anything. People, I guess, just like to talk to me about certain things, and they’ll ask me about just business in general and what I’ve learned. And I’ll be 60 in a couple of months. So I’ve learned a lot over the years. It took me a long time to implement what I learned. But the biggest thing is and you just mentioned it, and this is the point – is fill those your gaps in with other people’s strengths. And even if you’re just starting a business and you mentioned this as well, and I tell people all the time, let’s say you’re starting a restaurant. You’re doing that because you’re passionate for food. I’m sure that’s why. That’s one reason. Let’s assume that’s your passion is food and developing recipes and seeing people enjoy what you’ve done. Your passion isn’t bookkeeping. Your passion isn’t HR. Your passion isn’t tax returns. Your passion isn’t getting the technology set up in your business. That’s not your passion. I’m sure it could be. But in most cases and so fill in those gaps, whether it’s employees, if you’re lucky enough to be able to afford an employee, find someone that fills those strengths that you don’t have. If it isn’t, you can outsource just about anything. Whether it’s a part time CFO, HR obviously, services tech huge. You can outsource anything in there.

And in reality it’s not. People will say, well, it’s going to cost too much. In reality, you’re going to make more by doing it. Because now you can concentrate on the thing that’s really going to make your business shine. Concentrate on HR is not what personally is going to make your business shine. Your passion for creating these recipes is what’s going to make your business shine. Now find someone else that could do those other things. So I agree with you completely. That’s the way to look at things and not something I always did. But it’s almost 60 now. I have for about the last five or six years.

We’ve luckily developed enough hindsight and figured out. You can see it in advance. You mentioned before about the idea of the timing of the change where you left the managing partner role. And it’s funny when it happens, you have that weird moment where you’re like, why didn’t I do this earlier? But I like that you recognize that there was every reason why you didn’t, right? I often say to myself, what would I say to myself, what would you say to 20 year old you? And I give all sorts of advice to a 20 year old me. And do you know what 20 year old me would say to me, shut up, old man. I got it.

Exactly. That’s true. That’s true. I want to address something you just said because I think this is important. I had a little resistance to change in that role from managing partner. And looking back, why would I have that resistance? And it’s because I felt that was my identity in reality. That’s what I probably look back. That’s what I thought. My identity is made your partner of this pretty significant specialty tax firm. And so if I’m not that, who am I? What am I? Do I just become a partner in a firm that now is somebody else’s firm? And it’s a weird mindset, but that’s probably what I was thinking. Look back at that now and where I am today, this identity I have today, it’s just, one – if you look at ego wise, I’m more recognized today than I was back then. I’m pretty well known in our industry. I guess that’s the ego end of things. But it’s an identity that I just enjoy so much more than that identity i thought what I had to be before, I did not have to be that. Looking back now.

The world deserves you, Randy. We deserve the passion that you can bring to that larger audience. Right. It’s so amazing to see when those two things come together because there are a lot of folks who never need to go outside of inside the organization, and that’s a fantastic function and role that’s ideal for those folks. Not everybody wants to get out and be able to talk to a larger community. Some people don’t like to share things. They’re very introverted. I still have sort of weird split sometimes where I’m an extrovert by profession, but an introvert by nature. I’m a cyclist, I’m a runner. I like being very introspective. I like alone time, and it gives me free thought, deep work. But I also like collaboration and these sort of things. But every once in a while I’ll hit a point where I’m like, all right, time to tap out. I got to go for a walk. You go to a big conference. And every night I used to purposefully stay with my hotel far away from the conference center so that it would be like, oh, sorry, guys, I got to go because I got to go change. So I’ll see you guys back at dinner, knowing that it was like put in ear noise canceling headphones. I’d go sort of like detach for a bit and then reenergize and come back to it.

And look at you now. You’re this podcast host of Top 1%. Is that what I heard?

That is nuts. Yeah. Thank you. I know.

That’s great. Obviously, it’s not the introvert part of things. It’s just the passion. You have a passion for this. I say passion all the time. And people get sick of me saying, but you have passion, you enjoy this, you can tell you enjoy this. And it’s not that group setting of the conference that maybe was a struggle to try to have these conversations that are talking about whatever, not something that’s exciting. And now you get to direct wherever you want this to go, and you enjoy it the same way from that standpoint. Growing up, I was the shy kid. That’s what I was known as. Look, in my mind, I always thought, well, I’m not shy. Just if it’s important, I’m going to say it. There’s nothing important to say. I wasn’t a small talk guy or anything like that. And I remember thinking that from a young age. As a side note, I hate the labeling thing like that because I still know I was labeled as shy. And in reality, I wasn’t. It’s just the way I was. So I hate that. When my kids were growing up, if somebody was trying to label them, I would get mad.

So we can talk about that forever. So I was able to just shake it, in fact, to a point where my third grade teacher sent me to speech therapy because she thought I couldn’t speak. I mean, it was that level. But it was more of a if it’s not important, why do I want to discuss it? Which I think has helped a lot today, because when I’m doing webinars, I mean, I have to make sure that I have the answers because people, not one, look at me as an expert. And if I don’t have an answer, I’m getting everybody on the team to start researching this. We need to find this out. And with tax code, like we said, the beginning with tax code the last two years, there’s a lot of unanswered questions with this stuff. And we’ve been the first to release information on some of this stuff often. In fact, last month we did a webinar where there was two key issues with R&D tax credits and some changes that occurred that I had a webinar the next day at 11AM. At 5pm there were two answers that we didn’t have. And this is brand new information, but I figure the answers exist. We have to dig into tax code. We have to find this. So I got about five people and myself starting to research this. At 1:30 in the morning, I get an email from this one guy who was brilliant, John Capril. He just knows all the tax code inside and out. And John Seagraves as well, he does. I’m going to call people out in the firm. These guys are great researchers. And he sends me an email where he found an answer. Well, I didn’t see his email. I woke up at 4:30, and I’m researching because I can’t go to this webinar and not answer this. I could ignore it. I don’t want to ignore it. I want to be able to tell everybody this is how it is. And I could have ignored it. And then I found it. Then I saw his email and it we meshed. I’m like, okay, he’s agreeing, I’m agreeing. We have it. We have important information now. This is exciting. This is important. And then going back to eight year old me, it’s as important to say, I’m going to say it now. I’m not shy. I just want to make sure it’s important. And so I think that even though it was a label that probably I look back and wish I didn’t have, it made a big difference in my life going forward. So it’s probably a blessing.

Yeah. It’s so funny that shy used to be the, there’s a difference between shy and quiet. But when we were kids, that was a thing. You’re just like, oh, they’re the shy kids or whatever. And there were people who were very extroverted and they wanted to be wanted to be heard. I prefer to have something important to bring to the room. And there’s an interesting combination, too. I used to joke with people. I’d say I never ask a question that I don’t already know the answer to. I research in my head long before I ever will because I don’t want to be caught out. I kind of just want to make sure that I’m going down the right road. So you take it in. And I used to be a people watcher. It’s still one of my favorite things. When I go to airports, I just put in, like, music or I’ll have an audiobook sometimes, but I just to watch the behaviors and the way the people interact. And it makes me a much better presenter because I can do that in audiences. And then doing that so much in person translated to the webinar platform where I know how to sort of I shouldn’t say control, but it’s like I know how to manage people’s attention appropriately, where you bring things down and that’s a very important thing. But what we really want to do is we want to get into it, and you can bring them up and down. People always talk about this thing. They’re like, there’s this thing in the middle of a webinar. They call it the attention hammock. I’m like, not mine, kid. No attention hammocks anywhere. No room for that.

Yeah. I said this one thing often, and it sounds negative. I don’t mean it like this but, by observing I think what you do is you help people make the decisions you want them to make a little bit. It sounds weird, but it’s more than that because you educate them to the point where you’re directing them their knowledge, and then you help them to come up with that solution that they’re looking for, whatever that is. But examples of this that I’ve done, I’ve been wanting to be part of a few boards in the past, and I don’t ask anybody to ask me, but I somehow get it to a point where, okay, yeah. And it’s education. I’m educating on things that I am passionate about that I like. And then they start thinking, oh, you know what, Randy? Would be great to be involved in this. So I never asked to be on these I want to be on. And then just by letting them know things, they ask you. So I think to make that not sound like a negative thing, because it very well could be like you’re manipulating people. That’s not it. It’s just getting to a point where you’re helping them make a decision.

One thing I’d love to get your thoughts on, because a lot of folks that have your capabilities and have the voice you’ve got and are out there very publicly, we hear a lot. We talk about imposter syndrome. I have a PhD in imposter syndrome. Every once in a while, it just sort of just rolls in hard. I even joke. I said, I don’t know if I deserve to have imposter syndrome, the ultimate imposter syndrome. But it’s like, is there ever that side of things, Randy, where you have self doubt that maybe doesn’t come out necessarily.

So I probably used to have that. I don’t feel I do anymore because I’ve been out there so much, and I know people in our industry because the biggest thing I have that I enjoy the most is education. Education comes through the podcast, it comes through the webinars, it comes through the articles, it comes through even just, not even just, but being interviewed on other people’s podcasts. And I feel I’m prepared for that. And I think I, in my mind, know it as well as anybody. I know imposter syndrome is big in tech. I’ve heard that a lot. It’s just because I’m guessing it’s an ever changing profession. There’s always something new and you feel like you can’t keep up with it. With tax, is it new? Yeah, obviously there’s new stuff, but I have the freedom to dig into that pretty quickly when something new that is at least going to affect us comes out. So I never thought about it, but I don’t think I have the imposter syndrome. I think I used to for sure, and not even in business. I think it was more growing up. I mean, this is almost not imposter syndrome. It’s more just confidence. I was really good basketball player. The head coach of our basketball team asked me to play on the team, and in my mind, I wasn’t good enough. So I wouldn’t do it. And I look back and I go, that was dumb. So it was a confidence. But I wouldn’t change anything. Where I am today, I don’t want to be anywhere else. And if I did something different over the last 59 years, I’d be in a different spot. And this is the spot I want to be.

I think that’s another thing that comes through in so much of what you say, Randy. You talk about entrepreneurship as often being risk management and risk awareness, and you talk about being not sort of focused on risk, but having that optimism, having that thing is your ability to also shed regret or sort of avoid regret. I often think there are many things I wish I had taken a different path with, because I understand intellectually there probably would have been a route around it. But I also looked at certain things happen for reasons, and I have to accept it because I can only change what I can and I can only change what’s ahead, not what’s behind. So what’s your view on regret management, I guess, is what I would call it.

Exactly what you said now. So for the longest time, there’s things I regretted. The basketball, and that’s why I brought that up. Still probably because it’s probably still in the back of my mind. I love basketball. I played basketball probably more than anybody has. I played so many games and regret it for a while, not playing. But I’ve got over that again just because I want to be where I am today. I try not to regret anything. Everything that I’ve done has changed me has made me better. I was a computer programmer. Is that where I ended up? No. Do I still use skills that I learned in that? I’m sure I do. I was in sales. I was not good at it. I didn’t have passion for it, but I wasn’t good at it. I sell all the time now. I don’t sell. I educate, but really, I’m selling with education. I learned something back then and that do I regret that I didn’t go into public accounting straight out of school? No. Because without those two things, I wouldn’t be who I am today. You have to learn from it. But I don’t look backwards. I look forward and I know I take the skills I learned backwards. I take those education experiences and use them today. But I can’t change that. I can only look and see. I can affect tomorrow. I can’t affect yesterday.

Another important thing that we hear about, and I participated myself all the time. They have communities of practice and entrepreneurship organization EOS, a popular one for entrepreneurs. They’re at a certain phase of the organization. So you’re basically surrounding yourself with people with a common purpose and a common experience. But the community practice I want to focus on, Randy, you talked about stroke recovery and survivorship that experience far outside of. So there’s probably all walks of life of people that come in there. But how important is that in your continuous look back on that moment and that experience in your own life?

So I’m fortunate that I can look back on that and not like think I wish my stroke never happened. And the only reason I can sit in that situation is because I fully recovered and I’m in the position I am today. There are so many stroke survivors that are struggling daily with a loss of half of their body, loss of ability to speak, loss of ability just to communicate in general. I feel selfish saying that looking back, that probably was a positive impact on me. I have a hard time saying that because there’s 92% of the people that have stroke that probably can’t. Well, even if you have some deficit. I’ve talked to people look back at it and say, yes, this was the shape who I am today, and I’m okay with that or good with that. For me, it’s hard to say positive experience because it wasn’t. But did it make me who I am today, and am I grateful for that? Yes, I’m grateful for that. And because of that, I give back to the organization that helped me, which is stroke survivors empowering each other. That is when you have a stroke and I’m going to go into stroke here for a few minutes, if you don’t mind.

Yeah, absolutely. When I have the stroke and when everybody has a stroke and I’m sure everybody has similar mindset is what just happened? Why did this happen? Is it going to happen again, what do I do next? And in that situation, I was looking back because you’re like, why is a big part of it? And you have a stroke, you’re in the hospital, they release you, and that’s it. They release you. There’s not much else that happens. It’s like, now you’re on your own. You got to go figure out what to do. They give you some pamphlets. They say there’s a survivor.

I’m sure you’ve had a stroke pamphlet. Thank you.

Right. And they’ll tell you there’s a survivor group that meets once a month at the hospital and which is all great. The community of somebody that’s gone through what you’ve gone is extremely important to be part of that. But for me it was and I was 51 at the time. And this is a misconception. But in my mind it was okay, this is going to be a bunch of 80 year olds in this group, and I’m not going to connect with them because I’m 51 now. I know after the fact that I’m not special in being 51 when I had it. We have a group called Young Survivors. We have a bunch of people, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 years old that have strokes. So stroke happens at any age. It’s not just somebody who’s 80, 90 years old. But I was looking for this community that would know what I went through and be able to answer me. A doctor can say this, a nurse can say this, but somebody has a stroke, I’m going to talk to. So I was fortunate to know a few people who know people with strokes. I started talking to them, and that was great.

I felt at least I was getting answers from them, but they still wanted more. So I found this organization called Stroke Survivors are Part of each other. And it was based in Illinois, where I am, where I live, I’m not there today, but where I live. And I called them actually, I think I sent an email and they called me and they reached out to me and I’m like, this is unbelievable. They’re calling me and they talk to me about a group they had called Survivor to Survivor, Telephone Support Group. When you talk to somebody who’s a survivor, they’re going to communicate you with you. They’re going to call you monthly. They’re going to ask how you’re doing. If I did have deficits, they’re going to talk to you about how you start to use the bus or how you start to set up your home so that you can function if you lose the side of your body. A lot of times people lose one side of your body, the ability to use it. How do you just put toothpaste down a toothbrush now and then brush your teeth? I mean, things like that that they were able to communicate.

And so they actually, the three leaders of that organization set up a meeting to get together with me. And I was like, this is amazing the support that they have. And so from that I told them they helped me tremendously. I still had three or four years of dealing with mental health issues after that. But they got me down the right path. And because of that, I started to want to give back. And so I would do a little fundraiser here and there. I would do things. And then they asked me to be on the board. And at the first board meeting, I look around and the President was just about to not just about she just said, I’m going to step down. And I looked everybody’s faces and I didn’t see anybody saying, I’m going to step up. It’s a great group, but everybody has different skills. And I’m like, I’m going to be the next President, aren’t I? And then about a month later, that’s what happened. But it’s been great to give back. It’s a great organization. It was an experience that I do not wish on anybody to have stroke, but it has shaped where I am today. And for that, I’m grateful.

Well, I’m glad that we have you here today, and I’m glad you’re on the other side of that event and that you give back to your community. And Randy, it’s been a real pleasure. I thank you so much for I think we didn’t talk too much about taxes, so it may seem like a disappointment from quite often what you’re talking about.

Eric, this is what I want to talk about. I can talk taxes all day. If I can share something to help somebody in business that has nothing to do with taxes or even personally, I want to do that. And I might be have a big ego thinking I can help somebody, but hopefully something I say does make a difference to somebody.

Well, I’m absolutely sure that you help people in some way every day, and I appreciate spending the time today. So, Randy, if people do want to reach out and get a hold of you and find out more, what’s the best way they can do that?

So I will go to our website, which is Tri-Merit (T-R-I- Merit.com) there’s “About Us” page link to my information there. You can go to LinkedIn. Apparently I’m going to be on TikTok soon and other things. I’m going to be recording, like one or two minute updates on different things. But go to the website. That’s the best place to start and you can get to anything else from there.

Can you imagine that many years ago saying to yourself, like, yeah, I’m going to be doing 92nd social media hits where people do crazy dances. It’s a fun world. And I’m glad that we can all evolve to really fun stuff together. And thanks again, Randy. It’s been a real pleasure.

Thank you, Eric. I enjoyed it. I wasn’t sure where that we were going with this. But. It was awesome. Thank you much.

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Have you ever looked at LinkedIn & said “What the heck are people doing here? How can I make LinkedIn work for me?”. Troy Hipolito is someone who has asked, and can answer that question. Troy is a LinkedIn Influencer, brand specialist, and has a very diverse background that we discuss in depth during a dynamic and enjoyable conversation.

If you need to manage your LinkedIn efforts & drive appointments, or support your LinkedIn Events & even run your own revenue-generating system – then you should talk to Troy.

Connect with Troy on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/troyhipolito/ 

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Welcome back, everybody. My name is Eric Wright. I’m the host of your Disco Posse podcast. Thank you for listening. Thank you for watching. If you want to watch, you can actually legitimately watch it’s over at youtube.com/discopossepodcast. Thanks to all the amazing people who are making this podcast possible and growing, growing like crazy. So super proud, having a lot of fun. Hope you’re enjoying the show as much as I am and all of our amazing guests. Speaking amazing guests, you’re about to meet Troy Hipolito. He’s the not so boring LinkedIn guy, but it’s actually a lot more than that. Troy is the founder of the Troy Agency. He’s got a really storied history in helping people with social promotion. But it’s not just about social promotion. He thinks big, and he takes that and applies it to social promotion. His agency style work and understanding of how to help people is really coming together beautifully. So it was a lot of fun. Troy actually was in the midst of a move, and he was kind enough to schedule something. This was one of those fun outreaches that he did a cold outreach to me on LinkedIn, and I actually liked it, and we got connected.

He was super fun. So I hope you enjoy this as much as I did. And talk about not so boring. Let’s head on over and remember the not so boring and fantastic people that make this podcast happen. So shout out to my sponsors, who all right, we got some announcements coming up very soon, so hang on to your hats. But in the meantime, go to vee.am/discoposse to get everything you need for your data protection needs, whether it’s on premises, whether it’s in the cloud, whether it’s bare metal. Metal, yeah. You got mail servers. You got to back those things up. You’ve got to back everything up. How about stuff like SharePoint, Microsoft Teams, Office 365? There’s much more. So again, just head on over to vee.am/discoposse, find out and let them know old Disco sent you over there. Speaking of going over there and doing it safely, protect your data in traffic, in transit, in every form. Head on over to tryexpressvpn.com/discoposse. I’m a user. I’m a fan because hey, I travel around, I move around, I’m on other people’s sketchy WiFi. It’s not sketchy because I use a VPN. So go check it out. Hey, even better than avoiding coffee shop WiFi, get your own coffee. Go to Diabolicalcoffee.com. All right, let’s get to the fun part. This is Troy Hipolito, the not so boring LinkedIn guy on the Disco Posse podcast.

Hey, this is Troy Hipolito. I’m with the Troy Agency. I’m known as the Not So Boring LinkedIn Guy. And you’re watching the Disco Posse podcast.

I loved your tagline, the Not So Boring LinkedIn Guy. And thank you, Troy, for jumping on today and for reaching out, getting connected. I’m a real fan of your content, your approach, your style, and it’s something that I even myself, I think. Good golly. There’s so many things I’m under utilizing around LinkedIn, around a lot of social network. You’ve really, really got some great stuff that you’re coaching people through and bringing them towards really strong outcomes. So for folks that are brand new to you, do not yet know about Troy Hipolito, you want to give a quick introduction and a bio and we’ll talk about what you and the team are doing.

Oh, yeah, I’ll even do one better and tell you the story behind it. So I am a designer and developer by trade, right. So I’m a programmer as well as a UI/UX person. And I was actually an award winning designer here in Atlanta, Georgia, several years in a row, like the top designer. And so back in the day, I had a company called ISO Interactive, and we were building video games. It was like the Rockstar programming. We’re doing virtual worlds, we’re doing app development, back end, front end. And it was really cool. We had a small team, about a dozen people. We paired up a designer with a programmer, and we created stuff that didn’t exist. We loved it. Right. So it was going really well until it wasn’t.

Oh, no.

In Atlanta, Georgia, they no longer depend on the agencies because the companies that you get work are the Fortune 500. They’re very corporate. And so they use agencies up to a certain point, and they pretty much cut a lot of that work off. And the agency started fighting each other. So I was thinking, I got all this great work. I did CocaCola stuff. I did Xbox Mobile, did Harry Potter movie releases. We even had our own Harry Potter fan site that we developed a full 3D, pseudo 3D virtual world using multi-user technologies. And it was just like, why can’t we get any work? Well, the agencies grab a lot of these people and brought them in house and really cannibalize the whole agency model. And so they were really fighting over pennies. We had to find another source of getting work. And so I asked a buddy of mine, he was actually doing well, and he had a competing agency, and he was putting all his work through LinkedIn. I was like, LinkedIn, you’re getting all your work through LinkedIn? He says, yeah. And then I had a sales buddy of mine in New Jersey, and he said, yeah, it’s LinkedIn, man.

It’s LinkedIn. I thought LinkedIn was a bunch of stuff for resumes. And they said, no, you have to build a relationship and all this other stuff. And I realized something. Those relationships were like, analogous to old-fashioned dating. And again, I realized I was a terrible dater, like in real life. So I have type A personality traits because I’m very technical, right? And what I and other people were doing and what a lot of people do nowadays still is they date wrong. They go in there. It’s like me saying this beautiful woman and walking up to her saying, I find you very beautiful. I’m going to have two babies with you right now. It doesn’t work you end up getting slapped in the face. And that’s the technical equivalent of what people are doing on LinkedIn. And so we had to revamp it. It worked really well, and we had a bunch of clients, and then we fired those clients and we rebranded our agency. And people asked, Troy, why did you fire all these clients? I said, Because they weren’t the right type of client. They just wanted to sell. And so my type of clients that I hire on the higher end, the high end type of clients, we look for people that offer value like they’re human.

So if you reach out to them, they’re there to help that person, they’re there to engage, and their audience exists in an active forum on LinkedIn. And so that’s a very narrow band of people that are authentic. They’re willing to kind of contribute some time to help those individuals. I said, yeah, I need to find like-minded people. And that’s when we changed from return client to the Troy Agency. So we only pick up maybe one or two primary clients a month, and it’s residual, works out fine. On the other end, we have course materials, and we have our own show, a monthly show that covers that type of revenue stream as well. So it works great as long as you have something that someone wants and you’re there to help them, don’t sell. If you help them solve their problem, there’s really only one of three things can happen. So I’ll take a 15 minutes meeting. They said, Troy, I’m doing this, and this. I’m having this issue. I help them solve the problem on LinkedIn. I said, this is the thing that you need to do to solve that immediate issue. And there’s one of three things that come out of that.

You put out good energy in the universe. They’ll never talk bad about you. Number two, it works so well that they’re into their business and they realize there’s 23 other things that only Troy can fix, and they hire me. And the third is they’re so happy they can’t afford what I have going on. But they like me. They like me enough to send a recommendation. And being recommended by someone else is ten times easier than you tooting your own horn. So it’s all about being human and doing what you say and helping those people get where they need to go, that’s my story. Little long version anyway.

No, it’s perfect. And a lot of folks that are listening to us obviously have a LinkedIn profile. I say obviously. Many folks would have a LinkedIn profile and they use it for a variety of purposes. And look, my dms are littered with these people that just don’t get it. I sort of say this is the common interaction is, hey, I see we have some common interests and like, all right, I’ll bite – accept, right. Because I also use it as a broadcast channel. Right. So I’m ultimately, all my content is going pushing to LinkedIn. I’m not really using it interactively as much as some people would think. And then the next one is, hey, thanks for connecting. Really great. Like what you’re doing with X or interested to connect and chat more. And then 4 hours later is hey, so what do you do about blah, blah, blah. And they immediately are pitching a product to me. And then the next day it’s like bumping the top of inbox just in case you didn’t see this then it’s not sure if you’re getting my messages. And then eventually like seven messages later you get the hey, I know you’re probably busy or you’ve been eaten by a bear or like there’s some kind of witty thing that they read worked once and so they just reused the same meme. And I’m like, no, this is not the way to use this platform.

You know what that’s called? It’s spam. They’re spamming, that’s what it is. I had to release a client because he wanted to spam people. She says, I always want to help people that need help right now and send this one message to everyone and keep on sending it to them. I said spam. Why is spam? I said, that’s the definition of spam. I was telling me that is what spam is. You want to communicate. And so that communication element is important. So what you’re talking about is seven or eight touch points that people think. They’re thinking, well, I have to get between 12 and 14 touch points before they connect with me. But they’re not connecting the dots. So that doesn’t mean people on sending them messages on your LinkedIn dm, it means how can you connect with them in a more authentic way? It’s okay to send one or two messages, I think. But I don’t like the selling portion. I do like the idea of getting to know that person for a particular reason. And so you want to do things with strategy. So a lot of people will use these systems and they’ll just bombard it and automate it and that sort of thing.

And LinkedIn, they’ll crack down on it, you get enough complaints, shut your account down. And so you have to have good habits. One of the things is like how can I come across authentic? The other thing is that how can I have them come to me? How do I separate myself from every other LinkedIn guy out there or in your business as well. Whatever you do, how do you separate yourself where if there is interest, they acknowledge that and they come to you. So you want two way traffic. And one thing that I do, what I don’t do is I don’t do sequencing on LinkedIn. I will have a witty connection message, and I’ll have maybe one follow up. But the follow up is usually a welcome message, and it’s unique to that individual. Right. I have a daily process, so when I pick on a client, I help them with the profile top to bottom, help them with targeting, help them with their initial messaging, and I help them with the day to day process. And that day to day process is really what’s going to keep you sane. Like, oh, I can be on LinkedIn 12 hours a day. You don’t want to do that. That’s insane. You want to spend between 15 minutes and 1 hour a day to do whatever the things that you need and get out because you have a business to run. And someone says, well, how can I get people to actually book a meeting with me? I said, that’s easy. I can easily get between 30 and 50 meetings a week if I wanted to. I don’t know. I think my camera is getting a little blurry. I don’t know what’s going on here. I think it’s the lighting.

Yeah. It’s the joy for folks that don’t understand. Poor Troy just moved, and we’ve made them do podcasts in the middle of a move.

I just moved in. It was like 80% of my stuff got wires and stuff in there. So it’s like the living room of the stuff.

There you go. That was funny. As soon as you move back in, it refocused.

Yeah. So if you get a process down. I said, well, give me a tip, right? I said, okay, how are you authentic? You’re authentic by understanding who you’re speaking to and creating some bit of information about them specifically. It’s not selling. So when you connect with someone instead of spamming them, why don’t you just use your LinkedIn app and open it up to the video option and you can send a native video to them. That’s what, 20 seconds long, maybe 30 at the most, and just thank them for connecting. Thanks, Eric. I really appreciate the connection. And I noticed that you have an interesting podcast called DiscoPosse Podcast, kind of tongue tied there, and I’d love to learn more about it. I said, if you have a moment, just take a look at my profile. I said, if you see any dots to connect, feel free to send me your booking link. I said, I’ll schedule some time with you. Thank you very much. Have a great day. That does a few things. That’s a unique message. You took the time to address them and what they do. You were not selling. And it’s appropriate time for them to look at your profile.

And if they see anything they want to talk about, the onus is on them. Send you the booking link and you’ll schedule with them. So it’s not me, me, it’s you. And so that concept and smiling and of course I didn’t smile. I did it quite quickly. But that idea is very powerful. You are communicating with them as a human would. And that’s just one of many of the tips and tricks. And I think the other thing we were mentioning was all the touch points. Well, there’s all these different things you can do depending on your strategy. Why are you connecting with people, you know? Are you connecting with them to engage with their network? Are you connecting them to sell them something, which is probably not a good thing. What do you have to offer them? How can you help that individual? You have to get down to the human level. So people think, well, I think I’m going to do this thing for their company. I’m going to do it for the team. That person doesn’t care. I mean, they may care, but they don’t really care. They care about themselves. We’re human.

So deep down inside, you have to figure out how can I help that individual? What does he want? Does he want to be the hero? Does he have a problem he needs to fix? Does he get something off his chest? Can I pass the litmus test? And the litmus test is – you know the old fashioned litmus test, when you dip it in there and you figure out if it’s a certain chemical or whatever, if you passes the test, the acidic thing. The litmus test for LinkedIn is – if this guy would go out and have a beer with me or a drink at a high end bar, because you have to think during covid time, your time is valuable. I’m not going to go off some stranger and have a drink with him because he could be creep. And I’m telling him all my secrets and stuff. So if they feel they could have a drink at a high end bar with you, you pass the litmus test, you pass the friend test. And that’s really where you want to be at. Maybe instead of just sending connection requests, you could take a look at five people a week and see, I want to engage with these five people because of their profile, the type of person they are, their network, whatever the case may be.

And I want to see what they’re posting. So engage with their post before ever sending a connection invite. If you engage with one or two or three of their posts and they respond, the chances of them of accepting the invite goes from there 30% to 90% and it goes all the way to 90%. You’ve not just done that one thing. The second thing that you accomplished is you move the relationship down the line. Your ask has to be appropriate to the relationship. Anyway. I blab a lot, but I think you get what I’m saying. Eric.

That’s a pretty one. We’re here because of your method, right. You took the right approach. I get dozens of inmails a day and people who are like, give me that. I’m like, I get it. You read Jeb Blunt, you want to get to 15 touches fast, right? So you think this spamming out my inbox is getting you to the 15 touches. But that’s not the case. And I get often and get outreach for people. They’re like, hey, we’d love to be on your podcast and like, thanks, booked up. But when you reached out, I did do exactly that, right. I looked at your profile, looked at what you’re doing. I’m like, yeah, here’s my booking link. Right. And here we are. So the proof is in the number of times I’ve said no to people. The one thing I always joke about too, is like, I want to make an explainer video of how not to sell people explainer videos on LinkedIn. Because I swear to goodness, about eight a day, people are like, hey, explainer videos are a great way to do whatever the first thing they do is. They’re like, here’s my calendar link to book your meeting, to set up your explainer video pitch session. Like, Nope, this isn’t going to go well for you at all. But welcome to my broadcast network, right. So for me, I’m like, hey, it’s another audience member. Good luck receiving my feed. But the real genuine connections where I could do, like you said, actually reach out and ask for time and meaningfully give back to them where they will care enough to take that time and give me that time. It’s a beautiful, like, it’s a bi-directional relationship of giving time and effort and attention because this is the real big thing. Right. We’re in the attention economy. And how do you get access to that attention?

Yeah, LinkedIn is so different than anything else. Here you have to come from a place of service. You got people that have, like, these Instagram models and what they call the thirst traps and all that. So that’s a different thing. Linkedin is really geared towards career change or building relationship building, working from home, B2B businesses or high value services. So these cheap off one methods that don’t work well, maybe they work well for a widget, right? We’re not selling widget here. We’re selling conversions to business. I have a client right now. One job that he gets is worth $200,000 per job. He’s trying to get one a month. Right. And not every method will work on his audience. And we may have a method that works perfect for me and awful for him. And it’s our job to figure out, well, where does this thing break apart? And then how can we bring it back where it will convert for them. Or we have to cover those dots to figure out how much is this client willing to do. A lot of these higher end people, high up individuals can’t do a lot of things.

They do certain things well. And if it’s outside the scope and not able to do, how do we cover those things? How do we simplify that process where we can cover those areas? And he can still be that person that can communicate. So it really depends on the strategy and what you’re trying to do on LinkedIn. But LinkedIn is known for a lot of that high-end B2B conversions. For example, I don’t really make a lot of money per client, but I’ll gain between one and two new clients a month, right. They’ll pay something like $3,000 or $4,000 upfront and then $1,100 per month. Right. You think over the course of a year that’s pretty good money because you’re compounding all the previous clients and they’re adding services. So that $1,100 a month could be $3,300 a month and so on. And if you got 20 clients at two grand, you’re making 40 grand a month on it and then adding to it. The trick is to slow down in order to speed up. So it’s not about rushing, it’s about just doing those things right. Another thing, too, is we have our courseware, and I couldn’t have done it without partners.

So partnerships, networking to build really solid partnerships is a really strength of LinkedIn. If it wasn’t for my partners, I wouldn’t have my courses. I wouldn’t have kept the Troy Show. I have a LinkedIn event called the Troy Show once a month, and I don’t want to do it all myself. It’s too much work. So we want to figure out these partners that have ancillary skill sets that will really possibly impact your business. And I even tricked my partner. His name is John Michelle. He’s another LinkedIn guy, a really good guy. And I said, you know what? I said, John Michelle loves to do these profile things, right? I said, Let me get him on a meeting. And so this is an example of a way that I tricked him, but it was beneficial for him. He got three clients out of it, right? So I know he’s going to be I’m a give. I’m a giver, right. I’m going to give him clients. But I said, hey, John Michelle. Hey, Troy. How are you doing? I said, pretty good. I’m redoing my profile. I was wondering if you can jump on a meeting with me, help me out.

He said, well, you’re a LinkedIn expert. Why would you want another expert? I said, well, because there’s crossover and there’s a percentage of stuff you do differently than I do. We have different flavors. I’m more branding, and he’s more SEO. And he’s in a certain type of details versus what I am. So we had a video. It’s 45 minutes. And I was challenging him on certain areas, and it made a good banter back and forth about why certain things. And I even disagreed on just a few blow points just to make it interesting. And he says, well, that was a pretty good video. And I chopped it up into seven pieces that may have a whole series of videos to show on LinkedIn for posting. And then I took those seven videos and I put them together on a LinkedIn article. Then I have an Evergreen article that reaches out to it. And he got three clients out of it. He said, thank you. Why did you give me these clients? I said, well, I mean, you helped out with the profile. He said, not really. I said, Well, yeah, you did. It was entertaining. It was good for my audience.

I said, but your audience is now hiring me to do these profile things. And he charges several thousand dollars, whatever it is, just to do the profile part. And I said, oh, that’s fine. Just keep the clients, you know. I guess. Well what do you want? I said, you know what? You think this would be a good series, maybe a course or something? He says, yeah, this make a great course. That was my goal the whole time, right? So he did the whole course, and then I did the series of courses. Now we have hundreds of videos and courseware now. And then we got people that have a large audience. Now, when I reach out to LinkedIn, other LinkedIn influencers and things like that, they have a large audience. And I said, let’s give them 25%. Let’s have them sell the course, and then they can get 25% and we can split it between the other partners and stuff like that. He says, well, are you okay for only getting a portion of it? I said, sure. Well, my method is if there’s not enough pies, you know the slices, they slice the pie up and you’re slicing it so thin you’re not making money.

I said, well, my idea is just make more pies.

It’s such a good way. The one thing that people are often too short-sighted about this stuff is they just immediately think like I can just hammer up this course and then I can sell it, and then I get 100% of the revenue and there’s literally dozens of ads that people will get a day. Once you click on one, you’re now in a loop of people selling this card and that card.

Oh, yeah, you’re going in a rabbit hole.

But if they don’t do what you did, which is open up the door and give the opportunity to collaborate. And collaboration is bi-directional. Sure, you saw that it would have been great to be able to create courseware with these folks. But in the end, you did it in giving back. You gave before you got.

Yeah, he was already in it before he knew it. And so I don’t think that’s mischievous, but because regardless he was going to get clients and he wanted to do the courses. And he has a certain experience, and I may have a certain audience, it just makes sense. And then we have an email person that comes in to run some of these shows. And so we convert on that, and we bring clients through it. And now we’ve attracted people that have large audiences, and we’ll give them a portion of it. As long as their network is right, everyone makes money. So it’s not a me, me thing. It’s how can we help each other in a way that everyone benefits. And that’s one thing that a lot of these solopreneurs are missing. They’re just like, I can do everything. Well, I’m a programmer, I’m a software engineer, and I’m a UI/UX person. I’m an award winning designer. I can do a lot of stuff well, but I’m a little older now, and I only have like 45-50 hours a week. I’m not doing anything more than that. And so the designer that designs 50 hours a week, and that’s all he does. Maybe he should do those things. We should distribute it out where we want. Because if we do everything ourselves, there’s no growth opportunity.


Because you’re wearing so many hats and you’re not able to go beyond a certain area. And so that’s where someone’s business processes and actually relationships come in handy.

There’s a great quote that I got from a book, and so I’m going to look it up right now just because I don’t want to miss quote, I want to call the title out because it was one that I really enjoyed, and it was called Twelve Months to 1 million. Ryan Daniel Moran, really fantastic book. But one thing that today says, it’s not a business if you walk away from it and it falls apart. You have to really build a machine around it because it’s easy for especially, we are as creative people as a designer, like, you know, maybe you could make $50,000 off a single client for a six week batch of work. But if three weeks into that batch of work, you have to leave, then you aren’t going to get half the $50,000. You’re going to get zero of the $50,000 and you lose your reputation. So what you do, you wrap a team around it so that you can contribute to it and share in that wealth and also get the benefit that you’re creating future opportunities, because now you can scale versus if you just be Troy Hipalito solopreneur for the rest of your life, something happens where you got to take care of your family, you got to move, you got to do stuff, and all of a sudden what do you do?

You just tell your client story. Work is stopping for the next four weeks because I got stuff to take care of.

Yeah. You definitely want to minimize upsetting your ongoing cash flow. I mean, that’s what’s going to make or break you. All these other things. You can make more money. Like I may make more money in the courseware, but not right now. It was an investment. It’s an investment. It’s building relationships. And on the tail end, you’ll end up making a good chunk of change. So I actually have an article that talks about documenting and creating your SOPs – your Service Offering Procedures. It’s not really a LinkedIn thing, but it’s more of a business thing. And so by having these service offering procedures, you’re actually teaching certain areas of your business so you can hire out. And the truth is, everyone says if they’re perfectionist, you are in the worst boat because you can’t screw yourself up. The person who’s doing his task. You say, it’s true, I can do the job with seven people, but I have to hire one person for one job. And I’ll give you a perfect example. Back in the day, I was the creative director of a company, and it was tied to another company. And they wanted me to engage the engineers and other web people on how to do a project. They’re doing government stuff, and I was doing civilian other stuff. Right?


And they had to create a website for this, this and this. They wanted me to engage with them. And they said, oh, yeah, this is a six month project, seven people. It’s a six month no. How long would it take you to do it? I said, it took me three weeks to do the whole thing. I was just being on. I was naive because I was a designer programmer and I knew all the bits of it. And they said, okay, you do it then. And that was done in two weeks. They never spoke to me again. I screwed up the relationship because they have different processes and stuff. And you have to be kind of careful about because you might be able to get that one thing done. But these longer relationships you can ruin if you don’t have a way to create this service operating procedure, to hire out in order to do certain tasks. And even if they do a task and they’re not 100% as good as you are, do they need to be, you think? Do they need to be exactly like me? I mean, what is really good? Like really good is better than most people.

Look at a program module, someone says, oh, we have to create this one component where it’s reusable. And I said, well, would you reuse it on another project? We probably could. I said, but you’re not. And you have to understand that the client is paying X amount of dollars and you might want to create this reusable component that eats up the entire budget and it makes no difference. So they have to think intelligently. How can I create these service operating procedures so people are taking certain tasks on that they’re good or good enough. And when I mean good enough, I mean very good, but maybe not exactly to what you’re used to doing, because we all are a little perfectionist in our own way.

Yeah. One of my funniest examples of this was like, I was like, 19, and I was building houses. I was working as a landscaper, and we would build houses during the fall when it would be lower in the landscape side. And I worked with this roofing crew, and it was like, such a funny thing that this is their full time gig. And they were run and gun contractors. They knew what they were doing. They come in, they got three days to do a thing. They’re going to stand it up, and they’re working on this house. And it was a friend of mine’s house. So I’m kind of, like, acting a little different because I know the guy that owns the house. And this guy’s hammering in a nail, and it goes in crooked. And then you see him, he’s, like, trying to back out the nail. And it was so funny that the guy’s name was Lumpy. It was his nickname. He said, Jesus Christ, Lumpy, we’re not building an F in piano. Just hammer it in. And it was so funny. I’m like, my instinct would be like, yes, do it right, spend the extra time email.

The other guy is just like, whack. He just hammers it in. It bends it in good enough so that it’s flush. And he’s like, then put another nail right beside it. And the difference of like, look, we just got to get this done. And like you said, it’s weird that we use phrases like good enough or whatever. Like, good enough is good enough. It’s good. It’s not barely good enough. It’s good enough. Most people don’t even do good enough. So it’s like this unfortunate scale that we, and you hear the phrase too, like, if you aren’t embarrassed about your minimum viable product, you waited way too long to put it out.

Yeah, my IT company, I had a lot of people saying, oh, I need to scale it to this. And I just had to tell them the truth. I said, look, you guys spend about $150,000 on this MVP, and once you get funding, you’re just going to rebuild it. Why would you rebuild it? I said, trust me, because investors going to come in because I went through investment many times. So I already know, like the process. They’re going to come in and say, oh, this is great, but our market that I want to hit is this or this is a cool feature and you can’t fit it in afterwards. A lot of times, especially, you have to get stuff done in a very small amount of time. So some people create MVP to take care of the functionality of a certain group of people or a maximum X amount of people. If you get beyond that, sometimes it’s okay to just take that idea and rebuild it, because sometimes the concepts and ideas are half to work. So you really have to think along what is realistic, what is good. When I say good enough, everything that we put out is very good.

But I have certain people that like my writing style. I look at the person and I figure out their personality and I write according to their voice. And another writer may not get that. So I have to figure out everything about the person. So I understand the vibe. And sometimes they don’t like telling me certain things and I drag it out of them. It’s like, okay, how did you grow up? What do you like I said, okay, are you gay or straight? Like, I’m blunt about I need to understand where you’re coming, what’s your audience, what’s your typical kind of client? And I blend that in. I said, okay, I think I got your voice. And I write it down like, wow, this is pretty good. And they make their tweaks to it because when someone looks at your LinkedIn profile, they’re looking at a person, they’re looking at the story. And the reason why we call these reality TV shows are so popular, it’s because it drives the story. I was living in my car and now I make a million dollars. So they want to know that story. How did you start from here and get over there and be successful. Especially in the states, they love a success story. They love the underdog, and they want to relate to you. That’s one reason I work with a lot of clients that have families. They’re family oriented. I understand that they have a bigger care. I work with people that maybe have a similar background because I understand what they’re going through. I have people that try to be sincere. At the end of the day, this is kind of where you’re going. And I’m bluntly honest with my clients. I tell them, okay, I’m going to do this. When you get your first client, I’m charging you more money. I’ll tell them, and we’ll make this thing work. And I think that personal relationship and engagement not just makes him feel good, it makes me feel comfortable and happy about helping other individuals.

The sincerity piece is always an interesting thing because I’ve had people say this. I can help somebody by writing content with them in a sincere first person voice. I can represent their personality. And like, you’re so fantastic at this, right? And then someone would say, like, well, is it really sincere if you’re getting someone else to write it for you? No, but that’s not the point. The point is they don’t have time to create this content. They created, they read it and they’re like, hey, this sounds like I wrote it like, bingo. Yeah.

They may not be good writers. They’re like coaches for this. Coaches by coach. Coaches hire coaches. That’s kind of what I am, and I’m not doing everything for them. Doing the first draft, I feel this is what you’re talking about. So if you’re a good person that does websites, you may be a terrible copywriter. If you’re a good 3D guy, you may be a terrible UI guy. If you’re a good coach that helps women, maybe you’re not that good at helping guys. I don’t know, making stuff up. So everyone has their strengths, but they have this passion inside to do something. And it’s our job to present that passion in a way that makes sense. Like a LinkedIn profile is really about 70% visual. But once you get past the visual, they start digging into the story. That story is the bit that will convert them. So the visuals will bring you in and the story will help convert. Of course, you have your LinkedIn SEO optimization and all those tricks too, but you have to have that balance where they said, you know what, this is someone I want to talk to, and that’s where you want to be on LinkedIn.

And it’s a mixture of all of those things, right? Like you can have great SEO, but then they get there and they go, okay, it was easy to find, which ultimately SEO is about searchability discoverability. But if I have great SEO for a restaurant, but the food’s trash, that’s no good. You can get people there. And then your role is to teach them how to keep people there and engage them and give that sincerity. Tell that story.

People can’t do it. That’s kind of funny. People say, I just want to sell stuff. Well, if you don’t want to put your human out there, maybe it’s not for you to convert in that way. Maybe you’re a high end CEO that uses it for PR purposes, that’s fine. But if you are converting, if you’re trying to get a career going on stuff, you need to have all your ducks in a row. If you’re trying to convert B2B or high value services, you have to have all these things in a row. Because when someone makes a decision, it’s usually an emotional decision first. And second, it’s based on stats. That’s how most humans work, right? And they look at you and you look like a douchebag on your photo. They’re not going to know it. But in the back of their mind, something is off with this guy here. I don’t think I want to work with them. You don’t know why, it’s your douchebag photo.



Something simple as that. So making a decision to work with you, they may have 2, 3, 4, 5, 10 criteria, right? Whatever it is. And they don’t know it’s ten or five criteria. Say five is easy number. But all they have to figure out is one that you’re not qualified to not work with, you know. Like, how do I separate myself from all these other LinkedIn guys? Right. Well, I’m not as serious. I’m more human. That’s why I put the not so boring LinkedIn guy. It’s just funny enough to separate. It’s not really super funny and super off. My other line was actually better, but it didn’t apply to LinkedIn. When I had my gaming company, I was known as the number one Swissipino game designer in the world. Right. Because my mother from Switzerland, my dad is Filipino, I’m half Asian. And so my mother has blonde hair, green eyes, and my dad’s like, really Filipino and so I’m Swissipino. And that would be such a great pickup line of the bars. They would say, really? I think so. I probably number one Swissipino.

The irony is this, Troy, that you’re the second Swissipino person I know. I have a friend, somebody who’s Sonia Missio. She’s actually based in Toronto, and she also in that interesting split. But it is so funny that you say that. And like you said, that the genuineness comes out. And look, the truth is, design is important. User experiences, that engagement is important. If design didn’t matter, then there would be sushi milkshakes.


We like the fact that someone spent way too much time making it look good so you could eat it. Otherwise we would just be having nothing but Soylent milkshakes. And, like, there’s a reason we do stuff. You walk down the street, there’s flowers on the thing. Like, you see somebody’s profile, and it’s like half of their girlfriend or boyfriend’s face is in the shots. It looks like they’re on a fishing boat. That’s great photos.

That’s another thing I tell my clients. Oh, my goodness. Well, I don’t know. Do you have time to make money? I tell them I’m blunt with them. What’s going to cost me so much? I said, how much is the client worth? That’s my closer right there. I said, how much is a client worth to you? Okay. Then you’re going to have to do A, B and C or pay to do whatever. Because it’s like you want to be honest and you want to be authentic. But there’s also a fine line from kissing someone’s feet. The client doesn’t want that. Client wants to know that, hey, Eric knows what he’s doing. Troy knows what he’s doing. If he tells me something, it’s for a reason. It’s not because he’s blabbing. It’s because he’s trying to get me money. And those are the right people. Well, for my market anyway. Those are the right people to actually engage with because they’ll actually take the steps to do a process that works for them.

Yeah. There’s a really interesting thing you talked before about the kind of like firing your client. And it’s an important piece because as you look at where you can deliver real value. Right. And you’re selling value, you’re selling a specific outcome. And I’ve had this for an advisory with startups. And you start talking with them, and as you give them advice and you give them direction and you give them guidance, and they’re just, like going the opposite way on each thing. And then they say, I don’t understand why this stuff is not working. Well, I don’t know, maybe because the last three things I’ve told you that you should do, you’ve kind of gone in the opposite direction. And then at that point. I’m like..

Well, you’re nicer than I am. Yeah.

It feels like I don’t think I’m adding value to this. So I’m going to just step back.

Yeah. I had two clients I remember firing, and there’s a very specific story. One was, I have CPA. Anyone that has a high value of service I could potentially work with. Right. If they’re trying to convert on LinkedIn. One was a CPA, and he was from, I don’t know, the UK somewhere. We moved to Midwest. Older guy in Balding, and he was there. He was very dry. Right. And he used to take Zoom meetings like this. It pissed me off. Right. Like what? He wouldn’t even looked at the camera. He’s talking and he has his accent and all this other stuff. He says, Troy, this is not working very well. And I looked at him with a straight face. I said, didn’t you just get 14 clients in 45 days? How did you know that? I was like, I bet everything I do, I’m a lot smarter than, I don’t tell them that, but I’m a lot smarter than I look. Okay. Because I said, I talked to your VP two days ago before this meeting. He was trying to not pay and get these clients. Right. I don’t like that. That’s being very dishonest. He just wanted to do what he wanted to do.

Right. And I said, you know what? I’ll let you out of contract. Forget about 30 days. Maybe it’s not working for you. And he said, yeah, maybe it’s not working. Oh, it was working for him, but I don’t want to work with people that are trying to lowball me or lie to me. I had another guy, he was in cyber security. It’s another big area. And he was doing training, certification stuff right there’s. All these.


And he wanted to sell the certification to individual LinkedIn. I didn’t think it was a good idea. Right. I don’t know about cyber security. But I was like, yeah, I don’t think this is, is your audience receptive to this? Yes, it is. Yeah, I don’t think so. It’s kind of hard to sell these $4-5,000 courses and stuff. And I said, you got funding for it. And then I said, you know what? You might want to just partner with other security people and use this because you’re an ancillary, you’re an extra. And they already have the in on it. In on this company that’s doing this stuff. And they’d probably need his certifications anyway. And he said, well, I don’t have any partners give me two days. So I went to a security event here in Atlanta, Atlanta, Georgia. And I paid my bills to get in, $500 to get in and was talking to these people and I talked to twelve people. I would love to talk to this person. I said, hey, I said forget this whole what we’re doing, just forget it. I’ll give you meetings. I said these clients are worth a lot. I said, this one client here don’t miss the meeting. And he’s traveling and all this stuff. He agreed to the meeting, he missed the meeting twice, right? Twice.


Yeah. And the other people who were not, I don’t know what he was doing. Some people do their business, shoot by the hip. He was going and he was from Texas and he was going to another country and I was having meetings with them and I told him directly, I said, hey man, I like you, but I don’t want to see what’s happening in their background because he was at his mistress house or something and that’s not cool. I don’t want to know that personally. I don’t care if you have two women or you’re married, you’re single, you’re gay, you’re straight. I think as long as you treat people well, that’s important. But what I have a personal issue with is deception because that means you’re not going to run an honest business, right? So I had to let them go. I like the guy. But if you can’t make the meetings and you’re in these compromising things and stuff and you’re trying to cover the campaign, don’t do that. So you have to work with people that have the same, I wouldn’t say moral structure, but integrity, right. Integrity, that’s a good word to have the same kind of ideals that you do.

Because you know that at the end of the day, if he’s going to do stuff right, I know that I won’t get paid. I’m not going to fight over payment. I would just can you and stop all your services and you won’t make any money. It’s really simple for me. You can’t manipulate me. I’m here to help you to convert. And so you need those individuals that say, you know what, I will make it to this meetin., I will go in here and help this individual do what they need to do and I’m going to make business. You have to have a very clear head on. Like how am I going to get to point A to point B and then know that next month you may have to jump from A to C. You have to figure out the connecting the dots, you have to do some AB testing on what works and then you have to figure out like this works better. And it’s okay because you didn’t know that before. It’s a process. So people think that, oh, I get this automation thing on LinkedIn, I’ll make a million dollars. No, it doesn’t work that way.

It works against you. Linkedin will shut you down. And if that’s the main channel, it’s not going to help you out. So a lot of the lower end and not lower end is money so much, but lower end and thought process and being human and helping, they don’t do very well on LinkedIn, where a lot of coaches that have a little bit of a brand, a little bit of flair, something that separates them from other people, you got people that like them, actually like them, they can engage with them. And every personality works well. Had this one guy really dry personality. I told him, you are dry as toast. I told him, you’re dry as toast. I said, that’s your brand.

Be proud.

I said, yes, you are. I’m telling you are. I said, you know why you could say dry jokes. And it’s funny because you’re such a straight face. It works for you. And I said, and you’re a CPA. Do they want a funny guy to be messing with their money? No, they want a serious dude. And you have to kind of think about it like that. You have to think about what is my personality. And so I actually am somewhat dry. I’m kind of funny. I got dry humor. That’s what it is, right? Not so boring. Linkedin. I’m kind of boring. So I twisted it upside down to do that. And I would love to be the number one Swissipino LinkedIn guy in the world, but it wouldn’t make sense. LinkedIn, they wouldn’t know. It doesn’t. Because when you’re doing gaming, it’s a little more fun. And they’re going to ask, what is Swissipino? But on LinkedIn, they’ll be like, this makes no sense at all. So you have to apply a brand that kind of makes sense to that audience.

And it goes to your approach to it. Right. Which is about adaptability, because even where a method may work for one company, one brand, one person, that same thing. If you just automate it and try and sell it to ten other clients without gating, is this appropriate without evaluating? Is this going to fit their persona, their audience? It’s both sides of that experience, too. It’s not just about you. Two funny people are not two funny people. There are two funny people that each have individual audiences. The one dry CPA guy, like you said, your clients are going to dig this. They want to kind of know that you’re the dry CPA guy. Somebody who’s hiring a real funny person if they want them for a keynote speaker for a CPA conference. Perfect. But if you want, it’s like matching and mapping skills to value, to perception, it is a real like, you achieve a really interesting mix by being dynamic, having the integrity, being genuine through the process. And then making sure that those people then parlay that genuineness, that integrity because of how you work with them.

Yeah. And part of it is clarity. When you’re creating a brand, you don’t want to say, oh, I can do this. I don’t really talk about all my development other than in the story. But in general, when you look at my profile, it’s very clear that he’s a LinkedIn guy. He’d get me clients. It’s very simple concept. But if you say, oh, by the way, I can do website design. I did Coca Cola stuff. What are you, a LinkedIn guy or a programmer? You end up looking like a flea market, and that’s one thing you have to avoid. You want simple clarity. You can add a little humor in it. For branding purposes, you want a separation, but what are you known for? I picked up a client last week, and he says, you know, I want to help professional women, right? They’re owners of businesses or they’re higher up in the thing and they feel like something’s missing. I said, I totally get it, okay? I can help men, too. I said, no, men will come in as ancillary. What do you mean? I said, you can’t say, oh, I helped a lot of women, but men can come in too. Well, no. You want to concentrate on that. Your main nuts or your main fruit, low hanging fruit. And by doing that and doing it well, your interaction with them, they’ll give you another client. You have your clients to come based on referral. I don’t care what kind of system you have going on. We got systems where we have direct message campaigns and stuff, but they’re not sequenced. They’re teaching the client how to reach to certain audiences. We have posting campaigns and stuff like that that we have a whole series of things that are done that promotes authentic conversations. And so a lot of things that we do, we have to slow down, have less but better conversations. By doing that, you convert. How many clients you really freaking need.

Right. Yeah. And the thing that you hit on there is like that clarity and crispness. Like, even when we talk about going to public speaking, I coach people in this all the time. When you go to give a keynote, your opening slide should not be, Hi, my name is Eric Wright. I’m a product marketer. I work for a company, and prior to this, I did 20 years working in financial services. I was a systems administrator. Started off as desktop support. Made my way to me. Prior to that, I was actually a landscaper.

Or you could start with that and say, Just kidding and move on. Right?

But it’s like that’s the first thing they do is they do that, and then they end the presentation with a thank you slide. You’re like, no, what you should do is how many times have you gone into the office and realized that there’s no door by the bathroom? That’s two way door.

Storytelling, yes.

 And you immediately get into this thing. And that’s what your profile has to tell a story. But you’ve got 160 characters to do it in. So you just can’t dilly dally around. You got to get to it and it’s got to be meaningful, engaging. And like you said, it’s got to match the other stuff. But it’s hard as the person, the self, to have the humility to step outside and create that. That’s why having you come in and do this with them, it’s like such a boost, because it is balanced voice.

Because you have character limitations. You have SEO on Google as well as SEO on LinkedIn. So Google has searched everything on LinkedIn, and LinkedIn has their own search as well. And LinkedIn tends to do things a certain way, so you have to do things a certain way. For example, you’re on individual jobs, right. Linkedin tends to pair you with people that are similar to you. Right? Well, that’s not what you want to do if you’re doing B2B sales or your coach.

That’s right. It’s trying to find you a job, not a client.

Oh, I need another programmer. Like, I know a Zillion program. You know what I mean? You’re trying to get business, right? So one trick is to actually put your target market in your title. It’ll start pairing you up with your target market. And people don’t think about that. You know, one thing to do is when I say I’m a Not So Boring LinkedIn guy, right. That’s the first thing I have underneath my name. And it’s not SEO optimized, but I don’t care. It’s more important to have that brand. And then I have the other things that are very searchable. And then when you’re telling a story, this is an easy way to explain it. I want to show the scars, but I don’t want to show the wounds. Right? You can over inundate like you can say, yeah, I was homeless. My mom died. My brother died. He had an overdose. My girlfriend was cheating on me and left me. I was living in the shit. No one can hear that. That’s just horrible. That’s just too much. I mean, you don’t want to say my life is awful, but I’m trying to make it.

That doesn’t work. So showing the scars and then not the wound, that would be showing the wound.


Showing the scars could be like the dating story. I told you I was an awful dater. It’s funny and it’s true. I am so direct. I used to go straight for it and it works sometimes, but most of the time it didn’t. So taking the approach of old fashioned dating into business just to get to know someone, just to see, I think dots connect. Are you in the same area? You have some commonalities? Is there something that you think he needs that you can help that has maybe nothing to do with your business? Maybe it’s someone I can connect them with or, oh, he doesn’t need a LinkedIn guy. He needs to fix his freaking email. I got an email guy. And people say, oh, I got great deliverability. No, you don’t. People don’t realize that a good portion of emails never make it. And I could tell them, look, LinkedIn is great, but LinkedIn is not everything. Like, we pull stuff off of LinkedIn and create a video funnel series through like dub or some kind of component that makes it more interactive because some people don’t reply on LinkedIn. So what are you going to do? You have to figure out what works best to help convert the goals of that client and a lot of it is technology based. And can you imagine sending a proposal to someone and they don’t get it? And the client says, well, I never got it. Well, the clients not thinking, oh, it’s a mysterious email. No, it’s a you problem.

Yes, right.

You screwed up and you lost the deal. So people sometimes don’t know how important these little components are to fix because it’s a cassette of dominoes. You remove one or two dominoes, it doesn’t complete. And I think a lot of people are so geared about volume. I mean, if you do a high value services, I’m good with one client a month. One, there’s a lot of work for me, maybe two maximum. A high value clients worth at least $1,000 a month compound monthly. You can compound that. My other client, like I mentioned, one job is $200,000. When you take the work in, can you deliver the work? And then maybe you can grow your business and your service offering procedures and training, and you can slowly grow out in that way. But I think that everyone, not everyone, but many people are about that volume and that volume will work against you. Can you imagine reaching out someone’s interested and they reply back and you don’t have time?

If they all come back and say, yes, if you’re not ready for that and it doesn’t have to be many, it can just be, like you said, one or two of them. They say, yeah, go for it. And you’re like, oh but I can’t go for it now.

Yeah, stabbing yourself in the foot. So you have to realize what is appropriate. And it’s okay to have a small business. It’s even okay to have a job if you’re doing career changes. I got a buddy that’s a sales guy for servers. I don’t even know what he does. Right. I’ll be honest with you drinking buddy. We go out, we talk. I said that dude makes a quarter of a million dollars a year having a job. So it’s not all about entrepreneurship. It’s about his ability to build relationships with clients. And whether you’re entrepreneur or having a job, you have to charge what you’re worth and you have to deliver what you say.

Put that on the card. There you go. Well, Troy, this has been fantastic and I tell you that’s a great way to wrap because it is important, right? Whether you’re selling yourself into a job where they’re selling yourself into a service, whether you’re selling a team, whatever it is, there’s the way you do it to bring that personality, that integrity through, I’m glad genuineness that you bring to this is enlightening and it was really great to share this. So for folks, if they do want to reach out to you, they can find you on LinkedIn, I presume.

My first and last name Troy last name is Hipolito. H-I-P-O-L-I-T-O. There is another Troy Hipolito out there, that’s actually my brother but he’s in the army so that’s a whole different guy. I used to be an army. Anyway, long story but I’m the most popular Troy Hippolito out there, right?

Not only is the top Swissipino but he is the top Troy Hipolito.

In the world, yeah.

Well, there you go. Troy, thank you very much. This has been really great and encouraged folks do reach out and taken your content through the great I love the way you approach things and yeah, we all need a little bit more Troy in our lives so thanks for taking the time today.

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David Kofoed Wind is the co-founder and CEO of Eduflow and Peergrade, a service for providing peer-evaluations and peer-feedback integrated into an enablement platform. David did his Ph.D. at The Technical University of Denmark with a focus on machine learning, data science, and educational technology and previously worked as a software developer for cBrain, Edlund A/S and at CERN.

We discuss how Peergrade was founded, the transition to Eduflow, lessons in pragmatic product management, and David’s personal challenge which led to founding a company.

Check out Eduflow here: https://eduflow.com

Connect with David on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/utdiscant/

Transcript powered by HappyScribe

Welcome back. It’s another episode of the DiscoPosse Podcast. My name is Eric Wright. I’m gonna be your host. This is a really great chat with David Wind for fear of really poorly butchering his name, I’m going to say he’s David Kofoed Wind. He was very kind enough to walk me through the pronunciation. And David is a fantastic human. He’s a founder, part of the co-founding team of EduFlow, and also a professor and really has a great history on what he brings to the educational world around his work with Peergrade and EduFlow. Tons of startup lessons, tons of lessons in how to build a good educational platform. So this is a founder’s rich pool of lessons.

Definitely you want to listen to this one. And if I could, before we get to the episode itself, I’m going to give you some lessons. If you want lessons and making sure that you have everything you need for your data protection need, go and check out our supporters of this fantastic podcast and these great conversations, which is our friends over at Veeam Software. So Veeam Software, I’m a user. I’m a lover of the platform, the technology, and the team. And it’s super easy to find out more by heading over to vee.am/discoposse. Literally just those letters, just vee.am/discoposse. You could find out all about it and get connected. So do do that, please. Wait, did I just say do do? Anyways, you know what I mean. Also, one more thing before you get too far-thinking, hey, my data is the thing I got to protect. Well, guess what? Got to protect your data in flight. A great way to do that, especially if you’re moving around. You’re going to WiFi hotspots. You want to get a VPN. This is for your own safety because there’s a lot of bad people out there doing bad things. And WiFi is a great place to capture your data.

So if you go to tryexpressvpn.com/discoposse, you can join me as an ExpressVPN user. I’m a fan, and it gets old discoposse a little bit of jingle if you do go there, which that’s not the only reason I do it. I literally use the platform. So go check it out.

Oh, right. And speaking of great place where you often find yourself in, places where you need a VPN is at the coffee shop. Save yourself a trip to the coffee shop by going to Diabolicalcoffee.com and get your own tasty, devilishly good, diabolical coffee beans, and also some devilishly and diabolically awesome swag, so you don’t travel around. Anyways, back to the show. This is David Kofoed Wind of EduFlow on the DiscoPosse podcast.

Hello, my name is David and I’m the CEO of EduFlow and you’re listening to the DiscoPosse Podcast.

I’m really, really enjoying in advance this discussion because this is a passionate area that I’ve really enjoyed a lot of work in around education and collaboration and creating engaging, collaborative ways to help people learn and advance their skills. So when the name EduFlow came up, and I looked at what you and the team are doing. It was like, all right, this is literally the platform and the concept that I’ve been waiting for, for a long time. And I’m only saddened by the fact that I only just recently learned about you. So, David, if you want to give a quick background for folks that are new to you, let’s talk about your story, who you are, and then we’ll get into the EduFlow story and the value. It’s really, really compelling for me.

Yeah. So I think I’ll try to see if I can wrap it all together in one coherent piece. Right. So who am I? Is kind of the start, right? So I’m David, as I said, right? Today, I’m the co-founder of a company, but this whole thing kind of started as I was a programmer. I was one of those kids who started the program when I was little. I was thinking about this the other day. I think I launched my first product or app when I was in 8th grade. So I’ve been, like, 13 years old or something. I built like, a skateboarding website or something.

Oh, wow.

It totally broke. Like, I had no idea about security or anything. All the passwords got leaked or something, but it was a good way to get my hands dirty. I had a sponsor that sponsored a pair of shoes, and it was really cool. So I’ve always been a coder, basically. And then I went to University. I studied math. I did a PhD in computer science. And then during my PhD, I got a chance to teach my own course. And I always loved teaching. And I probably also loved teaching more than researching. I found out during my PhD I wasn’t really good at research, but I had this course, and it was about big data, and everybody apparently loves big data. So I thought I would have 30 students, but I got 150 enrollments the first time, and that was cool. But it was also a lot more than I had planned for. So I had this course summary where it’s like, okay, weekly written assignments solve all these big problems. And then you did back at the envelope of math. When you see, okay, 150 students, weekly assignments, it’s like at least 40 hours a week upgrading. Does not make any sense, right? So I thought, okay, what can I do? And I’d heard about this idea of peer review before Costaro had these courses with peer review. So I thought, okay, maybe I can get the students to grade each other, and then I save some time and they can also learn something. So that’s what I did. I sat down aside of programming, as you always do when you’re a programmer, and thought, I can build this in a weekend, it won’t be too bad. And here I am, seven years later, I’m still working on it, but I started cooking up this peer review product, basically to help solve this problem. And then what happened was that my supervisor thought it was really cool. And he was like an entrepreneurial kind of guy. And he said, you should sell this to somebody. You should sell it to the Department. And it didn’t really make any sense, right? I was just a PhD student. I was doing this kind of at work, and it wasn’t a product. It was more use for me. But he kind of pulled me to the Department heads office and said, David’s going to sell you something.

And I was like, I built this thing called Peergrade, and you can do this and that. And the department head was pretty skeptical, to say the least. And he’s just like, oh, what does it cost them? $1,000 per calls? He just looked at me really scary. And then I said, okay, but then I won’t take any teaching assistance because I have the product. This would be enough. And he’s like, wow, that sounds like a good deal, because the teaching assistant is more expensive than $1,000. So I sold a product now that I didn’t have, and I didn’t have a company. And now I had no CA’s as well. So I kind of went back to my office, and then I called, well, I had one CA left there. I think I got one left. So I called my old high school friend and said, I messed up. I promised to sell something that I haven’t built your program as well. Can you come and help me? You can be my one CA, but just call this thing with me. And then I’ll run the course alone. And that’s how we started back in the day with PeerGrade. So we sat down, we built this peer Review, and we sold the first license to my own department. And then it became a company. We had to make a company to send the first invoice. So the whole story of Eduflow starts with another product, actually.

Well, that’s the interesting thing that you’ve literally given, like, every Silicon Valley story, right? Is that I had a concept. I found a prospective customer. You sold on the idea. They liked it so much that they wanted to buy it right there. And then you go hunting down. And the funny thing is, you had a chief revenue officer who was just basically saying, hey, David, come over here. He’s going to sell you something.

There’s so many incidents that are so random that you can’t bank on it. It just has to happen on its own at some point, right? And in this case, it was like, I’ve seen Cassera do Peer Reviews. I worked on some algorithm a year earlier that I could use for this. I was doing a PhD and I had this problem on my own. I had my old friend, I had a supervisor who was super easy going with entrepreneurship. All of these things combined made this happen. Right. But if any of those things didn’t work, it wouldn’t have happened. Right. So it’s kind of crazy how many random accidents have to happen at the same time for anything to work out. Right. But that’s what most companies are born, I guess you solve your own problem at the right time, at the right place, and then it becomes bigger than you think you go.

Yeah, I think part of the thing that we have as a challenge in telling the stories of startups is often the compression of the time frame. And there are sort of heroic moments that occur like weekends of coding. And like you hear about many, many companies that they’ll have a hackathon and it becomes what it will be, the landmark product for them. Usually it’s just this idea like we’ve got this brand new thing we want to develop. And so they hack it and they code it together really quickly. Then they solidify it and all of a sudden they realize it was built generally because you understood there was a problem that existed. When the reverse happens where you say, I’m going to take a blank slate of paper and I’m going to write down an idea and I’m going to code something towards that idea. It’s very different than you having true lived experience and an immediate problem. So the speed that you had to move at was abnormal just because of that. But it’s really a fantastic story and that’s why I love the background. Now, your own ability to influence what the product is.

That’s where I think is also interesting for folks that you were an instructor, you were a student. So you really understood both sides of it. When you talk to other founders and other folks that are thinking of developing a product, that’s actually a bit of a rarity. Do you find that yourself, like when you talk to other founders or other people that are in the tech space, that the fact that you really had direct experience, that helped a lot, probably in the ability to develop quickly.

Yeah, it totally does. Right. It doesn’t only have upside. Right. It’s massively helpful to be your own customer initially because you don’t have to talk to anybody else. The first 20 features you build, just build whatever you would like to have in the product and then you have one customer that you’re really building for who is yourself. And it makes iterating extremely fast and communication is always tricky, right. When you have an idea in your head and you have to get it in somebody else’s head, that can be complicated. But you don’t have to do that at the beginning if you are the customer as well, you can just take your idea and code it. Plus we had our students, right. So the first four months, five months of Peergrade’s live, we met them every Tuesday for 4 hours. Right. And they would line up outside our office and next to me and just give feedback and tell me how much it sucks or whatever. And then we would fix it and we would see all these weird box. It helped a lot. The challenge is if you’re very weird, then you’re building for an audience of only you. Maybe you are so rare, but the world is big. It’s unusual that you are so rare. Right. But that is the challenge that you could be building for a very niche audience to just build for yourself.

You really highlight an important piece there that getting feedback. So that feedback loop in iteration and feature development, you sort of had a captive audience because they were obviously engaged in it. Right. They had little choice because you had little choice. This is the only way you could host 150 students at once.

And they had even less. Right. I just forced it on them. They’re like, now you’re going to miss this whether you like it or not. This is how I run this course. You have to deal with it.

Well, David, the one thing that I think of, however many University profits that I’ve bumped into, your interactive process is beautiful because it’s so much better. You built this for the benefit of the students to be able to let them do what they could do in a large cohort versus a lot of I find a lot of professors, their whole goal is to write their own text and then they can make it mandatory and charge $180 for the text so that they’ve always got 30 brand new customers every semester. Everything about your approach to it was meant to make their experience better and coincidentally make your experience better. And that in itself, too, is a rarity that most folks just don’t have the ability to change the flow of engagement so well.

I think that’s one of the things that made Peergrade work is, there is a lot of these tech products for education. They only win on one of the sites. Either they help the teacher or they help the students. But then often the trade off is kind of a reverse on the other side. What’s kind of magical, not about peer grading itself, but about peer feedback as a concept is that, it has benefits on both sides. It’s not perfect for students. It’s not perfect for instructors. But it’s pretty good for both parties. And that’s quite magical, I think. And you would see people coming for both reasons, right? You would see some instructors saying, I don’t care, I’ll spend a lot more time. But I really think the learning benefits here are big. And you would have some who snuck up after the worship said, I love this. I don’t have to grade anymore. Right. They were just there for their own benefit, but still the students will learn something, right? So it has the disk of magic doubleness to it. I think.

As an educational content creator, how did it shape your ability to create new curriculum, new content more rapidly? And I say more effectively. That’s really the goal. I’ve created online courses then, you know, of course, it seems like it’s okay when I put it down on video. And then when you go through the peer review process, that’s when you find like, yeah, we have the curse of knowledge, especially as an instructor, it’s difficult sometimes to step back versus that when you have that highly engaged peer review process, it gives you a lot of checkpoints in which you can say like, oh, yeah, I moved past the concept too quickly, or I spent too long on one concept. Did you obviously felt the benefit. And how did you know that this was going to be worth building?

I didn’t know it was going to help in learning, honestly. I was at PhD in math, right. I knew it was going to help with my grading because that was kind of obvious. I could just decide not to grade anything. And there was like 40 hours a week saved that’s a lot of time. And I haven’t read any papers about the pedagogical, psychology or whatever. That happened later when I started interacting with the students and figure out, okay, it works for grading optimization. Now, how do we make it learning effective as well? Some of the things that they kind of come before you even touch the student side. Right? Because you’re like, okay, we have to have them greet each other. Well, how? What criteria are we going to give them? I guess we have to develop some kind of criteria. Oh, you learn something. It’s called a rubric. Then what do we do with what kind of rubric do we build? And then you talk to the students and you say, I’m going to have you do a peer review. And they say, we’re not doing that. And you’re like, oh, no, why not? We don’t trust each other. Okay, what do we do then? What about so we developed this feature earlier on called Flagging, where if the students got feedback they didn’t trust or like, or accept or whatever, they could click a flag and then I would review it. That was kind of like a safety valve for them. But that also gave all sorts of benefits where we would have interactions about all the feedback. That was confusing. We build in such something where, like, if I give you feedback, then you gave me feedback on my feedback with feedback, reflections, and all of these things kind of came as we started running the courses and started seeing, okay, this is where they get annoyed. This is where it stops working. How do we fix it? And then we kind of pile different features on top to make it a good experience. So that all came as we were running it, which I think was super interesting. It’s a good phase, I think, in the product as well. It’s very interesting, like talking to students face to face every day. I kind of missed that, actually.

Yeah, I think that’s really the advantage when you’re doing product development that a lot of traditional engineers start to forget is the interactivity is what really speeds the process. It ensures that you’re actually developing towards something that, you know, be used. And it’s also just great, like to hear real direct, honest feedback, even positive or negative for you. Like, hey, I’ve got this amazing feature. I spent all the time coding it, and it’s beautiful. And we’ve introduced 17 new JavaScript frameworks to make it a really neat user flow. And then you talk to the user and they’re like, no, I would never do that. That’s not the way I use the product. And a very common thing I see is then sort of the engineering team or product management, if not engaged, interactive will be like, well, you’re using it wrong. I know I’m building the product. Only I can know this product as well. You’re like, no, why are the users so dumb? Exactly why do they keep using this product the incorrect way? I always quote that sort of Steve Jobs thing where the Apple when the antenna problem.

They call it antenna gates. And this whole thing is that you’re holding the phone wrong. I’m like, well, I don’t think I agree with that. A lot of people are holding it wrong.

We could probably hold kick it wrong as well. There’s ways to best use the product, for sure.

Yeah, because I was doing some work myself around creating, engaging and mentoring with a lot of folks. I mentor people, and then I would talk to other people who are doing mentoring. And I would often say, like, how do you find the way that you best match with somebody who would be a good mentee or mentor? And it was funny. The more I did research on it real quick research, not super formal. I would say they look for the skill sets, they look for their current role. Is it something that I would like, you ideally want somebody who’s done the thing you would like to do and help them guide you towards it. But the most common features that made it a good relationship and a good outcome was common hobbies, other shared interests, other historical things, geolocation. There’s a lot of things that increased the chances of a successful mentoring outcome. And so I actually built this app that was really mostly a dating app that in the end you didn’t get a date, you got a mentor. And using all these criteria, it was like, this is fantastic. I could actually match people up very beautifully.

And so I built this thing, and I had a couple of other quick features that I was thinking would be important at the moment that I shared it with somebody. They’re like, I need these three things. And they never clicked on the tab that I thought would be, like, spectacular. You get to go beautiful dashboard, and you can see this information. They used it anecdotally much differently than I thought the data would drive. So it was a good lesson. And then I realized as a solo non-coder that I was in real trouble. So I sort of abandoned the project, unfortunately. But it was a good experience.

Yeah. And I owe you the rest of the story. Right. So we got to the point where Peergrade is up and running. Then it became a real company. Right. We found our third co-founder, Simon, because I’m a mathematician, he’s a physicist, and we can build things so we can’t make them nice. So Simon is a designer, and he kind of came in and helped us. Then we went down the classical startup path, right. We raised some capital from some angel investors. We went to Y Combinator in San Francisco, and that was a physical thing. And then we raised some more money and kind of hired a team and so on. And Peergrade worked kind of, well, it was growing. It still grows today. But I think after was it like three or four years. We started to see the limitations to the product in the market that we are product team. We like building products. We like coding. We like that kind of we can sell our own product, but we’re not driven as a sales culture or whatever. And peer grading software was not a big demand in the market overall. There was some demand, but not enough. So we would have to go and create demand everywhere. It’s like, hey, you need to do peer feedback. And then when we convince them of that, then we could start selling them feedback software. But there wasn’t even really a need. So that was one part of what happened. And then people really loved the product, but they just kind of wanted a little bit more than what we had. Like, oh, you can do peer feedback. What about teacher feedback? What about self reviews? What about other forms of peer feedback? And what about submitting again and all these things? And we’re like, yeah, I guess so. We kind of tried to make it work, but it was already too late. Period was getting a little bit technically complicated at that point. So we sat down in the summer house in 19, I think, and said, okay, what should we do? What about starting over? And then I think it was April 19, and we came up with the name a couple of days later, and we had zero lines of code again. And we said, okay, we’re building Peergrade if we had all the knowledge we have now, we would start over.

So basically EduFlow started as Peergrade 2.0. It’s just like, let’s build it again, slightly more flexible, better codebase. And then over the next year we realized a lot of things. But one thing we realized is that maybe we should do a better version of period, maybe we should build something different. But we rethink things a little bit more and that’s what eventually became Eduflow. So EduFlow is a learning platform called it has many names, right. But it’s a way to run online courses. And where we differ from the 9 million other online course tools is that it’s a way to run online courses that are very active and very collaborative. And that’s where the story is important. Right. Because everybody will say they build active and collaborative and social learning experiences. But we have a whole product just about collaborative feedback that we took as foundation for Eduflow. So everything you could do in Pivot, you can also do an Eduflow. So there’s a lot of functionality that is inherent to social, collaborative and active in there. So the courses that people run in Eduflow today that you can’t run anywhere else are the courses that are much more than videos and quizzes. Basically. I think that’s a huge differentiator too. That the thing we’ve got a lot of these days. I’m a user of a few platforms myself, right. Is this purely like video hosting and flow, of course. And purely in the like, getting from beginning to end chopping, measuring, maybe a couple of surveys in the middle. But most of the collaboration is just comments, which is not actually collaborative. It’s like when people always tell me, they said, like I said, I’ve got too many meetings. They said, well you like collaboration so you must enjoy it. I said, I like collaboration, I don’t like meetings. And that’s the difference between comments and collaborative feedback. Collaborative feedback allows you to take that comment and comment on the comments and then take that and feed it back into a total course. Like there are a lot of things that go beyond just someone writing. Good module really fast. I struggled with it, you get those. So that’s interesting. But then there’s no carry on.

And that’s what we saw. Right. So we’re looking at all the competitors and seeing what are they saying on their landing pages. And 50% of them say we have peer feedback functionality and what they have is people can submit something, which means they can upload a file and then you see a list of all the files in the course and then for each file there’s a comment feed like on Facebook where you can comment and people write awesome exclamation mark. That’s peer feedback in their world. For us that’s like nothing like peer feedback needs so much. You need rubrics, you need careful allocation of who’s giving feedback to the room. You need feedback on the feedback you need flagging. There’s tons of things you need to take care of if you want peer feedback to work. And that’s the key, I think. Peergrade was complicated because there’s a lot of things you need to do to make peer feedback even work. If you don’t do all the things, you’ll get nothing. You’ll have no effects. And if you do all the things, then it suddenly starts magically working. And that’s I think another kind of underlying thing in EduFlow is that the learning processes you build and can build in EduFlow are very scaffold and very structured.

It’s not just like come and take what you want and go here and there. It’s very carefully, like you do this. What you do here is then fed into this other activity where you then see something, but it depends on what you did in this third activity, what you’ll see. And you can create these very custom learning experiences that it requires a little bit of like almost like programming. Right. But like setting up the flow on the instructor side. But then the learning experience for the learners will be like personal and very interesting. So that’s where we try to differ. But the challenges on the landing pages, we all say we could do everything right. So you have to really get in to the product and start playing with it before you really see the differences I think.

I would say that EduFlow is to online course hosting what Salesforce is to Outlook contact management. So while there are notes features in my local contact view, it’s not collaborative, it doesn’t get better. It doesn’t let me take that thing and do another thing with it, because you can drive flow through feedback, because you can create that customizable flow and then engagement. At our true rubric of measurement, it is really head and shoulders above what these other things do, which is purely course hosting, like video hosting. Like I said, it’s fantastic. There’s a lot of folks that’s maybe all they need. But if you truly are creating corporate enablement, even sales enablement, like true enablement content versus lecture content.

I think that’s super interesting. That’s very important. Right. Because and that’s also why no product is for everybody. Right. There’s a ton of people who are using the thing they want to do is they want to sell a calls, they want to make some money on Twitter by selling a course. If that’s your goal, I don’t think it’s a bad idea necessarily to do a video course, because if people pay for the course, whether they complete it and whether they learn something will not make you richer. Essential, right. Of course, it will be good if they like the course and they’ll share it. But people buy houses for non-obvious reasons sometimes. It’s not always trivial to figure it out. Right. And another example is Coursera. Right. The way they make money, if they sell the certificate at the end of the course, if nobody completes the course, they don’t make any money on certificates. So if you look at Coursera’s paid courses, there’s no peer review. Why? Because peer review is hard. Right. You have to write something. It’s very effective for learning. But learning is also hard. Right. So if your business model is getting people through the course, you don’t necessarily want to make it hard. If your business model is built on getting people to learn something, well, then the causes might have to be hard. And that’s why I think we have fewer customers in the category where people are selling online growth marketing courses or whatever on Twitter. And we have more customers in internal company trading. So, for example, Google is one of our customers, maybe the biggest customer. And what’s interesting about Google is when we talk to them a while ago, I asked them, why did you buy Peergrade and ask you for, like, what’s going on here? When they bought into it a long time ago, we were basically a school product, and I didn’t get it. And they said, that’s exactly why we liked it, because you guys, everything else we look at is like corporate training software built by corporate training people, and they don’t really get it. But you came from education. You came from a place where you had rubrics and you had all of this. Because in a University, you don’t want students to complete the course. You want them to learn. Right. As a Professor, I’m okay with stating half the students, if they don’t know anything, it’s fine. Right. So the incentives are different, and I think we cater more to the community of people where they actually have to learn something. So process you can build an edge of law can be really hard. It’s not for everybody, right?

No. And I think that’s the best thing you can do as a founder as well as immediately disqualify folks that seem like they could be customers but will take you down a very different path. And understanding who your real customer persona is. Google would be in hindsight. Now, it’s like they’re obviously a great fit. They’re dominantly, well-educated engineers. They’ve been through that system, so they would map to it very beautifully, and they would understand the value of that. And the funny thing is, if you thought, I’m going to go to somebody to sell them, Google would almost seem like the last one. Like they’re filled with millions of hundreds of thousands of PhDs. Wouldn’t they just have built this themselves? But for them, it’s not their core focus. They don’t want to build an educational product. They want to build products that will drive revenue in other ways. So it actually is a perfect pairing. So Congratulations on that customer, because they will be just by scale and capability. A really fantastic way to get into the industry.

Yes. We love working with them as well. Just really nice people, actually.

And this is where it’s interesting, too, this idea of customization, I think I mentioned sort of the Salesforce as a comparative. Right. I’ve even called Salesforce for a couple of small, like, say, real estate companies. There’s folks that I was helping out years ago, and they said, I need a good CRM. Well, I would call Salesforce and say I need to get set up to walk them through it. And they would say, no, you cannot do that. We need to interview them. And what was interesting about the onboarding process was they really wanted to qualify their customer. So I’m interested in your team, David. When somebody does come to Eduflow, what is that onboarding process look like?

Yeah. So we actually have two types of customers. We have self-service and we have premium customers. We’re a small team, and I don’t think we’ll want to be a big team. We don’t mind being bigger, but we don’t want to be big. So I don’t like many teams, honestly. I like working with good people, but I don’t want to have middle managers. Then I know I’m fucked it up. Right, exactly. I like working with the people directly. Right. And to stay small and grow, you have to do things at scale. And self-service is part of that. Right. So we have a self-service component to the product where people just sign up and use it. The last customer I think I saw on Stripe was like a Romanian Church. Never thought about that. Right. And never talked to them. They just found out they could use it and signed up. But then we have the premium customers and those who qualify more, we talk to them. And this is also where I actually turn down people regularly. I try to be very honest on a sales call. If I can hear they’re looking for something we’re not, I’ll recommend a competitor because that’s much better than trying to win a deal we’ll lose eventually anyways. So talking about, like picking your customers. Right. One of the features that we don’t have that everybody thinks we should have is payments. You cannot pay for a course in Eduflow because of the thing I said before. Right. That the people who charge for their courses generally don’t have the right incentives. You can still do it. Right. But you have to make an integration with another tool and then you can charge with the other tool and then enroll in Eduflow. But we know that once we start going down that path of charging people for courses, then we become a marketing tool and not a learning tool like many of our competitors are doing that they have a ton of features around giving coupons and sending out grip email campaigns. And it’s not really related to the learning, which is what we care about. But yeah, we talk to the customers in these early calls to figure out what do they want to do? How can we help them do it? If they want to do something we’re not, recommend them to go somewhere else. If they are doing something with us, then they should start. And we try to get people in small and grow with us. Often people come to us and say, okay, I think according to our plans, we’ll have 10,000 learners in a year, but right now we have none. And then it’s perfect.

Start with the free plan, set up your courses and start growing. And if you hit 10,000 learners, here’s the price you’re going to see at that point. But don’t talk about it. Don’t do that right now. You don’t need to pay us money before you have real scale. And for us, it’s fine. Because if they already started building their courses in our product and they start growing, then comes kind of complicated for them to get out again. So it’s easier for us to just say, like, we have a free product, go test it, go play with it. It’s the way to have a small sales team and have a lot of customers is to make the customers able to look at the product themselves.

Well, in looking at your tiers of the platform, you actually do something, which is fantastic. And I would use it to measure most of the people that have the bronze, silver, gold type of tiering. Your free platform has very few limits, almost no limitations other than just like the amount of course content, like storage wise. But you’re not limiting users, students, anything. And it’s funny that as you move into the paid platform, then you begin to sort of like segment it a little bit more. So I love that. And it’s kind of like the way that when somebody won’t post any pricing, guilty as charged. Right. I work for a company and we didn’t post pricing publicly because there was a nurturing process to understand the customer story. And so it was. But I sort of joke when I want to buy a platform or test a platform out, and they had this real difficult sign-on process, they want to interview you. They don’t have pricing. They say, look, I can tell you how much it costs to send this to Space. I can go to SpaceX.com/rideshare and I can find out exactly what it costs for it to send that. And maybe I want to add a couple of stuffed cats. I know how big they are. I can send them to Space, and it cost me exactly what it says on the website. So if you’re a goofy sass product, doesn’t have public pricing, I’ve got a question. What you’re doing in this onboarding process.

It’s something we think a lot about. Right. And I think the bad news is that it would probably benefit us, at least in the short term, to not have pricing. Because the premium plans that we have are significantly more expensive than our self service plans. And then when people see the premium pricing, they’re like, Whoa. I thought, but pro is so cheap. Why is premium so expensive? And like, I shouldn’t have shown them the pro pricing. So I think we could win in the short term by not showing any pricing. But I think personally, I never touch a product that doesn’t have public pricing. And that’s because I’m a technical co-founder for a small company. I’m the persona that also reads news. And these kind of people were like, I’m allergic to sales people. I do not want to talk to them. If I can’t buy self-service, I’m not doing it. Not everybody is like me, right? Google is not like me. They take calls. They have security processes and whatever. But long term, I think the way to dominate and win a market like this, where we have a list of competitors in our Notion database, it’s like two other products in there, right? There’s ton of competitors. The way to win here is to do something different. And one of the things we’re able to do is that we have a self-service product that people can actually start using on their own. So we will become the entry-level product will become your first learning platform for internal training. We won’t be the biggest one. We won’t be in SAP competitors necessarily, but people will when they’re small, when there are 50 people, they don’t need SAP yet. They need to run onboarding codes, for example. And then they’ll be like us, and they’ll buy the product that fits them, the self-service product with public pricing. And then when there are 100 people or 1,000 people, they’re already in it to flow. They’re already used if they’re happy. So they won’t ever go to SAP. Right? That’s kind of the goal. And I think it can be a winning strategy. Paul Graham has a good essay about being the entry-level product in your category. And that’s basically our approach, right. Premium entry-level pricing. We still make most of our money on the premium customers, but a lot of those premium customers start as small customers, right? They start on their own, they start free, they do $20 a month, and then suddenly, boom, they’re premium customer.

So Paul Graham, many of his essays stand out. And actually that’s one of the ones is this concept of and it’s led really to a lot of people that call the topic of value pricing, and you’re getting this touchless self service experience. And so it’s actually very smart to price it according to quick entry. And then the moment you go to this next level, HubSpot is a great example. They do the same thing. Now, I won’t quote their numbers because the pricing may change but it’s something like $20 a month, $40 a month, $1250 a month. The moment you have a certain trigger. And it’s either, like, number of contacts, type of email, like adding if, then else flow into your email nurtures, you immediately move to this massive price bump. But if you’re using the free or the lower tier product already and you’re really involved in it and you’re using the adjacent products, you start to say, well, what’s the value I’m getting from this? Like, well, I’m selling product. I’m getting customers. Then you attach the value to the price.

We’re using. Right. I love it. We use hubspot of course. It was easy to start when we didn’t have any money when we were young and when we needed our first CRM, we didn’t want to go with Salesforce. We had to call them. I actually did call them. And then we’re like, oh, but HubSpot is kind of the same, and it’s free. Let’s do HubSpot. And here we are. We’re still in HubSpot, right? Seven years later.

That’s it. That ability to do that is fantastic. And I think if you’re looking for just, like, mass market, quick turn, like you said, if somebody wants to sell courses on how to do amateur photography, how to do like, I have a simple course on how to do effective product demos. It’s very fixed. It comes with an ebook at the end. I have an interactive thing, but it’s like I set up a Zoom call every month. So it’s very different. But it’s fixed. It’s simple. You consume at your pace. There’s nothing more to it. I honestly don’t want feedback other than I liked the course or I didn’t like the course. And the number of people that buy it is my greatest feedback because I don’t want to really build a truly interactive educational experience. It’s meant to be like, I’ve got a couple of things that it’s basically a webinar that I’ve cut into slices so that you don’t have to watch a two and a half hour webinar and people like it. And it’s great. So fixed value, fixed price, that’s all that I need. But the moment that I want to, I look at corporate enablement products all the time and what they do.

And David, you know this pain, right? If they just take those platforms and then even worse, they give them these awful 1990 pictures of people sitting around tables and pointing at things. They’ve taken the worst clip arts. And then a little pop up comes over, click here. And they force you to interact with it. But it’s more for, like, compliance training and human resources stuff. Like legal and compliance stuff. That’s what drives that. They don’t care about someone actually being involved in the enabled as a part of it. They’re just like, make sure they take the anti-money laundering training every year. You’re required by law to do it.

Yeah. And that’s one of the challenges, right. A lot of the people who come to us to look at our product, they come with an Excel sheet in their hand and say, like, Dear Eduflow, we have investigated the range of products, and you’re one of our top whatever. Can you please fill out this short Excel sheet? And then I open it. It’s like 250 rows of requirements. And then I said, oh, there’s a column called Priority. Oh, it’s all high priority then. Never mind. So then I have like a 250 row high priority requirements where it’s very important that we can do all these insane things. You wonder, like, how do they do this again? It’s probably like they send it out to everybody. Everybody can add their own requirements and then they just sum it up and they generate this massive list. And then that’s how they buy. Like, how many points do you get in a massive requirement dark? It’s a terrible way to buy products, right? It will make everybody kind of mad. Nobody will be super angry, but nobody will be really excited. Right? And the way for us around that is if they’re already using our product, if they already know the value it brings, then the requirement darkware looks slightly different when it ends up in our hands of density, because they know now what they should be asking about, not all the other things. Right? So I hate the conversations that start with that doc, because just know, nobody’s going to win. Nobody’s going to be happy at the end of this.

I’ve gone through RFP processes in so many places and it’s like even just competitive. Like, how are you different than X? Right? And so what do you do? We do exactly the same thing that every company does. You hand them a feature matrix with Harvey balls, you’re on the left with all full Harvey balls and one, three quarter Harvey ball because you don’t want to be arrogant. And then all of them are like, one quarter Harvey ball. And then I tell people, when I do competitive training for my own company said, you know that if you just move the logos and switch them, that’s what the competitor will say. And they can say it because they’re going to box us out with a word they use in the sentence.

And it seems like non-meaningful things, like, great support we have that, the other don’t, like meaningful pricing. What does it even mean? Right? They’ll make up things that don’t exist or like they’ll just have vague terms like the best user experience. Well, that’s us and not the others. It’s like totally opinionated stuff. And I hate those. We don’t have any of those matrixes because I just don’t like them. That’s the problem.

Well, that’s it. It unfortunately becomes, especially when you get to a true RFP, the measurement, the questions become very vanilla. The responses become very vanilla. You try to nuance words so that will isolate you as being differentiated. But in the end, it isn’t. The only advantage that those things get is quite often it gets rid of some of the marketing language. We try to hammer it in there because that’s how we differentiate by messaging. And you’re like, no, use the bloody product, use the product and you’ll see the differentiation. And that’s what you’re hoping to get to. This whole pre-qualification process is sad that we still have to go through it.

Well, I’ve started saying no unless they want to talk to me. So if they sent over a doc, I say, like I looked at the doc for five minutes, it looks kind of fine. Are you willing to take an hour on the phone with me and figure out what’s actually important here and see a demo of the product? If you’re not going to do that, I’m not going to fill out your 250 row Excel sheet because then you just send it out to it’s easy for them to just send it out to 100 vendors rather than they hope they get the work done for them.

Now talk about meaningful work and stuff that has a greater impact. Your description of when you went from this idea of what can I do around peer measurement, we’ve got this great product, we’ve got a company, we’ve got a successful company that’s running. Then you say, we want to create what would become Eduflow, wiping the slate and beginning from zero. Did you think that you would do that? And what are the real sort of both advantages and disadvantages to you taking that approach?

It’s very hard, right. I think there are some easy wins. Right. You can start over on the code base and you can delete my old code. When I was programming, I didn’t know a lot. Right. So that goes away. That’s nice. You get a lot of customer feedback, customers, data, all of these things that you have a much clearer picture because when I started, right in Peergrade, I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know it was going to be a product. So I didn’t even have a table of users because it was just for me. Right. So I didn’t even need to log in. If you have this happenstance beginning, it evolves to be some kind of Frankenstein. Right. And then when you start over and you know, we already have hundreds of customers and so on, you can paint a much more clear picture of the end. So the sign wires, it just becomes a lot more coherent. The big problem is that things take time. I think what most entrepreneurs do wrong is that they stop too early. It really takes a long time to get something to work often. And if you just go for long enough, random things will happen once in a while that will just tell you forward and what we underestimated is how much momentum we had on Peergrade, right? So we’ve been going for three, four years. We’re like, things are going well, it’s growing. And we think, okay, we’ll build a better product, then it’s just accelerated even faster, right? So we spent a year building Eduflow from scratch and they were like, okay, now Eduflow is ready. Keep rate is still going up. And Eduflow row is just like, nothing is happening. And we’re like, yeah, we just invest a whole year and it’s much worse. It has to start from scratch again. We had to get momentum again. And then slowly it starts building up. And now age, of course, growing faster than Peergrade. But it took a while, right? It took a while to get the ball rolling because we’ve gotten to the point with Peergrade where people started writing academic papers about, we started getting mentioned in books people were writing and like, that takes a while, right. To get to the point where it’s such a household name. We have all Danish universities as customers. We have most Danish high schools as users or customers today. But they know us as Peergrade. We’re the Peergrade people. They are from Peergrade, right? The brand becomes so strong as well. So starting constraints is hard. But you can start with a bang, right? You can start with customers, you can start with revenue, with knowledge and a brand and an audience, right? So it is easier to start the second time, but also it will still take time, I think, yeah.

Even if I think it’s sort of the biggest example, if the founders of Google left Google and started another startup right now, the only thing they would get a lot of is investors, not customers. Even though we know what as a customer of Google services, I can get from it, what we do know is as an investor, you’ll probably make a gargantuan amount of money in ROI. There’s that level of trust. So like, as a founding team, people are like, yeah, these are the guys that brought us something that we know and we trust and it’s got this incredible market momentum. But as much as they love it, they’re always going to still wait before they buy the product or they license the product. They’ll watch. And it’s always funny, even in stuff that I’ve done in tech community stuff all the time. I started running sort of an online competition. We literally did a reality competition for IT architecture. And we took like twelve people and then narrowed it down and made it almost like an Ink Master. We called it Virtual Design Master. And I would go to everybody and say, like, they knew what I did as far as speaking engagements.

They knew how I engaged people and ran these small community groups. And so I had this fantastic thing. I had all of this recognition. I have all of this trust of this incredible peer network. And I said, what we need is we need sponsors to have prizes. And every single one said, this looks great. Love the idea. We’ll be in for season two. It won’t be a season two if there’s no season one. And I need prize money for season one. And so it was through grinding and scraping, even with that history that I could have brought to it, it was really, really interesting. So I love that you’ve highlighted that as a thing. Like even YouTubers, right? They could have a fantastically strong YouTube channel and following. And then they say, I’ve got another channel. Well, it starts from zero and it may tick up faster as they’ve got if they’ve got a huge fan base. But it’s more than zero friction to move people over to that thing. And that’s literally click and subscribe. That’s the simplest possible low friction thing you can have. You are bringing people into a different product that has different outcomes.

I see it over and over also in consumer rights. So recently there was a housewife. It’s a big thing, right? They really managed to drum up a lot of attention with the help of their investors and reason horrors and so on. And then people are like, this looks like it’s going to be massive. And then it took a while, but then the inner mechanics retention started really showing, right? And then like, oh, it didn’t actually work, but they got very last before people started training. And now it’s slowly dying, right. And you see this constantly with famous people, especially who launch products. They’ll get a lot of attention coming out the gate. They’ll get a lot of sign ups in the early days. And then when the PR is over, right? Then it’s just a slow ramp down to nothing because the chain is too high. Why the people just disappear. So I think if your retention is good and all of that, like PR and so on, can help a lot. If it’s not, it doesn’t matter. It will just take longer for you to die eventually. The more you get up in the beginning.

When you begin, how did you introduce measurement of success in product consumption?

Measurement of success? I don’t know, actually. So we’ve always been asked by people in the old days like, hey, so how do I know if Peergrad and Eduflow works? Do you have efficacy studies and so on? And I was always like, honestly, I was just like, first of all, it’s complicated to run an efficacy study on an educational product because maybe it’ll work for Mrs. Anderson in 6th grade in Ohio or whatever. And then one word for the next person. So that’s hard. You need real big intervention studies. Second of all, what if it doesn’t work? I don’t want to run some kind of third party unbiased study. And then they published that period made to go sucks, right? So I was like a little bit hesitant, even though I had a pretty good feeling about it to do anything. Then I started thinking more about it. And then when I started to see how complicated it would be to do an actual efficacy study, we decided to ignore it and say we don’t know better than the users. But if the instructors, if the teachers keep coming back and they keep using this product semester after semester, something is working, right? They know their classrooms and they’re busy. Right? There’s an opportunity cost using one intervention in their courses, right. Using peer review means they can’t do another thing. So if they keep using that, then surely there must be some value they’re getting eventually. And this is actually also by combinators internal tech startup advisors. Like just talk about user growth. If your users are growing, something is working. Don’t worry too much about efficacy studies. And that’s kind of how we landed on it. We’ve done some and it works. So it’s all good. But we didn’t go all in and trying to set up some official study. I think it would have helped with sales. Sometimes they would have liked some kind of cool looking white paper, but for us it didn’t matter too much. As long as people like this we were having yeah.

And I guess in some spaces it’s necessary. Especially large like enterprise products. They have to have the sort of like the Gartner and the Forester like economic impact, valuation study and stuff like that. But it’s way further down the road and very different target audience. It’s that big enterprise buyer, but they’re looking to affect the PNL for a business unit in their company versus you’ve got a better niche and an easily measure more easily measurable value. Just like I said, retention. If I can get retention, then that’s where we know that if people are still using it, we’re doing something right. And now we can dig in further on it.

I think also as a researcher mathematician, I’m also just like a skeptic of any simple answers, right? Like my wife is also researcher and she researches in complexity theory in like the humanities. But the common thing at home is it’s complicated, right? It’s always complicated. All these companies will try landing page with like better, whatever. No, like it’s not that simple. Nothing works that simple, right. If I send more code emails, but they’re worse still won’t get me more money, right? Or if I do my support tickets faster, that doesn’t lead to revenue growth in itself. It’s so complicated. And I think that’s my stance on everything, especially with our product. We’re like a training product. Of course, if you train your employees better, something good will come out of it at the end. But I have no possible way to connect the use of Eduflow to top-line revenue or something for corporate. I could try and I can make some numbers up in Excel. Right. But don’t trust it. Right. It doesn’t make any sense. And if our competitors are doing it, they’re just lying. Right. But I don’t really believe in those kinds of things.

Yeah. And it’s a really tricky thing, especially talking about the educated founders.


You’re a mathematician, a physicist, and a designer. You’re the most perfect sort of set of folks to put into a room and said, you’re going to come out of here with a product, and you know, it’s going to be all the things. You could just go back to Y Combinator every year probably, and create new products. I love that. The diversity and the strength of your own backgrounds really are.

That also ties into the curse of knowledge that you mentioned. Right. It has many sides to it. One is like the knowledge of things, but also this idea that as a statistician, I did machine learning and statistics. I know stats are fake. Right. Most statistics are just lies, and it means that I don’t trust them. But you have to remember that other people do. You can have this weird bias to not do things that work because you will see through it yourself. And I think that’s a trap sometimes to fall into not selling enough, not marketing enough, not talking big enough words because you wouldn’t fall for it. But most customers aren’t like you.

That is a tricky one, too, especially when you’re a technical founder. You’re already like, I know this is BS. I don’t want to say these things because it’s like, but I joked with somebody recently and I realized I should actually quote this. So my podcast happens to be the top 1% of all podcasts. And it was like three different platforms that kind of showed me the statistic. And like, okay, this is really cool. I could say I’m in the top 1%. Well, there’s 3.3 million podcasts. So I could be the bottom of that 1%. And there are hundreds of thousands of competitors who have me. But to most people, you just say, I have a podcast that’s in the top 1% of all podcasts. They’re like, holy moly!

Very effective marketing. Right. It’s good pitch, and that’s kind of the challenge. What does that even really mean? Like, what is it measured on? What do anybody even have those numbers? There’s surely some power law. There’s all these things underneath that. Once you really dig into it, all these numbers are kind of weird to think about. But on the surface level, because I told this not 1% thing to my wife, she’s like, Whoa, for people who don’t do math, it’s like these things just are very impressive on the surface. Right. But yeah, it’s very interesting how to use that effectively because never lie. Right. But always like, don’t undersell necessarily is also a good idea.

Yes. I often tell people even who are in product marketing and engineering. The best thing you could do is go through the writings of Daniel Conneman and Amos Tuberski, like the idea of prospect theory and understanding how these heuristics work. It can help to guide you on these things. I had a founder. He was really incredible, such an incredible knowledge that he brought stuff. But he was almost like people thought he was an absent minded professor. He just had no bother with speaking. He’s just like he’s always thinking. And when he didn’t speak, it was meaningful and loud. He’s Israelis. He was argumentative. And it was a really fun relationship. And I remembered at one point, someone would talk about the product, like, what’s game changing and unique way we solve this problem. And he would finally say, like, stop, stop. Did you have a lot of friends when you were in high school? And you’d be looking around going, oh, no, I’m in trouble. I don’t know what’s going on.

You’d say like, yes.

And you’d say, Was it because you were unique? And you be like, no. Then why do you use the word unique to describe our product? And he just like, caught what’s an actual thing you can describe about what we do that’s meaningful to somebody game changing, unique industry first. Like, all these superlatives are throwaways, however, on the front page of every marketing website, right?

Yeah, unique and so on. And I think it’s also wrapping a few threads together. Right. It’s around, like when you’re looking at a product, trying to sell a product, and there are some things that are very important that are very hard to measure. If one of them is user experience, is it a good user experience? And I get this question weekly, at least from a customer or potentially customers, like, how’s your user experience is it good? And I always answer, like, that’s a terrible question because all of my competitors and me, we will say we have the best user experience. You got to find a way to measure it somehow, right?


And I tell them, you can’t trust me. I’m just going to say we’re the best, but you have to find a way to figure it out. And my only way to give some form of validation of our user experience is that we have a self service product. It has to be good in user experience. Otherwise people won’t start using it without, like, talking to a salesperson, whereas our competitors, generally, you have to buy it before you can use it. So they don’t need to have a good user experience. Maybe that’s why you should trust us, but honestly, you got to try it yourself. So there’s something about these things that are hard to validate. You have to find a method of validating them anyways.

I often describe user experience is like a painted room. When you walk out of a room and then someone paints it, you walk back into it. It just is done, it feels done, it looks done. So user experience when it’s done right is non obvious. User experience when it’s done wrong, very obvious. And retention. And there are measurements that you can have as far as the way that they engage in the product. But yeah, it’s such an odd thing to get asked, but we get it because unfortunately, this is how we’re measured of the words we describe as a fantastic user experience. Low friction, self sign up, no sales calls, all of these things you say in the end, it’s the greatest thing that you can say. It’s here, it’s $0. Try it.

Yeah. See if you like. I guess if somebody could come up, maybe this is a hypothetical. Right. But if somebody come up with a way to measure user experience in a number of a product, then it would help the enterprise buyers a lot because they could put it in their requirement Doc and give it a weight and say User Experience 30% will use this novel method for calculating user experience in a good way and then base it on that. But because there is none, then the vendor has to tell you how good the user experience is. And would you ever believe that? Honestly, that makes no sense, right? That’s right. So they should either test it themselves or they should have like a third party company that will just go and test products and give them a score, one to five or something. But that’s so bad. Nobody can do it.

No. It’s such a dangerous amount of influence. Even NPS scores are like, I know we all have to do this as an industry, but it’s like the NPS score is such a false because you go to your existing happy customers. I need you to fill this NPS survey. You never go to a customer. That said, can you fill out an NPS survey for me.

Please go to D two and Captera and rate our product. Now we know you hate it. Sure. Everybody has 4.8 or whatever on D Two and keptera because you only ask your favorite customers to go there. Right. It makes no sense.

Yeah. And the interesting thing about feedback, too, is it’s middle of the road feedback is tough to get. And what’s interesting about your peer review, I know we don’t have much time left, but I want to start tap into this real quickly. You either get edges of feedback, ten out of ten or one out of ten would not use again. How do you get effective use of four to seven? Like that middle of the road feedback? And how does that affect your rubric inside the product yourself?

Yeah. I never use a scale that’s more than three levels myself because I’ve seen the one in ten problem on Imtb and so on. Everybody’s just I hate it. I love it. So personally, I always go for very small scales. I think one of the things we’ve done a lot of work on with Rubrics is to make every level meaningful. So it’s not numbers like, how good is this? One to five. It’s like, how good is it? And then the five levels will be very explanatory. Let’s say it’s a video pitch, right. That you’re giving feedback to. They’ll be three questions. One is about style, and then you’ll have how good was the style? And then they’ll be like, the style was bad. It had some of these problems. The style was okay, it had some of these, but not some of these. The style was great. It had all of these. So it makes it very clear for the reviewer, am I giving one, two or three here? It also makes it very clear for the receiver, like, okay, I got a two, to get a three, I need to do these things. So to tie actionable constructive feedback into the numerical ratings is the way to make really good assessment rubrics, I guess. And this is maybe even more important, like feedback. You don’t learn anything from getting feedback. You only learn if you do something with the feedback. You have to at least read it. You probably also have to think about it. And mostly you have to work with it. And I think that’s what most people forget, right. They go to school, they hand in their paper, they get it back, they put the feedback in the backpack, and they never look at it. Feedback wasted. Nobody learned anything from this. Maybe the teacher learned a lot, actually, because they wrote the feedback. That’s pretty hard. But they’re not supposed to be learning. Right. It’s the students. So feedback. Everybody thinks about how good the feedback is, but nobody thinks about how do we get people to learn from the feedback? People totally forget that part, which is kind of scary, actually. So almost all of the work we’ve done since then has been since we realized this. It’s like, how do we get people to use the feedback? Learn from it.

Yeah. It’s the difference between an UDA loop and confirmation bias. Right. You’re just like simply I read out of feedback what I want to get out of it, and then I shed it altogether. This is meant to support my current feeling. Well, David, thank you very much. This has really been great. And for folks, I would love to actually have you back and talk a bit more longer form. But the Y Combinator experience, because that’s an interesting one that I didn’t want to dabble in because it’s a very unique thing. And given that you went through it and your team make up is very interesting to me. A lot of people could learn from that. So we’d love to catch up again on future. But for folks that do want to get connected with you, of course, we’ll have links to Eduflow and make sure people can get access there. What’s the best way if they wanted to reach out and give some feedback?

Yeah, they can always find me on all the social media like Google my name I have my own name, nobody else has it. So you’ll find me on all the social media profiles and everything but Twitter, LinkedIn or write me an email to even a day to flow a car.

Perfect. Yeah, that’s how I ended up with DiscoPosse, people. At this point I don’t even have to explain it anymore. I feel like it’s just sort of stuck. It was a band that I was in and if you Google Eric Wright it’s like Eze his name was Eric Wright. There’s a very prominent US NFL football player named Eric Wright. There’s a Canadian author named Eric Wright. I didn’t stand a chance of getting social media anywhere for Eric Wright so my DiscoPosse bands was the one I picked as my domain name way back when. That’s as unique as I can get. Well, good stuff, David. Thank you very much. It’s been a real pleasure.

Yeah. Thank you, Eric. Awesome to be here.