Do What You Are Good At and Take Risks

Ken Marblestone Ten:34 Partners

Being an entrepreneur might seem risky in some ways, but what if, instead of thinking about the risks, you thought about all the opportunities that come with taking the leap? Ken Marblestone is the Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Ten:34 Partners; a private investment firm focused on family-owned and entrepreneurial businesses. In this episode, Ken shares his passion for family businesses and how he became so interested in them. We find out more about what it takes to be an entrepreneur; the journey is not easy, but as they say, nothing worth it ever is. Ken talks about finding out where your strengths are and the power of knowing what you are not good at. Our conversation also touches on the importance of introspection, relationship-building, and the value of referrals.

Key Points From This Episode

  • Ken’s work with family business owners and why he is so passionate about them.
  • Hear about where the name Ten:34 comes from.
  • The misconceptions that many people hold about what it takes to be an entrepreneur.
  • Ken’s perspective of risk and why it’s about more than just finance.
  • Some of Ken’s tips on how to figure out what you are good at.
  • A key to success is not trying to master everything.
  • You can gain clarity from taking steps back during your day.
  • Ken’s approach to building relationships; it’s not about generating business.
  • You will build a good reputation over time, so be patient.
  • Whatever you are thinking of doing, start now.
  • What Ken would say to himself if he could go back 20 years.


[00:00:01] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Branch Out, a Connection Builders podcast. Helping middle-market professionals connect, grow, and excel in their careers. Through a series of conversations with leading professionals, we share stories and insights to take your career to the next level. A successful career begins with meaningful connections.

[00:00:20] AD: Hey, everyone. Welcome to the Branch Out podcast. I’m your host, Alex Drost. Today, we are joined by Ken Marblestone, co-founder and managing partner at Ten:34 Partners, a private investment firm focused on family an entrepreneurial-owned business. Ken shares his thoughts on identifying where you at the most value, building meaningful relationships and why you should make bold moves in your career today. I hope you all enjoy.

[00:00:44] ANNOUNCER: Connect and grow your network. We are on LinkedIn. Search for Connection Builders.


[00:00:54] AD: Ken, welcome to the Branch Out podcast. Excited to have you here today.

[00:00:57] KM: Thank you, Alex. It’s great to be here and I’m excited about what we’re going to be talking about.

[00:01:03] AD: I am as well. Talking to our listeners for a minute for those of you that don’t know. Ken and I had the opportunity to work together in our previous career for both of us in investment banking. Now, about a year ago, Ken decided to take on a new adventure and I thought it’d be really interesting to talk to Ken about what that adventure is, here a little bit more about, but then really dig into why he did it and some of what he’s learned about himself along the way.

Maybe the right place to start this conversation, Ken, is just turning the bike over to you and saying, share a little bit, what are you doing, what are you walking on and we’ll take it from there.

[00:01:38] KM: Thank you, Alex. I’ve had a long-time career working with family business owners and entrepreneurs. I’ve done it in many different ways. I’ve been involved in commercial banking and I’ve been involved in investment banking, commercial real estate. During COVID like a lot of people, it got people to kind of rethink what it is they’re all about and what they want to do with their lives. My partner and I, we start to talk about what we saw in family business owners. There was a definite increase desire of family business owners to transition. COVID got everyone thinking, “Well, this is not quite as easy as we thought it was going to be.” What is the next stage of my life going to look like?

That got my partner, Justin and I thinking about the opportunity that was out there to actually invest and own three or four businesses. We have a very strong background in history when it comes to working with family business owners. My partners spent eight to 10 years in private equity and in by side, decided it was a great opportunity for us to step out on our own and look for three or four businesses to purchase. We’re focused on healthcare and in business services, which is a perfect fit for my background and his background. We’re really excited about what we see as the possibilities here, Alex.

Maybe I’ll take a minute and talk about the name Ten:34 Partners, which is a name that Justin came up with and it’s really an owe to family-business owners. The Wright Brothers in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina took off on their first flight, at 10:35 AM. Justin came up with this name, Ten:34 Partners, thinking about what was it that the Wright Brothers were thinking about one minute before one of them was going to take off and fly for the first time. It also kind of makes you think about what family business owners are all about. The Wright Brothers started off owning a printing business, and then they went and started to rent bicycles. Then they decided they were going to manufacture bicycles. It was only at that point they started to think about flight.

Well, that’s our view of a lot of family businesses. They go through an evolution as to what they want to be when they grow up and what they want to create. At Ten:34 Partners, our objective is to really align ourselves with the goals and objectives of the current owner of the firm.

[00:04:27] AD: Ken, very fascinating there. A couple of think I want to unpack and peel into a little bit more. If I heard you right, it started in COVID and as with many of us, it caused just to step back and look and say, “What do we want to? Where do we want to be?” I think as you described it, you kind of saw it in two ways. On one half, it was you and your partner, Justin looking and saying, “What do we want to do? What is our career look like? What is our future look like? What opportunities may exist out there?” And that on the other hand was, well, at the same time that you’re going through your kind of thought process in Covid, so are many business owners, right? We all know that, especially in the kind of the initial lockdowns of COVID, it gave us all a lot of time to reflect and look at what was really important to us, right?

You’re highlighting the fact that we’re at a phase where many small business owners, many smaller family-owned businesses are out of place where they look and say, “What do we want to do? Maybe there might be a need for a transition.” You all saw an opportunity in that market places. Is that a fair summary behind that aspect of it?

[00:05:33] KM: Yeah, that is. It’s very accurate. It’s kind of like, Alex, to kind of try to back on you. It’s kind of like when you and Emerson were thinking about creating Connection Builders. It wasn’t about just the fact that you and Emerson had a real inkling to create your own business. You have to figure out what does that business look like and is there a need for it. Really, when I think about Connection Builders, I think about you guys really recreating what is a very stayed industry, which is thinking about networking and thinking about career building. When I hear about the way you’re kind of reinventing that, it’s really exciting. We feel the same way about Ten:34 Partners that there’s an opportunity here to do something that’s really different and we’re really fired up about that.

[00:06:23] AD: I appreciate that. That actually I think segues really well into kind of the next part of this I want to talk about, you talk about the name Ten:34 and what the naming behind. I didn’t until you had shared that story, didn’t fully understand the Ten:34 concept. But understanding the tie back to the Wright Brothers and especially the idea that they started as a printshop. They went to a bicycle retail. They had a bicycle repair and bicycle manufacturing. Then they went into flight, right? That’s clearly a lot of evolution and I assume when they were running a printing press, they weren’t thinking about flying in the sky, right? Obviously, no one at that time in the world was thinking about it.

What’s fascinating about your story there, I think it ties a lot back into the introspection that you and Justin have done, some of the introspection that Emerson and I have to do with building Connection Builders is, you kind of step back and say, “Okay. Just because I have a desire to be an entrepreneur, it doesn’t mean I can go be an entrepreneur.” I have to step back and find somewhere in the marketplace that I can solve an existing challenger, or solve something in the market or add value in one way or another that didn’t necessarily exist.

Part of that is the continual evolution that the change of what you thought you’re doing versus what you might actually be doing in the future. Is that the right way of thinking about that?

[00:07:41] KM: No. I think it is and lots of people want to be entrepreneurs, Alex, but that kind of – the jump you take into the open space, it takes at least for me, it took me 60 years. There’s a lot that goes into that and I will tell you that I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of creating my own company. But it took a long time to figure out that right thing, and then to actually have the right partner to go ahead and do it. I was very open to – I’ve always been very open to not having a traditional career, to kind of always be surveying the opportunities that are on the horizon. I did that in the commercial banking business. I’ve done that in commercial real estate and I have done that again here with Ten:34 Partners, and kind of always being open to those possibilities really led me to where I am today.

Just to give you a quick example and not everybody should be an entrepreneur. It is a different, very different than working for a small or a large business. The way I think about that is, I had an opportunity to create this business and we really took some time to get to the point where we’re really willing to make that jump. By doing that, it’s really set me up for a lot of excitement going forward. We have never looked back. I’m really happy about what we’ve created and the reasons why we created it. When we talk to business owners and we talk to people in the community about what Ten:34 is, it gets people really excited. Because they do see that we’re looking at things a little bit differently. To me, that’s what provides the opportunity.

[00:09:46] AD: You said a lot of things that really resonated with me there, Ken. I’m going to share some of my thoughts around and love to get your reaction. First off, the idea of being an entrepreneur, it’s been a heck of a lesson for me in understanding what entrepreneurship really means, and everyone wants to be an entrepreneur until you are an entrepreneur and you realize what goes into being an entrepreneur, right? I think understanding that taking that leap is – it’s a lot bigger of a deal than most people recognize, but more than just taking that initial leap, it’s understanding that once you take the leap that the freefall is going to be a little bit scary at times. You’re jumping out of a plane in many ways, right? The way I’ve described entrepreneurship in my own experience is like – I jumped out of the plane. I have all the parts to make a parachute, but I don’t know how to make it and I’ve got to figure out how to make it while I’m falling, right

[00:10:38] KM: Yeah. There is risk involved. I look at risk differently than a lot of people. I look at risk as the opportunity or the cost of maybe doing something like starting your own business, but there’s another way to look at risk. I also looked at risk. When I worked at a large corporation last, I looked at risk as, if I stay here, it’s going to create a health problem for me. If you look at risk just from a financial perspective, maybe you never decide that you want to go be an entrepreneur. But if you look at risk for, what do I really want to accomplish in my, what do I want to get out of my career, how do I take the skillsets that I have and really leverage them to create something special. Then entrepreneurship, and switching jobs and all those things, thise are opportunities.

I just would really encourage anyone listening, just always be aware of the landscape, always be surveying and talking to people, and exploring because you never know what’s out there. You never know what might trigger something for you. I would encourage people to look at risk, not only in terms of what am I giving up if I leave a large corporation and do something different. But another way of looking at risk is, in my case, staying in something that doesn’t fit me creates a lot of issues for me. I’m not willing to do that, so it’s kind of – those situations have always created a time when I needed to move into something else.

[00:12:19] AD’: I think you’re very right there, the part that’s always obvious is the financial risk of entrepreneurship, right? Especially if you’re taking a leap to start something for scratch and you know that, it’s now your responsibility to generate revenue to ultimately pay yourself, less build a business, which obviously highlights that side of it. But your point I think is a really important one that it’s so much more than just the financial risk or even the financial upside, everything that – the economic element, I should say. It’s who you are as a person and finding that you can put yourself in a role and it’s not necessarily saying just pure entrepreneurship, but looking for opportunities that puts you in a role where you are best suited to excel, best suited said to succeed in what you’re doing and where your skill sets are in alignment with the areas in which you can add the most value or where you’re spending your time.

You’re saying that at times, if you only measure it from an economic standpoint, if that’s the only variable you’re looking at, you’re maybe missing some of those other factors. If you’re staying in place, you might also be exposing yourself to an environment that isn’t helping you be productive, isn’t helping your health whether mental or physical, and that there may be actually some expense behind that that’s not being factored in. Is that kind of the –?

[00:13:46] KM: I would also say that, if you don’t feel like a job is fitting you and you’re working with other people, you’re also impacting those other people. I did not – whenever I saw myself in that kind of a situation, I did not like it and I always wanted to kind of find that next thing I thought would fit me better. Alex, what you were just saying is really important and it takes a lot of introspection to really understand what is it that a person is good at, what is it that I can do better or different than other people. What can I add to a situation so that I am making a difference in how I spend my time and what the clients I deal with or with the businesses that we own. That hasn’t come tremendously easy for me.

It takes me a kind of a long time to figure out. I think I keep on getting closer and closer to where I think I’ve got it right. But if I had just always stayed doing the same thing I’ve always done, I wouldn’t have had this opportunity to evolve and to look at my skill set differently. It’s something that’s worked out really well for me, but I also get it, it’s not for everybody.

[00:15:10] AD: I question for you and I, Ken. This is – I think when you’re trying to be introspective and trying to truly understand where your skillsets are, I’m putting myself in the shoes of a young professional that’s trying to build a career in stepping back and saying, “Well, how do I really understand what I’m good at. How do I really find where I excel?” Do you have any thoughts or any suggestions or anything that’s worked for you over the years to help you maybe highlight some of those areas that you might unknowingly be good at.

[00:15:39] KM: Yeah. That’s a really good question, Alex. I’m not sure I have the answer to that question. You and I have talked before a book called StrengthFinders, which I think is a really interesting book. I think human beings are built to look at what they can do better and they’re always thinking about, what I’m I not good at and how then how do I fix that. The concept of those book, StrengthFinders is it, the book takes you through a process, and what you do is you learn what you’re really good at. The books contention is, “Hey! You should spend more of your time doing this.” I thought it was a great angle on kind of getting an initial read as to what I was really good at. It’s a very optimistic view, rather than torturing ourselves to figure out how to improve things that we’re not good at, why don’t you look at the things you’re really good at, and then try to do more of that and improve it. I would encourage people to check that book out.

Another thing is, is you go through your day, as a person goes through their day, I would encourage people to observe. When did they feel like they’re really connecting with people? When do they really feel like they’re making a difference? Write those things down, and those are experiences that people should realize to make – should help a person discern what it is that they really want to spend their time doing and what they’re really good at. I found for a guy who is at best on the border of being an extrovert and an introvert, I found it – I used to just love and I still do enjoy going out, talking to people kind of figuring out what makes them tick, talking to them about what they’re doing the community, how’s their family, what’s going on with the Cleveland Browns, whatever, whatever it is. To me, those things are really fun and my networking skills have made a difference in my career since the very beginning, because I’ve enjoyed it and I like people. Being with people and being good at follow-up with people has always led to success for me. That’s just one example.

[00:17:59] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, a Connection Builders podcast.

[00:18:08] AD: I want to I want to come back in a minute and dig into some of the relationship building. It’s something I’ve always looked up to you and it’s something that you are very good at. But before we go down that that path, I want to go back. You mentioned StrengthFinders in stepping back, and we’ll make sure that book is linked in the show notes here for our listeners. It’s a great tool, it’s a great book that can help you identify what you’re good at. But the point you hit on that I think was really important is understanding what you are good at and focusing on that rather than focusing on what you’re bad at and trying to improve that, which human nature often, we say, “Well, I’m not good at this and so I want to get better at it.”

Well, if you’re just not naturally good at it, maybe you should spend your time getting even better at the things that you are good at. And understanding that true success in my opinion really comes to those individuals that are absolutely excellent at certain aspects of what they do. Not those people that are across the board mediocre.

[00:19:07] KM: Yeah, I agree completely Alex, and just to kind of use myself as an example, bureaucracy, and political dealings inside of bureaucracy. There are people that I know that are just incredible, they know how to do that and they’re very, very good at it. And they should continue doing what they’re doing because that’s a skill set of theirs. I was not bad at it, but I always try to get better and better at it. And the fact is, it’s not my personality. As time went on, I really learned that it’s not my personality. I’m too easy to see what the consequences of actions might be and too free to express my thoughts when I really – if you are really politically savvy, you wouldn’t, but I did and I continue to kind of create issues for me over a period of time.

I finally said, “Look, rather than try and change who I am, why not move beyond that? You need to you need to do something that doesn’t involve that level of political skill.

[00:20:19] AD: Ken, I think that’s a really important point behind all of this and you said this earlier. You said, as you go through your day, you need to observe, you need to pay attention, you need to understand yourself, right? That’s where I think so much of truly uncovering what you’re good at, yes, there’s tools like StrengthsFinder, there’s other assessments out there that can really help highlight and maybe bring awareness to some of those elements in those areas that you have expertise so that you excel in. But at the end of the day, to truly understand yourself behind all of this, it requires you to slow down, observe, and bring some awareness to what you do on a daily basis and how you truly do excel, right? In knowing that, that can be difficult at times. Have you seen anything that’s helped you recognize some of that in your day to day that kind of made those things more clear to you?

[00:21:09] KM: Well, Alex, I think being open. What I mean by that is, really being willing to observe what’s going on in a day as you are probably aware, and again, as human beings, there’s a lot of stuff that kind of comes across our brains, and our minds all the time. There’s that internal dialogue. I think in order to really observe, the way that I’ve been most successful, that observing, is to try to take a step back, and almost – I hope I can express this properly, but almost kind of being a third-party, observing what’s going on inside your head, and not letting all that stuff get in the way of what you’re really observing, I think is a great way of looking at it. Because if your mind is all filled up with all these extraneous thoughts that don’t really mean anything, then it doesn’t help you to see clearly.

I would encourage people, no matter if they want to stay in what they’re doing or where they are in their career, always just be open to considering other people’s viewpoints, to not listening to everything that’s going through your brain, and kind of taking a step back and really observing. I think that really leads to better decision making and better observations.

[00:22:39] AD: I think that’s excellent advice, to being open, understanding your internal dialogue, taking a step back. One thing that I would really say for listeners, and this is from my own experience around this. If you really want to bring some level of self-awareness to yourself and into how you live your life in the context of what we’re talking about, uncover areas that maybe you excel in. It does require you to slow down and create some space for yourself to actually process those thoughts. This kind of back to the full start of our conversation around COVID. COVID in many ways, create that environment. All of a sudden, we weren’t going places. We weren’t always on the go. We didn’t have all of our old routines. All of a sudden, we are stuck sitting at home for at least the first six weeks before many of us peep their heads out the house to see what’s going on. That was all of a sudden some solidarity, some quiet time, some unplanned time, some space in our life that wasn’t necessarily constantly filled with the ongoing hustle and bustle, the day-to-day grind, the non-stop of things that we do/

That space, that unplanned, that quiet time, that reflective time I think is absolutely critical to truly start understanding that. In my experience around it, it’s not a one-time event. It doesn’t mean that one-time events can’t bring epiphanies and change your way of thinking in some ways. But it is something you have to kind of on a consistent basis find that time for yourself to really process that and to make sure you’re understanding that about yourself and just to keep general awareness on yourself.

I guess a common – I don’t know if there’s necessarily an answer to this, Ken. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them. But I want to really hit home on this to listeners. This can be really hard, especially as a professional in today’s workplace where there is an unlimited demand of things to do. Your to-do list will never actually be done. No matter how hard you try to catch up on your to-do list, there will always be more client demands. There will always be more work demands, more things you can do and that will never stop. You can’t wait until you get other things done before you make time for it. You have to make time for the reflection, the introspection before you worry about everything else. If you fit the introspection, if you make that happen, everything else in my experience will tend to work itself out along the way. If you try to do it the inverse and say, “Let me get all my things done, then I’ll be introspective.” You just won’t get to be introspection. Your to-dos will continue to keep coming.

[00:25:15] KM: Yeah, I agree completely, Alex. I would also say that if you can kind of get your mind in the right position to not let it do all that internal dialogue, it doesn’t necessarily require tons of extra time, it’s really making the time that you’re spending during the day more effective by the way that you’re observing what’s going on around you. You can develop more clarity, I think, if you’re kind of taking a step back, and really observing what’s going on around you. Rather than several hours later, kind of thinking back on what was happening and what it is that you really want to try to accomplish with your life. You’d be amazed at how you can be doing that, as you’re spending your day.

[00:26:06] AD: I think that is excellent advice and excellent way of thinking around it. Let’s transition, shift gears here just a little bit. We go back to, you talked about relationship building, and that’s something that you are very good at, and you’ve done a great job at and it served you well throughout your career. Can you just maybe at high level share some thoughts around what does relationship building mean to you? What have you seen? Where have you seen the success in your career from it? And what advice would you give for a younger professional that’s saying, “I want to build relationships?

[00:26:40] KM: Yeah. To me, relationship building is not about generating business. Relationship building is really about interacting with people in a way that adds value to the people that you’re talking to. That’s the way I look at it. Whenever I am interacting with somebody, talking to people, I always want to hear what’s going on with them. I want to hear about the companies they work for, their families. I want to kind of figure out what value I can add to them. I’ve always felt like if I end up with business, that’s great. But if I don’t, that’s okay too. I will tell you that I have never been a good predictor as to who I’m going to get business from and who I’m not. You just don’t know, but I will guarantee you that if you are genuinely interested in other people, and if you exhibit that level of interest, they will pick up on it.

Then when you get an opportunity to help someone out, you jump in and you help people out. Over time, you will develop a good reputation in the community that you’re working in, and you will get referrals. But you have to put yourself out. I’ve gone to hundreds of networking events, Alex. I used to go with a lot of people that I would work with to networking events. You would look around and you’d see a bunch of people working for a particular company hanging out with each other. That’s really not going to get you to where you want to go. It’s one thing, just to go to a networking event. It’s another thing to go to that networking event and meet new people, talk to people you don’t know. Try to engage people in conversations.

I think being able to do that is a skill set and I would really encourage everyone to do it. It’s not as if, every time you go up to someone, it’s going to be a comfortable experience. Sometimes it’s going to work, sometimes it’s not going to work. But I guarantee that over time, that is a great way of building a network. I talked to you the other day about this kind of a situation too, Alex. When you do get a referral or when you have an opportunity to help someone out, when you get an opportunity to talk to someone’s client. You need to keep that center of influence aware of everything that’s going on in that relationship, because they will really appreciate that. I think I gave you an example the other day where someone asked me to call somebody and I did. But I forgot to tell that person that I actually made the call, and she ended up calling me back up and asking me if I connected. I told her that I did, but that’s a bad on me. I should have told her before she called me up that I had made that connection.

Follow up, really trying hard to make that referral over to me a win-win. It’s a win for the person that made the referral. It’s a win for the person I was talking to. It’s a win for me. That’s really, really important. I have used that thought process of giving before I take over and over and over again in my career, and it’s worked out very, very well for me.

[00:30:16] AD: Ken, couple of things I want to just look back on what you said. First off, when you’re out building relationships, it’s not about generating business. You have to let that mindset go. That’s what I heard from you.

[00:30:29] KM: Absolutely. If you’re just trying to build, get business, Alex, then what you do is you go up to people, and you say, “Hey! Do you have any referrals for me?” That’s not going to get you anything? There’s a lot of times where I’ll talk to somebody, I will never, ever, ever bring up the idea of a referral. I’m just trying to get to know people.

[00:30:48] AD: Yeah. What you said that I think really fascinating, I think this is 100% the right way to think about it. If you’re going out there, you’re just adding value, you genuinely want to hear how others are doing and you’re interested in what they’re doing. And you listen for opportunities, and look for ways that you can add value to someone else, you will eventually just end up with opportunities for you. It just tends to work itself out if you just go out there and try to just do good, just try to help others try to add value, right?

[00:31:20] KM: Well, that’s the way it’s worked for me, and everybody has their own personality and people will have different successes, doing different things. But what I’m expressing is, is the way it has always worked for me.

[00:31:34] AD: I totally agree with it in my own experience around it. One of the statements you said, is over time, you build up a good reputation. I think that’s a key element of that and it actually ties a lot into your center of influence comment and the value of that. Let’s talk through this a little bit. I’m out in the marketplace. I’m building relationships. I have built a good reputation with someone and someone looks at me and says, “Hey! I think that I have an opportunity for you, I want to make a referral to you.” So now. someone’s made a referral to me and what I heard from you is that, once that referral has been made, it becomes really – well, I guess first off, that referral was made to me because, likely because I have built a good reputation and I’ve demonstrated some way that I can add value to that referral. The reputation, the doing good. the way you interact with people before that all was important getting to that step.

But once I’m at that step, and I’ve gotten that referral, your point that I think it’s very valid one is you need to also be very aware of who gave you that referral and keep them part of that conversation, keep them in the loop, so they understand what’s going on. You’re not just leaving them in the dark, and they know that since they themselves put the reputational line to make that introduction, that they know it’s being handled appropriate. Is that the right way of looking at that?

[00:32:53] KM: Yeah. Alex, I just want to emphasize what you said. They are putting their reputation on the line by giving you a referral, and you’d better treat it that way. I’ve worked for companies in the past and the company’s thought process was, “Well, if it’s not big enough for us, or if it’s not – if it’s not something that we’re going to really be able to make money at, then don’t put any time into it. I’m like, “Well, that just completely ruins who I am as a human being” and I will never get another referral from that person again. But there are a lot of businesses who it’s all about sell now, sell now, sell now and I’m just not a believer in that. I think it’s, you build a reputation and you build connectivity over time. If you do that right at some point, it’s going to start paying benefits.

That’s why I always encourage people when they’re young in their 20s, is when they really should be starting to build network and build these relationships because 10 years down the road, those are the relationships that are going to pay off. Again, you’re not doing it for those relationships to pay off. It’s just the way the world works. If you build strong business, personal relationships, people want to deal with people that they know.

[00:34:20] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, bringing you candid conversations with leading middle-market professionals.

[00:34:30] AD: Question for you in looking back in your career, I’m sure at times it was difficult going out and putting in the hard work, showing up to events, showing up to meetings, being willing to offer advice, do work that you get paid absolutely nothing for. I’m sure again, many times, you feel like, “Well, when does this come back? When does this come full circle?” Any at your stage in your career now, is there anywhere you can look back, can reflect and say, “Yeah, I see that I may have thought that way, and here’s how I overcame it”? Or any advice to someone who’s struggling with that, because I totally understand that, especially when you’re early on building, it feels like you’re spending all this time for what really is nothing in the current moment.

[00:35:15] KM:  You need to also figure out what is the job that you want, and what is the role that you need to play in order to be successful at that job. In my case, again, I’ve always enjoyed talking to people about their issue. If I get a referral from someone, and someone says, “Hey, this guy’s having a really difficult time trying to figure out whether or not to buy this business” or “This person is really struggling with what their marketing efforts,” whatever it is, I love those conversations. I’m not even the expert to help them with all those things, but I can always refer somebody else. I’m really good at listening, and then trying to find how you help that person out. It’s never really a, “Hey, I’m wasting my time” or “I really don’t want to be talking to you.” I mean, very, very seldom. It was always, “Hey, this is really interesting. How can I help you kind of get closer to your answer that’s going to help you solve your issue?”

I just never – again, that’s just my personality, Alex. I just didn’t find it to be a burden. I think if people are finding it to be a burden, that might be an indication they need to look closer as to what they’re trying to get to and whether or not they’re on the right path.

[00:36:43] AD: I think that’s excellent advice. The one point that I think you made is really important. I sometimes say that the best advisors are not the advisors and speaking in the context of professional service providers, which is where we spend most of our time working. The best advisors aren’t the advisors that show up and know all the right answers. They’re the advisors that show up and ask the right questions that ultimately pull out the information and highlight where the real challenge is. Because going and solving whatever the real underlying challenge is, generally isn’t that difficult, generally, it’s something that is doable and you can find the right person. It’s finding what is the real challenge to begin with, where is the real opportunity to add value to begin with. Not the first thing someone says, not what they lay on the table. But when you ask the questions again, and again, and again, you dig in, and you find out where that is. That’s where I do think you can absolutely add the most value in that process.

[00:37:37] KM: Alex, talk less, listen more. I think that’s a line from the Alexander Hamilton play. I mean, there’s a lot of – I mean, I have really, over time, if I’m out to lunch with people or breakfast, whatever. I will do a lot of talk and I’ll ask a lot of questions, but just trying to understand better what’s going on. I just think that’s a really good approach to business.

[00:38:05] AD: I completely agree with that. Ken, as we get to the end of our conversation here, I want to ask just kind of a general question. Looking back based on everything we talked about, the relationships, and your evolution of transitioning your career, taking the leap, becoming an entrepreneur, seeking an opportunity. If you could go back and talk to Ken of 20 years ago, what would you say? What would be your advice to him?

[00:38:32] KM: My advice – well, that’s a great question. Alex, you should have told me about that question earlier.

[00:38:38] AD: I made up on the fly. I thought it’d be a good one.

[00:38:42] KM: In some ways, picks on – I can be impatient with myself. But in some ways, I would have said, “Ken, take that leap a little bit sooner than I did. Because I think that I had a lot of inkling as to what my real skillsets were 20 years ago, but I was – I think that the risk of making the jump along with having a young family and some things, just really kind of tied me up more than it should have. I wish I had taken the initiative to do something different 20 years ago.

[00:39:19] AD: What’s interesting about saying that and I’ve talked to a lot of entrepreneurs and a lot of professionals that maybe haven’t gone fully into an entrepreneurial mode, but have taken big leaps, big changes. What I hear consistently is I wish I would have done it sooner. I wish I wouldn’t have let the fear get in the way. Don’t be afraid, go do it type of mentality, right? It sounds like I’m hearing from you loud and clear.

[00:39:43] KM: Yeah, absolutely. My partner is 20 years younger than I am and he decided to do it in his view, which I think is great. Was always, “I know that this is going to work at Ten:34 Partners. But if it doesn’t, I have enough confidence in myself that I will get something else.” I think that’s a great way – that’s a great view as to how I wish I would have looked at it a number of years back.

[00:40:09] AD: The confidence in yourself I think it’s critical to every element of your success, both personally and professionally is to truly believe in yourself that you can accomplish what you set your mind to. It resonates a lot hearing that. I understand that. To our listeners, if you’re faced with a bold decision where you have to make a move, you have to calculate the risk, you have to understand what the potential upside and downside might be for you. But recognize that having confidence in taking that bold leap, that bold move. I have yet to talk to someone who looked at me and said, “No, I wish I wouldn’t have done it. I wish I would have done it differently.” Everyone, maybe it didn’t work out how people planned, but they always say, I’m very happy I took that, I made that first step.” I think it’s critical.

[00:40:52] KM: I can almost guarantee, Alex. It won’t work out as they planned. Ninety-nine times out of 100, it will work out.

[00:40:58] AD: I think that is excellent advice. Let’s go through a quick recap of our show here today for our listener. We started a conversation around COVID, giving the opportunity to really rethink, and reflect and have some introspection. For you Ken, and for your partner, Justin, that it created an opportunity to step back and say, “Well, what do we want to do?” while also looking at how that may have affected others. In your case, it’s looking at the family-owned business space and understanding some of the opportunity that exists there. We also talked about Ten:34, the name of the organization, and how you all have really thought about what would have been going through the Wright Brothers mind one minute before takeoff. Which I think is a – I can only imagine what they were thinking.

But you also highlighted, I think it’s really important that the Wright Brothers, they started as a printing press, then they were working with bicycles after that, and then they ended up in flight. It’s always evolving. It’s looking and saying, “Hey, I’m open to new opportunities. I’m open to looking for ways for things to change.” That really brought us into our conversation around entrepreneurship or taking the leap and in understanding that there’s always risk no matter what. There’s risk in staying, there’s risk in going, right? Making a decision not to decide something is still making a decision. You have to look at that and you should always be open to exploring, and looking to find a job, and a role that fits you where you’re making the greatest impact on others.

You said something really important here. If you’re in a role that does not fit, you realize it’s not just the impact on you, it’s the impact that others around you, both the people you work with, but also the people at home. If you are unhappy, if you’re not satisfied, that will flow over in other areas. Take the time, look and find what you’re good at and we’d reference StrenghtFinders and there’s other assessments out there that you can look to try to highlight some of your strengths. But really, you have to find time to be introspective, to observe, to step back and really understand yourself and how you’re thinking and try to clear away some of that noisy internal dialogue that oftentimes gets in the way. In doing that requires being open and really thinking about opportunities, and possibilities and being honest with yourself in that process.

Then we shifted our conversation into relationships and you had mentioned relationships are not just about generating business, it’s about adding values to other. It’s about going in, genuinely wanting to hear and listen and understand other people, asking the right questions. And understanding that over time, you will build up a good reputation. And eventually, opportunities will come. If you approach business development, if you approach relationship building with the mindset of, “I just want to add value to others,” typically, it will come back for you. Then we also talked on centers of influence, and understanding that when someone gives a referral to you, it is them putting their reputation on the line to make that introduction to give that referral. And you as the professional, getting that referral, it is your responsibility to follow up to keep them in the loop and understand that you want them to know what’s going on. Don’t leave them in the dark and keep them aware of how you are ensuring that their reputation is protected and that you did your job to follow that through.

I think the final point we hit on that’s really important is, whatever you’re doing, start now. Whether it be building relationships, start now. Whether it be taking the time to figure out what you really want to go do, start now on that. Whether you’re thinking of taking a bold move, start now. Don’t wait. Don’t let fear get in the way. Start now. Make that leap. Ken, is there anything I missed in that summary?

[00:44:46] KM: No, that’s a great, great summary, Alex. That was pretty amazing.

[00:44:49] AD: Thank you. It’s my note taking. To our listeners for this week, our call to action this week is a relatively simple but I also think highly impactful one. I want to encourage everyone listening in the next seven days, find 30 minutes, just 30 minutes of time in your day. Sit down with a notepad or a piece of paper and just write down some of the things that you really enjoy doing and what you think you’re good at. Just 30 simple minutes, write those things down. It doesn’t matter how much you get written down. Just put that time, and the effort and the thinking. Then keep that paper, keep those notes and reflect back on them in a couple of months. I’ll bet you’ll start to see some things a little bit more clearly when you dedicate that time. Really, again, 30 minutes of time to do just a little bit of reflecting and understanding where your strengths are.

[00:45:39] KM: Alex, when you do that reflecting, don’t spend a lot of time wondering if you’re writing down good things or bad things. Just write it down. Do it free form, do it quick and don’t hesitate. Just write, write, write.

[00:45:54] AD: Excellent, excellent advice there, Ken. I can’t stress that enough. There is not right way to do this. There is no wrong way to do this. This is simply meant to get your thoughts out to help your organize and see things more clearly. Absolutely, put the time in, put the effort in, but don’t worry about getting it right. Don’t worry about following a certain way of doing it. Just get the thoughts out and I assure you, you will see some clarity from it.

Ken, for our listeners, how can they get a hold of you.

[00:46:22] KM: LinkedIn is probably the best way, Alex. I’m easy to find and happy to respond.

[00:46:27] AD: Awesome. We’ll make sure that your LinkedIn is linked in the show notes below for any listeners. Ken, appreciate you coming on here. Appreciate our conversation. It’s been excellent hearing some of the story of Ten:34 and also understanding where you’ve been successful in building relationships and it’s lead you at to where you are today. Again, thank you for being on the show today.

[00:46:45] KM: Thank you, Alex. I enjoyed it.


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