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Ignore everything but the bottleneck with Ken Brickley – Episode 35

3 top tips from Ken Brickley

1. Read The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt

The theory of constraints is, imagine a box, like a manufacturing line, and you think of where the bottleneck is in your manufacturing line. You solve for that bottleneck. Treat your business, your startup the same way and ignore everything except the bottleneck, within reason. Then when that bottleneck is solved, it immediately shifts to somewhere else on the manufacturing line, and you immediately have a new bottleneck. And so then focus on that new bottleneck, but try as hard as you can, to really just focus on those bottlenecks.

2. Define your why in a single word

Really understand and know and define your why. My challenge is to try to write down a word, a single word that resonates so much with you that that word could answer the reason why you were put on this earth. It’s going to be a different word for every person, right? But then really ask yourself, am I going to work and living by this word? If you’re not, you’re swimming upstream and if you are, it legitimately feels like you are swimming downstream, it is the coolest feeling in the world. I have done both and I can tell you hand on heart, swimming downstream is lot easier and more fun. It’s profoundly impacted my overall happiness in life and I recommend it for everybody.

3. Have core values entirely aligned with your co-founder

The core team that you start with, your co founder or your first hires, make sure that your values are entirely aligned and they’re really clearly spelled out. If your values are not aligned, when the downs come – and they will come, things are gonna wobble. Being super aligned on those core values makes the tough days so much easier. You know you’ve got each other’s back. The alignment of values is one of the core ingredients in building trust. And if you don’t have absolute complete trust, with your founder, or your first hires, it just makes it really hard.

Listening to this right now you might be thinking, oh man, I kind of know that person is not the right person, or whatever. I will tell you this, walk away from it. There’s gonna be another idea. Idea is 1% execution is 99%. If you guys are not on the same page, the execution is gonna go wrong later on down the road, and it’s going to be exponentially more difficult to unwind yourself, when you’ve had investors and all that kind of stuff. Make sure that you and your partner have a circle of trust that’s unbreakable.

SUMMARY KEYWORDS
people, business, programme, bottleneck, company, grow, macroactive, core values, co-founder, growth, aligned, started, called, life, person, investor, ceo, new zealand, world class talent, silicon valley, deloitte, build, software

SPEAKERS
Ken Brickley, Debra Chantry-Taylor

Debra Chantry-Taylor  00:12

Welcome to another episode of Better Business, Better Life. I’m your host, Debra Chantry-Taylor. I’m passionate about helping entrepreneurs and their leadership teams get what they want out of business and life. On the show, I invite successful business owners and expert speakers to share their successes. They are open and honest about the highs and lows of business and also life as a business owner. We want to share those learnings with you to inspire you, but also to help you avoid some of the common mistakes. My hope is that you take something from each of these short episodes that you can put into action to help you get what you want, not only out of your business, but also your life. So welcome to another episode of Better Business, Better Life. Today I am joined by Ken Brickley, who’s the CEO of MacroActive, and Ken has got this huge kind of experience everything from working in large businesses like GE, right the way to starting his own startup. So he’s got a huge amount of experience to share with us. Hey, welcome, Ken.

Ken Brickley  01:08

Thanks for having me, Debra.

Debra Chantry-Taylor  01:10

Hey, it’s great to see you. It’s been a while I’m looking forward to we can actually catch up in person again.

Ken Brickley  01:14

I know I can’t wait. It’s been a long time.

Debra Chantry-Taylor  01:17

Hey, Ken, would you mind before we get started? Could you share a professional and a personal best with me so our listeners can get a bit of a sense of the man Ken?

Ken Brickley  01:27

All right. Well, gosh, I think a personal is got to be my family. I’ve won the lottery. With my family, extended family around the world and and here in Auckland, New Zealand, two incredibly clever kids, incredible stepdaughter and loving partner. I mean, I yeah, I’ve got an extended in laws that I love. And you know, you can’t get better than that. I think maybe best. I’ve been known to wake myself up laughing. So that may give you some sort of insight into like, what goes on in my head. But you know, it’s yeah, that’s that’s the highlight. Professionally, listen, I love what I do is not work. And I’m super passionate about it. And, you know, I measure success by you know, how many people I can help. And, you know, it just it it feels good when I go to work. And so that’s that’s my best.

Debra Chantry-Taylor  02:40

That’s, that’s yeah, that is awesome. Hey, look with EOS. We always talk about you know, loving what you do with people that you love. Making a significant difference is already important. Cool. So we’re gonna start with a little bit about your story. Because just before we started this podcast, you shared with me something I didn’t know about you. And that was the fact that you actually worked with Jack Welch. at GE. Yeah, GE. Is that right? I work.

Ken Brickley  03:04

I work for the Office of Jack Welch, right. On the corporate audit staff, and on the General Electric management training programme, so called the leadership programme. And I met the man a couple times. And, you know, he was larger than life, that’s for sure.

Debra Chantry-Taylor  03:26

Yeah. So how was that working? Because that’s a huge organisation. Right?

Ken Brickley  03:31

Yeah. Um, it was a great, I think there’s so many experiences from that. Huge successes, huge failures, you know, it was it as a 20 something year old at the beginning of my career. So, there, there, you know, the, it was, it was a phenomenal, I mean, I still will die two years younger from that experience, because it was you know, 100 hour work weeks, every other weekend off. So it was it was a real thing. And, but it was great in that it, it showed me what my capacity was. And and so, you know, when later in life starting companies and starting, it’s really good to know, how much you have in the tank. And, and, and that’s just super empowering, you know, because you don’t operate that way all the time, obviously. But when you need to get something done, you know, you can draw on something that that most people don’t know where, you know, how much is in their tank?

Debra Chantry-Taylor  04:40

Yeah. Fair enough. That’s great. So when did you leave big companies and start your own business? Can you tell us a bit about it?

Ken Brickley  04:48

Well, I mean, yeah, my journey, I think was, is a is a good one. I mean, I, I sort of did the entrepreneurial route where I left big business, I was tired of spending 80% of my time convincing people to do stuff. And only 20% of my time actually doing it. I was like, I want to do it the other way around. And so I went to Silicon Valley. And cut my teeth ended up working for a New Zealand Company called ZCom, which at the time was maybe 150 staff and growing, I was with them from maybe their, I want to say, just shy of 10 million in revenue, up to about 25 or 30 million in revenue. So, you know, experiencing those growing pains that 10 million and another 25 million was great experience, but we ended up spinning a company out of that organisation, and that was my first, you know, startup, if you will, you know, and I done one previous in, in Silicon Valley, but you know, I was just an employee, this was, you know, co founder, and it was a great way to have a safety in the head below you, I suppose, you know, and and, yeah, it was it was, it was outstanding experience. You know, overall, it was, I learned so much from that process. It’s company called youmail.com. And it’s still going, it is an outsource, as basically or your we don’t have the same technology here in New Zealand, actually, you know, what, in New Zealand, it just became available on Spark, but the ability to read your voicemails, and, and automagically sort of block annoying robo calls. And so as a tech that, you know, you download an app called you mail in the in the United States. And yeah, I think we’ve got maybe, I don’t know how many people they have on it now. Maybe 16, somewhere between 15 and 20 million users, yeah.

Debra Chantry-Taylor  07:20

Wow. That’s awesome. So that was your first and you as you said, you had the kind of the safety net of being part of that ZCom spin out? And what were the things that you kind of learned through that journey of so going from, you know, working within a Silicon Valley company, but under the, I suppose, the protection of being an employee and being paid and then going out on your own as a co-founder?

Ken Brickley  07:43

Yeah, I would say, I mean, the, the, the fast forward, because I probably did it wrong. A couple times. And then I’ve learned since then, but it’s something that I see a lot of founders doing. And I see it a lot here in New Zealand, I see it in the States as well. It’s, it’s, it’s when you try and juggle and do everything. Right. And, and it’s, you know, if you one of your themes that you talk about is sort of overwhelm and mental health, right? And I gotta say, like, mental health and physical health go hand in hand, but I gotta say, like, you know, better physical health, you’re in, obviously better mental state, but like, the more you can not do, as a founder just getting started, the more headspace you’re going to have to focus on the things that really matter. And, you know, I mean, I, I sort of think, in those early days of any startup. You know, it helps if you one thing I’ll say, it helps if you have a business partner, like a co founder, it really helps it, it only helps if you truly divide and conquer. It only helps if you can truly trust each other. But assuming that you those things, and those are big assumptions. But if you can get those right, you know, it frees you up to but even to have you might be focusing on I mean, a day in the life might be pesky. I’ve got payroll I’ve got the taxes I’ve got a shareholder agreement to write I’ve got bugs in my product. I’ve got kids that have to go to school, I’ve got a website, I’ve got to take a sales call or I’ve got my partner’s birthday. I’ve got an upset beta customer. I’ve got a potential investor who wants a whole bunch of reports from me, what if I don’t need it, if I’m not taking around right now, ignore the investors, you know, my CRM is sort of not working properly, I’ve got an advisor telling me that I have to get a trademark protection and patent. And, yeah, I mean, Xero won’t connect with my bank account, like all of these things, just all you’re juggling them all on the same, my advice would be like, the thing I learned was just like, you don’t need a CRM on day one, you don’t need an investor pitch on day one, you don’t need, like, don’t take the call from an investor, if you’re not in the process, like all of these things are noise, like what follow? Listen, I’ll put it to your audience to read The Theory of Constraints, fantastic fiction book called The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt in, in the theory of constraints is, imagine a box, like a manufacturing line, and you think of where the bottleneck is in your manufacturing line, and you solve for that bottleneck. And what I will just say is like, treat your business, your startup the same way, like ignore everything except the bottleneck, within reason. And, and, and then when that bottleneck is solved for it immediately shifts to somewhere else on the manufacturing line, and you immediately have a new bottleneck, right. And so then focus on that new bottleneck, but, but try as hard as you can, to really just focus on those bottlenecks. And in the early days, that bottleneck is is is finding the sale, you know, finding the customer is willing to pay you, you know, and then find another one to be willing to pay, you know, and repeat that process and don’t try and boil the ocean. And, you know, prove that you have demand before you go invest incredible amounts of building a product. That’s my, that’s, that’s what created the grey hair and as helped us listen honestly turn this company into, you know, had we had we applied for the Deloitte fast 50 that just came out last week, we would have been number 18 on the Deloitte fast 50. So, you know, it’s it, you know? Yeah, it’s, I attribute a lot of that to, you know, my team. And, and, and just saying no to so many things.

Debra Chantry-Taylor  12:56

So how many of your team these days Ken?

Ken Brickley  12:59

I don’t know the exact number, but I know it’s north of 130 at the moment.

Debra Chantry-Taylor  13:05

Okay. And so, you know, back in the early days, yes, you do have to do everything yourself. But over time you build up a team. Have you had any sort of challenges around finding the right people and making sure they’re in the right seats doing the right thing?

Ken Brickley  13:22

Yeah, I mean, it’s people are everything, particularly in a software company, I would say, you know, the most important thing a founder can do is understand that from the moment that you have the idea in every waking minute, from there on out, you are recruiting and you know, 24/7, recruiting, and always trying to find people who are your direct reports that you want on your, you know, that will eventually be managing lots of people. Like, don’t skimp there. Go after world class talent, is what I would say like just just dream big, and then go recruit them into a no, here’s, here’s, here’s, I mean, one thing I, I think we’ve we’ve done well, is we’ve been recruiting for roles long, long before we need them. And that is, you know, I mean, six months. I mean, in one of my direct reports, I knew I wanted that person in that role. And I knew I wasn’t going to be able to afford that person. And I spent a year laying groundwork, having meetings, catching up, telling the story, giving an update, planting the seed, watering it. And, and just making sure it had lots of sun, you know, and because I knew at some point, we were going to need that, that role, it just wasn’t appropriate now, but I, you know, I set my sights on key people, and then and then, you know, strategically sort of wound them in to use the, the fishing analogy, and I think, you know, hire world class talent, because they’re going to be managing the staff. And, and in, when you get them on your team, get out of their way, let them do their thing, you know, and I mean, that’s, that’s, that’s critical, it’s pretty clean, you know, what the other thing I’d say on that subject is, you know, world class talent can, you know, likely give you eight hours a week, that is as productive or more productive than then 50 or 60 hours a week from somebody who’s learning on the job, you know, and so, and, and they may want the extra side job that gives more meaning to, you know, a career that, you know, might be seeing the end of its cycle, but they don’t want to jump, you know, into something new, they want to test it out. Like, that is just such a smart way to try and attract the right talent out of, you know, large business or medium sized businesses that, you know, are going to be this person would be perfect. Well approach them, you know, tell him your intentions. And, yeah, anyways, that’s, that’s a, it’s just a great way to get, you know, everything you can out of all you got, yeah.

Debra Chantry-Taylor  17:20

Perfect. So, how long was MacroActive around for now?

Ken Brickley  17:26

John Franek and founded the company along with Joseph Brakhage, about a little officially six years ago, but they spent three and a half years prior iterating on on on the software that later became MacroActive. So you know, we’re, since inception, we’re coming up on on 10 years.

Debra Chantry-Taylor  17:54

Okay. So what have been the biggest challenges that you’ve faced, you know, being CEO, in the business over that period of time that you’ve been, there have been the biggest challenges or opportunities even either or?

Ken Brickley  18:11

Consciously deciding to grow slower than everyone tells you that you should be. It’s been the biggest challenge as CEO. And I’ve struggled with it. I’ve sought a lot of counselling and guidance from, from mentors around the world. Mentor out of the states, Gary Vaynerchuk. Known he goes on social like Gary Vee, spent a considerable amount of time with him in 2019 that really, finally, like a Tetris board sort of put put things into place for me, but also, you know, a number of number of people here in Auckland that I meet with on a regular basis, and, you know, don’t be afraid to ask for help as as CEO, it’s a lonely job and get counselling, you know, get from people who’ve done it, you know, like, be really conscious of who you’re listening and taking advice from is another thing that I would say. I’ve had a I’ve had a lot of people in, in non operational roles. Tell me that we should have been growing faster. And especially in some of the early years, I mean, now we have everything like the the concrete has been poured, you know, we can build up we’re growing faster and faster. Now, and so that’s, that’s exciting, and we’re able to do that. But there were some inflection points where we started growing faster than we could keep up with. And, and a lot of non operational people said, don’t worry about it just keep on going. That’ll, you know, I’m, I’m really glad that we did it the way we did in hindsight, because we, we established a heap of credibility around our brand, with our client base. And, and that, that goes on to help you. I mean, more than half of our business has come from, from referrals. And, you know, we have competitors that have raised, you know, nine figures that are eyewatering and, and yet, day after day, we have customers, new customers joining MacroActive and our sister company Affluencer, why, because they’re coming to us from our competition. Why? Because we, you know, we taken the time to, you know, grow at a pace that doesn’t put our clients in the backseat, you know, and that’s, and that’s something you know, we’re really proud of, but to answer your question is incredibly difficult decision to make.

Debra Chantry-Taylor  21:28

Yeah. And what has been less of the consequence? I mean, obviously, you mentioned, you have to do better customer service and whatnot, and has any negative effects to actually stick to that decision and move forward with it?

Ken Brickley  21:43

Yeah, I mean, it’s it listen, if, thankfully, we’re self funded to date. I mean, actually, we’ve we’ve taken some some internal rounds, and made two acquisitions. And so some money came into the company via our second acquisition, but but like, no traditional VC rounds, right. Had we been in that situation? I think there would have been a lot of pressure to just stay stick there. You know, our early years growth rates are probably not, you know, on par with maybe your typical Silicon Valley company. But listen, in the last three years, we’ve averaged a growth rate of 120%. So not to be sniffed at be sniffed at so you know, it’s, yeah. Yeah. I mean, some years less, some years more. So, you know, it’s still it’s still growth rate that we’re proud of. Yeah.

Debra Chantry-Taylor  22:56

Excellent. And from a CEO perspective, man, we you talked at the very beginning, a little bit about sort of potential overwhelm and getting stressed out. How do you deal with that in your role?

Ken Brickley  23:09

Yeah, I mean, I, I, I, I, I focus on the bottleneck. And I have a line, I say, let fires burn. And it’s, you know, it’s okay, if some fires burn if they’re not on the bottleneck, but I think my, my staff knows when something’s the bottleneck, because I give it a lot of attention. I’m sort of all over it. But yeah, I mean, I think that’s, that’s the, that’s the secret, you know, it’s the theory of constraints. And it frees up just so much mental headspace to, to be creative and think about, you know, nonlinear forms of future growth. And, and so, yeah, I mean, that’s, that’s, that’s, my, my job is three things. It’s people, it’s numbers, it’s culture, you know, it’s finding the right people, it’s, it’s answering the question Who, not how it’s, it’s, you know, making sure that people love where they work, and, and that we’re all coming to work for the right reason. And, and then, and then there’s enough cash in the bank. And the numbers are right.

Debra Chantry-Taylor  24:30

And you make it sound all so simple. That’s great. So it throughout your kind of career, has there been one thing that has really stood out as a lesson because we talked before we go on the podcast about learning from our mistakes and how we take that forward? What’s been that sort of biggest learning for you that you’ve now taken forward and would recommend people you know, do something different to make sure they don’t have that same rabbit hole?

Ken Brickley  24:56

I’ve got to say things, right? One is, and it sounds so overused, but boy, is it important, and it’s just really understand and know and define your why. And my challenge to your audiences to ask themselves or trying to write down a word, a single word that resonates so much with you that that word could answer, the reason why you were put on this earth. Okay, and so, and it’s going to be a different word for every person, right? But, but then really ask yourself is, am I am I going to work and living by this word? And, and if you’re not, you’re swimming upstream, right? And if you are, it legitimately feels like you are swimming downstream, it is the coolest feeling in the world. And I have done both. And I can tell you hand on heart, swimming downstream is lot easier and more fun. So, you know, it is it is profoundly impacted my overall happiness in life. And, and, yeah, I just, I recommend it for everybody. The second thing that, you know, big, big takeaways that I recommend, I mean, huge takeaway is this. The core team that you start with, your co founder, or your first hires, you know, make sure that your values are entirely aligned, make sure that there are really clearly spelled out like no asshole rules. And the reason I sort of say, values is because of like a marriage a mean, like, yeah, you can, you’re gonna have ups and downs, like, that’s gonna happen, right. And so just as in, you know, a successful partnership or marriage, you know, you don’t have ups and downs, if your values are not aligned, when the downs come, and they will come. Yeah, things are gonna wobble. And, and I just can say, like a cornerstone to the success of our company is, you know, John and I are so aligned on those sorts of core values, that, like, the reason we’re coming to work is very clear. And we’re super aligned on it. Right? And, and it just is made the tough days just so much easier. You know, it’s like, okay, well, we got each other’s back. And I’ll tell you what, like, that alignment of values is, is, it’s one of the core ingredients, I believe in building trust. And if you don’t have absolute complete trust, with your founder, or your first hires, those people, like, you know, just makes it really hard when things you know,

Debra Chantry-Taylor  28:52

Come unstuck as they do right?

Ken Brickley  28:54

You know, growth is never a straight line, you know, we’ve all seen that meme where, you know, the business goes like that. And, and, and, you know, if you have a really solid foundation with those early early people, it just makes it some and here’s the, here’s the lesson. And here’s, here’s sort of what I would do different in life is like, there is a time where you might be, you might be thinking, listening to this right now going, oh, man, geez, I kind of know that person, not the right person, or, you know, or whatever. It might be a thing where you’re, your shareholders, you know, you’re both you’re both in it together. I will tell you this, it’s like, walk away from it. It’s gonna be another idea. Idea is 1% execution is 99%. Right? It’s like, if you guys are not on the same page, the execution is gonna go wrong later on down the road, and it’s going to be exponentially more difficult to unwind yourself, when you’ve had investors and you’ve had and all that kind of stuff. And it’s just, it’s like, definitely, you know, those two lessons I you know, it’s like know your own why define it in a single word, and then your partner? Gosh, you know, just make sure that you guys, you know you have a circle of trust that’s unbreakable.

Debra Chantry-Taylor  30:30

Yeah, I think we’re talking for the same page. I mean, as you said, it’s just like a marriage. And in fact, often we spend more time at work than we do at home. So it’s even more important in some respects that you actually do have that trust and that you share the same values. I’ve actually worked with clients where they’ve taken on board and investor because they needed to for the money, they didn’t really make sure the values actually aligned. And then as a consequence, you’ve got two parties pulling in completely opposite directions. And it’s just not sustainable. Yeah, so I think we’ve both been there as well haven’t we? Ken that’s been really awesome. Thank you so much. You’ve given us so much gold there. I’ve got at least five tips over the for the listeners, just from a finishing up point of view. Tell us a bit about MacroActive, tell us what your ideal client is like, you know, who do you love to work with?

Ken Brickley  31:19

Right, well, MacroActive helps creators in this new creator economy, build a business and deliver essentially what our digital products via their own completely white labelled app. It’s think of it as like a business in an app. And so we are a platform that enables those creators to deliver we’ve focused very, very intentionally for the last five years on a single vertical within the Creator economy, which is the health and fitness industry. We’re now years later, taking on different verticals. But the the ideal client is someone who has an audience on social media, and is trying to turn that audience into paying subscribers, but don’t want to sell posts for money, which ultimately just degrades their influence, right. They know they want to offer their own product, their own advice. And so our our platform allows them to offer mindset, nutrition and training programmes that are highly individualised to each person. So if you have injuries or allergies, you know, someone can provide a meal plan, where meals with recipes that have ingredients that you’re allergic to just don’t show up to but inside of their plan, but but those plans can allow their customers to hit their goal that might go might be lose weight, it might be build muscle, it might be get better at Rugby. One of our clients is the ex Welsh Rugby Captain Sam Warburton, he’s you know, he has skills and drills strength and conditioning, speed and agility, like all different types of programmes can be delivered inside of his own app. And now, you know, we have hundreds of 1000s of end customers, paying our trainers a monthly fee to get access to a programme that grows and evolves as they grow and evolve on the programme.

Debra Chantry-Taylor  33:56

Perfect. So if people want to get hold of you find out more about the company. I’m assuming it’s macroactive.com. And if they wanted to have a chat with you, how would they get ahold of you again?

Ken Brickley  34:11

I’m pretty easy to find on LinkedIn, Ken Brickley and you find me through the website as well. So macroactive.com we are always looking for people in the creator economy that first and foremost want to impact more people’s lives. Our vision and mission is very clear. It’s on the wall. It’s in the first two minutes of every single one of our meetings, and that’s to build a healthier, healthier and happier world. And we’re set out doing that by helping our trainers, grow their businesses and scale their impact.

Debra Chantry-Taylor  34:49

Fantastic. Hey, look, I wish we had more time because you and I we could talk all day. But I wanted to just say that you know that has been absolutely phenomenal. The information that you share there is great. Hey, well done, on the growth that you’re achieving and you know the continuing to, to get better and better. And thank you for your time today. Really appreciate it.

Ken Brickley  35:08

Thank you, Debra.

Debra Chantry-Taylor  35:09

We’ll talk again soon. Thanks again.

Ken Brickley  35:10

Thanks.

Debra Chantry-Taylor  35:13

Thanks again for joining us on Better Business Better Life with me, your host Debra Chantry-Taylor. If you enjoy what you heard, then please subscribe to this podcast. And let us help you to get what you want out of business and life. Each week we release a new short episode which will give a success story and three takeouts to put into action immediately. These will help you take your business from good to great. The podcast is also supported by free resources, templates and useful tools, which you can find at DebraChantry-Taylor.com. I am a trained entrepreneur leadership and business coach, a Professional EOS Implementer and an established business owner myself. I work with established businesses to help them get what they want. Feel free to contact me if you’d like to have a chat about how I might be to help you. Or if you’d like to join me as a guest on this podcast. Thanks again to NZ audio editors for producing this podcast. See you on the next episode.

Debra Chantry-Taylor

Professional EOS Implementer | Entrepreneurial Leadership & Business Coach | Business Owner

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