Ari is the best-selling author of “The Art of Less Doing“, and “The Replaceable Founder.” He is a self-described Overwhelmologist whose insights into personal and professional productivity have earned him the title, “The Guru’s Guru.” He can be heard on the award-winning Less Doing Podcast, on international stages speaking to thought leaders and influencers, and for those who prefer the written word, Ari’s blog posts on Medium offer immediate and actionable advice for entrepreneurs seeking replaceability.
“Until you get to $300,000 in revenue, nothing else matters but getting more revenue.”
“The value is in the process, not the person”
“Entrepreneurs are egotistical motherfuckers”
The Replaceable Founder by Ari Meisel
AI-Generated Voices – Resemble.ai
Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
Time tracking device – https://timeular.com/
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/lessdoing/
Chris Ippolito 00:31
Ari Meisel 00:32
Chris Ippolito 00:33
How are you?
Ari Meisel 00:35
Doing well, thank you very much.
Chris Ippolito 00:37
Awesome. You’re pretty into podcasts and you’ve been doing this for a while, and I ended up reading your book. What was it called again? Sorry, drawing a little blank there. The Replaceable Founder. And took a lot of value out of it, but what really grabbed my attention when we had that initial call was just your entire journey of how you first got into coaching, and then what you’re actually transitioning to now. And I was wondering if you could share that story with the audience because I think it’s a great story that a lot of people will be a little bit surprised with the direction you’re going right now, but also there are a lot of lessons in there that I think we can share.
Ari Meisel 01:29
Yeah. Basically I got out of college and I started working on this big real estate development project in Upstate New York. And I really got into all the actual construction trades, the deal was that anybody that worked on the job had to teach me a trade. I spent the next three years learning and doing every construction trade there is. I ran a team of 60 people, a budget of $3 million on a project that was 20 years old when I started it. And when I was 23, I finished the project and I was in $3 million of debt and I got diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.
For those who don’t know, Crohn’s is a chronic inflammatory condition that affects the digestive tract. It’s considered to be incurable, it’s very painful and debilitating. And the long and the short of it is that I basically went from working 18-hour days to struggling to work an hour a day. Which that restriction, that extreme restriction on my time, is really what formed the basis for everything that I have done since then. Because at that point the question really isn’t what would you do if you could only work an hour a day, it’s what wouldn’t you do. And if the things that you wouldn’t do still had to get done, then who or what is going to do them for you. I really took that as an opportunity eventually to help me overcome my illness and go on to create a new system of productivity which I would call Less Doing. And from that, that grew into a coaching methodology, courses, workshops, and working with businesses, from start-ups to Fortune 500s and beyond. And then I ended up on the Chris Ippolito show.
Chris Ippolito 03:05
Yeah. Officially I’m calling it the “Get Coached Podcast,” which I think is a great name as far as the guests I’m having and the whole mission that I have. But the story continues, and it was the continuation of the story that I think is the most fascinating. Because now that you’ve grown this incredible business and you’ve learned and developed this system to help yourself be incredibly efficient and productive, and teaching other people the same thing, you’re now actually going a bit of a different path. And do you want to share a little bit about that?
Ari Meisel 03:45
Oh, you mean the paramedic thing?
Chris Ippolito 03:46
Ari Meisel 03:48
Yeah. One of the things that is a blessing and the curse of the work that I do, which is to help founders become more replaceable, is that they end up with a lot of free time eventually. Everything I do for every business I work with is really about helping people reclaim their time so they can do with it what they want. And typically, for most business owners, for a long time that reclaimed time gets reinvested into the business. But eventually you can’t do that anymore and there’s nothing to do that with. And people might argue with me and say there’s always something to improve with a business, but not your time necessarily. At some point you have to struggle with a real possibility that you might get bored. And you have to fill that time with something that really gives you meaning and fulfillment. And for me I am on the path right now to becoming a New York Fire Department paramedic, which will be a full-time job.
Chris Ippolito 04:44
Yeah. And that was the part that just surprised the heck out of me. Because being a productivity coach and building a business around that to then go and turn it back to a method of earning income that is an exchange of time for dollars is so just almost counterintuitive to what I think most entrepreneurs would expect that journey to go. Right? I think a lot of people, even myself to be honest, were thinking, “Okay, well, if you’re a productivity coach and you’ve built this massive business and you’ve just created all these amazing systems, now you’ve got all this free time.” My assumption would be that you would use a lot of that time for family, which I know you do, and just other ventures or other passions. It just so happens yours is a job which is to serve and protect the citizens of New York. And that part of it just was like, “What? That’s awesome.” I don’t know, there was just something about it that I found super unique. I think I asked this last time, but where did the desire to specifically go the path of EMT come from?
Ari Meisel 06:04
Yeah. And I appreciate you thinking it’s awesome, I mean I think some people probably think I’m crazy. And the thing is it does not pay particularly well, and I would pay to do this kind of work. It’s incredible. How did it come about? Well, in my journey to overcome my illness I decided to become as versed in health-related subjects as I possibly could, I actually became a certified yoga instructor. And I decided, “What would be the easiest, quickest path for me to get some sort of legitimate medical knowledge?,” and that was EMT.
I took a class for EMT, which took a few months, and then I started volunteering. And the very first call that I got as a volunteer EMT was an 18 year-old-girl in her first week of college who overdosed, and we saved her life. And I was hooked. It was an incredible experience, and that was the first of four interesting calls that night. I got very lucky in some ways, I mean really it was an amazing first day. And nothing has compared to that ever in any way that I can think of.
I volunteered there, and then I ended up volunteering for another fire department. Which is often where the volunteer ambulances are, is usually in the fire department. Then I volunteered at this fire department and I almost delivered a baby once, there was all these, I mean, just incredible things that you just don’t get to do in any other setting. And I miss that and I haven’t done it in a while because life got in the way, and kids and business got in the way.
And I want to take it to the next level, which would be paramedic. I could go to a paramedic school, pay for it, spend two years, and then hopefully get a job doing that. Because it’s hard to volunteer as a paramedic at that point, it’s fairly highly skilled work. Or I could join the fire department and get what’s considered to be the best paramedic training there is in eight months and get paid to do it, and then go on to do what I really want to do, which is to become something called a rescue medic. And a rescue medic is about 1% of the EMT population in the New York fire department and they are skilled in the medical side as well as the rescue side.
Chris Ippolito 08:30
Okay. What are the kind of scenarios that they get pulled into? Is that burning building type of situations? No? Okay.
Ari Meisel 08:42
No, it’s more like water rescue, confined spaces, what’s called high angle. Like you have a construction worker dangling off an 80-story building, that’s where you get a rescue medic involved. Really the hairiest of the hairy.
Chris Ippolito 08:56
Jeez, that’s so crazy. I mean it makes sense as far as that desire to want to still do good and help others, you’re just literally taking it to almost the extreme in a sense.
Ari Meisel 09:12
But, I mean, I’m going to still have my business operating.
Chris Ippolito 09:16
For sure, for sure.
Ari Meisel 09:19
In some ways it’s an experiment. I always like to experiment, this is definitely an experiment, “Can I have a full-time job and run a seven-figure company?”
Chris Ippolito 09:26
Right. Let’s talk a little bit about that. Obviously the ability and the option to be able to go work that full-time passion career came because you were able to build a big business that you’ve been able to pull yourself out through systems and processes. Maybe this might be a little bit too broad of a question, but do you want to maybe walk through a little bit of what that journey looked like and just some of the valleys maybe that you went through, some of the bigger challenges that you ended up experiencing, and how you ended up having to navigate that?
Ari Meisel 10:08
Yeah. The journey towards replaceability is exactly that, is a journey and there are lots and lots of steps involved in it. It’s a very iterative process. And basically when I started Less Doing, which was technically nine years ago, I took a hiatus because I started another company, which was a virtual assistant company, five years ago. And I put Less Doing to bed for almost two years and I don’t think I even mentioned it.
When I left that company and I came back to Less Doing, I basically considered that I was starting from scratch. I had a team of seven people, we were doing a million different things, had no real idea of how we were going to do it or what we were doing, we were just doing whatever paid money. And now today I have a team of five. We went down to a team of three, now I have a team of five. And we have a very clear path of what we’re doing and how we’re operating. And every day I’m looking at ways that I can remove myself from the operations of the business. I will always be the chief content creator and the head coach, but I can do those things in under 10 hours a month.
Chris Ippolito 11:22
Right. Because you designed it that way.
Ari Meisel 11:27
Well, you have to look at identifying where the stumbling blocks are, right? What’s something that people are always looking for you to help them with? What are they always coming to you with? What are the things where it’s like, “We need the boss”? Is it approvals for things? That’s really pretty basic. Is it financial stuff in terms of approving banking and stuff? Also easy to deal with. But then you get into things like the core aspect of our business, coaching. How could we possibly replace coaching? Well, now I have two coaches that I’ve trained and do that very well. The next thing was sales, I was the only one who was doing sales for the entire business. Totally unsustainable. Now I have a full-time salesperson that is kicking ass that I trained to do that. And even content production to some extent, I have an amazing writer on the team now who I can send a 30-second voice message to and she can write 1,000-word blog post from it.
Chris Ippolito 12:19
Nice. I’ve got to get me one of those.
Ari Meisel 12:24
Yeah. Amy, she’s a hot commodity.
Chris Ippolito 12:28
That’s awesome. I’ve got two directions I’m going to go, I’ll start with one. You’re just starting out, right? You’re a solopreneur, like myself, and you’re just starting out and maybe revenues aren’t quite there yet where you can start outsourcing significant portions of your business. You had mentioned having started the VA business, this maybe correlates a little bit. But what would be some advice you would give that solopreneur, that individual who’s just starting up and is still growing, knows there’s value in outsourcing and leveraging other people’s time, but isn’t really quite sure how to start and what makes the most sense as far as their affordability and their capacity to train and such?
Ari Meisel 13:30
Here’s the hard truth for a lot of them, is that until you get to $300,000 in revenue, nothing else matters but getting more revenue. And that’s the thing, that is when you have to hustle, that’s when you have to burn the candle at both ends, you have to grind it out. Now for some entrepreneurs that could be three months, for others it could be years. But until you get to $300,000, don’t fool yourself into thinking that you should hire a team, you don’t need to have all sorts of automations and stuff. You certainly could in some cases, but I don’t think it’s the wisest use of your resources. Because then from $300,000 to $1 million, that’s when you’re really focused on systems and processes that replace what you do well. Still not really looking at bringing on a lot of people, or even outsourcing at all necessarily. $1 million to $3 million is where you’re really starting to outsource things and build a team.
Those three marks are really important, $300,000, $1 million, and then up to $3 million. Beyond that there’s a whole other host of issues that come up. But a lot of those solopreneurs haven’t seen their first six figures. And there’s nothing to be ashamed of, right? I’m not putting anybody down. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a company that’s making less than $500,000 and has upwards of 10 employees. And that’s a scary place to be, you’ve got people’s lives in your hands at that point, their livelihood rather.
For the solopreneur, you want to be as efficient as you can with your own time, and there’s a number of ways to do that. My original book The Art of Less Doing is really about the personal productivity side of things. You can organize yourself well, communicate properly, and use things like Trello to manage projects. And you can use free automation platforms, like IFTTT, but you really don’t want to take it beyond that in terms of complexity at that point.
Chris Ippolito 15:17
Right. What you’re saying is don’t focus too much on it, but work on the things that will have enormous ROI as far as a platform, like Trello. I’ve actually heard that recommendation a few times, now I think I may have to explore that. Because currently I use a to-do list basically, and then I use subcategories and stuff like that. Yeah, I see you’re shaking your head, you’re like, “No, don’t do that.” I’ll look into Trello. But then on the other side of it is things like If This Then That, like you mentioned, maybe Zapier, those types of things, or are you thinking that might still be a little too thick in the weeds for that person?
Ari Meisel 16:10
No. And those are okay because my methodology is to optimize, then automate, then outsource. Outsourcing is really the last step. When most people make mistakes with outsourcing, it’s because they do it too soon and try to outsource something that’s inefficient. If you’re trying to outsource a process that you can’t achieve yourself, you’re going to have a really hard time conveying what success looks like to somebody else. And the thing is that we can automate things now that a week ago a person had to do. There’s a platform that I’m playing around with right now that allows you to clone your voice. And we are experimenting with the idea of putting out a podcast episode that I don’t speak a word of.
Chris Ippolito 16:47
Oh, that is crazy. Can you share, or is it beta?
Ari Meisel 16:51
Yeah. No, it’s called resemble.ai.
Chris Ippolito 16:54
Ari Meisel 16:57
Yeah, you should check it out.
Chris Ippolito 16:58
Ari Meisel 16:59
You record 50 different phrases with different emotions, takes about 15 or 20 minutes. And then you can type anything you want and it will say it like you, and I have to tell you it is freaky.
Chris Ippolito 17:10
Oh, that is so cool. Is “resemble” spelled just normal, they didn’t do some weird type of spelling?
Ari Meisel 17:16
Chris Ippolito 17:17
Okay. I will definitely check that out and include that in the show notes for anybody else who wants to check it out.
Ari Meisel 17:23
Well, but the point that people should take away from that is there are all sorts of things where it’s like, “Oh, I couldn’t automate that, that’s so me, I have to do that.” No, you’re wrong, you have to challenge that assumption.
Chris Ippolito 17:34
Yeah. Actually, that leads me to a bit of a different question. What are some of the more common false beliefs that people have when it comes to this world of efficiency, optimization, and productivity? What are some of the more common ones you’ve seen?
Ari Meisel 17:53
That everything that everyone does is totally unique and nobody else can possibly do it. That’s one of the biggest limiting factors. A really good example of that is I was talking to this guy who is a lawyer and he’s telling me that the biggest bottleneck in their business is his father. He said, “There are six partners. There are six of us junior partners and every time we do a document,” it was wills and trusts I think, “and every time we do a new trust or will, my father has to be the one to review it before it goes out to the client. And it really slows us down because there are six of us and of him.”
I said, “Well, have you ever documented his review process?” And he said, “Well, no. He’s been doing it for like 40 years, he just does it.” I was like, “BS.” I was like, “Watch him do it next time. And when he makes a change, ask him why he made it. And if he can’t explain it to you, then that’s a totally different issue. But odds are he’ll be able to tell you, ‘Well, I don’t like this because of this and this.’ Then if you do that a number of times, then you end up with a predictable decision model and you can pre-screen these things before they ever go to him. But you think that that’s something that he just knows how to do.”
Chris Ippolito 19:02
No, it’s because, like you said, he’s got a system. It’s just, perhaps, all up here. I actually just finished reading The Checklist Manifesto and that really opened up my eyes to, I suppose almost in a sense, this kind of conversation. Because myself in particular, I used to do a lot of things, and then eventually it would become a process. But then it would be just all up here and I would forget my own process from time to time and create a lot more work for myself. Now having read that, what I would do differently is I would document that process, and then make myself this tiny little checklist to make sure that I’m checking the box off of, “Okay, did I do this? Did I do this? Did I do that? Yeah? Okay, those are all the really important things that can really slow things up. All that other stuff, not as important to include on a checklist.” But is that something you help clients with?
Ari Meisel 20:02
Absolutely, checklists are a big part of this process, but let me just take that to a higher level for you for a second. We have sales processes, coaching processes, and all that kind of stuff. Every now and then we’ll have a client or something who says, “No, I really want to talk to Ari. I want to talk to Ari because Ari is the guy,” right? I will say, “Well, you don’t actually want me because I don’t know the process as well as my team does now and you’re going to get a subpar experience. Yes, I might have more coaching knowledge, but the way we run a call is airtight at this point and I don’t know how to do it.”
And that’s another thing, is that you can completely remove that checklisting ability, and then what people think is the value is really not the value. The value is in the process, not the person. And then in terms of process documentation, yes, that’s a huge one that we do, we have a whole methodology around how you create them, test them, and update them. And a lot of people do checklists the wrong way.
Chris Ippolito 20:59
Okay, tell me a little bit about that. What do you mean? How are people doing checklists the wrong way?
Ari Meisel 21:05
Most people, when they give someone a process, they’ll either do a screencast or they’ll write it down, whatever it is, but they’ll show the process to someone.
Chris Ippolito 21:13
Ari Meisel 21:16
That’s not bad, that’s not the bad part. The bad part is they screencast, and then give it to somebody else say, “Okay, go ahead and you do the process then, all right?” That’s typically how it works. That’s a big mistake because then what happens is basically it’s a photocopy of a photocopy, they’re going to see all of your shortcuts and possible mistakes that you just stumble through and deal with because you know how to do it. That doesn’t make for a scalable process.
What you need to do is do the screencast, give it to the second person and say, “Don’t do the process. Write the checklist from what you saw.” They’re going to write a checklist. And then, if you have the capacity to do it, you tell them, “Now take that checklist and give it to a third person who hasn’t seen it and let them run the process.” It will never work, ever. But that’s amazing because then you get to step three where it says, “Now click the big red button,” and the person says, “I don’t see a big red button.” And you say, “Oh, right, because I was logged in as an admin and you’re not. I have to fix that.” And then it gets down to step six and it says, “Now open the Google Doc for the month,” and they say, “Where is the Google Doc? How do I access it? Do I need a password?” And you fix that. And then it gets to the very end of the process and it says, “Now when you’re done, give this over to Sally in accounting.” And they say, “Who the hell is Sally? She hasn’t worked here in six months.” Right? Then instead you change that to be more relative and say, “Give it to the account manager.” But it allows you to iteratively correct that process.
What you’ve now proven is that somebody not only at a secondary level, but at a tertiary level can complete that process. Which essentially means you could take somebody off the street and they can go through that process without error.
Chris Ippolito 22:51
Yeah. That sounds a lot better.
Ari Meisel 22:55
And also, in case anybody is thinking that process is too complicated, we’ve done this for multiple-hundred-step processes in the mortgage industry.
Chris Ippolito 23:06
Yeah. And I came from the world of finance, I’m a little familiar with how complicated that would be when you’re dealing with money and the compliance department. That’s the key, the compliance department of the finance world. There are a lot of checks and balances that need to happen for an application to actually get processed properly. And that was what I was referring to earlier, is as a financial planner it was the same idea. If I was opening up an account for somebody, depending on the jurisdiction that they came from or the type of account, there was all this additional paperwork that was required. But if I didn’t follow a checklist quite regularly, I would miss one signature or one piece of paper and that would delay the process by a few business days, sometimes more. And really at the end of the day it just ended up being a negative experience for the client and for myself because I was wasting my time, their time, sometimes I had to get them to come back in.
Yeah, it was a giant pain. But lesson learned was have a process, a defined process, and then on top of it have a checklist even if you think you know it. This is what I learned from the book anyways. Even if you think you know the process, still have a checklist so that you are always accurate on what you’re doing, you’re less likely to forget, you’re removing the human error side of it.
Ari Meisel 24:37
And there will always be human error.
Chris Ippolito 24:39
Yeah, for sure. We’ve got that solopreneur, you’ve shared a little bit of advice for them. Now we’re at that $300,000 and above and they’re going, “Okay, I’m ready to start optimizing and creating processes so that I can slowly start removing myself out of the picture.” What’s one of the first areas that you would suggest they focus in on, if there is one particular area?
Ari Meisel 25:18
Very simple, just start looking for yourself using the word “every.” Okay? “Every time I record a podcast,” “Every time I send an invoice,” “Every time I hire somebody.” The word “every” should be a trigger for you to start thinking about automation. And I mean that in a mindset way because the technology is easy in some ways. Some people have trouble with technology, but the point is figuring out the technological aspect is usually not the hard part. The hard part is getting people to realize that you could automate it in the first place. You go through your day, you go through your work, and you have to start identifying those opportunities where it’s like, “Every time this happens, every time this happens.” What happens then? And you start to look for those triggers and actions.
And that’s the basis for creating automations. Because most automations are just a very simple trigger and action. You don’t have to go through a multi-dozen-step zap to use automation properly, you don’t have to be using machine learning, you could. But if you just stop for a second and think. Because you ask somebody who’s really grinding it out and they have their “heads down,” which I hate that expression with a passion. But you ask that kind of person, “What could you automate in your work?,” like, “Oh, nothing, nothing. I have to do everything.” I hear it every day. It’s like, “Well, let’s talk about it. Tell me what you do every day.”
Chris Ippolito 26:37
Yeah. Why do you think that type of person is reluctant to admit that there are ways to automate their role? Do you think there’s something as far as almost like a self-worth thing or some other type of root cause that gets them to think that way and have the blinders on?
Ari Meisel 26:59
Yeah, entrepreneurs are egotistical motherfuckers, basically. There’s good research, well, not good research necessarily, but there’s one theory from a guy named Doug Brackmann, who’s an amazing speaker. He’s been on my podcast, he has a book called Driven. And he talks about how entrepreneurs are an evolutionary irritant. And basically we’re there to mess things up so that we can then fix them and make them better. And if we don’t have something to mess up in the environment, we’ll mess up ourselves. Which is why a lot of entrepreneurs do not have great personal lives. There’s a lot of divorce, there’s a lot of alcoholism, there’s suicide. There’s a lot of bad things that happen in the entrepreneurial lifestyle. And I think ego gets in the way, a lot of entrepreneurs are trying to prove something.
One of my favorite statistics of all time about entrepreneurs was that 75% or 80% of young entrepreneurs came from households where the mother was overbearing and the father was physically or emotionally absent. If that sounds like a household that produces a mentally sound person, then you’re probably one of them.
Chris Ippolito 28:07
That’s super interesting. I’d never heard that before, but yet entrepreneurs are a big part of the reason why we have so much positive in the world, as well.
Ari Meisel 28:16
Right, for people, yeah.
Chris Ippolito 28:19
Ari Meisel 28:21
Well, take Elon Musk, for example. I think that what he’s doing for the world, for the climate is a wonderful thing, but he’s notoriously got a pretty rough life.
Chris Ippolito 28:34
Yeah. And it seeps out every once in a while in his tweets. Yeah, super fascinating. Well, I really enjoyed the conversation, Ari. I think to wrap up, as I always like to do with every episode, is try and figure out what’s that one thing that the audience can do such that they can start improving their efficiency in their workload. I have one idea, but I’m curious what you’re thinking.
Ari Meisel 29:05
The very first thing is that optimize step in my methodology, which is really looking at how you do what you do now. And while that may sound really simple and uninspired, it’s the best thing to do, is to really gain some awareness of how you do what you do now, why does that process work that way, why do you use this particular tool, and how are you spending your time. Are you really drowning in e-mail or do you just think you are? Are you spending the right amount of time on sales calls and on business and all those kinds of things?
And track your time, it’s one of the best things you could possibly do. My favorite way to do it is a device, I don’t know where it is actually, called the Timeular. Which is a physical device, it’s like an eight-sided die that you turn over depending on what activity you’re doing. It’s incredible in terms of insights into what you’re doing with your time. Start there, you might be really surprised that you don’t need to be working as long as you are necessarily, you can work a lot smarter if you know what to work on.
Chris Ippolito 30:01
I like that, I like that. That was actually a recommendation from another guest, Allen Funston. He was taking it from a different approach, but obviously there’s some weight there if now two people are suggesting that tracking your time just will open up your eyes a little bit to perhaps the pitfalls and those time sinks that you’re coming across. I know the one thing that it helped me when I started doing that was realizing that I wasn’t as busy as I actually thought I was, it turned out I was doing a lot of very unproductive things. And then when I looked back, I was like, “Oh.” I actually only worked like, I don’t know, 20 hours out of the 40 hours that I said I was working. And it was like, “Okay, well, then why don’t I maximize what I do in those 20 hours to just increase my output?” Right? “Or shift some of that other 20 hours that I was unproductive and see what I can do with that.” But yeah, it really helped.
Great advice, I like that. Cool. Was there anything that I didn’t ask that I should have asked and you would want to share with the audience?
Ari Meisel 31:16
No, actually you asked some really unique questions. That was great, Chris, thank you.
Chris Ippolito 31:20
Awesome. Thanks, Ari. Everything we mentioned in the episode I’ll include in the show notes and in the description of the video. And if anybody wanted to reach out and connect with you, Ari, where are some of the better places to reach out to you?
Ari Meisel 31:37
I’m on social media everywhere as Ari Meisel, they can go to lessdoing.com. The other thing is that they can go to less.do/foundations and there’s a completely free mini video course that we have there that people find really helpful.
Chris Ippolito 31:51
Nice, I like that. I think a lot of people will find some value in that because, as you mentioned, entrepreneurs, I think one of the things that we’re all fairly guilty of is shiny object syndrome. If there’s a way that we can narrow that focus and just be a little bit more efficient and effective with our time, there’s a lot of value there.
Ari Meisel 32:12
Chris Ippolito 32:14
Awesome. Thanks, Ari.
Ari Meisel 32:16
Chris Ippolito 32:17