Momentum Podcast: 871
Measurement Creates Momentum
by Alex Charfen
In this episode of the Momentum Podcast, host Alex Charfen discusses the importance of scoreboards and measurement in your life and in your business. As a child, Alex witnessed the entrepreneurial journey from a unique perspective, seeing his own father wrestle with the same challenges as entrepreneurs around the world.
This episode concludes with a powerful message: Anything that matters in life deserves a scoreboard. Measurement can be transformative, pushing us to excel and achieve our goals. This lesson, learned during your early entrepreneurial journey, shapes your approach to business and life to this day.
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Full Audio Transcript
This is the Momentum podcast.
In this episode of the Momentum Podcast, I want to share one of my earliest memories of measurement in business, and it comes from when I was a kid. I've shared before that I started working when I was eight years old and that my family went through some challenges. And in this podcast I'll share a little more of that story and let you in on some more of my background, but also share with you the insight that I had when I was far too young to have it, but how much it made me somewhat obsessed with measurement in any area of my life that I care about.
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.
Those of you who have listened to the podcast for a while know I was born in Mexico City and I'm going to share a little bit of my background so that I can get into this story in a way that makes sense and kind of catch you up to where the story starts. My father was an entrepreneur and in Mexico he followed in his dad's footsteps and became an accountant. I cannot imagine my father is an accountant. He could barely keep books for his own business. A lot of the time we had to get help, like interpreting the books for his own business. But he became the first partner of Deloitte Touche in Mexico. We used to have letterhead in my family's home that said Deloitte Touche, Haskins, Riley and Charfen. It's like, engraved in my head. I used to look at it all the time and he started working with them, became a partner. And in Mexico, a lot of the accounting is done bottom up. Well, my father never did that. He gave people real books. He had a very almost absolute level of integrity when it came to telling the truth around business. And the Mexican government started doing business. Because a partner of Deloitte Touche accepted the business and they started trying to get my dad to do bottom up accounting and, you know, piece bits and stories, or bits and pieces of the story together by listening to my mom, my dad, other relatives. And my mom has now passed away and my father is in pretty deep stages of dementia. So it's the memories that I have, I put them together to understand what happened when I was younger and my dad started trying to work with the government, they wanted him to do bottom up accounting. Apparently there was some conflict that was created and my mom told me that there was a 48 hour period where my dad disappeared. This was back, I was born in 1972, so this was probably 1976, 77 timeframe. And my mom was, of course, panicked. And what happened was my dad was returned to, I guess, our family home. At the time, I wasn't super aware of what was going on. I was born in 72, so I was four or five at this time frame and my dad came home and told my mom that he had been picked up by some people from the government and was questioned for 48 hours on and off and apparently didn't sleep a lot. And it was basically, you know, interpreted as my father's, by my father as a threat. Like, maybe they were trying to send him a message or something like that. And almost overnight, my dad decided to sell his share of the partnership and my parents decided to move to the states. And it was a decision that was made, a decision that was made early in the week and it was already being executed by the end of the week. I do remember that. I remember how quickly my parents started telling me we were moving and how quickly things happened and having a garage sale and having people come to my house and buy my stuff. It was a horrible feeling. Garage sales became a huge part of my life later because that's how we got most of our stuff. But I remember just the feelings of insecurity and anxiety. And so my dad moved to the States. He opened a company called American Concrete Roofing Tile, and it was the interlocking concrete roof tiles that you see that look like an upside down U and right side up U that locked together and lasts way longer than anything else. And my dad was one of the first people to have that type of a tile and he had a patent on the tile, opened a huge factory in Fontana, California, after we left Mexico and came to the States.
And for a lot of my childhood, I either spent days at the factory with my dad, you know, is six, seven, around eight years old, or my dad wasn't really around. And even when I was with him, my dad didn't have really great communication skills. He was one of those people that was silent, rage, or what we would call bullying today, but for most of my life called punitive teasing, like a lot of teasing. And that factory ended up closing down. I was there the day the factory closed down. I think I was eight. And I remember being there when they were selling everything off and people came in and they were all there for an auction and they sold the factory piece by piece. And I remember being there with my dad and my mom and my oldest sister, Michelle and Melissa were at home. My second sister, I have three in total, but the youngest one wasn't born yet. And watching the factory get torn apart, it affected me so deeply. I think it's why I'm so obsessed with business today. I think it's why I'm so driven to help entrepreneurs. I just watched all the pain in that room with my dad and his partner. It was so hard to watch people take pieces of that fact away.
I remember when a guy loaded up the forklift, I was like. It was so real for me because I used to drive the forklift when I would hang out with my dad. I'm sure we broke a ton of laws when I was a kid hanging out at that factory, but I used to drive the forklift and I'm watching it get taken away. I was like, It was. It was so real. And there were two things left: a drinking fountain and a drill press. And my dad and his partner, I remember him flipping a coin and my dad won the drill press and his partner got the drinking fountain and they shook hands and we got in my dad's truck, I think at the time it was a truck, and drove away with the drill press in the back. And I remember the drill press going into our garage and going out there, and I would stare at the drill press and it was like this symbol for me that I couldn't figure out why. But I now know I like looking back and I was so frustrated at the feeling of the factory closing down. I was so frustrated by what it did to my family. I was so frustrated by how it affected my parents. Like I would think, like, how do you do it so that that doesn't happen? It's kind of like this obsession. I've had my whole life with business, and I know so much of it was because of all the stuff that was going on when I was a kid. And because that factory closed down, my dad didn't have anything to do. And I think it was a pretty rough financial time for my parents. I'm not 100% certain. I know that. Very quickly after that, it became a really rough financial time for my parents because I felt that as a kid and I knew something was wrong because my dad was delivering newspapers, my mom was supervising newspaper kids. They both had degrees in Mexico. My dad was a partner of Deloitte Touche. My mom was a teacher, but neither one of them had my accreditation here in the US, and I remember how hard it was for our family. And we didn't have a lot and we didn't have a lot of money and we didn't have, like, what the other kids or the other people around us had. And it was really hard. And my dad was working during the week for this, the same newspaper, and my parents were both working for the same newspaper. That was like one of the first things I did was have a newspaper route and my dad talked to a friend of his, and his friend told him that he could go to L.A. in the wholesale district and buy things and take them to this swap meet in Orange County. It was at the La Mirada Drive in the movie theater. I don't even know if it's there anymore and sell them and that he could make some extra money on the weekends. And so my dad started doing that and I almost immediately started going with him.
And it started with these weird little bikes and calculators and pens that had a clock in them, mini calculators and pens. I had a clock with them that was like super high tech. And people were really interested because they'd never seen a clock in a pen or a tiny little calculator where you could, you know, stick it in your pocket because it was a keychain. And so my dad would buy those and then we'd go to the swap meet and sell them. And starting at eight years old for the next few years, we went and we did that La Mirada swap meet for a while with the calculators and the pens and the bikes. And then it started to morph more into consumer electronics. And then it just became mostly consumer electronics. And then it was all and that was over a course of years where we went from the La Mirada swap meet to the Orange County Fairgrounds to a single size booth that we set up every morning there having a permanent stand that we had the same place every weekend and people knew where we were and we had a pretty elaborate stand with signs. And so we went from like, you know, selling a few bikes to being one of the biggest stands in a swap meet like a flea market. I'm still kind of proud of that. I don't know if that sounds silly, but I'm proud of that. I was a big part of that. You know, I went every weekend with my dad and we figured out how to get better tables and how to make the stand look better and how to unpack things in the morning really fast and how to pack the trucks so that we could do it again the next time. And we created processes and checklists and we would do the same thing in the same way and we would time ourselves. And I don't know who started. I think I started timing. When my parents got us, they got me a digital watch that had a stopwatch on it, had a stopwatch and countdown timer like that was unheard of. Like I was the only kid in my class at that time that had a stopwatch on his watch and it was like one of the coolest. Like when I remember we didn't have a lot, but somehow my parents got me that watch. It was because it was kind of part of one of the things we could get wholesale, and that was game changing for me. And I remember I would time us and my dad and I would, you know, like discuss it. And it was one of the few times I could get my dad to engage, or it was one of the few times I maybe, maybe I remember my dad engaging. And that's where I learned so much about measurement and about keeping track of things and being really clear on how long it takes you to do something. My dad and I got it from when, you know, each time that we would reset the booth or each time it would get bigger. Each time we would add tables or add a display or something like that, we would change. We would time it again, and then we would see how close we could get it to the original time? And even though it was this very somewhat simple business, I learned the importance of the criticality of having some type of clear scoreboard for what you're doing, because we never set the goal at the time. We never said like, Hey, let's get super fast ID doing all this. I just had a stopwatch and I'm like, I wonder how long it takes us. I wonder if we can do it faster. You know, I wonder if we can do it a lot faster. And the reality was, we got to the point where we're doing it incredibly fast and we were faster than most of the other people in the entire permanent area of the one where people had their permanent setups. You could have your tables there and your signs there because they knew you were coming back to the same place. But then you set all your stuff up the same for each morning and we would get there after everybody else and we'd be ready to leave most of the time before everybody else, except for a few people, had really easy stuff, even though we had way more. And then my dad went from selling at the Orange County Fairgrounds Big stand to trying out Yuma, Arizona, and he hired somebody to run the stand. This was part of the time I didn't really work a lot with him because he had somebody else doing things and then he went and tested Yuma, Arizona. I went with him one time. It was 120 degrees in the shade, but it didn't get much better because he ended up figuring out that Calexico would be really good for him. For him, Calexico was a border town with Mexicali, which gets talked a lot about with the cartels. So like, it's an interesting place. It's basically one town with a border in the middle. Mexicali is the other side in Calexico you can kind of see there, they're even named kind of the same. It's the American side. And my dad ended up finally going to the Calexico swap meet and then ending up with a store. And my dad wasn't one of those guys that ever wanted to have any type of nepotism be accused. So I was the low man on the totem pole. Once he had this store and he opened a swap meet stand and wanted me to go and work in the swap meet set. And so when I, when I was the low man on the totem pole, I did like the grunt work. It was like getting there and being the guy who's up in the van pushing out the boxes. Calexico was like legit 110, 120 degrees in the shade. And so I worked all day in the swap meet there, and I remember the first time I got there feeling like it was really disorganized and how they were doing. It didn't really feel right. And then when we were backing up that night, it didn't really feel right. And I said something to my dad about it and my dad got really angry with me. I'm sure I said it in a way that made him feel like I was telling him he wasn't doing the right thing. But what I was trying to express was, Hey, these guys are really slow compared to what you and I used to do, and they're taking forever and we're paying them by the hour. And, you know, I think at the time when this all came up, I was probably 11 or 12 or something like that, maybe a little younger. And so my dad just got pissed and raged and we didn't talk about it again. But I drove from Irvine, California, to Calexico, California, with my dad to go work in the store. So it's a four hour drive. My dad, silence, rage and punitive teasing. And on the drive it was silence. And so by the time I got to Calexico, my mind was racing. I was 4 hours in a car with barely any conversation and my mind was racing. I was ready to accomplish. I was ready to do something. I was really ready to make things happen. So even though my dad got really mad at me the night before, the next morning when we got to the swap meet, I was like, Hey guys, I have an idea. Why don't we time how long it takes us to unload the truck? And they were like, okay, like, not enthusiastic in any way. I'm like, cool. And so I hit the timer and timed it, and I wrote it down for the day. Then we worked the day, and then at the end of the day, I'm like, Hey, why don't we time how long it takes us to load the truck? And I timed it and I wrote it down. And then they were my manager. I was below them on any type of an organizational chart. My dad actually made it clear to them and me in front of each other, so I had to be careful how much I demanded or told these guys what to do because I knew if one of them went to my dad and said, Your kids kind of being a pain, it would have been really bad for me. And so the next day I'm like, Hey guys, here's how long into this yesterday. Do you think we can beat it today? They were both like, Yeah, whatever. And so we're like, I'm packing and I'm like, Hey guys, we're about halfway done and we're further world. We've got more than half of the time left, so this is pretty good. And neither one of. Wanted to participate in this. Neither one of them requested it. They knew that they didn't really have to do anything for me, but both of them kind of sped up and I sped up and we were like kind of pushing each other and giggling and kind of like, you know, saying it and like saying, hey, you know, don't go so slow. And we were like, teasing each other. And that day we beat our previous day's time by minutes. And I think the whole setup was taking about an hour. And we did it in like 50 something minutes, like 54 or 56 minutes or something like that. And the guys were like, Oh, that was pretty cool. Well, at the end of the day, we beat that the previous day by like 10 minutes unpacking. It was also taking an hour, maybe a little bit more. It was a little harder to put things away than it was to unpack them in the first place. And I remember that week, I think I was with my dad for four days because we used to go to grad school early in the week and stay there until for like two, 4 to 5 days. And I remember by the end of the time that I was there, whatever the time was, we had cut it down by like 30 or 40%. It might have been 40% or more. I think it was not that dramatic. I think it was 40% because the first day when we were done early, the guys like in the morning, we had a little break, like we could kind of hang out and talk and and like, I didn't have to worry about anything because the swap meet wasn't open. And the second time we all got out of there early and they were super stoked to get out of there early. And within a week we had completely changed. They had completely changed how they even approached packing up and unpacking. And I remember leaving that week and joking around with them that, you know, we had gone so fast, we worked as a good team or stuff like that. On the drive home, I told my dad about it and he listened and he was like, okay. And he didn't really have a response or anything like that. And he said something like, probably like, muy bueno, hijo, like really good, my son or son and not a lot of discussion. I remember my dad on either Saturday or Sunday of that week because the store was open seven days a week. He let me know that the guys in the swap meet wanted me to know that they had beat our best time by like 4 minutes on unpacking it and 6 minutes on packing. I was so stoked that they kept doing it. And the next time I went there we got better and the whole process. We figured out how to divide the stand up better and we got to the point where we were just crushing it. We were easily well over like, like half the time to set up and it became the same thing that happened with my dad, and the guys who worked for him could get there later than everybody else, and they could leave earlier than everybody else. And there's so many benefits. Like when all the vendors were leaving the swap meet, you got stuck. And so getting out of there early was like such a huge win. So they loved it.
And it again cemented in my mind the near obsession that anything that matters to me has a main scoreboard. It's why I track my net worth. It's why I weigh myself every day on a scale. It's why I look at the metrics that I do in my business. It's why I understand what my investments are doing. It's why I wear an or a ring so I know how I'm sleeping. I want data and measurement because here's what I know as human beings, even if we don't have the idea, even if we're not told, we have to, when we start measuring, we automatically start doing better. So anything in your life that is important to you, that deserves your effort, where you want to see results, find a scoreboard, and that scoreboard will change everything in the way that you move towards achieving your goals. And I know it did for me. So if you've been a podcast listener for a while today, I've got a sincere ask. I'd love to get your review of the podcast on iTunes. If you have a minute to go leave a review. I read every single one of them. We haven't had a lot in a while and I think it's probably because I haven’t mentioned it in a while. And so if you have a few minutes whenever you have a chance, I'd love it if you leave a review. They help us a ton in the rankings and I also sincerely love reading them and I look forward to reading yours. So when you have a minute, I'd appreciate it and I look forward to talking to you on the next episode. Thanks for being here.