Introducing new processes that help with efficiency within a work environment is always a welcome change that everyone will benefit from. Especially when these new processes are automated, everyone in your company is freed up to do more of the work that they actually need to be doing on a regular basis. Steve Sims is joined by Ari Meisel, the founder of Less Doing. Together, Ari and Steve talk about some new processes for your workplace that can be achieved through automation. Don’t miss out!
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Ari Meisel: The Automation King
Technology jumps on us at an incredible rate. What you had six months ago, last week is completely irrelevant the following week. Technology is coming at us so much that this episode is brought to you from a good friend of mine, a guy called Ari Meisel. This is a guy that looks at technology and goes, “Can it benefit me? Can you help me? I’m going to use it.” I call him the Automation King. He looks a way of finding out how technology can help us rather than scare the pants out of us. I love the conversation we have and how powerful he dictates the word ‘every.’ In this episode, you’ll realize that’s going to become your go-to word. You’re going to recognize it quickly and take action. It’s very powerful on the way he does it. You’ll learn his story about how he started creating automation which fascinated me which is usual. The great success comes out of the greatest failures. He had a sickness which created him to become the Automation King. Read this, grow, spread it, tell your friends but more importantly, use it, action it and become better. You’re going to be learning about Ari Meisel.
Ari, welcome to the show.
Thanks, Steve. It’s always nice to see you.
For anybody that’s been following me on any of my courses, coaching, web or whatever, they know that there’s a series of people that I like to promote and give credit to. You are always one of those people. You had a very interesting background to propel you to become the Automation King. I’m going to jump in and go, what happened to make you turn around and go, “My life needs to be automated as much as possible,” and how you’ve taken it to the state it is now.
When I got out of college, I accidentally worked into this real estate development project in Upstate New York. Because I had gone to an Ivy League Business School and learned all about real estate, I knew exactly how to build something. The deal was that anybody that worked on the job had to teach me to trade. I spent the next three years learning and doing every construction trade there is. I got good at masonry which you have a background in too.
I’m a brick lad boy.
I got good at brickling. I ran this project. I was working my butt off eighteen hours a day. When I was 23 years old, I finished the project. I had accumulated $3 million of personal debt and I got diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. There was a lot going on. That was the happiest considering what happened the next two years after that where I fell into this abyss of sickness. To make a long story short, I got to a low point, turned it around through a lot of self-tracking and self-experimentation. I got very much biohacking and I started to get better. The thing that accelerated my progress was recognizing that stress was a big part of what was going on in my illness and my life. I had gone from working eighteen hours a day to this place where I was struggling to do an hour of work in a given day because the energy wasn’t there.
For a long time, I gave up and then I started to think, “If I have to only do this stuff in an hour a day, what am I going to do?” As an aside, this is always the impetus for so many things that I do. If you ask somebody, and I do this all the time, who works in a 9:00 to 5:00 job, “What would you do if you had to leave the office by 4:00?” most of them say that they’d skip lunch. It’s an easy problem to wrap your head around. If you ask that same person, “What would you do if you can only work an hour a day?” they get stumped because that is such a different way of thinking to get that done.
At that point, the question isn’t what would you do? It’s what wouldn’t you do? If those things that you wouldn’t do still have to get done, who or what is going to get them done for you? I took that extreme restriction of time as a blessing honestly, to start to think about a new system and a new way of getting things done through optimizing, automating, and outsourcing everything in my life which led to this big journey of creating a coaching program and several books. That has morphed into this business methodology, which we call The Replaceable Founder, which is all about making people as replaceable as possible.
You looked into removing the stuff or trying to maximize the time you had but then you started focusing on how to automate. I remember you speaking about you think you do a lot of things random but when you look at it, you do a lot of random things repetitively, which then stops them becoming random. How did you start getting into that of, “What can I automate? What can I outsource?” As an entrepreneur, we all think it can only be done by us and no one can do it as good as us. We ended up holding onto this baby that we ended up suffocating and kill. What was the turning point? How did you start getting into that and planning?
It’s so true that thing about entrepreneurs. We’re our own worst enemies in so many ways and you get in it and then you feel like you’re the only one that can do these things. I’m not perfect by any means. Productivity is a journey that has no endpoint and I finally replaced myself as a salesperson of the company. At that time, everybody wants to talk to me. It’s like, “No, they don’t care necessarily. It might be a bonus.” I have an actual sales team for the first time ever. It’s a completely ego thing. That’s the thing to start understanding. I love automation and we’re going to talk all about it but this is a mindset shift. It doesn’t require any technology to be able to let go of these things and realize that you’re not that unique. None of us are. If you give that up, then you can progress. The one thing that I took away from my college education was this professor of mine used to say, “Don’t ever be irreplaceable because if you can’t be replaced, you can’t be promoted.” It’s true.
We get ourselves stuck in these situations as entrepreneurs. We create our own job. If you have a business that you’re operating that you can’t step away from without it faltering, stumbling or crumbling, then you don’t own a business. You own your own job. That’s it. The way that this turned into automation for me was I always started with the optimizing first and you have to do that because somebody could come to me and say, “I want to automate this process that I don’t have.” It’s a fool’s errand because if you’re doing something and you’re getting the result that you are looking for, even if it’s dirty, takes a long time and it’s inconsistent but you get that result, that’s awesome because we can work backwards from that to make that better. The cool thing with automation is that years ago, when I started writing blog posts and stuff about productivity, I used to say like, “Automation is so cool. We can do things now that a year ago a person had to do.”
In 2019, when I give that talk, I say, “We can do things with automations that a week ago a person had to do.” The progression was so fascinating. A lot of times, I would build a process that was operated manually either by me or by a VA or something like that, then I would consistently look for automations that could look at those triggers and actions that were taking place. I like people to get into this habit that anytime you hear yourself say the word ‘every’, “Every time a customer signs up, every time I do a podcast, every time I do this, every time I travel,” that word ‘every’ should be a trigger for you to think, “This is something that I can automate,” because most likely you can. Again, it’s thinking differently about it because the automations are there. They exist.You can turn your life around with a lot of self-tracking and self-experimentation. Click To Tweet
I’ve been through the process with you and it’s terrifying. It’s a deer in headlights. The problem is you’re correct. That technology maybe could have helped us a year ago can help us a week ago. The technology that’s going to come next week can do something that we never thought it could possibly do. As we get older and we don’t move as fast as this technology, how can we get on that learning curve? You hear about these things coming and I’d never heard of Zapier’s, Triggers, Rev, Temis, Repurpose. I’d never heard of any of those things. Me and my assistants, teams, right hand and my wife, we can be sitting there having a dialogue like it’s some Doctor Who code. How can you start the small steps? I remember you told a story once about taking it down to the basic level with the batteries for smoke alarm. Tell the story about that so people can get an idea of how primitive you can take it down to.
That’s a total behavioral thing. I can’t remember when it was. Years ago, Amazon introduced Amazon Subscribe & Save where you could subscribe to non-perishable items at a certain interval. The plan for the most part was toothpaste, toilet paper, dishwashing, and detergent, those kinds of things. It just so happened that the timing of that was every so often when the smoke detector starts beeping because of the alarm or the battery is going down. The only thing in our lives still to take nine-volt batteries is the smoke detector. I did what everybody does when the smoke detector alarm starts going off. You get pissed off, break it off the ceiling and you don’t have any nine-volt batteries.
I sent an interval with Amazon Subscribe & Save to send me nine-volt batteries in a pack every six months and reverse the trigger. At that point, every six months, a box shows up with a bunch of nine-volt batteries and I’m like, “It’s time to change the smoke detectors.” It’s not like I set a calendar reminder and then I order them. They show up and it’s like Pavlov’s dog. I see the things and I do it. There’s nothing to think about. That is 100% automation. What I was going to say further to that is that you’re talking about how can people get on board with that. This is a mindset thing. They think about the solution without thinking about the problem.
This is like when you see advertisements on TV for certain medicines. This is not a political commentary but no patient should ever go to a doctor requesting a medicine. You shouldn’t see an ad and be like, “That sounds like something I have. I’m going to try that.” I’m going to go, “Doc, I want this pill.” No. It should be like, “I have these symptoms. This is the problem that I’m experiencing.” The professional says, “You should try this thing.” It’s the same thing with automation. You see a tool that looks so cool that’s going to automate all your email marketing and make you $1 billion. You’re like, “I need to use this tool. I don’t know how but I’m going to it. I’m going to sign up for it for a lot of money and then find a way to shoehorn this into my life.” It doesn’t make sense. The other way to do it, which sometimes takes a little bit more work is take the podcast for example. You think about the process. I’m going to interview the person.
I want to put it in all these different places. I want to do this with this. You’d look at that process and you see how it breaks down. One of those steps is I want to post this podcast on YouTube and Facebook and all those things, then look for the tool that does that thing like Repurpose.io, which I know you’re familiar with. Figure out what the process looks like first and then there’s going to be a tool that exists. If you do it right and you write the process out the right way and you break it down, then you see this point where it’s like, “I have to do this and then this.” It’s like, “There has to be an automation for that. I have to find it.”
That’s the thing that I have always found a bit quirky and a little bit terrifying about you. You’ve always found a way to do something. I’ve been a student of yours and your coaching program. Once you get into that mindset and you get your students trained to like, “How can I avoid doing that? How can I find a placement? How can I find a trigger?” you end up looking at everything in your life. Now I have the same as you. I have dog food on order. I have the batteries on order and it can be a little bit terrifying. I remember I came home and it was like turning up at a cult. You held an event at our friend’s place in Encino, California.
You went through a day of many different subjects, but it was a lot of automation in that subject. You went through a lot of automation. I went back to my wife like I’d come out of a cult going, “We’ve got to do this.” She was like, “We’re not doing it.” There was a lot of resistance. All of a sudden, it started creeping in and it does become a habit. You find it relieves you more time. Something that none of us have an ability to get unless we stopped doing the shit that we shouldn’t be doing. You did that through this. Do you still do those programs and events?
We have a con and it’s called Less Doing Live and they’re all in Brooklyn. They’re three awesome intense days of getting a lot of new kinds of stuff done. This time, we’re going to be focusing on advanced project management with a lot of automations, the sales pipeline stuff is part of it, and some new processes that we’ve been working on. The thing for me at this point is I can come up with a process in my head and noodle on it for weeks or in some case, a couple of months knowing that it’s going to work. I just have to build it out. You can be building upon these things to get complex things. At the end of the day, the simplest automations are simply a trigger and an action.
Every time this happens, I want this to happen. In most cases, people are pushing those buttons because it makes them feel like they’re doing busy work or they’re being valuable. There are hundreds of things that everybody reading this is doing every day that an automation could be doing for them. The push back on that is going to be like, “It’s going to take as much time to teach somebody to do that or to set that up as it would be for me to do it myself,” then you’re going to keep doing what you’ve always been doing for the rest of your days. If you can’t do it one day, for some reason, the shit hits the fan.
I remember being in Encino. The reason we’re having this show is because of you. You said to me, “Why aren’t you doing a podcast?” I said, “I don’t want to do the work. I don’t want to suddenly have a new job.” You went, “You’ve got to do it.” I remember posting up on Facebook, going, “Should I do a podcast?” Both of my followers said yes. We started and at the event, you went, “You need this Zoom, you need this Mevo.” Here you go. I remember you came out with a statement, which I always pay you credit for, you said, “Get going, then get good.” I’ve always talked about the unicorn that people go after being perfection. Perfection is a blue unicorn with three testicles. It doesn’t exist.
You’ve always said, “Start. You can get better but unless you start, you’re not getting anywhere.” I’ve always been very proud that you came up with that statement and helped me. Thank you there. You did the book and I want to talk about that. This is a very helpful one. If you think about this show, and I’m going to shoot myself in foot in front of other people, is I want people to get your book because it allows them to do more of what they’re good at. It allows them to do more of what they want to do and your book teaches them some very good principles in there. Tell us about the thought behind the book. Tell us about what can we learn from it?
There are two primary books. There’s The Art Of Less Doing, which is the more personal side that came out years ago. There’s the latest one, which is The Replaceable Founder. The idea of being replaceable is challenging for a lot of people. It’s hard for a lot of people to accept. It’s not about the founder. I want everybody in the business to be as replaceable as possible so that we can replace them up, not out. The way that we’ve systematically approached this is three main areas which is around communicating effectively, managing projects, and having perfect processes. Those three areas we’ve seen and I’ve seen, fortunately, I’ve been able to work in about every industry there is and all sorts of different sizes of companies because my system is not about making you better at what you do. It’s about giving you more time to do what you do well. Communication is the first one. No matter what the size of the company or the systems in place, it’s fascinating how communication is 80% of the problem. The line that you say all the time which is so apt and I credit you with this is when you say there’s a difference between being easy to understand and impossible to misunderstand.There are hundreds of things you’re doing daily that automation can actually do for you. Click To Tweet
The thing about that is that people give instructions, pass off their ideas and then don’t get back what they want. They can’t leave the business because people can’t do this without me being there and guiding them, but it comes down to they’re not communicating effectively. They’re not being clear about what they want, what they need, and what success looks like. We are so bad at conveying what success looks like to somebody because you tell somebody like, “Go and research these things.” They come back to you with results that are not what you want. People skip the step of saying, “Research these things because we’re doing this big strategic thing. We want to move in this direction and this is where we’re trying to go and this is a piece of that.” That’s 1 of 1,000 examples of where people don’t communicate properly. This sets a framework for how you make effective decisions, communicate in a way that is most effective for you and the other person or the other party, and how we delegate using what we call the Six Levels of Delegation.
A lot of people when they outsource or delegate which we use interchangeably, see it as a very binary activity, meaning I do everything or they do everything. Most of us are not comfortable with either of those scenarios. We teach six levels of delegation and allows you to dial up the level of empowerment and the level of trust. When we look at managing projects, this is where we get into the difference between people firefighting and fireproofing. People love to be busy and fix things all the time but they never take the time to solve those problems so they don’t happen again. We look at those aspects of it where people can have transparency into what’s happening in their business. Everybody gets accountability, so they can take ownership over that and a good system for protecting the entrepreneur’s team from the entrepreneur’s mind, which is an important one.
As entrepreneurs, as you know, we tend to have only two time periods that we’re aware of, now or never. That doesn’t work for most teams and then people miss deadlines. It’s a whole mess. The last one which is the biggest area of failing for companies as large as a cruise line company that I talked with and worked with, they don’t document processes in their business. Those processes exist in someone’s head, whether it’s your bookkeeper, the founder’s head or your marketing person. If that head goes somewhere else or is unavailable, those processes cease to operate. We need to have good processes of the business because once you do that, you can scale indefinitely. That’s what we cover in the book.
I will say straight off the bat, it’s easier to read than it is for Ari to tell you. I’ve been able to go through a chapter and go, “Stop there. How can I action that?” I’m a great believer of the rest of the book. Entrepreneurs have this problem and we spoke about the baby. We have the problem going out and going, “Let’s get you involved.” How should we show search for those VAs? I’m a great believer in VA. I remember when I had my concierge firm in Palm Beach, we had under 40 people working in there. I often used to sit in my office and look down on the floor and go, “What are they doing?” We have three VAs. I know what they’re doing. I can see what they’re doing. Here’s the imperative part that are required or used only when they’re required. How would you look into VA? There are a lot of big companies out there. Feel free to throw any names that they should start investigating. What is the mindset that they have to get into and how should they first start tackling this mysterious, scary world of VA’s?
There are a couple of things that I understand about the way that assistants work in general. You can outsource anything nowadays across the world whether it’s audio engineering, architecture or anything. When we’re talking about VA’s, we’re truly talking about this generalist admin like Jack of all trades, master of none. There are two kinds. There is the dedicated and the on-demand. The dedicated model is where you get one person and you’re always talking to Rachel, Jessica or Sam. They get to know you, how your business works and maybe talk to your customers. I am very much against that model. It’s taking a bottleneck from your lap and putting in someone else’s lap. You can run into the same issues if that person has to leave, quits or whatever which happens all the time in that industry. There’s an enormous amount of turnover in the VA world.
The other assistant model is on-demand which means that you might have access to a dozen or 100 VAs which, as you said, you can use them when you need them and not use them when you don’t and they can flex with your organization. The downside that people would see to that is, “There’s no continuity. They don’t get to know me so I have to explain things all over again.” That’s what processes and automations are for. It’s a good exercise and restriction to work with that model. I only use on-demand services. I am against dedicated anything. The same thing that we do with graphic designers, web designers, we always use teams rather than one person because it requires us to have a process in place. They create the automatic backup in case somebody is not available. You have a lot greater bandwidth which is what we want because you want to be outsourcing a lot if you’re going to use it effectively. It’s fine to throw a thing here and there but if you get into it, I’m outsourcing thousands of things every month.
That’s the first one. I would highly recommend an on-demand service. For that, there’s a company called Magic that I highly recommend. People can go to Less.do/magic to check them out. You get a team of twenty people that operate as one. You’re never talking to one person particularly, but it always feels like it’s one person. It’s extremely seamless and their response time is roughly 30 seconds, 24/7. If you do want that more dedicated model, there is a company called ChatterBoss, which still gives you a team of two assistants. There’s that built-in redundancy and backup. It’s not a true one dedicated but they are a little bit higher touch and can do a little bit more strategic thinking. A lot of people will use both. Before you use VA’s though, before you outsource, you have to go through this process of optimizing first and then automating second. If you give work to a person that a machine should be doing, you are, by definition, dehumanizing them. It’s going to be very hard for those people to get any engagement with that work.
You’re not using outsourcing effectively. You’re using outsourcing as a way of not doing shit yourself rather than getting it done in a way that you give it over to a human being and they add value to it. One more thing is that as an entrepreneur, you should be using assistance VA’s outsourcing as much in your personal life as you do in your business life because it’s the same mind that you’re saving. Our VA’s are doing everything from running our events, communication, marketing, research, LinkedIn, outreach, travel booking, buying books for people, all those kinds of things that the team needs. In my personal life, I have four small children. They’re registering for camps, school records, immunization records, booking family travel, and all these kinds of things that I add no value to by doing myself.
I remember when you talked about the processes and I took on a range of VA’s to do a range of projects for me and they were all awful. I would say, “Do this and get that done. I need this done.” I realized that I was missing out on that step of the process. What I was doing was quite simply employing people for me to yell at. I would then come back disappointed because they hadn’t done what I wanted to because I had not provided them with the parameters, criteria, end-goal, and results I was looking for. I had not given them the detail. You have to put effort into understanding what are you doing? What are the steps that you are doing? First of all, anyone out there thinking of getting a VA, stop thinking about it because it’s going to happen. Start focusing on the process. I love the way you say every time you use the word ‘every’ that should be a trigger.
What are those triggers? What happens to create that to happen even though you are the one doing the triggering? How can you put that into a document that you can then get ahold of a VA and go, “These are the things that have to happen. These are the stepping stones. When X happens, you do Y, then that will create A, then that goes to B,” and create the process? You will spin your wheels, talking to VAs if you do not have the process, you won’t be wasting a lot of money. You’ll be spending $10 here, $5 here, $20 there. I use Magic. Shout out to Magic. I thought about some of our Magic, it’s got to be cheap for me. I suddenly find out that I’d spent $400 for them. I’m thinking, “I’m starting to pay staff like 4 or 5 times that amount. I should get a staff member.” When you realize what they do or you realize that the following month, you don’t need them at all and you suddenly start going, “I paid $400 over twelve weeks.”
That was a bargain. I’m not paying healthcare and I’m not getting any issues. It is a very good thing. Magic is a very good one. As I say, it’s not a case of, “I don’t need a VA.” The world’s changing so fast. Your workforce is sitting there and it doesn’t matter where they’re parked. For me personally, I needed a PDF done. I sent it at 4:00 in the afternoon, I woke up to about twelve variations of the PDF. I woke up to it. Some of them were horrible. Some of them gave me direction and I could go, “I like where you’re going here.” Within 24 hours later, I woke up to about three that I love. VAs are the word and automation is something that’s going to happen to you but you’ve got to get on board quick. I like the process of the batteries that tells people very simply how to start automating their life. What are some good exercises to get people into the right mindset?
For the automation specifically, I would recommend that people check out IFTTT.com. It’s If This, Then That. It’s a free automation platform. What you do is go on there, you click on the services and it will show you the 700 or so apps and things that it connects to. Look at the list and look for something that you use on a regular basis like Google Sheets, Twitter, Slack or any of these tools that you use. Click on it and they’ll say, “These are the actions that are available. These are the triggers.” You think, “I do that a lot. Now, I don’t want to do it anymore.” It walks you through it easily. If you go to Twitter, one option is change your profile picture.There’s an enormous amount of turnover in the VA world. Click To Tweet
It’s like, “Every time I changed my profile picture on Facebook, I also want to change it on Twitter so it’s up to date. I don’t have to do that anymore.” You start to think about these things that it’s great to be able to say like, “You’re doing them hundreds of times a day and I’m not going to have to do it anymore.” To me, the best thing about automation is this set it and forget it mentality that it will always happen because the first thing that happens when anybody gets busy is they stop doing all the things that they should be doing and they start doing the things that they have to do. It’s like, “I know I should start a podcast. I should put more content out there.” It can happen and you don’t have to worry about it anymore. The first thing is start looking at how you’re doing some of the things you’re doing now. Pick any process in your business or your life. It doesn’t have to be a complicated one.
How you pay bills, how you hire people, how you intake a client, onboard a client, whatever it might be and look at the steps that are involved and then break it down to the point that somebody else could do it. How do you do that? Show somebody how to do it, let that person write the checklist of what they see, have them take that checklist and give it to a third person who has never seen it before and have them try to run through the process. It will never ever work. That’s awesome because then you get to step two where it says, “Click the big red button on the payment thing.” The person says, “I don’t see a big red button.” You say, “Right, because I’m an admin login and you don’t have that. I have to fix that in the process.” You do that step-by-step and you’ll find that it’s much paint by numbers. All you’re doing is making it so that somebody who walks off the street, you can do the most complicated processes in your business without any effort.
I know we’ve talked about your book. We gave a nudge that you needed to start doing a podcast again, but you did a lot of podcasts. You’ve got the Replaceable Founder events that you do. How can people find out about you?
The best thing people can do is they can go to Less.do/foundations. At that place, there’s a free mini-course that we created. It’s five videos. They’re helpful. It goes into a little bit more depth about project management and communication. They can find out more about it through that process but that’s the best way.
How do you feel that you’ve created a program and a platform where everyone can be replaced and you’ve replaced yourself? You say quite openly that it terrifies entrepreneurs. As a very smart entrepreneur, both in books and on street, how do you feel about being replaceable?
Every month or so, I get this moment of panic where I’m like, “What am I supposed to be doing for the company? They don’t need me.” It’s a moment of regression. I recognize that that’s because I’m reading a book that I’ve never gotten to read. I’m learning something new. That brings in new ideas where I’m getting to be with my family and not miss a moment of my kid’s life as they grow up. It hits me every now and then too. It’s a real ego thing but we had an amazing thing happened. We have our team huddle every week and on that huddle, we go through what everyone’s going to be doing for the week. My COO, Courtney, is running through it and she goes person-by-person.
Courtney is the COO. She had 30 things that she’s going to be doing. Joanna is my Director of Customer Experience. She had fifteen things that she was going to do. Amy is my writer so she had twenty things and then they click on me. There are two tasks on the board. One was record a podcast episode for the week and the other one was withdraw your profit share for the quarter. I thought that was good. Record a podcast episode and get paid. That was what I was responsible. That’s what I talked about on the podcast episode. I get to talk and create content which is what I love doing. All of this stuff allows me to be more human and be more connected with the people in my life.
It’s funny you should end on that because I’ve often told people that technology is not there to replace you, it’s to make you more human. I believe one of the things that technology is doing is creating a lot of times where we don’t have to connect with someone and people are going, “I’m losing the ability to communicate.” It’s avoiding the connection that’s irrelevant like ordering toilet paper. I don’t have to get on the phone and talk to someone to build up a relationship to order the batteries or toilet paper, but it does allow us more time to become more human. Technology is not taking away our ability to communicate, it’s giving us more space to communicate appropriately. Ari, I love you. You’re brilliant. I’ve given you lots of shout outs. I’m a great fan of yours and I’ve used you a lot in my growth and I still will. I’ve been listening to this guy. Hopefully, they’ll go to your website because we’ve asked them to, they can look at the videos and understand a bit more. It is easy once you start getting into the water. I urge everyone that it’s not a case of if it’s a case of where and when should be now. Ari, thank you very much for being on the show.
Thank you so much, Steve. I love seeing you.
I’ll see you soon.
That’s it for another episode of the show. I hope you enjoyed it. You know the usual drill. Share it, tell people about it, jump on Apple and put a review. Don’t be selfish, spread the wealth. I look forward to chatting with you again. Until the next time, be safe.