We are always told to learn to adapt to change, but what if the kind of change that happens is too overwhelming. How can we keep ourselves from being paralyzed and move together with it? In this episode, Patrick Veroneau invites someone who is perfectly qualified to give you the answer. He sits down with Mitch Russo, a successful entrepreneur who went from starting his first company in 1985, sold it, worked with Tony Robbins and Chet Holmes, became the CEO for Business Breakthroughs International, and now, the CEO of Mindful Guidance LLC. Throughout his extensive experience of starting and growing businesses again and again, Mitch has the expert knowledge to help us navigate these uncertain remote times and find the opportunities that come with it. He shares with us some important steps that will allow us to rediscover the assets we have in this quarantine period to see things through better than we came into it.
Listen to the podcast here:
Navigating Changes And Finding Opportunities With Mitch Russo
My guest is Mitch Russo, a successful entrepreneur who started his first company back in 1985, a software business called Timeslips Corp, which he then sold at the age of 42 and became independently wealthy. From there, if that wasn’t enough, he then went on to partner in a business with both Tony Robbins and the late Chet Holmes who are both legends in both marketing, sales and personal development. He was the CEO for that company, Business Breakthroughs International, and also went on to set up a successful partnership with Kevin Harrington. On top of that, he also has two successful books out, one called Power Tribes: How Certification Can Explode Your Business and the other called The Invisible Organization: How Ingenious CEOs Are Creating Thriving, Virtual Companies. This episode is packed with so much value. Let’s get into it.
Mitch, I want to thank you for taking the time to be on the show. A good friend of both of ours, Susan Ibitz, was the one that introduced us. I’m glad we had an opportunity to connect. Your background is inspiring in terms of what you’ve done in starting out your own company back in the ‘80s, the software company and then being able to retire from that independently and do a bunch of other things where your focus was on taking the abundance that you experienced, and then paying it forward to other people to help them out. In the environment that we’re in, I had an opportunity to do a workshop around helping people navigate job career changes. There are a lot of people out there that are thinking, “What do I want to do these days?” With all of the changes that have gone on and people being remote now, based on your background and the books that you’ve written, maybe that was an opportunity for you to help the readers. How do you navigate that?
I’m going to approach it from two different angles because I think there are people who are creators and those of us who have intellectual property that we’ve built and created over the years. Those of us who literally were doing great stuff in our lives, but never built the intellectual property that some others have. From each perspective, there’s a seismic shift that’s happened already, as we all know, but there’s opportunity now that never existed before. That’s why you should never waste a good catastrophe and here we have an excellent catastrophe not to waste.
The first idea is that if you are a business owner, a coach, a consultant, a trainer, a leader and you have intellectual property that you have deployed that has helped others and you have spent much of your business life on stage, talking to people about their mission and how that moment in time might affect them for the rest of their lives, this intellectual property that you’ve created is very valuable. Most people found that using it on stage is great, but beyond that, they aren’t quite sure how to, and that’s what I’ve helped many clients resolve and move into the digital world, move into the virtual world and more importantly, move into the world of building teams, cultures and tribes.
We don’t hear many people talking about the environment we’re in as an opportunity. That’s such an important thing that you said there. In this challenge that’s all around us, if we focus on the negatives, we miss real opportunities like you’re saying about what the opportunities are here.
I want to tell you my reaction. When I realized that we were about to be quarantined, that the economy was about to shut down, I got a little scared. I was like, “What does this mean? Am I going to get sick?” but then I thought to myself, “I’ve got to get into action because this is all going to be over before I know it and then I will have done nothing but watch Netflix. I’ll be so mad at myself.” That’s when I went into creativity mode and I started building, writing and recording stuff. It’s turned into a whirlwind of activity for me. To answer your question, let’s take a look at what most people have. The opportunities here are vast. Clearly, no one gets this opportunity in terms of time, space and getting a lot of good sleep. Let’s use all of those things. The good sleep to power us, the time to give us the space to create and the fear to motivate us.
I get motivated when I get nervous. If I get too comfortable, complacent and rest on my laurels, I don’t go into creative mode as easily, at least not in these topics, but I found that the environment was motivating to me. Let’s take a look at some of the opportunities. The first opportunity is what is it that you do? Let’s take an example. You speak from stage. You have this incredible program. You’ve written some books. You have some content. Why don’t we take that content and turn it into a learning management system? Why don’t we embed it into a course? Why don’t we sell that course? Why don’t we give away the first lesson of that course for free? Why don’t we go on Facebook Live and talk about that course and get people to take it for free and improve their lives, or at least part of it? Let’s use this opportunity to lead. Let’s be a leader. You don’t need a title. You don’t need to be anointed the king. You’ve got to go. Get in gear and lead. That’s my first thought.You should never waste a good catastrophe. Click To Tweet
I can hear people already saying, “Mitch, that’s great for you. You were successful early on. I can’t do that.”
Why can’t you do that? I have an idea of why, but tell me why?
What you hear is it is people’s false beliefs of what they can’t do. They look at, “It’s somebody else that’s going to be able to do it, but not me for whatever reason. I can’t get over that hurdle.” That’s a real struggle for people. If somebody else can do it, it’s doable. It’s helping people. How do you help people get over that where they might be saying, “I don’t know that I can do this, Mitch?”
In my own emotional makeup, when I hit barriers like that, I like to break things down into very small and simple steps. I remember looking at writing a book for the first time and I thought, “I’m not an author. I can’t write. How am I supposed to write a book? Here’s what I’m going to do. I probably won’t accomplish my goal. That’s fine. I’m going to make an outline. I’m going to name the 10 or 12 chapters of a book I might someday possibly feel like writing.” I wrote the outline and then I said, “I got the outline. Maybe what I’ll do is write 1 or 2 paragraphs about each chapter to see what would go in that chapter if I were to write this book.” I get a few paragraphs done and I noticed I get hooked in one thing and I keep writing. I said, “I move on and write a few more paragraphs.”
My process is all about breaking things down into small chunks and then accomplishing little things on a daily basis. My background, I’ve been educated as an electrical engineer and my systems thinking is a way of chunking down tasks into very small processes that I already know how to do. If I hit a part where I don’t know how to do it, then I ask around. I don’t necessarily hire a coach immediately. I might at some point, but what I do is I ask around. I said, “Is there somebody who’s done this before who’s in my network who I can maybe spend a half hour on the phone with, or on Zoom and ask a few questions?” I get over that hurdle and then I take the next one. For me, it’s eating the elephant one bite at a time. It’s how I’ve always looked at getting about anything done.
It can look so daunting on the frontend, but once you break this thing down, you’re right into doable pieces. You realize, “Maybe I can do this small piece.”
I remember the first time I had to stand up in front of an audience in a professional way. My parents used to force me to stand on the chair and sing at Passover, but at least I got a quarter for that, so it was okay. Other than that, in terms of public speaking, I remember that I turned down the first several opportunities to speak in public because I was too afraid. At that point, I was invited to a very small event and I said, “If I’m going to embarrass myself and only be in front of twelve people, so I’ll do it.” It was a lot of fun and all of the fear for me evaporated the minute I opened my mouth. I was terrified walking up to the microphone. I was terrified saying, “Thank you for inviting me.” I was terrified to the point where I looked around and saw the whole audience and then I opened my mouth and that was it. The fear was gone. I began talking. I never do have a script for when I talk, when I speak. I remember a story and I tell stories. To me, storytelling is my way of communicating because it’s natural for me.
That is how we learn best is by listening stories.
The process for most people is if I was to help somebody, my first question would be, “Where are you at right now? Let’s take stock of the assets that you have.” Not everybody thinks they do, but everybody has assets. If you were to do nothing more than make a list of all the things that you have as assets in your life, all the abilities, all the skills, all the creative things you’ve done, all the content that you’ve written, recorded, built, created, and put them on a single sheet of paper, you might surprise yourself. You probably have more than you think you do. The next question is, “Is there a pattern here? Is there something I can string together and turn into something valuable process, course, program that others would enjoy and get benefit from?”
If the answer there is, “Yes, but it’s missing some pieces,” make a list of the pieces that you’re missing. Write that down, take the outline approach and start creating those pieces. From there, see what else you’re missing until you have something that’s workable. Never ever go for perfection, that never works. Besides, the price of perfection is bankruptcy across the board anyway as we know. Instead, go for workability and then try it out. We have this universe called Facebook or LinkedIn where you can get on live for free. At least on Facebook, most people can. You could tell your story and you could let people react and you could ask questions, “What did you think of what I said? I’m going to take you through this process. Can you tell me if it works or not?”
Don’t be upset if you don’t get good feedback. Use that feedback to improve your process. When I first started Timeslips Corporation, what I did was I went on to CompuServe. It was before AOL. It was where I connected with a group of lawyers who happened to be a little bit more technology savvy than the rest of them. It was there that I started floating these ideas and sending out demo disks and beta versions of our software. It turned out to be the key in effect for me building the product that we ended up building that took our legal software world by storm many years ago. Every single thing I’ve described is simple, small, doable and generally accomplishable in a 1 or 2 days.
In the time that we’re in, you mentioned a great point that you thought about yourself like, “I’ve got to get busy in this time to make use of it.” There are many people like, “When are we ever going to have this time again like this to be able to sit down and take inventory, take a piece of paper and write down?”
This is going to go against what a lot of people are feeling. We’re in a huge seismic shift. The world is shifting in a very positive way. There’s a lot of pain, negativity, upheaval, illness and death, but I think that as they say, “This too shall pass.” Maybe this is my overly optimistic attitude, but we will reach a place where we can say, “This is now a better world.” It’s a world where we have transitioned to working in a different way. It’s a world where we have a better healthcare system. It’s a world where people are treated more fairly, no matter what their race, creed or color. It’s a world where we are more open to understanding one another and their plight than we were before. My viewpoint is that this is all coming. It doesn’t mean it’ll be here by Thursday, but it will. Mark my words on this show, I predict that this will be a better world.
To me, a lot of this seems to be a dress rehearsal.If we focus on just the negatives, we miss the real opportunities. Click To Tweet
What is the dress rehearsal for in your case?
For what can be if we take advantage of this. Also, how do we deal with challenges going forward that could be bigger than the things that we’re dealing with? How are we going to be most effective? It was interesting. I read an article and the writer of this article said, “If you look at the first quarter of 2020, we have experienced an impeachment process, a pandemic, a financial crisis, and racial unrest all in the same year.” 1968 was racial unrest, Nixon’s impeachment, the pandemic of 1918 and the financial crisis of 2008. We’ve taken all of these things and condense them into one quarter of the first year of 2020.
The article wasn’t about this, but I thought the opportunity to me is to say, “How do we want our politicians to behave? What do we want from them? How do we want our healthcare system and how do we treat our own health to change because of this? How do we want our behaviors and interactions with other people to change because of this? What do we need to do financially to create our own security so that when things like this happen, we’re not at the mercy of everybody else?”
We thought we were secure. We thought we were healthy. We thought our political situation was somewhat stable and all of these things turned out to not be true. Aren’t we lucky, we get to solve all these problems at once instead of having to drag them out over 10 or 20 years? To me, that’s the opportunity of a generation. I look at my daughter, she’s 26 years old. I think to myself on one level, it’s unfortunate that she has to inherit this world that we left her or that we’re leaving her, a world filled with dead, a world filled with strife. On the other hand, we were left with the same kind of world when we were 26 years old. That was the era when everyone was building a bomb shelters in their backyard because they were afraid we were going to get nuked by Russia.
All of this upheaval is generational and this is their generation’s upheaval. For us, our job is to remember who we are and not get caught up in the fear or in the stories of what people tell us. The stories are the most damaging and destructive element of our existence and it’s been proven over and over again. Why would you tune into a news channel whose only objective is to make more money by making sure that you pay attention to every word they say 24/7 so that they could sell you more canned goods? What is the point of this? How does this work for you and your life? I look at my mom who’s glued to CNN and I say to her, “No wonder you’re upset. No wonder you’re in a bad mood. No wonder you feel the way you do. Stop it. You’re not benefiting yourself. Those newscasts are not for you. They’re for them. Get focused on what’s for you.”
I practice that for the most part. I’ve been a professional options trader before and trading is in my blood. I trade almost every day. I looked at this whole financial crisis and thought to myself, instead of being afraid, which I was, I asked myself, “What opportunities do I have here? I could buy puts. When the market goes down, I could make money. I could hedge my portfolio.” I know how to do these things. It’s not that I did them a lot before, because I never was in this environment this way before. You have to take stock of who you are, what you have, what your assets are and ask yourself, “What can I do now other than sit around and feel sorry for myself?”
You have a quite a history too in terms of some of the work that you’ve done, creating virtual teams that you were successful on your own and then you went off and started a partnership with two other fairly heavy hitters, two that are favorites of mine. One unfortunately is no longer with us, Chet Holmes, but Tony Robbins as well. That speaks to your level of success that you’re in a partnership with these two. What was that like?
Some readers may not know who Chet Holmes was. He died in 2012. Chet and I were best friends for decades before we worked together. Working with my friend was an amazing experience, but what I never experienced was the type of mentorship that I got from Tony Robbins. That to me was an incredible gift, shock, surprise, delight. I learned so much from Tony. I would tell myself that every day is a gift that I get to spend working with Tony and Chet. I absorbed it all. I made notes and wrote things down. I went out of my way to make sure that they knew that I appreciated them and what we were doing together. In partnership, we had created something very powerful. We went from almost nothing to a close to a $30 million organization in less than five years. We were able to harness the energy and the talent and the creativity of the three of us put together and each of our respective abilities and build something amazing.
Which you have almost proven going forward in terms of these virtual teams and being able to build out a successful business on your own.
That was the first book, The Invisible Organization. That book turned out to be a blueprint book. It was how to transition from a brick and mortar company to a virtual organization. That book has some obsolete or no longer relevant info, which are the technology parts of the book, but the parts of the book that are not are the mindset of the CEO discussion, the leadership discussion, the management process, and some of the marketing superpowers that virtual organizations acquire when they move from atoms to electrons. Once they make that transition, worlds can change rapidly.
If you were to put a percentage on it from a standpoint of skillset versus attitude in this environment that we’re in, how would you mix that up?
It’s 90/10, 90% mindset and attitude, and 10% skills. Here’s why. Most skills can be learned for free. You can go on YouTube and learn. I can’t imagine what you can’t learn on YouTube these days. More importantly, you can also find people in your network to work one-on-one with you. Get an accountability partner. I built accountability partnership software for people to do that. Get an accountability partner in your life and together, hold each other up, hold each other accountable, make sure you’re reaching your goals. That’s all part of how we support a strong framework for a great attitude and making sure that we keep our mental space clear and wholesome.
Along those lines, taking a step back, you mentioned mentorship and Tony, and what you learned from him. I’ve had them myself, how important they’ve been in terms of with all the negativity that’s going around is latching onto those people that are likeminded or that support where you’re going, as opposed to tell you why you can’t get there.
Mentorship is as much about a transfer of skill as it is about a transfer of mindset. I’ve had mentors and coaches all throughout my life and when I work with the people I coach, I tell them to do one thing for me, “If we’re going to work together, when I ask you to do something, I want you to do it. I don’t want you to question it. I want you to execute the things I tell you to do. If you have questions about how, let’s talk. If you have questions about how you feel, let’s talk. If you’re not going to do what your mentor or coach tells you what to do, what’s the point? Don’t bother. Go back to watching Netflix. It’s frankly more fun.”The price of perfection is bankruptcy across the board. Click To Tweet
Those are difficult conversations at times, maybe not for you to tell somebody, but to hear somebody say, “You’ve got to do this. You need to step up.”
It’s all a matter of perspective. I was told those things when I was a young man. When I was going through this, I had people say to me, “If you’re not going to listen to me, there’s no point in us talking anymore.” I had to shut down my ego, open up and hear what they had to say. I had a guy who literally saved my company by talking to me that way many years ago when he was trying to impress upon me that my approach at building a particular piece of software was simply never going to work. A quick example, we were trying to convert a DaaS program to Windows, and we were told that’s the only pathway to go. He said, “Shut that down now. You’ve already wasted eighteen months. Let’s do it the right way.” I could have defended myself even further, but I had no reason to that because he had already done it five times. I listened, did it and he saved my company.
Along those lines, generationally, do you think there’s a difference in terms of receptivity?
People are people. Mindset issues have plagued us all from the beginning of time to now. I remember when Chet and I used to travel together. Chet used to take medication before going on stage because he had to control his nerves and yet he was one of the most dynamic stage presenters I’d ever known. Mindset stuff is part of all of us. It’s not even our fault. If you go back far enough, you could find out where a lot of this stuff originates. My preference is to ignore where it originates and simply overcome it because it doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter if you had a bad childhood. It’s a shame. I’m sorry for you, but we’ve got work to do here. It’s a pandemic. We have an opportunity. Let’s use this time and you can get therapy later. Right now, we’ll go into the jungle and take ayahuasca. I heard that works. I’ve never tried it, but more importantly, we’ve got work to do. We have a career to build. We have an opportunity to take advantage of. We have people waiting to be led by us. Let’s lead them. Let’s snap into action here and take the bull by the horn and move forward. The issue is generational? I don’t think so. I’ve seen people at every level, at every age deal with almost the exact same issues when it comes to mindset and attitude.
What about the person that maybe is older as well? They’re in their 50s. That seems to be the number of, “I’m too late. It’s too late to do something different.” I’ve got to find a way to ride this out. Those are some of the things that I hear from people that I know that are still in the corporate world.
I call BS on that because anybody has the same opportunities as anybody else at any age. In fact, if you’re 50 or 60 or 66, you have experience where the others don’t. You also have the combined fears of failure that you’ve had all throughout your life to overcome, but get a coach and get over it because you could do it. It’s in your DNA. What’s built into us by our creator is the quest to survive. Survival is the most natural element of every single thing and every single living thing on the planet. Isn’t being successful an element of survival?
I sold my software company. I earned out a small fortune for myself and my partner. I accomplished 500% growth in two years and I decided to move back to Boston after working in Dallas with the new company. I thought to myself, “What am I going to do now? I’m going to go help a couple of VCs, maybe get some of their portfolio companies to level up so that they can get some value from them and help those entrepreneurs achieve their dreams too.” I wrote a letter to about a dozen VC firms and included my resume, which I thought was absolutely impeccable because I did what all of their portfolio companies are trying to do. I sent these letters out and I waited. I sent out another batch of letters. Now, I’m going outside the Boston area and I’m sending them to Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. I’m not getting a response.
Finally, I call up, one of the VC firms in Boston that I had sent my resume to. I said, “Is there an associate I could talk with about an opportunity?” If you said, “I’m calling to follow up on my resume,” I already tried that, that didn’t work. “Can I speak to one of your associates about an opportunity? It might be a value.” I get this guy on the phone and I said to him, “I don’t know if you’ve seen what I sent you. It was a couple of weeks ago. My name is Mitch Russo.” He goes, “We saw your resume. We were thinking about it, but we decided it wasn’t going to be a fit for us.” I said, “Would you mind telling me why?” He had to get up and close the door to his office before he did. He comes back to the phone and he says, “Mitch, you did an amazing thing and we appreciate that. Frankly, you’re too old.” I said, “What do you mean? I’m 44 years old. How could I be too old?”
He goes, “When we’re raising money, VCs like to see 26 and 27-year-old leaders. That’s the problem. You’re too old.” I said, “I would be able to advise those 26- and 27-year-old leaders on where to go next and where to take what they’ve done, where to create that vision so that it becomes bigger and faster.” He says, “I know but it’s not a fit for us. Thanks, anyway.” I said, “I got it. I understand.” I re-strategized at that point. I realized that for that world in that moment, at that time, I was too old but I didn’t let it stop me. I pivoted. What I did instead was I started investing myself in individual companies. Eventually, I built a small portfolio of investments. I called it Assist Ventures because if you took my money, you had to take my advice at the same time. It was a tradeoff.
If you don’t want to work with me, then forget it. I’m not going to invest. If I’m going to invest, you’re going to get my advice too. I built a very nice strong portfolio of client companies. All of a sudden, it was interesting that now, VCs were calling me and asking if I would help them with their client companies. The lesson for me was I’m not waiting around for the approval of others. I’m going to do what I need to do. Any of us who wrote a book knows what rejection feels like. Send your book out to a publisher and ask for an advance, see how many cheques come in after you do that and let me know.
You reinforce a theme that I continue to hear over and over again in terms of there are resources and there is resourcefulness. In resources, there’s always going to be a gap, a lack of something, “My age. I don’t have enough education. I’m not tall enough. I’m too tall,” whatever it might be. We all have equal access to resourcefulness and that’s what you’ve demonstrated. It is your ability to say, “I’m going to re-evaluate what I need to do next to be able to overcome this.”
Even the resources in many cases is an illusion. It’s self-imposed. If someone says you’re too short, you’re not going to be able to quite fix that. If you’re going from modeling job and they need a tall person, they’re certainly not going to hire me. Not that I’d ever modeled. The bottom line is that there are certain things that are not necessarily caught up in our emotional state, our mental state, our attitudinal state. It’s physical limitations. If you’re trying to hire a woman for a part in a movie, there’s no point in you and I applying. We’d look terrible in high heels, so what’s the point?
There’s a woman named Byron Katie, and she has this very beautiful process where when people are feeling bad, she set of questions to ask themselves. One of the questions is, “Is that true?” No matter what the answer, the second question is, “Is that really true?” If someone says to you, “You’re are not smart enough,” you ask yourself the question, “Is that true?” You might even come back with, “Maybe I’m not.” The second question is, “Is that really true?” Most of the time, when you ask the second question, your universal intelligence answers for you.Mentorship is as much about a transfer of skill as it is about a transfer of mindset. Click To Tweet
One funny side story dealing with Chet Holmes in terms of how he used to scream for sales reps, that he would talk about somebody that says, “We need superstars,” and the person would start talking on the phone and say, “I’m not hearing superstar in you, Mitch,” and would wait to see what they did next. That wasn’t the person he was looking for. He wanted the person that was more resourceful or more able to say, “What exactly are you looking for? This is what I’ve done,” and not just taking that.
What you are referring to is that balance between ego strength and empathy. What we always looked for when we hire people was whether or not they had the proper balance for the position we were hiring. We hired a lot of one call closers. We didn’t care that they had a lot of empathy, but they needed to have some, but they sure needed the ego strength because they were unable. They’d never be able to stick with a client and close. Particularly, on an inbound phone call first time ever, we gave them a script. They had sixteen minutes to close a sale. If they didn’t close the sale in sixteen minutes, odds are, they’d never close it. We also knew that follow-up was important, but ultimately the majority of our sales were closed on that first call.
It was super important that we did two things well. We made sure that the individual we were hiring had both the balance of ego strength and empathy to take that call, sit in that seat and be rejected 9 out of 10 times and had the capacity to be trained and accept the training and integrate it. That was a big problem. A lot of people were either “too lazy or too smart” to follow the rules. Our best people were the ones who learn the script cold, learned the objections cold, read the script, followed the instructions and right down the line, closed.
It’s the same story, “This is what you do. If you do this, you’ll be successful.”
What I’m asking your readers to do is to do a quick self-assessment. Sit alone with a pad of paper, write down your assets, make sure that you’re not skipping anything, even things you don’t think are relevant. If you’re going to do this, get quiet for 5, 10 or 15 minutes first. I like to meditate before I do exercises like this because what I’m doing is I’m calling on my higher self to help me answer these questions. I’m asking you to do the same thing. Call your yourself, get some answers to these questions, do this little self-assessment and then string these pieces together and see what it looks like and what’s missing.
What’s the best way for people to get ahold of you if they wanted to reach out to you directly?
Simply go to MitchRusso.com. There is everything about me and ways to get ahold of me. I have 200 audio interviews on my podcast and another 150 written interviews, another 80 personally written blog posts. I have a lot of content on MitchRusso.com. A lot of interesting and relevant stories are there too. There are some from me, but the stories of my listeners, the stories of my guests and the people I’ve interviewed, they are so motivating to me. It’s why I podcast as much as I do. I love the experience.
I had the good fortune of being introduced to you. I will say already how inspired I become because of the things that you have done. It’s been an honor for me to get connected with you.
I love what you’ve done. I love what you’re doing. I look forward to your leadership in this world, which is desperately needed.
Thank you for that. I appreciate it. Take care.
- Power Tribes: How Certification Can Explode Your Business
- The Invisible Organization: How Ingenious CEOs Are Creating Thriving, Virtual Companies
About Mitch Russo
As a CEO Advisor to several companies at the same time, I participated in many different business types, solving many diverse types of problems in sales organizations, marketing, technology, systems and HR.
I later became interested in options trading and mentored with a floor trader at The Chicago Board of Options Exchange.
I made it through the 2008 stock market crash unscathed while helping Chet Holmes build his now-legendary coach and training business.
That lead to a 3-way partnership between myself, Tony Robbins and Chet Holmes.