Mike Simonsen | How to Hack Your Happiness

Mike Simonsen is the Founder and CEO of Altos Research, a real estate analytics firm. He founded the company in 2006 and they provide real-time data and insight on the US housing market. He has 15 years of experience in software development, marketing of enterprise applications, and security products. In developing the Altos product offerings, he applied his expertise in analytical systems development to a personal interest in the real estate market. Mike is on the Board of Directors and is the outgoing President of Entrepreneurs’ Organization San Francisco.

Prior to founding Altos Research, Mike was Vice President of Marketing and Product Management at network systems vendor, Nevis Networks, where he led the team from initial product concept through the company’s launch into the market. Before joining Nevis, he led product management at Inkra Networks, and helped build the company’s innovative product line and contributed to the company’s successful sales into the largest data centers in the world. Mike previously founded Potrero Networks and was director of product management at Lucent Technologies/INS VitalSuite division. He has a BS from the University of Nevada and an MBA from Chicago’s DePaul University.

In this episode, John Corcoran will be talking to Mike Simonsen about his company, Altos Research, his work with the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, and his upcoming book about how to hack your happiness.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • Mike Simonsen’s theme for the year for Entrepreneurs’ Organization San Francisco
  • How Mike balances being an entrepreneur and his work with hacking happiness
  • Why are there grumpy sad people who are outwardly successful?
  • How Mike’s business changed for the better after he discovered the hacking happiness process
  • How being in Entrepreneurs’ Organization and having an accountability partner impacted Mike
  • How to successfully build a company culture 
  • Mike explains what Entrepreneurs’ Organization is, what it does, and why he decided to join it
  • How EO has had to pivot because of the current health crisis
  • Why Mike founded Altos Research and his thoughts on the future of the industry
  • The people Mike acknowledges for his achievements and success
  • Where to learn more and connect with Mike Simonsen

Resources Mentioned:

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Episode Transcript

Intro  0:14  

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, your host for the revolution. John Corcoran. 

John Corcoran  0:40  

All right. Welcome everyone. John Corcoran here, am the host of the Smart Business Revolution podcast where I talk with all kinds of smart CEOs, founders and entrepreneurs and companies and organizations like YPO, EO, Activision Blizzard lending tree, Open Table, x software, and many more. I’m also the co-founder of Rise25, where we help connect b2b business owners to their ideal prospects and I’m excited today I have one with me, Mike Simonsen. And Mike is the founder and CEO of the real estate analytics firm, Altos Research. He’s a true data geek. In his words, not mine founded Altos Research in 2006. So 14 years ago now to bring data and insight on the US housing market to those who need it now and now more than ever do people need it given.

We’re recording this at the end of June to 2020. There’s been all kinds of chaos and uncertainty this year with the coronavirus pandemic, and we’re going to talk about that now. The company serves the largest Wall Street investment banks, firms 10s of thousands of real estate professionals all around the country. I know Mike through EO, the Entrepreneurs’ Organization here in San Francisco, where he is ending his term as President, and he gets to lead and learn from hundreds of the most exciting and interesting entrepreneurs in the world. And we’re also gonna be talking about his book which is coming out which is all about how to hack your happiness which is going to be published later this year. But first, before we get into that, this episode is brought to you by Rise25 minutes And now look, I don’t need to tell you the world has changed. We all know that not just Coronavirus wise, but long before that the world was changing. The next question is, what do we do about that the way that companies communicate has changed the media has changed and in this economy is more important than ever to be able to connect and build relationships with clients, referral partners and strategic partners, even when you can’t be face to face that Rise25 we have 20 years of experience in the b2b place space, connecting and building profitable relationships with clients, referral partners and strategic partners. Using a podcast we’ve helped hundreds of b2b businesses to get more clients and referrals and land collaborations with dream clients. To learn more about it go to us at Rise25media.com or email us at [email protected] Alright, so Mike, I’m excited to talk to you. This was in the works for quite some time. And I love your leadership. It’s been fun watching you lead this community of entrepreneurs in the San Francisco Bay Area over the last year. Your theme for the year because I love it.

Mike Simonsen  3:05  

Yeah, our theme for the year was loving magic

 

Unknown Speaker  3:07  

loving magic. Yeah. What inspired that? Why did you decide on that?

 

Mike Simonsen  3:11  

You know, it actually relates to the hacking happiness work that I do and that in the book and the talks that I give on the topic, but really the concept is, you know, love is, is it’s something that can be really hard to express in a work environment. You know, the entrepreneurial environment and other business leaders love can be hard to express in there but love is the intentional wheeling of well being on to another person like it’s that powerful giving out and it creates an upward spiral of positive emotion and positive results. The magic is what results in our lives and our businesses. And you know, that creating a theme is useful for a year, you know, you have one year as a present to lead an organization like this. And so having a theme for people to latch on to and for you to plan around is really a powerful tool. And, and a lot of times they can be though if they’re not very thoughtful, the themes can be ephemeral, and nobody, nobody does latch on to them. And so for me, being able to say love and magic and have people like, like, it’s really an intentional thing that we’re going to do, and then we get to feel the results of it so it ended up working really well for me. I was actually kind of amazed at how well people responded to it. I noticed it. Yeah,

 

John Corcoran  4:48  

talking about it later on. So absolutely, yeah, it definitely stands out. I mean, part of it, I think is just who you are, which I kind of want to dive into because on the one hand, you’re this guy who’s got your MBA you You studied computer systems before that. So you got this business degree, you worked in the startup worlds. And you’ve got this, you know, very serious job was a software that helps to read the real estate market. And then on the other hand, you’ve got this other end of your personality, which is, dare I say,  I’m here in Marin County, so I’m licensed to use this word a little sounds a little woowoo. Right? A little bit loving magic stuff like that. So is that just who you are? And just kind of like the two tensions you got the you got the guy with the Thai side of you, and then you got the woo side of you?

 

Mike Simonsen  5:33  

Yeah, well, you know, I’ve kind of embrace that we were a little bit you know, as I as I age as I mature, but, but I like to think the, the work I do with love and magic or my hacking happiness work. It’s actually really grounded in positive powerful science. It’s not you know, magic is a magical feeling. right it doesn’t have to be you know supernatural although what’s what’s why you call magic is because the results feel supernatural right. It feels like, like these things like these good things just happen and but of course, it’s it’s like it like the feeling is so powerful so it but it doesn’t have to be whoo you know it’s like maybe it’s a little hippie dippie but that’s okay.

 

John Corcoran  6:29  

Right? Well I mean your you know, your clientele are in a Wall Street banks and firms and stuff like that. I mean we’re safely ensconced in the Bay Area here where hippie dippie is fully embraced and that’s totally fine. Do you ever find it’s an issue with the clients that you serve? Or do you reserve one side of you for conversations between fellow co workers in the Bay Area and then you know, you present with a different type of, you know, presentation or face when you’re meeting with others? You know,

 

Mike Simonsen  6:59  

I have fun So this is really the result of work I’ve been doing over the last, you know, four 510 years kind of thing of my life. But the the interesting thing that I find is, we can do the work. For example, the intentional wheeling of well being on to another person. And you can do that like giving love out, you can do it in any environment to any group of people. And they don’t even have to know that you are doing that work. So, you know, you can sit in a room and, you know, Manhattan in a big old conference room in Manhattan, and do that work. And what happens is we literally shift our biological response, we shift our neurotransmitters, the hormone levels, and we immediately have the impact on the same hormones and the people around us in the room. So they don’t even have to know that I’m doing the work. To be impacted by it. And that’s why the magic results because all of a sudden, they’re more willing to do deals with you. They feel more confident. They’re like, you know, like, all these good things happen.

 

John Corcoran  8:11  

How does that work, though? I mean, is it because of the way you show up? Is it because if you’re sitting there, and you’re, you know, quietly thinking, I love the people around me if that’s how you,

 

Unknown Speaker  8:22  

I love you,

 

John Corcoran  8:23  

I love you, I love you. I remember you on stage giving, giving this talk and saying that to everyone. Um, but I mean, is it because just when you tell yourself that, you know, that it radiates outward? I mean,

 

Mike Simonsen  8:37  

well, so yes, but it’s actually more sophisticated than that. The, the hormones that I the neurotransmitters that I focus on in my work. There’s four of them. serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine, and cortisone. And they all are, they’re the biological representation of our emotions. So serotonin z anchor happiness chemical. When it’s up, we’re happy and when it’s down, we’re sad. And we can do things to purposefully adjust our serotonin levels. oxytocin is the is the love hormone. And so when I’m there saying and I’m thinking and I’m saying I love you, my oxytocin levels going and what’s interesting is like I can look at you and you’re smiling, your oxytocin levels are climbing. When we’re doing this that level of bonding it’s just that’s how we react because our that’s how our body it visualizes in composite embodies the emotion, this hormone rises. What’s interesting is with oxytocin, for example, oxytocin is correlated with faster, creative problem solving. It’s it is correlate With a broader experience of the world, like we see more options in front of us, so you and literally you just test this right we can they do sub where you inject oxytocin and you do creative problem solving exercises. And, and so the greater oxytocin, the better we are at solving problems, the more options we see in front of us. So now you’re in a, in a business call, you’re in a tough meeting. And they see john solves the problem or comes up with an idea fractionally faster and that fraction of a second is the difference between a prospect going maybe doesn’t know and like, Wow, he knows what he’s talking about. And so it literally changes the business dynamics in a room if we have people hired oxytocin. Hmm. And, and you measured it a bunch of ways but so that’s An example like it’s, it’s not just like, Hey, I’m projecting, but like, that’s a simplistic way of saying like, wow, you know, like, I like working with that person and therefore, you know, their rule, like rules of thumb are advantages like, you know, people do business with people they like. Yeah, fair enough, right. It’s true. It’s true and but one of the reasons is true is because the oxytocin’s higher. Mm hmm. And we are literally better people. We’re better at doing our work when the oxytocin is higher.

 

John Corcoran  11:32  

So let me ask kind of the converse or devil’s advocate question we see grumpy are not happy people all the time who are outwardly successful, how do we explain them?

 

Mike Simonsen  11:43  

So there’s a bunch of ways to explain it, but in the hacking happiness framework of the four, the four neurotransmitters, dopamine is the is one generally associate with performance. It’s goal setting. It’s it’s why When you post your podcast, you like to look at how many listens it gets, because that’s a dopamine reward. It’s why I say, I strangely, I never check.

 

John Corcoran  12:10  

No, no, this is what gives me the dopamine is the experience of having the conversation. If anything, I’m probably looking at the numbers and be like, Oh, man, why didn’t 10 million people listen to that? Yeah, for that reason, I actually encourage people not to check their numbers for that reason, actually, that’s

 

Unknown Speaker  12:26  

really great. So

 

Mike Simonsen  12:28  

we get you know, we get the dopamine triggers on our performance and a lot of ways you have goals for your work, right? And you set your goals for the work you do you know, when you hit those goals, yes, we do those because they’re dopamine. So the interesting thing about so dopamine is why we drive goals. It’s why we’re compelled to pick up the phone because it vaguely feels like working if we open our email, and we you know, because we get all dopamine it’s, it’s what you know, so the challenge though, is that so you can be successful. If you focus on dopamine. Like you set your goals and you can go hit them. But it dopamine does not give us the purposefulness and connection, the true joy that serotonin and oxytocin give us. And so you can be successful and totally miserable. Right? If you’re a dopamine cortisol, so cortisol is the negative cortisol is a stress hormone. And, you know, you can, you know, work out of anger and you can, you know, force you to run faster and like, you know, those things so you can fall into this dopamine cortisol cycle, get things done, and be totally miserable. And so, but that’s also why, you know, you get messages like, you know, we’ve got to work on our, you know, our mission statement for the company or we have to be a start with why or, you know, all of these guidance are really telling us to work on our serotonin and oxytocin in our work. And so that’s how we move out of just like goal setting and successful and miserable, and into a real purposeful, state, charismatic state where you can accomplish anything. And so yeah, that that’s, like, you know, you can be in that dopamine chasing state for years.

 

John Corcoran  14:23  

Yeah. Yeah, that’s great. I want to ask you about Now recall, when you did this presentation, you showed a chart that showed the difference between when you discovered this and how your business was doing before and I don’t remember the exact details. But your business was suffering big time at one, one period. It wasn’t that many years ago. So talk a little bit about that experience and in how you came to this revelation and how it changed things for you.

 

Mike Simonsen  14:50  

And yeah, for sure that shark was a chart of my company’s profits. And it was the year Immediately after I was I began to be deeply purposeful in this process, the hacking happiness process. My profits were 10 acts what they had ever been, well, I didn’t change my sales team, we didn’t change our product. We didn’t change anything. I only changed inside myself. And the magic happens. And so so yeah, so and really leading up to that was many years of companies, you know, 14 years old now. Yeah. And what happens you get in this time where you like to do your thing and you go, you’ve sent your plans need to, but we go through these, like every entrepreneur I’ve ever known goes through these cycles of like, man, I don’t want to be here. I am done with this and we get deeply profoundly uninspired.

 

John Corcoran  15:53  

And then how many years in was this for you when that

 

Mike Simonsen  15:56  

happens? Oh, you know, it starts maybe 10 years in that Or even eight years in and then, you know, by it was 2017 when I was in the heart of my crisis and it was like, all of a sudden now I’m, you know, I am like, not compelled to pick up the phone and do more sales and then all of a sudden you get a big couple of big cancels and all of a sudden the cash runs out and you know, I got to cut my salary off and you know, I got to make some changes. Yeah, and I couldn’t just make a sales plan, because that’s just dopamine. I had to make a seratonin plan. I had to focus on my joy, confidence, inspiration, my love with oxytocin. And then all of a sudden, just like it, it just explodes. So yeah, that was, you know, you could see my company bounced along and all of a sudden, the following year in Intel, I didn’t even tell my team what I was doing. I just started doing my work in the Pieces started falling into place for me and our you know, our profit

 

John Corcoran  17:04  

exploded and what was the needier for you. I can’t remember the details but I think there was a year there were you had a big loss or something leading up Yeah,

 

Mike Simonsen  17:12  

like, you know the company’s all of a sudden out of cash, I’ve got to cut my salary to zero I’ve got you know, like, like, you know, you start ticking. You’re an entrepreneur, like I’ve been doing this thing for 12 years and like, Oh my

 

John Corcoran  17:27  

god, and it wasn’t anything external with the real estate market or anything like that. It was just it

 

Mike Simonsen  17:32  

was it was all my like, I got into this place that so many of us do. And, you know, it’s like, you fall you you’ve been chasing the dopamine cortisol cycle and the meaningfulness the purposefulness evaporate is gone. And, and so I had to figure out how to get that back.

 

John Corcoran  18:00  

And what inspired that? And it was it was a therapist, was it a book? Was it a combination of things,

 

Mike Simonsen  18:05  

it’s a, you know, a combination of many things, a bunch of work over a bunch of years, a bunch of things in a row and the entrepreneurs organization where, you know, the some of the tools are coming getting surfaced. And, and, you know, so it was a, it was a convergence of a bunch of things. That one thing in particular in a in an eo forum meeting was, I knew that I couldn’t just create, like a sales plan or a one page business plan or you know, set your objectives and go hit your you know, I like because I didn’t even want to pick up the phone. Right. So like putting that kind of plan in was not what I needed. I also knew, though, that that I needed to put something in place so I needed to do some kind of plan. And so what I realized was what I the thing I needed was not a dopamine plan it was a serotonin plant. And so that was the little light switch that went off and I you know did I did several things to start working on that and it was, you know, I went and I started meditation practice and I took my account had an eo forum made Alexi Cashen who is

 

John Corcoran  19:24  

Alexa fashion show go check it out it shows an excellent podcast in the wine industry. She also did a great episode with me so go check my my archives and check that out where she told her story so go ahead

 

Mike Simonsen  19:37  

I heard her story’s incredible too. So we had her as a she was my accountability partner not on you know typical domain goals things but it was on how’s your serotonin Hmm. And so we did for like a year we did a weekly calls, we’re just doing a seratonin check in and and

 

John Corcoran  19:59  

and it was So like, so she was my serotonin coach. And so what did she check in on? Like, did you meditate today? Did you go for a run? What was it?

 

Mike Simonsen  20:08  

So it was really it was like, you know, how is your serotonin? Like, how are you feeling way

 

John Corcoran  20:13  

of measuring it? This is a stupid question, but is there a way

 

Mike Simonsen  20:16  

there are ways of measuring you can measure it. However, I didn’t measure it. I didn’t feel like I needed to do that measure, in fact, measuring it is an act of dopamine. Yeah. So, like, I’m like, you know, like, I am just gonna do the work. And so, you know, it was like, Okay, I need to, you know, or, or I have this thing that is triggering my fear this week or my anxiety and so we could talk about that. And so the act of you know, surfacing and facing the, that trigger thing is an act of taking it out of the amygdala, the reptilian response part of the brain and moving into the neocortex. So it’s out of the, you know, the reality mode and into the handling mode. So just discussing it

 

John Corcoran  21:03  

isn’t isn’t, you know, an element of that. And you had some inclination that doing this process, having accountability over your serotonin would lead to financial results as well.

 

Mike Simonsen  21:15  

Well, what I knew was I needed to fix things. And my hypothesis was that things like the financial results would be fine flow would flow. Yeah. And I observe that the result was that they flew unbelievably more than I could have imagined.

 

John Corcoran  21:38  

Yeah, like crazy, like crazy,

 

Mike Simonsen  21:39  

like 10 times, like huge, huge changes. Wow.

 

John Corcoran  21:44  

And will pointed your team noticed this Since you didn’t tell them.

 

Mike Simonsen  21:47  

So they So then, at the end of the year, we did our team off site strategy day and that day We did. I called it our seratonin strategy day we didn’t know dopamine plans we didn’t know sales plans with no product plans for the year we only did our serotonin plans, like how do we create joy in ourselves and others and, and that was the moment that I told them what I’d been doing. And they of course went Aha, like we could see it right we like you know, we could feel an entire change and you shared your shared some numbers with them. So they saw the results were and I shared some of the science about the hormones, and I shared some of the tools that we that I was using and that they could use and so you know, some of them so like I bought the meditation training for my whole staff, like so that they could go and start a meditation practice if they wanted to. Yeah, and I

 

John Corcoran  22:53  

this is gonna be my next question because we built a team pretty over the last year we built a lot. We have about 20 now all virtual all over the globe. And one of the things we’ve struggled with or wanted to focus on is how do we did that build that culture, but I love this. So Alright, so purchasing them at a change meditations training. My business partner Jeremy interviewed a guy named David long is big into company culture. And he’s he swears by a company book club as a way of building culture internally, but what else would you recommend?

 

Mike Simonsen  23:22  

So, we talked about, like, journaling is a powerful seratonin hack. And, and there’s a bunch of ways you can do journaling. A lot of people get hung up on journaling, because of the like, they think about like, it’s got to be some leather bound thing for posterity. And really, it’s just like, you know, the brain is like your email inbox and it’s getting stuff in all the time and all of that coming in is, you know, adds to our stress, it adds to our cortisol level, and it detracts from our serotonin. So we need tools to get to inbox zero and meditate. is a mechanism for getting to Inbox Zero. journaling is a mechanism for getting to inbox zero. So you might do a like in when if you’re in that real crisis mode or you’re feeling like you need to do impactful change, then one of the one of the journaling techniques is to write down every time you feel a negative emotion and you write it down and you identify the emotion, you identify the trigger, and you write this paragraph, a little bit of a paragraph and you write it anywhere you want. And, and what is happening is you’re moving the emotion oddity magdala into the neocortex and so all of a sudden they make the amygdala is the thing that tells our adrenal gland to produce cortisol for the stress response. And, and so by jumping on top of that, when you Recognize you’re like oh there it is, there’s my anxiety there’s my fear there’s my anger, whatever the negative emotion is, you take it out of cortisol production mode and now you take it into thinking mode and you and so the triggers drop so then the cortisol drops and now things like your serotonin your oxytocin can rise and also things like your testosterone rise. And so like your you literally impact your health for the better when you do and so that’s a journaling exercise, just like writing down the negative emotion when it pops up. You can do this start today with positive journaling, affirmations or positive thoughts or gratitude. These answer the act so the brain has no ability to conceive of joy, like gratefulness joy, without the serotonin so like when you go oh man, you know I love you know you live in marine Canada like this is literally got Back Yard. Like I, I, you know, love to look at my window and see, you know, see, like, I’m so lucky on the face of the planet to be here in this moment like that conceiving that

 

John Corcoran  26:13  

Yeah, yeah. Before. Thank you for last Yeah, they long. Okay cool. All right, any other ones you want to throw out there before?

 

Mike Simonsen  26:22  

So we have a joy channel in slack.

 

John Corcoran  26:25  

Okay, cool. I like that so you’ll share things that make you happy.

 

Mike Simonsen  26:28  

Yeah, right. When people’s cheering in that channel, everybody benefits.

 

John Corcoran  26:33  

That’s cool. That’s great. I love that. Tell me about it. We kind of got a roundabout way we work our way back to the business itself. But I love this topic. And before we get into the business itself and your entrepreneurial journey, talk about ego because you’ve mentioned it. We’ve mentioned a couple of times here. What brought you to get involved looks like you got involved 2012 is that when you first got here And yeah, cool. So what

 

Mike Simonsen  27:02  

is my company qualified as a company is a few years old and you know if, as soon as you qualify, join, so eo is a global network of entrepreneurs, about 15,000 around the world. And everybody is a founder, co leader of a company with at least a million bucks in revenue. So it’s San Francisco, this is meaningful, because there’s a lot of startups that are either aspirational or thinking or something like that, that aren’t there, that that aren’t there yet. But that million dollar threshold means there is it’s a real business and you’re going through stuff.

 

John Corcoran  27:41  

They can also they can they also qualify from investment capital, or

 

Mike Simonsen  27:47  

at least, I think it’s 2 million bucks in VC. Okay. And you also, you know, that like to the point is that it’s a meaningful company, and it’s not just like, you know, a one person consulting shop or some thing. Yeah, that is, it’s so and eo is. So it’s a global network, but it’s also deep dive personal work. And at the end of the day, it’s a learning organization, it’s learning and self development. And so we use these that he structure in forum, which is like eight or 10 people where you do deep dive confidential work and a lot of it is personal development work to, you know, because ultimately the company grows as a function of the human leading it. Yeah, and then, you know, and so I’ve been I was president this year, big fan of, I’ve had multiple personal moments of transformation as a result of eo and so my opportunity to leave the San Francisco chapter this year was literally the like the best decision of my career. It’s a lot of work of course, right? running an organization of a lot of hard charging smart people but the rewards was so powerful.

 

John Corcoran  29:08  

And what a crazy year to do it too, with the second half of the year having to basically rip up the playbook in so many different ways, including, most recently, you know, you had planned I know you’d put a lot of work into it a retreat that was going to be up in Napa Valley, and you had to rip that up and then have a virtual Gala. Which you pulled off about a week ago. So not easy talk a little bit about how you had to kind of improvise on the fly and what that means for leadership as well. Right?

 

Mike Simonsen  29:37  

Yeah, for sure. You know, we had you know, obviously do a lot of in person learning events and so we had to shift everything starting in March and abruptly shift everything. We have, you know, a lot of members who are just remarkable entrepreneurs, whose businesses you know if they happen to be in tourism They went to zero, they went from, you know, 10s of millions of dollars to zero. Yeah, in a week. Chad, so how do you support those people? And, you know, and we want to be able to support them and, and learn and provide resources and so we had to do a lot of very quickly in this time. And, and yeah, and in fact, you know, instead of having a two day, you know, retreat for 100 people or 150 people we had to do. We did it as a virtual dinner, but it worked out very nicely. Yeah, I

 

John Corcoran  30:31  

have to say, I mean, just observing all the way that the organization hopped into action was amazing. It went from, you know, there were there was educational events throughout the month. Throughout the year to all of a sudden you got an email and a text message every single day, with five to 10 zoom meetings with different people doing presentations, talking about PPP or cash flow or pivoting or all these different topics. It was really a case study and how to support Weren’t your members when they’re going through a crisis? I think that was remarkable.

 

Mike Simonsen  31:05  

It was really remarkable. That’s one of the great things about a yo is, is that you know, so much of that content is member driven, you know, and when you have a group of entrepreneurs like that, that like there’s so much power in that room and so much insight and value like, and those people really stepped up and came together and in fact, are still doing so there’s a lots of, you know, a lot of. We’re got a long way to go still. Yeah, yeah.

 

John Corcoran  31:29  

All right. So we’ve we’re slowing down on time, and we barely scratched the surface on your business, Altos Research. You had a long career in a variety of different startups. And then 2006, you decided to start this research firm the real estate realm. So how did that come about? And also, you know, it’s largely, I think there’s a big software component, which is not easy to develop. And you had a background, I get some background in some computer science, so that probably helped as well. But talk a little bit about the origins of the Company.

 

Mike Simonsen  32:00  

Yeah, so well I’ve always done data oriented software. So you know, if immediately before I was started out as a researcher, you know, venture backed Silicon Valley startups doing networking software and there’s, you know, a billion packets on the network, which are the bad ones and those kind of data, data visualization, tools, and, and a few things led me to create Altos when I did I. When I was in grad school in the 90s, I met an entrepreneur who, who had a healthcare information data company. And he had pointed out that, you know, in a technology services company, the ramp that is, is kind of slow, you add more people and you add more revenue. With a software product, it takes a little longer to build the product, but then it scales faster. And with data, it’s even steeper, it’s Like, you know, it takes longer to develop it and develop the data out. But but once it’s going, that scale is amazing. And it’s super magical. You know, you sell a Excel spreadsheet for 10,000 bucks a month and like, it’s like it’s, you know, there’s some really neat business model there. So, I had figured that at that time was like, Oh, well, I guess my software company will be a data company. But it took me another decade to figure out what kind of data company it was gonna be. I happen to buy my little piece of shit Silicon Valley house with a giant mortgage in 2001. And right when the NASDAQ bubble was bursting, and I had to figure out what was going on, and at the time, nobody knew anything because homes were like to figure out but that was just at the moment, where all of a sudden, the you know, what’s for sale, the home listings, were starting to be online. Before that you like had to talk to them. And

 

John Corcoran  34:03  

then eventually I sent you an email. But yeah, you had no access to information. Yeah,

 

Mike Simonsen  34:07  

nobody knew anything. And, and so I was just building models for my own use. And then along about 2004 2005, I started noticing that I knew more than anybody else in the world and traditional real estate data looks at tax records. Here’s what’s sold last month or a couple months ago. And so now by the time like in the traditional data approach, you know, now it’s June, and they’re just starting to tell you what happened in April in the real estate market in like, in now, like, who cares, right? So

 

Unknown Speaker  34:41  

own?

 

Mike Simonsen  34:42  

Yeah, so, you know, and so I was realizing that I had way more information than anybody did. And so I decided, we decided to commercialize it. We started the company at that time, I was like, Okay, I guess this is the data company we’re doing. So I didn’t have a background in real estate other than personal, it was all it was all you know, data

 

John Corcoran  35:00  

Till you, you just kind of from your own personal interest, you figured this is something that other companies would be willing to pay for?

 

Mike Simonsen  35:06  

Yes, exactly. I did a little bit of, you know, early work, like I built it out for a few years. And I started realizing, you know, like, there’s on the enterprise side, there were companies doing, you know, 50,000 bucks a month, a year for their, their big analysis on the real estate market. And I would read this stuff, and I’m like, I don’t know anything. Right, the data. That’s not what the data says. They were like, they gathered the data in February, and they wrote the report in April, and, you know, March and April, and they published in May and June, and now it’s six months old. And I’m like, that’s February data. It’s totally out of date. So I was like, I better data than this. And I know they’re charging 10s of thousands of dollars for it.

 

John Corcoran  35:45  

Do you think? Is this a hard market to be in, in the sense that like, What keeps you up at night, is it Do you fear that a company like a Google is going to come along, grab has grabbed more data than you can or the same data Open it up and then boom, that’ll, you know.

 

Mike Simonsen  36:03  

Yeah, I’m not afraid of Google. But you know, it’s funny. The, the literally the week that I quit my job, my, my date my last day job. Zillow launched with 90 million bucks of venture capital money. And the front page of the New York Times was their, their launch date, like, like the day that I quit my job. They were working on a similar problem.

 

John Corcoran  36:26  

And did you view yourself as a competitor to Zillow at that? Well,

 

Mike Simonsen  36:28  

in many ways, yes. Because, like one of the reasons Zillow was successful is because nobody knew anything.

 

John Corcoran  36:35  

Yeah, I remember it was like Mozilla came out I was like, well, you look up all these different houses and estimated price, regardless of whether it’s even accurate at all. Yeah.

 

Mike Simonsen  36:43  

And the math work and people did the math before and Zillow is big innovation was just make it public. Yeah, like, you know, so, you know, and they had they did it with 90 million bucks venture capital like that, like and the right team and like, you know, but it was the day I quit. Have

 

John Corcoran  37:02  

you got to be prepared for that kind of stuff? Basically, yeah, that kind of stuff will happen. Yeah, yeah. Well, this has been great. Mike, I really appreciate you taking the time. We’re running short on time. So I’ll wrap things up with the question I always ask, which is, let’s pretend we’re at an awards banquet, like the Oscars or the Emmys. You’re being awarded in a Lifetime Achievement Award for everything you’ve done up to this point. And, you know, in addition to family and friends, who else would you thank? Who would you acknowledge colleagues, friends, mentors, peers? Other hours for mates?

 

Mike Simonsen  37:27  

Yep. So, you know, I would actually start it’s interesting with my mom because my mom started as an entrepreneur, and she started her company in the 70s. And it’s

 

John Corcoran  37:41  

what kind of company

 

Mike Simonsen  37:43  

it was, like human resources consulting. Hmm. And, and so she built an actually, my first one I was he was in college. I was writing software for her for her company. Yeah, it was a start a sub doing some of that data work and learn Some of those things and I worked for a few years after college and as we built that out and built the technology asset for her, so so there’s really an interesting angle in there. It’s kind of unusual in that sense, you know? Yeah. But you know, in eo I have my, I’ve had a forum I’ve been an eo for 10 years. And so I’ve had the opportunity already mentioned, you know, my work with Alexi has been really powerful.

 

Unknown Speaker  38:30  

I’ve had

 

Mike Simonsen  38:34  

that founder of the healthcare information company in the 90s helped me visualize exactly what I was going to build. And then there’s a bunch of authors along the way that helped me pull together some of the latest work that I’ve been doing the hacking happiness work starting with me Hi chick sent me I in in early 90s super low. And so I read that, you know, when I was maybe, you know, 20 years old in the early 90s or, and, and so the psychology of the optimal experience has been part of my, you know, personal development work for 30 years. And, and more recently Daniel Goleman wrote, he wrote emotional intelligence. And then he his work called altered traits, which is about the science of what meditation does, like does to our body, like, you know, takes it out of the woowoo and turns it into the real science. And what we had been able to measure was really powerful. So altered traits was really powerful for my own meditation practice, but also for the hacking happiness work because you can see the biological impact of the work the physiological changes in our bodies. And, and, and that helps me to be motivated to do the work. Like you know you’re supposed to but I like knowing why what’s happening underneath is really bad. So, those are been very particularly impactful.

 

John Corcoran  40:13  

Great. All right, Mike, where can people go to learn more about you and connect with you?

 

Mike Simonsen  40:17  

You know, hackinghappiness.io, on this website there’s actually a video of me doing a talk, a talk on that we’ve been talking about here. It’s also where you can, you know, drop registration for when the book comes out and see that or altosresearch.com if they are interested in the real estate data stuff.

 

John Corcoran  40:40  

Alright, great. Thanks so much, Mike. All right. Thanks, John.

 

Intro  40:44  

Thank you for listening to the Smart Business Revolution podcast with John Corcoran. Find out more at smartbusinessrevolution.com and while you’re there, sign up for our email list and join the Revolution and be listening for the next episode of the Smart Business Revolution podcast.