Startup Therapy Podcast

Episode #81

Ryan Rutan: Welcome back to another episode of startup therapy podcast. This is Ryan Rutan joined as always by my friend, founder of startups dot com will Shredder. Well, we're going to talk about something really important today. I mean, I I know that we always think we're talking about really important stuff, but this one is really important and it's really interesting because while this is something that we've actually been doing for a long time, startup therapy helped us uncover kind of the depth breadth and pervasiveness of this issue and that's getting together with other founders. I mean, I'm putting it in very, very broad strokes there and we'll make that far more concrete as we dig in. But you and I both in various parts of the world, kind of wherever we were would find other founders locally, we would do dinners, we would do meetups, you know, would bring people together to solve some of these problems around being a founder, which again we'll dig into later, but it was really the feedback we started getting from startup therapy around how lonely the journey was, how I don't have anybody else to talk to about this. It's like you two are my only two startup friends, right? And these are people we have not met, they aren't in our city, we didn't know them until the moment they reached out with that feedback. And so, you know, now that we're moving further along with formalizing founders groups. It's really interesting to think back around how much of a catalyst, what we do with the start of Therapy podcast was for this

Wil Schroter: and I want to say high five in. Thanks to the folks seriously who wrote in and I'm, I'm happy to say there was many of you, I don't mean that as an ego thing. I mean as a quality of reaction, you know, folks wrote us a very detailed, very empathetic responses to some of the episodes that we did because they were basically saying you're in my head and what I thought was interesting whenever I read those was Ryan and I just sit here and talk a lot of people don't know Ryan and I are always in two different cities when we're doing this, we make zero edits on this, we pretty much just hit record and go because the stuff we tend to talk about is just top of mind stuff. Incidentally it happens to be the stuff we've been talking about in founder groups for years and so what you're hearing, startup therapy is something we're like, oh man, you know, I wish I could talk about this stuff more often. We actually do we talk about it all the time, which is why it's so top of mind, which was why it doesn't really take any rehearsing in our part, wouldn't you say?

Ryan Rutan: Yeah, I mean these are literally conversations, we've repeated time and time again. I mean they're all nuanced, you know, every one of these situations tends to have its own little spin, there's probably 100 major issues that end up coming up in the founder's life with various flavors and vents to them and yeah, we continue to go over them and over and over them and they continue to be important and they continue to not be solved at scale. I think that's the other really interesting thing is that nobody has written the the manifesto. It's like, you know what, before you start, sit down, read this, it's going to teach you everything you need to know and then founding a company will be fine and it's not that nobody's tried, it's just, it doesn't really work that way right until you're in that moment until you're you're experiencing that problem because if we go back to the feedback, like you were telling that people were, you know, really open honest in some cases, painfully so, I mean, they were sharing really deep, hurtful moments in time or really special moments in time that they were super excited about. But it was all very visceral, very real. And one of the interesting things about that was nobody was ever coming to us with feedback. Like yeah, I could see how that could happen or boy that will be useful sometime in the future. It was always man when I was going through that myself or I'm going through that right now, I need help with that, right? It wasn't, it wasn't sort of this prescriptive. So I could see how, how that makes sense or I could see that in the future or now I'll be prepared for that. We were touching on things that people had either gone through or we're going through some combination of the two.

Wil Schroter: Yeah. And you know what's interesting about that is everyone was basically saying in a nutshell, I'm glad that someone that's not me talked about it, right? Which kind of brings us back to the original point, which is founders are just crazy lonely. Let me just build on that for a second when I say that there's actually almost no other way around it. Right? In other words, there's nothing about what we're doing that lends itself really well to lots of people understanding what we do or being allowed to share what we're going through. For example, If I'm a founder at any level, whether I just started or whether I've got 500 employees on my team, there's just stuff I can't share. Right? Right. Like how many of you listening Ryan yourself have been at a barbecue where you have to translate what you do. You can't just tell people what you do. I

Ryan Rutan: literally was as you're starting to tell us, I was thinking like the barbecue was exactly like that that get together with friends, food, beer. This is where it always becomes so painfully obvious how different our lives, our problems, everything is. It's just, it's it's the crucible in which you realize I'm an isolated element.

Wil Schroter: I think we talked about this in another episode, if you say you're an accountant, everybody gets it right,

Ryan Rutan: cool, Tell me no more, please,

Wil Schroter: because it makes sense. It doesn't make sense. Right? And so part of it is people don't understand the journey we've gone down, don't understand why we took on the risk. They don't understand why we're killing ourselves and all these things. And by the way, those are all rational responses. But the bigger part of it is there are very few instances environments that we can be in where we can actually be honest about what's happening without consequence.

Ryan Rutan: Yes, and that's that's a super important point. So clarify exactly what you mean, that I know exactly what you're talking about. I want you to to be really specific. So the audience understands what you mean by by consequences in this case, because it's it's really important because it's one of the main reasons that people don't end up sharing,

Wil Schroter: correct. Oh, it's so bad. Here are the main areas where I think you'd love to share. You'd expect to share, but they involve consequence first place with your team. You want to share things with your team, but you can't, there's certain things that you just frankly shouldn't share if you're saying, hey, I don't know if I can go on with this anymore. I think this was a terrible idea and I think I'm going to give up Probably not the rally speech you want to be giving to your team or you're sitting at lunch saying, man, you know, we're going to run out of money in 16 weeks. I don't know if we're going to be able to put more money together. Probably not a rah rah speech for lunch either. Probably the last lunch you have with that team. And so that's one and that's a typical one. Now get this one. Another one is co founders. There's a lot of things you can't say to your co founder because maybe you just haven't figured that whole idea out yet, right? There's a lot of things where you can say, hey, maybe this isn't the job that I want. Try having that conversation with your co founder who's just gone through their second mortgage to get there or investors, I mean, pretty much anything you can tell investors because there's so much consequence to any implication you're about to make. And then I think another one that's really powerful are your loved ones. You know, whether it's a spouse, whether it's, you know, a family, what have you, they care about you. And often like in the case of a spouse, let's say they made a big bet on you and you almost feel like if you take some of this stuff home, a couple of things are gonna happen. One, you're going to start a fight because, you know, they're like, and I told you so moment, you know, you said this was going to work and now it's not working, I told you so, you know, you should have stayed at your job, another is it doesn't start a fight even maybe they're they're super supportive or you know, things aren't that bad, but it just creates this negative dynamic that like, like dude, I've been dealing with this all day at work, I don't wanna deal with it at home too. And then among friends or peers or things like that, in that case, they just don't understand what you're going through. That's right, that's right, inevitably. Over time you just stopped talking about it, you know, it's in your head, you're thinking about it nonstop, but you stopped talking about it and that is so painfully dangerous.

Ryan Rutan: And so going full circle. This is exactly why we created founders groups startups dot com, We realized that, you know, without a mechanism without somewhere you can go to to have this communication, to feel safe with this, you know, to be able to share and not just share, but share with people who will understand because that last piece that you touched on sharing with loved ones sharing with friends, sharing with anybody. Their ability to empathize is going to be extremely limited. Yes, they care, but it's going to be really hard for them to give you the type of feedback that you need, whether that's really brutally honest feedback or whether that's just a realization that this is a rough spot. You're probably gonna get through this. Let me lay this out for you gently so that you can keep moving forward. You need true peers. You need people who are going through the same things. Because the other thing that you have to remember is that even if your friends, your family, whoever wants to be empathetic, they want to be carrying their ability to do so is so hampered because probably just based on some of the differences, you know, fundamental. I don't say DNA, but the DNA of a founder can be so different in how we process things. There are times. I'm sure you've done this too well where you've taken information to somebody who's not a founder and shared with whether that's a wife friend, high school classmate that you've, you've reconnected with whatever. And the reaction from them is almost asymmetrically bad. Like they're like, oh my God, that's so terribly, like actually it's not, but as founders were so used to dealing with these things, we don't realize the impact that this can have, right. It's like throwing a match onto dry Tinder. It's like for us, it's just a match and then, you know, hits the wrong personality and then things can get blown out of proportion, which is bad for that person you're sharing with. But that can also start to reflect back to you, I've done this to myself multiple times where I wasn't really worried about something and then I shared with somebody and they seem to get so worried about that. I thought, shit, maybe I should be worried about this and I was just trying to have something to talk about because this is my entire life. But so yeah, so going full circle, this is a critical problem and one that luckily, you know, I guess we could say we sort of figured out the formula for this, what, two decades ago?

Wil Schroter: Yeah, we've been at this a long time.

Ryan Rutan: So let's talk about from this very recent launch of these formalized founders groups of startups dot com, how and why this has grown so

Wil Schroter: fast and you know what, I think when we talk about this, we'll dig into this. And so I think we can cover it today. We can cover like how we're running these groups, why they're effective and while we run these groups, and obviously if you want to join one, by all means, let us know. We'll put you in one. It's also a template and open source. If you will, that you can go run your own. The goal here is we just want to get founders out of their own head and we know this is a crazy lonely journey. If you're listening to this podcast, you're already shaking your head because you already know right, know everything we're talking about. We're not telling you anything new. The difference is what we're hoping to do today is get you out of that rut and every single founder is in that rut, I don't care where you are in the stage of company, whether you just had the idea Or whether you've got $100 million dollar business, the problems are exactly the same. You're dealing with self doubt, you're dealing with anxiety, you're dealing with a lack of validation, a lack of calibration and all of these things that you're looking to kind of address and get your arms around can be solved by other founders. You know, this isn't something that that's impossible. If you're feeling it, I can guarantee 99.9 Of other founders are feeling the exact same thing. I don't know who the .1% are. By the way, I've never met him. I just want to believe in my heart that they exist somewhere like fairies and gnomes. Like they're

Ryan Rutan: all the startups that you see that say they're in stealth mode and they don't want anybody to know the secret.

Wil Schroter: Yeah. So I'll tell you what, let's start with this, we'll give you an idea of generally what we're trying to accomplish with these kind of what the goal is. So you understand the framework and then we'll dig into how we curate them. We'll dig into, you know, the how the cadence of the meeting works. The follow up and everything else like that. So you guys can understand firsthand how these things work, why they work, and and my guess is as you're listening to it, you'll be like ship, that's actually exactly what I've been looking for, to kind of be able to get out of my head and again, whether you do it with us or someone else, I don't care, it doesn't matter. All I care is that you build this framework that you can use to uh to get out of your own head. So with that said, Ryan, can you kind of, you know, from from your view of it, Can you walk through what you see as the goals of the group are, from what you've seen?

Ryan Rutan: Yeah, I mean, the first and kind of maybe most obvious one is to just bring a group of other people who are operating at that same level, you are going through the same things that you are and are willing to support you through all of that, right? So that this isn't just a place where, you know, we come together and we share our problems and then we walk away, right, there should be a group, it's the band of brothers and Sisters, right? And today, being the day after Veterans Day and thank you to anybody who is listening or anyone has a loved one who served, I'll be very careful how much I analogize this to going through combat, but there is a sense of, you know, using that as the analogy, you know, being together in the foxhole, right? Or having been through the trenches together, right, different types of suffering, obviously different types of risk, very different outcomes. But there is that sense that when people have gone through something similar together, that there is a bond there and that, you know, when that bond is correctly manifested and shared, that you can really really build from that. Um and a lot of things build from that right there, you can create some great outcomes from that in terms of being able to simply share, right? I think that part of that trust and bond one of the things and you've talked about this a lot, um and we've gotten a lot of feedback on this already, is that there's this feeling of safety,

Wil Schroter: right?

Ryan Rutan: Right? Sometimes just having somebody sitting through the storm next to you. So I'll use a different analogy, we had a hurricane here last night and if I had been sitting home alone in the hurricane, every bump creak groan, that the housemaid probably would have had a stronger impact on me. Um then, you know, being there with my entire family, So I think that's a big part of it. We create this safe forum where sharing can happen and and as you said earlier, kind of without consequence, right, I know that I can do this without fear of consequence, and I think that comes down to trust, Right, and why don't you talk a little bit about that? Well, in terms of how that trust has has developed, how long does that take in terms of these that the founders groups because I've been pretty surprised by the answers to this.

Wil Schroter: Here's what's interesting because of everything you just said, you're spot on. Founders love helping other founders. But founders instantly respect other founders. And so what we found this has gone over a very long period of time is that when you just bring honesty into some degree vulnerability to the table, the first person that shares honestly, that just walks in and says, hey, you know what? I've got six weeks worth of runway left. I have no idea what I'm gonna do. I'm totally screwed immediately. Every single person in the room is like, wait, I can talk about that in the moment that happens, everyone just jumps in like holy sh it. I'm dealing with the same thing in most of the time. From my experience, it's the first time that all of the people in the room have had an opportunity to see that everyone else is going through the same thing. We're so used to two things as as founders. We're so used to hearing all this other whitewashed bullshit from other founders. You know about how great things are going right?

Ryan Rutan: The Instagram version of their business, 100% of the right to the right, crushing it, killing it.

Wil Schroter: And remember the news media where what you're consuming generally only covers two things, massive successes and massive failures, both of which tend to not apply to you, right? The second thing is when people show up to any event, they're used to having to defend their startup, right? So they show up at a board meeting, they have to defend the results, they show up to to hire somebody and they have to defend their progress. There's no venue that you're ever allowed where you can just discuss what's happening specifically in your head, right? Maybe you can discuss at a board meeting why you didn't hit your numbers, but you don't sit on the board meeting and discuss. Dude, I haven't slept in weeks, right? I'm so stressed out about whether or not my career is going to take a header over this thing. There's no forum to discuss that. That's what's consuming your thoughts. 24 7.

Ryan Rutan: One of the moments I always love and I don't know how how this will translate to the online will probably a little bit harder for the groups that aren't meeting in person. But one of my favorite moments in the in person, like the founders dinners and so forth, when somebody starts to share something could be whatever problem. Almost invariably, you hear someone else around the table let out like a deep sigh,

Wil Schroter: totally,

Ryan Rutan: right? As if it's like, oh, thank God, we're gonna get to talk about that. Not only that, I don't have to be the one to bring it up, right? Because they're going through the same thing and maybe they weren't sure whether they were going to be able to share that or you know, you know, have the, of the gumption to bring it up or whatever, but like it's rare that somebody brings up an issue one of these and everybody's like, kind of looking at each other like that's strange. Never heard of that one before.

Wil Schroter: There's

Ryan Rutan: almost always at least one other person who you can just hear like exhale months or years of stress just kind of like flow out. Like we're about to get through some of this. I love that moment.

Wil Schroter: Yeah. And I think a lot of it, it's just this feeling that it's not just me. Yeah. And I think just that act of sharing alone, builds this trust pact between all the founders, that just even within the first meeting and again, we used to do this for years, it's just one office. And even just that dinner that evening, you know, etcetera, that trust pack got built. Now we're taking the trust packed and we're building more off of it. Were saying, hey, there's eight of us that have really shared openly and you know, confidence is such an important kind of a key part of this. What else can we do with that? And so when we're thinking about curating the groups, when we put the groups together, our whole focus is that, you know, how do we get these folks together where they can kind of build that trust. So on that note, let me try to explain kind of how we're curating people so that they understand like how these groups come together. And again, if you're doing it yourself however you want, this just happens to be what's worked for us, what we found. And I think this would be helpful even if you're curating your founder dinners or whatever. I've done a gazillion. So I can tell you this is important, you sort of have to group people by stage and we group people into one of four stages. The first stage is the idea stage. So from the moment you have an idea until the moment you launch at that point, folks are typically talking about getting their mvP together, they're having questions like do I quit my job etcetera.

Ryan Rutan: Do I seek funding?

Wil Schroter: Yeah, totally, totally. Right. And they're in that, having all those formative discussions, a lot of validation discussions, both personally and with the product, once the product launches, you're pregnant at that point and you're committed. And so the next stage is the launch stage from the moment you launch until you hit $1 million dollars of revenue, needless to say at that stage, you're basically figuring out survival, right? You're trying to get that first dollar through the door. You're doing your first passive customer acquisition, uh you're hiring maybe your first person, probably not. Probably still doing it all yourself in that in of itself is a common thread amongst all those people, right? You know they're there, they're not trying to solve problems or like well why don't you just hand that to your marketing department? Like nobody in that group has a marketing department which is the whole reason that they're grouped together The next stage that that we have is the growth stage and that's from $1 million $10 million dollars of revenue at that point. You know you have a business, you don't know if it's gonna be a huge business yet. Maybe that doesn't even matter. But you're dealing with all the same kind of oh ship this is actually a business kind of situations like what are our policies, Do we have insurance right. You know like who are the first people were going to hire? We're gonna hire somebody with a C. Level in their title for the first time we're going to departments, we're going to have a payroll. You know, all of these things that that transition from this might be a business too. This is a business and all the kind of growing pains that go with that. The 4th stage is the scale stage And this is $10 million dollars and up. Typically folks in that group, they're long past this is a real business and now they're dealing with how big of a business is this right? You know, what's the size and scope of this thing, I'm dealing with scale level issues. If I'm raising money, I'm raising C and D rounds in most cases, you know, I'm, I'm dealing with hundreds of millions of dollars in some cases as as my problems

Ryan Rutan: maybe looking at acquisitions either, you know that they're going to perform or they may be being acquired, right? So yeah, it's a a different, different level of problems starts to exist here. Not that all of the problems that existed at the other stages have gone away, mind you, but you, you inherited new ones, they just tend to stack.

Wil Schroter: But here's where it really runs into a problem when you start to kind of intermingle a little bit too much across groups. And I've seen this happen a million times whenever you bring someone in the room that just had the idea of nine seconds ago in the same room as Elon musk, it doesn't work right? Because they're not having the same problems, right? I mean, it's not like, you know, they can't have a conversation with each other, you know, offline on their own for whatever reason, but on a regular basis, meeting, it doesn't work. And here are some of the places that breaks and again, if you're putting these groups together, I think it's important to understand this, when the person that just had the idea nine seconds ago finds out that the person sitting next to them is Elon musk. They feel shitty about their share, right? And conversely when Elon musk shares and explains what he's doing, he's like, what the am I doing in this room?

Ryan Rutan: I don't need this person's feedback,

Wil Schroter: right? Like nobody in this room is helpful to me when I say helpful, not like what can I get out of it more. So no one understands me.

Ryan Rutan: It's the same as sharing with your spouse or a friend or anybody else who doesn't have a very similar level of experience and context for what you're going through.

Wil Schroter: You bet. And so we have people in all those different categories and I would say folks in the scale group, their concern always when they were in a room with folks that, you know, maybe aren't as far along is they want to be able to share a problem and mind you, their problems have a lot more zeros behind it than everybody else's problem. But it's still their problem and they don't want to have to explain it. They don't want to have to distill it down or try to say it differently to make people feel good. They just want to solve it. And so the grouping and the curation goes a really long way. Now we have some other vectors. We sometimes curate people by industry and that's usually at the preference of the people, you know, that are signing up and tell us where they want to be. Sometimes we group by location, but Ryan, as you can appreciate that kind of changed with Covid. Sure did. And I think for the better.

Ryan Rutan: I think so too, because you know, we've talked about this before, you know, it depends on where you are as to whether or not you're really going to be able to put together the best peer group. You know, we've talked about this in relation to why clarity is such a powerful product because it means you no longer have to reach out to just that person in your own local parochial network. For an answer to a question. You get to find the person who is the best contextual expert to solve what you're going through. And so depending on where in the world you're sitting, you may not be able to put together a peer group locally. There are times where there are benefits to doing that. There are times where their benefits to them being distal, right? Like you may want to understand what's happening in maybe your industry, but in the in another country non competitively or maybe there's strategic partnerships that form. Obviously we can go on about this all day. There's a lot to be said for being able to connect with people who don't share a zip code with you.

Wil Schroter: Right? And you know, what's interesting is we're trying to create some common thread and connective tissue while at the same time creating more diverse groups.

Ryan Rutan: Yeah. And I think it depends on what right? So on that point as we're curating these groups. One of the things we're thinking about is of the various vectors of the various categorical information that we have. And when we're having conversations with these founders were starting to match them up into groups, what will they benefit from most? Right? Is this a group that really needs that human connection? Maybe just really needs to get together and feel less isolated? That would make a strong case for location being near the top of the stack, Right? If it's, there's somebody who's at a very different life situation, you know, maybe it's a founder who is just starting the first company and they're in their early 60s, throwing them in with a bunch of 22 year old tech startups may not be the right mix group for them. So we want to think about, you know, what is going to create the most impact on a founder by founder basis. And then trying to make sure again, that old adage that, you know, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. And so we've got a lot of vectors to your point that we can use to make those determinations to build the best possible groups and that's half the fun right. The calculus of getting the group's right right is the magic

Wil Schroter: you bet and making sure you've got the right personalities for it. I mean, let's be honest, there's certain personalities that generally don't fit. I'll give you some examples. There is there are people that are too shy to talk. It's a group about talking and sharing. Makes it tough. Yeah. You've done a great place to show up if you don't want to talk on the other end of is people who talk too much slash like, you know, brag too much, right? You know, kind of the chest pounding, douchebag. No place for these groups, Right? This is this isn't about tell us how great you are. Like I said, we're looking for a connective tissue. We're also looking for diversity, right? You know, people who are coming from different that have a certain connective tissue, but also come from, you know, different backgrounds. And you know, sometimes, uh, that'll be a gender background. Like we try to make sure every groups, 50 50 men, women, it could be experiential background. It could be folks that again come from different backgrounds, but maybe their connective tissue is they're all parents. There's so many different ways to put it together is we just ask people, you know, we will sign up form and we say, hey, what are you looking for? And we'll connect you with the right people. But all of this is to say the curation is the group. What we're good at better than anything else is we're just really good at curating the groups so that we make sure when people show up, they look around, like, wow, this is exactly what I'm supposed to be with and we find that if we don't do that or if we don't do it well, it doesn't end well, luckily, you know, we've been

Ryan Rutan: doing this for a long time, it's kind of like, we've been accidentally practicing basketball every day and just found out now there's an N. B. A. Right, the skill that we've been practicing without a specific purpose other than, you know, doing the local founders dinners, you know, helping local founders, you know, wherever we were in the world, this now has a much, much different context and will make a much bigger impact on the founders community at large, globally, which is just, like, insanely exciting to me.

Wil Schroter: I agree. So let's talk about how it works then, Yeah, you know, these groups are based on two concepts, you know, one is trust and the other is empathy, and I think that we spend a fair amount of time usually when we get into these groups to establish how important these things are, but they're also the reason the whole group works, you know, and if if you've either joined a group and, you know, some of you listening or into groups, you know, or if you're thinking about one or another type of group that's already out there, you'll get this really well, but at its core, it's about trust and that means sharing really, honestly, now not everybody shows up and shares honestly, right out of the gates, they kind of weight into it slowly, that's fine.

Ryan Rutan: I had this thought before when you're talking about the personality types, the really quiet person, you know, and and we've seen this happen where a meeting or two goes by and they're not really sharing and then by my meeting, three or four they start to open up a little bit because they're kind of waiting to see like, okay, cool, this guy should really openly and he got some good feedback, but that was once like what if next time they decide, you know, just sweep his legs out of underneath him and they don't want that to happen to him there too vulnerable for whatever reason to to be in that place. And so, you know, in a lot of cases, trust does develop over time, you brought up a great point which is that there is a bit of a stamp of approval or an instant camaraderie that exists when you know its founder, the founder, it buys you something right, it buys you a certain level of trust and respect, but to go beyond and to get really deep into this for some people, they're gonna need a little bit of time, they're gonna need to see it demonstrated on somebody else a few times before they open up. But yes, absolutely, trust is a huge part of this

Wil Schroter: totally and I think once people share the equally important part of this that makes this work is empathy. So Ryan you share and you say, like I said, I've got six months or six weeks worth of cash left in the bank, if you share like this incredibly personal story and you're vulnerable and all these things and then you just get crickets in the room also doesn't work,

Ryan Rutan: right, I'm so glad I'm not you bro. Next Yeah, yeah,

Wil Schroter: yeah, yeah, the worst thing you get is no response at all. And so what we really talk to folks about is the other side of it, which is the empathy, empathy isn't what people think it is when we say it's not just feeling, you know, you're sharing the feelings of someone, it's also being able to ask good questions, right? So what we do is someone shares and says, hey, like I said, Ryan, you just shared that, that you've got six weeks worth of cash left in the bank and the next step for everyone else is to ask about that. And I think here's the hidden benefit that people generally don't realize until they go into a meeting, it allows you to get like an inside view of all these other parallel startup universes, it's the equivalent of having done this seven other times, you know, with seven other people in the room and the reason you and I can run a platform like startups dot com is because we've done so many startups and so we've had so many different experiences of how things can go differently with the same problem Problem with founders is they've only had one. Yes, and there's no way they would possibly get all of these other experiences. There's no inside track.

Ryan Rutan: That's what I'm saying before. It's like there isn't the manifesto, there isn't the manual that can prepare you for all these things, you sort of have to go through them in order even just to understand the severity of the problem. Sometimes, like you may hear something like, well you've got six weeks left of cash in the bank and somebody at an earlier stage is thinking like we're still not cash flow positive, we don't have any money in the bank, we're still accruing debt. So like, it's hard to be empathetic with the we have six months or six weeks of cash left until you've been in a position where you have the cash and now it's running out and you're not sure what to do about that, right? And so going back to like what stage you're at, you know, of course you can sympathize in a lot of cases like, oh that doesn't sound good, but to really be able to empathize, You have to kind of be in those moments

Wil Schroter: you do and what I found is surprisingly a lot of people think, well some Ryan just shared unless I have been through that experience and I can tell you how to get out of it, I shouldn't share. It turns out one of the things we forget about all the time is that chances are no one's talked to Ryan about that

Ryan Rutan: and so

Wil Schroter: you ask what will actually be a fairly, I'm gonna, I'm joking, but like dumb question like how did you get there right, which Ryan is sort of like maybe asked himself, you know what I'm talking about you in the third person, but really until it's been brought to the table in the open, you're like damn dude, that's a pretty good question and as you start to talk about it out in the open, this is why like therapy works for other issues, you start to realize, you know, like how obvious some of the, some of the steps or nodes to that journey are and so a lot of the value in that exchange is for the person sharing just to have an open forum to hear themselves out loud talk about it, but on the other side for all the other seven people in the room to start to get basically a first person view of exactly how to deal with that situation. I think it's super powerful

Ryan Rutan: and that's an important piece of it. Right? So I think that, you know, we were to add and I know we'll get to this in a bit as we start to talk about outcomes and things like that, but really the core tenants of this entire thing, our trust so that we can get to those honest discussions and we can open up about things that are bothering us or or problems that we're having or successes that we're having, but doing it in an honest way, not the chest pounding, right? The empathy. So on the other side of the table, it's received appropriately, it's understood, right? It's implicitly understood, not just heard, but it's it's understood and it starts to trigger, you know, memories of the experiences that the other founders have had, how they have dealt with those issues, right? Because that's really what the empathy starts to drive in most cases, it allows you to connect to your own experiences in a different way and be able to then put those into play in the questions that you ask in the solutions that you may propose and things like that. So it's really trust, you know, the part of the person sharing empathy on the part of those who are receiving the information which can then lead to some action, right? Which is making consequences and outcomes from those, those two core pillars of these groups.

Wil Schroter: And I think what helps with the groups to is that we're really deliberate about kind of how we set them up. Each of the groups has moderator that helps ask these questions and kind of, you know, direct these questions and the moderators used to doing that. Each of them has a coordinator attached to it. The coordinators obviously doing things like scheduling everybody for the meetings and they're they're taking notes to make sure we can do follow ups and things like that. But all of this is geared towards getting shipped done. It's not just about sharing, it's about unpacking this stuff, getting through it and moving past it. And really it sets up what I would say are the three key questions which are the whole meeting. I mean, people think this is super complicated. We just ask three questions every single time and it's the same three questions every time. So we'll dig into it first question we asked, which is typically, you know, the most powerful What's keeping you up at night. Right? And and so

Ryan Rutan: very rarely I think like what have we had one person in about 1000 say nothing.

Wil Schroter: It's like I want to be you. But look, when we show up to these meetings, I think it's right. It's important for us to to kind of isolate for a second. We show up to these meetings as founders, not ambassadors of our company. Yeah. You know, we can be the ambassadors of our company where we talk about the merits of our company in every other discussion. This is the one time we just don't have to. So when we talk about what's keeping us up at night, it doesn't have to just be our cost per acquisition isn't backing out? Or fundraising rounds taking longer. And by the way, maybe those are the things that are keeping us up. So all means fair game. My only point is it's just not limited to that.

Ryan Rutan: No, and it shouldn't be, it absolutely needs to not be so to back up a little bit. I think this is one of the reasons that the moderators are so important because for a lot of reasons they may not have the same issue asking a personal question that a founder might have asking other like because as founders, you know, we we tend to be empathetic. We don't want to put people on the spot. Sometimes it takes a little bit of that. Right? Sometimes you need to ask that that difficult question or push them to be a little more personal, right? Because as the founder, of course we can we can relate to, you know, what's keeping you up at night cash flow. Alright, what's keeping you up at night? Having co founder issues? What's keeping you up at night man, We're really having trouble staffing. A couple of key positions, right? And those are all valid things and they're all important. But like, you know, let me get real personal here for a minute. If somebody were to ask me that question right now, it's my dad, he had a stroke two months ago and most of my life outside of working hours has been and and even a lot of working hours have been consumed by? How are we dealing with that? Right. So that would be my honest answer to that question. What's keeping you up at night right now? It's how much of my dad am I going to get back? How am I going to make sure that he's safe? How am I gonna take care of him? And that's really what's keeping me up at night now, Are there other problems? Yes, like right, uh facebook's not backing out the way I want to right now from the user acquisition cost standpoint, but that's not the top of my list, that's not keeping me awake, it's something I got to work on. But when I wake up at three o'clock in the morning and my heart is racing, it's because I'm thinking, oh my God, did I forget to schedule an appointment for him? Do I have enough of his medications? Left? Right, and that has an impact on me as a founder, right? But it's a very human level issue. It's not related to the business, it does impact the business. And so I think it's important to be able to bring those things into a conversation somewhere, you feel like you can share that.

Wil Schroter: And I think all these things are always tethered. So when people say I'm worried about, we aren't gonna be able to close our funding around? What if you unpack that a little bit and say, what are you actually worried about because their funding around just an event. You know, what are the consequences?

Ryan Rutan: I got a fire half my

Wil Schroter: staff. Okay, let's walk through that. I think when you start to take the things that are keeping you up at night and you're forced in a good way to really unpack them and dissect them with other people that really understand it. It gives you way more context for what you're actually dealing with if nothing else and what I see the most often it provides some validation. Give an example one of the most common things I see, especially in the earlier groups, meaning the earlier stages is some version of imposter syndrome, right? I don't believe I'm qualified to do what I'm doing. And by the way, just to be clear, you're feeling this, no one would you feel? How else would you

Ryan Rutan: feel doing something that's never been done before? Okay, cool. Let me let me let's let's run you through the test that proves whether you can or not. And that's called just continue doing what you're doing.

Wil Schroter: Yeah. It's in the same way no one's qualified to be a parent or around the country, right? You know, it's just like you learn on the job, but here's the point. Often when you're sharing what you're sharing, it's helping validate everyone else in the room. Who is dealing with some variant of the same problem. Right? Maybe not, I'm not dealing with my dad having a stroke, but maybe I'm dealing with kind of the referential consequences that come with that, right? For my own problem, in just the act of sharing what's keeping you up at night goes for miles and what's really interesting is the share is half of it, the other half of it is how everybody interacts with the share, which we just talked about before with the empathy and it all of a sudden gives you an opportunity to dig way into stuff that you may have been just kind of like stuffing in the back of your head because you don't want to think about it or it could be an issue that someone else in the room has specifically dealt with

Ryan Rutan: would be like

Wil Schroter: dude I'll just give you the answers to the test, I'll tell you exactly how this plays out and that happens all the time and I think because we're usually not allowed to share it, we never really get the kind of help we're looking for, especially because we're typically not sharing it with people that know what they're doing.

Ryan Rutan: Yeah, we're again we're sharing especially with the emotional issues were sharing with with friends and family because we feel like we can be more vulnerable with them but in a lot of cases they may also be going through it at the same time you are right, this is like the funding round one is a great one. If the only person you're talking to about that is your co founder, they have the exact same issue you do in that problem, right? Which, which means that they're probably not position. Yeah, the same information. They're going through the same analytical processes that you are and so you're not gonna get a lot of help, you know, at best, maybe get some catharsis talking through it and that's it. Which catharsis is great. But if it doesn't solve the problem, it's a very short lived peace.

Wil Schroter: You bet. You bet. And so let's talk about the help because that's actually the second question we ask, we say, what do you need help with? And in that case, what we're saying is what's a deliberate ask that you can make to this group. Now, here's where people, here's what everybody says in the first meeting, they say I need help finding investors or I need help with customer acquisition on facebook. Like it's a, it's the map 1 to 1. Whatever is happening this week on their to do list with. That's what I need help with. Now, that's logical. Right? Of course. Right? You actually do need help with those things. So I'm not knocking that, what I'm going to say is you quickly see people expand that and they realize you've got seven other founders in the room think of how much brainpower in experience you have access to right now, right. If really all you're going to ask them for is a networking question, that's fine, again, it can be done. But how about things like, hey, I'm about to, you know, change our pricing model. I would love to get on a whiteboard with, with folks here and walk through how you've done it and just give me fresh eyes, Here's the problem. Most of us, especially in the early stages, are access to quote, the executive team are just whoever we're able to hire with, the resources we had during the time that we had them and they were limited by our network and all these other things except

Ryan Rutan: problem I brought up earlier. It's your parochial network, It's, it's the person you might know who knows The most about that thing, but that might be 10% of what you actually need. And this becomes a huge issue. You either get bad advice, not enough advice, no advice.

Wil Schroter: You also typically couldn't afford to hire any of these other people in the room. I mean, you know, these are all people that are, you know, Taipei in a good way, but they all think like founders and I think that's such an incredibly powerful component. And so they also don't have a stake in your business and I mean that in a good way, they're not trying to lean you towards one way or the other because it fits their personal agenda, all they care about is seeing you succeed, right? They just want to help you in the same way they love your help. And so when you're when you're wrestling with a problem, actually was doing this the other night, um, it was a group that was in the scale stage and they were wrestling with some issues about how to take the business to the whole other level and think about it, where else would they have seven other founders who know how to do that right. Chances are you've hired maybe some C level executives that have good experience. But of course, when you're when you're having that white board session about strategy or key moves, whatever, you're limited to what experience they have and you're also limited, like I said a moment ago to their kind of D. N. A. Or lack of founder, D. N. A. Right? In other words, if you were to say, look, I think I'm gonna have to cut back staff and you talk to your staff about that. They're going to think about that very differently than seven other founders are going to think about that. Exactly. Also one other thing I just want to add because I've seen this enough now that I think it's worth mentioning, the founders are going to say what's in it for a founder. In other words, they're going to look at it and say how will it affect you? Everyone else you're going to talk to is going to talk about how it's going to affect them, yep. And so going back to the request, when people make the request again, they typically come up with a very transactional request, which works, and, and, and we'll talk about that in a second, but I think the power of the group, and once, once people really get an idea what this is, is that you've got these badass co founders, basically, that you got, you can go to war with on anything and they're all down, which is amazing.

Ryan Rutan: It's a huge piece of it. I want to draw a contrast for a second because as we're talking through this, I'm going back through, you know, the history of other events I've attended, other, other startup meetings of the startup groups, and there's some really interesting contrast specific to this piece around asking for and receiving help, Nothing against the Kauffman Foundation, I think they're fantastic. They've done a ton for entrepreneurship, Nothing against one million cups, which is an organization that they support and fund, and I've certainly attended and really enjoyed and gotten a lot from some of those events, but if we back up to the part where you said, you know, when we are presenting our startup, that barbecue moment, right, were often defending it, alright, we're pitching it to people wanting them to love it, needing them to like it as much as we do, or at least give us some positive feedback, Right? And so at one million Cups event, you stand up and you get a few minutes, and it's a very short period of time to pitch your startup, right? And then the group is allowed to ask questions and the group is community and it can be kind of anybody. One of the more recent ones I intended, there were a couple of people who were just like business journalists that were there, right, looking for leads for stories. There were a couple other founders, there were people who ran a local accelerator, you know, there were other people who were interested in starting companies of their own, so very mixed bag, it's a very un curated audience, right? So the receivers in this case were quite un curated and fairly random. The presenters, the startup founders are up there making their pitch hoping, you know, against all a lot, is that people are just going to tell them that they love them unequivocally, which never happens at the end of the little presentation. People get to ask questions and they tend to be the kind of questions where they try to be sharp and pointed. I think people like to look smart and like, oh well sure, you know how you're gonna deal with this, And it just sets the founders into defensive mode even further, that they were already nervous. Now I'm defensive and then they do a good thing at the end, which is then the final thing, the moderator will stand up and say, And now we'd like to ask how can the community here support you, right, Which is exactly this this question that we're asking in our groups. All right, what do you need help with? Alright. Unfortunately, because of the the the other two pieces of this that I've just laid out, which is that you get up there and have to pitch it and then you're forced into being defensive. You don't have a trust relationship with these people. The asks that they make tend to be kind of non sequiturs or just so non specific that nobody can actually help. We're looking to raise funds. We need customers. Right? And so it's a hard for the group to react to. And in a lot of cases the group just isn't prepared to react. They're just not that. And so it's it's almost a wasted question. And so I think that as I as I'm comparing the two now, it's so much more obvious how powerful these small, highly curated, you know, perfectly empathetic, trust based groups are in terms of being able to ask that question and have it clarified, Right, What do you need help with? I need help with pricing. Okay. But what do you mean by that? Like, let's dig into that. You've got people who know how to ask the follow up questions, know how to help you unpack it and then can provide real advice. And again, like this is just a way of saying everybody out there. If you're not in a founders group, you need to get in one, there may be other things that you're doing that feel something like this, but if you're not truly in a group of your peers, you're not going to get the same benefit or maybe any benefit, Alright, I'm getting down off my soapbox.

Wil Schroter: Yeah. Also make sure their startup founders to not like, you know, I'm in a room of business owners or business executives who are, you know, thinking about totally different ship, it just doesn't work. Um, goes back to translating. So what's interesting though is when Ryan, when people make those requests in the past, like we used to do this informally, people get together, everybody gets super fired up, They'd make, you know, all these requests and everyone say, oh I'll help you out and make all these commitments and then we'd all sober up the next day and like kind of forget about it, right? Like I always like send follow up emails and it sort of worked. We realize that if you don't capture all those requests and by way that the commitments and follow up on them to make sure they all get done. You really leave a lot of the table, right? Like in our case, that's why we've got somebody in in the meetings, that's actually recording all this stuff and making sure that all the follow ups get made the

Ryan Rutan: coordinator role is so critical to this actually working after the fact.

Wil Schroter: Yeah, so however you would do it on your own just to make sure that that there's some sense that the, that all the actions that are taken are followed up on, otherwise you'll lose a whole bunch of momentum because you know, people say, hey, I need help with this and then no one helped and it just sort of dies on the vine, which it really kind of loses an important point. Now, all that said, the third thing that we do in all these meetings is we talk about what are your goals and and Ryan, I think what's interesting about that is once again, if I asked somebody what your goals are, there's a 99% chance they're going to say here are the goals of my company, right? We want to hit a million dollars revenue whatever and because we're so conditioned as founders to have like the symbiotic relationship with our startup that whatever the startup needs to eat is what I need to eat. And we almost forget that like we are not our startup, we actually did a whole episode on that and we forget that you had goals going into this startup that just weren't your when you set out to start this company, when you quit your job or you take huge risks, your goals were I hope my customer acquisition costs back out or I hope we get the right valuation on my funding round right? Like that, those weren't your goals and they got lost. And so we look to bring him back. Right? And so we say, what are your goals? As Ryan Rutan, the founder? Not as Ryan Rutan that works at startup dot com. It, it's funny because it takes people a minute right now. I'm supposed to have

Ryan Rutan: goals like me, I left those behind. I didn't, I didn't, I have to check those out the door when I walked through.

Wil Schroter: It's like asking a parent with a newborn what they do in their free

Ryan Rutan: time,

Wil Schroter: like sleep, right? You're smart. But what we found and this is actually becomes really powerful is that even just the act of asking people what their personal goals are kind of dust off those things you sort of forgot about is powerful. The second part is saying, how about we start holding you accountable to those goals and that the rest of the folks in the group do the same. Wait a minute, someone that's not me is going to care about me. It's such a foreign concept. You know, it's crazy, powerful and I think, you know, anybody that's ever hired a trainer at the gym, you know, understands the power of having someone that's not you accountable to goals that are, that are your goals. It's not that hard to do. It's just about putting a system in place for people to state the goals and follow up. It's also where like in our case having a coordinator, but again, if you're running your own group, you could do it, you know, just jot these things down and keep following up. But it's powerful.

Ryan Rutan: I take it a step further because so all of that is absolutely important, transactional e operationally. But the other piece that makes this so much more powerful goes back to that trust and empathy piece. Because it matters to me now that I've stated a goal, it matters who you're accountable to.

Wil Schroter: If

Ryan Rutan: you're accountable to somebody that you don't have trust, empathy or respect for that accountability has very little leverage or teeth right? And so I think that it's really important that, you know, the fact that the way these things are structured right now, the coordinator plays that specific role and captures those things and reminds and I'm not taking away from that at all, because it's absolutely critical because that shouldn't be the other founders in the in the group's job where they become so powerful. It's just you don't want to let those other people down, right? You want to see them accomplish their goals. They want to see you accomplish yours and knowing that you're accountable to somebody that you have trust, respect and empathy for will make you so much more likely to do that i is a little aside, I was on a clarity call with the founder about a month and a half ago and then again two days ago And the point of the second clarity call as we finished up the first one, we had set some really specific goals, highly, highly targeted things for this individual to do. And at the end of the call she said can we schedule a call for 30 days from now? And I said absolutely, I was like, what do you want to get out of that? Let's, let's talk about what the agenda for that's going to be right now. And her answer was I just want you to make sure that I've done all these things and I thought that was hysterical like and it was a great use case for it, right? So she knew 30 days from, from the date of that first call that we were going to be talking and she was either going to have to tell me I got these things done or I didn't to her credit, she got three of the four done. Um, and there was some good reasons why why the fourth didn't happen and we talked through that and now she's off and she's gonna go work on those things. Um, but again like being accountable to somebody who really care about the opinion of that person I think goes a long way. So yes, the moderators and coordinators do a great job of setting these up. But it's the power of those other seven people in that group that are going to drive you to to actually get that stuff done.

Wil Schroter: A friend of mine said a long time ago and I'll never forget this. He said as founders, what if we chased our personal goals as voraciously as we change our startup startup goals? And actually what he was talking about were like relationships like what if we were as intense about our friends and loved ones as we were about starting our company. Imagine you're like, I've been stuck for three days because I just want to make sure my kids are so happy. Everything I have into making sure my wife is the happiest person in the world. All I can think about night and day, like how awesome would that relationship be. And yet we have these skills, we have this motor that we rarely apply to stuff that helps us like meaning. Yes, we think that that indirectly our startup will help us over time. But along the way, we're stressed out, we're fat, We're unhealthy where I mean we're all that. I was getting

Ryan Rutan: Ready to go right there. I was like, let's let's go back to 2014. Well, let's let's look at photographs of ourselves. Yeah,

Wil Schroter: so bad. Right? And yet we justify all that to ourselves. We justify that every other goal is important, but ours, right? We're fine with we keep getting pushed down the stack. I think if nothing else reminding ourselves, even just the simple act of talking about it saying that my goals matter, my health matters, my mental well being matters all of these things matter and bring them back to the surface, super powerful. And what I love what you shared about the clarity peace. It's not hard to do. This is a chicken loop. That's all there is to it. But my guess is most of the folks listening are like, yeah, if I'm being honest, I really don't do this, right. You know, my nice stuff is, you know, I'm grabbing my waistline going, yeah, if I was doing this, I wouldn't be grabbing what I'm grabbing right now. So it's a challenge. So let's say this Ryan for all those three things when we're asking folks what's keeping you up at night, you know, what do you need help with? What are your goals? These aren't hard questions on the surface, like they seem pretty obvious, but you'd be surprised at how cathartic asking those questions on a consistent monthly basis in front of a bunch of people who really care about the outcome can be chances are that almost nobody listening to this unless they're in a group already has done this. And that's why, you know what I mean? They're stuck. So let's talk about the outcome of all this, right? You know, we've run tons of these groups, both as a product that startups dot com informally for decades and tons of cities and here's really what we've learned, like, here's the takeaway, usually by the end of the first meeting, once we've established trust and you know, we kind of all know that we're down to help each other, etcetera. We can pretty much accomplish anything we want within that group. Once that trust is established, really, it takes like one meeting. Yeah. You know, once everybody's honest, like you've kind of broken the seal and everybody's good to go. And I think that alone,

Ryan Rutan: this is the question I asked earlier and you kind of interpreted it differently, but that was one of the things that I wanted to point out was how quickly the trust relationships established, and that's because everybody can kind of go around and share something meaningful and that just sets the stage, it's like, okay, we all did that thing now, we all kind of swapped, you know, baseball cards, now we're all in this together and now we can move forward to pace, which I think is amazing,

Wil Schroter: totally. And once you've established a safe spot, I mean, you can do literally anything, you can talk about anything, you can brainstorm on anything, it changes so much of the dynamic, not only the group, but kind of how founders now have a release valve to get all this stuff out of their head. And I think if folks are thinking about this saying, I wish I could ask these questions, I wish I could have the group. Dude, it's not hard. Like email us, You can email us at groups that startups dot com, you can hop out with actually a website set up called groups dot startups dot com. And you get signed up with five minutes. Right? And again, if you're thinking about doing your own group, like, hey, you know, I, your form factor doesn't work for me, but I could use help figuring this out for we don't care will help you all the same. Yeah, exactly. Our product or your own product. That's not really the goal here. And if you guys have listened to this podcast, you'll know that we care a lot about founders because our founders ourselves, we deal with this stuff all the time and now we have a way to make these problems go away. And I don't want to have anybody that's ever listened to this or engaged with us or whatever, not have access to that. So really what it comes down to is if you're stuck in your own head and we're all stuck in our own head, get out of your head, get in front of other people, talk to other founders, whether, you know, it's in a bigger group, smaller group, whatever, but there is a solution to all this stuff and we found over and over and over again, it works the same for everybody. So all we're saying, all we're asking is whatever you do. If you've listened this far, get out there and get into a founder group.

Ryan Rutan: That's a wrap for this episode of the startup therapy podcast. This is Ryan Rutan on behalf of my partner Wil Schroder and all the startups dot com family thanking you for joining us and we hope you'll continue to join us. Be sure to subscribe, rate and comment on itunes or wherever you love to listen to startup therapy. You can find all of our episodes at startups dot com

Wil Schroter: slash podcast.

Ryan Rutan: If you're looking for more amazing resources to launch or grow your startup, be sure to head to startups dot com and check out startups unlimited. It's everything we have to offer from our online university to our amazing community of experts and founders and even all the tools we've built like biz plan, fungible and launch rock. It's everything A founder needs visit startups dot com slash begin that startups dot com slash B E G I N. You'll thank me later.

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