Special guest, Carlos Hidalgo, joins LeadMD CEO, Justin Gray, on this premiere episode of the Catalyst Podcast. Carlos, current CEO and founder of VisumCx, shares lessons from his professional and personal lives. From a non-stop traveling marketing director to starting his own consulting firm, this episode is filled with intimate honesty about work, life and what’s important to stay happy in both.
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Time Stamped Show Notes:
1:20 – Tell us a little more about VisumCx!
02:54 – What was your first catalytic moment?
09:30 – At what point in your career did you begin to experience success?
16:50 – Tell me about another catalytic moment in your career
24:40 – How are you spending your time differently now?
29:05 – What is the biggest difference with VisumCx?
33:40 –What is your advice to those struggling to balance their personal and entrepreneurship life?
37:25 – How do you personally define success?
42:45 – Wrap-Up
4 Key Points:
- Tying your identity to your personal achievement can be a slippery slope. While it is important to dedicate your time to your career, taking things personally is not healthy. Instead, look back to where you went wrong and what you can do better next time.
- Honesty with loved ones and most importantly, yourself goes a long way. Taking a step back to look at where you invest your energy can tell you a lot. Take into account what needs to change and express the responsibility for your mistakes.
- You can’t reverse time but you can do your best to make up for it. The older you get, the quicker time seems to go by. Recognize the time you have in front of you and how you can invest that time in others close to you.
- The bar of success is constantly changing. As an entrepreneur, it is crucial to understand you are on and creating your own path. Boundaries change constantly and life may not go exactly as you had planned and that’s ok.
Our favorite quote from the episode:
“I got to a point where I was not my true self, and I was not… I just wasn’t somebody that I liked, and in order to give your best self to a relationship, I think you have to truly love yourself. And I know Saturday Night Live had the Stuart Smally character that joked about that, but I spent a lot of time working on me, getting back to what… You had asked the question, right? Who am I? It’s figuring that out. Who am I? As, at that point, a 45-year-old guy, now almost about to turn 48. Who am I as an individual, without the professional achievement?”
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Justin: Hey, hello, and welcome. You are back on Catalyst, the early podcast of this new series, super excited to dive in here. We’ve got a great line up of guests, and today I’ve got an awesome guest who, again, I’ve been fortunate to kind of witness from a distance, as I’ve seen Carlos’s career progress, and he’s taken a really interesting turn, and it’s something that’s super relevant for a lot of us that have started businesses, owned businesses, are trying to establish that work-life balance aspect of things that seems to be so elusive, so I’m excited to welcome to the podcast today, Carlos Hidalgo, founder, CEO of VisumCX, and prior to that a number of businesses, so Carlos, welcome to the show.
Carlos: Justin, thanks so much. It’s a pleasure to be here, and it’s good to talk to you again. It’s been a while.
Justin: You as well, it has. So, keeping that in mind, give us a kind of a brief update in terms of what VisumCX is, and what you’re kind of up to on a day to day basis, and then we’ll kind of get into a bit of back story here as well.
Tell us a little more about VisumCx!
Carlos: Yeah, VisumCX is a consultancy that works with B to B companies on customer experience. And the customer experience is, as you well know, it’s pretty deep and it’s pretty wide. And so, we have some companies who say, “Hey, we really need to figure out our CX strategy.” We have other companies who say, “We only need a piece done because that is our remit and our focus.”
And we work with organizations anywhere from the Fortune 50, all the way down to start up, because in B to B, customer experience is becoming more and more relevant, more and more center stage, and really, a competitive differentiator. So we work with those organizations to define that strategy.
Justin: And so, I know you probably most for your work at ANNUITAS, that’s kind of where we met and for those of you that aren’t aware, ANNUITAS is a B to B digital agency, not unlike LeadMD, and so I met Carlos kind of on the road, and at a number of shows, and that’s really where our relationship started, but I kind of want to zoom maybe even before that. I don’t know where this will take us, but so the title of the podcast is obviously Catalyst, and what we’re really looking for is those catalytic moments. I think entrepreneurs have a number of these beyond what your normal average American probably does, where we see those moments of transformation, we’re able to kind of get that spark, and it changes the course of our lives, right? So what was your earliest catalytic moment?
What was your first catalytic moment?
Carlos: The first one I can really recall is kind of what got me into the whole demand gen, ROI, revenue production, was when my boss when I was at McAfee, he was the president of our division, called me into his office, and before I could even sit down, he said, “You don’t need to sit down. This is going to be a short conversation.” And he said, “We have given you four million dollars in marketing budget, and if by the end of the week, you can’t tell me what you returned back to the organization, I guarantee you, your replacement will.”
Carlos: That was the conversation. There wasn’t a, “Yeah, but we don’t have technology.” Or… So I gathered my team together, and we affectionately called it spreadsheet hell week, and we went through everything we had spent to that point, and we were able to trace it back, and I was able to go to him on Friday and say, “Jeff, we’ve done this manually, we’re probably at about 80 to 90% accuracy.” He was like, “That’s good enough for me.” And he’s like, “And just so you know, this is what I want every quarter.”
So that’s really kind of what pushed me into where we sit today, 20 plus years later. So that was my first one. The second one, which is what I write about a lot now, is that moment where I knew things had to change at what I was doing at ANNUITAS. I had left BMC Software to start ANNUITAS, and because I was traveling nonstop, and so really, it kind of started as a lifestyle business and then it started to take off, and by the time that 11 and a half, almost 12 years was done I was traveling more, I was always gone. When I was home, I really wasn’t present, available, I was always thinking about the business, and it was my number one, probably my number one, my number two, and my number three focus, which was so out of whack.
And so there was two catalysts that caused change there. Number one, was my family, because of my neglect, had fallen apart. And so I knew through a conversation with my wife and through her basically saying, “Choose.” I had to make some changes. That was number one, and then number two, a chance meeting, if you will, in the lobby of the Westin with Andrew Davis, who knew nothing about what I was wrestling with, who finally said, “Hey man, you know what you need to do. You need the courage to do it.” And so that was the morning that I started my departure out of ANNUITAS, and that was October of 2016.
Justin: So it just seems to me it’s always people that are the root of these moments in our lives, right? And so, let’s go back to kind of the McAfee example, and I think there’s not enough of this, still to this day in marketing, right? Like there’s not enough cut through the BS, like just tell me what we’re getting, you know, as a result of these efforts, right? Like there’s so much technology we’ve thrown at it, and quite frankly, so many excuses, and we’ve gotten rid of just good old fashioned business sense, right? And so, what about… I guess number, how far were you into the role at the point where that conversation came?
Carlos: I was probably six, seven months into the role, and the director that I had come in under had left, so I assumed that position, and started reporting directly into the president of the line of business, and he was new, and he basically was brought in to kind of clean house and tidy up this business unit, because eventually, they knew they wanted to spin-off, and that’s what led me to BMC Software, but he was really direct. And he was a sales guy at heart, and he was the guy who knew that “Hey, if we don’t numbers, if we don’t have revenue, then why are you here?” And I actually appreciated that. I love a challenge, and once you could show him that you were a catalyst and a change driver in the organization, you’ve won his trust. And he gave you more than enough rope to hang yourself, but he always set the bar and it was really clear.
So I never had a question with Jeff, “Hey, what is my job here?” I knew what my job was. It was to drive revenue, and again, we didn’t have… This was almost 20 years ago, we didn’t have all that technology that we have today.
Carlos: Literally had to go line by line through multiple spreadsheets and figure this out, and say, “Hey, we created this deal.” Or, “We influenced this deal.” And luckily by that time, we had started to have some really good alignment with the sales team, which was a whole lot of work in and of itself, so they were helpful to us as well, and it started to almost get to a point where they were coming to us saying, “Hey, thanks, you opened this door for me, and we were able to close the deal for X.”
Justin: Yeah, so, it’s kind of a bit sad to say, but that is an innovative concept certainly 20 years ago, right? Like we’re still wrestling with sales and marketing alignment. We’re still wrestling with marketing as a revenue center, and so that idea… I think you mentioned, that’s kind of what became ANNUITAS, right? So I assume that you realized the power in what you were doing, and how that could scale to other organizations. And so what made you kind of go out and start your own business?
Carlos: You know, there was a couple of things. First of all, with BMC I was traveling virtually nonstop. There was one quarter I was only home for two weeks. And at that point all of my children, I have four children, and they were all pretty small. I think my oldest was 10 at the time, and I just needed to be home. And in fact, there was one time where I called home, and my then three-year-old, who’s now 17, picked up the phone, and said, “You’re always in hotels.” And he hung up the phone.
So that’s kind of a very clear message from your family, of like, “We don’t care about your titles or anything else.” So there was that, and then I always knew I wanted to start a company, and I remember telling my wife Susanne, “I don’t want to be 70 years old, wake up one day, and wish I had. So I have to do this, and if I do it, and I fail, I can always go get another job.” And she was more than supportive in that, and saw that kind of itch that I had, and so that’s what… knowing that, like you said, like, “Hey, if BMC and McAfee are struggling from this unaligned perspective, surely there’s other organizations we can help.” Wanting to be home more, and then the whole idea of just having the entrepreneurial itch that needed to be scratched.
At what point in your career did you achieve personal success?
Justin: Yeah, it’s always strange to me how just positive and the different mindset of an entrepreneur, right? So like you’re on the road a ton, and you want to take a step back into something that you’re going to be able to have more control of, and supposedly is going to give you more room for your life, right? And so what do you do? You start a business, and rarely do things actually progress in that manner. Certainly, if you’re successful.
I think you mentioned something earlier on, that is super key for me, it’s like that mentality of entrepreneurship is always looking for success. You know? Like we’re looking to be validated, and when things start to take off, I think that’s the, I would say, we rate contracts or we drop business partnerships, or we put business plans together to succeed. But yet, when we do succeed, things always go off the rails, or look different than how we expected them to look. So, I assume that there was quite a bit of that in the building of ANNUITAS, so I’d love to hear just kind of the lifecycle of that business, and when you started to really think, or see the results and see the success of those efforts.
Carlos: Yeah, so we started it, I started it with my brother, and honestly it was a kind of two guys hanging out their shingles, saying, “Open for business.” And I had built up a fairly good network, even within BMC and McAfee, so started to reach out to some people that I had known had left. Actually had BMC as one of my first clients. It’s amazing, when you leave, and then you’re the consultant and you come back, and you’re saying the same things that you said like two months earlier, but now-
Justin: People listen.
Carlos: Right? And so we kind of managed that way for about 18 months to two years, and I remember the first time someone came to me and said, “Are you hiring?” And I was like, “Um…” I didn’t have an answer, because I never anticipated that.
Carlos: I never started with this idea of let’s grow this big agency, and then right around that same time, we had a Fortune 500 call us, and I was like, “This is crazy, like, this is nuts.” And I would say the difference between what happened with ANNUITAS, because we did, from that point on, we did start to grow, we did start to scale. We hit the 85 thousand a few times. In 2015 I wrote my first book, Driving Demand, that came out, was a Amazon new release, basically got the recognition. At that point, I was being paid to speak. I was being flown all over the world to speak, so the difference was my ego was tied to this, because this was more like, “hey look what I have built.” We grew to 35 people, we were… I had people at trade shows saying, “I’m seeing you guys everywhere.”
And I started to tie my identity and worth to that success, which, looking back now, I think is an easy trap for entrepreneurs and business leaders, I find it especially true in men versus women, but I fell for it hook, line, and sinker, and so because of that, when the company was doing well, I was doing great. Or at least I thought I was.
And then when we had a bad quarter, or we didn’t meet that number, or we lost that deal, I took it extremely personally. And so that attachment of professional achievement to try to prove to myself and others, and what I found, and now when I look back, what was really happening, despite the success we were having, I was becoming less and less fulfilled because I could never achieve enough. And then really, I grew pretty narcissistic, if I’m honest. And kind of became a shell of myself that I didn’t recognize, and quite honestly looking back I have to remind myself of, “Hey man, that was you. That was you.” And I’m not that… I feel like I’ve grown past that and gotten through that, but that was kind of the trajectory of the business and then how I intertwined my own personal identity to that, and it was pretty tight.
Justin: Yeah, I think, like certainly being in that position, I’ve struggled with the same thing. Like if you’re not a success as an entrepreneur, who are you?
Justin: And that question starts to really become a looming thing. Like, I’ve been through the sales of business before and I’ve asked myself, “If this falls through, who am I at that point?” You know what I mean? Am I still a success? Am I an entrepreneur? Or… So I think those questions are far more prevalent than we talk about. I think it’s kind of cool these days to talk about failures and so on, but people don’t really talk about real failures. Like the failure to like really know who you are anymore, or the failure to… or the inability to define success, it’s always just more.
So I’m curious, as you were growing ANNUITUS, and you’ve had these experiences with employers and colleagues and mentors in the past. Were you, you mentioned you were pretty narcissistic at that point, were you concerned with being kind of a driving force for other employees at that point, or was it just all about the achievement?
Carlos: No, because I think I tied the… I wanted our team to grow. I wanted our team to succeed. I also believe that we, during my ten year there, we had great employees come in, and we had those same great employees depart. And I wanted to be a catalyst for them in their careers. So I wasn’t so much to the point of, “Hey you guys are all here to serve me.” I really, part of the culture I tried to deliver was, I wanted everyone in the business to be entrepreneurial. And so whether that meant inside, ideally inside ANNUITAS, I wanted that to happen, but if you found an opportunity to go elsewhere and to grow your career, or grow your skillset, whether or not it was in marketing. I wanted to enable that, so I was really proud of the fact that I had team members come to me and say, “Hey, I was just called and I have this great opportunity, can I talk to you about that?” Without this fear of, “I need to interview,” and be all cloak and dagger, and so I wanted to be a catalyst for our team.
I also wanted to be a catalyst for the industry. I’ve been doing, as I shared with you, B2B marketing back in the archaic days of spreadsheets and fax blasts, and I’ve seen this industry start to mature and grow and get recognition, and I did want that. Now, I wanted to be number one in that industry, so I wasn’t all altruistic, but I really wanted the industry to grow and I can now say where I am today, that is what brings me the most joy, is when I see clients or other vendors and other people, when I see a list of the top 50, and there are new names in there, to me that is so exciting because those are people who have grasped this idea that as marketers, we can be change agents and catalysts, and you mentioned it very briefly. You had a line earlier where you talked about business. Where we are… Stop thinking of ourselves just as marketers, let’s think of ourselves as business executives, and when I start to see marketers talk that way, that just, it’s one of the reasons I do what I do now. And I love it.
Tell me about another catalytic moment in your career
Justin: So, you’ve got a business at this point, obviously you guys are successful, you’ve got, you’re working with people that you enjoy. We don’t talk a lot about moving on, or catalytic moments that cause us to step away from a business unless there’s a failure involved, right? And so, tell me a little bit about the second catalytic moment in your career, which I understand is not only incredibly personal, but it’s kind of a… It’s a must-do moment. It’s one of those black and white decisions that you had to make.
Carlos: Yeah, and I would say it was a failure. Not on the business side, on the personal side.
Carlos: And I write about that, and the reason I do is I want other people to learn from my mistakes, and I feel like if I kept to myself I’d be selfish. That’s just me, I’m not saying other people have to go and publicize their failures, but that catalytic moment came where… It was at the point where I was staring at divorce right in the face, and there was a number of choices that led to that. I would say the biggest one was, as human beings there’s only so much time we have in any given day, any given week, any given year, and when you are hellbent on just building your business, and even when you’re not on your laptop or on your phone, you’re thinking about your business, your relationships suffer out of neglect. And I’m guilty of that, so I make no secret about it.
And so that first catalytic moment came to what am I going to do? Am I going to continue to build ANNUITAS, or am I going to go back and try to salvage a relationship that I really did, both with my wife and my children, that I held dear, and had convinced myself that I was doing this all for them. So, that was that first moment where it was…pick it, make a decision. And so for 10 months, I tried to manage that decision within the context of ANNUITAS by making some changes, establishing I would say guidelines, not real hard fast boundaries, of what I was willing to do and not willing to do. Even with that, I was still on the road about 33% of the time. I was still working incredibly long hours. I think I was more attentive to the changes I needed to make, so taking care of me so I could give the best of myself to my relationships.
And then that second moment, as I mentioned, was my encounter with Andrew in the lobby of the Westin at MarketingProfs. I’d come off a red-eye flight, and he said to me, “Man, you look tired.” So I laughed and said, “Well yeah, of course I’m tired, I just got off a red-eye.” He said, “No, it’s more than that. What’s eating at you?” And I had been wrestling with this decision. Talking to Susanne and talking to some dear friends, and once he said to me, “You know what you need to do. You need the courage to do it. Just pull the ripcord.”
That to me was the sign that I had prayed for, and I’m not a big signs guy, but I actually did pray that night and say, “God, just give me something. I’m at a loss.” Because I was still just wrestling and restless and unfulfilled, and once I heard that, I called Susanne a couple of hours later and said, “I’m leaving and I don’t know what I’m going to do. I know we don’t have a big cash heap waiting for us, or some big planned buy out.” And probably that third catalyst was her affirmation where she said, “I was hoping you would get to that point, but I knew you needed to do it on your own, and I’m so glad to hear that, and we will figure it out.”
So hearing that we, after what she had been through, and the fact that she was encouraging and supportive and all of that really gave me the strength to say, “Okay, yeah, this is going to be scary. It’s going to be a risk, but we’ll figure it out, and the worse thing that’ll happen is I got to go back and get a job and work for someone else, and you know, that’s really not that bad.”
Justin: So, I’ve always wanted to ask you, you wrote a blog post, and I remember reading this post, and I think you were on vacation at the time, and it was essentially like some sort of affirmation like, “I’m never really on vacation.” Right? Like, “I’m still working early in the morning before the wife and kids wake up, and I’ve got to stay on top of stuff, and that’s the way that everyone should vacation.” I think was the flavor to it, it’s been you know, years since I saw it, but I always wanted to ask you about the timing of that post as it related to kind of this process and the conversations that were going on in the background because in my mind, it makes a lot of sense for that post to come out, and then like this ultimatum to begin and like how you think about this, like, “I’m out of here,” type of a deal. Is that… How close is that to the truth?
Carlos: Yeah, it’s pretty close. I would say that’s when I was at the height of my unhinged business pursuit. The name of the post was actually I’m Okay With Not Having a Work… Or, It’s Okay to Not have a Work-Life Balance.
Carlos: I started the post by saying something to the effect of, “I am completely unbalanced, and I am okay with that.” And I was literally… So, you want to talk about the whole idea of hustle and grind, that was my pledge of allegiance to that lifestyle. And so that was probably at the height of my pursuit. I think that was in early 2015, and so it was not long after that, and towards the end of 2015, where it all just fell apart, and everything I thought I had been working for was nowhere to be found. And I came to that conclusion of, kind of, “Man, what are you doing?” And so one of the things I did, is to try to apologize to the community that I engage with on LinkedIn, I wrote a follow-up post saying, “I was wrong.” And I followed up, and I referenced that post to kind of say, “This idea that I had, this whole pursuit, was ridiculous.”
And actually it was my daughter who busted me on it, because it was in ’16 was the first time I had ever gone on vacation without a laptop, and I remember telling my family, like, “This is what I’m going to do.” And they all kind of rolled their eyes, like, “Oh, okay.” And so, I think it was day two or day three, she was 17 at the time, or 16, and she thanked me for not bringing it. And I said, “Well…” and I said the same thing, I said, “Sweetheart, I appreciate that, but you know, I always worked before you woke up.” And she said, “Yeah, but then you spent the rest of the day thinking about what you worked on.”
Justin: Right, right.
Carlos: And it was like, it was such a sweet punch in the face. And if you ever really want just tremendous honesty, go to your children. But, that was for me, a wake-up call of, “Hey, your family needs you. And not only needs you, they want you involved, and they want you present.” So, since that point, I’ve always gone on vacation without a laptop, and I’m not unbalanced anymore, and that’s a day to day thing, and a day to day approach, something that I continue to work on, and the amazing thing is, the world still spins on its axis and everything is still here when I get back.
Justin: Ok, so how old are your children at this point?
Carlos: I have a 23-year-old who just got married to a beautiful young lady who just turned 23 as well, so we’ve added her to the mix.
Carlos: Thank you. My middle son is 22, my daughter is 20, and my youngest is 17.
How are you spending your time differently now?
Justin: So is there… I want to get into what that looks like, I guess tactically or at the ground level, on a day to day basis. Like, how do you see how you’re spending your time now differently than you saw it before, but is there any fear that you’re never going to be able to get that time back? Is there a fear that time you’re spending right now is not going to be the volume that it would be if someone were, you know if they were in their single-digit age brackets again?
Carlos: Yeah, I wouldn’t say there’s fear, there’s a regret. If I’m completely honest, there is a regret on the things that I missed out on. And we can talk about ballgames and concert and theater productions and all those things, but I even look at family dinners. Because when they’re all home now, we will spend literally hours, just around the dinner table after we’re all done, laughing, telling stories, having serious discussions. So I really do regret missing out on those moments that I will never get back, so, unfortunately, that ship has sailed, you can’t reverse time, but what I do know is I can redeem the time that I do have with them, and so I have been very fortunate to… I think first of all, I’ve been really honest with my kids. “Hey, here’s how I blew it, and I need to ask your forgiveness for that, and I’m sorry for that, and I wish I had been there. But I will say there is a absolute hard, fast commitment that I will never miss a first again.”
And so, I took time off to go see my son wrap up his college baseball career, which was a precious moment, and one that I will cherish forever. We took time to really spend with my son and daughter-in-law around their wedding. I’m going to be out there this weekend as well with picking up my daughter who spent the month in Europe with her university, and then my son I think, who is a film major, he’s going to be doing the, filming the trailer for my book. So he and I are going to be doing that together, which is awesome.
Justin: Very cool.
Carlos: My youngest son and I, we try to spend time together. I’ve done backpacking trips and things. And then, so the difference for me is, I’m very deliberate about the times I’m working, and the times I’m not working. And I’m investing in my relationships. So I guard my time very carefully. I’ve invited other people in my community, primarily, Susanne, to help me set those boundaries and define those things that I need to protect, and so I have a certain time of day I start work. And I would say most days, there’s some times you have to prepare and think about. If you have an international client, how do I work around that boundary?
But I pretty much start work, same time every day. Every morning when I’m home, we start with coffee, Susanne and I, and we are not great morning people until we’ve had our coffee, so the conversation gets better as the coffee starts to take effect.
And I pretty much shut down the same day every day. But what I have found with those hard, fast times is, I’m giving the best of me to my work and to my clients, my productivity is off the charts, better than it’s ever been before. And then I’m giving the best of me to my relationships as well, and they know that I can… Susanne can talk to her husband, and the kids can talk to Dad without a phone in his back pocket ready to be interrupted the minute it buzzes because he has to be on. And my clients know this, my partners know this. I make it very clear with my prospects. I don’t work on weekends, which I’ve had some people tell me is not doable, and I used to believe the same thing. But again, because I’m so defined in what I do, what used to take me eight to 12 hours, I now get done in three to four. So I’m working a whole lot smarter.
Justin: I think that deliberance is just such a critical aspect of things, right? Like if you’re going to… If you don’t have a barrier, if you never unplug, then there’s really no motivation to be more efficient, you know? You can always just get into it later on, or that weekend, and so on, so that seems to be key amongst people that I talk to about the same subject matter. But, you have kind of, not only a catalyst, but you’ve got someone kind of holding you accountable in this next go-round, because if it wasn’t clear there… You left ANNUITAS, but you didn’t just go work for someone else, you started another business.
Carlos: Yeah, right.
What is the big difference with VisumCx?
Justin: What’s the big difference in Visum, and just how it looks and feels from a daily basis.
Carlos: Yeah, I think one of the big difference is, I spent a majority of 2016 and ’17, and it’s a continual work in progress, working on me. I got to a point where I was not my true self, and I was not… I just wasn’t somebody that I liked, and in order to give your best self to a relationship, I think you have to truly love yourself. And I know Saturday Night Live had the Stuart Smally character that joked about that, but I spent a lot of time working on me, getting back to what… You had asked the question, right? Who am I? It’s figuring that out. Who am I? As, at that point, a 45-year-old guy, now almost about to turn 48. Who am I as an individual, without the professional achievement?
So, that’s different. I just look at life through a different lens now than I did before. Number two is, VisumCX is defined by purpose. So as part of the work that I did on myself, I wanted to find what I call my one note, and actually I stole that from an author named Kelly Flanagan, and my one note is, I love to help people, whether that’s helping my neighbor on his Saturday afternoon landscaping, or helping my clients, and so one of the things we do at ANNUITAS is we support an organization called Beauty for Ashes Uganda that helps single moms and widows with education and longterm sustainability and empowerment. And so we give five percent of our profit to that organization, and so we’re helping people that have less than us, who are so tremendously blessed and overwhelmingly wealthy when you compare to the women in these villages in Teso Region.
So that’s a big difference, and we make that very known, there’s a page on our website about it, we talk to every client about it, we thank them for being a part of it. And then I just think, redefining success. What does success look like? And I always looked at success in the awards we were winning, the number of times we were mentioned, the amount of revenue we brought in, and all those things. And now, I really look at success, how am I doing, first and foremost? Do I still recognize and like myself when I look in the mirror? What is the strength of my relationships? First and foremost with Susanne, secondly with my kids. My relationship with God, and then what is my relationship with my friends? My close friends? And I’ve invited those people in so I can be accountable to them.
And so I don’t expect these phone calls of, “Hey, how you doing?” I try to bring it up, and I try… and at the same time, when they notice that hey, perhaps I am kind of sliding into a place, they have my permission and have been invited to say, “Hey, kind of here’s what I’m seeing, and let’s talk about that.” And so it’s just a different makeup. It’s just a whole different approach, and where we are with Visum, I don’t have these great growth plans. I’m really happy where we’re at, I love who we’re working with. We have some of the greatest clients who really want to embrace change, and actually be a catalyst in their organization, and I feel very honored that they’ve asked my help to do that. And the fact that I get to do this now with Susanne as my business partner, she left her job almost two years ago to join us and manage all things operations, finance, legal, all the things I suck at and I don’t want to do.
And so that was a huge catalyst for me as well. To say, not only is she saying, “Yes, I want to support this, but now I want to join you as a co-owner and a partner.” So just a… And I’m not, again, as I say all that, I don’t want to, this is in no way saying anything we did at ANNUITAS was wrong, but the way I did it was wrong because it wasn’t my true self.
What is your advice to those struggling to balance their personal and entrepreneurship life?
Justin: Yeah, and so, Susanne also has a chapter in the book, and so I’m curious… Husband and wife, working together, obviously you guys have a really strong and consistent relationship, you know, during the day, after hours, so on and so forth. What feedback have you gotten from her about the challenges in being married to an entrepreneur, being married to someone that has gone through these big catalytic moments, these big moments of change? What, I guess, what advice do you have for husbands and wives out there or just folks in relationships that are struggling with the same thing?
Carlos: I would say the first thing is to communicate, and I did a lot of assuming on her part, and the part of the kids where I assumed that they were okay with what I was doing, the approaches. And that was initially, and then when they started to speak up, I always had an excuse at the ready, and I was very defensive. And that’s what happens when we tie our identities to our businesses. So when they would say things like, “Hey, maybe a couple weeks at home wouldn’t be bad.” I took that as, “You’re not supporting the business, and I’m doing this all for you, so… ” and it was my issue, not theirs.
So I would say, number one, just real open, honest communication of, what do you need? And what do you both need? What do you need from each other, what are you not getting? And not looking at it as an attack, but just saying, you know, true relationships that are valued have open and honest communication. And, it’s not always this, “Let me tell you how great you are.” If that was the case, it wouldn’t be true open and honest communication. So I would say, I would say number one…
Number two, as entrepreneurs, we like to talk about the fact that we’re making sacrifices. We’re missing out on stuff. We’re doing all the hard work. We’re… The reality is, we’re putting our time and investment and our energy into what we want to build. It’s the people on the other side that are making the sacrifices. So if they’re going to make the sacrifices, we at least owe it to them to ask their permission and make sure they’re okay with it.
And I’ve talked to a few entrepreneurs about that, and they’re saying that is completely unrealistic, and it kind of makes me sad when I hear that, because I will tell you, my kids sacrificed time away from me when I was traveling on the road. Whether at the dinner table, at their events, things that were important to them. Susanne sacrificed time, and she writes about that, and her chapter’s actually called A View from the Other Side. She writes about what’s it like, and I believe, trying to stir up memory, her chapter says in a word, lonely. And she was. She was, in all respects, in many cases she was a single mom because I wasn’t home. I wasn’t here to do my part in raising four children.
And so it is really tough. And I would say now since we’ve been through the storm, we are both very committed to that open and honest communication, and literally making sure we are abiding by the commitments we have made within the new context of the business. Our lives, we’re about to be empty nesters in a little more than a year, and so that is a whole life change. Marrying a son is a whole life change. Having another one graduate college is a whole life change.
So, we’re constantly talking about what are our expectations? What do we need from each other? What do we need to do? We’ve got some crazy things coming up, just in terms of being scattered all over the place. She’s going back to Uganda, so we talked about that yesterday. What do we expect between now and when you get back? And how do we protect the nights that we’re going to have, which are going to be few, together before you leave? What’s the communication going to be like? Let’s be sure we’re not exhausting ourselves to the point where we’re arguing over stupid things. So we’re very open and honest with each other, and that’s a result of coming through some of those really rough patches.
How do you personally define success?
Justin: Yeah, I think overall it’s a lesson in, you know, catalytic moments can be powerful and I think they’re… Folks like entrepreneurs and forward thinkers and the folks that really revolutionize areas, whether it be marketing or business or any discipline, recognize those moments, and are compelled by them, but that second step is defining what success at that moment’s going to look like, and I think that’s in many ways the harder step to take. Right?
Carlos: Yep, absolutely. And I think that that bar of success is going to change as your life changes. Our boundaries are not what they would be when our children were 10 through four years old. Because there, you’re just trying to herd cats and make sure everybody’s staying… Now, when our children are-
Justin: Sure, I’m at that stage.
Carlos: Yeah, they’re all adults, right? Our boundaries change. We have a little bit more freedom to do some things, to travel, so… and I would imagine when grandkids come into the picture, if and when, that we may establish some new boundaries and re-define what success looks like for us at that stage of life. The whole thing, and this is what I talk about in the book, my issue is not, “Hey do you want to work 12 hours a day to achieve your dream?” As long as your closest of relationships, whether that’s a spouse, significant other, boyfriend, girlfriend, whatever that is, as long as they’re right there in lockstep with you, who am I to say you’ve got it wrong?
That’s not my point. My point is, when we as entrepreneurs chart our own path, and leave our relationships in the dust, and live on the promise of someday.
Justin: Yeah, that’s a great takeaway. So, as we wrap up here, I am curious, and you kind of steered me with that question, or that answer there as well, but I am curious just in your gut, when you see… And I’m surprised that there are still folks doing this, but it seems like everyday there’s a new one that kind of bubbles up where, they’re promoting that hustle and that grind culture and so on, and a lot of times they’re leaning on the Lambo, or you know talking about an exit that they had and so on, like… What do you really want to say to those folks that are kind of touting that as the path to success? Is it truly that you know, “Hey, if that works for you and yours, that’s the way that it can be sustainable.” Or can that be sustainable at all?
Carlos: Well I think the whole message of grind and hustle and you know, you’ve got O’Leary, you’ve got Grant Cardone, you’ve got Jack Ma, these guys… First and foremost, I just shake my head and say, “Guys, this isn’t… First of all, it’s not sustainable unless you’re a robot. You’re a human being.” And so, again, if you and your significant other have agreed to, “This is the life we want to live, and we are going to both do our equal parts to make this happen.” God bless you. That’s great.
But if I’m working as Grant said, 95 hours a week, or Jack Ma says six days a week, 12 hours a day. Where do you fit in time for your relationship? And as human beings, we weren’t wired for work, we were wired for relationship. And so my big question is, where do you fit that in? Because if you’re working 72 to 95 hours a week, you have to sleep eventually, you have to eat, so something’s going to give. Your relationships, your personal health, there’s a lot of things that aren’t going to work out well. So tell me how that’s sustainable. It’s not.
And so for me, when I see those posts, I say, “I guess we define success very differently.” Because again, I’m not complaining, I’m not making millions, but when you’ve been to the developing world, you do realize how much we have, and how monetarily blessed we are to be in the positions we are. But that’s not how I define success anymore. And so, I look at it, how am I doing in all aspects, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, physically? And then, am I truly giving my best and being authentic and vulnerable and present in my relationships? And then from there, okay, so how’s the business doing? Am I fulfilling my responsibility and my commitment to my family to do what I said I was going to do?
And so if I can check those boxes on a day to day basis, or at least say, “You know what? I could’ve done better in this area.” At least there’s an awareness. But when I see the hustle posts, I say, hey, I agree with Alex Ohanian, it’s hustle porn, and it’s wildly toxic and destructive, and because I think it’s killing us. It’s killing us, and when we say, “That’s the goal, I want to be that.” Know that there are tremendous sacrifices. And that’s why I had Susanne write the chapter.
When I see those posts, I do, and Susanne says this, she says, “I want to go talk to their wives or their husbands.” And I also applaud the Arianna Huffington’s, who were very vocal about her burnout, and what it cost her, which led her to start Thrive Global, and she’s done that in a very different approach, and I applaud her for it.
Justin: Well that’s the interesting thing, I think, about catalytic moments. Some of them we seek out, and you really have to be looking for, and you have to foster those relationships and find something that a lot of other people overlook, and sometimes, they hit you over the head. And I think a lot of those… you know, the burnout element, and divorce, or just health, or whatever it happens to be, those are those moments that you really can’t ignore, so I think it’s a just overall great lesson from a career that’s really been defined by those catalytic moments, and the response to them, so.
Carlos, I really appreciate you taking the time to join us here today. I do want to give you the opportunity to kind of talk a little bit about when the book comes out. How can people go get it? I’m sure the Amazon machine will gobble us all up as far as that goes, but when is the release date?
Carlos: Yeah, so the official release date is June 24th, however, we’re going to put a pre-release out on Amazon starting June 3rd, so for a little bit of a reduced price, and so people who want to access that early will be able to grab that starting June 3rd. And then you can also go, if you want to read a little bit more about it, we’re going to start blogging, if you want to go to the unamericandream.com, we also have a Facebook page, and a YouTube channel under my name, Carlos Hidalgo. So we’re trying to really get it going, then you can also follow us on Twitter.
Justin: Awesome. Carlos Hidalgo, founder and CEO of VisumCX. Carlos, again, thanks so much for joining us today, sharing your story, really appreciate it, great insights all around there.
Carlos: Thanks for having me, Justin. Always good to talk to you.
Justin: Absolutely. So, and then of course guys, be on the lookout for those catalytic moments in your own lives, don’t ignore them, and join us next week on the show.
Meet Justin Gray
Justin is a serial entrepreneur and the CEO and founder of LeadMD, the world’s largest revenue operations agency having implemented over half of the Marketo user base. Justin has made a career of launching successful companies and scaling them, with successful exits of over 200MM+ in the last decade. Justin’s latest endeavor launched in 2016 when he co-founded Six Bricks an online learning startup designed to combat employee and customer churn through experience-based education. Over the past 10 years, Justin has emerged as a strong voice for entrepreneurship, marketing and culture. As a recognized speaker, Justin has been published over 350 times in industry publications and holds his own column, Tribal Knowledge in Inc., while writing for Entrepreneur, Tech Crunch and others. Justin and his wife Jennifer met over marketing and three years later welcomed their son, Grayson, into the world in April of 2017.