#007 Living Your Own Dream with Allan Branch

TRANSCRIPT:

Jay Owen:
Hi. Welcome to Building a Business that Lasts. My name is Jay Owen, and I’m your host on a quest towards stories, tips, and ideas that will help you grow a business without being stressed out, worn out, and ready to quit. Each week, I’ll interview other business owners who have successfully grown businesses of all types for many years. It’s my hope that these conversations will help you build a business that lasts.

Jay Owen:
On this episode I talk to Allan Branch from Lesseverything.com. Allan is a designer, but really, he’s an entrepreneur. He has been involved in all kinds of different businesses from a software as a service company that he sold to conferences, to a video company, to a design and development company. Allan is one of those guys that is just super nice and very giving to those around him, always happy to help and has been for me over the years, and I really appreciate that. Even taking the time to come on the podcast today.

Jay Owen:
He is one of those kind of people that you look at and you think, “Man, he’s a really cool dad, he seems like a great husband, and he also really knows business well.” So I hope this conversation is as helpful to you as it was to me. Here is that chat with Allan.

Jay Owen:
Allan, welcome to the show. Thanks for being here.

Allan Branch:
Thanks for having me, man.

Jay Owen:
The idea behind this show is talking to other business owners and giving them ideas around building a business that lasts, and the subtitle for me is really appropriate for having you on the show. It’s Without Sacrificing Family. I’d kind of like to just start off by hearing a little bit about your story, how you got into your first business, and how you ended up where you are. Kind of the synopsis of your entrepreneurial journey.

Allan Branch:
Yeah. That’s a big question that could take anywhere from 30 seconds to 30 minutes. I’ll try to do it in 60 seconds.

Jay Owen:
That’d be great.

Allan Branch:
I grew up … My parents are entrepreneurs. My dad owns car washes. My uncle owns restaurants. My grandfather started the restaurants and the car washes in the 1950s. I never met him; he actually passed away before I was born. But I grew up … I was homeschooled, so I saw all the inner workings of the business. We went to car-wash conventions, and my dad would talk about business a lot with us.

Allan Branch:
So I just grew up with that sort of, like … never had, really, a glass ceiling above my head when people said, “You can’t do that.” I didn’t grow up thinking people were smarter than me or better than me. It was really more the world is your oyster My mom would always say things like … I’d be like, “Why do I have to do this? Why do I have to learn guitar? Why do I have to do everything?” “Well, it’s just tools in the toolbox. It’s tools in the toolbox that you may pull out later.”

Allan Branch:
She would drop us off at retirement homes and make us play our instruments in front of the old folks, and then she’d make us go talk to them. We thought that was torture, but really, it was teaching us how to be conversational. So all the things I used to think my parents would torture us doing kind of built up later and gave me the competence to start my own business.

Allan Branch:
But I never really looked at entrepreneurship as this great leap. I’ve always been really good at doing several things at one time, and so when I got my first job out of college, I went to design school and got a job doing print design. I always had freelance clients. Even when I was a student, people thought that was bizarre, like, “You’re contacting people and doing freelance work? You’re not official yet. You haven’t graduated. Why are you doing that?” And I as just kind of bizarre. But I had a full-time job doing print design, and I was doing freelance stuff.

Allan Branch:
Eventually, the freelance work was making more than the full-time employment, so I left. So it didn’t feel like some sort of great leap into some sort of unknown. My business partner and I met in 2008 or 2007. He was a contractor doing programming for me, and it just seemed natural. He was smart and had some wisdom. He’s a few years older than I am and just had a lot of wisdom about him. He really cared about me, and I felt that. So we became partners [inaudible 00:04:03] everything.

Allan Branch:
We built an accounting app called Less Accounting, and we worked on that for several years before it became profitable. We switched from being a consultancy, building web software for people, into being a product company. But that wasn’t a great leap because we were doing two things at one time. Eventually, the product made more money than the consulting, so we went over and did that. So I never felt like there’s some great chasm I was jumping across, because it was sort of like this natural … Everything feels natural.

Allan Branch:
We did Less Accounting for three or four years and built that up and eventually just got to be where we were just tired of working on it. We worked on it for eight years and we sold it. We sold it to a company called FE International, Founders [Exit 00:04:48] International. They handled a lot of the sales stuff, and we kind of cashed out early. We didn’t … We were not sitting on some sort of giant pile of money. It’s a very small pile. It’s a little pile.

Allan Branch:
We bought some real estate with it. My business partner and I are still business partners in the real estate, even, because we want to stay business partners till we retire, whatever that means. So we started doing that, and the film company came around because I knew a really great video guy here in town in Panama City. He wanted to do some work with us, and I know people that need videos. So he emailed my friends and said, “Does anyone need videos?” They said yes, and so the video company got started. That was six or … six, seven years ago. Something like that.

Allan Branch:
So the conferences … Some people go, “How do you have the cojones to host a conference?” For us, it was really the speakers were our friends. We weren’t paying big speakers to come into town, although now they’re big speakers. Gary Vaynerchuk spoke at the first conference and Derek Sivers from CD Baby and Owen [Mendez 00:05:46] from Intercom [Dio 00:05:48]. They’re just our friends, and so we knew those people had really great stories and things to say, and I knew people that wanted to come.

Allan Branch:
We kept the bar of success really low for the first conferences, and so we didn’t spend a lot of money. I think we had 90 people show up for the first year, and by the last year, it was about 350. We’re always trying to make decisions that don’t sink the ship. We don’t want to spend too much money. I want to make lots of little, small decisions, lots of easy wins, but nothing that can sink the ship. I don’t ever want to … I’m not trying to make a big decision that could possibly bring down the company.

Allan Branch:
So we hosted little conferences, and actually, out of anything, the conferences were the most stressful because there’s a lot of one-on-one time and you’re having to fill two days of talking, which is tough. But everything feels natural. All our business decisions never felt like we were really … Nothing feels like a stretch. It always feels like, “Oh yeah, we can do that. Oh yeah, that makes sense.” Nothing feels … It all feels natural.

Jay Owen:
Do you think that … You talked about your dad and his dad before him being entrepreneurs and having their own businesses. I kind of learned a lot of that way, too. My uncle runs his own business and my grandfather before that had a big restaurant chain that he built by himself and sold. I’m curious what you think: do you think that entrepreneurship is actually almost like an inherited thing, or do you think it’s a learned behavior?

Allan Branch:
Nature versus nature. I think it’s a little bit of both. I think there are personalities who … I’m not even a person who preaches that everyone should be an entrepreneur. I want my kids to be entrepreneurs because, at least right now, I feel like I know how to work a business because I know how to do sales and marketing and I know how to handle people and processes. And I feel like I have the keys to the kingdom because I can start any business that I wanted to, with the exception of some giant manufacturing.

Allan Branch:
But I feel like I can start pretty much any business I want to and be largely successful. The real question is, is it worth my time to start that business, and is that a business that can do 300 grand a year or 3 million? I don’t know if it’s nature versus nurture, but … And I’ve really been digging into, because our kids are homeschooled, how do you teach a kid that? My parents never sat me down and said, “You should start a business, and here’s how you do it.” It was all just conversation.

Allan Branch:
By the time I was 12 or 13 and I would travel with my dad to car-wash conventions, I was having business conversations with grown men about impact fees and grandfathering in laws and code enforcement and cutting curbs on sidewalks. They thought that was kind of bizarre. I didn’t know that was weird as a kid talking about their debts, their millions of dollars in debt, to a grown man, and PNLs and things. That was just normal to us because my dad would confine in us about other people’s problems. “Here’s why they’re failing,” and that kind of stuff.

Allan Branch:
But I don’t know if you can teach it. I think you can teach curiosity, and the worst thing you can do, to a child at least, is make them feel like they can’t do something, make them feel like … or they lose curiosity in something or they feel they can’t learn something, when they feel like … because they’re scared of the unknown. They’re scared of a possible turbulence over a decision of progress.

Jay Owen:
My kids are actually homeschooled, too. It was neat; last week I took … Just kind of playing off the idea of learning as you go, and it’s not something that’s a matter of sitting them down and teaching them, I think, but just letting them be involved. Like I took my 12-year-old out with me to do some of these podcasts last week. I did a couple in person with a few guys that I know here locally, and Hayden just sat in the room and listened.

Jay Owen:
There was kind of this recurring theme among both of the guys that I talked to about having a specific morning routine and kind of processing their life and how some of these specific systems and things help them be successful over time. We got back home and Hayden goes, “Daddy, I think I’m going to put together a morning checklist and I’m going to use that as my process for the day.”

Jay Owen:
I didn’t tell him to do that. It was just something he kind of listened to these two other guys. He saw that they were pretty successful and thought, “I’m going to imitate what they’re doing.” I just think that’s the coolest way to learn something.

Allan Branch:
I agree. It’s experiential, and then when the kids realize that they’re trying to be taught something, they usually don’t want to learn it. So it’s almost like experiential learning, I think, works the best. We’re all trying to make … or hope our children are wise people. It’s wisdom. I don’t know if you can teach wisdom. I think they have to kind of see it for themselves and learn how to think of the endgame of a bunch of decisions.

Allan Branch:
I’m not even saying I’m that wise. I make mistakes all the time, but … And so I’ve been really digging into how you educate a child, what does education even mean kind of stuff. I think most homeschool parents are kind of going through those thoughts.

Jay Owen:
We were talking about that this morning, actually, in the office, and education of kids in general, like what’s important for them to learn versus what’s not important to learn. I had kind of a mixed education when I grew up. I was homeschooled in elementary school, and then I went to a public school for middle school and high school. And even in college. I went to college for a couple years, then I quit, and then I got to work with my uncle for about six months because I didn’t think I was going to be able to make Design Extensions actually make enough money for my family.

Jay Owen:
Then I realized that six months in the insurance business was enough for me to go, “Hey, I think I can figure this design thing out.” But that six months that I spent with him was the best business education that I could have ever had because I got to hear him deal with clients. I remember one situation specifically. A lady called in and she was irate about something. I don’t remember what she was upset about. By the end of the call, she was saying, “Tim, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have freaked out like that,” etc., etc., etc., just because he knew how to take care of people and actually care about them and help them.

Jay Owen:
I think, for me … Even you being on this podcast, for me, now, that’s one of the things I’ve always really appreciated about you, is you’ve been in those environments where you have all these guys around, like you said, have somebody like Gary V. at your conference, and now he’s about as big as you can get on the social sphere right now. But you’ve always been so approachable and willing to connect with people. Is that something that has been kind of a learned behavior for you that you’ve had to work on, or is it something that just comes natural in your personality?

Allan Branch:
Well, I’m sitting here in Panama City, Florida, currently not wearing any pants. So it’s kind of hard to be like, “I’m too cool to answer that email,” because I’m just like a normal dude. I drive an old truck. It cost, like, $5,000. So I just never [inaudible 00:12:32] like, “Oh, I shouldn’t respond. You’re too big for that podcast. You’re too big for [inaudible 00:12:38].” Maybe if I was in New York and had a guy following me around with a camera like Gary does now, I might be like, “Oh, Allan, you’re too cool for that.” But it’s just always been like I’m just a dude putting along in life. It’s not like I’m sort of special starlet or something.

Jay Owen:
Along the way, when you’ve … because you’ve started businesses, sold businesses, done things for a while, moved on, and you talked about a lot of that being natural. How do you make those decisions along the way to go, “Hey, you know what? It’s time to back this up,” whether it’s just to stop it or try and sell it or do something else? How do you decide whatever you’re working on in that particular area is done and you’re ready to move on to something else?

Allan Branch:
When I dread going to work or just feel like I don’t know what the next step is. I think with Less Accounting, we had been doing it for eight years. And at least with software as service, you’re always thinking, “Oh, the next feature’s going to be the big thing that breaks us,” or, “The next thing in PR is going to be the next thing that releases us to lots and lots and lots of money.”

Allan Branch:
It got to be where there were still lots of ideas, but literally every idea I had, I just didn’t know what to do next. That made me not very excited to go to work. Also, I’m not a quitter, and eight years of working on a company is definitely not like, “Oh, you quit too early.” Eight years is a long time. So I have just a little bit of ADD. I think I can do anything, which is … I just think I can do anything. So there’s always that, “Well, I can do this thing over here.”

Allan Branch:
So we don’t have a lot of … I don’t know. Maybe we do have focus. I don’t really look at building a business, per se, as in one thing. I look at it like there are lots of ways I can make money, and, well, what do I want to do for the next 10 years? And Less Accounting wasn’t that. Conferences kind of had their run. Those were kind of fun, but they got to be too much stress and it kind of tore me up to think about these people are coming to see me and see the conference and see the speakers, and I won’t have time for everybody. I won’t get to talk to everybody.

Allan Branch:
So knowing that I was going to let someone down kind of really crushed me, and just knowing that i was going to say something to someone in a fleeting moment of stress at the conference while I’m looking for [inaudible 00:14:56] show up, I’d be short with somebody and they would say, “Oh, that Allan guy’s a jerk.” That was hard. So we just kind of move from thing to thing, and I’m just trying to build a day that I want to enjoy. It’s not necessarily a business. It’s a day. I like things where I’m excited about them and I know the next step and it’s something new. I don’t like repetitive things where it’s like the same thing over and over and over and over again.

Allan Branch:
So I don’t know. Yeah, it’s always just kind of like … We’re always working on several things, so the next thing’s always kind of popping up its head and it’s like, “Oh yeah, we can keep doing that.” Now we’re doing real-estate stuff, so we have a couple of properties we bought with cash, and that’s kind of interesting to me. I’m researching grants, and there’s some grants that we’re applying for. All that kind of stuff is new and exciting. Would it make more money than writing software? Probably not. Software’s pretty good money. But it’s new and interesting to me, and it’s always like I always just want to see what I can’t do, and what’s the limitation? What can I not do?

Allan Branch:
And then it’s really, I don’t want to write software when I’m 50 years old or 60 years old. Maybe landlord’s what I want to do. I don’t know yet. We’ll see.

Jay Owen:
It’s interesting because I’ve interviewed quite a few people so far in prepping for this podcast, and there’s really only been a couple of guys that have that same mentality that you do. There was a guy that I interviewed not that long ago and he runs a large real-estate company locally, runs a development company, and then he also has another large company that does massive fundraising for big groups like Salvation Army and things like that. When they need to raise tens of millions of dollars, his company goes and helps them figure out how to do that.

Jay Owen:
He said kind of the same thing in that interview, was he doesn’t really see them as separate businesses. It’s just all part of his day, like it’s just what he wants his day to be, and to him, it all kind of feeds together. Even though from the outside they appear very separate and very different, to him, it’s just how his day operates.

Allan Branch:
Yeah. I’ve been thinking, my kids are 8 and 10, and I really want to do more traveling. We traveled 12 weeks last year, which is a lot to some people, and other people are digital nomads. They go, “Oh, 12 weeks? That’s nothing.” But I finally went, maybe we start doing marketing and video, photography, web-design stuff, or boutique hotels, and basically doing, like … We make a little bit of money, but really, in the contract, we get four weeks a year to come and stay at your hotel. So we just go from hotel to hotel. What is that like?

Allan Branch:
So I think … There’s a term called lifestyle business, and I think we really try to do a lifestyle business because it’s not about, really, the business; it’s about the lifestyle, and what can the business do for us? The business is here for us to use and abuse and make it whatever we want to make it. Like right now, we’re building this house and I’m really only working probably 15 hours a week on the video stuff for clients, doing sales and marketing. But most of it, we’re just working on the house because that’s what I want to do right now. We don’t have any looming debt. The video kind of supports us, and we have a little software client here and there we work on. We don’t really do …

Allan Branch:
Now, that could be failure to some people because we’re not growing. You’re either growing or you’re dying, you know, those kind of things. But I just kind of look at it like I don’t know what I want to do and that the time with our kids is really precious. In 10 years … Well, actually, Jayden’s 10, so in three years, he’ll be like … probably sooner. He’ll be like, “Dad’s weird and he’s a loser.” But right now, he thinks I’m cool. He spends a lot of time with me going to the warehouse, working on it and picking up stuff and talking about real estate and stuff like that.

Allan Branch:
So I don’t know. When I grow up, Jay, I’ll figure out what I want to do with my life.

Jay Owen:
I just love your perspective of life in general and the way that you engage the kids. I have five little ones, and my oldest is about to become a teenager, which is … It’s not actually that terrifying with him. He’s the personality that I think is actually going to be fine. It’s my second that I’m a little more worried about. He is more the life of the party, that child.

Jay Owen:
But the traveling stuff, I think, is really important and valuable. One of the things … I got an idea from somebody else my wife kind of picked up and we’re going to do with our kids, is … Because we have so many little ones, for my oldest, when he turns 13, we’re going to surprise him. He’s been wanting to go to New York City, so we’re just going to take him for a long weekend just by himself and try and enter into that teenage-hood and at least try and pretend like we’re cool for a while still.

Allan Branch:
Yeah. I guess, too, maybe because of the internet, but I also … I didn’t know … We traveled around. We had an RV when we were kids, too, but I always just kind of … I didn’t know you could just buy an airplane ticket and go … I mean, we did. We traveled, but to me, that was a foreign concept. I guess if there’s anything I was sort of ignorant of, it was travel and jumping on an airplane and going somewhere like that. Even now, where I’m very purposed in our travel, like, “Oh, we’re going here because of this thing.” It’s never just like, “Oh, we’re going to go here just for pure enjoyment.”

Allan Branch:
So that’s definitely a concept that I understand and I get, but it’s kind of foreign to me of just enjoyment travel, just pure enjoyment, nothing else. I grew up with very … Everything was very purposeful. So that’s something that I need to learn more of. So I like that idea.

Jay Owen:
A couple articles that I saw on your blog that stood out to me that I’d love to kind of just chat about for a second. The first one which I really liked is titled Let’s Be Honest: You Really Don’t Want It. I’d love to hear you recap that or chat about that idea for a little bit because I think it’s valuable to consider.

Allan Branch:
Oh man. I’d have to recall. I think that one was about … I tend to become the sounding board for people to complain, and I think that’s where that came … Most of my blog posts are inspired by friends. They just don’t realize it. I think that one was about people going … griping. I hear lots of people, “Oh, I wish I could do this thing. I wish I could do …” It’s like, well, you would if you actually really wanted to.

Allan Branch:
I’m overweight and I know the steps to lose weight, and I have before. But I don’t complain about my weight, because if I truly wanted to change it, I would just go do it. I think people mostly want to be coddled and petted, and I grew up in a household there was no coddling or petting. I also played football and I had very, very mean coaches, even in youth sports. Just mean as … Just the meanest people that did not coddle you at all.

Allan Branch:
So I don’t need much coddling. I don’t need people to tell me I’m good and tell me … And I think most people do need someone. When they’re complaining, they need to hear someone say, “Oh, you’re doing good, Jay. Keep it up. Oh, you’re not that overweight, Allan. You’re handsome.” Most people don’t really want what they complain about. They just want somebody to hear them whine. So when I become the sounding board for someone, I think they’re wanting to change and I say … change being you start a business or whatever. So I give them advice on what I think they should do, and they don’t do anything. That drives me up the wall.

Allan Branch:
I have lots of faults, but I don’t complain about many things. I guess I’m complaining about complainers now, so that’s kind of meta, but … So complaining is foreign to me, too. So when people complain, I think, “Oh, they want to change,” but no. They just want to be like, “You’re doing just fine. You’re going to be okay.” That’s all they really want.

Jay Owen:
It made me think about … Yesterday, we had a long drive to and from a client. One of the other guys on my team, we were talking about the idea that one thing Gary V. likes to harp on with people sometimes is watching TV or playing video games or wasting time. My thing with that is always like, look, he loves to watch football and loves sports so much, he spends a lot of time on that. And so everybody has their own time. But I think the one caveat to it is it doesn’t really matter what you’re spending your time on as long as you’re not complaining about the fact that your business is not as successful or you don’t have enough money or you don’t have enough whatever and you’re just sitting around playing video games all day, because if you’re doing fine and you’re not complaining and you want to sit around playing video games all day, go for it.

Allan Branch:
Yeah. I think David, DHH, said one time, “Stop watching Lost.” It’s not necessarily TV’s fault. I think they’re more being like, “Be conscious of your decisions.” My mom … We didn’t have a TV until I was 14, but when we got a TV, my mom would say, “You watch TV for 45 minutes. If you put that into guitar practice every day, you would be amazing at guitar.”

Allan Branch:
People don’t realize those little tiny … “Oh, I’ll just watch this one show.” If you put that time into something actual real, it would be fruitful within six months or so. But we all need downtime. I’m actually the opposite. I have to force myself to have downtime because I just … There’s so many projects I want to do. There’s so many things I want to do. There’s so many hobbies, and so it’s like, go, go, go, go. I have to go stop, eat … Sometimes my wife will be like, “You need to take a nap this weekend.” I’m like, “What?” She’s like, “Yeah. You need to just chill out.”

Allan Branch:
I think that’s really more just be conscious of the way … even the way you spend money. People go broke not over making big $50,000 decisions. It’s money spent over $20 things, lots of $20 purchases. So just being conscious of how you spend money, how you spend your time, and you’re conscious of your decisions and the repercussions of your actions.

Jay Owen:
Thinking about the communication side of when you’re in those seasons where you feel like you can’t put the work down, how do you come to that point where you’re communicating that well with your wife and not straining that relationship as a result of all the 50 million projects that you want to work on at the same time? How do you keep all that in check?

Allan Branch:
Yeah. It’s almost like … You’re almost asking about balance, but not. My wife is amazingly patient with me. She’s a lot like my mom, which she would hate to hear, but my mom was extremely patient with my dad. The person closest to us often gets the brunt of the stress, and so she’s very forgiving as well. But she’s also my sort of … at least my meter on … I don’t even realize when I’m stressed, but she’ll be like, “You’re stressed.” I’m like, “What do you mean?” She’s like, “Well, you just kind of snapped at me right there.”

Allan Branch:
She also says, “No, you can’t take on any more projects until you finish this one,” that kind of stuff. So yeah, I kind of lean on her to help guide me through some stress because I’m 100 miles an hour. So she’s kind of, “Nope, you need to finish this. Nope, you need to just chill out this weekend.” I would either be sleeping in a sailboat if I didn’t have her or I would be a crazy, manic entrepreneur who never stops kind of thing.

Jay Owen:
Yeah. I’m pretty sure that would happen to me, too. I’d probably just work till my eyes bleed and then realize I needed severe counseling.

Allan Branch:
Yeah. Or I would just not work at all. I always just want to make her proud and make my parents proud. If they weren’t around here, I’d probably just be like, “I’ll just buy a cheap sailboat and just sit in it,” or something.

Jay Owen:
I remember, even going to conferences that you put on, that she’d be helping get people checked in or grabbing T-shirts, and your kids would be there. And I always just really respected and appreciated that because I think with any kind of business in general, there’s always, every now and then, travel involved and things that you have to go here and go there. And any time that you can incorporate family like that … I intentionally didn’t use the word “balance” in the last question, actually, because I kind of hate that word.

Jay Owen:
I always say it’s a little bit more like a blender. Sometimes you need a little more spinach; sometimes you need a little more sugar. Life isn’t really ever balanced, and it doesn’t really necessarily have to be.

Allan Branch:
No. There’s an ebb and flow to everything, you know, money, weight, health. There’s ebb and flow. She helps me understand when I need to kind of chill out. She also … The reality is, if it’s not on my Google calendar, I don’t know what’s going on tomorrow. She literally has to manage me and go, “You need to take the trash out to the curb.” I can’t even remember. We’ve lived in the house for eight years. I cannot remember when to take the trash out. Or she’ll be like, “You need to take a nap. You need to do this.”

Allan Branch:
She manages me because I can’t … She’s like COO. I have no … She pays the bills. I don’t even know where the checkbook is. She runs the place and I’m just kind of like … I’m looking six months in the future kind of thing, three months. So she handles. She handles the rental company, too, so she’s showing properties to tenants and getting leases signed.

Allan Branch:
A lot of this, too … And I have a great business partner, Steve. And so Steve … It looks like Alan’s doing a lot of stuff, but really, it’s either several other people that are doing it. [Eric 00:27:51] runs the video company. He runs about 80 percent of the … well, the production side of the company. I run the marketing and sales. So there are lots of other people that are running stuff, too. It’s not just me.

Jay Owen:
It sounds like you’ve got a pretty good team.

Allan Branch:
They all put up with me. They’re all very patient people, and they’re very forgiving to me as well.

Jay Owen:
Two last things I’ll focus on because I didn’t realize we’re running out of time. One is, when things aren’t going as well … because you’ve been married long enough and you’ve been in business partnerships long enough that there are times where things don’t go the way one person wants or neither person wants. How have you successfully dealt with those things in a way that you still have your business partnership with Steve and you still are married? How do you get through those times when there are severe disagreements?

Allan Branch:
Well, Steve and I learned … We’re not even in the same town. He lives in Jacksonville. I live in Panama City, Florida, which is 200 miles apart. It sounds cliché, but communication … We also learned that we come to each other with a … We video chat three or four times a day, especially in the morning getting started. A lot of times, I’ll come to him when I need just to vent, and he thinks he’s trying to solve a problem. So now we’ve learned to come into the conversation and say, “I need feedback on this,” or, “I need to just vent,” or, “I need approval on this decision,” and so telling the other person what the goal of the conversation is so they don’t get miscommunicated is one thing.

Allan Branch:
Then there are times where you just say things that are hurtful, and nobody ever wants to be hurtful. Hurtful is like our safe word. There have been times where I’ll talk to Steve and he says, “I’m kind of feeling like that was hurtful,” and, oh, I’ll recoil. That totally changes my tone and I’ll go, “Oh my gosh.” I might want to be sarcastic, but I never want to be truly hurtful. So we’ve learned that we use those words, and there’ve been times, too … We haven’t fought and had a really good argument in probably four years, but especially in the beginning, there were lots of times where we would just be on Skype and I would say, “Let’s …” or he would say, “Let’s just talk later about this,” and we’d table the decision.

Allan Branch:
But it’s compromise. It’s communication. It’s a lot of checking up: “Hey, how am I doing? Here’s how I’m feeling.” I think, too, people that are motivated have developed sort of this inner voice of … to inspire them or keep them working. I have this internal voice that never lets me think I’m doing great. It’s always, “You could do better. You’re not working hard enough.” I’ve developed that from coaches and I wanted to make my parents proud. So I had this really mean internal voice, so a lot of times I’ll come to Steve and Steve’ll come to me and say, “I’m feeling like I’m just letting you down.” And they’ll be like, “No, no, no, no, no. Actually the opposite.”

Allan Branch:
So just even telling the person how they’re feeling and asking them, “Am I doing okay? Can I do better?” It sounds so cheesy and silly, but that’s really what works if the other person knows how to inspire you. I’d much rather ask for feedback than be given feedback. I’d rather in that sort of context of like, “Hey, how am I doing?” “Oh, you could do this better,” than someone just say, “You should do this better.” So asking for feedback really kind of opens up the conversation to be better.

Allan Branch:                     |
And then Steve and both Anna know how to talk to me to not drag me down or bring me up, those kind of things. So it’s just communication, is really what it is.

Jay Owen:
I love just the part about the whole, “Is it hurtful?” One thing my wife always asks our kids when they say something is she’ll say, “Was that helpful or hurtful?” They’ll have to respond to that and say, “Well, it was probably hurtful.” Then she said, “Well, is that something we should say?” But I’ve had to ask myself that a lot now, because she started using it and then I started using it on myself. I’d say something and think, “Was that helpful or was that hurtful?”

Jay Owen:
It’s a simple question, but it really has a lot of value. All that, what you just said, reminded me, too: one of the sayings that people use a lot that I absolutely abhor is “It’s not personal; it’s business.” I’m like, “No, no. It’s all personal. We’re all people. It’s all relationships. It’s all communication. Yes, it is personal.” You know?

Allan Branch:
Yeah.

Jay Owen:
Especially when we spend so much time working and with people that we’re working with.

Allan Branch:
Then the whole checking-up thing even works on clients, too. Clients love to hear a service-based business go, “How are we doing? What can we do better? How can we be better for you?” because it puts you on the same sort of … aligning the goals. Steve and I have gone through a lot of stuff where we are very transparent of how we each spend money personally, too, because if he’s out buying a house he can’t afford, it could affect the business later.

Allan Branch:
So we have to … And even starting the real-estate company, he’s putting money into a company he hasn’t even seen the properties. We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. He’s never even seen the properties. But he knows … We want to stick together. We want to have every business 50/50 because if I’m out spending time doing something else, he’s going to feel like I’m not giving the business my full effort. And when our complete financial goals are aligned, he knows whatever I’m doing is the best thing for the business and vice versa.

Allan Branch:
Anna knows that it’s a team effort, and it’s the same sort of thing. I know that she wants to see the team successful, the team being us personally and the business, and here’s what we need to get done. Sometimes it’s not fun, and it’s just kind of a team effort. So it’s a lot of unselfish acts and communication and compromises.

Jay Owen:
I think just the business relationship, especially … or the personal relationship that you have with Steve on that business side, everything’s 50/50 and just that trust that you guys have built over time is really impressive. There’s a lot of folks who have had a lot of bad experiences with business and personal relationships that don’t last like that, and I really appreciate the kind of insight and feedback on just the communication.

Jay Owen:
I think even just the idea of sharing feelings, I think, on the business side can start to feel kind of froofy or silly to some people. But we’re all people, and so all those things are what ultimately affect things. My uncle always used to tell me … He’s like, “If you really want to sell something, just have a good product and want to help somebody.” He’s like, “If you honestly want to help them, you’ll probably sell it anyway. But if your desire is just to sell it, sometimes the intentions and the way it comes off doesn’t end as well.”

Allan Branch:
I would even say most of my conversations with Steve are less about the business and more just like, “How was your weekend? How are the kids? What did you guys do?” That kind of stuff, because if I don’t feel loving towards him and his family, then I marginalize his effort and the money and all that kind of stuff. So especially because we’re not in the same place, I need to really make sure that we both … We don’t have to be best friends, but I certainly need to feel like there’s … The loyalty comes from somewhere, right? It has to be generated somehow.

Allan Branch:
And on his will, I’m the executive of his estate. It’s not his mom. It’s not his dad. It’s not his brother. It’s me. He actually transfers his money to me and I divvy it out to his children as he needs it. Not his ex-wife. So there’s a lot of trust there. And even the real-estate company, the attorney we used initially had put in lots of things about capital, capital calls where you could basically … People could buy each other out doing capital calls, and we actually cut all those out because we want the other person not to be able to push the other person out of the business, because I’m basically handling all the real-estate stuff and Anna’s handling the real-estate stuff, so he goes out of his way to make sure that I don’t feel like I’m doing more for that business than he is. He wants to make sure that I’m not holding that against him and those kind of things.

Jay Owen:
That’s awesome. One last question before we wrap up … I really appreciate your time today … is, other than your own inner voice and entrepreneurial spirit giving you ideas and kind of thinking through things, how do you personally continue to intentionally grow just around your own knowledge and skillsets and ideas and things like that? Where do you gain knowledge? Is it books or podcasts or mentors? What does that look like in your life?

Allan Branch:
I wish I had a really good answer of, like, “Here’s five things that Allan reads.” I consume a lot of stuff. Right now, I’m learning a lot about incremental development, real estate, so doing big projects. So there’s a whole group of real-estate agents who … or not agents. Developers who remind me so much of the tech bootstrapping industry, it’s amazing. They want to do things with low debt and small and not bigger and bigger developments but sustainable stuff that makes sense and fits in the … You know, it just reminds me … It’s the coolest little community.

Allan Branch:
And I’m a collector of stories and … I love interesting stories, interesting people. So there’s not really one place that I go. And I’m not ever learning about the same thing at once. It changes every six months. Whenever I’m feeling down, I watch a [Yuri V. 00:37:00] video, those kind of things. I’m not getting as much value from Twitter as I used to. It used to be a lot of people interacting. Now it’s just people like, “Hey, look at this link. Look at this link.” I’m guilty of that as well, but …

Allan Branch:
And I attend probably five or six conferences a year, random different conferences. It just depends. I went to a few real-estate landlord conferences last year just to see what that was like. So it’s just kind of … I’m not trying to silo my learning. It’s just kind of I’m trying to … I think a lot of businesses’ lessons are applicable to other businesses. It’s not like … So I like learning about just businesses in general. I spent three days with a guy named Satchel in Gainesville, Florida, and he taught me about the pizza business, and that was cool, and their margins and what are their key performance indicators and the PNL stuff and how does he hire. That kind of stuff is just fun to me.

Allan Branch:
So it’s really kind of just gaining, hopefully, wisdom from the crowd or from all the different interesting people I can find.

Jay Owen:
Yeah. That’s one of the things I love about what we’re doing right now, is … I mean, in general, in a basic sense, we build websites and do designs and things like that. But I think the most interesting changes over the last couple of years is, now that we have a physical space, having clients come in and just spending a lot of personal time with them, getting to know their business and what they’re doing and how they do it.

Jay Owen:
I do see a lot of that where it’s like business is business and there’s a lot of overlap, whether you’re selling pools or making pizzas. It’s just always kind of interesting to see how people do what they do.

Allan Branch:
Oh yeah. One of my favorite entrepreneurs is Jason Fried of 37signals or Basecamp. So I’m always wondering, who’s the Jason Fried of this other industry? Who’s the … You know, I found … The guy’s name was [Arjon 00:38:44] Anderson, and I think he’s the Jason Fried of the real-estate developer community, because he teaches lean development for real estate. So I always find, well, who’s the Jason Fried of car dealerships? Who’s that person? Who’s the … or restaurants or pizza? Who’s the Jason Fried of the brewing industry? Those kind of … I’m always looking to see who’s the thought leader of small steps and incremental businesses.

Jay Owen:
Yeah. I remember listening to a podcast by Jason not that long ago that he was on. He was talking about those things they do for their team that are unique and interesting, and I just wanted to steal all of his ideas. It was pretty cool, a pretty cool conversation.

Allan Branch:
Well, you already do a lot of those.

Jay Owen:
That’s true.

Allan Branch:
You do the vacation with the whole family, and … You know. How many employees are you up to, like 12 or 13 or something like that?

Jay Owen:
Trying to finalize our 12th one right now, which is crazy because it was me by myself for so long.

Allan Branch:
Yeah. And then you guys take a big vacation. You guys do once a year you go to the beach or something.

Jay Owen:
Yeah. We used to do this thing called workation. We still call it workation, but it’s changed a lot. For a good stretch of time, there were probably five of us that were all low 30s with a bunch of kids. I wanted to do a company retreat, but I didn’t want to take them all away by themselves without their wives and children and everything else for a week.

Jay Owen:
So I rented a huge beach house down on Anna Maria Island where we like to go, kind of on the west coast of Florida. And we took everybody: all the kids, all the adults. There was one time I think there was 10 adults between the spouses, and there were, like, 20 children. It was crazy.

Allan Branch:
Wow. Yeah.

Jay Owen:
But now it’s changed a little bit because I have a lot broader demographic. We’ve got some younger folks on the team that aren’t married, don’t have kids. Then we have the rest of us that are getting old and have a bunch of children. So that same environment doesn’t work quite as well. This year, we actually did a company cruise. We took the spouses, but we didn’t take the kids this time, which was still … It was a blast. So it is kind of fun to do stuff like that.

Allan Branch:
Totally. Totally.

Jay Owen:
I’ve just always believed there’s more to life than just work, and it’s good to get away and do some fun stuff, even as a group.

Allan Branch:
I agree. I agree.

Jay Owen:
Well, Allan, I really appreciate your time today, and I hope that those listening have gathered some insights and thoughts on how they can work through things on their own and build a business that lasts. I really respect what you’re doing both in business and family and appreciate your time and insight.

Allan Branch:
Anytime, man.

Jay Owen:
One of the big takeaways that I got from this conversation was just kind of the reality that business is not always the same for everyone, and just because somebody else does it doesn’t mean that you have to do it that way. Just because somebody else says you have to get up at 5:00 in the morning or 4:00 in the morning to be successful doesn’t necessarily mean that you necessarily have to be. Just because somebody else says that you just have to hustle until you can’t hustle anymore doesn’t mean that that works for everybody.

Jay Owen:
Allan’s one of those guys who has kind of charted his own course and made his own plans, and he operates by his own rule book. I just think that’s really cool because he’s not stuck in a system of how somebody else has told him to operate, and he’s just building his own path and he’s teaching that to his kids, if nothing else, by just having them along for the ride and letting them see and experience that.

Jay Owen:
So I really took away a lot from this conversation and hope you did as well. If you want to see more about Allan, you can check him out at lesseverything.com. I hope this episode has given you some ideas or inspiration that will help you grow your business. If you found it helpful and you know somebody else who might benefit from it as well, I would greatly appreciate it if you would take the time to share this with them, maybe on Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn, or even shoot an email over to a friend with a link to this podcast in it. If you haven’t already, make sure you sign up for our email list at buildingabusinesstolast.com.

 

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email