#27 Building a Team, Adjusting to Change, and Continued Growth with Warren Wilansky

TRANSCRIPT:

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

On this episode, I interview Warren Wilansky. He is the president and founder of Plank, a Montreal based digital agency who specializes in developing websites, and mobile applications primarily for cultural and entertainment organizations. He started this business almost 20 years ago in 1998. I’m really excited to learn from him today, and share his thoughts on business, and leadership, and teamwork, and all the other things that go along with building a business that lasts. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Warren, today. Hey, Warren. Thanks for being on the show.

Warren Wilansky:
Thank you for having me.

Jay Owen:
You have been in business for a long time, doing a very similar thing to what I do, which is running a digital agency. One really unique thing about this episode for anybody that’s listening, well, two things, actually. One, is I’m drinking a mimosa during the episode for the first time, so that’s unique.

Warren Wilansky:
Wow.

Jay Owen:
The second is that you are actually in Canada, in Montreal, so you’re my first international podcast attendee, so I’m excited about that.

Warren Wilansky:
I guess Canada is international, but I guess I always feel like Canadians, and Americans are pretty much rather sister, cousins, so we’re not all that different. We’re just slightly different.

Jay Owen:
The great thing is we’ve had the opportunity to meet in person a couple of times at bureau events for digital agency owners, so that’s been really fun. I just love seeing some of the stuff that you guys are doing online, and excited to have you on the show.

Warren Wilansky:
Thanks. I appreciate that.

Jay Owen:
One of the things I always like to start with is just to hear from you, you’ve been in business almost 20 years, is that right?

Warren Wilansky:
Yeah. That’s right.

Jay Owen:
Yeah. That’s awesome. Quite a huge accomplishment. Very few businesses make it to that milestone. I’d love to rewind you, all the way back to the beginning. You know, you’re in the late 90s at the beginning of your business when you started Plank. Tell a little bit about that story for people. What made you kind of take that leap? Go from whatever you were doing before to what you’re doing now, and just tell us about those early years and what got you started.

Warren Wilansky:
For sure. It’s really interesting timing that this came up, because we’re heading into our 20th year. I’ve actually started to really start to think back to that time, and we’ve been writing some journal posts, and exploring it, and going through archives, so it’s really an interesting time. In thinking about why I started it, there was kind of two factors to it. One, is of it I would honestly call arrogance, in other words, I was 20, late 20s, 26, 27, and I worked freelance for a few different companies over about a year and a half after finishing university.

I just looked at how other companies were running, and I just felt like I can do it. I felt like I had the capacity to do it myself, which is crazy, because I had no background in business, I had no marketing background, and I just thought that I could somehow pull this off. The other thing was my personal interest in the internet at the time, and probably still is what I’m driven by is design, usability, interactivity, and user experience. The companies that I had worked with a lot of the times that wasn’t their focus. I really wanted to build something, which was more creatively focused, and creatively driven.

Jay Owen:
Yeah. I love that. It’s interesting you talked about kind of almost having an arrogance, or an attitude that kind of gave you the ability to start something that maybe you weren’t ready for, but I think that’s true for a lot of entrepreneurs. I mean, it’s kind of like, I compare it to having children, sometimes. People will say, “I’m not ready to have a child,” I’m like, “You’re never ready to have a child.” There is nothing that can prepare you to have a child, no matter how many books you read, and I feel like that’s kind of true for business, too. You can’t actually be totally prepared to start your own business. You’re going to find out you don’t know a lot of things along the way.

Warren Wilansky:
I think your kind of, not kind of right, I think you’re totally right. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t even call it a business at the time. It was just, hey, and it was myself and two partners, because on one side I say I arrogantly started a business. On the other end, I didn’t even have the confidence in myself to think that I could run something myself. There were so many different emotions at the time going through my head I just think it came down to I wanted to be charge of my own destiny, even thought I didn’t even know what that destiny looked like.

Jay Owen:
That’s really interesting. You started out with two partners, so there were three of you in the early days?

Warren Wilansky:
There were three of us in the early days. One of which, didn’t work out early on, so he had left to go onto pursue other things, and then my other business partner, her name is Chris [inaudible 00:04:49], she was with us until 2004, and then she herself also decided, you know this isn’t for me, I want to do other things. I remember specifically having discussions with her, and saying the words, “In 10 years from now, in 15 years from now,” and I was completely comfortable envisioning that future, and saying, “Hey, I can see myself here sitting in this seat working on this company, working on this little team for 10, 15 years,” and it almost made tears well up in her eyes. It was clear that she just didn’t want to invest that much, that big chunk of her life into one thing.

Jay Owen:
That’s really interesting. I think that, that vision point is really important, especially talking about entrepreneurship I think you have to have that vision if you want to build a long-term business, and the business that lasts decades, in this case. That’s not for everybody, and that’s okay. Some people want to one thing for a couple of years, and go do something else for a couple of years, and constantly do something different, but I always feel like even though I’ve been in the same business similar to you for almost 20 years, I still feel like its kind of totally different all the time, because so much change is in the industry, and there’s certain principles, and things that are foundational. I feel like so much has changed in the last 20 years, especially when it comes to the internet that it’s always interesting to me, and new, even if it’s the same business.

Warren Wilansky:
Yeah. I would agree with you. I mean, I think one internet changing makes it exciting. Two, being a service business, it always happens that we’re starting on new projects. If something feels like it’s getting stale, or going in one direction a new project can totally reinvigorate things. The other thing that I found is that I feel like I personally have gone in what I would call four or five year cycles where for four or five years I can be very comfortable with what I’m personally doing. Then I find that I have to shift what I’m doing in some way or another, so that even if it is the same company, same room, and in some cases some of the same people, the job, or what I’m focused on has to shift, so that I can get challenged. I usually find that I feel a little bit of burnout when I hit that four or five year mark doing the same thing, and then I just think to myself, I need to shift and do something different.

Jay Owen:
Yeah. I totally resonate with that. I always say that, “I’m the least comfortable when I’m the most comfortable,” and what I mean by that-

Warren Wilansky:
Totally.

Jay Owen:
Is that I get to a point where I feel like everything is just firing all cylinders, and I think part of it is that entrepreneurial spirit inside of me that goes, “Okay. I need something fresh. I need something that’s challenging me. I need something different,” whatever that is. I totally resonate with that.

Warren Wilansky:
Yeah. I mean, if I think back to the early days, I mean, for the first four or five years I really wanted to be focused on doing the design myself, and then I got to another period where I wanted to then be focusing on managing projects, and managing the team. Then I moved on from that, and then was starting to take ownership of running the company overall, and then we promoted up one of my long-term employees, Steve Bissonnette, to be a partner. Then I had that ability to have a partner to deal with. Then I really started to focus on business development and marketing, and that’s really where my focus is now. I’m interested to see what comes next.

Jay Owen:
Yeah. I want to come back to that, promoting an employee to partner, because I think that’s going to be an interesting topic for a lot of people, but before I do that, one of the things you mentioned there as well, which I think is interesting, is you talked about kind of transitioning from being the technician to being the entrepreneur to being the manager, that’s a big thing that I talk about a lot from a book called, E-Myth, that love. I’m curious, for you, because you are really kind of a designer by trade, right? I mean that’s kind of like your specialty to some extent.

Warren Wilansky:
Yeah. My background isn’t traditionally design, but it was communication study, so a lot-

Jay Owen:
Okay.

Warren Wilansky:
Of it was creative. I ended up focusing in that program in university on what they called at the time multimedia, in other words, we were dealing with building CD-ROM’s, CD-ROM projects, and I fell in love with the internet, so I quickly shifted my interest towards internet design. It was definitely content, and design around digital projects. It’s not a traditional graphic design background, but it definitely is design focused, and that’s what drove me, originally.

Jay Owen:
I’m curious, for you, when you think about the three types of roles from a technician who’s actually doing the physical work to an entrepreneur who’s casting vision, and helping kind of coerce people, and a manager whose kind of doing more of the task oriented stuff, making sure all the T’s are crossed, and the I’s are dotted. Is there one of those that you struggle with the most, or one of them that you feel the strongest drawn toward, or does that change by season?

Warren Wilansky:
I think it changes a little bit, but I would say I enjoy thinking about the company. In other words, you brought up the E-Myth, and it’s been a while since I read that book, but I remember when I did read it at the time it was one of the earlier books I read about business, because again, not having a business background I didn’t even understand that there were books about it, I mean, you know, but I didn’t get the whole I idea, and then when I read E-Myth that it really did resonate with me, that idea of working in or on the business. Once I accepted that the company itself was a creative project that I could own, and melt, and shape, and work with a team on making it a place that is more interesting, and vibrant, and enjoyable, that in itself became a creative pursuit, too.

Jay Owen:
That reminds me of a quote that’s in your bio on LinkedIn that I read, and I just want to read it, because I think it’s interesting. You said this, “I try to give my team the opportunity to work on meaningful, and interesting projects in a supportive, cooperative environment. I can trace my leadership style back to my summer camp days, and I do my best to make sure Plank is a great place to work.” That seems like something that’s really important to you.

Warren Wilansky:
Yeah. I’m happy you read that. I haven’t looked at that in a while, and I think that does resonate. I want my team to be challenged, and not just challenged meaning I want them to work harder and over work, I want them to have interesting projects that they can sink their teeth into, and really build their own skills from, and learn from. Summer camp, you brought that up it’s in the bio, because summer camp is something that I think was really important in developing me as a human being, as an individual, so a lot of what I learned going to summer camp kind of works into the way I see the vision of the company, and the way I want it to be run.

Jay Owen:
I think I love things like that, because it’s so nontraditional in the sense of it’s not like some specific class that you took in school, or some formal process. There’s this idea and this kind of memory of summer camp, and the things that, that meant to you, and how those things kind of now apply to your business many years later. That to me, I just love that kind of stuff, to hear from business owners. That’s really cool.

Warren Wilansky:
Yeah. I was going to quickly say towards that, one of the stories that I remember from summer camp that resonated with me, and I didn’t realize it, how it applied to running a company until years later was I had done pretty well as a counselor at summer camp, and at one point was helping to run half of the camp, and it was a pretty large camp. But I remember the person in charge just a head of me had said to me straight out, “You’re 19 years old, and you’re right now in charge of managing over a 100 staff, 300 or 400 campers,” he’s like, “It’s very rare somebody at your age is going to get that leadership opportunity,” and I didn’t see it as that, at the time, but obviously I think I’ve gained a lot from it.

Jay Owen:
Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, that’s a huge opportunity to be put in a position like that, especially at an early age, to be able to lead. You know? And have the opportunity to learn what that means to try and help and encourage other people to be able to operate at their highest levels, and be able to be supportive, and cooperative like you talked about. I think that’s really critical.

Warren Wilansky:
Absolutely.

Jay Owen:
I want to circle back, like I said. You talked about Steve on your team, and promoting him from an employee to a partner. I think that’s probably a very interesting topic for people out there that maybe have been in business for a few years, and might be in a situation where they have an employee that they’re saying, “Hey, this person might be kind of next level material.” I’d love to hear a little bit more about that transition for you. How it came about, and how that’s worked for you?

Warren Wilansky:
How it came about was like this, at certain points, Steve was our first employee, so first person we hired. He had done every role in the company as we grew from being a team of three or four people to where we are now, which is roughly 15, again, not a large company, but still substantial enough, for me at least. The thing that I noticed is that one, he had done every job, so he understood the company as deeply as I did. Two, I think he was as if not some days more bought in than I am to the company, he’s always really just lived it as much as I have, so there was one day where I looked at him, I said, “Why aren’t you a partner, yet? You’re just as bought into this company as I am,” and he kind of laughed, and agreed.

We just came up with framework for him to become a partner, because if he’s not going anywhere, he deserves to benefit from helping to shape this company as much as I get the opportunity to do that. What ended up happening, the benefit was, it was right around the timeline, because I want the transition, some of my role a bit. He’s really taken over a lot of the day to day running of the company, whereas I’m working on trying to set the vision, and also get us great, interesting work to work on.

Jay Owen:
Yeah. I love that. That’s not a transition that I’ve tried to make or been successful at doing, yet. I’ve been around for a while, we have about 12 people on the team, internally, but I at some point can see needing that. It’s always interesting to me to hear people who have done it successfully, and I think that having met both you and Steve before at events, it’s clear that you all operate as a true team, and that’s really cool to see. One of the things you mentioned, there, was that he had done every job.

That’s really I think important, or at least it’s added a lot of value for me, because I know on the team members who have kind of elevated a little bit in leadership roles within the company, but a lot of them have had their hands in a lot of different things, and that creates so much value, because even if they don’t need to do the actual task they understand at least how much time might be involved, and what challenges might occur, and what risks pop up. I think that’s really kind of a key point for him, there, as well.

Warren Wilansky:
Yeah. I think you just gave insight to something really important is that he as a result of doing all those different things has a deep understanding of the different parts of the company, and yeah, there’s definitely the reality right now that I don’t code on a day to day basis, anymore, and neither does he, but we both at least have an intrinsic understanding of what that looks like even if the tool set, and the code, and the depth of what the team can do right now is beyond what myself, or he can produce.

Jay Owen:
Because there really is nothing more frustrating in many cases for a designer, or developer when somebody comes along and says, “Oh, this should be really easy. Just do this, this,” and they don’t really understand the complexity of what they’re asking. I think having a leader in place who whether they’re doing it now or not at least that they understand that is, I think, for a leadership opportunities for the rest of the team, especially in our world of being a digital agency. It’s just huge.

Warren Wilansky:
Yeah. I mean, I think one of the things I realized a few years ago, and hope that I catch myself anytime that I do this, going back maybe 10 years ago, one of my employees pointed out to me that I was using the word, “This should be easy, this should be simple, that should be quick.” They were right, by my doing that I was minimizing them and their ability to do their job, and how I viewed it, so they felt that I was just not viewing what they did as important. I try to be very, very conscious now of not using those words, and it frustrates me because there are sometimes where let’s say a client, or perspective client will say that word to me, and it gets my back up, because our work isn’t easy, our work is challenging, and you’re hiring us because we’re professionals who can do great quality work. That sometimes just gets under my skin a bit.

Jay Owen:
Yeah. Absolutely. I totally get that. It’s hard for people that haven’t done it before that are on the outside that are clients. I have to remind myself of that, and remind our team of that, but they really don’t know how hard some of this stuff is. They look at something, and think, well, this should be simple, but simple and easy aren’t the same thing, and even though something needs to be really clear, and concise, and clean, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy to get there. It’s reassuring to hear other people dealing with the same things regardless of location, and team.

Warren Wilansky:
Absolutely. I mean, here’s a little game for you, or for anybody who is listening to this podcast, too, go on Facebook, take a look at whenever anybody’s asking for a recommendation for something, to hire somebody, it’s always like, “Find somebody great for me, who can do this job, because it’s really simple, so it shouldn’t be expensive,” or, “Find somebody who can do this for me really quick,” and you just realize that people don’t realize that by doing that the person they’re looking to work with or hire, they’re minimizing their expertise right away.

Jay Owen:
Yeah. Absolutely. I try and be conscious of that, too, myself whenever I’m working with somebody else, because I always have to tell myself, “Look if this was really that easy then why am I looking for somebody else to do it, why don’t I just do it myself?” Usually, it’s because I can’t do it myself and I need somebody else who has some level of expertise to do whether it’s plumbing, or electricity, or any other trade that I have no talent or ability in it whatsoever. It might look easy, but only because they’ve been doing it for 20 years.

Warren Wilansky:
That’s exactly it. In other words, that expertise that somebody else has that you don’t have it’s an exchange, and that’s what we’re doing, that’s how this whole business thing works, which is I want to work with you, because you do things substantially better than I do, and I hope that it will be reciprocal the other way around.

Jay Owen:
Yeah. I love that. One of the things I always like to dig into a little bit is thinking through, you know, anybody who has been in business long enough has been through some difficult days, and you got to learn to walk through those valleys, and walk out of them. I’m curious for you, if there’s any difficult days, or seasons that you might be willing to share that might be an encouragement for somebody else to realize that whatever they’re going through is probably not unique, and that other people have walked through difficult days, too. What are some of the struggles maybe you encountered in the early days of the business that you had to learn how to work out of?

Warren Wilansky:
If I’m going to go back to the early days, the few that I can tell you is that one is non of us, like our early partners did not understand money. We really didn’t. We understood there was money in the bank, so we can pay the people. We didn’t think, and we were not forward enough thinking of thinking beyond this money. Then all of a sudden, I mean, the first big crisis we had was in the early 2000s, we had work for the people who were sitting in the office at the time, we didn’t think about what happens in two months from now when that project’s done. We had made the mistake of over hiring, or not reacting quick enough when we didn’t have enough understanding of the work that was coming up.

That was the first lesson, which is how to manage money. We had made mistakes with that, and mistakes with taxes, and my general feeling now, I’ll always say is the first thing you do is just pay your taxes. Get them out of the way, don’t fool around with that, because that is probably going to be the most aggressive person coming to get your money, if you have any kind of financial problems. That would be the one, first thing, that was the first big lesson we definitely learned.

The other thing that I’ve always found the most difficult is always relating to people. In other words, if we have a client that’s a difficult one to deal with, those are the things that will tear the team down, those are the things that will really hurt morale. Whenever we find somebody who doesn’t mesh with us, and never now use the word bad client, because there’s no such thing for me as a bad client, it’s just a person whose personality doesn’t mesh with us. They could mesh perfectly with another team, who’s different from us, so whenever we have a client that doesn’t work, that’s usually the thing that I need to find a way to have them move on to somebody else as quickly as possible.

Same thing whenever there’s been major stresses in the office, it’s usually there is some team member that we have who hasn’t worked out. It’s been rare, because I think we’ve actually been really, pretty good at hiring, and identifying who’s a good team member, and how somebody fits in, but the few times that we had stress in the office it’s usually been related to that.

Jay Owen:
Yeah. Those are three really big things. Money, relating to clients, and hiring. The money thing is I think just so huge, cashflow is probably one of the number one reasons, I think it is the number one reason that people go out of business in the first couple of years, and certainly not paying your taxes, or at least not understanding that process can be really bad. I’ve had a few negative instances myself over the years where things didn’t get paid at the right time, all of a sudden they stack up, and they stack up really fast, if you don’t do them in the right timeframe.

Warren Wilansky:
Absolutely.

Jay Owen:
I’m curious with relating to people, and not using the bad client term, which I love that, although, I still probably use that term sometimes. I’m curious for you how you identify and when you’re able to identify that this person, or this team, or this company is not a good fit for us, and we’re not a good fit for them. What helps you identify that? How do you sever that relationship in a way that is as positive as you can, so that you’re not burning down bridges, and creating a lot of negativity out there?

Warren Wilansky:
The first thing is I find that I think one of the important parts of my job, especially that I’m the first contact with most clients, and perspective clients is to be that first filter. In other words, if I can ask the right questions, or I can have that proper conversation I should be the first line of making sure that we don’t take on work with somebody who’s not going to mesh with us. Truth is, I don’t always get it right. There are times that we end up working with somebody who just doesn’t fit with us right.

The goal then is to find a way to kind of have them move on. I don’t even see it as severing a relationship, I see it as setting up a framework for them to move on to the next team that they’re going to work with. I think the way that we do it now it’s probably the best is being open and honest. In other words, we’re saying the words, “Hey, it feels to me this relationship is not working as well as it should,” and the person on the other end is almost always going to say the exact same thing like, “Yeah. This isn’t working for us, either.”

The key is then making it something where you say, “Let’s work together to transition you to the next team.” I have no problem putting in the time and effort to actually take whatever we know, transition it to another team, and move somebody off in a positive way. That’s the way we found the best way to do it. In other words, there is no firing the client at Plank. I really see it as working to transition them to somebody else.

Jay Owen:
That’s good. I mean I’m not sure I’m quite that gentle, and maybe I need to learn from that a little bit. I like that perspective a lot. Let’s move down one more, then, and dig a little more deeper into the hiring question when you’re working on hiring the right people. How do you find the right people for your team? What’s been successful for you in that hiring process? There’s so many questions that come into searching for the people, doing the interviews. How do you guys do it? What have you found that has worked for you?

Warren Wilansky:
It used to be, up until about three or four years ago that I would do the majority of the interviews. I would be the one leading it, and I would be the one choosing based on instincts. There would be times when it would let’s say be a developer we do some more checking on their code and testing, but it was really led by me. Now, and this is really a little bit more of a revelation over the past year or two is that I realized the transition to me not being the only person interviewing, myself and Steve interviewing, but also encouraging the whole team to be involved in the interviewing process.

What ends up happening is I think the team that we have now is less influenced by me, and my bias, because my bias would have been, and always is to chose somebody that I kind of mesh with. I forget that it’s not just meshing with me, it’s about meshing with everybody that’s sitting in the office. As a result I think we have a more interesting, diverse, diverse in not just physically, or diverse as far as ethnicity, or background, but just diverse in ways of thought, and I think that, that’s been a healthy change.

Jay Owen:
Yeah. I love that, and the idea of having the whole team involved, or at least key portions of the team that are going to interact with whoever the new person is. I love that. I think that’s really huge, and even you realizing that, that person doesn’t have to just mesh with you, but they’ve got to mesh with everybody. To some extent that’s almost more important that they’re able to work well with the rest of the team than even just you, especially once you get past a certain number, I think once you get past probably 10 people that’s even more true than it is if you’re just two or three people.

Warren Wilansky:
Absolutely. I’ll tell you a little story, and again this is some of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about, recently. When we first started the company, and maybe even up to a few years ago, maybe more than a few years ago, but still recent enough, my first view on who we should hire is, hey, can I go out with them for a beer, and if I could a good conversation with them, that’s the kind of person we want to have on the team. You know what? That’s unfair, because that knocks out so many different people, what if somebody doesn’t drink? What if somebody isn’t interested in drinking? What if somebody’s more shy, and insular, and they would be uncomfortable in that situation? I was putting that on somebody else as a way to chose the team, and now that, that’s gone away I think we’re choosing better team members that actually fit, not just myself, and my expectation, but the expectation of the team as a whole.

Jay Owen:
Yeah. I love that. I mean I think that those ideas are really critical, and it’s easy to take a long time to get there, so that’s one of the things I love about this podcast is being able to share this with other folks out there who are in business. If they just take one thing away from a conversation like this, and go, “Oh. You know what? I need to try that.” I found so many times having those opportunities, especially being at events, like Owner Summit, and things lik that, that a lot of us go to, I mean that’s been really valuable for me to just gain insight from other owners, and learn what other people are doing, and how they’re doing it.

Warren Wilansky:
Yeah. I’d agree with you. I mean, the Owner Camp, Owner Summit, Bureau of Digital Experience, I think was really defining for me, personally. Part of it was, because on one level you get reinforced with, “Oh, okay, I’m doing all right,” there’s a lot of other people out there who are doing some of the things that I’m doing, so you start to feel good about what you’re doing, and I think it’s important to get that positive reinforcement, but it’s also important to see the different ways people are, like when you look at that whole community that we both interacted with, there are some really different characters, and really different people running companies in different ways, so it’s a matter of seeing others who you can aspire towards, or you can learn from, and make the company yourself better, because of it.

Jay Owen:
I don’t know about you, but for me one of the biggest takeaways from a lot of those types of events, too, is that there’s not one way to run a company. My company doesn’t have to look like your company. That’s okay. You know? There might be things that-

Warren Wilansky:
Absolutely.

Jay Owen:
That each of us do that are similar, or you might list 10 things that you guys might do, and I might have one of them that I go, “You know what? That’s a great idea. Let me try that,” and I might hate the other nine, and it might not work for my team, and my culture, and my location. I’ve just learned over the years to go, “That’s okay. It doesn’t have to be somebody else’s system.” That’s why so many of us start our own companies, is to do things the way we think is right, regardless of what anybody else thinks in the long run.

Warren Wilansky:
I think you’re 100% right on that. That’s exactly how I feel about that, too.

Jay Owen:
One of the things I always like to do is we start to get a little farther into these episodes, and start to get towards the end is one of the struggles for a lot of entrepreneurs, and a lot of business owners is to get so wrapped up into the business that they feel overwhelmed, or feel like they don’t have time for anything else, whether it’s friends, or family, or community outside of work, or whatever, and I’m curious for you there’s that whole work, like, balance question that comes up, I don’t even love that term, but it’s the easiest way to describe it. I’m curious, how that’s worked for you over the years? Do you struggle with that, or is that something you’ve been pretty comfortable with? How do you define work, life, balance? How does your life take shape around the business, and outside of the business?

Warren Wilansky:
My silly answer to that is there is no work, life, balance, because it’s all work. But I’m lying if I actually put it that way. On one level, to be honest, I mean, I don’t personally have a family, so I don’t have a partner, I don’t have children, so on one level you could say, “Well, he must just only work on his business,” and I could play that up if I wanted to, but that’s not a 100% true. I’ve learned how to take time for myself and balance myself out. I would describe myself as a little bit more introverted, but I use that not in the stereotypical way, but more just I need to recharge to have any kind of energy.

I can have energy for the 40 hours that I’m sitting in the office working with a team, preparing work, but I also need to have that down time to rebalance myself. I have hobbies that I take care of. I try to travel, and if I do even travel for work, I always try to take a day for myself, so that I have that opportunity to enjoy, and experience different things. I definitely invest time into myself as a balance to the amount of work that I put into work now. I definitely love my work, and I’m willing to bet a lot of people would call me a workaholic, and they wouldn’t be wrong with that, because I am driven by what I do. I still wake up every morning excited to go into that office.

Jay Owen:
That’s awesome. I think ultimately at the end of the day if you are in a place where you’re not burned out, and where you feel like within your own environment, you have harmony or balance, or whatever is the word that we want to use, I certainly don’t believe it’s like 50/50, like life has to be half work, and half other things. You know? Some even for me, like live in a different world, because I’ve got five little ones running around between-

Warren Wilansky:
Wow.

Jay Owen:
Ages of five and 13, but that goes back, too, to the way I’m doing things is my way, and the way you’re doing things is your way, and neither one is necessarily right or wrong. It’s just how we’ve chosen to operate within our spaces, and as long as we’re able to find a place, we’re not ending up at the end of the day completely frazzled all the time, I think that’s what’s most important for business owners out there is to go, “Hey, there’s going to be seasons where it’s a little bit crazy inside of work,” and you’re going to have tough days, and maybe even tough weeks and months, but finding I think your own harmony is really important.

Warren Wilansky:
I think it’s not even about me, if I think about my team as well. Each one of them has a different lifestyle.

Jay Owen:
Yep.

Warren Wilansky:
There are multiple people on my team who have children, obviously. There are multiple people on my team who don’t have children. There are people who are in their 40s. There are people who are in the 20s. Everybody’s lifestyle is slightly different, and everybody’s life expectations are different, and we as a company have to be ready to adjust to that. In other words, I recognize if somebody has young kids, and they’ve got to go pick them up from daycare, they have to have a flexible schedule, and we have to be flexible with that, but at the same time we accommodate other peoples lifestyles who do different things. I think it’s not just about my work, life, balance, it’s about the work, life, balance of the team as a whole.

Jay Owen:
Yeah. I love how much you obviously care about your team. I think that, that is the sign of many successful leaders, and probably a sign of why you’ve made it as many years as you have in business.

Warren Wilansky:
Yeah. The funny thing about that, and again, these are some of the things that I’ve thought about recently is one of my biggest weaknesses, and probably at the same time one of my biggest strengths is that I’m not driven by money. I know that most traditional company owners are at some level driven by money first and foremost, that was not why I did this. I got into this because I had an interest and love of the craft. The money has come with it, and the ability to pay this team of roughly 15 people has turned itself up, but that’s not my defacto focus.

Jay Owen:
That’s awesome. You’ve got to know what motivates you, and you got to know what motivates your people, and it’s not always money, even team members, I mean once people hit a certain amount of income, sometimes it’s other things like you said, flexible schedules, or it could be a million other things, depending on who the person is, and knowing what those people need, want, and desire is probably more important than knowing what I want, most of the time.

Warren Wilansky:
Yeah. The reality, too, is the one thing I think small digital studios like ours have to realize is that we can’t look at Google as the model for-

Jay Owen:
Yeah.

Warren Wilansky:
The kind of business we’re going to build. I think there was a time in which I saw those Google perks of meals every day, and gym memberships, and all those things. You know what? Good for them, they’re a public company, or they’re with hundreds of billions of hours that they can afford that. We’re a small company. There’s certain things that we offer lifestyle wise, there’s a certain humbleness that we offer, and that’s what’s going to drive people to work with us. If somebody is driven by money, it’s going to have to be with companies that are much bigger than us, that can afford to do that.

Jay Owen:
Yeah. You got to know who you are, and what your culture is, and what you’re able to provide. I think that’s critical. One of the last things I like to wrap up with, there’s two final questions. The first one’s going to be how you continue your own growth, and the last one is just a chance for any other things that you think may help other business owners out there. First question, how do you continue your own personal leadership growth, personal growth, craft growth within the industry? Obviously, we’re in a very quickly changing industry. Is it books? Is it podcasts, blogs, events, a mentor? What is it that helps you kind of feel like you’re able to keep learning, and keep growing?

Warren Wilansky:
My answer to that is yes to everything above that you just mentioned. I love to read. Reading is probably the first line of things that I like to do. Reading is definitely something that drives my knowledge growth. I also feel like I like to learn, and pretty good at independent learning, so I can take that on myself. At the same time, I definitely invest to events for growth. We mentioned before the Owner Camps, and Owner Summit events, and those have been fantastic for building a network of people that I now can rely on and if I travel somewhere I can go out for dinner with them, and we can sit, and talk about what we’re doing.

I mean, in some ways what we’re doing right now is part of that experience, and I think that, that’s been really powerful. I mean, yeah, that’s probably the main ways that I do it. I mean, it’s independent learning. We’ve definitely, I’ve brought on business development mentors that we’ve been working with. We now have a virtual CFO who’s helping us out, so we’re starting to learn how to depend on a community in our network to build a better business.

Jay Owen:
Yeah. That’s good stuff. I think that continuing education is critical for anybody. You got to find a way to make it work for you. Any final thoughts? Things we haven’t covered, things that you think might be helpful for other people who are wanting to build a business that lasts?

Warren Wilansky:
This is going to be maybe a little bit, not theoretical, but more just cushy little idea that might seem a little bit flipping, but the reality for me is I think for me if I was starting a business, or I was in a business, the first thing that I’d want to make sure is make sure that its something you’re passionate about. Other people might be driven by other things.

If tomorrow there had to be another business that I had to start, I would look at what I’m passionate about, and start from there. That’s how Plank started, which is I was passionate about the internet. I was passionate about computers, and I was passionate about creativity and design. That’s still the focus of the company, the company has changed enormously over 20 years, but that core interest of myself is still the same.

Jay Owen:
Yep. I love that. I love the passion that you have for your work, still, after 20 years. I love how you obviously care about your team, and the people that you work with, and working with the right people and just the way you care for folks. I think that’s really respectable, and something I definitely aspire towards. Warren, thank you so much for being on the podcast today.

Warren Wilansky:
Thank you. This has been great.

Jay Owen:
If you want to find out more about Warren, and his company Plank, you can find them online at plankdesign.com. They do some really cool stuff. I would encourage you to check them out. Find out more episodes at jayowenlive.com. I hope this episode has given you some ideas or inspiration that will help you grow your business.

If you found it helpful, and you know somebody else who might benefit from it as well, I would greatly appreciate it if you would take the time to share this with them, maybe on Facebook, or Twitter, or LinkedIn, or even shoot an email over to a friend with a link to this podcast in it. If you haven’t already make sure you sign up for our email list at jayowenlive.com.

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