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David Finkel started Maui Mastermind not because he had to - he had already grown and sold a coaching business - but because he wanted to help small business founders grow their business to operate independently of them. He talks to Clate and Scott about losing staff and clients, narrowing your focus and handing off ownership of key functions and responsibilities.
Mentioned in this episode:
“Build a Business Not a Job!” by David Finkel and Stephanie Harkness
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David Finkel: She said David write this down on an index card, I did, I had it for years, and I carry it around with me. It just said what do you think we should do.
Scott Martineau: That was David Finkel talking about the four magic words every business owner needs to grow their company. To find out those four magic words listen to this episode of the Small Business Success Podcast. Hello, and welcome to the Small Business Success Podcast – pad cast. Welcome to the Small Business Success podcast. My name is Scott Martineau.
Clate Mask: This is Clate Mask, we're co-founders of Infusionsoft.
Scott Martineau: Today, we're talking with David Finkel of the Maui Mastermind. I'm really excited to understand his success story, and learn a little bit more about the highs and the lows. David, welcome.
David Finkel: Thank you both for having me.
Scott Martineau: Fantastic. I think probably to get things kicked off…
Clate Mask: Hold on. All you got to do is say Maui Mastermind, and you've got the audience. That is a great name.
Scott Martineau: Clate is a sucker for any alliteration by the way, if our listeners don't already know that. But – and he also loves Maui, so it's a double whammy.
Clate Mask: I love Mastermind so…
David Finkel: I appreciate it. That's where the business got started over 17 years ago out of a – it was a one-time event that was going to happen in Maui for – at a different company I had at the time that was our top clients, getting together with about 60 our best clients, masterminding there in Maui. Originally, we chose Maui because it was the most beautiful spot that would still be inside the United States, that would make it easier for people with the write-offs, and the rest of that. Now we've been doing that event for 17 years, and now we've built a whole business around that as well.
Clate Mask: Awesome.
Clate Mask: So, the original was not necessarily – were you charging for it? Or it was just you and other – no you weren't.
Scott Martineau: No, definitely charging for it. So, at the time I had a different business coaching company we brought out of – at the time were
working about I want to say close to 2000 businesses a year, and we brought out top 60 clients to the event. We brought in a – just an amazing panel to spend a whole week together working on each other's companies, and it was a fantastic experience. People asked us to do it again. We listened to our audience, and did it again. Now, we've been doing it every year since that point.
Clate Mask: This is hard work from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., and then play? Is that how it works?
David Finkel: Originally that was the thought that people would want to take all afternoon off, hang out, and have informal conversations by the pool or on the ocean. But it turned out that because the price tag we were charging at the time that they really wanted more time to gather more focus. So, it isn't long days with that part, but usually most of us will come in a day or two early or state a week or two later, and hang out around that time. So, no, it's definitely a work day.
Clate Mask: That is really cool. We have our elite mastermind group that we do, and last year was the first time that we did it a location. A fun, nice tropical location.
We did it – so we did in Hawaii, and coupled it with our employee and partner incentive award trip. It was really cool, but it was interesting because it was pretty intense. It wasn't just kicking around at the pool. We had a lot of – we were doing a lot of hard work, and we actually to the point to end of that – at the end of the mastermind that people said we want to do this again for sure. But let's also schedule a little more play time. So, we definitely heard that.
Scott Martineau: David, why don't you – for our listener's sake why don't you give us the high level of what your business is today, and how many team members do you have? Just give us the current snapshot of where you're at.
David Finkel: Sure. My mastermind is one of the premier business coaching companies in North America. We work mostly with companies about $1-40 million a year in sales that have a real issue. The owner's build a business that works incredibly well, but it works because they're there. So, we built businesses, and help people how to build it independent of the owner. We have on our team roughly
35-40 team members, coaching staff of 14, and their balance are playing everything from admin, operations, finance, marketing, sales and so forth. As I was mentioning before we got started the podcast I think I was probably one of the early adopters from Infusionsoft side. We've been using you now for a decade for the backbone of – not just the sales marketing end, but actually all of our operations are tied into the automation there.
Scott Martineau: Love hearing that. Thanks for sharing that.
David Finkel: It's great, because the last time around when I did I have to tell you I had built an earlier business coaching company, and we had scaled it, and we were working with like I said a couple of thousand businesses a year. I sold it in 2005, and at that time there was no Infusionsoft, no company like that at all. We built our own custom – it was just a pure email platform that did some of that automation. We spent probably $250,000 initially, another $120,000 a year for salary for a full-time database guy that – to do it. It does probably 1/100th of a percent of what get out for – a
fraction of it so, it's pretty cool. In today's world, we probably would have needed two times the staff had we not had that available, and I liked it. As a business owner keeping our margins good, and we can have our pricing stay competitive, and that's important.
Scott Martineau: Great. So, two quick things. First of all, this is a pad cast, not a podcast. Second, David tell us – take us to the journey – through the journey from the time you started the company to now. What is the lowest point? Where's a time where you felt like maybe the entire deck was stacked against you, you're at your peak of frustration? What was that like? What was feeding into that?
David Finkel: I think for me at the most probably low point, the absolute point where I was ready just to say screw it. I had merged my company with another company, and they were two successful businesses that worked really well, but had very different cultures. My partner, she ran a company, and she was somebody who would be up all night sending out emails at all hours of the day expecting staff to get back.
I was just watching this, and the stress, and the pressure, and the drama, it was just no fun. That was right around the time right before I had my first two kids, we had twins first, and I was like I'm just not enjoying this anymore. I'm working really hard, I never would have required my staff to be checking email in the middle of the night or getting back that way. I – we didn't have drama before. Yeah, life happens, we had people who got sick or had family members that had transfers or other things, but we were creating drama everywhere. I was so scared when I said either you need to own all this business or I need to own all this business; so one of us needs to buy the other one out. Here's my offer to buy, here's my offer to sell, you pick. They're exactly identical except for you get to choose which side you want to be on, and I was scared. I was scared mostly what would happen with our clients. When she decided to have me buy her out I was relieved, but I was terrified to have defection of all my clients.
Clate Mask: How many employees did you have at the time of that buy-sell decision?
David Finkel: Probably about eight to ten would be my best guess. We were a good bit smaller.
Clate Mask: Yeah. But it was significant enough that you have a lot of clients, you had a number of employees, loyalties to those folks, and you – it sounds like you still had a lot of passion for the business. It wasn't that you wanted to get out, but you were – your passion was bleeding away as you watched this culture clash happen.
David Finkel: Absolutely, and I had been at a point where I sold my other company in 2005, so this was a – this wasn't a mandatory thing. I didn't have to do the business, and I was thinking to myself why am I doing this here. I'll tell you we lost some staff that decided that we weren't the right fit for them, and that was a little bit of a scramble. We did lose a few clients here or there as t hey got pulled in a little bit. But I think on the whole what I learned from the experience is most of the times that I've had this major fear of doing something, firing a client, letting a team member go or
ending a partnership. What I've discovered is two things; number one, take the high road in all things. Yes, there's always two sides to it, and maybe the other person's giving a different message. But take the high road no matter what. Number two, I've learned that generally speaking it's going to be a lot smoother after the first 72 hours. Seventy-two hours of pain, and horror, and it's going to be fine after that.
Clate Mask: That is great advice, thank you for sharing it. Scott and I have been through the challenge of buying out a partner in our early days, and it was awful, it was super hard. But we needed to do it, we had to do it, and so I know that this – we get asked this question quite a bit from business owners that how do you deal with partner conflict. You gave some good advice there about how to work through it and – taking the high road, and then recognizing that it's going to be better at the end of – after a few days, and letting some time pass.
Scott Martineau: So, David, our listeners can't see the blackboard behind you, but I'm curious what's the most important thing on there? You said we've got on there our company goals. I'm curious what are the most important things that you're tracking and measuring as a company?
David Finkel: It's interesting, I would say that most important thing is that there isn't something we track. So, one of the things we've discovered after working a lot of businesses we've coached is we call it a concept of your few or better. What are the three to five things that make the biggest difference in your company, and really clarifying what they are, and getting clear on that. There are a number of different tools for it. So, for us, for example, one of our few or better that's up there it's core cultural principle, but it also is a strategic one for us, which says we eat our own cooking. If you would have asked us five years ago I would have said we know exactly what to share with clients, but sometimes we really struggle eating our own cooking. What I realize is for one of our competitive advantages is how well do we listen to our own coaching.
What would we coach a client to do? We need to be doing that, and what that's done is it's not just that the company does this, we pushed it into the culture. So, Teresa, who leads our operations, when she faces a decision how should you do X or Y, she ask that question. What is our own cooking say we should do? That's been an important one, so that's probably the most important section there more than the quarterly plan of action or even the annual goals is the fewer better. Getting really clear, because we want to align everything around those fewer, better principles that – or areas that the business that make a big difference.
Clate Mask: That's great, awesome. It sounds like you've got a – obviously because you consult and advise businesses you've got a good sense of how to grow your business. You've done – you've got 35 employees, we refer to that as a stage five business that's between 25 and 100 employees, typically those businesses are between $3 million and $10 million in revenue. So, you've got a really successful business at that scale and that stage, and if you look
back and said what were a couple of the key things? I know that's tough to do, and you can sit and talk for hours and hours and hours, and advising a business. So, let's say you're talking to a stage four business that's in that 10-25 employees, $1-3 million stage, and what are some things that you saw that have helped you jump past stage and move to where you are that you might advise to somebody back in stage four.
David Finkel: Yeah. It's a great question, because when you're at that point in stage four, you've got a team, but still what happens is you have so much muscle memory about how you make all these decisions or how you keep touch of all these areas. The biggest shift from going from stage four to stage five using your parlance is grown the muscles to more effectively, intelligently, I call it narrow your focus, which is interesting. Yes, you need to be aware of what's going on, but as an entrepreneur progresses of that curve, I think
what you'll find, and it's really interesting, is that they do less and less, but what they do matters more and more. So, they've got to hand off and really grow, not just delegation muscles, because delegation says Jean go do this or Tina go do that. Whereas I want to hand off ownership of parts of the business. Not equity ownership, obviously, but true ownership of a functional area. So, as you make that jump from four to five how are you building out your leadership team to actually – maybe it's the first person who owns operations other than you or the first person owns marketing other than you. How are you supporting, coaching, but not just giving them the answers, and I think being a parent has been such an eye opener. I've got twins sons that are just turning eight years old tomorrow, and then I've got my youngest that's four, and I live in Jackson Hole, Wyoming so, it's freezing cold here in the winter. I could put on their snow pants, I can button up their jacket, I can help them with their hat. But if I do it once I'm going to be doing it forever.
I need to teach them how to do it even if – it is always slower waiting for them to do that to get in the car. Getting in and out of the house – and our house over Heather and I, my wife, it takes forever. But when they come to you with…
Clate Mask: Is that your son in the background through that window without his shirt on in the snow? [Laughter]
David Finkel: Yeah. Surprising enough, every once in a while they will shock on me and come knock on the window. I'm pretty near their school. But to go back over there, this idea that when they come to you with problems, and they will, your knee jerk reaction is to remember who you used to be, which was the problem solver. Going into level five you need to just – a good mentor and friend of mine, Stephanie Harkness, she was a co-author actually of one of the earlier books I wrote Build a Business Not Job, and she was – she's phenomenal, she is. She said, David, write this down on an index card, I did, I had it for years, I carried it around with me, and it just said what do you think we should do. It was so painful to do that.
Scott Martineau: Yes, the magic words.
David Finkel: Most of us entrepreneurs always have the answers we think, and that's the wrong answer. Even if we do we still lose the game.
Scott Martineau: Yeah, that is so great.
Clate Mask: We're talking about that as a stage five advice. I'm maybe just to pose the question is there any reason why we wouldn't be asking the same thing of our employees the first time we get one?
David Finkel: I totally agree with you. It depends, do you want a gopher or do you actually want someone who you get their mind and heart too. If you want their mind and heart you've got to get their opinions and their point of view, otherwise you don't have the person.
Clate Mask: Yeah, that is awesome. We talk all the time about the fact that entrepreneurship is an exercise in relinquishing control, and to grow the business you have to let go of control more and more. It's ironic, because on – just a couple of weeks ago I announced that Terry Hicks is now our COO, and so I took my role and broke off a significant part of it.
As the CEO I now have a COO that I work with, and so I – literally before I came up here you know that I was a couple of minutes late. I was on the phone with Terry and we were working through exactly this issue at $100 million plus stage business, trying to work on which parts are yours, which parts are mine, which parts are you taking over. It's been an awesome transition in the last couple of weeks as we've done that. But you have to work through it, you have to work together on it so that you're – because you're – you've got such muscle memory built up, and whenever you take your role, and break off a piece of it, congratulations. As you know, first of all it's awesome to do that, but second there's some things you have to unlearn, and some things you have to stop doing. My coach says all the time do less, lead more, and it's very much what you described about you have continually stop doing things.
It feels very counter intuitive to entrepreneurs who – we're all hard driving doers, getting stuff done, it's very tricky to do it. But parenting is a great analogy and I appreciate you sharing that, that's awesome.
Scott Martineau: Probably not coincidental or – no, [laughter].
Clate Mask: Not coincidentally.
Scott Martineau: Not coincidentally, Clate and I went out to lunch and it was – so this is – this happened 10 days ago.
Clate Mask: The COO announcement.
Scott Martineau: The COO announcement, and…
Clate Mask: Not lunch.
Scott Martineau: Not lunch, yeah. Clate talked for 30 minutes straight about all of the – it's not been a casual 10 days, but it's been – what I heard was his excitement, and the progress in the business that's happened when he's narrowed his focus to things that are that much more critical, so love it.
Clate Mask: Awesome.
Scott Martineau: So, maybe take us to the high point, David. What's the point where you were like I am so glad that I was just about to say screw this whole thing?
Clate Mask: You didn't.
Scott Martineau: You didn't say it or you didn't do it.
David Finkel: Hearing you say that I'll – can I share two quick ones. One, it literally happened in the last two weeks, and then other one happened in 2013. So, 2013, we finally figured out a good methodology how to actually measure we call owner independence in a business. So, we started going through the statistics with her clients, because we always say we want to coach not just for growth, but growth and also freedom. All in the independence for the company. We finally figured this out, and we realize that our average client was – the numbers were phenomenal, not just from the gross side. We knew that, because that's easy, look at gross revenue, gross profit, operating profit, see change year over year. That was easy, we were doing that quarter by quarter with clients, but we never had a really good measure area by function or area of the business. We finally figure it out, and it was incredibly gratifying to look at the statistics.
The other one – so I've got like I said young kids, it's a big part of my life, and so I've curtailed travel a lot. I want to make sure I'm around there, I'm the guy who cooks dinner for my family, and I want to make sure I'm there with them. This last two weeks I did two business trips where I was doing some keynotes. One in New Orleans, one in Atlanta, and I took one son on each of those trips. We spent – I got two at once, because my son's –my older sons are twins. So, I've never had three days alone with any of my kids, and it was a blast. It was the first time that they had been to New Orleans or Atlanta. We did the – these other places, and I was just thinking to myself – when you talk about what the high point was I think for me somewhere around about two or three years ago it just hit home for me. What matters most? Yes, I want to build the business, but it's now more about impact, and less about just the financial part. Yeah, I like that I'm competitive, I like to see that part. But I have to just remind myself what matters most, and the
ability to have time with the people that you love, and to incorporate them, and teach them lessons by doing this together. It's making my sons say where is our next gate on the airport, and teaching them about that is phenomenal. So, those are probably the high points I chair.
Clate Mask: Congratulations, that's awesome. This has been a ton of fun. Do you have any questions – do you have a question for us that you'd like us to address before we wrap up?
David Finkel: I appreciate that. Yeah, I'm curious here. When you look at the – it's interesting you've got the client base for Infusionsoft. What do you see as their biggest bottleneck that causes them to play smaller, get stuck in their business? I'm curious how you both would answer. You have a different perspective. Could you – you're definitely going to have a different data set than we have. I would be really curious for you what you've observed as a company.
Clate Mask: I'll let Scott answered that first, and I'll preface it by saying most of our customers are in stages one, two and three, so the vast majority
of our customers are under $1 million in revenue, and many of them want to get to that point. Most of them want to get to that point, some are not, they're content where they are. But, I think just to contextualize where most of our customers are is useful to consider. So, Scott what would you say first?
Scott Martineau: I think we talked about probably the number one thing, which is the – this universal addiction that the entrepreneur has to be the answer to the problems. I think that – I think we've addressed that one sufficiently. But I also think if you were to just look at business owner, and it is independent of the size. But the other thing that's so common is the biggest resource that I think is at a shortage is attention. I think in my observation we were blessed enough earlier in our business to have a really fantastic, strategic planning mechanism where on a quarterly basis we had different rhythms', and we do a quarterly thing, and a monthly thing.
But the ability for the business owners to have a mechanism for slowing the business down evaluating – pulling up into the air all the raw material of what's going on, and creating focus and direction. I think that's probably the most challenging thing, because for most business owner's life is just a day to day to day to day thing that seems to never end. They get the weekend, but then Monday hits, and it's just – so the business itself…
David Finkel: I work on the weekend a lot of times too, and it's just – it just is a grind. There just constantly going.
Scott Martineau: So, the breaks and the methodology for strategic planning, and focus, and execution.
Clate Mask: I'm going to – what I would say – I think it's a great question. What I'd say is very similar to what Scott shared. It's in the same realm of slowing things down, taking – having the breaks, and strategically guiding the business. So, what I find very often is that business owners are not intentionally driving to the outcomes that they're after. They're just going along in the hamster wheel, and so
I do think that Scott's point about strategic planning is critical, and getting the breaks. But very specifically I think that our customers don't take the time to just focus on their marketing. So, if you think about the realities of most small businesses, most business owners are – they have this on again, off again relationship with marketing where they aren't doing much to get more customers until they've got a problem when they're feeling we're going to have a crisis here if we don't. But we better fire up some more marketing instead of having a consistent rhythmic way of getting away from the day to day operations, and the hamster wheel, and just working on the things that are going to grow the business. That's what I see among business owners that are in the sub-million dollars, particularly business owners that are under $300,000 a year in revenue. They don't have a systematic way of working on the growth drivers of the business.
Scott Martineau: David, thank you so much for spending time. This has been fantastic. Your insights were very, very impactful for me. I assume they will be for our listeners as well, loving the concepts of fewer, better, and what do you want to create. Do you want to create owners or gophers? I think these are fantastic things that I hope ring in everybody's ears. Thanks for spending time with us today.
Clate Mask: Yeah, thank you David. I loved the index card. I loved that one, I think that's fantastic. So, those magic words are something that every entrepreneur can benefit from. Thank you for being with us.
David Finkel: Thank you Scott and thank you Clate.
Scott Martineau: Thanks, everybody for tuning in to this episode of the Small Business Success Podcast.
Clate Mask: If you're looking for more ways to grow your business, check out our knowledge center at learn.infusionsoft.com.