#17 - How to build what matters with Ben Foster

June 13, 2023
Ben Foster

Episode Summary

This week on The Aro Podcast, we take a break from our usual topics and dive into the ins and outs of startups and the world of product-driven companies with our special guest, Ben Foster. As an advisor to Aro and the co-founder of Prodify, Ben brings a wealth of insights and experiences from his work with top tech companies. This episode is a must-listen for business leaders and entrepreneurs, as Ben and Joey discuss behind-the-scenes details of the business side of Aro and how their paths crossed. Ben opens up about his career journey, including his time at Whoop, and the inspiration behind his book, Build What Matters, which unveils his methodology for building a product-driven company. Prepare to be inspired as Ben shares his disciplines for goal achievement, and don't miss his powerful statement on the value of time as a precious commodity.

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Episode Transcript

Ben Foster (00:00):
From that moment, it really started to make me go back and think about the experiences that I've had at different kinds of companies, you know, et cetera. And, and I looked back and I was like, the companies that I worked at that were the most successful were the ones that really always paid attention to the customer. And they focused on solving a customer problem so well that they were almost destined to be successful as a business themselves, right? It's like, if you do it so well, then why would a customer leave you? Right? You know, you, you just deliver so much value that you're going to find the, the opportunity to create that value yourself.

Joey Odom (00:36):
Welcome back to The Aro Podcast. It is your good friend Joey Odom, co-founder of Aro. And as you know, The Aro Podcast is conversations with people who strive to live intentionally. And we have a great one today, Ben Foster. Ben is an author, he's a former chief product officer at Whoop. He's an advisor at Aro, he's an inventor, husband, great guy. He's just a brilliant guy. 17 patents and has a really interesting approach when it comes to practical application of philosophical ideas. And that's one thing I really, really loved about this discussion. When we get to the end, I'd really encourage you to listen to all the way to the end, cuz at the very end we get into some of his philosophy on intentionality and the way that he has some practical tools that he's applied towards that. So, I loved our discussion and I hope you do as well. Without further ado, here is Ben Foster. Aro Podcast listeners, a little warning for you. This guy's fingerprints might be already all over your wrist or they might be in your kitchen or in an app in your smartphone or on your bookshelf because his fingerprints are in a lot of the products you might just use. So joining us today is Ben Foster, author, former chief product officer at Whoop, advisor at Aro, inventor, husband, dad, great guy, and by far the smartest person recording this podcast right now. Ben, welcome to The Aro Podcast,

Ben Foster (02:02):
<laugh>. Hey, it's so great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Joey Odom (02:05):
Absolutely. Thank you. Alright, well let's, I wanna, I wanna jump in to start like when we met and how we met and we have a, we have a great story about that, but I'd like to hear your side of the story on, on how you, and you and I met and you met Aro, and then I'll kick off our side of the story.

Ben Foster (02:21):
All right, sounds good. Well, we'll start there. Um, well, hey, it's great to, uh, to get to talk to everybody here. Thanks for having me on the podcast. Um, you know, my story, uh, of Arro reaching out to me was, was a really cool one. You know, I had just finished up my time, uh, over at Whoop, uh, where I was a chief product officer there. Um, and you know, one of the things that that's always been consistent in my career is that I've focused on the same kind of problem over and over. And that problem is how do you take all this data and all this sort of like, insights and information and turn it into action so that it changes people's behavior in some ways so that you can kind of like, you know, um, have a really positive influence on their lives.

And so I had been doing that as an advisor for a whole bunch of different companies. And at the same time that I was trying to kick things back up into gear myself as an advisor working with tech companies, I just got this call outta the blue <laugh>, you know, from these guys who were at ro and, and I was like, wait, this is, this is really fascinating, you know, cuz they're working on something that is really changing things for the better, that's giving people more time in their lives, you know, et cetera. So I was just really excited about the opportunity to work on that, but it really tapped into this thing that I've always been really excited about in my own career, which has been the use of behavioral science to try to change people's behaviors and have those kind of interventions that, that make them look back and say, wow, you know, I couldn't have done that had it not been, um, you know, that this technology was applied in, in my life. So it's exciting and it's, it's exactly the kind of thing that I love. And it was, I was like kind of love at first sight from my perspective,

Joey Odom (03:49):
<laugh>. Well, it was, um, we, we had, we had admired you from afar, so it was nice to make the connection. And, and what's funny, so here's here's the other side on our story. So we, we had, um, we had launched informally to the market. We'd been taking pre-orders and, and things were a little bit slow and we had, we, we kind of, you know, gut shot on our pricing model. And then we said, but, but sales were kind of slower. It's a brand new thing. It's, you know, new to the market, it's on kind of an odd pricing model. And so when we, and it was all on pre-order orders, but then on the day that we switched from pre-orders to actual orders, we said, Hey, things have been slow, but <laugh>, hey buddy, when we turn onto actual orders, it's gonna start flying in.

And we did that and we said, it's available now. We sent it out to our email list, putting it on socials and crickets, not a single order that day. And we, we literally now refer to it as Crickets Day. And Heath Wilson, a's co-founder said, he said, that was the kick in the teeth. I needed to do something. And we had known your work for a while and Heath said, you know, darn it, I'm gonna call Ben Foster. He is a pricing expert, a product expert. And it, and, but what's funny about it is, we had talked about doing that for a year, but it was this kick in the teeth today, the crickets day, and we engaged with you, Ben, and it has been, uh, honestly like not nothing. This is no bloviating. Like this is, this is nothing short of miraculous from, from when we, and you, you, very quickly you saw the complexity of the business, you saw a lot of com, you know, parallels to the business you'd worked on before. And you said, Hey, here's one glaring flaw and that's your pricing model. And we began with that and it's been since that day, uh, it's been probably 75 days. We have order, have had orders every single day except for one. And we attribute so much of that success to you, Ben, and, and, um, and it was in, what's interesting to me is this

Intuition you had and being able to distill down a bunch of complex things into something really, really simple and taking it down to something really practical. So I I, I don't even know if there's a question in there, but I'd be curious that that skill of yours in doing that, is that something that's come from, is that something that has come naturally? Is that something from years of practice and work, but what is it that you're able to distill the things down really into their essence? Like that?

Ben Foster (06:07):
<laugh>, it's funny that you say that cuz if you ask my wife, I'm probably like the exact opposite of that at home <laugh>. Uh, but yeah, <laugh>, uh, I wish I could be better with that, but I think, um, you know, honestly it probably is just so many years of experience of, you know, you say the same kinds of things over and over and you realize that it's complicated as you're describing it and you reduce it down over time to its kind of most essential elements. And I think in this case, the transition from selling, you know, a device, right? And, and selling a, a product that you buy one time and transforming that into something that's more as a subscription is a really interesting switch. And as I was working on that at Whoop and I was working on that at other companies that I've been a part of as either an advisor or, you know, as, as a head of product, um, what I've realized in that is it's not about, you know, different kinds of business models and things like that.

What it really is is banking on yourself because you succeed when your customers succeed because your customers are using the product, they're getting value out of it, and then they continue to pay for it, you know, month after month after month because they're seeing the impact that it's having on their lives. And so what you're doing is you're sort of trading getting the cash, you know, for, uh, you know, for everything upfront, which is, which is important from a cash flow perspective cuz you have to pay the money to get these devices built, right? Right. And then you kind of, you know, you, you're kind of taking a bet by putting it out there and saying, I, I'm gonna predict that it's gonna be so valuable for somebody that not only are they gonna buy it initially, but they're gonna continue to buy it month after month after month.

Hmm. And if you can do that and you can be successful doing that, then it means that you've completely aligned yourself as a business with the, with your customers as well. And that's actually what really makes it tick. And it's that kind of, you know, alignment with your customers that really, I think is a, is the most transformative part of making that change in the pricing model. Not so much the business model and everything else. Yes, that's, that's there as well, but it's more incidental. The thing you're really trying to do is make it so that your customers succeed, you succeed.

Joey Odom (08:14):
Uh, that, that's one thing that that stands out in a bunch of your thesis is if people have read your book and if they just have known your work, one, one thing you, you talk about a lot is, you know, this long-term value creation for the customer. And, and what's interesting about that is you don't mention that value creation for the, for the company and that that's something that's mm-hmm. <affirmative> that, that subtle nuance and it's, and it's almost like, oh yeah, of course it's for the customer, but I, but it is very genuine and, and it does seem like all of your efforts are focused on that. I'm, I'm curious, how did you get to that, that simple statement, that long-term value creation for the customer? How did you get that orientation truly around the customer? How did you get to that? Have you seen that played out and, and maybe as an opposite, where have you seen examples of maybe people who have gotten that order wrong?

Ben Foster (08:59):
Yeah, you know, I've seen it wrong all the time, <laugh>. And I think that's actually the genesis of it. Uh, there was the, there was this really interesting moment though, and I, I want to credit the CEO of a company that I was working for previously called O Power, uh, which is really heavily using behavioral science to try to, in this case, drive down people's energy consumption in their homes. Um, and uh, there was this moment where he had, um, pulled the whole company together and there were a lot of questions, I think, within the company about whether we were serving utilities or whether we were serving, you know, customers or whether we were serving ourselves, you know, as a business, et cetera. And he, he busted out this Peter Drucker quote <laugh>, which is kind of funny cuz like, I'm not like an old school, you know, business guy or whatever.

And he busted out this quote though. He said, you know, a lot of people think that the purpose of business is to make money. Uh, and that's not true. The purpose of business is to create a customer. And it's actually the unfortunate reality that in a capitalist society that you have to make a profit in order to make it sustainable. Because sometimes you could be generating a lot of value, but you're not able to because you're not able to do so profitably, sustainably, et cetera, right? And so that's almost like the constraint that you're working within. And from that moment, it really started to make me go back and, and think about the experiences that I've had at different kinds of companies, you know, et cetera. And, and I looked back and I was like, the companies that I worked at that were the most successful were the ones that really always paid attention to the customer.

And they focused on solving a customer problem so well that they were almost like, uh, destined to be successful as a business themselves, right? It's like, if you do it so well, then why would a customer leave you? Right? You know, you, you just deliver so much value that you're going to find the, the opportunity to create that value yourself. So I think about the successful businesses that were very customer focused, you know, at the time that I was there, like eBay back in the day, right? Yeah. I mean, you know, very focused on community, very focused on the customer. Um, and, and obviously they were able to make it a really significant profit, but if instead they said, Hey, how can we extract the most money from buyers and sellers, you know, along the way, rather than how can we create this like really interesting kind of, you know, new economy that's out there, um, and support sellers and support buyers who are trying to find the kinds of things that they want and, and share those stories.

Then I think what happens is they erode the value that they're trying to deliver and they end up kind of like unwinding their own business success because they unwound the success, or at least they didn't focus on the success of their own customers, right? So I've just sort of seen this, this kind of thing play out time and time again. And where I think this really hits home. You, you see this a lot in, in B2B companies where they're selling to other businesses because in a B2B sale, you're really trying to say, Hey, look, the return on investment of, of you buying our software or whatever our product is, is gonna be there, right? And a lot of companies focus on, well, what can we do to increase our prices? But you gotta keep in mind that every time you increase your prices or, or you make more money, you're effectively making the value of your product to that business less, right?

So if you can create more value for the companies or the customers or whatever that you're trying to, um, that you're trying to support, then you're creating more sort of like space for you to be able to extract your own value as a business back. And I think that so many companies try to focus on extracting more and more value for themselves out of the customer value that they've already created. Wow. Rather than thinking instead on how do I create more customer value than I have already created? And naturally out of that will become this potential for us to kind of like, you know, get value and profitability and things like that ourselves. But it's just, that's where it always starts, you know?

Joey Odom (12:34):
It, it's so, and even going back to what you said to, you know, kind of banking on yourself, there's a kind of a similar phenomenon going on on here whenever you're, you're banking on the fact that success for your customer results and success for you mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and that's, that's got, that's a risk, right? I mean, that feels mm-hmm. <affirmative>, or at least it feels, it, it's actually funny enough, it's it's the lesser of the risky options of the two options <laugh>, but it feels risky, right? Because you think, how do we, how do we make things, you know, better for us and kind of play that long game? Do you have any examples that come off the top of your head? And you don't have to name names of people who have gotten it backwards. I know you've seen it a bunch, but I'm curious if any kind of poignant ones out.

Ben Foster (13:11):
Yeah. Um, I'm trying to think of specific ones maybe that stick out. Let me, let me think on that and maybe we'll come back to that, you know, later in the, in the episode. But I think that like, you know what, what's funny is every company starts in the right place. You know what? I don't know of any founders that, that came into this and said, you know what, I've been trying to make a dollar and I think that the dollar is best found here. Like, therefore we're gonna go start a company there. And that's it. It's like, no, a lot of these, they are visionaries. They, they do really believe in the problem that they're trying to solve. They do believe in, in creating something new that's going to, you know, either disrupt a market or that's gonna go create some new value for customers or just do a better job than everybody else is doing, et cetera.

Like they, they see the opportunity from a customer lens. And I think what happens is, it's almost like over time the business gets corrupted to some extent. And I don't mean that in like an intentional way or anything like that. I just mean like, it's natural, right? You know, you're, you've got, you know, your profit and loss and you've got your board meetings and they're always asking, you know, <laugh>, every time you make more money, it's like, how come you didn't make more money still <laugh>? And, and so the fastest approach to increasing your profitability often in the short term is to do things mm. That are beneficial for you. And I think that because of the frequency of board meetings and things like that, like every quarter, it's kinda like, you know, you always wanna keep showing results. So you take this short-sighted approach and you say, well, what can I do to kind of like, you know, IM improve the numbers over that time period and you try to improve the numbers with the lowest risk that you can.

And usually, you know, usually the easiest way to do that is, is to do things like, how do we make the joint flow, you know, uh, you know, faster? How do we make it so that it's harder for people? Like, maybe a good example is, is making it harder for people to cancel. Interesting. Like, come on, right? Like if somebody wants to cancel, you know, go solve the problem at its root cause, like the better way to solve that is to make a better product that people don't want to cancel, rather than making it harder for them to do it when they've already decided they wanted to cancel. Maybe that's a good example. And you see this in across all kinds of companies, right? Where they hide the link and it's buried, or you gotta go contact customer support. And I'm like, think of the amount of work that went into burying it and making it harder and giving you all these upsell opportunities and things like that versus the work that they could have put in, which would've both benefited the customer and the business, which is to make it less likely that those customers wanna cancel in the first one.

Joey Odom (15:26):
Gosh, I love that. Yeah. Just make it, make it get to a point where they're, they don't wanna search for the link to cancel, right? Yeah, exactly. That's really, really interesting. I, and I wonder, you said something a second ago that I, that I liked when you said that basically the short term versus long term, and it makes you wonder at the outset of a business a founder has, I think in, in most cases, has a very farsighted view. They're all, they're thinking very long-term there. That's all there is. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> is a long-term view. And you're right as you go, as you keep going along, it's, it's interesting and you would think it would might work the other way as you get more into the business and get more confidence, or maybe you do get, grow to a sense of desperation that your vision shrinks that all of a sudden you're, you're then just thinking short-term and how do I get to the ne? And you're right, especially if you have a bunch of reporting requirements, how do I get to the next thing, the next thing, the next thing as opposed to keeping that long-term view mm-hmm. <affirmative>, which that's gotta be really hard to maintain that long-term view, especially once when you started

Ben Foster (16:22):
It, it, it's interesting cuz I actually see that the long-term view is al almost always still there. What happens is it gets put on hold, right? It's like, you know, there's some sort of downshift in the economy or you know, they lose a particular employee that they think is really important, you know, et cetera. There, there's always something that's going wrong. There's always something that you need to kind of like handle more urgently. And I think that a lot of times what happens is companies focus on the urgent when they should be thinking about the important Yeah. Which is long term. And, uh, and so they make the sacrifices. You know, I can't ca I can't tell you the number of companies that I've worked with where, um, they have a vision document, they have a strategy document, it is long term, it is customer focused.

And then I look at like, okay, well show me what parts of that you're building right now. And they're like, oh, well, you know, we're gonna get to that <laugh>, you know, in six months, right? And it's like, it's like, yeah, you're always gonna be getting to it in six months because the next six months is always focused on the short term kind of like stuff. And by the time you get to six months from now, you're gonna have a new set of six months of things that you're gonna want to do. And it just continues to be put on hold. And I think that that happens just constantly, you know, I, I see it with such frequency. So it's not the issue of of not being long-term thinking enough or not having a customer consideration. It's not taking that and then actually driving your execution plan based upon it. And it's that, it's that connection between those two things that often just gets kind of like completely decoupled

Joey Odom (17:43):
And it's a, you know, it, it's that whole Steven Steven Covey, the urgent and important matrix that you referenced and what's, you know, you get focused on the urgent and not the important versus the important and not urgent. And it can be for sure a vicious cycle. And it makes me think, it's funny you say at the end you think that people, oh, we'll get to that. It reminds me, do you remember, and I don't even know if this is PC anymore, but it is funny, so I think we'll throw it out there <laugh>, if we need to edit it later, we can. Did you ever do that? Do you remember the, the deep thoughts by Jack Handy on Saturday Night Live?

Ben Foster (18:11):
<laugh>? I remember it. Yeah.

Joey Odom (18:12):
So he had one, he said, if I'm ever really rich, I hope I'm not mean to poor people like I am now <laugh>. It's like, it's, it's like you think that something's going to change, you know, something gonna change about you if something external changes and it's the exact same thing, you think like, oh, I hope that we're, you know, yeah, we'll be we'll be long, you know, we'll be farsighted later. Yeah. But not now. You know, nothing's gonna change. You're the one, you're the one the difference. Yeah. Um, I'm curious, so I looked, I, I laughed and you know, was, um, I was looking on your LinkedIn and I looked, and, and normally, you know, when they show the experiences section, you see like the, you know, the three, you have the three top three experiences and then you can expand it to see more. Well on yours it shows the top three. And then it says show 45 additional experiences.

Ben Foster (18:56):

Joey Odom (18:56):
This is the most experience. You're a young, you're a young buck too. So I, I would love for you, take us back where you, you mentioned eBay, I know that was in your history. Take us back to what got you started kind of maybe, maybe even a tad of growing up in your curiosity and then into college through your career. Just give us a little bit of a career arc, Ben Foster.

Ben Foster (19:17):
Sure. Uh, sounds good. You know, well I grew up a poor boy in,

Joey Odom (19:21):

Ben Foster (19:22):
Actually it's kinda true. I, I, so my, my, um, my parents were not, you know, particularly wealthy or anything like that. We grew up in a fairly rural area, uh, on the central coast of California. Um, and you know, lot of, you know, farmers working multiple jobs and things like that in, in that community. And so, um, uh, my dad was a, I'll start with my dad. Uh, he was a teacher at the high school. It's kind of funny cuz he was like the honors English teacher. And I remember, you know, showing up the first day, my very first class of my first day was a class with my own dad as my teacher <laugh>. And I was, you know, mortified and stuff like that. But, uh, but my experience, um, was, was I felt very fortunate because in this community where a lot of people never really got out and a lot of people ended up in jail or things like that and just, it's just kind of a, a, a tougher kind of like environment.

My parents were just incredibly supportive and, and, and, you know, really talk to me about the importance of education and things like that. And, and my dad really, I don't know where he got it from himself cuz his own family, you know, he was like the first one to go to college and Wow. And things like that too. And so I just felt like I was very fortunate to get this kind of guidance and this, this kind of coaching and this, this kind of, you know, set of expectations on me and things like that, that I look back on very fondly and, and appreciative of as an adult now. Uh, and so, you know, I grew up in this, in this rural community. I ended up going to school at Berkeley, uh, and graduated in 1997. Um, and to put that in context, you know, I'm in the Bay Area in 1997, I mean, yeah, right, right.

So I graduate and, and I've got a, a technical degree from a good college and the, the whole internet boom is going on. And it was just this explosive opportunity and, and you know, I got given career opportunities that nobody today would ever be given <laugh>, but it's because, you know, I I was totally inexperienced, but so was everybody, right? <laugh>, you know, no, it's like who had 30 years of, of internet technology experience in 1997, like the, the internet hadn't existed that long, so, right. So I was given these, these roles and things like that that, you know, would've now probably taken 10 years, you know, of experience to get and, and it, and so it just really kind of accelerated, I think, my own growth because, you know, yeah, you learned some of those lessons the hard way, uh, you know, but you're, you're just in the thick of it.

And, and so I was in the thick of it for, for a few years and I was there for the.com bubble. I was there for the.com bust <laugh>, uh, some fun dark days then, you know, that I, that I remember <laugh>. Um, but, uh, but it was just really fascinating. It was just, it was just real trial by fire. And, uh, and so I think I really learned a lot there. I tried to kind of take the things that I picked up, um, you know, when I was at these companies like eBay and, and things like that, and kind of took that show on the road to working with a lot of startups and really, you know, trying to kind of figure out how to, when, you know, when do you use this rule book that you've learned about how to do the job, right?

And when do you go beyond what the rule book tells you and, and try to be more creative and, and thinking about things in new ways. Um, and so I really enjoyed that time during my career and I think it helped me to kind of just rise through the ranks in, in product management to get into executive roles and things like that, which I, you know, eventually did. But what's interesting about my career is I've also floated back and forth between doing these operational roles where you're, you know, responsible for a product team, you know, inside of a company, et cetera, versus playing more of an advisory role like I do with ro. And, um, what I've really liked is, is actually going back and forth between the two. I think that the real world experience makes me that much stronger of an advisor. In fact, I think it's, it's essential if you're gonna be an advisor to actually have lived and breathed it yourself.

But then the experience that I got from advising all these companies, you know, and the reason you, you see 47 more or whatever it is, you know, on, on the profile is because, um, I've done so many different advisory roles with so many different companies. Yeah. And, and what that's allowed me to do is to then do the pattern matching to see what yields success, what yields failure, uh, what are the common traits of, of, you know, companies that, that make it big. What are the kinds of things, um, that most companies struggle with. But if you can solve really, you know, makes a huge difference in the earlier stages and, and things like that. And so most people don't get that many data points, right. You know, where, where they get to learn from that. And so I feel like by learning so much, it's kind of like the irony is as an advisor, you're really supposed to teach.

And I feel like I'm actually probably the one who learns the most through that work that I do. Um, and so then I've gone back and applied that in, you know, these operational roles myself, where I can say, okay, now I've seen the matrix, if you will, and now I know how to like apply that and it kind of gives me these like maybe superpowers in, in more of an operational role. And so going back and forth on that has actually been one of the, the best parts of my career as I kind of, you know, think about, um, what's led to, you know, my own success and my own happiness Yeah. Along the way as well.

Joey Odom (24:17):
What would you say that this, uh, curious thinking about, gosh, about Bay Area, bay area 97, the thick of things. I mean, you say, yeah, it's almost like the what landed the blind, the man with one eyes king, like just <laugh>, just,

Ben Foster (24:29):
That's about right.

Joey Odom (24:31):
So, so what, what, what would you think, can you think back to some real formative, maybe cultures on the early side or experiences? I'd just love to hear maybe any kind of war stories or fun stories, but what was that like in that time? Cause that was, I mean, again, it's the best of times is the worst of times. I know, depending on when it was. But I'd, I'd love to hear just, what was that experience like in in Oh,

Ben Foster (24:54):
It was crazy. It was crazy. So I worked at two companies back to back that were like on opposite ends of the spectrum in like business school, <laugh>, right. Case

Joey Odom (25:04):

Ben Foster (25:05):
Uh, so, so the first one was, was, was the nightmare like failure, uh, case. So I joined a company called Web Van, which most people will not be familiar with. Um, I've actually, I joined a company called, okay. Yeah. Yeah. So some, some people, uh, know, I'll tell you the story. So it was basically like online grocery, like Amazon Fresh. Yeah. Before there was like really even Amazon <laugh>. Um, and, and so, uh, and so we were, you know, basically doing grocery delivery to people's houses, um, back when the internet was very new. And so, you know, really interesting kind of problems we were trying to solve, like how do you create a, a browsing experience, um, online when people are accustomed to like, you know, picking the fruit and, and holding it and smelling it and, you know, things like that. And, um, and so we tried to, to create a business around that.

Um, and it got huge funding. So the company was funded by hundreds of millions of dollars. It had, um, it had a billion dollar valuation as a publicly held company at the time that I joined. Wow. And then one year later, actually less than one year, I think it was like 10 months later, I was one of like five employees left my company and there was zero money in the bank. Like when I joined, there was over 300 million I think, in the bank <laugh>, we burned through. So, so imagine the burn rate of burning through that kind of capital in that amount of time. And it was just such a, such a great lesson in, you know, don't go try to do everything at massive scale early. Like do it at a smaller scale early, learn along the way, figure out what kinds of things work.

And, and so, you know, it was a company that was making investments in, and I'm not exaggerating, like literally robotics to pick apples from a container and a had, you know, where like sure, you know, if you've, if you, if you're, you know, delivering orders with a hundred million apples, like maybe that's more efficient, right? But while you have like 10 apples you're trying to pick while you just pay somebody to pick the 10 apples, you know, it's not that hard. And, uh, and there's a lot of lessons that I think, you know, were, were learned from that that apply to now these more kind of lean approaches and things like that, you know? Yeah. For, for companies. Um, and it was the exact opposite of that. So really interesting kind of like case study there. But I remember when I, when I showed up to work one day and there was literally chains on the doors.

Oh my gosh. And there was a booth, you know, outside and they're like, you know, name please <laugh>. And, and you either went into one side or you went to the other of the parking lot, <laugh>. And one group of people, they said, today's your last day, here's your check. And then for other people that are like, you have two weeks for these people, you have six weeks, you know, whatever. And, uh, and yeah, it was just, just, oh, my incredible experience, you know? And, and so, gosh, the traffic in the Bay Area was so bad during the.com bubble boom because everybody was employed and everybody had these high paying jobs and, you know, things like, it was just nuts. And then suddenly it was just like a ghost town, you know, you drive on the freeway and there was no traffic anywhere, and it was crazy.

And so the funny situation, so there was somebody who, um, I worked very closely with who had gotten an offer from eBay, but they wanted to do a, a reference check. And so she put me down as the person's, uh, contact. And, you know, at the end of the call I was like, oh yeah, she's great. You know, you should definitely hire her, et cetera. Said, is there anything we can help you with? And I said, well, I just got told that I was gonna be leaving as well. Like, do you have any jobs? And they were, and they were like one of the few companies that was hiring at the time. And, and so they said, uh, yeah, you know, I'll put you in touch with a recruiter. And the next thing you know, I had a job at eBay myself. And Wow. You know, landed on two feet, thankfully in a time where really there were almost no jobs.

But I remember, maybe it was six months or so after I joined and things really got, uh, pretty tough where, you know, unemployment levels were really high and things like that. And, and eBay took this full page spread out in like the San Francisco Chronicle, and it was like, we are hiring. Wow. Everyone's gonna be guaranteed an interview. And so it was like, show up on this like, you know, day or whatever, and we're gonna have everybody lined up. Everyone's gonna have a minimum 15 minute interview. And that day I went to work and the traffic on the freeway, <laugh> was backed up like three miles. Like I'm crazy, like three miles to get off the exit to get into like, you know, the parking lot. And, uh, and people were just like, parking, they were just like, I'm just gonna park my car in the middle of the parking lot, like in the middle of the aisle, <laugh> and block other cars in because like they, they so desperate to, to show up on time for this like, you know, interview they're supposed to have.

And it was like, it was, it, it was just, I, I had a, my desk looked out the window where everybody was walking in. Amazing. And it was like thousands of people in the parking lot, like as a zoo. It was, it was just totally nuts. So it was, it was a really, you know, a tough time for a lot of people, et cetera. But, you know, obviously things kind of got back on their feet and Right. You got that kind of web, you know, the, the second iteration of, you know, products and like that where yeah, this is where the Googles and the Amazons and the eBays and things like that emerged. And, um, and I was very fortunate to work for a person who's, you know, I think now very widely regarded as one of the major thought leaders in, in product management, um, who was my boss at the time.

And so I really feel like I got to learn a lot of the stuff that was kinda like the best of the best practices in, in product management, which was this nascent sort of unformed career at the time. People were like, I think my parents never really quite understand exactly what I do even to this day, let alone, especially back then, you know? Um, and, uh, and so, uh, yeah, I feel like I got to kind of like learn from the best and then, you know, riff on some of those ideas and apply some of those myself as well. And it's, it's been great, Neil.

Joey Odom (30:26):
It's, um, you know, it's, it's kind of, I imagined like an American Idol audition going in for eBay interviews. Uh, you know, in those days

Ben Foster (30:34):

Joey Odom (30:34):
Like the open audition. It's hilarious.

Ben Foster (30:36):
Yeah. Yeah. <laugh> like, what's, what, what's the set of interview questions you ask to decide whether somebody's like worthy in 15 minutes, you know, it's like, do you show up? You have a pulse? Like, I, I don't know, <laugh>.

Joey Odom (30:47):
Yeah, yeah, exactly. Old, like, would you call yourself a team player? Like, don't <laugh> really work? We out

Ben Foster (30:55):

Joey Odom (30:56):
That's hilarious. Um, so you wrote a book, what year was it that you wrote Build What Matters You? And,

Ben Foster (31:01):
Uh, that was in 2020.

Joey Odom (31:03):
So 2020 you wrote, build What Matters. I'm always fascinated by, by people who write books and, and I'm curious if this is your experience, but you've written something that's from your experience, it's from your head, it's from your heart, it's a little bit of everything. And then you just, Hey, world, here you go. Here's, here's all my vulnerability, here's everything I've learned. And, and especially at 2020, you're, you're welcome to call me an idiot and say, I know. Have no idea what I'm, you know what I'm, what I'm talking about. Or you have the opportunity to say, this is brilliant, this is great. I'm curious, before we get into the content of the book, I'm curious about the process of writing that book mm-hmm. <affirmative> and what that was like releasing it and putting your learnings out there and your expertise out there. What was that whole, what was that whole process like? Where'd it spur that, Hey, I have a lot of experiences that you've built off that it would be good for me to write a book I'd, I'd love to hear a little bit about that process and maybe even the intentionality. This is all about intentionality, the intentionality around the discipline to write a book.

Ben Foster (31:58):
Yeah. You know, what was happening at the time was I was doing a lot of advisory work and, um, I had built an advisory practice and I had a, a, you know, somebody who was a partner, uh, who had joined me in that, et cetera. And we both had had a lot of experiences just working with a lot of companies. And like I said, you, you do that pattern matching, you figure out what, what's working well, what's not working well, you figure out, um, a lot of the root causes of, I think where companies are running into problems. And, and that's really where the book starts. You know, not, not to get too deep into the content, but the kind of chapter one is like, here's all the ways in which things just we see go wrong. Yeah. But there was something that was very consistent across all of them.

That was some, that was something that was missing, which was that long-term vision and the connecting of that vision and that strategy to the day-to-day work that needed to happen. And so what we tried to do is lay out a framework for how to go make that happen. And so we had a lot of confidence. The content I think was, was right because it was basically, um, a replica of, and almost like a shorthand form of a lot of the coaching and guidance that we had been providing to companies along the way, which was that they should go do this. And we'd given them very practical tips for, for how to that make that happen. And I think the impetus for writing a book was that we were limited by our own time. And, you know, much like, you know, we were talking about before you don't start a business cuz you're like, oh, I think I can make a dollar doing this.

You start a business cuz you really believe in what you're trying to do. And, and we believed in trying to help companies to be more product oriented and to be more customer focused and, and things like that. And so we wanted to share that with as many people as we could. Hmm. And, uh, and we were limited by how many people we could share that with because of the nu number of hours that we had in day. And so it was kind of this very, um, we were sort of inspired to, to write the book because we wanted to share our learnings and, and our concepts and things like that with us brought up a community as we could. And, and it felt in a lot of ways, like a way of paying it forward. And I can assure you that it does not make monetary sense <laugh> to write a book.

Uh, you know, you, you're never gonna, and unless you're like, you know, a, a you know, superstar or something like that, you're not going to, you know, make it back in in royalties given the cost of just, you know, the opportunity, cost of our time and things like that. Yeah. You know, to, to spend the time on it. But it was also great, you know, it was great. Not only I think for the community of people who have read it and things like that, but it was really great for us. Yeah. And you know, it, it's really fascinating. I think you have all these ideas floating around in your head and, and you can talk to a company and you can talk to an individual in a one-on-one setting and things like that. And it can all make sense to you as you're doing it, but the process of writing a book is one in which you need to speak to somebody who you haven't even met, right.

That you're not going to meet. I, I don't know who the audience is, who's gonna actually pick up the book. I don't know what kind of product that they're working on. I don't have that opportunity to have that initial kind of like, brief conversation with them to learn a little bit more and then frame things in a way that they understand. And I think that when you're trying to describe something like a, a business process or anything like that to, to somebody else, you know, you really have to have all your ducks in a row. And it's, it's almost like easy to kind of like get by with like, maybe a little bit of a missing piece. You're like, oh, just trust me. Like it works. You go from, you know, point A to point b I I I, I have, I've used the analogy of it, it's like recounting a dream when you wake up <laugh>, you know, you wake up and you're like, you're like, the whole thing makes sense in my head.

Like I could tell the whole thing and it's, and you try to tell your spouse about the dream and then you're like, and then, well, I don't know how I got from there to there, but don't worry about that part. And, you know, you know, whatever. And then you realize in the process of writing a book that you're basically doing that as well. You're like, I don't really know how I got from this place to this place, but just trust me. It kind of like worked. Yeah. And that doesn't work. Like it, it forces you to have, to make it make sense through the whole way, um, you know, the whole way through so that every uh, recommendation that you have is backed up with data. Yeah. It makes sure that that every recommendation that you have, uh, plays nicely with the other recommendations that you have. If, if they're, if they're in conflict, you have to resolve that conflict for the reader, et cetera. And so I think that the whole process actually helped us to hone our ideas quite a bit. Um, and I think it made us better at what we do and, and have a more discipline around some of our practices that, that we preach.

Joey Odom (36:09):
I believe that, and I, I think I, I like the idea of, I hadn't ever considered this thought of when you're, when you're speaking to an audience, you don't know where it has to be. Say it has to be more general, but it also has to be more universal. The truth that you're saying to them have to be more, have to be more universal. And so what I like about that, I remember when I would go, you know, I've gone to, you know, over the years is many people have gone to counseling. And one thing I love, whenever I would talk to my counselor, I would describe something and they would give a term to it. And in my mind I said, okay, that means that other people have gone through this mm-hmm. <affirmative> and other people have gotten through this. And in doing that, that's a really comforting thing.

And so in a similar way you're talking about it. No, these are principles that you can clinging to and it applies all across the board. And one thing that it that's interesting is we work together is we, you know, we'll come with what we believe are complex problems to you on our, on our calls. And you're able to say, you're able to apply principles, Hey, here's the principle you're dealing with here, and then you tailor it specifically mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but it always begins with something that, and it's very clear that it's not just like an on the fly thing now, this is a lot of ex this is, you know, years and years of experience talking, 25 years of experience talking, that's informing this feedback you're giving us and it's really, really valuable. And I, I gotta think to your point that distilling that down into a book had to be immensely helpful in how you distill that information and disseminate it to your clients.

Ben Foster (37:26):
Yeah. Yeah. I think that's right. You know, the, maybe the way to think about it is thoughts are predicated on language, right? Like, like you, when you think in your own head, you, you don't just think thoughts, you think of them with words attached to them, right? Yeah. And so the more, the better your language becomes, the better your diction, you know, et cetera, then um, the more advanced your thoughts can be. And I feel like similarly, you put everything down in a book, you kind of define these principles and et cetera. And then those principles become like now concepts and words that you can sort of like, you know, build on top of after the fact. And I feel like that was just really helpful for me and, and Rajesh as well when we wrote that book. And, um, yeah, it's, it, it's, um, it's, it was a really interesting process there.

There is one thing I'll, I'll add to that as well about the process and, and the challenge I think of writing a book is because you needed to speak to everyone who's gonna potentially pick it up, you know, obvi, you still define your target market. I'm not gonna, you know, I'm not writing it for every, like literally everybody. I'm writing it for people who are involved in product or people who are founders of companies, you know, et cetera. Um, but still there's a lot of different kinds of companies out there. Some of 'em are B2B companies, some of 'em are B2C companies, some of 'em work with enterprises, some of 'em are startups, some of 'em are late stage, you know, et cetera. And so the, the dilemma that you have, or the challenge that I think you have as an author is you want to have something that speaks to, as brought up an audience as you can.

But when the reality is the best way to do things is, is somewhat nuanced. You're kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place. Cuz either you say, here's exactly the way to do something, but the reality is that only works for a subset of the people who are gonna read it. Or you say in very broad terms, here's what you should do, um, in theory. But then everybody kind of looks at it as like, well, what's the actual practical guidance that you'd provide? You know, and, and you try to bridge that where we try to, we really tried to make the book as very practical. Yeah. Very tactical in terms of, you know, here are steps that you can take. Here's specific things that you should create. Here are, you know, examples of what these things can look like, you know, et cetera. Um, but do so in such a way that it wasn't only for this very narrow audience, but it was actually still generally applicable, at least to all the kinds of companies that you might find in the tech space.

Joey Odom (39:40):
Yeah, that makes sense. Kirs, so you lo you, you released that in 2020s. That means you had a little bit of, no, you probably didn't, this was probably all written, largely written pre covid given, given covid

Ben Foster (39:53):

Joey Odom (39:54):
Is there anything, or how would you, or there's maybe not rewrite, but what would you change or add to and maybe another podcast in and of itself, but is what kind of stuff, how do, how do you think you would amend it given our experience from Covid and how you, how you change, build what matters?

Ben Foster (40:09):
You know, if you actually, you know, looking at the book that there are diagrams and things like that. Like we have an illustration of, of a product vision narrative is what we call it. And um, like a customer journey narrative. Yeah. Uh, and it kind of talks through how a customer might interact with your product. And, and even in that the, the actual images that we show are, are, you know, of, of a customer wearing a mask, <laugh>, you know, things like that. Oh, interesting. So a lot of this was actually sort of, you know, what's, while we published it in the later part of 2020, a lot of it was we had an opportunity to kind of do editing even as the whole pandemic was kind of like taking form. Um, so maybe the broader question is what would we change regardless of Covid or not?

Um, you know, or, or what would we add if we were gonna write a sec, you know, a second book or a, or a second version of it or something like that. And I think that even though the feedback we've gotten is that it's really one of the most practical product oriented books out there, I would still go farther with it and I would still try to make it even more practical. Cuz the kinds of questions that I still get are not so much on the theory or the principles or things like that. It's like, okay, so I wanna sit down and actually draft the strategy with like my coworkers who specifically in my company should be at that meeting, you know, and it should it be two hours or three hours, you know, things like that. And it Wow. And, and, and I just realized that there's just a of like, a lot of this kind of stuff doesn't come naturally to people.

Yeah. And the more specific you can be in giving them some guidance on that kind of stuff, I think the more empowered they feel to do it. Um, you know, again, you have that dilemma of you don't wanna be so specific and say, well, you have to have exactly this person there. It's like, well, what happens if I have a company and I don't have that person? Like, that role doesn't even exist. You know, do I have to have a substitute or, you know, you know, whatever. And so I wanna make sure that it's applicable for everybody, but if there was a way to make it even more practical for folks, I think I would. Um, however, I don't think that the, that the book is necessarily the right format for that. What I might do is, right, and I'm thinking about this maybe for this year is doing, you know, a series of webinars or things like that and saying, okay, if you are this type of company at this stage, here's how to take those concepts from build what matters, and then apply them at your company and then maybe do another webinar for another kinds of, you know, set of companies and say, okay, well if you're this type of company, here are some, you know, even more practical tips that you can use to apply these things as well.

Joey Odom (42:33):
I love that. Uh, I wanna talk just briefly about your experience at Whoop. You were the chief product officer at Whoop for those not familiar, which I'm sure most everybody is the whoop band. It's a fitness tracker, it's a sleep tracker. Everyone on the RO team wears a whoop. Um, we love how their, their interface, everything, you know, we really are big fans of Whoops. So I'm, I'm curious, I'd love to hear just a little bit about your experience, just the, um, you know, things that they've done to be successful, the culture you found there, leadership and just how they focused. You know, I've heard they began with the PGA Tour, for example. They were really narrow in their initial, initial focus on who they targeted. I'd just love to hear, you know, just a couple of minutes on what your experience was like there. Um, in, in, in, during a time that was really, really fun and exciting for them as they were getting off the ground and getting a bunch of, of focus and a claim.

Ben Foster (43:19):
Yeah, sure. You know, I had two different periods that I was working with whoop. One as an advisor and one as the chief product officer there. Uh, so I started as an advisor in the beginning of 2014. So in fact, whoop has the, uh, fun factoid of being the first advisory client that I ever had. Nice. Um, and, and so, uh, it was, it was cool to, to get to work there. I remember when it was, you know, it felt like a, a small team of people in a garage. You know, we, we were in an office building, but it, it, it, it looked and smelled like a garage, you know, <laugh>. Right. Um, and, uh, and you know, so we had maybe 15 people at the company. I spent, you know, a good amount of time working with, with the company during, uh, about a three year period and, and spent a lot of more time than most advisors do spend the company, you know, so I probably spent something like 10 hours a week or something like that with them for over about a three year period.

So, um, I got to know the company and the founders and, and things like that, you know, very early on when the product hadn't even launched yet. You know, the very first version of it hadn't been live yet. And, and helping to define some of the earliest parts of what the fundamental components of the experience was gonna be and stuff like that was, was very rewarding and, and really exciting. Um, and at that stage, you know, you just have these very open-ended conversations cuz you're like, we could take it in, in one different direction than another, et cetera. You know, there were really interesting questions about, um, you know, data privacy that we needed to explore. There were really interesting questions about, um, you know, how recovery scores that the product is able to calculate would play with, um, recommended strain scores and coaching and things like that.

And so, you know, in those early formative years, you're really defining where you're trying to head. And that's really a lot of what we, what we focused on. You know, we, we created the design principles together and things like that, but then drove a lot of the decisions I think that the company made for, for years to come. Um, one of the things that I, uh, so I, I ended up going back into full-time roles and things like that and, and ended up, um, not continuing with, with whoop as an advisory, uh, uh, as like an advisor, but, um, in, in large part the, the major things that they needed to solve were more market oriented. Hmm. You know, um, how do you get the growth that you're looking for when the device is as, as expensive as it is. And so that led to a similar kind of thing.

You know, RO has its cricket Stay and Whoop had, you know, the days that were, you know, Hey look, this, this isn't gonna work this way. We need to get more people onto the platform. And there's a lot more features and, and product concepts that we can define once there are more people on the product. Right? Yeah. Cause you can apply machine learning to, you know, more larger data sets and things like that, that, that otherwise would be impossible to craft within the product. So, um, so they switched to this, um, subscription model and that really was a transformative moment for the company. And, and at the same time that that happened, or soon after that happened, you had the pandemic. And so, you know, you really saw several reasons that, um, demand really started to take off. And now what you have is, as we just saw talked about before, you have this alignment that happens because of the subscription model.

Yeah. Where suddenly, you know, the company cares very much about retention. You know, you, you're not successful when you sell, when you sell a device and somebody tucks it away, you know, right. In a drawer two months later. But what's funny is if you're selling a device and that's what actually what you're doing, you still sold the device. You made just as much money as you would, whether they continue to use it for the next, you know, 10 years. Right. Um, but in the case of whoop, you've changed to the subscription model in a world in which all the other devices are still being sold one off. Right. And suddenly it aligns your incentives, you know, you care about retention of the, of the com of the customer. You care about their daily usage of the product because if they're not using it, they're not gonna continue to pay for it.

And so suddenly all these features that may not have made sense for another company to, to build now became like, you know, the, the top priorities for the company. And so the company sort of recognized that they needed to really make the shift and they, and they had all kinds of investments they wanted to make into a better overall user experience in the app. And that was the perfect time where I had reached out to them and said, Hey, you know, I just decided to leave my last job. Um, I'm on the market looking for, you know, the next opportunity and there's only one company that I wanted to reach out to. Wow. And that's whoop, you know, and, and so, you know, because of the relationship that we already had, that all got set up. Um, I joined, you know, soon thereafter. Um, that's exactly around the time that the book got published as well.

Um, cuz that was kind of like a, a side project for me at the time. Um, and then I spent the next two years there, uh, you know, we, we built a lot of that kind of stuff out. We grew the team dramatically over that window. Um, you know, when I joined the, the product team, including product and design, was about five people. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and, uh, about a year later, a little over a year later was 50 people. So, you know, 10 x growth Wow. Of the team over that window was just a really, um, you know, it, it was, it was certainly met with a lot of challenges. Right. You know, it's, it's hard when somebody is getting onboarded themselves for them to onboard the next person <laugh>, you know, at the same time. Uh, you know, so, so there's a lot of, you know, processes that needed to be adapted, you know, ways that the decisions were getting made at the company that needed to be kind of like, you know, pushed down more in the organization that historically hadn't been built that way.

And, you know, some of those things we did well and some of those things, uh, you know, we, we struggled with. Um, but I think that, uh, overall at the end of the day, I think the thing that that was really helpful is everybody's orientation was the right one. Which is, what do we do for the customer? How do we make it the best customer experience that we can? And as long as you can always come back to that, then no matter what disagreements you may have about what the right solution is for, you know, the design of this next feature we're gonna go build, et cetera, you can always kind of come back to this grounding, um, perspective that it's all about doing the right kinds of things for the customer to create the most value for them. And we may agree or we may disagree on how to go do that, but it's, that's an important part of the culture that I think was there a whoop that I, that I think is important at every company.

Because if that's missing and then where's the common ground? You know, you get like, let's say the product and sales get into some sort of a dispute about what the right thing is to build next. And product's perspective is, Hey, I'm trying to execute this roadmap because there's this long term strategic thing that we're trying to, you know, make happen over the course of the next couple years or whatever. Right. And we, we've gotta go make this investment then that's their perspective. But the salesperson cares nothing about what that person just said. Right. They're like, look, I've got a quota that I'm trying to hit, you know, uh, this quarter and I don't know how I'm gonna hit it and I need your help to like go build this thing because, you know, this client said that if I built this feature that they would buy it.

So why don't you just build the damn feature? Right. And it's like, you know, they've got a commission check that they're focused on. So that's a culture where there is no common ground. Right. You know, the, the salesperson is like, I wanna get my commission check. I wanna hit my quota. The product person's like, I don't care about your quota at all. I wanna go make this other stuff happen. And, you know, who's getting lost in the middle? The customer? Cause that's, neither of them is actually talking about it. Right. So I think that that's an important part of, of any culture is that that product orientation and that, and that customer focus is sort of like, you know, there at the heart. And I think that was always the case at whoop. And, and I think that's the case that a lot of the companies that I end up choosing to with,

Joey Odom (50:27):
And it actually does show through with, with Whoop, again as a user, it, it does show through that they are customer focused. And I love what you said, and this has been a guiding, it has been kind of a north star for us too, is always keeping, you know, us aligned. And that subscription model does help do that. It does help. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you keep aligned with your customer and continue to innovate, continue to make it interesting. Cause when you stop, when it becomes stagnant, then they're gonna go somewhere else or they're just gonna drop it all together. So it it does Right. What you're describing is not, I don't, you know, it's not ethereal, it's not philosophical, it is very practical. And this, and it does show through. Um, so that's interesting. I'm, I'm, I'm curious, we talked earlier, and again, all of your, you know, you talked about behavior change a lot and then turning data into behavior change.

I'm curious, you personally wouldn't, you know, you're, you've been extraordinarily successful. You have great ambitions and intentions, again, intentions of the key word for us here. So what have you done? And when you look at, you know, the types of disciplines or the things that you've done, the way you've implemented to help you achieve your intentions, whether that's personal or professional, what are those things, those, maybe I'll just call 'em disciplines and maybe even when you say like, Hey, I need to, when your wife says, Hey Ben, you need to be better about X, Y, or Z. Like, what are those, what are the ways that you change your behavior and then what are those disciplines that you've maintained to help lead to your success?

Ben Foster (51:48):
You know, it's really interesting cuz I'm, I'm at a stage in my life now where I'm almost like reevaluating some of those things Yeah. Um, that have made me successful. It, it's funny cause I, I preach those to companies that I work with all the time, which is what made you successful in the past isn't necessarily the things that are gonna carry you to that next stage next mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And I'm finding myself at a stage of my life or my career or whatever, where I think a lot of those transitions do need to happen. Um, and you know, for example, I was just absolutely like, uh, immersed in this to-do list that I've had. You know, I've, I've got a to-do list application. I've, I've completed something like 40,000 items on it or something like that over the last, you know, decade or so.

Wow. And I, you know, I sort of governed my life using this like checklist. But that's great to be on top of things and to make sure you're getting things done. And I've been very intentional about what things I put on the checklist. I understand that every time I put something on the, on the list that something else is gonna put, get pushed down. Yeah. You know, as a product, I, I understand prioritization, <laugh>, <laugh>, you know, there, there's no doubt. Uh, so, um, so I've always that, that's never gotten in the way of intentionality. But I'll tell you, one of the things that started to happen, um, which I think is, is a regret, right? Is that I'd take, cuz I'm trying to balance personal stuff and, and professional stuff, and I'd start to put personal things on the checklist as well. Hmm. So like, you know, watch a movie with my son, uh, you know, go to a football game with friend, you know, uh, yeah.

You know, things like that. And then I started to realize that it felt like a thing that I had to do, even though the whole point of it was to be a thing that I wanted to do. Yes. And while it was intentional, it like sort of lost its luster a little bit. Like, you know, part of what you need is not this feeling of like, oh, okay. Because like I would get stressed that I didn't do the thing. Yeah. It's like why it was never supposed to cause stress. Like, okay, if I didn't watch the movie today, I'll go watch it tomorrow. Like it's not that big of a deal, you know? Um, but I would get stressed about not having completed it or I would get, you know, feel this, this sense of that the point of doing it was to check it off the list.

And it wasn't like, I'm not a better person or a different person because I watched a movie. Yeah. Like the point was the watching of it, not the completing of the watching of it. You know what I mean? And there's a very big difference between those two things. Like, are you, are you engaged in the thing that you're engaged in? Because the, the point is, is the doing of it. Like, you know, I mean I even had like my, my, uh, uh, my other kid was very into Legos and I'd have things like, you know, let's go work on a Lego thing together. It's like the, the classic example, like, yeah. The worst part of doing Legos is when you finish <laugh> <laugh>. You know what I mean? Like, you're like, ok. Like there, it's like, it's basically a model of a thing. Like who cares, right?

Yeah. The point is like building it, the point is putting it together and, and when you, what make it a checklist item where you check it off when you complete it, it changes the whole orientation around that. And so I feel like I'm now at a stage of my life where I do wanna prioritize and be more intentional about some of these like, personal things, hobbies, you know, et cetera. But they're not items to finish. They're things to, to enjoy doing. Wow. And so, so I actually just made a transition and, and what I have now is I have two different lists and one of 'em is a list and the other one's not even a list. It's like, it's like a set of, um, post-its effectively like digital post-its. And so the list is the things that I do need to get done, where the point of it is the checking of the box.

Like I've, you know, I've got to go, uh, you know, uh, I don't know some, you know, I, I, I have to, to send this invoice out to this party, or I have to, you know, get through my inbox or you know, whatever. Things like that. And then I have a whole different set of things and I don't sh they're, they, they don't share the same space anymore. And I, and the other list is things that I want to do or things that I think would be fun to do if I could. And so it's more like, it's like, you know how sometimes you open the fridge and you're like, I'm kind of hungry. I'm not really sure I don't hungry for it. And you just kinda like scan the fridge, <laugh>, you know, it, it, it's like that. But for like hobby things or for things that, where the point is the doing of it.

You know, learn X, Y, Z or, you know, be entertained by this movie, you know, et cetera. And I, and what I did is I changed all the terminology. Cause I think the words on this stuff matters. So the, the checklist, the to-do list of my life is all, it always starts with a verb. You know, complete this thing, do this thing, finish this thing, whatever it is, right? And then the other ones all don't have verbs because it's not about the, it's not about completing it. It's like, here's a list of movies that I'd like to watch and I can, I can add it. If somebody recommends something to me, I, it's my list know. And it's like, okay, cool. Like if I, if I wanna pluck something off, I can, that's fine. But it's like, it's all like, actions over here and it's all like things that are over there, you know, vacation in this place.

Mm-hmm. Here's a book that you should check out. You know, stuff like that. And I think that that, that separation has really helped me to not only be intentional within each of these zones of my life, but to be intentional about the splitting of my time. I like that between these two zones of my life. And I think that that's just been very, uh, very rewarding and, and mentally healthy. And I wonder, you know, it makes me think that if I could make that subtle transition that actually makes a really big impact on my life, what are the other subtle transitions that are out there that I could make? You know, I, I think, you know, a good example is actually the, the use of the of, of ro you know, is like, you know, one of the things that I should do is, is take time away from the screen.

Yeah. And, um, there's some value, there's some inherent value in doing that. And so, you know, that's not a thing to check the box on though, right? It's not like, okay, good. Like I, I spent my two hours with my phone. Yeah. You know, in, in the box. The, the point was not about checking the box, the point was about what you did in the moment while Yeah. Your phone was there. And so that's what I'm trying to, you know, think about is, is to be very intentional with the reasons that I'm doing the things I'm doing. Yeah. And have the right interpretation of it,

Joey Odom (57:44):
And then allow the, make sure that I, because I love this and I, it's on my to-do list is my to-do list, weekly to-do list is find time to spend individual time with the kids, with my kids. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And, and I've, I've had that little discomfort with them. Like, is that really what I, and so it's almost as if in in putting it on that list of things I would love to do, it's almost like the, because it's something you love to do, it will naturally happen as opposed to scheduling it, which is hard. I think the risk in that, I'm, I'm trying to think through this in practical application for my life. It feels like the risk in that is, am I actually going to get it done? Back to the urgent and an important Stephen Covey matrix, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative> is something urgent, is going to get something urgent. I e work is gonna get in the way of something important i e time with my kids. But if I know that that's something I love, is it almost like you're, you're relying on knowing that that's valuable to you, that it will boil up to the top and it'll become the thing that you do. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> is that, I dunno if I'm asking that quite well. I'm just, I

Ben Foster (58:45):
I I totally what you're saying. Yeah.

Joey Odom (58:46):
The question I totally is like, how the heck do you make sure those important things happen?

Ben Foster (58:50):
Right? Well, it's like, it's like, why would you go to that other list? <laugh>, right? Yeah. Like if you're to-do list, basically what happens is if you're to-do list of the things you have to get done or whatever, that you know, that, that are the things that you just kinda have to complete. If that's too long, it's gonna, yeah. It's gonna encroach on the other things. And you don't want it to, and I, what's funny to me is time is this commodity that we all have in, in short supply, like, you know, and, and there's no way to earn more of it. Like, you're gonna get the time and this earth that you're gonna get and you're gonna get the time and the day that you're gonna get, and that's gonna be it. And there is no, um, there is no way to buy more, you know, in a lot of ways, right?

Like, you know, maybe on the, on the periphery you can get a little bit, but like, that's about it, right? And, and so what's fascinating to me is think about all the things you do in your personal life, in business where it comes to money, which isn't actually finite. Uh, and you, you know, you have all these budgets, right? It's like, you know, you budget for this, you allocate money to this, you allocate money to that. You say, here's what my entertainment budget is, here's what my travel budget is, here's what my, you know, headcount budget is, you know, whatever for this calendar. You're, you know, et cetera. And then you, you force yourself to operate within those bounds. And those bounds can be helpful for you to make, like, you know, the hard trade-offs and things like that, that you need. And yet, when it comes to time, people often don't budget their time appropriately.

And if you just said, look, I don't have 24 hours today to get to work on this checklist. I have five, yeah, I have eight, I have nine. You know, whatever it is. But don't make it that it can, that it can overrun your budget to be 14 hours and suddenly all you're doing is like all work and no play and not spending the time with your kids and not spending the time with your spouse and not, you know, spending the time for yourself to be intentional. So it, it doesn't mean you necessarily need to put the intentional thing on the list, cuz otherwise your list still is 14 hours. Yeah. But it means that you don't let it overrun its due budget, you know, and the budget that it should have is the time that you give to it, and you kind of like create that.

Maybe, maybe it's a nice thing to couple with your calendar and you say like, you know, here's the time block that I got. Yeah. But outside of those bounds, like, yeah, I'm gonna shut it off. I'm gonna turn it off. And I think that it's, it's just so easy in this world with all the digital tools and things like that, we, you know, that we have the fact that you can work from home and things like that to allow this kind of like, budget overrun to take place. But just because it's easy to have happen doesn't mean that it should. Like, it's like, you know, if you give a corporate card to an employee, <laugh>, does that mean that they should, like, okay, great. Like forget the budget, just, just go nuts, you know? Yeah. It's, it's enabling, but it's not that they should, it, it's still like they should abuse it, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And I think that the same kind of thing happens in people's personal life where, because it's easy then it becomes abused, but it shouldn't be because of the complexity of enforcement. It should be because you don't want to in the first place.

Joey Odom (01:01:28):
Hmm. God, that's so good. Um, you've touched on it, but maybe very simply, what does, what does intentionality mean to you, to Ben Foster? What does that, what does that mean to you,

Ben Foster (01:01:41):
<laugh>? I think it, you know, to me it means that you're in control, right? Hmm. You know what you want and that you're both able and willing to do the thing that gets you what you want. Um, and, uh, you know, some people struggle with intentionality because they have no plan. <laugh>, you know, they, they don't even know what they want in the first place. So they just do the things that are in front of them. And maybe that's okay. You know, that, that, that can be fine, you know, depending on what you're looking for. But if you have a particular goal in mind and, and you have something, whether that's short term, I wanna spend the next one hour playing with my kid, or whether that's, you know, uh, long term, like I want to get to a certain place in my career in, in the next five years, you know, whatever that is.

I think that, um, it's that you understand what success will be. You, you're understanding what the, the complications and the barriers will be that you're, um, very aware of what the, the, the plan is to go make that happen. And that you're then sort of disciplined about actually going in and doing it, right? Yeah. And so, you know, I, I think about, you know, let's look at the career situation where people get stuck in a particular job. They, they have some ambition for what they wanna do, but then they never like go get the, the extra education that they need or, you know, whatever to be successful in the next role. Or they're never willing to leave their employer when that's maybe the right thing for them to go, you know, move on or take a step down somewhere else to, to then later have an opportunity to take a step up.

Yeah. And, you know, they're not willing to, to do what it takes to go make that happen. And so, you know, they might have an intent to do something, but it's not like a real legitimate intent. And the same kind of thing happens on, on the exact opposite end of the spectrum. You know, and I, I was guilty of this for definitely parts of my life that I regret, and I try to be much better about it now, which is, you know, you know, sit down and watch a football game with my son or something like that. And, you know, there I am with my phone and I'm like checking my email and I'm playing a little game and I'm, you know, whatever. And like, I just wanna like watch the game. And, and then, and then if you, if you're, if you put the phone down, suddenly now you're talking about the game. Was that a good call? Was that not? Was this smart move? What do you think about this player? And like, suddenly it becomes this engaging experience that it was always intended to be, rather than again, this check box to be checked.

Joey Odom (01:04:06):
Man, I hear stuff like that. It just makes me want to go take my kids outta school and hug 'em, you know, <laugh>, it's just, cause it's, it, it, it does, it's, um, it, it is far too important and you're exactly right that it's, um, yeah, that's challenging. That, that is beautiful. And the thing I love about it too is it's, it's woven in with such practicality and you see how your brain works and it's not, again, it's not just some romanticized idea, but it's, it's mixed in with the practical. So I love that, Ben. How can people, I by the way, could do this for another hour or two. This is, this is awesome. How can people learn more about you? More about the prod I group? More about build what matters? Just anything. Let's, uh, I'm sure people after hearing this won't learn a lot more about you, so, uh, let's hear where they can, where they can hear more about it. Yeah,

Ben Foster (01:04:49):
Sure. Thanks. Um, you know, uh, so obviously find me on LinkedIn. My, my handle is just Ben Foster, uh, super easy. Um, I'm the guy who you have to hit see 45 more on <laugh>,

Make sure I got the right guy. Uh, and then, uh, so, so there's, you know, LinkedIn and then, um, you can always email me at Ben Pro Group. Um, and if you go to prod.group, uh, the website, um, you'll see more information about the ways in which we work. Uh, you know, sometimes I do direct advisory work myself, um, ours, you know, hopefully I'll, I'll, I'll, I'll consider you lucky that you get to work with me. Um, you know, some, some, sometimes, um, I, I, I, I really enjoy, you know, working with a team and things like that. Sometimes, uh, sometimes I'm the right person to work with a company and sometimes it's actually a part of our boutique firm where somebody else has the most relevant experience. Yeah. That's actually most appropriate for them because they've worked in a very similar kind of like, you know, setup or a very similar stage or they've faced, you know, very common struggles and things like that.

Um, and so we always try to make sure that we learn a little bit about the companies that we connect with and uh, and then we kind of like find, and, you know, really the perfect kind of like, answer that works for them. And if that's not through us, then we'll recommend them to somebody else. And if it is through us, then we usually can, can create something that's a really good kind of like match so that we can take some of these concepts that we talked about, you know, today, especially as it applies to the business side of things, and figure out how to infuse those into the business. Because I, you know, to me the holy grail is you're a founder of a company and you can go around to like any engineer who's working on something, you can say like, you know, tell me what you're working on right now.

And they can explain it to you and you can say, well, why are you working on that? And they can say, well, cause we're, you know, cause it's part of this, uh, this goal that we have. Well, why is that one of the goals that you have? Oh, because you know, this is an important, you know, design principle that we're trying to adhere to, you know, et cetera. And well, why is that? Oh, because, you know, and if, and if, and if, and if that engineer that you're talking to could themselves understand, not that the founder can understand, but the people who are on the ground are actually doing the work can actually understand why they're doing the things that they're doing and how it all fits together. It's amazing the kind of motivation that that creates and the kind of good judgment calls that that means that they'll be able to make.

And that that means that culturally you're in a position to really scale and be able to push decisions down and trust the team to get the most stuff done. What I really try to work on is, is helping companies to kind of like realize that holy grail kind of like moment. Yeah. And I feel like, um, you know, there's some good, there's some good strategies for, for how to go make that happen in, you know, in the tech world that are not necessarily obvious, but, um, always happy to talk with people about what the philosophy is around that and some practical tips for how to go make that happen.

Joey Odom (01:07:16):
Yeah. Well we, we could not be more complimentary of you and of Prodify. And that's prodigy group, right? Prodify group. So we're, we're huge. Ben Foster fans. Ben, thank you. This was, um, this is extraordinarily valuable for myself, our listeners. So thank you so much. We really appreciate you joining The Aro Podcast.

Ben Foster (01:07:36):
Love that, Joey, it's great to talk to you.

Joey Odom (01:07:38):
What a great discussion with Ben. The thing I love that he said right at the very end when he was talking about things that are important versus things that are to-dos, he said, I changed my mindset. And those are not things to finish, you're things to enjoy doing. And I loved that. And it really made me think about how I live my life. Am I putting the important things in my life on a to-do list just to get them done? Or am I prioritizing them as things I want to enjoy doing and do them for the enjoyment of them and the experience of them as opposed to just the checkbox. So I hope you enjoyed that. Thank you so much for listening to my conversation with Ben Foster. We look forward seeing you next time. The Aro Podcast is produced and edited by the team at Palm Tree Pod Co. Special thanks to Emily Miles for video and digital support and to our executive producer Aro's own, Katelyn Farley.