At 23-years-old, Nolan Garrett founded a thriving company and began living the life he always dreamed of. After several years, it seemed he’d reached success. Something wasn’t right and he wasn’t the only one who knew it, in his new book, F*ck Me Running (a Business)!, Nolan teaches you the lessons you need to build an unshakable business. He knows the mistakes you’ll make because he’s made them all himself and now, after a decade, Nolan leads a multimillion-dollar business with 50 team members committed to common goals.
The book will show you how to communicate your company’s underlying values, cultivate a culture with strong partnerships, and rely less on technical prowess and more on the leader within. Shorten the gap between day one and perpetual prosperity with this guidebook to entrepreneurship, health, and long-term happiness.
Drew Appelbaum: Hey, listeners. My name is Drew Applebaum and I’m excited to be here today with Nolan Garrett, author of F*ck Me Running (a Business)!: The Lessons I’ve Learned from Turning My Mistakes into Successes. Nolan, thank you for joining, welcome to The Author Hour Podcast.
Nolan Garrett: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.
A Young Entrepreneur
Drew Appelbaum: Let’s kick this off, Nolan, can you give us a rundown of your professional background?
Nolan Garrett: Yeah, absolutely. I started a business about 14 years ago, that business is named Intrinium and I was really young when I started it, I was about 23 years old. Intrinium is an IT consulting and cybersecurity company. I grew up with my degree and everything from the perspective of computer science.
I got my computer science degree, started working through technology, and found an opportunity that I thought would be great to start this business. So, my experience is both a blend of the technical side of IT consulting–things like CISO consulting and CIO level roles–then also running and scaling my own business as CEO over the last 14 years.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, why was now the time to share these stories in your book? Was there something really inspiring that happened to you, did you have an “aha moment” or did enough people come up to you and say, “Nolan, you got to write this down.”
Nolan Garrett: You know, it was definitely kind of a mix of all of those things. I would say, a few things kind of came together to really inspire me to write out my story. One of which is that overall of that time, starting a business in your 20s and growing it while you’re in your 30s, you learn a lot about yourself just during that period of your life, let alone running a business.
I had a lot of these learnings that I was working on sharing locally and with little groups and those kinds of things, and I continued to have people tell me, “That would be a great topic for your book, that would be a great thing to put into a book someday. I wish that when I had started as an entrepreneur, I would have heard some of these stories.” So, the last thing that clicked into place is when COVID hit.
We had the opportunity for travel to slow down and for me to be able to focus on actually getting some of my thoughts onto the page and being able to publish this.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, when you said, “Okay, I am going to write this down, I am going to publish this book,” a lot of times, you’ll have the idea of the book, rattling around in your head, but during the writing process and by digging deeper into some of the subjects, you come to some major breakthroughs and learnings. Did you have any of these major breakthroughs or learnings along your writing journey?
Nolan Garrett: Yeah, I would say that I did have a few in particular. Some of the areas that I really found that I hadn’t yet formally created into a thought pattern or a process, especially things around my focus for working out and when I should meditate and some of that self-management, I had built up some strategies personally, but I had not gotten to the place where I described them in a formal and regular and consistent way.
Being able to package that up with something for me was like, “Wow, this is a major shift in who I’ve been that I hadn’t formally seen that picture of yet and that now I see on the page as I’ve written it.”
Drew Appelbaum: Now, when you started writing the book, in your mind, who are you writing this book for? Is this for current business owners, is this a must-read before you start a business?
Nolan Garrett: You know, it’s a little bit of both. My target for this is really entrepreneurs or young entrepreneurs who are just getting started, maybe business owners who have owned a business, maybe it’s more of a lifestyle business today and they’re interested in maybe scaling it or growing it or they want to learn how to use scale past that first breaking point in small business scaling, that first 10 people, right?
I really wrote it for that group of people who are really trying to understand how to build a culture, what truly is accountability, the kinds of decisions that you might be faced with as you’re going through that scaling process, and what it is like to interact with people as you’re going through that process of building up that business and really working through the challenges that others sometimes bring to your organization as well.
What the Book Is Not
Drew Appelbaum: Now, is there anything that you’d like to get out of the way–what’s not in this book?
Nolan Garrett: It’s not a workbook. It’s not planning your best year or plan out the strategic plan for your business. I really don’t have any of those tips or really any of that context. This is really more of a breakdown of the kinds of experiences that I have had that I’ve seen a lot of other entrepreneurs go through too.
This is kind of the culmination of that experience, the book that I wish I would have read around those experiences and what to expect when you put yourself in the position of leadership leading a business or a large portion of an organization.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, let’s dive into the book itself. A lot of it talks about your business. Can you tell us about your first business? When you started it, maybe some of the mistakes you made along the way, what it was like in those early years?
Nolan Garrett: Yeah, absolutely. I did start this business Intrinium when I was 23 years old. I had had officially one “real job” working in cybersecurity consulting, and did that for about a year, traveled extensively and I recognized that in the region I was in–Spokane Washington–there really wasn’t anyone else doing this, and so I took that opportunity at 23 to start this business with a partner at the time who stayed on board for a couple of years.
Over that time, I really started to learn a lot about when you first start a business, and especially at that age, you tend to think that a lot of the business is about the kind of work, what the service or the widget you’re building, you think that that’s the thing that’s going to ultimately make you successful.
One of the experiences that I had very early on in the first few years was that it was truly the people that you brought into your organization that made that business successful, how you treated them and how you led them, how you set expectations, and accountability for them.
I learned that very early on in that stage of the business and I had to continue to practice over the years to get better and better at providing that kind of leadership.
Friends to Employees
Drew Appelbaum: Yeah, can you talk about that? There was a transition from when you were first hiring friends, and then you had differing expectations of employees. How do you take that world when you’re unhappy with your employees and then turn it around to form a positive culture with the right people and the right places?
Nolan Garrett: Yeah, honestly, it is one of the most difficult things to do because to get through that process, at least for me and I believe for most others, what you’re faced with ultimately is having to remove many of the people who are potentially your friends and family from that environment, from that business, and replace them with people who are not necessarily close acquaintances, who are not necessarily people you know well but people who bring specific and high-quality skills to the table for whatever the work is, whatever their role is.
I don’t want to pretend like it’s not painful, because it is, you ultimately do have to move some of your loved friends and family out of that business to be able to make that transition. I think the key is, to understand what you’re doing in its entirety, why you’re making that shift, and why it’s important to–not necessarily distance yourself from the organization–but to have a respectful level of distance between the leader of the organization and the people who are doing the day-to-day work, and really making it happen for your business.
Having that space for them to understand you first and foremost as their leader, and as the individual in charge of the overall vision setting is very important. It’s very difficult to create that same experience when you have a close acquaintance, a friend, family members, what have you, working for you within that same business.
Drew Appelbaum: You were the CEO of this business and you were pretty young. Can you talk about becoming a leader? Because you say in the book, you need to manage yourself differently so you could then manage your people? Can you go into more about just being a leader and about managing yourself?
Nolan Garrett: Yeah, for sure. One of the stories I tell in the book is that I felt that being a leader was about maybe being a friend or being closely connected to the individuals that you’re working with. I would see things as leadership as–we’re going to go have beers, right? We’re going to do that after work, and we’ll do that several nights a week, or I’ll take different people out and get to know them and develop these close relationships.
While having strong relationships with your staff is very, very important, ultimately, that can take a toll on your health. If you’re going out and you’re taking your people out to drinks every single night and you’re doing all these dinners out and you’re doing the job, trying to show them how to do it but you’re doing their job for them, at some point, you end up owning both their role and also your own as CEO, and it can be quite a toll upon your health. It is easy to miss workouts, it’s easy to eat poorly, to overdrink, to whatever those things might be, and it really does bring a long-term negative impact on your ability to continue to bring energy to scaling that business.
Drew Appelbaum: You also say until you’re in a CEO seat or you’re in a business owner position, you really have no idea of what you’re in for. Is there anything really that you can do to learn what it’s like or to get some really important lessons before you dive in or is it just trial by fire?
Nolan Garrett: I did it via trial by fire and I don’t recommend it. If I were to do it over again, my recommendation would definitely be to find a way, paid or unpaid, it doesn’t matter, but get close to another CEO who is performing this daily work and get involved and help them, whether they’re going to pay you or not, find a way to get close to what they’re doing. Offer to work for free if that’s what it takes, whatever it might be, to see what that day-to-day impact is.
I think a lot of people believe that a CEO of a small or medium-sized business, that their role is primarily tied up in finances or just in sales or in determining what the services are or the widgets are that are going to be built. Yet what I found is that the larger you scale your business and the more people at play, more and more and more of the focus of the CEO becomes the culture of the organization.
Are we hiring the right people? Are these people organized and focused on the mission that we’ve specified and the other things that you think are super important, that the CEO might be doing–sales directors and CFOs and other people who are really handling those pieces.
Very Driven People
Drew Appelbaum: You also talk about how when a leader fails, companies oftentimes blame the individual instead of taking some responsibility for either not promoting the right person or even providing the right training. Why is that?
Nolan Garrett: You know, I think it’s very easy to assume that the environment that you are already in must be perfect, and so if somebody around you fails or doesn’t succeed in the role as a leader that it must be something that they lacked. I have found that is not generally the case. Usually, people are trying as hard as they can. They are interested in doing the best job that they possibly can particularly at a C-level, right?
These are typically very driven people who are interested in providing some level of perfection but what I find is that we tend to overemphasize the roles of those people. What I mean by that is, like I said a minute ago, we expect that their jobs are to make sure they’re both, I like to say, turning the wrenches, while also managing the wrench turning, while also making sure that they are being strategic about what their piece of the organization or the whole organization is supposed to accomplish.
I think that that’s why you see a lot of especially younger leaders or new leaders step into roles and say, “Oh this is not for me,” because of the overwhelming requirements of having to both carry the weight of the work that you were doing before, or the technical capacity you had before, and then also be able to think strategically and work strategically becomes so overwhelming that people say, “It is just not for me,” and they ultimately burn out and step out of it.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, in the book, you talk about successes and you talk about failures. Can you give us a little hint of some of the failures and some of the decisions that just didn’t work out, some of those real-life examples that you talk about in the book?
Nolan Garrett: Yeah, absolutely. I speak a little bit in the book about partnerships, which is a big one–bringing on the right partners. When I have made mistakes in those areas, how that had negative long-term effects on the business. I do have a story that I now laugh at, I previously did not in the book when I was so certain that the quality of what we were doing as a business was so great, that I fired some of our best customers because I believed that they had culture problems in their organization that could not allow us to be successful.
Now, when I look back at those things I see, “Oh man, the real culture problem was my own,” right? The real culture problem was that I was bringing in my friends and not the most skilled resources or at least the resources that were appropriate for the job at hand, right? I also speak a little bit in the book about not taking care of myself and managing my own energy levels, which over the period of a year, maybe a person can sustain that, but over the period of 12, 13, 14 years, your body really can’t sustain an endless energy output.
You’re always being asked for more as you’re continuing to build that business. So, I would also say that was also one of those kinds of semi-major mistakes I made is about managing my own energy levels and my own capacity. I drove myself directly into burnout at one point just a couple of years ago.
What Is Success?
Drew Appelbaum: What does success look like for a CEO and is there one answer here or is it different for everybody?
Nolan Garrett: I don’t think it’s possible to say that there’s exactly one answer. You know, some people may find that success is about either money or status or maybe just the title itself. For me, I believe that success has a lot more to do with freedom, it has a lot more to do with time freedom, and the ability to spend time on the things, the projects, and the people that are most important to you.
I think that if you focus on that as success ultimately, the rest of the things that others might define as success will follow. Ultimately, money will follow, connections will follow, the status will follow, but I think I’ve somewhat contradicted myself, while also saying at the end of the day that maybe there is one answer, and it is about finding that freedom for yourself so that then you can give to others.
Drew Appelbaum: Are there any steps that you hope readers will take immediately after finishing the book? What would you like to see transform in a reader?
Nolan Garrett: I would really like to see scenarios in which young entrepreneurs who have either started a business, and I guess I shouldn’t necessarily say they have to be young, just beginners who are just starting out at whatever age they might be. I would love to see them develop a perspective of what is important around building that culture for their organizations on day one because it is so difficult to change the culture, especially when you get to some level of scale.
It’s so hard to turn that ship, that I would really love to see these early entrepreneurs focusing on the quality of the cultures they’re building within their organizations because that will help them, in the long run, have these outperforming organizations against their competition.
Drew Appelbaum: You talk about culture a lot, you talk about it in the book, so what is the importance of culture? Is it okay just to have that nine to five job, where you clock in, and you clock out and you go home, or should work really mean more?
Nolan Garrett: I believe that work should really mean more, and I don’t mean to speak in such a way that I said that everyone should also expect that same thing or be held to that same standard. I do understand that for some people or for some roles, they may simply be looking for that classic nine to five of just punch the clock and get the job done. Don’t put too much into it but for my audience, for these high achievers, C-level executives, entrepreneurs, most of us in that space, we really want to excel within our roles.
I do believe that when we, as entrepreneurs, really latch on to that desire to grow and excel, they will find that the time that they’re working is not what matters. They come to love what it is that they are doing, and so it’s not so much the nine to five as much as it is ensuring that you are balancing the energy outputs around this level of focus, and also understanding that you might have to sustain that for quite a long period of time.
Drew Appelbaum: Nolan, we just touched on the surface of the book here but I want to say that just writing a book that’s going to help so many entrepreneurs is no small feat, so congrats on having your book published.
Nolan Garrett: Well, thank you.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, I do have one question left. It is the hot seat question. If readers could take away only one thing from the book, what would you want it to be?
Nolan Garrett: If they were to take one thing away from the book, it would be that the focus of the culture for your organization is actually so critical even at the early stages that it can help you avoid some of these negative decisions, some of these mistakes that I’ve made. It can help you avoid those mistakes to begin with when you have a strong culture that communicates well internally and that is oriented towards the mission.
Drew Appelbaum: Nolan, this has been a pleasure and I’m excited for people to check out the book. Everyone, the book is called, F*ck Me Running (a Business), and you can find it on Amazon. Nolan, besides checking out the book, where else can people connect with you?
Nolan Garrett: You can also connect with me on nolangarrett.co, so nolangarrett.co. I will be launching a mailing list off of that. You can also find me on LinkedIn, and you can find me on Twitter. I am not on Facebook, so don’t look for me there.
Drew Appelbaum: Well, Nolan, thank you so much for giving us some time and coming on the show today, and best of luck with your new book.
Nolan Garrett: Thank you so much. I appreciate your time as well.