BGBS 020: Someday I’ll be an Idea Man
How adopting other people’s perspectives allowed Michael Ventura to discover that empathy is the secret to success and build a world class strategy and design studio serving the world’s biggest brands.
Michael Ventura is the founder and CEO of the strategy and design firm, Sub Rosa based in New York City. He is also an expert on empathy and practicing empathy in business in order to produce real innovation. Later in the show we’ll hear Michael’s definition of empathy… how most people get it wrong and how applying empathy is the secret weapon for any business looking to innovate.
In this episode we talked about:
- Michael’s early aspirations to be an “Idea Man” growing up.
- Background of Michael’s parents, their involvement, and what life was like growing up in suburban New Jersey.
- Where the sense of empathy and perspective taking came from for Michael.
- Michael’s plans to wanting to go to college coming out of high school and landing into a specialty school.
- The introduction to the business world in Michael’s college years.
- How Michael and his friend started doing events at bars and nightclubs at the age of 19.
- The next big move Michael makes coming to the end of his college years, which happened to be at the end of the dot-com boom, finds a job for a bit until he gets laid off at 23, stuck and unsure what to do.
- Michael and a friend of his who was a software engineer team up to build what was essentially a platform that made flash websites: the birthing of Sub Rosa.
- Michael’s insights on how he stayed valuable to his clients who were potentially ready to leave.
- How Seed came about and how it interwind with Sub Rosa.
- How Michael knew and learned of the business strategies he practiced with design thinking and a methodology for solving problems.
- Michael’s thoughts on what it’s like running an agency on how hard it is to stay relevant and why he feels strongly on practicing empathy.
- A powerful conversation between Michael and a three-star general about why Michael was even at the WestPoint Military Academy.
- One of Michael’s favorite examples of empathy into an organization revolving around the world of equality for women in the business space.
[7:38] “Then that night she said, when she laid in bed with my dad, the two of them were talking, they were like, what the hell is our kid talking about that he wants to be an idea man, he’s nine years old? What does that even mean?”
[18:12] “What I ended up doing pretty quickly, was actually starting a business with a friend of mine where we were doing events at different nightclubs and bars and restaurants, which probably you’re not supposed to do when you’re 19, but somehow we got away with it.”
[18:40] “Genetically I think I’m pretty always predisposed to bringing people together.”
[27:09] “I knew if I was going to turn this business into what I wanted it to be, I was going to have to get some humility and go have uncomfortable conversations. But it proved to be the best thing ever.”
[30:35] “I think that any good culture inside an organization operates like a magnet and if it is going to attract, but it’s also going to repel and places that are, something that for everybody, usually don’t have a strong point of view on themselves.”
[32:02] “It certainly wasn’t learned in a academic or in another employer’s setting, right? It was, it was learned on the battlefield, which I think is actually the way you learn the best. At least is the way I learn best because theory is great, but you know, theory goes out the window the second you get out in the real world and you see what works and what doesn’t actually, right?”
[32:44] “If you don’t get into trouble you’ll never learn how to get out of it.”
[38:24] “Empathy unto itself is really the act of perspective taking.”
[47:03] “Most people do think empathy equals being nice right? And so when you go in and you talk about empathy in business, people are like, Oh God, like more HR training, you know? And they’re not thinking about it like, oh, this might actually help us sell products differently or understand customers better or be able to retain our top talent or longer.”
Links Mentioned On Our Show:
Sub Rosa Social: Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn
Principles by Ray Dalio
BGBS 019: Becoming a Modern Elder
How a passion for hospitality, writing, and business fueled Chip Conley to start (and eventually sell) the global boutique hotel group, Joie de Vivre, only to find himself as the “Modern Elder” at a crazy, high growth startup called AirBnB, and rediscover what it was he was always meant to do…
At 52 after selling the cool and rebel hotel brand he had started at 26, he could have retired. By today’s standards he should have retired… but the young founders of Airbnb came calling. He served as Airbnb’s Head of Global Hospitality and Strategy for four years — while also being CEO Brian Chesky’s mentor — and continues today as a Strategic Advisor to the company’s leadership.
Chip Conley is a New York Times bestselling author whose manifesto on ageism, Wisdom@Work: The Making of a Modern Elder, is inspired by his experience of being both a mentor and an intern in his 50s.
In this episode we talked about:
- Chip’s story growing up, what his dad’s involvement was like, and how he became a brand builder.
- What the effects of psychology had on Chip.
- What an entrepreneur was perceived as, back in the day.
- Chip’s early career in business school and how he learned commercial real estate.
- How Chip caught onto the trend of boutique hotels.
- How Chip came up with the name Joie de Vivre.
- What the success rate was like for his grand opening and what he did to gain traction which would ultimately lead to great success!
- Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
- Chip’s mindset during the dot-com bust.
- How Chip managed to get up to 27 locations.
- What led Chip to leaving the hotel business and how he got into AirBnb.
- What a Modern Elder is and why that name was given to Chip.
- Chips thoughts on how we are to understand humans.
- Advice for those worried about growing older.
[9:46] “When I said to my father at age 12 that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, he said he could send me to therapy.”
[16:07] “If I was going to start my own thing in the future and learning from somebody’s already doing it, it’s probably the fastest way for me to learn.”
[19:14] “I sort of history of proving people wrong and doing something that seems a little odd at first, but it turns out it’s ahead of the trend.”
[22:14] “There are very few companies whose mission statement is also in the brand name.”
[40:16] “I came to realize we were not in the Boutique hotel business, but we were in the identity refreshment business.”
[51:14] “There’s something called pattern recognition and artificial intelligence is about pattern recognition, but human intelligence is about pattern recognition as is wisdom. Wisdom is another way to describe pattern recognition.”
[55:27] “What’s important to hear here is that the social narrative which is, you know, you hit your midlife crisis and then it’s all downhill from there, it’s not actually accurate.”
[58:50] “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be. This need we call self-actualization… It refers to man’s desire for self-fulfillment, namely to the tendency for him to become actually in what he is potentially: to become everything one is capable of becoming.”
Links Mentioned On Our Show:
Wisdom @ Work
Modern Elder Academy
FB @chipconleyauthor, Insta @chipconley, LinkedIn
Abraham H. Maslow books
The Happiness Curve by Jonathan Rauch
BGBS 018: Creating Happy People | Frank and Jacqueline Bonanno | Bonanno Concepts
Today’s story features the husband and wife team behind Bonanno Concepts, Frank and Jacqueline Bonanno.
Frank and Jaqueline Bonanno have built a restaurant group in Denver on the values of Pride, Family, and Excellence. If you talk to any of their hundreds of employees they’ll all tell you the exact same thing. Not only with they tell you this but they believe it with all their hearts. They believe they are family. They have tremendous pride in what they do and know that the product they are providing is excellent. It is clear that these values permeate their business and their culture because this is how they view food and it’s place in our lives.
Frank and Jacqueline Bonanno fell in love over after-shift drinks and romantic conversations centered around deeply flavorful food, nuanced service, and the business of restaurant excellence. In their twenty odd years as a couple, Bonanno Concepts built nine restaurants, two bars, a pie shop and a 16-venue marketplace.
Eighteen of their executive chefs and managers used their experiences with the Bonannos to springboard restaurants of their own, and in a very real sense, the Bonannos have shaped and elevated the culinary landscape in Colorado.
We conducted this interview, sitting in the wine room of their very first restaurant – Mizuna.
In this episode we talked about:
- The history of Mizuna; what Frank was doing prior to being in the restaurant business and what steps led him into owning not only Mizuna, but many other businesses.
- What Frank thought his parents, especially his dad, would have said about him being in the food industry, which actually had a surprising turn for him.
- The specificity of Frank glorifying Italian food.
- Jacqueline’s history growing up in Indiana and coincidently working in the restaurant space growing up and going through her college years.
- What led Frank and Jacqueline to pursue a journey in the restaurant industry and business.
- Tips Frank has for people wanting to go into culinary school.
- Frank and Jacqueline’s thoughts on the lack of passionate and qualified workers in the restaurant industry to step back and become a leader.
- How Frank and Jacqueline met…and their different versions on how they fell they in love.
- The very specific details Frank and Jacqueline notice that make the biggest difference to the overall quality and experience in food service.
- Pizza pizza pizza!! Why Pizza is so important to Frank and what he loves so much about it.
- Frank’s pizza competition experience as a judge and his thoughts on why people have a particular pizza preference.
- The journey of Frank’s positions in Denver working for many places, building numerous experience, and practicing his systems of managing.
- Frank’s thoughts on what it’s like being a chef and what anyone could expect.
- The “unique” decision for naming the restaurant Mizuna.
- What opening day for Mizuna was like and why it was an instant success!
- The tragic loss of Frank’s partner Doug and what impact that had on them and the business.
- How Jacqueline ended up getting involved with the business and how she learned the restaurant business.
[10:23] “Basically I did like the food service industry and I served as a kid in the best means for me to surf during the day was to work in a restaurant at night to make money when I was in high school and college.”
[12:31] “We didn’t tell my father I was cooking for about a year and a half until after I decided I really was just going to do this seriously because he wanted me to get into real estate or finance or something, something different.”
[20:11] “It’s more of if you learn the proper way to do something and learn it really well, you’ll be good at it the rest of your life, you’ll be well rounded.”
[23:53] “[Frank] I think that it is just very difficult to find the quality of person who wants to step back and learn and grow in a position because you can go make 50 cents more an hour tomorrow working across the street and the attitude is I can, I just want money and so the passion is not there that was there 20 years ago. [Jacqueline] It’s hard to remain passionate when you have a huge college loan bill you’re trying to pay off.”
[39:13] “The thing to me about pizza is that it is the most artisanal food. It’s just like pasta. You start with flour, water and yeast. You cultivate it and then it goes into a really hot oven. You put fresh cheese that you’ve made. Fresh Mozzarella we’ve made on top of it with some really quality imported Italian tomatoes and fresh basil like I just, the simplicity of pizza is why I love it.”
[58:59] “The hard thing about being a chef is letting go for sure. Because if you’re trying to be too controlling, you’re probably not gonna be successful. If you can’t trust people to do it. And that would be the same thing in running any business.”
[70:48] “We were on a three-month waiting list from the day we opened.”
[97:35] “20-year-old self looking at me now, would probably say, I can’t believe what you’ve accomplished. That would be it, probably. I never thought you’d be here.”
Links Mentioned On Our Show:
BGBS 017: Born to Shred (EXPLICIT)
“One of my favorite sayings about entrepreneurship is: If you want to understand the entrepreneur, study the juvenile delinquent. The delinquent is saying with his actions, “This sucks. I’m going to do my own thing.” Since I had never wanted to be a businessman, I needed a few good reasons to be one. -Yvon Chouinard
In this episode you’ll hear a story of how a passion for snowboarding, photography, and entrepreneurship positioned Mike Arzt to travel the world, chase snow and become one of the most successful photographers in the snow industry.
The Japanese have a concept “eye-ki-guy”(Ikiagi) that means “a reason for being.” The word “ikigai” is usually used to indicate the source of value in one’s life or the things that make one’s life worthwhile. The word translated to English roughly means “thing that you live for” or “the reason for which you wake up in the morning.” Each individual’s ikigai is personal to them and specific to their lives, values and beliefs. It reflects the inner self of an individual and expresses that faithfully, while simultaneously creating a mental state in which the individual feels at ease…
If that’s not the definition of Mike Arzt, I don’t know what is…
Mike is generous, relaxed, and intense at the same time. He’s been through a lot going through many career journeys. He chases snow like he’s independently wealthy and works at his job like he doesn’t know where the next dollar or meal is coming from.
Mike is a personal dear friend in my life and I am proud to have him as a guest on the Baby Got Backstory.
In this episode we talked about:
- Mike’s Dad being an entrepreneur co-owning a private independent pharmacy in Connecticut, instilling some of the values he had on Mike at a young age.
- Mike’s early years growing up in Connecticut, taking regular trips to Stratton, Vermont and gaining an interest in snowboarding.
- How Mike would work hard and get physically beaten up to get his certification for the chairlifts to board at Stratton, how he made a deal with his parents that allowed him to miss a day of school a week to go up to Stratton, started a ‘Snurf and Snowboard club’ that led to them getting a discount at a ski shop. Mike was extremely dedicated to snowboarding any chance he could get.
- How Jake Burton was a “hero” to Mike and how his brand really spoke to him and his tribe of snowboarding.
- Mike’s years at his first job “Ryan’s Ski and Sport” as a senior in high school. He was later given the responsibility to figure out the snowboard buy for that year and was given a roughly $100,000 budget to manage!
- What led to Mike’s professional interest in photography for snowboarding and how his father had a great influence on that process.
- How Mike’s parents were very supportive of the career decisions he was making, wanting to go to Vermont and work at Burton.
- Mike going to UVM, working in the retail showroom, and then working his way up to manage a product line at Burton working for Red.
- Mike’s unfortunate and highly stressful end working for Red and how it led to him working for Burton.
- What it was like for Mike working for Burton, going to places such as the Olympics, servicing pro snowboarding athletes and providing data to Burton, which was similar to what he was doing working at Red.
- Why Mike ended up leaving Burton and started to work for a multimedia company (Blue Torch) out in Irvine, California, which would unfortunately only last 3 months…
- The journey working at Airwalk and the opportunities that arose for Mike working there.
- Mike being laid off from Airwalk which led to him painfully contacting each athlete to share the bad news of letting them go. This event was “perfectly” timed with Alison also being laid off. So, they were on a 7-day cruise, unemployed, and with no clue what they were going to do…
- In a struggle to find work and make money, Mike managed to sell some of the photos he had taken and really got into a professional stance with photography and also tried to broker his service as sports marketing and team management help.
- The reacquaintance of Mike’s friend, Frank Philips, and how he moved out to Colorado allowing them to work together to form a business, Hellbrook. Mike talks about Frank and the history of Hellbrook and what it meant to them at the time. After working with each other for some time, they would later form the company The Public Works and Mike talks about how The Public Works was born.
- Some of the challenges Mike and Frank faced while running their business as the industry continued to grow.
- The talk Frank, Mike and his industry friend Jason Winkler had about buying a building for their business. After finding the perfect location to form Battery 621, they would later find that the building was in pretty bad shape and would need a complete makeover. Mike talks about the rebuilding process and how stressful it was for him, and also what it’s like working in a co-working space.
- Mike goes over some of his favorite photos he’s taken and what they mean to him.
[9:02] “The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play is labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love in his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at would ever, he does leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him, he is always doing both.”
[20:50] “I think this is that part of, you know, do you even call snowboarding a sport or I mean people are as passionate about hunting or are so many things right, that are hard to explain to other people how it drives you that much.”
[38:54] “That was one thing my parents did push me on. I think I was down in one last class and I heard a lot of like, could you please just get that diploma and be saying like hasn’t really gotten my way yet that I don’t have it.”
[45:39] “I love that there’s just certain people and random things that happen in life that completely change your course.”
[74:21] “I just did everything I could to hustle and try to make the commitment at that point that I wasn’t going to go chase an in house job again. I was going to try to do it all on my own.”
[77:33] “Hellbrook has never been about a place. It is about a feeling, a philosophy, a goal, a friendship, new friendships, passion, fear, excitement, new challenges, failures that result in a desire to do better, a dream. It is about life and what we want out of it. Hellbrook is different to everyone, but our goal is to create an environment that helps everyone find his or her own “Hellbrook”. If Hellbrook is the same experience each time you go there, we have failed. Hellbrook cannot be static. Hellbrook is about getting up earlier, hiking harder and faster to get their first. You could wait for someone else to come down to tell you it sucked, but you would never hit the major score. If you get up first, hike faster only to find out it’s not good, what should you do next time? Get up first, hike harder and drop in first. There are many people along the way that help you find Hellbrook. Some may play only a small part, but you would never find it on your own. Welcome to our Hellbrook.”
[100:22] “You’re surrounded by good people and people that believe in you and tenants that want it to work and you figure it out and a lot of people along the way teach you and you make mistakes and you just keep pushing through it. But sometimes if you don’t know how far in over your head you are, maybe got a better, better chance of getting back out.”
[108:31] “You know, it’s cool to have photos of the pyramids in Egypt or you know, other famous landmarks or beautiful scenes but, what really stands out is it’s the shots of the people and some of the other stuff that was happening that are those super super memories.”
Links Mentioned On Our Show:
The Public Works
Mark Sullivan: Snowboard project
BGBS Episode 016: CEOs Wear Sneakers…
Barney oversees all aspects of K-Swiss, the global sneaker brand, having taken over as President at the beginning of 2016 with a goal to bring the 50 year old brand back to prominence and profitability. Barney has driven fast change both internally and externally, and created a breakthrough brand position around entrepreneurship and brand transparency. Barney has also been Vice President of Marketing for heritage boot brand Palladium, overseeing the brand’s global re-launch and all aspects of brand communication. Prior to Palladium Barney was based in Boston as Vice President of Marketing for PUMA North America during the brands explosive growth period. Now based in new offices in DTLA, Barney is originally from London, England and has been in the footwear industry for over 15 years.
In this episode we talked about:
- What sort of fashion Barney was into growing up when it came to clothes, shoes, and music.
- Barney’s early career in the software industry moving into the sneaker business, both in marketing, and his original aspiration, to be a sales person.
- Barney becoming head of marketing for Puma and later head of marketing for Puma in North America seven years later.
- What led Barney to move to California and what strategies he implemented to rebuild Palladium.
- The history of KSWISS and the reasons why the founders designed their sneakers the way they are.
- What led to Barney becoming the president of KSWISS and the process he took to get there.
- The importance of timing and fashion trends as indicators to maximize the full market potential.
- What sort of strategies Barney did to get the KSWISS brand back to relevance.
- The focus on considering the brand a “tennis specialist” which was a heritage American tennis brand, and the only one in the world.
- The importance of branding and tips Barney used to change the perception of the KSWISS brand.
- How Barney got Gary Vee involved with KSWISS and how his involvement turned into a great success.
- CEOs Wear Sneakers podcast and where the idea for the show came about.
- The plans for KSWISS future and some of the programs Barney is working on.
[03:48] “I just love the fact that you’re actually sort of the chess player. You’re the one who’s sort of scheming and calculating and trying to read the market and put together the plan, and I like that.”
[17:29] “I could have told a great story about how we’re the number one best running shoes for marathons, but if that wasn’t what the market was buying, then I have a great story that’s irrelevant in terms of selling shoes.”
[22:50] “…look, product sales and marketing have to be aligned. In other words, if marketing creates an amazing campaign and gets a ton of eyeballs and then that consumer goes to the mall at the weekend, but there’s no case wishings in the stores, then that brand awareness cannot be converted to a sale.”
[23:09] “…you’ve got to be careful that you’re not, marketing isn’t generating demand. That can’t be fulfilled because sales, hasn’t been aligned on the plan.”
[25:38] “I mean, that’s probably one of the things about having an older brand is the good news is that people really like and trust in the longevity of a brand, that the downside is, you’ve got this baggage because it’s hard to change the perception of that brand because that perception of the brand resides in somebody else’s mind, not in yours.”
[38:20] “I think these days branding is becoming much more important for companies. I just feel like we always pick our presidents or CEOs from the commercial side, either the CFO or the head of sales and brand is probably the most important thing now because, there’s parity in features and functions.”
[39:09] “I feel like branding has raised an importance. If you’re not a company that is solidifying what your brand stands for and building what your brand stands for and then communicating that, then you’re going to be in trouble.”
Links Mentioned On Our Show:
Gary Vee Dark Cloud Shoes
Clouds and Dirt Gary Vee shoes
88 Knit-Clouds and Dirt Shoes
CEOs Wear Sneakers Podcast
Gary Vee (Vaynerchuck)