Russell Benaroya is a Co-founder and Partner at Stride, an outsource bookkeeping, accounting, and strategic financial services company supporting professional service firms nationwide. He is a seasoned entrepreneur, podcaster, and author of the book, One Life to Lead: Business Success Through Better Life Design.
Russell began his career in corporate finance on Wall Street after graduating with dual degrees in accounting and economics. He has spent the last 20 years investing in private equity and as a healthcare entrepreneur, he built and exited two startup businesses. He is a former Techstars graduate and a longtime member of EO Seattle (Entrepreneurs’ Organization). He received his MBA from the Anderson School of Management at UCLA and BA in Economics and Accounting from UC Santa Barbara.
Russell Benaroya, a Co-founder and Partner at Stride, is John Corcoran’s guest in this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast where he talks about achieving business success through better life design. Russell also shares his entrepreneurial background, the challenges he faced building his businesses, his new book, and how he helps entrepreneurs stay in their genius zones.
Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:
- Russell Benaroya’s experience being a podcaster
- How Russell got started in entrepreneurship and began a sleep center business
- How Russell’s experience in private equity influenced his entrepreneurial journey
- Russell explains why he joined Entrepreneurs’ Organization, how his company, REM Medical, was acquired in 2009, the selling of EveryMove, and how his experience with REM Medical impacted his subsequent businesses
- What inspired Russell to acquire an outsourcing bookkeeping and accounting company, and how did he overcome challenges in the new business?
- Russell talks about his book, One Life to Lead: Business Success Through Better Life Design, and explains what he learned from interviewing top entrepreneurs
- How to stay in your genius zone
- Where to learn more and get in touch with Russell Benaroya
Resources Mentioned In This Episode
- Russell Benaroya on LinkedIn
- Russell Benaroya’s email: [email protected]
- The Benaroya Group
- One Life to Lead: Business Success Through Better Life Design by Russell Benaroya
- Free Yourself to Work On Your Business: A Journey Into Unit Economics by Russell Benaroya
- Shirin Oreizy on LinkedIn
- Next Step
- “Supercharging Your Marketing with Behavioral Science” with Shirin Oreizy
- EO Accelerator Program
- Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO)
- Eric Page on LinkedIn
- Andy Liu on LinkedIn
- Unlock Venture Partners
- Organizational Physics: The Science of Growing a Business by Lex Sisney
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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 P90x, Atari, Einstein Bagels, Mattel, Rx Bars, YPO, 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.
Podcast production has a lot of moving parts and is a big commitment on our end; we only want to work with people who are committed to their business and to cultivating amazing relationships.
Rise25 Cofounders, Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran, have been podcasting and advising about podcasting since 2008.
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, the host of this show and every week I get to talk to interesting CEOs, founders and entrepreneurs from a range of companies. Go check out the archives because we’ve got some great interviews with CEOs and founders from you know, Netflix to Activision Blizzard, LendingTree, EO, YPO, Ace Software, and many more. I’m also the Co-founder of Rise25, where we help connect b2b business owners to their ideal prospects. And before I introduce today’s today’s guests, I’m gonna give a big shout out to Shirin Oreizy of Next Step, who was a past guest on my show and a friend. And she referred me back to today’s guest, who I had met previously and communicated with previously and this is also part of our UC Santa Barbara Top Entrepreneur Series, profiling some of the top entrepreneurs, founders and CEOs from the UCSB community, of which I am an alumni from the great university.
And so our guest is Russell Benaroya, he’s the Co-founder and Partner at Stride. He’s a seasoned entrepreneur. Stride is an outsource bookkeeping, accounting, and strategic finance services company supporting professional service firms nationwide. He’s also a podcaster. He also has a new book that’s out called One Life to Lead: Business Success Through Better Life Design. We’re gonna get into that in a second. And before we get to that this episode, of course, is brought to you by Rise25 Media, where we help b2b businesses to get clients referrals and strategic partnerships done for your podcast and content marketing. If you’re listening to this, have you ever thought, should I start a podcast? Well, you know, you know, Russell, I have told people for 11 years that everyone should start a podcast because it’s such great benefits flowing to your life. So tell me, you know, how, how do you like doing a podcast?
Russell Benaroya 2:22
Oh, it’s been so much fun. I am, by nature, incredibly curious. I’ll get people that say to me, Russell, like, am I ever gonna get to ask you a question? Like I’ve looked, I love asking questions. And so the fact that I can, I can apply that to the podcast, like it worked out perfectly. And it’s been such a gift for me, because I learned a ton. And it’s so great for the people that I interview because it gives them a place to share about themselves in an authentic, intimate way.
John Corcoran 2:56
Yeah, I couldn’t have said it any better. Myself. Well said. So if you have any questions about that, go to rise25media.com, and we would be happy to help you out. So Russell, you know, such a pleasure to have you here. You know, we first connected through the EO community you came and did training through the EO Accelerator Program that I was part of. But I want to go even further back in your trajectory. You’ve been an entrepreneur for a long time. Starting as a kid, were you the kind of kid who was out there doing lemonade stands on your parents front lawn every weekend? Or did you come to this a little bit later in life? After you’ve gotten your MBA at UCLA after you’ve gone to UC Santa Barbara, when did it hit you?
Russell Benaroya 3:36
Yeah, yeah, I come from a very entrepreneurial family. My dad was a beer distributor. It was a business that was started by my grandfather. His brother is a big developer here in Seattle. And so I grew up around entrepreneurship. And interestingly enough, I did not get the entrepreneurial bug until a little bit later on, I was more than guy that liked counting the coins and like, like doing the financial modeling, I was a I was an econ major with a with a minor in accounting for God’s sake at UC Santa Santa Barbara. So I really liked the finance side of the business. And so when I got out of school, and I went worked in investment banking in New York, and then went to business school and subsequently worked in private equity, I thought, Oh, my gosh, I have arrived like, that’s all you need to know as finance, finance, finance, until I thought to myself, wait a second, like, I’m 28 years old. I’m giving people advice on their business. I’m deciding whether or not we should invest in their business and I’ve never run a business myself and I and so I had this energy to get out from behind that desk and be an operator and I had a unique opportunity in our first startup to just jump and go for it and caught the bug and here we are 16 years later.
John Corcoran 4:59
So naturally, You’ve worked in private equity, you’ve worked on Wall Street, you thought I’m gonna start a chain of sleep centers. That makes perfect sense. So it’s very common. Yes, right. A lot, of course, did a natural trajectory. So how did that come about? How did you and your business partner Eric Page? How did you decide on that particular business opportunity?
Russell Benaroya 5:20
Yeah, Eric and I were classmates together in business school. And we have a mutual friend who said, when he heard that the two of us were partnering together, he’s like, Oh, my gosh, you guys are gonna last like six months together, like we are so different. He’s the guy that makes sure all the trains leave on time, I’m the guy that makes sure they’re actually passengers on the train. But figuring out how to work together is a job is an effort for any partnership. This particular opportunity arose because I was working in a private equity firm, we invested in a healthcare company of which a portion of their business was in this area of sleep medicine, they were distributing c pap devices for people that have sleep apnea. And I was like, Oh, my gosh, this is such an interesting area of healthcare, for which there is a great need, but really underrepresented in terms of delivering quality care for people with sleep problems. And I think we can all attest more today than maybe ever before, like sleep is such an integral part of health, especially for people that are managing chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, etc. And so I thought, Hey, I think we can do this, like, let’s get into sleep, because sleep medicines are very interesting. And again, the world works in funny ways. I met a doctor who is in sleep medicine. And so we partnered with him to start this company. And I thought, Wow, how hard could this really be? I mean, you know, you just kind of put in some money, and then you get a 5x return in five years. Like that’s how it works. And of course, it doesn’t work like that. Like it’s so freakin hard. And we learned a lot. So we raised about $7 million. We put our mouse over the fire hydrant of getting contracted with insurance companies and hiring doctors and figuring out how to get patients. And it was a deep dive not only into healthcare, but into the wild world of entrepreneurship, which has no guarantees. Yeah, for sure.
John Corcoran 7:16
And did you start with multiple locations, one location?
Russell Benaroya 7:21
Maybe this was a telltale sign, but there was a company in Arizona that was shutting its doors in sleep medicine and was going out of business.
John Corcoran 7:29
And so what’s kind of like the restaurant on the corner that goes out of business? And then you see a new year old? Like, what were they thinking?
Russell Benaroya 7:37
It was a little bit like that? You know, I thought we had a better mousetrap, etc. And so we ended up taking over their locations, and then we added some locations. So we ended up having five locations in and around the Phoenix area.
John Corcoran 7:53
How did your experience in private equity shape or guide your decision making when you became an entrepreneur?
Russell Benaroya 8:05
Well, I think it helped me tell a story through data, tell a story through financials that could be effective in capitalizing the business. So one of the responsibilities, I was the CEO of that business, I have a couple responsibilities. One is to make sure you don’t run out of money. And keep everybody focused on a clear strategy, right. So like, I had two primary roles. And obviously you do whatever you need to do, I also took out the garbage, so whatever it takes. So knowing the language of finance was super helpful. Being able to build the financial model, talk about the unit economics of a location gave me a level of sophistication for what I needed to do to capitalize the business. What I didn’t fully appreciate, was that the classes in business school that I kind of yawn out a little bit, which was HR and marketing. Really, yeah, they are the most important. Yeah, pieces of types of content that really matter in building an enterprise. And so I, you know, I stumbled a lot, and yeah, I learned.
John Corcoran 9:22
So it was a five-year trajectory. And it looks like about two years into it, you’re feeling kind of lonely, not connected with a lot of other entrepreneurs, and you have lunch with a friend who says, I got a community for you. Tell us about
Russell Benaroya 9:38
that. So I’m having lunch with a guy by the name of Adam Brotman. And Adam Brotman is a pretty, pretty well known guy. He went on to become the Chief Digital Officer at Starbucks. And then I believe he went on to become the president of j crew. But he was running a startup at the time called play networks. And that was a company where he was an EO member. I was lamenting to him during lunch, that I had a really difficult shareholder that was making my life really, really difficult. And I was super stressed out. And he shared with me an experience that he had at play with some really difficult shareholders and how he was dealing with it. And for the first time, I thought, Ah, so it’s not me. It’s not just me about that. It’s not just me, I’m not on an island, because I was feeling really isolated. And he said, No, no, no, it’s not you. And it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in. It is the journey of entrepreneurship. Let me show you the path to find more people like this. That’s how I got connected.
John Corcoran 10:46
And then was the plan with REM Medical to have it be acquired by private equity? What was your end plan? Imagine you did?
Russell Benaroya 10:57
Yeah, our goal was to build the company to the point that yes, it could be consumed by another investment firm, or by a strategic acquisition. And there was a fair amount of activity in the industry at the time, some larger players than us, we’re in the industry. And we thought we could build enough of a critical mass in the geographic territory, we were into that. And we did in fact, do that. So in 2009, we sold the business to a company called sleep health centers out of Boston, they ran all of the Harvard affiliated sleep medicine facilities, among others on the east coast. And we thought this is a great vehicle for us to be a, a consumer is part of a much bigger play, a much bigger play. And at the time, that was the right decision. Again, hindsight is a beautiful thing. It was a decision based on what we knew at the time as we were coming into the recession. I don’t know if you remember, 2009 was not an awesome time. Yeah.
John Corcoran 12:01
Yeah. And did you as your back against the wall when you sold it then or
Russell Benaroya 12:07
like the business was profitable, but like, modestly profitable, and we really just didn’t have an appetite to raise more capital for the business and with our shareholder group, it wasn’t the right dynamic to raise more money. And we were losing a little bit of enthusiasm for the potential and we thought, okay, let’s become part of something that’s more substantial, I think we can get further faster on a risk reward basis. The epilogue on that is the company that acquired us about three years after they acquired us ended up shutting their doors. Oh, wow. For some, some very company specific reasons. And that was hard. I wasn’t there any longer. I’ve been gone for about two years.