In the episode:
03:30 – Everything is a remix
04:52 – The drive behind the 8-figure revenue
09:10 – When you don’t want to do stuff
13:18 – How far should you segment?
16:42 – The size of a mailing list
19:20 – Is email still important?
21:14 – The impact of live events
24:06 – The danger of being distant
26:23 – What a CEO’s schedule looks like
28:50 – From one to many
31:58 – The rocket fuel model
34:15 – Software versus info and expertise
39:20 – What excites Ryan now
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James: James Schramko here, welcome back to SuperFastBusiness.com. And I’m really excited about today’s episode because we’re going to go on a journey and to go on this journey I have brought back a friend of mine and someone who I’ve learned plenty from and who has also learnt some things from me. Welcome, Ryan Levesque.
Ryan: James, it’s awesome to be back here. Really grateful and happy to be chatting again.
James: I love it when we do catch up, because we always exchange some great ideas. And I’ve been tracking your journey, well, from I guess around the time you were doing close to a million dollars a year to now. Or even a year ago, you were on track or very close to around the $10-million-per-year mark. So what that’s provided for me has been a great insight into some of the changes that happen as a business grows and as a brand develops. And I invited you to come along and talk about that, because I think that’s very instructive for other people who listen to this show. And so upfront, I want to say thanks for your impending generosity.
Ryan: Well, you know, listen, I’m really grateful. You have been one of the most instrumental or impactful mentors that I’ve had in that process. I still remember the first time when you and I had our first call together and we were introduced by a mutual friend. And gosh, I think it was, you know, the program I had signed up for was like a 30-minute welcome call or something like that. And you just kept listening to me for like two hours on that first call. Just me, like, rambling with all the thoughts going on. And that was the start of a really special relationship that you were super, like I said, impactful and instrumental in helping me in this journey. So it’s just cool to be able to share it with you and kind of talk a little bit about how things have changed inside.
James: Yeah, well, thank you. And isn’t it interesting as part of the process for diagnosing and solving the challenge in the marketplace? It is good to just listen at the beginning and calibrate to your customer. It’s pretty much what you teach with the ASK Method, right? Is to find out stuff before you launch in there with the solutions. So, it’s definitely been a part of my process coming from a sales environment where a lot of people were pushing solutions. And then I found a better technique was more of a consultative or diagnostic approach.
Now, what I admire about what you’ve done is you’ve learnt this technique from somebody else and you studied this person very closely with their permission, and you really made that idea into what it is now, which is sort of a combination…
Your portfolio, if I’m correct, is you’ve got your own products that you’re selling using your method; you’ve got software that supports your method; you’ve got information products around your method, and you’ve really taken that method on well past the stage that you’d learnt it. So you’ve actually developed it into more of a movement, I suppose, where you’ve got people in most major cities applying this to most different markets. Is that an accurate depiction of where we’re at?
Everything is a remix
Ryan: Yeah, I mean, that’s pretty accurate. So the person you’re mentioning, my mentor, one of my first mentors in business, Dr. Glenn Livingston, he was the first person that I really learned a lot of the methodology from.
And I think it’s true of all of us, like, right? We all have mentors, people that we’ve either learned from on like, a personal basis, like you actually really know the person, and then people that we’ve learned from from afar, through the books that we’ve read, the courses that we’ve studied and things like that. And you see this in every discipline, right? From science to technology to arts, everything is built upon the previous generation’s ideas and thoughts.
And so I think it’s, number one, it’s irresponsible and it’s also inaccurate to mislead people into thinking that whatever brilliant idea you’ve had, or success that you’ve had is your own doing. It’s the sum total of everyone who came before you who blazed the trail, who created the path, and then whose discoveries and ideas led to what it is that you’ve created.
So, yeah, I think that’s 100% accurate. And I’d say, I mentioned you, I mentioned Glenn, I think a lot of people have had a big impact in my life to help make that possible.
James: You know, you’ve been excellent at assimilating information from people and turning that into your own thing with a unique sort of branding or personality. There is a great video, I’ll link to it from the show notes, I think it’s called Everything is a Remix, but it’s pretty cool and you certainly can learn things from the music industry like the four chords that pretty much drive almost every song.
The drive behind the 8-figure revenue
The way that you’ve done it is excellent, and one thing that struck me when I was coaching you is how driven you are. You have this inner fire. You’ve got a deadly combination of technical understanding, which some people call geeky, but you’ve got technical capacity. But you also have a very strong determination and resolve. Did you always know that you wanted a $10-million-per-year-revenue business?
Ryan: Oh it’s so funny, you know, it’s total opposite. When I first got into this world, right? The world that we’re in is the online business world, selling training and Information programs and things like that… Like you, I was in a corporate job, I worked for a big company. I didn’t even know that this world existed. And my big goal at the time was I said, if I could make $10,000 a month in passive income, where I didn’t have to show up to an office, it’s just money that came in, you know, while you sleep, so to speak, why would I want to work another day in my life? That was it. That was the sum total. I was like, if I could get there, I’d be done. I’ll retire, I’ll be 25 years old, 28 years old, whatever I was at the time. I’ll retire, I’ll never work another day in my life, and I’ll just live on that $10,000 a month.
And what ends up happening, and I don’t know if this is true for everybody, for me certainly, it’s that $10,000 a month, you hit it and it’s like, okay, great. Now it’s $20,000 a month, and then it’s a million dollars a year. I remember the day that Tylene and I, we had our first million-dollar day, like literally did a million dollars of sales in a single day. Not to make people think like that happens every day. That was a very special day, like a once-a-year type thing. But we did a million dollars in a single day and, you know, our life didn’t change. We gave each other a hug and said, “Alright, what’s next?”
“New level, new devil.”
A mentor of mine likes to say, “New level, new devil.” And really what that means is, you get to a new level and there’s always something that rises and there’s always something that’s moving ahead. So for me, yeah, I think I’m pretty intrinsically driven, just very self-competitive.
My thing that I’ve realized, and I think this is true for people who resonate with what I teach, is there are a lot of, I think, experts or educators out there who create sort of freedom as the as the ultimate goal. I know it’s a big part of your life, right? Having the freedom to be able to go surfing and live that life and have everything. And I think freedom’s super important. For me, what I’ve realized, the drug that is more powerful than freedom, for me, is momentum. When I have momentum in my life, when I feel like I’m moving forward, when I feel like the accelerator is pushing me forward, I feel like I could take over the world. It feels like it’s the most amazing feeling in the world. Freedom for me is fleeting, like it comes and it goes. Like, I’ll have moments of freedom. But if I have constant momentum, constant progress, constant moving forward, like, that drug makes me feel better than anything else.
And so I seek that out. I seek out, OK, where am I going to get momentum? And it can be in different dimensions. It doesn’t have to just be in business, it can be in health and fitness and things like that. But I realized I need that in my life to feel fulfilled, like I’m making progress and have momentum in whatever challenges I’m trying to solve.
James: Yeah, I think it’s that drug that makes you send so many emails in a single day. I’ve worked with quite a lot of people, and I do see it. You are like, and that’s like, in a nice way, but you’re like, a very driven person and I think it causes you to operate, to get that release, to get that feeling. And you said it so well, actually. I like that saying, “New level, new devil.”
The $10 million revenue is a very common stated goal for people when I start my diagnostic at high-level coaching, especially seven-figure entrepreneurs. And I do question that. Why? Why is this important? What will change in your life when you go to $10 million a year in revenue from $4 million a year in revenue? Because most business owners are making at least a million dollars’ profit, even at $4 million a year revenue. So there has to be something else.
And you know, you found your one, and I imagine it probably also ties into your hobby of LEGO. Hopefully I pronounce that correctly.
Ryan: You nailed it.
James: I wouldn’t put an on it or stick it into lower case or anything. Maybe you like to build and create and imagine different ways that things can be rearranged and it sort of flows through into your work.
When you don’t want to do stuff
So a little bit tongue in cheek there, but I wanted to know, do you have to do things in business that feel uncomfortable to you at times? For me as a business owner, I don’t get as caught up in the competitiveness of, say, product launches. That’s a deterrent for me, because it doesn’t feel right. But for you on your drive, and with the peer group and the company that you keep, that’s more the norm. Do you enjoy those things, or are there things that you do that you don’t love from time to time?
Ryan: Yeah. I mean, I think, gosh, I wish I could say, “Listen, you’re the boss, you get to call the shots, you can make your own rules.” And to some extent that’s true, right? And of course, you can get to a point where you’re just going to say, “You know what? I’m not going to do this anymore. I’m going to make my own rules.” But when you do that, there are consequences, right?
You know, small examples, I see people who, you know, say, “I’m going to shun social media. I’m off Facebook. I’m going to leave Facebook.” And more cases than not, I can’t tell you how many people that have come through that circle in my life that they leave Facebook, they’re not going to be on there, and then a year later they’re back, right? Because that’s where the rest of the world is. And so yeah, there’s a price associated with it. You’re going to lose contact with all human beings that you know. And so if you’re prepared to do that, fine, but sometimes it’s not what you might think it might be.
James: What is it, the grass on the other side still needs mowing?
Ryan: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, for sure. And so a couple of examples. Do I wish we could send one email out and everybody would come flooding to do the thing and buy the thing and do whatever we’re encouraging people to do? Of course! Of course I’d love to be able to do that. But what I’ve also learned is, if we just did a four-day holiday sale, every email that we sent out generated an additional, I don’t know, 40, $50,000 in revenue, right?
So you’ll have critics that will say, oh, you’re sending out too many emails. But then on the flip side of it, what I’ve learned to believe in is, listen, if you believe in your products, you believe in what it is that you’re selling, you have a duty, you have a responsibility to get that into the hands of other people.
Because here’s the deal. There’s someone out there that didn’t check their email in time and they’re not going to get access to the product. They’re going to go to some second-class expert who doesn’t know what the hell they’re talking about. They’re going to follow sh**, crappy advice. (Excuse me.) They’re going to follow crappy advice, and they’re going to spin their wheels for another six months.
I can’t tell you how many people come in my world and they say, “Ryan, do you know how much money I’ve invested in programs, and how much I wish I would have found what it is that you’re teaching like, five years ago?” So when you hear stories like that, and I’m sure you hear it all the time, people who come to you and they’re like, ‘Gosh, James, everything that you say makes sense. Like, you’re telling the truth. I believe you. Thank you so much for everything that you do. I wish I would have found you three years ago, because I just had all this pain and suffering and struggle and money wasted,” and everything like that.
So there’s a flip side to every coin. Because I get it. I get what the critics might say, you know, I’m pushing too hard, marketing too hard. But on the other side, there’s another side to that story.
“It really has to come around to context.”
James: Yeah, I think it’s a good one. I actually made a video about this. You’ll laugh at this one, but I made a video talking about people’s reluctance to send an email to their customer base. And I think, here’s my major point on this. It really has to come around to context. Did people ask to be communicated with, and is it relevant to what they’ve asked for? And that’s, you know, it’s super ironic because of what you do.
One of my customers sent out an email to his customers. He sent four emails over five or six days and got 66 new members to his membership, because the people on his email list had not been hearing from him, and they wanted to hear from him. And the difference there is, I know there’s people who believe in their product and think it’s the greatest. I had someone knocking on my door just the other day while I was recording a podcast, and when I went to tend what I thought might have been a courier, it was someone spreading the good word of one religion or another, not exactly sure which one. But they were very passionate about their product. But I wasn’t that passionate about receiving that information at the time, so it was unwelcome or unwanted. In fact, the only people to stick flyers in our no canvassing, no junk mail is the same organization, which cracks me up.
How far should you segment?
So how far should they be segmenting that relevance? You know, how explicit a permission would you need when you’re communicating the message, if you are very zealous about your product?
Ryan: Right. Yeah I think there’s a couple, I think, universal best practices, and then there are others that require a little bit more nuance. And the answer is, it depends. But we can talk about some kind of rules and guidelines that I find to be helpful.
So, number one, one of the things that we do is every month, we look at our engaged subscribers and we go through a list hygiene and re-engagement process. So what that means is simply, every 30 days, you should consider taking a look at your email list. And everybody who has not opened or clicked on an email in the last 90 days, doing this every 30 days, should either be removed from your list completely, or they should go through a reactivation process to say, “Hey, do you still want to be subscribed to this? Do you still want to hear these messages?” and so on and so forth.
And if so, you bring them back onto your main list. And if they don’t respond, then you just, as painful as it is, you say, all right – time to move on. Because people, they might get sick of you, their interests might change, they may no longer be in the market for whatever it is that you’re selling.
And ultimately, it’s dead weight that you’re carrying. And there’s a high carrying cost to that dead weight, not only just in paying for an email list that is unresponsive, and you’re, every single month with your Ontraport or Infusionsoft or Drip or whatever, the ActiveCampaign, whatever service you use, you’re paying that bill every single month, but number two, it also drags down your deliverability and your open rates and click through rates across your entire list. Because the ISPs of the world, the Gmails, is the Hotmails, are looking at it and saying, ‘All right, well, you’re not paying attention to the engagement of your subscribers, so we’re not going to deliver your stuff to a primary inbox, we’re going to send it to a promotions tab or spam folder or whatever instead.’
So there’s a real kind of business argument for why you want to engage in what’s really just good human-to-human relationship practices. So that’s kind of one that’s like a general universal rule that I think can apply to every business when it comes to segmenting at a mass scale.
Beyond that, one of the things that we found useful is to segment. One of the things that we do that’s a hallmark to the process that I teach is to segment on the front end of your acquisition funnels. And basically what that means is when someone opts in to your email list, or they visit your website for the first time, you want to identify a few pieces of information about that person so you can send them more relevant emails, more relevant offers, more relevant content. So that’s kind of phase one.
Phase two is, periodically along the way, you want to go through that process again, because people’s lives change, right? So someone who might be in the early stages of their business six months ago, six months later might have like, they have a fledgling business, they’re no longer, they’ve graduated from that stage. And so the type of communication you send to them is something that probably needs to change. It needs to be a little bit different.
So I mean we could talk, gosh, we could do a whole masterclass on segment, but those are a few examples of ways to consider segmenting.
James: They were excellent ones. The friend who introduced us, Andre Chaperon, is very good about this. He asks people if they’d like to hear more information about a particular campaign, and if people opt in and they go into that segment and if they don’t, then he leaves them alone. But like you, we clean our list very regularly to keep our reputation high and our list hygiene’s even more important now with the changes that are going on with privacy and data collection here in the world.
The size of a mailing list
James: Just, I’m curious, I’m not sure if it’s a number you’re keen to share, what sort of size email list is a business accumulating when they’re at your level of scale?
Ryan: Yeah, it’s a great question. And I think what’s interesting is our email list is probably smaller than I would say, other email lists in comparably-sized companies from a revenue standpoint for a few reasons.
So number one, it has to do with the niche that you’re in, right? So I’ve been involved in companies, before I built the ASK Method company and Bucket.io, our software company, I was involved in 23 different markets. So I had the opportunity to have my hands in 23 different businesses, and the relationships I had where everything from hundred percent ownership in those business to partnerships to paid a revenue share on a revenue share partner basis. But what it did give me was a look into the size to these different companies.
And so in the health space, weight loss and health, nutrition and things like this, a $10 million company has an email list of literally millions of people. You know, two million, three million people on an email list. And the reason for that is it’s a mass market consumer space. The value of one of those email subscribers is measured in dollars per month, not tens of dollars per month, just based on the fact that you’re selling probably $27 ebook on how to lose weight, right? So you need a lot of people to get to $10 million to do that.
On the total flip side of the equation, one of the businesses I had an involvement in was in the business funding space. That was a business that had a relatively small email list, because the entire email list was customers – people who are actually applying, who had applied for business funding, and they were doing business funding deals that were hundreds of thousands of dollars, right? So you don’t need a whole lot of those customers.
So for us, we’re somewhere in between, and we’re in a B2C space, but it kind of, we’re in a B2B space, but has more of a B2C feel to it, because we’re selling typically to the entrepreneur themselves, like, the head of the company, as opposed to, VP of Marketing at a larger company. So for us, we’re kind of in between those two extremes. A business our size in that type of space, our email list is in the hundreds of thousands of people. So not 10s of thousands, not millions, hundreds of thousands. And you know, that fluctuates up and down as we engage in new campaigns and clean our list and all that good stuff.
“You do not need a massive list.”
James: Yeah, thank you. That was good. If I was going to guess, I would have guessed somewhere around 600 to 900,000 emails based on the types of customers I’ve seen. I do want to encourage someone listening to this though, you do not need a massive list, as I’m sure Ryan didn’t have a big list when he was just making a million dollars a year or $2 million a year. Even in my own business, we have a tiny, tiny list. We just have a very dedicated list.
Is email still important?
But I think it’s funny, you know, in the age of Facebook Lives and ManyChats and remarketing, that we’re talking about emails. Because I still think email is important. Do you still think email is important, Ryan?
Ryan: I literally just had a call with some of our partners in a couple of different areas earlier today, and talking about this exact same subject, and that there’s so many shiny object channels that are out there, and year after year, email is kind of like the reliable, like, it just reminds me of my parents. They drive a Toyota 4Runner, which is like a kind of SUV. It’s on a truck chassis – you’re probably familiar with it, right? So it’s on a truck body. And they live in the bitter cold of northern New Hampshire where it snows 10-feet a year and it just, they live on the side of a mountain and you need four-wheel drive just to get to the house and everything like that.
And my parents, you know, the car’s in great shape. It’s like, incredibly great shape. The car is 21 years old. I remember they bought it new, when I was still living at home, and they still have the damn thing. It’s their main car. It has hundreds of thousands of miles, and I see all the neighbors where I grew up, always getting new cars every couple of years. They’ve had the same thing for 21 years. And it just works better than anything else. It doesn’t break down. Toyota did an amazing job with the underbody of the vehicle. It doesn’t rust; they have no problems with the engine. It just keeps on going.
And email just reminds me. It’s not sexy, right? It’s not like the new Range Rover that just came out, you know? It’s not the sexy SUV that’s coming out, but it’s the thing that just keeps producing year after year. And it’s kind of like a very blue-collar, salt-of-the-earth channel that just keeps going. And it doesn’t create headlines, but it’s still, for most people that I talk to, it’s still quietly the backbone of their business, despite not getting the headlines of Facebook Lives and you know, Instagram and Pinterest and all the newer stuff that’s even newer than that, that people are starting to jump on right now.
James: Yeah, and you know, just the core things.
The impact of live events
I notice part of your model mix now is you’ve been dialing in events. You know, events have been going on for quite some time in society, and combining them with an information product or combining them with a software product for a user convention is very clever. How has that changed the way that people are reacting to your business when you run events and have several hundred people to the big one and 100 or so at the smaller one? How has that reaction gone?
Ryan: Yeah. I mean, you know, I have this phrase that I share with our students, and I say, “Listen, the clicks may give you cash, but it’s the miles that make you millions.” And that’s true whether you are a producer of events or you are an attendee of events.
But what I mean by that is most of us got into this world – at least I can speak for myself – at least part of the reason why we got into this world is so we could hide behind a computer screen, do some work on the computer and have money come out of it, right? Without having to interact with people in the regular world.
For me, the thing that I was like burnt out with is I was in a corporate job, I had a team of 24 people that were reporting to me, and I was just playing like, daddy. They were having so many politics and just, “This person did this to me.” And I was just so fed up with having to manage all these people. My thing was, like, if I could just create a machine that produced cash, and I wouldn’t have to talk to anybody, and I could just be in a room and do my own thing, that’s the dream.
I mean, a lot of us are attracted to selling information products, and building an online business, at least in part so we can kind of work from home and have our freedom and our independence and all that good stuff.
James: And surf.
Ryan: Yeah, and surf. Exactly. Play LEGO, like whenever you want. We all have our reasons.
And so yeah, for the longest time, I didn’t do events. But what I realized is that’s where the real magic happens, right? So that’s where, when I started attending events, after I’d been in this business a couple of years, that’s where I still have friendships and relationships with people that I met at events. Gosh, six, seven years ago, we’re still friends. We still do business together, some of them are clients.
And when you’re hosting events yourself, whether it’s a small event – we just hosted a small event, 20 people came to our office, I worked with them to build out their list building campaign. They actually came here to our office, we do small things like that. For me, that level of human connection is what continues to make it real. And what happens is, and you’ve experienced this because you’ve been doing this for a for a long time…
James: I think about the Maldives, if you’re on a boat with 10 people for a week. Imagine, you know, eating four meals a day, spending five or six hours in the water chatting around the lounge. Imagine the connection you can make over a week in such a small group. Hanging around on a beanbag chatting about business, it’s just so deep. I like that.
Ryan: Totally. It’s great. And for me, believe it or not, I’m more of an introvert. I like to kind of do my own thing, I’m pretty introverted. But I do need these times where, even for me, they refuel me when I go out. And I now, I can visualize who my customers are right here, right now. So I can better serve them on a mass scale.
The danger of being distant
And if you distance yourself too much from your customers, and don’t have these experiences, as you progress in whatever field you’re helping people with, there will be more and more distance between where you are now and where your customer is right now. And you constantly need to fight to close that gap. Because otherwise, you run into the ivory tower syndrome, right? Where you are in your own little world, and your world is so different, so far removed, and you forget. Like, you forget where you were when you were leaving Mercedes and you had your little business that you’d started when you were moonlighting. Like, you have to constantly bring yourself back to that moment in time, because that’s where your customers are. For you they may be a few steps ahead of that, but…
James: Yeah, or you move the entry point to where your customer is. I’ll share one handy trick. I screened out with my starting point. And actually, I remember sitting here in the hotel in Manly when you came and spoke at my live event, which is exactly what we’re talking about, traveling. You know, you definitely put in the miles, and the whole family as well. And we were talking about that front-end chooser and segmenting people by where they’re at in business.
And that that extra step that I added to the challenge that I’d had there, so I have a two-step front-end quiz funnel if you like, that made a big difference as to not even showing my offer to people who were at that stage where they’re just moonlighting in the job. And so one way to take advantage of that change is to just keep moving the bar up a little bit on where you start customers, but you’re so right. Some people get so successful, that they’re on a different server, they’re using different tools, they have a team, and their customers have none of these things. And the gap is so wide that it can become difficult to be relatable.
Ryan: Totally, totally, totally. And it’s true in any field. If you’re in fitness, same thing, you walk in, and you’ve got 4% body fat, and you’ve got a perfect physique. And then your customers are coming in and they haven’t worked out in a gym in 10 years. You know, there’s a huge gap. And it’s true for any discipline, any space where you’re helping people achieve a transformation.
“Live events are a place to close that gap.”
So I think live events are a place to close that gap, create real human connection. And I think it just helps with your empathy, it helps with your understanding. There are just so many benefits to doing live events that I’d encourage anyone, no matter what type of business you’re in, to find some way to connect with your customers in person at least several times a year.
James: Yeah. Fantastic.
What a CEO’s schedule looks like
I’m going to ask you a question about your schedule. As the CEO and founder of these business units that you have, which is predominantly information products and software, where are you spending your time in a week? And does your calendar still look as scary as the time I saw it once?
Ryan: You know, yeah, it’s funny. I remember there was that week where we were trying to schedule something or I shared it and something and you gave me a bunch of crap for saying, wait, you have to schedule time for when you’re spending time with your kids? And you know, I’m looking at my calendar right now. And the reason why I put that time in, not because I have to be reminded of it. For me, it makes it a priority above everything else. It’s the first thing that gets scheduled. And so when I look at my calendar right now, there’s a fair amount of meetings. What I typically try to do though… So, I’ll give you like, a week in the life example.
So a week in the life – we’ll look, like, a couple of weeks ahead. What’s going on? Because I’ve got some travel coming up, that’s a little bit unusual. So yeah, so I’ll do like, on Monday mornings, we have nothing scheduled. No meeting scheduled. Monday is kind of like, you know, get a start to the week, and then Monday afternoon is when I have my management team meeting. That’s where my senior management team and I, we meet and we cover the strategic elements that we need to cover in our business.
Each person on that meeting manages a department, right? So I have my head of marketing, head of technology, my COO who basically runs the day-to-day operations of the business. I have my director of content and products, and a few other members on that team. And so they each have their departments and they have their weekly meetings that they run. So that’s kind of my Mondays. It’s typically all that I have on Mondays. Monday’s kind of like a catch-up day.
Tuesdays and Wednesdays are kind of the days when we’ll have a few company meetings. Thursdays I keep open for when I’m doing a webinar or training or something like that. And I only have a retrospective Friday morning with my COO where we kind of do a retrospective on the week, talk about what’s coming up the following week, and that helps us to set the stage for a management meeting on the following Monday. Otherwise, I keep Fridays pretty open.
A couple of things I do: I work out five days a week, and that’s kind of non-negotiable. I work out in the mornings. I have a weekly massage that I treat myself to on Friday afternoon, that’s like a non-negotiable, that’s how I segue from the work week into family time over the weekend. I’m pretty much done with my commitments around four o’clock, no later than five, so from five to eight is family time each day. And then I’ll usually do a little bit of work, light work, at night when I’m watching TV or just catching up on something. I work well at that time when the house is kind of quiet. And that’s kind of my weekly schedule.
From one to many
James: That was pretty insightful, because you also sort of revealed some of the people who are in your team, and that’s been a big part of the growth, when you reach that point that you realize you can’t actually do everything yourself. Was that difficult for you? Or was it a relief?
Ryan: Yeah, I mean, I’d say I’d say it’s still transition. So when you first get into business, it’s just you. Like, you’re it, it’s you. And then eventually you go on to Fiverr or Upwork and you get a few little contractors to help you with various tasks. And then maybe you hire your first employee or your first main person who’s working with you, either full time or on a part-time basis. And it’s usually like an assistant-type role, right? And they do kind of a bunch of different things. So that’s kind of like phase one.
And then that kind of morphs into you as the hub, with all these spokes around you and everything. You’re the one connection point, and if you were to step out of the business, everything would kind of fall apart, because everything is connected to you in some way. That’s kind of the next step.
Then you get to a place where you have kind of heads of areas of what you’re doing. And they’re able to take a little bit more responsibility, they’re a little bit more independent. And eventually, they have little assistance helpers around them.
And then you get to a point, which is where we are now, where, as the visionary founder, entrepreneur of your business, nobody reports to you and instead you are like the moon orbiting the planet of your company. And that’s kind of where I am. So I’m very fortunate to have a partner COO who’s an integrator, and you met Richard when we were together in Austin last time that you came to Austin.
James: That was a great event in Austin. You know, my next call after this is with someone I met in Austin and then my call later on is, and another person I met there connected me to someone else. That was a good event. Yes, I did meet Richard.
Ryan: Oh, awesome. That was great, yeah. We still talk about that one. Yes. Yeah. So Richard runs the day-to-day operations of the company. And so everyone reports in to him.
So what it’s allowed me to do, just to give you a glimpse into, you know, when you’re at this stage of your business, is there are pros and cons. Ton of pressure on me, right? At the end of the day, I’m responsible for, they’re 50, give or take. And just like your company, 50, give or take, lives whose livelihood is dependent on, you know, they have jobs. They put food on the table for their families based on the work they’re doing for my company.
So I have a huge responsibility. And I don’t take that lightly. I take that extremely seriously. So there’s a lot of pressure from that standpoint. But there’s also a relief as well, because I don’t have people reporting in to me. Instead, what I’m able to do is spend my time on the things that I want to spend time on and where I can add the most value. And those are being the face of the company, being the face of all the training programs that we put together, any of the marketing videos, anything like that, I get to be the face. I also get to focus on strategic thinking, thinking being, you know, blazing the trail a mile ahead of where everybody else is on the team.
So because I’m not encumbered by people who are dependent on me, I can run a mile ahead figuratively and take a look at what we’re going to do next. While they’re all working in the present, I get to spend time in the future and plan on, what are our new products? What are the threats that are approaching us? What are the strategic partnerships that we want to develop? All those types of things, and kind of work in the future, come back from the future into the present, say, “Hey guys, here’s what we’re going to be doing now,” and then go back and do that kind of trip back and forth.
The rocket fuel model
So because I don’t have anyone reporting to me, I don’t have, like in my case, one-on-one meetings with every one of my staff, I’m not dealing with vacation time and time off and things like that, I’m able to do what I’m very good at. I’m not good at those other things. I’m not a good operator. And I’m very fortunate to partner with somebody who is an excellent operator and is terrible at all the other things. And Richard will admit he’s not an ideas guy. He’s never had an original idea in his life. But he can take one of the ideas that I have, and he can execute it extremely well.
And so the credit that I’ll give there is to the model called rocket fuel, which was a phrase in this context coined by Gino Wickman. And he’s the author of a book called Rocket Fuel, which introduces this integrator-visionary framework, which if you’re an entrepreneur, chances are you fall into one of those two camps. You’re either an excellent operator-integrator, or you’re an excellent visionary. And the way you grow your business is to consider partnering with someone who is the opposite of you. And the whole premise behind this book and this framework is that all great companies that have ever been built haven’t had one person at the top, they’ve always had two. Typically you only hear of one, because they’re the face of the company. And it makes it seem like they’re the one responsible for all the growth. But the reality is, there’s someone behind the scenes. And every company from Microsoft, McDonald’s to Apple has fit this dynamic.
James: Nice. Yeah. And I’m sure there’s times when it doesn’t run smoothly, and there’ll be a…
Ryan: Every day!
James: It’s funny. Sort of, a business at a level like mine, I can purely relate to what you’re talking about. Because when we had 65 people in our business and an SEO business and website development, we had department managers and the teams were reporting to them. And, you know, life was pretty straightforward from where I sat. And now that we’ve scaled to a point where we have around about five people in our team, again, it’s about the same workload but a lot less pressure or responsibility, because, you know, we’re a very profitable, smallish business.
And that’s really the fun of this discussion of going behind the scenes. It’s like you get to slide the scale and decide where do you want to be. And I’m very pleased to hear that you’re still into the fitness and the gym and that you are blocking time for the family, because sometimes those things fall by the wayside in a pursuit, or I’d say, a blind pursuit of just chasing revenue.
Software versus info and expertise
James: I did want to ask you about software. If you could summarize your experience going into a software realm in a few sentences, what would that look like?
Ryan: You know, software is a totally different animal than selling training. Information and expertise is how we define it, right? So, coaching programs, masterminds, online courses, membership sites. And the reason for that is, on the ASK company side of things, I’m largely, and I put this in air quotes, the talent, right? So ideas come out of my brain, we produce those into courses, and I have a lot of influence over that.
On the software side of things, I am the least talented person on the team. I cannot code anything. So for me to bring an idea to the team, it’s, very different. On the ASK company side, we can say, “Hey, we’re going to produce a course, which we’ve just started working on, and I’m putting the finishing touches on, on webinars – how to do segmented webinars in a way that we’ve never taught before.” So that’s easy for me to impact directly.
On the software side. I say, “Alright, we want buckets to create segmented webinars in the funnel flow.” So we have the ability to create segmented webinars based on the technology in bucket. In order for that to happen, I can’t just say okay, here’s what it needs to look like. I need to use words to communicate to our UX UI designer, what that looks like. It’ll come back, and I’ll say, “Do you listen to what I say?” Because the way I described that, at least in my mind, was very different than the way it came out. And so there’s a lot of back and forth conversation around that.
So taking something from idea to reality is a very different, and for me, more challenging process, because I don’t have the ability, the skill to just say, “You know what, move over, let me just code it up real quick,” bum bum bum bum, bum bum bum, “This is what I was trying to describe.” I can’t do that, so it’s much more of a team effort. So that’s like the first dynamic that’s very, very different.
Second dynamic that’s really interesting is, it’s given me a lot more empathy for software companies. And here’s the reason why: because – and you may experience this in your business, James – because I’m the face of the ASK Method company, people tend to be… some people are total jerks, but mostly people are like, they’re gentle. They know there’s a human being behind it, they know we’re trying our best. If we mess up on something, by any stretch of the imagination, we’re not perfect and we make a ton of mistakes, but we’re working to do the right thing wherever possible. And I think because people see there’s a face behind that, they’re a lot more forgiving and honestly, respectful toward our brand.
On the software side of things, the things that people say, I cannot repeat. It’s as if they, customers, (and I’ve been guilty of this myself, so I’m not going to say that I’m a saint) get so furious with the technology and forget that there are actual real human beings that are right behind it. They’re one layer removed. They have kids that they go home to every single night. They’re sons and daughters of parents that are probably the same age as maybe your parents listening to this right now, like, they’re human beings. And yet the way some people just, you know, just the level of respect, speaking about a software product, versus speaking about a human product, is just like night and day.
And so for me, it’s helped me check my own behavior when I get frustrated with some of the software we use in our business. And, you know, when my initial inclination is to be like, “Your software is garbage, like you’ve killed our business, what the hell’s wrong with you?” I take a step back and say, all right, there are good human beings behind this. They’re trying their best. Let me communicate with these people like they’re humans, not like there’s a team of robots in a factory writing code.
James: Yeah, it’s a really good point. Keyboard warriors can be frightening. A lack of empathy.
Ryan: Exactly. So there’s just so many differences. There’s so many similarities, for sure. But building a product-based business that’s independent of any human as the face of the expert is, it’s a longer process for sure. For anyone who’s, you know, enamored with the idea of building software, it’s by far a much longer road. Like, you have to have the long game in mind, because it’s going to take you more time than you expect, it’s going to take a lot more money than you expect it’s going to take, and you’re never finished. Right? There’s no, like, you put a bow on it and it’s done.
“You have to have the long game in mind.”
James: Yeah. Even if you’re Facebook or Google it feels to me like, at any moment, a competitor could come along and just steamroll you. Like we’ve seen with quite a lot of technology companies, they’re only as good as they are now. Like, there used to be Google Video, for example.
James: And, you know, YouTube sort of drowned it, even though it’s owned by the same company. But you’ve got to stay sharp.
Ryan: You totally do and it’s this delicate balance that you’re trying to maintain where you’re listening to what your customers are saying, and at the same time, if you don’t put that through some sort of filter, and through your own strategic planning, what’ll end up happening is you’re going to be like the guy who’s pulled in 17 different directions.
James: Yeah, Frankenstein product.
Ryan: Yeah, Frankenstein product, and you’re not going to get anywhere.
James: Some software companies changed so much they don’t even know what they are at the end and who they serve. And you see people, software companies in particular, they’re often repositioning or regrouping what their suite of tools are, because things change.
What excites Ryan now
James: What are you most excited about at the moment in business at this point in the year? We’re about halfway through the year, is there something on your mind that you’re passionate about or interested in?
Ryan: Yeah, I mean, we have a lot of new projects on the table right now. One of the ones that I’m most excited about is I have a new book that’s coming out, it’s the prequel to my first book, Ask. And it’s, in a nutshell, in Ask, I shared how I entered 23 different markets, and the process I used to do that, which has come to be known as the ASK Method. And it’s all the surveys and segmenting that we’ve been talking about. But what I didn’t share in that book was how I chose those 23 markets in the first place. And I have an equally methodical, quantitative process that I developed over years for identifying market opportunities that were ones worth pursuing. And that’s what the book is all about.
The book is called Choose, it’ll be coming out in early 2019. And I’ve been working hard on that and really excited to introduce that to the world, because I think it’s going to help a lot of people, at least in my world, who were attracted to ASK, attracted to this idea, followed all the steps and still didn’t get results, because they failed to make the single most important decision you need to make in business, which is, who you’re going to serve. Because that could be the difference between success and failure.
“The single most important decision you need to make in business is who you’re going to serve.”
James: Great book. That’s a great book. It’s like my book’s almost a prequel to that book. Getting yourself sorted so that you can have capacity to implement this stuff. I do get asked all the time about market, which market to go into. And I’ve actually purposely avoided raw startups, because like you said, you could do everything right and still not get a result, and it could be just down to the market you’ve chosen or the audience you serving. So I’m looking forward to reading that book. Thank you for serving the world with that one.
And will you have a similar structure, Ryan? Will it be half story, half technical, or will you blend it up a bit?
Ryan: The great part about being a first-time author is you’re only a first -time author once. And so you could take all the feedback that people barbecue you over on Amazon, incorporate that into your next book. So short answer is, story and technique will be woven together as opposed to a part one, part two framework that we adopted for the first version of Ask.
James: Oh, that sounds like a wonderful idea.
So Ryan, I’m going to let you go, even though I could talk to you for quite some time about all sorts of things, because you have such a wild intellect. You’re very well socialized in the online world and business world, and you’re a member of several masterminds, you’ve paid plenty of top level experts. So you are a walking almanac, and it’s been such a privilege and a pleasure to get you on a call. I know how valuable your time is. And so, I do want to thank you, especially on behalf of my audience, who hear a lot about you, probably get emails from you. And hopefully, going behind the scenes has given a little more insight into the human being Ryan Levesque, you know, the person behind this brand and that journey that you’ve been through.
So I’ll put a link to a resource of yours that, we’ll work out what the most appropriate thing is, and anyone going to SuperFastBusiness.com can see, on my very homepage is a chooser or segmenter, and then the second layer is a segment of that. That came from me learning about this stuff and how it works at Ryan’s event.
You know, one of the great privileges of teaching people is you get such a window into their world, like when you had all those 23 businesses. You know, I’m constantly working with different businesses, and you’ve always struck me as someone who’s going to go a long way. And you haven’t disappointed, Ryan, so thank you so much for sharing.
Ryan: Well, I appreciate it and it’s my way of creating an excuse for us to connect at least, you know, a couple of times a year like this to catch up. It’s always good to hear your voice, man. I miss our weekly calls, and it’s good to connect again, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to share with your audience.
James: Well, if you’d like to come back, and we can talk about other stuff too, you know, like marketing techniques, some business strategy ideas, you certainly have an open invitation, so hopefully we can make that happen.
James: There you go. You’ve been listening to SuperFastBusiness.com, that’s Ryan Levesque, a very switched-on individual. And go to Episode 588 at SuperFastBusiness.com, look for the episode Behind The Scenes With Ryan Levesque, and you’ll be able to download some special resources that we make available.
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