Episode 6: Driving the Bus in Business and in Life — Talking with CEO George Heinrichs
George Heinrichs‘ resume is filled with awards and accomplishments for his aptitude for business as well as social justice. But George would not have gotten where he is today, the CEO of a major company, without facing barriers both professionally and in his personal life.
Our hosts, Jeff, Erik, and Dave, are familiar with George from his role as a Board Member of No Barriers. He helps to extrapolate the No Barriers message to the corporate world and how to use adversity to fuel success.
Before our podcast team had secured a studio space, we holed up in a coworker’s basement, huddled together around a small table in the corner to hear George tell us about his accomplishments in his typical humble demeanor.
He started by explaining his work at his current company, ANDE, and its purpose with decoding DNA at such speed with little equipment needed. ANDE has power to be the ultimate public safety tool. It’s used to improve the safety of our world; capturing terrorists, helping children out of child slavery, solving cold cases, and helping end the backlog of rape kits in the U.S.
Before ANDE, George was the CEO and founder at Intrado, an advanced 9-1-1 call services company. After 9/11, George became particularly aware that the infrastructure of 9-1-1 was not keeping up with demand.
But we wanted to know how George ended up in these public safety roles that changed the landscape of response times and rate of captures. So, George went back and told us about his time as a police officer. It was there he learned a lesson that would be the catalyst to founding Intrado and leading the way at ANDE:
“It was the criticality that people’s lives were on the line and if you did things right, you could make a difference and those people would be alive . . . you wouldn’t be the cause but you could be the fix.”
Between the red tape, the technological barriers, the resources needed to make progress in his career, we wanted to know how George tackles these obstacles.
“Showing up and putting your heart in things, you can work through almost any problem.”
On the importance of failure and refusing to let that define your business:
“Our company probably failed 3 or 4 times but we just weren’t smart enough to know it was time to quit . . . we’d stick it out, we’d find a way.”
George speaks about the lessons of refusing to give up, and to keep everyone on a team accountable and constantly aware of the purpose behind their work. In the case of Intrado, people’s lives were on the line with each 9-1-1 call that came through and his team was responsible for keeping their response system working at maximum performance at all times.
Having that purpose behind your work is something George explores further. He talks about his childhood and the impact of growing up in a traumatic environment where his mother was the victim of domestic violence at the hands of his father. His empathy with vulnerable folks who were victims of crimes became the driver in his life and his career.
“I am a believer you have to be doing something you believe in.”
George explains that his technology has the potential to drop the crime rate in the U.S. by 30-50% and how early intervention can help get us there.
He credits the success of his companies to everyone he works with — not just management or higher ups but every single member of a company. It’s crucial that everyone on his Rope Team believing and sharing the same value set.
His biggest takeaway when everything seems to be against you:
“I figured out the most important part was dress up and show up.”
And whatever problems arise, you have to keep trouble-shooting and trying as many alternatives as you can (in true No Barriers fashion):
“Life’s lessons will be repeated until learned.”
George explains why No Barriers is so important for corporations and the business world in addition to the other populations it serves: youth, veterans, those with physical barriers; and that’s because these are universal tools that can be applied to the success in personal and business terms, and in turn, that success can help bring good to the world.
Check out George’s company at Ande.com.
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————————— EPISODE TRANSCRIPT —————————–
George: For a lot of people, it’s about giving them this experience of overcoming barriers. Once they’ve done it a few times, they start believing in themselves. Once they believe in themselves, this is like a perpetual motion machine. Then, there’s no stopping them.
Erik: It’s easy to talk about the triumphs, but what doesn’t get talked about enough is the struggle. My name is Erik Weinhenmayer. I’m an adventurer. I climbed Mt. Everest and the Seven Summits, the tallest peak in every continent. I happen to be blind. I can tell you it’s been a struggle to live what we call a no-barriers life. To define it, to push the parameters of what it can mean.
Part of the equation of this life is understanding this process of growth that we’re all striving for, to dive down into that experience and illuminate the elements, those universal elements that we have to harness along the way, like wave points on a trail, like holds on a rock face that lead us forward towards change, towards growth, towards transformation. That unexplored terrain between those safe, dark places that we find ourselves in and the summit, is a map that we can use to navigate our lives. It’s a far messier, greater map than we’re led to believe, with more flailing and bleeding along the way. But there is a way forward. That map is what we call no barriers.
This is the No Barriers podcast.
Dave: Today, we meet George Heinrichs, whose new company features a technological solution that will revolutionize public safety. George is the CEO of ANDE, a rapid DNA analysis product that produces a DNA ID in less than two hours. George compares this change in DNA analysis to the transition from photography from film-based to digital media. George is a former CEO and founder of Intrado, an advanced 911 call services company. Among many awards, George has received the Denver Telecom Professionals Executive of the Year Award, the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Award for Technology and George serves on the board of No Barriers, he’s a Fellow in the Radio Club of America and is a co-chair in the International Association of Chiefs of Police Foundation.
Welcome to our No Barriers podcast. I’m really excited today. We have George Heinrichs joining us to talk about his experiences with No Barriers and facing adversity. He’s from the business world. It’s going to be a very compelling story. He is one of the most successful and dynamic entrepreneurs that I personally know and I think you’re gonna see that through the conversation. But before we get started with George, one of the things we’re gonna learn about from George is that he started a few pretty darn businesses in his lifetime and so I thought I’d start by just asking Erik and Jeff, have you guys every dreamed of starting your own business?
Erik: Yeah. I think it’s something that I think is so fascinating. Starting a business, going through any kind of process of growth. I mean, for me, that’s kind of what No Barriers is: what does that process of growth look like and what does it really look like? What does that equation really look like so I’m excited to talk to George because he’s spent a lot of his life taking nothing and growing into something. He knows how to grow things and I want to understand that process better.
Dave: Yeah. Jeff? Ever dream of starting your own business?
Jeff: Well, I’m not sure about that, but I think that as a father and I try to raise a son that’s gonna at some point find his way professionally, I’m always trying to reinforce this idea of find what you love and do it. It doesn’t matter what happens, just go do it. Go do it no matter what. And then, although other things will come out and I feel like that’s what George has done. I’m really kind of curious to hear his story and how that rollercoaster played out for him.
Dave: I’m surprised. I tried to serve this one up to you guys. You could have both said you already have started your own businesses.
Jeff: Well, I didn’t want to be …
Dave: You didn’t want to do that. You didn’t want to go in that direction.
Jeff: Yes. It was too much of a softball.
Dave: I thought you were gonna be like, “Yeah, and I started one too.”
Erik: I’ve taken the blind climbing business to a new level.
Jeff: You really got to [crosstalk 00:04:44]
Erik: A stranglehold on the market.
Dave: A stranglehold on the entire industry. Yeah.
Erik: Yeah. I have a lock down on the whole market there. Yeah, it’s been good. On the industry.
Jeff: Let’s call it a monopoly.
Dave: Well, I think we should get started with our guest today. So George Heinrichs, we are thrilled to have you here. Thank you for joining us. Tell us a little bit about your current entrepreneurial venture.
George: Well, thanks Dave. It’s great to be here. I appreciate the opportunity. I have to start by saying I’m humbled by the people I’m with because the things that have been accomplished around the table are pretty impressive and I feel like the business stuff may not really hold a candle to some of the accomplishments here. But it’s a pleasure to talk about business and it is the way that we make our way in the world for a lot of people so it’s fun to talk about that.
Erik: It’s more than just business because you’re sort of … I feel like your mind and all your experience sort of leads you down a certain direction, business being a big part of that, that entrepreneurial thing of what you want to grow in your life, right? I mean, it’s all connected.
George: Oh, I think that’s right. In the beginning, I guess I would say that my businesses have always involved some kind of a social objective and I can’t say that I started out thinking that way, I wasn’t that disciplined or thoughtful but that is the way it worked out and I think that I usually saw business as giving me the privilege of accomplishing those objectives because if I created a business then I could cash flow, I could create resource availability and surround myself with really great people and as a result I could go accomplish those other things.
The fact that you make money or that you build a business is kind of one way, only a side benefit of this whole thing, right? And I think this is true for most businesses, that people that have a bigger picture mission tend to be more successful and I’m not a big fan of the whole mission and vision thing from the business school perspective, but I am a believer that you have to be doing something you believe in and that it makes a difference and you get up every morning and you care about that thing, whatever that is.
My current business is related to public safety, which my other large business was as well, but what this business does is we have technology that decodes human DNA in less than two hours which kind of on the surface people wonder, “Well, how’s that really a public safety thing?” There are both these kind of emotional drivers that we can talk about that are important like the average rapist typically will assault 12 women before he’s arrested and that’s partly because it takes so long to process the evidence and in some cases, it was only about a year ago they estimated that there were over half a million rape kits sitting on shelves in evidence rooms unprocessed. What that means is that if you don’t do that quickly, you’re creating more and more victims. It’s not necessary. It’s not appropriate. We’ve got to stop the bad guys as soon as we can so that these people aren’t victims. So that’s a powerful mission.
But the mission’s more complicated. The technology can be used and is used by special forces in targeting terrorists and it’s used chasing pirates … You hear about these pirates taking over ships, DNA’s a piece of that strategy. We also use it in human trafficking cases. It’s a common method to get kids across the border that are sold into slavery or the sex trade. They’re forced to lie about their parents at threat of death. They manage to move them across the border. In one study, they showed 80% of kids moving across the border were unrelated to the adults bringing them across.
Those are really compelling numbers and typically if you take DNA evidence or DNA identification information, it’s somewhere between six months and two years to get the answer back. So we do this in two hours with no training in a rugged environment. It’s been done in the back of Humvees and helicopters and fast boats, so it’s very rugged and it’s designed to be used by people with little or no training.
I think people also kind of think, “Well, maybe that’s a privacy issue.” But I think one of the important points we’re trying to make is if we decode your DNA completely, it’s about a six billion character decode. That’s all … When someone says, “Tell me all about your DNA”, and that could tell a lot about a person, even today, and there’s a lot we don’t know about the DNA. But this thing produces a little output that’s 200 characters. It’s just enough to identify a person and it provides accuracy of one in a trillion, trillion. It’s estimated that 107 billion people lived on the planet in the whole history of people living on the planet and this provides selectivity of one out of a trillion, trillion. A one followed by 25 zeros.
The power of this thing is to positively identify people. It doesn’t really contain any medical data, it’s intentionally chosen not to reveal details about a person other than their identity. So it’s a way that we can solve crimes that have been unsolved and stop criminals. It turns out it’s a pretty small number of people who are committing a lot of the crime and so if you can take those people out of the cycle early, society’s just a lot safer and it’s also a really powerful tool to exonerate innocent people.
Jeff: It’s kind of like a Minority Report-ish kind of thing.
Dave: Yeah, yeah, I get it.
Jeff: A little bit ahead of the curve.
Dave: Yeah, right.
Erik: Has it been used yet, like in a court?
George: Well, there are a number of cases in process. The product’s relatively new. It’s been used in the military since 2014, so it’s been around a while to be validated. The first version of it, the FBI certified. But criminal cases normally take anywhere from a year to two years to get to court. It’s been used. We’ve had a role in solving some homicides in the early deployment areas, so it is being used and it’s pretty effective.
Jeff: You seem like a … I’ve known you for a few years and you seem like a seeker. You’re curious, you’re a guy who wants to know more and learn more. And I know your previous business Intrado was all about 911, pre-911 and sort of stepping in there. Did you have any inclination early on professionally that you were going to head down this road where you’re dealing with statistics, genetics, and these formulas that have to go into our big social construct or is this something you’ve had to kind of learn on the fly or …? Tell us about that.
George: Yeah, yeah. So my first business was related to 911 and involved rebuilding most of the North American 911 infrastructure and the mission there, at the time we got involved, the error rate in 911 call processing was about 10% and we went in with a mission to fix that and to be profitable, to be a successful business. And what we did is we took that service over and in the course of our company, we processed just over 3 billion 911 calls and drove the error rates to really tiny numbers. During that period I became very expert in the issues of emergency communications.
As we got into DNA, it wasn’t my intention to be into molecular biology or any of the other associated fields. I had the great fortune of having a friend who was peripherally involved with his company and he introduced me to the founder and I was just blown away by this guy. He was so bright and had all the right motivations, but from a business view, needed some support to go build this business out and after we got to know each other he asked me serve as CEO and take over the company from a business view and he continues to be the lead scientist. I am still a junior birdman on the science front. This guy is unbelievably brilliant. We’ve solved a number of hard science problems that no one had been able to solve before that make rapid DNA possible.
Erik: Your work and your life are so connected. Didn’t you start out as a police officer?
George: Yeah. You know, when I was a kid, for whatever reason, I was out looking for jobs all the time and one of the jobs I ended up with was as a graveyard dispatcher at the local police department because I could work there and go to school and make money. So I got to know the police officers and I loved it and then went on and I got involved in EMS and ultimately went to school and at that point my parents had both passed away and I needed money and I thought, “Well, I’ll just a get a job as a dispatcher while I’m at school studying computer science.”
And one thing led to another and I was attracted, I think, by the adrenaline of and all the positive things about law enforcement work. Plus I figured out they paid a lot better than a lot of things I was looking at. So that job just morphed into where I landed for the first 10 years. So I was a cop for about 10 years and then I realized that if I stayed there I’d probably be there the rest of my career and I wanted to go do something else.
So I brilliantly decided that whatever we did, we wouldn’t do business with government because I was so frustrated with how the red tape all worked and of course, that took about six months until I realized I didn’t know anything else, so we started doing business with government and one thing led to another and we were asked to help with some 911 stuff and I just couldn’t believe what we were seeing and so we got involved.
Erik: But your experience working as a police officer, your experience. You were probably seeing how bad it was, right?
George: Well, you got some sense of that. I got probably a more important message for me was just the criticality of it, just the understanding that people’s lives were on the line and that if you did things right, you could make a difference and those people would be alive. There would be different outcomes. You wouldn’t be the cause, right? But you could be the fix and that was exciting to me. I just found huge satisfaction in that process and I’d do anything to do that. I was hooked on that.
Dave: So these stories that you’re telling and the businesses you build are changing the world and making the world a better place. But what we like to talk about are the hard parts, the parts that get to the heart of what do you do in the moment of struggle and so as you look back at Intrado or ANDE, the current business that you’re working on, tell us about the big struggles, the things that you didn’t think you were gonna make it through and bring us to one of those points.
George: Yeah, I think more of them happened early in my career, at least that’s the way it seems now when I look back on things. I think maybe as I’m older and I’ve built more resources and maybe have better judgment, whatever all came with that time, I’m able to deal with things. They don’t feel quite as threatening as they did in the early days. But there were a lot of times where I went home and wondered if this was it. Whether this was gonna work or not. I figured out that it’s in part believing in what you’re doing, but also for me at least, it was about understanding that showing up and really putting your heart in things … You can work through almost any problem and … Maybe not every problem, maybe there’s a reset. I think I’ve heard it said frequently that even that serves as a lesson, right? You won’t do that again.
I think we’ve talked about our companies. My buddy, Steve Meer, co-founded Intrado with me and we had known each other for a while before we did that together … But think he would agree and we’ve both said before that we think our company probably failed three or four times and that we just weren’t smart enough to know it was time to quit and we just kept going. We just said, “We’re not gonna let it fail. We won’t let that happen.” And so we’d stick it out. We would find a way. There were a lot of nights …
I think in the 911 world, whether this makes sense or not to people, we went home every night believing the weight of the world was on our shoulders for emergency calling. That there were, at that point, 250 million people, that if they dialed 911, our stuff damned well better work. And it could be the worse moment of their lives and they would call for help and we wanted to be so certain that that all worked that when you carry that load around … I have to tell you, when I finally left that position it was like euphoria for several weeks, feeling like I was somehow free.
Jeff: Do you attribute a few of your gray whiskers to …?
George: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. You face the human problems, right? You’d have call that was in the newspaper that someone died and someone would say, “Well, maybe it was a problem with 911.” And what we learned very quickly was that you can’t buy into any of that until you actually do the research. You have to figure out what the truth is because the truth isn’t necessarily what people perceived at the very beginning. Once you get all the facts, it may be a different story and we would have employees that would read that and they’d be crushed. You could see the person was in a total … Who was responsible for that area, would own that and feel like they had a hand in it and in all our time, in all our research we never had a case that was ours that we owned directly.
But what we did do is we wouldn’t let a single one of those go and we had this philosophy of continuous improvements where if anything went wrong, the best thing was the harsh truth. If we didn’t speak the harsh truth to each other about what was going on, if you tried to gloss it over or make it sound better, that didn’t help. And so it was the harsh truth and it was really aggressively acting to not only fix that problem but make really certain that it never reoccurred if it was one that we could have control over. That was it. But I think that’s how No Barriers applies to everything that we were doing, right? I mean, No Barriers is about overcoming these obstacles and …
Dave: You know, one of things that strikes me from your story that you just told is when you said your business almost failed, probably failed three times and you were too stubborn or too dedicated to realize it. So one of the things we teach about is that part of overcoming and harnessing adversity all begins with purpose and vision and a commitment to that thing that you’re trying to do. So can you talk a little bit about how that purpose in your life really drives you through those moments and helped get you through them?
George: I think we all have this huge collection of experiences that make us people, right? And when I was a kid, I had parents who both were alcoholics and it was a constant cycle of domestic violence and I think that drove me towards law enforcement, it drove me to how do you not let this go on? And to my mom’s credit she divorced my stepdad, she did break the cycle which takes huge courage for people to do that who are trapped in that situation. But as a little kid and you watch this stuff going on or you’re the victim of this stuff, it’s pretty damaging. But I think that begins to ingrain this message.
And then, like I said, I did some work in EMS, nothing compared to what Jeff has done but, you don’t have to see that many people dying or dead and kind of understand what the dynamics are to really start branding your brain with: This makes a difference. I need to do something. I’m guessing Jeff’s like this. There were certain people and I cared about them, but nothing like I cared about kids or I cared about truly innocent victims which were the most damaging. You’d carry those with you forever. The guy who was drunk and who killed the family … You know, I’m sorry he’s hurt, but I didn’t carry it around with me like guilt.
But those things then become the driver and at our company for example, in the 911 side, we did several things. One, we would make it a point to tell stories about it because I think stories are really important. I think if you tell people stories, that’s how they really relate, this is like the history of man, right? Throughout the whole evolution of man, that’s what we do is to tell stories to each other. It’s how we communicate values and it’s how we communicate experience and there are all these really wonderful attributes. But we would make it a point to share stories about the work that people did and it’s our belief, and it’s still my belief that everybody in that company contributed to saving lives. I mean, I don’t care if they were the janitor, if they didn’t do their job, this really wouldn’t have worked out the same way probably.
That’s an extreme example, but I think it’s true and I think that the people there bought in and the result was that we built a culture of people … And I think this is important in business … Is that we built a culture of people who weren’t going to pay attention to barriers. These are people who will march through hell if they believed this is gonna make a difference.
The DNA thing, while there’s some people could attribute some political stuff to that, I think the reality is that when you see how it impacts the world, I think it’s the same impact and our view of this right now based on, I think, some reasonably reliable data is that we can drop the crime rate in the United States 30 to 50%. I think if you do that, that’s massive. Just think of all the bad things that happen to people that don’t need to happen to people and part of it’s about intervening before it gets that far, right?
Erik: Well, you talked about everyone stepping up in that process and being a part of it, like Jeff and I, when we were climbing Everest we were stuck in a storm at 2750 feet and our base camp manager had been studying the weather patterns and he wasn’t on the summit team but he had the courage to say, “Hey guys”, on the radio, “I think this storm is gonna pass you by. It’s heading north towards Bhutan and I think it’s fast moving and I’m making a call here that I think you should keep going.” And that was tremendous courage. This is a guy that even though wasn’t going to stand there with us, he was going to have a stake in this process and he was either gonna with that call drive us forward and we were gonna have massive success, or he was gonna kill us.
Erik: So how do you create that kind of courage in your teams? Do you know what I mean? ‘Cause you’re doing such big important stuff, if people screw up, lives are on the line, so how do you get people to have the courage the pull their head out of the foxhole and go, “I want to make a courageous call here and be a part of this thing.”?
George: Yeah, I guess I’d be reluctant to take responsibility for creating that. I think maybe we do some things to contribute to it, but it all comes from the core of those people and I think that what’s important to us is helping them develop that in themselves, develop their own confidence and buying into the mission and … The other thing that happens that I think … Jim Collins wrote about it quite a bit actually is that people who have a shared set of values connect like that and people who don’t share those values either self-eject or they are ejected by the organization because they don’t fit in. So I think this is, while you’re very generous Dave, in complimenting the businesses that we created, I think … And this is true today, the people that I work with are just as responsible for what we’re doing as anybody in the management team, and some of them more like Dr. Selden who’s just doing unbelievable stuff, right?
But I think a piece of it … Sometimes what I see in management teams is I see them actively crushing this. And so maybe it’s more about what we don’t than it is what we do. You want to reinforce the people who are fired up but … We had people … And part of our goal was to give them latitude to make their own decisions. We didn’t want to be their boss. We wanted them to be part of the team. And when everybody’s part of the team … And it’s not to say there aren’t moments when somebody has to make the call, right? I don’t mean to make it sound like it’s a giant democracy because that wasn’t the case either, but the reality is that I think that kind of courage comes from within and it comes with them believing and sharing this value set and that you trust that.
But for a lot of people it’s about giving them this experience of overcoming barriers and once they’ve done it a few times, they start believing in themselves. And once they believe in themselves this is like a perpetual motion machine. Then there’s no stopping them because they … And I think that’s true. Starting businesses is hard and there are probably 10,000 or 100,000 or multiple millions of things you can do to screw it up. But the truth is, I think people who really are focused will succeed at that and the numbers don’t show that and I think it’s because people hit those barriers and they talk themselves out of it. Suddenly they lose their will to take that next step and I think it’s a lot about just doing it. I have to say some of the most difficult things that I ever faced I figured out that the most important part was dress up and show up and if i did that I could work through even the things …
And we had corporate conflicts with people who were on the board, we had conflicts with major US corporations who wanted to do one thing and we wanted to do something else. So we were dealing with people in a business world sense that had all the power in the world that we could imagine and we had to stand up to those when we thought it was wrong or when they created a barrier that we felt had to be overcome. In some ways, as I got older, I care less and less about things and I care more and more about people and I don’t really go to bed at night fearing the things that I feared when I was younger. I go to bed now thinking about what are the good outcomes and about being appreciative for the good things that are happening because there’s so massive.
Jeff: So George, you’ve been a big advocate and supporter of No Barriers over the years, for quite a long time now, and have you noticed … Or I guess, has it occurred to you at some point that all of the messaging and content that you’ve been a part of in sharing with No Barriers, did it exist in your mind, in your life, in your trajectory before you even encountered it and was it intuitive in you as a developer and a person who leads people and creates things out of nothing? Is this something that existed and then you sort of came and joined in with the No Barriers messaging, or did you say, “I’ve been kind of doing that the whole time and that’s why it makes so much sense.” Is that one of the reasons why? I hate to put words in your mouth.
George: So I guess when I look at the No Barriers message, I think there are pieces of it that I would almost translate to values or really big picture life concepts that I was signed up for conceptually, but I didn’t articulate them nearly as well. I think that’s the power of this thing. I think there’s another piece to this that’s maybe even politically incorrect but I think when I see people facing challenges that are so much bigger than mine, accomplishing things, that if nothing else, it makes me just stop and go, “How could I possibly complain? How could I possibly tell you this is a problem for me?” Because I’ve blessed with all these other things, how could I use that as an excuse? That’s just stupid.
It’s not to put anyone else down, it’s just to say I get a bigger appreciation for the whole world. I can say enough about the people I see in No Barriers and what they accomplish and how impressed I am and how insignificant I think what I’ve accomplished is compared to what they’re doing.
Erik: I have kind of a big question for you, maybe it’s a little too conceptual but … In No Barriers, we’re working with people who are going through this process of trying to grow, they’re trying to change and that’s a hard process, right? I think there’s a lot of myth. There’s a lot more flailing and bleeding along the way, but maybe there’s a map that we can navigate. So you’ve been growing things for a long time. What makes the difference? What are the secret? Are there any pieces that you can pull out that you can say, “This is the difference”, in that process that we’re trying to go through this thing and we’re getting stuck along the way?
George: What I can say is that every time I see an obstacle for myself at least, I try to go down the path that’s gonna solve it and I don’t accept defeat until I’ve tried alternatives. It’s just not one test and I give up. It’s I gotta keep adjusting this ’cause I don’t get it right. Even things I’ve done 100 times before that I thought I knew the answer to, the universe manages to show me that I didn’t really know the answer. I have a friend who says, which I love this statement, but he says his motto is that life’s lessons will be repeated until learned. And I just think that’s so true. You just being confronted with whatever this problem is you’re creating until you figure out the answer. Until you learn it and then you move on. That’d be my only answer I think.
Erik: Dr. Hugh Herr is a friend of ours at No Barriers. He builds these really sophisticated prosthetic legs at MIT and he told me that as a scientist 90% of his day is failure and he actually showed me this trail of parts of these prosthetics, he’s like, “This one didn’t work”, he’d put that in my hand and he’d say, “This one didn’t work, this one didn’t work.” And he has this trail of parts that went nowhere that sort of in a weird backwards way kind of showed him the way. And so that’s what I’m thinking about as I hear you. It sounds like there’s a lot more quote unquote “failure” or shortfall in the equation as you’re in that nimble approach, right?
George: Absolutely. So at this point for this new company, we have to raise money because the financial scale of this thing is pretty big. So I’m in talking to bankers in New York or wherever and they sort of bait you with these questions like, “Do you think you have the experience? Do you know everything you need to know?” And my answer is, “I think I’ve screwed up more things than most people around here so I’ll avoid those. I’m not sure what new lessons there are but I’m great at all the crap I’ve screwed up already.”
I have this huge library of stuff not to do, but I haven’t figured all the right answers.
Jeff: Does that answer work? Do they give you money?
George: Most of them smile and they look at me and so far I’m doing okay on the money front, so maybe it’s working. Maybe it’s working.
Erik: So you know No Barriers well. We work with youth, warriors, veterans who have disabilities, we work with people facing major challenges in their lives. Some would kind of look at this move for No Barriers to work with companies as, “Companies? That doesn’t quite fit. You’re in the business of changing kids lives, changing veterans lives. How does this company fit in?” So you’ve been a big supporter of this initiative, so tell our listeners how that fits and why you think it’s equally important?
George: The truth is that you don’t go home and say, “Well, I learned something today”, and then I just apply it in my personal life. I don’t apply it in my business life or vice versa. I mean, the reality is that you’re a whole person and that when you learn these things you carry them with you in everything that you do. And so what this is, is that this is a program that helps transform those people so that’s good. But the business world is really about this simple concept which is: if I create value, genuine value, then someone else will pay for it. That’s how this works. And so why I’m so excited about this is that we create this thing of value which is this incredible sort of work, this set of concepts and documents that are well articulated, structured, with field experience about their use and about their impact … Take all that stuff, package it and sell it, and now it feels like we’re driving the bus.
It feels like we have some control over this and that we can generate the revenue but not because somebody feels sorry for me. It’s because people want what we have and it’s because we can change their life too for the better. We can change their company for the better, right? We’re going to give people this thing of value that we have at No Barriers and in exchange, they’re going to give us money and when they give us money, then the programs that you talked about Dave, we can scale and we can reach more people, we can deliver those messages, we can help people out of those dark places and I just think that’s so powerful.
And it’s so silly of us to sit back and not drive the bus because if all you do is ride all the time, you don’t have any clue where you’re going. You could go to to the wrong place. It’s not a good thing.
Dave: Well George, listening to you makes me want to not be in this podcast room. I want to build this, let’s get on that. [crosstalk 00:34:50] Yeah, jump up and down. Go build the bus that’s gonna take us to where we want to go with the resources that we need. So George, you have been such a wonderful supporter of No Barriers. Early on, prior to being a board member, so thank you so much for all you’ve done for us at No Barriers to grow our business and thanks for what you’re doing right now, the work you’re doing with ANDE, our listeners should check this out. It’s pretty phenomenal. What’s the website?
George: It’s ANDE.com. A-N-D-E dot com.
Dave: You should check out that work. Really exciting and important work for our world. But thank you so much George. It’s been a pleasure having you.
George: It’s been my pleasure to be here. And thanks for all that you guys do. I think what I’ve done, it pales greatly in comparison and maybe we get this other going we can help accelerate things and really make a difference.
Erik: Yes, thanks George. Thanks for being here.
Jeff: Thank you.
Dave: Well, Erik, Jeff, we always like to close with a little bit of reflection. As always, George has tons of energy and passion for this work. Gets you kind of jazzed up, makes you want to get up and go do something. So Erik, what’d you take away from the conversation.
Erik: I mean you can’t help but take away how do you drive the bus in your life, in your organization, all the things we’re doing in our families, right? You build something that creates value in the world that’s a fair exchange and then it builds the resources to be able to deliver that thing and do great work in the world, right? The two aren’t separated, the two are all connected. I love that. That was a good message for all of us.
Dave: How about you, Jeff?
Jeff: Well, I think of George’s professional history and I’m guessing he chose to gravitate towards these social responsibility business endeavors and I get to talk to folks a lot of times that just make and then produce and then sell widgets. And we all need widgets, the world needs widgets but I like the idea of having a human element involved. And what comes with that, and George even admitted to it, is it’s somewhat of a burden, but I like that burden. That burden means something and it creates, I think, a stronger urge to be able to succeed and do it the right way. And heavy is the head that wears the crown, you know? It’s a heavy thing and I commend George for doing it and I’m really glad that he’s a part of our community. I can say that.
Erik: It creates a lot of energy, it seems too.
Jeff: Yeah, for folks to rally around and for you to really want it to succeed.
Erik: Dave, what about you.
Dave: I mean, certainly when George was talking about purpose driven leadership and businesses that resonated with the work that we do at No Barriers, but I think one thing that struck me that we find in these podcasts that we’re doing is you discover something new. Like I didn’t know about George’s history of growing up and what he faced as a young kid with his parents and the adversity that that presented. I kinda wanted to dig into how he … We talk to a lot of people who talk about those adversities in their lives and look where he’s come from there and we didn’t dive into that.
Jeff: We mentioned that before George even showed up today. It was like, “I wonder if there was some sort of historical thing that led him down this path?” And sure enough … To your point it did.
Dave: Yeah. Yeah, I always find those discoveries fascinated, what led someone on that path and of course, there were many things that led George, but that was just one new thing that was enlightening. So thank you guy, Erik, Jeff, George. Thanks for being with us. As always, there are many ways you can help No Barriers. One is if you enjoyed this podcast, share it with one other person. We can grow our podcast listenership by you sharing these stories with others. Thank you so much. We look forward to the next podcast.
Erik: No Barriers.
Dave: Thanks to all of you listening to our podcast. We know that you have a lot of choices about how you can spend your time and so we appreciate you spending it with us. If you enjoyed this podcast, we encourage you to subscribe to it, share it, and give us a review. Show notes can be found at NoBarrierspodcast.com. Special thanks to the Dan Ryan Band for our intro song which is called, “Guidance”. The production team behind this podcast includes producers Didrik Johnck and Pauline Schaffer. Sound design and editing and mixing by Jesse Singer and Tyler Cotman. Graphics by Sam Davis and marketing support by Laura Baldwin and Jaime Donnelly. Thanks to all you amazing people for the great work you do.