Nov. 3, 2022

How to move faster towards your Goals with Startup Mentor Stoyan Yankov

How to move faster towards your Goals with Startup Mentor Stoyan Yankov

Imagine you are the main character of your own movie. But not just the main actor. You’re also the producer and director of this movie. Close your eyes and visualize how you would tell this story.

Will it be filled with adventure and suspense?

Would your story be uplifting or depressing?

Would your story have the power to change lives?

This is the power that Stoyan Yankov instills in others. A master coach, speaker, and author (co-wrote Perform: The Unsexy Truth about Startup Success with Cristobal Alonso from Startup Wise Guys), Stoyan shares his journey of becoming a startup mentor. If you feel like you’re not moving as fast toward your goals like you could be or want to know more about instilling a great company culture, this is the episode for you!

Do you wish to connect with our special guest?

Visit Yasen’s website:

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Past Guests:


Past guests on Innovators Can Laugh include Yannik Veys, Ovi Negrean, Arnaud Belinga, Csaba Zajdó, Dagobert Renouf, Andrei Zinkevich, Viktorija Cijunskyte, Lukas Kaminskis, Pija Indriunaite, Monika Paule, PhD, Vytautas Zabulis, Leon van der Laan, Ieva Vaitkevičiūtė.


Additional episodes you might enjoy:

#55 Yannik Veys - From creating the Uber for service professionals to growing Hypefury

#53 Tzvete Doncheva - Overcoming barriers to get into a VC with Tzvete Doncheva


Tune in to every conversation about exciting European Startups and Innovators on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Amazon! Leave a rating and review so we can keep making amazing interviews!

Listening on a desktop & can’t see the links? Just search for Innovators Can Laugh in your favorite podcast player.

Connect with Eric:
Visit his website:

For the Innovators Can Laugh newsletter in your inbox every week, subscribe at

Past Guests:
Past guests on Innovators Can Laugh include Yannik Veys, Ovi Negrean, Arnaud Belinga, Csaba Zajdó, Dagobert Renouf, Andrei Zinkevich, Viktorija Cijunskyte, Lukas Kaminskis, Pija Indriunaite, Monika Paule, PhD, Vytautas Zabulis, Leon van der Laan, Ieva Vaitkevičiūtė.
Additional episodes you might enjoy:
#55 Yannik Veys - From creating the Uber for service professionals to growing Hypefury
#53 Tzvete Doncheva - Overcoming barriers to get into a VC with Tzvete Doncheva
#50 V...


Imagine you are in the main character of your own movie, but not just the main actor. You're also the producer and director of this movie. Now, close your eyes and visualize how would you tell your story? Would it be filled with adventure and suspense? Would your story be uplifting or depressing? Would your story have the power to change lives?

This is the power that St. Yoko instills in others. A master coach, speaker, and author of the book perform the Unsexy Truth about Startup success story on shares, his journey of becoming a startup mentor, and keynote speaker. If you feel like you're not moving as fast toward your goals like you could be or want to know more about instilling a great company culture, This is the episode for you.

Let's dive in. Hey, you're listening to Innovators Can Laugh, The Fun Startup Podcast. I'm your host, Eric Notcher on ico. We interview an innovative entrepreneur in the European tech startup scene every week. My goal is to have my guests share their wisdom or having the little fun in the process. Now, let's dive.

All right, Soya Yca, welcome to Innovators Can Lab. Pleasure to have you here today. What a pleasure to be here with you. Well, we're both in book crash at the moment, but in a different , different locations. But thank you so much for the invitation, Eric, and I'm a follower and subscriber of the podcast.

Amazing job you're doing, having this super useful but also a lot of fun. I. Oh wow, man, I gotta send you some Covid orka for that. It's such a wonderful compliment there, man. Thank you, . Okay. I always like to start off with asking my guests, where did you grow up and how has that shaped your view of the world?

Still young, so. I grew up in a town in post communistic, Bulgaria called Sleven. And at the time I would say, well the whole country, but specifically, you know, smaller towns, the people didn't have much of money. So at the time I didn't understand it cause I was a kid. But This type of not having so much resources meant that you have to be very flexible, very adaptable, and to make things happen and make things work.

And I think our parents, this generation of parents did a great job raising us. And making us to appreciate hard work, consistency, commitment. So looking backwards, it was a, was a great place to, to grow up and to establish this set of values, which has been enough for me, something that's been driving me forward.

Yeah. Well you said hard work. I mean, what type of of chores were you doing as a kid that were, were a little bit hard for you, so I'm. I'm not a fan of a practical kind of stuff, but my grandmother lived in the countryside in a village called Thes to my. And pretty much every weekend and, and during the summer, large portion of the summer, we will go and we'll do all kind of agriculture work, right?

Like, you know, growing potatoes, tomatoes, you know, you name it. Three, like all kind of agricultural work. And it's been hard, man, like hard work, like really. All day long, you are under the sun. You're, you're working hard, and then you deserve, And those of you who are from Eastern Europe, you probably relate, like then people put old newspapers and you have the foot on top of them and you, it's like on fresh air and, and everybody comes together and, and, and you.

You eat together and, and yeah. Reflect on the day. And so this is the first thing that comes to mind. Yeah, no, it's, it's really nice. My my father-in-law, they've got this place in the mountains and he cuts the lawn and I was there one time and I said, Let me help you. He opened up the tool shed. And there was no lawnmower.

The ones that I grew up cutting the lawn with, there was just like this sling blade, the kind of the kind of blade you see in the movies with Grim Reaper. And that's how he cut the grass. And I was, I was, I was, I couldn't believe it. He's 70 years old, He's still swinging that thing with all the the force and strength as a young man.

And so good for. You know, really, really good for. I tried it, you know, after a few minutes I got tired, but I, I did help him in that sense. So what was your early career path like, and what was, did you know, you know, from an early age that you were gonna be like a mentor, a speaker? So basically I did my high school with Matts and mathematics, and.

Afterwards was like, I wanna do something with mathematics because I like to solve problems. So I did my bachelor, my master's in finance. But what was interesting at the time was I started to be more self aware and I understood I don't wanna stand in front of five monitors and estimate financial returns for markets making banks richer.

What I was really fascinated about was making movies, producing video. Okay, so that all my free time would go into making short films commercial for clients. That was my real business school, organizing a film festival. I started for scratch, grew to participants in over 30 countries, and by the time I had to graduate, I decided, you know what, I'm going to go for my passion which is making videos, making movies, long story shorts.

I worked on somebody. I told them, You know what? I can do it better. Started my own video production company together with a Danish producer that was in Denmark, and that was the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey. I think it was around five quite challenging years. Lots of. Learnings, lots of great things that we've created and also a lot of challenges and and some bad decisions.

Yeah, though at some point I've always been fascinated about people, man, how can we motivate people? How can we get people to perform? And when you produce videos and movies, if anybody's listening, who's in this kind area, you probably know. You are always behind time. You're always behind budget. You're always behind people.

You have to get things done. You know, clients have demands, so you have to be really good into defining what are the core priorities and making sure everybody from the team is motivated and takes ownership to get things done. And so I got really fascinated about productivity. Personal development leadership.

I'll be like one of these people, you call them seminar junkie, you know, go to Tony Robb events personal development seminar coaching a academy. Yeah, let's sign up. Right. So I did my, I did a coaching training in in London, and I was like, You know what? I wanna give you the try. So I got a few of my friends are like, Hey, they want me to coach you initially.

Not going so well, but I learned how. How did you pitch? How did you pitch them? I mean, I'm sure it wasn't just like, Hey, you want me to coach you? Right. But I mean, it's pretty much not, man. No, it was much not. I had no idea. It was like, Hey, I did this coaching training. Do you want me to coach you for free?

And then you give me feedback and just anybody else. And they were like, Yeah, sure. And there was one lady friend of mine, she was not coach by all, but I was really pushing to help her to, to get somewhere Uhhuh, but she didn't want to go anywhere. She was, she was fine. So I learned the, that you need to work with people who are coaching, first of all, when the frequency that they're willing to get coached.

But then there were some other people that started finding jobs and a lady found a job in BCG and she was dreaming about it for five years, but she had some internal obstacles and. With my help. Somehow she leap over the obstacles and, and found the confidence to actually apply and get prepared. She landed the job, people started finding relationships moving to other countries, and I'm like, Okay, this, this thing works.

I like this Uhhuh. I start receiving this messages, Man, you changed my life. This happened and it's really, really nice. Yeah, it's a, it's a high, it's a high, I can't imagine, but I, I, I. I, I, I or I, maybe, I can't imagine, you know, people telling you, you changed my life and you feel good about it, and so you wanna go and do it again and maybe see if you can help somebody else.

Now, before we actually get into the coaching part, because I am mesmerized on your route, getting there on your journey and getting there, the making the films. Okay, so were you doing everything in terms of like, Okay, let me write the script, let me bring the crew together, the production crew. Let me shoot the video, let me work with the actors.

You know, let me edit the video. Like what were you doing when you're saying I was making short videos? So my main role was being a producer, but in order to be a great producer, And for those of you who don't know what a producer is, producer is the, the guy in charge, the business person, the budget person, the the guy who's managing everything.

So it's more the administrative role, but you are the one that makes sure as a leader, every person on the team is the right person. Everything is in the right place. Budget is been well spent. However, in order to be a great producer, You need to know everything. So I'll do everything initially, editing, directing, screenwriting, and sometimes when there was a small project across here, having a lot of hat, and at some point I specialize in being primarily a producer.

At certain times I'll do directing, and that was actually my biggest passion. I would usually do the producing because I was extremely good at producing. I couldn't find other people who are so good. There was many great directors. So everybody wants to be a director and work with actors and yeah. And you know, so, but I'll do everything man, initially and then at some point.

It's fascinating, this industry fascinating. There's so many moving particles, so much creativity. It's, it's just, Yeah. Yeah. There's so much passion in, And so you mentioned that when it comes to being a producer, right, being in this industry, you have deadline. You have budget, right? And you have investors and stakeholders that you've gotta meet these deadlines, right?

And there's a lot of moving parts. So what were some things that you were putting into place to help you stay on track, to help you stay, you know, on the production schedule, you know, be before you actually became this great mentor, what you are now, you went through this some sort of learning process, right?

Some d discovery process and so what were like some aha moments? As a producer that felt like, Okay, this is gonna help me stay on, on, on budget. This is gonna help me stay on track. You know? What, what were some of those moments that, that you stumbled across? I, I think people always looking for the magic bill, right?

Like, what's the one strategy that's going to change my leadership, or whatever the truth is, if I can defi summarize it in one word, is gonna be consistency for me. It would mean having conversations and clear expectations with people. If I bring a director on board, and by the way, in this industry, I will produce many commercials and, and you know, you get people freelance based in a way.

You don't have the in the team, but it's like, Hey, we have a commercial with this company. Would you like to be the director? Here's what's expected from you. Here's how the timeline is. So it was. My success was defined by how, how prepared I was in terms of defining the timelines, communicating clearly with everybody.

What's their roles and responsibilities, what's expected from them. Mm-hmm. and planning carefully. Each piece of the production. It's like, and you have to anticipate. Like, for example, I have three shooting days. I have the budgets for three shooting days. Okay. And we need to get a lot of shots done. So I'll sit down with the director, with the cinematographer, and we'll break down all the shots that they want to have found.

And by the way, the shooting is usually one of the, the shortest parts of the project. You have a lot of pre-production. You have to build sets, find locations, find the equipment, get the right people on board, do the casting, you know, all those kind of progression things. But then we'll sit together and we'll be discussing, All right guys, you wanna have a spaceship?

I don't think we have a budget for a spaceship. How about this scene? We have, we hear the spaceship and the many character says that. So you, you're constantly negotiating with the creatives on the product. You're the producer, right? Mm-hmm. , and, and you are the one that needs to say no, you know, this is great, but we can afford that.

It's not an important scene. Let's focus on the core tank and that director will say, Ah, yeah, but I want the spaceship. So, so, but your job is to, to take charge, to be extremely good in planning and time management to break things down into the smallest detail. I'll have production plans for when we go on set for time to every five or 10 minutes.

Okay. And, and for, for each and every person. Right. While we are shooting this scene. The rest of the team, these three people need to prepare the set, which is like 20 meters down the to the room. Yeah. And get it ready. So everything needs to be somehow connected so you can get the most out of the, the time that you have.

Yeah. Yeah. Okay. And so during this time, you're also, you're, you're also reading different books like by Tony Robbins and, and other gurus out there. Was there specifically like one or two books that you really, really enjoyed that kind of, Kind of gave you this idea of like, Hey, I could be a coach and made you take that leap.

Or maybe it wasn't even a book, maybe it was a mentor in person. I read hundreds and hundreds of books. I cannot name one specific book, but I would say there were two specific experiences that were their transformation for me. One of them was, I don't think most people know about it, but there's a system from a guy from Stan called the system of Nor Beck, that's his name, and I had the endure in my, in my leg, and I, I was, I used to be a football player and I couldn't heal for some reason.

I go to doctors, they say just, Time will heal it. And my mom signed me up for, for this course, Self-Healing and Personal Development. I'm like, Mom, come on. Like self-healing. Come on. It's like, I did it. I already paid for it. You have to go. Okay, . So I show up, man, and then tell us. All right, let's set the housekeeping, the expectations for this.

We need to stand like in a power pose, and you gotta smile for, for four hours. During the 10 days, four hours a day, you have to smile. And if I stop smiling, the, the teacher will say, You gotta smile again. It's like, why is that man? Like, why am I here? Right. Yeah. And, and there was a combination of this. You know, visualizations, you close your eyes and guided visualization and goal setting and discussions and a lot of different exercises and, you know, two, three days pass and it's like, wow, man, I'm feeling so good.

It's like a completely new universe. Like I can do anything like at least you believe so, right? So this experience was absolutely transformational for. The second one was actually attending a Tony Robbins event back in 2014. The basic he likes to call event unleashed the power within, back in the time it was in London, six, 7,000 people.

Super high energy, but the guy's just going deep. And you have to walk through. Burning coal is one of the experience, and it's, it's a metaphor for your fears. How can you live through your fears or your fears? And it's not that scary after, like all these kind of things, right? So, but, but this event was extremely transformational for me.

And I was like, I gotta do that, man. This is what I gotta do. You know? I love movie. I wanna be the person that's a trigger for other people to, to achieve their dreams, to build the businesses they want to have, the relationship they want. And, but I was afraid. Afraid. I was scared. Afraid of taking the leap to being that person.

Okay. It was easy for me to do one on one coaching and on Zoom or Right. But being in front of people. And, and being the the coach, the speaker, Who am I to, to be this? What if I fail? I didn't tell anybody. Right? But I keep on telling all my friends, Hey, I'm going to put up a workshop and it's going to be.

Code Life is like a movie. So I'm gonna take all my tools, all the things that I learned from producing videos and movies, and I'll help people to see themselves as the producer, the director, and the yeah, main character of their own movie. And people are like, Yeah, this is cool. So, So I had this client, one-on-one client.

Amazing results he's achieved person. After one session, he's like, Man, this, this was amazing. Thank you so much. I just wanted to, Now that we're done with the session, how's, how's life? How's everything? What happened to your workshop? How did people like it? I'm like, You know, I was so busy. 17 video projects.

He's like, Do, do, do how long you help me to achieve my goals, but you're not working on yours. You know what I'm gonna do? I'm gonna give you 30 days and you have to put up your first event. I'm like, ok. And if you don. Do it. He was using, you know, . The, what You told him he was using your words. Yeah, yeah. It was like, okay, if you, if you don't deliver, you have to pay 500 pounds to an extreme feminist organization that hate men.

Like, you know, just to have some leverage. Right. Uhhuh. And I'm like, Oh, okay. So, so I hang up the phone, put up an event on Facebook, invite tons of people, and it's like, now it's. You know, waiting list. And I was like, Man, what do I do? What was the name of the event? What was the name of the event and where was it at?

It was called, Life is Like a movie. I invited, I think the, The room was for 60 people. Okay. So it was fully booked. Seven people waiting list. Right. And I, and I would just. Practice in front of my flat mate, in front of the mirror. And so the comes full room. I'm scared, but you know, it's a two hour event. Is is an all day in bed or just two hours or, It was like a two hour workshop.

Okay. So it was a workshop. Very interactive. So people talk to each other, which was good for me as a first event. So I do the event. I was, it was okay, you know, for a first event. People enjoyed themselves. At the end of the event, there's a girl from China who randomly found the event online and she comes to me and, and she's like, she like so got, Can I talk to you?

I'm like, Yeah. She's like, Oh my God. Oh my God, this is so like, you know, she told I'm somebody, people. I dunno. So, so she comes and we start talking and she's like, I just wanted to share with you, I come from this town in China where when I was growing up, when men were eating on the table, We had to wait and eat the leftovers on the floor with, with women and kids and, and, and I'm 25 and I never made the decision for myself.

I, if, if I have to decide on something, I call my mom and dad and I say, Should I do this? Should I do that even for this event? I'll call my parents and they told me to come. And when I get married, my husband's going to make decision for me. And now I come to your event and you tell me that I can be the hero of my movie.

I can be the leader of my life. Yeah. And I ask them to close their eyes at the end and, and visualize how they see themselves as being the producers of their own movies. Right. Like lead them in this. So she, she, she said, I, I saw myself as a story Tell. I wanna empower women in China to be their own leaders and show up for themselves.

I would be grateful for life. Thank you. And she hugs me, man, and she doesn't let go. She's just like, and I'm like, Man, I just wanted to survive this Uhhuh, but, but who am I to, to, to let my fears. To drive my decisions for a year, two years, I'll just say, Ah, I'm not really, I'm too busy. Bullshit. Yeah. Excuses.

And, and for those of you who are listening, maybe you have an idea, maybe you have, you know, a team of people, maybe you wanna do something, Don't procrastinate, don't come up with excuses. You, you don't have it. Figure out at the beginning. But, but you will. You learn stuff. You, it doesn't mean it's gonna be a smooth, smooth, right?

But what if, what if you touch one person? What if we touch one person with this podcast and, and help them to, to find a, a new meaning or a perception idea? It's meaningful, man. So, so for me, that was the point of no return. It's like, Hey man, I'm not gonna let my fear driving from here. Yeah. So, yeah. That's awesome.

That's awesome. And, and when was this? Because fast forward, you've spoken to dozens of countries, you've done dozens of workshops. How far ago was this and where was it at start? So that was Denmark back 2016. I was still running my video production company. And yeah, man, it's been a journey I've spoken to over, I think, 35 countries now.

I'm traveling. I work with some of the leading companies. I've, I've wrote a book together with the CEO of one of the leading startup acceleration programs in Europe called Startup Wise Guys. Amazing guys. You gotta check them out. Yeah. And. You know, sometimes, sometimes you have these days you wake up and you're like, Why am I here?

You know, like, you know, having this imposter syndrome kind of to, but, but then you receive feedback after, after a session, after a speech after workshop, and it's like, okay, I gotta gotta keep moving. Now when you work with these different, these different teams, organizations, whether they're corporate or startups, you know, what is, what is some of the advice that you give them to help them boost their, their productivity?

So in order to, to answer that, maybe I can give you a brief overview about the perform methodology. Yeah. Based on all, all the, the feedback I was getting early on with coaching founders, with working in the organization, doing workshops, having interviews with leaders and. Ads together with my call the Christo, who's been investing in hundreds and hundreds of startup companies and coaching them.

We wanted to, to make it simple for leaders to pay attention to, to their people, to their team, to the performance in the culture. So we created this methodology, which goes down to an acronym called Perform How Can We Perform as a Team Consistently in the Long Run? So PERFORM stands for Purpose and Values.

So why do we do what we. Is everybody from the organization clear? What's the cause? What's the mission? What's the vision? Where do we want to be? What are the values? You know, who are we? How do we act? Is everybody living the values? And do we bring on board only people who are fitting this culture? So that's the purpose in values effective planning.

How do we plan operationally? Strategically? How do we set goals? What methodology do we use? How often do we measure? How do we make sure everybody's on the same page? As leaders, do we spend enough time coaching people to be great in their own time management and taking ownership roles and responsibilities?

Everybody in large organizations, more organization, they know their title. I'm ahead of marketing. I'm, I'm IT support. Yeah, but what do you do? What exactly do you do? Because the head of marketing in one company is going to do completely different things than the head of marketing another company. What are your specific commitments and are these commitments reflecting not just your strengths, what you're really good at, your skillset, your experience, but also.

The things you're passionate about, and this is my call for all the leaders listening to the podcast. Have you spent the time to get to know your people, to understand what drives men? What do they love to do? Where do they want to develop? Cause the likelihood of them performing, being driven, staying in the company for a longer time is going to be dependent on.

Okay, Focus and execution. The air of perform, you can plan, you can set goals, but it's about remaining focused on the few things that matter. And you know, I also have a podcast that have the pleasure just like you to talk to a lot of amazing people, great leaders and executives. They're not yes kind of people, man.

Majority of them know it's their default. They, they start with the know, there's so many opportunities, There's so many shiny objects. Mm-hmm. . So they have to remain, We as teams, as, as, as companies, as startups, we need to remain focused on the few things that we know are the highest priorities. Oh yeah. So how do we stay focused in the.

Speed over perfection and overthinking. Okay. Yeah, Optimal energy. The wellbeing specialist startups out there. We are running fast, but how do we ensure we have a proper support system? I burn out twice. It wasn't nice. One of these times I had to shut down for, for two months before I come back. It was bad.

What did you, what did you do for those two months? Did you just stay away completely from trainings and workshops and consulting? That was at the time I was actually switching from video production to, I was too, I was already doing some workshops and coaching, but my majority of my income was coming from video production.

I, I, it was in the summer, so that was good. And I went to a VI retreat, 10 day silent retreat. But it wasn't because I, I just signed up a few months before that, but it was good timing, so I did the 10 day silent retreat Vipa. You're not allowed to speak. You're not allowed to read, you're not allowed to, to write.

It's 10 days. You read yourself and you meditate. Why can't you read or write? I, I would think that that would be the perfect time to, to journal. No, I know. I, I, the only thing I was missing was journaling because there's so many things that come to your mind, but the system is developed in such a way that there's no information coming out and no information coming in pretty much.

So you can be completely. Immerse into the, the, the teachings. Anyway, for some founders, they might find it interesting. Go check out vi there's, there's retreats all across the world. I didn't do it because I burned out. I actually burned out and then it was like, I, I might as well go to this retreat. But then I, I went to back home.

I was living in Denmark at the time. I went back home to. Bulgaria, I spent a few weeks, you know, home. I went to my grandma village for some days, you know, just going around, there's animals there, you know, chicken, whatever. Like, you know, just being in the nature and, and reflecting on how can I. Do things differently.

Yeah. And many founders burn. Many, not just founders, but people working in startups. Cause it's super hard, right? We, we working hard, spending a lot of energy. So hopefully those of you listening can, can take that to hard because we all know this stuff. Sleep well, take breaks, drink a lot of water. Remind your team to pay attention to their own energy and, and rest well.

Have conversations if you need some mental health help, you know, all those kind of things. So anyway, this is the old optimal energy. The next letter, the second R, is called robust communication. Robust communication. So the internal communication, How do we talk to each other? How frequently do we have meetings?

Are they effective? Mm-hmm. , do we have safe space as a culture? So people are not afraid to share how they feel. Mm-hmm. , they can give feedback even to their boss. So is the communication. And I'm gonna quote here, one of the guests on my podcast, who is cinematographer from Hollywood. His name is She Herba.

We talk about leadership with him. Yeah. And ask him to give me an advice of leadership. And, and he told me Stone, one of the, one of the, the hardest things, the biggest challenges of a leader. Is to make sure everybody's making the same movie, right? He had sometimes 250 people just in the camera department he needs to manage.

He's like, How do I make sure that everybody's making, everybody's making the same movie instead of everybody making their own noise? Yeah. And think about your company. Is the sales department and operations and the marketing, are they making the same? So, yeah, that requires systems, that requires attention, , and good communication.

That's just from the top down all the way to every person in that, in that organization. I, I heard this story one time where I think JFK was visiting nasa. They were planning to go to the moon and I don't know, but somebody in his organization, they asked the janitor and they didn't know he was the janitor, but they were like, You know, what is your job here?

And he was like, Well, to help everybody, you know, go to the moon. And he was just a janitor. But it had been ingrained so much throughout the, throughout nasa, like that is our mission. And so no matter what you did that was like, this is our focus. We're going to the. I love it, Matt. It's such a great story.

Are we all making the same movie? And then, then the last area M for perform is mental toughness. Mm-hmm. . That's the, the mindset and it's our capability to navigate uncertainty, to navigate crisis, to navigate when things are not going by a plan pretty much. Which is in many companies every day. Right? When you're entrepreneur.

You can have the greatest plan ever, but you know, there's gonna be things that you didn't predict, like covid, , like covid, and, and you know what, what really made me think about how I show up as a leader and we, you know, you might be the best executive who might be a coach. You're learning every day, right?

I had a conversation with Heidi Russ. The CEO and founder of Thunder Beam. Okay. Right. It's a great startup from Estonia. And, and she told me she was once, previously, before becoming a founder, she was the CEO of the Talin Stock Exchange. Okay? So she wakes up one morning, she wakes up at the wrong side of the bed.

We all know this, right? She's not a morning person, so she drives to work. There's a lot of traffic, like bad weather. She goes to the office and the, her office is at the end of the corridor, so she needs to work through, Everybody can see her, right? Mm-hmm. . She walks through the corridor, she goes to her office, makes some coffee.

10 minutes later, the head of HR knocks on her door. Hi. How's everything good? Is is something wrong? No, I just didn't have my coffee yet. There was a lot of traffic. Okay, because three people knocked on my door for the past 10 minutes and they were like, What's going on? Is somebody getting fired? Did we lost a big account?

What is wrong for her? This was kind of a wake up call. I don't have the luxury to show up in the mood. Yeah. I need, I need to show up as a leader. If I want my people to be driven, motivated, positive, I need to be that person. Yeah. Be the culture that you want everybody to embrace. Yeah. So to me was really like, Oh man, how am I showing up?

You know, . Absolutely. And it reminds me of a quote that I heard by Napoleon and, and he said something like, you know, my, my main on my general is their primary job is to always. Appear confident even when there's scared shitless or something like that, . But to always give that, that confident presence I love it, man.

And, and just to, to adhere. It doesn't mean, you know, trick people lie to people, everything is fine. No, no. You can be confident, You can show up confident in Paul and share with. All right guys, let me share with you. Yeah. We had a challenge coming here. This is what happens, but let's get together . Let's work on it.

Let's get it done. Right? That's what people want to hear. Yeah. But not like getting into a victim of like, Oh my God, this happened. However, like no, you don't have the luxury as a, as a leader, as a founder. Yeah. Yeah. . Yeah. No, you don't, even as a parent, you don't have the luxury of Perry week in front of your kids too.

I'm remembering a story where my son and I, we went down like this little ski, this snow sled and, you know, I'm from Texas. I never really saw snow. So when we moved to Romania, we got to do all these fun things and like go down, you know, go down sled for the first time together. My wife warned me. She goes, Hey, those things go pretty fast.

And I'm like, Eh, they don't look that fast. Well, we were picking up speed going downhill and you know, we, we hit this bump and we like flew off the sled, I don't know, like 10 feet. And I land and I'm hurting pretty bad. And if I was by myself, I think I would've continued lying there for at least another five minutes.

Right? But my son was there and he was like, Daddy. And I'm like, Oh shit, I'm gonna get up real quick, right? Cause I don't wanna make it sound like this is bad, you know, I'm hurting bad. And I get up and I say, Yeah, you know, James, wasn't that fun? You know? Okay, let's shake it off. Let's get back on it and do it again.

But meantime, internally, I'm like, Oh man, I just wanna like go back and get some coffee and take it easy. But, but yeah, it's, it. The CEO, founder of a company, they really do not know. Maybe they do if they had some experience, but they do not know just their behavior and their attitude. It really makes the difference of the entire culture and an organization having worked at organizations with three, four, or 500,000 different people, the top down.

It makes such a, such a difference how people treat one another, whether or not they're friendly to other colleagues or coworkers. A lot of it comes down. Does, does that ceo, does he walk around? Does he smile? Does he talk to the people? Does he have a, this really sincerity of wanting to go get to know people or.

Vice versa. Is that guy a complete asshole? Does he just care about the numbers? Does he, does, Does he just care about hitting the revenue targets? Is he all business and no friendship? No kindness whatsoever. And unfortunately for a lot of people who are just coming out from school, never really worked at many different places or organizations in their careers.

A lot of how they act and how they perform at a. Comes down to the leaders that they worked for in their twenties, and it's really, really unfortunate to start off an organization and work for a leader like that because in most cases, if you stay working for a leader like that after several years, it's really hard to change that mentality because you think.

This is how people are supposed to act. They have no, they have no examples of other people. They really don't. It's like, no, no. Unfortunately for you, that's the only example that you have. Right? And I've, I've witnessed that time and time again and it's a shame. But it's good thing when companies do recognize that maybe we should bring somebody in to talk about culture, to talk about, you know, leadership, to talk about productivity.

So, you know, before we wrap this, I guess the one question for you is, when you talk about culture within organizations, like what is the take home, What is like the one action that you give organizations to try to implement? Right? Because it's great that they come to a workshop and they get to hear you speak for, you know, a few hours or maybe even the entire day, right?

But there is something that you want them to take away and what is, what is. That one thing, or, or maybe it's more than one thing. Story on Eric. I, I think you actually summarized it already for me. One of the objectives is to really get leaders to buy into the idea that caring for people, putting people first.

Investing in culture is not only the right thing to do. But it's actually good for their bottom line in the long run. Cause they, they need to justify it, right? Yeah. It's like, okay, yeah, cool. Let's do something for the, Okay. But, but if they find, if I take it to heart that I need to, to, to build a great culture, it needs to be having this two core pillars, Number one product.

We need to get things done. People need to be committed. We need to hit the goals and milestones and produce business results, create structures and systems and operations. The thing that you said most people learn when they're, you know, they're 20. Okay. But we also need to. Prioritize the second pillar.

People. We need to create space for the people factor. We need to pay attention to this. We need to create activities. We need to make a culture where people are feeling at home and they're listened to and cared for. And this is hard. So this would be the two pillars as an objective that I want people to buy into, leaders to buy into.

And then you have a chance. And of course, as an external, I have a lot more power because I'm not their manager. I'm an external consultant. Mm-hmm. , so they, they're more likely to listen to me, the, the employees, the teams, because I'm the experts. So if there is the willingness, we can actually start making a change of transformation in the culture.

Okay. Okay. All right. We're gonna get into some fun questions in just a second. Okay. But, but I do wanna ask you what's next for you personally? Do. What's next for me personally? Well, this, this four is fully booked. Pretty much I'll be traveling to, I don't know, 15 countries. And then one of the things that's, that's coming, actually, we haven't announced it anywhere, so this is the first time we do so we.

We wrote a book, Okay. Performed the Unsexy Truth about Startup Success . In the past couple of years, though, you know, globally there have been a bunch of interesting events, so to say, you know, starting from a, having a pandemic inflation war, Ukraine global events, upcoming global recession. So my culture festival along, so, and I decided what if we actually can support leaders?

To get creative for a crisis. So right now we started on a project that we are working, title perform in Times of a Crisis, the sequel of this book, and we, we started interviewing global executives, founders trying to understand what do they do. In order to get ready for, for a crisis. And, and I don't know if you, you quoted John F.

Kennedy with the, with going to the moon. I don't know if you heard about this, but back in the 60, John F. Kennedy was using the Chinese word for crisis as a metaphor to, to kind of inspire the whole nation. And, and what he, he shared with the, with the Americans at the time was the Chinese Words for Crisis is compiled of two words.

One of the words is danger. Mm-hmm. , and the second word is opportunity. Yeah. Now, I don't know Chinese, I don't know how true is that, but I love the metaphor, man. If we, if we are to, to really properly get ready for a crisis, we need to investigate the potential risks, the dangers. But also keep in mind that there will be plenty of opportunities for learning, for growth, for new business opportunities for our people to grow.

So, So it's important to keep a perspective on both this perspective, meet both sites. Yeah. Yeah, no, I think I to that, to that. There was another, somebody once said, Don't let a good crisis go to waste. But it was an effect in relation to that, cuz there's always opportunities there. Okay. First question for you, and these are just, you know, fun personality questions so the audience can get to know you here.

So yeah. Does corn belong on pizza? Whew, man. I'm gonna make a lot of Italians. Probably , Yes. In my, in my, Okay. In my pizza. It does . Okay. All right. Okay, second question for you. What is a favorite TV show that you can watch again or again? It could also be a series. I'm a fantasy kind of guy, so I love The Witcher.

Okay. The Witcher. Okay. Have you, have you watched The Witcher? It's, it's fairly, But I grew up with this fantasy stories, man. And you know, even though I produced a few of these videos with, with Fantasy Element and, you know, the Witcher is just, yeah, I can watch it again and again. It's just amazing. If you haven't watched it, guys, go check it out.

It's, it's awesome. Okay, now I've heard of it. Maybe I'll check it out now. Okay. Third question before you run for president, You must destroy all evidence with blank. Fill in the blank for me. Story Ann. Whew, Man. Before you run for president, you must destroy all evidence of . Probably my high school Drunk stories.


Okay. All right. Last question for you. It's time to play Innovators Collapse. I asked another Bulgarian startup entrepreneur, Yasin Russe, this question, What is the most death defying experience you ever had? I'm gonna give you four choices. Here you, Let's see if you can correct or correctly guess the right one.

A driving 170 miles per hour with a Formula one driver B. Surfing sea bungee jumping. Or a d. Snowboarding. I'll go for the Bunge. Okay. Good choice. That was it. Actually. Bungee jumping. Yeah. All right. All right. . Nailed. Pretty good. Pretty good there. Okay. So yeah, and this has been a pleasure having you on Innovators Col.

For everybody listening, I will include links to the show and this show notes. Jo, where can people learn more about. So everybody listening, thank you so much for being here and if you haven't subscribed to this podcast, make sure to do it. It's, I'm a big fan, I'm following so, so much good stuff here.

Where could people find me? You can go to My You can find me on LinkedIn, Instagram, you can check out my podcast Productivity Mastery. And if you're interested in topics of performance and culture, you can check out our book, Perform The Un Sexy Truth About Startup Success. So it's been a great pleasure and I'm very honored and grateful to.

Here we do. Eric, thank you so much for invitation. No, thank you for coming on here and for everybody listening, stay tuned next week as we will have another Bulgarian entrepreneur on this show. If you enjoy this, tell others about it. I don't pay for any ads, so word of mouth helps the community grow and really appreciate it and keep hustling out there.

This is Eric signing off. Cheers.