Momentum Podcast: 537
Part 1: The Podcast Takeover
by Alex Charfen
The Momentum Podcast has officially had a podcast takeover. Our Business Growth Strategist, Jeremy, decided he wanted to play me for a day and switch the roles up. In this two-part series, Jeremy is actually going to be interviewing me. He’s going to ask me the questions he’s been wondering, and one’s we get asked often. We’re going to dig into my background, history, and how I got to where I am today. Stay tuned!
A few highlights from the show:
-How the processes and systems we use and teach were born.
-The issues and challenges I faced when I was younger.
-How admitting I needed help changed my life and lead me to the team I have now.
-The importance of routines and habits.
-My bankruptcy in 2007.
-Growing the CDP Designation to 10+ million and making the INC 500 List 3 years in a row.
-My lightbulb moment of building a business that was universal and timeless.
Full Audio Transcript
Jeremy: Hey everybody. My name is Jeremy. I work with Team CHARFEN and today we have a podcast take over. We've taken over the Momentum podcast. Today, we're going to do things a little bit different. I'm going to interview Alex, and I'm going to ask him some questions that I know a lot of people want to know about. I get them asked all the time, so we're going to unpack his background, his history, and how he got to really where he is today.
Alex: I'm Alex Charfen, and this is the Momentum podcast. Made for empire builders, game changers, trailblazers, shot takers, record breakers, world makers and creators of all kinds. Those among us who can't turn it off and don't know why anyone would want to. We challenge complacency, destroy apathy, and we are obsessed with creating momentum, so we can roll over bureaucracy and make our greatest contribution.
Sure, we pay attention to their rules, but only so that we can bend them, break them, then rewrite them around our own will. We don't accept our destiny. We define it. We don't understand defeat, because you only lose if you stop and we don't know how. While the rest of the world strives for average and clings desperately to the status quo, we are the minority, the few who are willing to hallucinate there could be a better future, and instead of just daydreaming of what could be, we endure the vulnerability and exposure it takes to make it real.
We are the evolutionary hunters, clearly the most important people in the world because entrepreneurs are the only source of consistent, positive human evolution and we always will be.
Jeremy: So Alex, if anyone's been following you, and listening to your podcast, look and following your content, they know that you talk about three things. Strategic plan, communication, and how to build infrastructure. What I'm really curious about is how do we, let's look under the hood if you will, and tell us about where did this come from. Give us the context of the very beginning for you. The history of learning how to build a company in this way, because I've never seen it. I've worked at Google, I've worked at some amazing companies, and I'm not seeing organizations big and small doing the things that we're doing. Can you tell us about the history? Give us some context.
Alex: Yeah, for sure. Jeremy, for sure. I think for me the answer is really personal. You know, when I was younger, one of the only things I ever felt like I was good at was business. I knew that I wanted to grow a business successfully, but I also knew that I have a lot of challenges. You know, you work with me, I'm exceptionally awkward. I have a hard time, sometimes. Some details are very easy for me to remember. Other details like dates, times, impossible for me to remember. I have a lot of issues and challenges. So, even when I was younger I knew that I was going to need to get help. I knew there was places where there was stuff that I could do, but it took me so long, and it was so painful that I knew I was going to have to get help doing it.
So, from very early on, I was one of those entrepreneurs. I always listen to people who say, "Well, I did it all myself". I'm like, "How? I don't know how, that's so awesome. You did it all yourself. How do you possibly do that?" For me, it was always about not how do I get everything done? Initially, I had to do a lot with my early businesses, but it was "I'm stuck. How do I get help? How do I move this forward?" Early on, a lot of what we teach today was just about me getting help to do what I wanted to do.
Jeremy: Cool. Was it basically just different folks that you had seen in action, coaches you hired?
Alex: [inaudible 00:03:32].
Alex: How did I come up with strategic plan, and communicating that plan, and then building the infrastructure of a business.
Jeremy: Yeah, yeah.
Alex: 25 years of trial and error. If you look at where I started as a business owner, I started in my teens with a couple of service businesses. I had a window washing business, and a linen collections business, and it was incredibly difficult to run. I've had a long history of having a really hard time in businesses. Early on, in the first couple of businesses, it was like if you don't start planning something, you run out of runway really quick. I had a window washing business. If we weren't planning how many jobs we could take, and what our utilization was, we would sell too much and then we'd get in trouble. People would get annoyed with us. I always knew that forethought and planning was important, and I also knew that it was a specific challenge for me because I have very little time space continuum recognition. I'm bad with, like I said, with calendars and time. So, early on having a strategic plan was something that from very young I knew I needed to put together what I was going to do in order to accomplish it.
Same with the routines we have in our business. When you look at the communication process in our business, what is that communication process? It's a routine. Here's what I know about entrepreneurial personality types. We live on routine. You give an entrepreneurial a morning routine and their entire life will change. Well, what we've given entrepreneurs is a communication routine within a business. Check this out. If you were to follow me around, and I didn't do my morning routine, you would see somebody that was confused and frustrated and missing things and probably looked pretty incompetent. But, if you followed me around in the morning while I was doing my morning routine, you would think "Man, that guy does stuff with a level of precision that's extraordinary."
What's the difference? Routine. I know what I'm doing in one of these. When you look at our communication structure, it's essentially a routine for an owner to be able to do what they need to do, and show up in the right way. Because, you know, Jeremy let's be honest, when you look at people like us, we can be some of the more challenging people to be around. You know, the guys and women, they get up everyday and say, "I want to challenge the status quo, do something different, make something new." Oftentimes, we're the ones that have a hard time communicating, being heard, asking for help. So, a structure and a system was the only way I could do it.
Jeremy: Wow. That's awesome. When did you see that this actually could work in any vertical, any business, any industry, because a), we have a ton of clients all over the world in various businesses, but when did you start to put it together? Like, "Oh shit, Oh crap, this actually works anywhere you plug it in if you do these main things".
Alex: That was probably in 2011, but it starts a little earlier than that. My early career, after I had those two businesses, I was a consultant and I was a manufacturer's rep where we did a lot of sales and marketing for companies. But we also had another arm where we had an events business, where we helped with product roll-outs, market roll-outs. Aa a consultant I realized firsthand how challenging the planning systems were in the Fortune 500s. They would tell us to do things like create a one year projection, and everyone knew the one year projection we were creating with a big fat lie, and everyone knew by January 7th it was going to be completely invalidated, but everybody spent two months doing it anyway.
I'm obsessive about wasting time and doing things that don't work, and I wouldn't. I was a consultant that pushed back and said, "Here for our territories, we want to do it this way". We essentially had a very early version of the Waterfall Planning System that we use in our business today of the lenses. We started doing things differently with a few companies, and they started actually using it internally. We showed them some stuff, and then they started using it the way that they would actually use it in their business. We were able to shift how some people thought about their business.
At the same time I was running this events company, and this manufacturer rep firm, and I had to figure out like how to work with everybody, internally, for myself. This strategic planning system and the communication system was working for us. We started trying to use it with our clients, and here's what happened. When we turned client communication from haphazard when they want to call to, we tell you when you're going to call, why we're going to call, what we're going to show you, and you're already going to know what happened. We never had client problems anymore.
What did we do? We created a client communication routine. When we created a routine for us internally, where I showed up at the same time, said the same things, told my team about what was going on. It was repetitive, but I looked competent just like doing my morning routine. We knew it was working with the companies we coach. We knew it was working with us. When I got out of the consulting business I thought I'd never use any of that stuff again, like you know, I'm done, and I'm just going to go retire. At 32 I sold that company when I met Katie.
I was retired for a solid six weeks. I thought I was going to die. I mean I was in really poor health. I was getting in shape. There was all kinds of stuff going on. Hardest thing in my life was retirement. We started buying and selling houses. We started using those same planning systems and execution systems to buy and sell houses in South Florida. I started with one and within a very short period of time we were buying several houses each day, and within a little period of time after that, or sorry, not each day, each month. After that was several houses a week. Katie and I did hundreds, well over a thousand total deals. We transacted ourselves hundreds, but then we were involved in deals for well over thousands of people. But, but we used the same system, same strategies.
Then in 2007 we went bankrupt. Sorry, every time I say that my chest still tightens up.
Jeremy: I remember that podcast episode, you spoke about that a bit too, yeah.
Alex: Yeah. I mean, bankruptcy is this very public, very real declaration that you're an absolute financial failure. For me that felt like just absolute failure and it was so hard. I has a talked with a friend of mine and he basically said like, look dude, you're going bankrupt. You have a very few choices. You need to own this and move forward, and he was right.
Katie and I started a business in bankruptcy. Everybody around us told us we were crazy and I wrote a product called the Certified Distressed Property Expert with Katie. She ran what was left of our real estate business, because some business was closing, barely any, but some was. I wrote this product and we applied this same planning system, the same strategies from the very beginning.
In 2007 we went bankrupt. At the very end of 2007 we introduced the CDP designation. We did $127,000 in 2007. We did a half million in 2008. We did $7.2 million in 2009, and just under $8 million in 2010 and just under $9 million in 2011. We applied the same systems, the same strategies. I mean, they have been developing my whole career, but they were much better then. We went from bankruptcy to number 21 on the Inc. 500 list, and we stayed on that list for three years. We were 21, then 187, and then like 4,000 something. But we were on the Inc. List for three years.
With that company, we learned this stuff, and what happened was some of our clients in that product, it was a real estate product. Some of our clients were asking for help in growing their businesses. We started training what we had used and what I had used. Katie and I had refined it like crazy with the CDP designation. We had to Jeremy, we went from just me, Katie and one person in 2008, to 15 people in 2009, to 60 people in 2010, and so system and structure and routine was crucial. We ran it like a clock because you had to.
When we started training other real estate agents some of our strategies, what happened was we very quickly were training the top producing agents in the country. They had these huge changes in business, and they started bringing mortgage brokers and other people to our classes. Since 2011 we've worked with like if you name a type of business, we've probably worked with it.
When you look at the issues in business, planning, and communication, and building infrastructure are 100% universal. You've seen me coach hundreds of different types of businesses, and the answers are almost the same. When you look at these issues that entrepreneurs have, we have universal issues and universal solutions, universal and timeless. I say that on purpose because when we ran the CDP, one of the hardest thing we ever did, you know, we crushed it with the CDP. Ran it up to a $10 million company. Then we went up to 12, then we went to 13, and then the market started correcting. The business wasn't there, because we were a foreclosure driven business, and one of the hardest things that we did was have to downsize a a hundred person team. It was horrible. One of the most difficult experiences in my life, telling people who are really awesome people that you don't have a job for them anymore was super, super hard.
Through that entire thing, I remember thinking to myself, if I ever write another product, if I ever do anything else, it's going to be universal and timeless. It will not be time locked. Like the CDP was. It was a foreclosure product. I think a lot of CDP products, like right now, that is a short term market. It's going to sort itself out. There's just way too many players.
I've always said I'm going to be universal and timeless and do a longterm play. Today I think the business stuff we coach could have been coached 200 years ago, and will be coached a thousand years from now.
Jeremy: Yeah, that's what I was going to say is just if we shift to where we're heading and that's what I'm seeing now. I'm on the front lines, and I'm speaking to a lot of these entrepreneurs that come in and want to work with us. I can tell that what we're doing, when these folks join us and start implementing these things in their company, it literally begins to change the industry that they're in. Restaurant, service, it doesn't matter. The entire industry begins to change because the way these entrepreneurs grow their businesses, hire people, attract people, build infrastructure is changing an industry that maybe has been a certain way for a thousand years. Just like you said, a thousand years from now and beyond, the way people build companies will change because of these fundamental things that I've, I mean I've never seen it.
I was at Google, just as you described. It's just so high level. Planning was all over the place. We knew the KPIs were all BS and, and you know, I didn't think there was any other way. You know, I'm like I'm never going to build a business because I don't want to do it that way. Don't even get me about communication. A real lack of transparency just because of lots of things.
So, to watch this now, to be a passenger in this thing and to watch you as CEO be a passenger in this framework, while we're changing industries. This is just ridiculous, but just a little bit, Alex, tell us about where you see this innovating, because this is innovating.
Also where do you go for growth and scale inspiration? Because I don't know many people doing what you do. I haven't run across people who are actually growing businesses the way that we do every day. Where do you get that from? We know this works everywhere, but I mean to me, your youth, this visionary CEO, you've got to get it from somewhere. You've got to get filled. So tell us about that.
Alex: I think, for the first part of the question Jeremy, about where are we going to innovate? What direction are we going? I think when you look at what we do as a business, we clarify "How do I create a bulletproof plan?", for entrepreneurs in a planning system that doesn't make entrepreneurs feel broken? That's the biggest issue with most planning systems is that the complication and complexity of this system used over time feels so heavy that most entrepreneurs just say, "You know what? I was better off without a planning system."
That is, to me, one of the biggest breakthroughs in the history of entrepreneurship. I've been looking for a planning system to apply myself for the last 25, years because I was always second guessing myself. In fact, it's interesting, Google plays into the reason we train this today. Years ago I asked for a tour at Google, because I was speaking a lot and you know, I heard that Google had this system of OKRa that was extraordinary. This way to run KPIs that nobody had ever talked about. It was objectives and key results and it totally shifted things and they had written about it and all this. So I'm the guy who calls Google and says, "Hey, can I get a tour and I want to ask about this thing".
We went over to Google and we got a tour by somebody that Google had selected to give us the tour. I think we had promised like writing an article or I can't remember what the whole thing was, but we didn't end up writing an article on it because we ended up talking to like six managers at Google and they were all like, "Yeah, we've seen that article. I don't think they pushed it down to us yet."
I'm like, "But in the article is said everybody at Google had OKRs."
They're like, "Yeah, well I, yeah."
One of the managers we said OKRs, and he's like "What are you talking about?"
I was like, "Holy crap. Here's this thing that Google publishes and says that they use everywhere and that not they aren't even doing it". So, is there any company that really has a structure to do this?
That's why I, honestly that, day part of it, I was like, "Man, somebody needs to fix this". I started trusting our stuff. It took me forever to trust my own systems, because I always thought somebody else had something better. I always thought that I would go to a training or find a system where it would just completely change it. Honestly going to Google and then being part of a few growing scale masterminds and coaching programs, absolutely convinced me without a doubt we had to put this out because there's just nothing else out there like it.
Jeremy: It's absolutely true. Yeah. I have friends that were with me at Google. They're now at Facebook, they're at Apple, they're still there. We talk often about the culture differences in terms of how we run things. I mean, it's not going to be long before all of these people are going to come running to find constructive businesses that are being built this way because it is ridiculous. I've been a passenger for, I don't know, four months at some point, I guess four months now. It just blows me away. I'm honored. I could talk about this all day long.
As you heard, we got into some really great information. Alex was sharing some awesome stuff and we ran short on time and I really wanted to continue this on because there's so much more to unpack. So we made this into a two part episode. Make sure you tune in tomorrow to finish the second half.
Alex: And if you are interested in some information to help you grow and scale your business, especially our new free report that is really changing business owners lives. We've had people tell us that this report showed them exactly what they needed to understand in their
business. Go to charfen.com/resources and download the Five Reasons why companies that should scale don't. Charfen.com/resources.