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Building a People-First Company with Natalie Nagele, Wildbit

June 30, 2021

Natalie Nagele, CEO of Wildbit, joins us to discuss building a successful people-first company with a 32 hour workweek. Speaking from her own experiences, as a leading people-first employer, we talk about how you can measure your success as an entrepreneur, how to stay guided by your purpose throughout your entrepreneurial journey, and what it takes to stay committed to your business.  

Three things you will learn from this episode: 

  • Why you should think of your business as a tool rather than an end in itself.
  • Whether you should pay yourself as a founder or reinvest to build towards a great exit.
  • How to avoid burnout by setting the optimum pace for the growth of your business.  

About our Guest: 

Natalie Nagele is the co-founder and CEO of Wildbit. Her priority is creating a happy and positive work culture at Wildbit and the world. This stems from her core belief that businesses are tools designed to create a better world for people everywhere.

On today’s episode: 

  • Measuring your entrepreneurial journey in decades. – 03:10
  • How slow growth changed our entrepreneurial vision. – 06:43
  • Should you service yourself or your business? (the beginning of a people-first philosophy) -09:48
  • You don’t have to choose between building a lifestyle business or a unicorn business. – 10:16
  • How important is fundraising to your success as an entrepreneur? (the answer may surprise you). – 12:55
  • How do you know if your business is moving at the right pace? – 16:01
  • The cost of doing more than you planned for in your business. – 22:34 
  • A good question to ask yourself instead of comparing yourself to others. –  26:04
  • Don’t copy, steal: entrepreneurship vs. being a copycat. – 26:52 
  • Should founders pay themselves, or should you reinvest everything in your business? – 29:03
  • Living your best life BEFORE you sell your business. – 30:03
  • The trouble with the concept of the entrepreneurial legacy. – 32:22 
  • Check out these companies with People First Jobs. – 36:04
  • Lesson #1: Using moments of tension as opportunities. – 39:25 
  • Lesson #2: Pay yourself well. – 41:32 
  • Lesson #3: How you impact who you interact with. – 42:49

Key Takeaways: 

  • Entrepreneurs should look at and evaluate their lives in decades because it takes a decade to build and scale. 
  • Building your business outside trend bubbles can make you stand out and not stick to the trends.
  • When your business plateaus, it is crucial to reevaluate what you are doing and why you are doing it. It is an excellent opportunity to evaluate what your long-term goals are. 
  • It is becoming much easier to start a business and gain traction, especially in terms of cost. 
  • Entrepreneurship is not about fundraising. It is about building value for customers and finding ways to do that in which you are making more than you spend.
  • Frequent change in your business makes you lose out on so much momentum. You must set priorities and stick to them instead of measuring yourself against others. 
  • Hero worship is ultimately going to fail you. You are better off measuring against yourself than you measure yourself against others. 
  • As an entrepreneur, you have to keep assessing how your company fits within who you are and what your goals are in life. 
  • Paying yourself as a founder secures your commitment to building a meaningful business. It ensures that you would not leave your business behind for ‘the next big thing.’ 
  • Paying yourself well is the best way to keep yourself engaged in your business. 

Building a people-first company while providing a good life to your family: 

[31:27] “I tell the team this all the time: if this business gets harder, and I make less money, it does not make sense. Which it doesn’t, like why would I do that? And that’s Ok. But I’m not torturing my team, and I do that while simultaneously providing 32 hour work weeks. I’m not embarrassed to say that out loud because I believe you can equally do both things: you can build a people-first company while also providing wealth for your family.”  

 

How do you think building a people-first company would improve your life balance as an entrepreneur?

Tell us in the comments, and don’t forget to say hello if you would like to share your entrepreneurship story on our podcast. 

 

Connect with Natalie Nagele:

Connect with A.J.Lawrence:

Follow Beyond 8 Figures:

 

Transcript

[00:01:27] A.J. Lawrence: When she met her husband at 18, they realized pretty soon that they were going to build and do similar creating their own companies. And they’ve done okay. Matter of fact, if you’re familiar with the concept of indie hackers in the Indie hacking space, she’s a bit of an OG. She has been doing it for 20 years.

[00:01:47] She’s created products with over a hundred thousand customers and she has a pretty large staff to go along with all the profits she does. So she’s still living indie and by her own rules. Let’s welcome the co-founder and CEO of Wildbit, the company behind Postmark, DeployBot, Beanstalk and People First Jobs, Natalie Nagele. Natalie,

[00:02:11] Natalie Nagele: Hi.

[00:02:12] A.J. Lawrence: Thank you so much for coming on the show. Try not to laugh too much during this. That’s me. Not you.

[00:02:18] Natalie Nagele: I like to laugh. I was going to say it’s fine. Fine by me

[00:02:21] A.J. Lawrence: Two entrepreneurs walk into a bar, we told you it was an interview. It’s actually a live stand up tryout.

[00:02:29] Natalie Nagele: I will fail, but I will giggle along the way.

[00:02:33] A.J. Lawrence: I know I’ll, I’ll say a bunch of dumb stuff and people look at me and go, okay, thank you for playing but no.

[00:02:39] Thank you so much for coming on the show. I’m really excited that you’re here. And so, for years, I’ve used your various products from your different companies. Looking at and going deeper into your background and what you’re doing of Wildbit, I’ve been really impressed. And I love the concept of this is 20 for your company being 20 years old. That is what I think such a cool concept.

[00:03:05] I would love to know how you see yourself given all this experience and everything you’ve done. How do you see yourself on the entrepreneurial journey? Now you’re doing so much talking, so much about leadership, about wellbeing, about your team and the concepts, and definitely want to talk about people first leadership, but where do you see yourself on the entrepreneurial journey now?

[00:03:26] Natalie Nagele: Yeah, I think it’s been really interesting the 20 year mark for a company, it was an opportunity to reflect and unfortunately it happened in the middle of a pandemic. So it wasn’t quite the, the reflection or the anxiety-free reflection that we were hoping for.

[00:03:39] But there’s an interesting part, where the way we reflect on our entrepreneurial journey in decades. It feels like somebody once told me this really interesting thing that for entrepreneurs, you should measure your life in decades because it’s about how long it takes to build and scale and do something really meaningful.

[00:03:53] So if you look at it in decades, you can reflect and say, okay, how many more decades do I have left and what I want to do with them and a ten’s a long time, but you can do a lot in 10 years and you can sit back and be proud of it. When we hit that 20 year mark, there was a lot of reflection on what’s the next decade and how many do we have left?

[00:04:09] And so we feel like we’ve got another 10 in us, at least at Wildbit. And that when we reflect on the first 20, so much growth, personal and professional that happened that led us to this point where now these next 10 are really intentional and less about how to make money, but more about what’s the purpose of making money. What’s the purpose of building this business?

[00:04:29] So some of that has to do with just age, right? 20 years is a long time, we’re both pretty young. So like we’ve been doing it our entire adult lives and we have young kids. And so there’s just a growing up piece of it, but the next 10 feels very important. To be intentional about like, why we’re doing all of this. Why have a business? Why have the products that we have? What are the next products that we’re going to build? How do we show up to our team? How do we show up in the world? So for me personally, I’m in a space where I want to be an example and I want to build community around the example that you can build meaningful profitable businesses, but being people first, which in our mind, we look at a business as a tool.

[00:05:09] I don’t know. We don’t look at a business as like a thing in and of itself. It’s this thing that exists to support human beings. And for us, we look at them as for human constituents that surround the business that the business as a tool for, and that’s for your shareholders, which in our case is just Chris and I, right. Two founders, our employees, our customers., and then what we sit, we call community, which is like the external anybody outside of our immediate influence, which could be as intimate as our employees, families, our own families to as grand as like the environment and how we show up on the planet. And so that’s commissioned so on the journey, I’m like past this whole point and like, I know how to make money. I know what a customer want, I know I’m going to screw it up every once in a while, but who cares? It’s more than what are you doing with that money? What are you doing with this tool and what am I doing personally? With running a business, it feels very exciting in a different way. Like the stress and anxiety is redirected where it’s no longer, like we’re gonna be able to afford the things that we want to afford.

[00:06:00] Okay, we’ve crossed over that line now what? You know, and now it’s like the space to really breathe and think bigger. And that’s been really exciting for me.

[00:06:09] A.J. Lawrence: This concept of building the foundation to be able to actualize what you’re doing and the value you bring back, because yeah, it is such a great tool on our journey. Businesses can do amazing thing and they can provide us amazing resources. But what we end up doing with that? That sometimes I think is not discussed enough. This is why I was so interested about your decision to build in public around this. So you’re not doing the full, I’m trying to remember some of the companies and even they no longer do that

[00:06:39] Natalie Nagele: Like Puffer, yeah that full transparent

[00:06:42] A.J. Lawrence: This variation of your thought process on there, how did this kind of move in towards being so transparent? Building, especially around people first leadership. How did that kind of come back now that you’ve said you’re in this position to think, but where did that thought process sort of come out of?

[00:07:01] Natalie Nagele: I think a lot of this stuff is just like a slow journey to find a voice, but also like that purpose. And I think Chris and I were really lucky in that most of the time we built the business, we were in Philadelphia. We’re totally outside any bubble, any Silicon valley, whatever they call it in New York city, Austin, like none of those.

[00:07:19] So we’ve always been very internal and heads down and yeah. From a very early start, looked at the business in a very traditional business sense, like aside from being capital efficient, which not to dismiss the capital efficiency of a SaaS product, of course, that’s why we got into this business. But at the end of the day, we’ve always looked at it very much as a traditional business, just like a manufacturing company or a services, anything. Chris’s dad comes from traditional business. My parents are entrepreneurs. So we were able to really, I think stay a little more grounded, like feet planted on the ground in most of our path here. Always needed to make more money than we spent, always took our time to make sure that we were solving for the future a little bit, but we never had that long-term vision.

[00:07:57] I think what changed for us is there’s like a couple of inflection points, but there was a point where one of our products, Beanstalk is one of our biggest products at the time, it plateaued. And up until that point, we always felt like growth really happened to us. We were very product focused, never had marketing, never had sales, never did any intentional,, everything was word of mouth and had like scaled and scaled.

[00:08:17] And like oops, like just totally flat-lined. Not flat line, but plateaued, the growth flat line. The business sub didn’t. And we had this like real, because we never felt like we weren’t doing anything, like it was in our control. We went on this whole lots of different knob turning and consultants and, oh my gosh, raise your prices, go pre-trial, like all these things cause we were just scrambling. And ultimately what happened was like both of us were not in good mental places. Chris was like, I’m out. Like took a month off, went and hiked futon with his dad. Really just trying to find our way. And when we came out of that, what ended up happening was what I would think is like our first inflection point was we started to really ask ourselves why, like, why do we care?

[00:08:57] Why are we running this business? Slow down for a second. What does this mean? And that was the first, we created a set of values, we started to really work with our team. And that’s when we first discovered that we were doing, I have often referred to the businesses as a beast. What we were doing was we were allowing the business to be this insatiable beast.

[00:09:13] This thing happens a day your business is born, it turns against you. It’s actually your number one enemy as a founder, especially is the business itself because naturally it’s designed to get bigger and fatter and grow and grow and grow. That’s what it wants to do. None of us started for that. Right. There’s this always, this balancing act of harnessing that beast, like harnessing your business.

[00:09:32] I literally picture it with reins around it and saying, hold on a second, which direction are we moving in? How fast are we going? And so we realized as we were just feeding the beast, I mean, we were just like growing because we had to grow doing these things because we had to, because the internet told me it was the right way to go.

[00:09:46] So around that time was when we first realized, okay, hold on a second. We’re servicing the business, not ourselves. That’s not why we’re doing this. So stop. And from there, it became more and more clear need for Chris and I to use the business, not feed the business, like use the business to fulfill the needs of the human beings in and around it, starting with the founders equally as important the employees and your customers, and the community.

[00:10:12] And so that I think having that realization was really important. And then to get to the working in the open, the truth is I watch all these businesses, have these entrepreneurs feeling like they have to make this decision of either for this derogatory term, that shouldn’t be, but like lifestyle business. You’re never going to grow, you’re going to do this little thing. And as if that’s bad, it’s not bad. On the other side is you’re going to raise a ton of money. You have to fight for the unicorn or whatever. I don’t even know what they call it anymore. Run as fast as you can. Most of those fall. And in the middle, there’s nothing.

[00:10:41] And what I was starting to discover was like, I have so many friends who are founders. I’ve been in this for a really long time. I know a bunch of people and I used to have these conversations with folks and they’d always think we had this much bigger business than we really did because Chris and I live a really nice life and we go on nice vacations. Having this conversations I realized like none of them are paying themselves. They’re working their asses off. They’re not enjoying their work because they’re, again, they’re feeding this beast. And so in reflection, it was like, we should be one of many voices around how you don’t have to sacrifice that. Those two polar opposites aren’t your only option. There is this like beautiful middle ground.

[00:11:14] And it’s the thing that we want to do, which I want to grow something really meaningful, really world-class organization, operationally excellent, some of the brilliant people in the world building meaningful things in the world, and we’re all making money doing it. There’s doesn’t have to be a sacrifice. And so I think that’s like wanting to be at least an example in that conversation.

[00:11:32] And, you know, we found community with lots of folks and thank God now it’s people first is the thing that everybody’s talking about, which gets me really excited. But we want it to really just start to create another alternative because, not to be all sappy, but it’s going to create a better world if we look at the business as a tool for human beings and multiple constituents. If all of us small business owners do that, the ripple effect of that is going to be really big.

[00:11:55] And so I want to just find all of our friends who are doing the same thing, who care deeply about making money for themselves and their team and the community and their customers. And all of these things are making the world a better place together is really important.

[00:12:07] A.J. Lawrence: Yeah. I love that because since the early nineties starting businesses and selling and blowing them up, depending on sometimes the role of the dice it felt, but I remember in early 2000s being told, oh, you’re a little E entrepreneur. You know, because you haven’t raised fund. Only entrepreneurs are people who take money. I love this that providing it, because even now, even with the rise of the indie hacker, and I saw something great where someone was saying, since you’ve been doing this for 20 years, you’re like an OG indie hacker. It’s getting so easy to start a business. And it’s getting so easy to gain traction or a concept of traction compared to what it used to be like and cost, but, but this idea of where to take it and how to go higher, we need more examples. And I love that you’re doing this outwardly and publicly.

[00:12:55] Natalie Nagele: I think a lot of it is interesting because the thing that took us awhile to figure out that when I talk to new founders and even like experienced ones, my favorite question to ask is like, are you having fun? Why are you doing this? And I think it’s like such a startling question because you’re putting me in, am I having fun? And usually you get this look on somebody’s face, I don’t know. I haven’t thought about that in a while. I’m like, well then what’s the point.

[00:13:15] Especially sometimes I meet so many technical founders. I’m like, if you’re not having fun, you can make a ton more money going to work for like a Facebook. So what are you doing? So I think that the intentionality behind running a business, I was just talking to a friend who’s starting something and had gotten tons of advice from all kinds of different people. And he gets on the phone with me and all I’m asking was like, well, what’s the point? What are you trying to do? Do you want to be a billionaire? Do you want to be a millionaire? Do you want to be famous? Do you just want to build something meaningful? I haven’t thought about that. I said, okay, cool. Well, that’s a good place to start.

[00:13:44] Figure that out and then figure out from there. Like what kind of business you want to run? Because if you’re always thinking about the consumer business and I was like, consumer businesses are really hard. You can make $5 a consumer. So like how many consumers do you need to grow to scale your thing? Oh shit.

[00:13:57] Okay. You have multiple co-founders. Okay. Let’s do some math. Like these things are, we’ve created somehow in tech, like we’ve created total fantasy world that doesn’t apply any reality to it. And to me, what’s exciting as an entrepreneur is to sit down and say, okay, great. Now, I want to make this much money. Okay. Then that means I need to make more money in revenue than I have in expenses. And that Delta becomes mine. And so if I’m going to launch a consumer- I tell my team this all the time, every time they have a consumer business product, I’m like, do the math, how many customers do we need? It’s a shit ton.

[00:14:26] I don’t want to go in that. To me, that’s entrepreneur with a capital E. It’s not fundraising. It’s building value for customers. And then figuring out a model that says, okay, we can make more than we spend. We can spend that money doing meaningful things either for ourselves or for our team or whomever, giving back to the community, whatever is important to you.

[00:14:47] That’s entrepreneurship, right? That’s the magic. And if anything, I think a lot about, I had this meetup with some new friends and like sitting at dinner and you’re getting to know each other, what do you do? What do you do? And so I asked him like, what are you doing? And he’s like, I’m a business owner. And I was like, what does that mean?

[00:15:01] What’s a business owner? And that we had this long conversation and he’s awesome. Really wonderful guy, because I don’t ever consider myself a business owner. I consider myself an entrepreneur. Like it became this like cognitively, challenging thing. And what I was realizing is he came into business as a way to make money and so owns a bunch of various franchises like Chick-fil-A’s and Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts. And so it’s a lot of moving and trading of things and that’s super cool, but with the perfect intention of making money.

[00:15:28] My brain doesn’t function that way. My brain is all about creativity, of what can I create out of nothing. How do I bring people along with me? That feels like my entrepreneurial brain. You need a business brain and entrepreneur brain together to make it actually happen. You can’t just be dreaming and trying to come up with things that don’t exist, but that’s the magic. And I think what our, our industry unfortunately, has perpetuated this perspective that like success is fundraising.

[00:15:52] Success is figuring out how to scale something and sell the idea of something and not like this meaningful thing. And that’s the purpose in my head.

[00:16:01] A.J. Lawrence: I agree. I think we’ve come to this idea that like entrepreneurs, drop out of Harvard, raise a gazillion bucks and then overflow for friendly governments. Not that it’s ever happened in our time period, day and age, but yeah, it’s we create things so that new opportunities can be created.

[00:16:19] I love in how you look at bringing things into your community because there’s, I always loved back way, way back cause now that I’m in my fifties. My university days are so much closer than everything else that I went through. But the idea of economic value that when the community that you participate in, if you’re putting money back into it, through your employees, through your use of profits, et cetera, has a much larger impact. And just understanding how you’re using that. I love how you think about that because I’ve been trying to think – I have a global company. I work, I live in Southern Spain. I have people all around the world who work on these different, crazy ideas I have and the way you’ve been articulate, it’s really interesting to think about what is that value we can bring in.

[00:17:09] You’ve used the term in a lot of your writings and some of your videos of constant prioritization. You talk about constantly evaluating your people, the value for your people, your ideals, your efforts, your focus. And as repeat entrepreneur who’s been lucky a few times and blown up more than a few things.

[00:17:27] How did you keep that, thinking that process, this ongoing effort from not being just the noise in your head because that’s that fine line. And I know definitely I had a large blow up when I almost did get to my first 10 million and then, and then recovered and sold as soon as I could. It was just, oh, I gotta do better. I gotta do, but I didn’t sleep then drag to all the classic burnout. How do you keep this constant noise in your head?

[00:17:56] Natalie Nagele: That’s the challenge always. And there’s, I’m so frequently impatient and I’m so frequently frustrated. I don’t get frustrated to my team. I get frustrated internally, like why aren’t we moving faster?

[00:18:06] And so that I don’t think that ever goes away. I think the I’ve just had enough experience to know that it never produces better results. So I believe strongly in a slow, intentional climb. Like it’s a pace. I believe I’ve seen the results of that. So anytime I let that monkey brain take over, like, why aren’t we going faster? I just come back to, okay, hold on a second. Back to my values, back to the things that are really important. I do a lot of talking to myself. I mean, processing out loud, even very early on when we used to get VCs or PEs or whomever wanting to come and acquire something, Chris and I had this exercise we would do is we would write down individually, like what would we spend a million dollars in cash on to grow the business. Just start writing it out, to more software developers to this, that, and the other thing. And almost inevitably, every time we’re like, not worth it don’t even need the million. And if I, however much I need I’d probably get in loan or we could fund it through, you know, whatever.

[00:18:56] So like I’ll have those same conversations. Okay. What’s faster? Write it out. Okay. What would that take? How much would that cost. And what are my odds of actually making that happen? Like the, the success to come faster. And that’s when I think it helps again, nine times out of 10, it’s like, no, you’re moving at the right pace. Slow down. You set these longer-term intentions.

[00:19:14] We, maybe three years ago, three or four years ago really started planning longer term ahead, three years, five years. And that’s really helped because I think for a lot of times in software and the mantra that we were always practicing and hearing from everybody was quick iteration, right? Like constantly changing, constantly making decisions, like always improving. Yeah. And realize that that was cool in the beginning when you’re like really trying to like find that, am I doing the thing? Is it working? Do people want it? But it’s really bad for long-term success because without that longer-term vision, distraction is very expensive.

[00:19:46] And so you have a team of people that you got to really think about. I got to set a charter course. It’s going to take me a long time to convince everybody to just get them all the same page. This is the course we’re charting, let’s go. If you’re changing that frequently, you’re losing so much momentum and I think we’re losing so much attention.

[00:20:03] So we try to be really thoughtful. So that’s also curved my impatience and my chaotic brain is we plan once a year. We put some pretty big goals for the whole year. We rejigger them every quarter, every three months, we kind of realign, confirm that’s the plan that we’re on. But I signed off to the team, like I agree with all of you that this is the path that we’re taking this next 12 month.

[00:20:24] And so if I come in halfway through the year and start yelling and throwing my hands in the air and say, why aren’t we moving fast enough? Then I’m the jerk. Because I agree that this was the plan. So, yeah, I don’t know. I think that’s the curse of, of being an entrepreneur is there’s this amazing thing that we don’t talk about enough.

[00:20:40] But to me, the hardest part about being an entrepreneur is that there’s no limit, there’s no ceiling. And that’s really tough because there’s always the opportunity for more. And it doesn’t even necessarily mean money more. It just means whatever that means to you. More, more, bigger audience, more opportunities, more whatever. I find it really fascinating to peek into other people’s businesses. I’m always like, oh, what does that person do? How do they make money? Especially traditional businesses. I think traditional businesses are so cool. Like non-stop. I look at that. Not because I’m jealous, but because I’m so curious. Oh, how’d they do that. How’d they do that. And we’ll be like on vacation, see giant yachts. I’m like, Ooh, Hoover, you know, who owns those yacht? It’s not because I like desperately want to own a yacht, but because I’m just fascinated by like the journey that somebody took because the sky’s the limit. And then I see it, the stock broker, and then I get really mad and then I’m like, I want to sink a ship and people who like produce value in the world, I love them. And so there’s always that like constant voice in my head that like bigger, more bigger. What else can you do? What else can you do? And I have to herb that by practically speaking, just making promises and then trying to stick to them.

[00:21:37] A.J. Lawrence: I like that because my team calls me on this. I called myself a bad entrepreneur, which is always not a good thing to be doing because I don’t hit these goals I have in my head. The thing is because I’ve taken swings, I’ve done well by what I’ve achieved from where I started. But never hit those big goals. You’re more like, okay, let’s set the problem. Let’s set the structure, let’s do this and not try and be like, oh yeah, of course, because I can logically figure out all the steps it takes or the possibilities and the resources.

[00:22:08] If everything worked perfectly, we would be three years of Elon on Mars. It’s simple. I think this is part of the fun slash difficulty because you start seeing how things could be and probably should be, but then you have to live within the world and finding that balance of how to get everyone else coming along and reality, you keep it nice.

[00:22:33] It seems also that you’ve had practice of getting to that step. How many years do you think you were when you got to some inflection points? Was this like 5? 10?

[00:22:44] Natalie Nagele: That plateau where that really miserable experience was right around 2012, 2013. The intentionality obviously came after that. I think the last, we’ve been doing a 32-hour work week since 2017. And I reflect on that because at the stage that we were in to be able to say, we’re only gonna work four days a week and that’s totally cool, we were already at that point. Well, we were like, this is our thing. We get to do what we want with it. And we believe in our deeply held principles and beliefs and values of like how work gets done, what enough is, like all of these things that even at that moment in time, four years ago, we were already in a pretty solid spot.

[00:23:22] So I would say the last six years, we’ve been very clear with our intentions, but you’re right. It’s a practice. And I think the thing that happened to us at least, that’s shown that it works – the slow and steady and intentional. I like the way you said it, like living in this world and I can see a lot of opportunities, but I often have to come back and live in this world.

[00:23:41] So I try to surround myself on my team, with folks that remind me of which world I’m living in. I’ll come up, I’m like, I’ll hire all the people it’s going to be great. And then my director of finance would be like, so let me show you how much money you’re not making this year because you want to hire all the people.

[00:23:52] Okay, good. That’s important. I like that you said that. So it’s bringing folks with me to say, Hey, like how fast can we run while maintaining the principles or the values that we really care about? How fast can we, what can we attain doing it our way? And I’ve got really brilliant folks on my team who have been at big, fast moving startups too. And they’ve come to Wildbit. And so I love their perspective.

[00:24:16] They’re like we can run. They never say no. They’re like, we can run faster, but here’s the cost. So based on my experience, here’s what it’s going to cost us. Are we willing to pay that price? And most of the time, we’re not.

[00:24:25] So I think the other part honestly, is you brought up the building in the open and I love the folks, I’m friends with the folks that share all their numbers and all these things, but they’re highly distracting. You get into the inside of some of these businesses and you have to realize that it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. And if you are growing slower, it’s okay. If your churns a little higher it’s okay. I mean, we try to standardize around these things and then we put folks on these pedestals and we try to aspire towards them and have been thinking a lot about hero worship.

[00:24:55] We had an incident in our industry in our small circle where folks we all really desperately admired, looked up to, dreamed about being, wrote the books, all of it and all of a sudden everybody’s like, oh my gosh and it’s like, well hero worship. We don’t need heroes. We need examples of behaviors, hopefully a lot of them that give us some things to aspire towards.

[00:25:17] And so I think when we have these mattering of folks and a lot of them grew, their marketing is being in the open. That’s why they grew. And they hit a certain revenue number and their growth slowed down because that was their whole marketing pitch was like people wanting to be like them, read all their stuff. But I’ve talked to companies, I’ve seen companies sold to PE for like boatloads of money and their churn rates astronomical. And you’re like, how do they do that? Because we’re told like your churn has to be low. Well because their product and their business didn’t they could explain the churn and the thing that they sell to the customer that they have their turn is totally acceptable. Right?

[00:25:45] All these different metrics that we all try to chase after and then create allow the monkey brain to torture us and say, you’re not good enough. You’re not doing it. This person’s growing faster. This person’s more successful here. This person is able to net negative churn and revenue per employee and all of these like fun metrics that everybody’s so excited to rise up.

[00:26:03] Cause we’re trying to measure ourselves against each other and it’s like that, bringing it all back on the inside like, what am I doing here? Am I making enough money for me? That’s a good question that people don’t ask themselves. Today money, not tomorrow money. Not hypothetical, maybe one day I’ll make money.

[00:26:16] Am I making enough money today to make it worth it? Cause I can go get a job. I mean, I can’t go get the job anymore, but like most people are going to get a job, you know. Is my team happy? Are they fulfilled? Or like all these things that I think are much more meaningful to measure ourselves against. I think most of the time, if we measure ourselves against that, we’d end up with much better results than chasing what growth rates or revenue numbers or whatever metric we want to like peak out in the open. It’s ultimately going to fail you.

[00:26:41] A.J. Lawrence: That is very tough because the noise is so much. I know, since I focus so much on marketing constantly, it’s just, oh, but this or this, or, oh, we got to do this. I’m like, no, you got to do what’s gonna work for you to the next level. You can want to get there, but you need to get to the next level that gives you that much more free cash flow or that much more team ability or that much more internal learning or whatever that is.

[00:27:08] I always call them the Griffins. So that concept of it doesn’t matter what that is. It’s just you moving towards that. I like that you were referencing every day. You talk about, but just this idea of what are you doing, why? And taking that further. That’s fun.

[00:27:26] Natalie Nagele: You’re talking about marketing and I think being entrepreneurs is really fun when you can say, what marketing do I need that matches my values, that’s going to achieve the goals that I want. Some cool company that I admire did this thing that’s really cool. And so therefore I want to do it too. That’s not entrepreneurship. That’s copycat but there’s so much fun in saying, Ooh, can we pull this piece off?

[00:27:45] And it’s, if we do that and it turns into this, that’s really cool. We’ll make more money and then we can spend it on this next thing. And like that that’s strategy. Right? That’s why we do this thing. It’s not the read a bunch of blog posts and try to do what everybody else does.

[00:27:57] A.J. Lawrence: Yeah, it’s don’t copy, steal. Because anything we need is out there already – processes, structures, stuff, but you have to figure out what it means to you. I always tell the story I had a client who had just received a decent round, and this is a while ago. So the example of now it would be some form of tTikTok, but it was in the early animated video, YouTube, and they came to us and Jim Jabin just came out with some blah blah da da da.

[00:28:25] And now these were medical supply company, but it was going to be like this whole e-commerce medical supply. So like they had raised money and it was going to be a more B2B and B to like not-for-profits. The chairman of the board called up the president or the CEO and you know whatever or the VC, dancing naked grandpas.

[00:28:45] They wanted us to do a video of dancing naked grandpas. That to me was always been like, yeah, can’t. It’s time to sell the agency. Yes. It happens out there. So yeah. How does it fit within who you are, who your customers and does the marketing fit? What’s something you believe entrepreneurship or anything cause you know, you bring in so much to how you’re viewing your journey. What’s something you believe that you think most people wouldn’t agree with?

[00:29:15] Natalie Nagele: I think this just general concept that the journey of growing the business can be financially beneficial to the founders, as well as the company and building wealth at the same time. I’ve realized in talking to folks, that is the biggest thing that they’d done. They just look at me like a deer in the headlight. There’s a perspective that the founders should really not pay themselves anything the entire journey. Build wealth, build the asset, invest everything back into the asset.

[00:29:39] And in my view, that breaks this thing that I think is so important, which is like these long-term businesses that provide value to the world because you become this really vulnerable founder, because if somebody comes at you and says, here’s a few million bucks, let me take it. Or here’s the next fancy idea or whatever.

[00:29:54] If you’re not building for yourself and your family, you’re sacrificing the whole time. You don’t want to be a martyr like that. Doesn’t make sense. I think that is really important. And I think the other one that match, that fits that in is most people don’t realize how much money million dollars is. Nobody wants to be a billionaire.

[00:30:08] And I’m always like, do you ever write down like what a million dollars is a month and figure out how much of that you could actually spend? What are we talking about here? That’s like my favorite exercise is to push people, to breakdown how you’d spend a million dollars. And most people can’t. It’s such a significant, and I use the million because we get this like SaaS business gets like the 3 million and their margins should be around like a 30%. Like you can grow a business to $3 million. You could make a million dollars in profits. It’s a ton of money and you don’t need to be a billionaire and risk everything and suffer. And three million is in attainable number. If you’re building something solid and you’re taking your time, it’s an attainable number.

[00:30:40] And so I think there’s that merger of you don’t need to sacrifice everything to build a billion dollar business so that you could have some kind of exit or some kind of thing to sustain you and hate the journey the whole way and risk a ton andprobably fail. I mean, the odds are, you will fail on that journey.

[00:30:57] Your success rate is much higher if you’re taking care of yourself, as you take care of your employees and grow together with the business. You all grow together with the business and you build something meaningful and you make enough money that you are perfectly content and life is good. It’s that piece. I think people are embarrassed to talk about it and I get it, but I, I get really pumped to talk about it.

[00:31:17] Cause I was like, I am fully committed to taking care of my team, my people, my customers, all of these things. And I’m fully committed to taking care of Chris and I and our kids and our family. Like they are non-negotiables. And I tell the team is all the time. If this business gets harder and I make less money, it does not make sense.

[00:31:31] Which doesn’t,, why would I do that? And that’s okay, why should I do that? That doesn’t make any sense, but I’m not torturing my team. And I do that while simultaneously providing 32 hour work weeks. I’m not embarrassed to say that out loud, because I believe that you can equally do both things.

[00:31:46] You can build a people first company while also providing wealth for your family. Because entrepreneurs, you take a lot of risk. You do that for a reason, right? Mortgage your house, you get loans, you stay up all night, you do all these things. You want to be rewarded for that. And all these founders that I talked to they think the only way to get to that point is when they sell.

[00:32:04] A.J. Lawrence: It also goes to the type of entrepreneurial thinking or information you do, because I know for myself, especially for my last business that I did eventually sell I was surrounded and hearing so much about VC backed entrepreneur, but I was doing a bootstrapped service company and agency, and it was very much that, well, of course I have to reinvest.

[00:32:25] I have to only take a little and then all of a sudden it was like, wait a second, why? Because an exit it’s funny, when you say a million dollars, it’s also interesting to flip it a million dollars revenue or, and then whatever the pro-rata your free cashflow from that, compare that to then, okay. You get three to four or five SaaS, maybe a little more thing, but you get this chunk of change and that’s, you get an exit and you get this chunk of change and it sounds and it feels great to get that check. But then all of a sudden broker, then accountants and lawyers, and then bonuses to your team and all this. And all of a sudden you’re like, oh wait. So I think you play around a lot with that concept of tension. You’re talking about the prototype and all this. How do you keep things in balance with your goals and what you think should be done?

[00:33:13] I like how you bring that to because yeah, paying yourself well is the best way to keep yourself engaged. How do you see this legacy? Or how do you see yourself creating a legacy off of what you’re doing? Because you are building this visible platform and this visible understanding of what your journey is like, what did you see your legacy being?

[00:33:35] Natalie Nagele: So I have this trouble with this word legacy because it can be really addictive. And I try not to think of myself as that important that I would need, so I’m going to die one day and that’s fine. And two generations from then, nobody’s gonna remember me. That’s totally cool. Yeah, it’s all good. But I think I also, at the same time, I’m like publicly talking about these things and I have two daughters and talk about a lot of this stuff at home and wanting them to have the experience and as women to like, know that anything’s possible for them as well.

[00:34:01] There’s definitely a balancing act there. I try not to think of it as legacy. I try not to let that obsession of why won’t people remember me when I’m gone. I want my time here to be meaningful, that’s maybe what I care most about. It’s that if my kids, their kids let’s say that we are part of something that maybe raises enough of a sting or creates enough interest to move that towards something that’s a little more ethical, to move that towards looking at, like you said earlier, I think businesses are really powerful tools. They can create so much positive value in the world to human beings. If my kids and their grandkids and their great grandkids, I don’t need them to know that Natalie did it, but I would just like to know that the world’s a little bit of a, that we’ve moved in that direction and we’ve moved more towards caring about humans and just appreciating the things that we’ve invented are designed for us. And we shouldn’t be in slavery to them, like in service to them, why would we invent this concept of business and commerce and all these things and then serve it? That doesn’t make any sense.

[00:35:04] So like it should be serving us and it should turn out to make the world a better place. So that’s more, I think for me, what I care about is really are the girls inspired enough and feel confident enough that they can speak up against injustices, that they can take action against it, or as we speak up or they take action. Well, that’s part of the story, right?

[00:35:24] I want them to take action. I want them to stand strong on their two legs and be like, this is the thing that we’re going to do. And it means something to us. If I can inspire that. Fantastic. That’s definitely a goal, but I try not to be like, I want to be remembered. I just want the time here to have had an impact.

[00:35:39] A.J. Lawrence: Well, Natalie, thank you so much for coming on the show today and I believe you are having an impact. I know I’ve picked up pages of notes of just different ideas and ways of incorporating things you’ve discussed and shared and definitely from the show. I hope more of the audience will take the time to really learn and grow because I definitely picked up some things I know I want to incorporate. So thank you so much for coming.

[00:36:04] Natalie Nagele: I would love to just plug real quick. We have, it’s not just us. I think what’s so cool is we’ve been on this journey and we’re just like one example of a 35% small company, but we’ve built this incredible community of other people first businesses. And we have a job board called people first jobs where there’s just so many incredible companies who care about this work that I want to shine a light on them, not just us.

[00:36:24] And there’s every flavor of how to run a people first business. I don’t believe that there’s only one way to do it. I think there’s a tremendous number of ways. I have this idea that a business is like a snowflake. I had this consultant once who had a conversation with me. He was going to consult on this thing and I get on this phone and I worked with thousands of businesses, blah, blah, blah. And let me tell you, every entrepreneur thinks they’re unique, but they’re not unique. Every business is the same. They have the same problems.

[00:36:47] I listened to him and I was like, well, well thank you. This is definitely not of a fit. And so I had this reflection. How can we think every business is the same? If a business is a collection of human beings and there’s no two human beings that are the same. Every single business is snowflake. We have similar business model. Like you should make more money than you spend all of these things, but you and I can be in the exact same industry with the exact same customers building the exact same product. And we would have two totally different philosophies. So I say that to say that like people first is not just Wildbit, we’re just one flavor of it. PFJ or PFJ is what we call it. People. First jobs is like this incredible collection and it’s constantly growing of companies that we vet and take our time getting to know that are doing their flavor.

[00:37:29] People first and they’re all, they’re awesome. And I’m really like just, I feel so honored to be a part of that community. So I just want to plug that because I think they’re great. And I would love folks to like, get to know all of those organizations more.

[00:37:42] A.J. Lawrence: And we will make sure that we have a link to it. And yeah, I’ve actually worked with a few, especially like Closio when they were starting. There are some really cool companies in there and some more, I want to now check out from it. So yeah, we’ll definitely put it in the show notes, but those companies and the reasons why I thought it was very interesting because you’re right, how we give back and why, and what we’re doing is all going to be unique.

[00:38:05] But I think the real thing is that we push ourselves to ask what we can do with this tool. And I think since you’ve put such an emphasis on using it as a tool where I think most of us think of it as it’s our business or life, it helps put it into more perspective. It’s not the noise. Oh my God. Oh my God. It’s okay.

[00:38:25] Yes, it’s a lot. And it means a lot and there’s a lot involved in the risk structure and blah, blah, blah, and all that. But if we work on this in a conscious manner, we can do good. So I’m going to really put a lot more effort into my thinking on this. So thank you. All right.

[00:38:43] Natalie Nagele: Great.

[00:38:43] A.J. Lawrence: You have a wonderful day, Natalie.

[00:38:45] Natalie Nagele: Thank you. Thanks A.J..

[00:38:47] A.J. Lawrence: That was a lot of fun. And for me, it was such a learning experience to talk to someone who has had such a deep journey. Natalie has been doing this for a while and her experience shows it’s this idea that each piece has added to the next capability, to the next, into the next and seeing that and learning from that and realizing that there are other ways of building our businesses and growing and looking at this journey of entrepreneurism is really helpful.

[00:39:19] I really think I’ve taken away and I think people in the audience should really consider three things. We’ve had other guests talk about moments of tension difficulty, et cetera, as using it to evaluate their business and where they’re going. Like We Are Rosie doubling down in COVID because it’s so validated their business model, but I loved how it was talking about the plateauing of the growth of their core business at the time and how businesses been sort of growing inconsistent and they were just feeding the beast. When that beast stopped growing, all of a sudden it was this consideration of, well, why are we doing this?

[00:40:01] What are we doing? And yes, she’s had, there was a bunch of consultants involved and all that noise that generates, but then they realized it gave them an opportunity to reevaluate. Why they were doing this, what they wanted to actually be doing. And I think that’s an interesting piece to use attention. I probably have a bad habit and something that I’m trying to work on that when things get difficult, I so focused into the difficulty in breaking the nod and solving the puzzle and moving forward, getting the noise dealt with that.

[00:40:37] Maybe I’m missing the opportunity to be there and understand what I’m really trying to solve for and what I’m trying to build. And I think as entrepreneurs, we should use these moments as unpleasant as they may be when things don’t go the way we want them to. I think we should use those moments to really evaluate what our long-term goals are and how this moment impacts and can be influenced by what our long-term plans. Because what’s so interesting is Natalie has taken that moment and that evaluation with her husband of the long-term goals they were building, long-term plans they were building, but uses that as a crux against almost everything they’re doing.

[00:41:24] And that constant prioritization, that constant evaluation, does this fit? Does this align, does it and along with the second thing I think we should all do, which is pay ourselves what’s appropriate. I am poster child for underpaying myself, specifically service business. Most of my companies, I was always surrounded by people who were venture backed or had all this great money.

[00:41:50] So I always tried to be amongst the cool kids and build for a future exit. And while I have exited, and I got lucky, very lucky. It’s not quite as great as you think it is, can be. But especially for most businesses, most small to medium businesses, the exits aren’t that big. Even at the seven figures, once you have taxes and fees and everything coming in, especially when you’ve gotten used to that nice ongoing, yearly revenue.

[00:42:20] If you haven’t paid your.self an appropriate amount, you put yourself in that difficulty. She referenced to be bought out for push, but I think it puts you in a position to burn out that much easier because you don’t have the reserves to keep going. And that’s something that I’m definitely trying to work with now with my new efforts of Insight Labs to constantly pay myself what’s appropriate yes, my team and grow, growing everything.

[00:42:48] And that gets to that third piece. Now that she’s taken care of herself and she has shown us how beneficial long-term goal setting is, and how and when to do it, I think this idea of evaluating our long-term plans against those around us. She, because the strength of their plans and the strength of their evaluation against what they were doing and where they want to go and her efforts to make sure she was taking care of herself, that idea of looking at who we impact – our employees, family, broader community, our suppliers, our customers, et cetera, and really start evaluating what we can do in those communities. You have to decide what you want to be doing within those who you interact with and those who you are part of overall community. Because she had this strength on the foundation and the long-term plans, she was able to not only embrace people first leadership, but also become an advocate and grow that within her own company and engage with other businesses who also have taken on that same mindset.

[00:43:57] It’s a very interesting and not very easy, and I’ve been guilty of this, to articulate and share higher ideals becomes very difficult to live them in life. And to take the stand and to align her businesses around it, is something that we should evaluate and see how yes, by really understanding where we want to go, understanding our value, Aaron Hurst’s value above replacement level. Go listen to the episode of Aaron, because that’s such a great concept, but here, what is our value that we bring.

[00:44:30] Make sure we pay ourselves, gives us this opportunity to then go and do good if that’s your thing. And if it’s not, probably don’t want to be listening to this podcast because I actually do like making places better than where I found them. Really using this opportunity to help our employees, to help the environment, to do things that we think should be done.

[00:44:52] So people first leadership is a great concept and worth exploring, especially as we, as entrepreneurs are growing our businesses and finding our feet. Yeah. Upper six, low seven figure space. It really does feel like I’m not quite sure how stable things are, but as someone like Natalie shows continuous progress, continuous effort step-by-step will get you pretty far into this and be worthwhile.

[00:45:20] So we will have in the show notes as well. Links to Natalie Nagle’s site. The people first we’ll have everything down below in the show notes. So please go check out and check out the businesses who also on the people first job board, because they’re very interesting and I’ve worked and talked with a few of them, but a lot I haven’t and really gonna go check some out and go check out their jobs.

[00:45:44] If you are looking for jobs and I’ll ask Natalie to share some concepts of how to get on it so we can put some of that in the show notes too if you’re comoany would like to be there. Also we’ll have links to our social sites and our social profiles. So please engage with us, let us know what you think, you’re trying to do or what you want to be doing with your business long-term. What does it mean to your goals?

[00:46:09] Look, we all have our own reasons and that’s the fun of doing this. So thank you so much for listening today. I really appreciate your time. I hope you learned a lot and I can’t wait to talk to you again. Have a great day. Goodbye.

[00:46:28] This episode of Beyond 8 Figures is over, but your journey as an entrepreneur continues. So if we can help you with anything, please just let us know. And if you liked this episode, please share it with someone who might learn from it. Until next time, keep growing and find the joy in your journey. This is A.J., and I’ll be talking to you soon. Bye bye.

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