With the pandemic right in front of us, we are now transforming into a Zoom world, where most of our daily lives are lived within Zoom meetings and video calls. Introducing us to a tool that can enhance that experience and make note-taking far easier, Paul Higgins sits down with the CEO and co-founder of Grain, Mike Adams. Grain allows you to create short video highlight clips of Zoom recordings, transcribe calls, and take time-stamped notes. In this episode, we take a deep dive into this tool as Mike shows the practical uses for recording human moments and how we can capture video snippets with ease. He also talks about how vulnerability leads to success, sharing his career journey from moving from Utah to the Bay Area to starting three startups and more. Plus, Mike offers a free upgrade to their amazing platform, so tune in to not miss out!
Grain: Capturing Video Snippets With Ease With Mike Adams
Build Live Give. Mentoring with Paul Higgins
If you’re a first-time reader, welcome. If you enjoy it, please subscribe. If you’re a regular, thanks for your support. I love to get your feedback at [email protected]. It means the world to me when you do. Our guest is someone who moved from Utah to the Bay Area with his wife’s work. This was the catalyst for three startups. One with a successful exit to WeWork and his current is my favorite SaaS platform for 2020. Why read? How to capture video snippets with ease using Zoom, practical uses for recording human moments and how vulnerability leads to success. They have kindly given a free upgrade to their amazing platform at the end, so over to Mike Adams from Grain.co.
Welcome, Mike Adams from Grain.co to the show. I’m excited to have you here.
I’m excited to be here. Thanks so much, Paul.
I’ve been using your product for months and it’s brilliant. We’re going to get a lot more into what it does and how people like myself use it. Why don’t we kick off with something that family or friends know about you that we might not?
I thought about this. We’re doing some work with some friends. As far as I’m aware, I’m the only person I know that watches television and movies at 2x to 2.5x speed. If I’m cinematically into it and it’s all about the experience, but if I’m there for the story or to like watch it because I want to know what happens, it’s all about watching it at the same speed as I would watch a podcast. It’s something weird.
Do me a favor, how do I watch Netflix at 2.5x times speed?
In the world of HTML5 where everything is, all videos are an HTML element. There are Chrome extensions and Firefox extensions. The one I use in Chrome is called Video Speed Controller. It has shortcuts on it and I use the shortcuts to speed up and slow down, depending on the pace of what’s happening. Sometimes you need to slow down a little below too if it’s dense. Sometimes people will like walking around and I’m bored. I have ADD and that’s part of it as well. I’ll use the X key to skip forward fifteen seconds and the Z to go back if I missed something. I watched The Undoing on HBO. There are three episodes and each about 52 minutes. I watched them all in less than one hour and I love it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t watch TV and I love TV. That’s my hack. It’s weird and people get mad. They don’t like it. They’re upset that I do this. They feel like I’m ruining the artistry.
With the three children and a startup, I can understand why you wouldn’t have any other time. Do you stream it from your computer? I try to do it on my large TV and it never works right.
That’s where I prioritize using a computer. If it’s on a big TV, I’m watching it regular time speed but I tend to put on headphones. The headphone is a huge part of this as well. I signed up for an IRONMAN and I’m training for it. I get a lot of time sitting on the trainer bike that is well spent watching TV, talks, startup, and podcasts at 2x speed but I always pull my computer out in front of me.
I’ll type that out because I’ll listen to anything on my computer. Video Speed Control is what I use and also podcasts. I’m 2.5x to 3x, but it depends on the person. I’m the same, so thanks for that. I don’t know if anyone else out there, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but certainly with audio, etc. I use an app called Voxer for all my comms and you can do that at 3x speed. Once you get used to it, it’s not like the chipmunks. It’s better than it sounds. You’ve had an amazing career with three startups. You’ve been involved with OpenTable. You’ve had an exit to WeWork and an amazing career. Give us a brief summary of that because it’s too good to miss.
I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of opportunities and a lot of it comes back to my family. I’m the first person in my family to ever graduate from college. I grew up building houses with my dad. He owned his own construction company. I always admired how hard he worked and how he owned his own business. When I went to college, I was surprised at the end when I had all the student loan debt. I was like, “Who helps me get a job now?” I realized there was nobody and unfortunately, I had gotten a C in this hard economics class and I had to retake it to try to get an A in the act of retaking it. Finally, for the first time, I went into Office Hours. I got to know a professor and developed a relationship. We are close friends.In a way, to be authentic is to be vulnerable. Click To Tweet
We follow each other in Strava and communicate still. He helped me to get my first job and it was great. I worked in litigation consulting. My wife already had a job in the San Francisco Bay Area. I went to college in Utah and we got this job in consulting. I became an Excel jockey and helped a lot figure out how much damages were in lawsuits using Excel modeling. It was fine. I knew I didn’t want to be in the legal industry. I was at a party with some friends in my church community and met a guy that my wife had grown up with a street away. He was starting a new company and I was new to the whole Silicon Valley thing.
I didn’t know much about tech. I was like, “Do you need any help? Is there anything that I can do to help? I can be your Excel jockey. He said, “Sure.” We paired up. I was his first employee for a little while, and then eventually it was harder to raise money and to get to market. After a while, it was the two of us and we became cofounders. That was falling backward and trying to be helpful in quitting my job and the two of us together. That company has gone on to be successful and the valuation is a little over $500 million.
I fell into it. I knew I wanted to do tech. I’ve always loved tech, but it wasn’t something I explicitly set out to do. I want it to be helpful and it turned into what it was. Once I got a taste, I didn’t stick around that. The success of that company is largely attributed to my old cofounder and the team that was there. I had a lot of personal development that I had to do for emotional intelligence and learning how to work well with other people, harbor and rule in my ego. I joined a company and I became a software engineer. In that process, I felt like, “This is debilitating to not be able to build my own software.”
I have to pay these people overseas because I can’t afford local developers and we can’t raise venture capital because we don’t have a track record. I decided to become a software engineer and the timing was fortunate for me that I was one of the first fifteen students at what became one of the most renowned coding bootcamp called Hack Reactor. I was a student and I learned to code. I got a job at OpenTable. It was weird for me to call myself a software engineer and then suddenly, I was. I stayed there for about a year and realized that what I wanted to do is going to get back in the startup game, not so much like write code for a living. I developed the ability to communicate with engineers.
I got back in the startup game and I started a company called MissionU that is a one-year alternative to college. It’s fully online. You attend class all day on Zoom. This was in 2016 way before the COVID pandemic when this is normal and what people do now. We were like a bunch of weirdos on Zoom back in 2016. I met my cofounder in research. I joined Seth Godin’s altMBA Program. He was in there. I was in there. We were both looking to build the same thing and time, which is a better way to go to college. I graduated with a ton of debt and not a job. I cared about helping people to get jobs focused on their skills, not so much on their prestigious education.
MissionU is about two years running and helped our students to get jobs and careers in data analytics. I was on the phone with one of my former students and he’s doing great. He has a great career in customer success. He is an awesome friend. That ended when we got acquired by WeWork. I had identified this platform that we built for ourselves along the way to manage the video recordings. We were recording everything inside of MissionU. Our lectures, our all-hands meetings, our sales calls, and our admissions interviews. We viewed these recordings as first-class data to make decisions, inform decisions, share and more effectively communicate.
The platform we built to manage the recordings was running our business in a lot of ways. In the acquisition, I chose not to join WeWork. I started Grain, the company I cofounded and CEO, right out of after that acquisition and raised some money from my prior investors and partnered with my brother, Jake, who is my cofounder. He and I have been building this thing from scratch and it’s been about a few years and the team we’ve built is world-class phenomenal people. We are excited about what we built in those starts and where we’re going. That’s the background.
I’ve got so much to unpack there. Did you grow up in Utah as well as go to a university then?
I was born in Utah. You couldn’t find someone with more Mormon lineage than me. My great grandpa, Hugh Adams, was in Scotland, jumped on a boat, joined the Mormons and went to Utah. He became a polygamist and all that good stuff. They don’t do that anymore, but on my mom’s side, it is the same thing. I grew up in Utah and it’s a beautiful place. I love the people there, sometimes the weather is awful, but it is gorgeous. If you’ve never been to Utah, it is one of the prettiest places on the planet. I moved to California many years ago to the Bay Area and then relocated from the Bay Area down to South Orange County.
What was the key driver for the move from Utah to the Bay?
The key driver from Utah to the Bay was my wife’s job. I felt like it was expensive. I was like, “We can stay here in Utah and I can get a good job.” I wasn’t thinking as big as maybe I could have been at the time but she’s a big thinker and she already had the job. One of the things about Utah, BYU and Mormon culture is you tend to get married fast and young. We went to the same junior high school together but we didn’t stay in touch.
We met back up at BYU over Thanksgiving. By December, we were dating. On Valentine’s Day, we were engaged. By May, we were married. She had already had a job that previous summer in San Francisco. I got lucky to marry her. I married her and the momentum carried us to San Francisco. It just happened. I don’t know that it was even a deliberate thing, but I feel like other than marrying my wife, it is one of the more lucky things that has happened to me.
It looks like the professor is a huge mentor and help for you. You talked about your emotional intelligence and your ego in check. Who helped you get that? You nearly felt like an Australian on the other end. I’ve got a lot of American clients. If you’re an American reading, I love you to death, but ego is something that is not always in check. Let’s quietly say that, whereas Australians are completely the opposite. We’ll try to put anyone down, but the person we put there the most is ourselves. Did you get any help? Tell us a little bit about how you went through that.
A lot of it does come to my Mormon upbringing. In Mormonism, it’s not a touted part of the theology, but you are taught your potential is to become a God. I liked that part of it. I was like, “You mean after I die, I can create worlds and whatever else?” It was a big part of the motivator for me. I’m not definitely as devoted as I once was but that was a big part of it. If you’ve watched the Silicon Valley parody, it has more truth than parody in a lot of ways. It was easy for me to get caught up in it and feel like I had the right answers all the right times.
My cofounder and I didn’t see the world and our strategy in the same way. We ended up not working together anymore. For a couple of years, I kept that high ego, bitterness and frustration. He went on to build a freaking killer amazing company without me. That was the most valuable learning lesson I ever could have had because I had at that point to be like, “Maybe it’s me. Maybe I should look inside myself a little bit here.” Deep down, I knew that I had some professional development and emotional intelligence to work on, but that hit me like a ton of bricks. As time went on, I had the opportunity to get exposed to things like T-groups at Stanford Business School.
I didn’t go to Stanford, but I tended their continuing learning and some T-group. To me, it became one of the most important parts of what I recognized was going to help me to get to what I wanted to accomplish, which is to build great things. Sometimes Theranos and what’s happened with Nikola Tesla and we work in some of these others where there’s a big ego cofounder at the top that has this big vision. I’d seen that not play out. I felt like it was going to get me what I wanted was to be aware of people’s emotions and my own emotions handle and manage myself in a way that would help me to get what I wanted.
Some of these experiences I had along the way and getting into a little bit more into meditation as well. It helped me study emotional intelligence as if it’s another field of discipline, which it is and change a lot of the attributes around how I viewed myself and the world. It has been the biggest professional development thing that I had the opportunity to work on and trying to make myself someone that people want to work with and work for.
My biggest ego check in life was leaving a company called Coca-Cola and the next day, having your own company.
It’s amazing how much browner the grass is on the other side once you’re there.
Maybe no one cares about me. We’ll get into the Build section next and Grain. When someone says to you, “Mike, you’ve created Grain, what does it do and who’s it for?”
Grain has been an awesome process of discovery in and of itself. It came out of my own needs, building a video-based live online school that we needed to work with the data. What I learned is that’s half of it, if you need to manage your easy way to share recordings amongst the team to have storage that doesn’t disappear and build a library of video-based knowledge, that’s one thing that it does. The other thing that it’s been growing and evolving to do. Some of the reasons that people seem to be even more attracted to it, it’s not that it manages that content, it makes it more useful. It makes it more accessible and as easy to work with as texts and a document.
What Grain does is you connect your Zoom accounts or any video conference provider and there’s a notepad that pops up to where you can live annotate moments that matter in a conversation. You can stay and turn in the notes that you would already normally take. You’re one click away from being able to turn those into an independent snippet or highlight clip that you can share anywhere by sharing and pasting a link. It’s that making the content and freeing up the good parts, the juicy highlights and making those easy to push into any of the other channels where you communicate. That’s one of the main draws for why people are using Grain.If you're a participant in the meeting, the experience should be a lot more collaborative than it is. Click To Tweet
The overall problem we’re trying to help solve is to help teams share an understanding in a world that is increasingly difficult to do. We believe that if you can have a reality-based discussion of being able to easily highlight, discuss or share a moment as it occurred. As it was said in a recording, it goes a huge long way of being able to effectively communicate and effectively understand each other and make decisions that result in good outcomes.
Who’s using it? You’ve had a successful launch on Product Hunt.
It was great. What we found in our discovery process was that what I was looking for is, “There’s something amazing here,” but for the first nine months, we were building a product and prototype and we didn’t know who it was for. We thought it was for team meetings to make team meetings more effective, but we ran into some issues with how hard team meetings are to build products for. We thought it might be for sales or customer success and we ran into issues there as well. What we realized was that there’s this specific persona that was resonating with Grain and what they wanted to do and with that value proposition. We call them extractors, but what they are is their listeners.
If you are an extractor, you’re asking me questions, you’re collecting that information with the intent to share it. That is who it’s for. People like marketers have loved Grain. Researchers, anytime where there’s an interview setting where I’m trying to understand a qualitative problem by talking to either a user, potential user or someone on the team. I’m trying to collect information, make sense of it and share that information in the most compelling way possible. What we believe in and has been compelling to people is that if you can share the source material directly by cutting it into the parts that matter, that is dramatically more effective than a text-based summary or a jotted down note that’s trying to capture what was said. Instead, share what was said. That’s where it’s been resonant. It’s founders of companies, consultants that are trying to make sure they understand the needs of their clients and effectively communicate those needs as said by the clients to those who are executing on a client or a project. Those are a few of the use cases that have stood out.
I’ve been using it and there are a couple of ways that I use it. One way is with clients. I mentor clients and we might have a one-hour session. I’d take notes and we track it in Asana or etc. There’s nothing better than me. A little box comes up for that annotation. You hit a particular part, then you go back and it gives you a transcription at the end and it’s got that highlight mark. You can read the transcription, highlight any of that and send that as a note. If we’ve got one-hour session where I’m mentoring someone, I can say the specific action about this or it might be around your LinkedIn profile or your sales system.” I can grab that and say, “That’s the exact part where you can go and learn from that or you can go back and revise that.” I’ve found that to be hugely successful versus what I used to do is tell my team the 34-minute mark and you go and grab this part of the video, which was hugely inefficient. That’s one key way. Do you have any thoughts on that or have you seen other clients use it in a similar way?
One of the most resonant things in terms of jobs to be done or value propositions that we’ve heard from people is what you’re describing. It is bottling up influence. I’m trying to influence somebody else to understand or to do something in a certain way and being able to share the source material or what they said, how they said it with their tone, with their intonation, and with their video if it’s available. It is so much more powerful to move my agenda or to influence others than if it is just coming from me. What you’re doing when you distilled something down into notes without any source material is you’re introducing bias. Whether you want to recognize it or not, the other person you’re trying to influence knows that too, “Did they say it that way? Did they think about this? Do they care about that as much as you think that they do?” You remove all doubt when you are able to share what was said instead of asking people to trudge through an hour-long recording to find minute 34:52.
I remember way back at Coca-Cola, we’d always have disputes with delivery drivers and customers. The customer would say one way and the driver would say exactly the opposite. Even back then, I used to say, “We’ll record it,” at least we’ve got that unbiased view. Knowing courts, they often say, if you’ve got a blue car, there was evidence where the witness would say it was a blue car when it was red, but because they got a blue car, they were biased by the fact that they’ve got a blue car. I love the fact that it is what it is. You’ve talked about teams, which is excellent, but another great way is sales calls.
Most of us are all trying to add as much value as we can in the sales call. I have a piece where I’ll add value and I can send that component. I swear by the product. It’s been the best tech and the most used one for the year. I’m a guy that had a tech consulting company that we sell technology to agencies. Every night, I’ve got a daily habit of going through Product Hunt, AppSumo and wherever else I can get a tech and I’m constantly testing new ones.
That’s why I wanted to get you on the show because if you’re reading or use Zoom, which most of us are doing all the time. You think of all that time wasted either by not communicating properly or by going back and trying to get a part of a recording. You will not be happier with Grain. You’ve had three successful startups, you’ve got a lot of experience under your belt, but how do you build new clients? What’s the best way for you guys so far in your years of journey to build a new client?
For us, there has been an effort of empathy and listening. You have to start by understanding what people want. It’s Software as a Service. It’s the same idea whether it’s a Human as a Service or Software as a Service that ultimately you have to understand needs. I was writing a blog post about this but it’s been an important part of our journey. I feel that if we would’ve done a better job earlier on of understanding who the product was for? Who needs this service? What is the actual value? What’s the job to be done? What’s the problem they need to be solved as opposed to coming at it already with a solution baked in and assuming that because you’re the next Steve Jobs that people are going to love the solution you came up with.
There’s a guy, Marty Cagan. He was early at eBay as a Product Manager and he’s one of the zeitgeisty people in software products. He says, “There are too inconvenient truths of products. One is that the vast majority of your ideas are bad or wrong. Number two is that it’s going to take a lot more iterations to get it right even when you do have a good idea.” I think that’s true, whether that’s a service or a product is that you do have to start from that position of the humility of trying to understand. What I tried to do specifically is to understand existing behavior. When I moved to the point where I’ve got a product solution, build the product that requires the least possible amount of behavior change from your client.
What is it that lets them get the benefit that they’re looking for while changing their behavior, the least amount? Over time, if you weren’t in their trust and if you are able to solve that problem, then you have the opportunity to start to move them more towards your vision. The biggest mistake I’ve made in the past, whether services or products, is being too idealistic to start and expecting people to be willing to go to the world that I want them to live in. Instead of starting where they’re at and gradually moving them towards this better place.
In the Coke company, they were bringing it at consumer research. A lot of people talk about their brands, but the reason their brands were so strong is because they understand consumers. The other thing is the least amount of change. We all know how hard it is to change habits. That’s a key lesson. I must admit, I’m often guilty of packing too much in. I’m working on an online course and I had the realization of, “What is that simple outcome that people want?” Give them a minimal amount of information to do that. I’ve got to watch it at 3x speed as well. That’s how you understand the problem and go about it. As far as paid traffic versus organic, what’s worked for you guys? What can we learn from the growth that you’ve had?
It ties back a little bit to the emotional intelligence stuff. The weird thing about me is I don’t mind being vulnerable in public. What’s the point in portraying to pretend like, “I’ve done everything right? I’ve got it all figured out,” because I don’t. I still am not there. That vulnerability, I almost use it from a marketing position. On Twitter, I’m always talking about my mistakes, things that I’ve learned and things that I can do better. I don’t know that that’s a phrase, vulnerability marketing, but it’s authenticity marketing is the way to put it and the way to be authentic is to be vulnerable.
It has been important to be a relatable human being that is the founder of this software product and talk about what we’re trying to do and what we believe about the world. There’s a certain amount of resonance that is beneficial there because you’ve got to see somewhere. The other big one has been that the product-led growth itself is the one that I’m noodling on. For a runaway successful SaaS product, you tend to have this bottoms-up motion where usage of the product gets more usage of the product.
Paul, you’re a great example of the word of mouth version of this. I don’t know how many people you’ve referred to Grain, but it’s at least ten. They’re all excited to tell us that you referred them to us. That word of mouth has been huge. Building a product that started from that foundation of listening is we worked hard to earn your trust and if we earned your trust, then you’re out there telling other people about it. We get new users and they love it. That word of mouth has been our primary driver while we work on some of these other funnels as well.
The hundreds of conversations I’ve had with them and I apologize because I do talk about your product at the start of every call. I always ask people permission if they’re okay to record it. I don’t know if it’s been a clever marketing trick.
To be honest, we fell into that one and we were like, “That works in our favor for sure.”
The bit I’m talking about is live. When it pops up, it will have live. I’ll see people change. They’ll look at the camera differently and some people fiddle with their hair because they think, “This is live. Where’s it streaming to?” That’s the fear and I say, “It’s not live. It’s okay.” What was the rationale around having live as the key core version of it?
I started with technical implementation and that rather than trying to convince people to leave Zoom that they love and adopt another video conference platform, I’m like, “Zoom works great and they have an API. Let’s extend that value of a product that you already use and love.” They are limited with regards to us as a third-party service provider, how we can get access to the stream of information. For example, if you use a regular cloud recording, it’s minimal, it’s up in the corner, it has these tiny little blinking dots, and it’s not super intrusive. The problem is that the Zoom cloud can take multiple hours to process and get that recording back. If you were trying to share information from that call and we’re trying to help people create the behavior of creating highlight clips and sending them out soon after the call is over. That delay of 45 minutes to multiple hours is a killer.
The workaround is that there’s this ability inside of Zoom to have your account create a livestream that is designed to go to something like YouTube. They’ve labeled it as such or it’s like, “Live.” It almost has this false association to make people think that it’s going to a live place when it’s not. We’ve had to work with what little we have to work there to get the live streams. We can instantly make the video available to you afterwards. There’s a little label next to it where we’ve iterated and iterated on the language to be in there. What we’ve landed on was putting the host’s name in and saying it’s their private recording app. That helps to ease some tensions that it’s not going to the public internets. It happens to be a mechanism that allows us, the third party, to get the recording as fast as humanly possible so you can finish the work to do of slicing up, sharing and synthesizing that information.
I still go on the thing that it is brilliant marketing because every host talks about the product within a couple of minutes of a call.Be purposeful before you act. Think about what you want before you go after it. Click To Tweet
It comes down to earning value because if you’re getting that recording back from 45 minutes down to zero, then it’s easier to be like, “I’m going explain this product to the beginning.” If you don’t like to do that, you can turn it off, use a regular cloud recording and you wait 45 minutes until you get your recording from Zoom. We felt like, “This is not ideal,” As people have become more comfortable with it, we’ve earned and the value proposition, it does work to our advantage to become a bit of a talking point of what is this thing. A little bit of a preview of where we’re going is that we believe that if you’re a participant in the meeting, the experience should be a lot more collaborative than it is. It should be a default to share than it is right now.
We want to make it easier for the host to be able to share the recording, the transcript and the benefits of this service with all of the participants in the meeting, regardless of whether or not they’re a Grain user or whether or not they’ve downloaded the application. That live label is furthermore an opportunity that we’re continuing to work on with regards to the growing usage of the product through the usage of the product.
The last question I want to ask in this Build section is about Jake. Business partners and cofounders, some work exceptionally well but the majority maybe not so. You already had at MissionU a difference in partners where you ended up leaving. What does Jake do? What do you do? How do you make it work?
I’m fortunate that I learned my emotional intelligence lessons on strangers that I had not known before they became my business partners who do not like family. Degreed is the one that didn’t end up working out as far as personality, MissionU was where I learned a lot of lessons by then, and my cofounder and I are very close friends. With Grain, I had two great cofounding relationships in hindsight. Smart, thoughtful and amazing people to work with. When I thought about who I wanted to work with, I had one person at the top of my list and it was my brother Jake.
The reason why is because we’ve always been each other’s confidants. He was the first person that I would call when I was doing startup stuff. I was the first person he called when he was dealing with this startup stuff. We had this conversation where we were talking and thinking about starting something in the video space. After MissionU got acquired and I was describing what we built at MissionU and he said, “Did you built that video recording, repository and sharing?” He’s like, “I had that exact idea. We need this.” I was thinking about how important something like that would be. There were some serendipity and opportunity that we have the same idea, impetus and desire to build this at the same time.
As far as managing the family relationship, it is easy because we’ve already worked through so much. We were roommates in college so that helps. I’m three years older than him. I got my big brothering out in college. He quickly as a freshman, when I was a junior, put his foot down and was like, “No, you’re not big brothering me. We’re peers now.” We’ve been peers ever since. The last thing I’ll say on the topic is that when you’ve known someone your whole life, the stakes are higher. You want to make sure that you’re bringing your best self to the table, you’re not being a jerk and letting yourself lose.
Sometimes it’s easier to do that because you know each other so well, but there is a certain amount of, “I know how to communicate with him. He knows how to communicate with me. I don’t have to worry about him judging me. He doesn’t have to be worried about me judging him.” Maybe my insecurities were large in my prior two co-founding relationships. I was always worried about like, “How will my cofounder evaluate me, whether or not he wants to keep working with me and whether my performance was there?” It’s not lowering that pressure of knowing that I could communicate effectively and that we were long-term partners. One of the most powerful advantages that we have as a company and as a team is that Jake and I can communicate well together.
You can find more about Mike and Grain at Grain.co. In the Live section, what are some daily habits that make you successful?
One of the biggest things that I’ve had to learn over time is to use my calendar as one opportunity for me to have to think less throughout the day. If I can in advance just religiously go through my calendar, making sure that I’m optimizing every meeting and every session, that any blink sessions that don’t have meetings which I try to get as many of those as I can. That I have purpose-filled time and that I know what I want to work on in those specific times to accomplish goals on a given week. I would say that since I have adopted that rigorous application of those hours in a day, it has made a huge difference in my ability to get more done and be less stressed out about it.
Anxiety for me comes when there’s a huge backlog of things to do and I don’t know when I’m going to do them. Even though the backlog still remains huge, knowing that I’ve been thoughtful about when I’m going to do things, helps me to know that like, “There’s a limited and a finite amount of time in the day.” I have mapped out what I’m going to do and when I’m going to do it. I try to stick with that and it has helped me to reduce my anxiety levels and increase my output.
You spoke about Stephanie before. A lot of what happened transferred from you moving from Utah with her to the Bay Area. If she’s reading, what would you like to say to her about the support she’s given you through this journey?
It wouldn’t be possible. She had an amazing job. She brought me to San Francisco. I’ve been following her. When I quit my job to do that first startup, she paid the bills. We didn’t have any kids yet. She didn’t think twice. She never questioned whether or not it was the right decision. She supported me. She said, “If this is what you believe in and this is what you want to do, then let’s do this together.” We’ve always approached everything together. There’s no way that I could take a risk that I have in my career that has led to positive outcomes without her and her support. There’s one other funny story there is that she’s not on like, “I’ll always tell you to follow your dreams.”
In MissionU, before I met my cofounder Adams, I was like, “It’s time. I’m going to be the CEO. I’m going to start something.” She pushed back hard on me. She was like, “Mike, you are not ready. You don’t have an idea. You don’t have a cofounder.” She helped me identify that it was an ego-driven thing that I was trying to do. I was like, “It’s time to be the CEO because that’s what I wanted to do.” Instead, she’s like, “You need to find a cofounder. You need to be the co-pilot. You need to like to learn more.” She’s my Yoda of wisdom in my life, also relentless support and the three kids. We’re fortunate that what she wants to do, even though she worked in venture capital, as a CPA, she chooses to work at home and that’s where she wants to put her focus is on doing the kids. I’m fortunate that that allows me to know that our kids are being taken care of and I can focus on my startup.
The next section is the Give section. What’s a charity or community you’re passionate about and why?
In MissionU, my last cofounder had started a nonprofit called Pencils of Promise. We had the fortunate opportunity to work together after he left Pencils of Promise. I’ve always had such profound respect for the organization that he founded and the impact that it has. The premise of Pencils of Promise is an organization that helps build schools in developing countries. A donation to Pencil of Promise helps kids to attend school and to improve that learning environment where they otherwise wouldn’t.
I’ve gotten a decent amount of exposure to that organization through him. When I think about charitable giving, it’s been places where to make an impact on it. That organization does a great job of turning donations into outcomes. The thing I care about more than anything else in terms of things you can invest in is education. I feel the human potential especially in developing countries, will make a huge impact. I recommend contributing to that organization.
The charity where I give all my book proceeds to and also a portion of my revenue is the Purple House. You can go to PurpleHouse.org.au to find out more. The last is the rapid-fire section. What I’ll do is ask you some questions to get rapid-fire responses. What are your top three personal effectiveness tips?
It’s to record everything. I always ask for permission, but it’s worth the slight awkwardness to record everything. Number two is exercise daily. A better phrase is to sign up for a race that will force you to be committed to exercise daily. I don’t and I didn’t. It was only when I signed up for a marathon many years ago and then I signed up for this Half IRONMAN that’s turned into a full IRONMAN. Now I’m on a training schedule, it goes into my calendar and I exercise daily. I don’t think about it, I love it and it helps my endorphins and mood. The last one is to be purposeful before you act. Think about what you want before you go after it. I’ve had a lot of people in my life that have helped me to do this. An investor and my wife as well, but be purposeful before you rush into doing something.
Other than Grain.co, what’s a piece of tech that’s essential for running your own business?
Other than Zoom, I would say that Asana is something that’s come into my world that I’ve gone from this world where I keep all of my tasks in this backlog and Apple notes and moved it into a more structured, integrated system in Asana. It’s made a tremendous difference in my ability to stay focused on the right things. I’ve been a big fan of Asana.
You get a lot of great ideas from TV and movie watching 3x, but what are some other sources of new ideas for you?
When it comes to Grain, it’s our engineers and our designers. Oftentimes, product decisions are made at the executive level and the product manager level. When it comes to solving problems, it is the people who are closest to the customers and the people who are building the products that is giving a voice to our engineers, our support people and our customer success. Everybody has the ability to advocate for what we should focus on as a company. What has been great about Grain with regards to the good ideas in it is very few of them have originated from me. It’s listening to the people that we hired to be great, and they are great, we just have to empower them to contribute.We are human social creatures that want to understand and be understood. Click To Tweet
The last question, what impact do you want to leave on the world?
I want to build companies and tools that promote human connectedness and shared understanding. That’s what matters in life is we are human social creatures that want to understand and we want to be understood. One of the best medicines that you can possibly have is to be empathetic towards another person and to understand what they’re going through and it makes you feel better. It’s been baked into all the religions from the beginning of mankind. There’s something that’s truly powerful about creating environments, tools, products and teams where the goal is to understand each other and to connect ultimately as human beings, not only to understand but to be understood.
The default mechanisms that are put in place between shareholder agreements and legal documents, oftentimes they encourage us to put the guards up. The tools we use as well encourage us to put guards up. I feel that it would be by us towards a desire to understand others and to be understood that ultimately, we will live happier, fuller and more productive lives. I’m trying to build teams and companies where that is a focal point.
I’ve got to thank you for being so vulnerable on this show and sharing so much wisdom. Also, thanks for helping me have a better human connection and everyone else who has used Grain as well through this awkward period of COVID. The timing of your product could not be better for us trying to have more human connections in a world where diseases are trying to push us apart.
There is more than one disease. There are diseases of viruses and there are diseases of ideas. We’ve got to battle all of them through understanding and listening to each other.
You can get Grain for free. You can do that at Grain.co. Also, for everyone reading, you can get a month of the pro account for free if you go to Grain.co/BLG. It’s brilliant to have you on, Mike. Thanks for sharing all your wisdom.
Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate the thoughtful questions and the opportunity to connect with your audience.
What a humble and authentic founder Mike is. He is such a great guy. I love Grain and I hope you do too. Please test it or try it out. What is your biggest takeaway from Mike? Please share on your socials mentioning Mike and Grain.co. If you believe someone would benefit from the show and I can’t think of anyone that uses Zoom that wouldn’t, please share it with them. They will love you for it. Fill out the assessment to know if you’re going to have a high or low seven-figure business in 2021. Go to PaulHigginsMentoring.com/assessment. Please take action to build, live, and give.
- Video Speed Controller
- Pencils of Promise
- Hack Reactor
About Mike Adams
Experienced Co-Founder with a demonstrated history of working in the computer software industry. Skilled in Negotiation, Edtech, Databases, Ruby, and HTML. Strong business development professional with a B.S. focused in Economics from Brigham Young University.
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