AHA! To All In
Have you ever felt frustration at work and thought to yourself, how do I do better and make an impact? Jon Hagmaier certainly felt troubled as an educator who was trying to academically inspire “at-risk” students. However, what Hagmaier has always been passionate about is recognizing life’s Aha moments and going All-In to achieve a goal. From the newly released book ‘Aha! To All-In’, please join co-author, Jeff Smith, and author, Jon Hagmaier, as they discuss their experiences developing Interactive Achievement from a three-person startup into a multi-million dollar company. Tune in to hear tips, tools, and stories from their journey.
Jonathan Hagmaier never thought he would be an author as he never thought he would be a CEO of a multi-million dollar company. However, what Hagmaier has always been passionate about is recognizing life’s Aha moments and going All-In to achieve a goal. By 2007, Interactive Achievement had grown from three employees to 75 inside its headquarters. The company was the 2012 Virginia Small Business of the Year and was included on the Inc. 500/5000 list in 2012 and 2013. With a culture dedicated to customer service, Interactive Achievement reached a remarkable retention rate of 100% in the final three years of operation. This is the origin of how Hagmaier applied his Aha to All-In concept to create an environment of success that would propel a three-person startup to a company generating $10 million in recurring revenue. Hagmaier now travels the country speaking extensively on leadership and the importance of core values in sustainable growth.
Jeff: Welcome. This is Jeff Smith. I am back. I have been on vacation in Europe and so happy to be back with you and really looking for today's show. Our guest is the world renowned book author, traveler extraordinaire, what else do you want me to say about you, Jonathan?
Jonathan: Happily married, that is the part that changed my life.
Jeff: Happily married.
Jonathan: I do not think it gets better than that.
Jeff: I think it is best to say the decision was worth marrying Mary, a nice shout out to Mary. That will probably be a topic of our conversation. I have got Jonathan Hagmaier on the line with me. Jonathan has been on the show once before but in the meantime, we have written a book together, it is launched. Our conversation today is really going to be centered around lessons learned in this book that I will share in just a second. During the week, if you want to find us, we can be reached at VoltageLeadership.com or at Facebook at Voltage Leadership or Jeff at Voltage Leadership on LinkedIn.
Jonathan Hagmaier was the founder of a company called Interactive Achievement that he founded with a couple of friends that we will talk about as we go through this. They built it up from really the couch to almost a hundred employees serving multiple states. It was educational software that really revolutionize the way teachers were able to teach in the classroom and help the students achieve even greater success. Jon and the founders sold the company back in late January of 2016 and we worked together throughout that process. Jon has now the moved on and is the CEO of Common Wealth. It is a private equity firm that is trying to help invest and help others grow their businesses. Jon was not content just doing it one time, he wants to help others grow. Jon, welcome to the show.
Jonathan: Thank you, Jeff.
Jeff: Absolutely. Jon, this book AHA! To All-In: Life Lessons From An Unexpected Entrepreneur. It is a great title, just tell me a little bit about what was your inspiration for writing the book first and foremost?
Jonathan: Well, I think one of the main inspirations is I have received a lot of phone calls, a lot of e-mails, a lot of contact about what happened, how do we do it, what was it like selling, how did you decide to sell, why did you sell? Then those questions, once answered, opened up doors to others. It just kept going and I thought about it, Jeff, I sat down and thought you know what, why not write a book about the whole journey which is really based upon a couple of scenes in our life within the book. Basically that is put smarter people around you, find mentors and coaches in your life whether you start a company or not and listen and things like that. Empower people and hold them accountable, just all those things that we learned throughout the journey that was at times the highest of highest and at times the lowest of low.
We survived it together, none of us survived individually and it did take executive coaching, it did take friendship. It took mentors to go from an Aha! moment that lasted ten years in groups on this small little pin to this massive haystack. Just follow the needle to a massive haystack that was touched and grown and massaged and changed and redirected by thousands of people. That was the Aha! moment which was not really the moment. We had to constantly push all in, all of us did. Even employees who did not own the company. It was a heck of a journey. That is what kind of led us to the book.
Jeff: You kind of alluded to it here but this Aha! To All-In. Maybe just at the outset. That Aha!, one of the things you talk about, it is the Aha! moment never ends. It keeps kind of coming back and back and back. I know you like to play poker and cards and are familiar with all-in concept. Maybe just help us understand what is an Aha! moment and what do you mean when you say to go all-in?
Jonathan: Yes. An Aha! moment is when you have an idea that you think can actually help or change something and it can make it better, that is all I would say an Aha! moment. Something that when you have it, what most people will say, that is really logical or yes that is pretty simple or why did I not think of that? Well, that is that Aha! moment. Pushing all-in basically means you cannot get others to do it for you. It means when you push your chips all in and you cannot take them off the table. You are either going to win or you are going to lose. Most people do not want to do, I would tell you that is not something that people sit around and go wow I wish I could do that. I think that just for me, I just failed so many times in my life and just kind of become numb, you probably just have to go for it. Somewhat ego and none on pride. I did have a lot. I had more ego and pride than probably all your listeners combined in my 20's. By my 30's, they were gone. The all-in is you pushing it in and you do not get to take it off the table.
Jeff: Yes. I think that is a great segue there Jon, the all-in. So many of our listeners, they got great ideas, but it is like there is something that blocks them from going all-in. What maybe helped you to go all-in and having worked with you for multiple years, I know that was all-in multiple times whether it was changing your leadership team, to bringing on investors to expanding to further states to decide and sell the company? Can you just maybe walk us through because a lot of people will walk up that line of thinking they might want to go all-in but they do not quite cross the line. How are you able to do that successfully multiple times?
Jonathan: I think it began with some people in my life wanting to write in a book about Will Kramer and Dr. Long. It kind of prepared me for my 30's, to be ready to accept the help I got to go all-in and that would have been from my wife Mary and Matt Mahler and Jacob Gibson. I say that I did not go all-in on my own. I think a lot think they are alone, they are free to give up equity, they are free to give other people power, empowerment. When we all took the approach, we were in it together. If we lost, we lost together. If we won, we won together.
From that moment, all the other all-in moments just kind of the Aha! moment. It was built on by others. The mentors, you as an executive coach, helped us make those decisions and that stuff wherever investors help us get to those. Okay, we are going to push all-in, we cannot lose. That is possible, you can lose everything but if we do, we could be five times better, ten times better, one hundred times better. To be able to do it, I watched people who were so afraid to go in and I feel like they are on their own and they want me to join in with them, 'Why don't you come all in with me?' In some things I would.
There are some things I absolutely would go sure I am going to do that but you really need to not do it on your own, I would tell you. Some people say, 'Well, I do not have a Matt Mahler who was a brilliant programmer.' My answer to that would be that everybody is I did not know he was a brilliant programmer, he was just one hell of a friend that reached up in front of a bus for me and when he said he was going all-in, I knew what that meant, same with my wife and the same with Jacob. That would be my advice.
Jeff: Yes. We have got probably about three minutes until break here. Let us touch on the first topic around relationships, you kind of alluded to that. With Mary, Matt and Jacob, being the original founders of the company, and in then throughout. It really is a theme. Why did you want to dedicate so much of the book to relationships? Why was that so critical to you?
Jonathan: I think all your success is based on relationships and life. Whether it is your marriage, your business relationship, your friendships, your community relationships, they are all the same. It is all relationship. In a very solid, healthy relationship, there is trust and there is communication that I do not read anything else into it. There is trust and there is communication. Now, there is decision that will be made but there is trust and there is communication. That is what was so important for me. I would tell you, I had to learn how to get out of my own way.
I had to learn how to trust others and they had better ideas or different ideas but just got to the same spot. I would tell you I had to learn to communicate and the best way to communicate is to listen. Not to sit there and hear somebody and you are thinking about the seven things you want to say after they are done speaking. But actually listen to people. That is why relationships are so important. You will not be successful without that. You cannot do it on your own.
Jeff: Well, Jon, I think that is brilliant. By the way, I described that listening is often with leaders I work with, they are listening to show where they are going to be brilliant or correct other person or drive them to their result. What I appreciate about your listening, Jon, was you are really listening for the best idea, the best that could come from this discussion and I think that is a sign of maturity and growth. I would want to make sure that listeners understand. When we say listen, it is not listen to prove yourself right. It really was listening and understanding what was going on and how can we find the best solution and often the words were not as important. You were really brilliant at reading the body language and seeing that people really were all in with you or they just sort of saying the words. I think you had a really great ability to pick that up in the relationships as well.
Jonathan: Right. Here is what I would say to just jump up on that. That is if you cannot get people to go all-in with you then you should not do it. It is something you need to change with people. Just a lot of people cannot see that. I want you all to know. I went to rehab. I went to a relationship rehab and figured the golden rule because is not about me and I want you to think about that. You can now listen and grow your relationships.
Jeff: Great. That is fantastic, Jon. Let me go and summarize this first section, a lot about trust and communication. All-in does not mean that you are doing it by yourself. You are going all-in with others and helping them understand. Aha! does not happen just one time, it is a moment that occurs regularly and we will continue to talk about sort of how you build that up and around your team. As well as learn to get out of your own way. It is not all about you and we will build on that in the second segment. Thanks for being with us so far today. Jon is going to be here for the whole show so you can e-mail or call. Reach out to us and we will talk to you in two minutes.
Jeff: Welcome back and so glad you could join us today. I am on air today with Jonathan Hagmaier. Jonathan recently wrote the book AHA! To All-In: Life Lessons From An Unexpected Entrepreneur. I had the privilege along with Bill Long to write the book with Jon. This is friendships reunite. We had not seen each other since the night we launched. I mean I traveled to Europe and you have been to New York and Seattle and all kind of other places in the meantime. That was a heck of a night and a great launch, really enjoyable.
Jon, I want to help people sort of understand. These listeners, they are like wow this sounds like such a great success story and it can almost sound easy, having been along for some of the ride and certainly with writing the book, you guys, it was not easy at the very beginning but you did have some success. Then we enter a section in the book. You call it the pit of despair. Can you maybe tell us about some early success and what is this pit of despair that you guys landed in?
Jonathan: Yes. The book is written in a three time period. The first time period, like you said, we were just like skyrocketing. We were growing exponentially each year, hundreds and hundreds of percentage points from year over year growth. I mean we were retaining all of our customers, the world was just awful. Then a few things just came to light and permission and that was our program was not built for the growth that we have so we had to stop and re-write your program.
Those of you listening right now that just heard those words and have gone through it, if I could hug you and you could hug me, we would probably do it. Knowing what that meant to re-write a whole application. Number two was not having the right people in the right seat, the right talent to get us to the next level and making those realizations and having to make those hard decisions financially and from a friendship standpoint. We ended up, Jeff and I talked about this, we were the Virginia Small Business of the Year and we were also on The Ink 500 list and every day I woke up thinking we were going out of business.
It was so hard and it was from a relationship friendship, it was hard on the marriage, it was hard on our employees, it was hard on our clients. It was just three years of the pit of despair and if you ever watched The Princess Bride, nobody survived the machine. That is what it felt like. It was sucking the life out of us every day but we did come out into the golden age the last three years of IA. That is what the pit of despair was.
Jeff: Maybe, Jon, we have listeners all over, right? We may have just scared some entrepreneurs from going into this but I think it is good that they get real reality. You and I were on a shared e-mail text with a friend of ours yesterday about that is getting ready to launch. What I would say is I think it is good. You and I both are entrepreneurs, we had people that told us this but I am glad that we can share this part of it and let people know hey this is real. Some of that success that comes early can almost be just fool's gold because it is almost like this is not hard, this is easy.
Jeff: What got you through the pit of despair? What were the things that kept you knowing that you were on the right track and you are moving in the right direction because I am sure that some our listeners are maybe in that pit of despair like I do not know, what should I be looking?
Jonathan: I had the mentors and coaches. My life was part of the most abundant at the time. I had Dr. Long as an executive coach and then you as an executive coach to what I call the three wise men that I have lunch with every month, the most successful businessmen that I knew would have lunch with me and I would just pour my heart out. I would say a cry for help. What was great about it is, once again I would tell you all and affirm, you are not going at it alone. You will feel like you are at times but if you open up and trust people, once again building those relationships, here you are not alone.
Sometimes, others carried you even though you felt like you had to carry it all the time. Then I look back now there were times that Matt Mahler, who him and I during that time period, I did not know if we were going to be friends after 30 years of friendship. There were times I look back, he carried me. My wife, the same thing to just those mentors, you are not alone.
The reason why you have to go through that, I think most companies will go through that time period. It is when you come out that other end, when you make those right decisions to get to the next level, you cannot do that without failing. I think this whole generation coming up, it terrifies me. My daughter had a great first semester, struggled a little bit in the second semester and I told her, I said, 'It is not a failing unless you do it twice.'
Even at the same decision and same mistakes again, then yes, you are right. But we all should push ourselves and should fail and take too many classes sometimes and some of those are hard classes and we all make poor decisions but in the end we learn from those decisions. I made so many poor decisions as the CEO of Interactive Achievement. I own that, I own those bad relationships, and that was how I have the opportunity to make it better. I first owned it and then went out and found help.
Jeff: Jon, let me just tease that out for our listeners because I get to witness some of that. I can remember asking the question how long were you willing to set mediocrity and the reason I was saying that was that the people that had been able to help you grow from four employees to twenty five employees, they were excellent. But I could come in and see that to the ones that were going to take you from twenty five to a hundred beyond. That was not their sweet spot. They were not bad people. They just were not sweet spot. What Jon did that most people do not do was twofold. One, he asked for help and he was really honest about his need.
To me, the entrepreneurs and leaders that I worked with, they hole up in the office more, they go to just a friend or two to tell their side of the story and that it is the employee's fault or it is the investor's fault or the banker's fault or whomever, right? What Jon did really well was he was honest about assessing the situation and then he listened and took action. Lots of us go and seek feedback and then do not do anything about it. Jon not only recognized that, he was in the pit of despair but he also went and sought the feedback out and took the time to go listen and apply it. Too many of you, when you are stuck, you are trying to hole up. You are trying to find the answer on Google or with just a friend or two. Jon went out and found people that were going to be honest and brutal and really hold them accountable. Jon, I have always respected you for that.
Jonathan: Yes. Once again, you have pride and ego setting aside. I watched so many companies today, as we look at companies, and you try to help them and it is okay because they are going to make some of their own mistakes also and you try to give them some of that advice but I watch it. It is really hard, people have a really hard time with friendships and people that have worked for them a while. They think they are talented and in the end they are not the ones that get them to the next level. But if you can get them in the right seats now, they get to stay with you for the trip.
I am not going to be your chief operating officer, chief technology officer, chief financial officer. In the end, some may get there but I do not know who will and who will not have. But I can tell you from experience that it is almost impossible to watch a lot of people, like you said, under the thirty, under the thirty five employees that are going to get that seventy five employees in those type of position. It is hard. Try to make that decision. I try to help because if you can get people in the position, then you are really the director of X instead of the C level X. You watch that pool of people really flourish at that level, they are going to have a chance at the end when you do salary, you go public or something great happens, to be part of that.
Jeff: Yes. This is not just part of entrepreneurs, right? I work with a lot of large organizations and I am amazed at how many people are really hesitant to go and seek honest feedback and really push themselves. They kind of move into what I call the zombies where it is kind of like they get up and here is what I do Monday through Friday. They say things like it is hump day Wednesday, thank God it is Friday, and they do not really push themselves and I think that what led you out of that pit of despair was you pushing yourself but then pushing the managers of your organization to start enlisting with you, setting the strategy with you, you holding them accountable with goals and then quite honestly, moving a few people and having a tough conversation with a few people to get them in the right spots. That can happen at a hundred-person company or forty four-thousand-person company. It is having that courage.
Jonathan: Yes. Well, you know what is really interesting? When you truly empower and hold people accountable, the whole key to that is the honest conversation. I would say the last three years, I really did. I had some very brutal hard conversations and many of them made it through and did a great job for us. They went basically from the executive team to what we call our senior leadership team and went from vice president to a director, from a C level down to a director or even a VP. But in the end, they had to make the choice too. It was not just Jon, a great Jon thing, you need to do that. In the end, they had to agree and say, 'You know what? I am going to be the best of this and I want to head down this path.' Those people as employees, you just never want to lose them. They were just very selfless and just very generous.
Jeff: Well, I think that is an important point. When we say all in, you as a leader, the all-in does not have to be someone who is a vice president. What I was really impressed with Jon for Interactive Achievement and your ability to lead was the number of people that were maybe front-lines and dealing with the teachers or dealing with the students, they would go all in and pull off amazing stories Some of these were folks who barely graduated high school, maybe did not have college, but they were so thankful for the chance that they went all in and really were partners with you.
Jonathan: Right, right. They were pushing their personal chips in too to say no matter we are not leaving. I am going to do whatever it takes. That is gold, you cannot let that go. You have to foster that culture. You have to give them the opportunity. You have to give them the opportunity. We always rip on millennials. This is what I guess part of the millennial that will rip on the digital native and this is how we do things but in the end I cannot tell you whether they were millennial or Generation X or digital native.
In the end, I have employee who would just sacrifice anything and everything, not for Interactive Achievement per se, but for the kid trying to learn or a teacher that needed just a little more help. I remember helping a teacher on Halloween in Henry County, Virginia at nine o'clock at night, trying to build an assessment and we did it. This is how you did it and that is just the way the culture was and you just cannot think. I could never thank my employees and peers enough for what they sacrificed.
Jeff: Jon, that is great. Let us wrap there for this segment. When we come back, we will talk a little bit more about the golden age and really about how do you shape culture. Again, we got Jonathan Hagmaier on for the show today. We will be back in two minutes.
Jeff: Welcome back and so glad you could be with us today. I am on the phone today or on the show with Jonathan Hagmaier. Jonathan is the former CEO of Interactive Achievement and the current CEO of Common Wealth. The Common Wealth group is a private investment firm. Also, if you are interested, Jon is available for speaking. If you have enjoyed his topics and are interested in learning more about the lessons that he has to share, he is available for speaking engagements and would love to come in and work with you. Please go out to either his website so you can look up Jonathan Hagmaier, we will have it show notes, or just look at the Voltage Leadership website and we have got links to it as well.
Jon, before the break, we were in the pit despair and the next chapter the book is really the third section, the golden years. We talked a lot about things like culture and your employees and your values. What really let you out, the pit of despair into those golden years?
Jonathan: Hands down our culture. When we shifted in the middle of the pit of despair, when I tell people you have to find a bottom and we found the bottom right around 2011, middle of 2011 and 2012, right in that area. We came out of there. I actually had all the employees, we are thirty-seven at the time, write me a letter on what they felt Interactive Achievement should be. From there, Dr. Long and I read those letters, and basically what they said is we want to be honorable, unselfish and generous. We called hug and that led us out of the pit I would tell you.
That being the core of our culture and then when I found an investor, he fit our culture. Matt Besler was just one of the honorable guys in the world. He fit really well into our culture from an investor standpoint. When we went to hire the dream executive team, I was ready to find the right people and I knew how. I was not doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. We had taken a different path, a different way, and we were ready to accept the next level of people. We knew how to recognize them. That is what led us out of that.
Jeff: Wow, there is a lot to unpack there.
Jonathan: Not accepting mediocrity. Let me throw that in. Recognizing that, I cannot do the same thing over and over again and expect something different.
Jeff: Yes. There is another conversation that let me just add to that too. There was a lot of change for the organization, but Jon, you remember we were having also the conversation about you had to grow as a CEO, you had to re-invent yourself? I want our listeners to also understand that I was with Carilion yesterday and there are a couple of vice presidents that are in that same transformation that you are in where they had grown the stuff that they used to do and cared about, more so passionate about, they know how to delegate that out.
They had to go on to some other places. I just remembered for you, that was not a hard challenge because you are a really great relationship builder, fantastic with the customers, really like to be on the floor and being able to connect with people and then all of a sudden, you have got to be out with superintendents and bigger kind of conversations like national conferences, meet with investors, helping the board understand things. That is a big transformation for you.
Jonathan: Yes, I will be honest with you. If I could not have made that, I would immediately step down as the CEO. If could not have done that because then I would have become the hurdle. I watch a lot of CEOs that are the hurdle because they cannot get out of your own way. The way you get out of your own way is you grow. Either you move out of the way or you grow to the next level. When I hired my executive team, I remembered just the conversation you and I had. You looked at me in the eye and you say are you ready are you ready to go the next level because if you do not, Tom Haus and Marcy Daniel and Lorraine Lange, all these top executives, and Richard Hammer, Jacob, they are going to leave. I am like what? What do you mean they are going to... What? I am Jon Hagmaier, Jeff. Come on now, buddy.
Jeff: You are the man.
Jonathan: Literally I had to stop and then, you know, I was not playing college football anymore. Now, I am going to the pros. I mean if you do not change your personality, you are who you are. When you do that, you empower and you get up and you challenge them. You have to challenge them. Once I did that, we took about six months and grew into one another. I would tell everybody empowering your executive team to make decision in areas and trusting them to listen to one another but they make a decision...
One of the greatest moments for me was when Marcy Daniel walked in my office and she says I need you in Tennessee. I said, 'What do you need me to do?' and said I just need Jon Hagmaier to be Jon Hagmaier. In that moment, I realized, she knew my strength. Walk in the room, get everybody jacked up, get everybody excited about education and that is what she needed. She means rising out, you did not have to go make a major decision. I did not have to deal with an employee. Me in that conference, in that room, in that moment, and she knew that was what we needed as a company. That told me she understood the strength of people. Yes, I am not the only one who has ideas and can read people. I had a great executive team and from that point on we just really started the flow as a team.
Even though some of the decisions we made people did not like and other executives did not like in the room and senior leadership, I think we all respected once another because, once again, to everybody on the phone, if you trust and you know how to communicate, you have a solid relationship.
Jeff: Yes. What I say is not to take for granted how hard you guys work to come a team as well. I remember Marcy coming in and just being a little frustrated and saying, 'Jon, we just need to go off site to get to know each other for a couple days.' We are not going to know each other, and I was along for some of the ride but Jon, you led a lot of this. But I mean we worked on how do we make decisions, what our communication styles, what our thinking patterns? What was our SWAT analysis for our team of our strengths and weaknesses and even if you hired some of your first executives that were now going to be virtual and not in office every day, we had to work out that. I would not underestimate, for the listeners out there, this is not just you kind of say okay it is going to happen.
You guys, where Jon really grew and developed, was now he was not working on the next product or just talking the next superintendent of schools. It was how do I grow the team, how do I give space to Marcy, how do we make decisions of the team? That what a lot of work, Jon, you really did in the in the golden years to set it up for success.
Jonathan: Well, I would tell you, to anybody on the phone, let me give you an example of the difference between the pit of despair and the golden age. This is a great example. Before I would tell in the pit of despair, I would get my team together and I would say, 'Here is how I want you to run this process. I want you to do this, this is your sandbox. This is what you guys own. These four things I need you to do. I need you to do this, I need you to do this, I need you to do this.' In the golden age, I would look across Marcy, Jacob, and Richard Hammer, Jacob Gibson and Marcy Daniel. Marcy is my chief operating officer, Jacob my chief product officer, and Richard the chief technology officer. I would say, 'This company needs to know how does an idea goes from our products, to an idea to actually happening.’ That is all I said.
Two weeks later, they came in with the sandbox of who and what, who the employees would go to with an idea, where does that fall in the process, how are they going to communicate to the employees, how they would communicate to their clients, and how does that come out of the funnel in the end as an actual feature or an idea that now becomes something solid, something real. That is the difference. If I could give you any example of really trusting, once again, to listen to one another, to empower each other and in the end Marcy made certain decisions, Jacob made certain decisions, and Richard made decisions.
I can tell you many times they did not like what the other person's decision was but they respected it and they knew it. But they worked it out. They were not told to do it in the sense of this is your power. They empowered one another and then it was easy because you kind of cannot go against yourself there but it was great. That was the difference. That makes any sense to people.
Jeff: Yes. We have got a couple minutes here, Jon, until break. Just maybe talk a little bit about some of the fun, the March madness and some of that. Out topics have been fairly heavy but part of this culture was also bringing out the best in your team and let them really get to know the clients, your school systems and things like that. You want to just give us an idea of a few of the fun things that you would do to sort of bring people in to going all in with Interactive Achievement?
Jonathan: Think of it this way, we would play hard. March Madness was a time where we forced all of our employees to watch the games from twelve to five. They were not allowed to work. In the end we would, from vacation standpoint, if you went on vacation and you did not turn everything over to somebody that can handle your job while you are gone, we catch you answering e-mails or phone calls, we would dock your pay because you are on vacation. Do not do not that to your spouse, go on vacation. Things like that. Our Christmas Party was just a rocking night celebration. So much to think of this way, what we did was celebrate events. When Jackie Lackey became our HR director, she did the monthly celebration. They would play team games and team building but we would celebrate constantly.
The first four years we celebrated all the time. In the middle three years, we do not even know how to spell celebration and almost destroyed us. We found it going back into the golden years. You think about Mad Madness for three week period of time where for two days they watched that, they spin a wheel for the money. We had people win $250 or $500 in cash those days. No one should think about it. Just go and get $2500 in cash and just give that away to your employees because a lot of them really do need it and how much little that cost you just to be a little bit generous. Things like that we would do during those times.
At the end, we would send people on trips, all destination unknown, when everybody put their sheet and then you won. We would send you on a four day trip, three day trip, and you would get thirteen letters. You open the first one when you take off the airport, when you land open up the second. You have no idea where you are going. We had come up with these things. I want you to know I did not come up with this idea.
We had these Aha! moments of ideas the culture and we have made them better, we listened. Culture is going to be the most important thing to your growth and your clients will understand, your employees will understand it and your community will understand it. If you build a really healthy cultures, ours was being honorable, unselfish and general. What is yours? If you walked out right out to your employees and ask them and they could not tell you what it was, you really need to put a lot of effort and time into it though.
Jeff: Brilliant, Jon. We are up against a break. Let us put a wrap there and then we will come back and we will share you some of our lessons learned to close the show. We will be back in two.
Jeff: Welcome back again and thanks for being with us today. We have Jonathan Hagmaier on the show. Jonathan is the recent author of AHA! To All-In: Life Lessons From Unexpected Entrepreneur. It is available on Amazon.com. Great book that I had a joy of writing with Jonathan. Check it out. We know there are several folks are using his book club, even some colleges are using it as a guide for their entrepreneur programs. If that is an interest of yours, please feel free to reach out to us and we will help guide you through the process. Jonathan, this last section, sort of like the call to action. You have been so generous with all the are your thoughts and your ideas. For those listeners out there, what would you say to them to go do. A lot of good suggestions here, lots of good conversation, what was your call action to the listeners be?
Jonathan: No matter where you are out right now. I would say whether you are in the first four years, the middle three, or the last three and if I was to define what time period look like. You have to get others to evaluate where are you, where is your culture, where your decision making process? Are people being empowered? Do you have the right people in the right seat? You cannot do that by yourself, you need to get everyone involved to that and have an honest conversation. That would be the first call to action. Then the second call to action is listen.
I see so many people say, 'Hey, can you tell me what do you think about this?' I give them yes you should not promote this person. I think you have it set up different but you are asking me. I am just looking, have you tried this or that? Well, I do not want to do that. I would tell you, if you are willing to hear and listen to what that evaluation is, then I would not do. It would be a waste of your time but that does not mean you have to do everything there is but you have to honestly look at it and set your pride and ego aside and say okay what do we do next and then go seek out those answers.
Jeff: I think you have to take some chances on some people that are going to go all-in with you. They may not have a pedigree, I am thinking about someone like Sam Lackey or CJ Page that there was not the Harvard MBA, this was more of the school partly knocks and here is life's lessons and they came in and they went all-in and they rose up with you. They did not make it to the executive team, maybe another five years of grooming and growing, maybe they would have. But boy did they come in and roll their sleeves and want to really work with you. I think look for talent and ways to develop it and the resume, what is written on paper is not as important as the spirit and or their cultural fit. What do you think about that, Jon?
Jonathan: I would say 100%. I would even say down to Alex Laguras, we hired at the end who was off site vice president of sales. I remember sitting around with Marcy and Tom and Jacob and Richard and all of them saying he fits our culture. I have no idea of Alex. I mean I will pay you for sure, Alex did sales here and there, but he fit our culture really well. Sam and CJ and for people like that, here is what I would say to everybody who is listening, you have no idea the capabilities of human being until you open up a door, get out of their way, and allow them to go. Man, it was so fun to watch a kid who I will say was on the back of the line, become our director of operations, who is now a VP of operations. Once a kid who was an English major who oversaw all of our products. You watch that.
You watch the teacher become probably one of the greatest sales people and product developers of education product and Jacob. I watched Marcy Daniel who was a director of marketing become probably one of the greatest chief operating officers any company would have had. Those things do not happen if I do not step out of the way, open the door and let them go and let them fall down. But it is great for me, let them go face first into the cement and then pick themselves up and get better. That is about what would settle now.
Jeff: I would say the last one I have, just watching the story, is Jon had a really unique ability to form relationships with everybody whether it is customers, whether it was superintendents, people in the community, and probably some of the most important were his advisors like the Three Wise Men or his former college professor and really being humble enough to listen. I see so many folks that think that if they just work on their product a little bit more and tweak one more thing inside and they spend all their time inward facing.
What made Jon and Interactive Achievement so successful was they went outside and found suggestions from people that had not run a software company always but had run something similar or knew how to build a team and Jon would go and find experts in that and listen. From my perspective, Jon, one of the greatest things you did was build relationships with people that could help you give the right type of suggestions and then you implemented them.
Jonathan: Yes, yes. I was very lucky in my life, very staged and good advice.
Jeff: I think is more than luck. Jon is being humble here. He is learning the lessons now. Jon, you are into the forty's. I get to say it is, Jon. I do not think that something that happens quite honestly in the twenty's and early thirty's. I think that is something that you learn over time but I do think that that is rare as a leader. There are lots of leaders that think they have got all the answers and that gets in their way.
Jonathan: Yes. I will just quote Will Kramer, Tucson, when I worked for him, 'You are not going to do anything good by yourself. Quit thinking it is about you.' You just have to get over that or you will not be yourself.
Jeff: Absolutely. Jon, it has been a real honor to have you back on the show. Let me tell you about what Jon is doing now. He has got Common Wealth Group that is investing in companies but he also wants to share his knowledge so he would love to work with your company. He has gone into several national speaking engagements. He also will come in and work with companies to help them assess where they are and help build and grow the organization. If you need some outside help, Jon could be the right person for you whether it is a speaking engagement or consulting assignment. Please know that Jon is available. Again, the book is AHA! To All-In:Life Lessons From Unexpected Entrepreneur. If you like to check JonHagmaier.com, you can find out more information about his company. Jonathan, thanks for being on the show again today.
Jonathan: Thanks, Jeff. I think it is actually JonHagmaier.com.
Jeff: Sorry, it is JonHagmaier.com, my bad.
Jeff: Jon Hagmaier. For folks who are listening to the show, it will be in the notes. Next week on Voltcast, we will have Lee Hubert on the show. We will be talking about retention and recognition. Lee and I will have a really wide ranging conversation on that. During the week, again, you can find us a voltageleadership.com or reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. Like I said, the transcript as well as all the information that we shared will be on the website. If you want to try to find how to order the book or get to Jon's website, we will link that to our webpage.
We really appreciate all the folks that come out each and every week to listen to the show and who send us a note, you are really important to the show and we appreciate your thoughts and suggestions. Jon, thanks for being on the show. To our listeners, we will talk to you next week, same time. In the meantime, make it a great week.