The Wealth Cast Ep 21 - The Upper Limit Problem with Gary Pica

On Episode 21 of The Wealth Cast, Chas talks with Gary Pica, founder of TruMethods, which specializes in concepts and advice for Managed Service Providers in IT to grow their businesses, increase efficiencies, and boost profitability. They discuss the core of what’s holding back all businesspeople: The “Upper Limit Problem,” which is the upper limit each of us believes we deserve. Gary talks about shattering that upper limit, the importance of being willing to admit you’re wrong, and more.

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Hello, and welcome to The Wealth Cast. I’m your host, Charles Boinske. On this podcast, we bring you the information that you need to know in order to be a good steward of your wealth, reach your goals, and improve society. Today, I am absolutely delighted to have my friend Gary Pica as a guest on the show. Gary is a very successful entrepreneur and business coach, and has been a significant positive influence on my career.

Gary, welcome to The Wealth Cast. I’m so glad to have you here, and it’s so exciting to talk to you about your experience as an entrepreneur and coach and just share with the audience, all of your experiences, which I have found so valuable over the years. So thanks for being here.

Oh, my pleasure. I’m really happy to spend some time with you—always.

Well, let’s let’s start at the beginning—usually the best place to start. And we’re not going to go all the way back to Penn State, your years at Penn State. But let’s start at the beginning of your latest iteration of mind at TruMethods. And let’s talk about sort of how that came to be, and what your challenges were in the beginning. And then maybe we can talk about some of the coaching that you did over the years.

Prior to 1996, when I became an entrepreneur, my career was in sales. So I had to kind of learn that—how to become a professional salesperson. And then through—llike many people, through a set of circumstances—I ended up in a business with a partner, who was a childhood friend of mine, an IT business called Dynamic Digital Services. You know, that really was probably one of the tougher times in my career. What I realized was, I didn’t know anything about running a business.

And there wasn’t a lot of places to go and look. I had to try to find mentors, read books, I had to work so hard to become, you know—I’m gonna say just a minimally competent businessperson. But the timing was good also, what was going on in the industry of IT at that time, and we transitioned to a term called a managed service provider, and was able to scale that business from zero to 7000 users under management. Which at that time was one of the largest in the country back then.

And then in 2005, we were acquired by Mindshift Technologies. They were a venture-backed entity that eventually sold to Best Buy. And then in 2009, I started TruMethods, and we do for the IT industry—we do training, peer groups, and we have a software operational software that my customers use, like a cloud subscription software.

During that time, I invested in another MSP, and we fixed that one up, and I also was able to exit that.

So you’ve had a lot of experience, sort of starting from scratch and building stuff, which I think is really interesting for the listeners. From your perspective, what’s the biggest challenge that you faced? You know, obviously there are financial challenges when you start something up. But what are the other challenges in addition to the financial part? The psychological challenges, or just personal challenges?

Yeah, it’s funny, I view them differently now that I look back than maybe in the beginning when I was living them—when I built the IT company, and in the beginning of TruMethods—when, you know, [I was] trying to build competence in each of those businesses, and just all the failures and setbacks that come from making mistakes and unintended consequences of decisions.

You know, when we started doing like, for ten years, I’ve been running peer groups. So they’re groups that we put together of IP providers that share information. We help them do benchmarking. We have about 150 MSPs in those groups. But I’ve gotten to watch it over 10 years. So seeing how we give everybody access to the same resources, the same content, the same training, but they’ve gotten very different results over time, I started to see that there’s things that hold all of us back in life.

I refer to a book that I love by Gay Hendricks called The Big Leap. In it, he talks about the upper limit problem: We all have some upper limit in terms of, you know, how much money, how much success, how much love we think we deserve—and it goes all the way back to you know, your experiences and businesses, and all the way back to growing up. Everything that builds your self image. And unless you understand your upper limit problem and you can start to solve for that upper limit problem, you will get stuck. And that’s what happened to me, and there was points at which I got stuck. I got to a certain level, and then it would take me time—we’d get stuck there for a little bit, and then I’d have to regroup.

But in recent years, as I’ve kind of understood that, I’ve been able to move out those barriers, and the two biggest obstacles to success that hold you back are: One, being defensive. Like, not being open enough to different perspectives. And then the other one is: the need to be right. And if you’re an entrepreneur, you have that to some degree. Like, you know, we think we can order pizza better, you know, than other people.

Right.

So consciously learning to let go of that, and finding people who have done what you would like to do, and taking their advice home until you’re successful, and not applying your own logic that only got you where you are. I mean, I built these successful businesses, and I meet people from that business, and I tell them some things, and they’re like, “Well, I’ll do that part, but I’m not gonna do this,” and I’m like, “Well, why would you not do all of it? You’ve been in business ten years, and your business has only got to here. Like, what possibly would you have to lose?” And what they have to lose is, admitting that maybe they weren’t right. Does that make sense, Chas?

That totally makes sense. I’m curious in terms of the members, the 150 members, if the upper limit problems that they’re facing—are they similar? Are there 150 different upper limit problems? Or is it all about just needing to be right, and etc.? Is it more broad?

Yeah, I mean, I give those obstacles, but really, what it’s about is something more complex, and it has to do with your self image. So I thought my job when we started these peer groups, and I started doing training, was my job was just, I was going to tell people what to do. That was my job, and then we’re going to do it. What I realized is, I was completely wrong, really what my job is, is to help people discover what holds them back, and try to put mechanisms in place to build their self image, to get them to have enough focus and discipline to see some results. And then when they get results, their self image raises to meet that, and then they start to understand what that process is.

Part of it in business, is being a professional business person—and we can talk about what that means—but it’s really working with them and understanding it. And they’ve all made progress. Some of them, like, are different people, and, you know, they run unbelievable businesses, like I’m in awe of what they’ve done. And other ones, you know, not as much, but relative to where they are, they’ve done much better, and they’re really happy.

I guess I always see, sometimes I feel like I see more potential in people than some of the people see in themselves. And it’s trying to lead them to see like, what they have inside them. And not just about making money, but just being the best they can be, helping their team members, finding what I would call, again, from the book The Big Leap, their “Zone of Genius”—that thing that they love to do, and they’re uniquely good at, and impacts the business in a positive way, and figuring out how to spend more time there. And then once you do, start to teach other people who work for you—put them in a position to do that, and great things start to happen.

Yeah, it’s a common issue, isn’t it? I think, certainly the experiences I’ve had, where you have people that are really practically, you know, very competent, really good at their, at their technical skills. But making that leap, to think about being a business professional, and running a business—it’s a hard leap. It’s not easy. I wondered, you know, how you help people through that process. What did you find worked to help them through?

So number one is, really just giving them that message like, “Look, you’re in business.” Like in this case, we work with people and a lot of them have technical backgrounds. “I understand you love the tech, and I understand you love talking to customers. That’s not what it takes to build a business. And the reason you don’t like running the business or doing sales in the business as much is because you’re not good at it—you stink at it.” But if you can put those skill sets in place, I have found that most people enjoy that piece more—it’s more exciting, they can impact more people.

So it’s really first just kind of holding the mirror up to them on it, and then, we try to get them into a structure, right? Through the peer groups, of how to understand their numbers and have command over the business. How to prioritize whatever their go-to market is, because they normally don’t tend to do that. Put a business planning process in place, where we’re looking at what the priorities are. Saying no to a lot of things. Coming up with the three or four things a quarter that are most important. Making sure you execute on those, making sure they tie to your annual goals, and your three year targets, and your ten year vision. And get them into that process of executing. ‘Cause if they can do that, and then add the one other ingredient, which is, you know, “purpose, vision and culture,” then you’re on your way, right?

So I found that once I got down the process, like I run my businesses, four, 13 week periods a year. We know what’s important, we say no to everything else, and we work to execute. We always get the most important thing done every quarter, no matter what—no matter what. Even if there’s a pandemic. The one most important thing we said we would do.

And once I got good at that, and then I started to understand people, how important purpose was. The one thing we all share is, we all want to feel like we’re part of something that’s bigger than just us.

Absolutely.

And, you know, this is a failure I had when I first was a business owner—I was not a good leader, because I assumed that everybody wanted the same things out of life that I did, and I was wrong 99% of the time. And when I realized that Chas, everything started to change, right? And I started to figure out, it wasn’t just giving people raises, and people try to do everything where if they do this, they make a little more money, or a little less. And I’m not saying don’t have incentive plans, but that’s not the main driver for almost everyone that I’ve hired—hundreds of people that I’ve hired—they want to know what good looks like in their job, they want to be able to help their customers, they want to know how they fit into your plan, they want to be able to know how what they do impacts the team members, they want to feel part of something bigger than just them. And, man, if you ever read that little saying that, you know, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” it just forgives so many other sins, that people are trying to manage their way to success, rather than lead people to success.

Yeah, it makes total sense to me. I wonder, based on what you were saying earlier, what the role of fear of failure or failing has in having trouble making the leap from technician to business owner?

it’s huge, right? It’s massive. And with that, in particular, because—you are going to fail. Like, as you start to do that, it’s not something that you have immediate success with and make all the right decisions. And I feel like this is what holds everybody back, you know, in life. And I remember, before I started TruMethods, I was really scared to fail, to start a business with no customers and no employees and no product.

But what we try to preach to people is, there’s something worse than failure that you should fear. If you learn to fear it, you will learn to accept failure. And that is mediocrity. Because, I use an example because it’s easy to use, of salespeople. There’s so many sales people that are like the 75-80% salespeople. They sell just enough that they don’t get fired, and have to go out and try to start over and find what they’re good at, but not enough to ever make money or hit the multipliers that you should get when you’re a salesperson.

So I encourage not only my members and my employees, but my children: Be afraid of mediocrity. Don’t be afraid to fail. At wherever it is, if you want to fulfill your potential, there’s no way to do it without a lot of failure. The more successful you are, the more failures. But guess what? When I do a lot of interviews and things in my industry, no one really asked me a lot about my failures. They only care about the successes, you know? We don’t care how many shots that Gretzky took, that he didn’t make, we only cared about how many he made.

That’s right. You know, from my perspective, failure is additive. It doesn’t take away, it only adds to your experience. And no one likes to, you know, I’m as hard on myself as anybody else might be when something doesn’t go right. But I try to learn from that, and I think if you can do that, and I would tell that to anybody—if you can learn to fail forward and make mistakes and learn from them and then build on those mistakes, you have the chance of building something that’s unique and valuable. Otherwise, you are mediocre.

Yeah. Jim Collins said you learn from every mistake in business that you survive.

That’s right, yeah!

From every mistake and from every failure. And there’s something that I read once that I love that says, “Your ability to succeed is directly proportional to the number of times you fail and keep on trying.”

And the thing about failure is, once you get good at it, that’s when you start to take off the limits. And there’s one simple question I always ask myself when I have to make a tough decision, and maybe sometimes in business, you don’t really know what the best decision is. Like, there’s some degree that you just—you have all the facts, and you’re just not all the way there. That happens so often. And so I always ask my team, “Okay, what’s the worst thing that can happen? Let’s talk through that. Can we live with that? Can we recover with that? Can we pivot from that?” If the answer is yes, I’m like, “Put down our pencils. And let’s go.”

Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. I think, you know, in my role I deal with a lot of successful people. And that is a very common sort of underpinning to their success—is their willingness to do the uncomfortable, even though it’s risky to do, because if it was comfortable and easy, everyone would do it, and there would be no value in it, right? You’re not going to build a valuable enterprise or provide a valuable service, etc., in all likelihood, if you don’t try new things, and build upon what people have done before.

And that’s really—I don’t know that you’re born, necessarily everyone’s born within their Zone of Genius. I think you uncover things and you develop it.

So Chas, you know, I do a lot of webinars, I do a lot of public speaking, you see me on stage, in front of four or five hundred people. I can tell you that, you know, there was a time in my life where getting up in front of people—even when I was a kid, when we had reading circle, I was terrified to read aloud in front of people—and so it was something that I didn’t want to do and didn’t like to do. But it was part of my company and my job.

And you know, now I love it, right? And I love to do it. And I’ve been able to not just change my life, but impact a lot of other people’s lives from developing that skill. And so sometimes the things you fear most end up being things that change you in a profound way. In other words, you know, do what you fear most and you control fear, but beyond that is something I feared turned out to be something that really has changed my life.

Yeah, that’s really interesting. I wonder, from your perspective, if you could distill—going back to something you said earlier about, you know, three or four things you looked at quarterly to sort of benchmark how you were, where you were headed—I wonder if we could distill that down into three or four things that maybe most businesses should look at, not just MSPs. Are there characteristics there that you think are that you’ve learned that that really helped you?

Yeah, so one thing I learned was, you need to understand your financials, right? both your P&L and your balance sheet. But in most businesses, there are things that aren’t on the P&L that are key drivers of costs and revenue. They’re like leverage points. In my program, we call them “smart numbers.” Every business owner needs to know what those things are. Then you need to make sure you have great metrics around them. You have to know what best in class looks like on those things, and you have to set targets to exceed best in class on those few things in your business. 

And what that does, is when you have a couple of North Stars, you are able then to start to look and say, “Okay, there’s always a hundred things you can fix in a business, but many of them are symptoms.” If you have the right drivers, you can say “There’s a hundred things, but these are the five that are actually going to move the needle.”

And what I have found is if you can do that, and then put the discipline in place to execute every quarter, most of the other stuff you are going to fix—it either goes away because it was a symptom, or you have the time and the money to solve it. So the businesspeople I see just get stuck. They get to some level of revenue: a million, 2 million, 3 million, and they just stay there. It’s because everything they’re working on, they’re fixing just whatever the symptoms, the problems that are presenting in their day-to-day, and they’re not doing the things that are gonna put them somewhere different with those drivers in a few months or a year down the line.

Yeah, that’s a different discipline, right? It’s, you need to have the focus on fixing what’s not going well, of course, but if your nose is down into those things all the time, you lose perspective on the future, you lose sight of your goals, right?

Yeah, that’s it. Like I figure it out in our business, and, you know, one of my unique skills is I can take complex things, and I can make them simple. I need to, right? I’m not the brightest bulb in the pack, so I need to make things simple. And so you know, I found three, basically three numbers that IT providers who are growing recurring revenue, can look at. And if they can figure out all the decisions they have to make that drive those three numbers, everything else takes care of themselves. When they get that P&L, it’ll show the results.

Yes. If I think back years ago, I remember coming to talk to you one day for lunch or whatever we’re doing—you were sitting at your desk, and you had basically a spreadsheet dashboard up. And I’m not sure that I’d ever seen anyone do that before. I know people do it, but I never saw anybody have one in operation. And I remember thinking, “Man, that guy knows what’s going on all the time in his business.”

I call that instrumentation. You need to have instrumentation, and you need to share with your team that instrumentation. You know, I find that most employees even Chas, as you grow your business, they want to do a good job, but many times we don’t put them in a position. Like, we give them too many tasks, we don’t give them key metrics to drive them, and so they don’t really know what success looks like. So part of it is, you have to instrument your business in order to make it successful, but it’s also how you make your teams and your people successful.

Yeah, I think, well, I know, both of us have in the past been influenced by books like The Rockefeller Habits, and Verne Harnish and others that really preach that. And certainly we’ve used that in the past, and continue to dashboard things. And I know you’re a big believer in that, obviously, from your comments, but also, from my personal experience with you.

What do you think, if you could look back in your history, what do you think the things are that you would need to, you know, do better? What would you like to do better than you were doing before?

Yeah, so, a couple things, right? I think that, um, early on, I suffered that upper limit problem. Like, when I think about me, now compared to me running my first business, I was very driven. And people liked me, they trusted me and whatnot, but I made them kind of put up with me a little bit. And I felt like that, you know, that drive is what would make me successful. And it wasn’t—that wasn’t what was gonna make me successful. It was making other people better and having command over, you know, having command over the business. So I would have had more perspective, I probably would have softened myself a little bit sooner than I did.

And then the second thing, and this is the hardest thing to learn, is really, to let go of things. You can’t grow a business—like you have to continue to take stuff off and give it to other people, and not expect that they’re going to do it the way that you do it, but if you give them process and metrics, they will get the results over time. That’s been a hard lesson for me to learn: to empower people. Once you do it, it’s the best thing ever. Your life is better, their life is better, your customers are better. But I held on to things a little too long.

I remember, Gary, coming down to one of your conferences, it must be ten years ago, or maybe not quite—just to see how you did your thing. Because I knew it was gonna be great, and I didn’t know anything about being an MSP, and I just thought, “Let’s just see how this comes off.” And I remember you talking about finding your superpower in that presentation. That’s been a long time ago. But you really impressed upon the audience, the importance of identifying the thing that you are really good at, and leveraging that thing.

Yeah, like what your differentiator is. And we had one in our business, and we just made sure that one piece of our service—we were going to deliver that better than anyone had ever delivered it. So I think that every business needs a superpower. It needs a wedge. It needs that thing that your team has pride in, and you always prioritize it, and it becomes your messaging and sales, and it becomes the value proposition, you know, as you deliver, you know, a product or service.

And when you have that, like I like to say “Hey, I’ve had some, you know, success in my industry in sales,” but I always say “Well, it was an unfair fight.” Like it’s easy to sell when you have something that truly you believe has an aspect to it that’s unique—sales and marketing become completely different.

Yeah, it’s a total different set of goggles to look at the world, right? When you’re confident that you’re doing the right thing and that you’re adding value.

Well Gary, this has been you know, absolutely fantastic. I’m so appreciative of you taking the time. I know your schedule’s crazy with your podcasts and your presentations, etc. But I want to just say thank you for joining me, and I hope we get a chance to have a follow up call, follow up conversation in the future.

I would love to.

With what the next chapter in Gary’s career looks like, and maybe we can share some other ideas with the listeners.

Awesome. Great. Thanks so much for having me, Chas.

You’re very welcome.

I hope you enjoyed that discussion of upper limit problems and goals and running a business with Gary Pica. There’s a link to Gary’s LinkedIn profile and his company in the show notes, as well as a complete transcript of today’s episode. Thanks again for joining us. Have a great day.

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About Gary

Photograph of Gary Pica

Gary Pica is the owner of TruMethods. Gary founded TruMethods with a goal to create a community of IT providers that can grow and learn from each other through the TruMethods software and training. TruMethods helps IT solution providers move forward, achieve unreachable goals, increase efficiencies and boost profitability. The company helps MSP peers develop strategies to sell “chocolate cake” instead of separate ingredients such as patch management, online backup, remote monitoring and virtualized servers to its clients. Clients prefer to buy the cake instead of going à la carte.

Prior to founding TruMethods, Gary was Regional General Manager for mindSHIFT, an MPS pioneer that was eventually acquired by Best Buy, and Managing Partner at Dynamic Digital Services, Inc., which had been acquired by mindSHIFT before that.

Gary earned his Bachelor’s in Business from Penn State University in 1983.

Disclosure

Modera is an SEC registered investment adviser which does not imply any level of skill or training. For additional information see our Form ADV available at www.adviserinfo.sec.gov which contains a full description of our business, operations and service offerings including fees. Statements made in the podcast are not to be construed as personalized investment or financial planning advice, may not be suitable for everyone and should not be considered a solicitation to engage in any particular investment or planning strategy. Statements made are subject to change without notice.