Jason Friedman started Creative Realities and sold it in 2008 for mid 8-figures. Over the years he has started 4 other businesses. Today, he mostly helps fast fast-growing, entrepreneurial companies gain an unfair advantage over their competition through the art and science of designing their “customer experience journey” – a step by step process for delighting customers in a way that turns them into raving fans for life. Jason has worked with Fortune 100′ to solopreneurs in diverse industries, so I really believe you’ll enjoy this conversation.
Jason Friedman on Selling a Company For 8-figures. Now What?
I have secured for you an interview with a gentleman who has created and sold an eight-figure company that he founded back in 1997. Here’s the best part. Not only did he build an incredibly successful company and sell it, but he took a journey through his soul after he sold that company, and dove deep into exploring who he was and emerged once again as a company founder. I’d like to introduce Mr. Jason Friedman. Jason, welcome to the show.
Thanks, Mitch. Super excited to be on the show with you.
We have so many connections between us. It’s incredible to finally get you on the show. We got a lot in common, right?
Yeah, it’s crazy. I love it. You get in a room with a couple of entrepreneurs and it’s always fun.
That’s why I love masterminds so much, which you find yourself doing. When you go to a mastermind, I generally end up attracting some of the newer folks in the group. We sit around and we just dive deep into their stuff and I love that. Let’s dive deep into your stuff. What I like to do on the show is that I like to start out by going back and exploring who you were and what it was about for you when you started your business back in 1997. Where were you in life? What were you doing? What motivated you to start that company?
I actually started out as a rock and roll roadie, then a theater roadie. I used to be a lighting designer and a lighting technician by trade. I’ll go to these rock and roll concerts, see all those colored lights flashing on and off and the robotic lights moving around, that was what I did for the first few years of my career. I went to school for that and studied that. I love the world of entertainment and theater. When I started doing that as a job and I became one of the mechanics of it, I was less interested in it. What I was excited about was the whole ‘get a show up and running,’ figure it out, design it. Figure out what all the cool parts are going to be. How do you tell that story? How do you make the audience have this amazing reaction? What are the pieces parts to that? That for me was super exciting. Once I got into doing it, over and over, once we got the system for each show figured out, I would move on to the next one. That was where I was. I got a phone call from a designer that I have worked with previously who said, “I got this project. We’re going to work with a casino.” They want to create this really cool experience in their casino. They want to make it themed and fun and these all sorts of theatrical stuff and have the whole thing tell a story. Like a theme park would be but they want to do that in this casino. I was invited to go do that. It was really digging deep into who the customers were and what the idea was and what the story was and how did you manifest that story. It was my first jump away from the world of theater.
Then I got brought into a retail project right after that. It was for Foot Locker. They were getting hammered by the internet. The internet had just become a really viable online selling force at that time. This was in 1996, 1997. They were finding that sales were going down and that people would come in their store, look around and then leave and go buy something online, find it for less money. They brought me and a couple of people in to work as a team and figure out how do we create a better experience in the store? How do we engage more people and get them to actually make buying decisions while they’re in this physical store? We started out in your neck of the woods; it was in the Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Massachusetts. That was our first one. What we did was we really analyzed the customers that were shopping in the store. We looked at all the different moments that these customers would spend in the store. How did they come in the store? Where did they navigate? What did they do? What did they look at? How did they engage? How did the staff interact with them? We went back, and we redesigned and actually choreographed the entire way the customers would flow through the store. We added in elements that were lights and video and multi-media and audio. We trained the staff to interact with people differently. Going through that process, when we rolled it out for the first store, we had over a 400% increase in same store sales.
That was a good indicator that you were on the right path.
It was because we were being intentional about it. I think a lot of times people are looking for good design for design’s sake. We were looking at how do you create a lot of engagement in putting ourselves in the shoes of the customer by really getting into their shoes and getting into their head and putting on their glasses and seeing what was happening. It’s usually successful. We went to a couple other pilot locations, had the same results and then we ended up rolling it out to over hundreds of thousand locations. It was crazy. My business literally was born overnight from that. I ended up starting at me as one person and then I had 25 employees. The next thing I knew million dollars in revenue grew from there.
Let’s dig a little deeper into that because it sounds a little bit too charmed to me and I bet it wasn’t quite that way. The part that I think most people see very successful people and think somehow they won the biological lottery and the karma lottery. All of a sudden their life is blessed with nothing but goodness and happiness and good luck. I have a feeling though that it wasn’t quite that way with you or with most people. Let’s go back to that moment in time again when you really started, like that casino show. How did that come about? You said somebody came to you. Why did they come to you and why not somebody else?
I think it comes down to some of my core beliefs and some of my personality traits. One of the things that I learned from my grandfather as a mentor, and I hope that I’m instilling at my children as well, is I’m very engaged when I’m doing something with somebody especially for other people. My grandfather was always very focused when he was with us. He wasn’t thinking about other things. He wasn’t working on other things. He was present. When I worked with a lot of these people back in those days, they used to tell me like, “You’re so here.” I was so engaged and involved, and I really understood what was going on. I immersed myself into their world. I think that’s what I also did with those clients with in Foot Locker scenario. I put myself in their shoes. I really got into character. I think that comes from my theater background as well, like really understanding if you can be a great actor. I was an actor but I took acting classes. If you’re going to really be great, you’ve got to figure out how do you get inside that character. What would they do? How do they act? For me, it was understanding the needs of those people. When I work with the designer that had brought me into that project for the casino previously like I was able to, I understood him. I asked good questions. I knew what he needed from me and I always anticipated his needs. I was always available there. I was reliable for him. He could trust me and I was loyal. I think that was really important in that evolution. That’s how it kept going. Even when we went into that team with Foot Locker, there was a few of us that were brought in originally. I ended up getting the contract personally and moving it forward because of the loyalty and how much investment I made into the relationship, and how I was really focused on helping them succeed.
We also have that part of our history as a connection as well. In high school, I built a rock band business. I was lead guitar player of a rock band and we were too busy getting stoned to actually listen to how bad we were when we were playing. Until finally one day I turned on the tape recorder and I played it back later when we had all came down a bit. We sucked and I said, “If we’re ever going to play outside of this basement, we’re going to have to learn the music.” That meant we’re going to have to get down to work. That meant we are not going to get high anymore while we’re practicing. I ended up creating what I would call the seven disciplines of how to be successful in a rock band, which later basically trained me to be the CEO of my company many years later. I think from a music perspective, we have that in common. From a focused perspective, I get the same comments not with the words that you used, but people understand that that passion is what the primary component of success can be particularly if it’s contagious. If you have the ability to not just be passionate but to get other people passionate too, that’s better than a PhD.
I try to do things that I have a passion for, that I have interest in uniquely so it’s not a fight. I’m not fighting my desire or interest to be elsewhere; identifying the right friends, the right family members that you spend your time with, the right businesses that attract the clients. You need right fit clients because then it adds to your world. It doesn’t deplete you of your energy. You want to do more for them. You want to help them more. I think it’s very important.
They used to say that the test between an introvert and extrovert is whether you feel energized in a crowd of people or exhausted after being in a crowd of people. I never thought about that. I’ve always felt energized by being with people. I bet you have too.
I would say that I’m an introvert but I think that what you just said is true. When I’m in the crowd of the right people, people don’t believe that I’m an introvert. When I’m in a crowd of the wrong people, they don’t even know who I am because I’m hiding in a corner and I’m exhausted. I think that’s probably true.
We got to the point now where you had Foot Locker basically launch your company. It sounds like for almost the next ten years, eleven years, you built this incredible business and then you ended up selling it. Tell us a little bit about the growing pains. What did you learn from being a one-person operator to going to from 5 to 10 to 25 and more people?
It wasn’t all roses. We got this great client, we grew and the rest is history. That was not true. The first disaster that struck was after we finished the Foot Locker project. I had 25 people but I was still chief cook and bottle washer. I didn’t have a management team. I had some project managers and great people around me but I didn’t have a structure in place. I wasn’t solving all the problems. We finish this up. We grew all these amazing people. We had trained them, we had great culture but we had no sales. All the sudden, I had this scary wakeup call when I realized that we had no more revenue coming in but we had a real big payroll, and nobody was focusing on the next clients. We had one client who was all of our revenue essentially. We may have had a couple other little clients but we weren’t focusing on that. We were just executing like crazy for them.
I started going out and became a sales person very quickly. I had a lot of hard times doing it. First of all, I thought that sales were a four-letter word. My perception of what sales was stopping me from being affective in some ways. I was also doing what I thought I should do. I saw other people do presentations and things and I thought that was how it was done. What I wasn’t doing was being authentic to who we were and what we did. I wasn’t really able to articulate the value that we could create. I was focusing on features not benefits a lot. What I learned very quickly was how to how to sell our company. After striking out for months and stressing, I took every bit of money that I made and I kept the team together because I was committed to them. I thought it was my fault for not dealing with it. It was my fault. I hadn’t focused on it and I didn’t even know I needed to. I was 24, 25 years old. I just hadn’t had a lot of experience.
We started teaching people that we could help them create a better experience in their stores. We could create more engaged customers. We could create a relationship where we started to have some heart share and mind share of their customers if we did things intentionally. We’re telling them all this but we weren’t doing it ourselves. There’s this lack of congruence in our message. We weren’t walking the walk. My sales presentation wasn’t creating experience. The way I was interacting with them wasn’t doing what I said we could do. There was this good friend of mine who said to me one day, “You don’t walk the walk. You do with your clients, but you don’t do yourself. You need to do what you’re saying. You need to be who you’re helping other people be because you are that person but you’re not. You’re trying to fit yourself into a mold of somebody else and that’s not why people want to hire you. I was like, “No, you’re wrong. You don’t know what you’re talking about,” and he was 100% right. I was 100% wrong.
What we started to do was really do the same thing. We got into the shoes of our clients and said, “What do they need? What do they want?” At that point, I think that’s when I understood the difference between what does a client want and what does a client need. You can’t sell them what they need. You can only sell them what they want. We got really good at understanding the difference. We got really good at authentically portraying who we were and how we could help them and showing them in a mellow way. We would create experiences for them so that they could see, feel, taste, touch what we’re talking about. They wanted more of that. They wanted to be connected to that. They wanted that for their clients. By doing that and really stepping into our big kids’ clothes and feeling comfortable and understanding who we were and being able to unabatedly be ourselves, we had a huge inflection point. That’s when everything transformed.
I wanted to take a small piece of what you just said and repeat it because it’s so freaking critical. You said, “You can’t sell them what they need. You have to sell them what they want.” How long does it take for me to beat that into my head growing up? There it is right in front of you and you almost brought that your company to the brink of failure until you really realized that you simply needed to be who you were and show people that you could deliver what they want. I love that.
It was a hard lesson but a really good one, a very valuable lesson. In our business today, it’s a lot of what we do helping people understand. This whole what-need thing sounds really simple. When I have clients and we do these workshops and sessions, I have them and we really look at their personas, the avatar persona, the representative example of who their best clients are. Most of my clients that come in here who are doing well are focusing on need, not on want. When we get them to understand that and they shift that, their businesses blow up but they do so much better. It’s nuance. It’s not even massive shifts in the business that you have to do because you’re still going to give them what they need but you’re going to sell them what they want. It’s not a bait and switch. It’s a copy problem. It’s a positioning problem. It’s truly understanding them and meeting them where they are issue. Once you’re able to do that, things really shift. That’s really profound.
What I’m hearing is another way of saying you enter the conversation going on inside of their head while they’re having it.
I love that and I use that with people all the time. I think there’s a next level of that. I think that’s being able to articulate what they’re feeling better than they could possibly put into words themselves. They’re feeling something and they can’t put their finger on it. Your customer can’t quite explain what that is that’s happening and when you can start to put words and images and stuff to what their feelings are, it’s like this unbelievable result comes from it. To me, it’s that next level from that first part. The conversation that sorting their mind is critical. You have to do that. The best copywriters that teach in the world, the best marketers in the world know that and they do that, and that’s why they have great success. There’s this Ninja move beyond that where it’s understanding your customer so well better than they can understand themselves and being able to give them clarity around that and help them. That’s what breeds unbelievable loyalty. That’s what makes you have customers for life. That’s what we strive to help our customers do all the time.
Being able to articulate what they are feeling and explain it better than they can, that’s magic.
That’s why when I work with clients and they are able to get to that place, the success is almost immediate. It’s just amazing.
Let’s do a little bit of a challenge because we have people who are in all stages of business. Imagine if a person said, “How can I articulate what my clients are feeling this very moment? How do I do that? What is the formula?” What would you think it is? Is it completely intuitive or is there a process to get there, Jason?
There’s a deep process to get to get all the way there. There’s a quick trick that I use and I teach that I stole from an eighteenth, nineteenth century theater person that gets you there fast. There’s a gentleman by the name of Konstantin Stanislavski who was a famous theater director and actor in the early 1900’s. He was from Russia. He was going to theater. He was directing shows and such. He was frustrated that actors when they get on stage, they couldn’t authentically portray the character. As an audience member you wouldn’t believe what you were see. It was insane, it was ridiculous. It was like comedy but it wasn’t supposed to be comedy. He was frustrated by this so he created this method that he called The Stanislavski System. What he does is he has you really get into the customer’s mind, heart, body, the whole nine yards, and really embody that. I give people a little exercise. Imagine that you are asked to be in a show on stage, it’s a live theater production, and you’re going to be playing a terminally ill patient. This person has maybe a week, maybe two weeks, maybe a month to live, they don’t know. They’re on stage, they’re lying in a hospital bed and you have to be that person. Most people, unless you have real experience with someone super close to you, you don’t understand how to really portray that person. You don’t know what are they really thinking? What are they feeling? What would their mannerisms be? Where’s the pain? What’s it like? What are all the things that they’re worried about leaving? Are they thinking about saying goodbye to people? Are they at peace? All the things that come into that.
When you go through this process, you have to put yourself in their shoes and you ask yourself; he calls it the magic if question, “If I was this person in this role, what would I be thinking? What would I be feeling? How would I be moving?” You really look at it and there’s dozens of questions that you can go really deep on. When you put yourself in that role as if you want to play that character on stage, all sorts of light bulbs go off about what’s going on. If you think about your customers, if you really started to understand them on this level, you start realizing that it’s not all about you all the time as a business. They have a million problems going on. When they come to your website for example, what are they doing? How did they get there? What else is going on in their life? If they’re coming to a workshop or they’re coming to a mastermind meeting or whatever, there are a lot of things going on. When we start to think about our customers as if we are playing them as a character, we start to understand their world differently.
That’s exactly how I was able to do the project with Foot Locker. That’s exactly how I was able to help all the businesses, Fortune 100s, the small businesses that I’ve helped over the years. I start at that point and say, “Who are those people?” Let’s go deep, let’s understand them so that we could become them. Some of the most famous actors in the world like Matthew McConaughey, Jack Nicholson, they use exactly this process. They’re the best actors in the world. They do the exact same process so that they can become believable for that. You can understand it from a different perspective. I would challenge everyone to just take a few minutes and try and do that. Just a fun exercise if you have a team is to role play a little bit. I used to do this all time. I would have a team of sales people in my business and we would talk about objection handling and the types of things that we needed to do in a sales situation. All the time they were giving these general responses and then they would go out to a sales meeting and they’d get pummeled and they wouldn’t be able to handle it.
We started to brainstorm and role play and we would put two of our sales people together. One would be the client. We’d give him a little index card that had some of the details about the business and whatever. Then the other one was a salesperson. We would let them role play. It was amazing how much clarity they got because they knew the customer. When they got inside their head and they started playing the customer, our sales people got so much better. Our business again grew tremendously because we started to really go deeper into where our customers were coming from. When we enter their office or wherever we were doing a presentation, we were so much more clear and connected and we were able to really connect with them and meet them in a place where they felt safe, they felt comfortable, they felt understood. What we said to teach this now is it’s more important to be interested in your customers than it is to be interesting to your customers. By going through this process it just makes that happen. It enables it almost instantly.
It’s a fundamental element of being an actor. Your background led you to this very naturally whereas a lot of people struggle with this. I’ll tell you where I got a hint of this. Believe it or not it was at trade shows. I found that when I started going to trade shows I showed up at a very fancy trade show with two folding tables and a painted sheet because that’s all I could afford. We had a big 25-inch tube television set that weighed about 75 pounds and a cheap Dell laptop. That is how I showed up to my very first trade show from my original company. We sold some product at the show but it wasn’t until I understood what people were trying to accomplish in their business and in particular lawyers that we really got good at the trade show game. In fact, we abandoned selling at the trade show, instead decided that we were going to hold open classes for our products as if everybody already owned them. Our trade show space had to increase from 10x10 to eventually 40x40 to accommodate these “classrooms” at which at the end of each class people would line up with their credit cards to buy our product. It was only because we were able to understand what they were trying to do and we showed them that we could do it. We showed people we set up the equivalent of an administrator in a law office having to struggle with the tasks of what that administrator had to do. Once we showed them how our software intervened and made everything go so smoothly and so quickly, that was it, that was selling and we never tried to sell the thing.
You build a lot of goodwill because you’re giving them value without an expectation of anything. There’s a reciprocity thing that happens there as well where they want to give back and they’re engaged and they feel good about that. Where you’re in a sea of however many hundred other people are there that you try to sell and you’ll yell louder and shove something down their throat and give them a flyer. It’s a very different approach, and I love that. That’s beautiful.
We discovered this completely by accident. I can’t say that I’m some kind of a mastermind and figured it out. It was after one trade show where I think we only sold five or six copies of the software but yet I had a dozen people coming over and asking for tech support. I said, “Screw it, let’s just teach people right on the spot and save our tech support people a couple of phone calls.”
That’s listening to what they want and that’s beautiful. I don’t think any of us necessarily start out with a perfect strategy. I teach people, “Do things by design, not by default.” Because no matter what your customer is going to have an experience, why not try and design something that would be a positive one because they’re having one anyway. Something’s happening. To me, you step back and if you understand the customers and you start to think through, “What is the journey they’re going on? Where are they at? How do I meet them there? What do I do to remove points of pain? How do I end integrate into and add in points of pleasure?” Then you put that out there, it’s a hypothesis. Then you test it and then you see it. You’re going to be right on a lot and you’re going to be wrong on a few. Then you’re going to tweak those because you’re going to listen. You’re going to get their feedback. If you treat them right, they’re going to want to give it to you as a friend that wants another relationship, that wants to help you improve versus as an enemy that wants to complain and is frustrated, and wants to hurt you and get even. There’s a pretty massive difference.
I build certification programs for my clients. One of the claims that I make at the beginning of an engagement with every one of my new clients is say, “When we’re done we’re going to be creating a group of people who will love you, respect you and admire you, and value you even more than your best employees do today.” The reason is simply because we are going to make those people successful. Those certified consultants are going to feel as if they are fully and completely taken care of. We are there to nurture them and help them build their business. It’s not because we’re some altruistic group. It’s because we know if we do that, in return they will do everything to support us. It’s the same idea as what you were saying before. We do remove those points of pain and do insert those points of pleasure because we know particularly when we build a group of certified consultants that the thing they have the hardest job doing is selling.
They want more clients and they want a strategy for doing that, and you’re giving them what they want. They’re going to defend that fearlessly. They’re going to go to the mattresses because they know that you’ve enabled that, and they’re so grateful. It’s the gratitude that really is such a sticky thing. Also it’s like an insurance policy. People become so much more forgiving when you do that. There’s no such thing as the perfect experience like something’s going to go wrong. When you’ve created it the way you’re talking about what you do with your clients, they’re going to be willing to forgive and help you make it better and be a partner of yours versus being frustrated and being an enemy. It’s such a different approach. I love that.
We also created something called The Symposium Experience. I nicknamed it The Love Fest. The reason I do that is because it’s really what it turns out to be. You bring 100 to 200 people together in Las Vegas or whatever town you’re in and all these folks have been out there in the field supporting your product all year long, selling your product all year long. The only thing you’re doing for the next three days is giving. All you’re doing is you’re giving them more and more information. You’re taking them out and showing them a good time. Half of the time at our symposiums we had live comedians, music. We took them on whale watches, we took them to Lobster Bakes and all kinds of fun stuff because we were grateful for these people, and did that come back in spades. We’re obviously resonating quite a bit today with a lot of the same ideas. You basically reached a point in your business, we call it the entrepreneurial dream, where all of a sudden you’re at a point where somebody wants to buy your business for a lot of money. Can you describe for me what that experience was?
This may come as a shock but I didn’t want to sell my business. I realized that I had a problem. This was another one of those negative inflection point moments. I was sitting at an Inc. growth business conference for Inc. Magazine. It was in Dallas, Texas. It was 2006 in the summer. I’m sitting there and in the front row of one of these workshops. This guy gets up and he starts talking about how he grew himself into bankruptcy. He’s telling the story about how his business was growing so rapidly and he was having such success. He didn’t realize that he couldn’t cashflow the growth. He’s telling this whole story and I’m feeling nauseous. I’m getting chills and I feel like I’ve got this visceral thing that’s happening to me. I got sick immediately. I felt cold; I was so hot and I was cold. After that workshop, I left, I got on an airplane, I went home. This was on a Saturday. Sunday, I had my whole management team come into the office and I told them, “I think we’re going to end up out of business.” What happened to us was what happened to him. We were growing so rapidly. We were more than doubling our business year-over-year which was an awesome, high-class problem, very first world problem.
We were super profitable but that growth sucks up profits because you need to fund the growth. It’s more people, more resources, you’re buying things. I did some math, I did some spreadsheets and I had my CFO work on some stuff. We realized we had six months before we were out of business. We would have exhausted that we had a multimillion dollar line of credit. We would have just been completely tapped out and gone out of business by growing too much. It was not even something I even knew was a possibility. I had no idea that you could do that. I sprang into action by calling every mentor I’ve ever engaged with, talked to every smart business person. When I was in the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, EO at the time, I went to my EO forum and talked to them. I talked to my business coach. Everyone was like, “Just get some investors. Go put your business out, get an investment banker and do a leverage recap. Sell a certain percentage your business, get some cash in there. Part of that can keep funding the growth. They’re going to love this. Private equity loves this stuff, go do that.” I was like, “Cool, there’s a solution.” I know nothing about raising money, I’ve never done it before. I don’t even know how to find an investor.
I ended up finding what I thought was a great investment banker. He was awesome. They really helped us. We put a pricey ad on our business. We had a huge amount of response. We then vetted those people and then gave them more details. We ended up going down doing the stance with the six companies that were interested. We got down to two companies that were bidding against each other. We had a little bidding war for the business, which was awesome. Here’s the thing, none of the companies that we talked to were interested in investing in our business. They all wanted to buy it. I went to go and get an investor and I ended up selling my baby. It wasn’t what I intended, it wasn’t what I wanted, it just wasn’t any of those things but it was the right thing to do I believe. I had a huge team at that point. We had offices in a couple countries. We were growing and I wanted to keep growing. We had decided as a management team, we really dialed in our process. We were doing amazing stuff as a team, a long way from where we first started. We were all committed to what we were doing. We loved it. We were on fire, just the whole culture, everything was awesome. We didn’t want to stop growing, which was another option. We did it.
It took us about two years. It was a tough time. We did slow down growth a little bit because we wouldn’t have been able to support it but we made it through very profitably. When we sold it, I became the CEO of a company that was bigger. It was a very big learning process. Since after that, I had owned a few other companies that I went through exits. I learned so much going through that sale; there’s so much you don’t know. If anyone have this idea of maybe selling your company even if it’s five ten years down the road, start thinking about it now. Read some books, talk to some investment people. There are so many things that if you set it up a little bit differently now, five years from now you’re going to businesses be worth so much more and will be so much more stable as a business whether you sell or not. There are just some things that I just didn’t know, I never thought about. I went through that process, I sold the company. I stayed on for a couple years and then I exited. That was perhaps the darkest two years of my existence.
Jason, both of us are going through the same thing at different times in different places. This is an area that I know we’re both very interested in. Let’s talk about that. I sold my business the same way you did. I was looking for an investor to buy out my partner. I couldn’t find an investor but I found a buyer. In fact, I found two simultaneously and had a Chinese bidding war and it was fun and all. At the end of the day, after I did my earnout, after I ran the company that bought my company, after I left Dallas which I was so happy to go, what ended up happening was I came back to Massachusetts, 48 years old. I had eight figures between my partner and I in our pockets. I then went to venture capital firms with a resume and said, “Come and get it. The highest bidder can hire me to run one of their venture back startups.” The silence was deafening. Nobody wanted to hire me after I had just achieved what every single portfolio company in their entire library of companies wanted. I only understood it later that it was because I was too old. At 48 years old, I was now too old to be the CEO of a dot-com or a technology company. What happened after that? I went into that place that you’re just about to talk about. Jason, what happened to you?
First of all, I had a couple other businesses that I had started with a few partners here and there and what have you. I thought, “I’m going to work a little bit more on my energy on those businesses.” What I realized very quickly is that I had no passion for any of those businesses. They were great ideas. They were great businesses. I was always adding to the marketing and such of those, but they weren’t businesses that I wanted to really be involved in at this point because they were my focus. I was like a disconnect. I remember my coach, Dan Sullivan, always said, “An obligation without a commitment is a mess.” I realized that I had a bunch of messes in my life that I need to clean up. The first thing I did was I sold those companies or sold my interest, if not the whole company. It took me the better part of the first year doing that but did it all very successfully, made some more money and learned more in the process. Then I didn’t know what to do and I had all these ideas. I’m an entrepreneur guy. It sounds like you probably are too, but I have this book of ideas. I have so many different business ideas at any given point in time. I started sitting down looking at my list of ideas and I was paralyzed. I was afraid to make a move any which way. I couldn’t bring myself to doing anything. I wasn’t excited about any of them. I looked at them, I was like, “These are dumb. This is not good. I don’t want to do this. What if I do this and it doesn’t work?” I was afraid I might fail now that I didn’t really know anything. I was questioning my own abilities and worrying about taking care of my kids and trying to figure out what I was even on Earth to do with this point. I just didn’t know why I was there other than to take care of my kids, which is great. I love my kids more than anything. I want to be there most of the time for them. I still needed something else to do to wake up and go to every day.
It was probably just over two years before I was able to come up with anything. I had a non-compete. I wasn’t allowed to do marketing anywhere in the world. It played a good sum of money. It wasn’t enforceable and had good consideration. I wasn’t allowed to do marketing anywhere in the world for five years. I started a couple other businesses at that point after that two-year mark and had some good success. Since my non-compete expired in 2015, that’s when I went back into where my core expertise is and my passion lies and then sold those other businesses that I’ve been doing in the interim. You think it’s going to be this unbelievable experience. You have all this money. You have all this respect. People come out of the woodwork to get your advice and your opinion at that point or to get you as an investor. You’ve got a lot of friends that you didn’t know you had before. It is the loneliest place I’ve ever been. It’s scary. It was uncomfortable. I feel for anyone that sells their business. I think it’s true of people that sell their business where they really grew it from scratch or where they were really just so personally invested. My business was a piece of me. It was like my baby. It never ceases to amaze me. It’s so close to us. There’s a mourning period that has to happen to some extent. It’s pretty serious.
There’s an incredible learning point, a lesson here for the listeners. I hope you understand that you’re listening to two people who have been through this and we were not happy campers. We suffered after selling our businesses. Anyone listening will say, “I’d love to suffer that way too.” You have no idea what it does to a person when their entire way of identifying themselves is taken from them. I was the CEO of Timeslips Corporation. For heaven’s sakes, I sold the software to my first 10,000 customers. I had a personal relationship with hundreds and hundreds if not thousands of lawyers all over the country. Some people might not envy that part. These were my customers. Here’s the amazing thing. I sold that company in 1998. To this day, I still hear from customers and certified consultants that were part of my company back then saying things like, “The whole thing changed after you left. I sure wish you’re still in that company.” That’s what you’re saying too. You’re saying basically that it took a piece of you away and you didn’t know it was going to happen.
It hit me like a ton of bricks. I remember where I was hitting the day that it really clicked for me that there was something missing. It wasn’t like the next day I was this miserable mess. It was a few months later and I was getting up in the morning and wandering around. In the beginning I was like, “I’m going to get better health. I’m going to do this and I’m going to do that.” You can find some busy stuff initially. Then all the sudden the music stops and you’re standing, there’s no chairs to sit down. You’re like, “What did I do here? What do I do now?”
You said it really well, Jason. You said, “ A piece of me is gone.” That’s what it feels like. It feels like a piece of you is gone. At least it did for me. I must say that I was very closely identified with the role that I was in. When I was no longer the CEO of Timeslips Corporation, I wasn’t sure who I was for a while.
The beauty of that is you come out of that the other side if you do some work on yourself, and if you spend some time. You can come out on the other side stronger and more grounded and more focused than ever before. I am very clear on who I am and what I want to do and what my mission is now, more so than I was even when I was in that company. I thought I had it figured out then. I had no idea based on where I am today.
You had to go through that period of despair. You had the gift of despair that brought you to a place where you could discover what your true mission was.
It’s those moments of absolute silence that happen in your life when you really are lost and you’re falling and you just don’t know where to go that I think give you opportunities to have the most clarity and the most personal growth.
Listeners, I want you to also go back to the episode with Damion Lupo who went through identically the exact same thing, except he lost everything when it happened. This poor guy basically built a huge business and then the real estate bubble popped and he lost everything and spent four years in retrospection and trying to really understand who he was. Sometimes it happens on the upside, sometimes it happens on the down side. Here’s my experience. When it happens if you take the time and you focus on yourself, you emerge stronger and better just like Jason said, “From the other side.” Jason, now what are you excited about? What are you doing now? Tell us exactly what it is you’re up to.
One of the reasons that I think my old company was super successful was because I’m a teacher, I’m a trainer, a mentor, I’m a coach at heart. I love helping other people succeed. I love being a support mechanism for others. That’s what I do with my clients. That’s what I do with my employees, my team, with my management staff. It was really being more of a leader and a coach than a manager. After I got my act together, after the two years of darkness in that period, I started working with some small business owners and entrepreneurs just doing some coaching, and I loved it. I loved helping them clarify their vision, get really clear where they wanted to go and take their business the next level. I just started realizing more and more that I loved that market. My clients are mostly large companies in my past life: Fortune 100s, Fortune 1000s, some small businesses too but the lion’s share of it was big companies. I loved my clients. They were awesome. I worked with mostly entrepreneurial units within those companies. When I started working with small business owners and entrepreneurs, I get so excited about where they’re going. I get so excited about the impact that I’m able to make. Clients of mine double their business in six months, in a year and it’s amazing. I love being part of that. I love helping them grow their team and build a better future for their families and themselves.
What I did was when my non-compete expired, I started this business called CX Formula. I’ve had businesses in healthcare, in alcoholic beverages, in marketing. We focus on the customer, we focus on the experience that our customers have, and we design it with that customer-centric mindset. We build our business around that. We have crushed it each and every single time. When I’ve done that with my clients, they have crushed it each and every single time. What I did was I took all of the processes that we used to do for our clients or teach to our clients or do with our clients, and I put them into this program that I call CX Formula. It’s a methodology that I use. I take all of my background in training and creating experiential events and storytelling and show business. I’ve built a way to help you take it and learn how to do that in your business, how to implement a solid customer experience strategy and use it as the number one tool to grow your business. It’s phenomenal.
I started that business in 2016. We are just about to hit a total of seven figures in revenues, just under. We are passionate about working with entrepreneurs and small business owners and helping them really get clear on how to grow their business this way. We have businesses of all shapes and sizes. We have online entrepreneurs where there are one or two people in the business, or one entrepreneur with maybe three VAs. We have some restaurant owners, we have retailers, we have event companies, we have medical facilities. You name it, every shape and size of business. They are entrepreneurs. They’re committed to growing, they’re committed to their team, they’re committed to really making an impact. For me, my passion lies in helping entrepreneurs and small business owners really grow their business, really achieve that level of success that they want to achieve. I do it this way. This is my gift and my way of doing that. I do it through coaching programs. We do some live workshops. We have an online training program. We do some mastermind programs. It’s honestly probably the most fun I’ve had in my entire life.
I know that everybody who’s listening to this show is going to want to be able to have access to you into what you’re doing. Is there something that you could provide to the listeners that would give them a starting point for this whole process? Is there someplace you could send them?
I put together a quick page that has a free PDF giveaway that I call, 3 Hacks To Wow Your Customers. It’s a great primer on just simple things. This will take you less than ten minutes to go through and they’re just things that you could do literally today or tomorrow to start creating some wow and some energy with your customer list. I put that together at Go.CXFormula.com/1000.
Listeners, if you want to access some of the brilliance that you’ve heard from Jason today and you want to get into his world, and I can’t imagine you not after hearing his story, then go right now to Go.CXFormula.com/1000 and get those three hacks. I have a feeling that once you do and you start to appreciate what Jason is offering, you’ll probably want to learn more. Jason, if they do that is there a way for them to learn more?
We’ll send you a couple emails that give you some information about the Three Hacks and walk you through it. If you’re interested in more, you can always shoot me an email. We’re not going to be spamming you like crazy or anything. We just want to provide some value. My email is Jason@CXFormula.com. Love to hear what you think about it, love to hear what you’re up to and if there’s some way we can help you, we would be more than happy to talk.
I have a couple of questions here that I love to ask my guests because the answers are always great. If you had the opportunity, in all of space and time, to spend one hour enjoying a walk in the park, a quick lunch or an intense conversation with someone, anyone, who would that be?
I feel like I’d love to spend an hour with Napoleon Hill. Going back and talking about Think and Grow Rich and all the experience that he went through and all the conversations he had and dig into some of those questions. I think that would be really fun.
I’m a very, very big student of Napoleon Hill. I’m a student of universal law as well. I think it’s a great choice. Frankly, what I love about it is that I’ve only gotten two people on all of these interviews I’ve done to say the same person twice. No one has said Napoleon Hill yet, so that’s great. The other question I have for you and this is what I call the grand finale question. It’s the change the world question. What is it that you’re doing or would like to do, and it could be related to your business or not, that truly has the potential to literally change the world?
As arrogant as this is going to sound, and I don’t mean it from a position of arrogance, I really believe that if businesses focused on creating better experiences for their customers, it will change the world. I wrote a blog post about a bad experience. It’s a car dealership between my own purchases and other people. I’ve given them over $500,000 in business, probably close to $800,000 in business. They just so unbelievably mistreated me and I couldn’t believe it. Beyond that, it set the tone for my day in a really bad place and it didn’t need to. Not only did they just lose a client who’s been responsible for bringing them $500,000 to $750,000 of business who will never work with them again, and who was loyal and whatever because of how unbelievable the situation was. It really was unbelievable on their side. I’m not being overly dramatic, it was ridiculous. It just set the tone for my day and there’s a ripple effect of that. Not to say that I’m going to go and kick a puppy or anything but it just set me in a tailspin, so my productivity went down and the other things that I’m responsible. There’s a ripple effect to that.
I just believe that if you are creating a great experience for your customers, what happens? When they call and they’re grateful to you, they’re nicer to your employees. They support your employees. They send gratitude filled emails and gifts to your employees. They’re feeling better and they’re good. Their life at home changes. I so believe this to be true. I’ve seen it happen over and over again. My goal for the next five years is to take 10,000 entrepreneurs to that next level by teaching them how to do this, by giving them the tools, the tips, the tricks, the strategies and even some hand-holding for those that want to go further and helping them do that. I believe that we will make the world a better place. Entrepreneurs are changing the world. Whether they get to be the size of Apple or not, it’s those entrepreneurial businesses that are really impacting the world the most. I feel it’s my duty in some respects to take some of the things that I know and I’ve learned and share them and help. I really believe that we can make the world better place. We can all make more money. We can have better lives with our family and our children and our significant others and our employees. I’m going to keep plugging away what I’m doing now. Hopefully, this has been helpful and we can all do our part.
Jason Friedman, you have been so generous to have this amazing conversation. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart and tell you that I hope we stay friends and get to talk over and over again. From the perspective of the show, this has been absolutely an incredible show for me, and I hope listeners for you too. If you like this show please go to iTunes and rate the show, rate the program. Give us five stars. Leave a good review so we can continue to bring you interviews like this. Jason Friedman, thank you. We’ll talk again soon.
Mitch, thanks. Have a great one.
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