In this episode of Veteran Led, John talks with Daniel Alarik, former Army drill sergeant and the founder of Grunt Style, the famous military lifestyle brand. Listen in as Daniel shares lessons learned on his journey from selling t-shirts out of his car to becoming the leader of a thriving company with a large staff. Alarik offers invaluable insights on strategic marketing, experimentation, problem-solving, mentorship and the three key responsibilities of a CEO: setting the strategy, building the team, and inspecting the results. Don’t miss this episode as John and Daniel discuss how to overcome the challenges of growing an organization through authentic leadership.
Daniel Alarik: There’s only four questions you need to to to ask when you’re trying to tackle a problem. What is the problem? He says, writing out the problem. Actually, what the problem is should take most of your time. What is the solution to that? Problem number three is who’s going to do it? Who’s responsible for implementing that solution to that problem. And the third one is okay, how do we inspect the results. How do you as a leader inspect this is successful or not?
John Berry: Welcome to the Veteran Led podcast, where we talk with leaders who use their military experiences to develop great organizations and continue to serve their communities. So let’s go back to the beginning. How did you start grunt style?
Daniel Alarik: Oh, geez. Wow. That’s, uh, let’s see, 2009. Uh, I was, uh, drill sergeant down at Fort Benning, Georgia. I had a brand new wife, uh, new baby. And, uh, they stayed in Chicago. Um, and, uh, and I was training troops and, um, big army because I was in the, I was in a reserve battalion, and I was just mobilized for this whole time. So I was gone for about a year. I missed the pregnancy, missed the, uh, it came home for the birth and had to leave again. And then, uh, big Army said, uh, hey, uh, we need you to stay down here for another year. So I called my wife. I’m like, hey, what do you think? And she’s like, hey, you got ten years in already? Uh, why don’t you come home and spend time with your family? And, uh, I said, okay, that’s fine. Um, but they left me with two problems, you know, uh, I didn’t want to leave. I loved being in the Army. I did it before I met my wife. And, um. And the other problem is, uh, I didn’t know how to provide for my family. You know, there wasn’t really much for me to do at home. And this is 2009.
Daniel Alarik: So in the recession was still going full strong. And, um, I didn’t have any skills. I was an infantry drill sergeant, uh, you know, so I thought, you know, I’m willing to bet there’s other people out there like me who, you know, got off deployment or mobilizations or spent years in the army or military and missed that esprit de corps, that mission focus, that that type of pride that we had in our country and in our service. Um, so making that bet, I’m like, you know what? Uh, best way to show off your pride is wear it on your back. So I made some t shirts, throw them back in my car. I think I had like 1200 bucks or something at the time. And, uh, drove around the country. We did, uh, pop up. Uh athese. Uh, little, uh, kiosk, uh, for a little bit, uh, we sold to, you know, different units, uh, MMA events, just county fairs. I sold at a flea market one time. Um, just trying to. My bet is I bet there’s people out there just like me. Um, and that took about three years to finally take off, but, uh, you know, then we hit our stride and started taking off.
John Berry: And what it did take off. It took off quickly. How did you know that this was going to be a big deal? I mean, you’re selling t shirts out of the back of the truck. Yeah, it’s starting to grow. But at what point did you say, oh my gosh, this is huge.
Daniel Alarik: Yeah. You know, uh, selling t shirts out of the car sucked. I mean, even at night, sometimes I even, you know, if I’m gone, I couldn’t afford a hotel or motel, so I’d just sleep on the sleep in the back of the car, and, you know, you’re in the army for a while. You know you don’t care, right? You. If you’re tired, you take you take a nap. Right? So I think the first time, uh, you know, I don’t even think there was the first time. I’m like, hey, this is really going to work. Um, I think it was just a number of of things that I’m like, okay, I think we’re getting momentum now. Um, you know, I get, you know, an order in that someone wants some custom t shirts for me to design, you know, and it was like a thousand bucks. I was like, wow, it’s a lot of money. Um, or the first time I had, like, six grand in our bank account. You know, I thought I made it. Um, I remember the first time I got an online order from someone who wasn’t, like my aunt, you know, I’m like, who’s this customer? And I would, you know, try to troll them, like, why did you find me? And buy stuff? But, you know, I don’t think there is one moment that we’re like, hey, this is zooming. Um, except for, I think, in social media, uh, we were really early on the, in Facebook when that was really popular. Um, so we took advantage of that. And we were one of the first groups that did like memes and funny videos, and we’re just shoving out good content that that really helped us a lot.
John Berry: So you saw the rise and the social media and, and you started to get traction and then it just it just took off.
Daniel Alarik: Yeah. So and you said, you know, you always got to think strategically and you and you said a lot of really nice things about me. But, uh, John, I got to tell you, I made all the mistakes in the book. Uh, you know, I still like to make them every other day. Uh, but the rule of thumb is try not to make the same mistake twice. So, um, so when it comes to social media, social media was growing really fast, and we’re building content. I remember the first time, you know, we had a photo that went around, I had like 50,000 shares on it. And I have like, you know, 5000 fans in our Facebook group. I’m like, oh my gosh, this is great. I’m like, wait a minute. Well, what does that what am I doing with it? So it’s okay. What’s next? Now I got to somehow get them to the website or get get their email address, or get them to come back or get them to, you know, so I’m creating these marketing funnels to to kind of capitalize on that, that push. But you don’t want to be too pushy as you know, as a successful businessman, if you’re too pushy, then people are like, oh, this guy just wants my money. He doesn’t care about the relationship or his product when you’re like, no, actually, I really do care about, you know, I’m in this business because I care about the product and what we’re doing. We’re in the business of pride. Um, and you’re in the business of, you know, helping vets and helping others. And, you know, if if people really see that you’re authentic about that, I think it does kind of come back to you, um, through your customer service.
John Berry: And I tested your authenticity the first time you were in Nebraska. I think this is a great, generous guy. Uh, former personal trainer talking about being healthy. Remember day one got you up zero 500. We hit the gym because I wanted to see. Is this guy is this guy legit? Is he really what he says he is? And and in fact, uh, he was. And we had a great conversation that I. Once you start to taste success. This is the dangerous road that you go down. And. And you told me, you said, look, John, I’m healthy now. I don’t I don’t drink anymore. I don’t do all these things because I put on £50 when I was on the road. And, you know, that was a good warning. I didn’t heed it too well. And I had to, you know, I had to get my act together. But I never stopped, you know, with the workouts. But, you know, I remember we were at the steakhouse and I’m just stuffing my face, and you’re very disciplined, and I’m like, what’s going on? And, uh, but no, like I said, eat healthy, live healthy, healthy workout. Uh, so I was like, okay, this guy, this guy’s the real deal. And then, as you know, uh, introduced you to my team and you brought in a lot of great insights. And one of the things I learned, you know, is that some things that work for some people or some businesses don’t work for others. And we talked about this. You can remember I got all those billboards, uh, that right around Covid and you’re like, oh, I had a billboard once.
John Berry: It was the dumbest thing I ever did. Threw up a billboard, you know? No, no ROI, but, you know, learning from you and talking to you and talking to other people, I, I learned that if you’re going to have one billboard, you get nothing. The key is to get like 30 or 40 of them. And that’s that’s what I did. And you helped me design those. And that’s where we went into the real Seth Godin part of it, where I said, you know, Daniel, I want I want people to actually talk about these billboards. And he said, well, let’s make them jacked up. And so we intentionally jacked up the billboards so people would talk about how bad they were. And, uh, you know, not not like we had like, uh, words that were cut off and stuff like that, that, you know, it was. And so people were like, well, you know, they screwed up your billboard, they screwed up your billboard did people saw them, and then they were talking. Right? Because good marketing gets people to notice. Great marketing gets people to stare. But when you can get people to talk about your marketing, you’ve won. And like I said, so thank you for that, uh, strategic advice that I’m glad I followed because in the beginning I’m like, no, this will make me look bad, make me look stupid. And you’re like, no, no, no, people will talk about this. And they did. So home run there. And I still have a lot of them. I still have more. I have more today than I did then.
Daniel Alarik: Oh, that’s even better. Like, it was great because I’m like, oh, billboards are stupid. I don’t, I hate them, um, but just like in the Army, right? I may not agree with, uh, my leader at the time, but if they said, hey, this is what I want, guess what? I better go all in and better make it happen. And I better make it happen better than you. Than what my leader expects. And that, you know, that was a fun, fun project to work on. Well, and.
John Berry: The one thing I really enjoyed about working with you and being with you was a lot of times when we get into business and we’re learning and we talk to coaches and consultants and charlatans who tell us how things should be done. But when you and I work together where it was shoulder to shoulder, like, hey, how can I help you? And you weren’t afraid to get dirty, right? To get in the mud. Just like an infantry soldier. Start low crawling, push your face, keep your butt down and just get the work done. Move. You know, take the terrain. Take it slowly, take it methodically. And that’s something I really admired. Is that that work ethic. Uh, even when you are highly successful, that work ethic never left you. And I got to ask you, I mean, does it ever leave? Do you ever get to the point where you wake up in the morning and you’re not motivated?
Daniel Alarik: Yeah, but don’t you think that’s just a challenge to see if you can still do it?
John Berry: Well, I mean, I’m always motivated, right? Every day I wake up and I’m like, all right, all right, man, you know, what ground are we going to take today? But I think that it, you know, having a team see that I think is the most as the leader, if the team doesn’t see you motivated, they’re not motivated. And that’s my next question for you. When I went to see you, your team was highly motivated. The grunt style employees, they believed in the mission, they believed in the leaders, and they seem to come to work with a smile on their face, determined to get a lot of stuff done. How did you do that? As a civilian leader? We know how we do it in the military, right? We just work our team harder. But how did you do that as a civilian? You know.
Daniel Alarik: It’s, uh, I would say I’m glad you got to see such a great side of the team because they are fantastic. But I’ve made all the mistakes, uh, coming, uh, getting to that point, um, you know, coming out of the Army, uh, you know, you treat them like soldiers, uh, and that you can’t do that in the civilian world, right? Because, you know, uh, some not all of them are, are vets. And, uh, even the ones that got out, they’re like, hey, I got out for a reason. So, um, but they’re still looking for that same pride and that same mission focus. I’m like, okay, great. Uh, don’t don’t berate them. Don’t beat them up. Uh, let’s just focus on being successful, focused on the mission. So we started on that. Um, and then, you know, uh, and then I started micromanaging too much and, you know, and sometimes you do that, you know, as an NCO, right? Hey, it’s got to be done particularly this way every single time. Because I say so. Right. Um, and that doesn’t work. And in fact, uh, I realize, you know, I was I was only an NCO. But when you get into the officer level and even higher NCO ranks, you can’t micromanage. And a lot of them don’t. And the ones that do aren’t looked as good leaders and you know that very well.
Daniel Alarik: Um, so you have to let the good teams excel on their own. And that’s something that, you know, hey, uh, when you were able to get down to the team, just like in your operation orders, you say, hey, this is the commander’s intent. This is you will be successful if this is accomplished like this. Here’s everything that I think should be done to get there. But really, it’s up to you, I. I want x by y. I want this done by this time. You know all quantitative. Go make it happen and you empower those leaders and and they’ll impress you. I worked with, uh, you know, I think I get a lot of the credit for building a successful company. And sure, I had a lot to do with the strategy and, um, and the motivation and pushing people to work harder. But really, uh, I only have two arms to to and two hands. The teams that were able to accomplish all that, they’re the ones who worked their butts off. And I couldn’t be prouder to stand next to so many of them, uh, working long nights or early mornings just to get things out on time, things done to to do things in a new way creatively or or just straight up hard work. It was a lot of fun.
John Berry: Now a lot of people in your position would say, well, you know, I’m a I’m a veteran. I was a drill sergeant. I had a successful career. I don’t want to do all the goofy, silly stuff on social media. But you guys were not. You did it with class, but you were not afraid to experiment. And that’s something I greatly admired. It’s like, hey, we’re going to have fun with this and we’re going to be creative and we’re going to throw it out there, and it may succeed and it may fail. Uh, where does that courage come from? Because it’s one thing to say, I’m going to lead soldiers, right? We’re on a deployment, but it’s quite another to say I’m going to throw my reputation out there and, uh, everything I’ve built and, you know, it might not work out. And people may, you know, people may trash it. Where does that come from? Where where did you get the courage to continue to innovate? At the risk of people laughing at you and taking shots at you? Yeah. I mean, at the end of the.
Daniel Alarik: Day, I mean, who cares, right? If you’re gonna laugh at me, you’re gonna put me down. I don’t care, right? Um, really? Because I’m not, you’re not. You’re probably never my customer anyway. And we probably never sit down and have a good chat anyway. So, um, you know, I spoke a lot of cigars now, so, you know, you’re probably not a cigar, buddy, but the people who do like it, who do get it, who do have fun with it, they’re probably the people I’m trying to talk to. So I’m not trying to please everybody. Um, if if, if, if my mistakes bother you or of me being edgy bothers you or if, if me trying to be authentic with you, uh, upsets you, you know? You know, I’m sorry. I’m not going to. I’m not here to. I didn’t wake up this morning and make you happy. Tomorrow doesn’t look great either. Um, but, uh, you know, I promise you that, uh, I will always try to be authentic. I’ll apologize for what I do wrong. And I’m going to be proud of the proud of the people that do the right thing and work hard and to give them the credit for it. And, uh, and just so you know, if if you’re pushing the limits, you’re going to trip and fall, you’re going to get in the mud. I’ve had several times where I got to pull people back. I’m like, you know, here’s here’s our guidelines. We want to keep it PG 13. You know, we got to reel it back a little bit. And other times they’re doing the same thing to me. They’re like, hey, uh, boss, you know, you’re violating like all your rules right now. I’m like, oh, okay. Well, I’m an idiot. All right. So having a good team that be able to kick things back and forth is very helpful. But again, when you’re when you’re pushing the edge, it’s good because you’re exploring. You can’t find new things if you’re not exploring. But when you’re exploring you’re going to bump your head sometimes still.
John Berry: After talking to you and then kind of living out my own business growth journey, I made a lot of the same mistakes. I remember at one point you’re telling me that you’ve got to get all these orders out, and all you know to do at this point is to start folding t shirts and getting them out right. It would have been better to delegate, but at this point you’re just you’re just in the trenches with the team folding t shirts, because that’s the best thing you can do at this point to show the team you’re one of them. You’re not afraid to get your hands dirty, but then in hindsight, it’s like, gee, you know, maybe that four hours could have been spent better hiring more people to fold the shirts.
Daniel Alarik: Yeah. No, you’re exactly right. So I think it’s great when leaders come down and show presence and are aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves. Uh, when you care about who’s doing what, I think people, uh, respect that and that motivates them. But if you you have to do your job first. Do you have the right people? Do you have the right strategy in place? Are the people getting the results you want? If so, then go out there and give some high fives. If not, go do your job instead of inspecting other people’s jobs.
John Berry: Yeah, the one thing I love about military leaders, especially the drill sergeants. I take you back to when I was a cadet and the drill sergeant was, you know, we were at a fork, Kentucky, uh, Fort Knox, Kentucky. It was some ROTC type program. And, I mean, we’re just every day the drill sergeants are beating us up. But then at the end of the program, right, they tell us, hey, you’re ready to be officers. And that was you know, that meant a lot because they were so hard on us. And I think, you know, in society, especially in business. People are afraid to tell us to our face when we’re not performing. And as leaders, leaders are afraid to tell their teams you’re not performing. Instead, they just talk trash behind their backs. But one thing I’ve noticed about you is you’re always very straightforward. Like if the team needs to hear that they’re not meeting the standard, then you as the leader, tell them it’s really simple. You just tell them.
Daniel Alarik: Yeah, absolutely. And you want to surround yourself with people who are willing to do the same thing for you, even as their leader. If they could pull you aside and say, listen, you’re messing up here, or I got a problem with, with with this, then you have the right people around you. If you got people who are just, you know, talking behind your back and talking about their leaders or, or each other, you know, that’s a cancer in your organization. So you’re exactly right. And I think, uh, I was listening to one of your podcasts because you do a great job with these, by the way. I’m very impressed. The, uh, you had I think it was your master sergeant that said, uh, attrition is the mission, right? Is that. Yes. Oh, man, I love that. I mean, that was spot on. That reminded me of this, uh, Socrates quote. Uh, I think a Socrates, um, it’s, uh, ten men wisely lead is better than a hundred without a head. And it’s it’s. I’d rather have a few dedicated that that have the right attitude to, to win than just a massive amount of people, because you could do more with the few who want to win. Absolutely.
John Berry: And yeah, that was Master Sergeant Mark Sheehan. And you know, the other thing that I learned from, from him and from my other NCOs is if you are the commander, there’s a difference between people talking trash about the organization and the negative gossip that and the people that make fun of you. If you’re the commander, you’re a caricature. If you’re the leader of the organization, when the team makes fun of you, it’s actually a good thing you maybe as a drill sergeant, you disagree.
Daniel Alarik: I mean, I’m not hard to make fun of, so I’m good. Have at it.
John Berry: But I do think that that’s there’s some camaraderie there. So it’s it’s important that, you know, we let our teams complain. I mean, at the end of the day, they tell us when I was a young officer, if your soldiers aren’t complaining, there’s something wrong or if your soldiers are not bringing their problems to you anymore, you’re not a leader. And so I do think that, you know, it may all seem like complaining, but the reality is that’s part of building the team. It’s part of listening and getting that feedback loop moving so that it becomes part of your flywheel and you can get even better. And so I I’ve seen you do that. And you told me once, uh, you said and I’ve heard this since that many times, but you said, look, in business, if you have enough money and you have a problem, you don’t have a problem. So stop stressing out over it and just, you know, pay the bill, pay the tax and move on. And that was some very that was some, some valuable advice. Uh, tell me a little bit about how you got linked up with a mentor when you first started growing your business. So the first.
Daniel Alarik: Mentor I found was he’s an Army vet who served in, like, 1952. I don’t know, super old guy. Uh, his name was John Goldie. And, uh, I haven’t talked to him in probably about two years. Uh, now, he didn’t have the breadth of experience, uh, where he had, you know, big he was a big influencer and, you know, crushing it on social media. He was just a regular guy. Got out of the Army, had a normal career, got into sales and then sales management and then, you know, ran a pretty large sales team of, you know, 2 or 300 people. So he had really good focused experience in, in sales and sales leadership systems. And that’s uh, so I picked his brain on that. And I can tell you the first thing that really, really rang true with me, um, uh, that changed my way of thinking. And it was about inventory. Um, funny enough, because he was a sales guy. Um, he said inventory is evil. Your job as an owner is to turn your product over as fast as possible, but don’t run out. And you know that that that made me redo a lot of math, uh, just by changing the way I thought about what inventory is. You know, inventory to me is like, hey, I got a lot of stuff. I got a lot of stuff to sell. And he’s like, no, you got dollars sitting on your shelf, you got to move it. So it’s about how fast you turn it. And there was just a lot of simple stuff. But, you know, great guy. Uh, just just a good old Army vet and, you know, and it’s neat where it’s he’s not your typical you know, flashy Ferrari, you know, entrepreneur that you would see on, you know, YouTube shorts or TikTok or whatever. It was just a regular guy with a lot of experience, and he was willing to share. And I couldn’t be more, more thankful for that.
John Berry: And obviously, having those mentors, uh, made a big difference in, in your career, because there’s we get out of the military and we’re used to having mentors all over the place. Then we get out and it’s pretty hard to find them. So. So how did you go about looking for those mentors once you knew that you were going to start grunts?
Daniel Alarik: I found him in, uh, community college. You know, uh, after I think my second deployment, I started going to a community college. I was local, it was a Harper College, um, in Palatine, Illinois. Uh, actually. And he was our he was the business, uh, uh, teacher, instructor. And he’s like, is anyone starting a business? And I was just about to start grunt style or. No, it wasn’t even grunts. It was another business supplement company or something like that. I’m like, I think I’m about doing it. He’s like, I mentor one person a year. Um, how about you? Since you’re a vet and I’m an Army vet as well, I’m like, sure, great. So we met up. Once a week or so and, and we work together probably for ten years.
John Berry: And I think you were in Vistage and some other programs as well, if I recall, that helped you helped you gain that knowledge base?
Daniel Alarik: Yeah, absolutely. Visage is good.
John Berry: And one thing you did tell me was that we were talking about consultants, and you seem to not have a very good view of consultants. So. So tell me, as your opinion changed or is it the same?
Daniel Alarik: Listen, I’ve been a consultant and I think this is why I. I shared it with you. I’m like, I don’t like consultants. Uh, because you’re going to spend a lot of money for them to package something that you already know with solutions you already know. And all it is, is you’re just paying them money to hear something you already know. Like, so what are what are you paying for? Now, I’m not saying all consultants are bad. Um, but but the gems out there are hard to find. So I would suggest if you do have a consultant, be very, very clear on what your deliverable should be. Otherwise, don’t expect one. They’re going to come in. They, you know, it’s easy to share ideas. Ideas are cheap. Uh, unless you’re working with McKinsey or expensive company. Right. But, uh, they’re not hard to come up with. Right. Um, but you, what you want in a consultant is someone with probably a network and someone with some deliverables that you can count on.
John Berry: Yeah, absolutely. You got to be up front as to what your goals are. Why are you hiring the consultant and what does success look like? And in fact, I can remember we worked on a project and we were whiteboarding it out and and I had my team in there and. Okay, look, there’s two questions we got to answer here. Number one is. Why are we doing this? Which is like, what do you mean, why are why are we doing this? There’s many reasons. You’re like, no, no, no no no no, no, we need to find out what is the problem we’re solving for. Let’s really identify the problem that we are solving for. Let’s write it out okay. We’ve got that written down. Now we’re looking at all these courses of action if we choose one. What or how will we be able to determine that we have achieved success? At what point in either you said timeline or the amount of money we spend? Will we say this is a go or no go? So you were very black and white about that. Tell me where that came from.
Daniel Alarik: That actually came from John Goldie, my mentor. He he called it his Harvard business education. And he’s like, there’s only four questions you need to to, to ask when you’re trying to tackle a problem. What is the problem? He says, writing out the problem. Actually what the problem is should take most of your time. Um, number two is what is the solution to that? Problem number three is who’s going to do it, who’s responsible for implementing that solution to the problem. And the third one is okay, how do we inspect the results. So you got to define what the real problem the problem is. What are we really trying to solve here. What is the solution to that. Who’s going to be in charge. And then how do you as a leader inspect this is successful or not.
John Berry: Yeah I think that’s great because it all looks like failure in the middle. And if you aren’t really clear on what you’re going to inspect, it’s going to be like a drill sergeant in the barracks. You’re just going to toss the barracks. Everything sucks. Everything’s wrong. And you know, I have days like that. And I think about that. It really is like the drill sergeant is going to tear out the wall lockers, right? Dump the bunks. And that’s as the leader you’re doing that. And you may have achieved the success that you wanted to achieve when you when you put that program in place, but you’re so dissatisfied, there’s this constant dissatisfaction. Tell me, did you ever experience that and how did you how did you really align yourself with that to say, yeah, this is what I expected. For me, that’s always been a problem, right? I get there and I’m like, no, no, no, this still isn’t good enough.
Daniel Alarik: Yeah. All the time. Um, and and that actually, uh, that led into a lot of other problems, problems that I started because as soon as, you know, we, we started disciplining ourselves. Hey, we’re making a lot of progress. Things are going great, but I see so much meat left on the table, if you will. Right. I’m like, well, yeah, we set out what we wanted to do, but there’s so much more there that we could just go and, and let’s, let’s work harder and go get it. It’s right there. Right. Because we’re winning already. And that led into problems. So for example, if, if I said, hey, our goal this year is to do X and revenue with X and profit, right. Um, and by July or August or September, we know we’re not just going to meet those numbers, we’re going to crush those numbers. And I’m like, well, that means, you know, the fire’s hot. You know, let’s keep striking, let’s strike harder and you end up burning the team out. The team’s tired because they feel like they won. You gave them a victory. You told them what to do. They delivered it above your expectations. And now you’re asking. You’re asking them to do more. And that’s just not fair. Uh, not fair to the team because you’re going to end up start burning people out. And, uh, so you got to learn to. Okay, great. We’re going to. Yeah. I don’t mind if we do a little bit more, but we’re going to we’re going to finish off this year strong. But next year we’re going to take it to that next level. So and we’re going to do even better because now we have the time to plan for it.
John Berry: So was this, hey, we’re going to slow down or is this hey, let’s take a knee and drink water. Uh, it’s.
Daniel Alarik: More like take a knee and drink water. It’s it’s. You don’t want to slow down if you’re performing at a consistent pace. Um, you know, like in a in a run or a road march. Right? Hey, we’re making good time. In fact, we might even come a little bit earlier. Okay, great. No problem. Um, we don’t have to stop that momentum, but sometimes, uh, you know, I want to accelerate it, right? Hey, if we’re making great time, let’s make even better time. And that’s a mistake. Um, and I should have said, let’s take a knee and let’s let’s keep going at this pace. Let’s let’s go ahead and beat our numbers because we want to be winners. Uh, but let’s make sure that we all get across the line ready to do the next March.
John Berry: Outstanding. And in many ways, it reminds me of the Indian. I think it was the third Indiana Jones movie, right? The Holy Grail. And there he is, you know, leaning over the ledge, trying to grab the Holy Grail, and it’s falling into deeper into the crevice. And he has to make that decision. Do I continue to risk my life, or do I get out of here alive without the Holy Grail? And I think sometimes we feel that we feel like we’re so close. If we can just push a little bit further, we’re going to get there. But it’s a it’s a false summit on the mountain, right? It’s it’s you think you’re there, but then as soon as you get there you look and you’re like, oh my gosh. Like, yeah, we just hit this huge number and wow, we’re crushing it. But to be really great, uh, it’s often the horizon. And I think the problem is leaders we don’t see it’s always going to be in the horizon. And if you don’t stop to take care of the team, you start losing people. And I know, you know, I’ve got to the point where I’ve had some people get get, you know, hey, tell John we need to slow this down. And, and I don’t know, did you have team members that would tell you, hey, Daniel, slow this down. Or or is it just you were able to gauge that? No.
Daniel Alarik: Uh, in fact, I had people at the beginning tell me to slow down, and I didn’t listen to him, and I’m like, keep going. And that’s that’s why I know better. I’m like, my experience is based off of making a lot of mistakes. Uh, I burned some people out. Good people. And, uh, they’re just like, you know, I love the company, love the mission, love the people I work with. I’m tired. I’m like, I’ll pay you more. They’re like, I just want to rest. I’m tired. I’m not going to come in here and ask twice as much to be done every single day. And they’re not. And they don’t want to coast, but and they want to feel like winners. But they don’t want to do it at the expense of their health or their family life. And that makes sense. You know, if I think business is more of a team sport than just how hard I can push people. Um, and it was a mistake early in my, uh, in my career to push people to the pace I want to run at. Um, and because I didn’t equip them with the right tools to get the job done.
John Berry: Fair enough. And the other side of the coin was some advice you gave me, and I’m like, how do I how do I get the team to want this as bad to push as hard? And you say, John, nobody’s going to want this as bad as you if it’s if if it’s, you know, if you’re the leader. You should want it more than anybody else. You should be the most intolerant person on the team, because that is what’s going to get the team there. And so you really, like I said, that opened my eyes because I had this fantasy that I was going to have all these team members who are going to be just as hungry as me, just as driven. They’re going to wake up every morning and want to just grow the organization and, and, you know, push this mission where it was going to just explode. And what I found was no one will ever push as hard as you when you’re in charge. Uh, you still feel that way?
Daniel Alarik: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s a that’s a good thing because, you know, you have a very unique, uh, job as CEO. Um, you know, in my opinion, you got three things that you have to do to be successful, and that’s set the strategy, uh, build the team and inspect the results. And to drive all that, you really have to set an appropriate vision. You’re the people that work for you are not going to build that vision. You are 100% responsible, not only responsible for the vision, you’re responsible for communicating it. And your team absolutely wants you to do that too. Yeah, they’re not coming up with the long Terme vision. They might throw some ideas in there for sure, but they expect you and they want it to come out of you. They got to be that. You got to be that fountain of vision that they can drink out of every single day. And that’s going to keep them motivated.
John Berry: So how did you stay motivated? Like you said, we all make a lot of mistakes. Uh, you’ve made your shares, you’ve said, uh, you make the mistake, you know, and the team’s looking at you and you’re still responsible for that vision. How do you how do you deal with that?
Daniel Alarik: You know, there’s, uh, I would say there’s something. I don’t know if you feel the same way. I’ve never really talked about it. But when things get tough, it’s almost like, uh, it’s more exciting, you know, it’s it’s a bigger obstacle to overcome. And I just wanted to win even more. Does that does that kind of make sense? I’ve never I’ve never I don’t think I’ve ever expressed it verbally. Um, it’s it’s strange. So, like, whether we reached our goals, I’m like, no. Yeah, but it wasn’t hard enough. I got to make it. I got to make it more right. And it was it was never about money. I’m not into, you know, fancy things or anything like that. It was just about, uh, you know, doing more and more and more, and it’s easy to get lost in that. So you do have to do, you know, take a step back, look at the force of the trees, uh, and, you know, and you could you could deceive yourself, say, well, I’m really helping people, so it doesn’t matter. Win at all costs, but take a step back, catch your breath. Um, but yeah, I think it’s a, it’s a focus on on the challenge. I love the challenge and I love winning and I love winning as a team. It’s it’s really good when you can do it with people you care about. Yeah.
John Berry: It seems I’ve had some days where, where the iron is hot and there’s no problems and it’s smooth sailing. Right. That’s where I, as the leader, sometimes create the problems right in my head. I’m like, it’s this. It’s this healthy paranoia or it’s okay, where am I not seeing the problem in the organization? Right. Everything is going so well right now. It’s true. You’re either in a storm coming out of a storm, uh, or that storm is coming and it’s going to come find you. And it’s always like, okay, where’s the next storm? And you don’t see it? Everything’s running well. And then sometimes as a leader, we create the problem in the organization because we need a problem to solve. Yeah.
Daniel Alarik: It’s like it’s like when you’re working out, right? If you walked away from a workout, you’re like, oh, you know what? That wasn’t that bad at all. Wait a minute. I should feel defeated. You know, next to defeat, I should feel exhausted. Like I could barely get myself to the dinner table trying to reach for a shake or something like that. Why was that easy? What’s wrong?
John Berry: Do you do you believe that there are certain seasons in a business that require a different type of leader? For instance, we would hear about there’s a good peacetime general and there’s a good wartime general, and people will say, well, you know, Patton was a great wartime general, but he wouldn’t be. You know, this is not your peacetime general. Uh, same probably same for MacArthur. How do you feel about that? Do you think that for the different seasons of the business, they’re a different type of leader is required, or can one person be that same leader from a period of rapid growth and hard fighting to a period of peace and stability throughout the organization? You know, where you hit that stable growth without as much as many problems?
Daniel Alarik: Absolutely. One person can do that, but I’m not sure every single one person wants to do that. So some people thrive on the chaos. They thrive on the startup or early stages. They want to, uh, be on the brink of destruction where they’re making calls. Right. I got to close some orders to make this thing work. Um, or they really want to build something out of scratch. Where, um. And if they can evolve into this more, I would call it a long terme investor mindset. Um, yeah, they can make that transition. Um, I it, but I don’t think most people who, uh, walk into a corporate lifestyle, like maybe with their MBA or whatnot, who haven’t experienced early, uh, growth, um, will be able to transition. So I think entrepreneurs could probably make that transition and do all of it if they want to, because, uh, some of them don’t want to. Um, but I don’t think it will work the other way around. You’re not going to have a corporate CEO who who went through the ranks of, you know, IBM, GE, or whatever, Facebook and then want to run a startup and. Then start all over again. I just don’t I just don’t see it happening. And you’ve seen this and, uh, um, uh, in the Army, right? Or in the military, if you can’t take a staff level, you know, senior officer. Right. Whether he’s a light colonel or, uh, or above, and then make him do actual physical work. He doesn’t have to, but he doesn’t have that experience anymore. And he’s like, no, I got staff for this. I’m not going to. I’m not doing that. Um, so it’s a it’s a different breed. So yeah, you could do it going up, but I don’t think you can go back down and do it well.
John Berry: And you know, you remember my, my former COO Chad and, uh, you know, you know, former, uh, cavalry officer. And he said, you know, as he was on his way out the door and he it was a it was a, you know, good news story. I don’t know if we’ve talked since then, but he got hired as the CEO of a company about three times the size of ours. So he went from a staff position to a command position. So, you know, we did the, uh, uh, exit interview or after action review, if you will, and I said, okay, you know, what do I need to really think about? What have you observed in me as a leader? And he’s like, look, he says, you have to ask yourself, is this field grade work? He said, what? I became a field grade officer. It was, you know, I was doing things that I was constantly reminded of. No, no, no, that’s what a captain should do. Your responsibilities are different. And of course we want to say, no, no, no, I’m in the dirt with the troops. I don’t want to be here at, uh, by the flagpole. You know, I’m not one of the brass, but it seems that once those responsibilities change, some of us can adapt to it and just accept that, yes, our role has changed. And that means we can’t do certain things that we did before. It doesn’t mean you can’t get, you know, get in the trenches and fold t shirts from time to time. But you can’t do it every day now. And if you did, it would be a disservice to the organization. So. How did you handle that? As you look at one point, you know, if we go back through the growth of Grunstein, I mean, at one point your wife is the CFO, and then you’re like, are you replace her with an entire team and you’re growing the staff. All of a sudden it’s not Daniel. Alaric is running Grundsatze. Daniel, Alaric is running the staff. And, uh, how did that change your perspective?
Daniel Alarik: There was a lot about it I didn’t like. There’s parts of it I really did like. I liked the problem solving. I liked the strategic thinking, but I wasn’t able to do some of the stuff I really liked, and it looked like I was solving staff problems, and, um, um, and it wasn’t their fault or anything like that. We just didn’t have the infrastructure. And that’s when, like you just said, you know, that I probably should have had, you know, a little bit better or additional hires for some of that staffing experience that I just didn’t have, like, why would I have it? And I and when you go back to that progression, can a, you know, an entrepreneur go from, you know, zero to infinity basically, right. Um, yes. But I don’t if they want to, but they could skip that day to day middle management that they may not, they definitely won’t have the experience for and they may not want to put their time into that. They may think, okay, this is the long tum strategy of the brand or the company or the mission, and think more of a investor standpoint or brand standpoint. And that’s where they can really provide more value, and they probably have a lot more fun doing it. You know, I think about like, why why is Mark Zuckerberg so successful? The guy came out of college and, you know, got $100 billion business or whatever like that. Right? Did I bet you he doesn’t run any staff. His, uh, VCs probably pounded him with, you know, tons of experience, decades of experience of staff. So he doesn’t have to do that. He’s like, bro, just just work on the code, run the, you know, some of the code team and set what we’re doing next. Oh. Oh metaverse. Is that okay man. You call it.
John Berry: Well yeah. I think he was smart about that. Right. He had the adult in the room, which I believe was was Sheryl Sandberg running the stat. Right. So she was the second in command and she was running the staff. So he didn’t have to deal with that. And I think as a leader, that’s where we all get a little bit hung up is we’re we’re running the company and then we have a staff and we really want to run the staff so the staff can run the company. But then we have to make sure at some point to grow the organization. We’ve got to bring in that second in command to run the staff. And if we don’t do that, then it’s like we’re doing three jobs and doing a horrible performing horribly at all three.
Daniel Alarik: I think I would have done, uh, fared so much better, saved myself a lot of headaches if I had someone more qualified working for me that could run some of those day to day staffing and operational stuff with experience. You know, I had some really good people that were doing that. Um, but they were growing with me as well. So that gap still was always still there. So we just we definitely need a little bit more administrative support.
John Berry: And I found that you need someone who’s been there, done that to run the staff. You know, I said as the organization grows and I started building the staff, I was like, oh, yeah, I could run the staff. I’m going to lead them and they’re going to lead the teams. But I didn’t have the business maturity or the experience to really develop and coach and train the staff. And so the staff was just reacting to me and they were, I think, held back by my lack of capability, my lack of experience. Then I brought on somebody who came from an organization much larger than mine, and he was able to say, no, no, no, no, you’re doing this all wrong. Let me show you how you lead the staff. And it was it was a totally, you know, instead of me telling everybody, give him the knife hand at every meeting, you know, he was asking, hey, how can I help? What do you guys need? And, uh, it was just a different attitude, different approach. And it really took me a while to learn that. But once I grasped it, I’m like, well, wait a minute. This is the same thing as, like, being a field grade officer. All I have to do is, you know, the staff sections are the experts. They know more than I ever will in their function. So I need to just let them do their job and then figure out how I can help them.
John Berry: Now the struggle is then. Well then how do you assess them? How do we evaluate them? And and that takes some research to figure out what is success in their in their industry or their field of expertise. When they come to your organization, how do you really grade them, rate them? How are you able to tell them whether they’re doing a great job when you know nothing? I shouldn’t say nothing, but when you know less than them, right? And it goes back to being on a military staff, right? You could be the commander. You’re never going to know more than the G6 about the it, uh, it just it’s never going to happen. And so you have to, uh, rely on them to, to to brief you and to and to be on top of it. But I know that you’ve been through, like I said, the same the same challenge. I think that’s what’s so great about this is we all go through the same challenges, and it’s just sometimes admitting to ourselves and to others that were that we’re struggling. At what point did you think, uh, that you were in that position where you look back and said, as the leader, am I doing what’s best for the organization, doing what I’m doing now, or do I need to be doing something different?
Daniel Alarik: You know, uh.
Daniel Alarik: That’s that’s really tough to say. Uh, I would say probably, uh, you know, after we’d start doing 50 million and then we kept growing after that a year. Um, there’s a point where I wanted to keep growing. Um, but I couldn’t spend the time on what I wanted, uh, to do, and I didn’t have the experience to fill in those gaps. And you know, I should have been and I didn’t realize it till later. But it’s my job to build the team, right? So if I have those experience gaps, I’m not doing my job right. Um, if they’re not on the team and I can’t train the team fully in those gaps, I don’t have, you know, I have. So, um, I’d say around that time when we were still growing really fast, uh, and, uh, we there was a lot of problems that were all the problems we had were unique, uh, at least to us. Um, but they shouldn’t be. They shouldn’t have been. Because if I had experience on the staff, uh, they none of those problems should have been unique. Um, instead, we’re figuring out for the first time every time.
John Berry: I learned that the hard way to, you know, doing business groups, uh, going to conferences. And all of a sudden I realized, like, every single problem I have, there’s like, 50 other people who have already solved that problem and another 50 who have the exact same problem right now. And so we think we’re special and we’re unique, but it’s just like being a recruit, right? You show up at training, nobody’s special. You know, at.
Daniel Alarik: The end of the day, you know, I’m doing disservice to the team. I’m doing disservice to the brand and the customers by trying to reinvent the wheel. And they’re like, hey, the wheels are already out here. We can just use those. But, you know, now I know.
John Berry: So we’re we’re at the part of the show now where we do the after action review. And normally I ask guests to talk about what’s your three up, the three best examples of leadership and the three worst examples of leadership you’ve seen, either in business or in the military. But this time I’m going to open it up. Uh, you can go look, you can traverse your turret right on me, uh, working together. Tell me, uh, tell me about what you observed from me, from my leadership. Help me grow here. What were the three things that I did well? And what were the three things that I could have improved on?
Daniel Alarik: Well, I mean, my experience with you is a little. It’s probably about a year and a half year, two years old, maybe, um, about a year and a half. Uh, but I still I still pay attention to what you guys are doing in, in marketing. So I like to keep current on what you guys are doing. But I would say what I got to observe you. I love your passion. It’s rare to see someone that passionate about their business and team that wasn’t doing it for the money. And what I mean is it’s very, uh, nowadays, you see, you know, hustle bros, you know, trying, trying to work hard so they can, um, get that new car or they want to fly on a private jet, or they just want to they want to enjoy life for themselves. But I saw you pour yourself into your team, doing things for them. Um, and and, uh, because. And you said it because they take care of the customer. So you’re going to take care of them. Um, and I’m paraphrasing you. But you’re one of the few people. I actually believed it when you said it, and I really did. You genuinely cared about your team and you inspired them. And, um, and I think that shows. And I think your team believes it. The right people believe it, and that’s what matters. Um, so there that that’s a thumbs up. Now, something I also noticed, and it’s easy for to pick up because I’ve done the same thing, especially when it comes to marketing, because I love to think myself as, you know, marketing.
Daniel Alarik: Brilliant. And I’m not. I just made a lot of mistakes. And, you know, uh, so I learned a lot, um, and had an incredible marketing team, uh, hands down. And but you that brand is so important to you, you you micromanage them pretty heavily because it has to be exact, you have this idea in your head of how it needs to communicate to the customer because you know what they need to see. And your team better get it done like this. And you’re not wrong, but you can’t do it. That’s the problem, right? Because, uh, you know, you can only be one place all the time, and you’re still, you’re you’re you’re an excellent trial lawyer. What are you doing? You’re doing, like, three jobs at the same time, and you’re good at it, but you only got 24 hours in a day, so spread yourself too thin. I mean, I’m sure you’ve made the, uh. I’m sure you’re focusing now. Um, but I see your marketing. Uh, I it looks good. Uh, it’s the best I’ve seen it, uh, especially since I’ve left. Uh, so it looks great. Um, and I don’t know if. Are you still. Are you still doing, uh, trials? You know, I am.
John Berry: I move, I’m moving. Uh, here’s the deal. I am trying to move to the stage where I’m still doing them, but I show up for the key hearings. I am now more the coach. I’m the. I want to come in as the heavyweight the way my dad used to do it. You know, back in my dad’s day, he would show up and he’d have his best lawyers work up the case, and then he’d have them pitch it to him, and then he’d come back and say, okay, here are all the problems. Now let’s go into court and I am going to help you solve those problems. And so I’ve really evolved into because if you think I’m hard, I was hard on the marketing team. You should have seen me with the trial lawyers. Right. And so I have learned to you.
Daniel Alarik: Have a reputation for writing good writing, uh, with your attorneys as well. Yeah.
John Berry: Well, I here’s the thing. Right? I actually got the, uh, highest grade for, uh, an advanced legal writing in law school, and it took me a lot of work to get there. But the reality was, it was because I put in the time. It wasn’t because I’m a talented writer. And I still, while I do not have as much time to write as I would like to, uh, I know what bad writing looks like. And when I see bad writing, I have a visceral reaction. I mean, it’s like I see red, I want it, you know, this is like, you know, someone’s getting like, I, I wish I was back in the military and we could start smoking people, right? You do push ups and flutter kicks until we can solve this grammatical problem. Yeah. Tear stuff up. Yeah, but, uh, no, I mean, I, I think that’s one of the challenges, though. We have just, like, you have many skills, uh, that I want to continue to develop. And I can’t do it all. And I do struggle with that. Uh, and and. Yeah, you’re right. Uh, it’s I think I have turned the corner where I am more of a coach now. Oh, but I still love to get into court. I still love to try the cases, cross-examine the witnesses, uh, work the strategy with my team. And when we win, there’s just no better feeling than changing a life for a client. And to me, that’s that’s what it’s all about. Because on one hand, I can build my team, and my team gets to feel the win. But the client’s life is forever changed. And for me, that’s it.
Daniel Alarik: You start. I got the pleasure to to see some of your work. And you’re you’re pretty talented. It’s fantastic to watch.
John Berry: Well, thank you. And but this isn’t about me. This is about you. So let me ask you this question. Now that you’re investing in companies, what do you look for?
Daniel Alarik: Pretty, uh. Pretty easy. Uh, you got to be able to beat handily the S&P 500. That’s that’s it. I mean, if if I’m looking at an investment opportunity and I’m like, all right, you know, um, that’s the first thing, right? Otherwise you’re disqualified. There’s no investment because I’m not investing. I’m just throwing money away. Right. Or gambling. Um, so can you beat the S&P 500 in 10 years? Um, otherwise, I’ll just throw the money in the S&P, right. Um, but after that, you really want to look at the right people and the right plan. Does the plan hash out for ten years. Is this a great right now plan. Um, does the plan make sense in ten years? Is it stable? Does it require a lot of activity? And the third criteria I look for if they’re not working out, um, do I have enough know how and time to help fix it? Because if I don’t, I shouldn’t be spending money on there.
John Berry: So you are not completely hands off. You’re a little bit hands on coaching. Yeah. Mentoring.
Daniel Alarik: Yeah. I don’t want to be hands on, um, but if I have to, I better make sure I know what I’m talking about. So. I mean, if I’m getting involved in a restaurant, I wouldn’t, because all I know about food is how to eat it, obviously. Um, but the the. So I really don’t have, um, too much sense in there. I could read a pnl, I could read the balance sheet, I could see, you know, what the forecast might be. But outside of that, I really don’t have much to offer that type of business.
John Berry: Well, knowing that you have the same disease I have where when you see a problem, you want to fix it, you have to fix it. It’s in your DNA. It’s oh yeah, whatever. It’s in your blood. How do you then, as an investor, not jump into everything? How are you able to pull yourself back and only jump in when needed to help?
Daniel Alarik: I say no almost every time. And it’s hard because someone brings you an idea or you see an opportunity, you see a sign and you’re like, numbers start going your head. You’re like, oh my gosh, yeah, I can make that work. And you know what? You probably could, but you can’t make all this work, right? You’re either, you know, you need to be a laser, not a shotgun, because you’re going to you’re going to be able to go much, much deeper. So I break my day up if I have time in my day to contribute to that effort, then I might be able to to look into it. But if it’s going to involve too much time, it’s really more of a time thing than anything else.
John Berry: Our most valuable asset is our time. And for you, the way you’ve spent your time has been a great, great model because you’re a visionary. What most people don’t know is in 2020 you were talking about AI projects. Yeah, now it’s cool to talk about AI, but back then not many. I mean, I was around and people were using it, but you were getting deep into it, and I know that that’s still a passion of yours today. Uh, where do you think? Let me ask you this. Have you seen I mean, you were in before the explosion. The AI explosion? Uh, what do you think? Is it overhyped now, or is it is this the right amount of hype that we’re seeing in the markets and from other industries that seem to all think that AI is the future, and without AI, everything dies?
Daniel Alarik: Ai is definitely the future. There’s a lot of hype behind it right now. Um, and if you don’t believe me, look at any AI stock. Um, and uh, including, you know, OpenAI, which is not a stock, but they’re not making money now. Incredibly cool technology is coming out, uh, especially since, uh, ChatGPT launched, uh, you know, a year and a half, uh, about a year ago, um, really cool stuff coming out of large language models. But they’re not monetizing fast enough because they’re too, uh, it’s too early on. So think about it. If these are the automobile industry, it’s pre-model t right before model T, the model T’s coming around the corner. Hopefully I’m working on it, but there’s going to be a model T in the next few years, which is going to be able to have the right tool for the right price to solve the right problems. And, um, we have cool tools that are solving problems, but they’re not doing it efficient enough to make money.
John Berry: So we’re kind of at the point where I can remember Amazon stock, right? It was going through the roof and the analysts like. But wait a minute. There’s no profit here. Like this is hollow. And obviously that it that it eventually took off. Do you see that same trajectory?
Daniel Alarik: I think it’s a little bit different because Amazon had the model already done. And for AI right now they don’t have it quite yet. They have it kind of there. Uh, but it’s not solving the right problems yet effectively as possible for the right amount of price. So you could use ChatGPT. And it’s a great. Um, uh, ChatGPT is is what humans sound like, if you don’t know what they’re saying is kind of what it’s doing. Um, and it’s great for easy stuff, but it’s not really solving complex problems. And it can be used for a good tool. Uh, but it’s so expensive to run these models. It’s not efficient yet. And it’s not, it’s not it’s not the AI which you think of Skynet, Terminator or something cool that can actually solve new problems.
John Berry: Well, thanks so much for your insight on that. And Daniel, thank you so much for being on the show. You’ve been very kind with your time. As always, you’re a leader who wants to build other leaders, and I appreciate all the time that we’ve spent together and your willingness to continue to mentor me, give me advice, and even check in from time to time and say, hey, this looks pretty good. You haven’t yet sent me the one I’m looking for. Just. This is crap. Stop doing it. But I appreciated your support throughout the years. Thank you so much for being on Veteran Led. Anything you want to say to the veteran community?
Daniel Alarik: Yeah, rely on each other. I mean, you guys got each other. Count on it. I still talk to the guys that I served with every single day. John, I know you do. Same thing. Check in with your buddies. Don’t lose that connection. That’s going to stay with you forever.
John Berry: Thank you for joining us today on Veteran Led, where we pursue our mission of promoting veteran leadership in business, strengthening the veteran community, and getting veterans all of the benefits that they earn. If you know a leader who should be on the Veteran Led podcast, report to our online community by searching at Veteran Led on your favorite social channels and posting in the comments, we want to hear how your military challenges prepared you to lead your industry or community, and we will let the world know. And of course, hit subscribe and join me next time on Veteran Led.
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