Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 86 - Steve Davis - ENGINEER YOUR LIFE

You can ignore a lot of things when you’re a small company. But as soon as you get to be — as soon as you have customers, let’s put it that way. As soon as you have customers, you pretty much have to start putting that infrastructure in place. 
Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 86 - Steve Davis - ENGINEER YOUR LIFE

STEVE: [00:00:01] You can ignore a lot of things when you’re a small company. But as soon as you get to be — as soon as you have customers, let’s put it that way. As soon as you have customers, you pretty much have to start putting that infrastructure in place. And I think that there’s a lot of traditional companies that are not doing it the most efficient way, but they’re still coping. There’s a lot of companies that do it really well. I don’t know that there’s any one model for those things that make it successful.

But yeah, I mean, there’s definitely a lot of processes in place, and it has to be there. But I mean, we run into that every day at my current job is that you’re trying to go fast, and you get frustrated because somebody in quality, or somebody in regulatory has said, well, you’re not allowed to do that.

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JESSE: [00:01:42] Welcome to the Smart Athlete Podcast. I’m your host, Jesse Funk. My guest today has a lot of things going on much like many of my guests, but this one in particular is man after my own heart. He’s a serial entrepreneur in both the tech and fitness fields.

Much like me, a triathlete, but also certified Yogi, something I do not have going on. Self-described geek and tech obsessed. He’s also a professional engineer. He’s part of that cult of engineers, we talk to you from time to time. Welcome to the show, Steven Davis.

STEVE: Thanks for having me on.

JESSE: [00:02:24] I guess I should say, Steve, you did prefer Steve and I read that and I went, I know you like the shorter version.

STEVE: Steve is better. Everybody in my current job still calls me Steven. But yeah, it’s a slow process.

JESSE: You didn’t like forcibly send out a memo and say, hey, guys–?

STEVE: It’s not worth it. You know, when your legal name is Steven, it gets on everything and you’re kind of stuck with it. Which it’s not a bad thing. I mean, it is what it is.

JESSE: [00:02:42] Well, I would say on the bright side, you have a relatively uncomplicated name. You would think the same thing of me, it’s Jesse, there’s not that many letters to it. But because I have no I in my name, a lot of people just think it’s Jess. And I’m like, no, I don’t like that. Please stop doing that immediately. So, I have some of that from time to time.

STEVE: [00:03:04] I work with a gentleman that’s — it’s Jesse and I made the mistake of addressing an email to him with an I. And he came back very quickly and said, I think that’s the girl version of the — [crosstalk]


STEVE: No, no, I wasn’t trying to make a point or anything. I just — when you’re composing five emails at a time.

JESSE: [00:03:23] Yeah. No, I think he probably experiences it happens. You try to correct people, the only time that bothers me is when it’s like, say, I’ll say a business partner, for lack of better term or a vendor that I’m working with consistently over a number of years, and they just cannot get it. That’s the only time where I’m like, come on, guys. Like you’ve seen this a number of times.

You can do it. So, I want to ask you, because my system pulled over, I’ll say your credentials from LinkedIn. And you make a very noted bullet point to say you’re a professional engineer. And I kind of know, or get sense that engineering is kind of like a cult. Like once you’re in, you’re in for life. It’s engineers, and then there’s everybody else. Is there any truth to that?

STEVE: [00:04:18] I mean, a little bit, it also depends on the field. I mean if you’re a mechanical engineer, a civil engineer, there’s a lot of — I mean, personally, I think there’s more weight that goes along with that. You’re building bridges, you’re building buildings. When you get into the electronics, electrical systems, software engineering; you got computer scientists, you got electrical techs.

There’s less of a line there. It’s just, yeah, different strokes for different folks, right. I mean, it all depends. I’ve got, you know, half of my guys that worked for me currently are engineers. The other half are technicians or computer scientists. Yeah, it really depends on the field. But there is a certain — I mean, engineers tend to be a bit of a breed apart, attitudes and everything else, right? Yeah, it’s just a bit different for sure.

JESSE: [00:05:16] Do you feel in your own little sub-niche of engineering because you also do the athletic stuff, and that’s kind of part of my interest with the podcasts, in general, is finding this intersection of people that don’t quite fit into either the solely kind of jock quote-unquote, mold or the geeky mold, but hit that intersection. Do you find that or do you feel pretty at home?

STEVE: [00:05:46] I mean, I’m comfortable. I mean, it definitely, it stands out, like I find that when I’m interacting with other athletes if you will. But if I can be as bold as to call myself an athlete, they’re less concerned about what you do for a living. It’s like, oh, you’re an engineer, you’re this, you’re that. Who cares? Right. As an engineer, that goes out and runs a 50-kilometer race, that is not normal in the engineering field. I mean, there’s lots of engineers, there are lots of professionals that are athletic and do things in their spare time, but it’s not that common.

Right. So, there’s definitely, I mean, interestingly enough, you do get a little bit of credibility for participating in the athletic side of it at work. I mean, regardless of who it is. I mean, whether it’s the accountants or lawyers or whoever. Yeah, the fact you’re riding to work, or you’re doing this, you’re doing a race on the weekend is definitely unusual. But it’s not it not uncomfortable. Let’s put it that way.

JESSE: [00:06:53] Right. Right. Right. You know, it’s one of those things where, like I said, it’s kind of the inspiration for the show, but also just my, I don’t know, inquisitive about humanity and how we separate ourselves. And both how we view ourselves and how others view us and these kinds of in groups and their overlaps. And it’s just — it’s fascinating to me, just because I think from a personal standpoint, I don’t — I’m sure I because I’m human and fallible.

But I don’t try to treat anybody different than anybody else. You know what I mean? Like, I’m not going to — I’m going to speak to you the same way I speak to a doctor, the same way I speak to a janitor or a teenager like we’re people, you have value as a person.

[00:07:45] And that’s not trying to be like PC, or trying to keep up with whatever that’s going on. I live in a bubble. But just knowing that all kinds of people have lots of potential and various things and come from all kinds of different backgrounds. So, I guess I see it as interesting when people kind of self-isolate or self-segregate into their group of people. Maybe possibly, because I’m not sure I’ve ever felt like I really belonged in any one particular group.

STEVE: [00:08:19] Yeah, yeah. No, and that’s, I mean, I see what you’re getting at. And I think it’s like he’s pointed out is that cross-section of being a techie, but also being an athlete that it kind of sets you — I mean, you’re fine fitting in with your peers and whatever group you happen to be in, but you’ve always got that sort of label on you that says, okay, but you’re an engineer.

But oh, but by the way, did you know that he also does races or you’re a gym rat, but I didn’t realize you were an engineer type thing. Yeah, it all depends on where you are. I find that again, hanging out with athletes like I said, it’s it, you find a much more diverse cross-section of professions than I get at work, obviously, because I’m surrounded by engineers. Yeah, right. But, yeah. No, it’s nice to have that sort of breadth of, or diversity anyway, of interest.

JESSE: [00:09:18] Sometimes I wonder because is it my particular bend that I’d speak to so many like triathletes and endurance athletes? Is it a matter of that’s simply what’s available to the adult athlete. You know, if you or I want to go play, I don’t know, insert team sport here, it doesn’t really matter what it is, it’s gonna be pretty difficult to do that at all. I mean, we want to go play football, we want to go play soccer, we want to go play baseball, like you got to put a team together.

There’s got to be multiple teams that practice regularly. But through that, beyond my diatribe, there are a lot of very intelligent people in the triathlon community. So, it’s almost like you could just go to any — get any random race just start picking random people out. And they’d be like, oh, yeah, I’m an engineer, I’m a doctor, I’m a professional artist, like, very wide, but not well-seasoned, but well-accomplished people from all kinds of fields in that little microcosm.

STEVE: [00:10:33] Well, and I think part of it is, just, like you said, it’s accessible, right. In like a team sport, I mean, it all depends on the teams you’re talking about. Around here, men’s league hockey, you’d be playing seven days a week, right? There’s people that just are desperate for people to play, and I’m [inaudible 00:10:51] good, but I could be playing seven days a week.

Soccer is probably the same thing. I don’t know about — anything about the softball or baseball industry or the field around here. But yeah, I mean, the running and the triathlon is definitely accessible. And so you get everybody there. And it’s cool, you got a huge range of abilities in that as well, which is kind of cool.

JESSE: [00:11:20] You know, I always just, this is, I guess — both — two things, one, the American in me, and then me, just living in a bubble. I always forget about the fervent nature of hockey. And how it continues pretty much for as long as people can get on ice and swing a stick. It’s just — it’s not in my realm. You know, I grew up in the mid — I still live in the Midwest, in the US.

I mean, we had a hockey team when I was younger, amateur hockey team, or maybe it was like a minor league hockey team. But we don’t have a pro team here. Yeah, I’ve never really watched it. My roommate watched it in college. But it’s just, it’s so outside my own existence that sometimes I just forget that it’s a thing.

STEVE: [00:12:08] Yeah. Well, and we’re kind of the, not to pigeonhole everybody, but we’re kind of in the opposite. There’s so much opportunity to play that people tend to play beyond where they should be playing, right. So, that we have ads on TV about what do they say, they get fit to play hockey, don’t play hockey to get fit, because you get people dropping dead on the ice all the time.

So, you get 55-year-olds or 60-year-olds, and they’re out there. And they’re not as fit as they should be and they literally dropped dead on the ice. But you know, everybody’s doing it. There’s so much opportunity that you just keep playing and playing.

JESSE: [00:12:52] So, then do you not play because of the injury aspect or?

STEVE: [00:12:57] I stopped playing hockey, I don’t know three years ago, not because of injuries, just accessibility, right? So, I was playing in one league where we played at five o’clock on Thursdays, which is fine, unless you’re at work till five, right? So, that means you have to be in a job where you can leave work at four, you gotta drive downtown, you gotta get changed. And you know, other people play at 11 o’clock at night or 12 o’clock at night, which is fine when you’re 28.

But if I play hockey at midnight, I’m not sleeping that night, right, because you’re so wound up. So, yeah, for me, it was just scheduling and trying to fit everything else in around that. And I’ve been in scenarios. I remember when I was younger. When I was playing. I was playing ball hockey, while I was training for triathlons. And I was constantly paranoid about getting hurt. Because you’ve trained, you know, the whole winter you’re getting ready for your season.

[00:13:54] And the last thing you want is a sprained ankle or a broken leg or a broken arm or something, right, that stops you from participating. And so it’s always a little bit nerve-racking. That being said, as I did both — I tore both my ACLs playing soccer, playing men’s soccer. So, they were about five years apart, but you know, it definitely put a dent in doing anything beyond that. So, I don’t play soccer anymore.

JESSE: [00:14:23] Yeah, I can sympathize with that. The reason I asked about the injury thing is like I stepped away from martial arts because of that, because I was well it first because I was on scholarship in college running and then because I got very serious about triathlon post-college. But it’s combat sport. It’s literally like, let’s fight. And the potential, I don’t know, I can’t recall a time wherever I had a serious injury.

Though the 10-11 years I was doing it was like early childhood to late teens up till college. So, there’s probably some resiliency and youth out there a little bit. But just that potential for injury, and it’s a little disappointing to have to leave behind something that you’re so interested in, because there’s something else that subsumes that or assumes that position of number one. But I guess that’s life, just making, prioritizing, and figuring out, what’s the thing you got to do right now that you can’t come back to.

STEVE: [00:15:33] I find for myself anyway that sort of the transition into a different sport is important. Like I find that — I’ve been running my whole life but I did triathlons, hardcore for 10 years. And then I stopped for 20 years to raise my kids. And I did martial arts for three or four years in the middle there. And then I also just did straight weights for a while, and then got back into running, got back into triathlons.

So, it’s just — all about timing. And it’s hard to stay enthusiastic about one thing for a long period of time. [inaudible 00:16:07] maybe that’s just my nature. But yeah, I find that it’s nice to be able to pursue different things every once in a while. And yeah, you feel bad about giving that up, giving previous things up. But the transition is always exciting.

JESSE: [00:16:21] See, and I wonder if we have this in common. I always felt like, so I did a lot of things, I’ll say as a kid, but as a youth. You know, I was involved in everything under the sun, music, art, athletics, martial arts, running, youth group, Boy Scouts, just pretty much anything I had time for, and did pretty well at the vast majority of it. But I found I was getting older, you know work takes place of a lot of things that takes a lot of time, growing companies takes time.

And it’s like, you have to leave these things by the wayside. And I get maybe a little wistful, I don’t know, about just being a kid not having those responsibilities, and kind of feeling like in some aspects. You know, maybe I was more well rounded at that point in time. But anyway, so I’m just curious if you were like me, if you had a lot of interests as a kid, or whether it was just one thing to the next.

STEVE: [00:17:30] Well, I mean, I had lots of interest. I mean, I was pretty generic growing up. In my high school, I played hockey and soccer, like most Canadian kids, you played soccer in the summer to stay in shape for hockey in the winter. But it wasn’t really until after university that I found my running legs. I mean, I knew I was always a runner, but I didn’t run long distance. I didn’t do anything.

After university, I got into — that’s when I got into triathlons. And then all of a sudden, this sort of light goes on, you realize, wait a second, I can do this. This is pretty good. And I’m getting better, and I’m getting better. And so it just changes. But I mean, I’ve always been interested in different things. And like you said, it’s just a matter of finding time to do it, right.

[00:18:21] I remember I was going back through some old logbooks, and I mean, I was training 20 hours a week, before I was married, right. And even after, my fiance, at the time, was very understanding and was happy to let me do my thing. But then once you have kids, and you’ve got a different job, and you know, that sort of thing. I mean, some people still try to do it. I just couldn’t wrap my brain around it. And at the time I was, I’m trying to think of the timing. At the time, I was just starting a company when we were working 60-70 hours a week. Yeah, like you said it’s just — priorities change, and you fit in what you can.

But yeah, trying different things, you know, like I did CrossFit for a year, a couple years ago, and realized it was turning me into someone that couldn’t run. So, not to pigeonhole all the CrossFit guys but, you know, you start to bulk up too much, you go for a run you realize what’s going on, like my balance is off, my cadence is off, everything just changes. And you know, it’s fun, but it just wasn’t the right thing for me at the time.

JESSE: [00:19:31] Well, in some ways, like strength and like high levels of cardio, high-level running are diametrically opposed. I mean, you can obviously and should in some aspects strength train as a runner, but bulk [inaudible 00:19:48] down like there are — I’m a big proponent of lighter is not always better in running.

And I’ve done a video on that on my running series. I experienced that myself coming from I was like 130 pounds – in high school, and then through kind of my fastest weight in triathlon, where I ran my fastest 5K ever, 163 pounds, which is much heavier, so I’m on 5 10”, is much heavier than the average person would consider to be optimal for my height. Like optimal is supposed to be like, low 150s, high 140s. And it just — I was racing at 155 in college and I mean, doing well. I could have been leaner in college, so maybe I could have been there.

[00:20:41] But it’s just, I think it belies the part about functional fitness. Like people always think there’s these studies that people rely on and say, oh, for every pound, you lose you’re two seconds per mile faster. It’s like, okay, but the study is flawed in that. They’re like, taking a person and giving them weight to hold, like adding a weight vest to them or something like that. It’s like, well, it’s completely non-functional fitness. It’s not a fair comparison.

But anyway, my other thought, talking about trying to fit everything in, I think about, he’s retired now. But, so now-retired former pro triathlete, Jesse Thomas. That man, I don’t know — His wife has to be awesome too. She’s a pro runner. He started the company Picky Bars. And so he’s racing pro triathlon, has a startup venture, and then had like two kids at the same time. I’m like, I don’t know. You know, it’s Ironman distances that he was racing too. So, it’s not even like, Hey, we’re racing Olympic, we can put in 20-25 hours. It seems herculean sometimes to hear about those kinds of like people getting all that done.

STEVE: [00:22:10] Yeah. No, I went through this mental exercise a couple years ago when I was — my specialty was always the Olympic distance triathlons. Like I did a couple of 60K bike/15K run, sort of middle distance ones. But I’d never done a half, never done a full Ironman. And decided to train for the half and realize that during the training, I was like, I want to do a full Ironman, this is easy, I can make this happen. But then you start looking at the distances that you have to bike.

And you know, I knew guys that were doing it. They were spending six hours on a Friday morning doing their long ride. And I’m like, when am I gonna do that? So, I sort of said, well, when I retire, I’ll go into long-distance triathlons. And I’m like, well, I’m not even sure when that’s going to happen. Right? So, I’m not sure if they’re still gonna have a 70 plus age category in Ironman.

JESSE: [00:23:05] Oh. They’ve got 80 plus. You’ve got time yet, if you want to do it. And I know that — The other thing is, I know people will do it off of, you know, when I was doing 70.3, I was training 18 to 20 hours a week. At that peak mileage, more 15 to 18. And I know people that would do the fulls off of that kind of training. I don’t know that I could have. I think I would have been obliterated had I tried to do that. Or it would have been just about finishing. And that’s just not my style. But I know it can be done off of less training.

STEVE: [00:23:45] And I realized, well, as I was doing the half that it’s all about what you’re used to. Right? So, I’ve been doing these Spartan races, right, the long five hours of trekking in the mountains. And you do a couple five-hour races and you realize that you can do whatever — you can do anything, right? You can put your body through anything. So, I look at a half Ironman, I’m like, yeah, okay, I can do that.

But to your point, I don’t want to just finish, I don’t want to be limping across the line at the end. I want to at least feel like I’ve pushed myself a little bit. And so yeah, there’s definitely levels of performance that you’re prepared to deal with. And I’m sure you could go and knock off a full Ironman today, right, if you wanted to, but it’s not gonna be pretty.

JESSE: [00:24:33] No, no, it’s gonna be lots of walking, running at the end. Oh, yeah.

STEVE: Yeah. Yeah. And so no, I mean, it’s all what you’ve got time to time to deal with right?

JESSE: [00:24:42] Yeah. Well, like you said, it’s kind of like the personal expectation, right. You just — do you want to finish — Well, I could probably finish but that’s — I have high expectations for myself. I also know, at least personally I tend to push it at the edge where if I don’t have the proper fitness, I’m either gonna like bonk or blackout or it’s gonna be a bad place for me physically that could potentially be dangerous depending on how far you go. Because I’ve spent so many years working on ignoring that internal regulator that tells you to stop.

STEVE: [00:25:24] Yeah. Well, not exactly. As soon as you start doing long distance, I think you end up with a couple of bricks loose. I mean, you look at — you start doing things you’re like, I shouldn’t be doing this. But I gotta finish so I gotta make sure it [inaudible 00:25:40]. Yeah, no, I agree. You have to be careful about everything at that point. I mean, and I — when I was younger, I literally had a hard time — I left triathlon for a year and tried to get back into it and everybody’s saying, we’ll just do it for fun. Just enjoy yourself. You don’t don’t understand — [crosstalk]

JESSE: [00:26:03] Those are the people on the outside going, Hey, just do it for fun. You’re like, no, you won’t — Like I always say this. I mentioned my niece, who’s of a similar age to me. She’s only a few years younger because my brother is much, much older than me. And she often asked me, well-intentioned, “Hey, are you doing a triathlon this year?”

And I’m like, “I don’t think you understand what it is this thing that I do. It’s all-encompassing.” I use her as an example because it’s just part of my life. But it’s that like, well-intentioned attitude that just doesn’t quite understand what the culture is.

STEVE: [00:26:43] Yeah, like a couple summers ago I think I did 20 races. Of course, I mean, there was a couple of winter ones in there as well. But yeah, running and Spartan and triathlon, they’re just, yeah, you’re trying to figure out where to put all those stupid medals that you get.

JESSE: [00:26:57] I don’t know where I — I think I put them in a box when we moved to this house. I think I put them in a box. And then well, and I mean, this last year, all the races were canceled. The previous year, I did a few. And I think I mean, July, I think it’s July of 19 is the last time I’ve done a race, because everything got canceled this last year that I was signed up for. And so I’ve not had to worry about sticking medals anywhere recently.

STEVE: [00:27:26] Yeah, that’s true. I’m pretty much the same. But yeah, no, it’s just the — not everybody gets that — or these Spartan races, they would run three races on the weekend. You’d go in and do a, you know, you’d race Friday, you’d get up, race Saturday again and get up and race Sunday. And yeah, people are like, well, how did you enjoy the race? I go, well, there was three. But you know, still fun. It’s definitely — until you’ve done it, it’s hard to get other people to understand for sure.

JESSE: [00:28:01] Yeah. Yeah. So, I have to ask you a bit about being a subscribed serial entrepreneur. And I guess the tech and fitness aspect makes sense, given your personality and interests. So, tell me a little bit about I guess, the journey how do you end up being dumb like me and going down an entrepreneurial road? And as you mentioned earlier, working 60-70 hour weeks as you’re starting things up?

STEVE: [00:28:31] Yeah. I mean, it — I don’t know that there’s never a conscious decision. I mean, part of it, I think, for me anyway, is that my dad started a company when he was — when I was in grade seven. So, I don’t know how old that is; 12, 13. So, I grew up around that environment. I mean, he seemed to be perpetually starting a company. It was always the same one. I mean he’s running the same company now. My brother runs it.

My dad’s retired, but, so I was always around that entrepreneurship and always around that sort of self-employment thing. And yeah, it just kind of, to be honest, the first one just kind of fell in my lap. I was consulting. I ended up with too much work. I brought a partner in. We ended up with too much work. We ended up — there were six of us after a while and you know, we were doing a good business.

[00:29:27] This was right sort of before the .com bubble of 2000 was just starting. And after that, we both ended up going our own way after about five years of running our own company. He jumped on to a .com, I jumped onto You know, but the desire never goes away, right. So, after that flamed out like most of the — 90% of the tech did. I was probably in a series of startups, some of them were mine. And some of them were other companies that I just — friends were starting them or colleagues.

And I jumped in to help out. But the urge just never goes away, right? You always are looking, if you’ve got that mindset, you’re always saying, well, not so much, I can do it better. But there’s an opportunity here for me to build something. And I’ve always considered myself a builder, whether it’s my own company or somebody else’s. And I’ve been hired more than once to come in and build a team and build the product.

[00:30:41] So, I found a lot of the conversations I was having with people where we want to build something, we want it to be this big, and we want it to be blue. How much is it going to cost? And how are you going to do — how do we do that? And okay, I’ll build that for you. And so I would end up partnered up with a lot of non-technical people and just building that thing for them. Which invariably leads you down the path of, I can do this better than they can.

But yeah, it’s been sort of a, whether I’m doing my own thing, or whether I’m doing working inside another company, I have more often than not been building something from scratch. So, I mean, even this latest job with Canopy, I was brought in as sort of the fourth person into the team, to basically build the software side of, we’re doing consumer electronics, you need software, you need apps, you need websites, you need everything. I was brought in to build that team from scratch.

[00:31:45] And so and that’s where we are now. I mean, I’ve taken over the whole team. So, I have mechanical engineers, electrical engineer, software guys working for me. But you know, it’s basically a team that myself, and a couple of other guys built. And so we’re — it’s like a startup inside a bigger company, which is the best place to be because there’s money.

JESSE: Right, you’ve got all the funding.

STEVE: Yeah, you’re a lot less worried about trying to find that next — your next paycheck or your next — forget about your own paycheck, find the paycheck for the people that are working for you.

JESSE: [00:32:16] Right, right. You know, so, last week, I spoke to another startup guy, Alex French, who he actually is kind of where I am now. And then went more your direction, took VC, venture capital, and then has pushed this company forward. I kind of live in lifestyle land, where it’s me, you obviously spoke with my assistant, Ira who does a lot of things for me. And I have another lady I work with who does my video editing. But I mean, it’s just the three of us.

So, I’m the only full-time person running both of my companies. And so anytime I’m speaking of people like you, or Alex, who are in this place of — well, I’ll call it a more corporate environment, and that you have the ability to build a team and get people and roll faster. It just, it’s fascinating to me, because I have no idea what that’s like. I’ve never worked in a corporate environment. And I wonder, am I missing out on something? Should I be doing something else? And so I guess, through the various kinds of setups and teams you’ve seen over the years, is there a preferential way you like working?

STEVE: [00:33:43] That’s a good point. A good question. In general, I prefer smaller teams, I prefer the non — the company I’m at now, I think we’ve got 3,000 people, 3,000 employees. We’ve got 10 different locations. I mean, the headquarters is here, there’s probably 1,000 people in Ottawa that are working for the company. You know, you could ask anybody that knows me, I don’t do big corporate well. I mean, honestly, I’m too outspoken. I don’t have a filter.

And that doesn’t go over well, all the time. But it’s definitely nicer from a support and financing perspective, you’re not scrambling, you’re not worried, you’re not trying to explain to the guys why you can’t make payroll. But I am definitely more comfortable in that small scale startup type environment.

[00:34:42] But finances are always an issue. And so what I found is that companies go through this assuming it’s a funded company. You get all your money in and everybody’s excited. You build your product and you get to a point where you have to start selling it. And then it becomes real. And all of a sudden, you’re running out of money and you gotta sell stuff. And then everybody gets cranky, and it’s not so much fun anymore. And you got to do real stuff.

And not everybody can cope with that change that sort of transition from building to selling. And I’m not saying I know how to do it better than anybody else. But there’s an appeal to both sides. But being in charge of a team and having a very tight-knit team, that’s all going in the same direction, that’s where I like to be, right.

And whether it’s a — I’ve got 35 guys now. That’s probably one of the biggest groups I’ve run. You know, a 10 person team is just as much fun, especially if they’re all going in the same direction and working on exciting things. And then at the end of the day, the 70 hours a week doesn’t matter anymore.

You don’t even notice it. But yeah, it’s definitely that sort of fast-moving, exciting environment that that appeals to me. It’s that upfront investigation that the unknowns is, how do we solve this problem? Okay. You’re going along, now you got a roadblock, how do we get by that? Okay. We fix that. What’s the next thing? And that’s yeah, I’m a builder, if you will. Yeah.

JESSE: [00:36:29] Right. I mean, that’s the engineer at heart, right, where it’s like you know things.

STEVE: Yeah, exactly. And it’s frustrating. I don’t know if it’s — I assume it’s the same for most engineers, right. I can manage. I mean, I’ve done software, pretty much my whole career. I’ve dabbled in hardware, like electronics. I couldn’t lay out a board to save my life. So, but then I get into mechanical engineering and 3D design and stuff like that. And it’s frustrating that I don’t know how to do it. Like, I want to be able to do everything myself, but you can’t.

You have to rely on people to — and I mean, to be honest, I don’t do anything anymore. I just tell people what to do. I don’t actually get to build anything. My last job, my lead developer locked me out of our code repository, because I kept going in on the weekends and changing things. And he got frustrated, because he, you know. I said, “Look, I’m the CTO, I’m allowed to do whatever I want.” He goes, “Stop fixing stuff that’s already already working, because you’re just breaking it.”

JESSE: [00:37:22] Well, thinking about and this is just a personal curiosity. Thinking about like a very large company versus a small, nimble team. And you’re talking about being outspoken, which maybe that’s why I’ve assumed corporate life. I don’t like being told what to do. Although, the caveat there is I don’t like being told what to do by people I don’t respect.

So, that’s the thing, right. But I think about if I’m trying to organize 3,000 people, like you’ve got to have systems and procedures in place. And like, everything has to be dictated, otherwise you like, you’re not going to get this mass moving in the same direction. Right? So, I wonder how much of maybe both of our distaste for that setup is simply a necessity of having a company that size?

STEVE: [00:38:31] I mean, you’re right. I mean, it has to be — there has to be all that infrastructure in place for it to work. You can ignore a lot of things when you’re a small company. But as soon as you get to be — as soon as you have customers, let’s put it that way. As soon as you have customers, you pretty much have to start putting that infrastructure in place.

And I think that there’s a lot of traditional companies that are not doing it the most efficient way, but they’re still coping. There’s a lot of companies that do it really well. I don’t know that there’s any one model for those things that make it successful. But yeah, I mean, there’s definitely a lot of processes in place, and it has to be there.

But I mean, we run into that every day at my current job is that you’re trying to go fast, and you get frustrated because somebody in quality, or somebody in regulatory has said, well, you’re not allowed to do that. Well, okay. But no, this is the way it has to work. You know, we’ve already gone through this. This is the way it has to work. So, yeah, I mean, I definitely — I understand that the necessity of it, doesn’t mean I like it, but I understand the necessity of it.

JESSE: [00:39:53] So, is that, you know, before we got going, we were talking a little bit about public speaking and just having — you know what the podcast is. And you were talking about kind of the best speeches you’ve given you didn’t really prepare for. And I will actually be countering your own argument by saying you just didn’t write down what you’re gonna say. You’re prepared to give them by your experience and time.

But you didn’t necessarily say this is exactly what I’m going to say in such and such order. Is it that kind of, I’ll say, almost looking for serendipity in a way where like, things just come together in the moment? Is it that idea that you enjoy about the small, nimble teams of just being able to kind of freestyle, so to speak, to get things done versus having to go through all the bureaucracy?

STEVE: [00:40:50] Well, yeah, I mean, that part of it is, is the ability to get things done. Part of it is just the ability to be in the conversation, right? So, in a small company I remember telling — I interviewed at one company, and at one point, the CEO, and I mean, the company was 50 people. The CEO came into the interview or might have been after I got hired, but he said why do you want to work here? Why a small company as opposed to a big company?

And I said, at the end of the day, if I can’t go into the CEOs office and tell them what I’m thinking and have a logical conversation with him, and participate in, at least in some way, in that, how does the company run, you know, it’s frustrating, right? If you’ve got five layers between you and the person that’s making the decisions, you feel helpless.

[00:41:38] And after being in small companies where you have that access, it’s hard to go the other way. And it’s hard to sit back and say, “Well, I don’t have the ability to have a conversation with our CEO. I don’t have the ability to have a conversation with my VP. I’m stuck here talking to the people around me, which is fine, but I want to have — I want to be involved with everything. And you lose out on that in the bigger companies. And I think that’s probably something that I’ve always been looking for is just the ability to have an impact on whatever.

And part of that’s personality, I’m not satisfied with just sitting back and doing the technical aspect. I want to interact with marketing and I want to interact with customer support and the sales guys and understand how they’re selling product, how are we marketing product? Right? So, it’s that diversity of items are things you can get involved with, it’s fun in the small company.

JESSE: [00:42:39] You saying that kind of reminds me of one of the blog posts you wrote about. And I’m gonna misquote you, so please correct me as I stumble through this, thinking about like, kind of R&D and in-house development versus like executives wanting to bring outside individuals in to solve a problem. So, I think about this too, and it really shouldn’t be a concern of mine, given that I’m essentially a one-man team.

But I think about structure and I like systems and systems building and all that kind of stuff. And I wonder, how do you keep — can you keep that spirit of entrepreneurship and like nimble R&D in a large environment, where, by necessity, you have to push people through this thousand-cog machine to keep everybody moving? Is it possible to do both?

STEVE: [00:43:42] It is, but there has to be very much an upper management buy-in if. You know, and I’m not going to — I’m going to try to avoid criticizing my current company. We do have a — we are still a young company. We’ve happened to grow very big very quickly. But there is still a sensor, an environment of let’s get things done quickly. Which is good, right? So, they want to get product to market, they want to get product to market in good time.

The size of the company is less relevant to that. I mean, bigger companies tend to put processes in place that slow everything down. But the bonus of that is that it makes them robust and reliable and long-lived, right? You get a lot of startups that will crank out something really great and really quickly, and then they — the customers, they find a problem in the field and the customers don’t like something and they just flame out. Right? Because they have no ability to cope with the problems that come up downstream.

[00:44:53] So, you need to have the stability of the company to support that, while still trying to, you know, be nimble within it, but it’s definitely a top-down, that has to be driven from the top-down, because you can very quickly stagnate on an idea or on a — a whole company get stagnant very quickly.

I think the blog post you’re referring to is more about, I don’t remember the exact word, but destructive innovation, if you will, which is you know, and it is a problem, it’s not easily solvable, right? I mean, the best description I ever heard of it is if you could ever come up with a successful product, that customers want, sell the idea and start another one. Because that’s the best you’re ever going to be is that you’ve got the idea, and people want it. So, it’s only downhill from there.

[00:45:45] But it’s a way of continually encouraging your team to do the next thing because companies, and rightly so. They become addicted to revenue. They become addicted to that dollar and they’re afraid to go off that path. They’re afraid to deviate from where the customers want — They’ve got 99 features, they want 100. Okay. Let’s work on that one feature. But you don’t realize there’s somebody in another company that’s working to get — to take away your customers because they’re developing something better.

You should be developing that something better, and be prepared to give it to your own customers. But that’s a very, very rare thing in the industry is to want to cannibalize your own product. Right? You want to make sure your customers give you that renewal or that next dollar that they’ve got. Which is why you tend to see innovation coming from outside the big companies because they just can’t get away from that addiction to their existing customer base.

[00:46:51] And so it’s a hard thing. And that’s why you see a cycle. And even though you say, well, Twitter’s never going to disappear, or my Facebook’s never going to disappear. But I mean, people remember MySpace, and it was the big — I mean, it was never going to disappear. And then it did. You’re seeing right now, I mean, Twitter is a perfect example of this. And I mean, it’s incredibly politically charged. But you’re seeing people bail from Twitter now.

Because they tried to get they tried to get too involved with what’s on their platform. I mean, they were being asked to. I mean, everybody’s saying, you got to get rid of the Nazism, you got to get rid of the anti-semitism, the right thing to do, they might have locked it down a little bit too hard. And now you get all these people fleeing to Parlor. Parlor?

JESSE: Yeah.

STEVE: And Gab, and all these other platforms, Rumble because they feel like they’re getting locked down. And does that mean, it’s the end of Twitter? I don’t know. Right. But you can see how it, it doesn’t take a lot for that new person to come in. And now it’s — everybody just goes there. Right? Especially when there’s no real baggage. I mean, if you’ve got — if I bought a — I’m not gonna go and buy a new laptop, I use a Mac.

You know, I may or may not switch back to Windows, but that’s a big deal to switch that. But to move from one social media platform to the next is not that big a deal. So, there’s always gonna be somebody else that comes in and eat your lunch and a little bit better, easier to do that without a big company.

JESSE: [00:48:28] Yeah. As I think about it’s like, it’s tough to say, well, it’s like my product’s already working. It’s already selling. People already like it. Yeah. Why would I make it different? Because I think it’s the difference between if you’re competing with the already established player, you’ve got nothing to lose, you don’t have anything established yet. So, if you try something and it doesn’t work, well, you’re no worse off than you were before. You had nothing. You still have nothing.
Versus I have something, if I change it, I could screw it up and there could be backlash.

[00:49:05] It reminds me of Kraft mac and cheese. So, I’m glad you said something about eating people’s lunch. I don’t know if you know about this, but I read about this story where you know, Kraft mac and cheese is just cheap box mac and cheese that, you know everybody under the sun, at least that I know has had. Powdered cheese is like its own flavor.

It’s not really like cheese. It turns everything orange. And Kraft innovated on their product, made the product out of, I don’t if it was plant-based or natural but something along those lines. They improved the ingredients. They changed how they were making it and they didn’t tell a soul until they’ve been selling it for several months.

[00:49:57] And then they’re like, oh surprise you what you’ve been eating is actually our new product and it tastes exactly the same so that they avoided that initial backlash of “Oh, no, you’re changing my favorite thing.” And they snuck it in there. I thought that was a very clever of them to both innovate, and then get around that backlash. Even though you can — I experienced this even on a microcosm. Like I brought a product out and it ended up being I’ll say defective for lack of a better term.

I recalled everything. I reworked the formula, brought it back out. And then people are like, “Oh, this product’s different.” And I’m like, “No, that product is literally unchanged. Like, there’s zero difference.” But there was this perception of I know, it’s different, so you’re like hyper-sensitive about oh, there’s got to be something. So, anyway, I thought it was really clever on Kraft’s part to do it that way.

STEVE: [00:51:00] Oh, for sure. Well, and I’m sure a lot of people have taken runs at Kraft Dinner successfully, which is a testament to their marketing and their longevity. But yeah, yeah, for sure. You don’t always want to tell everybody. Don’t always announce what you’re changing right off the bat.

JESSE: [00:51:17] Right. Right, just let it come out and then — I guess that’s a nice part of that strategy, too, is like, they could have brought it out. And then if they had a lot of people initially saying, something’s different, something’s not right, I don’t like it. Then they know, it’s honest feedback because they didn’t tell anybody that it’s different. It’s an actual perceived change.

So, I keep that one in my back pocket, thinking about the future. And I’m like, if I change something, just don’t tell anybody and just see what happens and go from there. So, Steve, as we’re kind of wrapping down on time, I have a habit at the end of episodes, every season, I have an overarching question I asked every single guest. So, you get to be the second person to answer this question this year. I’m asking everybody this year, how do you stay motivated after failing to reach a goal?

STEVE: [00:52:22] That’s a good question. I mean, I guess it depends on how you define failure. I mean, for me, it really comes down to the challenge. You know, I don’t ever see something as a failure as much as it’s — it sounds cliche, it’s a learning experience, right. You’ve tried to go somewhere, you tried to do something, you didn’t get there. And well, by God, I’m going to do it better the next time.

I’m going to, yeah, I’m just going to do it the next time. Right? And, yeah, for me, it’s never really — that thought process doesn’t really happen. It’s more you know, I got part way there. I got to where I wanted to be, but there’s always room for improvement. And yeah, it’s really just about setting goals and setting goals logically.

[00:53:24] I mean, I remember back in the day, when I first started doing triathlons, I was plodding along. I finished them I was doing okay. But then you start seeing that improvement, year after year. And you realize that you’ve got so much — and you can see obviously, where the guy that’s winning, or the woman that’s winning the race is going and you start doing the math, you start trying to figure out how am I going to get there? How do I trim seconds off here and there?

But you don’t go out and you don’t set out to do an Olympic distance triathlon in two hours in your first year. Right? Unless you’re already an Olympic class runner or Olympic class biker, then you’re not going to get there. But you just sort of incrementally improve as you go along. Right?

[00:54:16] You know, I didn’t try to do a Spartan ultra my first year. I would have failed miserably. But the third year along, I set out and did the 52K and hurt like hell, but at the time, it was achievable. And I knew that it was achievable. And I guess I could have missed the cutoff. You know, I was lucky I didn’t. But yeah, it’s just about setting appropriate goals in my mind anyway.

And, for me, my brothers and my sister are very competitive. We’re a competitive family. So, it’s — I grew up with the drive to be competitive. And, yeah, it’s very hard to define something as a failure in my mind. It’s always just I got part way there and I’ll get there the next time.

JESSE: [00:55:09] That’s a good answer. Steve, if people want to see your blog posts, your rants, keep up with you, any of that kind of stuff; where can they find you?

STEVE: [00:55:22] LinkedIn is probably the easiest or, you know, my website where my blog is, Dan Largo, D-A-N It’s not the most active these days, but that’s where all of my — that’s where I am. That’s where all of my blog posts and my resume, everything else is there.

JESSE: [00:55:40] Sounds good. Thanks for hanging out with me today, Steve.

STEVE: [00:55:42] Oh, this is great. I really appreciate you asking me to come on.

JESSE: [00:55:47] Absolutely. Take care.

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