Transcript of Interview with Mike Brcic
Dan: Welcome to another episode of Shoulders of Titans, this is Dan Lok. This is going to be a lot of fun. I have a very interesting guest with me. Welcome to the show Mike!
Mike: I am so happy to be here, so happy.
Dan: Now Mike I know you have been also a listener to my show and also we have met briefly in Toronto, we both live in Canada, but maybe take us back to the beginning of your journey, how did you get into what you do today?
Mike: That is going back a few years. I have actually been doing this for 21 years which kind of blows me away every day, that I have actually managed to hang on and do this for 21 years, but I will give you the condensed version. I graduated from University with a degree in Economics and History. I did not particularly want to stay in University, but like many people I did it to make my parents happy and I had a degree in Economics and History and a big question like “what the hell do I do with that?” and so I thought you know what I am just going to go west, I am going to go to the Rockies and I am going to be a ski bum for a year and I will figure it out later and that year turned into ten years living out west, I moved back to Toronto, about 11 years ago.
I got fired from my first two jobs in Fernie, so this is the other side of British Columbia from you, just near the Alberta border and I was a liftee at the ski hill, got fired from that and then I was a day shift bartender at a pretty rough Miners Bar in Fernie, I got fired from that and then I realized “damn, I am a pretty crappy employee, I better figure something else out and so at that time Fernie was just starting to develop as a summer tourism destination and I loved mountain biking and there were more and more tourists coming there, the trail network was quite large, but really hard to find and I thought there was an opportunity there to be able to show people around on the local trails and I managed to convince a friend of mine to join me as a partner and he stuck around for five years but then he went on to become a chiropractor and it was certainly not the most auspicious start. In our first year we had one customer.
We had a bike rental fleet and we managed to rent enough bikes to not completely lose our shirts and that was pretty much the beginning and that was all we needed to keep going and, our second year we had two customers, so I would like to say we had 100% growth in our first year, but.
Mike: And then the next year I think we had something like sixteen customers, so we had eight hundred percent growth or whatever that is and that was really the early days and a lot of experimenting, a lot of learning, we kept growing throughout the first five years. He left as I mentioned at about year five and just kept innovating and launching new types of trips and trips for different customer segments and then, we will get to that part of the story, what happened in year ten, that was when the roller coaster went off the tracks, but that was the early years and it was really just such a gift and it continues to be such a gift to this date to be able to earn a living doing something that I would actually pay to be doing, and back in those days I was doing everything. I was sales, I was marketing, I was cooking, I was guiding, I was cleaning, driving, you name it.
Mike: Exciting days.
HOW TO CAPITALIZE ON “ADJACENT OPPORTUNITIES”
Dan: I would say it is interesting because I think as entrepreneurs we all get into business for different reasons. Some, they just want to make a living, some because they are unemployable, some like myself, I got into it because I wanted to support my family, and also have more freedom, but I like how the businesses that you started, they incorporate a lot of your passion plus profit. I am curious about your philosophy and your views on that.
Mike: I have launched a lot of different businesses and projects over the years and maybe we will touch on a few of them, but they are a bit too numerous to mention here. My philosophy is I need to be passionate about what I am doing. It needs to be something that I know really well and I was at an event last week in California and there is a fellow whom you probably know, Naveen Jain, a billionaire from the Seattle area and he has an amazing way of doing things. He gets into businesses that he knows nothing about and he is just curious about them and he builds these amazing teams. I do not have billions of dollars of capital at my disposal, so I tend to stick to what I know and I typically tend to focus on adjacent opportunities.
Mike: Just to give you an example with Sacred Rides, the mountain bike touring company, we started to do these philanthropic initiatives where we were taking used and refurbished bikes down to developing countries and that started to really take off and my wife and I then launched a charity, it is called Bikes Without Borders around that and of course I did not know a lot about the charitable world, but I did know a lot about bikes and I knew that they were useful in a lot of places in the world and so I was able to leverage on my knowledge, through the tourism industry of these developing countries and communities and also my knowledge and love of biking.
My newest project is something called Mastermind Adventures and we are doing basically five day mountain biking and retreat style thing for entrepreneurs at Island Lake Lodge just outside of Fernie, so I really know the world of events and the world of mountain biking, I really know the world of entrepreneurship. I am involved in a number of different Mastermind type groups, so I try to stick to stuff that I am passionate about and that I know well and that ties into my existing strengths or my existing infrastructure and it is sort of like a beachhead strategy, once I have got the beachhead established I can look to adjacent markets or adjacent customer segments and how can I provide value to them.
ENTREPRENEURSHIP IS A “ROLLER COASTER RIDE!”
Dan: Got it. So, during the years, as an entrepreneur I am sure you had a lot of ups and downs. What are some of the mistakes that you have made and you wish you did not make them, but they were valuable to you.
Mike: Entrepreneurship is a roller coaster ride. We all recognize that. There are a lot of ups, there are a lot of downs, and it is thrilling and it is scary and you sometimes actually crap your pants doing it. I touched on when the roller coaster went off the tracks and that was circa 2004 right through 2006 and 2007 there was a lot going on personally for me, I actually descended into a really, really dark place and at the beginning of that I more or less did not get out of bed for weeks and I entered a very deep depression that took me a couple of years to get out of and I became suicidal on many occasions and it was a long journey getting out of that and I am very thankful that I was able to get out of that and thrive on the other end but as I was going deeper into that hole I was dragging my business down with me and I guess one of the biggest mistakes at that time was I just completely ignored the financials of the business, because I was going through my own personal health, you know, dealing with numbers and finances and I did not even file tax returns for myself or my business for probably about four or five years.
Mike: Not a very wise plan and to this day I still have a struggle with numbers, but I have overcome the worst of that and I would not say I love working with numbers, but I certainly have a higher comfort level with them and coupled with that there is this continuing realization and I think I am not unlike a lot of entrepreneurs in that I have this tendency to run away from problems and it is a very strong tendency and there is a lot that kind of goes on subconsciously for me when problems are arising and I have to really fight to overcome that natural tendency to want to run away from them, and of course when you run away from problems they do not go away, they just get bigger and bigger and I have come to a place of recognition that when I actually turn and face those problems, they typically are a fraction of the size that I built them up to be in my mind and they are generally quite easy to overcome and so my new motto is “into the fray” and when stuff starts getting rough and choppy and crazy my instinct now is head on into it and face it and take it on first hand and that has just served me so much better than the previous style and that is something I would recognize. I have mentored and advised a lot of entrepreneurs and a lot of them kind of follow the same thing, they do not want to face the music so to speak and I just say “into the fray” and you have got to turn and face that and it is not going to be as bad as you think and it is also just going to build your entrepreneurial muscle right, being able to tackle that stuff head on and I think that is one of the best and most underrated skills of an entrepreneur, it is being able to charge head on into problems.
Dan: Great point, because I remember years ago I was having a conversation with my mentor and he asked me the question, “Hey Dan what do you think is the number one quality of a successful entrepreneur?” and I said “vision,” you have got to be a visionary. He said “no.” I said “team work,” you have got to learn to work with people. He said “no.” “You have got to have a great idea.” He said no, and I said I have all these answers. He said “yeah, all those are important qualities.” But he said the number one quality of a successful entrepreneur is the ability to endure pain for a long period of time.
Dan: That always stuck with me and I thank you for the transparency about your depression and even suicidal thoughts because people just think that as entrepreneurs we are so motivated and we are super ambitious and we are always positive and we can do the impossible, but the truth is I have met a lot of entrepreneurs, I am sure Mike you have done so too. Entrepreneurship, this journey, is very lonely and when business is not good, when you are struggling, that is hard obviously, but even when you are successful there aren’t a lot of people or places that people could talk to and all the ups and downs that we kind of just bottle up and the fact that even successful entrepreneurs have to deal with these depression issues is a very, very real issue and I think actually in our society we do not address that enough.
Dan: Mike, do you also want to talk about purpose for example? I think this is going in an interesting direction. How do you view purpose when somebody says to you “Mike, what is your purpose, and how did you find your purpose?” What would you say to that?
Mike: It is an interesting question because and it is very germane to what I am going through right now. I have always been very purpose driven and that has fuelled a lot of my different ventures. Lately I have been questioning that because I do not think there is such a thing as a life’s purpose. There is a purpose for various stages in your life and my purpose when I was 20 differs greatly from my purpose now, I am 46 now and my purpose in 20 years will probably vary and there might be some people who are defined by a singular drive, a writer just has to write and will continue to write for the next 70 years. I do not think that is true for a lot of people and I think that is a process of continual discovery and I am sure you are familiar with something called the “Strengths Finder Test.”
Dan: Oh yes, I love that.
Mike: On the urging of a friend I took it about six months ago and one of my top strengths was significance, which is sort of a strange one, it is not really a strength, but it uncovered this internal drive for significance and I started really trying to unpack what that means and where is that motivation to have significance and another friend really helped me reframe that, maybe my drive for significance does not have to mean significance for myself because that comes from a very deep place of ego but can actually come from a place of helping others achieve significance and helping others find purpose and achieve their own purpose and I really liked how that sat with me and resonated with me and I have always been driven to help others succeed and I am really trying to wrestle with this concept of ego and what is it that my ego wants and needs and how can I give it enough to feed it without it becoming this hungry beast that constantly needs more and more and how can I use that in the service of others and I think that is getting a little bit closer to my purpose at this point in life, which is to help others achieve prominence, and significance, and success and fulfillment.
Dan: It is a little bit like the motivational speaker Zig Ziglar said years ago, “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.” This is the golden rule.
Mike: Exactly. I love that quote.
Dan: Very, very true.
Dan: A lot of people talk about social entrepreneurship and how to be a social entrepreneur, it seems to be like that is the topic nowadays, but I actually believe most people, they are not such entrepreneurs or they are not very good with social entrepreneurship, but you are actually doing a great job. How does somebody go about if they want to do this, they want to combine purpose with passion and profitable business? How does someone go about doing that? What advice would you have for them?
Mike: A lot of people want to put social entrepreneurship in this separate category of entrepreneurship. I do not like to think of it in these black and white terms. I think the concept of entrepreneurship, you know, if you are writing a piece of software that is going to help someone’s business succeed, you are fulfilling a social mandate there as well and it does not have to be as grand as building schools in Africa and solving global hunger. I am sure you recognize this too, a lot of entrepreneurs, particularly people who are new to the world will start with an idea and then they will try to build a business around that and I always say screw the idea, your idea probably is not going to work.
Most entrepreneurs, by the time they actually get to a business model that works, they have gone through Idea A, Plan A to Plan B, Plan C, Plan D, whatever, but to think about what is the problem that you want to solve and then how are you going to address that problem, you are going to start with an idea, but like I said it is probably not going to end up looking anything like that a year or two down the road and same thing in the world of entrepreneurship is, there are so many problems to solve in the world and I touched on one of them, which is global hunger, we still have billions of people living in hunger, we have got an energy crisis, you name it, there is a big list of problems to solve and we are living in a golden era where we have such incredible tools to solve these problems and we can solve them faster than ever before and what is it that drives you in the world, what is it that gets you angry, or what gets you fired up, and figure out how you can create solutions for that and for myself having been on both sides of the profit fence, the for profit and non-profit, I have seen both of those worlds.
I have probably developed a bit of bias to the profit world and have seen so many examples of entrepreneurs that are able to solve a problem that traditionally might have been solved by a non-profit or a charity, but can do it through market based models and the beauty of doing that is that if you can actually figure that out you can scale much faster as a for profit model and you can get access to capital which you cannot do as a charity and frankly I am not putting down the world of charities, they certainly serve a big purpose and there are certainly plenty of problems that cannot be solved with a for profit model, but in a charity you spend a lot of your time writing grant proposals, writing grant reports and just doing all kinds of admin work that really sucks your soul and there are amazing ways to solve things.
Look at what Elon Musk is doing. He is solving some of the world’s biggest challenges and making tons of money doing it and making his investors tons of money while doing it and that is the reason he is able to knock down all these pins because he is able to access that capital that allows him to do that. If there is something that really stirs you up and gets you angry in the world, figure out a way to design a business around it.
Dan: I think in some way for entrepreneurs who have those skills, it takes more work obviously because you have to be darn good as an entrepreneur to have those skills and to know how to raise capital, solve a big problem, get it to the marketplace, but the long term what we are talking about here, it is more sustainable. You can make an impact, not just, you know, if you write a cheque to a charity that is okay, but if you can build a business that can fund itself, that can generate profit, that can feed a group of people, now you have something that can go much beyond yourself and writing a cheque, I totally agree with that.
SKILLS MIKE DEVELOPED OVER THE YEARS
Dan: As a business, over the years, what are some of the skills that you have developed that you think are important to being a successful entrepreneur?
Mike: I think you touched on the number one skill which is the ability to endure pain.
Mike: Have you read Ashlee Vance’s biography of Elon Musk?
Dan: Yes, yes.
Mike: He touches on, Elon is able to withstand amounts of stress that would kill ordinary human beings.
Mike: And still be able to execute and make good decisions and I am no Elon Musk, I am not comparing myself to him whatsoever but I certainly have developed a good muscle in terms of being able to withstand pain and being able to be resilient and some people are born with that, that resiliency, they develop it in childhood or through their seminal experiences. Some people have to develop it in the course of becoming an entrepreneur and I do not know if there is anything you can do to build that, you just build it by enduring and you get better and better.
Dan: Maybe kind of like the song “What Does Not Kill You Makes You Stronger” right?
Mike: Yeah, exactly and it is interesting, I am always looking at the parallels between life and my experiences as an entrepreneur and how do I carry experiences from one world to the other. I was in Greenland last year, in April, and I was testing out a new trip that we are offering and it is a fat biking trip, that was early April, we did it, so it was not quite winter, but it was certainly very wintery and that trip just pushed me right to my breaking point a couple of times and beyond my breaking point, but how I was able to react to being pushed up against those limits and how I was able to work with that and play with it and move beyond it was a really great learning lesson for how I can approach life and vice versa, how I approach various challenges as an entrepreneur affects how I approach challenges in life or with my children or with anything like that and I am digressing a little bit here, but I think about this in the context of my children.
I have two six year olds and a nine year old, and for most parents, especially when kids are young, there is a tendency to really shield and protect your children and you do not want any harm to come to them and I actually think we do them a disservice, particularly as they are getting older, they are getting into their teen years, nobody likes to see their child suffer, but that suffering is what builds that resilience and what builds that ability to just move forward in life and charge through and succeed. My long-winded way of answering your question, the other great skill I have been able to pick up, and this is probably my other big area of strength is just on the execution side. How do we take a vision and then from that vision distill that down to a strategy and then from that strategy how do we boil that down into a plan, so that we can execute on that strategy day to day and month to month and quarter to quarter.
So I built a very specific system around how we take those big ideas and that big vision and strategy and how does that filter right down to, you know, half hour chunks throughout the day, so I and my team we know exactly what we are doing. Every quarter what are the big goals and projects and how does that translate right down into the half hour chunk every day and I think that is something a lot of people overlook, they come up with these ideas, but they do not really know how is this really going to translate into my day to day and how do I make sure that I and my team are executing and that is something I have spent a lot of time really studying from the maestros on how to do that.
Dan: And that is what you refer to as the execution mastery, correct?
Mike: Yeah, yeah, exactly.
Dan: Share a little bit with us about the process because I want to get a glimpse of how you do that. Are you talking about a to do list or goals because there are so many different systems and procedures out there, but yours is very unique, so maybe share that with our audience.
Mike: Sure. Mine draws on a number of different sources, one that I am sure is familiar to you and a lot of your listeners is scaling up or mastering the Rockefeller habits, it draws heavily on that, I find that his stuff is amazing, but I find for a lot of people it is a little bit too much and it is a little bit too dense, so I took some of the best aspects of that and just simplified it a little bit. Another source is a fellow named Todd Herman out of New York. I took his course, it is called the 90-day year and he is just a maestro of execution and incorporated elements of that.
One particular aspect of it that I loved was this concept of the entrepreneur scorecard and that is this idea of breaking up your activities by levels, so you have got your level 1 activities, these are really sort of basic activities, they might be $10 an hour activities and then your level 2, and then your level 3 and then your level 4, and your level 4 stuff, those are the types of activity that are driving the highest value for you as an entrepreneur and when you are a leader of a company, you should be driving the most value for your company and so looking at what are those activities and those could be stuff like strategic partnerships or accessing financing, backing the stuff, and so we have our 3 year plan and the 3 year plan is sort of like a stab in the dark right, it is an aspiration, it is a vision, and I know our next 3 years are probably not going to be totally like our plan, but that filters down to, what are we going to do this year to achieve that 1 year plan and then looking at the quarter and we have a few company goals that we want to hit and then each member of the core team has 1 main goal and just 1 goal, this is what they are going to achieve this quarter and we used to have up to 5 different goals each quarter and then realized that that is just crazy, you cannot do 5 different major things, so we distilled it down to 1.
So basically, each team member is like, I want to really move the needle on this one thing. So for my Sales Director for instance, that might be I really want to focus on private groups this quarter, I want to get more private business, so a group of like 10 people might contact us to do a custom trip for them. So, his focus this entire quarter has been on how do we generate more of these private groups, and then under that goal there are going to be a bunch of different projects, so one of those projects might be setting up a whole section of our website for that. Another one might be reaching out to mountain bike clubs, and trying to encourage them to book private trips.
Underneath each of those projects, there are going to be up to 6 or 7 different deliverables to move that project forward and then finally that translates into two week sprints. We operate in two week sprints. So, what are the few tasks that are going to move some of these projects forward over the next 2 weeks. We used to do it in 1 week sprints, and we moved to 2 weeks because we realized in 1 week you could get sick, there could be a holiday or whatever, and then suddenly you are down to 3 or 4 days and you cannot really do much, but when you go to a 2 week sprint you can actually accomplish a lot in that amount of time and then that filters right down to the daily level and we break up our day into half hour chunks and then each of those half hour chunks is given a score from 1 to 4.
Is this a level 1 activity or is this level 2, 3, or 4 and the goal is, all of us, especially me, we are trying to spend as much of our time on level 3 and level 4 and if you find yourself getting sucked into that level 1, level 2 stuff you have got to figure out, we use outsourcing a lot, either outsource it or eliminate it entirely, it is probably just a low value activity that we do not need to do and we really try and spend time on that level 3, level 4 stuff, and each of those levels are given a dollar value and that varies from team member to team member, but when I am at level 4, I am doing $10,000 an hour work.
Mike: That is probably even understating a little bit because I could spend 3 hours on a partnership proposal for a partner and then another 3 hours pitching it and setting up meetings or whatever and if that is successful that could result in $250,000 worth of business.
Mike: So those six hours are actually $40,000 hours and I know you understand this, but a lot of people need to be reminded as they find themselves getting sucked into the weeds all the time and all of a sudden there day is done and they have done something they could have hired somebody for $40 on Upwork to do.
Dan: Correct. A lot of time entrepreneurs, I do not know if they understand the value of the time and I think growing up we are taught, you have got to do the thing and you need to mow your lawn and if you enjoy doing that, that is fine, but knowing as an entrepreneur if you run a company, if you do something like mowing a lawn instead of focusing on $10,000 an hour work when you can hire somebody for $40 or $50 let us say to mow a lawn, you are not saving $40 or $50, that just cost you $9900, so that is the way we need to see it.
MIKE’S TOOLS TO KEEP TRACK OF TIME/SCORE
Dan: Mike, is there a tool that you use to keep track of the score or the time? What do you use? A software?
Mike: We use our own internal tools, so I basically developed a Google Sheet to track all of this and I have got that on my website, I open sourced it, it is just a Google Sheet you can use and it is www.mikebrcic.com/execute and you can grab the tool there, there are some explainer videos on how to use it.
Mike: You do not have to opt into anything or whatever, it is just there, you can take it and have it for anybody listening and hopefully you get some value out of it.
Dan: I appreciate that.
Mike: I am open sourcing it for free and it does not cost you anything, just do not bombard me with a bunch of questions. Figure that out on your own!
Dan: Mike is smart. He already made the explainer videos, so watch the video alright?
Mike: Exactly. As soon as I mentioned that I am just like am I going to get bombarded with a whole bunch of emails saying “wait, I don’t understand this part” or something like that, that is what the videos are for. I also want to touch on, I have gotten pretty good at doing this in my business and it is only now that I am starting to think about how do we incorporate this into our home life?
My wife and I still do most of our own cooking. We still do our own laundry and stuff like that and I struggle with that and I am like “Oh Jesus” who am I to say I should not be doing my laundry, that is so snobby, but at the same time, if I am doing my laundry and I am cleaning and I am doing all this stuff, that could be taking away two or three hours away from my day and that is either time away from my kids or it is time I cannot be working on my business and making $10,000 an hour doing that kind of stuff and there is somebody out there who needs the work and at the same time if I am doing that $10,000 an hour work I could be creating more jobs for people out there, so I am just starting to come around, and we started doing stuff like ordering prepared meals that we can just throw on the stove or something like that, but I want to take another step further and really start to outsource a lot of this stuff.
Dan: Welcome to the club. It is awesome, because I have been doing that for years now and I even did it back then when I was not even making a lot of money, but I just needed that. Hey you know what, if I want to grow a business, I need to value my time and I always believe that we all have our own unique abilities and brilliance, what we are good at, and I always say to entrepreneurs who spend a lot of time doing these tasks, I always say you know what, I have one question and one question only. “Do you think you have a better chance of going to heaven if you spend your entire life doing stuff that you are not good at and that you hate?
Mike: Yeah, yeah, yeah!
Dan: And they are like “no.” Then why are you doing these things? I think we have been conditioned “oh because my Mom and Dad did it,” “my Granddad did it”, “that is how they always do it right?” It is not like that. There are people who are better at that. They are people who are better at that. They are people who enjoy mowing lawns. They are people who enjoy gardening. That is great. Let them do what they do right? I always say to people the urgency that we need to have in our lives, if you think about it, let us say the average person has let us say 80 years, let us say we can live up to 80 years, maybe with technology you will even last a 100 years, who knows, but let us say 80 years. Basically, we think about it.
One third of that we spend basically sleeping. For the first 20 years of your life, 18-20 years you are growing up as a kid, you are going to school, you are learning, all this stuff and you are living with your parents, a lot of stuff, we do not have a lot of choices, so we are just living life, so 20 years have gone, one third is gone and then of course, another one third probably waste time on entertainment, stuff that we waste time on, or commuting, driving around, whatever it is right. So if you think about it as an entrepreneur really we only have maybe 15, maybe 20 years to turn our vision and turn our dreams into realities. Now, Mike, we still have to include the mistakes that were made, the recovery time.
Mike: Take another ten off of that.
Dan: So, if you think about it we have like maybe 10 years to “make it.”
Mike: You have 4 weeks.
Dan: So, if that does not give you urgency, I do not know what does. So, I love Mike’s tools about execution mastery and we do not actually have a lot of time, we do not have as much time as we think for sure.
Mike: Yeah, and time is such a precious resource and you really need to develop the muscle of really focusing your time where it is used best. I also want to give a shout out to a friend’s tool, his name is UJ Ramdas, and he developed a tool that probably a lot of people are familiar with “The Five Minute Journal,” but he and his partner Alex also developed something called the productivity planner and I have been using that lately. I am trying to move more of my life offline, because so much of my life is online, Evernote and you name it, I am trying to actually just spend more time with paper and pen and so I have been using the productivity planner and loving that and I encourage everybody to, it is very simple, but very effective.
Dan: And also I think Mike, wouldn’t you agree because of all the social media, all this stuff, people sometimes go “oh, I am on Facebook, two hours is gone.”
Dan: They have not done much, just browsing around and checking on other people’s wall and what is going on, but really none of that is that important, right? As a marketing thing, we all have to utilize social media obviously, but yeah, for sure, we need to be careful with that.
Dan: What about in terms of growth as I want to dive into some specific strategies within your company. What are some of the things that you did to grow the company or to take it to the next level in terms of maybe branding or sales or marketing or even business model wise?
Mike: Yeah, great question. One of the things that I started doing about four years ago was really investing in our IT infrastructure, so we built a beautiful website. You know back then four or five years ago mobile responsive was not such a big thing as it is now, and I am glad we did that when we did because it kind of got us ahead of the curve and now Google is really penalizing websites that are not mobile responsive.
We developed a custom booking and operations system from scratch, it cost me a couple of 100 grand to this day, but what it has done is allowed me to create exactly the technology that I need instead of relying on third party solutions, they are designed to meet the needs of a large group of users, so they do not really meet the specific needs of any one user and when I need a feature I just ping my developer and say “hey, can you build this” and you know two days later it is built and I love that flexibility of just being able to create exactly what we need and our IT infrastructure saves us at least one or two staff members and a lot of headaches and allows us to execute at a really high level.
In my business, the business model is so complex and to this day I think “why did I get into such a complicated business?” but the need for information floor, our customers are all over the world and our trips and our staff are all over the world and we need reliable information flow and the infrastructure that we have built really helps us execute on an operational level. Just to give you an example, we use a 1 to 9 trip rating and so basically when our trips are done we ask our customers on a scale of 1 to 9 how satisfied were you with this and 9 means trip of a lifetime. Last year, our average was 8.6 out of 9. At this quarter we are at 8.84 out of 9, so almost perfect, this is almost every single customer saying “that was a trip of a lifetime.”
Mike: I am not taking the spotlight away from our people. Our people are the most important part of that, but the technology and the infrastructure certainly helps and it has also allowed us to create a very complex piece of technology for this new get away program which is essentially a CrossFit, Airbnb franchise kind of model that we are scaling up all over the world and we could not possibly do that without the IT Infrastructure we have in place, so I am always a big proponent of just telling entrepreneurs to find, invest in technology, these days there is so much incredible technology out there, that is going to allow you to do so much and it does not necessarily have to cost you that much. I mentioned we spent almost $200,000 on this technology.
I have got a couple of full time developers in India who have been building this for 3 or 4 years. They charge me just $3200 a month which is dirt cheap for developers. You can hire people on Upwork to do just amazing stuff these days for dirt cheap, so you do not have to build stuff from scratch, there are amazing tools out there, but I am a big technophile and I really love what technology has allowed us to create and produce, but I guess on the marketing front we have really tried to stick with a very story telling based approach.
Mike: And everything we do, whether it is social media posts or our website, or our emails or anything, it is all based on this storytelling approach, very human centric, so we never send an email that goes out from Sacred Rides. It is always from somebody in the company.
Dan: It is very personal.
Mike: It is always very one to one and it is very personal and it is very much based on storytelling and trying to engage people on a very emotional level, because we are helping people live amazing lives and have incredible experiences and so we are basically tugging on that emotional pole of “I want to get out there and I want to live a big, grand, amazing, adventurous life and so everything we do around the brand is built around that storytelling aspect.
Mike: And so our marketing is not about getting views or getting clicks or anything like that, it is about telling a story and it is about building a brand.
Dan: Awesome, we can dive deeper and get a number of questions. So, maybe talk to us about this and the mechanics of when people book a trip, how many people typically go on a trip, go on the adventure? And also the employee side. So do you send people there or do you already have people in the city? How does that work?
Mike: I will answer the end of the question first, we use only local guides, so wherever you are going around the world, we have trips all over the world, you are always going to be guided by local guides and the drivers, the support staff, they are all local.
Mike: And that is an important value to us. We want to support local economies. We want to keep as many dollars in local communities as we can and frankly there are a lot of companies in the adventure travel space that do not follow that model and frankly I do not even understand how that works because if I am flying half way around the world, I am going to Nepal and then I show up and it is a couple of Canadian guys who have gotten there, that would just be so bizarre, but yet that is model of a lot of companies in the business and the entire experience, our whole approach is based around the local experience, so we want to integrate you with local communities as much as possible. We want you not for one second to feel like a tourist, we want you to feel like you are a local and you are just travelling with friends and so when you go to Peru, your guide Russo, he is a native of the sacred valley, he is a Quechua speaker, his family has lived there for generations and you will arrive with Russo, you will visit his family, you will go into his community and you will just have an incredible experience and you cannot have that with somebody who is not local, even if they have lived there for a couple of years.
Mike: You are going to go and drink Coca tea with his family in his village and stuff like that, but the maximum is ten people on every trip and we always have two guides and sometimes there is a full time driver as well to drive you around to get from place to place, but it is fairly simple, you just have to get your bike if you do not want to rent a bike down to whatever the starting point. You get to Lima in Peru, we pick you up at the airport and everything is taken care of from that point. Your transportation, your guides, your lodging, your food, your beer, maybe not your Coca leaves, you have got to find those yourself, but we are really just trying to take all the stress and decision making and taking the weight so that you can just focus on having a really incredible experience and a really immersive travel experience.
Dan: Because people might be thinking now if you have all these tour guides all over the world, first of all, this is my question, how do you find them, and second is how do you train them and coach them in a way that they understand your company’s culture and they know how to treat the guest and like I said when you have different cultures, different backgrounds, and a different way of doing things, how do you manage that?
Mike: Yeah, well I mentioned that the business model is complex right?
Dan: I love it. I want to dissect it, I want to understand it.
Mike: Yeah, yeah. That is certainly one of the big operational challenges. In the early days, if there was a destination that we wanted to expand into, I would survey my network, I would say “hey, does anybody know somebody in Chile and can you connect me with some people there and just sort of you know using the two degrees of separation model and finding people and then I would go down there and I would talk to some people, try and find the right people and then we would test out some itineraries and I would basically see how they would work on the job with me as their client.
Dan: So you are the guinea pig kind of like.
Mike: Yeah, and I am less of a guinea pig these days with three kids and I am not travelling as much as I used to, and then recently, a couple of years ago, my operations director developed a very comprehensive and detailed training program for our guides. This is an online program, but it walks them through all the aspects of the company, our vision, our values, our philosophy, all that kind of stuff, but then getting into more specific stuff like actual guiding scenarios and suggestions on how to handle different things, risk management, all that kind of stuff and nowadays when we are looking to hire new guides, there is a fairly lengthy multi stage process, and it starts with a written application and then there is a fairly detailed Skype interview and then they basically shadow a trip for 3 or 4 days and the guides give them various scenarios to try out.
So, “you are going to deliver the safety briefing tonight” and “you are going to lead this trail tomorrow” and that kind of stuff. So, giving them little bite sized tasks that they can take on and then the lead guide will deliver a report at the end of the trip and say this is how I rate this guide, this is what they need to improve on, and basically pass or fail, and say this person is approved to guide, but the future model, and I touched on this earlier, our new get away model, I describe it as bit of a CrossFit Airbnb franchise model. Essentially, we took all of that technology that we built out, the website, the booking and operations system.
We took that and we packaged it up with marketing manuals, with operational manuals, with guide training, with marketing materials, everything that we possibly could and we basically sell that as a subscription service. It is a bit of a SAS model and we have an affiliate in North Vancouver actually and so she had to apply and go through a vetting process and once she was accepted, we gave her her platform and her platform is www.vancouver.sacredrides.com and through that she can customize her site and she can create 1 and 2 day trips on her local trails and start offering these trips and make a revenue from that and so that has been scaling relatively quickly and our plan with that is to first grow it all over the world and then use that as a feeder for developing these longer trips that we are operating, you know, these 7 to 14 day trips and basically looking at the top rated guides through the getaways program as measured by customer ratings, those are the people that we are going to turn to, and say “hey, let us put together some longer trips, you are clearly doing a good job.” So now we have this great model where we test out people on the job over a period of one or two years, test them out on the job and see if they are able to deliver at a high level and it solves a lot of problems for us.
Dan: It is very interesting because like you said, Airbnb is a little bit Uber/franchise all mixed into one, but I can see it is very, very powerful because anyone who gets involved, first of all they obviously have a passion for the hobby, they like to ride, they know the area and it is like “hey, you know what if I can make a living doing this, would not that be great?” but for them to build the whole infrastructure, the platform, the technology, that costs so much money and takes so much time, but you say “hey, here is the whole thing in a box, it is proven to work” and chances are you can probably say, I do not know if you do but if there is any request, people that say North Vancouver you can also send some business their way too, I know that is how you structure it.
Mike: Well, yeah. So the way it works is they have their own platform that they can promote and advertise, like I said, www.vancouver.sacredrides.com is an example but any trips that they create and upload on their site, those also get pushed to a central site and that is www.getaways.sacredrides.com and that is where the Airbnb part of it comes in. There is a map of the world there and you can browse trips all over the world and so our part in it is we are advertising that and we are promoting that and we are trying to become the go to solution for anybody who is passionate about mountain biking and maybe there are going for a conference in Switzerland and they want to do a day or two of mountain biking there or maybe they are going down to Utah with their family and they want to do a nice one day family excursion, so the idea is we want to become the go to solution for anybody, and it does not necessarily have to be mountain bikers, we see the biggest market for this being beginners, people who just want to test it out and it is not even “mountain biking” but it is really just off-roading, you know, cruising in the backcountry, but getting away from paved roads and I have found whenever I have taken beginners who have never done it before, out mountain biking, there mind is just blown. They are like “wow, I never knew how amazing this was and
I never knew how safe it was, I thought I would be going off cliffs and stuff.” The sport has a bit of an image problem because every time you see mountain biking, it is like some twenty year old.
Dan: Going off the mountain or something like that right. I just saw that on YouTube the other day.
Mike: Yeah, doing a backflip off a cliff and you know of course the average person thinks “oh my god, that is crazy and that is totally unattainable and I am going to break my neck” and 98% of us, our wheels are firmly on the ground and we are just out there to have a good time and so part of what I am trying to do is just convert people over to the cult and once they are in the cult they are just like “wow, where has this been all my life?”
Dan: And I like what you said about the marketing, it is really storytelling. You are not selling, I mean, think about it. Anybody, okay, they can get a bike, they can go somewhere, they can just ride a bike, there is nothing unique about it, but you are selling the experience right? You are not just selling the trip. Even Harley Davidson, they are not selling a motorcycle, they are selling a lifestyle, they are selling emotions as well.
Mike: Exactly, and a big part of that experience is the people that you go on that experience with and our trips are all challenging trips, some of them are challenging from a mountain bike perspective, you know, you have to be a skilled mountain biker. Some of them are challenging from a physical perspective where the biking is not that challenging per se, but it might push you physically, but that level of challenge, when you throw a group of people together and you throw a bunch of challenges at them, what it does is bring them together very quickly and the extreme of that is you know a group of people going to war together, those people are going to be within a few days of getting shot at and blown up, they are going to be like blood brothers or blood sisters and obviously what we are doing is a step below that, but when you put the people together and put them in challenging situations they naturally come together and they bond very quickly and we have seen it time and time again, we have a group of ten people who just show up as strangers and by the time the trip is done, they are just like hugging each other and crying and they are making plans to visit each other and they are lifelong friends and I love seeing that.
We set up a private Facebook group for every trip we were on and I just love seeing people posting photos of visiting each other, a year later or two years later and making plans to do trips together and stuff like that and I just love that.
Dan: As for Mastermind Adventures is that just kind of like for entrepreneurs or maybe is it more of a higher level, Is that what inspired you to come up with the idea?
Mike: Well. I actually was approached by a couple of people, UJ from “The Five Minute Journal” was one of the guys and he approached me and said “hey, I want to book the other trip for me and my friends and then another friend said “hey, I want to do a trip for me and my friends” and it turns out I did not know this at the time, but they knew each other and they said “hey, why don’t we collaborate on this and we had lunch and we started chatting about it like “hey, why don’t we, instead of just going biking and then hanging out and then drinking beer afterwards why don’t we add a Mastermind type element to it, because if we are going to get all these entrepreneurs together, we are going to have a ton of fun, but why don’t we get some real value out of it” and have these fireside chats and round tables in the evenings where people can share, so this event we are doing in September, which is going to be our first one, we have got a guy leading a $100,000,000 kid’s technology company.
We have got a guy leading one of Canada’s leading E-commerce brand. We have go these incredibly smart people and we will have tons of fun during the day and we will go back, and then come back and have a great meal at Island Lake Lodge and then “UJ, why don’t you get up there and do like a 20 minute talk.” His big thing is how to use gratitude throughout your day and how to be more productive and stuff like that and “Mat, why don’t you get up there and just talk a little about E-commerce and how to increase conversion rates and stuff like that. So, yeah, I am quite excited about it and it is not just for non-bikers, we are going to have a group that is kind of like experienced, skilled, non-bikers, but we are also going to have a separate group like UJ’s, UJ last week in California at this event we were at, it was the first time I took him mountain biking and it was the first time he had ever done it and he is hooked now.
Dan: He has joined the cult.
Mike: He has joined the cult. He drank the Kool-Aid. So, we will have a separate group for people who have never done it or have done a little bit and we will have a couple of guides for each group and it is going to be a ton of fun and it is just 16 people, nice tight group. Early on in our conversation about the strategy of sticking to what you know, but looking to adjacent markets and I found that there is a real need in the entrepreneurial world for connection and connecting with other entrepreneurs and learning from each other and I thought “Jesus, I know the world of adventure really well and events really well and I know the world of entrepreneurship and Masterminds well, let us combine these things together and come up with a cool idea and damn right out of the gate the response has been amazing.
Dan: I think there is also something about getting the entrepreneurs outside of the meeting room and in the outdoors and we are more relaxed and we just have a good time, like you said and then in the end just share what we know. That kind of bonding experience has a great impact I think. Even on trips, I have been to a couple of Mastermind trips and I find that the people that I met through that versus at a seminar, it is a different thing, it is a very different thing.
Dan: Mike, one last question before we go. I ask this for all my guests. Just imagine if you can time travel back to one of your earlier startup days and let us say have a 5 to 10 minute conversation with your former self to communicate any lessons you have learnt, what would you say to yourself?
Mike: I would say so much, and I am so thankful that I have had all these very bad experiences that have taught me so much and I guess what I would say to myself is remember gratitude and remember the power of gratitude. I have a daily gratitude habit, part of my morning routine and back then, those were very exciting and amazing days. I was running my business in the summer and in the winter I was skiing, 80 to 100 days in a year I was playing in a band and you know having the time of my life, but still I just never felt like it was enough and I always felt a little dissatisfied and these days I don’t have nearly as exciting the life that I had then, and I am far more boring and conventional, but I have a beautiful life here at home, I have a lovely wife, I have these amazing children and just have a deep sense of gratitude for the life I do have and that just allows me to just carry myself throughout my day with just a lot more inner calm and peace and it would have probably fallen on deaf ears back then, but I went through so much turmoil in those years and I probably could have saved myself a lot of anxiety and stress if I had just practiced a little more gratitude for what I did have.
Dan: I think that is such a powerful lesson to share because I learned this the same way, I have my morning ritual. I actually have an audio on YouTube called Attitude of Gratitude and it is like a guide of meditation that I recorded just for myself, that I go through every morning and then a couple of years ago I uploaded that to YouTube and now we have got like hundreds and hundreds of comments. We have got over 100,000 views on YouTube and people use it on a daily basis, so I think it is a very powerful lesson because I think as an entrepreneur we cannot be grateful and fearful at the same time. When you are grateful, then a lot of these negativities and negative emotions, they just disappear and fear disappears and you cannot be depressed and grateful at the same time.
Dan: The two emotions cannot coexist. You only feel depressed when you feel something that whatever your reality is, it does not match your expectation, and that is basically it and what Tony Robbins talks about when you trade expectation with gratitude, with appreciation your whole life just shifts like that. A very valuable lesson Mike, and I thank you for sharing that.
Mike: Thank you, thank you.
MASTERMIND ADVENTURES AND SACRED RIDES
Dan: Maybe Mike if people really want to learn a little more about Mastermind Adventures or Sacred Rides, what are some of the best places to direct them to?
Mike: Well, you can find most of what I am up to at my personal website, which is www.mikebrcic.com. I do not actually update that very much, but there are links to everything there. Sacred Rides is just at www.sacredrides.com and Mastermind Adventures is at www.mastermind-adventures.com and I really appreciate this day. I remember we met briefly at Socialite. I loved your noble attitude and sharing all kind of wisdom and knowledge bombs. Man, I am super happy we got to reconnect.
Dan: Yeah, awesome. Thank you Mike, thank you very much for inspiring us today with your story and your generosity in sharing your ideas and thoughts and ups and downs. I appreciate it. Thank you so much!
Mike: Thanks so much Dan!