Ben Ridler | Building an Early Franchise Business and Transitioning To Business Coaching and Software Development

Ben Ridler (BenZen) is the Executive Chairman of MeetingZen, a meeting automation tool. As an experienced CEO, business leader, strategic planner, growth hacker, and product developer, Ben founded and led the Results Group, a business coaching and consulting company, for more than 10 years as it expanded throughout NZ and into Canada and the US. The company later evolved into, a software company. 

Ben has been a member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) for about 20 years, and he was a President of EO New Zealand. His company was twice ranked in New Zealand’s 50 Fastest-growing Companies, while was named one of the 2014 World’s 50 Hottest Startups by TiE Silicon Valley.

In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran interviews Ben Ridler, the Executive Chairman of MeetingZen, about his experience building a franchise business and software company. They also talk about the challenges entrepreneurs face in launching a product ahead of its time and how to build a remote team.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • [01:54] Ben Ridler’s entrepreneurial ventures as a kid
  • [04:28] How Ben started a franchise and became a business coach 
  • [12:12] Ben talks about building a software company and getting the domain
  • [16:51] Ben’s experience building a remote team 15 years ago
  • [19:21] How the idea for creating MeetingZen came about
  • [26:58] The challenge of creating a product ahead of its time
  • [30:20] The people who’ve had a significant impact on Ben’s life

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Sponsor: Rise25

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Cofounders Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran credit podcasting as being the best thing they have ever done for their businesses. Podcasting connected them with the founders/CEOs of P90xAtariEinstein BagelsMattelRx BarsYPO, EO, Lending Tree, Freshdesk,  and many more.  

The relationships you form through podcasting run deep. Jeremy and John became business partners through podcasting. They have even gone on family vacations and attended weddings of guests who have been on the podcast.

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Rise25 Cofounders, Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran, have been podcasting and advising about podcasting since 2008.

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:01
Welcome to the Smart Business Revolution, revolution, revolution, revolutions revolution, to say you want a revolution, the revolution that’s going on right now. Welcome to the revolution, the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now now, your host for the revolution, John Corcoran.

John Corcoran 0:40
All right, welcome everyone. John Corcoran here, the host of this show, and I’m excited to bring you another episode. Of course, if you have not checked out this program before check out our archives we’ve got great interviews with smart CEOs, founders and entrepreneurs ranging from recently we had Grub Hub, Redfin, Netflix, Kinkos, YPO, EO, Activision Blizzard lending tree, and many more, go check out the archives. Of course, this episode brought to you by Ryan 25, where we help b2b businesses get clients referrals and strategic partnerships. We’ve done few podcasts and content marketing, and you can learn all about what we do at Rice 20 All right. My guests here today is Ben Riddler, also known as Ben Zen. He is a longtime entrepreneur, started a number of different companies starting with a coaching business, which eventually morphed into a company called Check out that domain amazing domain to have, and now has a company called meetings Zen, which we’ll talk about a bit as well. But he’s basically started a number of different companies in his native New Zealand and also in Silicon Valley that has received a number of awards. And he’s a longtime member Entrepreneurs Organization about 20 years, which is how he and I connected. So we’re going to talk about his story. And Ben, such a pleasure to have you here. And I love asking people about their entrepreneurial ventures as a kid, and you had a lot of them. So everything from selling sweetcorn, selling weed selling, you had a hotdog stand where you follow the chain idzik Sorry, a bunch of gypsies around New Zealand, you said, Tell me about some of these little entrepreneurial ventures that young Ben’s ended? Well, you know, I

Ben Ridler 2:19
guess, growing up on a farm, yeah, there’s there’s a lot of opportunities to earn an extra dollar. And so yeah, I was always like doing something, selling stuff on the side of the road, or whatever it might be so. So that’s kind of how I got started. And when I was 10, my dad sort of left the corporate world and went into his own business. And so that kind of had a big impact on our life at the time, sort of family holidays became a lot less and you know, weekends became a lot less and so. So that really impacted me, although I didn’t realize it at the time. So as I was kind of doing the same thing in my early 20s, with a young family and sort of, I came across this whole concept of business, Dave and decided I needed to master business. But you know, each of those little ventures gives you a lesson like the hotdog stand was amazing. We were cruising around with all these hippies doing these gypsy fairs in each town. Yeah. And the big lesson I took out of that one was to find the starving crowd. Because the best day I ever had on the hotdog stand was the first worst food I ever sold.

John Corcoran 3:25
Were you ever sold and hungry?

Ben Ridler 3:29
Yeah, so here’s what happened. Like, we bought a whole lot of stuff for New Year’s Eve, and we went to this seaside town where the thing was, and it didn’t fire and we had this food leftover. And we had an event two days later, and we’re like, Should we check it out? Buy new stuff should we sell this will be a bit stale. We’ll run with the stuff we name along with our kids. And you know, that their next event? You know, we had people basically from 11 till 210 deep, just eating our stuff as fast as we could save it till we sold out. Even though that was the only time it was awful, stale food and it’s like, Look, your product can be great. Your product can be crap, if you can’t find a starving crowd who’s who’s looking for it? It doesn’t really matter. So So where are they? And so you know, that’s, that’s what I think with every business, you will take the lessons and move on. So you

John Corcoran 4:20
got to find your starving crowd.

Ben Ridler 4:23
If there’s no starving crowd, it doesn’t matter how good your hot dog is.

John Corcoran 4:27
Right, right. No. This is interesting because of your business. You’re in your early 20s Or so I think you got into coaching which evolved over time, turned into a franchising business turned into Imagine I’m skipping a few steps along there. How did you get into coaching and then go from coaching to franchising a coaching business that’s a difficult business model to franchise I would think

Ben Ridler 4:54
it was really interesting. So how it happened is I was in my early 20s I had started fixing when screens, I was going door to door initially doing stuff and another guy was fixing windscreens, I started doing that. And then I ended up with too much work. So I put a guy on, and earlier on, and then I’d had a franchise and a franchise company that was early, and I saw how it grew. So like, I was super young 2324 and I decided to do a franchise with my business. And I started franchising, I had no idea what I was doing, probably shouldn’t have been allowed, but, you know, the laws were what they were then. And so we ended up adding all these franchisees and there was some amazing lessons that came out of that, because originally, I did it just to make a buck. But actually, I had massive positive impact on some people’s lives. And it really changed my whole relationship with building businesses. But um, you know, while I was doing that, like, I was working everything out myself. I was, you know, not seeing my kids, I had another baby. And then I went along to the seminar, this guy, like how to grow your business. And this was actually before the term business coaching existed. Yeah. And I was like, Oh, my God, it doesn’t this is not like school, you’re allowed to cheat. Hey, you can call me? Like, why doesn’t everyone know this? Why didn’t my dad know this? Yeah. So like, I literally decided in that moment, that’s what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to teach business owners how to run businesses, so they could get back home to their kids. And I was only 24, I think at the time, so I went up to the guy after the seminar. And he’s probably heard this 100 times, like, Hey, man, I want to do what you do. Like, by the way, what do you think? Should I go to university get a degree? Because I’ve been kicked out of high school? So I hadn’t like, done any teleserye at that stage? Or should I carry on with my business? No, definitely carry on with your business. So I gave myself three years, and I signed up with every coaching and consulting type firm I could find on the planet. And I went and learn from all of them, told them exactly why it was and applied it to my business. And it worked really well. And I ended up meeting a company, I was looking, I looked at the image master license, the action, international master license for New Zealand, and I work with some of the image and the action guys. And then I came across this company, that results group, which was basically selling CDs and books and tapes, but they had a really good events program around it. And their business model had run out of juice and, and the owner messaged me for a message for coffee, and he was looking at franchising. So I ended up buying half that initially and then buying him out later. And so that’s how it started. So originally were a franchise called results in business. And then when I took over as majority shareholder, I did this culture survey, because I didn’t want to leave the company, the the partner I had was a senior guy was a younger guy. I was the ops guy in the background, he was the guru, and I didn’t want to be the Guru, I could see how much pressure it put on him. And so I was, you know, I was I was looking at what to do here. And I remember this guy, one of the franchisees because I was the youngest person in the company by half the age of the rest. And suddenly, board had asked me to be CEO and the other guy had gone and I was like, wow, that’s the last job I wanted. And the guy said, you know, leadership, sometimes, you know, you don’t choose leadership that chooses you. You’ll be right. Okay, so I got a leadership coach. And I’ve got this franchise relationship. So Greg, Nathan go out of Australia, who wrote the the franchising effective book, and they did a survey of our franchise culture. They’re reading me the feedback. And I’m like feeling beat up, you know, and I’m like, oh, yeah, look, it’s me. It’s my leadership. We should get

John Corcoran 8:38
some leases a survey of your employees, not your franchisees,

Ben Ridler 8:42
franchisees so our franchise coaching, I’ll be everyone in the complete trust. And I’m like, Oh my gosh, that’s me. It’s my leadership. And he’s like, no, no, no, you don’t understand. We’ve done 650 companies globally, and this is the second best franchise culture we’ve ever found. And like, I get it to the problem in franchising is often your interests and your franchisees are diametrically opposed. Yeah. All this wasted energy on them and us and one way to mitigate that, as always have company owned franchises. But what I did after that is I’m franchise the company and turned it into professional practices with some company owned offices, and then some JV offices where the partners owned half and we own half. And it was why alignment Yeah, to get all the seminars shit out the way so we can move the business forward, because the only way we could move it forward under that model was more franchisees. Whereas we wanted to actually grow the businesses. And you know, and so we moved them to professional practices. We consolidated them into nine offices in New Zealand, and he was what was amazing. We had the same product in the same market at the same price with the same people. And three years later, we were the ninth fastest growing company in New Zealand. And it was

John Corcoran 10:00
just just a charity to changing the model the structure.