#15: Automation Should Eat your Company with Frank Oelschlager

by | Dec 4, 2020 | Podcast

Guest Intro

Frank Oelschlager is an American entrepreneur based in Virginia and the Managing Director of Ten Square Miles, which focuses on helping large-scale clients digitize and automate their systems.

What You Learn

  • 0:00 – Intro
  • 1:21 – Becoming an Entrepreneur
  • 5:03 – Frank’s Mission
  • 7:42 – What is Automation?
  • 9:33 – Simple Automation
  • 16:00 – Intermediate Automation
  • 20:52 – Complex Automation
  • 25:21 – Frank’s Weirdest Experience
  • 31:30 – Frank’s Passion for Tech and Crazy Money
  • 38:42 – Important Personal and Corporate Lessons
  • 48:52 – Follow Up with Frank

Episode Links

Transcript

Intro

Sean Weisbrot: Welcome back to another episode of the We Live to Build podcast. Our guest today is Frank Oelschlager, an American entrepreneur based in Virginia. He is the managing director of Ten Square Miles, which focuses on helping large scale clients digitize and automate their system. We’re going to talk about automation and why it should eat your company, and I hope you like this special new format.


Becoming an Entrepreneur (1:21)

Sean Weisbrot: So, thank you very much for joining us, I know it’s early in the morning for you over there in Virginia, evening for me. So, thank you for taking the time to join us today. Frank Oelschlager: Absolutely, so we’ve got both ends of the clock here. Sean Weisbrot: Yeah, exactly where exactly 12 hours apart and I always love having these conversations because there’s something going on where I am and something going on where you are and it’s always fun to see the differences in that. So, let’s get started. Why don’t you start by telling people a little bit about how you got into being an entrepreneur especially with the tech side and basically how you came to found this company Ten Miles Square. Frank Oelschlager: One quick clarification is I did not found Ten Miles Square, um, and I’ll tell you how I got there as part of the story actually because it’s, it’s pretty interesting in and of itself. So, um, you know, I had, I guess I’ve always had the entrepreneurial spirit, you know, even in like middle school me and my cousin, um, discovered that, um, people threw bicycles away on special trash day, you know, most of the bicycles weren’t serviceable by themselves but if you pick them all up and running back to the garage, you could make Frankenstein bikes, um, that actually looked and worked pretty well. We created a summer business where we rescued bicycles. Fixed them up, painted them, and then sold them out of my grandfather’s garage. We had a little a bike shop running, and pretty soon other kids started coming to us for repairs, so we had a used bike and repair shop up and running for the summer. I don’t recall exactly how much money we made, but it’s really more than any seventh graders should be entitled to. So, um, you know, that’s kind of how I got my start, uh, with, with entrepreneurism and, um, you know, then when I grew up, I launched my first real software company in 1996. That was one of those really cool, um, you know, that was right in the middle of the dot com boom and, um, so we raised a lot of money, expanded very quickly, had a footprint on three continents at one point. Um, you know, so that was that was quite a ride, um, then the dot com bust came. Everybody remembers that so, you know, we all adjusted from that and often and started new companies, um, you know, to try to compete in yeah and how the marketed had changed. So, I’ve done that, you know, 4 or 5 times. A good friend of mine, um, Alden Heart, who’s one of my one of my partners at Ten Miles Square, um, came along, um, right when I was selling a software company to SAP, and told me they were starting this company Ten Miles Square, that I would want to join. And I thought well, you know, I’m, I’m selling my company to SAP. That’s probably going to be somewhat lucrative, I’m going to ride that out, um, so I did that, um, did my, um, my, um, golden handcuffs/indentured servitude on, on the other side of, of the acquisition, um, and then that was finished. I came back around and joined Ten Miles Square. So, I, I can’t, I can’t be one of the founders but, um, you know, been there pretty close to the beginning. Sean Weisbrot: To be fair, in my intro I believe I just said you were the managing director, I didn’t say that you founded it. Frank Oelschlager: Okay, great I thought I heard you say that, that I founded it, that I was one of the founders, but that’s okay, um, no, no worries, um, you know, the that’s my story, um, I don’t, you know, hope it’s, you know, not longer than you expected but, um.


Frank’s Mission (5:03)

Sean Weisbrot: This is not about time, this is just about, you know, saying what needs to be said to so that people feel good and so that you feel good and all that. You’re now part of Ten Miles Square, what gave you the idea to focus on helping these large companies to digitize and automate themselves? Frank Oelschlager: So, you know, there’s clearly a present need in the market, um, for, um, you know, digital transformation is, is the sort of operative buzzword that but a lot of folks use, and that can mean a lot of different things, um, because, you know, once upon a time, you know, being automated, having, having automation around things that need to be highly reliable and, and repeatable, um, was a secret weapon right? You know, a lot of, a lot of companies really hadn’t caught on to that yet and, you know, if you could automate. So, for example, if you’re a software company, then you’ve automated your entire value chain from, you know, development environments all the way up to production so that, you know, deploying in the future is essentially a non-event, um, you know, you’re way ahead. At one time you were way ahead of pretty much every other software company out there. I mean, I’m sure you’ve been part of the, you know, hey we’re gonna deploy our software, cancel your weekend plans and everybody plan on sleeping in the office until all, you know, we get all the bugs worked out in production, you know. That, that seems to be the norm in, in the software industry for a long time, and automation can basically turn that into a, you know, okay we’re going to deploy, um, you know, everybody hang on five minutes and, you know, let’s make sure, you know, all the test passed and then we should be good to go. Then my secret weapon through a good bit of my career is, you know, you, you bake in the stuff that work, you know, and you automate it. And if it needs to be really highly repeatable and you don’t want any surprises, um, you know, then you can automate it. You know, and it, it’s becoming more and more now that with the cloud in particular, which is it is a destination or at least a strategic piece of most people’s digital transformation strategies, is automation is critical. If you’re not automated in how you operate in the cloud, you’re not even gonna be able to compete in today’s market. Sean Weisbrot: Yeah, makes sense. I mean automation is something that we started thinking about a probably a month or two after we started developing anything. it’s like wait a minute we’re we’re gonna have an android version and iOS version and all of these different operating systems and we’re running it all through Gitlab and has to go through the different, um, app stores and all that so we made sure that we went into that. We’ll talk more about that little bit later. because I’m sure most people still don’t really understand what automation is and all that so let’s take a step back. Let’s talk about what is automation, and why is it important not only right now but for the future?


What is Automation? (7:42)

Frank Oelschlager: I’ll start by answering that question really and in reverse, um, why it’s gonna be important for the future and actually what’s important already now is if you don’t have your critical processes automated that generate the value for your company whatever it is, you know, if it’s technology, you know, discrete manufacturing, process manufacturing, um, you know, think of pharmaceuticals for example, you know, if, if the processes that create that end value for the market aren’t automated, then you’re your, your competitors are gonna run circles around you. You’re not going to be able to compete effectively in the market so that’s, that’s why it’s important and in the future it’s only gonna get more and more true and, you know, there’s gonna be some interesting sort of twists and turns along the way, right? So, when you look at the convergence of multiple technologies, say machine learning type algorithms and, you know, you start to hook those into your automation chain, um, you know, then you can start to think it’s a really interesting ways to do things that, you know, your competitors aren’t going to be able to do and there are companies that are already doing that. That’s, this is not science fiction, this is, this is already a real thing in production in the world and in a number of different industries, um, so I think, you know, that’s kind of where the immediate future it’s, it’s going for that. So the other part of your question really which is what is automation, um, I think the simplest way to express it is, is that it’s making repeatable a, set of steps or, or process that executes the same way every time and you when you have good automation, you know, you can iterate on that and it’s not too hard to change what the automation does, as you learn or, or as you need to adapt to other changes, you know, other forces they’re around you.


Simple Automation (9:33)

Sean Weisbrot: All right, I think it’s a fairly simple example, and hopefully something that the audience will be able to understand. So, let’s go a little bit deeper then, and tell me what is one of the simplest forms of automation that any company could apply as the first thing they do. Frank Oelschlager: Email autoresponder, you know, “thank you for contacting customer support/customer success, um, we’ve received your email. Here’s a case number, we’ll be in touch shortly.” I, I can’t think of a simpler piece of automation, um, that accomplishes something of value. It lets your customer know that, you know, they’ve received whatever it is, you know, um, that was sent and, um, that they’re acting on it. And as a customer, you know, that makes me feel good it’s like, you know, my email then go into the void, you know, they got it and, you know, for me in particular because of my background I say all of the automated this process that’s good. It’s not gonna fall into the cracks, you know. If you get a handwritten email from Kelly, you know, a day later, um, then you’re kind of thinking, well is she going to follow up on that, um, you know, she’s clearly doing everything herself, or you can email it. Sean Weisbrot: I can’t recall experiencing not getting an autoresponder, so I, it, it must have been a long time ago that they started. Frank Oelschlager: It started a long time ago, yeah. but it’s, it’s really, it’s the simplest form of automation that that I can think of right, you know, today, you know, that’s just the first step in a long, automated process. So, when the email comes in to your company, you know, it gets caught by a customer relationship management system CRM or, you know, one of the other flavors that interact with, you know, customer indications and, you know, that gets, you know, it could, you know, basically a set of actions get created around that, you know, some are, some are automated some might have, you know, a person in the loop, human in the loop, um, were, you know, somebody is expected to do something but, you know, even their acting on that and completing that task, you know, if it’s all going to the CRM system will, you know, trigger other actions to happen, um, you know, it might be that, you know, it’s a support case gets escalated. It might be a support case gets resolved it might be, um, you know, we need to send out a replacement part or something like that so, you know, a lot of different things can happen from that and, and having all of that in place all the way through the entire lifecycle of, of that, you know, type of engagement whether it was, you know, a support email or request for price or something like that, um, you know, can really kind of keep things going. Sean Weisbrot: So, some people might not understand email response, um, autoresponders, so would you say it makes sense to develop something custom or is there a service you would recommend that they could use that has email autoresponders built into them. Frank Oelschlager: Yeah, almost every email service has autoresponders built into it. And, you know, if your needs are just very simple, um, you know, I acknowledge that I got your email and you’ll hear from somebody then, you know, that’s, that’s probably sufficient. If your needs are a little more complex than that, then almost every CRM tool on the market today and a lot of marketing automation tools as well offer the capability to write, um, you know, very custom scripts without having to develop anything yourself. So, I think this is, you know, a very commoditized capability, and really I can think of no circumstance that I would tell teams to build their own autoresponder unless we were going to take on the marketing automation market and we have to have that native functionality, you know. If I’m just a company selling widgets, no way I’m gonna write that custom. There is, there’s no point. Sean Weisbrot: What are your favorite go to tools for these kinds of tasks that people can look at and pay for, for like a small to medium sized business? Frank Oelschlager: I hate all of them. Sean Weisbrot: Well, I appreciate your honesty. Frank Oelschlager: They are a necessary evil in, in the in the market. So, we’re actually going at my company Ten Miles Square right now, we’re actually going through an exercise where we are looking at our marketing automation and we, you know, we’re a technology firm, but we’re not a marketing firm. So, we’re working with a digital marketing agency, and I expect that our tool chain, um, is going to change as a result of this, of this process so, you know, I don’t, I don’t, I can’t really say that I have any favorite, you know, tools, um, I think the, the ones that most people know, um, are things like MailChimp. Um, that’s a very, very simple CRM that, um, has some really good email automation built into it. it’s great for nurturing customer relationships, um, you know, then there’s things like Salesforce. You know, more technical companies, like tools like Jira, um, for capturing, you know, work that has to come back to development as, as result of customer issues, um, you know, their systems like Pipedrive. I’m just throwing these names out as ones that, you know, people may have heard of before, I mean no endorsement of any tool whatsoever. There’s dozens and dozens of, of these kinds of tools on the market for, for the front end. Completely different tool sets. That’s right so that’s an important point to is, depending on what you’re trying to automate, there’s probably a unique set of tools out in the market to help you with that. You know, so for example, if I’m automating my development pipeline then, you know, I’m not using Salesforce for anything like that, right? I got a completely different set of tools right, um, could be AWS Cloud Formation could be Terraform, you know, could have some Jenkins mixed in there. You know, there’s just completely different sets of tools.


Intermediate Automation (16:00)

Sean Weisbrot: So, what is a more intermediate level piece of automation that a company could introduce? Frank Oelschlager: So, I think, you know, that really depends on the kind of company, um, that, that you are so, you know, if you are a technology company then, you know, we mentioned this earlier is, you know, you really want to automate your, um, development process. How, how does your company…so I think it always comes down to the first question that you’re asking is, um, how does the company create value? And, and sort of what you’re really asking there is, you know, how do we get to revenue, right? What are the processes that stand between us and revenue? You know, that that’s really a good place to look, um, you might also look…There’s another question you could ask and, um, there’s, there’s a whole ecosystem around this, um, theory of constraints, is you might look at, at the company and say, you know, where are the bottlenecks? Um, yes, you know, because there’s probably good opportunities for, you know, creating some automation to help solve those bottlenecks, you know, even if not at the bottleneck point, maybe somewhere else, um, that could use some help. So, I think, you know, that’s kind of a couple of questions that you can ask to figure out, you know, what you want to automate, and I think a mid-level, you know, automation technology company, you know, it’s the CI/CD continuous integration, continuous delivery, right? You know, if you can get to that then, you know, you’re at least on a level playing field with all other advanced, you know, technology companies that that have figured this out. Sean Weisbrot: Can you really quickly explain what continuous iteration is? Frank Oelschlager: Continuous integration, yeah, continuous integration, continuous delivery. So, continuous integration is, is the concept that every time it changes introduced in the software or the configuration that a build performed and tests are run so that you know, that that change didn’t break something that was already working you know, that’s sort of the, the simple definition of it with if anybody wants to go to our, our website there’s also a much longer discussion on its continuous integration and continuous delivery, but, you know, that’s sort of part of it. Continuous delivery takes continuous integration to the next level and actually pushes that change through that process all the way out to production and so when you think about companies like Spotify or Amazon, you know, other, other sort of big, you know, high tech companies like that, you know, they push out, you know, hundreds, if not thousands of change changes into production every day and, and, you know, they’ve automated that process, um, you know, end to end, you know, eight eight change introduced by developer can literally be in production, um, you know, it less than an hour later in , you know, these highly automated , you know, capabilities. so that’s, that’s what, you know, sort of the golden ideal of continuous delivery looks like. Sean Weisbrot: You had mentioned a term before Jenkins and I believe Jenkins is a form of Continuous integration, continuous Frank Oelschlager: Yes, um, Jenkins is a, is a tool and it basically manages software builds, you know, um, using automation and rules. Sean Weisbrot: So we use, um, Gitlab, and so the CI/CD scripts that our Lead Developer created, were going through Gitlab’s, um, builds. Frank Oelschlager: That’s another great tool. Sean Weisbrot: Tied to our repositories. It’s been fantastic for us and makes it really easy to make sure that things get done without going, Hey can you push that, Hey can you push that, can you push that? So, so the way that ours is set up is, um, when a new commit, what a new code commit is pushed to the repository on the either a feature branch or our develop branch then the build happens through the script. But, then when we have an entire feature branches they were developing, um, file manager right if once all of the features for the file manager branch, feature branch are done, we’ll then do a regression test, and then we’ll consciously choose to push it to the develop branch and after testing on the develop branch, we’ll then manually push it to the staging, which is where our production happens, uh, the staging branch. And that way we’re not, uh, potentially exposing bugs because even with regression testing and with bug testing, it could still happen. We just don’t want to break things as people are using them. Frank Oelschlager: That’s pretty standard Git flow, um, that you’ve described there.


Complex Automation (20:52)

Sean Weisbrot: Hopefully, everybody else is able to understand it. I am a nontechnical founder of my company and I’ve just learned this stuff from my team, so if I can learn it, anybody can learn it, and I think that’s, I think part of learning how to automate your company is also upskilling yourself as a founder so that you can understand what the hell’s going on in your company, especially on the tech side. I’ve heard of so many people building something and they don’t know what they’re building. They’ll say, oh I know what we want to build, but the end result is something totally different and they don’t even understand what they’re building, so I think it’s really important for any founder to be, um, involved in the tech side of what’s going on. Let’s talk more about a complex automation which may be something that you look at when you’re working with your clients. Frank Oelschlager: So, you know, I think they’re a really good example of a complex one that we did. This is for a fairly major well known media company, um, who probably everybody watching this has watched at least one of their or their TV shows. When we started working with them, they were a, essentially a tape-based, um, production house, um, so all of their TV shows were, were filmed, um, on physical media and, and then processed in, in studios and, you know, they had to be manually edited to basically create different versions for, you know, distribution and and then they physically boxed up all the different copies and sent them out to, you know, all the cable channels and, you know, other, you know, broadcasters that they had deals with. So, what we did is, we work with them to digitize all of that content, and they’re all completely, 100% digital now. We basically helped them digitize all of their content and that’s not to say we were sitting around feeding tapes into the machines, they did all that. What we did is, we designed an architecture for a digital asset management system and a strategy by which, you know, once they digitized all this content, um, they would have all sorts of new capabilities that that they didn’t really have today. So, for example, you know, if somebody wants to find, um, the episode of the Emeril Legasse Show, you know, we’re, you know, you know, he says, you know, bam three times in a row or something like that because they want to use it in a promo, um, you know, they can go to an online application and search for that. The reason they were able to do that, is that the both the foreign language and in the hearing-impaired closed captioning when these things were digitized, um, that was time coded because the closed captions have time coding information in them, you know, you can also just ingest those into the digital asset management system and index that. And, by doing that you make the entire archive, 100%, you know, text searchable, which is a capability that it they couldn’t even, you know, hadn’t even imagined as, as a possibility. And so that becomes an easy way for them to do things and, and now of course, um, you can completely automate, you know, the process of taking that digital content in transcoding it’s both, you know, having it, um, edited for format and transcoding it on an automated, you know, pipeline and, and then of course, um, distributed, you know, digitally. No, no more putting things in boxes and and mailing them around the world. You know, it’s just essentially, um, almost streamed, um, not streams like you and I would stream the TV show from, from A to B, but, you know, streamed over the web or the internet, so that, you know, the, the broadcaster can get it, so if you’re broadcaster in Germany that has a license for a TV show and you show up with German closed captions, um, you know, if you just access that digitally and, you know, suck it down into your own broadcast mechanism and then you hear it from there. Um, so it’s really, it completely changed the game for really this, this media company’s entire business model.


Frank’s Weirdest Experience (25:21)

Sean Weisbrot: That sounds like a lot of hard work. So, what was the most, what was the weirdest thing about that experience? Frank Oelschlager: The weirdest thing about that experience? Sean Weisbrot: Well, any, any experience in your career working with other companies and all that. Frank Oelschlager: I don’t really know what the, what the weirdest thing in my experience is, you know, I’ve seen companies do a lot of strange things, so I don’t know I’m, I’m kind of, um, I’m really struggling with, with what the weirdest experience is. Sean Weisbrot: Well, you said you, you’ve seen them do strange things, so. Frank Oelschlager: I’ve seen companies do strange things so, you know, we saw… Again, we’re a technology consulting firm and so we, we work with a lot of companies that depend on technology and a lot of companies that are themselves technology, you know, companies. So, a lot of my examples are going to, you know, come from, from that arena, um, but I think, you know, one thing that I saw that just really flabbergasted me is, we discovered that a client, um, and this was during an assessment that we did for them at that at the request of their CEO. So, the back story is this, this customer, um, before they met us had not been able to deploy a new version of production successfully in over a year because every time they tried, stuff broke and crashed and then it took, you know, their entire technology team hours and hours and hours to get things back up and running again. It was a very, very sprawling, very unstable system, and so the CEO asked us to come in and see what it was going to take to fix that problem and to fix their, their technology so it didn’t behave like that anymore. So, we got in there and we’re doing our assessment and we discovered that one of the core pieces of software that was, was deployed that they had running they had no source code for, and they, and they didn’t know how it worked, um, they only knew that if it wasn’t running, the system didn’t work correctly. So, we had, Sean Weisbrot: Yeah, definitely weird. Frank Oelschlager: It was just, it was crazy right, and they were just completely dependent on, on this thing and it turns out that it had been built by some developer that they’ve had a couple years ago, um, who never checked it in to any kind of, you know, source control system, you know, like Git or one of these guys I think we’re using Subversion back at the time, um, which is another tool that that does that kind of stuff. But the developer had never checked in, into Git, and when he left the company, um, the IT department took his laptop and scrubbed it, so no source code. One of the things that happened, you know, luckily it was Java, um, so basically, they had to reverse compile the application and, and reverse engineer it and ultimately it, it had to be replaced with something, something new that was, was re-written to do the same thing, and their whole architecture changed. That’s another, another good success story we work with them for about three years and, um, they’re not completely automated and their entire bill chain, value chain from development all the way up through their ability to deploy, are one of the things that we did there, and yeah they’ve evolved their architecture initially under our guidance to eliminate a lot of the fragility that was there and they had a lot of mixing of, um, architecture speak of what I call separation of concerns. So for example, um, you don’t want your auth service also be responsible for, you know, logging, you know, in the system, and so if you have one sort, you know, sort of one piece of software that is , you know, doing authentication and also doing all the logging, there’s, there’s no separation of concerns there and, you know, you can easily break your authentication service by making a change to how, you know, what how logging works because, um, there intermingled and you don’t want that, and that, that’s not a real example, but I just really want to illustrate that, you know, because it’s also important. Sean Weisbrot: I appreciate the example. I know, um, we never had anything like that happen in my company, but we did have a developer, we had back-end developer who thought he was the architect, even though we already had an architect only hired him to be the backend developer and he spent six months basically developing a backend that ignored the entire wiki documentation and the end points and everything. Frank Oelschlager: Oh boy! Sean Weisbrot: So, I was, I was sitting there going why is it not working like why there’s so many problems at that point our frontend developers were developing a lot of the UI and using dummy data in order to just show that things could work without actually having endpoints that connected properly and it was a mess. it wasn’t until about five or six months that we realized, um, that I understood what was happening and, um, fired him immediately, and then hired another guy he spent two months fixing the entire backend to make sure it aligned perfectly with the Wiki. He spent a tremendous amount of energy making the documentation like amazing, um, and now we’ve got a a beautiful system that purrs nicely but it took a long time it took two or three months just to get it to a point where it could support the functions we had already developed and documented, and he was actually with us for another year and a half. He’s actually, he’s just leaving us actually next week, unfortunately, um, which is a shame, but he helped us to find a replacement and is training him, um, so everything’s alright but, um, but yeah, I’m sure there’s a lot more stories like that out there.


Frank’s Passion For Tech and Crazy Money (31:30)

Sean Weisbrot: I’m curious to know what is it that makes you passionate about tech and helping other companies through this process? Frank Oelschlager: You know, why am I passionate about tech? I don’t know, it’s just, um, kind of wired into my life. I’ve always, always been passionate about tech and, and what it can do right. Not really just for, for tech’s sake. when you look at the application of technology it has to start with, you know, what is the business trying to accomplish and, and that can be different, you know, for, for every business on under the sun. You know, everybody’s got their own things that you’re trying to do and essentially the job of tech is to, um, make that business goal achievable and usually often in a sustainable way because a business, you know, once it gets to a certain goal it will often replace that go with another one inline right so , you know, you might initially have a bold getting to $5M in revenue and then $10M and then $25M, $50M, and $100M. The role of technology in, in that goal is in whatever way necessary to enable the company to accomplish that goal. And again, in a sustainable way because, you know, if you get from 5 to 10 but you can’t get 10 to 25 because the tech doesn’t support, that then the tech really didn’t do its job. I think a good example of that and then this might be a little controversial for some people I guess, but, um, in the mid-nineties, um, there was a sort of a newish or new again under the sun business model called application service provider, you know. These were companies that basically set up servers in data centers or, or even had data centers and ran your application for you. Problem was that there was unlike the SaaS model, and there was no called concept of multi-tenancy or, you know, on being able to even really share, um, you know, machine horse power cost effectively, you know, for every customer. You had to run up, you know, another, another set of servers. And so, ultimately as a business model, wasn’t really very scalable and that’s why you don’t really see a lot of ASPs around anymore. And SaaS has really become the model because the switch to SaaS, you know, SaaS is the business model, but it’s it’s also it’s an architectural model, right, you know? So, if your application is not multi-tenant, and what I mean by multi-tenant is, yeah I can be a customer, you can being customer, you know, somebody else over there can be a customer, and, you know, we might all be running on, you know, the exact same , you know, CPU on the same computer on the same set of servers calling the exact same instances of the same services. But the architecture, um, keeps all of our data completely separate and secure from each other. So, I can see my data, but there’s no possible chance I’ll, I’ll ever see Sean’s data or, or anybody else’s data on the system. And that allows for economy of scale so, you know, SaaS is a technology sustainably enables a growth revenue capability that the Application Service Provider did not. And, so I think that’s sort of an, an interesting example of how one technology model, you know, basically caps out , um, and, and doesn’t provide, um, you know, profitability and revenue scalability while another approach to technology that essentially does accomplishes the same thing, you know, makes the software remote from the customer so that they don’t have to operate it themselves, um, you know, does not only provides a revenue scalability model that has proven to generate, um, what with it 80X returns on investment? Sean Weisbrot: What, what I’ve seen as more like, um, 10-15 is… Frank Oelschlager: 10-15 is much more, much more common. As soon, as we started talking about unicorns, the world, you know, shifted on its axis anyway so, you know, I think we’re occasionally you get these really wild valuations that come up in the market and you just kind of scratch your head. Sean Weisbrot: The problem with valuations is, all you have to do is raise X amount of money at Y valuation and you’ve got yourself a unicorn, I mean. It doesn’t have to actually derive value you could be burning a $100M and still raise $200M at a $5B USD valuation and you are a unicorn. It’s, it’s not based on any substance. So, it’s really interesting to see this divergence between “I’m a VC funded start up” and “I’m a bootstrapped profit start up” because for example I’ve got friends that started, um, a SaaS company from scratch they coded everything themselves they built everything themselves, they now have a team of 25, they did nearly $10M in revenue last year. They’re not worth $200M, you know, nobody’s buying them for $500M. They’re worth maybe $40M or $50M? They’re different games, right? Frank Oelschlager: So, I’ve done both, um, VC-backed startups and self-funded or organically grown start-ups and, you know, you’re ultimately pursuing a completely different strategy, um, in this business models, you know. When your, two things happen when, when you take venture capital money, um, you’re basically almost price yourself out of getting rich on the deal as, as the founder, right? You know, if, if you’re self-funded and you’re putting money into it, you know, you can access it at $20M and you’re doing good, right? Because that $20M, most of it went into your pocket, right? You take $10M from the VC, you know, you better be talking about, you know, a $100M at a minimum, you know, if you think you’re going to get rich off the deal. Sean Weisbrot: Well, I mean if you look at Stewart Butterfield, he’s walking away with, um, at least $4-5B cash. Frank Oelschlager: So, you know, it’s but it’s a different game and, and you take VC money, you know, there’s a whole there’s a different emphasis on, on gross right when you’re doing things organically , you know, you, you tend to grow a little slower and you, you make measured risks, um, but when you take venture capital money, often times is, you know, build out, build out for success and enter the market. Sean Weisbrot: If I was probably older and wiser, I probably would have tried to build something small enough that I could have funded to profit and then used the profit from that company to fund a massive start up so that I wouldn’t need VC money, I could just fund myself. Frank Oelschlager: Until somebody offers you 60X on revenues so that you can, um, exit. Sean Weisbrot: The minute somebody offers me 60X, here you go, done. There’s no, there’s no conversation about that. That’s just, um, yeah thank you sir or ma’am.


Important Personal and Corporate Lessons (38:42)

Sean Weisbrot: So, what’s something that you learned recently that you’re implementing into your life, it can be professional or personal? Frank Oelschlager: I’m going to change your question, Sean, because it’ll be easier for me to answer. I think the most important thing that I’ve ever learned on that I’ve implemented in my life and it’s, it’s a practice I continue today and then when I work with people as, as a mentor or coach, you know, I, I preach this stuff pretty heavily, which is, um, writing down your goals. and getting really crystal clear on what your goals are. And it’s also really important to know , you know, really what your core values are and to make sure that your goals are aligned with your core, core values and, and actively, um, you know, sort of audit your goals, you know, for that, um, because if your, if your goals and your values are out of sync, um, you know, that creates, you know, inner turmoil in your life and your psyche. You ultimately won’t accomplish that goal because you’ll be resisting and struggling it internally, and I’ll give you a good concrete example of that. Once upon a time I thought I had a goal to be a CEO of a public company and, um, you know, had written that goal down and, um, was, you know, going through the exercise and, you know, I thought to myself it would be really good to talk to some CEOs of public companies and, you know, kinda get their perspective on this and do that process. I discovered that, um, that goal was in direct conflict with one of my core values. which is family. And, so because, you know, when you’re the CEO of a public company, you don’t actually spend a lot of time at home at the dinner table or, or with your kids and so I realized that that goal was actually in concert with my core values and so I modified that particular goal into something else. I dropped that and decided to pursue something different that was more aligned with my values. And I think that if I could pick one thing that I’ve learned for everybody to implement in your life that is the process of writing down your goals and understanding what that means for you in your life, if you accomplish that goal. Sean Weisbrot: I think it’s a fantastic goal, thank you, I appreciate you sharing that. Um, I’ll say really quickly, I experienced this kind of an issue with my company where, we were struggling to understand how to talk about ourselves as a company. We, we didn’t have a clear voice for the brand, and we hired someone to help us kind of figure out our voice. And one of the first things that she talked about was core values so when we started throwing out potential core values, and then narrowed them down everything else seemed so much easier to express. A lot of what we shared in those first few sessions with her ended up in our pitch deck and will be on our whitepaper and our website and basically everywhere that we can shout from the rooftops this is what we believe in, so that’s a fantastic thing to write down. Frank Oelschlager: Yeah. Sean Weisbrot: Write down your core values and your goals because it, it definitely helps you understand who you are and what you want, or what your business is that stands for and what it doesn’t stand for and, and, um, that’s also really important I guess from a business leader point of view where when you’re trying to recruit and onboard and retain talent long term, they need to understand what the hell it is the company stands for. Frank Oelschlager: Yup. Sean Weisbrot: And you see problems like that now with Facebook and Amazon, um, and recently with Coinbase, where their founders basically would refuse to stand up for something that the employees’ thought were necessary or important to them. I think his name is Brian Armstrong CEO of Coinbase said basically, we are a non-political organization, if you don’t like that, you can quit. And I think if 14% of the of the company because, because they’re like well I am a human being and there’s things that I value and you’re not, you’re not only not willing to talk about them or do anything about them, but you’re not even willing to acknowledge them or allow me to talk about them, so I can’t work for you, bye. Frank Oelschlager: Yeah, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s interesting you bring that up that that, um, employees holding their employers accountable for, and wanting to work for companies which are, you know, socially or ethically aligned with what they believe in has, has been a big shift in essentially the employer-workforce relationship, you know, once, once upon a time, you know, that wasn’t, wasn’t an issue or if it wasn’t, it wasn’t issue wasn’t at the surface of, of things. But I think we’ve seen over the past decade, um, that people really care about, you know, what the companies that they work for, or work with believe in, and what they support. And, and to your point, sometimes what they won’t support, you know, what, what they stay silent on and it’s become an important dynamic for our companies, you know, employers that have to adjust to that is that is now a very real thing people will not work for you if they think you are an evil company or if, you know, even if they don’t, you know, your values as a company don’t align with their values as an individual and that’s I think become a very important aspect of the relationship, um, you know, between a company and the employees of that company. Sean Weisbrot: Yeah, it’s definitely something that we’ve thought about and I think it’s something that millennials really started. I don’t remember my parents’ generation never really having these kinds of ideas. See I, I think it’s something that my generation started, and I think Gen Z. has become much more adamant about, and I don’t see this going away. I mean, I’m totally in favor, you know, I, I as a Millennial I’m, I’m very passionate about certain issues and while I won’t mention them here I, I hope that my employees feel passionately about them as well. I don’t like make it a point to talk to them about those issues, but if they were to come to me and talk about it, you know, I would say sure like let’s talk about it, um, and I would, you know, do my best to support them in, in their goals and their desires, um, but I think just in general a Millennial or a Gen Z workforce require, like, for our generations, it’s not a paycheck. They see work as being something that needs to fulfill this deeper need for connection, purpose, advancement, and also these social needs. This, this need to belong to be loved, to be appreciated, and respected and they want to hear these things they want to see you say and do things that make them feel this way, which is something that my parents’ generation and, and their parents, they were just happy to have a job, and they would have the same job for their whole career almost. My grandfather, for example, worked for a company called ZEP and he was a door-to-door chemical salesman for like 35-40 years, same company. Now it’s, it’s unheard of that you would work for the same company for 40 years. People are now more willing to jump between companies for the, for up, for upward mobility for opportunities to learn new skills as well as just a feeling of, of connectivity and or a lack of connectivity to the larger sense of purpose and all that. So, it’s harder for companies, because they need to put a lot more energy into the individual care of, of each employee, but I also think it makes work and it makes companies better. Frank Oelschlager: I think it’s interesting you, you put your finger on, on something, um, which I think is really true, which is that, you know, historically companies used to be part of a, a top-down, inside-out, you know, kind of thing and, you know, even, even companies that were more modern were simply somewhat kind of command and control at their core. In a company now, it all really acts much more like an organic social organism, and if leadership isn’t responding to, you know, the needs of, of that organism are, they’re gonna find themselves without a viable workforce, you know, pretty quickly, um, so I think the, the entire way a company behaves has basically done a 180. So as an example, I remember my dad, um, he used to work for one of the big consulting companies way back in the day. but they used to send home a booklet every month, um, that were the proved brands, colors, and models of shirts, blazers, and trousers and shoes that all employees were expected to wear in the office. Then there were like two shirts and, you know, to Blazers and , you know, a couple pairs of trousers like, you know, shoes the company just they dictated to their employees even and what to wear to work, you know, I can’t even imagine a company even thinking they could get away with that today. Sean Weisbrot: Well, I mean to be fair I’m sure there’s a lot of companies that aren’t aware that their employees aren’t wearing clothes to work. Frank Oelschlager: Yeah, until the employee accidentally stands up with their camera on.


Follow up with Frank (48:52)

Sean Weisbrot: Well, it’s been really nice talking with you, I appreciate this conversation. Um, before we go what is something important to you that people should know about, um, something that some way they can follow you? I don’t know if you’re on Twitter or something that, um, you share more about different things tell tell us. Frank Oelschlager: Our website is on tenmilesquare.com my blog is a good place can also reach out to me, you know, via email if you wanna hook up on any topic I’m on LinkedIn you can find me believe it or not there’s more than one Frank Oelschlager, but, um, my profile is FrankEOelschlager. Sean Weisbrot: All right, great so all I’ll have all those things in the show notes you’ll be able to find them on welivetobuild.com/podcast and, um, before we go there’s one thing I always say which is entrepreneurship is a marathon not a sprint so take care of yourself every day Frank Oelschlager: True that! Thank you so much.

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