Rand Fishkin: Full Transcript

Marc Reifenrath (00:12):

Today, our guest is Rand Fishkin. He's the current CEO of SparkToro. In 2018, Rand started SparkToro, a software that makes market research accessible to everyone. He's the author of Lost and Founder, A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World. Previously, he founded and led Moz from 2001 to 2017. And as a frequent keynote speaker on marketing and entrepreneurship Rand has been written about in Newsweek, the Next Web, Inc. 5,000 and hundreds of other publications. Please join me in welcoming Rand Fishkin to Culture Starts with U.

Reifenrath (00:52):

All right, well, Rand Fishkin. Welcome to Culture Starts with U. This is a podcast all about culture and core values. We want to talk about and debate, challenge each other on these views and just help everybody get better every day. So, Rand, one of the first questions that I like to start with before we even get going — it's my favorite interview question — is when you wake up in the morning and you, I assume, walk to your desk right now, not driving to your, uh, commuting to your desk, what would be that walk up or entrance song playing in your head every morning?

Rand Fishkin (01:21):

<laugh> Ooh, every morning is tough. I think it's different morning to morning. But, uh, gosh, I think a good one for me is maybe that Mike Snow — are you familiar with this artist?

Reifenrath (01:41):

I personally am not, but…

Fishkin (01:43):

No, I'll have to play you some. I like, in particular, I like Mike Snow's Genghis Kahn, I think that's great walk-on music for a conference or event.

Reifenrath (01:53):

Yeah. Awesome. Mine would change. I don't know about every day, but I would probably have like three to five that I would rotate in depending on my mood, what I was doing. So, yeah, that's a good kind of icebreaker question for us to get going. So, all right. You've had an interesting journey. You started Moz in 2001 all the way to 2017. You're currently starting another startup with SparkToro. And so from, you know, one entrepreneur to another, I'm curious on, you know, how culture has changed in your opinion — when you started that first one, you're starting it now, it's gotta be different. And so how's that evolved and changed over time?

Fishkin (02:33):

Yeah, I mean, I think that the culture at my first company was much more informed by the incentives and structures and systems that I was trying to optimize for at the time, which was really around, you know, Moz was a venture backed startup. It had this goal of becoming a, you know, billion company or die trying, and obviously Moz did not get there. Didn't exactly die trying, but it was sort of, you know, one of those rare, unusual, stuck in the middle kind of startups and SparkToro is very, very different, right? Our incentives are different, our model’s different, the way we're funded and structured. The goal of the business is entirely different. And so a lot of the culture is very different as well. You know, we are an incredibly tiny team. There's only three of us.

Fishkin (03:30):

We don't plan to hire more than maybe a handful of people over the next decade, if that. We intentionally are an entirely remote-only culture. We've never all three gotten together in person, so far, yet. And SparkToro is also a very, I would say hands off, trusting, very, you know, kind of personal responsibility culture. The three of us do our work very independently. We rarely meet, maybe once every two to four weeks, we get together and have a quick chat. We copy each other in on emails, but we'll go weeks without talking at all, right. We just, we know that we have our responsibilities and our roles and we fill those. So incredibly different to Moz where it was, okay, here's the company's core values. And from those core values flows our recruiting and our onboarding practices and our meeting culture. And it was just so much more structured and formal, versus the informal — very functional — but not heavy process that we use at SparkToro.

Reifenrath (04:46):

So is your current culture a result of what you had and maybe is more personally aligned or how you work best, how the team that you formed works best? Like how did you inform this decision of the culture you're you've created today?

Fishkin (05:02):

Yeah, it really is. I think in a lot of ways, a reaction to that culture and a rejection of the structures, biases, processes, problems that many, many corporate cultures and venture backed world have, and it's also an embrace of the things that work really well for us — not just as a company. In fact, less as a company and more as people, right? So it's about saying what's the best possible work situation for Rand, Casey, and Amanda? Not what's the absolute best way to get the most productivity out of us and, you know, sort of get the highest amount of revenue and those kinds of things. It is optimizing instead for, how do we build a business that supports a great life for the three of us and a great experience for our customers. And we believe that from those two things, every other good thing will flow.

Reifenrath (06:09):

And you were, I mean, you started this, before remote was like the only thing pretty much. Right? So that was also a very made decision, intentional decision. And so is that the way it's gonna be? Would you ever… Does that change for you in any fashion? Would you ever have an office or need an office?

Fishkin (06:31):

Yeah, we intentionally built a company that was designed to be not just remote first, but remote only. And that is again, really optimizing for essentially two things. I mean, one was the cost structure, right. Casey and I knew that we didn't want to deal with the costs and maintenance and challenges of an in-person office. And secondarily that we, the two of us both liked working from home. I like it just personally for me, Casey likes it, particularly because he's sort of the primary caretaker for his two young girls and his wife's got a job outside of their house and she commutes. And so, you know, Casey's gotta be there to pack up the kids and send 'em off to school and be there when they come home. And he does the laundry <laugh>, he does a lot of the prep, right. So he's doing a lot of that kind of family maintenance stuff. And that really requires a remote enabled job. So, yeah, when we co-founded SparkToro, it was just ideal for us.

Reifenrath (07:37):

So I'm gonna imagine you have some thoughts on just — broad stroke — the workplace in general and how it's changed in the last almost 24 months. So do you think this remote culture is survivable for all businesses, only certain types of businesses? Do you have a view on that?

Fishkin (07:56):

Yeah, I mean, I don't think it's possible for every business, but I think it's possible for virtually every knowledge focused business, right? Knowledge and technology. If you are making goods services, products virtually, and 90% of your work is <laugh> on a computer and a screen, then there's no particular reason that you need to be in the same place. I think there is very much… the counter to that is, look, if you are fabricating machinery, you need a space. People have to go in, there's a physical reason and need to be in an office, but I think it behooves the world and society to take knowledge and technology workers out of that requirement. And that brings a lot of benefits to the rest of society, including things like, you know, traffic congestion problems and the pollutants that come from commuting and the challenges and costs around office space and the problems of skyrocketing supply and demand issues in all these places and the home ownership issues and <laugh> yada yada yada.

Fishkin (09:21):

Right? So I — my belief is that we can build a much better world if we continue to embrace remote work for everyone that it's possible for, like we have during the pandemic.

Reifenrath (09:32):

Couldn't agree more. I think it opens the doors from a talent perspective, as opposed to only focused on a market of which you're in versus anywhere, best person for the job and just let 'em flow in. And it's been awesome, I know for us, it's just blowing the doors wide, open, very, very positive things. And I just don't see it changing. I don't see why, like 10 years ago it was like, we have to be in an office today. It's like, well, this is the new view. And until something proves that wrong, it's the view that will hold.

Fishkin (09:59):

Yeah. I think that there's going to continue to be, over the next 20 or 30 years, a good number of folks who can't wrap their heads around how to manage people without being in physical contact with them and being able to see them and, you know, watching over them personally. And then I think that generation will leave the workforce and we will have a remote first world.

Reifenrath (10:29):

So when you started SparkToro, I'm going to, if we spoke on, we've talked about culture, but the core values — I have to imagine that conversation started with the three of you being in really close alignment on what those core values are, which allows you to work in the setup that you're doing. So how, how long did that take? 

Fishkin (10:48):

<laugh> it, it was, it was not a long process actually. We did that right after Amanda joined the company in June of this year (2021). So, you know, we've only been sort of thoughtful about value structuring for a few months now, but essentially when she came on board, the three of us had a conversation around it. We actually involved my wife, Geraldine, who had written Moz’s core values back in 2004, 2005. And that exercise and then the sort of the future experience was something that Geraldine learned from, and I think evolved from. And so when SparkToro’s process started, she offered to help out and helped us put together essentially a list of those values and make those more transparent for the three of us, make sure to get agreement from all three of us on what those were.

Fishkin (11:52):

And the one I think that stands out, that's very, very unique from anything I've done before is one of SparkToro's biggest values is “boundaries.” You know, we agree that we have healthy boundaries between our work life and our personal lives. We agree that we have healthy boundaries around how much work we do and what we do. We agree that we have healthy boundaries around what we ask of ourselves and what we ask of each other. We have healthy boundaries around what is okay for customers in our community to ask of us and what we're willing to, you know, sort of do around that front. And it is a really emotionally healthy and much more kind of mature approach <laugh> I think, than what I had at my previous company, which was a very, you know, you give every part of yourself in every way to the business, because month over month growth is the only thing that matters in all of our lives for all 250 people who work here. Right. That's right. Pretty much the venture model.

Reifenrath (12:59):

Right. Totally understand. … You wrote, “I've made no secret of my distaste for hustle culture, but I also have empathy for why it exists and how it appeals to folks.” So let's dive into it about, you know, 1) work to live, 2) trust and boundaries, 3) outcomes for greater input, and do less better, prioritize customers, team, community, investors — in that order. So let's talk about the hustle culture. I mean, that's how you started Moz, I would assume, right? You were kind of sucked into that. A light bulb goes off. So when did that light bulb go off and what did you do to change your view on that and actions on it? Probably more importantly…

Fishkin (13:45):

Uh, Marc, I think it was a little bit less of a light bulb on and off moment and more like a dimmer switch <laugh>, right? Where it starts out dark and then it gets a little bit brighter over time. You know the switch gets fiddled with, but eventually the light gets very bright and that was a long process. There was no one movie moment, you know, climax of the film that changed the way I thought about hustle culture and work life balance and prioritizing self versus whatever financial success or those kinds of things. Instead, it was a slow, long realization that it is true that sometimes more work can produce better results. And it's also true that sometimes that's not the case and that in fact less work that is more carefully directed to the right projects and the right processes that's done from a place of really healthy headspace, that's done when you are sort of feeling and doing your best work, can have more positive outcome results than 10 times that amount of work and amount of hours when you're in a bad headspace or in a bad time. Or after a burned out 50 hours of a work week, you know, the next 10 are so much more useless compared to those first 10 of a fresh week after you've been on vacation.

Fishkin (15:30):

And in that realization, I sort of first came to this conclusion that, well, maybe I need to prioritize some health issues and, and then, oh, I probably need to prioritize some sleep. And gosh, wouldn't it be great if I could prioritize the work that really matters instead of doing everything and maybe I need to say no to more stuff, and maybe I should be telling my team members to say no to more things, and then it snowballs, right? It's that dimmer switch like slowly, slowly turning up.

Reifenrath (16:04):

I love the dimmer switch analogy, cuz I think society, we always think it's just a boom moment. So I agree completely work life balance, 40 hour work weeks. It’s not about the hours. It's about the output. We really work hard to not have people… We have alerts, we have dashboards for people that work more than 43 hours, so that we know to then help them cuz it's easy in the agency space to get sucked in. It's easy in the hustle culture to get sucked in. And here’s a realization I had — it's the right answer that society wants when somebody says, how's it going? How's work? They want you to say, oh, I'm so busy. I've been traveling. And that's like the right thing to say, but what the right answer might also be like, you know what? I've got it figured out. I'm doing a lot of great work and I've got some free time. I'm spending a lot of time with my family… And we can shift that conversation from work to family and our lives as opposed to just those things. But society drives these other demands or what is maybe the popular answer. Right? And in the hustle culture, you get sucked into that.

Fishkin (17:09):

Absolutely. I think there's a sickness, like an infection in the minds of many people in the business world, and that sickness is an idea, right? The idea that more work makes you more worthy, that the amount of hours and the hardness with which you work is how you earn your place in the world and in society. And it determines whether you're a worthwhile human being. It determines whether you're someone who should be rewarded or punished in your life. And it's despicable, right? I think it's an idea that we need to do away with — it's very problematic and serves a small class of very wealthy people and serves the rest of society very poorly and, you know, a liberal democracy and a healthy form of capitalism should do away with this. And it's frustrating to me that it's taking so many hundreds of years to get away from this idea. So let's try and break those chains if we can.

Reifenrath (18:23):

Totally. I always say as one of the founders and the business owner, it's our responsibility to find profitability within those 40 hours. And if we can't, then that's on us. It's not, oh, well, if we get people to work 10 more hours, then we don't have to hire for every four people doing that. It's one that's higher and blah, blah, blah. But you're right. The work goes down, the quality goes down. It's a chasing tail mentality. You're on a hamster wheel. So I do agree — as business owners who can help set some standards, we need to hold people accountable to just working a reasonable amount of time to get their stuff done. And I agree, I don't care about the hours as much as the quality. Let's just do great work. And I think the last two years have also opened those doors, as well, for it can be done anywhere. It can be done on a flexible schedule. We don't have to just think of a nine to five mentality. Like some people might wake up early, some people stay up late, it might vary, which is totally okay. So when you do your best — when does Rand do his best work? When is the most effective hours of the day for you?

Fishkin (19:30):

Yeah. Classically it's been like 10:00 PM to 2:00 AM, right. That's when I'm kind of in my zone.

Reifenrath (19:36):

Okay. So early career, did you, did you know that and if you did, did you work your nine to five and then have to do your slot where you could actually do meaningful work?

Fishkin (19:47):

Yeah, that's exactly right. And of course burning the candle at both ends meant I was not doing my best work very often. I think, you know it's remarkable to look at Moz and SparkToro are similar in a lot of ways, right? They're both marketing software companies, different kinds of marketing software companies, but they're both software as a service. They're both subscription model. They both serve primarily small to mid-size and challenger brands and agencies. So a lot of similarities between the two, and they've both grown at very similar rates in their first approximately 18 months that SparkToro's been around now. And yet at one of those businesses, Rand was working 60 plus hours a week and building a big team of people. And one of those is three people and I often work 25 hours a week.

Fishkin (20:46):

I rarely get to 40. I just rarely do. And part of that is, I obviously am doing things that are tangentially related to my work and that are other forms of work, but working on SparkToro itself. It's just not that intensive company and intentionally so. That's by design, we designed it in a way that would not require massive amounts of work. We designed the product in a way that it's extremely self-explanatory. So even with, you know, a thousand, I think we have 1100 or so customers right now, we get very few support emails every day, maybe five, usually less. I was in Italy for three weeks with my wife, we were visiting family that we hadn't seen for a long time, and some friends, and I was speaking at a conference there too. And a lot of days, honestly, maybe I was spending an hour or two on SparkToro work while we were there. It was fantastic. It was just essentially keeping up with email and some content work and otherwise, hey, let's go spend three hours at dinner. <laugh>, you know, in a fancy restaurant.

Reifenrath (22:04):

Love it. I mean, so just thinking back to your last stretch at Moz and that mental space of being maybe somewhat prisoner to that, right. And now this freedom that you have on a personal level, like how freeing is that?

Fishkin (22:22):

I think the biggest frustration I have, Marc, is that I wanna blame — I think the natural approaches — I wanna blame society or the tech world or the venture capital world or all those kinds of things, but honestly there's no one to blame, but myself. I could have opened my eyes and had this realization. Turned up that dimmer switch at any time. It was not a foregone conclusion that I had to spend, you know, a decade and a half, 20 years, like trying to figure this out before I came to the reasonable conclusion that, oh, wait a minute. Maybe if I do 20 hours of high quality work, that's the equivalent of 60 hours of burned out, sleepy all the time, barely making a go of it work. It is very freeing.

Fishkin (23:18):

Absolutely. It's also frustrating, right? It's that frustration of looking back and saying, gosh, I wonder what the other things in my life might have been. Like, I wonder how successful Moz might have been if I had realized how much better I could have prioritized. I wonder the team that I could have built. I wonder the happiness that I could have enabled for that team. I wonder the ways that I could have strategically made the product better so that customers would've had a better experience too, because they didn't need as much from us. And from our team, I think all those things are… maybe this is just the way it goes in life. Right? As you learn things, you both feel the fruits of your labor,  your intellectual labor, and your mind freeing labor, and also you have the regret of the past.

Reifenrath (24:16):

Yeah. I mean, there's probably about a little bit of both in there. Right? That's a little bit of just that's the way it is. And some people figure those things out sooner. I mean, I would say my observation is, I think you figured out something that very few have… I mean, a lot of people just get stuck in that cycle and really never… it becomes a habit that they just can't break. It's an addiction, almost, they can't break. So I think you're actually in pretty rare waters to say that you've kind of broken out of that.

Fishkin (24:42):

Yeah. And I have deep empathy for folks, too, who I think are stuck in those structures and don't have the freedom and flexibility to make their own choices around this. There's so many people who are not — they don't run the company, they're not owners and entrepreneurs. They are in the workforce and they don't have the option to say to their boss, Hey boss, you know what would be better for our company? <laugh> is if I worked one-third the hours that I currently do. There's just not a lot of understanding around that yet. So hopefully folks like you and I can serve as examples of that. If spark Toro becomes a success story and I'm able to kind of do what I did with Moz and, you know, write a book about it and have lots of people say, wow, that that's an impressive company and what a great product and I find a lot of value from that. My hope is that then the messages around boundary work, chill work, less work but more strategic and better done work will resonate with a wider audience. And maybe that can start to change some hearts and minds.

Reifenrath (25:51):

Totally. So we use Traction — if you've heard of Traction or EOS — but one of the things in there that I talked about is your rocks, your pebbles and the sand. And so if you try to put these on a PLA, if you start with the sand and you put the pebbles in and the rock, there's not room for the rocks. But if you start with your rocks being the biggest things out of the day, then you focus on those. The pebbles are kind of also important, but not as important. The sand is typically the noise. So you have to start with your rocks for it all to fit in, but maybe you don't even need to put some of that stuff in, right? Like some of the noise, if you can eliminate some of that, which to me is the most meaningful thing to do every day. And it sounds like you have a very long term vision for SparkToro. You just continually take those steps towards it. You're gonna achieve things. Most of us are too impatient to think that long term, but you can really accomplish big things. 

Fishkin (26:47):

This is part of your model structure too, right? If you structure a business from the start as, how do we make sure that we survive for a long time and sort of incrementally move toward progress and hopefully build something exciting in 10 or 20 or 30 years, as opposed to: All right, we gotta become a billion dollar company in five to seven years. <laugh>, um, or die trying. And our investors expect us to probably die trying, but you know, one out of a hundred of us, two out of a hundred of us will make it. Those are completely different structures and ways of running things. I think more folks, especially in technology should be embracing building a business, not a startup.

Reifenrath (27:35):

I could not agree more.

Fishkin (27:36):

Unfortunately, cheap investor money and this sort of culture of raising startup investment in a venture style has, I think, biased a lot of people to think that the startup way is the only way.

Reifenrath (27:54):

I agree fundamentally, you should just have a great business. It's not headcount. It's not just revenue. It's like, if you buy a house, it's not just because it looks good, but are the bones good too? Ideally you're buying the house that has everything all in it. It's location. It's beautiful. All the updates are done. Same with the business. You want it to have all the boxes checked, cuz then no matter if you sell it or you own it, it's a good business. And as opposed to, I think you build houses of cards, sometimes that somebody buys and then that added pressure kind of crumbles it. So I align with just building a solid business and you're gonna have all the options in the world from that point. 

From Lost and Founder, chapter 10: “Real values don't help you make money in the short term. You hope values are not always easy. They force hard decisions. They restrict paths that might otherwise be open to pursuit.” Can you give us some examples of those hard decisions and restricted paths and how they ultimately turned out to be right for the business and your team members?

Fishkin (29:01):

Sure. So I think that one thing, for example, that Moz embraced, that I embraced during my time at the company was transparency, right? This idea of, hey, every year we publish all our financial metrics and how the company's performing and user counts, engagement, all this kind of stuff. The company stopped that practice after I left, but that did two things that I think were great: One was it inspired a lot of other entrepreneurs to be more open about how their metrics were going, and that was very cool to see that kind of openness take off. I think that helped a lot of other people see what was possible and maybe get inspired to start businesses of their own. But it also created a tremendous amount… more competition. You know, Moz’s biggest competitors publicly,  their CEOs cited on Twitter and in blog posts and stuff that the Moz success story, those blog posts I was publishing, were their inspiration for building their own businesses.

Fishkin (30:17):

The software as a business, software as a service, serving the SEO community. We unintentionally sort of catalyzed our own competition and Moz eventually sort of lost the thread in terms of market leadership position in its field to two other companies that were in the space — one of publicly pointed to those posts as like, “That was our inspiration.” So that's,the potential downside of that, and that's certainly not the only other example. I think that one of the things Moz focused on very much was this idea of customer empathy and community empathy and internal empathy. And that, for many of Moz’s leadership team members, managers, individuals, they had this sense that they couldn't deal with their people management and team issues in the way that they'd become accustomed to at other firms.

Fishkin (31:38):

Empathy almost became a stand-in, unintentionally — I don't think this is how we designed it — but unintentionally for “I don't hold people accountable.” And those two things are not misaligned, but you can see how that can happen. Essentially like, oh, this person committed to doing something, they didn't do it and that's happened many times before — but when I look at the core values, I think, well, I should have empathy for their situation, as opposed to, I should have empathy for our customers and the rest of their team and the rest of the company and the rest of the community, all of whom are being hurt by their inability to accurately, estimate their work and commit to doing things and then get those things done. So look, values, have trade-offs and consequences and challenges.

Fishkin (32:40):

I've seen hundreds of them. I'm sure SparkToro’s are imperfect. I'm sure we'll come up against problems in the future around them. And I think that the right answer is to say that, nothing is set in stone. That values are something that can evolve, just like anything else. I think one of the worst things about the United States is this idea of traditionalism to the US constitution and this, like, forgetting about the idea of amendments and updating things as technology and society progresses. And the same thing is true in your company, right? If you establish one way that things work when you're small and that doesn't scale necessarily perfectly, people who join the company have an expectation that you're gonna stick to the old way of doing things. And as the company grows and changes, you know, they struggle with that evolution. This is natural. And so I think you just have to keep having those conversations and be ready to say goodbye to people and processes that don't work for you anymore.

Reifenrath (33:48):

Yes. Okay. So you, you said a couple things I wanna drill in on. You're kind of hinting at accountability to the core values for not just internally, but externally there's accountability that everybody has to take. And empathy's good, but there's that fine line, right, of we still have to hold accountability. So thinking of that, was there action taken to try to then use empathy in the right dose, so to speak?

Reifenrath (34:17):

If there was, I wasn't there for it. I would say I left Moz at a time when that was a deep pernicious problem that the company was struggling with and had not found a solution to. I hope that they have now. I'm no longer involved in any way, but my presumption would be that if they want to get growing again and do well, that they have to find that path. For Casey and Amanda and I,  there's a sort of switch up, which is we take the idea of accountability and say, we are accountable to ourselves first. So we commit to do things and then we accomplish them and we expect, you know, that we will all be reasonable about what we say we can take on.

Fishkin (35:08):

Occasionally we'll come back to each other and say, oh, I took on too much and I can't do this thing. I've had a few emails with Amanda where she's been like, ah, I took on too much, I gotta scale it back. That's great. And I've had plenty of calls with Casey where he is like, ah, I thought this would take three weeks — it's six weeks in, it's gonna take another six. That kind of thing happens too. I'm guilty of it myself, like I'm gonna get this review of the new landing page out. Well, all right. It's gonna slip a week. <laugh> and that's okay. It works fine. We have a structure and a system where we basically expect that we're going to have some degree of hits and some degree of misses and it's all okay. And when there's something very important, there's an event coming up, we're doing this launch for it, great, we're not gonna slide. We have things that we know we can't slide on and things we can.

Reifenrath (36:03):

Accountability is super critical. And it's also, I mean, even those emails though, there's at least the acknowledgement of it is important too. If you're not gonna miss it, sometimes it's just, if it's not owned, that's also not an accountability changing over time. I think what works for three people, 25 people, 50 people, 200 people, it's all different things. And honestly the bigger you are, the more you have to simplify too. Because it's harder to get that message out there to a bigger audience and the consistency and interpretations. And so you have a very controlled audience with three right now, it's easy for you to align, but as Moz grew and any other business grows, you have to adjust. You actually talked about that in your book of nobody knew them, they couldn't repeat them. They weren't, you know, hiring and firing by them. And so your wife came in and saved the day and came up with a great little acronym for it and everything. And that probably saw some immediate changes and buy-in, which can actually move the needle.

Fishkin (37:01):


Reifenrath (37:02):

All right. We'll maybe talk about when you stepped down as CEO, if that's okay.

Fishkin (37:06):


Reifenrath (37:06):

So in 2014, you stepped down as the CEO from Moz and had kind of a rough bout with depression. And I think the last two years also kind of brought out a lot of maybe, you know, below-the-water depression for people or just mental health, right? I do think we need to talk about this more. I know you agree with that. And so maybe just, you know, share what you're willing to share, especially from the workfront, why this is important and why we need to acknowledge it and really support those to hopefully prevent or correct and get to a healthy spot.

Fishkin (37:45):

I’m certainly not an expert in this area so I’m always loath to give out advice. I do think the last few years, especially the last five or 10, we've seen a lot more acceptance of these conversations and more people in prominent roles discussing it and sort of owning up to their own emotional, mental health challenges. I think the frustrating, or the part that I haven't seen maybe as much, going back to our concept around work expectations and chill work versus hustle culture. I think what we haven't seen is any type of real reckoning of the connection between those two problems. And my sense is that it is very hard to invest in personal health of any kind — mental, emotional, physical health, while you are in a hustle culture environment.

Fishkin (39:04):

So we might be treating a lot of symptoms and not the cause and that worries me deeply. I think that saying, oh, we need to have more conversations about mental health and emotional wellbeing and psychological safety in teams — all good things. And also, I think we need a much bigger conversation around why do we expect all-out work from folks in this field in order to make millionaires and billionaires a lot more money, but that doesn't totally fit with an idea that everyone's excited about. I think there's just a structural misalignment in kind of late stage capitalism and venture funded — not, not just venture funded — but like businesses of all kinds and sort of working class versus investor and wealth class.

Fishkin (40:21):

That has a huge knock on effect all the way down to individuals’ mental and emotional states and whether they feel like they can invest in that and have a sustainable life, especially outside of their twenties and thirties. <laugh> It's a little bit of a broken system. When you look at some other healthy economies, maybe ones that aren't quite as big, or technically as rich as the United States, you see things like more balance, higher rates of healthier people, right? Better medical outcomes, better emotional health outcomes, more of a focus on quality of life. And I think unfortunately the United States has been uniquely unwilling to learn from other countries, examples — I think that is deeply problematic too, right? There's this sort of longstanding idea of the US is best and other places aren't places where we can learn from either, from a societal or government or business perspective. That's troubling. I think that needs to change too. So yeah, this stuff is bigger than one person, man.

Reifenrath (41:44):

Oh, for sure. And so we're trying to find ways, how do we help in the workplace? How do we create room for the conversation or education as well? So bringing in something we did last fall. A lot of schools were going back to be in person, this created some stress for the moms and the dads that work on our team, so we reached out to a local high school guidance counselor and said, would you talk to the team for half an hour, let them ask questions? And it was amazing cuz he simply went over: Here's what your kids are thinking and feeling. Here's what you're probably thinking and feeling, and understand that they're gonna be a mirror of your emotions and stress. And so it was just some simple stuff that we felt like a good majority of the team was probably going through and here's a resource to try to help with that.

Reifenrath (42:41):

I'm always open to: What else can we be doing? Things like that to provide to the team. It's kind of like the continued education, but we also have to do that for health and wellness and it's not just gym memberships and the physical part of it — which is certainly important — but it's the holistic view of all parts have to be tended to. I don't think any of us do have it figured out, but I think the willingness and openness to talk about it and try to offer ideas or options for individuals is a good start. So I appreciate you opening up about this. I think we all need to just, one, not make it taboo, and just be having conversations. If we don't talk about it, then it's only going to maintain and get worse probably. So thank you for that. 

Alright. So at Spinutech, our mantra is: Get better every day. Is that the type of sentiment that led you to co-found inbound.org in 2011 and 11?

Fishkin (43:47):

Interesting. So inbound.org was a project that Dharmesh Shah and I from HubSpot built. It was a community for marketers where folks could connect and share content and, and support one another. And I think it was maybe a little less, the “be better every day” and a little bit more the “together we're stronger than any of us alone.”

Reifenrath (44:12):

Ah, absolutely.

Fishkin (44:14):

Inbound, unfortunately, only lasted… I think it was pretty active for about four or five years. And then the project was sort of bought by and then absorbed by HubSpot.

Reifenrath (44:26):


Fishkin (44:27):

That went okay. I think it was just a side project for both of us, obviously Dharmesh and I had very, very busy lives as part of our regular jobs as well. But I still love the idea of bringing people together and connecting them and building community. I'm organizing an event next year for indie startup founders to be able to connect and build some comradery and support each other, help each other out. I love doing events in the marketing universe and the tech universe, entrepreneurial universes, those forms of connection. What I value most in my work life. Just meeting other people who are wonderful and being able to help them in their lives and their struggles. Part of that is — it's funny — I have this idea that I do want to improve. I want to be better. And the thing I most want to be better at is helping other people.

Reifenrath (45:38):

Hmm. That's awesome.

Fishkin (45:41):

Yeah. I don't know exactly how to say it. There's this idea of self-improvement that can be very selfish and I don't love that idea. And also I have some of that, well, I want to be healthier tomorrow than I am today and I want to be more helpful to other people than tomorrow than I was today. And I want to be a better friend and a better husband and a better entrepreneur. So I don't know, balancing that selfishness and selflessness is gonna be a lifelong struggle, I'm sure.

Reifenrath (46:23):

Totally. I think that is for all of us, but with our get better every day mentality, part of that is sharing that knowledge as well. And so when you learn something, how can you pass that to the team to… I always like to say you make yourself better the team around you and your clients. So it's kind of this three layers of hopefully is not just yourself but encouraging other others as well. Love that. Awesome. All right. 

I have one final question that I always like to ask, and that is, is there anything I didn't ask you that you think I should have?

Fishkin (46:54):

Oh, man, my gosh. I mean, usually I spend a lot more time complaining about the Facebook and Google duopoly in online marketing. But I think today we can probably skip that, especially since my voice is giving out a little bit here.

Reifenrath (47:12):

Well, Rand, it's been great. I've been a fan since the early two thousands, on your journey and watched a lot of your talks and read a lot of content from you. So it's an honor to have you on here. And this is a little bit different talk than normal, but I think we've touched on a lot of really important stuff. I think that's great. And like I said, it's just meant to challenge and get perspectives that maybe somebody didn't have so that we can all just hopefully learn something and challenge our own thoughts and make a little change. It helps make all of us get better in some ways. So I think today you accomplished that and shared some stuff that can help the rest of us get better. So again, thank you so much for being on and I really, really appreciate it.

Fishkin (47:52):

My pleasure, Marc. Thank you for having me take care.