How long does it take to successfully execute a business idea? Ari Meisel believes it only takes one day.
Ari and his co-author, Nick Sonnenberg, successfully launched their business in just 24 hours — and that was nearly two years ago.
In this episode, you’ll learn how to:
- Launch a lean startup
- Use data to optimize your business
- Make yourself a more effective worker
If you’ve ever been frustrated with an inability to execution, or you just feel overwhelmed with your never-ending pile of work, this episode is for you.
What laid the foundation for Idea to Execution?
When I was 23 years old, I was working in real estate, and I was living a very unhealthy lifestyle. I simultaneously reached the milestone of $3 million of personal debt and I was diagnosed Crohn’s Disease.
After having worked for three years straight, 18 hours a day pretty much, I was in a situation where I could barely work an hour a day. I was so sick and weak. After I hit a real low point in the hospital, I began the process to overcome my illness through self-tracking and self-experimentation. A big part of it was dealing with the stress aspects of my life.
That’s when I created a new system of productivity, which I would call “less doing” (as in Less Doing, More Living) with the overarching framework of teaching people how to optimize, automate and outsource everything in their lives in order to be more effective.
Now, fast forward a few years… I’ve been pain-free, medicine free. I’ve taught and spoken around the world, I’ve got two books on less doing.
In August 2015, I was having dinner with my good friend, Nick Sonnenberg. That morning, coincidentally, a very large US-based virtual assistant company went out of business. We were talking and brainstorming about what we thought went wrong.
Between the two of us, we’d probably worked with 30 different virtual assisting companies over the years. We’d outsourced thousands of tasks, and Nick suggested we start our own virtual assisting company.
24 hours later, using free off the shelf tools with two assistants, 10 clients and not a single penny of funding, we launched Leverage.
We have grown to a team of over a hundred professionals, that can do anything for any business or person — as long as it’s legal. We service over 450 clients, doing a thousand hours of work every week, ranging from:
- Graphic design
- Travel planning
- Website development
- Everything in between.
How is Leverage different from other VA companies?
There are no services we’re aware of that do the range of things that we do. You have general virtual assisting companies that are great with scheduling and research, and maybe travel booking. You definitely have developers who can do WordPress and travel specialists who can do travel and translators and writers. But there are no services that we know of that can do a bit of everything, or really a lot of everything.
Even if you look at something like Upwork, where you can go hire someone to do any of those jobs, you still end up being the project manager.
We wanted to serve as basically the concierge level, outsourcer of outsourcing for people. One stop shop for everything.
Virtual assistant companies basically fall into two categories: Dedicated and on demand.
With a dedicated assistant services, you get one person. They get to know you, learn your business, learn your passwords, etc. The problem with dedicated is that you have a limited amount of bandwidth. One person has one day — or eight hours a day — and they have a limited skill set. Plus, if they get sick, or they quit, or they move on, or they have a bad day, there are really no safe guards against that.
With the on demand assistant services, you have hundreds or even thousands of assistants. The benefit is that you get a really wide range of skill sets and experience levels. You can issue a hundred tasks in the next five minutes, and a hundred different people will start working on them, no bandwidth issues. It’s cheaper.
The downside is that they’re usually limited to tasks that are 20 minutes or less, because you really can’t get too deep with that kind of a service. The quality is all over the map, and you really can’t get too strategic with what you want to be doing.
We wanted to create a hybrid, which is what we’ve done with Leverage. Because of the nature of the way we work, and the information that we gather on clients that we share among the team, you get a very personalized approach.
We have several travel specialists that work for us. One is a 24-year-old girl who lived in 60 countries and traveled to 105. Those are the people that we want. The people with those kinds of skill sets that know how to operate in the real world and can think on their feet are the people that do best with us.
Why did you decide to write Idea to Execution?
My partner Nick and I are pretty obsessive about data, documentation, process, and optimizations. From day one, we were on a daily basis documenting everything that we’re doing. That either took the form of notes in Evernote, or we were using tools to do audio notes that we would then have transcribed or summarized.
Maybe four months into the company, we decided we wanted to have a book. We’d already had about 100 days’ worth of notes, which made it really easy. It also helped us clarify the vision for what the book would be, which was “Year One” basically. That was the original title.
We have it month by month, everything that went well, everything that didn’t go well. It served as a really good lead generation, because part of the problem with offering a service that doesn’t really exist is that it’s very hard to explain to people. The book does a really good job of that, and as a recruiting tool, it’s been fantastic because people get to see our culture and the moving pace that we maintain.
What’s the biggest takeaway from your book?
I started forcing myself to ask clients for negative feedback, and to reach out to those that I knew would complain if I got on the phone with them. I started to really crave that feedback because that’s what made us better. This culminated in our company retreat a couple of weeks ago, where I took five minutes to let everybody on the team just say bad things about me, so that I could grow from it.
It’s really been a fascinating. That has permeated into the way that we operate in a lot of ways. We’ve tightened the feedback loop on what we do, so much that we make massive changes to the company in five-minute conversations sometimes.
It’s all about the feedback loop. Facebook’s motto is “Move fast and break things, but with good infrastructure.” We’ve really embodied that, as well.
We are open to pretty much any idea, for anybody in the company. Because of how nimble we are and how adaptable we can be, we’re able to test things really quickly, grow, and just get better and better.
That has been the most amazing thing to me — that we can have an hour and a half long conversation, get a really big nugget out of that, which fundamentally shifts the way that we do things for the better.
How have your readers used the book for their ideas?
The response has been way more positive than we could have hoped, in terms of showing people what’s possible for a side hustle. The book also shows people a different way of operating their business. We have people who have companies that are doing tens of millions of dollars in revenue every year, and they’re saying that this is fundamentally going to change the way they do business.
It really challenges the notion that just because you have an existing company that is revenue producing, it doesn’t mean that you have to stop making MVP’s. You don’t have to lose this idea of minimum viable product, but we really believe in the minimum viable everything.
Explain what you mean by “Minimum Viable Everything.”
Right now, we’re making a very big investment of time into a tool called Process Street, which is an online checklist app.
Process Street is extremely powerful in terms of its ability to automate things, assign items to people, share a checklist across organizations, add screenshots and media, and just make every process really bulletproof.
Nick and I will review what we do on a given day or week, and there could be 30 or 40 processes. Everything from hiring somebody to running a meeting. We constantly take this approach that we need to be replaceable in order for those company to be scalable, bulletproof, and able to grow. We’re always trying to remove ourselves as bottlenecks. In order to do that, you need perfect processes.
So minimum viable everything, for us. We’ll test a process, and it could be completely missing holes. For instance, we have a podcast production process and then we have a podcast promotion process. When a new podcast comes out, we make a Medium article, we share it on social media, and we email the guest.
You write that out and the first run of it is okay. Or maybe it doesn’t even work. But you test it and you put it out there, and you find mistakes. Then you fix them, and you add stuff and you grow it. At the end of it, you have a great process that is so straightforward that anybody can do it without training. It gets this magnifying result, the things that you weren’t doing before.
We have a really interesting bonus process, where people apply every week to get a bonus. The bonus is usually 50% of whatever they made that week, which is pretty significant. They have to apply and explain how they exemplified our core values that week. Now if they win, that’s great. But if they lose, it goes against their win rate. If you apply twice for the bonus and you only win once, your win rate is at 50%. If you are at a less than 50% win rate, you don’t get paid the bonus.
Basically, it’s game theory and behavior economics to get it so that people don’t just apply every week, no matter what, for no reason. That’s an interesting culture thing that we tested. It wasn’t like, “Oh, let’s do some surveys and create the perfect application.” We implemented that in about an hour and it’s been great.
What would you tell a business owner who wants to become replaceable?
It starts with identification. What are those things that you aren’t doing every day, or every week? No process is too small, honestly. Like I said, starting a meeting for example, or doing social media, or writing content, or even hosting this podcast.
It may not realistically ever happen that somebody will replace you running this podcast. But, if you write a process as if it could happen, what would that look like? Give it to somebody else to run through. Test it and I guarantee you, no matter how good you are, they won’t get to step three the first time.
A very basic example is when a lot of people write out these processes, they tend to speak in relative references rather than absolute references. Most people will be like, “Open the hiring document and then go to the first line.” But where is the hiring document? How do I access it? Do I need a password?
What does the rest of this year look like for you and Nick?
We are diligently working on our own project management tool, which is called Leverage. It’s a replacement for things like Trello or Asana.
Leverage will be a new way of managing projects and tasks. You can use it to manage your own projects and tasks, and then click a magic button and someone from our team can do it for you. That will be out later in the fall, probably.
If you were to do a follow-up book, what would that be?
It would probably be something that has to do with the future of work, and data-driven companies. It may sound like an old topic, but without being overly abashed here, Nick has a way of looking at how we optimize this company like I’ve never seen, or even read about from anybody else. We look at metrics that people haven’t even heard of.
For instance, Nick is closely monitoring the ratio for us between internal and external hours. We have a team of 120 people doing about a thousand hours a week of work. A certain amount of those hours are done for internal stuff, such as attending meetings and huddles, strategy calls with a client, building our website, or producing our podcast.
The thing is that, if we’re doing a thousand hours this week and we do 1,400 hours next week, that sounds great. But it could be misleading if 700 of those hours are internal, which means we’re not making any money on them.
It’s not exactly like this for every company, but there’s usually some form of this. Are your employees working on the company, or in the company?
We are always trying to get that ratio as low as possible, but if we’re in the 25% range, that’s okay but it’s not great. If we’re down to where our internal hours are 15% of the hours that we’re doing in a given week, that’s incredible. That has to do with the efficiency of our growth.
We’re using Toggl to track time to the second. We bill by the second, and people always write what they’re working on so we have really good information on what categories things are working on, how much time is spent, and what the breakdown is.
What’s your parting advice for aspiring authors?
They shouldn’t be afraid of it. Anybody should be able to write a book, and there’s so many tools out there now.
We love Scribe Writing. This was my second book with them. But you can get things ghost written. There’s no reason not to get a book out, and a lot of people have some sort of knowledge I think that can benefit the world that they should be sharing.
How can our listeners connect with you?
Go to GetLeverage.com. That’s where they can find out about our VA service, our blog, our podcast, our books, and everything else that we do.