On episode 28 of Decision Dialogues, Mark Willoughby and Jennifer Faherty come together to discuss the first year of the podcast and the key takeaways guests have provided through sharing their stories. They talk about the importance of passion, a life cycle, and the difficulties inherent in mixing personal and business finances. They then discuss the plan for the podcast in 2022.
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The Decision Dialogues podcast, brought to you by Modera Wealth Management, presents personal stories covering pivotal moments, and their impact on one’s overall financial goals.
My name is Mark Willoughby. I’m a Principal and Wealth Manager at Modera, and I’m joined by Jennifer Faherty, Chief Client Experience Officer of Modera. We’ve served as the host and interviewer for Decision Dialogues over the past year or so, and as we come close to the end of the year, we thought it would be interesting to do something a little bit different on this episode, and take some time to reflect on the last year of shows, and do a little recap with some of our takeaways from the guests that we have interviewed over the past twelve months.
And before I bring Jennifer in, we do want to thank all of our guests over the course of the last year—we couldn’t have obviously done this without them, and everybody has been extremely generous in sharing their experiences, their journeys, and some very interesting journeys there have been. So welcome, Jennifer, it’s great to have you on the show.
Hi, Mark. Thank you. Thank you so much. Yeah, you know, it has been such an interesting year, and so we definitely wanted to take some time to reflect on a few key learnings and share our perspectives as financial planners. So you know, looking back on the past year, and gosh, now over twenty episodes, you know, what are some of the common themes and action points that you think we saw, and you might want to reflect on today?
Yeah, and It’s a great point, Jennifer. We’ve spoken to so many different types of people over the past year. They truly have come from so many different backgrounds, and each of their stories are so unique, but there definitely—as you and I have discussed—there definitely have been some common threads running through.
As we put distance between the interviews and the twenty guests that we’ve spoken to, I think there have been three overarching sort of areas that you and I can talk about today: And I think the first one is the passion that all of our guests have brought to the podcasts, and and the purpose that leads from that passion. So I think we’ll spend a few minutes talking about the passionate purpose overarching theme.
I think the second big thing that we’ve seen is sort of, there’s a life cycle to the decision making. And you and I can kind of, there’s a couple of different nuances to that life cycle of decision making, but I think we can talk for a few minutes on that.
And then I think the last one—which is particularly challenging, I think, for many of our guests who are entrepreneurial—is the sort of mixing of personal with business finances.
So I think those are the three main areas that we’ve seen. And before we dive in, Jennifer, anything else that you’d like to add to those three, before we dive into passion and purpose?
No, I would say those are really the three that I saw as well. And honestly, as you mentioned, it’s amazing, you know, how with so many guests on the show coming from so many different types of businesses—but you’re right, you know, starting, say, with this passion and purpose, you know, that is definitely one thing that they all had in common. They really did all start their businesses because they had some kind of story, you know, that they shared with us that led them to really want to pursue perhaps a different path and maybe what they originally thought of. So I think that’s a great place to start.
Yeah. And as you’re talking, Jennifer, I can’t help but think of, you know, we were lucky enough to meet a lot of folks who have actually taken the plunge, right? So many people get into a certain job, get into a comfort zone, and maybe never push out of their comfort zone. So for me, the fascinating thing talking to each of our guests is the fact that we’re talking to folks who, you know, they were doing okay, let’s say, in corporate life. But they came across this sort of passion that they engaged with, and then they took the plunge, which is, you know, part terrifying, part exhilarating, you know, part really just inspiring, in terms of the stories they brought.
So I’d like to start with one of the more recent stories—one of the most recent interviews that we did, which was of a gentleman, I mean, the name doesn’t really matter. His name is Eric Meltzer, but for me, we interviewed Eric recently, and he had spent the first fifteen years of his life on Wall Street as an investor relations professional. And, essentially, if I can try to wrap this up very quickly, you know, he was doing fine at his Wall Street job. And how he came across his purpose, he related the story to me.
He’s essentially married, he’s got four kids. And he was sitting down with one of his boys, he has four boys. And his young son asked him, you know, “What did you do today, Dad?” This is after his son had told him what he did at school. And his son asked him this a couple of times, and Eric sort of struggled to answer it. And Eric had always been interested in athletics, and staying fit and taking care of himself in team sports and other athletic endeavors. And he basically decided that he would take the plunge and set up his own—essentially, Grit Ninja was is the name of the firm that he set up, the company that he set up.
And it’s essentially, to work with young kids to develop one-on-one, personalized, their ability to develop, you know, to generate more grit and resilience in their life by engaging in these obstacle courses that his startup company put together. So I just found it amazing that Eric was able to identify something that he was passionate about, and then launch into a business endeavor.
Yeah, and that’s a great story. And I’ll also add, you know, that reminds me in some ways that sometimes the passion comes later. You know, certainly we spoke with some entrepreneurs and business owners who kind of always had an interest in a certain subject, and kind of maybe always had in the back of their mind that maybe they wanted to start something.
But then you have others like Eric, as you mentioned, that it kind of came later from a conversation they they had, you know, in this case with with a family member, son. It reminds me actually of the first podcast that we had, we had a guest, Monique DeMaio, who was working in corporate—if you remember.
Yeah. I remember Monique.
Yeah, loved marketing, and was doing very well, was very successful. And I’m not sure I remember, she did have some entrepreneurial spirit, you know, with her family history. But I’m not sure if she ever thought very consciously that you’d open up her own marketing firm. But her passion was ignited when she came across, you know, some challenges—biases, I will say—in corporate, you know, that kind of ignited a passion to really start her own business and kind of pursue her own course. So I love hearing the stories of how the passion comes from different places.
Absolutely. And if I remember right, on a tangential note, I think Monique was unique, if I remember this correctly, that she actually works with her husband.
In the same marketing consulting firm.
Good memory, Mark!
Yeah, it’s well, you tend to remember things like that, Jennifer, because if I think of working with my wife, and I love my wife dearly, but I don’t think we would work together well, in an entrepreneurial endeavor.
But it is fascinating to me that there have been a couple of our guests have actually launched on these entrepreneurial challenges, along with their spouse, and partner, which is an amazing—it’s inspiring to me to see that happen. Because talk about bringing the family together in a family business—that’s amazing.
The one thing I would say, and funnily enough, I think, you and I can talk to this too, Jennifer, personally.
That, you know, as we were preparing for this podcast, one of the things you and I talked about was that intersection, almost like that Venn diagram—if our listeners can remember the concept of the Venn diagram—is that intersection of your passion on the one hand, which I think is the most important thing, your skills and experience on the other side, you know, what you’ve developed skills in, and then recognizing a market need for your skills and experience aligned with your passion.
I think that’s what has come through loud and clear for me, for the folks who are really pursuing their passion, if they’ve sort of found that intersection of those three things.
Yeah, that’s so important. And you’re right, I think you said that passion is the most important, and I agree with you, because you need that passion to—it’s almost like your why—you need that especially when things start to get tough. You know, I think you need to have that be very clear and kind of front and center to pull you through those challenging times. It’s also not enough to have just passion.
You want to make sure that you marry that with your skill set, and then, of course, the market need—make sure that the business is viable. All three are really, really important.
And interestingly, I would love to hear your story actually, of how you got started as a business owner. But for me, my passion was ignited in financial planning later in life, and interestingly enough, I was not very experienced in finance. It was ignited because I saw that there was this need as a young mom, you know, somebody had asked me some questions about my own personal finances, and I was embarrassed that I didn’t know the answer, and it kind of got me on this newfound passion where I started educating myself about, you know, what I needed to know, as a young parent. And I realized that wow, this is so important for women to know, especially, but everybody to know. And so I started getting this, just again, this newfound passion myself.
But of the three areas, I didn’t have the skill set, interestingly. So I actually had the passion, I knew there was this market need, you know, for personal finance and financial advisors. But then I had to go back and get my CFP. So that was kind of how my journey was. So it’s interesting, you know, where you can start off as a business owner.
No, you beat me to the punch, Jennifer, because I was going to ask you, you know, how you ended up finding your path and how you walked your journey. And for me, candidly, it’s very similar to your story, so I won’t spend too long.
But like you. I was ten years into my career, I was in finance. And for me, it was just a job. And that’s fine. Many people are willing to settle for their career being just a job. For me, I felt, you know, as I approached my 30s—I was in my late 20s— I realized I needed to figure out my “why.” I needed to figure out my purpose. And what I really wanted to do was combine my professional life with a purpose.
And I was lucky enough at the age of 30, that I discovered this area of financial planning, and like you, decided, “Wow, if I can combine my financial knowledge that I’ve spent ten years developing in my career, go back to school,” like you said, “and study for another credential, to equip me to be a good financial planner, financial advisor—if I can do that, and bring my knowledge to help families sleep easy at night about their finances, and their investments,” my attitude was, “Where do I sign up?”
And it was just like one of those lightbulb moments in my career where I realized, you know, “Wow, I can make a living doing this?”
Doing what you love. Yeah.
“Doing what I love to do by just, you know, being there for families as they handle their finances, and all all that comes with that?” It was just a real lightbulb moment for me.
And I think that’s what we’ve seen for many of our guests is that they have that lightbulb moment—maybe not so early in their career—but they have that moment at some point where they decide, “Okay, I’ve developed some skills in the professional world. I see this need in the marketplace for this good or service. And I’m passionate about it. So let’s go for it.”
So yeah. So I think that, for me, has been one of the most inspiring parts of our podcasts is just listening and hearing people’s stories about their passions, and how they’ve pursued it.
Yeah, hearing their journeys and stories. That’s right.
Now. Let’s talk about the life cycle of decision making. That’s kind of the overall theme that we’ve put on this, where once our guests have found their passion and their purpose, how they then throw themselves into the effort of building an enterprise or a business.
And I have a couple of guests in mind, Jennifer, but I’m gonna go quiet here for a while and just get your thoughts on how to frame this particular area.
Well, you know, the life cycle of decision making in a business, I mean, where to start, right? I mean, there’s so many decisions you have to make as business owners.
I would say in the beginning, right? Once you make that decision, “I’m going to, you know, open my doors,” you know, it’s really, if you’re looking at, you know, the finance of it, it’s really about cash flow, and how you’re going to stay afloat. I mean, there’s a lot of—now, hopefully, you built your runway, which I think we’ll talk about a little bit later. But it’s really kind of just that all the decisions have to go into the startup, launch phase.
But if it’s successful, then you have a whole other set of decisions to make, and under maintenance, and management, and just people, you know, if you want to bring on more of a staff, and then now even, you know, one of our guests has, like, they’ve taken his business public.
Yeah, that’s right.
So a lot of set of financial decisions that he might not have even anticipated.
So, you know, I would just say, there’s so much to say about this topic, because the life cycle is, you know, hopefully very long, if you’re successful in your business, and really varied based on the stage you are in.
And let’s be unapologetically the financial planners that we are here, Jennifer, and let’s—you know, we have seen guests, who do take the time to build capital, and build that sort of treasure chest of money that they have saved diligently over the years, because they know that they ultimately want to set up their own firm. And as planners, you know, that is obviously the guidance we would give anybody looking to launch an entrepreneurial venture, is to build one to two years of dry powder, so that you can give yourself the oxygen to build your business. Because you know, launching early on is tough, and the business might not go as well as you projected to go. So as planners, Jennifer, and I would strongly advise anybody looking to strike out on their own, build their cash balance into your reserves early on.
But we’ve also had guests who haven’t quite done that, and it doesn’t mean that it can’t work out. It’s a lot to do with your appetite for risk, we think. We think that entrepreneurs, by their very nature, obviously are, are open to risk taking. But we would definitely, as planners, advise people looking to do this, you know, build your cash reserve first.
Yes, absolutely. As much as possible, really have that runway prepped and a really good plan in place for that. I mean, we talked to guests, certainly, as you mentioned, who had that runway built, and then also who had maybe a second income—either their spouse or some other. One guest, I remember, slept on her parents’ couch for a while, you know, to just make sure that her runway was kind of, could be longer.
But if you don’t have that kind of plan in place, or maybe you have that plan in place, but the business shifts, you know, I think one lesson learned was—to actually take the lessons learned. So one guest, I remember Terry Lyons, that we had on the show, not so much about runway, but just maybe made some financial decisions that, you know, I wouldn’t say “regret,” maybe that’s a strong word. But that looking back, she may have done things a little differently.
But one thing that came out of it was that she did like pivot and really look at the lessons learned from that. I think she talked about 2008 kind of going into a little bit more debt than she wanted to, based on certain business decisions. But just her ability to pivot was pretty admirable, and taking those lessons learned, because sometimes you don’t know—you can have a plan in place, as we know whether it’s a business plan or a personal plan, as we work with clients, on where you can plan, we want you to plan, but things happen, circumstances happen that you might not anticipate. So the ability to kind of go back and reflect and pivot quickly, I think is a really important lesson.
I distinctly remember that lesson learned from Terry when she was, in her words, overly generous with her staff in the credit crisis of 2008. And it really put her back for two or three years coming out of the credit crisis. And then when the pandemic occurred a couple of years back, she was a little bit more disciplined about how she managed her finances and how she managed the firm, and she was able to basically recover from the pandemic much more effectively than she recovered from the credit crisis.
I think the other thing I wanted to bring up at this point too, about the life cycle theme, Jennifer, was, you know, many of our guests had this passion to launch a certain business or launch a certain service, because that’s what they want to do for the rest of their life, is actually hands-on deliver that service. I’m thinking in particular about one of our podcast guests, Dr. Samira Daud, who is an endocrinologist. And her real passion was for working with patients—to manage their diabetes, to manage their nutrition. And really, she’s had a lot of success with that. She’s launched out on her own with one other doctor partner. But that’s what she continues to want to do, is be hands on with the patients.
And as her practice grows, she was very clear in saying that, if it grows very well, she’s going to want to bring in somebody to help her manage the practice, because that’s not her passion. She wants to stay really in touch with her patients.
But you and I spoke to, and you mentioned the podcast guest, Chieh Huang. Do you want to talk a little bit about Chieh, because I think Chieh was a little bit different. He saw the opportunity in the market for a packaging company. But I think his idea was to be the sort of Chief Executive of this venture. Are there any other guests that you can think of, that kind of display a contrast in this area? Sorry, I’m putting you on the spot.
Yeah, well before we get to that with Chieh Huang,— mean, it’s an amazing story, I think, actually really exciting—because when we interviewed him, he, you know, his company, Boxed, was already really successful. But now it’s gone public. So there’s even an evolution since our show aired.
But I loved his story, because he started out, you know, first incorporating and kind of building up his reserves and runway, which we talked about.
And then having this idea of, of delivering some kind of common supplies, like paper towels and kind of your toiletries to your door. So like a delivery service, if you will. So he had this idea, really like a startup, true startup, in his garage. I think he has pictures, or showed us pictures of him and a colleague just working in the garage, like packing boxes, right? And now they are this huge success story.
But I think in his mind, he always had that path somewhere in mind that he wanted to build it, but eventually, you know, be in full management and run it, you know, not necessarily be always on the ground, in kind of that small organic kind of store. He wanted, I think, he always envisioned a bigger trajectory, and wanting to be more as like a CEO of a larger company.
And when I hear those two contrasts, it sort of reminds me of your and my career path, Jennifer, because just very briefly, you know, my passion when I came into the financial planning space was to work with families. And a little similar to Boxed, our firm Modera, you know, experienced a lot of growth, and I went in the operational direction to help grow the firm. And just recently, you know, I’ve almost turned full circle and realized, you know, my real passion is to work with families. So I’ve taken a step back from my operational responsibilities, and now I’m returning to working with families, hands on, kind of like what Dr. Sameera Daud likes to do with her diabetes patients. So and I think your career has followed a somewhat different path to mine.
Yeah, you know, I came in, as I mentioned, really wanting to help families and individuals with their finances, and, you know, worked for many years as an advisor, one-on-one with clients. And now, my career path has evolved, where I really love being more in the management side of things and really looking at how we can grow the business, and how we can help advisors do what they do best: working with clients, but more on the management side.
So I think it is interesting, just kind of the evolution of one’s path, you know, and how it can start off one way and end up another way sometimes. And really, I think of just the quote, “Know thyself, and know thy business,” I guess.
Knowing like, what your skills and passions are and how they evolve and, and then also knowing what’s right for the business, right? So, perhaps with Dr. Sameera Daud, she might have thought, you know, probably it’s best for her business to have somebody else manage it, because she does what she does best with clients. So you kind of have to know when does it make sense to outsource in a business or hand over the reins to somebody else for management, or maybe that’s something you want to do yourself, because it’s good for you, but also good for what you’re trying to build.
And I think that’s a great segue, I think, to our last overarching takeaway from the conversations with our podcast guests, which is this intermixing between personal and business finances.
You know, this is a particularly challenging one. If you’re a startup entrepreneur, I think it’s fair to say that it’s almost impossible to distinguish between your personal and your business finances, because you’ve made this decision to throw yourself into a passionate endeavor to launch a new startup firm.
And as financial planners, you know, as we advise our clients, it is so hard for us to see that, because for us, it’s so important that you do separate, to the extent you can, the two realms of personal and business. Easier said than done when you’re starting out a business, but I think that it’s enough to say, from my perspective here, that to the extent that your firm grows, and it’s successful, you really want to separate your personal from your business finances as early as you can. Because although this business is your baby, you do have to find a way to separate it, so that you can ultimately look at your personal balance sheet, your personal cash flow, as the family’s cash flow, and sort of be objective about whether the business has been successful enough to support your family’s needs.
Jennifer, I’m not sure what you would add to this particular area?
Yeah, I would say it is hard to do. I acknowledge what you’re saying, and that point, because I think it is really hard to separate. But just to emphasize again, the earlier you can do that, the better. And the more you can try to keep that objective hat on—looking at both the personal and the business finances—I think it’s important.
And I hate to keep honing in on this whole passion idea, but because you might start a business because of this passion, or just an interest as developed, that makes it even more important to keep that rational. So, you know, we want—we know—that the intersection between emotional and rational is, you know, not so neat, and not a clear, you know, black and white line. But the more you can kind of see when you need to make a very rational financial decision for the business, I think the better off you’ll be.
And, you know, doing that by tactical things like having different accounts, of course, but then also, you know, maybe separating processes and systems and even people who are running maybe the financial part of it versus the other aspects of it.
And I think you’ve set me up perfectly, I think, for really one of the last points we wanted to make before we start wrapping up here, Jennifer, which is that, you know, you’ve got this situation where you’ve got an entrepreneur who’s passionate about what he or she is doing. And we’re asking them to be objective. It’s just not possible, right?
On your own, left to your own devices, it’s almost impossible to be objective about this business that you’re building. Which for us, highlights the importance that as soon as you can, you really need to consider bringing in outside advisors to help you become objective about the difference between your personal finances and your business finances.
Whether that’s an accountant—and I know this sounds self serving—whether it’s a financial adviser, whether it’s some sort of business advisor or lawyer, you really will be best served in the long term, if you can get one or two or more—ideally, a team that works together—that will help force you to be objective about what you’re building, and how it serves your family and how it serves your employees.
And the ironic thing about this—and Jennifer and I talked about this—you know, by bringing in those advisors, they will bring in creative ideas that on your own, you might omit or overlook.
So while usually what’s good for you is going to be good for your employees—and sometimes you need an advisor with experience in different areas of running a business to highlight the opportunities to you. Because if you bring in something that’s ultimately going to be financially effective for your family, it should also be effective for your employees, and will increase their loyalty to your firm and hopefully increase the success of your firm going forward.
Yeah, no, absolutely. And I think what our team you put in place You know, it’s great because it’s, it often is just a sounding board to write. So it’s two purposes: A sounding board, so you could just get things off your chest to kind of think through things. But then also get to get that proactive advice, which ultimately, you’re still the decision maker, right? And we were talking about our podcast is called Decision Dialogues. You know, you’re still the decision maker as the business owner, but you’re able to kind of come, and you’re able to gather expertise from different advisors—different people who might have other experience that you might not have, and then ultimately, carve out a different path or a decision that you want to make from there.
So definitely having that team—objective team—who’s there as your own sounding board, but also, you can draw on some advice and get some advice from. Really important.
Great. Thank you, Jennifer.
Thank you, Mark.
Absolutely. So as we wrap up, I think, Jennifer, there’s a couple of things you want to share about our podcast going forward?
Yeah, so we’re really excited. We’ve had a great first year. And thank you, you know, to all of our guests, of course, and all of our listeners. We’re really looking forward to starting a new year. We will be bringing back our guests, but we will be switching up the frequency to make it monthly. But we’ll still be back in 2022.
And in addition, we’ve gotten some feedback from our listeners that you’d like us to end our podcasts with a few key takeaways. So we will be doing that, you’ll see that change starting where we’ll end each episode with one key takeaway from our guests or interviewer.
And in the spirit of that key takeaway, let’s start right away.
So just as a quick recap of the themes that we’ve been seeing throughout the year: the three main takeaways—and we believe that this applies whether you’re thinking about starting a business, whether you’ve already started, or whether you’re well down your business path—there are a few things you want to validate and assess.
Number one: Refer back to that Venn diagram that Jennifer and I talked about—that intersection between your passions, your skills and experience, and the market need for what you can offer. That’s number one.
Number two: As you experience growth in your business, it really does become increasingly important to separate the business and the personal.
And number three—along those lines—at some point, you really do need to consider bringing in outside external advisors as sounding boards, somebody who will act as your trusted advisor, and present opportunities that you might not think of yourself.
So thank you all for joining us today, and we hope to see you in the new year.
Thank you, Mark.
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