Todd Smith @ 360Converge, Texting Platform for Automotive Dealerships

Learn about the inner workings of 360Converge, a text message marketing automation solution for automotive dealerships, with insights from Smith on how he manages his company and personal life.

Anil Hemrajani and Todd Smith

PEOPLE

TOPICS

  • 02:20 – 360Converge’s value proposition
  • 06:12 – Genesis of 360Converge idea
  • 09:47 – Validating the idea with customers
  • 11:28 – Team structure
  • 12:26 – Funding structure (bootstrapped with some investors)
  • 13:00 – Target market
  • 13:42 – Competition
  • 14:30 – Revenue model (SaaS)
  • 16:57 – Customer acquisition and retention (content marketing, relationships)
  • 18:01 – Target customer geography
  • 18:35 – Content marketing
  • 21:30 – Metrics, dashboards and analytics
  • 24:39 – Product development (Agile sprints, staff, MVPs)
  • 26:54 – Tools used at 360Converge
  • 28:50 – Current priorities/challenges (time prioritization)
  • 30:25 – Figuring out solutions (e.g. mentors, books)
  • 32:38 – Fears
  • 35:08 – Staying current with trends (books, Medium, conversations)
  • 36:26 – Belonging to communities for support
  • 38:42 – Work-life balance
  • 41:35 – Advice for other entrepreneurs
  • 45:41 – Future personal and company plans

TRANSCRIPT

Anil Hemrajani: Welcome to Inside the Startup; a show where we look at how startups operate. I’m Anil Hemrajani, the founder of Startup Sidekick. My guest today is Todd Smith. Todd is an American serial entrepreneur who has pioneered automotive, digital marketing and communication solutions in the automotive retail industry. He has 30 years of retailing experience notably as a successful Chevrolet dealer and the founder of ActivEngage. 

Todd’s latest venture 360Converge is using deterministic identity with behavioral attributes to redefine customer engagement through texting and email. 360Convergewas originally founded back in 2015 as a technology holding company. It wasn’t until 2019 that they decided to build and release their own product. They’re a company focused on developing deeper consumer engagement through text and email. They achieve this by using behaviorally driven automation to deliver personalized experiences through the customer journey. Welcome Todd, how’s it going today?

Todd Smith: Doing great. Thank you so much for having me today. Excited.

Anil Hemrajani: Yeah. So I know you’re joining us from Florida. What’s the weather like down there?

Todd Smith: Weather outside is looking pretty good. Yeah, as I say, I never have to shovel sunshine here in Florida. So love Florida. It’s a great place. Love the winter though and you know, to go snowboarding and stuff, but I just like to visit those places.

Anil Hemrajani: Yeah. No, I, you know, I’ve never heard it said like that, you’ll never have to shovel sunshine. That’s a good way to look at it. So I like that. Well, so let’s dive into this interview which has three parts. We’re going to first look at your company and then secondly, look at how you personally work and then just wrap up with lessons learned. So ready to get started?

Todd Smith: Sounds awesome. 

Anil Hemrajani: All right. Well, first of all, you know, I was looking at your website, obviously did some homework and all that and I really like what you’re doing at 360Converge. I mean, it’s pretty easy to understand the value and all that. So let’s, can you give us a brief overview like of, you know, your product and just the value proposition for your customers?

Todd Smith: Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, at 360, our number one goal has been to help dealers create more what I consider renewal income and revenue from their existing customers. I think many businesses focused on always new customer acquisition and years ago, I read a book by Jim Collins called Good to Great. And it, one of the things that my biggest take away from that was understanding that there’s something called the flywheel, not just the funnel. And in most businesses we operate via funnel. Meaning we put leads in up top, then we try to qualify them, then we try to sell them. And then we move back to generating more leads. 

And, but there’s huge value in taking the customers that you have and turning them into true advocates of the business, whether it’s a car dealership or any business per se, and building longer-term relationships with them and turning those advocates into refers for you, that they’re inviting new people into your business because of their endorsement. And that’s that flywheel; creates momentum and once that momentum is created, the business can be far more successful and grow larger. 

So in Good to Great, they really covered that as a fundamental. So during the pandemic, we really kind of looked deep into technology, what we were going to truly come to market with. And one of the things I noticed, all businesses cut back on employees. And when you cut back on employees, on that human capital, you still have to get things done. And my thought was, what can we do with automation to help businesses connect with more of their customers over longer periods of time, that life cycle and through engaging type communication. And we looked at everything, you know, obviously contacting people via phone, not very efficient anymore with now all the new tools that are put inside, like Apple phones and Androids where drives the unknown callers direct to voicemail. Email delivery in the US isn’t that great. 

So contacting people that way is not great. I don’t like killing trees. The direct mail is not a good thing. But the one thing that I found was text. Text cuts through the clutter. It connects with people. They open, 98% of the messages are read within three minutes. I mean, that to me resonated so much. I said, let’s focus on automation and helping businesses get and create that flywheel using text as our channel, our number one channel of communication. 

Now I still think email has its place. And that’s why we added it to the 360 platform, because there’s some things you just can’t communicate via text message. And that’s where email has more length that we can support more depth of conversation, right. But I feel like email is like a cousin to text messaging and texts to us was our primary driver to create empowering, natural conversations with a customer, because look, everybody communicates via text. Whether it’s my 74 year old mom or my 11 year old son, they’d rather text, it seems then get on a phone call or ever respond to an email. I don’t even think my son understands what email does.

Anil Hemrajani: Yeah, no, I know what that is. How that’s like with, you know, with our kids, because I do, you know, every time he forward something from their school or something, I’m like, did you check it? It’s like, where was it? You know, and it’s like an email, but so now I like how you’re thinking about it. And you know, even like calling, email your cousin, I guess the older cousin for sure, you know, but so how did you like initially come up with this idea? ‘Cause I know that the Chevrolet dealership, obviously you’ve been in the space, but like, you know, was it like, you know, the problem or passions and frustration and also, how did you validate it? Did you talk to other dealers or how did you go about doing this?

Todd Smith: Yeah. So look, I had to cut my teeth in automotive retail for many years. I understand the pains and problems. And to me, the best companies are ones that are solving a pain point, not just, hey, this is a great idea. It’s a better way to do it. A lot of people don’t need a better way to do it if, unless there’s truly a pain and I always laugh. There’s a great little like clip that a guy’s walking down the street and there’s a farmer and he’s sitting on his big old porch and his rocking chair and he’s rocking back and forth. And he has a hound dog next to him. And the hound dog is just howling away. And the guy walking by the fence goes, “Hey, Mr. What’s going on with the dog?” And he’s like, “Oh, it’s okay. He’s just sitting on a nail.” And he goes, “Well, why doesn’t he move off the nail?” And he goes, “Ah, it doesn’t hurt that bad.”

And I think that’s the nature of us as people. We don’t want to change unless we’re really forced to change and unless it hurts bad enough. So I always feel the best products come out of deep pain. So when you look at automotive, automotive has like many industries now, the cost to acquire new customers, that CAC customer acquisition cost, continues to rise. Yet margins are continued to be compressed. So profitability is going down, cost to acquire customers is going up. That’s not a sustainable business model. 

So with that in mind, that’s a big problem and that’s a problem worth fixing. So then you have to look into, well, how can we fix that problem? And fixing that problem is not only helping you acquire new customers, but helping you maximize the life cycle of your existing customers, which we all know, we’ve heard that saying, you know, your existing customers are, you know, seven or 10 times more valuable than acquiring new ones, right? They know you, you know how to sell them because they’ve already done business with you at least once. 

So that to me was a catalyst for us building an application and platform that helps dealerships really create a flywheel and get the most out of their existing customer relationships. And we do that through what we call meaningful messaging. Natural conversations, we can do them via text. I could just send you a text and say, “Hey, are you still loving the Hellcat?” You know, and you say, “Yes.” And I say, “Cool,” that puts you on a different distribution list that you’re going to get different messaging to say, no, I think I want to get something else. So I think through these types of conversations that we’re very engaged with via text, we can create and fix problems not only inside automotive, but potentially any industry because I boil things back that we’re all humans. So what works in auto would really work anywhere. And what I mean by that is our behavioral responses are going to be the same, whether it’s about buying a car, it’s about buying a refrigerator, it’s about buying a house. We process our behaviors are going to be pretty similar, so.

Anil Hemrajani: Yeah. That’s actually, yeah, interesting that, yeah, why just automotive? You know, I mean your focus right now and all that, but it could definitely expand into other industries. So how did you validate the idea? I mean, because you had your own dealership, but then, you know, obviously other customers.

Todd Smith: You know, talking with dealers, rolling up our sleeves, asking the right questions to get to the root of the problem. So the root of many problems inside dealerships, as they’re making a hundred phone call attempts to connect with three people, they’re sending lots of email with low response rates. So it didn’t take long for us to identify the true problem. And then obviously we just looked at, well, we know that texting is a far more efficient communication channel why isn’t it being used? Well, then we had to dig deeper and realize, well, CRMs aren’t equipped for that type of communication inside auto. 

And then we have to say, okay, well the process is currently aren’t designed for real text conversation flows that all the workflows are built around, get the customer in and let’s sell them a car. And I think it’s also a deeper understanding of dealerships behaviorally that their funnel focus, they’re all hunters and killers. They’re not farmers and, but farming feeds your community for a lifetime. Hunting it’s hunt and re-hunt and it’s all in the nature of the immediate survival. And I look at auto, most dealerships only think in 30 days, like how many units we have out this month. They’re not thinking more of the life cycle of that customer that lies behind that initial sale. So we felt we could build an application, test that application and help dealers create more of that life cycle management and do it text as the primary channel.

Anil Hemrajani: Yeah, makes sense. And so how’s your team structured? I mean, do you have co-founders, I mean, how’s your management team or how?

Todd Smith: Yeah, so I have a co-founder who was one of my mentors in life. I, this company, when I founded it, my goal was really to surround myself with other visionary leaders, industry people that I’ve looked up to, mentors to me, to kind of … For me, it was like creating my 1992 USA Olympic basketball team, right. You get all the big players, the Jordans the, you know, Kobe, you get all of them on a single team, right. And they dominated the Olympics. And so my goal was to have fun with this, surround myself by people that I always look up to, or my mentors and could help guide me and add super valuable input inside what we’re doing, because they’ve all fought to different wars, they’ve been in different battles and if I could learn from them, so I don’t kind of fall into the same pit. So I wanted to do that, so.

Anil Hemrajani: Yeah. That makes sense. And are you guys funded or bootstrapped?

Todd Smith: Yeah, mostly bootstrapped. Obviously some of the mentors put money into us as well. You know, so everyone has a little skin in the game, but the vast majority were bootstrapped. You can look on Crunchbase, whatever we’ve taken a few hundred grand in funding, so.

Anil Hemrajani: Yeah, well, definitely. Yeah, both my companies were bootstrapped, so it’s, you know, and then there’s a lot of people. I mean, you just hear about the funded ones in the news a lot, you know, but there’s a lot of bootstrap companies that are doing awesome things like you guys are. And so what would you say is your target market? Do you go after the smaller dealers or the bigger ones? I mean, how do you, and then like geography, like how, you know, where are your customers? 

Todd Smith: Well, the bigger ones, the groups, ‘cause we’re fixing a bigger problem and when you multiply like our product over the scale of those organizations, the financial impact is enormous. So obviously our target is groups, auto manufacturers. Not every dealer could use our application. It really mostly depends what is our current systems and processes and can they see using text in their processes and if they can, our product works.

Anil Hemrajani: Got it. And then what about competition? I mean, what kind of competition do you have in this space?

Todd Smith: Yeah, for the text automation, nothing yet. Now there are lots of periphery kind of text applications in our space that are more one-to-one. So it’s, here’s an application to do one-to-one communication while we built ours as a one-to-many. It does have a one-to-one component, but that’s secondary, it’s a one-to-one magnifying that ensuring we’re touching every customer through some level of messaging throughout that life cycle. So I don’t see any direct yet. I do expect they will be coming though, so.

Anil Hemrajani: Yeah, for sure. No, because I mean, it seems like this is something that, yeah, I could see other players wanting to get into it. So I’m glad you guys were upfront on this. And how does your revenue model work? Like how do you charge, I mean, is, and do you, you know-

Todd Smith: Subscription, yeah.

Anil Hemrajani: Subscription. Okay. 

Todd Smith: Easy SAS subscription model. And we gave all our pricing upfront, which also is very different in autos. If you look at any automotive vendors, almost 99% of them, you have to get a demo for them to present the product to discuss pricing. We decided to create 100% transparency throughout all upfront, so which is different; common in regular software, not common in automotive. And I kind of wanted to bring some of that thought leadership that’s in regular SAS and apply it into the auto industry. By doing that, having transparent, upfront pricing that is very easy to consume. So dealers pay, subscribe for package, it’s a certain number of text messages, certain number of emails and thus they’re paying for. That’s it.

Anil Hemrajani: So do you publish the prices right on the website? 

Todd Smith: Absolutely.

Anil Hemrajani: And what about like freemium versus trial? Like, I mean, is it offered trials?

Todd Smith: No, because of the complexity of integrations in our industry. There was no real way, we wanted to make sure we, our dealers got off on a good start. So if they just logged into our system, there would be no data there that, you know, they would have to create those workflows. So we’d rather help them do that. Asking them through an onboarding process to say, you know, well, what exactly do you want to accomplish? Who do you want to target for? So, okay, let’s just build two workflows. Okay, let’s get the data flowing, that populates these workflows, creates those lists that will now start receiving those text or email campaigns. 

So we really wanted to hold our dealership’s hands through that first part for us create a better kind of fast start experience for them because we absolutely believe that initial experience is so valuable to the long-term success of any business. And a lot of times the free trials, they get into them and they’re having to self-discover and a lot of people don’t have time for that. So I think people, a lot of times don’t want the technology, they want the results the technology deliver. So we want to fast start and get dealers to that as quick as possible.

Anil Hemrajani: Yeah. Like means to an end, definitely. And I could see the complexity of integration issue. So that makes a lot of sense. And so how do you acquire these customers and retain them? I guess first the acquisition, you know, do you do marketing, you know, what sort of marketing, is it social media, like how do you acquire them?

Todd Smith: Content marketing and existing relationships from spending 30 years and all my mentors from spending 30 years. I mean, we probably have collectively 500 years of experience, so, and relationships across the industry. So leveraging that, I feel is far more powerful. I’m not a big marketer for … I was in the past in automotive. I found has become very crowded because it’s very cottage industry. There’s so many products that everyone’s buying for attention. We’re in an attention driven world, right. So I felt we publish leadership type content and then work through existing relationships and then work through our existing customers to again, create that flywheel even internally to build our business, versus the typical economic funnel which so many people are focused on.

Anil Hemrajani: Yeah. And so geography-wise, like where are you focusing mostly?

Todd Smith: North America. Yeah, North America at this point. We definitely will pursue international ‘cause texting is universal. But right now our focus is on the North American new car dealer market, which is about 16,874 stores. So that’ll be our focus. We’ll probably also do a subset of the larger, independent auto dealers and then we’ll start broadening out to other countries, so.

Anil Hemrajani: And for the content marketing, I mean, so, you know, it’s like just inbound marketing, right. Is what your focus, I mean, like what type of leadership type content do you write? I mean, can you just give me an example?

Todd Smith: Sure. I just wrote one, like the funnel verse flywheel, right. It comparing the different styles. I wrote another piece, not too long ago, showing the impact of customer engagement for the relationship. One of very interesting things that I wrote about was I was always under the assumption of like what makes customers loyal or disloyal and believe it or not, the most impactful thing is being able to resolve the customer’s issue on the first try. It is far more impactful than, you know, transfers or all the other attributes that breeds disloyalty. And it’s interesting, I posted something on LinkedIn and everybody got it wrong. Everybody who responded and picked which one it was, got it wrong based on the data study of 97,000 consumers. 

So I think that impacted me and I like to write things that are, you know, thought provoking, compelling, and create conversations. I think through those conversations, we build value and trust and transparency inadequates ultimately to business for us long-term.

Anil Hemrajani: Yeah. And have you had to like, you know, ‘cause since you guys are a little bit newer, right, like 2019, you mentioned, have you had to think about retention already for like customers?

Todd Smith: Yeah, not yet. I’m sure it’s definitely coming. 

Anil Hemrajani: Right.

Todd Smith: You know, we’ll have to be creative, you know, keep it new and fresh with our clients, right. That it doesn’t become stale. They’re not, you know, I think we all want the dopamine hit, right. We want the new-new, and I think when you think about product evolution and development, you should always have that in your mind, that you’re looking at enhancing the product that gives people something new to bite their teeth into at a reasonable cadence, right. That is not once a year. Like you’re dropping new things that are keeping people engaged to the brand. That’s why I think like some of those merch-type companies are dropping new merchandise. You know, they’re very articulate how they do that. Every couple months, boom, new merch, new merch, and you’re keeping you ingrained in the brand. 

So they’re letting you join the conversation through social channels and communicate, but then they’re pulling you in always. And I think I’ve learned a lot from that in this venture compared to my previous one of how to more effectively use marketing and what tactics actually worked today versus what worked in the past.

Anil Hemrajani: Yeah. And so speaking of marketing and in general, like what kind of metrics are you tracking right now?

Todd Smith: Oh my gosh. I track everything. I’m probably over a metric guy. Because I feel there’s always there’s like the devil’s in the detail, but I think your success is in your data. And I’m very big about tracking our engagement, who’s engaging with our product, our application, how often they’re logging in, what they’re using, like what the campaigns are using? Like, so we’re measuring lots of metrics, all for different use cases that we’re trying to understand our customers better beyond the simple what’s our customer acquisition cost? What’s our lifetime value? You know, what’s our MRR or ARR? What’s our retention to retail like? The standard SAS metrics, right, or X. 

And then obviously there’s sub levels below all of them that you can get into a more granular conversation to understand your users. But I still think some of the best ones is just having conversations with your users, asking them for input, not about the product or what to build next, but understanding how they’re using it. Because I think, you know, that’s, it’s not what people say, it’s what they do, which to me resonates more because people, a lot of times can’t communicate what you should do next. They don’t really know or understand, but by watching behavior that to me the better indicator on what you should focus your attention on product build, in my experience.

Anil Hemrajani: No, definitely, I agree because I was kind of always pretty big on usage data. You know, how the customers use the product. And so on that front, I mean, do you guys share some of this data with like, through analytics on the dashboard with the customer so they can see like how many texts and what the customers are-

Todd Smith: Oh yeah.

Anil Hemrajani: All of that?

Todd Smith: Look, I, again, learning from Uber, that visualization that gooey, is super important, right. It keeps them engaged and it keeps them to me involved. And so you’re always looking for more involvement. I mean, that’s one advantage of like platforms like Facebook, Instagram, the more you as the user commit your content to it, the more valuable it becomes to you mentally and behavioral. So it’s but you have to look past, okay, what can we learn from that lesson by two arts, right? So do they create more campaigns in our system? Are they more intricate? 

All that time, you’re investing in our platform will make you stay with our platform long. So we understand those metrics very well. And then we want to coach and support more usability and make things easier. You know, a BJ Fogg, Stanford professor, awesome guy, friend, told me two things. He said one, help people do what they’re already trying to do and make it super easy for them to do it. And you achieve those two things, you can have a profound impact on any business you’re trying to operate.

Anil Hemrajani: Yeah, no, that’s a good way to look at it. And then on the product side, I mean, how do you guys develop your product? I mean, is it, you know, do you guys do like, you know, two weeks sprints, how often do you release it and is it onshore, offshore employees, contractors?

Todd Smith: Man, I got it all. So let me tell you. You know, we have a small nucleus team here in the States. We have team in Mexico. We also have a larger team over in Albania. So we’re doing more agile. So sprint driven type stuff, I think is more effective for this type of development than like typical like waterfall big company. So we want to keep things lean and mean, throw out little bits of product tests. See if people like it, don’t like it, we’ll stand up kind of skinny, little pieces, like what I call like MVPs in different areas of the business. Just to, again, try to watch users because the worst to think is, hey, I built out this whole platform and then it turns into like a ghost town that nobody uses it. And now I have hundreds of hours of coding and dev time against something that, you know, we thought was a good idea, but nobody sees it through our lens.

So I think it’s, for us, it’s standing up very skinny things that maybe not even look good, but they function and then seeing if that functionality is valuable to the end-user. So I always want to keep that end-user that their heartbeat has to beat with our heartbeat. Those have to be in alignment for any successful business to scale, because if you’re out of sync, you’ll never achieve true scale for the business. You may try to fight and market it and, you know, force it down consumers’ throats but the real reality, if you want to create exponential scale, you’ll have to do it by aligning with the consumers’ wants needs and behavior.

Anil Hemrajani: Yeah, no, I mean, I really loved the, you know, what you call skinny, right? The whole MVP concept. And that’s I noticed, you know, lean methodology on your LinkedIn profile. So I was like, man, this guy has really got an interesting background, you know, from Chevrolet dealership, still lean methodology. But what are some of your, like you know, what tools do you guys use on a daily basis like you know, for team collaboration or just, you know?

Todd Smith: I’m a big Slack guy. So we use Slack, we have Jira, you know, we use GitHub. Like look, I’m going to say all the normal technical stuff as well, you know, that we use. We have some internal dashboards that we built, that are just proprietary to us that we’re analyzing data across the board. You know, I’ve been experimenting with some other dashboards from other companies, what I call basic just SAS type dashboards to understand, you know, basic metrics based on our financial data and, you know, sales. You know, I liked HubSpot they’re, you know, good little system or, you know, you can create all kinds of dashboards in there as well for service ticketing time, like dates, how fast up is resolved, did we do it on the first try, that type of stuff. 

So I think there’s a lot in there. The other side though is you can’t get too overwhelmed by the data, right. I think me and my position, I probably will look at six things a day while Mike May look at a different six and then John may look at a different six, like team members are looking. Collectively we’re probably looking at hundreds of data points inside the engine, but I’m probably looking at, you know, half a dozen realistically during a day, right because I’m trying to make decisions based on that, so.

Anil Hemrajani: Yeah, that’s a great segue. You just, you know, switching gears to more of your personal, how you work and all that. And like I just said a minute ago, I mean, you’ve got a really impressive and interesting background because it’s not every day that you meet people that own a dealership, you know, and then, you know, know about lean methodology and you’ve done stuff with SAS and CRMs. And at least we agree on one thing, our favorite movie is Godfather, right. I guess, you know, but so what are your current challenges and priorities?

Todd Smith: Well, okay. I mean it’s time prioritization, time blocking, right. Not getting caught up in unproductive rabbit holes. You know, being able to prioritize time, right? It’s the one asset we all have 24 hours. How do we extract the most from it? And you know, I always feel like that’s top of mind with me as I approach my day and then I look at my day and go, okay, I have 60% of my meetings are true core centric, that’s not enough. They need to be 80% core centric to what we’re trying to accomplish. And, you know, that happens, you know, people put things on my calendar and I’m like, why am I getting into this meeting? And I try to keep meetings 30 minutes max. No more. I like the agendas before meetings because I don’t like to get into meetings where we ended up spitballing and the meeting goes all over the place. 

I’d rather just say, look, here’s the meeting structure, we’re covering these topics. And if new topics come up, that goes to the next meeting, right. And then sometimes there’s meetings never happen because there’s topics aren’t that important. So to me, I think it’s being ruthlessly like time management as an entrepreneur is absolutely the most important. 

Anil Hemrajani: Yeah, no, that’s a challenge for so many entrepreneurs and just anybody working, I guess, just the prioritization and time and all that. And so how do you figure out solutions right now? I mean, do you kind of, you know, how do you know you’re on the right path? Do you kind of lean on your co-founders, you mentioned mentors earlier.

Todd Smith: As always. Yeah. Look, everything. Like I read a book a week, so I’m a crazy reader. So I feel like somebody’s written about something that I need to do and I can go learn from their mistakes. So if I can apply that to my own daily workflow, that’s huge. Obviously leaning on mentors is another huge area. Yeah, we’ll set up meetings and have, you know, 15 minute blocks, can a conversation. This is what I want to cover. You know, so I will prepare one of my mentors saying, I’m calling you this date, this time, 15 minutes. These are the three questions I need to figure out, you know, be thoughtful in how we can approach that. And then I think another thing is just trying to empower my team members to grow themselves. I think a lot of times, you know, entrepreneurs getting started, you’re just trying to control everything, but I feel like the best entrepreneurs also are surrounding themselves by team members who are as hungry as them.

And as, what I consider self serving is them to want to grow in moment. And I kind of think every startup, you look at a car as a car, I’ll use a car metaphor to make it fun. Like if I look at a car and let’s say we have five seats in the car, well, as a startup, you don’t want any passengers in your car. You want all drivers in your car. So again, being ruthless, you want your team members all to be hard drivers and not dead weight passengers because passengers add no value organizationally at the beginning. So you want all people sitting in a driver’s seat with that mentality, moving the business forward and your job as a leader is to control that momentum and make that flywheel spin faster, right. And that’s controlling the ultimate directive of the company and then keeping everybody in the swim. 

Anil Hemrajani: Yeah. Well, I like that metaphor a lot, you know, with the drivers versus passengers. And where do you like, feel like you need the most help right now? I mean, what’s missing, what are some of your fears, you know?

Todd Smith: Listen, I’m an entrepreneur. I wake up every day afraid, you know. I’m not as afraid of failing, failing is fine to me. I’m just more afraid I guess of not seeing something that I probably should have seen, not recognizing something because I just wasn’t, you know, focused on it. Or I tried to ignore like a real reality. You know, I go back to that, you know, there’s two types of mindset. There’s a fixed mindset and an open mindset, right. Carol Dweck, I think, was the author of the book Mindset. And she described it, she actually used Lee Iacocca. Here’s Lee Iacocca, awesome entrepreneur, right. I mean, he did the Ford Mustang, so cool, muscle cars when no one had muscle cars, then he goes to Chrysler, turns that around, does the Dodge caravan blows it up. Awesome. 

But then he started surrounding himself by people that were just like him and he fired thinkers. He didn’t want them around him and his exact kept, the new ones kept popping up and saying, hey, small cars, Asians are creating small cars. We should create small cars. And he said, no. And it led to the demise. And it’s crazy because I felt like he had a very open mindset when he started his career. But through time it became a fixed mindset and that fixed mindset is a stranglehold on your success. So I think it’s always maintaining that open mindset to be a successful entrepreneur. And I think part of my fear is ensuring that I stay open. I don’t quickly dismiss something. I actually am thoughtful about someone else’s thoughts, ideas, and I can really think through it to try to understand it and help them articulate it, even if they can’t. So we can come to a final discussion to say, okay, that does have some merit or not. 

So I think that’s super important right now for me because look, I’m old. I’m kind of like I’ve been doing this a while and it’s easy to stay comfortable in what I know. But I think one of my biggest things is ensuring that I’m uncomfortable daily doing something that I just am not comfortable doing and keeping that edge under my sword that it’s sharp and that I can apply it and I can share that with my team.

Anil Hemrajani: Yeah, makes sense. And you mentioned, you know, you read a book a week like what, how else do you stay current? I mean, do you read blogs or do you attend conferences? Yeah.

Todd Smith: Yeah. I like medium. Obviously, no one’s attending conferences right now. I’m not one on the virtual conferences. You know, it’s reading and talking to people. I have to like to reach out to people who like don’t know and have a conversation. I’m a car guy, man. I’ll call anybody. You can tell me to call the president and I’ll try to call the president. If I need to talk to him about something because, you know, what do I have to lose? Nothing. You know, rejection, rejection if you’re worried about rejection, you should never be an entrepreneur. You should be able to eat humble pie and be rejected and lose and make mistakes over and over, over again and just not the same ones. 

Anil Hemrajani: Right.

Todd Smith: But I find like true success comes from growing yourself first and then growing the business. When you get so caught up in the business, that you are not taking care of yourself, I feel that’s at a detriment to the business. If you’re not mentally sharp, healthy, mentally fit, physically fit, you’re not taking care of your own mental health, there’s no way you’re going to take care of your organizational health.

Anil Hemrajani: Yeah, no, that makes sense. And I mean, so do you belong to any online communities like social networks, like meaning just for business purposes, you know, for emotional or other, you know, business support?

Todd Smith: No, honestly, I like LinkedIn, I like collaborating there. I’ve been playing with Clubhouse a lot. That’s been kind of fun. They’re very just raw conversations. I love it. I love getting in there. I love hearing what people’s problems are, what their solutions are or how they approach things that may be different than me. Again, cast yourself with a group of people that are far different than you to see the world differently. And I love that perspective, right. And you know, I do work at the, you know, entrepreneur like StarterStudios, which is here in Orlando, which is kind of upstarts. Anytime I could be there to mentor, be around people who are starting other things that have nothing to do with what I do, I love to feed off that enthusiasm and to help guide them if it’s that, or just to be an ear to understand what they’re trying to accomplish and maybe nudge them in a different direction. 

But I feel that’s a symbiotic relationship and I’m always gaining from that. Like pulling that energy out and applying it into my own business. And I feel it’s like looking at things through a youthful eye. And, you know, I always remember a saying from philosophy of college, it said in a beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities. In an expert’s mind, there are few. Always keep a beginner’s mind.

Anil Hemrajani: Yeah. That’s good advice. And I mean, this is, and I love the fact that you’re mentoring also, you know, others, because, and that symbiotic relationship, like you said, you know, ‘cause you do gain a lot from that. Do you pay for any sort of a premium type education or coaching or anything like that?

Todd Smith: No. I know my mentors are my coaches and they’re free, so I love them.

Anil Hemrajani: Right. Just to kind of wrap up here, you mentioned about taking care of yourself health, which I couldn’t agree with more. I know, like in my second startup, I kind of let that go, but you know, that it definitely hurts you and the business, like you said, but I mean, so what do you do for like a work-life balance and how do you handle sort of the lonely at the top syndrome for founders?

Todd Smith: Yeah. Okay. I don’t believe in work-life balance. They’re just life, right. there when you’re trying to separate them. You’ve already created the biggest problem because now you’re trying to silo things off. The reality is all these things are interconnected and you have to let them flow like yin and yang, like, like your true cheat, right? Because if you don’t, if you try to silo, when you’re in the one silo, you’re thinking about the other silo and when you’re in your other silo, now you’re thinking about the other silo. And you have this push-pull problem and letting, I believe in letting things flow. Like, so look, at the end of last year or middle through the pandemic, I was just kind of heads down focus. I was like, oh my God, I’m thinking my health more. I got to do more there. 

So I set a challenge for myself mid December and I ran a 5k every single day for 30 days. I hadn’t run in a year, but I literally ran, started on a Sunday and I ran for 30 days every day. I ran 5k in the morning. Some days I’d have to run later in the night, but I made sure I got it in. I just did it to prove to myself that A, I could do it. It was more mental to me than the physical aspect of it, though the physical beat, I didn’t realize how old I become and how many things hurt now at 49. But you know, it was good for me. That’s mental, right, as much as it’s physical. So I think a lot of times, you know, you want to ensure you’re doing things, whether it’s eating right. You know, don’t sit all day, stand up, walk around. I walk around on my phone. I’ll probably wear out my flooring over the course of time because, you know, I want to get up and stand up and, you know, create my, you know, kind of more engaging thing. 

I love to listen to like alpha brainwaves while I’m sitting working, writing. So I have my iTunes open on my computer all the time. So I’m listening to that. Like making sure my brainwaves are flowing in the right way. Like I’m doing lots of things simultaneously. I put a small refrigerator with healthy drinks, kind of right next to me, beyond water. So if I know I need some kind of sustenance it’s right there for me or I need to kick up my, you know, carbs or protein, it’s right there for me. You know, I want to just surround myself with the tools that I know will fuel me to be better at whatever I’m doing. So, and I can move between doing something personally and doing something for business and not skip a beat.

Anil Hemrajani: Yeah, no. And you’re right about the whole work-life balance ‘cause I mean, you know, you, it’s, you know, you’re one person, you’ve got one brain. And so like, you know, you’re going to think about work at sometimes and other times you’re going to think about personal stuff and it’s … So last two quick, super quick questions here. I mean, what would you give as like parting advice to entrepreneurs or even your younger self?

Todd Smith: Yeah. Okay. One, a, always be okay doing uncomfortable things and know that your growth happens from them. Don’t celebrate your successes as much as you deconstruct your failures. 

Anil Hemrajani: That’s great. 

Todd Smith: So I think for me and for young entrepreneurs, if you are chasing the money, it’s the wrong thing. I’m not saying money’s not important. Money’s not powerful. Money’s not a motivator, but money in your brain is not going to make you happier and it’s not going to make you more of anything. So to me, it’s your ability to grow as a person has to be front and foremost. And money will come to people who chase whatever dream and passion it is. And I know that probably everyone’s heard that before, but I think you should apply in your everyday thinking, because if you get caught up in your judging your success or failure on money, it’s easy not to be successful.

Or, you know, there’s always someone with more money than you, except Jeff Bezos. So if you’re not Jeff Bezos, comparing yourself on that ladder is actually to me, detrimental to you mentally. So I always want to have a core that is amazingly resilient. And I think if you could build one attribute is your ability to be resilient, to have tragedy strike, a problem strike, and your ability to resiliently bounce back very quickly and not ever hang onto anything. So I read a lot of like stoicism. I love stoicism. I love the old philosophers. And I always find that whatever you’re holding onto becomes part of your prison long-term and it actually hurts you. And there was a great story of this. I’ll share with you my partying story, if that’s okay. 

Anil Hemrajani: Sure. Yeah, please.

Todd Smith: That this young guy is walking down the road. You know, he has his backpack on, he’s exploring the world and he comes across this old man who has a big backpack on. I mean, it’s a gigantic backpack. And they start talking and they’re walking together in unison and the young guy goes, “Hey, man, you want me to carry that backpack for you?” He goes, “Oh, no, son. This is my backpack. I’ll carry it. No problem.” And the kid’s like, “Well, you know, I’m young, I’m strong. I’ll carry it. You look like you’re struggling with it.” He goes, “Nope, this is mine.” So it’s crazy. So they do this, they walk and every night over the fire, the old man would pick things out of this bag and he’d pull them out and he’d shine them and put them back in the bag. And the kid never really could see across the buyer, what was in the bag, but he saw lots of stuff being pulled from the bag and cleaned up and put back in the bag. 

And so like, they walked for weeks and months. And every time the kids like, “Look, I know you locked, I’m not stealing your bag.” “No, you carry your own bag son. I’ll carry mine.” Well, one day after the night, the old man passed away and the kid now pure curious, goes over, looks inside the bag. There was nothing there. This was this old man carrying all his failures, his pain, his mistakes and they wore them down through time. And that’s what I always say, stay light, stay nimble. Don’t become resilient in your heart that you don’t let anything hang on to you too long, because it will wear you down and it will change your trajectory in life. So to me, it’s about number one is resilience, so.

Anil Hemrajani: Yeah. That’s a great advice. I mean, in fact, I’m like thinking I could, you know, it’s timely for me too, because of some of the stuff I’m trying to do, but and just last thing, I mean, what are, you know, what are your plans for the future for your company? Like, what’s your vision and just for yourself personally?

Todd Smith: Yeah. Look, one, continue to grow personally. I’m all about that. Explore new things. I kind of always want to travel more to expose my son to more of the things around the world when I traveled a lot as a kid to surf. And I want my son that even if he doesn’t want to surf to kind of, you know, move around the world to understand different cultures, understand how people are, what their value systems, ‘cause they’re dramatically different with whether you’re in Indonesia or, you know, China or India or South America. I mean, it’s so different and exposing him to that culture of diversity. 

I think for the business, I think my number one goal is to build a great organization rooted in trust, rooted in transparency and rooted in helping my team grow into the best people that they can become. And if they go off to want to be entrepreneurs, maybe I will financially support that. Maybe they just stay with our business long-term and grow and become huge assets to the organization. I think nothing is better than building an organization that can stand on its own two feet far after, you know, the founder is disappeared from the walls of the organization, so.

Anil Hemrajani: Yeah. This is such a great interview. I can’t wait to, you know, get this out to our audience. Thank you for taking the time to do this. I have really enjoyed it.

Todd Smith: Thank you. I really appreciate you having me on and it’s been an honor. Thank you.

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