Keep A Flexible Mindset
The Inventive Journey Podcast for Entrepreneurs
Keep A Flexible Mindset
The Inventive Journey
Starting and growing a business is a journey. On The Inventive Journey, your host, Devin Miller walks with startups along their different journeys startups take to success (or failure). You also get to hear from featured guests, such as venture firms and angel investors, that provide insight on the paths to a successful inventive journey.
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keep a flexible mindset and i mentioned this phrase before don't be married to your strategy don't be married to a specific belief set set deadlines and tripwires so you know go forward and and set be be open to reassessing your strategy at different points [Music] hey everyone this is devin miller here with another episode of the inventive journey i'm your host devin miller the serial entrepreneur that's grown several startups into seven and eight figure businesses as well as the founder and ceo of miller ip law where we help startups and small businesses with their patents and trademarks if you ever need help with yours just go to strategymeeting.com grab some time with with us to chat now today we have another great guest as always steve hafner and steve went to high school couldn't decide what he wanted to do after high school he had a kind of a love for writing and performing in theater but decided with all that love rather than do that he went and got a computer science degree spent 30 years in the i.t industry and uh after a while of uh being in the intert industry he got into kind of a hobby which was magic and really decided he loved magic it was fun and he was going to start to do this as it started out i think is a side hobby and he can correct me and then kind of time or turned into a full-time gig so i started out kind of doing charities and birthday parties um wondered how if he can make a living this how he would make a living this uh so one day he was uh going into work and decided sitting in the uh the parking parking lot and he heard a song and he'll let us or let us share a bit more about that decided to quit go all in and uh doing the the magic and doing trade shows and corporate events and everything else and then also had to uh shift a little bit or pivot a little bit with covid so without stealing too much of your thunder or giving too much away welcome on the podcast steve thanks devin it's great to be with you so i gave kind of that brief high level you know run through but take us back in time a little bit to being in high school loving reading or writing and performing and kind of take us on your journey yeah sure so i was you know a little bit of a introvert and and i found that performing was really really fun in a way for me to you know let myself out and kind of kind of get out of that shell a little bit so so and then i found i really enjoyed doing it so and and creative writing was something i always did ever since i was a little kid first learned to write i loved writing little poems and songs and short stories and stuff so so you know those are creative arts types of endeavors and areas and then as you mentioned i went into computer science because it was the safe and the secure route and uh and i i did like programming because this is it's like a puzzle taking one thing over here trying to get to point b and how do you solve that problem then complete that puzzle and so so programming was fun for me it wasn't really my passion but that's that's what i went with and i had a successful good career and one question on that because you know 30 years is a long career did you go and work for one company over that period of time and or did you work for multiple companies did you always do software and programming i.t but give us a little bit of an idea of what you did over those 30 years sure sure and you know i started i started as a programmer basically and it was the term that was used with systems engineer but i was basically coding specs that other people gave me to start off and then i got into a systems analyst role and then had a number of other titles and and then i actually became a vice president and was a business analyst later but i worked for six different companies over my career the longest being 12 years i believe the shortest being nine months so and with all those and that's you know that's a pretty good spread from uh years to months type of a thing but we know within that did you oh was it kind of always programming similar type of thing and then did just different companies or did you kind of go was it and was it always a big company do you work for was it a small company or kind of what were kind of those ranges about yeah and and and that was was a big range so um you know i i morphed along the way as far as my role and going from programming so i i worked for big companies the first three or four companies that i worked for were always big huge companies and um and i decided and the one i was working at at the time was the one i was only there for nine months and i decided i this is not a good fit for me and um you know and sometimes i would i would shift jobs because i wanted to develop i wanted to learn more and grow but this one i knew wasn't a good fit and the one that looked the the job opportunity that looked the most lucrative to me at the time was with a very very small company i think they had about a dozen employees a little nervous about getting in with a company that small you know you think what what are their odds of survival and you know but you know but i realized you don't get any guarantees no matter what size the company is you know they could reorganize or they could downsize you you just don't know what's going to happen so yeah and that's interesting complete a side note but i've had a lot of these similar conversations well because i i started with my wife i started miller ip law about three years ago but before that i worked first i worked for some smaller firms i worked for some very large firms top 100 firms in the nation and i always always kind of had the conversation with you know i don't know that i feel any more secure with the big corporation versus a small one in the sense that either of them still have layoffs you know it always feels safer with a bigger company but they still have layoffs they have a down round or down quarter and they let people go and to a large degree you don't you don't even know as much of about what's going on with big companies because you don't get to see the day to day of how things are going or are things starting to go downhill or are they staying uphill or kind of how those are going so i always completely agree with you on that sentiment that there isn't necessarily more security with just because it's a bigger company right that's so true and you know and and i've been a witness to downsizing happily every time i left a company i left of my own volition i was never let go or fired but i definitely you know saw it happen so but it turned out that this small company that i worked for was the best it that's the one i worked for for 12 years so that one followed that quick nine month stint and uh and it was fantastic but you know things are always changing company ended up getting bought out by a bigger out-of-state company culture changed and it you know it was just unfortunately not a good fit anymore during that 12-year period i changed from the tech side to the management side so i had because it was a small company the um the product line that i was working on i ended up taking the role of the lead of that product line and i was a manager of that product line then we actually became a vice president of the company um and then when things you know changed so much and it wasn't a good fit anymore i i left and went with another group and and i took another job business analyst in a claims department of an insurance company and i'd never worked in claims before i'd never had that kind of role before so that was something new too to me well this company had one contract and it was with the us government providing insurance for their armed forces retirees and uh and family members sure they always got the contract they got they came up for rebid every five years and they always got it so they had this for i don't know 20 years or so then they hired me [Laughter] and it was like a year after i had got on board and they you know bid for the contract and they lost it and that was the point i had already been thinking for years about i would love to start my own business and there are i love magic i love entertaining kids and you know and there's there's a market for we had one or two successful people in our in my area that we're making a living at it and i thought you know this is not a saturated market um so i've been thinking about it you know for a long time it wasn't just a spur of the moment thing so on that because i mean so 30 years in the the software industry and doing those things is a long period of time and a lot of times you know people get to the end of 30 years they're starting to think towards retirement not a second you know almost a second especially a big jump or a difference in changing what you're doing and so as you're kind of thinking was it hey i'm i've been done enough in the software industry i'm secure enough and now i want to go take my chance or just hey i'm burned out fed up want to go do it or i always want to chase my gym or kind of walk us through a bit of you know a little bit more detail or but depth as to how you kind of said okay i'm done with this job i'm you know i've been thinking about it for a while and i've got to do something else sure sure well it was that morphing wasn't a great idea for me the shifting or pivoting from the technical side into the management side and i thought that was better for my career at the time but i really didn't enjoy it and then going to work for a company that was you know in a role that was completely new to me in a and a domain you know insurance claims it was completely new to me i had a lot to learn and i came to the realization you know i really don't have this deep desire to learn this stuff in depth to to the point that i need to if i want to become great at this you know and that's what you always strive for is you want to do be the best you can be at whatever it is you you decide to do um so you know and i had talked to my wife about it the boss before the co-boss i always like to say it's a co-boss but yeah no right right you know and i didn't just come home one day and say i quit and now i'm a magician i had run that by her you know prior but i still wasn't sure what i was gonna do and and yeah so i was sitting in my car one morning you know my in the parking garage ready to go into work and and um just agonizing over this decision what am i gonna do you know this company lost the bid so everybody was thinking well we got to find other jobs and that voice of wanting to start my own business and going to magic was gnawing at me so to speak so but i knew it was dangerous it was a recession this was back in 2011 and you know i had a good strong high paying career i had a family i had two young kids and um and then i heard that song on the radio you mentioned and i'd never heard it before this weird thing i've never heard it since on the radio anyway and so the only time i've heard on the radio was that moment and um sitting in my car and some of the lyrics said you know there comes a time when you have to ask yourself where am i going what have i done are you taking the rules that you've been giving or breaking the rules with your own decision isn't it time you tried and it may sound silly that a song affected me this way but it was that catalyst that push i guess that i needed and i'm like that is absolutely right and i had this wave of relief and emotion that hit me at that moment i'm like okay you know i'm gonna do it i'm gonna take this risk and and if it doesn't work out it doesn't work out but it's it's time to go for it so walked into my boss's office and said i quit and he's like what i'm like yep i'm quitting to become a magician you know so um he was very supportive and said you know he wished that he had a passion that he could make a living at and so he could bolt the corporate world as too as well and so that made me feel good you know because i got a lot of uh when i told family and friends and colleagues that i was making this move i got a lot of funny looks and are you sure you know are you going through a midlife crisis and that kind of thing so i definitely had doubters um so one and one question on that because and you touched on it a bit is hey you know you've got a good paying job you know it's in the software industry and that that's generally always in demand you know programmers and you know in people that can code are always going to be or people that are in demand especially the way that technology is going it's getting you know more competitive not less and so how did you say you know a little bit i ca and you can definitely prove i would i would be worried and i'm sure my wife would be as well that if i'm going into magic that's not going to be as high a paying it's not going to be as easy to find work and it's going to take a whole lot more time and effort to build up clientelier and figure out how to position yourself so kind of with that all going through your mind was just hey i've got to do this and i've decided to make the jump and yes i may take a decrease and pay at least for a period of time but i'm going to be a lot happier kind of how did you grapple because i think that's what a lot of you know people do as you get into a career for a period of time you're doing well you're being successful you're making a good income and to go out on your own to start your own business to chase after your dreams type of a thing is is one that's a bit scary because you're worried you're not going to have the same income and how you're going to afford everything so how did you kind of balance or grapple with that yeah and it was scary certainly and that's why it took me so long to push myself to make that decision but because i had that long career i was able to put money aside you know so i had money put aside for retirement um i calculated let's see how much would i have to make how much revenue would i have to get in order to get back to the level i am right now you know my last job and you know accounting for benefits and that kind of thing and i i came up with a number and i thought okay well how long will it take me to reach this number but my i set a trip wire or a checkpoint and i said if six if six months goes by and i have not made a dent in this in this market you know and i am not getting getting business and not heading in the right direction i didn't expect six months i was going to be up to that level of income of course but you know i'm i did set that point to to to check reassess you know and and and i did and i felt like i was making good progress so um but you know um it was scary and you do have to get your uh your family's buy-in with it because you don't you don't want to do something that has that big of an impact on them or potential impact on them without you know actually talking it through and communicating and being transparent about it first so yeah but and and and this is something that i would recommend to everybody is don't be married to your beliefs or don't be married to your strategy um be willing to adjust set checkpoints and i like the term trip wires along the way that you're going to assess where you are and whether your strategy was a good idea and if if you need to adjust it if you need to completely change it but if you if you tie your identity to that strategy it's going to be really really hard to change it even if you need to you know so um oh and here's an example of that in my career so i was you know growing my business starting with doing different kinds of kids shows and then getting into festivals and fairs i wanted to make more so i got into corporate entertainment as a mentalist and that's a that's a branch of magic mentalism that is more psychological illusion rather than the visual magic and adults really like that um they they react better to that kind of entertainment a little bit better than to visual magic but um i really enjoyed the mentalism side and and so i knew there was a lot more money in the corporate entertainment world than there was just in doing schools and preschools and fairs that had limited budgets um so so i went into that had a little bit of success not as much as i wanted and i pivoted into trade shows so this this this saga for me was was an interesting one and it lasted a year so what companies will do is is hire okay first of all they're they pay tons and tons of money to have a booth at these big trade shows right these big ones that are in chicago and las vegas and new orleans and and big industry shows and they have to be there basically um because their clients will wonder what's wrong are they are they hurting if they're not there you know what's going on with this company so they have to be there and it's they're not going to get a good roi on their big investment that trade show unless they can attract leads to their booth and so they will have different types of entertainment or strategies for getting people into the booth and one great way to do it is hire a magician and the magician knows your product you know your your messaging your branding and incorporates that into their entertainment but the people walking by they're you're giving them entertainment and then they have this inherent human desire to give back to reciprocate so they will listen to the sales people they'll you know spend a little time in the booth because they were entertained and it draws a lot of leads and you can qualify the leads that way it's a great marketing strategy for trade shows but it's a tough sell you know marketing directors just they have a block thinking of magician in my booth no way it sounds like too gimmicky it's a side show it's you know doesn't align with our brand and so so it's a tough sell and to reach people who are having booths at trade shows i had to do a lot of cold calling and i hated it i don't know if there's very many people that really love cold calling to give give a fair you know but no i think that's interesting so you know interesting how it a bit evolves right so you start out with kind of charities birthdays and probably you know the issue with that is you either have to do a ton of them and he's always trying to find him he had to build up a lot of clientele and word of mouth and reputation which is first hard and second takes a long period of time so you know then you pivoted almost to kind of the the corporate side and the mentalist tried to do that you know directly and then trade shows sounds like it was a bit more fruitful avenue but still had some work to go and then you know almost bringing it up to kind of almost today then you had you know finally started it sounds like when you chat a bit before and based on what you're saying had some success started doing the trade shows getting a bit more um you know clienteling people are doing it and then you had coveted so kind of now you you know you finally feels like you've started to figure things out and pivoted enough times and then you have yet one more reason you know another thing that necessitates coved and i'm sure that a lot of events all across the board whether it's you know the film industry is hurting the you know the coaching industry is hurting the you know all of the events live events you know theaters and performers and music so how did you kind of when you hit that what did you what was the kind of how did you pivot to that or how did you adjust or are you still figuring it out sure and well i should mention there was one more pivot in there so when i had decided i was going to do trade shows i had set a specific date it was june 30th it was the middle of the next year so i was given myself a year to build up that business and you know i was still doing my other kinds of shows but i said okay you know if i have not made the progress that i've wanted to make in trade shows by this date then i'm going to go into speaking and i had done a little bit of that but you know i had discovered that that um trade shows were a tough were really tough sell and i'm not a natural salesman so that you know doing all that cold calling was soul sucking and i found that even corporate entertainment's a tough sell because all of the groups and associations and companies that i reached out to that were having events most of them largest the the vast majority of them did not have entertainment they didn't even have an entertainment budget but they did have education budgets and they they wanted entertainment but in the form of a keynote you know or or other kind of other kind of speaking you know breakout sessions whatever so i'm like aha you know and uh so i had this whole idea of how to my knowledge of illusions from magic how i could transform that to help people kind of de-illusion and and all the all the things that can trick us in a magic show also trick us in our everyday lives and decision making those types of mental processes so so that's what i decided i was going to go into with speaking so that's what i have been doing for the last four or five years for two five years and then kobe had hit all i was doing at the time was in person speaking now a lot of speakers have they do training they do coaching they have online courses they have books they sell i didn't have any of that all i had was in-person speaking covet hits wipes it all out right and when i say wipes it out some of my gigs that i had lined up were delayed some canceled but they kept me for 2021 and some eventually went virtual so um trying to think if i actually lost any altogether i didn't lose any altogether that i know of but you know if something gets pushed off to 2021 then you're losing that income for 2020. right and on top of that when i'm reaching out and doing my prospecting for 2021 more than half of the groups it's usually associations that i reach out to that i speak to more than half of them that said oh we're keeping we're retaining our speakers from 2020. because they didn't have them so we're keeping them for 2021 so they weren't hiring speakers so it was really difficult to get new speakers at that time so you know i had to kind of reassess and um you know i what i came to the conclusion or or the awareness suddenly that speaker isn't really a profession that's not really who i am what i am and i gave myself the title decision performance expert or specialist i i have this content this insight this perspective that i can offer that can help people perform better speaking is just one way to deliver it you know so so it was more like a product line rather than rap than my whole identity so i've been making that shift and uh you know and trying to develop uh other revenue streams you know developing an online course i've got two books i plan to release this year and um so and even the pivot to virtual was something that i'm still you know i'm still growing in that area i'm still learning and growing and getting better at it because i had never done a virtual presentation before you know so and it is a bit different you know it it does have a it's it's hard to engage the audience in the same way doing virtual performances as it is to do um you know live performances in the sense you know a lot of times and it's almost you know whether it's magic it's presenting and speaking you feel you feed off the audience a bit right in the sense that you can gauge if they're involved if they're if they're enjoying it if they're laughing if they're not or if they're completely tuned out and you can adjust how you're performing but with with a lot of virtual stuff you can't gauge that nearly as much it just makes it so much harder so i definitely feel for kind of filling that out and now is you know kind of follow up that kind of brings us up to a bit until today and now looking to the future a bit where do you see the next kind of six to 12 months headed for you well i do think see things are starting to open up i'm starting to get more uh more inquiries and and better uh responses to my outreach you know to to events that are coming up in the fall people are pretty optimistic that they're going to be able to have in-person events um you know even in the summer so a couple of mine from last year have pushed a couple of times they've changed you know the date that they're gonna have their event and uh and they're they're planning on having them this summer so things are opening back up in that arena also but you know as i said i'm i'm developing an online course i want to have other other venues for delivering my content to people and and helping people so uh so i'm pretty optimistic going forward you know i think um i think i think we're going to have this covid thing elect after all maybe not permanently i think it's always going to be with us and you know things will never go back to the way they were 100 for sure but um you know the next thing for me is getting adapted doing hybrid events so being on a stage but also having to present to a camera as well so you're doing two audiences at the same time you know that's going to be more of a thing and i think that not even in this transition period you know from coming out of covid but even going on well into the future i think hybrid events are going to be are going to be the thing so no i think that you know it's oh it will be interesting because it's a bit of an unknown and i have a little bit of the conversation on a bit of a different topic but what does it look like for this remote you know kind of office employees in the sense that are they are they you know will it stay remote forever is that a good circumstance or is it one of necessity and you know yes some employees oh i love it but on the other hand is it the best or best circumstance to get you know to be effective and to be able to actually get your work done and to be interact and collaborate i think it's a bit to be determined so it'll be an interesting time to figure out and i think that you know some people will probably go back to normal others will be a hybrid model and some of them some things are maybe here to stay based on the you know that they were good changes in the first place so it'll be an interesting time to tell well as we as we start to wrap up and there's always a lot more things that we could chat about than we ever have time to chat but i always ask two questions at the end of each podcast well maybe we'll jump to those now so the first question is along your journey what was the worst business decision you ever made and what did you learn from it i would say it was and you know is this a decision the question is and i talk about decision performance is is not doing something a decision is not making a decision actually a decision and my mind not and i would say yes and in this case it's when i was talking about not diversifying enough you know not having other modes of delivery of my content prior to covet of course i couldn't anticipate the pandemic hitting and nobody could or that it would hit then i mean some people like bill gates had talked for a long time about there's a pandemic coming at some point we got to be prepared but there's no way that i anticipated all anything was going to shut down the speaking industry you know but if i had diversified more with the way i can deliver my content than i would you know i wouldn't have had it wouldn't have been such a huge disruption to me at the time and i think it would have made the transition a little easier no and i think that's i think it's an interesting to take you know there's always kind of two trains of thought and you know who who wins out it kind of seems like it depends on when you're when you look at it you know one is that you should diversify and have different whether it's revenue streams or different products or services you offer such that if one takes a downturn and doesn't kill the business and yet on the other hand if you do diversify then you can sometimes lose focus and you don't you know you're not doing anything great you're only doing something's okay and so it's always that balance of when what how do you set up the business to be robust enough to be able to weather the storms and yet also focus enough that you don't um die on the vine from lack of attention type of a thing so who knows where it's gonna end up you know it's it's always interesting and it seems like that there's a lot of possibilities i think that there's it'll be interesting you can also you know if it opens up opportunities now that you know maybe previously weren't where if it does stay that hybrid model or the virtual or things like that maybe you don't have to travel as much or you can reach a broader audience or people will become more accepting so i'm just interested to tell but i definitely agree that figuring out where you know how to be prepared as much as you can for the future and how to diversify is a great way to go second question i'll ask is now if you're talking to someone that's just getting into a startup or a small business would be the one piece of advice you'd give them i would say keep a flexible mindset and i mentioned this phrase before don't be married to your strategy don't be married to a specific belief set set deadlines and tripwire so you know go forward and and set be be open to reassessing your strategy at different points say okay if the you know if this if this happens or if on this date um you know i'm not to this level or i don't have this many customers i'm going to take take a deep look at why reassess what's another avenue that might open up a bigger market for me there was a study i've just i've been reading a great book by adam grant it's a new book called think again and uh it's all about rethinking um and people being flexible you know intellectually uh and so so he talked about the study that was done of over a hundred founders of startups so they had this training for them none of these startups had made any money yet and they had two groups and they both had the same training except one group what had to focus on the scientific approach of treating your strategy as a theory and you know do robust measurement of it along the way um you know re rethink it treat it as a theory that you're trying to to prove or disprove so it's not like you're trying to prove yourself right you're trying to get to the truth and that's what scientists do and that's the kind of approach i think that we should do with our businesses because in the year following this study the group that took the scientific approach and was more open-minded and more flexible cognitively they made a lot more money than the other group did and they they did it faster and they attracted customers faster so so yeah so i think that's something that you really have to have to keep in mind and you know we we have this idea that we want to go with you know most people who start their own company you know whatever the reason is they've got an idea that they believe in and that's great but keep that belief loose enough that you can adjust it no i think that that that's definitely you know having the ability to a lot of times you almost call pivot right and the sense ability to be flexible to analyze things take things in and be able to figure out how to adjust is definitely one that is essential for any startup or for any industry well as we wrap up if people want to find out more they want to be a client a customer they want to be an employee they want to be an investor they want to be your next best friend they're a corporation that wants to hire you any or all of the above what's the best way to reach out to you or find out more and i'm always looking for new friends so yeah uh you can reach me at my website all the goodies are there it's stevehafner.com so s-t-e-v-e h-a-f-f and e-r they can alright i'll just mention two things that are out there i've got a free ebook called seven strategies for making great decisions and i have a weekly newsletter called cognizant so it helps you learn more about what's going on in our minds and how it affects decision making all right well i definitely encourage everybody to reach out find out more hire or hire steve if if you're looking for a great corporate entertainer that also can provide a lot of wisdom and insight and uh definitely check everything out so well thank you steve for coming on the podcast it's been fun and it's been a pleasure now for all of you that are listeners if you have your own journey to tell we'd love to have you on um as a guest and for you to tell your story just go to inventiveguest.com apply to be on the podcast also if you're a listener two more things one make sure to click subscribe if you're in your podcast player so you know when all of our awesome episodes come out and two leave us a review so new people can find out about the podcast as well last but not least if you have any need for uh patents trademarks or any have any questions feel free to reach out to us at millerip law and we're always here to help just go to strategymeeting.com so thank you again steve it's been fun it's been a pleasure and wish the next leg of your journey even better than the last thank you devon good luck to you and all your endeavors as well