If you do, make sure you tell the world about it. Matt Shoup will help us understand why transparency, even when it hurts is better than trying to keep the truth a secret.
Too often we think the worst that we’ve done will lose us customers. Matt found out the opposite was true and I have in my business career as well.
Here are some of the things we’ll talk about:
- Learn what painting a baby means.
- Why passive ownership is the key to mental saneness.
- How Matt learned to get out of the way and let his team be the winners.
- Why delegation is all about trust and mistakes.
Narrator: Welcome to The Sustainable Business Radio Show podcast where you’ll learn not only how to create a sustainable business but you’ll also learn the secrets of creating extraordinary value within your business and your life. In The Sustainable Business, we focus on what it’s going to take for you to take your successful business and make it economically and personally successful.
Your host, Josh Patrick, is going to help us through finding great thought leaders as well as providing insights he’s learned through his 40 years of owning, running, planning and thinking about what it takes to make a successful business sustainable.
Josh: Hey, how are you today? This is Josh Patrick. You’re at The Sustainable Business.
Hey, today, we’ve got Matt Shoup with us. Matt is, like me, one of those people who just can’t work for other folks and hold a job. At the age of 23, he found himself owing $170,000. He recently graduated from college and married to his college sweetheart. Then he was fired from his dream corporate job. Gee, that sounds awfully familiar. Although I was never fired, I was just never hired. And, you know, he had a 100 bucks left to his name and he founded his painting company. I love these sort of companies. I’m a big fan of blue-collar businesses. And we’re going to learn a lot about how Matt took this from a one-person operation, grew it into a multi-million dollar company and is now in the process of starting another company because he’s got this company – he set it up so well, he can spend time doing other stuff he likes. My dream guy. So, let’s bring Matt on and we’ll start the conversation.
Hey, Matt, how are you today?
Matt: Hey, hey, Josh. I’m excellent. How are you doing?
Josh: I’m doing really well.
Let’s talk about this a little bit. You know, you are my hero. I love guys like you, you know—
Matt: Thank you.
Josh: It kind of feels like you’re in my world. You didn’t make it in the corporate world and you have started your own business, so how did you end up picking painting?
Matt: Yeah, people ask me that and I always open–it’s really funny because I’m actually a bad painter. I’m not a good painter. I’m awful at it. I don’t like it.
I got some exposure to the painting industry when I was in college. I attended Colorado State University from 1999 to 2003. And prior to that, I’ve always been an entrepreneurial type of kid. I had lawn mowing and snow shoveling businesses and candy peddling in middle school – things to that nature. While I was in college, I was actually planning to work an hourly job and I got approached by a national—they’re a national franchise, basically, type of a company that takes a college student and shows them the ropes of business in residential paint contracting.
Josh: So, you don’t like painting but you started a painting business anyhow. It sounds familiar. I didn’t like filling vending machines and I did a vending business anyhow but—
I understand how that is. So, let’s talk about your role of moving from being a one-person operation to one where you basically made yourself into a passive owner. And by the way, making yourself operationally irrelevant is one of the two things that you need to do if you want to create a sustainable business, so congratulations on one of them, anyhow.
Matt: Yeah, thank you.
Josh: How did you do that?
Matt: Looking back and one of the things I want the listeners to know is that it’s been an 11-year process that people look at it now and they always say, “Hey, you know, how did you do that so quickly?” It took a long time. When I was laid off from the bank, the last thing I had in my mind at that point was having a business that ran without me that I could step out of.
I was really just trying to survive. But once I had other people in place, and I had systems in place, and I had the ins and the outs of front-end and back end and, you know, all of the operations, I really started looking at where the company was bottlenecking and it was bottlenecking with me because I’m a control freak. So I hired people to do a job. I hired people to fulfill a role. But then I was checking in on them. I was hovering in on them and kind of helicoptering around – on top of my daily responsibilities. I was helping them do their job. And I really bottlenecked my own company. So as I started seeing that, “Hey, the inhibitant to growth was really me and me getting out of – first, my own way and then other’s people’s way, that’s when I really started with the end in mind of–and this was probably, Josh, four to five years into the business, when I finally had some time to look up and really realize what was going on. And then I said, “Okay, within the next five to six years, I want to be able to step out of this thing on a daily basis.”
Josh: This is a really big question I have to ask you. How did you recognize that you were the one inhibiting the growth and you were the one who was the bottleneck?
Matt: Because when I left to go on vacations, whether that was for one week, two weeks – I think maybe I got two and a half weeks in one time in those first five years, I came back and I mean I had one guy that had enough bravery, I guess, to tell me I’ve got a fairly strong personality so he goes, “Matt, I don’t know how to break this to you because I know you love the company and you love us and he said, “This thing runs way better when you’re not here.” And that was kind of my first Aha! moment. And it was one of those things that felt great but it’s like, “Wow, you guys really don’t need me as much as I think you do.” So then I started taking longer vacations and stepping out more and more from that point.
Josh: When your brave employee came up and told you that you we’re getting in the way, how did you end up thanking him? Or did you thank him?
Matt: You know, I did. At first, I kind of stepped back and said, “Whoa, hold on a minute. What’s going on?” But then I thought about it and then he showed me the places where they were able to get a lot further. So yeah, I absolutely did thank him and he’s still with us. He’s been with us since–gosh, he’s like seven years now that he’s been with the company. So, I absolutely thanked him and it was pretty darn quick after he let me know that.
Josh: So that gets into the area of delegation. I’m going to bet, for the first five years you weren’t a good delegator and then you became a good delegator. Is that correct?
Matt: Yeah. The first five years, I thought I was a good delegator. I would delegate something and then I would check in on what I just delegated to make sure that it was getting done my way and I would just hover around them. I completely disempowered people. So, when it was mentioned to me, after getting back from this trip that, “Hey, you know, like when you’re not around these people just don’t feel that constant pressure and they’re getting stuff done like you don’t need to babysit us. We’re big kids now, Matt, you can take off for a little bit.” So that’s when I started trusting my team more and just giving up control, just letting go.
For entrepreneurs, I think a lot of us are driven by control and wanting to take charge and create their own destiny and not, you know, trust or rely on anybody else to pave the way for them. We’re going to pave our way but then when we have people on the team, we then don’t give that trust over to them, to let them run that part of the company that we hired them for.
Josh: How do you give trust over to your team and still feel comfortable in maintain your control freakishness?
Matt: Yeah. That is a great question and still to this day. I mean, I literally am out of the daily ops. I have absolutely nothing to do with daily operations and things like that. It’s funny, I step into the office and everybody’s still looking for me to try to step in on something. I really just lead them by the leadership standpoint.
For me, it’s ‘more of an internal struggle right now. I absolutely trust my team. We’ve built a culture, over the years, of just very openness and directness and holding people ultimately accountable to what they’re supposed to be doing. It didn’t used to be like that. So the trust factor has definitely gone up over the years and it’s been built more now that they see that I trust them. But it’s still hard to control those things. I mean, it’s still hard to balance those two things for me.
Josh: I’ve got two things that I would like us to talk about next which is – do you have metrics that let you know that you’re on track? And, when you hold people accountable, how do you go about doing that?
Matt: Absolutely. Yes. So, in terms of metrics, even growing up as a kid I’ve always been just like a math and a numbers freak. So when I was mowing lawns and shoveling snow, I knew how many doors I needed to knock on and how much each account was. So, in the painting industry, as we’re driving revenue-driving sales, we have a couple of metrics that we really track. We track them on a weekly, quarterly, and monthly basis. And then we look at them on a year-over-year basis to see how much we’re growing.
So definitely, from a sales standpoint, when our estimators and sales teams set their goal and we see how they’re coming along, we can track that very specifically, literally. I mean, almost on a daily basis but we do it more on a weekly basis. And we absolutely hold them accountable to that.
But the business that I’m in, Josh, unfortunately–well, I guess, unfortunately for everybody else, unfortunately for me, is the competition. It’s rough out there. You know, we talk about blue collar work. In blue collar home service trade business work, if you just show up and do what you say you’re going to do and you’re sober, like those three things. I mean, it’s a stereotype in the business because this plumber came out, this painter came out and he was late and he was smelling and I didn’t feel comfortable with him. I mean, just that part of our business, at the end of the day, it seems like a low bar in, say, maybe a white collar business or another business like what I’m in now. But if you just do those things, you’re heads and tails above the competition.
But then obviously, say, like internal operating staff in the business – if we’re supposed to have books closed out by a certain time, we just have a culture, Josh, is this filter, I mean, if you say you’re going to do something and you don’t, you’re going to be sticking out like tyrannosaurus in the crowd. And we’ve really filtered those people out over the years. They just don’t meet up to that standard. So, they really don’t even make it through the door at this point.
Josh: So, for you, it sounds like personal responsibility is a core value that you just will not allow exist in your company—
Matt: It absolutely is, yeah. I mean, from as early as I can remember—and, you know, part of us growing the company, we’ve gone through a lot of value discovery types of exercises and things like that but that’s one of my huge values. Yes, just do what you say you’re going to do. You know what, and if you don’t, and if you screw it up—you know, we screwed some things up, we’ve painted some babies and just take responsibility for it. You know, it’s not the end of the world but just own it. Just own everything you do with excellence.
Josh: Okay, we’ve got to stop her for a second. Painting babies?
Matt: Yeah. Yeah, we painted some babies.
Josh: What’s that all about?
Matt: It’s something that I never thought would be a term that we’d use in the company but I talk a lot to other businesses that I coach and entrepreneurs that I mentor and there’s absolute power in sharing your company, your business, your personal or life’s worst moment. That’s really where you can actually see what somebody’s made of. You can see their values really come to the surface when something’s on the line.
We accidentally, back in 2008, had a paint sprayer explode on a job site. And the paint sprayer happens to explode when the homeowner was standing right outside, admiring the paint job that was almost finished and she was holding her 9-month-old baby and the paint sprayer exploded. We got paint all over the baby. And I mean that literally, in our 11 years of business, was one of the worst, most awful, horrific day in business. And the story that came out of that, in terms of how we owned that and started actually sharing that with customers as part of our marketing and sales pitch and sales process and cycle, really established our brand a lot stronger in the community. And we’re laughing.
And I think you and I know a little bit more of the back story because we’ve spent some time together. But for the listeners, you go anywhere to buy a car, somebody’s going to sell you something and they come out and they tell you how great they are, here’s the features and the benefits and here’s my shiny marketing brochure. And look, my shirt’s buttoned up. I’ve got the tie. I’m polished. I’m perfect and just in sales and marketing, we’re delivering these messages that make everything just look perfect and exotic and wonderful when literally, at the end of the day, like these movie stars, man, like, you see the pictures of them when they roll out for a Starbucks and they have no makeup on, it’s like, “That’s the real person I want to see.” And there’s power in that.
There’s power in just that real, authentic, vulnerable, throw-the-marketing brochure and the five-star reviews away and say, “Hey, like sure we value integrity and honesty and directness or whatever your company values” but you have no opportunity to do that when everything goes perfect. So we actually start interjecting our little moments of horror, right? Like, painting babies, and painting the wrong houses and things like this that have happened and people just lean in and they want to hear more. Humans are attracted to that drama so we leverage that in ways we’re selling to them. It’s worked phenomenally for us.
Josh: That makes a ton of sense. I’ve had some more things happened to my life and I won’t bore us today with that but someday I may.
You’ve been hitting around this word that I think is crucial in making a company work well and that word is trust.
Josh: How is it that you go and build trust in your team? And how do you help your customers build trust in your company?
Matt: Yeah. It doesn’t happen overnight. Unfortunately, now in business, at least in the industry that we’re in, a lot of our customers come in and they’re very guarded. They’ve got their guards up and their hands up and we’re in an industry that’s not very trusting so one of the reasons we share, for example, the painted baby stories and the horrific moments is just to say like, “Hey, like here’s the worst thing that can happen.” I mean, think about you enter into a relationship. It’s like dating, for example. Hey, this person looks perfect but I want to know what’s the worst moment I could experience with them and if I’m okay with that and I know how they’re going to navigate that and handle that. There’s definitely a moment of trust that gets built there.
And just for a little example, we intentionally do this when we go out on estimates, is I did this for a long time, I have an appointment at 10 o’clock. It’s scheduled at 10 o’clock. I’ll call the evening before and confirm, “Hey, I’ll be there at 10 o’clock and then I will actually call about 10 minutes before the appointment and say, “Hey, I’m running like 5 or 6 minutes late. I hit some traffic, I might be about 5 or 6 minutes late.” So you’re setting up, “Okay, this guy’s going to be late but he called.” And then I’ll actually end up showing up at like 10 o’clock or before that time, so just continuing to show that you’re going to be there.
Even in the little things, it’s just little inches of trust that get built. And I think it’s with every interaction that you have with the customer. And again, like I’ve got a lawn care guy. He came out and he ruined some of our plants and our bushes. My immediate reaction, Josh, was, “Oh man, this guy’s not going to come back. He’s going to take off. He’s not going to hold responsibility for what he did.” And then when he actually called back to take care of it, I’m like, “Wow, it’s not there in business a lot anymore.”
Josh: Yeah. It’s really interesting. There’s a formula that I use a lot when it comes to talking about trust and it came out of a book for financial advisors called The Trusted Advisor. It’s really pretty simple. It’s reliability + competence + intimacy / self-interest. And as I’ve been listening to you talk today, you consciously build reliability. You build competence in through your paint the baby story, believe it or not, because you’re sort of saying, “Well, here’s what we didn’t do and here’s how we fixed it and here’s how I’m proving that I’m intimately and I care about you as a person – which is what intimacy means.
Josh: And then that’s divided by self-interest.
And with contractors, we’re always worried when we’re in that pricing conversation about, “Are they going to screw us or are they not going to screw us?” And I can tell by the way you run your business that you don’t. So, what do you do to build trust between you and your staff? Especially when you were the bottleneck and you still have that reputation, most likely.
Matt: I know. I still do. I know what they say about me when I’m gone but, you know what, they know at the end of the day that I love them and they love me and everything and we joke about it more now.
Building trust, I think, is just as important. We talk a lot about [inaudible 00:15:15] business of [inaudible 00:15:15] the company to the clients, look at that relationship. But that intercompany dynamic, it’s a two-way street. I mean, I’ve got a bunch of families that my family is responsible for feeding, for painting, for supporting their lifestyle and that’s one of those things where it definitively is a two-way street. And it’s the same thing, if I make a commitment or a promise to them, I better dang well fulfill it. And if for some reason I’m not going to fulfill it, I need to let them know and own that and not make excuses. I didn’t always used to do that growing up. For me, I learned a lot in business by doing a lot of things the wrong way or being potentially short sighted to make a couple extra dollars upfront but it, say, burnt bridges in the long run. So, it’s just one of those things. It’s the same thing. If I’m going to be late to a meeting or we’re going to have something come up, I let these people know.
And, you know, a big thing for us is just being there for your team and other parts of their life that have nothing to do with business. So, recognizing them on birthdays. If we’ve got somebody that we know is, like we had somebody that had a surgery – recognizing and sending them some flowers and some chocolates and just being part of their life is huge too. We really consider ourselves a family that happens to work together and happens to do it painting, so the words we hear are team, family and that took a lot of time.
And then, once you have that family, our vetting process for bringing other people into it is very tough and very strict. You can have one person or one scenario, one instance, get into a company and really grow like a cancer and just absolutely annihilate the culture. That’s something we’d keep this family very tight, very guarded as we bring people into it.
Josh: Yeah. I call that the concept of the brilliant jerk.
Matt: We’ve had some of those, yeah.
Josh: Yeah. I think anybody in business has had a brilliant jerk working for them at least once. And then when you finally say “enough is enough” and you make him go away, everybody comes up to you and what do they say? “What took you so long?”
Matt: What took you so long? Oh man. And I mean I remember one in particular and it was like this cloud and this weight was lifted. We knew it and we had conversations about it but those things are always part—I’m naturally more of a trusting person. I’ll give people more than a couple of chances. But yeah, it definitely is. We found a few brilliant jerks.
Josh: By the way, I’ve written a bunch about myths in private business owners and one of the myths that private business owners have is that they’re fast to fire. And in my experience, most private business owners I know are way too slow to fire.
Matt: Yes, absolutely. Yeah, I’ve seen it. And I’ve been there, yeah. And we feel like we get quicker every time but it always could’ve been done quicker. One of our values is that we want to appreciate and respect people for how they are and what they’re going through in life and we’ll give people multiple chances. And sometimes they turn out well. Sometimes, they don’t. But yeah, I definitely have been there.
Hey, Matt, we only have like two minutes left and I know you’re writing a book. What is the book going to be about?
Matt: So, this painted baby concept that I talked about is what I’m writing about. Right now, it’s called The Painted Baby – that title. Subtitle may change a little bit but it’s all surrounding accountability, and ownership, and just being the real authentic you in business and learning how to leverage that and actually show people your best by sharing your worst.
Josh: I’m going to bet some of our listeners might want to get a hold of you and ask you a question or two. I’m assuming you’re okay with that?
Matt: Oh, absolutely. Yeah.
Josh: How would they find you?
Matt: Everything can be found through and on my website. It’s mattshoup.com.
Josh: M-A-T-T-S-H-O-U-P.com. Take a look at it. You’ll get lots of good information there.
We’re out of time, Matt. Thanks so much for hanging out with us today. I hope to see you soon.
Matt: Yeah, Josh. Thanks. It’s been great hanging with you.
Narrator: You’ve been listening to The Sustainable Business podcast where we ask the question, “What would it take for your business to still be around 100 years from now?” If you like what you’ve heard and want more information, please contact Josh Patrick at 802‑846‑1264 ext 2, or visit us on our website at www.askjoshpatrick.com, or you can send Josh an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for listening. We hope to see you at The Sustainable Business in the near future.