Bruce Eckfeldt | Strategic Business Coaching and Scaling a Company to the Inc. 5000 List

John Corcoran 11:40

any business just like any conference, or what

Bruce Eckfeldt 11:42

was the actual like, the first time we made the list? And I’m not there at the award ceremony? Like, what am I doing my way to walk up to get the award, and I’m like, should I really be here, this feels really awkward. And it wasn’t till later that night, that I was having drinks with some of the other winners. And they had, it was down in DC, they had this fire pit thing, we were sitting around the fire pit. And we you know, we had a chance to really start talking and I realized that everyone else there was in that same situation, right? Everyone else was like, I don’t really know if I deserve this, or I’d like I didn’t really plan on being here. And this is a little awkward. So I think on one hand, it gave me a lot of confidence. And the other hand, it really got me to question my own kind of, you know, rationale, like, what do I really want to do with this, but then also gave me this kind of like, but that’s everyone else’s case, too. So it was a nice kind of acknowledgement and kind of transition for me in terms of really thinking of myself as a business person, which then helped me through the rest of my, my business journey. And then yeah, after, after I sold my company, it was pretty clear that my experiences and what we’d been able to do was pretty unique. And so I got a lot of calls from folks are like, Hey, can you help me with strategy? Can you help me build out this team, we need to figure out this operational process. So I started doing some kind of fractional executive work, fractional CFO work, and then ended up focusing purely on coaching about eight years ago, this stuff

John Corcoran 13:02

you’re talking about there with kind of feeling like the imposter syndrome. You know, we I’ve talked about this before in this podcast, I belong to Entrepreneurs Organization, you’ve been involved in entrepreneurs, organization, a lot of people are drawn to it for that reason, because you have certain limitations, things holding you back. And it’s an opportunity to talk about these things with other people are going through something similar. Did you join EO around the time that you were experiencing that? And yeah, what was that journey? Like?

Bruce Eckfeldt 13:30

I think that was like, within the year, I think of that first. First time we were on the list. And I really, I realized that I needed to think of myself as an entrepreneur. And then I needed to think about what was my entrepreneur kind of journey gonna be like, and what did I need to do to be a better business person and finding an organization of other folks that are in this position was one of my key objectives. So you know, came up, I remember meeting. Matt Weiss was the president of EO at the time, New York, yo, and he was running one of these kind of intro session things, I remember talking with him, and I was just like, Where have you been all my life? Like, I need more of you and people like you. So I got to do and, yeah, that I think was just hugely eye opening, right, having a chance to meet with other entrepreneurs. And then, you know, my First Forum group and getting really the forum experience where, you know, honestly, it wasn’t so much that, you know, they were going to train me or something, I was going to learn stuff, but just having a container to be able to bring my challenges to were the people in that group didn’t have a dog in the fight, right. They weren’t an employee. They weren’t a business partner. They weren’t a spouse. Right. So I could bring an issue there and their only concern was my success. They didn’t they didn’t have they weren’t an investor, right? They didn’t they weren’t worried about getting paid. They weren’t worried about like a really shouldn’t get read, they just wanted to see me be successful and happy and healthy. And being able to have that kind of support. And I’ll call it feedback. I mean, you know, we were careful about giving advice and you, but that kind of perspective and feedback was huge, right? I don’t know where else I would have gotten that.

John Corcoran 15:20

Yeah. Now, not every yo member then goes and becomes a certified scaling up coach to talk about what the scaling up coaching is, and why you decided to pursue that after exiting your business.

Bruce Eckfeldt 15:30

Yeah. You know, like I said, I had a couple of I did a couple of fractional CEO roles and built out a couple of teams helped a couple of companies with some transitional strategy and work. And I realized that I realized two things. One is, when I come into a company, you know, Monday from about 8am to noon, I come up with a huge amount of value. Because I’m coming in fresh, I’m coming in new I see patterns, I see issues. I’ve been in enough situate, I’ve just being a consultant for a long time, I kind of know that consultative process of diagnosing things, seeing the patterns, finding different solutions, thinking how to implement the first four hours of the week, I added huge amounts of value. And then the rest, the 36 hours of the rest of the week, was just all implementation. And I basically looked at the situation was like, you know, what I’d really like to do is just do four hours with eight different companies during the week. And I realized that sounds like fun, right? Yeah, well, it just, it’s that and I realized I had a pretty unique ability to quickly assess things and kind of get the landscape, see the pattern, figure out a couple of things that need to get shifted pretty quickly. And I realized I wanted to create that I wanted to create the ability to have lots of different business experiences, see kind of the bigger patterns that happen across country companies again, and again and again, and be able to leverage that be able to come into a new company and help them understand, alright, look, this is what’s working, this is what’s not working. Here are some patterns that tend to work in these kinds of situations with these kinds of companies, let’s apply them quickly. So we can get some growing, going without having to spend six months trying things. So as I looked at coaching, I realized that that’s I wanted to create frameworks and tool sets to be able to help leaders quickly figure out what their issue was solutions, they could apply and implement those things, and then find the next problem. And so coaching was kind of the model and I, you know, looking at the various coaching platforms out there scaling up was, for me, I used us I use scaling up, I use map, I use strategic coach, like I had them all, in my personal experience, scaling up was the best sort of tool set that would allow me to create a practice, create my own practice and the own way of doing things without being too prescriptive, that I felt was really gonna serve me well, and then serve the clients that I wanted to be working with well,

John Corcoran 17:51

and whether it’s your background in architecture, or agile, you seem to be drawn towards working within some kind of structure or guidelines or framework.

Bruce Eckfeldt 18:01

Yeah, I love I love tool sets, frameworks, patterns models. One of the things we use in Agile software development is something called pattern languages, was actually borrowed from architecture, a guy named Christopher Alexander wrote a book I’m looking for as I was gonna pull it down. It’s called pattern languages. And he talks about building patterns, like two windows on two walls, is creates a nice space. So he has hundreds of these architectural patterns. Software development looked at that and say, Oh, I think we can do the same thing in software development. So we have things like the facade pattern or a factory pattern, and their ways of writing code such that when someone new comes into it, and they know pattern languages, they can say, Oh, this, this is a construction pattern. There’s a factory pattern, right? I know, kind of what’s going on here. So you can solve common problems using a standard model. Same thing is true in business, right, we can use a lot of the standard models to solve standard business problems, each case is going to be different, we’re going to have to adopt it. But I love that idea of finding commonalities, and then finding frameworks that apply to those Kevin Alexander for wise. So that’s what I do as a coach.

John Corcoran 19:15

So this all makes sense. So architecture, agile, scaling up, frameworks, map all those other frameworks. Naturally, the next thing is going to be I’m gonna start a podcast about cannabis. Right? Like that. Makes total sense, of course. Alright, so it’s a January 2018. You’re like, I’m gonna start. Next thing I want to do. I’m gonna start a podcast about cannabis because I want to build my network in the cannabis world.

Bruce Eckfeldt 19:42

Yeah, so that was I so I realized as a coach, I was, I can do a lot of things as a coach, right? Like, they’re the models, the patterns that things can apply to just about every business. But I realized as a coach strategically, like I needed to focus on things right. Like I wasn’t going to be able to be good at every single type of business and every single interest Great. So I needed to pick a couple. And I’ve done a lot of services. So I do a lot of concert consulting kind of services, professional services work. But then I had picked a couple of my friends, entrepreneurial friends, EO friends, to some extent, started getting involved in cannabis. And then I broke my back 2017. And so I went through a major surgery, and I came out of that they gave me a big bottle of Percocet, and my cannabis friends, you should try pot. I was like, oh, so I did. I was an athlete in school, I really never did it before. And it was amazing, like my ability to manage pain to deal with inflammation. And then I was sleeping like a baby. Like, got me personally interested in cannabis as a plant medicine. I was like, this is fascinating. I got more involved in it. And then professionally, I started working with some of these cannabis entrepreneurs. And so that came together. And I was like, You know what, I think this is an area, I think there, there’s a growing industry, they’re going to need the kind of coaching that I do. And if I can learn how cannabis works, both as an industry and I mean, there’s a whole range of things that happen in cannabis, that I think it can be a relief for me. So I we started the podcast as a way to really build on a network to build out content, understand that understand the industry, and really take a business lens to it because there’s a lot of sort of more pop culture podcasts out there, but not as much purely on the on the business side. So we double down on that. We’ve done 400 episodes over the years. I mean, at this point, like, I can pretty much call any cannabis CEO and get a call because they they know me through the through the podcast at this. Yeah.

John Corcoran 21:33

And I’m assuming you got lots of clients from it.

Bruce Eckfeldt 21:36

Yeah, it’s about 30% of my business is cannabis related. So I tend to work with the more the bigger, more complicated businesses, so Blabs, some bigger cultivation facilities, processors, some big packaging, kind of products and stuff. So I It’s the fun thing about cannabis is there’s a really broad range of industries that are involved in cannabis. Right? You have everything from ERP systems, technology, systems, HR, there’s legal issues, right. Like, there’s a whole world of cannabis companies. Yeah,

John Corcoran 22:07

yeah. And you know, I haven’t followed it too closely. But I’ve seen the headlines. I’m here in California. We’re recording this in February 2023. And there are all kinds of headlines about the cannabis industry on the verge of collapse, a lot of companies possibly collapsing. Tell us a little about what you’re observing in the industry now.

Bruce Eckfeldt 22:24

Yeah. So Well, the big thing to know, is it’s state by state, right? So every state has its own rules and regulations. And because it’s still federally illegal you can’t you there’s no interstate commerce. So it creates a situation where every state is its own market. So yeah, so California, one of the more mature markets, there was a vast overproduction of cannabis over the last 12 months. So there’s a glut in the market, which decimated pricing, right went from $5,500 a pound to $1,100 a pound in a matter of weeks. And so yeah, it basically wiped out a lot of folks in cannabis, whether you’re down at the cultivation, production side processing side. So there’s a lot of swings in the market. And some of it is because, you know, the demand is kind of all over the place, right? Like we’re still, you know, people are still coming online, there’s, there’s, you know, the use of cannabis is shifting a lot. policy and regulations has this huge impact. So taxation is a big issue. And now without getting into much detail, because of the federally legal legality of it, there’s you can’t do certain things normal business operations can’t be deducted and stuff. So it creates a really awkward tax situation for a lot of these companies, which means they’re not super profitable, or at least they, they really struggle with finances, then you have issues not being able to bank accounts or bank accounts being closed. So that is financial stress.

John Corcoran 23:48

My wife works up in Sonoma County, and she teaches at a college and the college went and did a tour is a big, it’s a big industry up there did a tour of grow industry. This is about four years ago now. And they were bringing, like basically a truck full of cash to Sacramento to the state capitol, multiple times a week, I think, to pay their taxes. That’s how they had to pay the taxes. It was nuts. It’s absolutely crazy.

Bruce Eckfeldt 24:15

Not only that the IRS charges you 1% to pay your taxes in cash. When you roll up, yeah, you roll up with a truck cash. They’re gonna have 1% of that bill.

John Corcoran 24:25

Wow. Wow. Yeah. Can I Venmo you and I don’t know if they have any other option. Yeah, you know, you can’t. So that’s fascinating. And then you started another podcast, Rinse and Repeat in this time in psychedelics tripping.

Bruce Eckfeldt 24:40

Yeah, it’s a little different in that yeah, a lot of the folks that I worked with a cannabis over the years have sort of look at psychedelics you know, another, it’s a little more complicated. It’s it’s more than just plant medicine and in the industry is quite different because it’s a little bit more of a drug development model industry and pharmaceutical model. But yeah, several folks over there, and I work at a, this time I partner with a venture capital firm. And they’re making placements in early stage psychedelic companies. And we interview investors and CEOs and kind of policymakers in the psychedelic space. And that was fascinating. And it’s still very early, and it’s going to be a much longer tail just because of the drug, FDA approval and drug development model. But, you know, we’re dealing with things like people, you know, addiction and depression and PTSD. I mean, we’re hitting significant public health issues that have kind of not been very well served by traditional pharmaceutical and therapeutic models. So yeah, there’s a lot of fascinating things going on. It’s like it does

John Corcoran 25:40

seem like this pattern is going to play out the way that it did with cannabis and state by state over the last really 1520 years going from, you know, first legalization for health purposes, then legalization for recreational purposes have been like state after state. And it seems like probably something similar happened with psychedelics, it’s gonna be a little different

Bruce Eckfeldt 26:01

because I think that one of the challenges was with cannabis, it’s you really can’t clear your your FDA approval process very well, because FDA approval process is based on what we call a single molecule kind of approval. So you’re taking a drug, a mom molecule, a compound and putting it through some kind of clinical trial. Cannabis is this entourage mix of cannabinoids and terpenes, and flavonoids and so and so they, they haven’t been able to really get anything approved for medical use psychedelics as much easier like we can take psilocybin, we can take MDMA, LSD, and we can actually get them approved. So I think for a while you’re gonna see states doing this kind of quasi rec, quasi adult use the legal decriminalization legalization for some use. But then you’ll start to see these things approved, like MDMA is pretty close to passing FDA approval for PTSD treatment. And then you’ll see this big, more kind of healthcare model, wave come through as these things get approved for certain conditions and certain things. The issue there is interesting, it’s going to be more about the clinical, the building up the clinical capacity, because the treatments are assisted therapy processes. So we use MDMA in combination with traditional therapy process. Well, we need to train 10s of 1000s of therapists on be able to do this to serve the hundreds of 1000s of people that we have with these conditions. So that’s the that’s a couple of companies are really working on this bottleneck of how do we train therapists on psychedelic assisted therapy?

John Corcoran 27:35

Where’s the opportunity for you? In the in the cannabis model? You’re coaching CEOs, but where’s Where do you think you fit in? In that scenario? Yeah,

Bruce Eckfeldt 27:43

so my I’ve my niche in coaching has always been around really figuring out what is your differentiated strategy? Like? How do we really approach the market based on who your core customer is, what the competitive landscape is, and where the white space is? Like, where do you have opportunity to differentiate around key attributes? And how do we turn that into an operational model in terms of, you know, key key capabilities that you have operationally and then roadmapping that over time, so a strategy development process, and then building out the leadership team, right, building up leadership capacity, and making sure that we’ve got the right people to really solve the next level of the organization. That’s what I do and psychedelics is, you know, cannabis isn’t great that way, because it’s shifting so quickly, and we have to build up these companies, psychedelics will be there in the next 12 to 24 months, you’ll start to see the real growth element of those kick in. And that’s what I do.

John Corcoran 28:32

Well, I love hearing people tell their stories, especially when they’ve switched from one industry to another injury to another, just kind of following their passion, following their interests, you know, taking life where it leads them. So thank you for sharing your story. And and the other piece that I really love about that is hearing. And I call this my gratitude question is hearing the people that you are grateful to, as you look back on your career, who helped you especially at those critical junctures during your career helped you to establish yourself in a new industry. So who would you want to shout out and and just acknowledge in?

Bruce Eckfeldt 29:07

I know, I’ve been thinking about this, but the one that actually comes to mind, a guy named Tom Nicholson, and Tom was the founder of the company that I first worked with, when I went from architecture to interactive media to digital product development. And the reason I call him out is, you know, he, he saw the opportunity, right? Like, I was an architect, right, like, I was trained as an architect, and this new world of digital strategy and digital products elements coming up. And he was looking for folks from different industries with different backgrounds that could be part of this new kind of wave of technology. And I think, you know, he really saw something in me and my background and, you know, took me under his wing and helped me kind of get into this industry and then when I left to start my own company, he was highly supportive. And, and actually, I, you know, about a year ago, year and a half ago So I ended up working with one of his portfolio companies he sold his business and as an angel investor ended up working with well as portfolio companies and so that the just that idea of someone that sees an opportunity helps you kind of get get a chance to kind of cut your teeth in new industry and then support you over time. Yeah, I think Tom is someone who I probably haven’t thanked enough with is someone that comes to mind as being really kind of influential in my kind of overall professional development. Got me to where I am today.

John Corcoran 30:29

That’s great. Bruce, this has been really interesting. Where can people go to learn more about you and connect with you?

Bruce Eckfeldt 30:35

Yeah. Yeah, so is my website. It’s just Bruce@eckfeldt is my email that has all of my information for the most part. Podcasts,, You can certainly check those things out, always looking for interesting people to interview there. So we’d love to get feedback and have people listen. 

John Corcoran 30:57

Excellent. Thanks so much.

Bruce Eckfeldt 30:59

Thanks, John.

Outro 31:01

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