A company’s core values require organic effort that involves everyone in the company. Ron LaSalvia is a US Navy veteran with over three decades of leadership experience in technology, strategy, and consulting. He became the Founder and CEO of Peck, a startup that applies science and technology to help nurture the most important relationships in one’s life, leading to deeper connections, greater wellbeing, and happiness. Before Peck, he served as the COO of Endurance International Group and Decision Strategies International. In this episode, Ron joins Cameron Herold to share his experience in the Navy and how it shaped his business leadership style. Discussing how the business world could adopt some things from the Navy, he also explains how finding the root cause of any problem leads to operational success.
Ron LaSalvia is an Operations Executive with over 30 years of leadership experience in technology, strategy, consulting and the military. Ron is the CEO and Founder of Peck, a startup based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Peck applies science and technology to help nurture the most important relationships in one’s life, leading to deeper connections, well-being, and happiness. Ron served as the President and Chief Operating Officer of Endurance International Group, a publicly-traded web technology company serving small businesses. Prior to Endurance, he served as the COO of Decisions Strategies International, a strategy consulting firm focused on scenario-based planning.
Ron also served in the United States Navy for 24 years commanding two nuclear submarines. While in command, he was ranked the number one captain for two consecutive years by the squadron commander. After completing his naval service, he attended the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, earning his MBA. Ron lives in Scottsdale with his wife, Laura. He’s originally from Philadelphia and remains a diehard Philly sports fan. Ron, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much, Cameron. I’m happy to be here.
When we were introduced by Gordie Bufton, one of the things I was thinking about was you’re transitioning from the COO world over to the CEO world. It’s going to be cool to dig into that with you to find out what it’s like when you decide to make that leap from the second in command role where we’re intrapreneurial to becoming more of an entrepreneur. Why don’t you go back and tell us about how you got started and how you got into the operation side of running companies?
That started when I was in the Navy. I had a Navy scholarship to school, which is the only way I could afford to go there. I thought I would do the Navy for four years, teaching a bunch of leadership. It laid the foundation for working in business and I found out that I loved it. One of those traumatic elements of my Navy career was when I was set up to be the engineer on a nuclear submarine. It’s generally considered the most prestigious job that comes with a spot promotion. Most of the captains of submarines were former engineers. Keeping the reactor safe is so important to the Navy.
A ship ran aground in Bangor, Washington and landed up on the beach. On a submarine, the operations officer is also the navigator on a ship. The navigator ended up getting fired. My class happened to be the next class to graduate new submarine department heads. I ended up getting drafted to go to that ship. At the time, I thought it was the worst thing that ever happened to me. I was losing my path to be a captain of a submarine. I was losing my promotion, which is going to cost me a lot of money. I went in and became the Navigations and Operations Officer of the submarine, which was considered the worst submarine in the Navy at the time.
Was it because it was on dry ground?
It was on the front page of newspapers across the country. It looked like a beached whale. I remember seeing that picture on the front page of The New London Day and going into my class and saying, “I wonder which one of you clowns is going to go be the navigator of this pig?” I thought that as an engineer, I was untouchable. I did well on the exams that certify you as a nuclear engineer. It ended up being me. It was a lesson there to watch what I say and a little karma. It turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life. It did two things for me. It threw me into a world of operations, which I found that I loved. It’s been a guiding principle for me. It turned me into a turnaround specialist. In the Navy, I ended up following a series of people that had bad things happen to them and ended up getting relieved for cause. It’s what they call it the Navy when you’re fired. I’m going in and being the guy to turn around stuff, which I found was a lot of fun.
What do you learn in doing those turnarounds?
It comes down to fundamentals. There are some fundamental basics that are being overlooked. You recognize that people want to do a good job, want to work hard, and want to take pride in what they do, but they need the leadership to hold them accountable in doing the fundamental things right. It’s an incredibly rewarding experience to be able to take something that’s broken and fix it. It’s at the heart of operations mentality of solving problems.
Take that into the operational world then, what have you learned from the Naval or from the submarine roles that you were in? How are you applying those specifically in the business world?
Nowadays, we talk a lot about lean management and stuff like that. In the Navy, we were doing Deming stuff before it was popular. Back when I was a junior officer, we couldn’t call anything management in the Navy because we are all leaders. We took the concept of TQM and made it TQL. We called it Total Quality Leadership. It was a focus on measuring on process and understanding variants of getting to the root cause of problems. That’s universal. The nuclear Navy was headed by Admiral Rickover, who’s legendary for founding the nuclear submarine force and laying the foundation for nuclear reactors across the world. He was rigorous about root cause analysis, the six whys type of stuff. That is beat into you. Anytime something goes wrong, there’s a reason for it. Understanding what that reason is, getting to the root cause and fixing it is the key to continuous improvement.
You’re touching on the real solid skills that I don’t think a lot of people get from experience. Did you learn this in school at Wharton or were you learning this when you were in the Navy?
This was Navy stuff, the fundamental principles of it. At Wharton, the operations piece was about using stuff like the nuclear program to optimize ticket pricing or the most optimal mix of ingredients in a product and stuff like that. It was more mathematical. The stuff that I learned in the Navy was more fundamental principle-based. How do you understand an operation and what’s wrong with it? How do you develop a zero-defect mentality and take steps to get there? It’s a high-reliability type of stuff.
What happens to you when you know all the theoretical stuff and the ways to apply this, and then you bump up to the fact that it’s not working or people get involved and change all those formulas or processes that we know?
We categorize things in terms of, “Was it an operator error? Was it a person that caused us the problem?” You get down to the reasons behind it. There are people involved in everything. Is it a system design problem? Was it a training problem? It’s extremely rare that it’s just an individual who doesn’t care enough to do the right thing. It’s usually something underneath that personal issue that’s driving the problem. It’s developing the intellectual curiosity and the analytical rigor to figure that stuff out and get to the root cause of that problem is the key to operational success.
What you’re touching on seems so practical in both sectors, in the Navy and in the private sector. In the private sector, if you have an employee who’s consistently not performing through all your best efforts, you can’t coach them and train them, you can fire them. Can you fire people in the military?
It depends on how good the economy is, ultimately. If the economy is not doing so well and the military seems like an attractive career option to people then you tend to recruit pretty well. You tend to have a pipeline of people and you can be more selective. When the economy is going strong, it becomes difficult to retain the people that you have. If you fire somebody, the choice is would you rather have the whole or the person? I’d rather have the whole but more often you’d rather try to train the person.
One of the biggest challenges for me in the transition from being in the Navy and being in the business world is a lot of the constraints you have in the Navy are not there in the business world. You mentioned one of them. In the Navy, you have a well-defined mission. With my submarine, I had 150 people in a hole that was 330 feet long and 33 feet wide and everything in it. I was constrained to that. It becomes an optimization problem of the resources that you have. It took me a while to learn. It also biases you to be a little too loyal to the individuals because that’s all you had. You learn that there are a lot more options to define the problem a different way or to hire somebody or to attack a different problem that you have in the business world that you don’t necessarily have in the Navy.
It almost feels that you have to be a better leader in the Navy than you do in the private sector because you have those constraints. You can’t come up with the excuse of, “I’ll fire them and hire somebody else.” You have to get results through people. You train them, grow them and problem solve in a different way. Would that be true?
I would say yes and no. There are pluses and minuses to both that are interesting. In the Navy, you’re relying on people. You understand that the thing with their leadership is top-down but it’s not. On a submarine, you need to have 150 people thinking about how to best operate the submarine, not just the captain. That’s when you run into trouble. You focus on the military. Sometimes, in the more technical branches of the service, you tend to forget that because you think it’s all about technology. It comes down to people whereas the Marine Corps, I don’t think they ever forget that. You have that going for you but what makes it a little easier and a little less challenging is that the mission is well-defined.
Everybody is signed up for the mission. Everybody wears the same clothes every day that reinforces that mission. All the values like honor, courage, and commitment in the Navy, everybody’s absorbed and internalized those. There tends to be a strong alignment about some things that in some organizations in the business world, you have it. In some organizations, you don’t have as much. On a submarine, there’s a captain who’s basically the CEO. He’s not a CEO in terms of the business world because he’s still operating. You have an XO, the second in command. You then have department heads.
Everybody’s got a time sequence before they’re going to go to the next job. Everybody recognizes that the way you get ahead is you establish a great reputation for the ship. People don’t necessarily know you, but they know you were the second in command of Montpelier. Montpelier was a great ship, therefore you must be a great guy and therefore, you get ahead. Whereas, in the business world, it’s not like that. Your COO might be the CEO. The CMO or the CFO might be gunning for your job. The loyalties are a lot different. There are a lot more individuals. In some ways, it’s a greater challenge for leadership in the business world, because you’ve got to manage everybody’s egos. You’ve got to align everybody’s self-interest. It’s a different challenge.
You leave there and you go over to Endurance. What did Endurance focus on and what was your role there as President and COO?
Endurance focused on small businesses and helping small businesses succeed through a web presence. We offer a range of products like web hosting, email marketing, domain names and stuff like that. I tried to bring them together in a cost-effective way. With the COO Alliance website, we would have all that stuff packaged for you so you could do it inexpensively. The focus was on small businesses.
How many employees were there?
Walk us through that company and how you operate in the day-to-day? What was your team like?
It evolved over time. I started out doing the customer service because that was the most process-oriented and that’s where they thought would be a good place for me to start. I run that. That was a call center, taking calls from customers generally about problems. What I found when I got there like the fundamental things we talked about was it just wasn’t happening. Customers are calling because there’s an issue. If you just solve that issue, you’re not understanding why the next customer is going to call you. You’re taking on a lot more costs in the business because you’re not fixing the problems by not getting ahead of it. The way I looked at it was every customer was a sensor that’s telling you something about your product. You’ve got to be listening to that and understanding that to improve the product and service you offer.
The first step was putting systems and processes in place to measure every reason why everybody called, understanding what the big issues were, analyzing for when systems were in control and out of control, doing root cause analysis on that and driving process improvement throughout the business. I did that and recognized at the time that the biggest problems were in the servers and the team that manage the servers. I ended up taking that over so I could address most of those issues. The next problem was the sales organization was not operating consistently with the rest of the organization so I took that over. It got me a taste of the P&L and on the revenue side of the business. I evolved into that way to running the P&L of the business.
You’ve mentioned a few times about something around the Navy or the military have things like the mission and core values already deeply ingrained. Often as the second in command or as COO, we’re put into an organization to grow it to the next stage. Sometimes, we come in and we don’t have those things deeply entrenched. What would you recommend that people do to make sure that their core values and their mission are deeply ingrained so that you have that foundation set inside of the company they’re growing?
We did that. When I got to Endurance, they weren’t formalized. We tried to formalize those. It’s got to be an organic effort that involves everybody in the company. It can’t be a top-down thing that’s just imposed upon people. It’s got to reflect the behaviors of the organization as they’re occurring. Some of them may be good and some of them might be bad. There may be some aspirational ones that you add in to motivation. We went in and said, “It’s going to be 3 to 5 values that are important to us.” We worked up and down the organization to define what they were. We took a look at whether we’re behaving our values or not. Those we worked that we thought were important, we put an effort in place to try to reward behavior associated with those values and not reward behavior that ran counter to those values.
You’re the first leader that has said something that I had been saying for years. We have our set of core critical values and we might have some others that are more the aspirational values. Would you differentiate for us what a core value is and what an aspirational value is? How do you treat them differently in an organization?
A good reference for this is Patrick Lencioni. He’s done some good work in putting it into a process to help you figure this out. I would break it down into three buckets. One, if you want to be a business, there are certain values you have to have like integrity, honesty, and stuff like that. It’s not worth putting those down. They have to be standards. They’re a go or no go. If you don’t operate this way, you’re fired. I don’t care. No questions about it. You may have those listed someplace. They don’t have to be discussed a lot and just understood. They’re the standard thing. You have some core behaviors that are maybe not their business that are important to the culture that you’re living. Maybe there are three of those. Maybe there’s a behavior that you want that you realize you’re falling short off. That becomes the aspirational one.
What I would do is evaluate the people that work for me, not just on the metrics that everybody talks about like the P&L, retention or customer training. We look at that stuff too, but I think it’s important to evaluate your leadership on whether they’re living the values of the company. Somebody can be a great individual performer but undermining the culture of the company because they’re not doing what you want. I’m a big proponent of coaching to values you want and evaluating people in their values. The ones that are aspirational, recognize that you’re not there yet but you expect people to make progress towards that behavior.
How do you evaluate people on the core values and those expectations that you have in the interview process? Before they’ve started work for you, how do you garner whether or not they already lived those core values before you make the offer?
One of the effective things to do if you have your interview processes to divide up those values in the beginning. Have different people observing for different things and putting somebody in a scenario that tests that value. It’s also making sure if a company is absorbing this stuff and feels comfortable with telling you that somebody did something inappropriate like if somebody is rude to the receptionist and polite and kind to the interviewer. Having a culture where that stuff will surface so you understand how people act is important. It’s this ego thing. A lot of times, these high ego people present themselves well but they’ll be pretty rude to everybody else. People have to feel comfortable in saying, “This guy was rude to me. I just want you to know that as you consider him.”
We saw that happen years ago. We were at dinner for 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and we had just finished doing a round of interviews with potential franchisees. There were four franchise candidates at that all-day event. We had said that we were going to award franchises to three of the four. One didn’t qualify on the skill side, didn’t have what it takes and wouldn’t be successful. Three of the four definitely would. When the leadership team went for dinner with the four franchise prospects, one of the guys was starting to be rude with one of the waitresses. We’re like, “It’s not going to happen.” We told him on Monday that we weren’t offering a franchise and he didn’t understand why. We said it was what came down at dinner. It was completely inappropriate. You could almost feel the energy get sucked out of the guys. He realized the interview hadn’t stopped. We weren’t even interviewing at dinner. It’s that when we noticed it, we knew it went against what we stood for as people. It was better to say no than say yes.
That’s a great way to do it, Cameron. It’s doing stuff like taking him to lunch or going for coffee. Put them in different scenarios outside the interview and oftentimes without the interviewer but with other people in the company.
You even said your receptionist, your director of first impressions. That person is such a great screener. I know that Zappos used to pick people up at the airport and they would drive them from the airport into their office. They said that the shuttle driver was assessing the candidates. The shuttle driver worked for HR and they never told the candidates that. The shuttle driver was secretly listening and interviewing people before they get to the office, which was cool. What you touched on is more culturally that when that cultural DNA is so strong, nobody in the organization is going to let the bad DNA pass through.
That can break pretty quickly.
What have you struggled with over the years as a leader? You’ve obviously had a lot of great successes and some big roles. What have you struggled with personally in leadership as a second in command?
I have a ten-page list of things I wish I would have done better at my last job. The first one is the most fundamental. It’s maintaining boundaries and protecting myself. People who are operationally oriented tend to throw themselves completely into everything and live it all the time. As an operator running a company that had data centers all over the world and stuff going down all the time, I was immersed in that and I didn’t take care of myself. I didn’t take care of myself physically and mentally. I rarely took a vacation. My phone was going off 24/7. I eventually got to a point where I completely burned myself out. Job one is making sure that you have a system in place of self-care, of exercise, of spiritual things, some mental growth thing that you are able to sustain all the time. Then, you’re not as susceptible to mood swings when things go bad or things go well. You keep yourself grounded. That was certainly a big lesson for me on the personal side to take care of myself. At the end, I was burned out and incapable of being maybe the strong person I feel like I normally am.
How did you know you were burning out or had burned out?
People tell you. People who care about you see it and tell you. You’re the last person to know or you refuse it because you think you’re so strong. You think you’re so good. You’ve withstood tougher. In the Navy, it’s life or death stuff. This was just dollars and cents. It didn’t seem to be that big of a deal. When you’re grinding yourself down, people who care about you will tell you. The question is, do you have the courage to listen to them? Are you willing to do what it takes to alter your course?
What were they specifically telling you?
Everything from, “You need to take a vacation,” to “You’re not yourself. You’re not smiling anymore,” to “You need to put that phone down.” It was a lot of things from a lot of different people, people who work for me, cared about me, my family and my friends. There were a lot of warning signals that I was personally driving myself over a cliff. At the time, I was paralyzed to stop it. It’s funny because I personally faced much more difficult challenges.
I had been there. I was hardcore there many years ago where I had an employee tap me on the shoulder and ask me if I was okay. I turned in the elevator and said, “Yes,” but then I collapsed on the floor sobbing right in front of him. A week later, I was at the doctor telling the doctor I was totally fine. I didn’t realize that I was burning everything out. I’ve got these little signals that I watch for in myself now. Do you have anything that you watch for that as a sign that tells you, “I need to slow it down a little bit,” or “I need to get some more balance today or tomorrow or this week.”
I had the luxury of taking some time off to figure this out. I have developed a personal routine that I do before I do anything else during the day. Like a true operations person, I track it on a Google Sheet. I measure my performance. I have a target of 80% compliance because otherwise, I’m too much of a perfectionist and tend to over-index on it. I view my life now as three dimensions: mind, body and spirit. It’s being able to take care of each one of those. I meditate first thing in the morning. I’ll read a couple of inspirational things that make me reflect upon my role in the universe and what my unique contribution to the world is. That takes care of the spiritual elements of it. I work out six days a week and rest on one. I do that every day.
I try to make a commitment to observe something in nature. One of my prescriptions, when I was burned out living in Boston. I had Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s cold and gray and getting to work before the sun was up and leaving after it was down and never seeing the light of day. Getting out and observing the beauty of nature, even reflecting on it and being mindful of it, whether it’s a beautiful cloud or something like that. I try to read or learn something every day. I figured taking care of that mind, body and spirit helps keep me grounded. That gives me tremendous strength to do stuff that I couldn’t normally do.
I like something that you said about focusing on 80% compliance in all these areas. It sounds like you cut yourself some slack a little bit. I coauthored a book called The Miracle Morning for Entrepreneurs with Hal Elrod. In that book, I said, “I feel like a fraud at times because when I describe my miracle morning, I don’t perform it often. Sometimes my miracle morning is roll over and hug the pillow.” For me, it’s more of a mindset. I’ve got a long list of things that would be my ideal morning day. If I do five of those things that are on my list, I feel that I had a pretty good morning instead of waiting for perfection. It’s like catching up on the horizon. You can never get to the horizon, it keeps moving.
If you don’t do it one day, you feel guilty and you feel like you’re not going to do it the next day. It snowballs. I use Headspace to meditate and it’s got this thing in there that says, “What’s your streak?” I had a streak of 367 straight days of meditating and I missed a day. It’s like, “I missed it. I’m back down to one. Why bother?” If you think about things in terms of perfection, it paralyzes you a little bit. When you think about, “I’m not perfect. This is a journey. These things are good for me. I’ll decide on the few things that I need to do and do them,” it’s constructive.
It’s that positive momentum that is powerful. What I pulled from your ideal morning is that 80% compliance.
If there are heavy demands on you, give yourself permission. Sometimes they’ll say, “I’m not going to do this this week,” because I know that when I add something new, it puts stress on the entire system. I don’t know where it’s going to fall out. I say, “I’m going to do this, but I’m going to make sure I work out and I meditate. Everything else can get jumbled up for a little while.” I’m going to add those back in when we get restable. That seems to work pretty well for me.
I almost feel like for one quarter, you have to pick two areas of your life to obsess about. Let the other slide or stay in orbit a little bit. In the next quarter, pick another two areas and obsess about those but let the other stay in orbit a little bit. You’re in the process of transitioning from a COO over to an entrepreneur and CEO. What are you transitioning over to do? What are you finding in this transition? What do you see that’s different?
My journey in reflecting on my past, dealing with burnout, depression, and then looking at what’s going on the world made me realize that the systems and the technology we have in place aren’t making people happier. They are bringing people closer together, and in some cases, they’re tearing people apart. You’re being overwhelmed with a bunch of information that you can’t manage and you can’t see what’s important. It’s frustrating. Social media has been healthy and turned out to people broadcasting their best life rather than being authentic. I want to create something that encourages authenticity, encourages deeper connection between people, helps you eliminate the noise, and helps people do something meaningful to help others and love others. Ultimately, that’s how you become happy yourself. What we’re building and testing, we’ve got a few customers on it playing around with it, is a relationship platform to bring people closer together. Have you heard of Dunbar’s number?
Gordie was telling me about you. I know exactly what Dunbar’s number is. It’s 150 people you can have the most relationships with or something to that effect. You don’t have to give us the whole platform because I know you’re still in stealth mode or working through it. You can if you want to but I love what you’re working on.
You’ve got 150 people. After that, it’s just noise. Your brain is only big enough to manage so many relationships and that’s the way it is with primates. Inside that, you have deeper levels of intensity in your relationship. There are probably around five best friends who are in your inner circle with whom you can share anything with and you could embarrass yourself in front of. You have fifteen people if you’re having a small intimate dinner party that you would invite. There would be fifteen people in your sympathy group who would be deeply devastated if something bad happened to you. You have 50 people you’d invite to your birthday party. There are 150 people you’d send a Christmas or holiday card to or something like that.
It takes a certain amount of time and investment to maintain each one of those relationships or they atrophy away. What this does is provide a method of helping you think through what your actual social network is. It encourages you to do activities that deepen those relationships instead of superficial stuff like liking somebody’s Facebook post or stuff like that. It eliminates the noise so you can divorce yourself from social media platforms if you want to and use these because you won’t miss out. It also provides a vulnerable communications channel that you could share with your closest friends. For example, when your friend passed away and you need to talk to somebody about that, you won’t call everybody up and tell them. You might say, “I’m sad because a good friend passed away and I’m dealing with it.” People could offer support for you in an appropriate way.
That’s what I love about this platform. I have 5,000 people on Facebook and about 10,000 on LinkedIn. I may have added 30 people on Facebook of the 5,000 because of people that have met me coming off stages. There is a whole group of 150 or so that I would love to have more meaningful relationships with or see what’s going on in their lives instead of the 4,900 that I see. I do like this platform that you’ve built. Before you got it built, what do you do to keep those relationships up with the 5, the 15, the 50 and the 150? What do you do to keep on top of those relationships to stay meaningful?
I’m building it out and closing it together using a database tool, an email marketing tool and a texting tool. I patched all of this stuff together without a lot of code. I built it out for myself. It forced me to reflect on my relationships. One of the things I realized is that I do a pretty good job with my inner circle. I’ve seen that when I was a COO, I did a bad job at my inner circle because I assumed my inner circle understood that I was a great person. I love them but I could still work 23 hours a day and they would always be there. That’s not true. Some of us need help with the inner circle. Some of us need help in other circles.
Once I ironed those down, I figured out that I have a lot of casual friends but I don’t have enough people. I let relationships atrophy because I’ve been so immersed in my work and in what I was doing that I wasn’t paying attention to that. I built this database and it reminds me to connect with people at the right frequency in a meaningful way. My inner circle makes me mindful to do something with my top five people once a week. I think about it and do something mindful, not just get caught up in the day-to-day to take out the trash but what would make my wife happy and do it with her or something like that.
I reached out to somebody who used to be one of my closest friends. I hadn’t talked to her in a while. I did a video call with her. The research shows that your emotions are transmitted to your face. The human being evolved that way so that you could react quicker. If we’re having this conversation over video and a dinosaur walked behind my back, you would see it and look scared. Your face would communicate itself to me and I could get my adrenaline going and start running. Emotions are communicated a lot through your face and something your voice. Having a video call with somebody is so much more powerful than an email or a text. We can face so much more emotion. This friend I hadn’t talked to in months ended up saying, “Let’s schedule a video call.” I found out so many similar things that I was. She was so hungry for connection. We ended up speaking for a couple of hours and it seemed like a second. It’s getting people to do activities together and to look at each other in the face.
You can’t do that with more than 150 people. The second in command for Bumble was on the podcast some time ago. She was saying that Bumble has launched Bumble For Friends. It’s like a dating app but there’s no intimacy. It’s purely about relationships and friendships. I said to her, “I think that’s going to be bigger than Bumble.” The reality is that most people aren’t in a situation like where I am. I’m lucky that I have this huge group of people that would love to be friends with me or love to know more about me. I just have to be careful with my time. Most people go to their job. They have a small social network. They don’t like some of the people they work with or they’ve moved to a new city.
It seems to be resonating most with people who have moved to a new city, which happens more and more or somebody who graduates from college is in a new job and missing their friends. They could be people like me who are at the point of life where they’re reflecting on their relationships and realizing that they’ve lost something and want to regain it. They know what it should be and they realize it’s lacking.
What have you noticed going from the COO world into the entrepreneur CEO world? What did you not expect? What are you saying that’s different at this point?
I didn’t think I could do it. You say in your first podcast that you view yourself as a COO. You think, “I’m not the guy to innovate.” Even as a COO, I had ideas about where it should go. I just didn’t necessarily either have the confidence or the conviction about the problem that I tried to solve. I have conviction about a problem. Combining that with my operational experience and leadership experience in having a vision of what you’re trying to do, that enables me to be both the guy. Sometimes I wish as a COO, I had somebody who understood how hard it would be to do something and would help me think through it. A lot of times, somebody’s got this grand vision and be like, “How am I going to do that?”
I can see it from both sides now, which I think is an advantage. What opened my eyes is this whole studying lean startup philosophy and lean management. I always viewed innovation as something like Steve Jobs like wakes up one morning and has the picture of the iPhone in his head and goes and does it. What this teaches you is that innovation is a process. It’s having an idea, figure out how to test it as inexpensively as possible, refine that idea and then do it again. That’s operations. That’s what it is. If you think about innovation as more of a process, it becomes a question of identifying a problem, seeing people recognize that problem and proposing a solution. That didn’t work. Why didn’t it work? Doing a root cause analysis of that and then solving it.
I ask people who enter their inner circle or who enter their fifteen closest friends. People struggle with that. People aren’t answering that question. I talk to people about why and listen to what they say. I tried, “If you’re going to have a dinner party and it involves fifteen people, who would you invite?” People can answer that question. It’s the same thing. I’m thinking about what the barriers are to accomplishing what you want, solving that problem, testing it again, seeing that worked, that’s operations.
What do you think you would tell yourself to be different as a COO based on what you’re starting to see as an early-stage entrepreneur? What would you do differently as a CEO now?
One of the biggest problems I had as a COO is we became a public company and weren’t ready for the pressures associated with being a public company. Suddenly, our focus shifted from helping small businesses to some extent to my focus as COO became, “How do I hit the quarter?” There are all these metrics I’ve got to do to hit the quarter. How do we set expectations right? We always set expectations wrong and too aggressively. That led to a lot of heavy lifting to deliver a quarter every quarter. You’re building up this pressure in a dam that’s eventually going to break.
What I didn’t do as a COO as well as I would have liked is had the strength to stay true to those fundamental principles and be able to say, “This is what we can deliver. Let’s not get caught up in the financial metrics. Let’s stay focused on the product and the service that we’re trying to offer.” That’s a fundamental one. The other one would be about culture and adhering to the culture. We did a lot of M&A towards the end of Endurance. It becomes difficult to manage corporate culture when you’ve grown inorganically like that.
If you were to go back to your 21-year-old self to give Ron LaSalvia some of the advice that you now know to be true, what would you tell yourself as a 21 or 22-year-old that you wish you had known?
I’d say two elements are self-care and relationships. When you’re young, you don’t have to work out. You can run a mile at a decent time. You could drink whatever you want and you’re not hungover the next day. It seems like you’re going to have friends forever. You’re awesome but you’re establishing the foundation and the habits for the rest of your life. I would have paid more attention to relationships. In all the studies that you see, your relationships are more important than your cholesterol level and determining how well and how long you’re going to live. Most people don’t pay any attention to that because they’re so wrapped up in what they consider to be their job or their mission. They’re not recognizing the importance of other people in that journey and take care of yourself.
Ron LaSalvia, the prior President and Chief Operating Officer for Endurance and now the CEO of Peck based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Thanks for sharing with us.
Thank you, Cameron. I enjoyed it.
That was great, Ron. I appreciate the time.
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About Ron LaSalvia
Ron is an operations executive with over 30 years of leadership experience in technology, strategy consulting, and the military. Ron is currently the CEO and founder of Peck, a startup based in Scottdale, AZ. Peck applies science and technology to help nurture the most important relationships in one’s life, leading to deeper connections, greater well being, and happiness.
Ron served as President and Chief Operating Officer of Endurance International Group, a publicly-traded web technology company serving very small businesses. Prior to Endurance, he served as the COO of Decision Strategies International, a strategy consulting firm focused on scenario-based planning.
Ron also served in the United States Navy for 24 years, commanding two nuclear submarines. While in command he was ranked the #1 Captain for two consecutive years by Squadron Commander. After completing his naval service, he attended The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, earning his MBA.
Ron currently lives in Scottsdale with his wife, Laura. He is originally from Philadelphia and remains a diehard Philadelphia sports fan.