Steve has founded, invested in, run, and exited multiple companies through the years. He is the founder of All-In to Fight Cancer. In this episode he talks about his philosophy on business, work life balance, fitness, and especially on the progress being made against cancer.
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John E: Hello folks. Uh, today’s episode, I honestly believe is the best interview I’ve done and probably one of the better ones I’ll ever do, mainly because the quality of the human that I interviewed, Steve and media is a very good friend of mine, mentor, workout, colleague, um, and just an all around interesting guy.
He covers a lot of ground in this. I highly recommend listening to the whole thing. Um, he’s he even takes a few positions that given my maniacal focus on eating organic and trying to be healthy, I think he makes a very good. Point about a Monsanto, which was a big client of his. And so, uh, again, I think just this thing is chock full of great information.
Um, whether you’re an aspiring entrepreneur and aspiring investor, or just trying to be a good all around human, uh, Steve is, is definitely up there. I also love talking about all in to fight cancer, which if you’re looking for a charity to donate to, I highly recommend it. So show
hello folks. And thanks for listening today. I am joined by my good friend, Steve, a medium. Steve has started and sold multiple companies. Uh, he started one of my favorite charities. Uh, he’s been a fairly active investor to say the least and startups for quite some time. And, and he also owns a gym that I like to frequent.
I hope to cover all of this and more. Steve, thanks for joining me on this St. Patty.
Steve A: Yeah, my pleasure John I’ve, uh, I’m a quarter Irish, if that counts.
John E: Okay. Very good. I’m I’m 66% Scott Scottish, British Irish, according to 23 and me and I’m 98% Northern European. So I’m about as white boy as they come.
Steve A: you are. I got to do that 23 and me. I liked that. I need to do
John E: that. It’s pretty awesome. I suspect you’re going to have quite a bit more Neanderthal chromosomes than I do. It seems
Steve A: reasonable a reasonable guess.
John E: And what was your last workout? I know what your next one is, cause you’re not drinking with me on St.
Steve A: That’s right. I do have a wad later. Uh, last workout was a, uh, our, uh, Peloton ride as a matter of fact, yesterday afternoon with, uh, Matt Wilber’s, uh, who does most of the, uh, heart rate and, uh, power zone rides.
John E: Yep. Cool. Um, and you do a lot of different workouts that I hope to touch on some of this, because I think that that’s a big and important part of, um, of, uh, for many, uh, entrepreneurs.
I think we’ve historically lionized not having a work-life balance and we’ve lionized working very hard and eating a shitty diet. And I th I think it’s so important that that people who want to perform well in their mind also have to perform well in their body. So hopefully we can dig into that today.
Steve A: no question. I’ll tell you a fun fact that, uh, very few people, other than a few, other of my early employees and business partners know. My first company, I spent probably the first six months, uh, sleeping under my desk, right. And software, uh, and not only did it, uh, unfortunately cost me my, uh, or fortunately, depending on how you look at a cost me my first marriage, it, uh, I also got to the, uh, heaviest I’ve ever been in my life, which was, uh, 230 pounds, 188 now.
And, uh, it was for that very reason. All I did was work and, uh, ignored, uh, taking care of myself and the people around me. And, uh, that is, uh, there is, uh, while entrepreneurs and Ms. A wonderful life. That was not, that was not a wonderful life, nor was it entrepreneurism. It was, uh, It was a skewed version of, of, uh, how hard people thought they had to work in order to be successful in that.
Uh, it’s not the way to roll. I
John E: agree. I came out, um, in 2000 I got out of undergrad and I went to one of these Chernin in Burnham, um, dot com, uh, consulting businesses. And I, I will say working 80 hours a week, 90 hours a week, you learn a lot, but you gain a lot of weight and you, and you end up introducing all sorts of brain fog.
And I’m glad to see that there is a movement, uh, in general towards, Hey, let’s, let’s try to balance things out, including our health and fitness as well. Uh, how important do you think that is? Um, when, when you’re talking to younger entrepreneurs now, do you think they understand it? Is it something that you need to reiterate for them or,
Steve A: yeah, I think it still has to be, uh, Uh, communicated and mentored and coached as much as possible, especially for her.
She indicated younger entrepreneurs. I think, you know, the, the broad umbrella is life balance, right? But that means a lot of things. It certainly means exercise and take care of your body means nutrition, but it also means taking care of relationships and the people around you, uh, the people that love you and the people you love.
And, um, you know, you’ve got to bring all of that in order to successfully, uh, Maybe not to start a business, but to last and, and have it be successful and potentially exited. I think you’ve got to have some, some perspective in that process. And I think that’s, you know, across the,
John E: well, I think you hit on a great point there, we, we, again, we, as a culture, like to lionize the lone Wolf entrepreneur and you, and I know that’s bullshit, it takes more than a village, right?
It takes an ecosystem. It takes people around you. And importantly, it takes those, those relationships, even though, even if your, your family and your loved ones aren’t working in the business and hopefully they aren’t. But, um, th they’re very important to this, to the success. And you’re made another great point, which is it’s one thing to start a business.
It’s a whole nother thing to, to grow it and nurture it and ultimately exit it and at, at scale.
Steve A: Yeah, no question. And, uh, I guess, uh, important to note and add to that kind of umbrella of life balances of is mental health. I think. You know, mental health is a problem in the U S right now, for sure. Uh, certainly post COVID, but also pre COVID.
And I think it’s particularly, um, uh, onerous for entrepreneurs. And I find a lot of young, especially entrepreneurs that are headed down a path that, uh, is not going to end well in terms of, uh, you know, uh, their, uh, their mood and maybe worse, you know, their, their overall mental health condition. And so I think that’s another thing that’s gotta be talked about and has to be educated around and has to be coached.
John E: Yeah, it’s, it’s tough because it’s a bunch of interconnected things. It’s, it’s eating, right. It’s supplements, it’s getting the right amount of sleep. It’s putting the right things into your mind, not just into your body, putting the right things into your soul or whatever your spirit, whatever you want to call that.
I think it’s hard to, to approach all of those, but I do find that as you start to fix. Bits and pieces of that. Cause I was very broken at one point, like, like what you described, I got up to 255 pounds. I’m a bit taller than you. And I was slow and lethargic and I couldn’t think right. And I was working till two, three in the morning.
And at some point I just said, I’ve got to start fixing this. And what I found was for me personally, it was fixing diet first and then fixing exercise then finding meditation and breathing patterns. Um, and, and, and then, and so I think that once you start to fit, the good news is once you start to fix a couple things, they start to fall into place and things become easier to address, but it’s hard when everything seems to be, to be broken.
Steve A: Yeah, I think, um, and in particular I think, you know, nutrition, certainly an exercise, but also as you indicated, uh, meditation, you know, explore some of those things that you might’ve thought either were either difficult or, or out of reach for you because I think those are equally as valuable for sure.
John E: Absolutely. So I’d like to go through your history a bit. Where are you from and where did you go to school? I don’t even know this as well as I know. Yeah,
Steve A: no, it’s fine. Uh, I am from upstate New York. I grew up in a small town on Lake Ontario called a swig in New York and, uh, lived there, uh, my first 18 years until I went to college.
I went to college, uh, at Virginia Commonwealth university in Richmond, Virginia. And obviously you will. That’s a good spot. I love Richmond. Great town lived in the fan. Uh, cool, eclectic, uh, great place to go to school. Um, a lot of fun and, uh, left, um, Virginia and came down to North Carolina shortly after graduation from VCU.
And I’ve been here in Charlotte, uh, ever since.
John E: So where did you start your career once you came down here or was it before you came down here that you started your career?
Steve A: Well, it wasn’t until I came down here that, uh, that I started my career, but, uh, I had to, uh, give my, uh, my father some props. Um, it didn’t, um, uh, Uh, it didn’t, uh, go past me that, uh, he was an entrepreneur that he had started his own business out of necessity, not out of desire, but, uh, he worked at a mill, a factory that was shut down and, uh, uh, began to take a hobby business, which was a trucking business.
Um, and, uh, and turned it into, uh, the primary income for his family and, uh, raised six kids that way. My brother, Tommy who’s here with me right now still runs that family business, uh, which is awesome. Yup.
John E: Good to have those mentors and role models to look up to. I mean, almost everybody that I talk to who is a successful entrepreneur themselves can point to somebody it’s very fortunate when it’s a father or a mother.
Um, but you have to have somebody
Steve A: it’s also, uh, I like to, uh, uh, note that or footnote that not just to. Uh, for my father, although, you know, I miss him dearly and love them and, uh, appreciated everything he did for us. But also because I think there’s a general misconception that if you’re an entrepreneur or you must be in tech or in software, or, you know, in some, you know, uh, kind of modern day modern economy business.
And the reality is, you know, 99% of the entrepreneurs in the U S are running restaurants and, uh, dry cleaners and hotels and trucking businesses. And, you know, uh, they’re not in tech and they’re not in software. And, uh, uh, I love those businesses. Uh, I hope to return to them here in the, in the near future to invest in and operate some of them.
And, uh, to me, those are the real entrepreneurs. Uh, you know, having a small business is being an entrepreneur. The fact that you’re not raising capital or that you’re not going to exit it to some private equity firm or some, you know, strategic, it doesn’t mean you’re not an entrepreneur. It’s just a different path.
And, uh, I think those people don’t get a lot of credit.
John E: No. I, I agree. And for me, I didn’t my father, isn’t what you’d call entrepreneurial. He worked for a utility company, his entire career, and retired from there. Um, and, and, and did, did just fine. Uh, but he wasn’t entrepreneurial, but I was very fortunate to work at a stereo shop where I worked directly with the owner of the stereo shop.
And that’s the lessons that he taught me. I’ll never forget, you know, walk the showroom or walk your, walk, your inventory room every morning so that you only sell what you have. Don’t sell something that you don’t have cause that’ll drive your gross margins up, um, start at the top and understand your customer.
If, if the customer comes in and is, and you know that they’re higher income, don’t show them the entry-level cassette deck. So then the top of the line, cause it’s always easier to down sell it. These are things that apply in
Steve A: anything and selling is key right at it at every level, no matter what business you’re in, you’re going to be selling and yeah.
You know, I think probably 30 years before some, somebody out there coined a, the customer is King. My father was telling me that the customer is always right. You know? So, um, you know, I think those are tried and true, you know, kind of expressions of entrepreneurism that, uh, that, that somehow we’ve left behind and all the modern tech tech era.
John E: well, I think we celebrate the, um, the, the, the Facebooks and the Instagrams of the world. But I think, I think, especially after COVID we appreciate the small businesses. I think it’s unfortunate. Not not to get political here, but I think it is an unfortunate consequence that the bigger businesses came out of COVID stronger and a lot of bit smaller businesses just, just evaporated.
But I think even if our politicians and policy makers don’t understand that, I think the people that I talked to understand that and have a very big appreciation for the local restaurants, the local, the local businesses, when, when, especially when many of them have haven’t been lost, I’m hoping
Steve A: that the reopening is an absolute boom for, for local and small businesses.
John E: And, and you may have seen this in your gym. Um, I had Stu Brower in here who owns urban movement and he, he was very fortunate because very early on, he creates a lot of content and he was able to create a video experience. That was a very good virtual experience. He. Quickly was able to lease out equipment or not lease out, but give out equipment to people and then give them a virtual experience.
And so he only lost 3% of his revenue. Yeah. And he, I mean, he was, he was very lucky because he overbuilt this gym because he was building a concept that he’s franchising now. Um, so he had enough equipment to do it. Any, any related the, the revenue didn’t drop off, but what he saw was that. When they reopened their doors, there was a bunch of pent up demand and a lot of people signed up and they’re in their numbers were up 30, 40%.
It’s great. Going into that. Did you guys see something similar or
Steve A: he did something not, not quite as, um, um, organized because, uh, you know, we’re a kind of a local gym, no intention to be anything other than that. But, um, we did, uh, allowed all of our, uh, members to come in and take the equipment from the gym, build their own home gyms, if they will continue to pay.
I remember I had
John E: to donate some of my home gym so that we can
Steve A: keep working out. So, uh, during that time period, we did that and it worked out wonderfully people, uh, uh, worked out at home. They had gear for the first time they turned their garages and their backyards and everything else into home gyms.
They continued to pay their dues and that’s what kept us afloat. And, and while we’re still here today, and as he, uh, as, uh, you indicated, and what happened to him is started to happen to us, to people. Uh, you know, gyms are a social experience. Uh, they help build community for sure. And, uh, and there’s, uh, you know, competition and everything else healthy that happens at gyms.
And so people are starting to come back and sign up. And so we, we certainly have more members now than we did pre COVID.
John E: That’s great. Well, hopefully other industries see that as, as they start to, to, to, to reopen. And it does seem like the reopening is real and even happening in places like New York and California.
Steve A: Yes. Thank goodness. Yeah,
John E: that’s real. I met you during the techniques days. Um, you guys recently sold techniques. I think it was TK access by the time you sold it, or maybe that’s what it became when you sold, but can you tell the listeners what TK access does?
Steve A: Yeah, for sure. Uh, TK access is, uh, would be an agriculture business and ag tech business.
Uh, and it was, uh, techniques, techniques was founded by, uh, Jack Ross and Preston Fe two of my, uh, business partners that continued doing business together. Both of whom are still working there. Um, Techniques was merged with excess ag and Raleigh, um, in 2018 and, uh, three founders there. Um, bill Barton that Armbruster and Fulton Brene good.
Guy’s been in the ag space the whole time as had Jack Preston. And I, um, they were both 15 or, you know, 15, 18 year old businesses with good track records. And we merged them to kind of achieve some scale with the hopes that we could grow over four or five years and be attractive to either private equity or strategic as it happened, you know, a year after we merged those businesses in the summer of 2019, we were able to, to close a transaction with a public company in Canada, tell us, uh, Agra, uh, tell us, um, the telecommunications company, but they also have a diversified business there in, um, uh, international it and, uh, people outsourcing, um, Through, uh, one of their lines of business they’re in healthcare data in Canada as well too.
And they had, um, I think, great vision and, uh, the foresight to, uh, decide that their next foray into diversifying their telecommunications business would be to take a bigger position in agriculture. And for those in ag or who are familiar with ag they’d know that Canada’s already a big player, uh, in the ag space and Telus is a Canadian company.
And so they decided to nutrient
John E: is as well. They’re a big player in that space. What is it
Steve A: about? Yeah, I know. Well, you know, it’s mostly the Western part of the state and it’s the cereal’s business that drives, uh, it mostly, they’re, they’re a huge producer in cereals and, um, and, uh, I think number at one point where the number five, they might be the number four now, a global player in ag.
So, um, they laid down a diversification strategy that, you know, would be a classic kind of w you know, P people would for too, as a, uh, as a roll-up, um, go and find an anchor business. And, uh, we were, yeah, we were the platform business. We were, uh, You know, a business that had been around for a long time, we had tremendous, um, uh, relationships and a lot of, uh, uh, relationship capital in, uh, in agribusiness.
Um, we had some platform technologies and some intellectual property around software. Um, that was interesting. Um, and so, uh, that became their platform acquisition. And, uh, you know, for, for whoever will hear this, I think it’s important to say because, um, you know, every entrepreneur is faced with the, hopefully the opportunity to exit the business successfully.
Um, and you imagine what that could look like and you hear great stories and you hear horror stories, but you probably hear more horror stories, not financially, but as it relates to kind of what becomes of the business that you spent 20 years building or however long, um, what becomes of your employees.
And, um, at least as we sit here today, I can say, and I’m, I’m thrilled to say that, um, you know, tell us how the vision. Uh, they acquired us at a very fair price. Uh, they, uh, have continued to fulfill that vision. They’ve acquired, you know, I don’t track it exactly, but eight or 10 more companies in the space.
They built a substantial global agriculture presence in a very short period of time. And, uh, they’ve treated, uh, us as founders and, and former business owners and our employees, uh, with tremendous respect and, um, provided us great opportunity and, uh, continue to do so. Um, and so, you know, I tend to, you know, I would have always hoped probably for a strategic on exit because I think that’s a little better, especially if you want to leave a legacy, uh, than a PE you know, P is going to have to turn an asset again at some point.
But, uh, with Telus, we knew they were long on ag. Uh, they get into those businesses and they stay. And so we thought that that could be more interesting and, uh, you know, As far as acquirers go, they’ve lived up to every aspect of the vision that they laid out and, uh, and kept every promise they’ve made to us.
So, um, you know, it’s a good story. Uh, but I’m also saying that because I want people to know that they’re a good company and, uh, if you’re out there and in their pipeline, um, uh, you would, you would want to consider them because, uh, they did a great
John E: deal. That’s a great point. I had a gentleman named Dave Dalton on who his father owned a textile business in Charlotte.
Um, back when North Carolina was the center of that universe. And I guess in some ways they still are, it’s just not all manufactured here necessarily, but his dad sold to a company and they did left a bad taste in his mouth. And he talked about it. And Dave and his dad bought a manufacturing business, a printed circuit board manufacturer up in, uh, up in Morrisville.
And when it was time to sell the company. Um, they were very careful about selecting the right partner because they had such a bad experience. And you hear about some terrible ones and I’ve been involved in some where there were prior companies that were acquired along the way. Red hat in particular had done a couple of really bad integrations prior to acquiring a mantra.
And they were very thoughtful and very careful, and we had a wonderful experience. And the way I measure it is I look at the number of people who came from the original mantra team who are now meaningful executives within red hat. And there are a group of probably 15 or 20 people who have just fantastic roles, really making decisions in there.
And that’s what you look for. Exactly. Right. You don’t want the other experiences that you hear about where the entire team leaves and the business essentially dissolves,
Steve A: which does happen. Absolutely does. No. They, uh, that part has gone exceptionally well. And, uh, there are still several, uh, many, many of my former employees that are in critical and key leadership roles in the, uh, and the growing, uh, Telus ag business.
John E: awesome. I’m just going to move your mic up a little. Yeah, sure. It sounds good, but it’s as if you move a little it’s, it’s going off access, so that should be, but we’ll, we’ll, we’ll edit that later. So yeah, that ag, that ag market is, is fascinating. There’s a lot of consolidation and there’s just a handful of mega players at, at this point.
Point, um, I’m thinking, what was the big one? What was the big acquisition that happened there? DuPont? Oh
Steve A: yeah. DuPont and Dow, um, formed Cortez. Okay. Was one of the largest deals in the space to happen a long time. And then, you know, ultimately Dow and DuPont merged and split into three businesses and material sciences business, uh, an ag business and a third one that’s alluding me at the moment, but, um, their ag business became core Teva and it’s a huge player in the space.
Yeah. And I
John E: mentioned nutrient, I worked with them in a prior life and I know that that was a product of quite a bit of consolidation as well. Maybe they came out of the con
Steve A: they’re in the distribution side. Yeah. So they’re a distributor, but have, uh, invested, continuing to invest in, have acquired lots of, of it, uh, lots of software assets and other, um, Technology over the years, they’re a massive player in this space.
John E: So there’s all this consolidation. Um, obviously we’re trying to feed a growing world and we’re not growing the amount of land that we so there’s. So, so, so you expect to see a lot of innovation happening there and moving fast. What did you guys do? It techniques to keep pace with the industry as it changed?
Steve A: so the, the, uh, the industry can be kind of broken up, um, Uh, into a few key segments, I’ll use the, the I’ll describe the, the world of agriculture and through the lens of Telus, because it was their kind of, uh, their, uh, a template that, uh, that I’m familiar with in terms of how they approach the global market.
Uh, they broke the business at the time into, um, what they called agribusiness. They called farm and ranch in what they called AgriFood. And so agribusiness was the segment we’re in. So I’ll come back to that and talk a little bit more deeply about that. Uh, farm and ranch would be any of the technology systems and data that come off of the farm directly.
You know, uh, farm equipment is a massive kind of, uh, industrial IOT implementation, right? You’ve got a GPS is driving tractors. You’ve got data coming off of that. You’ve got combines, you’ve got, um, you know, variable rate seed, uh, equipment and application applicators and water management and, you know, weather sensors everywhere, and
John E: AI predictive models that are figuring out fertilizer levels and other things to do with, would they include that in that segment of the business?
Steve A: For sure. I, I I’ve seen equipment that, that drives itself down, uh, uh, a, uh, uh, a segment of land, if you will. Um, and while it’s, uh, planting, it is, uh, in real time. Driving itself, determining the, uh, the hybrid of seed that should go on the ground based on, you know, the soil that it knows at that particular GPS location, determining the depth at which the seed should be planted and then applying any, you know, a chemical or fertilizer or anything in the ratios and in the amounts that would be appropriate, uh, as the, the tractor drives itself, you know, down the acre.
So, um, yeah, man, it’s unbelievable. And, uh, you know, um, I do like to talk about this. Uh, I’ll keep this brief because we don’t want to launch into political tirades and start throwing things at each other. But, um, I, I, I think. I personally think that production agriculture is misunderstood. Um, now, you know, I don’t want to get into the rabbit hole of, you know, Monsanto and, you know, poisoning the food supply.
Listen, there were definitely eating some stuff we shouldn’t be eaten. Uh, but here’s what I have to say. I, I only on a few occasions in my career on the agribusiness side, had the pleasure of sitting with the actual scientists that are doing the science some on the seed side. And this was at a pioneer, uh, seed and some on the chemical side from the various chemical manufacturers, uh, throughout the U S and Canada.
And it, every interaction with them, um, uh, science is what mattered in every interaction with them. Feeding the planet was what mattered to them in every interaction with them, what they, what kept them awake at night or people starving. In this world when they knew that technology could help produce enough food for everyone.
So, you know, corporate profits aside, um, and corporate management aside, the people who drive those business are the scientists and the scientists are as pure heart as you and me and their, uh, charge everyday when they come in is to feed this world. And so, you know, like I said, I think production agriculture can be a little bit misunderstood.
And I think, you know, the stuff that gets pressed is the bad stuff and, and there’s plenty of it. And there’s, agregious stuff like there is in every large industry, every large corporation, but I’ll tell you what the absolute, uh, meat of the population of those folks who work in those businesses are doing it, uh, hard and for the exact right reason.
So, um, sure. No, it’s important to note.
John E: I agree. I try to eat organic when I can. I try to avoid pesticides. I tried to. Uh, I try to make decisions that maybe don’t lead to the highest yields because I’m selfishly trying to help myself. But I look realistically, it’s not a scalable solution for 8 billion people on this planet, and I’m fortunate enough to be able to make, make those decisions.
But it’s, uh, I, I don’t, I I’m skeptical anytime I hear somebody just demonize an entire industry. I have, I have friends who work in the energy industry
Steve A: and same thing happens
John E: energy, for sure. They’re not trying to destroy the environment. There may be some yeah, bad apples who get a little bit carried away and make decisions and
Steve A: cover comparison, but
John E: exactly the same, but the ones that I know, they, they, they want to power the planet.
They want, they want to bring electricity to every corner of the globe and to do it affordable. And then, and there, so that raises
Steve A: quality of life
John E: and, and, and that creates wealth that allows you to tackle clean energy. You couldn’t afford clean energy. 200 years ago when people were dying at the age of 40 and half of us, didn’t have, uh, you know, didn’t have the basic necessities.
So I, I think that’s an important point to make that it’s it’s anytime I hear painted with a broad brush than an industry is evil. I tend to think that, well, you could say that about ISIS. You could say that about the Nazis. There are very few industries that are involved in commerce that you can say that across the board, healthcare,
Steve A: same thing of care, same thing.
Now people demonize the pharmaceutical companies, but, uh, but they’re saving lives every day. Yep,
John E: absolutely. So I want to shift gears a little bit. Um, and again, this is something I don’t actually know the answer to. When you think about what you’re good at, because you’ve obviously been very successful.
Do you think of yourself more as a marketer or as a technologist, as a leader? What, what is it? Is it a blend of everything?
Steve A: Yeah. Yeah. Uh, probably for me, it’s been, uh, an intersection of a few different skill sets and, uh, Um, I’m not sure I’m necessarily good at anything. I work pretty hard. Um, that’s probably, I think, uh, uh, dad told us at one time, um, you know, you’re an immediacy, so you’re going to have to work twice as hard to be happy, as good as everybody else.
So, so, uh, I think, you know,
John E: that’s good advice for anybody, no matter how smart you are.
Steve A: Yeah. Yeah. So it, uh, so you know, hard work will get you there for me. Um, I do think that, um, in particular, I, I, uh, it was an opportune time, uh, the last 30 years of my career, um, to be able to understand and execute on technology.
I started as a, as a self-taught software engineer. I have a marketing degree, um, very quickly realized I wasn’t really a good engineer, but I was good enough to do it and to understand it. And I quickly kind of parlayed that into well, what does that mean to business and business people and solving problems and kind of.
Um, spent, um, the majority of my career, um, running companies where I, uh, was either, you know, the, the CEO or the CTO, but really performed kind of in a, what I used to refer to as a solutions architecture role, which is kind of fully understanding the problems that needed to be solved and kind of sitting at the intersection of the implication of that for business and for, for the teams that were trying to build software to solve those problems.
John E: Yeah. I think that’s a great point. I think it’s when you combine technology with something else that it really becomes powerful. I think it’s powerful to be a great technologist generalist as well. Um, but I think it’s really powerful when you combine the two and you can say, okay, what are we really trying to solve here?
Or combine three disciplines or four disciplines, because technology really is an enabler. We like to think of it as a standalone thing unto itself, but we really create technology to solve problems. And I think that is very powerful when you can combine those.
Steve A: Yeah, that’s exactly right. And it’s a fun place to sit too, you know, and it’s also the seat that many founders sit in initially because, uh, even if you are a great engineer and you, uh, build something that is novel and, and, um, you know, unique from an intellectual property standpoint, if, if you’re successful and you raise capital and try and scale, you’ll, you’ll very quickly be confronted with the business side of it, whether you like it or not.
Uh, so you gotta understand it and you gotta, you gotta know it. And, uh, likewise people who are founders who start from the business perspective, um, but are going to be in the technology space, we’ll have to hire and surround themselves with brilliant technologists and understanding them and how they think and how they solve problems is a super important as well, too.
So I think it’s that, that, uh, that centrist kind of skillset that can be a uniquely valuable at times.
John E: Um, so I don’t think you have it listed on your LinkedIn profile, but I know you’re an investor and pretty involved in acceleration. Um, They seem to be well on their way. I know band, I know a handful of the people over there.
Um, Rissa so they’re well, on their way, obviously, is this something you’re pretty involved in or is it more of an advisory capacity? Yeah, there’s a
Steve A: couple of operating businesses that weren’t sold with, uh, with, uh, TK access because they were separate assets. One of them is acceleration and one of them sure.
Shop they’re both, um, technology businesses. One’s a sure shot is data and analytics software. Um, and a acceleration is software for a rewards and recognition for, uh, Everything from employee to, uh, sales and channel sales people and that kind of thing. And they’re both substantial software assets, but also, um, decent sized operating companies.
And I, I am, uh, still, uh, regularly involved, but more kind of on an as needed basis. Um, one of our good friends and business partners, Chris Williams, um, uh, really, um, oversees those, our interests, our, uh, our investment there, um, uh, that Jack and Preston and I have, um, and that he has as well too. Um, and he does so as the effective kind of, I guess, COO, I don’t know exactly how they’ve titled them at acceleration, but he’s got a lot of operational responsibility acceleration and also at, uh, at shore shot.
And so he’s really. The guy, uh, for us, uh, because he’s probably the smartest did the best in the most calm and, uh, the most rational out of all of us. So he kind of follow through on what he says. He will do exactly what he said, call you
John E: and get you on the zoom when you’re 10 minutes late. That’s exactly right.
Yeah. So we all have to have one of those
Steve A: that’s right. I’m I’m that dude. Uh, and so he, uh, he plays that role for, so while I’m not active on a day-to-day basis, but occasionally we’ll, you know, attend, uh, board meetings as an observer or on get involved in something specific around business development.
John E: How, how different has that been for you compared to you were pretty hands-on with techniques, especially in the earlier days, for sure.
Steve A: No, I was hands on right up until the last, uh, the last day at, uh, a technique. So it, it, it is it’s is very different. Um, but, uh, both of those businesses were businesses before we got involved in them and they both have, uh, super competent and good founders that are still running and very active in those businesses.
So it’s quite easy in those situations between the founders and between, you know, Chris has oversight to, to kind of step back, um, and, uh, you know, if needed, you know, play a role, but, you know, honestly that it’s infrequent, those guys have great teams, you know, you mentioned Marissa and other folks in that business and acceleration, they’re fantastic, David, uh, who runs a sure shot has a great team and, uh, they’re successful in their own.
Right. So, um, haven’t had to have been, uh, that involved. So I’ve been kind of spending time looking at, uh, at other, um, startups and other, uh, businesses around, uh, Really the Southeast primarily, um, and, uh, and ultimately waiting for the time at which we can get really active again and in fire back up all in as well.
John E: awesome. And I do want to talk about all in, cause it’s a fantastic charity, but first, do you think there’s a net next full-time thing for you or is it more of the advisory and investing and kind of being the, uh, I get
Steve A: that question a lot. I get my good email almost every day of somebody saying, Hey, what’s your next thing?
Right. All the people that I’ve worked with and over the years, um, that’s, I’m not, I don’t have a great answer. I will say. Um, I, I think I probably have one more left in me, probably a five, well that, where I’m, you know, heads down day to day, you know, growing and ultimately exited a business. Um, you know, I think I can do that, you know, once more, um, But, and, and for the reason that we talked about earlier, which was, you know, uh, the, the work-life balance, I kinda, when I get in, I’m kinda in and heads down and I start working pretty hard.
And so, and how many kids do you have? Four kids? Four kids, four dogs, three cats, a wonderful wife, uh, who it put up with me working an awful lot for the last 28 years. So I, her and the family and everybody else some time. So yes, yes. She is a most people refer to their significant others. Their better half.
She’s like the better 90%. I just. You kind of squeak in there at the last 10%, but, um, hopefully you don’t race
John E: her on the Peloton cause she’s going to kick your ass, kick
Steve A: my ass. Yeah. The treadmill, you should see the treadmill stats are there. Her as she has to break the treadmill, she crushes me. Yeah.
She crushed it. So, yeah. So I probably got one more left in me. It won’t be, it won’t be in tech because, um, you know, I’d like to do something else. I’d like to have another chapter. It’ll probably be in a more mainstream business. Um, and uh, so I look forward to doing that, but, uh, but there’ll also be with partners and with other people that can help me operate, um, so that I can maintain some bells.
John E: Awesome. So, so w I’ve talked about it, you’ve mentioned it a little bit. You’ve been active throughout your career as an early stage advisor and investor. How would you describe your approach? To these two. And how has that changed over time? Both advising companies and investing. Is it, you advise the ones you invest, do you ever advise when you don’t invest and just kind of, how has that dynamic changed over time?
Steve A: Yeah. I’ve, uh, advised a lot of both in companies that I’ve invested in and companies that I haven’t, uh, as well as just individual entrepreneurs that are seeking advice. Um, I’m always available, uh, for a cup of coffee at the central coffee’s my hangout. And, uh, if you want to come, uh, that’s
John E: the original
Steve A: central, central, not the one on side, the one in the South, although I’d meet at both, but yeah, the one, the one, the original one on, in a Plaza, I made the
John E: mistake of trying to pay for my own coffee once.
And did the look that you gave the lady at the front? When I tried to pay her, like, you
Steve A: know, the rules, an app, and you can come have a cup of coffee and, uh, and uh, you know, make a donation to all in and I’ll, I’ll tell you anything you want to know about the entrepreneurism, but, um, but I, I have done a lot of advising and I do spend time with the companies that I invest in as well too.
And, uh, it has changed a lot over the years, you know? Um, it’s, uh, I think you learn, uh, in time, um, how to give, uh, advice that can be, uh, more practical. So I think my, my advice, uh, might not be exciting, but it’s probably pretty practical. Um, that it’s implementable, um, that I, you know, I hate to have conversations with entrepreneurs that result in them going away and not being able to do anything about what we talked about.
Right. So I focus on making sure that the things that we’re talking about are things that, um, that, that they can affect. Um, and so I think that’s changed. Um, those conversations are simple, practical, implementable, lot less lofty. Um, but I also think that, um, you know, my attitude towards entrepreneurs and Ms probably changed.
I think it’s, it’s really important that everybody has perspective. Um, it took me a long time to gain perspective and, uh, I think people can be better maybe if they have it sooner, certainly can do better than I did. And, and, uh, be happier than I was in some of those, um, difficult times when, you know, I was so overworked and, uh, had, uh, Had trouble kind of maintaining my own mental health.
So, um, I try and have a lot more perspective, you know, it’s easy to be excited and exuberant about. Entrepreneur-ism, it’s a wonderful thing. Being a business owners, like one of the greatest things that, uh, that, uh, that you can do, but, uh, there, it, there, it can come with some peril and, um, I think it’s important that you talk about all that.
And so I, I do a good bit of, um, reminding folks when I can that, uh, you know, that there’s risks and, uh, that, uh, that they have to be careful as well as, you know, work hard and charge ahead.
John E: I also think, um, I think I’ve picked this up from you or somehow associated it with you in my mind, but I think enjoying the journey as well.
I think we get caught up in where you’re, where you’re going and it’s like, no part of the fund is what you’re doing right now. Enjoy what you’re, what you’re dealing with, the highs and the
Steve A: lows. Yeah. The worst thing. Uh, if anybody wants to go have coffee with me, the worst thing you can say to me is an opening statement that, uh, has something to do with how you’re going to exit the business.
You’re just starting. Yeah. Because if that’s what you’re thinking about, you’re starting the wrong business. Don’t worry about it. That’s right. Uh, you gotta be in the business that you’re in because you love it and you’re passionate about it because you think you have something interesting to say, to do, to, to offer your customers and, and, uh, and you gotta, you gotta want it for all the right reasons.
And you know, it’s easy to say the money falls for some of us who have had exits. That’s great, but it’s just, it’s just true. A business that’s engineered to exit from the beginning. Never realizes its potential. I’ve heard
John E: it said I’m going to butcher this. I’m sure. But. Run the business. Like you want to own it forever and you might not have to.
Steve A: right. That’s exactly right. I couldn’t agree more. And, uh, you know, those are all great conversations. They, you know, um, especially for the younger entrepreneurs, you know, it’s been nice to, to coach and mentor some, some older entrepreneurs as well, too. There’s a lot of great people there leaving long careers that are getting into startups and starting businesses while to, um, that I think it’s fabulous because they bring a ton of life experience and a ton of, uh, business experience to startups as well, too.
So I like to get involved with, with folks across the
John E: spectrum. Awesome. Awesome. And you’ve been a staple of the Charlotte startup scene air quotes here for as long as I can remember. Um, can you speak to how you got involved with it? I’ve through the years, even before I met you, I’ve seen you speak moderate panels.
Um, probably 10, 15 years, but I suspect it’s been started even before that. Can you just speak to how you got involved in this scene?
Steve A: Uh, well, I, I knew I wanted to, to start a business at some point. I don’t know that I would have called myself an entrepreneur or that it would have necessarily been in technology, but, uh, after, uh, getting out of school, um, and working, uh, kind of a one job, um, I realized pretty quickly that it’d be nice to, uh, to start my own business.
And so, um, I did so with a business partner here in town and, um, you know, as a result, you know, once that happens, you kind of, if, if you like that life, right. Um, then you realize that you can do it, you could even do it unsuccessfully and try it again. It’s, it’s one of, it’s one of those things that can be, you know, if, if things don’t go right, uh, the first time it’s okay to try again.
And in fact, for most people, it doesn’t go right the first time. And so you need to try and, and, and try again if you’re going to be successful. Ultimately. So, um, in doing that, you know, in 1992 93, when I started, um, Charlotte was, uh, you know, uh, a city that was much quieter and was dominated by, uh, by the financial community and a couple other big industries.
And it was before the Panthers were here. And, um, wow. Yeah. If you can believe that. Yeah.
John E: In 2005. So it’s hard for me to imagine. I mean, I can imagine a lot of things that people moving here now can’t imagine, but the Panthers. Yeah.
Steve A: Yeah. The only job I ever had was in Matthews, uh, uh, North Carolina, which is right outside of town and brought me
John E: here.
I was working for family dollar as a consultant.
Steve A: So right across the street from family dollar. Or, uh, quite across the street around the corner from family dollar was a PCA international. They owned all the K-Mart and Walmart photography studios before digital photography hits.
John E: That becomes something else.
Was there. Did that turn into another business?
Steve A: It didn’t good because, you know, I remember one of the
John E: family dollar executives leaving.
Steve A: Yeah. I mean, they may have exited okay. At some point or, or found a way to survive, but, you know, that was a transformational time in photography. Um, and they were used to shooting film and showing proofs and selling it and retail too, if you’re in retail of all places.
Right. And so, uh, yeah. So, yeah, so I, I was there and, uh, and that was 1992. And I think the last mile of my drive was on a dirt road that gives you any indication of what Charlotte was like back then. So, so there was a handful of, of, of folks around town that kind of were in the startup community at that point.
And I just happened to be one of them early on in Charlotte. And so, you know, I got the grandfather of Charlotte entrepreneur status, and so I called on to, to comment and speak and that kind of thing, but it’s been a blast. And, uh, you know, at that point, everybody was learning together. Nobody knew anything about, especially about, you know, technology and it, and you know, what ultimately became the internet and software and that kind of thing.
So it was, it was it. The Dawn of a great era, you know? Um, and so having been involved in that, I think, you know, um, I’ve had the opportunity and the pleasure to share that through various forms over the years.
John E: Yeah. I’ve, I’ve heard it called alternatively the Steve medio mafia or the Mac Lackey mafia.
Steve A: of those are true Mack and I were, were, he was my first business partner. So we, we share a lot and, and overlap a lot. And, uh, the people that we knew, uh, then, and still now, and, uh, yeah, and it really was, I mean, there’s probably 25 or 30 people that were really starting businesses back then in all of Charlotte.
Um, so we all knew each other and we all, uh, uh, you know, worked hard and shared ideas and, you know, back then it wasn’t, you know, there was no competition or anything. It was just, Hey, how do you survive doing this new it thing? How do you, how do you create value? How do you build a business? How do you scale a business?
How do you raise money? These were all new concepts, certainly to me and to most of the people in the startup community here in Charlotte, you know, 25 years, it comes to them.
John E: And how do you compare that to where we are now, which I don’t know that anybody can really define where we are now, but now, but now I think you’ve got avid exchange.
You’ve got passport, you’ve got red ventures, you’ve got pays, or you’ve got a bunch of home grid stratified. You’ve got all these homegrown companies that are raising lots of money and on the national and even international scene. How does that, how would you compare where we are now to where we were in 92?
Steve A: Well, we, we, uh, I would say we’ve come an incredibly long way and have an incredibly long way to go. So we’re kind of, I think in the middle and, um, you know, uh, for no particular reason other than it takes time to build a substantial, uh, you know, entrepreneurial and startup ecosystem in a, in a community that, that, where it didn’t exist.
Right. And so, um, we’ve got now, uh, multiple, uh, sources of capital. Here both, uh, lots of angel, which has always been, you know, Charlotte’s been a great angel community. Um, and there’s more institutional capital there’s, you know, uh, VCs and mez mez folks. And, uh,
John E: even if we don’t have the most established VC system, routinely Bain, Bain capital is investing here.
Brad Feld has made investments out of town
Steve A: to say revolution that’s right. Grow tech come down. Yeah. So yeah, I think that that capital is a big part of it, but there’s, there’s more to it as well. I think, um, there’s been, uh, a host of, uh, public private partnerships that have contributed to the entrepreneurial community.
Great, uh, entrepreneurial, um, you know, trade groups have sprung up, which has been huge, you know, I think back to, um, you know, Terry ox and, uh, the business innovation and growth council as being one of those early groups, the Charlotte regional, uh, fund for, uh, entrepreneurs, um, It was one that was early venture prize.
Yeah. That’s part of the public private bit. Right. We’ve really gotten involved with the universities around and they’ve helped to drive.
John E: Um, well even I saw in the energy industry, Duke energy and Siemens energy, which is headquartered here in Charlotte, um, and a handful of other big energy players. Uh, they, they, they created efforts to try to drive innovation inside of the energy space.
They funded the, uh, energy production and infrastructure center at UNC Charlotte to the tune of $150 million. So I do think a lot of those collaborations between both public and private, but also big corporates trying to drive innovation has been interesting
Steve A: to see. Yeah, the corporate investment corporate venture has been big.
You know, the banks have stepped up over the years, the other institutions around town. There’s a great. Um, you know, I’m not sure what the formal name of it is, but there’s a great innovation center for the textile industry, I think, in, in con over maybe. Um,
John E: absolutely. And I’m glad you bring that up because one of, one of my favorite up and coming companies is called new, new fabrics.
Steve A: Yeah. I met with them not too long ago. Yeah. Great entrepreneur, great. Um, founder,
John E: university of Washington and brought to Conover. And when I interviewed him, he had made 1,000,095 masks at a time when you couldn’t find these things anywhere in the world. And he said, if I weren’t in Conover, I couldn’t have, he made a million in a week and a half.
He said, I couldn’t have done it. If I, if I didn’t have this ready-made supply chain logistics. And that’s how I’ve
Steve A: caught over. I think it’s been a long time coming that, um, you know, the Southeast in particular revisit its it’s textile and manufacturing roots and modernize that and use it to its advantage.
I mean, there’s a massive. History and incredible legacy of textile in the Southeast and, uh, all those great, uh, folks who have run those businesses and own those businesses and still do, and, uh, their ability to both, uh, fund and help, uh, early stage businesses in that space. Uh, but also to modernize kind of the infrastructure for development in textile in the Southeast, they’ve got to, I think they’re ready for a really big resurgence in textile manufacturing all throughout the Southeast.
John E: And hopefully we see something similar as our national cannabis laws move in the direction that the state cannabis laws have been moving, where we can do the same thing with the very powerful tobacco industry here, here in North Carolina and a strong history. You’ve got to imagine that as those laws start to change, we can see something similar happen where they reinvent themselves with their largely dying population of customers and into something that seems like a much healthier, but a lot of the same distribution and manufacturing concepts have to open.
Steve A: Yeah, I think, I think you’ll see that for sure. I mean, um, and then there’s. Um, a lot of the largest tobacco farms in, uh, in North Carolina at least, and, and, uh, have, uh, found ways to repurpose that land. Uh, it’s rich in certain, you know, uh, uh, minerals and, uh, is, uh, fit for the purpose of, of certain types of crops.
They’re modernizing. Um, they’re and they’re getting into tech as well, too. Um, so yeah, I think that’s another big, you know, uh, North Carolina is a massive agriculture state, so there there’s a lot of, uh, activity in both production, crop business, as well as in the animal health businesses.
John E: So, so we’ve talked about it.
Um, one of the things I’ve always admired about you is the balance of family, your family life, which I know you’re very actively involved in that leading a fast growing company in a rapidly changing industry, but you also started all in to fight cancer. Can you talk about the mission of all in and the progress and how long ago you created it and why?
Yeah, it was
Steve A: a little over 10 years ago. Uh, all in, uh, to fight cancer was, um, It just cracked me up. Made me think of that. The funny thing I’m thinking about is when we started it, uh, I, for some reason, thought it would be smart to call it all in for cancer. And, uh, my copywriter Sherry, uh, in my creative guy, Scott miner, who, you know, very quickly, uh, fix that.
And they’re like, are you really all in for cancer? I’m like, no, that’s, that’s not a great name. They’re like, how about all into fight cancer? So, uh, it became all into fight cancer and it is, um, is, and always has been, um, to honor, uh, Rob, uh, Eubank, who was a great entrepreneur in his own right here. Uh, as a matter of fact, Rob was one of my first customers came to me, looking for a website for a business that was called tech solutions at the time.
Um, he’s business partners with, uh, John Olin. Who’s a great entrepreneur here in town, Brian doublets, also a great entrepreneur, uh, and Jeff Harris, those guys, uh, very successfully exited that business and our investors here around town as well too, and have started additional businesses. Um, and Rob, uh, You know, I was just talking about this the other day with someone we were talking about Olin, um, you know, Rob was, uh, he just was, um, a wonderful human being, but he also, it was the age that we were, you know, around, um, you know, our late thirties at the time when he was diagnosed.
I mean, it was a total shock. Um, he was, uh, I mean, that’s
John E: really, when you’re starting the
Steve A: book of your life, you’re getting ready to really get going. Right. And he was the, he was the hard, hard work and he, but he also, he took the best care of himself. He was an unbelievable athlete. He ate clean, he rarely drank, uh, exercised fanatically.
He was a college athlete, um, and he led an incredibly healthy life. Um, Uh, and a lot of us weren’t leading healthy lives at that time for various reasons, whether it be personal or professional. And, uh, and he was the guy that, that got cancer and colon cancer and it, and he couldn’t beat it. And it, uh, although he tried like hell, um, nobody fought, uh, any harder than, than Rob fought.
Um, but ultimately it, uh, it took his life a few years later and it was just, it was unbelievably shocking to all of us. And, um, so, uh, as the story goes, I was, um, I was with Rob, um, in the, uh, last year of his life. And we played, um, at a poker tournament, a Texas Hold’em poker tournament at quail hollow for, uh, Easter seals.
I believe for our, our, our friend, uh, Philip sprinkle, also an entrepreneur here in town since moved to Greensboro, um, and then was heavily involved in Easter seals. Um, we, uh, we played a poker tournament and, uh, had a great time, um, And a bunch of Panthers terminal at that point, he was, yeah. Yeah. Unique fought to the very end, you know, trials and all sorts of stuff.
So, um, he probably would have never said that, um, I suppose in hindsight, he was, but he wouldn’t have admitted it, but, um, uh, we played that poker tournament. We had a great time and, uh, you know, but he was tired. He was a few, you know, a couple, two, two and a half years into, um, into treatment and, uh, on the way home, um, he said to me, uh, he said, you know, I, I wanna, I want to do something for a legacy.
And I said, that’s cool, Rob, you know, what do you want to do? It’d be happy to help. And he said, well, I don’t know. But, um, he said, uh, but interesting, you know, that was a really fun time. And I said, Oh, that’s great. He said, in the last couple of years, I’ve got invited to, you know, every bike ride and every run and every golf tournament.
And he said, and it’s really hard when you’re in treatment, you know, you just don’t have the energy. Um, necessarily, or, or, uh, the time, uh, to invest in that way. And, uh, that event was great. It was fun. It was relatively quick. We had a great time. It was social. I got to share my story and I sat at a table with a bunch of people I had never met before.
And we built some relationships. He said that was a lot of fun. And, uh, so, you know, we, we quickly came about the idea that we’ll, maybe we do something like that. And so we, um, I went to, uh, my creative team and they named it and, uh, we applied for a five Oh one C3 charter that specifically stated. Um, naive that we were, uh, that we were going to play poker to raise money for, uh, cancer.
And, uh, the Dane
John E: have anything to say about Dane. Your
Steve A: attorney did not review that filing. I don’t think, um, and it, it came to our attention a little later that in fact gambling was illegal in the state of North, North Carolina, even for charities. Um, it kind of was in a gray area. Uh, but nonetheless, uh, we had our first event and nobody gave us a hard time and, um, we had multiple events after and, uh, And, uh, thankfully in the last couple of years that, um, uh, legislation has changed and now, uh, for operating charities that have been in business for a while, that format is a perfectly legitimate way to, to raise money and it’s a great format.
And so, um, we started for that reason, and I think a lot of what Rob identified in that first time we played together in that charity event, uh, became kind of the foundation of the event for us. It was a great time. It was highly social. It was a bunch of people around the table. Uh, having fun, cracking on each other, uh, playing poker and, um, sharing stories and building relationships.
And, uh, the cancer community could participate. And, uh, we had, uh, oncologists there and nurse navigators there and, uh, cancer survivors there from the very beginning and, uh, Uh, they had a wonderful time. They were able to enjoy it. Um, we turned it into a concert. We had our great friends at, uh, at JJs, John Luther and his whole crew the whiskey dollars, um, started showing up and playing music, which was fantastic.
Um, and, uh, then we made it a food event and a drinking event. And, uh, before we knew it, we had really a big party with a few hundred people playing poker in the middle of it. So, uh, it turned out to be a wonderful format for fundraising and a great format for really just promoting, uh, what’s going on in the cancer community and the good work of all the benefiting organizations around town.
So really we’re kind of a Meditech pretty, I mean, we, we don’t have any specific programs. We raise money for folks that have well-established and, and, uh, great programs around town. So we have, uh, benefited the nurse navigators, Isabella Santos foundation, uh, Polytech S um, multiple foundations around chemo cars.
Um, and go, Jen, go, all men are benefiting organizations for years and they’re doing wonderful. They’re doing the hard work. We’re having a party, right. And raising money and kind of leaning on our corporate buddies to, to sponsor like you who’s been a wonderful sponsor over the year. So thank you. Um, yeah,
John E: so you, you didn’t intend for it to work this way, but it’s a great place for corporates to get together with startups.
I mean, that, that’s just an, I suspect just a side effect. You probably had no idea that was going to happen, but stratified sponsored at recently. And then you have big corporate side,
Steve A: huge, all the biggest, the banks, the big commercial real estate folks in healthcare systems, healthcare systems and startups, and lots of great long-term relationships that have been built at those poker tables.
And at that event,
John E: we, we literally, we, we were already doing work for a big corporate who I won’t name, just because it, it doesn’t that, you know, It probably isn’t appropriate, but we brought one of, one of our, um, client sponsors to the event and we talked to him and it wasn’t, we weren’t trying to sell them any business, but we just started talking as we were playing poker and having fun together.
And he calls us two days later and says, Hey, I want to, I want to sign a big contract. I want to talk about how do we, how do we really get you guys building everything that we’re looking at right now? It, isn’t why we invited him. But it’s amazing when you know what the power of something like that, where you’re bringing together all these different people.
They’re having fun together. It’s, mission-driven, there’s a cause it’s fun. It’s competitive. It just kind of, it kind of checks all the boxes. So how did COVID change things for all?
Steve A: It did not go well. We, uh, we had to cancel, uh, two events, I suppose now, uh, we’re right in the middle of an expansion from just a Charlotte event to a Charlotte and Raleigh event, which we hope to, to turn back on next year.
Um, and you know, we were faced, we met as a board, we’ve got an, an active board and a wonderful people that have donated tons of time to try and help us figure this thing out. And, uh, you know, we were kind of, um, we had to make the difficult decision, uh, which was not to have the event and what was more difficult is to not really do anything else.
And the reason why that was important was because. You know, we didn’t want to sit by the side. We wanted to have VR virtual poker tournaments and we wanted to raise money that way. And we wanted to keep things going. But the reality was we, we have a fantastic organization, a great format of wonderful brand, and we just felt like nothing else would rise to the level of the experience that people have when they’re at all into fight cancer.
And so rather than give. Our, uh, wonderful and loyal sponsors and donors and attendees, something less, we decided to just kind of wait and see, and, uh, you know, much to the credit of, of, uh, we talked about earlier, the pharmaceutical world and science, uh, I think sooner, rather than later, we’ll be back at it in the, in the original unintended format.
And so, uh, as we sit here today, we have a November date on the calendar. We have it reserved. And, uh, I don’t know if that will come true or not, but it certainly is looking a lot better than it was six months ago. And so, um, if everything goes really well, all in will happen this November and we will, uh, have a March event in, uh, Raleigh.
And so we’ll be a two event a year. Um, organization for a couple of years, until we can find a third spot. And ultimately the ultimate goal was, you know, four events a year and a raise and hopefully a little bit over a million dollars a year. So, wow.
John E: That, that that’s awesome. And in the, in the meantime, folks should be using smile.amazon.com for whatever their favorite charity charity is.
It doesn’t matter. Uh, smile.amazon.com is the exact same user experience. You set up your charity and a portion of every sale goes, I’ve done that with all in. I encourage other other lists and we get checks
Steve A: every day. I mean, I get checks all the time from that program. It’s a great
John E: program. Yep, absolutely.
It’s a great program. So how did creating all in change your outlook on life or on, on business? And I know I’m careful about your time here, cause I know you and Tom are going to go do a wad here in a minute, but I just have a couple more questions, but I would like to at least talk about how maybe it’s changed your outlook on things.
Steve A: Yeah. I mean, uh, you know, uh, in addition to, uh, to Rob having cancer, my sister Julie, uh, was diagnosed with, uh, around the same time, a little earlier with, uh, uh, stage four lung cancer. Um, and she has survived that for what’s going on 14 years. Um, she’s maybe the longest, uh, survivor, uh, known to science of, of her specific diagnosis.
Uh, Her body will end up at Sloan Kettering, the treated her and, and be researched. I mean, it’s been an unbelievable journey for her and our family, but, um, you know, so in my mom, um, side of the family had, uh, cancer pretty prevalent. My dad ultimately died of prostate cancer. I got a couple of brothers who who’ve had, uh, cancer, prostate cancer.
And, um, so it was a part of our, our life Rob kind of shook me up and made me start spending some real time doing it. Um, and I think probably what changed, uh, was, uh, I would have never have, have realized how, uh, wonderful it could have been because, you know, no matter how much time you give to something like that, it, it, it returns, you know, uh, 10 or a hundred fold and, uh, uh, the relationships that, uh, have been built and the interactions I’ve had with, uh, caregivers and, uh, and, uh, in the community as well as, uh, survivors and, uh, you know, oncologists have spent tons of time with these folks over the years, and that’s just, uh, it’s given back so much to me.
Um, and of course the cancer community, but it, it, it changed, changed my perspective on the importance of being involved, um, you know, in the community. And, um, and I probably wasn’t that heavily involved, honestly, uh, before that. And so it taught me a very valuable lesson, um, and, uh, hopefully matured me a little bit and, uh, it made me a better person and, and, uh, that’s been great.
Um, and you know, I, I know that, um, there’s, we’ve talked a lot about entrepreneurism. I, I think, you know, the other thing that I’ve realized is you just never know. You know, you never know, right? When you wake up, are you healthy today? Are you going to be healthy tomorrow? Uh, you never know who you’re going to meet in that process or in life that may become sick or ill and maybe cancer may not be cancer.
Um, and so it’s, uh, it was a big eye opener for me. And, um, and something that, uh, that, you know, I’ll be spending the rest of my life. Um, you know, being involved in, in doing
John E: well, you mentioned eye opening. And for me, the eye opening thing was the first time I saw you get up and have people raise their hand.
If they have a family member that has cancer or a friend. And, and it’s, it’s amazing because everybody’s standing. I mean, we literally probably don’t know anybody who hasn’t been impacted
Steve A: by this. I remember that specific. Uh, exercise we did at one of the all ends. And I can tell you that was probably 750 people at that event, and it didn’t take, but about three questions.
Do you do someone, you know, or love or somebody who you work with have cancer and the entire room was standing, you know? Um, so. Hey know, it’s a, it’s a brutal, brutal disease and, uh, incredibly, um, more, uh, credibly common, unfortunately. Um, and, uh, but we’re getting there. Science is progressing and, and more and more people are beating all the time.
The survival rate for a lot of cancers is much higher than it’s ever been. And so I think the things that, that everyone’s doing in the cancer community, from the science side to the fundraising and the charitable side, um, the caregiver side, they’re all extending. Life and spending quality of life and finding cure.
John E: interesting. Cause I’ve been reading or in my case, it’s mostly listening, but I call it reading cause it’s books or take audio book guy. There’s so many advances as you talk about in cancer treatments and therapies. I think a lot of it comes back to the fairly recent mapping of the genome and really understanding some of the science behind what’s what’s happening in some of the epigenetics behind it as well.
That it seems very encouraging, which has to be gratifying to you. Are there any treatments or therapies or other advances that particularly encourage you in all in today? Yeah,
Steve A: I would have to say, I think you hit the nail on the head with, uh, with genetics and uh, I think what’s happening with edit and with CRISPR, um, which are the, you know, the, the foundational technologies that are gonna allow us to do gene editing are gonna make a tremendous difference in the cancer community.
Um, I think biological medicine and, and medicine that’s targeted to the individual, um, based on their individual biology is going to make a tremendous difference in quality of life and extension of life. Um, and you know, even the simple things that, um, are, I say simple, but, uh, that seem more straightforward that aren’t necessarily, uh, you know, uh, a new discovery of a molecule or something like that.
I think about the. Uh, the treatment that my sister had as part of her treatment course to remove cancer from her brain was something called the CyberKnife. And, you know, that’s become, uh, you know, less invasive and almost robotic and incredibly precise. And so, you know, they can go in and, and take out cancers without damaging, um, much or any of the rest of the body in certain circumstances.
And so I think across the board, uh, there’s been, uh, innovation and, uh, not the least of which as well as, uh, you had mentioned 23 and me earlier is the data. Uh, I think that, um, data and analytics,
John E: Oh, the protein folding that’s involved in cancer forming, and now we can literally map this thing
Steve A: relatively cheaply.
Right. We can map it and we can predict it. And so I think, um, you know, my, my greatest hope, I think, I, I guess for, for. Uh, for where treatment goes and not just for cancer, but for all disease, but specifically for cancer is, is to a place where we’re using technology and data to be preventative. Um, you know, if you, if you have your DNA map with 23 and me, and you have a family history of cancer, um, uh, I believe that there’s going to be things that you can do very proactively early in life now that will, uh, substantially change, um, the potential outcome there.
Um, and, uh, I think we’ve just been, you know, we’ve been very reactive because that’s all we could do. The science is complex, it’s a complex disease. Um, and so we’ve, we’ve found ways to treat and extend life and we found some cures, but I think we’re on the cusp of being on the front end of that with technology and data and analytics, AI, and machine learning and all that fun stuff.
Um, where we can, uh, we can give people a path to wellness much, much early on, and actually prevent a lot of these, uh, cancer diagnosis.
John E: I agree. And I think the self quantification revolution that’s happening is amazing. I mean, I recently I’ve read a book on detoxification and it got me really not worried, but like thinking about the heavy metals that are entering my body from all sorts of different sources.
And I did a quick search and landed on Everly well, where I’ve done three or four homes. Yeah, that’s exactly right. It’s great. And recently raised a 75 or $80 million round of funding. Um, we’ve talked about 23 and me, I Viome is now a company that’s doing, uh, analysis of your gut biome. I think these things are very interesting because the price has come down so cheap and as they get further and further down and become commodities, it’s amazing to think about what sort of therapies will be developed based on just unlocking the individual code of the, the individual.
Yeah. Th th
Steve A: the cost side of that is I think exactly right in the key. I mean, I think that, um, you know, at scale, uh, you know, kind of the institutional side of the healthcare business, um, and the insurer side, it’s been difficult for them, um, you know, to manage, um, Cost. And, uh, what’s happened is technology has driven down the cost of some of this stuff, but not just in the treatments, but also as you’re indicating in these tasks right now, you can order very inexpensively without having to worry about is it covered by my health insurance, a gut test, a DNA test, done $50.
John E: And I can tell you every, they literally Viome can map every single bacteria strain in your stomach. It’s $450 and help you make sense
Steve A: of it. And testing is huge, especially in cancer, um, early, uh, you know, warning tests for colon cancer and for breast cancer and all that kind of stuff. Now can be performed more accurately home.
I actually, I wish I could remember the name, but I read a, uh, a presentation from an early stage, uh, business out on the West coast, not too long ago. Um, who has, uh, has a, uh, a camera, um, Filter. It’s not really a filter. It’s a lens adapter that you can put, you can screw onto your iPhone, take pictures of yourself.
And it maps all of the moles and will predict which of your moles are potential to be melanomas.
John E: Amazing. I have an executive doctor and he does that every, every year. He takes the picture and it, right. The compare comparison.
Steve A: You imagine that in the hands of every consumer
John E: thousand dollar piece of equipment that you had
Steve A: an iPhone can do it now with the right software and a little lens adapter.
So I think there’s, there’s tons of opportunity in the healthcare tech space as well. Sure. Very fruitful place for entrepreneurs. No question. Sure.
John E: Sure. So before I let you leave, I have to talk a little more fitness just because you do own a gym, I’ve done some, um, Insane workouts with you. You work out hard and you’re well known around town for working out in sweat pants and a hoodie.
Even when it’s 95 at 98% humidity, I’m not going to get into why you do that, but because that would be ours, but we’ve done. High-intensity sprints. We’ve done brutal weightlifting sessions where it’s just doing way more barbells than we ever should or running on Hills or putting weight vests on. Um, And some of these days you’ve played soccer for an hour or two in the morning with people half your age.
Steve A: true. Unfortunately, someone can actually be half my age and play soccer. That’s
John E: correct. Sorry, Steve. But can you speak to how you balance these different modalities? Is there a balance you try to strike or do you just, whatever you feel like doing that you’re just able to listen to your body?
Or how, how do you think about different workouts? Yeah, a little,
Steve A: a little bit of both. I mean, uh, uh, unfortunately I, you gotta recognize it’s a little bit, age-related, you know, some of the younger folks that are involved in some of the stuff that I do, you know, can handle more and they can recover quicker.
But generally I think that, you know, um, I’ve been in CrossFit as you have been, um, for a long time and in functional fitness is important. Um, cardio fitness is also important. Uh, Um, mobility is hugely
John E: important and having fun. I think the soccer is the fun part that we tend to forget in fitness or soccer.
Steve A: Beats me up more than any of the other workouts that I do, but it is the thing that I do that from the second I step on the pitch until the second I step off, I have a giant smile on my face, right. So I got to keep doing it. Um, mountain biking is like that for me, but, um, I do think that, um, I’ve have figured out in the last probably 10 or 15 years and, and some of it again, age related, some of it may be to avoid injury, uh, which becomes a bigger issue.
Um, as you get older, is that, uh, the best kinds of workouts, um, are, uh, functional workouts, but also, uh, a diversity of workouts. Um, if not for the physical benefit of. Activating different Moda modalities and allowing different parts of your body time to recover. And if not also for avoiding injury for the sheer pleasure of working out, because you’re not going to keep doing any of it, if you’re not having a good time.
And so finding the fun and working out for me oftentimes is, is being pretty diverse about the things I’m doing. You know, I love sports, I love all kinds of sports. Um, and I like all kinds of working out and I think that’s, what’s kept it interesting. I think you can, people can get an a in a, in a pretty brutal groove if you’re doing just one or two things and you’re doing it hard all the time.
And so I think, uh, that diversity is, is a, for as much fun as it is for, for listening to my body and for avoiding injury.
John E: I couldn’t agree more. The one thing I’ve really in the last year or two taken to is. I, I view hiking and walking in general, but especially hiking is a really good task, especially as I’ve gotten older.
And I can’t just do a CrossFit workout five times a week. It just doesn’t make sense. That’s
Steve A: mental clarity. I can imagine this is mountain biking is like this for me, I think partly because we’re in the woods and you would be when you’re hiking typically, but, but walking just anywhere is fantastic exercise, but, um, I I’m never as clear mentally as I am when I’m on a mountain bike, surrounded by the Hills and the trees.
John E: Yeah. When I hear birds chirping and the air is clean because there isn’t a car in sight and, uh, and you know, you’re around trees and you, you hear the, you hear the water running, it’s just, yeah. It’s yeah.
Steve A: Yeah. I think a lot of people have learned that this year get how the importance of getting outside the outdoor industry is exploding, which is wonderful.
Um, and I think, uh, as a result policy, uh, there’s been some great policy moves of the current administration and even the prior administration to expand public lands and to, um, and, uh, to improve and help, um, you know, the urgency around Conservancy. And, um, I think that that’s been a big thing this, you know, if you try and pull some of the positives that happened as it relates to COVID, which can be difficult, but one of them is a return to the outdoors and, and, um, my hope is that that trend continues it cause it’s been
John E: fantastic.
Yeah, it really made me appreciate when, when they closed the state parks, I was very happy when they reopened them and put some sensible guidelines in place during the lockdown. Cause that’s a great, that’s a healthy way to, to, to, to, to deal with a quarantine and lockdown. But also I, it made me really appreciate the Greenway system here in Charlotte,
Steve A: the tasks that were cemented in the last 20 years and then
John E: fantastic.
Absolutely. Steve, this has been great. Thank you so much for joining me. Um, I hope to do it again sometime soon. Once we figure out what the next big thing is for you. Yeah, for sure.
Steve A: All right. Happy to come back.