David Shriner-Cahn is a recognized authority on entrepreneurship, leadership development, and the host of the business podcast Smashing the Plateau. After 28 years as a highly skilled employee, David Shriner-Cahn was told that his job was over. In spite of the immediate trauma and fear, he knew that as his next step, he’d rather work for himself and have more control over his destiny. That was in 2006.
Today, David is a thriving entrepreneur, podcaster and speaker. He is guiding highly skilled professionals who are recovering from a late career job loss and who yearn to impact the world with their knowledge and creativity by becoming successful entrepreneurs.
Tools / Books / Resources mentioned:
Books: Mark Gerstein’s ‘Flirting with Disaster’
Books: Gary Keller’s ‘The One Thing’.
David Shriner-Cahn opens up about the time when he was let go after a long stint as a successful engineer and how that incident transformed him to start his solo consulting business. After seeing the trauma that other people went through, David wanted to focus on helping people transition into businesses after being let go.
David accidentally stumbled into podcasting after starting a blog where he interviewed other business owners. Gradually, this transformed into ‘Smashing The Plateau’ podcast.
With strengths in finance and operations, David started learning about marketing & promotions to grow his business. As a coach guiding people transition into business owners, David himself learnt about letting go of the fear of uncertainty and started embracing content marketing etc. to expand his reach.
David emphasizes the importance of relationships and mentors. He had John Lee Dumas as a guest on his podcast and of course is a big name in podcasting with Entrepreneurs On Fire podcast. David talks about inspiring books such as Gary Keller’s 80-20 rule and Mark Gerstein’s Flirting with disaster.Finally, David gives advice to entrepreneurs to network and find mentors. BNI organization helped David a lot for networking. His advice is to have a cushion for first 6 months to one year of transition, choose a particular lane, and keep pursuing in that lane. One way to overcome adversity is to write down the answer to ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen’ and ask yourself what would you do if that worst thing were to happen.
Episode Transcript (Click to expand)
Ramesh: Hello everyone. Welcome to the agile entrepreneur podcast. This is your host Ramesh Dontha. This podcast is about starting and building your own business with purpose, passion, perseverance and possibilities. Today I have a guest who has been in business for quite some time and he's been advising other people who want to start their own business. A very interesting background, so his name is David Schreiner Khan, David, after 28 years as a highly skilled employee, was told that his job was over. In spite of the immediate trauma and fear. He knew that as his next step, he will rather work for himself and have more control over his destiny. That was back in 2006. Today David is a thriving entrepreneur, podcaster and speaker, he has a very successful podcast called the smashing plateau. Smashing the plateau. He is guiding highly skilled professionals who are recovering from a late career job loss and who you want to impact the world with the knowledge and creativity by becoming successful entrepreneurs. So welcome David.
David: Thanks, so much Ramesh, it’s great to be on.
Ramesh: Thank you. Thank you. With that introduction, I have to ask you, what were you doing for those 28 years?
David: Well, I started my career as an engineer in corporate. I did that for a few years and actually and I made a major shift. I went from engineering to work in the not for profit sector in leadership and management roles and actually the trigger that that caused me to go from engineering to a kind of a more community-based kind of work was another job loss. I was my late twenties at the time. And just after I had gotten a really, really great review, it was like a month later month after this great review and a big raise, my boss called me into his office and he said, David, I have good news and bad news. The good news is you're doing a great job. The bad news is you don't have a job. And I'm like, okay. So, and I was totally blindsided by this. I did not expect it. You know, the reality was the company I worked for had lost a lot of business, so I should have seen the handwriting on the wall, but, you know, I was young, I was naive, whatever. And I was really shocked by the whole thing and I thought, and it was also was a time of a lot of transitions going on in the corporate world. And I looked at like big corporations, which is what the model was for engineers. You know, you go to work for one of the big, you know, fortune 500 companies. Especially back in those days, you work for them for like, you know, 30 years you get a pension because in those days, companies had pensions and then they fund your retirement. And I was seeing that in the corporate world. There were a lot of cutbacks going on. My company was relatively small. It was a consulting firm that had about 150 engineers. But the companies that had like tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of employees, they were some major cutbacks. And there were, there were engineers who were for the most part in their 50s or maybe even early sixties, who were a little short of retirement age and also very often short on eligibility for full retirement. They were being laid off. And it caused them tremendous financial hardship. I mean, here I was, I was just married, didn’t have any kids, did have a mortgage. So, you know, so that part was a little painful, but didn't have the kinds of expenses that somebody in his or her 50s or 60s faces. And I was like, you know, maybe I can find something where it's less about the bottom line and more about the impact that you make, which is why I went into the not for profit sector. And then I did that for, Oh, I'm about close to 25 years. And one of the things that I learned in the not for profit sector, and this is also, I think this also shifted to a certain extent during the time that I was working in that sector, that it became much more businesslike. And not for profits. We're having the same kinds of cutbacks periodically. Funding was often tough. And they would have the same kind of cutbacks in the decision-making process that big corporations had, which is it was much more about the bottom line and about the people and you know, I saw that happening around me. There were signs that it was going to happen in the organization where I was working. And again, like what happened to me when I was in my twenties, this wasn't about my capability. It was more about the overall circumstances. And I was at that point, I was really tired of just not having control over my destiny and I decided. Probably it was like about a year before my job was over, even though, even though I wasn't told that it was over I made a decision that my next step would ever, whenever what was going to happen, my next step was going to be self-employment. I just didn't want to be at somebody else's Beck and call the way I was. And I had, you know, I had a great job. I was earning a good living. I had a lot of autonomy in what I did, because I was in an executive position, but still, I like just wanting to have my own business at that point.
Ramesh: That's excellent. Wow. So, then a little bit of a trauma and all that stuff. So right away did you start the podcast then? What did you switch to?
David: So, I opened up really simple one-person consulting business. I'd come out of the not for profit sector. That was my network. And I said, you know what, I’ve been doing this for years. I know how nonprofits need to run. And in particular, a lot of nonprofits are led by people that have a programmatic background, so they may have an education background or a social work background or something else about the program delivery. They tended not to have such great business backward rounds. And actually, in the time that I was in the sector, my specialty was finance and operations. So, I was really good at the business side. And that was actually a great niche to open up as a, you know, to start off as in a consulting business. And I was getting business right away and I was doing pretty well. So that was really what I wanted to focus on. And I didn't know anything about content creation or podcasting and frankly, I knew very little about a lot of what happens in the small business world. I just knew kind of my specialty and one of the things that happened to me once I launched my business is, I started looking around and seeing where my gaps were and what I needed to learn. And I started developing things like networking skills. I'd never done any business networking. I didn't have to when I was an employee. I was good at relationship building, but I just hadn't done business networking. I was never responsible for marketing and sales. Like I was really good at that. As I mentioned, I was really good at the operations. So, in terms of like running my own business, that part was really easy for me. But the marketing and sales piece, I had to learn how to do that, had to learn how to especially in a consulting business, its primarily referral based. I really needed to learn how to build a referral network. And I joined BNI, which is a great source of word of mouth business. Because of my background in leadership. Yes. And also doing a lot of work with teams. I found that within a few months, all of a sudden, I was nominated to be part of the leadership of my chapter. Getting involved in the leadership of BNI. And then you know, started doing other kinds of leadership activities in the entrepreneurial world. And I also, one other gap that I noticed was that a lot of people that ran small thought leadership businesses, whether it's consulting or coaching or training or whatever, a lot of them were out there speaking and they were writing and they were disseminating their ideas as a way of building credibility, building relationships, and getting leads. I thought, you know, I probably should learn how to do this. And the first thing I did was I started the blog, and this was probably about six years into running my business.
Ramesh: Okay. That is 2012.
David: Yeah. 2012. You know, a lot of people had blogs in those days, podcasting compared to today it was really in its infancy. And you know, I listened to podcasts, but I hadn't thought that much about it. And the podcasting evolved because we were producing regular blog posts. You know, unlike a lot of content producers that that are not very consistent about it. One of the things we did, and it may not have been so conscious at first, but I'm very methodical and structured. We started producing blog posts on a regular schedule. We started off with two a week and then we actually ramped up to five a week by creating texts-based interviews with people in my network.
Ramesh: What’s a text-based interview.
David: When you think about what we're doing now in this podcast. Like you're asking me questions, I'm answering the questions. So, I did the same thing in text format where I sent an email out to, I don't know, probably a couple hundred people that I knew and I said, I'm thinking about creating some interviews in my blog. Would you like to be interviewed? It's a pretty simple process. If you say yes, I’ll send you five questions. All you have to do is answer the questions, we'll post the answers. So, we did that, and it turned out that it made it really easy, it was an easy way to generate five posts a week. And they were good posts. I mean, the people, for each guest, we would modify the question. So, it wasn't always the same questions for each person. So they were, you know, they were interesting posts. The guests all had great answers and we got some feedback that the audience wanted greater depth. And so, we decided to try audio interviews, which again, I didn't know a whole lot about it, but yeah, I had a small team that was helping me with this, and the team suggested that they, David, why don't you try audio interviews? And I'm like, what is that, how do I do it? And that led to the podcast smashing the plateau.
Ramesh: David, if I can ask you, how did you come up with a smashing the plateau name?
David: Well, so my focus in my business has always been about how do you create long-term success. So, when I started off, even when I started off, started my business as a nonprofit consultant I wanted my clients to focus on a not a short-term gap. What's the mission of the organization? How do we try to fulfill the mission over the long-term? Okay. And to me, the hardest part of that is not what happens in the short term, but these long-term roadblocks and roadblocks that may come six months in or 12 months in, those are the harder ones because you don't, it's like you don't know what you don't know. It's like in my case with my business, I didn't know that I needed to do content marketing. And so, for me, one of the roadblocks that I faced after I was in business like, you know, six, seven, eight years was trying to learn about content creation and this whole idea dissemination process. So what I want to focus on with clients is when you're faced with these kinds of, of hurdles, whether it's due to a change in your marketplace or it's due to an opportunity that you have come across that you didn't know about before, but you want to pursue that opportunity, how do you do it as successfully as possible. Which means you're getting out of your comfort zone, you're trying something new. There's usually a lot of fear that's involved. It's often very uncomfortable for your team. And how do you overcome these kinds of hurdles because ultimately, what is it we're trying to do as entrepreneurs? Well, for most people, we want to be in business as long as we can, and we want to be as successful as possible for as long as we can. So how do you do that consistently and over the long term? So, the whole theme of the show is I'm looking at what people have done as entrepreneurs, particularly when it is in the latter part of their career.
Ramesh: Yeah. Okay. So actually, so you organically grew, you started wearing many hats. I want to be on the operations and marketing. And then so you went into marketing and sales and you started creating content. So, and then you kind of grew into the podcasting. Let me ask you a little bit about your business itself. How did the podcasting help you with the business and what's it like? What is the relationship between your business and the podcast, the way you see it?
David: Yeah, the relationship is actually very close, and you know, as an example of sort of narrowing the focus based on content creation. One of my observations is many of our clients and guests on the podcast and the audience of the podcast are people who have gone like me from employment to entrepreneurship in the second half of their career. And often the trigger that has kind of caused them to make the jump has been jobless like me. So, we've been focusing on helping people that, that are going through that specific transition. When you're faced with job loss, particularly if you're highly skilled and you're well compensated, trying to get another job like that is really challenging. There are all kinds of factors to changes in the marketplace. However, as an entrepreneur, if you have that kind of skill and you have that kind of experience, you're actually more valuable. You just need to figure out how it is that you can kind of reinvent yourself as an entrepreneur rather than as an employee. And the reality is that for many people, there's a strong desire behind this, not just that they're pushed in that direction. They really want to do it. Like in my case, I was planning to do it for a year before I launched my business. And for many people, they have thought about it, but there's a lot of fear. And until they're actually pushed out the door, they don't take the first step to becoming entrepreneurs. So, in my business, we now focus on how do we help people overcome that initial fear, overcome the trauma of the job loss and how do they figure out where they're going to launch their business? What are those they're going to offer, who they want to serve, how they want the business to run, what kind of business model to use, how to make it as profitable and as successful as quickly as possible.
Ramesh: So, do you limit your coaching, consulting this other entrepreneurs to certain domains or can you talk a little bit about the kinds of entrepreneurs and which industries they are operated?
David: Yeah, so this is not industry specific. This is really about where you are in your professional life. So yeah, so we've worked with attorneys’ consultants, coaches, trainers, people running a small service business. It’s kind of runs the gambit. The thing that they have in common is that they have a lot of skill in a particular area. And the use of their skill prior to launching their own business that the use of the skill has primarily been dictated by somebody else. And now they have a chance to actually make their own decision about what part of their skill they want to, they want to focus on using the most. So, they've got to kind of understand how to combine their greatest passion for what they love doing and their greatest competence. And also, they get to decide whom they want to serve and how. So, there are a lot of pieces that they have never had control over before or thought about taking control of. So, there are a lot of decisions to be made up front, which impact the way the business is going to start out and is also going to impact how the business pivots as it grows.
Ramesh: Okay. So excellent. So now I'm looking back at your own personal journey. I think things that helped you, things that inspired you. So, in any particular book or people that are part of your life that you know during the tough times and whatever you fell back on to inspire you and motivate you?
David: Yes. So, in terms of people, one of the things that I’ve found is having the right relationships is really critical to success. I know when I had, I'm John Lee Dumas is a guest on my podcast. And many people who listen to podcast will know of him because of his show entrepreneur on fire. One of the things he talked about was when he was planning to launch his show, how the people closest to him were the biggest naysayers. And what he did to overcome that was joining a mastermind group with other entrepreneurs that really helped him focus on getting his podcast launched and focus on becoming an entrepreneur. So, for me, what's been most helpful is having mentors who have been successful at building businesses, the kinds of business that I want to be in. Being part of groups, ongoing groups of other entrepreneurs who are focused on the same kinds of challenges that I face day to day, people who can have my back when I'm having a tough time and people who I can support when they're having a tough time. And as far as resources there are some books that I kind of refer back to over and over again. One of my favorites is the one thing by Gary Keller, which talks for people who don't know, it’s all about the 80, 20 rules in business and in life, which is 80% of our success comes from 20% of our activities. So how do you, how do you plan your time and focus your time on every single day on that 20% that will yield 80% output.
Ramesh: And the challenge actually is identifying what the 20% is first. And then focusing on them.
David: Exactly, exactly. So that's a great book. I mean there's so many.
Ramesh: Yeah. I think another one you mentioned is flirting with the disaster. That seems to be a favorite as well by Mark Gerstein.
David: Mark Gerstein. Yeah. So, my friend Mark Gerstein, who is a brilliant strategist has written several books and this is one he wrote several years ago about, he studied a number of major disasters. One in the space program, Chernobyl etc. And looking at how our intuition can fail us and how decision making often gets skewed by political factors. And it's really, it's a great look at the decision-making process.
Ramesh: Excellent. So, so David just one question that came to my mind during the first initial years of a few years when you're establishing a business, did you think about, why am I doing this? Should I go back to the life? Or you pretty much committed to doing it no matter what. What was the thought process at that time?
David: Actually, one of my mentors said to me, you're going to find once you launched your business, you're going to find that when you're partway into building it and it may not be, may not have reached sustainability yet. You may end up getting a job offer and you got to make a decision at that point where your heart lies. You really, do you really want to be an entrepreneur, or would you rather be an employee? And that actually that did happen to me. I was offered the opportunity to consider a job that was pretty prestigious and high paying. And I said to the recruiter, I said, I'm well qualified. I can do this job and I could probably do it very well. And I have to tell you honestly, I recently launched a business and I'm not so sure that I actually want to be an employee. And the recruiter said to me, well, in that case you shouldn't apply. And you know, I had sort of, you know, second thoughts about it, well, did I do the right thing by being so honest about it? And in the end, the answer is yes. And I’ve, you know, I’ve interviewed so many people about this transition. And it's really common that people kind of vacillate between, especially if you're coming out of long-term employment, they vacillate between trying to get another job versus starting a business. And my experience, you really can't pursue boats. You've got to choose a lane and you've got to pursue it. Especially if what you're trying to do is pursue entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is hard work. I think it's way harder than being an employee, but the rewards are so much greater. I think the emotional rewards, the spiritual rewards and the financial rewards can be so much greater than being an employee, but it's way harder and you really have to want to do it. And it can also be really lonely because you're making decisions where you're not going to be talking to a lot of people about those decisions. So, you don't have the same kind of support that you have as an employee and you really got to want to do it.
Ramesh: Yeah. I mean, you touched upon really so many aspects in that answer. I think I relate to very much the loneliness, you know, you overcome that with the mastermind or other mentor network. I think that you talked about. And then you know, if you're doing a side, I mean if you're trying to do employment and then this one, you would rather do when you are fully employed, not after he got laid off on, you're trying to decide kind of stuff. I think really good stuff there, David. I myself could a ride to many of the things that you are saying while you were saying it. So, the other thing that I wanted to ask you here is one of the, if you were to restart your business today, what would you do differently?
David: Yeah, differently, I would have focused more time on building relationships. I would have been bolder about asking for the kinds of help that I needed. That's really important. I think I can tell you I often, because of my own fears, I’ve often waited too long to ask people who are perfectly willing to help me for the kind of help that I need. So that's something that I would do differently, and I would probably have started doing content creation sooner.
Ramesh: But these are the kinds of things you learned as we went along, and I thought you already started building relations with the BNI pretty early on in your business.
David: I did. That was actually, I joined BNI just about a year after I launched my business. So, you know, if you're asking me what I would do differently, I would join BNI the first day.
Ramesh: Okay. So basically, what you're saying is trying to get some mentorship, networking right away. Do not hesitate, don't let your fears bog you what people think of you and those kinds of things.
David: Correct. Correct. The other thing that I would really strongly recommend to anyone, particularly if you're going through the transition where you have suffered a late career job loss and now, you're starting a business, take some time to actually deal with the trauma of the job loss. Don't rush. So, this is like kind of the opposite of the answer I just gave you Ramesh, which is I think you need time to actually process what's happened to you. Like in my case, I processed it ahead of time cause I kind of knew that it was going to happen. But I’ve seen many people where they, like day one, they're like trying to sell something new and they haven't taking the time to process the job loss, I think you actually do need the time to do that. And I’ve seen where people have had the financial space to take like six to 12 months and not worry about how they're going to pay their bills. Because they have enough assets to be able to manage that. And they're not, they're also, they realize they're not letting the fear of spending down their savings for those six or 12 months. Keep them from making the right decision of where they're going to start. So that's an important one. And I’ll tell you, there's one other thing you can do. If you don't have the financial resources, which is you could take an interim job that will just pay the bills for a while where you realize it's short term, it's not career building, it's like you're doing it so you can pay the bills and take time to think.
Ramesh: Okay. So, while you're processing you know what you're trying to do. So, excellent David. I think this and now I'm really getting how you mentor and coach your customers with the kind of advice that you're giving on this show right here. So, yeah, any last-minute thoughts before we wrap up this podcast?
David: Yeah, one last thing. Here's a question you can ask yourself. Okay. Which is, what's the worst thing that could happen? And write down the answer and then look at your answer and say, well, if the worst thing comes to fruition, how would I deal with it? And if you keep that in front of you, you will be way less fearful of taking the steps you actually do need to take to try to get what you want.
Ramesh: I mean, David, I cannot tell you how powerful that is because that is the one thing, I practiced all along. Every change, you know, that's what I said. Hey, you know, yeah, I came from this whatever place you came from, I mean like what's the worst thing that can happen? That is a very, very powerful question that will help us go further. Actually that's, what a way to wrap up the podcast.
David: Thanks Ramesh.
Ramesh: Thanks. Thank you, David. I really appreciate you coming onto this podcast and therefore people who are listening, you can find all great episodes like David's on www.rameshdontha.com. There's a podcast tab there. David. Thank you.
David: Thanks so much, Ramesh.