Eric Zakovich: Owner of Long Run Leadership Consulting

Our friend and colleague Eric Zakovich is our podcast guest this week. Eric and Ivan discuss his new venture, Long Run Leadership Consulting, share small business stories and nerd out over their shared love of Hamilton! 

Host: Ivan Stegic
Guest: Eric Zakovich, Founder of Long Run Leadership Consulting

In this podcast we'll discuss: 

  • What inspired Eric to start Long Run Leadership and the reasons he chose the name
  • Short-term vs. long-term mindsets (and growth vs. fixed mindsets)
  • The challenges of being a one-man consulting business, and the importance of asking for help
  • How do you know when it’s time to hire people?
  • The life-changing magic of Hamilton and how it relates to entrepreneurship (and to Eric starting his company)
  • Eric’s values of realize and matters

Links:

TRANSCRIPT

IVAN STEGIC: Hey everyone you're listening to the TEN7 Podcast, where we get together every fortnight and sometimes more often to talk about technology, business and the humans in it. I'm your host Ivan Stegic. My guest today is Eric Zakovich, founder and principal at Long Run Leadership Consulting, whose mission is to guide leaders and teams to achieve their long run potential. Long Run is a new venture for Eric, so in addition to finding out about his history, I’m hoping to spend some time talking about what it’s like to start a new company in 2019, and maybe we’ll shoot the breeze a little bit as well. Eric, welcome back to the podcast. I believe this is your third visit with us. I’m so glad you could join us.

ERIC ZAKOVICH: I’m honored to be back. I can’t believe it’s the third time. It’s a real pleasure to be on, so, thank you.

IVAN: Yeah, you’re welcome. It’s awesome to be talking to you again. So, I usually have some questions lined up, and I know you have some questions lined up as well. So, I feel like we’re going to have more of a conversation here than the regular-style interview that we usually do every other week.

ERIC: Yeah, I’m excited. I’ve got some surprise ones up my sleeve for you too.

IVAN: [laughing] Okay, good. I love it. Okay, so let’s see. You were on two other podcasts with us. In one of them we covered your history and how you ended up in Minnesota, and at the time you were working at Employee Strategies. And in the other one we covered, kind of some of the human elements of teams when we were talking about TEN7’s Blueprint for Operation. Now, since I talked to you last on the show, you started your own thing, right? In January you started Long Run Leadership.

ERIC: Yeah, I did. It’s really exciting. I started my own little consulting firm.

IVAN: Congratulations. Oh my gosh, that’s like so exciting. Right?

ERIC: It is really exciting. It’s like a dream sometimes. You know, dreams can be nightmares [laughing]. They can be dreams, there could be great parts, there could be scary parts. But I’m really excited about it, and I’m excited to be on talking with you about it.

IVAN: Well, what inspired you to start Long Run Leadership?

ERIC: I wish there was just one thing. I’ll give you the answer that’s really the most true. And the most true answer is, as I look around in the world today, and I think about the challenges we’re having as a society, as a world, I think a lot of it stems from sort of a crisis of mindset. A mindset that if we could shift it, we could solve a lot of our problems, or at least make more progress towards solving them.

And, I think we have the crisis that I’m thinking about is what I call a short-term mindset, we think only about today. To use the example of “I’m hungry, what’s in the fridge?” It’s a burger and fries or what’s available is a burger and fries, I’ll just eat that. And that could be great for today. I love burgers. I love fries, nothing against them, but in the long run if you do that every day it adds up to have some really negative, drastic consequences for your health.

And so, my purpose is really founded in the belief that if we have a longer-term perspective, we’ll be better off. And that goes for our own health, the health of our team and our companies, our organizations that we lead, and the world too. And I hope that by inspiring people to think more about the long run, they’ll have the impact that they want to have, a positive impact that they want to have in all those areas. So, that’s a bit about how I came up with it. Can I give you the second dorky reason?

IVAN: Yeah, because you like to run? [laughing]

ERIC: [laughing] Yes. Yes. I like to go running too. So, it’s the cheesy reason, but the real reason is really this. I’m inspired by people who are able to stay focused on their long run goals, and I want to help more and more people do that, get there.

IVAN: I love the premise and the name of the company. I want to focus a little bit on the actual running part. What’s a long run for you?

ERIC: Are you talking actually like when I go for a run?

IVAN: Actually going out for a run. You leave your house. What’s a long run?

ERIC: So, I am training for a marathon at this very moment.

IVAN: Again?

ERIC: Again. I know.

IVAN: Wow. That’s so inspiring, Eric, honestly.

ERIC: Well, let me tell you. Don’t be inspired by this, because you put yourself in a lot of pain and it takes a lot of time to train for a marathon. And so, just this weekend I did a 20 miler, now that’s about as long as you get in the training for a marathon.

IVAN: No big deal. Just 20 miles.

ERIC: Oh no. it’s a big deal man. [laughing] It wipes you out the rest of the day, and so, fortunately, you have a rest day after that. But, anything over five miles to me is a long run. Yeah. In general.

IVAN: I love to tease you about it as well. Mostly because I tried running once and wasn’t very successful, but maybe I just need to get back into the mindset of thinking about it in a different way and maybe I’ll get there again. So, I like giving you a hard time. The truth is that I admire the fact that you can do that, and that you train and that you keep doing that. So, I love that it’s connected to your business as well.

ERIC: Thank you. It’s a disease. It’s sickening in a way. [laughing]

IVAN: When you talked about it being a mindset for the name of your company, I thought you were going to say that it’s kind of the difference between a growth and a fixed mindset, and you went ahead and talked about short-term and long-term which actually makes more sense. But, how much do you find having a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset is prevalent in the people that you deal with? Because I would imagine if you have a fixed mindset, you’re not really going to want to be flexible about how you think about your business.

ERIC: That’s such a keen observation you make. I do believe the growth mindset, and you’re talking about, I think, Carol Dweck, her work in helping us understand what a growth mindset is and people that have a growth mindset, the way they view the world, that lens that they view the world and view their situations through is just different than that of people with a fixed mindset. Right?

So, to summarize it, people with a growth mindset see every opportunity as an opportunity to get better, to learn something, to improve. That’s the growth mindset. But the fixed mindset being your skills are fixed. Your potential is fixed. Failure is viewed as a problem or bad, whereas in a growth mindset failure is viewed as a learning opportunity. Right? It’s different mindset. I think that’s so key to having a long-run mindset. I think they’re connected. I think that is part of the mindset that I’m trying to inspire in anyone I work with.

IVAN: I love it. I think that’s a great mission to have. Do you ever encounter people who know they have to work with you, so they’ve hired you, but maybe they are on the fixed mindset side. And if you do, how do you approach helping them?

ERIC: Yeah, well I mean I’d say I have a fixed mindset. Right?

IVAN: Do you?

ERIC: Well, here is what I would draw, and for listeners listening in: draw on a piece of paper in front of you a line, like a continuum, and write growth on one side and fixed on the other. I’m not growth mindset all the time. I struggle just like anybody else. From time to time I make a mistake, and I kind of whack myself on the side of the head and say, Oh, you numbskull. Right? At times I slip.

I have fixed mindset at times. I aspire to have a growth mindset all the time, so I’m constantly retraining my brain. It’s kind of like a muscle, I think. So, I’m always trying to have more of a growth mindset, and view challenges, view failures, view struggles, through that lens. But, just like many of my clients, that’s hard to do.

A lot of my clients are in significant leadership roles. They’re trying to guide organizations and teams, they’re trying to lead in environments that are challenging, that are uncertain, where there’s lots of change afoot, and that’s not easy. So failure’s going to happen all the time. I think our culture has trained us to have more of a fixed mindset. So, I think that’s a long-winded way of answering your question, but I think we all have some growth, and all have some fixed, and I think the goal is to have more of a growth mindset, more of the time.

IVAN: I see. I wonder what the challenges you’ve had with starting a new company have been and what your successes have been in 2019. I know they were very different, I’m sure, 10 years ago and 20 years ago for people starting companies back then. What’s been your biggest challenge?

ERIC: Biggest challenge? You know, I’ve been blessed in the sense that I’ve got a client or two. I’ve got somebody who’s willing to work with me. [laughing] As a new person they’ve placed an incredible amount of trust to be the first client to work with somebody.

So, I’m super appreciative of that and I think the biggest challenge is, how do you keep up? How do you make sure that what you’re delivering is a value of them? A continuous value. And that’s something I’ve done for a long time in consulting, but I don’t have a team right now to rely on. I am the sole deliverer of service for my organization.

I’m also the janitor and the CEO, [laughing] the accounting guy, and the marketing guy, and sales and whatever other functions there might be a need for. I’m all of those things, as I’m getting things started. And so, that might be a second challenge I could highlight. There’s just a lot to do. So, how do I service clients with quality and just keeping up and knowing what are all the things you even need to do to run a business or to start a business?

IVAN: So, one of the things that Jason Fried from 37 Signals once wrote in a book of his, I can’t remember which one it was, I think it was in Rework, it might’ve been in the other one, he wrote about the fact that it’s important for a leader of a company to know what it’s like to have done every one of the jobs in that company. And someone who starts a company usually is in a position to be doing every single one of those things.

And, so, I completely understand where you’re at right now. When I started TEN7 in 2007, I did everything as well. And the problem I had was letting go of things to do to give to other people, because there was a need for perfection and for high quality. And I didn’t have the trust in others built up that they would be able to do that. But once I got over myself and really couldn’t handle the amount of work, I was able to let go. And, I think that’s how you grow. So, eventually I think you’ll get to that position as well, like, “I can’t do this, you do it. Someone else needs to do it.” 

ERIC: [laughing] And truth be told, I have raised my hand and asked for help. It didn’t take long. There was a project I took on early here, where there’s just a peak time to it. Do you have projects where it’s like all hands on deck for you?

IVAN: Oh yeah. Absolutely.

ERIC: So, like my two hands were on deck, like, 16 hours a day in this project. It was too much. And I asked somebody I know professionally for help, and she just kind of whizzed in and helped me. Actually every day for a couple weeks, she was doing a couple hours of work with me. I was super grateful she was (A) available, (B) willing to step in and help me, because in some sense she could see herself as a competitor. Right? Like we do the same kind of work. But I found that asking for help, there are people out there that will help you. You've just got to be willing to ask. So, early lesson learned.

IVAN: You learned it sooner than I did. I think it took me two years to hire someone. So, I think that’s a good sign. So, I’m going to ask you, in the future. Where do you want to be? Where do you hope to be, say a year from now? Have you thought about it even?

ERIC: Okay, so, great question. It’s interesting you ask that one. Just this morning I was having breakfast with a friend and he said, “So, where are you at in your business' strategy? How far along do you see yourself?” And, he’s a marketing guy, and my answer to him was sort of, “What business strategy?” [laughing] I don’t mean that to sound like glib, or naïve. My strategy is pretty straightforward. I want people to know about my work, so I want them to know that I exist, raise some awareness. I want people to get interested in working with me, and I want to do the work.

So, my strategy is really just focused on getting people to become more aware that I exist right now. So, in a year, my hope is that a whole bunch of people know about me, and they know about Long Run Leadership, and the purpose and why we exist. My hope is that I’ve inspired a number of people to be thinking in that long run, more long term.

So, I’m hopeful that I’ve been able to do that in a year and have that impact, and actual clients, actual leaders, helping them grow in terms of that mindset and in terms of their capabilities as a leader. So, I hope that’s a helpful answer. I don’t have a revenue target. I don’t have a growth target in mind. That’s not where my focus is. And I hope that’s not where my focus ever really, frankly goes. I’m just really focused on the impact. And if I have the impact I can have and I want to have, everything else takes care of itself, I think.

IVAN: Yeah, I think you’re right. I think you’re right. I’ve always had a struggle with trying to figure out what my three to five-year business plan is. And when people ask me about that, I freeze up and don’t really know the answer. Mostly because so much can change in three to five years. So, I think a year at a time is so much easier to think about, and I appreciate how you’ve described and articulated what you see as a change a year from now. Do you think you’ll be hiring people?

ERIC: Whew, that’s a big question. It’s one of those questions, as a new person, how do I even know? I’m curious—this is one I actually had on my list to ask you. I mean, how did you know when you needed to hire somebody? What was the moment or the point when you were like, You know what? I need help around here. Do you remember that?

IVAN: I do. I do remember that. So, I was running TEN7 out of my basement in Richfield. We had just had two babies, so we had a one-year-old and a two-year-old when I first started TEN7. And about a year into that, I was working a fair amount of the time when they were sleeping, because when they’re awake then you kind of have to attend to your kids. And my wife was a stay-at-home mom, so she and I split the duties on the kids. But I worked a lot, and I was finding that I wasn’t able to deliver on the promises I had made, because I overpromised.

And so, the least risky thing for me to do would be to have someone help me write the code. And I wanted to make sure that it was of the same standards that I was delivering to our clients at the time. And, so, I happened to find someone who was looking for a part-time job,  and that felt less risky than a full-time job, and so I hired Michael Start. He was our first contractor, and he worked with me in our basement. And I gave him the code stuff that I just didn’t have time to do anymore.

That was my first foray into hiring someone. It was out of necessity. It wasn’t an aspirational hire. It wasn’t because I had work lined up. It was just kind of like, Oof, I need help, and so I hired. I think it’s different now, but if I was looking at it back then, I mean if I had 20/20 vision and I was thinking about it right now, I think I would’ve hired Michael on full-time and off-loaded more of the stuff that I was doing to him sooner.

ERIC: Why would you say that? Why do you think that?

IVAN: Well, when I started letting go of the things I did and gave them to other people, that trust that I had started to build in those other people and confidence in those other people, really let me let go of worrying about those things. And, it allowed me to focus on other parts of the company. You hear people say that all the time, Oh, it let me focus on other parts of the company.

Well, kind of what I mean is, “Well, Michael’s doing the code, I can be worried about what my clients are thinking. I can be worried about what they’re doing next. I can sell them the next thing. I can look for new clients, and that brings in more business, which means Michael’s going to have too much to do, which means I can hire other people. And so it takes worries off my mind, but it also grows the company, and it also instills confidence and trust in others.

ERIC: That’s just really inspiring to hear you just share that. It’s another step in starting the business, right? You start the business, you’re not sure. Will anybody hire me? Will anybody buy what I’m offering? Will anybody get in the boat? So, it’s like another step in that direction, but you know, boy how do you know when it’s the right time? It’s almost like, a little bit if you’re going with your gut, it sounds like.

IVAN: Yeah. You kind of do have to go with your gut a whole lot. I’ve relied on my gut, but on data as well, more as the company has grown, because you get to a point where you’re not just responsible for yourself and your own family, you’re responsible for others. And then those other people have responsibilities like car payments and mortgages and that kind of stuff, and you kind of take that stuff on as well. And, I think the better processes you have, and the better processes really, but also trust amongst the people, and sound decisions that are based on data, the more of that you have, the more successful and the more likely you are to be successful.

ERIC: Wise advice. Thank you.

IVAN: [laughing] That’s what we do here, on the TEN7 Podcast. [laughing] Now, I had seen a mention of Hamilton in the show notes here, and I love Hamilton. I know you do. You went to see the show. Right?

ERIC: Yeah. We were talking about it. I hadn’t seen them, and you had shared a bit of your story about going and seeing the show. And then I had a chance to go with my wife, and it was almost—this is going to sound corny. Cut this if this sounds corny, but—life-changing. [laughing]

IVAN: Yeah. It’s definitely life-changing. Life-altering, maybe.

ERIC: Inspiring. I found it really inspiring. Did you find it inspiring?

IVAN: Every time I feel like the world is going to hell, and things are not looking good, I put that soundtrack on, and it inspires me to tears sometimes. It’s just a great story, well told, that’s also true. So, there’s that. And, it’s the beginning of a nation, right? So, there are so many parallels to the beginnings of life, the beginnings of business. I mean, yeah, I’m totally inspired by Hamilton. And, I remember you were going out, was it New York you went to?

ERIC: Yeah, I was building a capability for my business. Yeah, so I was out in New York getting a certification, and I was doing that for four days that week, and then my wife came out and we went to the show in New York, and I didn’t know what to expect. I had sort of loosely listened to the music. but didn’t understand it. And then I got there, and I kind of sat, mouth agape, staring at the stage for three hours or whatever it is. We laughed.

It was like a month later before my wife said, “Okay, I think we could be done listening to Hamilton for a little bit.” But we still do. [laughing] But yeah, you know, sort of a question, there’s so many questions that came out of. But one of them was Hamilton and his entrepreneurial spirit, we’re talking about entrepreneurship here, I mean I know he started several businesses, right? Like the New York Post. He was such an idealist. Right?

And then there was Burr, who was such a—I’m going to use the air quotes here—a realist, or a pessimist maybe. I’m curious, what attributes or aspects of the play, like what attributes of Hamilton or maybe like, things that sort of shone through in the play, or the musical, sorry, I’m getting my theatre terms mixed around here, you know, like apply to entrepreneurship? Are there lessons from Hamilton that we should acknowledge as entrepreneurs, or that we should hold as entrepreneurial values?

IVAN: That is a great question. So, when I think of Hamilton, I think of perseverance. I think of being on the right side of the law. I think of creating those laws. I think of trying and failing and trying again. And the thing that really spoke to me about Hamilton was that it felt like, at the end, you know he died, right? Spoiler alert. Even though he died, he set up good systems that were based on common sense and truth and idealism.

And that’s what he always strove for, and that’s what America is based on and what we should be striving for. And, I think those are good parallels for a business. Like, you should strive for something. You should have a mission. You should have values. And, I think that the fact that that exists in that musical, that’s maybe the lesson. Maybe that’s the parallel, that you should have those things.

ERIC: Yeah. Gosh. You say that and I think of—it’s the first song or the second song—My Shot. I’m not throwing away my shot.

IVAN: I’m not throwing away my shot. Yeah.

ERIC: I mean, I think about that, and I think so many entrepreneurs out there, maybe a few of them are listening to us talk about this, and how do you not throw away your shot? You have tremendous opportunity to do whatever it is, to make that contribution you want to make. I hope that they’re inspired to not throw it away and go for it.

I know it’s easy to say, it’s scary as heck to do, but it’s something I found very inspiring. It sort of came at the perfect time for me. I had gone out on my own, and you’re still wavering, Boy, can I really do this? And then Hamilton’s like talking right to me with that song. That’s something I took from that.

IVAN: So that was your turning point when you heard that song in New York, on stage. You’re like, I’m not gonna waiver anymore. I’m not throwing away my shot. I’m doing this.

ERIC: Oof. Is it that dramatic? It might be. You know that might’ve been a moment where I was just really more settled in my mind. Maybe it helped me settle my mind? Does that make sense? Maybe this is a little bit of a segue, but I’m curious. Did you ever waiver when you started your own company? When you started TEN7? Did you ever think, Can I really do this? Did you ever have those moments?

IVAN: I don’t remember, to tell you the truth. [laughing]. I mean, I didn’t really start TEN7 with a purpose. I didn’t have a business plan. I’ve talked about this before. I didn’t really say, Okay, I’m going to go out and be a web developer, and I’m going to only focus on Drupal. That was not the plan. It was, Oh, I’m working too much at my former job. I need to quit, because this is not healthy. And then, What should I be doing? Oh, I really like doing stuff on the internet, and there’s a lot of opportunity, and, Oh, yeah, here’s a job. I could build a website. And then, Oh, I need an LLC to make sure this website gets paid for.

And I accidentally started TEN7. And when I looked back, I’d generated some revenue, had some clients and I was like, Okay, this seems to be working out. We’ll keep going. And, there are always challenges along the way, like when you’re sharing an office suite with an advertising agency, and the lease is going to end, and now you have to figure out what the next step is. So, those kinds of decisions are tough, and you have to make them and have a plan for them. But I don’t remember ever wavering. I’m sure I did. Maybe I just block out all of those memories and focus on the positive, and maybe that means I’m an idealist.

ERIC: Maybe you’re a little bit like Hamilton.

IVAN: [laughing] Maybe. That’s a really nice compliment from you Eric. I really appreciate that.

ERIC: [laughing] Well, I hope you don’t get called out by any of your rivals anytime soon.

IVAN: Yeah, and I hope I don’t get shot. [laughing]

ERIC: [laughing] Right. Oh, my goodness.

IVAN: [laughing] Oh my goodness. Yeah. Have you waivered? Have you thought before, Oh, I don’t think I can do this?

ERIC: I wondered initially would anybody want to work with me. Certainly, there’s that uncertainty of Can this actually happen? But I haven’t, no, I would say I haven’t waivered. I haven’t waivered. There’s things along the way you want to figure out. I’m always trying to figure this out. Trying to figure that out. But I wouldn’t say I’ve waivered. No.

IVAN: I like to hear that.

ERIC: Thanks.

IVAN: I’m kind of wondering if you’ve already gone through the process of having a mission, a vision, a set of values. You talked about the name of the company, and what that means to you. But have you gone through the exercise? Do you have a set of values you can rattle off the way that we went through the exercise with you?

ERIC: I wouldn’t say I could rattle them off. There are few that I would say, I’ve been circling. I did create, sort of, my purpose. Not sort, I created my purpose [laughing]. I should say that with authority. I really did. You know what it is to help people live in the long run with that mindset. So getting to your question on values; a couple of things have emerged.

One, I really want people to realize—and that word is of value—“realize,” that it signals ‘aha.’ It signals they learned something. But realization also means that it’s already in there. So, a lot of the coaching and the work I do with teams, the knowledge is there. I mean, people know how to build trust with each other, so maybe they’re just not doing it right now. They have knowledge around how to treat their employees, or how to work more effectively. It’s in there, usually. So, by helping them realize, and that signals learning and the value I place on learning. So, that’s one value.

Another one is, matter. So, I want to help people realize how much they matter. And matter is about impact, and every person—and I truly believe this—every person matters. And they matter to their employees. Like you had said, there are people who have mortgages and cars, and they depend on me. So you have impact there. You have impact on your family. So, whether you have kids or not, whether you have a spouse or not, you have some family somewhere, typically, and you impact them through your life, through your leadership. You have impact on your community. You have impact on your clients.

If you’re in a publicly held company, you have impact on shareholders. Right? All these stakeholders. And I think sometimes we don’t realize how much our leadership matters. And so, I really want to help people realize how much they matter. So, realize and matters are two values I would say that are at the forefront of what I’m inspired to do with this company.

IVAN: I think you've started off in a great vein. I think that you’re going to be very successful, Eric, and, I wish you the very best of luck over the coming decades in business.

ERIC: Thank you. I appreciate the sentiment. I appreciate the opportunity to come on and talk with you about it. I’ve always valued your wisdom, your counsel, your guidance and your friendship. So, thanks for having me on.

IVAN: You’re welcome. And thank you for being on the podcast.

ERIC: Thank you.

IVAN: Eric Zakovich is the founder and principal of Long Run Leadership Consulting, and they can be found online at longrunleadership.com. Eric’s the guy to talk to if you need leadership and team guidance, so that you can reach your long run potential.

You’ve been listening to the TEN7 Podcast. Find us online at ten7.com/podcast. And if you have a second, do send us a message, we love hearing from you. Our email address is podcast@ten7.com. Until next time, this is Ivan Stegic. Thank you for listening.

Ivan Stegic

Founder and President
 
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Ivan Stegic

Words that describe Ivan: Relentlessly optimistic. Kind. Equally concerned with client and employee happiness. Bowtie lover. Physicist. Ethical. Lighthearted and cheerful. Finds joy in the technical stuff. Inspiring. Loyal. Hires smart, curious and kind employees who want to create more good in the world. His favorite things right now: the TEN7 podcast and becoming the next Björn Borg.