In this episode Rob talks about why you should find a crew, how to find a crew, and why it is critical to your success as an entrepreneur. He shares how he has met his crew throughout the years and divides them into 3 different roles.

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Episode Transcript

Rob Walling:If you enjoy the Zen Founder podcast and feel like you get some value out of it we’d love a five star review in iTunes or Stitcher or Downcast or whichever podcatcher you use and even more, we’d love it if you’d head on over to support zenfounder.com and pledging even $1 or $2 an episode is a huge help towards keeping us on the air and keeping the show at the highest quality possible.
 I’m flying solo again this week I received some positive feedback about the episode playing long ball that I recorded a couple of weeks ago, Sherry’s at south … By South West this week in Austin, Texas, meeting up with some important folks and exploring opportunities and doing fancy business type things and so here I am, sitting in a closet that’s turned into an office just recording for you.
 This week I’m gonna be talking about finding your crew, how to find your crew, why you should find your crew and how critical it is to your success.
 So I’m actually enjoying these solo episodes and it’s not often I get to sit and kind of diatribe for 14, 15 minutes, but it’s funny how many detailed thoughts like this that have occurred to me over the years that I’ve always wanted to put into a blog post and just don’t have the time to spend the two or three hours, well I should say two to eight hours for me to actually get it published and the quality that I want, so here I am someday maybe these will become blog posts but for now these are kind of off the top of my head types things I am putting together outlines and following on them so that there is a decent flow to the episode, but these are things that I’ve been thinking about for a while.
 This week I wanna talk about finding your crew and what I mean by that, you know when I saw your crew, what I mean is like three to five people who are really going to be all in with you on your entrepreneurial journey so this is not your spouse, it’s not your kids, it’s very, very unlikely that it’s anyone in even in your extended family, that’s a possibility but I would doubt it. These are three to five people who are gonna support you, who are gonna be either a mentor, a peer or in the long run, a mentee and it’s a small group of people and that’s why I call it a crew, you know there’s this concept that Seth Godin talks about where it’s find your tribe and I do think you need to find your tribe and you probably define your tribe first before you go try to find your crew ’cause your crew’s probably gonna come out of that tribe.
 When Seth Godin talks about it he’s basically saying, “Find the people who are doing the same thing you are and love the same things you do and have the same aspirations that you do.”. But what I found is that finding your tribe doesn’t tend to be enough, the tribe is just too big and it’s just too impersonal and I think as I said you’re gonna need to find your tribe and then dig into it and try to find that handful of people who are really gonna be all in with you and this is why you know I’ve long valued mastermind groups as far as I know, the first person to really dig into mastermind groups in the startups space, it was a big thing in the info marketing space, but once I started a mastermind, I was actually in two masterminds for quite some time.
 I realized the value of them, this is 2009, 2010, and I started talking about them on the podcast around 2011, 2012, and really just I feel like there’s a ton of value here with someone else being all in with you and the shared history and not only the advice you can get but the strong network ties and just someone keeping you accountable to what you’re saying cause if you have this tribe of thousands of people if you’re on a forum, if you’re at a conference, it just isn’t the same as having a handful of people who are highly invested in what you’re doing.
 And so if you think about the places you might wanna look for your tribe and thus your crew, maybe you go to MicroConf and you find people there, I know a lot of people connect there and wind up forming masterminds and masterminds aren’t the only way to have a crew you know, I would consider myself in the crew of several people that are not in my mastermind. I think the crew extends out beyond that.
 You may be in a FounderCafe, which is a membership forum that I co-run with my [inaudible 00:04:30] if you go to BOS maybe that’s your crew, maybe you big time into digital nomad stuff and you wanna be in the tropical MBA’s, you know their DC crowd. Maybe you follow patio 11 and you want to be around people like him, there’s bank and biz comps, there really is a long list to this and these are the more kind of entrepreneur, start up-y type events and those crews, if you wanted to go more after the info marketer or conversion marketer crowd you can always look at a place like Converted, which is leaked pages conference trafficking conversion, which I believe is digital marketers conference, I mean there’s just so many places to look but it’s like, attend those events or find their online communities and you’ll start to see the people there who are executing and you can start to build relationships and all, talk about how to do that later.
 The goal here, the reason that I think you need to find your crew is that you wanna normalize what looks to most people like odd behavior, right. As an entrepreneur what we do is almost like deviant behavior because it’s not the same thing that “successful people” do ’cause normal “successful people” they become a doctor or a lawyer, they get a nine to five job, they work there and they get their retirement you know, they don’t bounce around from job to job, there’s just all these things that have just traditionally been the script and that’s not what will make you successful as an entrepreneur and I doubted this over and over and over as I was coming up, I started working professionally in 1999, 2000, after I got out of college and I moved from job to job because I hated all the jobs, I didn’t like the people I worked for or just the job was not a good fit or the company got too big.
 I joined one start up that was great and once we got to about 50 people I was like, “This is way too big.”, so I bailed on that and when I looked at my resume I felt guilty, like I’ve been a job hopper, I’m never gonna find a job, well it turns out that was actually my strength, like it was a strength that I get bored with things but then I execute relentlessly for a certain period of time and then I move on to the next opportunity.
 And so if I had been around other people like all the other entrepreneurs I speak with now, they did the exact same thing. And so if I’d been speaking with Ruben Gomez 15 years ago or talking to Jason Cohen or Heaton Shaw, like they would have normalized that behavior and been like, “Look, you’re an entrepreneur, this is what we do.”, but instead I felt kind of embarrassed and not fitting in with societal norms because the people around me who I was around day to day they kind of … I looked like I was insane you know, I was the guy who would bring a personal laptop to work and at lunch instead of hanging out with everybody, and this is so embarrassing I’ve never actually talked about this in public, I would literally go sit in my car and I would work on my side projects because I really wanted to get out of working full time and this is one hour of the day that I actually had to do that, I’m sorry, go park in a shitty area, I’d wolf down a sandwich that I had brought from home and you know I kind of gave up the coworker interactions, which was a little bit of a bummer, but I made tremendous amounts of progress, this is when I started my blog, this is when I built, I built FeedShot, I was buying small online businesses, I acquired DotNetInvoice during this time.
 They were life changing events that happened and it was because I was taking those times to do what again, looks like insane behavior and if anyone else saw me like I would have been embarrassed about it, but I know entrepreneurs who have similar stories who were similarly basically executing every moment they had and instead of going out on Friday or Saturday night hanging out doing work and do an SEO or cranking out content. And I’m not saying you do this forever, I’m not saying you forego the pleasure of having friends or coworkers forever but at the time I was willing to do to make the sacrifice and to me the freedom of one day not having a job was worth more to me than going out to Chipotle with a group of friends.
 Another thing to think about here is you know, there’s debate about whether you really are the average of the five people that you spend the most time with, I mean that’s kind of a thing that’s thrown around a lot. I personally, even though I’ve googled it real quick and looked through and it doesn’t look like there’s a tremendous amount of data around that, but I personally, intuitively believe that that’s true, that if you spend time with five people for a long time that you just kind of all become similar. So if you’re only hanging out with your friends from high school or from college or your extended family or your friends from your nine to five job or your church or your gym, it’s pretty unlikely that they have the same ambitions you do, right, most people are not entrepreneurial and most people are not gonna understand it and if they don’t understand it, they will question it to the point where you don’t wanna talk about it in front of them.
 I have a bunch of stories of feeling like I was the outlier and like I was doing the wrong thing in like what I wanted to do as an entrepreneur wasn’t a reality and this was before all the blogs right, there was no Software by Rob, there was no patio 11, Kalzumeus blog, there just weren’t, there was no Jason Cohen, there was no … None of these things existed so I couldn’t just go online and find a podcast or a blog that told me that this was okay, it was just kind of me and my own head and let’s say the mid to late 90s even, thinking about how can I bootstrap a business and do this.
 And so, there was one time I’m thinking of when I had a copy of Inc magazine and at the time that was the closest I could get to kind of getting inside the business start up space and looking at the business world and some guy was just ragging on, “Oh, you think you’re an entrepreneur, you’re gonna start some company.”, I was working at a construction company and I remember just feeling like, “Man, yeah maybe this thing really isn’t all its cracked up to be.”.
 And then there was another time it was a couple of years later when I was actually coding Zendeveloper and I was consulting, so this is maybe 2001-ish and I was making really good money at it at the time for how young I was and given that it was what, 15, 16 years ago, I think it was maybe, lets say it’s 70 or 80 bucks an hour and I was booked more than full time so I could work as much time as I needed and so we had … That was when we started outsourcing stuff, like we outsourced our lawn maintenance, we hired cleaners, I had home maintenance stuff, so whenever would fall off the shingles and I would hire somebody to do it, and I had one friend who just made a fraction of what I did in terms of income, and so to him it was this big waste of money and he had no idea that I was booked full time, you know he just didn’t understand, didn’t have any clue about what I was doing and he just would like joking and was ragging on me in front of friends and just being like, “Oh man, yeah Rob’s really handy, he doesn’t know how to fix anything.”. And I was like, “Actually, I do, it’s just not worth my time.”.
 And so, I say these things because I remember them kind of, to be honest, hurting at the time you know, like they kind of stung pretty deep, and in retrospect, I think to myself, I was doing the right thing and I shook it off, so I guess, you know as a founder or an aspiring founder listening to this, if people say these things to you I want you to shake ’em off, you know, you gotta let this stuff go and listen to people who maybe are a bit ahead of you. Do you think that Jason Cohen, Heaton Shaw, Ruben Gomez and myself, do you think we mow our own lawns, do you think I … I don’t shovel my own snow off my driveway, we hire someone to do that, and it’s not because I’m too good for manual labor, it has nothing to do with it, it’s thar I value my time more than the time that I would spend out there worrying about it and instead of doing that, I’m in here cranking out content or recording this podcast or you know, building businesses in essence.
 so all that to say, this is why you need to have exposure and relationships with people who are doing these things because we do tend to think along the same terms and these terms are the things that are gonna make you successful, right. It is that thinking of, “Oh, I’m gonna outsource, oh, I’m gonna work hard, I’m gonna work nights in order to ship this thing. And oh, maybe I do need to leave one job and even take a job with for less pay where I have fewer hours so that I have more hours to work on my entrepreneurial stuff.”
 These are decisions that most people won’t make and so its something that can help you normalize it if you have folks around you who are making those decisions. So that’s kind of the back story of why I think that you need to find a crew and why you need to find a small group of people who are really going through this with you.
 Now let’s dive into kind of some mechanics of it. I see kind of three roles when I think of people in your crew. I see there’s probably the mentor/advisor, there’s peers and then there’s at some point mentees, right. And I think you want between one and three of the first two in your early days, so you want between one and three mentors or advisors and one or three peers.
 Mentors or advisors obviously have been there and they’re able to give you guidance and they’re able to oftentimes give you insights in a very, very brief amount of time that might take you weeks to figure out, they can tell you in five minutes because they’ve been there.
 And then you need your peers because they’re in the trenches with you right, and they’re the day to day accountability and oftentimes you’re not gonna have a mentor who has the time to talk with you for an hour or two every two weeks like a peer might. And there’s a reciprocal relationship, which is also nice ’cause that means there’s … It has longevity.
 And then as you progress, you know let’s say you’re six to twelve months down the line and you’ve had some success that’s when I think that you should start mentoring someone. You retain things better once you teach them and it’s a really good reminder when you start mentoring someone to remind yourself how far you’ve actually come you know, how much you’ve actually accomplished. I actually think you should do this earlier than you probably think you should, I don’t think you need to be two or three years down this road, I think that depending on how fast you’re able to move, that this could literally be a six to twelve month thing.
 Now, again going back to playing long ball, I don’t think you should go out on the internet after six to twelve months and tout yourself as the expert and tell everyone how great you are, but I do think that if you have a really specific thing that you have learned, like I’ve learned how to crank out content and I’ve built a successful small awesome boot strap info kind of marketing business around something, or I’ve learned SEO really well and I’m gonna mentor someone in that or code teach and this isn’t even … I’m not saying do this for pay, I’m not saying do this for money, I’m not saying do it hours a week, I’m saying keep yourself open to the thought or idea that if the opportunity presents itself and you can help someone out even on a one time basis or you can help them out with one e-mail every two months that they’re able to send you and you’re able to give them some advice about something, like you know really well that you’ve become a specialist in, I think you should do that earlier than you think.
 So again those three roles were the mentor/advisor, peers and then ultimately mentees, adding them to the mix as well. So a question I often get is, “How do you meet mentors or how do you find these peers, how do you find these folks?” So what I wanna do is I actually wanna talk, I wanna get personal on how did I meet people who I look up to and I wouldn’t actually … I don’t know that I’d call them mentors in terms that there’s any official relationship, but these are folks who have given me advice in areas where I have lacked and it has helped me get better and grow businesses bigger and get out of maybe some mental cycles or mental spirals that I was in.
 And so you look at someone whom I’ve admired for a long time, like Jason Cohen, he’s the founder of WP Engine, and we met because I was blogging, alright. So I was blogging since 2005 and I can’t remember when he started, it was probably 2007, 2008 and he would read and comment on my blog and then I noticed this guy and I’m like, “Hey, this guy just sold a company, this is crazy.”, and I was blogging about my micropreneur stuff, really small businesses and then I commented on his when my book came out, I noticed it came through that he had bought a copy of it and then he had me do a guest post and we just really connected through blogging.
 And so I was out there shipping something and we happened to run across each other, later invited him to speak at MicroConf and since then I’ve invested in WP Engine, just to date my most successful angel investment by far. So a lot came out of that, you know just me putting something out there. You look at someone like Heaton Shaw, I met him first when we started MicroConf and I’d heard of him and I saw him executing with [inaudible 00:15:47] and I thought that he should speak at MicroConf and then we met and he’s a super cool guy, and he’s very smart.
 And so have I asked him for advice over the years? Absolutely, its a point in time ‘thing where I’m thinking, “Heaton Shaw would know the answer to this, no brainer.”. you get someone like Dan Martell, also kind of … I met him speaking at a conference and then I invited him to speak at MicroConf and he sold three or four companies so you can bet that when Lee Pages was making the offer to acquire Drip, you bet that I got on the phone with Dan Martell and I asked, “Hey, this is where it’s at, this is how I’m thinking about it, what are you think?” Just to get some advice.
 and again, I don’t go to Dan Martell every month and ask advice but there’s just these points In time where my crew, you know these relationships that I built, the people who are ahead of me in certain aspects are able to help me. Patrick McKenzie, he and I met through blogging and through MicroConf and he’s asked me advice over the years and I’ve certainly asked him advice back.
 Those are kind of the pope who, you know … I mean, there’s a whole long list obviously I could go through of people I view as ahead of me in certain aspects and I ask them for advice. In terms of peers or someone who you know, I might advise, and it kind of goes back and forth to be honest, sometimes I’m giving these people advice and sometimes their my peers and sometimes they’re giving me advice, but you know, you get Ruben from BizCatch who he posted comments on my blog and then started asking me questions via email and he was like a charter member of the Micropreneur Academy that became FounderCafe. Justin McGrew with LeadFuze who I’m now an angel investor for, you know he … I think he came into FounderCafe which is our membership site and then later came to MicroConf.
 Jordan Golf from CartHook was on the podcast, I had no idea who he was, started hearing him on BootStrap, I was like, “This guy executes.”. And so then I think we met each other at MicroConf and then it was like, “Hey, if you ever raise around, let me invest.”, so you know these things they just kind of come out of being out there and doing things. You get Adrian Rosebrock from Pie Image Search who I think was originally through Micropreneur Academy what is now FounderCafe, and what I noticed about him is the guy just ships, he just executes you know, he cranks out content and he’d build a business from scratch and that’s impressive, like I want to be associated with and around people who are executing.
 Even if they’re in a different niche than I am, even if they’re doing something totally different, it’s like it’s contagious when people are shipping and it makes you want to help them because you know, I want to help successful people be more successful, like that’s the easy part you know, the easiest thing is making someone who’s doing well, like making them … Helping make them great and you know, I think that’s what you see is if you’re around folks and you see folks who are executing, those are the people you wanna go near.
 Even if they don’t have the success yet, I mean everybody on this list, Carl Brown’s another one from WPSass who I’ve met through MicroConf and I think FounderCafe. All these folks I’ve pretty much known most of them have known since before they had even had businesses you know, since they were aspiring founders years ago and then they started the blog and then they started their software product and then they had a failure and then they had a success. But I feel like I can tell pretty early on, because most of the time you can tell if someone’s gonna make it eventually or not. And it’s just that they keep coming back and they do not give up and they execute, they just get stuff done. And these are the kinds of people that I would be looking for if I were in your shoes, it’s find the people who are shipping and who are moving things forward and then figure out what you have in common, figure out what are they … Should you be in a mastermind with them, whether you should just be friends.
 The more stuff you’re shipping, the easier it is for kind of, other people to hear about you as well. And that kind of brings me to my final point of the podcast is, “So that’s how I found people, those are the examples, but how do you find people?”. And I mean there’s really just a couple of ways that I’ve seen that work over and over and it’s super repeatable.
 First thing is to execute, like do things in public, ship your ideas, ship your audio book, ship your e-book, you know, ship blog posts and podcasts. I think of this totally lame idea I had in 2003, it was called FeedShot, feedshot.com it’s now defunct, never really made me much money, but I launched it to this big viral … It kind of went viral in the blog space and I was a complete nobody and nobody had any idea who I was and I received probably a dozen inbound email inquiries, asking me do I want to consult for them, did I want a job, did I want to partner up with them, I had an idea, how did I build this, can I give them advice and all of a sudden I went from zero to having 12 people asking for something you know.
 And some of them panned out and some of them didn’t but it’s such an interesting thing that when you execute and you ship some stuff in public that things start to happen. So that’s kind of your first step, if you’re not already doing this, this is table six, part for the course, get out there and do it.
 The other way I found that is really good is to meet people both at meet ups and conferences. Meet ups are a little harder ’cause it’s always harder to find folks locally who are probably truly should be in your crew, but conferences is a no brainer, right? You can find the conferences where the people are and go and I hate networking as much as you do, I don’t like meeting new people, I gotta be honest, I’m an introvert, but this is just … It’s one of the ways that works, ’cause meeting someone in person, there’s just no substitute for it.
 And then another way is to do an attendee talk and this is where it gets really scary right, and most people don’t wanna do it, but I’ve seen folks do attendee talks at MicroConf in the businesses software and just rise up through the ranks, right, it’s like they’re probably doing a main stage talk in the next couple of years if they get good reviews on that attendee talk and people have literally like catapulted their founder career right on from the stage and it takes a lot to put yourself out there.
 In fact I think a big turning point in my whole entrepreneurial career was in 2009, it might have been 2010, but I think it was 2009, I was super terrified of getting up on stage but I ran into Jeff Atwood who was blogging at CodingHorror and since I’ve been blogging for a few years we kind of new each other, had never met each other and he’s like, “Hey, love your blog, you should do it at Lightening talk, this is a software in San Francisco in a few weeks.”, and I was like, “Man, no I shouldn’t do that.” And he basically kind of talked me into it and so I went and I did it and I was terrified and it was one of the moments I realized, “Oh man, this is how”… Everybody came up to me afterwards, I had dozens of people and realized this is a way to get over something in my own head and to really start to make a difference and that was one of those turning points where I realized, “Oh, this is what I need to do moving forward is to continue to do things that scare me and get out in public.”
 So the last one I’ll throw out is of course start a blog, start a podcast and don’t do it half-assed, like you gotta ship, but you look at this list of folks that I know and who kind of … I’ve even angel invested in a lot of them. Start a podcast and you know, if you do something well and you get enough popularity I mean, even a show with a few thousand listeners per episode can be really powerful.
 So that’s my take on kind of why you wanna find your crew, what your crew should consist of and then really how to meet these people, how do you find them, how to cultivate the relationships and the last thing I’ll leave you with is to really value relationships over your success, I mean this comes back to the playing long ball episode form a few episodes ago, but the idea is these are the relationships that are gonna be … they’re deep, you know, you’re gonna go deep with most of these and these are gonna be the people that you’re gonna go to the mat for and that you really are gonna be willing to take that … In the middle of the work day if you’re stressed and someone … One of these guys say, “I need to chat for 30 minutes.”, like I’m walking out the door and I’m gonna have the chat with them, you know.
 And I’ve had folks who are like acquiring businesses and it’s a stressful time and the need a response quickly and oftentimes I don’t respond very quickly ’cause they have so much going on, but I’ll drop what I have and I’ll look through the stuff and give them feed back very quickly ’cause I know that it’s important to them, it’s a matter of kind of valuing these relationships over your own success. And obviously I don’t mean … You can take it too far and you can sacrifice yourself and be a martyr and that’s not what I’m saying either, I’m just saying you know, don’t throw these people under the bus just because you have something more important to do or whatever.
 This is kind of the crew or the micro tribe that I think are gonna take you on for the next decade or two. Wow, so that was a lot of information, I realize I had a lot more to say on that then I maybe though initially but I hope this was helpful and we will see you again next week.