Insights Episode 25 The Entrepreneur’s Journey | Episode 25

Imagine That
Episode 25

The Entrepreneur’s Journey | Episode 25

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What does it take to succeed in an increasingly technology-driven world? Adaptability. Curiosity. Resilience.

In this episode, you’ll learn how smart businesses navigate change and technological disruption by innovating and evolving. Join host and Confluence Financial Partners CEO, Greg Weimer, as he interviews Darrin Grove, founder and CEO of Truefit, a Pittsburgh-based software development company. Darrin will share his story and his experiences building a business along with practical advice for developing your network into a thriving ecosystem to gain (and give) support, mentorship, and guidance. You’ll also hear about actionable strategies for networking and importance of resilience – along with the exponential impact a well-planned legacy can have on the world. For anyone interested in personal growth, strengthening your network, or adapting to change, do not miss this episode.

Confluence Financial Partners — Podcast Title | Episode #

GREG:

97% of individuals with a mentor feel they are highly impactful and valuable. Imagine that.

(SOURCE: Moving Ahead, 2017)

Hello and welcome to the Imagine That podcast. I’m your host, Greg Weimer, founder, partner, and wealth manager at Confluence Financial Partners. Each month, we’ll explore new ways to help you maximize your life and your legacy and meet some extraordinary people along the way. So if you’re looking to get more out of your life today and legacy tomorrow, let’s get started.

We’re gonna discuss several things today. First, we’re gonna go over Darrin Grove’s story. If you’re a business owner, or you’re fascinated how businesses get started and grow, you should listen. If you’re really looking to improve and you want to benefit from the lessons that Darrin Grove learned as he’s created Truefit, you should listen. If you wanna understand the value and power of having an appropriate ecosystem, you should listen. If you want to think about building a business that ends up being bigger than you, and really creates a legacy, you should listen.

Darrin is the founder and CEO of Truefit, which is a really fascinating company. It is a software development company. And, you know, I heard someone say from Raymond James, a friend of mine, said software will not replace people, but people that learn how to use software correctly will replace those that don’t. And, and I just think, I think that’s what it’s all about. So, Darrin and I started talking and I just became fascinated with his story. So and then I started thinking, so we’re gonna lunch after this, cuz I’m hooked. Like it makes me, it makes me realize that. And we’re gonna talk about a lot of different things by the way. But, but, but I think this really gives us an opportunity to talk about how you can really make a greater impact.

So before I go any further and tell your whole story, because I’m fired up about it, let me back up and, and, and allow you to just give us. So it was the late nineties, right? You’re like a coder. So like, right. And you’re like doing code and by the way, I was a computer science guy in college, which

DARRIN:

Oh, nice.

GREG:

On, on the cards. Like we used to do the punch cards.

DARRIN:

We are kindred spirits and I, yeah, I do go back far enough to have done some punch cards.

GREG:

Right. I did punch cards. So I, I could program in Pascal, COBOL, Fortran, BASIC. But, but, but, but I can’t—

DARRIN:

We have so much in common already.

GREG:

—but I can’t spell. So, and I know I don’t even know how to turn on my computer anymore. So things have changed, but, but let’s back up. So you’re, you’re doing coding and then you say, aha, I wanna do blank. And you start Truefit. How does that happen? Cuz there’s so many people that wanna do it, they wanna do it and they don’t, so how do you do that?

DARRIN:

Good question. Good question. So to give a little more context you know, I’m a native Pittsburgher I grew up around here. I love Pittsburgh. And my family has really kind of followed the trajectory of Pittsburgh. So my grandfather was a steelworker. Yeah. And my roots are in manufacturing. So I grew up as a maker. I grew up in a maker family. So I, when I became interested in technology, I was very interested in making software products and that, so that was my expression. You know, my dad made copper tubing. I made, I, I made software. So it’s, it’s a little bit like the kind of renaissance of the Pittsburgh’s gone through from a manufacturing town to a technology.

GREG:

I get it. That’s cool. But it’s interesting. I’m listening to you say I’m a maker and then I’m like, yeah, but he also is a grower.

DARRIN:

Right.

GREG:

Do you know what I mean? So like it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s a little, it’s, it’s a different thing.

DARRIN:

Right. So, to fast forward, I was, I was working for a local manufacturing company.

GREG:

Yeah.

DARRIN:

Penn United Technologies in Saxonburg. And working with a great startup software company on a manufacturing system that we were implementing there from a company called Lilly Software Associates. We found them as a startup and we implemented their software very early. And that started a long-term relationship with Dick Lilly and Dave Lane, who was the VP of development. And we started creating, we, we started working together on the product, even though I was a client, I was the closest to the people who were using the software. And so really understanding the frontline needs of users really understanding the usability of the product. So I was kind of their frontline guy and I started creating product with them. This is in the early nineties. And at some point in time, we decided we should kind of take this to the next level. And so I approached Dave and I said, Hey, what if I spin on a tech technology company? I build a team here in Pittsburgh. And he said, it sounds like a great idea. And Dick Lilly loved it too. And so that’s how Truefit started. I should say that my first pitch to these guys failed entirely. So I, I was doing some custom development work on top of their platform. They, they hated that. Dick was allergic to custom development and for many good reasons that I learned later in life. So he was right about that. He said, I don’t want you to do that thing that you pitched to me. What I want you to do is create a new distribution product for us, cuz they were focused on manufacturing and they wanted to grow and expand into supply chains.

GREG:

Did that discourage you at all? I mean, because I think, you know, you’re, you’re first. So, so at this point you have felt 100% of the time. Was there ever like, okay, this isn’t for me or it’s like, Hey let’s—

DARRIN:

No, not at all. No. I mean, it was, it was grounded in the relationship I had with these guys. It was an inspiring alternative. And it, it, it happened faster than you might think, right? Like I didn’t really pitch this as you would pitch an investor, the way a startup company would work today and get rejected. And it wasn’t like that. We were talking about how we would work together collaboratively and he says, here’s what I really want you to do. And I didn’t know anything about distribution at the time that was brand new to me. And over the course of you know, the kind of the first season of Truefit’s life, if you wanna think about it, the first five years of Truefit I learned how warehouses work, I learned how you know, product flows through a warehouse efficiently. And you know, we put a system together that was competing with the top-of-the-line warehouse management systems, systems like Red Prairie and High Jump and Manhattan.

GREG:

And I think that’s one of the myths with businesses. I think everybody thinks like the entrepreneur knows all the next steps. Right? And you sort of like build the bridge as you walk on it, right. I mean a little bit. I mean, and, and, and, and I think that’s one of the biggest myths out there and I, and there’s something refreshing about that. You and I, before we started the earlier today, we started talking about how, you know, you have to, you’re not how to pivot and you’re, you know, you have chapters, you have to know how to pivot. You have to know how to evolve. And then if you don’t evolve and pivot as a business, you become stale, you become redundant. You no longer, you become irrelevant.

DARRIN:

Right.

GREG:

So that was your first. And then, and then where did you go from there?

DARRIN:

So that was season one. And so we focused, we built a team. We focused on that product, that product was rolled out nationally. And then we realized, Hey you know, as a business, we have one big client and that’s creating a ton of risk for us. And we were not clear. It was not clear to us at the time, how to take the next step and diversify as a business, without competing. What we knew was manufacturing and distribution. We didn’t wanna, we wanted to honor our relationship with Lilly. We didn’t want to compete with them. And so we experimented for five years. The next season of life. I think of it as our kind of our teenage years, trying to figure out what we want to be when we grew up, we experimented with a bunch of different ideas of how to diversify. Most of it was implementing other people’s products, which never felt like us. It never felt like what we love. And so for five years we were kind of in the wilderness trying to figure that out and everything. We tried failed everything. We tried for five years in season two, failed.

GREG:

Resilience. I mean, total resilience. And then the other thing is like, when I hear you say five years, some listeners are probably going like five years! Cause because it’s actually going on. I mean, that’s—

DARRIN:

I’m a slow, I’m a slow learner.

GREG:

No, but I think no, but I think it’s key. I think so many people do not run an infinite firm and try to run it for 5, 10, 50. I mean, we’re trying to build a firm for 50 to 75 years. Yeah. So if you’re thinking 50 years out and you can experiment for five years, not a biggie. Yeah. But if you’re thinking I wanna liquidate now or, I mean, I wanna exit in 10 years and I gotta experiment for five, that doesn’t work. So it’s just the value of having a long-term perspective.

 

DARRIN:

Right. Right. Yeah. And I, I would say, you know, I didn’t know how long, I mean, I would say I always, I did have a long-term perspective. I, I, you know, I wanted to build a great company and we had set out to do that. And you know, we were kind of values driven. And so we had a lot of kind of good foundational stuff. But season two was discouraging mm-hmm at the end of that and, and what kind of got us out of that was a kind of a big decision that we made.

 

I decided that in order for Truefit to reach its potential, I was gonna have to stop coding cuz up until that point in time, I was in architect building software. I had to stop coding, which I loved.

 

GREG:

Get it.

 

DARRIN:

And I had to learn how to sell and I pivoted my career at that point.

 

GREG:

And, by the way that’s big — you don’t think coder, salesperson, right? I mean, there no offense.

 

DARRIN:

No, no, no. I, I get it. I get it. And, and you know, a lot of people think I’m weird in that, in that regard. Yeah. But, and it was not easy. I can say that. I can, it was not easy. It was the right decision looking back on it. And we didn’t have a culture of sales at the time. And I had all kinds of misconceptions about sales. I thought.

 

GREG:

I’m sitting thinking, I don’t even know what it is. And people would laugh hearing me say that. But for me sales is, I just, I just fall in love with what we do. And I tell everybody what we do. I fall in love and tell everybody about it. I don’t know. Like I don’t, I don’t even know how to ask for business. So like, I mean, it’s, it’s, I don’t. So what did that mean to you?

 

DARRIN:

I had, I had real bad stereotypes in my head and I think most of the company did as well. Cause it wasn’t just me, but I thought, you know, what salespeople do is talk people into doing something that they don’t wanna do. And a seasoned friend of mine, who’s a lifelong sales professional, very successful, said to me, you know, look, Darrin, and this was the aha moment for me. He says, look, sales is about helping people and you love to help people. And I was like, okay, like I get it. Like I get it. It took me a while to absorb that. But what I did at the time was I, I basically turned that relationship over the, the big relationship with software over to my number two guy. At the time I started with zero customers, zero revenue and zero idea what I was doing and decided I was gonna learn how to sell. And that was really the first time, honestly, that we did a lot of business in Pittsburgh. Mm-Hmm because the warehouse product was a national product. We were working with clients all over the country. Nobody in Pittsburgh, we’re 10 years in, nobody in Pittsburgh knows who we are.

 

GREG:

What year is this?

 

DARRIN:

This is well, it’s like 2007-ish.

 

GREG:

Yeah, I got it.

 

DARRIN:

Yeah. 2000, 2007-ish. We did some good work there. But the other ingredients that made that successful, I did a project. I worked with branding firm called Clear Brands. Brian Cubarney is a, is a genius. And Brian came in Brian’s superpower is he does organizational DNA testing. So he comes in and he like figures out what our true passion is. Mm-Hmm and he’s the guy that said to me, you guys love creating innovative products. Mm-Hmm you guys are product creators and really helping people innovate and figure out the next thing. And we were like, mm-hmm , that’s what we did on day one, by the way, way that’s that was back to our roots at the time. But we went through the desert of like trying to figure out what we wanted to be when we grew up.

 

GREG:

But those dots are so easy to connect.

 

DARRIN:

You’d think .

 

GREG:

Well, no, but no, but you you’re going like, okay all sales is, which I couldn’t agree more, is really trying to figure out how to help people. Yeah. And guess what? We create things.

 

DARRIN:

Yeah.

 

GREG:

That help people.

 

DARRIN:

Yeah.

 

GREG:

So this is like really cool. Darrin’s in the middle and make and connects those two dots.

 

DARRIN:

You’re, you’re yeah, hindsight’s so much, it’s so much easier to see that in hindsight than it did was at the time I, like I said, I’m a slow learner. So it did take me a lot longer to figure that out than I wish. So young people, cuz I’m a big believer in mentoring. We can talk about that in a little bit. But so when people are asking for advice, you know, like what’s the one thing that you wanna leave us with at the end of this,

 

GREG:

The one thing is there’s not one thing.

 

DARRIN:

Yeah. but, but one of the things I will say to them is learn to sell. My son’s working on a little startup project. I’m working with him now actually. And I, I said, man, if I would’ve learned, when I was your age, you know what you’re learning now, about selling, truth, it would’ve like gone a lot faster. Let’s put it that way. So it took me years and years to learn how to do that. And then season three for us was, you know, this is, think about it 2007 is when kind of mobile technology came.

 

GREG:

And how many, how many associates did you have then?

 

DARRIN:

Probably mid-twenties.

 

GREG:

Okay. Yeah.

 

DARRIN:

I would say.

 

GREG:

So now you have it in people. Yep.

 

DARRIN:

Yeah. So, so think about what was happening technically in 2007, that was the beginning of the kind of the mobile technology boom, right. And we had been early to the game in mobile and so we started creating mobile software products, apps. Everybody wanted an app; we heard all kinds of crazy ideas. It’s interesting.

 

GREG:

So we feel like apps have been around forever apps started like, like really, we didn’t download.

 

DARRIN:

Yeah, 2006, 7, 8, 9.

 

GREG:

That’s fascinating. Right.

 

DARRIN:

Yeah. So if you think about again, what was happening then Apple was driving user experience design. Well, we were a team of engineers. We were very engineering centric. And so we spent the season three creating awesome mobile and web solutions and, and kind of starting to learn about user experience design and the importance of creating value for users, the importance of research. And we had hired a couple people, but then I, I we had done some projects with a local design firm called just design that was run by a guy named John Beck and to make a long story short, we really loved working together. We saw the value of kind of joining forces. John approached me and said, Hey, we’re thinking about kind of restructuring. We’d like to join forces with a larger firm. We think that might be you. And so that ended up with our very first and only acquisition mm-hmm in 2014 the kind of the end of season, season three, with John and I joining forces and us starting to integrate the practices of design and engineering, which are turns out to be really, really critical and important.

And so season four for us was about creating these really high performing cross-functional product development teams. So combining user experience, design, product management, mm-hmm architecture and engineering and quality testing. Today we work in cross-functional teams that have all of that, those ingredients and we’ve tuned up those teams over time to have, you know, just the right ratio. So we have six teams across the company today and that team can start with a concept for a new product and out the other end comes a successful commercial product.

 

GREG:

By the way, that that could be a whole podcast because we work in teams here and getting the right personalities, the right expertise. You know what? I don’t want to make this a commercial anyway, but like our Investment Advisory Committee, we have, we have financial advisors that are practitioners, the physicians. We have people that work in the lab, CFAs, CFPs, that, that, that don’t work directly with clients. And then you have leaders from, from our business and you put ’em all together and you get a cross-pollination. Usually a team is made up of similar people. So just all investment people, all practitioners, you know, so that the lab people never really see a patient, you know, whatever. So it’s having that right team. I think there’s a whole getting the right people in the room is, is a, is a big part of the win.

 

DARRIN:

Right. And we’re take a different approach than a lot of companies take with this, which is kind of part of the success. So we were really tightly integrating these teams. So designers and engineers were working very closely together to make sure we understood the problem that the product intended to solve for whom you know, who the user is, making sure they’re creating value for the user, but then understanding what it takes to actually build it and bringing those things together. So the needs of the user, the needs of the market, the needs of the business, and kinda what it takes to build this because software products are very expensive to build. So you can’t just design anything and build it. You’ve gotta create efficiencies so that you’re using capital wisely. Right? And that’s one of the things we really work closely with our clients to do is making sure that they’re making the right investments in the software and that they’ve thought through their business plan. Mm-Hmm so that when we build this product, they it’s gonna be successful in the market. And they’re going to grow it into a successful business. Almost everybody we work with is either starting a software company or starting a software line of business within an existing company.

GREG:

Yeah. And that’s where we are. Right. We’re, we’re having lunch after this. And, and that’s what I wanna talk to you about. I think, I think the opportunity to have we’ll never get away from, and, and never is a strong word. And I’ll say it again. We will never get away from understanding the relationship is key, but we can enhance and improve that relationship with proper software. And effectively, I heard you, you know, help, help a lot more people. Right. And so our we’re really looking forward as a, as a potential customer at some point to be able to do that. And, and I just think it’s, I, we’ve been, we, in fact, we have an, we have an offsite next week where we’re all gonna get together and, and start to brainstorm about what some of those products would be.

 

DARRIN:

Yeah. But it’s grounded in the belief that great software helps people thrive. Right. That’s kind of the core of it, which is exactly what you just said. Great software helps people thrive. That’s what, that’s what motivates us. That’s what we’re passionate about applying technology so that it improves people’s lives. It makes the world better.

 

GREG:

It feels like we’re there. Like it. I, I like, I wanna know, 20 years ago there was so much technology. Now, the technologies evolved. In my opinion, too, as I sit here with an iPad, and I notice you didn’t bring one in. So it’s interesting. The technology guy is just off the cuff. The software is so good right now, but I feel like it does now, now for me, and for us, it feels like now it needs to be customized for our business.

 

DARRIN:

There are so many different applications for it. I, I still think there’s so much potential for technology. If you look at where technology has come, even over the course of you’re in my career, like you talked about punch cards at the beginning of this right now think, you know, that, that, you know, we carry around in our pocket more power than it, you know, than the Apollo space mission had on their flight to the moon. You know, that’s crazy. That’s, that’s pretty awesome. And we’re only just scratching the surface mm-hmm of, of the potential. So if you look at, you know, we talked a little bit about mobile and kind of the mobile era now that is ubiquitous. Like everybody has a phone in their pocket.

 

GREG:

Okay. So listen to the dinosaur ask the question. When you say mobile?

 

DARRIN:

An app, an app running on your phone. Okay. Got, or, or a mobile experience that I can, I can interact with my product on the go. Now not let me say this. Not every product needs to be a mobile product. There are products, there are jobs that you do at your desk and a browser’s the best place to do those jobs. But for very many applications, there’s a remote component. I wanna be able to do something when I’m on the go.

 

GREG:

Yep.

 

DARRIN:

And so we think through that, and we help people that have the experience, the, the, one of the big trends that we’re seeing now is connected devices, right? So the internet of things, devices, appliances hardware in our world will be connected. So we’re working on a really several really interesting connected device projects. You see this a lot in, in healthcare with medical devices being connected you’re seeing it more and more in consumer with home products being connected. So medical device hook up your pacemaker, whatever, he’ll keep your, you know, heart monitor and the doctor looks at it and you’re at home, or, you know, I’m, I’m you know, I’m diabetic, I’ve got a monitor that monitors my glucose and sugar. I, I can see that on my app. I can use that to help manage my health—

 

GREG:

Right, Children’s Hospital, by the way, they, they, you know, they can, they can remote. So, because they’re so used to looking at children and being with children and being with children that have heart issues, they can then remote into the other hospitals and go on rounds and check heartbeats, et cetera.

 

DARRIN:

Yeah. We did a, we did a really interesting product years ago with a couple of doctors who had physical therapy practices. And it essentially you know, these guys are, they’re top shoulder surgeons. They operate on mm-hmm quarterbacks and pitchers and those kind of guys. So after you have shoulder surgery you, instead of going to a physical therapy office and signing up for all in-office appointments, they would hand you an iPad and some wearable sensors, and the iPad would show you how to do your exercises correctly. The sensors would track you doing them in real time, and this is pre COVID by the way. So if you think about remote physical therapy in the world of the pandemic, you can go like, wow, that was yep. Insightful. But so they would have people doing their exercises at home, but all the data would be tracked and, and the user would get real time feedback about whether they’re doing it correctly. And the physical therapist would have a dashboard to see all their patients, you know, who’s green, who’s yellow, who’s red, who needs attention and needs a call and needs to come in and learn how to do it better. And who’s fine. And recovering well. And are our plans of care actually working? And are they effective? Which if we tweak it, which plans of care are more effective than others? So you can do a lot of things with a solution like that, applying technology to physical therapy. So that was a fascinating, connected device product that we worked on for, for a while.

 

GREG:

Yeah. Again, I see it happen at Children’s and it’s interesting how COVID has accelerated it. Right. So now all of a sudden telemedicine is, wasn’t doing well, now it’s doing great. You know, as we sit here today, there’s four of us. And I don’t think we could have done this three years ago. Right. We couldn’t have, I mean, there’s four of us in this room and then I’m looking on the screen. There’s another, I don’t know, three or four on the, on the screen, which remote. Right? In Zoom. So it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s interesting. We would not have been, I don’t, we would’ve done this three years ago. Everybody would’ve been in the room so, or, or whatever. Yeah. It’s just a different world. Okay.

 

DARRIN:

So connected devices are big, but to touch again, without going down the rabbit hole of, of what meta’s all up to VR and AR is a very interesting trend that, that we’re, is, is gonna have a big impact on our lives. And so we’re paying very close attention to VR and AR, starting to do some R&D in that world. It’s, it’s, it’s nascent, it’s still early for that technology, but that is going to really influence our lives over the next 10 years.

 

GREG:

For our listeners that have no idea what that is.

 

DARRIN:

Oh, sorry.

 

GREG:

And the guy from Johnstown across from you .

 

DARRIN:

So virtual reality is, is what so VR. Yeah. Virtual reality is you know, what you’re seeing in gaming, but now in a lot of applications, so industrial training applications, medical surgical applications virtual reality has a lot of like really interesting applications. I’ll give you, I’ll give you one I’m involved in a, in a venture fund that just invested in a, in a company that does language learning. And so what’s the best way to learn a language, Greg?

 

GREG:

Go to the country.

 

DARRIN:

Go to the country. Right. Okay. So talk about a really practical application of virtual reality. What if I could go to a country or it’ll least be put in a context, like a restaurant where, where we’re speaking Spanish and I’m learning, trying to learn Spanish, and I have to order a meal and I have to pay my check and I have to do all these things. So the company does that. I think that’s an interesting application of virtual reality. And, you know,

 

GREG:

That’s, that’s amazing how many possible.

 

DARRIN:

That’s a metaverse idea that I think is actually practical. I think there’s a lot of metaverse ideas that are kind of—

 

GREG:

Yeah. Yep. Got it. But I don’t know, it’s, your business is fascinating and it’s you wanna talk, I mean, our business certainly is evolving, but, but yours is really interested in, you know a lot of opportunities. So now let’s back, let’s back up because we went over a lot of stuff. Now let’s talk about how we can, you know, help people from your experiences. So like, if, what are some of the things you learned? I mean, I, if you wanna touch a little bit on the pivot and the importance of seasons, and I heard you say something about mentoring, like these are real concepts that are evergreen. They, you know, that that probably need to be talked about.

 

DARRIN:

Yeah. It, it, it’s been interesting to look back over the time because this year we’re celebrating our 25th anniversary in February. Yeah. 25, 25 years. So that’s roughly five seasons of life. And, and we didn’t set out to like, these have these nice, neat five year, like that wasn’t part of the, that wasn’t planned. That just kind of happened. But we found that we’ve kind of reinvented ourselves every five years, and I think it’s really important to pay attention to how you need to evolve. And you need to kind of look for the next level and have a vision for that and be willing to be a lifelong learner. You have to continue to learn as technologists. It kind of comes with a territory, but, you know, then there’s all kinds of things like, you know, going from engineering to sales, where it’s like, I didn’t set out to learn that, but it’s what the business needed at the time. And so that’s what we’re gonna do.

What I’m doing right now is like right now, this month is starting to shift my attention from learning sales, to learning marketing. And it’s a whole world that we honestly haven’t figured out yet. We’re not really great at marketing. And I would say we don’t have a clear idea of how to do it in a way. That’s awesome. I mean, this podcast is a great marketing tool and similar to some ideas that we’ve had but kudos to you for kind of figuring that out and integrating it into how you go to market. So, so I’m, I’m a student, I’m all of a sudden, a student of marketing and I’m learning and I’m working with a coach and I’m but it’s a whole thing for me to learn. And I don’t know anything about it.

 

GREG:

Isn’t it fun? I, I find it’s, I find people that are like you, right. You’re always trying to figure it out. I find that fascinating. And, and what I, what I, what I, what I observe are intelligent people are always trying to figure it out. When I’m with people that think they have figured it out, it makes me crazy frustrated. I, they know it, they got it. Like there’s people in our business. They have it figured out I’ve been in the business for 36 years. I’m still trying to figure it out. By the way podcast. It’s not like I sat down to figure it out. Someone had asked me to be on a podcast five years ago, six years ago, seven years ago. I had no idea what it was. I come into the room. I’m like, what are we doing? And now that, then next thing you know, we have a podcast. It’s just, it’s, it’s also just being open to opportunities, but, but there is a real, the lifelong learner is key. And then knowing when to pivot, you know, we, we have evolved and we have evolved and we always say, oh my gosh, we are so much different than we were five years ago. And, and that is not to criticize what we were doing five years ago. It’s just, we’re gonna say that again in five years from now.

 

DARRIN:

Right.

 

GREG:

But, but knowing when to pivot and continue to learn is key, right?

 

DARRIN:

Yeah. It’s, it’s really ingrained pretty deeply in the Truefit culture is continuous improvement and kind of thinking about how we can always be better. That’s where the team construct came from. Yeah. That’s where I, I joke that, you know, our process is called Idea Launch it’s how do you go from an idea to a, to a finished product, a successfully successful commercial product. And I joke that we’re on like Idea Launch 7.0. You know, like we’re, we, we keep evolving it and we’re about to go through another cuz we keep learning. And you know, when we do something like integrate design and engineering, it changed the whole thing. We had ideal launch before design, but when we put those things together and we started working with integrated teams, that process went to the whole next level.

 

GREG:

Right.

 

DARRIN:

Super, super important. The value we’re able to bring to clients has grown substantially over that, over that time, because we have been learning about design. I’m an again, I’m an engineer. So I, I tend to jump to solutions too quickly. So John, John Beck, our director of product design, it is always like, Hey, let’s stay focused on making sure that we’re solving a real problem. It’s like, and, and that is a fun journey and a kind of a frustrating journey, because like you said, you do bump into those people who, you know, have deep domain expertise and they think they know what this product needs to do. And the journey that we take them on is to really validate some of those things. But also, we point out that, you know, a lot of those things are assumptions that you’re making that we should validate. Right. And sometimes we do run into scenarios where like, they think, oh, the product needs to do a, B and C. And we talk to users, we learn from the market and like C is really important, but a, like nobody’s gonna use that. Right. And so that is when I talk about like really being smart about investment of capital.

Those are the kind of things that we learn with people learn with our clients that saves them money in the long run. Because while I’m, I’m thinking of one, one client in particular who had this idea, you know, a, B and C, and like through the research, we found out that like, nobody’s gonna use a right. And it was kind of his pet feature. And he could, he could have been really upset about that or really depressed that his product vision wasn’t gonna come to reality. But I was like, I just saved you like hundreds of thousands of dollars of building something that nobody’s going use building the right product is way more important than building the product that’s in your head. So how do you discover what the right product is to build? And that’s the journey that we take people on. That’s what Ideal Launch is.

 

GREG:

As I listen to you, the integrity comes through. Clearly you understand your business, clearly it helps your client make a, a great decision, but you know what else I’m sitting or thinking, you know, I wanna work with people that think about our problems and come up with solutions even when we’re not together. My guess is if you’re at the Penguin game and you’re working with Confluence, you’re still thinking about right, you have an active mind and, and do you know what I mean? It’s like people, I, I think, I think that’s why people work with us. I mean, we continually are thinking about our clients. It’s not just the hour that we’re with you and you could just hear you listening. You’re always, you, you know, you have a very, a very active mind, very growth mindset.

So you’ve built an incredible firm. Let’s talk a little bit about outside your firm. Cause I also know you mentioned me mentoring and I hear people talk about mentoring. I hear people talking about network mentoring, networking, and really, I think being in the right ecosystem right. Is incredibly important. Right. And, and, and so let’s talk about how you built and by the way, for the listeners, think about your ecosystem. It is so challenging to be successful if you’re not in the right ecosystem. Right. I mean, if you want, you’ve gotta be around people like Darrin, you gotta be around people that are, that are thinking you gotta be. So how did you build that ecosystem?

 

DARRIN:

That’s interesting. Looking back on it, I, I, I had the privilege of starting out in a really strong ecosystem. So Penn United as a company was run by a group of leaders that were just fantastic. I mean, they were, they were trying to build a great company. They were integrating their faith and their work life. I learned a lot about that back in, back in those days. And so when I started Truefit, I kind of was, felt like I was a little on my own because I had been mentored by these guys. And I was in my, in my late twenties. I started Truefit when I was 29. At that time, I said, okay, I there’s a couple guys I wanna meet. And I started showing up downtown and I, I, I met, I chased down a guy named Fred Federoff. Many people from Pittsburgh will remember Fred. He was the, he did so much good for the city. He’s kind of an elder statesman of Pittsburgh. He passed on years ago, but I wanted to meet Fred. And I, so I chased him down at a seminar and I invited him to lunch. And Fred became a mentor of mine for 10 years. 10 plus years until his last day. He was, he was, he, I learned so much from him, a lunch with Fred was intense. He would just ask you questions the whole time, but they were such the right kind of penetrating questions and really made you think.

And so I’ve had a, over the years, I’ve had a series of relationships like that. Jay Roy, who was the president of federal home loan bank was a mentor of mine. We had lunch regularly for many years. I, I really credit a lot of the person that I’ve become to these guys. I get it, Bruce Bickle, another great. He was a, he was at PNC. Yeah. For a while. Bruce is an amazing, amazing guy. Some of these guys are still with us, some of these guys aren’t anymore, but these are, I think of these guys as the elder statesman of Pittsburgh. And I had the privilege of learning from them for many, many years. And big part of who I’ve become is, was very dependent on that and was shaped by them. So I think it’s always important to have people that are kind of older and further down the path.

And I would take the hardest questions of the day. I mean, being a leader is really, really hard and I there’s always a problem to solve. I, I was on a phone call right before I come over here, solving very hard problems about a, you know, a deal we’re doing with a large global company, being a leader is hard and you need to be able to have those conversations. I think it’s also important to have peers, kind of peer mentoring. So people that are in the same stage of the journey in the role that you’re in. So for probably two decades, I’ve had a monthly dinner with a group of CEOs. We all kind of see the world the same way, have the same belief system all in various stages of our journey as CEOs, but we have dinner every month. And I, that’s a kind of a wisdom council that I go to and I ask hard questions and I get good feedback. There’s, for-profit people, nonprofit people. There’s you know, it’s a diverse group. All I would say like-minded, but it’s important to have those kind of those people, particularly if you lead a company because being a CEO can be a very kind of lonely post. So it’s important to have those relationships.

And then I, I think it’s very important to be investing in next generation leaders. I think that’s super important. So a, a good mentoring ecosystem would be having a few people older, wiser, further down the road, having a few people that are in your role and having a few people that are next generation that you’re helping to navigate their navigate their, their course. And so there’s several people that have reached out to me over the years and said, Hey, will you meet with me? I always say yes. Like I always say yes, sometimes those relationships develop and become strong. We, we become great friends and we, you know, our families get to know each other. Sometimes this is one or two meetings and then you know, that doesn’t develop and that’s okay. You know, that’s, that’s, that’s fine. But I would say, you know, if I wouldn’t have chased down Fred, my life would’ve been poorer as a result of not having Fred’s influence. So if you’re a young person, I encourage my boys to do this. If you’re a young person, like find people that you wanna learn from and invite them to lunch and be prepared and ask them really good questions and see, see how that develops. So that’s been big for me as a, as a leader, as a Pittsburgher, it’s been, it’s been big.

 

GREG:

I think it’s essential. I hope everybody hear like, I, I, I, I’ve been blessed and privileged. I worked for American Funds for like 20 years. And so I was around some of the, you know, the best thinkers in this business. And I benefited from that for young people. Don’t be afraid to make that call. That one call can make a huge difference. In fact, today at 2:30, I’m meeting with a, I think it’s a junior to senior in college. He’s actually interning with a competitor and wants to come over. And so he set up a 2:30 meeting. And so it’s Friday afternoon, I’ve got 2:30. And so I’m gonna meet with him. I had someone else, you know, message me on LinkedIn. He was at Deloitte in in DC. And he was, he, I was in Florida, in Naples at our house. And I saw, I got a message coming in. He wants to get together. And I’m like, I wasn’t doing anything. I was watching TV outside by the pool. So I’m like, okay. And so here, he he’s working in our South Hills office, but here’s just a visual for all of, if you’re, and I know you, you said you, you, you, you went to a seminar. If you are at a seminar and the person on stage is someone you wanna meet, don’t walk to the exit, walk to the stage.

 

DARRIN:

Sure.

 

GREG:

It is amazing to me. Yeah. It’s amazing to me, like there’s a hundred people there and people are like, oh, I’d really like to meet that person. And then they walk to the exit, have a about you up on stage and say, hi, I’m Greg. And you’d be surprised how they respond, cuz no one does it.

 

DARRIN:

Right. Yeah. No, it’s, it’s, it’s critical. I always encourage people to make the ask. Right. Like make the ask.

 

GREG:

Wonderful. And then, you know, just a segue to the, the final part of this, you talked about the next generation of leaders and you know, you’ve created something bigger than you, which is, you know, which is I’m sure rewarding and, and fascinating and helpful humbling, a lot of and humbling and, and difficult. There’s always a problem to solve. I’ve told my wife for 30 some years, don’t worry next year will be easier. And she just laughs at this point, cuz it’s just not how it goes. Yep. But talk about your business. What do you think of when you think about your legacy?

 

DARRIN:

We spent a lot of time thinking about this. When we started the company, we started with a set of core values. You know, Jim Collins talked about the importance of core values and built to last. And I had read that in the early nineties. And so I, it was a value system that I learned at Penn United and that we started the company with. So when I started Truefit, I said, you know, here’s what we stand for. And people were, some people were like, that’s awesome. I want to join. And some people were like, not for me, that’s okay. But we were clear about our values. Recently within the last couple years, we’ve gotten really clear on the vision of the company and you know, kind of met with the broader team and you, you can find this on our website, but the, the, the high notes are, you know, we really do believe that great software helps people thrive. We’re building excellent teams, impactful software, successful businesses to be a catalyst for the common good. So the ingredients, there are excellent teams, impactful software, successful businesses so that people can thrive. That’s, that’s kind of the, the pillars of the, of the vision.

And so we’ve been asking ourselves the question, how do we have an exponential impact? It is not our goal to grow Truefit as big as possible. That is not, that is not the goal. In fact, you know, we think there’s some cultural limits because our, the culture of the company is so important to us. And as you grow, the culture changes. So I see all the time I would put us in a category of wanting, I think we’ll grow bigger than we are today, but I would put us in the category of being intentionally small to keep a super strong culture. But the question still remains. How do you have an exponential impact? So for example, let’s just take excellent teams. We’ve spent a lot of time making sure that our teams are constructed correctly, making sure that they’re working well, that they’re healthy, that people are taking that, that people are able to be effective. You know, it takes a lot of, you know, relational oil to keep a good team lubricated, right? So, so we, we’re very attentive to that.

And now we’re starting to have clients ask us, Hey, you know, we see how effective these Truefit teams are. Can you help us kind of grow our own team? And we have clients that are building teams that look exactly like a Truefit team in their company. So that’s, that’s a way of having an ex exponential impact because it reaches outside of our, our walls and really helps our clients be more successful. That was a key component by the way of the hard problem that I, you know, the call before this, that that was a key component of that conversation. How can we help these guys really be successful by helping them grow a team—

 

GREG:

With software?

 

DARRIN:

Right?

 

GREG:

So software, you know, personality, they analyze personalities, put the right diversity together.

 

DARRIN:

Well, I mean, keep in mind, we’re building products for other people, right? So we’re building a product that you are gonna own. Right?

 

GREG:

Right.

 

DARRIN:

So what, what, what do you need to maintain that product? Well, what do you need to grow that product? Software requires care and feeding, all software is never done. Right? A lot of people think, you know, I’m gonna build this thing and then it’s gonna build a set of features and it’s gonna be done. That’s not the way software works. It’s not the way the world works because everything’s always changing. So there’s, you’re gonna need to be adding new features over time. So it’s part of the educational process that we work with clients on, is helping them to understand that software’s never done that this is a, it’s got a life to it. You have to continue to work with it, the world of technology’s changing and you, can’t just, it’s not a static thing. It’s very much a dynamic evolving thing.

 

GREG:

Yeah. And in our business, it, it, so it feels like the standard is you solve a problem like that, right? Like mean now you solve a problem for a company, you solve a problem for a family or an individual. I think the next, the next level is you solve a problem. They haven’t even considered like that. That’s right. I mean, so you, like, in working with you with software, my understanding of what we need on software is probably pound comparison to what, you know, the software could do for our business. Right. And so it’s for, and say for, same for us, I mean, if a client wants to just buy some investments, you know, a lot of people could do that, but, but there’s another level of helping them maximize their lives and legacies. So it’s a different level.

 

DARRIN:

Right.

 

GREG:

And so, you know, I’m, I’m sitting here looking at my iPad. I never sat there and thought, you know what? I really would like, I would like an iPad because it, iPad didn’t exist. Right? So, so for you, I would think the challenge in like our lunch and meeting with me, it’s like Greg thinks what he, he knows what software he needs. Greg has no idea. How does Darrin create a vision that Greg hasn’t even thought about?

 

DARRIN:

Right. So we, we see that as a partnership that we have with our clients. We have created hundreds of commercial software products over 25 years. And so we’re bringing all of that perspective.

 

GREG:

Yeah.

 

DARRIN:

All of those ideas from multiple industries. So our, our portfolio is very diverse. We work in healthcare; we work in energy. We work in manufacturing. We, we work in a variety. So getting insights from all those different places, you know, connected device. We talked a little bit about that. Yeah. I don’t know if there’s a connected device for financial services. Maybe not, but you know, we’re, we’re, those are the ideas that we’re using through a partnership to help create a product that will create new and exciting value for people. Right?

 

GREG:

Yep.

 

DARRIN:

So that’s, that’s, that’s what, that’s what makes my job so fun because I get to have those conversations every day.

 

GREG:

You say fun. Like, I, I love your passion. I mean, I, I love that. I love that you run the, the, the business on values. I, I, I, I find your vision, fascinating. Your passion comes through. I mean, I’m sure it comes through on the podcast in person. It really comes through also. So thank you.

 

Thank you for being a leader. Thank you for being a leader in the industry. Thank you. In your industry, thank you for mentoring young people, as you, as you mentioned. And, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s interesting to talk, hear you talk about pivoting and resilience and you’ve created a wonderful business and it sounds like there’s great years ahead. So thank you so much. I really, really do appreciate the time.

 

DARRIN:

Oh, you’re very welcome. It was an honor and it’s you know, let’s continue the conversation.

 

GREG:

Let’s do it.

 

DARRIN:

I’m I, like I said, it’s, it’s, this is a very fun conversation. I love doing that. And I’m looking forward to learning more about your business.

 

GREG:

I look forward to our conversation. Thanks, Darrin.

 

DARRIN:

Thank you, Greg.

 

GREG:

Thank you for listening to the Imagine That podcast. We hope you enjoyed this episode and welcome you to reach out to Confluence Financial Partners with your questions and comments. If you’d like to hear more episodes, head over to confluencefp.com/podcasts, or find us wherever you get your podcasts.

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