Our guest on today’s podcast is me, interviewed by our guest host, Alan Moore. Leading up to this milestone 200th episode of the podcast, we put out a survey to the listenership via Kitces.com about whom to invite as a guest. Overwhelmingly, the feedback from all of you was a desire to hear more of my own story and how it’s changed the nearly four years since I was first on the podcast, back in episode 20.
In this episode, we’ll talk in-depth about my own career journey, starting out with how I landed in the financial services industry straight out of college, despite having studied psychology, theater, and medicine, and not finance or economics while I was an undergrad. Why I made the leap to launch the Kitces.com platform and split my time between writing and speaking and the advisory firm. And the reason I spend so much time advocating for smaller, independent firms, but recently made the decision myself, to switch to a much larger, so-called ‘mega RIA’.
We also talk about the unexpected ways that a career journey can unfold, including why I spent the first three years of my career trying to avoid a role that required any new business development, and then 10 years later, became a partner because of my success in bringing in new clients. Why spending years developing financial plans and delivering them to hundreds of clients made me not want to keep building my own client base for the next 30 years. Why, despite being highly risk averse, I’ve ended out launching nearly half a dozen different new businesses to serve the advisor community. And why, after nearly 10 years of operating Kitces.com, itself, is a lifestyle practice, we’ve made the decision to turn it around and grow from 3 to 13 team members in barely over 3 years.
And be certain to listen to the end where I share more of what happens behind the scenes, the low points I’ve had along the way of my journey, and the techy career I almost ended out with if I hadn’t become a financial planner. How an admittedly non-traditional approach to financial planning for my own financial house has been a key to navigating my career journey. The advice no one gave me that I wish I’d had when I started to build and scale businesses, and the system that I’ve developed to manage my own time and hectic schedule so I can stay focused on having the biggest positive impact I can on the advisor community.
So whether you’re interested in learning about why Michael decided to pursue financial planning rather than psychology, medicine, or theater; how he uses “daily rocks” to manage his time and stay productive; or hear more about the hobbies of the man behind the blue shirt; then we hope you enjoy this episode of the Financial Advisor Success podcast.
What You’ll Learn In This Podcast Episode
- How Michael Discovered His Financial Planning Career Path [06:32]
- Michael’s Career Transition From Financial Planning To Educating Financial Planners [19:33]
- Why Michael Decided To Transition Over To Buckingham Wealth Partners And His Thoughts On The Future Of Small Firms And Solo Advisors [27:47]
- The Growth And Evolution Of Kitces.com [38:10]
- How Michael Leveraged His Strengths To Focus His Time And Grow His Businesses [53:36]
- The Low Point In Michael’s Career And The Biggest Challenges He Overcame [01:00:09]
- How Michael’s Family Has Supported Him As An Entrepreneur [01:12:26]
- How Michael Manages His Hectic Schedule And Maximizes His Productivity [01:19:48]
- What Michael Does For Fun [01:28:56]
- How Michael Defines Success For Himself [01:36:33]
Resources Featured In This Episode:
- Financial Advisor Success Episode 20: Building A Successful Business By Giving Away 99% Of What You Do For Free with Michael Kitces
- XY Planning Network
- Buckingham Wealth Partners
- Entrepreneurial Operating System
- George Kinder
- Big Raises And Lifestyle Creep – Why It’s Crucial To Establish Good Spending Habits Early
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
- The Business Trends In Financial Advice: Smaller AND Bigger
Alan: Welcome to the Financial Advisor Success podcast, where I am your guest host for the day, Alan Moore. And I’m going to be interviewing your normal host, Michael Kitces. So I actually came on the podcast almost four years ago now back in Episode 20, and interviewed Michael about his career, where he had been, what he was working on and what he was looking forward to in the future. So if you go back to Episode 20, you can hear us talk about his career and everything that he’s been working on. Well, Michael wanted to bring it back for Episode 200 of this podcast, as a milestone episode to celebrate the success that this podcast has had, the impact that it’s had, and catch up with Michael around what has changed in the last four years. As someone who works closely with Michael, I can tell you it’s a lot. So we’ve got a lot of questions and just a lot to hear about. So with that, welcome, Michael Kitces to your own podcast.
Michael: Thank you, Alan. I’m looking forward to being here. I appreciate you coming back to you to rejoin as guest host again. I’m sure it’ll be strange just for people listening to hear a different voice and questions from the other direction. But as we were queuing up for this episode… I’m not a big one for celebrating milestones, necessarily. But it’s fun to celebrate some of these as we cross big thresholds. For Episode 100, I was really excited. We had Joe Duran from United Capital, before the whole Goldman deal and a bunch of stuff changed. Just have a really cool moment and snapshot in time.
So as I was coming up on Episode 200, I was kind of brainstorming around, who would we do? Who would be a neat, unique guest that has a lot to share? And so we put this out as a poll to the to the listeners through all of our different social media channels. And overwhelmingly, the number one response that came back was, “We actually want to hear Michael’s story and what the heck Michael is doing, how he does all this crazy stuff. And does he sleep?” Which is still the number one question we get, so we’ll probably get to that at some point.
So yeah, I wanted to kind of come back. Everyone said they wanted to hear more of the story and the journey from my end. So I appreciate your guest hosting for us to do milestone Episode 200. And we just actually crossed the milestone of four million downloads for the podcast as well. So it’s been a milestone-y month of Financial Advisor Success podcast.
Alan: Yeah. I think it’s important for listeners to hear that it’s difficult sometimes to stop and be…and sort of reflect and think about what you’ve accomplished. But 200 episodes when you’re publishing weekly, that that means… I looked it up. January 3rd, 2017 was episode one with Rick Taylor.
So it was Episode 1, four years ago, here shortly. And it’s a huge accomplishment. Four million downloads, 200 episodes, which in Kitces’ podcast world is about 300-plus hours of content. And so…
Michael: It might be a little bit more than that. Yeah.
Alan: Maybe. And so it’s just awesome to see. But I do want to start out, if anyone wants to hear your entire career story sort of up through Episode 20, go back and listen to Episode 20. I highly recommend it. But we can at least sort of give an overview for someone who doesn’t want to do another hour and a half on top of this one, around the story of just how you got into financial planning. How did we get Michael Kitces instead of…health care or tech? I don’t know. How did we get you instead of Silicon Valley? And so just sort of a high level, how did you ultimately get into financial planning?
How Michael Discovered His Financial Planning Career Path [06:32]
Michael: So my actual connection story to the industry really is kind of ironic and somewhat bizarre one. And goes way, way back to literally before I was born. I just realized this sounds like a horribly long story. I promise it’s not going to be five hours later, we’re in 1987. But bear with me.
So my maternal grandfather, my mother’s father, sadly passed away when my mother was still very young. And so my grandmother suddenly found herself a widow with two young daughters, my mother and my aunt, and had to go to work to support the family. And so the job that she got was she became a secretary for a life insurance agent with New England Life, all the way back in the 1960s. And so she had this connection to the industry. She was a secretary for this gentleman, for this agent for many years.
And so he basically got to watch my mother and my aunt grow up a little bit, as his secretary’s daughters who were around quite a bit, because she was a single mother, a widow for a period of time. And so as they were going through this, my mother grew up and ultimately got married. And when my mother married my father, this gentleman, my mother’s mother’s boss said, “Oh, my secretary’s daughter is getting married. What do you give as an appropriate wedding gift when you’re a life insurance agent?” Well, you give a life insurance policy to the new husband. So he gave my father a New England Life whole life policy. Which of course was the gift that keeps giving, because then after that, you have to continue to pay the premiums. You probably got the trails coming forward. So it was a gift with a good ROI as well.
So my father had this life insurance policy from 1973 when my parents got married. And so fast forward, 25-odd years later, it’s the 1990s, I had gone to college. I was a…I went to a liberal arts school, big college up in Maine, whereas I like to put it, they do a fantastic job of teaching you to think but don’t necessarily prepare you for anything in particular. God bless the liberal arts educations. I was a psychology major, theater minor, premed student. And the only thing I figured out by the school was I did not want to go into psychology, theater, or medicine. And so I was coming up on graduation. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I had only just made the decision I didn’t want to go into medicine. And this was after… In college, I was an EMT. I was doing internships in local emergency rooms in the town where the college was. I was very deeply immersed into the path of going into medicine and made a fairly hard stop, left turn decision just a few months before graduation to say, “I’m just not sure I want to disappear for the decade of my 20s in med school and residency and everything that goes with it.”
And so suddenly I’m trying to figure out, what on earth am I going to do? And so at the same time, my father got a call from the local New England Life Insurance agent who said, “Mr. Kitces, you have had a policy with us for almost 25 years. And it looks like no one has been out to see you about your policy in a very long time.” So those of you from the insurance world will kind of recognize this. This is an orphan call. My father’s policy had been orphaned, because of course his mother-in-law’s boss had long since retired and had gotten out of the business. So my father’s was just an unassigned policy. And so someone decided to pick up the phone and call the orphan policy and say, “Hey, can we come out and do a visit?”
So this life insurance agent came out and did a policy review, and I’m sure explored whether there were other business opportunities. But as it turned out, at the New England, sales managers are producing agents. Which means that people who manage and recruit also have to do client work. And this was actually one of the sales managers who was doing orphan calls while also keeping an eye out for recruiting. So after he finished the meeting with my father, he takes off his life insurance agent hat, and he puts on his life insurance sales manager hat. And he says, “Do you know anybody who might want to come into the business?” My father said, “Well, funny thing, my son is about to graduate from college and has no idea what he wants to do. You should talk to him because he needs a job.” And so I took the interview, and I got the job.
And so I graduated from college on Memorial Day weekend of 2000, graduated on Saturday, packed everything I owned on Sunday, drove home on Memorial Day Monday. And Tuesday morning, the first day after graduation, I reported for work at a life insurance company and entered the industry having absolutely no connection, relationship to finance, background or anything aside from my grandmother’s ex-boss, 30-odd years prior had given my father a life insurance policy.
Alan: I have to admit with the just sort of bizarre nature of some of this story, the part that really hangs me up is that you were an EMT, which means someone out there’s life was saved by Michael Kitces in the back of an ambulance. I just wanted to put that out there in the world that someone…
Michael: It was an interesting time. Someone may remember. There are probably pictures from a long, long time ago.
Alan: So you do get into insurance. Fast forward, it clearly works out for you because you’re now a very successful insurance sales agent.
Michael: Yes. Yes. Not so good at prospecting, as I guess some people have gathered from the podcast and the blog and the rest. Kind of introverted. Prefer the sort of stuff where you put out the content and let people find their way to do it. And not…well back then, cold calling, cold knocking. This was before the “do not call list.” So I started for the life insurance company with a stack of phone numbers to cold-call. That was it out of the gate. It was awful. I was awful at it. It lasted less than a year. But the one saving grace to it, so there were probably 20 or 25 life insurance agents in that New England office when I was there. And there was one agent in that office who was a CFP. Actually, CFP, PCL, ChFC, he had done his education.
And just in this world where, again, it’s 2000. It’s the peak of the tech boom, the crash has not really started and gotten underway yet. This is the heyday of variable universal life policies because we’d been in a 20-year bull market, so we conservatively illustrated them at 12% straight line. That was built in the software by default. And so everybody in this office sells variable universal life. That’s the deal. Big whiteboard where people write their name up there and how much in premium they sold that month and try to get to the top of the chart every month. The whole thing, all the sales stories and stereotypes are true. And then there was this one guy who was like, “Yeah, I just kind of find out everything about their situation, and then I just help them with whatever they need.” I was like…
Alan: Mind blown.
Michael: I was like, “That just seems easier, to be honest.” It just seems easier to ask them what their problems are and give them the things they want, rather than just pitch the VUL policy to every single person you meet. Now, of course, the problem was nothing else paid as well as VUL, so this guy did not get the respect around the office for solving people’s problems. This guy got the snubs for being not a big producer because he sold lousy things like mutual funds that back then, only peaked at 5.75% upfront. When you could sell VULs and get a 50% premium in the first year.
So I kind of sidled up and had the opportunity to be mentored by getting myself under this one advisor who had this alternative approach of, “Well, I just try to understand what people’s problems are and give them the solutions they need.” And that was my entry into the world of a certified financial planner, and this financial planning thing as an alternative to life insurance sales. And just said, “Okay, this selling thing isn’t working for me, or really, this prospecting thing isn’t working for me. But understanding people’s problems and then trying to solve them, I kind of like that. That seems neat. I’m going to try more of that.”
And so as I left the life insurance firm…because I flat out wasn’t getting any business done and wasn’t going to qualify my contract on the first year’s renewal. I decided to start looking around and figure out, is there any other kind of job I can get where I don’t have to go get clients? I’m fine doing the financial planning stuff. I just don’t want to have to get clients. And so I actually went to the managing partner at that firm, and I’ll still never forget this. This was, I guess certainly within my career, the first life-changing moment in my career. I really liked doing the financial planning analysis stuff. I did figure that out pretty quickly in the first year.
And so I quickly became the guy that whenever anybody had to do a financial plan…granted, the financial plan pretty much always led to a variable universal life sale. But they still did planning. We took client data; we put it in planning software; we ran projections. It was the days of financial profiles before it merged with having a plan. And I became the go-to on the financial planning software. And so I went to the managing partner of the firm. I said, “Look, we both know that I’m not getting it done prospecting. This isn’t working out. But I really like this planning stuff. So here’s what I would propose. I want to get paid $25,000 a year to be the one that just sits here and does everybody’s financial plans. I will take that salary.” Which, granted, 20 years inflation adjustment, it would have been a bit higher now, but it was a low number, even then.
I was a single dude and 22, so I didn’t have many expenses to keep up. Pay me $25,000 a year just to be the one that does the financial planning software stuff and supports 25 agents in the office. There’s plenty of financial planning work to do. And he turned me down cold, “I don’t see the value in that. And I don’t understand how that would provide a return to our agency.” And so I had no choice but to look for other jobs and opportunities.
I was convinced someone must do enough financial planning that they actually care about having someone who wants to just study this and do more of it. I’m going to find that. And so all this built up to a particular day where I was still trying to nerd on the financial planning software. I came into the morning sales meeting late, because I’d actually come in early Monday morning to help another advisor do a financial plan in the planning software. And I got so sucked into it, I didn’t realize the time, and I came to the Monday morning sales meeting late. And so the managing partner threw me out of the meeting and said… I got made an example of, “If you’re not going to show up on time, Kitces, just don’t show up at all.” So fine. So I went downstairs, pulled out the want ads, started looking, and found my next job.
And ended up finding a job with, what I guess we would now probably call, part claim service administrator, part paraplanner, with an independent brokerage firm that was in the area and one that just said, “We just want someone that can support us on all the financial planning stuff.” They were a real financial planning-centric firm, plans for every client. It was BD-based, but it was in the truest sense, just, “We’re going to do good quality financial plans for clients. Everybody needs something.” Because no one does their finances perfectly. And we’ll just help them with whatever it is they need, and we’ll get paid for that.
And I got to live a job of, okay, I just get to nerd out on financial plans and then go nerd out on financial planning education. And that was when all the alphabet soup started building up and I get to actually focus on the financial planning world.
Alan: So I do think that there’s an interesting point there for advisors and business owners in general, that in the end that manager didn’t pay you $25,000 because it wasn’t in his business plan. They just didn’t have a plan to hire that person, couldn’t even see that being a position. And so be open when you find the right people, but you haven’t quite helped them find the right seat yet. If you have someone, you’re like, “Wow, this person’s super smart. They’re doing really good things on this side of the business, but they’re not doing sort of the core of what they’re supposed to be doing.” Don’t just kick them out the door. Maybe give them an opportunity to prove themself, because egg on the face now.
But if we fast forward, your transition into financial services, moving from insurance to financial planning, there was another big transition for you, and that was moving from being a financial planner to being a financial planner’s teacher, if you will. And when we put out a call for questions for this episode, we got some that said, “How many clients does Kitces still work with? And when was the last time you had a one-on-one relationship with a client inside of a financial planning firm?”
Michael’s Career Transition From Financial Planning To Educating Financial Planners [19:33]
Michael: Oh, man, many years now where I was leading clients directly. So this evolved in stages for me. So for the first segment of my career, I went from the insurance company to the broker-dealer world. I landed in an independent RIA. My focus there, I took a job as director of financial planning, which initially was director of the department of me. Because the firm was under $200 million. But then huge growth cycle. And we went from under $200 million to over $800 million in about 5 years. And suddenly, my department was me and then 2, and then 3, and the 4 and then 5. And then suddenly I was leading financial plans and delivery of plans to every single client. I probably delivered… I don’t know what it was – 400 or 500 plans over that over that time period. We just got a really efficient process. The partners were fantastic at going out and doing business development and growing the firm and setting up all these financial client meetings. Then I would go nerd out, do the analysis and present it to whoever plans to clients, and then they could take relationships and run with them on an ongoing basis.
And so this sort of went through two shifts for me. The first was in early 2008, so unbeknownst to all the crazy stuff that was coming later. And it was early 2008 that I made the first shift to say, “I’m living in this world where I’m doing all this financial advising work.” And in many ways, it was kind of my dream job, because I finally got to the point where I just get to do financial planning with all the clients and I didn’t have to go do prospecting. Which is the whole thing I was trying to avoid from the very first life insurance job that didn’t work out. But I had started doing a little bit of writing and speaking back to the industry and was really enjoying it. And just I liked getting…I liked writing. I liked speaking. I liked teaching. And just felt like I would take all these issues that we were dealing with our clients of how we talked through them, how we handle them, and the analysis that we did and what we delivered.
And saying, “I’m learning all this stuff and figuring out what we’re doing with clients. I feel like I could share this with other people and that it would probably be useful to some others as well.” And so the shift I made in 2008 was launching what we now call ‘The Kitces Report’, which was this monthly white paper we were putting out. There was no blog back then. It was just a white paper. You paid $150 a year to get 12 issues a year of super nerdy, deep-dive financial planning stuff. It’s still the same things I write, but just one giant post. They were actually even longer than the blog posts. Really long, 20-page white paper that you can learn from and get CE from and just do deep dives on financial planning topics.
And I really built, at the time, with an eye towards Bob Veres, who I know is someone that many podcast listeners know. Bob is absolutely brilliant at writing about practice management. He has run a newsletter for, I think, almost 30 years now, on practice management issues where he emails it out once a month and you pay an ongoing subscription. I was like, Bob has this amazing business where he just learns about practice management and the industry and then shares it out with advisors. He gets paid for that. I want to do that, but I’m going to do it on the nerdy financial planning stuff.
And so I actually brought this as an idea to Bob. And Bob said, “I think that’s a great idea and I’ll help you get it launched.” And so Bob actually helped me set up the original website with his web developer, showed me the software and the tools that he uses to manage membership and collect payments and send newsletters out and all this stuff. There wasn’t a lot of technology to do that back in 2008. So it was kind of a tough learning curve to get through. He showed me all that. And then he actually helped to get it launched. He sent some announcements to his mailing list about the launch of our Kitces Report newsletter and brought me the first chunk of subscribers I needed to actually be able to survive making the leap.
And I think that’s still part of why I love just finding startup companies and businesses that we can highlight on the blog and let other people know, “Hey, here’s some people over here that are doing cool things. I’ve got no relationship to them, just they’re doing cool and you all should check it out. For me, I feel this never-ending ‘pay it forward’ desire that I wouldn’t be here doing what I’m doing if Bob Veres hadn’t helped launch what I did. So I want to try to help. I’ll use our platform to launch as many others going forward as well.
Alan: Just in general, you give away so much content for free. It’s this just underlying abundance mentality of you launching your newsletter wasn’t going to impact Bob’s business. If anything, you probably have cross-promoted each other to success even more so than either one of you would have been independent. That’s really across the platform and across the entrepreneurs that you’ve worked with over the years, just the reality of that abundance mentality.
Michael: Yeah. And so when I made that shift in 2008, I went back to the advisory firm and said, “Here’s the deal. I got an itch I need to go scratch. I want to go do this thing where I’m going to write and speak. But I love the firm and I love the work that we do with our clients. I’d love to still have some role here where I can support on client issues. I can still come in on client meetings with all the messy stuff where you need…” I think affectionately at the time, we called it, ‘the nerd of last resort’. “Let me still come in and support on complex client issues, but just I don’t want to run this financial planning team anymore as my full-time job because I want to go do this writing and speaking thing.”
And so, God bless, they said yes. I don’t know if they were just betting that eventually it wouldn’t work out and I’d come back to them full time anyway, so they wanted to keep the connection. But forever thankful, they said yes. It did make it easier to do the transition because I took a big step back from my salary, but it didn’t go quite to zero because I still kept a role in some job duties with the firm. So then I spent a whole bunch of years from essentially 2008 up until last year, in this hybridized role with the firm where I wasn’t taking on client relationships directly in the lead advisor role because I wasn’t going to be in a position to service them full time up to my own standards when I was doing that much travel.
But I wanted to keep the one-to-one client interaction of being able to come in for clients of the firm and advisor to the firm and help on complex planning issues. And so I was still pulled in on weird rough conversion scenarios and complex estate plans and strange documents and all those kinds of scenarios because it was really important to me to never forget what it’s like sitting across from clients. Although I did move away from being in a lead advisor role.
Because I know some advisors love those ongoing relationships and working with clients. I’m one of those people…well I’m literally fairly strong ADHD. I need the ongoing stimulation and the new challenges. And just, I was one of those people were managing my book of clients and having the same conversations with the same people who were doing the same screwy stuff for the 5th, the 7th, the 10th, the 15th year, I just looked at it from a career end and said, “I’m not going to be happy doing that. I like coming in to do the one-to-one work to solve the challenges and the problems, not for the indefinite client relationship.”
And so I was lucky to be with a firm that would let me do that split. They would keep the relationships. Obviously, they were happy too because that’s what drives the revenue for the firm. And I could come in and still do the one-on-one client meetings and stuff where I had technical competency and expertise to help them out. And everybody wins for it.
Alan: So fast forward a little bit. Now, you have made a bit of a transition, because much of your career has been spent supporting your extra businesses, which I guess we can talk about with XY Planning Network and AdvicePay and partnership with myself and some others. And then you’ve got fpPathfinder. You have your hands in all these pots, but they’re all really centered around these sort of solo independent advisors. And you made mention with the transition last year, you made the leap to…or the transition over to Buckingham. So can you talk about that transition, the decision to make that move, and ultimately why you made that transition?
Why Michael Decided To Transition Over To Buckingham Wealth Partners And His Thoughts On The Future Of Small Firms And Solo Advisors [27:47]
Michael: Yeah, I wasn’t surprised we got a lot of questions from readers about this. I got a lot of them directly as well. We’d actually put out a post on the blog earlier this year when the news went out officially as well, that we’ve done so much work around solo advisors’ independence. And just for those who aren’t familiar, like Buckingham is in that category of, I guess, the so-called ‘mega RIAs’. It’s about $50 billion under management. And it’s grown from an independent RIA, from some founders who came out from the large firm accounting days, 30-odd years ago, and just built a firm from scratch that’s had an absolutely incredible compounding journey. So Buckingham is both, we’ll call it the traditional wealth management business that so many of us do, with almost 140 advisors, almost 40 branches across the country, nearly $20 billion in that side of the business.
And then also has a TAMP solution for other advisors. So some know that as BAM Alliance, which was their former name for Buckingham’s TAMP. Buckingham also merged two years ago with Loring Ward, who some people knew as a DFA TAMP as well. And so the combination, the two of them now with subsequent growth, is about $30 billion, doing business now as Buckingham Strategic Partners.
So, yes, this mega wealth-management-plus-TAMP business. One I spend all the rest of my time over, very heavily in small advisors and solo RIAs. For me, this is kind of I guess a deliberate dual theme that we talk so much in the industry right now of, “Are the small firms going to survive? Is the solo doomed? Do you have to be big and have economies to scale in order to survive?” And then as few people said, “Well lo and behold, Kitces just went to a giant firm.” I think the truth frankly is that it’s both. It really is both because on the one hand, to me, I think the position of the solo advisor today is fascinating.
Because I look at this, literally, from the perspective of my career and the journey. When I think back to the firm that I joined 20 years ago, after I left the life insurance company, it was three advisors serving an ongoing client base, doing financial planning. And there were 11 staff members, I think, supporting that firm. Admin, paraplanning, trading, operations, all the different stuff that went on just to make sure that everything that needed to happen, happened across the firm. And if I were to look at that firm today, I suspect that firm would run incredibly well with probably three or maybe four support staff, and their headcount would have gone down by two-thirds. Because technology today is just fricking amazing compared to what it was 20 years ago.
And when I think about that even down to solo advisors, there are solo advisors that do today, with a handful of software programs that cost $49 and $99 a month, what 20 years ago would have taken you two or three staff members to be able to do. And so the interesting thing to me, you translate back to 20 years ago, it was a world of mega-firms. RIAs hardly existed. The average RIA had $18 million dollars and an assistant.
We’ve had a number of guests on this podcast who could talk about what it was like starting an RIA back in the ’80s and ’90s. They were hunting for food and scraps. Most of them started businesses with credit cards to be able to afford their staff members. It was so costly to run a business. And yet, this tiny little nascent independent movement has become the giant growing force in the entire industry as the only channel that’s growing. Everything else is flowing to it now. And it was all predicated on small, horrifically inefficient, staff-intensive, no-technology firms that still beat the big firms by simply being more focused on clients and closer to them.
And so now, when I look at it today, you can still be an independent. You can still be closer to your clients. You can still be more focused on them. But now you can do it with a minuscule fraction of the cost that was there before. And so I’ve never understood this whole discussion that our industry likes to put out there, that the people saying, “You have to be huge to survive,” are mostly the RIAs who are only here or because they were not huge and they beat huge firms in order to grow to get to where they are today.
I’m like, “Why would it not work now when the technology is so much more efficient? When you build it from scratch with no technology, no ecosystem, no support, a ton of staff, and horrible profit margins, and you still beat out wirehouses and major broker-dealers, insurance companies and banks, and everybody else that dominated this business 20 years ago?” So I’ve never been more bullish on the opportunities for independent solo advisors and small firm teams, and just what you can do with the efficiencies of technology and just the ecosystem support. The service providers, the consultants, everything that exists today that wasn’t there then. If we could build it, then we could certainly build those firms well now.
But there is some cool stuff you get to do with size and scale. And so one of the things, frankly, that drew me to Buckingham is just having a large firm environment where I can take the ideas that we write about in the blog that I was already trying to put into practice in the advisory firm where I was previously, and now we get to do a really large advisory firm where this reaches hundreds of advisors internally, thousands of advisors through the TAMP, tens of thousands of clients. And part of the drive for me has always been essentially about the reach of…could have had a great career helping out our few hundred affluent clients get a little bit more affluent, where we were all the way back in the firm I was in 2008.
But that just doesn’t do it for me. I need to, I need to have more impact out there. I think as Marc Andreessen says, “Some people just want to make a dent in the universe.” Right. You can’t change the course of time. But if you do well, maybe you can make a small dent in the universe. And I’m one of those dents in the universe kinds of people. And so firms like Buckingham that just have the depth of team and the resources and the size and scale, instead of, “Oh, here’s an idea. Maybe in a year or two we can grow enough to try it out.” It’s, “Here’s an idea. Well cool. Put together a business plan, a resource plan, and then we’ll go ahead and put that through the committees. And if the numbers all add up, then we’ll go ahead and do that.” It’s cool. I like the idea of having some resources to be able to put some stuff into practice a little bit faster and with a wider reach. And so…
Alan: Yeah, but you said committees like there’s more than one.
Michael: Yes, it is a large firm, there are committees. I’m starting to sit in on some of them and learn the dynamics of committees. There are tradeoffs. I will admit there are tradeoffs that come in large firm environments. But I really see the opportunity on both ends, that I don’t think the future has ever been brighter for small firms and solos. We can be so efficient. We can be so nimble. The overhead stays so low because so much can be driven with technology and very little staff. It’s an incredible opportunity. There are some economies of scale when firms get really, really big in the advisory world, not necessarily actually scaling advice.
It turns out the cost to deliver advice is pretty constant when you get to a larger scale. But technology and operations and compliance and marketing and a lot of other systems, actually scale very nicely in advisory firms as they get larger and as you get more resources to do more things.
And so I really see a future that’s very bright for large firms that want to get huge and smaller advisors that just want to stay small, serve their client base in their niche or specialization, and be awesome at it. The only group I’m actually kind of negative on is essentially what I call the dangerous middle, the firms that are too big to be small and too small to be big. Where it’s a tough space.
And frankly, if you just look at the industries and numbers that are out there right now, that starts at a couple hundred million dollars where you start hitting that dangerous middle. And I don’t think you get out of that dangerous middle until you’re literally several billion dollars under management, which is tough because a lot of advisors will literally spend a lifetime just trying to go from $500 million to $1 billion or $2 billion, if that’s your aspiration.
And I’ve lived a version of that journey. You get to do some cool stuff, but you always feel like you’ve got to grow larger to finally get to the size to do the things you want to do. And then when you get there, you find out, oh, no, actually, there’s still more stuff that we need to hire, because we’re larger and now it’s more complex and we need more infrastructure and people, and manage people, and people manage systems. And it is a challenge. It is a real challenge in that middle. I don’t quite want to say it’s a graveyard or anything. Anybody who’s huge only got there because they went through that dangerous middle.
There are firms that get through and get out to the other side. But it’s a tough space to be in. And frankly, I think that’s why you see a lot of mergers and consolidation in the industry right now of firms in that $500 million up to $2 billion or $3 billion market that are getting acquired these days because they’re hitting that dangerous middle. And it’s really tough, and it works better to be tucked into a much larger firm that’s already on the other side of that.
Alan: Awesome. Yeah, I have one more question to catch people up to where we are today and then I’ve got a whole slew of questions for where we’re going. One of the things that may surprise some listeners is actually that the Kitces.com team is not just Michael Kitces. But it wasn’t too long ago that it wasn’t. Really the last time we recorded an episode, it was probably you and you had Rachel on your team. And I don’t know that you had anybody else.
But really since then, you’ve been adding team in to support, because obviously the Kitces.com platform with the podcast and the blog and the research and courses and the CE programs and all of that, have grown. So can you just talk about the sort of evolution of the Kitces.com team that you’ve gone through over the last three and a half, four years?
The Growth And Evolution Of Kitces.com [38:10]
Michael: Yeah, it’s been an interesting transition. And part of this has really been essentially the evolution of the business model as I’ve envisioned it and I’ve been trying to build for essentially now more than a decade since we launched what was Kitces Report and then became the Nerd’s Eye View blog and the rest of the business. And so for the first five years or so, from 2010 to 2015, my focus was really just putting content out there, building our brands, building our visibility, trying to give back to the advisor community.
As I put it, I was literally in the expertise business. And so here’s my expertise. If you like this, I’d love to work with you more. And so that created opportunities for speaking engagements, that created opportunities for consulting engagements, and that actually created opportunities for bringing in clients. And one of the ultimate ironies to me of the journey of going through this, I left that life insurance agency and bounced around to several firms before I landed at the RIA I spent the bulk of my career at with the sole focus of trying to figure out, “How do I find an opportunity where I can do the financial planning I love, and not have to do the business development I hate?”
A couple of years into building the blog…well, it turns out, when you put expertise on the internet for advisors, you can help a lot of advisors. It helped the advisor community, and it created some neat business opportunities. But Google doesn’t really know who you are, it just follows who’s searching for information. Including consumers who started showing up and saying, “Hey, read your stuff. Frankly, it seems a little complex, but you seem to know what you’re talking about. Can you help us with this problem?” And we started actually bringing in clients through the blog. And I ended out becoming a partner in the advisory firm in 2012, four years after I had gone out into this transition and dialed back my time because I was actually bringing in enough business that suddenly I was able to become a partner.
So funny always for how these journeys sometimes change from what you originally envisioned. Spent more than a decade building a career so whatever I had to do, it would not involve business development and then ended out making partner by avoiding business development, to the point that I made business development happen. Many paths to the same end result.
But what happened over that five-year time period? So, I started bringing clients to the firm and became a partner at the firm. Then the firm actually launched a TAMP platform for other advisors. And we started working with other advisors, many of whom found us through my blog and my writing, and said, “Love to learn more about the other stuff that you’re doing. And here’s what we were offering. If that’s a fit for you, happy to introduce you to my partners.”
We had also launched a recruiting business called New Planner Recruiting. So this really came out of the early days when I was involved in NexGen with another NexGen advisor named Caleb Brown. Caleb had a ton of passion around career development and talent development for the next generation of advisors. And I had long been kind of immersed in that world from getting started with NexGen originally. And so Caleb and I had come together also in the early twenty-teens, and said, “Well what would it look like if we made a business together?” Where Caleb really wanted to just do this recruiting thing, help newer advisors find paraplanner jobs. We would always hear from great financial planning firms who say, “We can’t find talent.” And then we would talk to young financial talent coming out of colleges and they would say, “I can’t find any good financial planning firms. All I can find are sales jobs.”
We were like, when the good people say they can’t find the firms, the firms say they can’t get people, there’s a problem here to solve in the marketplace. So we launched this thing called New Planner Recruiting, where Caleb was going to drive the business as the recruiter and then I would support on strategy and trying to help get the word out about what we were doing to younger advisors. So that they can find this path for better job opportunities and New Planner Recruiting started growing.
And then obviously as, Alan, you know and sort of lived alongside, in 2014, we decided to launch this thing called XY Planning Network. And when we launched XYPN, lo and behold, we announced it on the blog, and a bunch of blog readers showed up and were like, “Hey, this thing sounds neat. How do we join?” And so I had this realization, heading into 2015, of… Look, I had originally made this because I was a nerd who likes learning things. I liked sharing what I was learning. I found other people liked hearing about what I was sharing, about what I was learning, because we can all learn better together.
And I had built this blog and this platform and a speaking business. But suddenly, all these other businesses were growing around me from gaps I saw in the marketplace and people I was able to find who had a lot of excitement and passion to help solve that problem. And saying, “Well let’s work together. I can help build visibility for the business and help with strategy. And I have a great perspective on what’s going on across the industry because I’m at conferences every week, all year long. Let’s see if we can make this work.”
And so I got to the point of saying, “I think I really need to change this business model.” I look at it that I’m not just in the business of writing and speaking. I’m really just living in a business of, let’s give away as much valuable stuff as we can for free. Because the reality is so few people ever actually need to decide to hire us to speak or work with the advisory firm or join XY Planning Network or any of the rest and have the economics of the business work fine, right?
As the saying goes, there’s a lot of money in the money business. We’re not selling cupcakes where I need a million people to sign up to have a big cupcake business. Clients pay a lot of dollars. We spend a lot of money for the services that we provide in this industry. And so, looking at this platform and saying, “Not only do we… Can we literally give away what we do to more than 99% of people? And the other 1%, there’s still enough to make the businesses grow.”
But we were actually already growing multiple different businesses at the same time. All from that minuscule subset of people that would read the blog and say, “Oh, I heard Kitces has this other thing as well. I actually need some help with that problem. I’m going to go over there and use that thing as well.”
And so we shifted in 2015 to say, “All right, I’m really just going to focus on content stuff and supporting all these businesses that we’re creating help solve advisor problems.” And it was XY Planning Network, and then it was AdvicePay on payment processing for fee-for-service. And then it was fpPathfinder, which is for flowcharts and checklists for financial advisors. So we started adding all of these additional pieces, but the vision in my head was still, “I just like doing my content thing and nerding out on stuff and sharing it out there with the advisor community, trying to help the advisor community.”
So for a long time, I had this vision of, I’m going to keep this little hub around the blog, just myself and one person who is working with me, and let all the other businesses grow. But one of the things I found kind of early in my career was, I’m actually not the biggest fan of managing people. Just, I’m wired for nerding out on stuff. I’m not wired for team management. And so I always said I wanted to keep the team really small.
And so that changed, obviously, as you’ve noted, Alan. Over the past two years or so, the Kitces.com platform has grown from a team of 2 to what is now a team of 13. Probably 14, by the time this podcast actually airs, because we’re in the process of final interviews for the next person to join the team. And really, that kind of drove, for me, off of two things. One, just for all the growth that we’ve been able to have across the businesses…and frankly, particularly getting to work with you, Alan, on XYPN and AdvicePay, just I’ve gotten such an appreciation of, I enjoy being what essentially was kind of a solo lifestyle practice of writing and speaking and some other businesses around it, and enjoying what that lifestyle practice looked like. To saying, there’s also some really cool stuff that you can do when you’ve got a great team with you.
And so for me, just the dream, it was sort of twofold. So one, the dream and vision of all the stuff that we could do on Kitces platform. It was like, “Well, if we had more people, we could do more webinar content, we could do it more regularly, we could have a broader base of writers with a deeper expertise. We could start building our courses to go even deeper into some of these areas where I know we don’t get training as advisors.” Because I couldn’t find the training and I still can’t find it for our firm. Seeing all these other opportunities of ways that we could help the advisor community, which we only get to with having a bigger team.
And so on the one hand, part of this driver for me was saying, “Just, I’m ready to move the business to another level. I’m in a different place just mentally business-wise and the rest, than I was 10 years ago.” To say, “I’m totally happy to have built the lifestyle, writing and speaking business as long as I was building it, but now I’m really ready to build something bigger that has a lot more impact out to the advisor community.” The flip side of it, or, I guess, the second part of it for me as well is just, the businesses have grown so much. Even outside of Buckingham, which itself has…I think we’re almost 500 employees. But I just joined. I didn’t build that. I showed up for a very large firm to be a part of helping to hopefully get them to the next stage.
But as I look out at all the rest, like XY Planning Network and AdvicePay and New Planner Recruiting and Pathfinder and the Kitces team itself, we’re over 90, crossing up 100 team members across all the different businesses. And so just at that size and scale, with basically all of that hiring happening from scratch in barely six years, for me, that’s just become a team size and structure opportunity to say, “While I still don’t feel like I’m one that’s wired for managing people, I still love to help solve problems. I still love to help figure out business strategy. I still love to figure out how do we make solutions better for advisors, whether it’s…”
Originally, it was writing about them and then it was consulting about them and then it was actually building them and getting involved more directly, that it got to a point, for me, where I can never move away entirely from the writing and speaking. Because just it feeds my soul, to some extent. That’s how I can deal with 10 years of 50 to 70 speaking engagements a year and being a road warrior. But I was finding more and more excitement to work deeper in some of the businesses as well and try to see what I could do to help grow them and get them to the next level of impact.
And just realizing for me that was not going to happen if 100% of the platform rested, essentially, 100% on my shoulders, with just one team member supporting the background to make sure that I was out there doing my thing. And so, it was really kind of a combination for me of, I’m ready to see the platform go to the next stage of impact. There’s so much more we can do for the advisor community. You are going to see a ton of stuff coming on the Kitces platform over the next two years. There’s a very long roadmap of things in my head that we’re starting to work on and build now to help the advisor community more. But at the same time, I also wanted to change my role and position in the business.
And so, not only has the team grown larger, but it is not a team of, “Okay, now there are 13 people I have to manage,” because I’m still not wired for management. And so I built the business recognizing my strength as being in the in the vision seat and the thinking seat, but not the manager seat. So we use a system called Entrepreneurial Operating System or EOS for short in XYPN and AdvicePay, we’ve implemented it at Kitces.com as well. And the whole nature of EOS is to recognize that you can…if you look at a lot of the most successful companies…there tends to be a visible visionary that’s out there, the Bill Gates and Walt Disney and those types of folks.
But when you actually drill down and look at the success of those businesses, like Bill Gates wasn’t on his own. He had someone along with him. Steve Jobs wasn’t on his own. He had someone along with him. Walt Disney wasn’t on his own. It was actually his brother, Roy, that kept the business together and built the business. Walt actually, I think, bankrupted or nearly bankrupted Disney three different times. Brilliant visionary around the opportunity of Disney, a terrible business manager. That wasn’t his thing.
And so, EOS calls this the visionary and the integrator. And so realizing I thrive in that visionary seat and I really, really don’t thrive in the integrator seat, I found someone on the team who can be in that integrator seat. And so Rachel Zeller is now our Managing Director, and she lives the focused role of, “Okay, Kitces has all these crazy ideas in his head. Let’s figure out how we translate this into action with the team.” And I get to spend my time in the vision space where I how can I have the best impact on the business, but structure it so I don’t have a giant team of direct reports. Team members report, directors report in to Rachel. Rachel and I work together on leading the business.
So I was very conscious around how to structure essentially the organizational chart of the business to make sure that I could both free up time to do more of the vision and strategy work I wanted to do it on the Kitces platform. And then also be able to do that for XYPN and for AdvicePay and for fpPathfinder, for New Planner Recruiting, and trying to help Buckingham get to the next level and the work that it’s doing. But just recognizing, I couldn’t get there and do the work that I think I can do to have the best impact if I didn’t substantially change the role and the structure in the business. Which then has been a two-year path to hiring a dozen people to join the team and help us figure out how to get to the next level.
Alan: Now, I know what people are thinking. It took a dozen people to replace Michael Kitces. Not exactly.
Michael: Not exactly. I am a little bit of a workaholic, but…
Alan: Yeah, maybe eight of them to replace you and then four to add new stuff. But it really is about adding. Both replacing much of the time-consuming pieces that you were doing, as well as some of the new stuff that the platform can do to really help more advisors. And it’s probably worth noting, maybe you can speak to this, that part of that is that there is a tradeoff. And you and I have talked about that when you’re involved in so many things, you can’t be all things to all businesses. You can’t be all things to all people. And you have had to make hard choices about, what are you going to be involved in? What are you not? You can’t wear the CEO hat of five different companies now and be successful, right? And have an integrator at each. You might as well just have one big company with five or six direct reports.
And so, that those are very real decisions that don’t come easy to really work through. What are you the best at? And where do you want to spend your time? And you can’t do everything that you’re really good at. You really have to be focused.
How Michael Leveraged His Strengths To Focus His Time And Grow His Businesses [53:36]
Michael: Again, there are the things that we do or we try to succeed for our hard luck. There are also the things that just sort of happen to us because of dumb luck and being in the right place at the right time. This is one of those things I just attribute to the dumb luck of being in the right place at the right time. When I was getting going with my career in the early 2000s, this was sort of the early stages of like George Kinder life planning and just what I’ll call a broad discussion that started in the world of not just working with clients, but practice management with advisors around…build the business that fits your life. Build the thing that lets you serve your highest and best use in the business and let go and delegate the rest.
And so this gets taught a lot of different ways like, find your strengths, focus on your highest, best purpose. You make a list of all the tasks that you do, assign a dollar amount to them. And if it’s less than X dollars an hour, delegate it, and you just keep yourself focused on the high dollar amount value items. And then over time, you just keep inching that bar higher and delegating more, and you’ll find yourself focused on higher impact work. There are a lot of different ways that gets framed. But he got ingrained in me, really early in my career, this guiding philosophy of, the more time you can spend doing the stuff that you are uniquely the best at, the more impact you can have and the better the outcomes tend to be.
And if feels strange for me because even when I was going to sessions and listening to stuff about this early in my career, this was mostly directed at what then were roomfuls of advisors who were 50-something years old, who had been doing this for 30 years and were burned out with the old way of doing things, and were getting this practice management advice about how to how to find the passion again in your business and how to find your energy again by learning what you enjoy that gives you energy and delegating the rest. It was totally not targeted at 24-year-old me at the time when I probably first started showing up and hearing some of these sessions.
But I heard it and I heard it at the early formative stage of my career and I just internalized it. It stuck with me. And so, so much of what I’ve done over, particularly, the past 12 or 13 years of my career has all…I think basically been this journey of, find the things that you are uniquely the best at, that only you can do in the business and figure out how to let go. Don’t do or delegate everything else, because there’s just only so much time in the day to actually get stuff done and do the things that you can do that have an impact.
And so, that’s been this never-ending series of reinventions for myself. As I look back, I do this to myself about every three years, like clockwork throughout my career. Started in 2000, it took almost three years to find the right advisory firm. Three years after that is when I started speaking. Three years after that was when I went out and launched the Kitces Report. Two and a half years after that was when I launched the blog. Two and a half years after that was when I became part of the firm. Two and half years after that was when XYPN launched. Three years after that was when I made the shift to start growing the Kitces team big. And I feel like I’m on the cusp of another one now as our team is getting to a good size and where we’re gearing up for the next stage of growth.
And so, every single one of those transitions, every two or three years, pretty much like clockwork, is some path of, okay, did a thing in the business, it was very valuable to the business, really move the needle forward. But because the business has now moved forward and it’s in a different place, the thing I used to do that was most beneficial in the business is no longer the best thing to do in the business anymore. If I really want to get it to the next level, I have to do this other thing instead. And it’s sort of this double-edged sword of if you don’t keep evolving yourself as a leader in the business, eventually, the business will bottleneck around whenever it is you decide to stop growing.
When you decide to stop growing and evolving, it will stop growing. And the flipside that I think I’ve certainly dealt with and candidly struggled with over the past two or three years in particular is, it’s one thing when you try to keep reinventing yourself to make sure that you move to the next level, so the business that you’re trying to lead can move to the next level. It’s a whole other matter when the business actually starts compounding and growing even faster. And suddenly, for me, I feel like it shifted from…I kept trying to up my game and get to the next level and figure out, “What could I do next to really benefit the business?” to all the sudden finding, “Oh, jeez, these things are actually compounding so quickly, I need to start making a lot of changes very quickly. Or I can’t get out of my own darn way fast enough.”
And I’ll admit, that has been I think a unique challenge of the past few years in particular, just for my own journey of, it’s cool when businesses start growing and you start getting traction. But when the business grows fast enough, when you’re in a leadership or a founder position, you have to change rather rapidly to keep up with the needs of the business. And that’s been a struggle for me, just because even as much as I’m willing to change and adapt and grow, we’re still human beings. We can only get there so fast in time. And that’s really been a lot of the struggle for me in the past few years is just making that evolution fast enough for almost any business. Going from 10 years with 2 employees to 2 years to 14 employees is kind of head spinning.
And even there, it feels I’ve barely been able to keep up with the amount of growth that’s happening to make sure that I’m really spending my time in the areas I can be most positive for the businesses.
Alan: That kind of leads me to my next question, which it’s easy on the Financial Advisor Success podcast to talk about success. And you use the image of that iceberg and you see the top 10%, but you don’t see the 90% of what effectively ends up being blood, sweat and tears and time and energy and pain and all of the things that go into the 10% of success people see. So if you look back, what would you say was the low point in your career or I guess maybe the hardest professional situation that you’ve had to deal with and really overcome to get to where you’re at today?
The Low Point In Michael’s Career And The Biggest Challenges He Overcame [01:00:09]
Michael: Oh, man. So many points where you still worry or question yourself. What am I doing? Am I doing the right thing? Am I taking the right step? There’s a bunch of these that come to mind for me. Certainly, out of the gate, essentially failing out of the first job I had out of college. Trying to go back and say, “Can I have the consolation job of the stuff I really like doing for $25,000 dollars a year?” And even getting turned down on that. That hurt. That was that was rough out of the gate.
Now, of course, the irony to that is once I got spited out of that job and then had to go find something else, I ended up finding something else that made almost $40,000, which was pretty good money then. So ironic again, you never know what doors open when another door closes. But the moment of getting told no when I thought that was my only option left to be able to survive and stay in the business, I was worried the whole path was over right there and I was going to have to figure out what else I was going to do, because it wasn’t psychology, theater, or medicine, or finance, apparently.
And the decision to go out and launch the speaking and writing business, at best was just full of fear and trepidation. I was walking away from a really good salary, and really good opportunities in a great firm that was growing really well, to do this crazy thing where I write my thoughts on the internet and email it to people. And they’re supposed to pay me for that. So it was freaky at the time. Then I did it anyway, with some wonderful support from both the firm that I was at and from Bob Veres. And then a couple of months later, our industry almost got obliterated in the financial crisis.
So I took this giant leap and walked away from salary to start an entrepreneurial endeavor in the financial services industry, six months before the financial crisis, and was really not sure that just the business and what I was doing was going to survive. It obviously held up well enough. I’m still here. I was able to make it through. In part, because just the decade of my 20s, because I guess I was really early 30s at that point, the decade of my 20s… One of the things we talk about in the financial planning world is the phenomenon of lifestyle creep, and not making it…being careful that as your income grows, your expenses don’t grow with it.
And in my 20s, I did really well at avoiding lifestyle creep. When I was getting started and still scrounging around for my…trying to get a $25,000 a year job, I moved into an apartment with two buddies. We split it three ways. I think my rent was 300 bucks a month. And I had a car that was fully paid off because I took… So in the ’90s, I played Magic the Gathering because I was a nerd even then. I had an awesome collection of cards for anyone who follows Magic Gathering, like Moxes Black Lotus. I had all of that stuff. I played back in the beta days of Magic the Gathering. And so when I was graduating college, I sold my Magic the Gathering cards and used the money to buy a car off eBay for cash so that I wouldn’t have a car payment.
And so I was living on a cheap car I bought in cash with no car payment and a rent I was splitting several buddies for a couple of hundred dollars a month, which meant I did not spend very much. And that, frankly, was what gave me the room to be able to make the transition, launch my business, survive through the financial crisis, despite having launched on the eve of it, in the industry in the middle of this near depression, at least for our industry. Because just my expenses were still so low. I was still living in that same apartment and I had slightly upgraded only because I bought a second cheap car on eBay, because the first one actually died of old age. So I just kept my expenses so, so low that I was able to survive through that time period and get to the point where the growth really picked up.
Alan: It’s also fair to say you’re still driving a car that’s 15 years old.
Michael: Yes, I drive a 2005 Kia Spectra.
Michael: I did not buy it on eBay, but I did buy it as a trade-in from the car that I bought on eBay.
Alan: The importance there is with COVID and everything we’ve been dealing with this year, obviously you used to do 50 or 60 speaking gigs a year and suddenly you’re going to do 10 this year in person and you’ve had to pivot. And I imagine that that sort of lifestyle creep or lack of lifestyle creep continues to be a benefit today that has allowed you to be more flexible and try different things than you would have been able to should…had you not done that.
Michael: Very true, even as it played out. Once I survived the financial crisis and the business worked out, much of the savings that I had accumulated through my 20s, it was basically my business launch fund when I went on my own, then because the business worked out well enough and my expenses were very low anyways, all of that cash managed to still stay in the bank and build up. That ultimately became the down payment for the house that we moved into. And now we’ve been nearly 10 years in this house, and still, the same house from 10 years ago. We haven’t changed it or put any dollars into it because we’re really happy with the house that we got in the first place.
We found the right place that worked for us. And I’m still driving the car from back when I was renting for cheap. And so, yeah, it’s certainly true. Even today, just keeping expenses low. Yeah, and we don’t live super cheaply. D.C. is not an inexpensive area, especially with three children. But we have managed lifestyle expenses and really not crept up any of our core expenses. The house fits for us and the cars are all paid off. And we’re going to drive them into the ground. And so, yeah, having expenses that we’ve kept low and not having the lifestyle creep up, is what allows the household free cash flow as business grows a little. To say, “I’ve got some dollars and I can actually reinvest this back into the business, back for more growth, back for more opportunities.”
I actually got to the point over the past 10 years because there were so many opportunities, at least for me, that I just find and see in our business landscape, I don’t contribute to retirement accounts now. Which I know is heresy and our financial advisor world. And it’s not that I don’t save. I save quite a bit. But if my dollars had been all tied up in a retirement plan, there would be no Kitces.com or XYPN or AdvicePay or Pathfinder, New Planner Recruiting, or any of the rest, because I never would have been able to make the leap. Because if the money was in a retirement plan, I wouldn’t be able to get it out when I needed to make the change in 2008 and I wouldn’t have taken the leap with no cash reserves.
And for all the different journeys and jumps that we’ve made and businesses that I’ve been able to start, some of which we started with very little dollars, some of which we had to put a good-sized chunk of money into it to get it going and get it off the ground. For all of those, it only happened because our income grew faster than our expenses. And that was the free cash flow that ultimately became the thing that got me invested into the new business opportunities and, frankly, just the nature of growing and starting businesses. Yes, entrepreneurship has a very high failure rate. I don’t encourage anyone to take blind risks by any stretch. But starting a business that just survives, much less grows and gains some scale, there is nothing you will ever do in investing in the markets that comes close to the return that you get by investing in yourself for advancing your career, moving up, getting raises, getting promotions. And particularly if you are wired to actually go and try starting a business and building that you love.
Alan: We could talk for hours about what you just said because I know we’re going to get questions about it and you have written about and talked about that in the past. So we’ll have to link to all of the content around this.
Michael: Go to Kitces.com/200. We’ve got an article or two. because some people joke there is an article for everything because I’ve written it down at some point. So Kitces.com/200, we’ll put some links in the show notes to some of our prior writing and discussion around that. But it just… Again, we so end out being, I think, products of the times and the era that we grew up in. I’m a Gen X-er or that launched my career on the eve of the tech crash. I was in this business for almost 13 years before the market got back to the day the I started it.
And most of the start of my career was watching and hearing about people who first they blew up their investments on margin when the tech stocks crashed. Then they were so levered up that some of them had done it not only with margin in their accounts, but they did it with mortgages on their houses and they went and they lost their houses as well. And so not that I am strictly debt adverse. We’ve got a good-sized mortgage on the house, have borrowed tactically from time to time for business-related issues as well.
But it became ingrained in me, very early on, this sort of viewpoint that fixed expenses and overhead, whether that’s your rent or your car payments or especially debt that you’re carrying, especially consumer debt or purchase and spending debt that you’re paying, it’s not just the challenges of debt and you’re paying interest instead of growing your money. Debt and fixed overhead, to me, is all about fewer choices. And so much of what I’ve done over my career and the journey, it worked in very large part, because I always kept the overhead and the debt low. And so I always had choices. And that was the choice that let me make the switch in 2008. That was the choice that let me put some dollars into some business opportunities for things XYPN and AdvicePay. It doesn’t start with the investing decision. It starts with, how do you handle your debt and your overhead in the first place?
Because if you take away all your choices upfront, your career ends up pretty linear because there’s really not much else that can happen at that point. And certainly, my journey has bounced around a lot more. Part of that is probably the ADHD in me that sees a lot of shiny objects and pursues them. But a big piece of that is how we handle our own household expenses and all those decisions around debt and lifestyle creep. And what kind of car do you drive? And, what kind of house do you buy? If we hadn’t made those decisions, we wouldn’t have been able to consider the other choices than actually are working out so well.
Alan: I have to admit, I don’t get to win against you very often, but I think back on my 13-year career in financial services, I graduated with my first degree in financial planning in the summer of 2009. So let’s just say since 2009, I guess 11 years, the market has done significantly better than your first eleven years.
Michael: Yes, you are… Yes, you crushed me on that.
Alan: Something like from 9,000 to 25,000 or something with the debt, whatever the Dow is at these days. I don’t even know. So we got so many questions that we could go through. And we didn’t actually want this to become a 10-hour episode. So in terms of…
Michael: Although I feel like it would be on-brand, but no, we won’t do that.
Alan: It would be. But I would need to take a break. So I am actually going to keep the theme around the personal because I think a lot of people know your take on the future of the industry and opinions and that sort of thing. And there will be opportunities to answer some of those questions in the future. But a lot of people are just sort of curious about the man and the family behind the blue shirt, if you will. And sort of what makes us all tick? So can you just talk, you don’t have to go super detailed, but just a little bit personally about your wife and your kids, and the support system you have in place that allows you to be successful as an entrepreneur?
How Michael’s Family Has Supported Him As An Entrepreneur [01:12:26]
Michael: Yeah, absolutely. So first, I’ll just kick-off, my wife is a saint. And she is actually the superpower behind the scenes that makes all this actually happen so that I can do the work that I’m trying to do. She is an amazing partner and has been with me for a very, very long time. So my wife and I actually met in college. And as I mentioned earlier, we went to Bates College, which is a very, very small liberal arts school up in Maine. The whole school, at least at the time, I think it’s still similar, was less than 2,000 students for the whole school, undergrad only. My wife and I were in the same class graduating together.
So there were only probably 400-something in our graduating class together. We actually didn’t date or know each other very well at college. We were acquaintances with a lot of overlapping friends, which is inevitable when the school is that small. But had had a couple of very close mutual friends, even though we didn’t really know each other as more than acquaintances. But I grew up here in the D.C. area and so did she. And so after graduating, I moved back to the D.C. area from where I’d grown up, and I convinced a very good friend of mine from college, who was a good mutual friend of ours, to come down to D.C. as well and split an apartment with me. So he knew he was one of the two other guys who were in the apartment when we moved in together right after graduation.
And so once we started hanging out together, because he and I were splitting apart, she started coming over and hanging out with us because he was the mutual friend right after we had graduated from college. And I had lost touch with a lot of my friends from the area, and she had lost touch with a lot of her friends in the area. So we didn’t have a big friends network. So we were the college cohort that started hanging out where he was the common friend. And then we met each other and started dating and ultimately dated for almost 10 years. Because I have to analyze everything with great detail. Not that I ever questioned anything. For her, I think she was probably figuring it out whether she wanted to deal with me for the long run. We got married 10 years ago, so we’ve been married for 10 years now. Just had our 10-year anniversary.
Because in part, we had waited quite a while and dating for almost 10 years, at the point that we decided to get married, we were ready to get started with a family very shortly thereafter. So have been married for 10 years. We have three children now, so my oldest just turns nine. My middle daughter is almost seven. And now the youngest baby boy is turning five soon. And so we make this work in part…my wife is home full time with the kids. Turned out, frankly, to be particularly fortuitous in an environment of the pandemic and the fact that our school system closed completely. So all of our children, our home full time for school all day, every day.
And so we were able to make this work in part because she grew up in a household where her father worked and her mother was home full time with the family. She was the third of four. She had grown up in a household with a lot of kids and said she wanted to follow the same journey. We were able to make it work. I was in full support of it. And so it has, I think in practice, been a material factor for the ability for me to do the work that I do because she is home full time as a stay-at-home mother. And so she’s able to field the problems that come up with the school and get kids to the sports activities if I can’t go and watch. And the kids that get sick and need pickups and all of those things, that’s how we were able to divide and divvy things up around the house. So that I can be the road warrior that I’ve been for driving the growth of all these various businesses, and just be able to make it work.
Alan: And I think it’s important to say that most entrepreneurs do have a partner that’s supporting them. And then that’s why you have to be so, quite frankly, intentional about who you ultimately choose to be your partner and spend the rest of your life with, because it is so critical that, in your case, if your wife was sort of anti- you traveling or anti- you being an entrepreneur, wanted more stability, this thing would never have worked. It’s not just about her staying at home. You could hire a nanny if you had to. And you could pay to replace some of what she’s doing it in the house if she wanted to work and have a career. But that’s not the point. The point is that she’s supportive of your entrepreneurial journey and the risk and rewards and the craziness that comes with that, which is so critical for those of you, particularly younger, thinking about becoming entrepreneurs one day or know that’s in your path. You need to be really intentional in that area of your life.
Michael: Yeah. And I think it’s interesting as an extension of it as well, just looking at this balance. We even actually did a study on this for Kitces research. When we were doing some of our analysis and demographics work just around advisor trends, we actually found an astonishingly high number of financial advisors are married with an incredibly low divorce rate. I think it was something like 91% of financial advisor firm owners are married and the divorce rate was single digits, which is much lower than the country at large.
So I don’t know quite what to read into that. I guess you can read into that as you wish from whatever perspective. But I do think, Alan, it speaks the fact and just this reality of, particularly when you’re building and launching businesses, it’s hard, it’s brutal, it’s difficult. Even when it goes well, it’s still an immense rollercoaster. And so at best, you need a spouse that’s on board and supportive, because if he or she is tearing you down, there’s no way it’s going to survive. If he or she is helping to build you up, maybe you’ll get through enough of those low points to actually get to the other side. And I do think, at least in retrospect, it did help. One of the pluses of having dated so long, she dated me before I was getting going with my career. She dated me as the career started getting going. She dated me before the first time I ever went out for a speaking engagement. And then when I started doing 5 a year, and 10 a year, and 20 a year and 30 a year.
So I guess at least in retrospect, the good news, I think she did have a sense as to what she was getting into by the time we were getting married. One of the upsides of a 10-year dating process, we were pretty clear on what we were getting into by the time we got there and decided to get married.
Alan: Building on that, people always ask me, “Does Michael ever sleep?” Yes. In fact, if you go somewhere on your website still, you can find the Fitbit proof that Michael does, in fact, sleep. So can you talk a little bit about sort of your productivity, time allocation, how you are able to balance family, work, hobbies, if you have any? That was one we got a bunch of questions about. “What hobbies or activities was Michael doing outside of work or is work his hobby?”
How Michael Manages His Hectic Schedule And Maximizes His Productivity [01:19:48]
Michael: So a little bit of each. So where to start on that? So in terms of time management, as we were talking about low points, again, I think I had a few. Getting turned down for my consolation job after not qualifying for my primary job at the insurance company, was definitely a low point. Launching the advisory business…or actually, the speaking and consulting in the face of a giant financial crisis in our industry was definitely a low moment. Some of the challenges over the past few years of just trying to involve myself in the business as fast enough to keep up with what the businesses need for me to keep going has been a challenge, a low point.
But one of the hardest points I think I hit was really…it was probably about 2016 that XYPN was going really well. The advisory firm was doing really well. The speaking business was absolutely booming. New Planner Recruiting was growing. We were just starting to, I think, brainstorm and flesh out what AdvicePay might look like. All this stuff was firing well and there was so much stuff coming at me that I was just saying yes to all the stuff that I could, all these cool opportunities. I was really energized by all the stuff that was out there and really excited about it. And just absolutely buried and blitzed myself, seven days a week working through all this kind of stuff.
And realized I had to change how I handled and manage my time. Because I couldn’t figure out where to draw the line, because just it’s sort of one of the sad ironies of business growth and when it goes well. When your business is not growing, it’s really frustrating because you want it to grow more and it’s hard to find opportunities. When your business is growing really well and you’re not necessarily looking at opportunities, a lot of people start knocking on your door with cool opportunities. And so I got myself absolutely buried and just couldn’t figure out how to draw the line for it and build a system that I really still live to this day.
So it comes from this analogy that at least I had first heard from Stephen Covey, that if you think about your time in the day or in the week. So envision a big glass mason jar. So the mason jar is your fixed container of time. We all get the same 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week. It is not changing. It is unequivocally and absolutely fixed for all of us. But you get to decide how you fill the jar. And so you can think of the things that you put in the jar at a couple of different levels or types. There are the fine-grain sands. Just the little never-ending bits of stuff that come at you, email notifications that come forever, and the social media messages and someone who knocks on your door and says, “Hey, can I pop in and ask you a question?”
At least back when we were in offices and people can knock on your door and do that. Then you got some things that are a little bit bigger and more important. These are kind of like pebbles. There’s a slew of emails, but I really have to get back to the clients on that issue today. And there are a couple of meetings coming up, but this one meeting later in the week is pretty important. I really got to do some extra prep for that. And then there are a few things that are like the big rocks, the big heavy stuff, the sorts of things that will actually move the needle forward for your work, your business, your career. Or there is an essential client meeting today. I have to get this financial planning prep today so that I’m on track for the meeting next week.
We’ve got to get a new marketing campaign going. If I don’t sit down and write the initial proposal, it’s never going to happen. So I have to get that done today. And so the way most people end up doing it by default, the sand is never-ending. It’s always coming at us. It fills much of the jar. We realize there are a few of those pebbles that are sort of urgent, important things. We pick it up; we deal with it. We drop that in the jars as well, we get that done. And by the time he finally gets to the rock, you can’t put the rock in because the jar is 90% full with sands and a couple of pebbles.
So if you just envision trying to stuff a big rock into a jar that’s 90% full with sand and pebbles, it’s just not getting in there. It’s going to sit on the opening of the jar. If you want this to work, you have to dump all of it out, start with a clean bottle, and the first thing you do is you put the big rock in. You put the big rock in first. You know it’s going to fit because the jar is empty right now. Then you grab the pebbles and you drop the pebbles. So if you envision a big cylindrical glass mason jar with a big rock in it, if you drop now some pebbles in, the pebbles are going to kind of go to the corners of the jar where there were gaps between the cylindrical jar around the rock. Then comes the sand. Right.
There’s still a whole bunch of gaps in this jar around the giant rock and a bunch of pebbles around it. So you can pour in the sand now. The sand, I guarantee you, will fill every single possible nook and cranny of the rocks and the pebbles that are distributed around them. But when you run out of room in the jar, the only thing that’s left that didn’t get in is the sand. That, by definition, is the stuff that mattered the least. It’s always there. It’s always present. It’s hard to turn it off. But if you pour the big rocks in first and you pour the sand in last, you are by definition always getting done, every day, the things that are most urgent and important. And so I took this to the logical extreme, because, A, that’s what I do. And B, I was in a bad place on overworking, even for someone that works a lot of hours.
And so I literally made what ended up being a calendar of my entire year. And every single day of the year, I set a big rock on the calendar. Here is the one thing that’s most important and impactful that day. So Monday is going to be my team meeting day. I’m going to put all my team meetings on Monday. And just as long as I get my team meetings done on Monday, that big rock for the day is accomplished. Tuesday might be a speaking engagement. Got to go out on the road. We’re going to do an event. If I’m doing an event, not much else importance getting done that day. Sure, I can answer a couple of emails from the airport, but that’s going to be the thing. Wednesday, I need to go to the advisory firm office for a client meeting. We’ve got a big client, they’ve got a really messy tax situation. I’m going to need a few hours for the analysis work and check it that morning, and then we’re meeting with the client that afternoon. That is the rock for the day. That’s an advisory firm day.
And so I literally had to make rocks for every single day of the year to finally figure out, okay, this is just what it adds up to. If you come up with more speaking or consulting or new businesses or advisory firm stuff or meetings or the rest, if you can’t find a day left on the calendar, you can’t say yes to it. And it was literally the only way I could figure out how to figure out where the capacity was. And then over the past several years, I have tried then to rejigger that balance.
I think in the first year, I had to basically schedule every day of the year just to work through the number of commitments that I had. The following year, I’m like, “Well, I’m only going to do rock six days a week and I’m going to not set rocks on Sundays so I can get some family time back.” Eventually, then the following year, I was like, “I’m going to pull back most of the Saturdays.” I still couldn’t quite get all of them back, because we hadn’t grown the team as much yet to be able to delegate. But I’m going to try to pull those rocks back.
This year, at least before the pandemic made things a little bit screwy, the goal was to reclaim my weekends and get enough stuff delegated and handed off to get it down to the point where at least the rocks would fill the week, but not spill over to the weekends. Maybe some pebbles and sand. I still check some emails and do some work on the weekends. I’m not out of it completely, but I don’t have heavy-lift projects on the weekends anymore. I’ve been able to adjust the workload accordingly.
And so that system, I call it “daily rocks” or “daily themes” system. Each day has the theme of the particular item, particularly in an entrepreneurial world with a lot of different endeavors and pokers in the fire at the same time, it was the only way to figure out how to create a time management structure to both, A, just figure out where the real hard capacity line was. Because otherwise, we just get so stuck in the day-to-day. Moment-to-moment, it’s really hard to figure out, “If I say yes to this, am I really going to be hurting myself in four months?” It’s hard to tell sometimes. And so just trying to figure out where that capacity line was, and then ultimately figure out how to rejigger and restructure the balance.
That was the time management system I built, and I still live it every day. Waking up, “Okay. What’s the daily theme for the day?” At the beginning of the week, I just kind of look out at the week, get my head wrapped around, “Okay, that’s a writing day, that’s a speaking day, that’s a team day, that’s a meetings day, that’s an advisory firm day.” And making sure I know what the theme is for each day, so I can get in with the right focus and make sure I do the things that are most important for moving the business forward.
Alan: So that’s an awesome overview of your work-life productivity and how you’re managing that. I know we’ve got a lot of questions about, “What does Michael do for fun?” And I do want to preface this with you have three young kids. As someone with two young kids, I understand that people… “What did you do this weekend?” “Nothing. I survived. I survived the weekend.” So things change as kids get older.
What Michael Does For Fun [01:28:56]
Michael: Yes, admittedly, we have probably even more of that now when just kids have been home continuously for pretty much seven months and still counting. So, yeah, these days in practice, just most of my spare time when not doing work, is just spending with family. Spending with the kids. Also spending with the broader family. So I’m here in the D.C. area, not just for having grown up here in the D.C. area. But literally, I live about a mile and a half up the street from the house I grew up in. My parents are still there. We’re barely 20 minutes from my in-laws. They are still in the house that my wife grew up in. So we are definitely…I am a ‘set roots’ person. I can run around with my hair on fire because the foundation is very firm and set. And so, as I joke sometimes, I am moving away from the house that I grew up in at a pace of about 100 feet a year.
Alan: Which that’s about the only real reason you’re not in Bozeman, Montana right now. Let’s be honest.
Michael: Yeah. Yeah. I’ve lived in the same two-mile radius basically my entire life, and just very emotionally attached to the area with very deep roots and all of the family here. So we’re doing lunch usually at my folks’ house. My wife is at least off with the kids up to my in-laws. I go when I’m able to go because they’re a little bit further away so it takes a little bit more planning for the schedule sometimes. And a lot of evenings and particularly these days in a pandemic environment where I’m not traveling is reading “Harry Potter” with my oldest. We get through half of a chapter, a chapter a night. We’ve now gone through book four.
Although probably going to have to wait until she gets a little bit older before we get to book five because it gets a little bit scarier. And reading with my middle daughter as well. The youngest we can read to him, he’s not quite reading on his own yet, aside from some picture books. But just spending time doing kids’ bedtime routine and reading and getting to hang out with them.
Well back in the days of having a little bit more time in and out of the pandemic environment, because we’re here in the…I’m here in the area that I grew up and my folks are nearby. So one of my longstanding hobbies is that I play bridge. So I actually started playing very young, probably 13 or 14 years old, was actually a competitive bridge player through high school and college. Got to take several trips around the world in my teens and early 20s as part of the USA junior team for bridge. So I’ve always kind of been wired to cards and a wide range of nerdy stuff. Once career and job got going, competitive bridge did not really have any time left in the schedule.
But there is just a local bridge club game at the local community center that my father and I have now been playing at basically every Wednesday that it’s open and I’m not traveling for almost 30 straight years now. Unfortunately, now closed with the pandemic and I’m hoping there will still be enough people around to put the game back together after it reopens. Bridge, like many things, is suffering from its own age demographics. It makes the financial advisor industry look really, really young by comparison. So bridge clubs in the D.C. area have a significant problem of all of the people who played it for a really long time keep retiring to Florida and reducing the number of local bridge players. But almost 30 years playing bridge every Wednesday with my father at the local club.
And actually, for many years, I was a pretty hardcore gamer as well. I am the child of two computer scientists. So I grew up with computers around me from a very, very young age. I was hacking my own video games on the Commodore 64 because my father taught me how. And have always had a very close connection, both to the computer and technology world in general. I think that’s kind of my attachment to FinTech and advisor tech in our modern business environment. But I was heavily into computer programming in middle school and high school. That almost ended out being the career that I ended out in and pursuing computer science. My number two choice, if I didn’t go to Bates College, would have been to Case Western Reserve for their engineering program and would have ended up in the computer science department. So I was almost in a very different direction.
I still don’t do much with coding anymore, but I’m still a pretty hardcore videogamer as well, and have been as much as I can throughout. So for people that know the video game universe, I was someone who played MUDs in the 1990s. I got into the MMO World with World of Warcraft in the mid-2000s. I was in World of Warcraft world, a main tank helping to lead raids for a fairly hardcore raiding guild. So think several hours a night, several days a week, and pre-scheduled raids were 25 or 40 have to show up at the same time and do a highly coordinated 10 to 15-minute battle, where if one person does one thing wrong for three seconds, everybody dies. It’s actually a really interesting exercise in leadership and group dynamics.
I’ve always said, “Show me someone who has been a successful raid leader in a World of Warcraft guild, and I know you can manage any team.” Anything in an office environment is easier than herding gamers on the internet to do a highly coordinated fight and beating a raid timer. So, unfortunately, as the business travel world picked up, World of Warcraft raid times got very difficult to make, because I ended out being on airplanes that were flying some place when I was supposed to be in a raid. So that end of the gaming side has dialed down because I just don’t have the time that I used to. But I still always keep a couple of games on the smartphone. Right now, it’s Clash Royale and Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes.
Alan: Fair enough. You learn something new every day. I, fortunately, was able to avoid World of Warcraft. That will suck you in.
Michael: Oh. Oh, it’s so beautiful. And I should note as well, I had the ultimate gaming opportunity because I got my wife into it. My wife played as well. I was a tank. She was a healer. We raided into dungeons together. It was wonderful. At some point when the kids are old enough, we’ll send them off to do our activities and we’ll be back into…well, it might literally be World of Warcraft because the darn thing is still going for 15 years. But it’s not War, if it’s not WoW, it will be whatever it is that that comes next. But I’m determined to get back to that with my wife at some point when we are out of the little kid phase.
Alan: As we’re sort of wrapping up, this podcast has been dedicated to success and financial advisors and business owners and entrepreneurs who ultimately are building or have found success for themselves. But as you’ve noted, many times, success is different for every person. And isn’t that really what financial planning is about, is helping our clients understand what success in life really means to them? And yet we spend so little time, I feel, as financial planners really thinking about that for ourselves. So as you think about your career and where your time is being spent, you mentioned wanting to have a dent in the world or leave a dent in the world. How do you define that success? How do you define the dent that you want to leave and when you will have achieved that for yourself?
How Michael Defines Success For Himself [01:36:33]
Michael: Really, the success driver for me is sort of this combination of, I guess, ‘impact and ‘legacy’ are the words that come to mind to me. I think my career, my journey has just always been drawn in this direction of, if I can do a thing that helps more people and reaches more widely, it tends to be the thing that I end out pursuing as a direction. I think that’s why ultimately, I went from the advisory firm to doing writing and speaking. I think that’s part of why even as some of the businesses I’ve built, I love doing some of the work that we’re doing in those businesses, but I can’t entirely move away from the blog. Not just because there are some business dynamics around it, but just I have this need to share and have a platform where we can get stuff out there that has impact and benefits to the advisor community.
And if I can look back down the road and say, “Here are the ways that the industry shaped and shifted and altered,” and be able to say, “I think I actually got to play a little role in that and make a dent in the universe and the path of the profession,” that’s what success looks like for me. It is around that impact. I think the second piece that I’ve really found just in, I guess, my own journey, the layer I think even that I would add to this, from the podcast from a few years ago. I guess I’d have to go back and listen. I think I answered this question then as well. So someone can go back and check and see how I did, or how much it changed.
I think there is this phenomenon as well that when we do the work that is our best work, it creates energy. I think at the end of the day, the whole reason why I can do the stuff that I do and spend what is still a pretty large number of hours working and still be able to come to it with excitement and energy… I’m excited to look at my email every morning. I’m excited to dive into my day every morning because I really enjoy what I do, the impact we’re having. I know we’re helping to change advisors’ lives. I know that helps to impact and benefit clients’ lives. And that’s exciting and it gives me energy.
And just being able to do work where I am still excited to get out of bed every day to do it, to me, is a huge driver of what success means to me. And it’s why, even as I look at this, I can’t imagine ever retiring. There’s nothing to me that sounds worse than making a deliberate decision to not have a thing I can wake up to every morning that gives me the purpose and impact that I’m able to have with the platform we built, and that will keep compounding as long as we can keep growing and compounding. And so, I think part of it for me is that blend of impact and legacy. I think a part of it is just being able to do work that gives me energy every day when I wake up and go out in the world to do what I do.
And frankly, now at the stage of life that I’m at with family and being a parent, I now feel that additional layer of opportunity for success and pull for time and focus of saying… And it’s really important to have that kind of impact and legacy that comes with having a wonderful family, raising wonderful children and setting them on a positive journey for their lives as well. We’re still in the early stages. Who knows where they’re going to go. I don’t have any particular attachments to them coming into the industry or not.
But just knowing that we’re sending them on their own journeys to have their own path of impact and legacy in the world, and hopefully finding some way that we create an environment where they can pay it forward into the future, as well. One of those things that…I don’t know that I started a family with this vision of, “I must have children to leave a legacy to the world”. But I have felt that grow and stir within me as a parent from I guess pretty much the moment that you hold your baby for the first time, of saying, “Wow, I’ve introduced this other opportunity for impact and legacy in my life. I can’t wait to shape that over the years as well.”
Alan: Awesome. Well Michael, thank you for giving me the opportunity to come on and interview you and hear more about your story and what drives you, what gets you up in the morning, what you’re working on. I know that, in the end…you and I sometimes joke that if you could go back and tell your 15-year-old younger self that one day you’d be famous to a pretty big group of people, it’d be a little mind-blowing. But in the end, there are a whole lot of folks in this industry who are grateful that you ultimately came into financial services, didn’t end up in technology or premed or theater or psychology, and in a way combined some of the elements of all of those.
But just a thank you from all the listeners through me for all the work that you’ve done and the impact that you’ve made. You’ve certainly made the dent in the world that you wanted to leave. And I suspect before you’re done, it’ll be a bit of a crater. So thanks for again for letting me come on the show.
Michael: Thank you. I appreciate it for having you join us. Yeah. I still feel like I’m just getting started. So we’ll see if we can make the dent a little bigger before we’re done.