How To Relate To Anybody

My father’s ability to speak to different audiences in a language that was familiar to them has always stuck with me all of my life.

Individually, we all have the ability to chose how we relate to the people we are with. Prioritize connecting with others. Demonstrating that desire to meet people where they are goes such a long way.

Entrepreneurship, Business, and the Freedom to Work On Your Own Terms

Running your own business isn’t about throwing around stacks of $100 dollar bills. It is about taking ultimate responsibility, doing the work necessary, and making hard decisions.

When you run your own business or work for yourself there an essential element that we don’t talk enough about. Freedom. It gives you the freedom to set your own hours, to call the shots, and to be your own boss. It gives you the ability to live the life you want and provide for the people you love. But that also comes with the freedom to fail if you don’t do the necessary work. 

What is freedom for you, and how can you take steps to getting more free in your professional life?

What Is Resistance?

Steve Pressfield coined to term “Resistance” in his incredible book “The Way of Art”.

When it comes to any job, you have to do the work. If you are putting on events, you have to sell tickets. If you are writing a book, you have to sit down and write. Everything else, in many ways, is just busy work.

Whatever your end goal is, do what is actually needed to accomplish it. We often do everything but what we need to do – and that is resistance. It is a hesitancy to own your truth. Avoid resistance by doing whatever needs to get done, if you want to do the best work of your life.

What’s Your One Thing?

We are all so busy, distracted, and distract-able. We are surrounded by social media and news pulling us in a million different directions.

The solution to that is very simple: identify the one thing that you need to do right now to move forward whatever you are trying to accomplish, and do that one thing.

This is true in relationships, building a business, and even fitness. We get caught up in the little things and the judgment of not thinking we are doing enough, when all we really need to do is just one thing to move us towards the end goal. It really is that simple.

How I Came To Love Learning

One of my earliest memories at 8 years old, is trying to keep up with my father as he ran his very first marathon. I was heartbroken that I could only make it about 200 yards compared to his 26.2. 

All of my life, my identity has really been tied to my physical exploration. I have tried many different domains of movement very intensely – gymnastics, juggling, fencing, ballet, surfing – and found that even if these forms are all very different, they all have something in common. The excitement of learning is the same, no matter how different the exercise.

For me, movement is less about doing something physical, just for the sake of doing it, and has become more about my interest in studying and training. Learning can be fun, addictive, and internally motivating. My passion for exploring has led me to try many different forms of movement.

Learn to Move by Going Small

If you want to change a behavior long term, make sure you celebrate the small victories. Reward yourself for your success – no matter how tiny or ridiculous – and you will be more likely to repeat that action again in the future. Even if it feels silly to do, the first step to make a new habit stick, is to celebrate yourself bigger.

How to Change Your Behavior | Step 1: Start Small

There are things for each of us that we want to improve, behaviors that we want to change. The first and most important step is to start small. Whatever new habit you want to establish is, make it as small as possible (and then smaller still).

BJ Fogg, PhD, uses the example of flossing. If you’d like to begin flossing your teeth, set the new goal to be flossing a *single* tooth. And then, even though it seems silly, celebrate the success of flossing that one tooth.

The smaller you make the initial goal, the more likely you are to succeed, and the more likely you are to continue growing the habit over time! 

How to Start the Fitness Habit? Take small easy steps to make it stick

“Behavior design”, a term coined by BJ Fogg, PhD., means how to design behaviors to them easier to adopt.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._J._Fogg

I think about this a lot in fitness and in movement. Like most people, there have been many times that I have joined a new gym and then only gone one time.

These days, I almost effortlessly get up at 5am most morning to train for 2 hours, and I love every moment of it.

This transformation hasn’t come about by judgement or sheer force of will, but by applying the principles of behavior design and taking tiny steps over time.

The Fitness Habit

We have all been told to exercise more. “Just do it”. Get more fit. Fitness is a multi-billion dollar industry built around shame.

And yet, wellness is the foundation upon which our emotions, intellect, and spirituality all rest. Getting physically strong allows us to better support ourselves and everyone in our lives.

I recommend you search for your “why” to your personal fitness or wellness journey. Exercising solely because you want to look a certain way is usually not enough of a motivation and often is not addressing the underlying issue – insecurity. I move because I love moving and find joy in physical exploration. 

Before entering the gym, ask yourself what is your “why”? It will help you to help create longterm, lasting changes.

Brave New Work with Aaron Dignan

Our most trusted and important institutions – in business, healthcare, government, philanthropy, and beyond – are struggling. They’re confronted with the fact that the scale and bureaucracy that once made them strong are liabilities in an era of constant change.

Welcome back to another episode of the Robin Zander Show! I’m thrilled to share today’s interview with Aaron Dignan, author of the new book Brave New Work, as well as founding member of Responsive Org.

In today’s interview, Aaron and I discuss his work with The Ready, supporting the growth of some of the biggest companies in the world, how he came to co-found Responsive Org, and the idea of an organization’s “Operating System” – the driving principles and practices which shape an organization.

We dig into two specific aspects of the OS Canvas: strategy and compensation. How does any company – from AirBNB to Robin’s Cafe develop and hone a strategy that supports the company, and its people. But then, more tactically, Aaron lays out specifics approaches to compensation and pay that decrease stress and uncertainty at work and allow everyone to focus on doing work that matters.

I hope you enjoy this conversation with Aaron Dignan!

Show Notes

2:20 How Aaron found himself looking to change the future
7:00 OS Canvas
10:00 Strategy
14:00 Correcting course to find control
17:00 Finding purpose and serving that purpose
20:00 Compensation
22:15 Compensation model for new companies
27:00 Inspiring companies:
Everlane, Inspiral, Bridgewater
– Mentions Principles by Ray Dalio
31:00 Returning choice back to the local environment
34:00 Amazon and Whole Foods
40:00 Future of education
– Adam Pisoni podcast part 1, and part 2
42:00 Tactical takeaways
45:00 Find Aaron:
Brave New Work
The Ready
Twitter: @aarondignan

How To Sell (By Only Selling To People Who Are Already Bought In)

I would like to share some great advice I once got from Professor B.J. Fogg at Stanford. He told me to never sell to people who don’t already want what you are selling. Trying to persuade people who don’t want what you are offering is a waste of time. Instead, focus on selling to those who are already bought in.

How to Sell Anything – What Most People Get Wrong about Sales

Selling has a bad reputation.

Most us think about “used car salesmen” kinds of selling and there is plenty of that! At Robin’s Cafe, we used to get dozens of calls every single day from start-ups trying to pitch us on “We’re Yelp, but for Cafes” or the like. My baristas would have to answer, because that was the same line customers called to place orders.

But selling is also something that each of us does every single day – enrolling, persuading, inviting. Asking a friend to come to the gym with you, planning a lunch, asking someone out of a date, trying to persuade you kid to put on their shoes before going outside.

I have an unusual approach to sales. Actually, I think most long-term successful salespeople do.

The first step, in any call or conversation, is to establish clear boundaries:
–How long is the conversation going to last?
–What’s the purpose of the meeting?
–Even if it was previously scheduled, ensure that now is (still) a good time to talk

Then, I set a clear intention for this call. For me, frequently, that is to love the person I’m with. But if that’s too vague for you – it could be to be present, to help them, to support them. Whatever your goal *for the other person* is in this meeting.

The next step is some amount of guesswork. I take my best guess as to what is in this person’s best interest. I have, many times, sold something other than what I set out to talk about because I realized that what I was offering wasn’t in this person’s best interest. There are more than 7 billion people in the world. It is totally fine if this isn’t somebody who should buy what you’re selling, or if they don’t want to go to the movies with you tonight, or if your kid just won’t put on their shoes.

If what I’m selling really is in their best interest, then I invite powerfully towards that outcome – be it to the movies, putting on shoes, buying avocado toast or tickets to my Responsive Conference. A part of this is also sharing personal stories – the reason why I’m excited to spend time with them, the consequence if the child doesn’t put on their shoes, or who else will be at the event that I think they’ll enjoy meeting. This requires a clear invitation: “I would like for you to ______________.” And the question: “Will you come? Will you purchase a ticket? Will you come with me to the movies?”

Finally, end with celebration and excitement. I will frequently close with something about the person that I’m grateful for or admire about them. End on a good note, no matter the outcome.

Fear Is My North Star

I’ve realized recently that fear is my North Star. Whereas most people shy away from things that they are scared of, I frequently go towards my fears or use them to adjust course.

In the same way that the literal North Star is guide, showing travelers which way is north, what I fear provides me a sense of direction. I don’t always go towards it, but I do always know where it is.

Fear is a tool I use to navigate and choose my direction.

Instead of being driven by what you fear, can you learn to choose where you are going based on what we want, and what we’re afraid of doing, instead of avoiding altogether? What is your North Star?

Memento Mori: Remember Death

How would you live your life differently if you knew you were going to die tomorrow?

We’re all so busy rushing through our lives that we sometimes forget to pause and remember that we have fleeting time on this earth. Watch this short vlog for a reminder to be grateful for what you do have in your life, and the time you do have available now.

Memento Mori. Remember that you will die.

I’m Scared to Start (Doing The Only Work That Matters)

Even though I’ve run Responsive Conference and various other events with more than a $1000 ticket, this February is the first time I’m running workshops entirely by myself, on topics that are very personal.

I’m nervous. So, I’ve been doing busywork: setting up landing pages, working on website copy, creating videos, revisiting the workshop content. All these things are useful, and necessary, but none of them matter alongside the real work of getting the right people to attend the events.

Realizing I was hiding from the real, necessary work to make an event successful, I made the definition of “success” much smaller. In this short podcast, I share the simple change I made to make the barrier for success much lower, and thus easier to achieve.

Give it a listen!

If you’re interested in learning more about my upcoming workshops:

Finding Financial Freedom
Feb. 9 – 10, 2019

The Fitness Habit
Feb. 24, 2019

What I Learned Going from $50,000 a Year to $50,000 per Month

Money is not a topic that we discuss easily. It’s not something that I was taught in school or that we talked about around the kitchen table in my family. But I have learned that money is a skill that can be learned and practiced.

Prior to opening Robin’s Cafe, the most I’d ever earned in a year was under $50,000 – before expenses. By 2017, through the cafe, I was earning almost $50,000 per month.

In today’s podcast I share three lessons learned as a result of earning $50,000 a month at Robin’s Cafe.

Finding Financial Freedom

Money is one of the topics we teach at Motion. Together with my co-founder Michelle Love, we’ve put together some of our tips on earning money into a 3-part YouTube series.

Finding Financial Freedom Workshop

I’m pleased to announce my first in-person workshop on money, which will be taking place on Feb. 9-10 in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Learn more here!

How to Foster a Culture of Belonging at Work

How do you foster a culture of belonging? This is a very simple tactic that has made a world of difference within my own organizations, and that I’ve been helping other leaders apply within their companies. This article is about the importance of one-on-one meetings. Taking the time to get to know each person within your company go a surprisingly long way.

When I founded Robin’s Cafe in 2016, I was deeply excited about Slack. For me, this digital messaging platform was the ideal place to create a “digital representation” of our brick-and-mortar shop.

But that first week, when I asked my staff of 3 to pull out their phones, 1 pulled out a flip phone, another an old iPhone so badly broken that the screen was unuseable, and the third shrugged and said he didn’t have a phone right now.

It doesn’t matter if you are running a 3 person company or a 300 person company. One of the most important contributions you can make is knowing your people. I believe that the role of a leader is to get to know each person in a company personally – to know what makes them tick, to know why they are there, and to support them in that growth.

If you’ve enjoyed this short article and podcast, you might enjoy this talk, by Andrea Robb and Kate Shaw of AirBNB at Responsive Conference 2018.

The Biggest Regret From Selling My Cafe (Isn’t What You Think)

A few weeks ago, I sold Robin’s Cafe.

I sold my cafe after spending almost 3 years building it up from nothing. When I began Robin’s Cafe, there was a parking lot across the street. Today, that parking lot is literally a park and a playground. I was able to grow the cafe because of a ton of factors: good timing, a great neighborhood, a lenient lease, and a whole ton of effort. When I left, the cafe employed 15 people on staff, up from 1 person on our first day of operations.

Every morning since I sold my business, I’ve woken up at 7am with a thrill because I don’t have to solve food service emergencies anymore! But a few days after selling Robin’s Cafe, I had an insight and my first tinge of regret about selling my business.

But I promise: the regret isn’t what you think. I don’t regret starting the business, and I certainly don’t regret selling it. The only thing I really wish I had done differently is document every step of the journey along the way.

When we started out, I did document. Here was my first video:

I sold my cafe after spending almost 3 years building it up from nothing. When I began Robin’s Cafe there was a parking lot across the street. Today, that parking lot is literally quite literally a park and playground. I was able to grow the cafe because of a ton of factors: good timing, a great neighborhood, a lenient lease, and a whole ton of effort. When I left, the cafe employed 15 people on staff, up from 1 person on our first day of operations.

Every morning since I sold my business, I’ve woken up at 7am with a thrill because I don’t have to solve food service emergencies anymore! But a few days after selling Robin’s Cafe, I had an insight and my first tinge of regret about selling my business.

But I promise: the regret isn’t what you think. I don’t regret starting the business, and I certainly don’t regret selling it. The only thing I really wish I had done differently is document every step of the journey along the way.

When we started out, I did document. Here was my first video:

And I documented pieces of the journey on Instagram, and I wrote a series of posts about the early days (see Parts III, and III). But I really wish I had hired a full-time videographer to capture every moment.

There were ridiculous moments, like when I learned the hard way that our espresso machine drain pipe was too narrow:

One afternoon, during our first month of business, I got a frantic call from my manager, saying that the espresso machine was backed up. I quickly realized that the situation wasn’t going to be easily resolved and would take several hours of sorting and deconstruction before we could adequately address the issue.

That evening, equipped with an air compressor that my friend and investor, Krista Schnell, had acquired, we proceeded to attempt to blow out the clogged pipe. The first two attempts failed, because we had failed to adequately secure the pipes we were attempting to clean, but the 3rd time we succeeded. 50 pounds of air pressure was more than sufficient to clean the ¼ inch diameter pipe of years of built up espresso grounds and spoilt milk. Unfortunately, I’d had my head down near the drain pipe, to report on the success of our cleaning endeavors. The resulting expulsion from the stuck pipe sprayed espresso and milk goop all over the wall 10 feet away, ceiling 15 feet above, and my entire head and torso.

That makes a for a good story about what it actually takes to run a cafe, and that’s the real stuff that people don’t talk about.

There were moments that are much more difficult to talk about, like when Frank didn’t show up for work, and I found out that he had died. When I published that story, it turned out that this is something other companies have had to deal with, and there are almost no resources about process grief or how to support a company grieving for a colleague. I wish I had a video detailing my experience to share with others a resource for them. (That’s one of the reasons we are creating content about grief at my new company, Motion.)

I wish I had footage of my nephew walking into Robin’s Cafe for the first time, looking in awe at my ice cream machine, and asking, in hushed tones, “Uncle Robin, do you own that Ice Cream Machine?!”

Most of all, I always wanted to have a digital representation of our physical bricks-and-mortar coffeeshop. I had hoped to create something online that customers could point to and be proud of in the same way they were proud of our store. Of course, I communicated with 5000+ customers via newsletter, spent countless hours talking with customers onsite, and developed meaningful personal relationship with vendors, staff, and neighbors. I even conducted a few podcast interview with vendors, like Andrew Barnett, founder of our coffee roaster Linea. But I never did create the digital equivalent of our physical store.

If I had it all to do over, I would have hired a full-time videographer onsite at Robin’s Cafe every single day to record and and create a short video every day about the building of our shop. This would have had a variety of benefits:

  • Captured endless hours of content which we would have turned into dozens or even hundreds of videos. Even if 90% of those videos were never viewed, some would have landed with our customers and a broader audience.
  • Parsed those videos into platform-specific content for LinkedIn, Instagram, and others. Some of that would even have made its way as strict audio onto my podcast The Robin Zander Show.
  • Learned advertising much earlier. Throughout much of 2018, I finally learned a bit about Facebook advertising and began advertising Robin’s Cafe to folks in the 94110 zip code. If I had been investing the money and time in creating videos, I would have also explored paid advertising much earlier.
  • Creating video would have been a forcing function for a variety of on-site efforts. I got better over time at having fliers on the doors and windows, teaching our staff to up-sell customers, and even promoting relevant podcasts to the 200+ customers who came through our doors each day. With fresh cafe videos daily, I would have done that much earlier, more often, and more effectively.

When I look at the potential upside of these efforts, I would have 2x or 3x our revenue in our first two years of business. Conservatively.

I’m not displeased with our numbers. As it was, we saw 50-80% growth every year. But the cafe could have performed better, and I would have even better stories to share.

I’m not making this mistake again. I’ve begun a new company, Motion, which provides online and in-person tools in those areas many people need a bit more support. We discuss the taboo topics: things like money, grief, mental health, and behavior change. And our first full-time employee is, in fact, a videographer!

Additionally, I’ve started documenting the journey of building Motion myself via my new Zander Vlog. (Be sure to subscribe to my YouTube Channel!)

I hope this story is useful to you! If it is, please let me know by liking this post and leaving a comment below! Thanks for reading.

Have You Always Wanted To Own a Cafe? (Hint: Don’t)

It has been almost 3 years since I began Robin’s Cafe, as a service to the attendees of the conference I was running onsite. I wanted coffee and sandwiches for our conference attendees, saw an opportunity to serve the neighborhood, and on 3 weeks notice, opened a cafe.

Now, 3 year later, I have learned a ton, and I’m ready to turn my attention to new adventures. I’ve left Robin’s Cafe in the very capable hands of my (former) team and the new owners. The new owners have owned a cafe previously and had been looking for just the right cafe to operate in San Francisco for several years. Even more, though, the team I left in place are the heartbeat of the organization, and they are excited for the continued tweaks and improvements to come.

Over the next few months, I hope to share some lessons learned from opening, building, and selling my cafe. (If you missed Part 1, you might want to begin there.) I hope you enjoy!

Silicon Valley celebrates “Exits”. We shouldn’t.

The number of times I’ve heard people bragging about their successful “exists” on the streets of San Francisco… If you aren’t familiar, an “exit” means selling your business or getting bought by another business. I was a bit skeptical, but like many in the Bay Area, I was also excited by the prospect of selling a company. It sounds like fun!

It isn’t. First of all, the number of hoops that have to be jumped through are outrageous. Legal, bureaucratic, logistic, financial, and – finally – people.

Really, though, we shouldn’t celebrate exits because it puts the focus in the wrong place – building unsustainable companies. Even though I’ve sold Robin’s Cafe at a profit, doing so is a mark that I am no longer the right person to run the business I started. For me, operating a cafe longterm is unrealistic and unsustainable. I am not a good long term fit for the role of “coffee shop owner”, in no small part because I consistently have other projects that keep me from solving the day-to-day minutiae that come up when running a restaurant.

Law is a Required Skill

When I opened Robin’s Cafe, I, my manager at the time, and the then-Executive Director of our landlord company, ODC, wrote and signed a 12 page lease that has served as our operating and guiding document ever since. It didn’t occur to any of us to have an attorney proof the lease, nor, as I found out 2 years later, did ODC’s Board of Directors approve the lease.

The terms of a lease will make or break your business. We have served more than 25,000 avocado toasts in 3 years, but that by itself isn’t enough. It isn’t sufficient to provide great service or be constantly busy. If the terms of a lease aren’t service-able, the business is going to fail.

I’ve signed a lot of documents in my life without reading the fine print. You probably have, too. I can’t keep track of the number of times Facebook or Gmail have changed their terms of service. But what am I going to do? Stop using my email? And it turns out the importance of a legally binding document, that will impact the livelihood of your business for years to come, is fundamentally important.

People Matter More Than Anything

I’ve seen over 50 employees come and go through Robin’s Cafe, and the cafe generally has about 15 people on staff at any time. Through this, I’ve discovered that the people behind the counter – the staff – are the heartbeat of an organization.

There’s the obvious stuff: you can’t serve customers without someone behind the counter to serve them. But more importantly, the culture of Robin’s Cafe has become a reflection of the culture of the staff.

Conway’s Law states that the shape of an organization dictates the shape of the products that company creates. In our case, though the cafe sells coffee and avocado toast, the real product was community. The community we had behind the counter is the real asset of Robin’s Cafe, and it is reflected in the quality of our patrons. Many companies say something like “We <3 our customers.” Walking into Robin’s Cafe, any day of the week, it is clear that they really do.

But when I say “People Matter More Than Anything”, I’m not just talking about customers. Yes, you can’t run a cafe without customers. But that’s just the gravy. Serving food and coffee is the job. Forming community for your customers? That’s the bonus, for when everything else is going well. And things only go well when the employees – those people doing the day-to-day work of the restaurant – are happy and satisfied themselves. There are lots of little ways to do this, but the single biggest, is spending time with each individual person within the organization, knowing them, knowing what matters for them, and following up – day after day.

Certainly, I’ve failed at this at times. There have been months at a time when I didn’t spend enough time with my staff. But that process, the regular, day-to-day attention, is what makes a cafe successful.

The Cost of Doing Business

There is a lot of talk about entrepreneurship right now. Unlike a decade ago, starting your own company is hip. There’s going to come a time in the next few years when that isn’t true, and we don’t put starting a business on a pedestal, but meanwhile…

Speaking as the “entrepreneur” behind several companies and with a successful “exit” under my belt, running a small business isn’t all that it is cracked up to be. Though we celebrate entrepreneurship at the moment, we aren’t talking about what it actually takes to maintain a successful company. Especially where a “successful” company means one that has a profit, doesn’t take on outsized debt, and remains in business!

What they don’t tell you, and I wish I’d known in starting Robin’s Cafe, is the bureaucratic hoops that have to be jumped every step of the way. To successfully operate Robin’s Cafe, I had to get and maintain the following permits:

  • California State Limited Liability Company
  • DBA (Doing Business As) Registration
  • California State Seller’s Permit
  • San Francisco Business Permit
  • San Francisco Health Department Permit
  • San Francisco Alcoholic Beverage Control Permit
  • Outdoor Tables and Chairs Permitting
  • And several more…

The logistics necessary to manage all of that permitting isn’t what most people who dream about opening up a cafe want to do. But that’s the necessary work, just in order to be in the game!

Have You Always Wanted to Own a Cafe? Don’t!

To all of those people who have approached me over the last few years and said: “I’ve always dreamed of owning a cafe” – and there have been hundreds – my response is this:

Don’t! Or at least: Know Yourself.

Here are some questions that I wish someone had asked me before I opened up Robin’s Cafe. I would still have begun the coffeeshop, but I would perhaps have done so with eyes just a bit more wide open.

Some questions to consider:

  • Are you interested in sweeping up spilled coffee grounds? Everyday? Forever?
  • Are you excited for the challenge of dealing with a dozen or more vendors, on a daily basis, each with their own schedules, pay structure, and delivery errors?
  • Are you sure you want to work in an industry that has the highest turnover of any industry in the world?
  • Does solving customer’s problems excite you, truly?

If so, then by all means! But these aren’t things most people who want to run a cafe, are eager to do. And this is the job.

The folks I’ve met are excited by the idea of running a cafe want different things. They want the philosophical elements – the beautiful space, building a community, the moments of delight for a customer. These things are the upside of a successful cafe, but not the reason to run one.

I remember the first time I learned – the hard way – that our espresso machine drain pipe is too small. One afternoon I got a frantic call from my then-manager, saying that the espresso machine was backed up, resulting in a very difficult time serving lattes, cappuccinos, and other espresso drinks. I quickly realized that the situation wasn’t going to be easily resolved, and would take several hours of sorting and deconstruction before we could adequately address the issue.

That evening, equipped with an air compressor that my friend and investor, Krista, had acquired for the purpose, we proceeded to attempt to blow out the clogged pipe. The first two attempts failed, because we had failed to adequately secure the pipes we were attempting to clean, but the 3rd time we succeeded. 50 pounds of air pressure was more than sufficient to clean the ¼ inch diameter pipe of years of built up espresso grounds and spoilt milk. Unfortunately, I’d had my head down near the drain pipe, to report on the success of our cleaning endeavors. The resulting expulsion from the stuck pipe, sprayed espresso and milk goop all over the wall 10 feet away, ceiling 15 feet above, and my entire head and torso.

Closing

When I look back at Robin’s Cafe, and especially now that a month has gone by, I’m mostly just grateful. To the 50+ employees I’ve had the pleasure of working with, the 200+ customers we’ve served each day, for the recognition of just how much work is required, and for all that I have learned along the way.

Look out for more from me over the coming months!

Lessons Learned Building (and Selling) Robin’s Cafe

I want to say a couple of words about today’s post and a new format I’m exploring for both The Robin Zander Show podcast and this blog. Over the last 3 years, I’ve conducted over 200 hours of interviews, many of which have ended up on the podcast. I love conducting interviews, and I have been honored to spend time with so many incredible thinkers. And now… it is time to try something different.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting regular podcast and blog posts – without a guest or an interview – but instead about my own experiences over the last few years and what I’m working on next.

I’m going to share some more about my journey, and answer some questions like “How do you open up a cafe?” and “How do you sell a small business?” I’ve grown Robin’s Cafe to 15 employees in less than 3 years. How did I go from earning $40,000 a year in 2015 to more than $40,000 a month in 2017?

There’s so much, personally and professionally, that I haven’t ever shared. So, welcome to a new version of the Robin Zander Show and this blog. I look forward to talking with you and sharing stories.

To start, this post is being published the same day that I’m selling Robin’s Cafe. So, before talking about the sale of my business, I thought I’d share a bit about the opening.

I opened Robin’s Cafe on 3 weeks notice. I’ve shared that before, but the few people who really understand what that means and what it takes to do so, are usually always restaurateurs – folks who have lived and worked in the restaurant industry. And for me, even though I lived it and know it happened, it still feels almost impossible.

And I think that is one of my most important takeaways from my life to date. You really never know until you try. Success and failure both feel so daunting – so impossible – that until we get there, we can’t know. For me, the fear of failure has become almost a drive, a North Star to guide my path, and I hope over time to share how I’ve done things people say are impossible to  inspire you towards the same.

Here’s a bit about the opening of Robin’s Cafe in blog post and video form. But there are still a few pieces of the story I’ve never shared.

Origin Story

Back in 2016, I was preparing to put on my conference, Design for Dance. Five weeks before the conference date, I went to the manager of the then-market that was onsite, Melange Market, to see about providing coffee and tea for my 175 guests. I was told that Melange Market would be closing, had sold to a new owner, and would not reopen until after my 2-day event. I sent an email to the then-Executive Director of the landlord company, ODC, just to double check. I heard nothing back, so I  put the question of Melange Market out of my mind.

Then, 20 days before the start of Design for Dance, I received an email from ODC’s Executive Director. Rather than answering my questions, he introduced me to someone, with a brief note saying: “Robin is a community member and is interested in Melange Market.”

Matt, who turned out to own several, locally-famous restaurants, responded minutes later suggesting we meet the following day.

When we met up onsite at Melange Market, he presented me with a list of assets – the entire list of equipment, food stuffs, and more – and said “Let me know what you’d like to buy. I’ll keep the rest.” I was dumbfounded. I had showed up just expecting conversation and maybe to look behind the counter. Matt was prepared to sell to me, almost on the spot.

Fear as a Motivator

Over the next three weeks, I had to learn everything about running a small cafe, write a lease with the landlord ODC, raise more than $40,000, hire employees, and actually learn how to serve customers. The list of To-Dos was daunting, but I learned a valuable lesson in that crazy 3 weeks. Everyday, getting up at 5am to learn to open the cafe and staying up (with wine) until 2am to write a lease, I asked myself the question: “Do I want to do this?”. Every time, my answer was “maybe?”. Digging a bit deeper – into each “why” and “why not” – I kept coming back to “I’m afraid.”.

Fear is an incredible motivator. We use fear to keep ourselves safe in times of crisis and also challenge the edges of our capabilities. One of my fears was that I would fail to run the cafe successfully and lose all $40,000 of my investors’ money. I had to come to terms with that very real possibility – yes, that was a fear. But was that fear alone enough to not attempt opening the cafe? I realized that over 2 years of working at a minimum wage in San Francisco (I took my worst case scenario to the extreme), I would be able to pay my investors back – even if I lost everything. Tim Ferriss calls this “Fear Setting”, and I’ve found it invaluable to imagine a worst case scenario, look squarely at the fear, and not decide that just because I’m afraid to avoid something I might otherwise want to do.

There was a lot of learn about running a cafe – in those 3 weeks and in the 3 years since then. But my biggest lesson learned has been about my own fear.

Over the last 6 months, I have been in the process of selling my small business – equipment, system, and all. Selling Robin’s Cafe as been a trial-by-fire in its own right, which I may talk about at some point in the future. In the Spring of 2018, I decided that it was, in fact, time to take my leave from Robin’s Cafe. I had built something that could flourish without my direct supervision and could continue to improve even more by an owner/operator who was onsite 40 hours/week. I’m thrilled with the new owners and excited for the continued improvements that will come to the business I founded.

Here are a couple of lessons learned from three years of running a small business in San Francisco:

Showing Up with Love

We are not taught the skills necessary to run a business in school, and boy, do I wish we were. These are actually the same skills necessary for parenting, for being a good friend and – as most of us do – I’ve had to learn these skills the hard way. I’ve written elsewhere about a peak moment, when my employee called his experience at Robin’s Cafe the best job he’s ever had. This is the mark of a successful business. One that is able to stay operating – meaning that it’s profitable – while providing the best possible place to work for its employees. Because when you have happy people working for a company, you have happy customers – folks who come back again and again. Sure, Robin’s Cafe has great avocado toast. But more importantly, we’ve provided great customer service in an environment where the humans coming into the business have a positive experience with the people working there. This principle is something that I will strive to take forward – in anything that I do.

Showing up lovingly, is really the answer. Knowing that my responsibility within my organization, is to up as role model, a mentor, a teacher, and also an authority figure. Someone who holds the people within the organization to the high standards and principles that they’ve agreed to, but someone who does so without anger. I’ve had to learn to set clear consequences. If an employee did not wash a plate at Robin’s Cafe, there were consequences. But not because I’m angry or personally affronted. Rather, because they’ve agreed to the job, and this falls within that responsibility. It has been a process learning to show up for my employees in this way.

In the first 6 months of Robin’s Cafe, an employee would mess up, and I would get furious! I quickly learned that when I was angry, employees quit. What worked much better, was leading with love. And when they did mess up, asking a loving question: “How come you didn’t wash the plate, given that you’ve agreed to do so?”, “Can I do anything to support you?”, “How can we, together, do this better?”. And then, eventually, if the behavior doesn’t change, being able to comfortably let them go.

Money & Robin’s Cafe

Another big learning from Robin’s Cafe was about money. When I began the cafe, the most I had personally ever earned in a single year was about $50,000. My very first month in operation of running Robin’s Cafe, the cafe earned $20,000 and have earned as much as $50,000/month over the last three years. Of course, what goes unsaid is that monthly earning is gross – which means before expenses. Out of that $50,000 comes the costs of bread, avocados, coffee beans, payroll, and everything else required to run the business. But even so, seeing $20,000 and then eventually even $50,000 flow through the cafe bank account each month, has expanded my view and facility around money. Money isn’t something I was ever taught. If only I had been taught how to balance a checkbook in middle school, or learned about “good debt” versus “bad debt” in college! The practice of learning to balance the books, process payroll, and even just see money come into the business and leave the business – all the while knowing that I’m personally responsible – has been life changing. My advice, to my younger self or to you, would be to start practicing!

Win-Win-Win Business

The next topic I want to discuss, is of creating win-win-win businesses. Robin’s Cafe has succeeded over the last several years because it has served the needs of many different groups of people. When we opened, 3173 17th Street in San Francisco, was a cold, dark corner. There was nobody working and nobody eating there. I was offered an opportunity to serve ODC – the dance company that owns our building – and the students of ODC. There are the technology companies that rent space on our street and also a variety of industrial businesses that have existed in our area for more than the 10 years I lived in the area. Clearly, we had the opportunity to serve a diverse group of customers! But there was also serving the needs of Robin’s Cafe staff. How could I build the business so that employees could have a great place to work.Of course they needed to get paid, but more personally, what could I do to make Robin’s Cafe a great place to work? And how could the cafe also serve my investors – the people who had trusted me and invested their money into my idea? Though many of them supported me out of love, it was important that they see a return on their investment. I also had to get paid. And finally, the business, in order to survive, had to earn a profit.

I’ve come to see that the more different groups can win as a result of a business operating, the more likely it is to succeed. Why are Facebook and Amazon worth billions of dollars? Like them or not, it is because they serve the needs of billions of individual humans.

This next few months will be a very interesting period. Over the last 3 years, I have been the go-to when something goes wrong at Robin’s Cafe, 7 days a week. It is important to feel needed like that, and it has become something I’ve come to rely on. And now, it will come to an end. I’ll be sharing that journey in future episodes, and I hope you’ll join in. In the meantime, thanks for following along on this adventure!


Wait, Wait! One Small Request

If you’ve read my blog or listened to the podcast over the years, what would you like more of? I’m in the midst of a major change, and I’m excited to share more that is useful to you! Leave a comment below, and let me know!

Larissa Conte on Ritual and Transformation

Larissa Conte is a systems coach, ceremony designer, and rites of passage guide through her business, Wayfinding. She also works with The Ready doing organization transformation to fuel the future of work. Larissa specializes in facilitating transformation and alignment across scales to foster power that serves.

With deep experience in the energetics and mechanics of transformation, Larissa helps individuals and groups develop refined sensing and listening, shed what no longer serves, and dynamically steward greater creative energy in their lives and companies. Her work weaves 10+ years of experience in the diverse fields of leadership coaching, organizational culture consulting, ecosystems science, strategy design, holistic healing/wellness, ceremony, somatic intimacy coaching, and wilderness survival. She’s worked with hundreds of leaders across startups and the Fortune 100, and is based in San Francisco.

As change agents, within or outside of organizations, attendees of Responsive Conference are those most responsible for other’s transformation. Onstage at this year’s conference, Larissa will invite us to consider our own blind spots, and the taboos we are failing to address that keep us from doing our best work.

Show Notes
3:00 Thinking and sensing
7:30 Physical injuries and emotional challenges

  • Mentions: Ishmael by Daniel Quinn

9:45 Wayfinding
13:00 Moved by feeling
17:30 Minimum amount of challenge for maximum change
19:15 Rite of passage
23:45 Larissa’s personal rituals
26:30 Beginnings and endings
30:00 Closing a meeting
31:15 What is going on culturally
36:30 Tensions coming to the surface
42:00 Unique voice

45:30 Redefine mastery
48:00 Resources:

Responsive Audiobook: Chapter 10, Conclusion

I’m excited to share a chapter of my book, Responsive: What It Takes to Create a Thriving Organization. The full audiobook version of Responsive comes out in late September 2018, but in the meantime, I am excited to share it in podcast form.

Here’s an excerpt:

To tackle 21st-century challenges organizations may need to structure themselves quite differently than they have historically.

Throughout this book, we have seen a wide variety of examples of Responsive principles in practice. A common theme is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to how we structure the organizations of today. Instead, each of us must find a level of comfort with the particular Responsive systems and processes that support our needs. If an organization’s leaders can be honest with themselves about current realities—what is working and what isn’t—they may find that to remain adaptable requires changes to their organizational structure.

A resilient organization adapts itself, constantly, to the ecosystem within which it exists. The era of Taylor’s principles of scientific management is over; but instead of disregarding Taylorism or any models for organizing, a Responsive organization keeps in mind those ideas without losing sight of the new demands placed upon organizations today.

If you’ve enjoyed this chapter of Responsive, you can purchase a Kindle or print version of the book on Amazon. And be sure to check out the Responsive Conference, coming up September 24-25th in Queens, NY.

Responsive Audiobook: Chapter 9, Diversity and Inclusion

I’m excited to share a chapter of my book, Responsive: What It Takes to Create a Thriving Organization. The full audiobook version of Responsive comes out in late September 2018, but in the meantime, I am excited to share it in podcast form.

Here’s an excerpt:

You might think that disruptive, forward thinking, companies like Uber and Google would have addressed inclusion and diversity. But Uber has faced a slew of recent challenges: including well-documented allegations of sexual misconduct throughout the company. Meanwhile, Google, is facing Department of Labor allegations about extreme gender pay disparities. Outside of technology, too, this problem is pervasive. More cases of sexual harassment, in fields ranging from journalism to government, are becoming public with increasing regularity.

Diversity and inclusion issues range well beyond gender and include discrimination related to race, religion and disability to name a few. Companies need to be open to listening to employee concerns about inclusion, and fostering environments that encourage dissenting viewpoints. Organizations should strive to create environments in which people can thrive.

Diversity and inclusion are complex concepts, and a full discussion of their impacts exceeds the scope of this book. What’s relevant for Responsive organizations is that diversity of opinions can create higher-performing teams, and that diverse populations continue to experience discrimination and exclusion.

If you’ve enjoyed this chapter of Responsive, you can purchase a Kindle or print version of the book on Amazon. And be sure to check out the Responsive Conference, coming up September 24-25th in Queens, NY.

Responsive Audiobook: Chapter 8, Transparency

I’m excited to share a chapter of my book, Responsive: What It Takes to Create a Thriving Organization.

The full audiobook version of Responsive comes out in late September 2018, but in the meantime, I am excited to share it in podcast form.

Here’s an excerpt:

Lessons in Transparency

Just Try It On

Not every company is going to immediately experiment with the transparency of normally private data. The specifics of a particular industry matter, and regulated industries may not always have a choice about what they are obliged or forbidden to share.

But it is a common trend for Responsive organizations to at least experiment with the openness of information. Information is a critical factor in empowering all people within the company to do their jobs well. Transparency can change mindsets, broaden people’s perspectives, and create positive effects on culture. If making information public is not an option, consider making more information available internally.

Leverage Technology

Technology is both a driver of growth and a challenge for Responsive companies. Technology is disrupting entire industries and changing consumer patterns and communication possibilities globally. No edict says companies must be fully transparent, and yet the world is increasingly connected. Data and knowledge that are guarded heavily may be leaked or accidentally distributed despite best efforts and it can be useful to recognize and adapt to this fact. Organizations willing to proactively explore how technology and data openness can create benefits are a step ahead of those more guarded and reluctant to embrace the realities of technology progression.

If you’ve enjoyed this chapter of Responsive, you can purchase a Kindle or print version of the book on Amazon. And be sure to check out the Responsive Conference, coming up September 24-25th in Queens, NY.

Responsive Audiobook: Chapter 7, How to Experiment

I’m excited to share a chapter of my book, Responsive: What It Takes to Create a Thriving Organization.

The full audiobook version of Responsive comes out in late September 2018, but in the meantime, I am excited to share it in podcast form.

Here’s an excerpt:

How to Experiment

Experimentation is at the heart of any Responsive organization. The goal is to react quickly with the best information at hand, and then respond to feedback, whether it be from clients, the market or employees.  The following three components are needed before companies can experiment successfully.

Trust

A vital component of any organization that wants to experiment is trust in the people actually doing the work. There was a point in catering the first annual Responsive Conference where the outcome was simply out of my control and I had to trust the people to whom I had given authority. In Buffer’s experiments with remote work, there was a willingness to trust that their employees would be productive outside of a traditional office setting. Had things gone poorly, they could always have moved back to a single location.

Culture

Culture is the second principle which makes a successful experimental company. General Electric couldn’t have embarked on the changes former CEO Jeff Immelt ushered in without a willingness to experiment with new visions, plans, and actions (see Chapter 6). While opinions of success vary, depending on whether we’re considering shareholder value or improved culture, GE is now a more agile company with a more human-focused culture than it had before.

Similarly, at Culture Amp, it took Didier Elzinga’s thoughtfulness and a company focused on the well-being of people, to leave behind a model of compensation that did not suit the needs of that organization.

Incremental Change

Finally, incremental change can be used to ease the process of implementing Responsive principles. Incremental change can minimize losses and maximize learning from “failed” experiments and allow successful trials to be quickly built upon, scaled, or improved further. This doesn’t mean all Responsive change must be small (as we’ll see in the next chapter), but it is important to factor in the gains afforded by small cumulative adaptations.

If you’ve enjoyed this chapter of Responsive, you can purchase a Kindle or print version of the book on Amazon. And be sure to check out the Responsive Conference, coming up September 24-25th in Queens, NY.

Responsive Audiobook: Chapter 6, Controlling and Empowering

I’m excited to share a chapter of my book, Responsive: What It Takes to Create a Thriving Organization.

The full audiobook version of Responsive comes out in late September 2018, but in the meantime, I am excited to share it in podcast form.

Here’s an excerpt:

Characteristics of a Cult—or Any Poorly Run Company

The mechanisms that cults use to attract and keep members are actually used by all organizations to some degree. Cults just do things in extremes.

  • Cults place a “high demand” on their members, progressively raising the bar as people move toward the inner circles of the organization.
  • They allow for varying degrees of commitment and involvement, but the more members become involved within the organization, the more external communities are forbidden.
  • Cults are ideologically intense and offer simplistic answers.
  • They encourage conformity within the organization.

Cults are jealous of inclusion in other organizations and actively try to shut down member’s participation in alternative communities.

If you’ve enjoyed this chapter of Responsive, you can purchase a Kindle or print version of the book on Amazon. And be sure to check out the Responsive Conference, coming up September 24-25th in Queens, NY.

Responsive Audiobook: Chapter 5, Leadership

I’m excited to share a chapter of my book, Responsive: What It Takes to Create a Thriving Organization.

The full audiobook version of Responsive comes out in late September 2018, but in the meantime, I am excited to share it in podcast form.

Here’s an excerpt:

Each person must determine how they will lead, but that leadership always stems from character and values. The leadership demonstrated by Stanley McChrystal, Pam Slim, and Adam Pisoni is rooted in what they personally value. The particulars of how that leadership materializes will vary depending on the situation, but an organization can’t surpass the quality of its leadership. As Chris Fussell has said of the team of teams approach, leader behavior is the essential element that allows a plan to succeed. Investing in leadership—your own and that of your teams—can only pay dividends in the long run.

If you’ve enjoyed this chapter of Responsive, you can purchase a Kindle or print version of the book on Amazon. And be sure to check out the Responsive Conference, coming up September 24-25th in Queens, NY.

Responsive Audiobook: Chapter 4, How We Organize

I’m excited to share a chapter of my book, Responsive: What It Takes to Create a Thriving Organization.

The full audiobook version of Responsive comes out in late September 2018, but in the meantime, I am excited to share it in podcast form.

Here’s an excerpt:

In the past there were big and complex tasks that required many people working on them. The ‘transaction costs’ involved to get coordination between people was high, so the concept of a Manager was introduced. As the number of Managers increased, a Manager of the Managers was created… and hierarchies formed.

This resulted in order, clarity of authority, rank, and power. They reinforced a single primary connection: manager to worker, and enabled a command and control style of leadership that was terrifically successful during the industrial era.

If you’ve enjoyed Chapter 4 of Responsive, you can purchase a Kindle or print version of the book on Amazon. And be sure to check out the Responsive Conference, coming up September 24-25th in Queens, NY.

Chris Fussell & Rachel Mendelowitz of the McChrystal Group at Responsive Conference 2016

I hope you enjoy this talk from Responsive Conference 2016 with former Navy SEAL and New York Times best-selling author Chris Fussell (@fussellchris) alongside Rachel Mendelowitz (@rachelowitz) as they discuss “Team of Teams” and new ways of organizing companies of the future.

Alongside General Stan McChrystal, Chris runs the McChrystal Group – an organizational design consultancy that works with companies all over the world to do in industry what Stan, Chris and the US Military did during the Iraq War. In the book Teams of Teams, Stanley McChrystal and Chris outline how they took the special operations branch of the US Military – a stereotypically bureaucratic organization – and transformed it into a adaptive, agile system.

This video was recorded at the 1st Annual Responsive Conference in 2016.

Learn more:
http://responsiveconference.com

Responsive Audiobook: Chapter 3, Purpose

I’m very pleased to share, exclusively for this podcast, a chapter of my book, Responsive: What It Takes to Create a Thriving Organization. The full audiobook version of Responsive comes out in late September 2018, but in the meantime, I am excited to share it out in podcast form.

Here’s an excerpt. Subscribe and listen to The Robin Zander Show for the full chapter!

The Morning Star Company

Doug Kirkpatrick was one of the earliest employees at The Morning Star Company. Founded in 1990, Morning Star would go on to trailblaze self-management in business. But as might be expected of any start-up, let alone one committed to innovative management, the company’s early days were intense times.

Morning Star is a tomato-ingredients manufacturer based out of Sacramento, California. The agribusiness and food-processing industries are notoriously old-school, known for strict command and control structures and rigid bureaucracies. The small group of employees who initiated the Morning Star project had a six-month window to start up the first factory and had committed to beginning operations on a specified day and even at a specific hour. They were a high-performance group, and Doug describes those initial weeks as a high state of flow, with each person striving cooperatively to bring the new company into existence. The company consisted of seasoned employees, and Doug, at thirty-four, was considered quite young.

Several months before the factory opened, the owner of The Morning Star Company, Chris Rufer, called a leadership meeting. The Morning Star founder and twenty-four members of the team met on the job site. They pulled steel folding chairs into a circle, and Chris passed around a page titled “Morning Star Colleague Principles.”

The sheet included just two points:

  •      Don’t use force.
  •      Keep your commitments.

The group spent several hours discussing what these principles meant. Questions cropped up. What happens if you have to fire somebody? What if someone quits? In the end, no one found a reason to reject these ideas, and every person there had reasons to embrace them.

Together, the group concluded that these two points were necessary and sufficient, and they would make up the core of all human interactions at the company. Adopting these principles wouldn’t change the day-to-day operations of the nascent company, but they’d have clear guideposts by which they’d proceed.

What they perhaps didn’t fully process at that moment (and what Doug has spent his career implementing, first at Morning Star and now with companies all over the world) was the far-reaching ramifications of adopting those simple principles. Consider, for example, that “Don’t Use Force” effectively implies:

  •      No one can require anyone to do anything.
  •      No one can unilaterally make anyone do anything.
  •      No one can fire anyone unilaterally.
  •      Each person has a voice within the company and each voice is protected; no democracy or majority rules.
  •      Checks and balances will be inherent.

At the time, it didn’t register how profoundly that meeting, and its eventual outcomes, would impact the team, and its members individually. As Doug said, “What we did would end up being very radical—but we were so busy we didn’t necessarily see it since it didn’t seem immediately to impact our day-to-day lives.” More than two decades later, those principles—don’t use force and keep your commitments—continue to serve as the bedrock of a successful, self-managed company.

Shortly before opening, Doug and his colleagues celebrated his thirty-fourth birthday outside the same farmhouse where Chris Rufer had called that fateful leadership meeting. The company has gone on to become a model of self-management and the world’s largest tomato processor, handling between 25% and 30% of U.S. tomato crops.

If you’ve enjoyed this chapter of Responsive, you can purchase a Kindle or print version of the book on Amazon. And be sure to check out the Responsive Conference, coming up September 24-25th in Queens, NY.