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Ayman Al-Abdullah – How Companies Scale to $100M and Beyond – Ep.215

My guest today is Ayman Al-Abdullah, former CEO of Appsumo and now executive coach to other ambitious CEOs looking to scale 7 and 8-figure businesses past $100m, Ayman’s specialty.

Episode Description

Ep.215: Alex (@aebridgeman) is joined by Ayman Al-Abdullah (@aymanalabdul).

My guest today is Ayman Al-Abdullah, former CEO of Appsumo and now executive coach to other ambitious CEOs looking to scale 7 and 8-figure businesses past $100m, Ayman’s specialty. I love learning from CEOs who’ve made that journey and can share key lessons and takeaways, and Ayman fits that to a “T.” He’s also a Durham native, which is where my wife and I will be moving to this summer so we had some fun talking about his move from Austin.

Ayman and I talk about chokepoints in a company’s growth, habits that made him successful at Appsumo, why he stepped down as CEO, and how other ambitious CEOs can be more effective in their leadership roles.

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Clips From This Episode

How to Succeed in the CEO Role

Weekly Journaling and Exercise Rituals

Ravix Group — Ravix Group is the leading outsourced accounting, fractional CFO, advisory & orderly wind down, and HR consulting firm in Silicon Valley. Whether you are a startup, a mid-sized business, are ready to go public, or are a nonprofit, when it comes to finance, accounting and HR, Ravix will prepare you for the journey ahead. To learn more, please visit their website at

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Oberle Risk Strategies– Oberle is the leading specialty insurance brokerage catering to search funds and the broader ETA community, providing complimentary due diligence assessments of the target company’s commercial insurance and employee benefits programs. Over the past decade, August Felker and his team have engaged with hundreds of searchers to provide due diligence and ultimately place the most competitive insurance program at closing. Given August’s experience as a searcher himself, he and his team understand all that goes into buying a business and pride themselves on making the insurance portion of closing seamless and hassle-free.

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(00:00:00) – Intro

(00:04:20) – Leaving AppSumo to pursue coaching

(00:12:28) – What was the most informative experience for you in the CEO role?

(00:14:27) – What gets companies over the $7m hurdle?

(00:18:26) – What culture questions do you enjoy asking?

(00:24:03) – Improving the Sales role

(00:25:50) – Who was the best salesperson you ever hired?

(00:27:38) – Skills you need vs. what can be taught in sales

(00:31:34) – Have you reflected on whether you were born to be a CEO?

(00:34:44) – What have you found that helps CEOs succeed in the role?

(00:37:29) – Weekly journaling and exercise rituals

(00:42:30) – Ayman’s 25-year vision

(00:50:57) – Do you study other CEOs?

(00:53:25) – The hero’s journey

(01:02:41) – What’s something you’re passionate about?

Alex Bridgeman: Well, Ayman, thanks for coming to the podcast. I’m really excited to chat with you and especially to meet another person living in Durham. So excited to join that community here in a few months. I’m fascinated by transitions and how folks move from one role to the next or even upgrade their own role from CEO of a mid-sized company to even larger and what happens in adding those skills and changing the role that you have. What prompted your move from AppSumo to coaching? I’m kind of curious what that transition looked like for you.

Ayman Al-Abdullah: Yeah, I mean, for those that don’t know me, I joined AppSumo when it was doing around $3 million in revenue. And I stepped down after a few years when it was doing $80 million in revenue, growing almost 100% year over year, fully bootstrapped and profitable. And a lot of people were asking me like, hey, Ayman, it sounds like everything’s going amazing. You’re growing this business like crazy. Like you must be insane to be stepping down at this moment. And I tell people it’s important for you to recognize what environments you thrive in. And for me, I had started my career at Microsoft. So, Microsoft, very well-established company. I joke around, it’s almost like a retirement community for the professional. And it’s awesome. It’s an amazing work environment. Credit some of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with. But at the end of the day, if I didn’t show up, the bottom- like Microsoft’s going to do okay. No one’s going to miss me at work because I didn’t make that PowerPoint presentation. And so I did the opposite swing when I joined AppSumo, where it was just me, Alex. Like if I didn’t close a deal on Monday, the lights shut off on Tuesday. And so, it was a full pendulum swing in the other direction. And so that is in the startup sort of mode where you’ve got to show up, you’re the one driving the results, and it’s a completely different environment. And I loved it. I thrive in that, the ability to know that I’m making a direct impact on the bottom line. Phase two is scale up. So now you’ve nailed product market fit. You’re getting the thing off the ground. You no longer want it to be just you. And normally it’s just the founder. I wasn’t the founder of AppSumo. But if you’re a founder of a company, it’s typically just you, maybe a few contractors. Scale-up is now about how do I take everything that I’ve been doing and get out of the day-to-day so I can allow the business to scale. And so, startup phase two is scale-up. Scale-up is about building the team. So, if startup is about building the product, scale-up is about building the team. And as you approach 100 million, Alex, it’s no longer about building the team, it’s about grow up and it’s about protecting what you’ve built. And I recognize that we were getting closer to worrying about like HR compliance and tax regulation than I would have assumed and I would have liked. And I was spending more time in meetings about protecting what we’ve built rather than thinking about the next phase of growth. And I just recognized like, look, if I’m not 100% passionate about these meetings, then I’m the wrong person to be sitting in these meetings. And so, reached out to Noah, I’m like, hey, I’m not going anywhere, but I think it’s time for us to start looking for the next CEO. And so, we kicked off a search to do that. And over the next few months, we navigated a transition plan. And long-winded answer to your question. Yeah, just recognizing that startup, scale, grow up. I’m terrible at startup. I hate the grow up. But I think there’s very few people in the world that are better than me at scale up.

Alex Bridgeman: Were there still things at grow up at the larger size that you did still enjoy, even if there was other meetings that came along with it that you weren’t a huge fan of?

Ayman Al-Abdullah: Of course. I mean, it’s like a Venn diagram, Alex. And it’s like a DJ sliding scale. Like you’re still going to hear the old song as they slide into the new one. And so there’s all- I love the team. I love the product. I mean, I’m still very much involved with AppSumo, huge fan of everything AppSumo. But at the same time, you have to recognize when you are no longer the best person to be sitting in that seat. And for me, I found myself, if I’m finding myself only looking forward to the things I truly enjoy and avoiding the things I don’t, I’m doing a disservice to the company, if I’m forcing myself through these meetings and forcing myself through these decisions rather than putting someone in place that thrives on them.

Alex Bridgeman: What kind of characteristics did you look for or find in your placement who- looking for that profile, a person who’s really good at grow up, what types of folks did you come across or find interesting who would be a good fit for that?

Ayman Al-Abdullah: So to be clear, we didn’t find them. We did a search, we put out a hundred thousand dollar bounty, we got thousands of candidates, and it ultimately ended up being Noah stepping back in. And what was interesting was we were looking for someone that had been where we were at, knocking on 100 million, taking that business to 500 million. So, number one, you have to recognize that less than 4% of companies ever make it to $1 million in revenue, less than 1% of companies make it to $10 million in revenue, and less than 1% of 1%, the smallest amount ever make it to 50 million. Most of those are going to be founders. They’re probably going to have a super fat exit. So, all of those individuals are sitting on PJs, on private yachts, on a private island. So, you’ve got to imagine, Alex, the pool is incredibly tiny for the type of person that could take a hundred million dollar company to 500 million and still wants to do that job. They want to get back into the saddle. And they’re not fully retired or running a hedge fund somewhere. So, the issue was that we analyzed the candidates, and we just weren’t excited about any of their profiles. If someone was experienced, they didn’t have the AppSumo ethos. And I remember just one day, I’m like, look, Noah, we’ve built an incredible leadership team here. You’re the face of the brand. Why don’t you just step back in, and we’ll come up with a game plan to have sort of like a sliding scale approach. And Noah stepped back in. I think he’s done an amazing job. Obviously, there were some rough patches in the beginning, but we’ve smoothed those over. And I feel like he’ll be the first to admit that he’s had some massive growth over the last two years. And I think AppSumo now is at one of its healthiest spots of all time. And so, yeah, we went through the search, but we didn’t find them, Alex. It’s a tough thing to find. But ultimately, I think that there’s no better decision than the founder actually staying in as CEO. I think when you take a look at the best companies in the world, they are led by the founder because it’s very difficult to replace the founder dynamic when it comes to scaling and growing your company.

Alex Bridgeman: Since leaving AppSumo, have you met anyone who has done that really well, that 100 to 500 span? Like what characteristics do they have if you’ve met someone like that?

Ayman Al-Abdullah: I haven’t met a single one.

Alex Bridgeman: Wow, not one.

Ayman Al-Abdullah: Yeah, not one. That’s a unicorn, man. Yeah, I’ve not met a single person. To be fair, I don’t live in that world. My world is the scale up world. So I live in the one to a hundred million world. I don’t live in the hundred million dollar plus world. And so, I’m very intentional about who I’m meeting up with, about the type of content that I create. I only work with founders that are doing one to 25, 30 million and help them get to a hundred million and beyond. In fact, once they get to a hundred million, I’m like, it’s time for you to go and find someone else because I am not the type of person that’s going to get you 100 million to a billion plus. I’ll get you to 100 million, and then I’m going to have to pass the baton to someone else.

Alex Bridgeman: What other careers did you consider, like next chapters after AppSumo, and eventually you landed on coaching, but what else was on the table for you?

Ayman Al-Abdullah: I mean, honestly, Alex, the plan was to ride off into the sunset and sip Mai Tais on the beach. That was really the plan. And in fact, I did that for a little bit, just like, okay, let’s ride off and enjoy ourself and go and sit down on the beach. But guys like us, we sit on the beach and on the second Mai Tai, we start looking around and we start checking our phone and we’re like, okay, well, what’s next? And so, I mean, the plan was not to do anything. The plan was just sort of, definitely not do anything monetarily related and just enjoy one of the few rare moments in your career where you can just do nothing. But eventually, I started getting the itch, and it wasn’t even like let me evaluate what to do next. It was more around what was the universe calling me to.

Alex Bridgeman: What about your CEO experience at AppSumo do you feel like was most informative for maybe your philosophy behind running a company that you now pass on to coaching clients and others?

Ayman Al-Abdullah: I was in a unique position, Alex, where AppSumo launched over a thousand companies while I was there. And so, I got a watchtower view of the industry. I got to see companies IPO and companies go bankrupt. And it gave me a very unique trend line of what separates the best from the worst. What were the commonalities that really found themselves repeating the patterns over and over again? And I was able to incorporate a lot of that into the growth in AppSumo but also be able to synthesize that into that startup, scale up, grow up framework and figure out what exactly are the plateaus that plague companies at certain revenue milestones. For example, if a company is struggling at a million dollars in revenue, they’ve probably got a product scaling problem or a promotion problem. They’re unable to bring customers at a position that’s higher than their churn. And so, they’re flatlining, and they are adding customers at the same pace that they are losing them, and that’s why their revenue is flat. If a company is stalling at 7 million, they’re probably dealing with a psychology problem, meaning they’ve hired like crazy, the managers are now hiring on behalf of the company, and they are creating factions and cliques within the company and there’s infighting within the company. And now they’re no longer focused on the mission, but rather focused on internal politics. And so, I found these repeatable plateaus that plague companies. And if we’re able to fix them, we can punch through in order to maximize growth and accelerate to 100 million and beyond as quickly as possible while avoiding some of these potholes along the way.

Alex Bridgeman: What gets folks out of that seven million hurdle or that plateau?

Ayman Al-Abdullah: So, the psychology one?

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah.

Ayman Al-Abdullah: Yeah, I mean, I thought core values were bull. I was like, this is some corporate speak. This is absolutely ridiculous. In fact, we didn’t have core values. It didn’t make any sense to me until I realized we had hired a leader that had built an entire branch in the company that was essentially jeopardizing and sabotaging the company because they were not aligned with the mission and the core values. And like a gardener, we had to trim the bonsai tree in order to save the plant. And so, there was a cut. And that’s when I realized, oh, the reason that we grew a dead branch is because the trunk wasn’t secure. The core wasn’t secure, Alex. And so, the reason core values are important is not that it’s corporate speak. The reason they’re important is it defines who thrives at your company. So, for an example, and there’s nothing wrong with this, we had hired an individual, she was a designer, very perfection focused. She wanted everything to be pixel perfect before it shipped. She would have absolutely crushed it at Apple, crushed it because everything is perfect on launch day. AppSumo is very much a ship it and improve it culture. We are very MVP focused. In fact, if you’ve read Noah’s book, Million Dollar Weekend, he’s like, build the business in a weekend. Don’t spend six months building a business plan. It’s built into the ethos of the company to ship it, learn, and move on. And so, there’s a mismatch between her core, which is I need things to be perfect, versus the core of the company, which is ship it, get results, and improve over time. Neither philosophy is wrong. But if you’re not crystal clear about that, you end up hiring someone who has a great portfolio but then doesn’t thrive with the internal dynamics of the company. And so, the way you fix that, Alex, is you get crystal clear about what thrives at the company. So, for us, we distilled the values into three major frameworks. And it was keep Sumo hungry, keep Sumo humble, keep Sumo weird. We were in Austin, keep Austin weird. So hungry means they’re tenacious, means they are resourceful, means they’re willing to go above and beyond. Humble means they have a team first mentality. There’s cultures where it’s cutthroat, every person for themself. That was the opposite of AppSumo. We always gave away praise. We always gave praise to the team. We never- in fact, even our sales team shares leads. It’s the weirdest dynamic. They’re sharing leads and they’re helping each other close. That’s very different than maybe another sales organization. Like my buddy’s at a very famous public company. I’ve got his book behind me, the former CEO. Maybe you can guess who it is. Very cutthroat culture. And it’s like he literally will ask someone else to help him, and they’re like, what are you doing? Why are you bothering me? So, a shark would thrive there. And then the last one was keep Sumo weird. Like you would not thrive if you showed up in a three-piece suit at AppSumo. And so hungry, humble, weird was the litmus test that we used whenever we were interviewing someone. And when we’d interview someone from McKinsey, super buttoned up, very humble, wasn’t weird. Not going to be a good fit. It’s going to be a no from us. How about someone else? Super sharp, super weird, but very out for themselves – not humble, it’s not going to work out for us. And in fact, some of the best companies in the world have figured this out early. Jeff Bezos figured this out early, which is why more than 50% of the interviews at AppSumo or at Amazon are culture focused, not performance focused. Oftentimes we hire for performance, but we fire for personality. And I think the more you can think about the personality of not just the company, but the individual, the more you’ll be able to punch through psychology and get to 10 million and beyond.

Alex Bridgeman: What culture questions do you really enjoy asking in interviews that help figure out if they fall into all three buckets for you?

Ayman Al-Abdullah: Yeah, it’s a great question. In fact, I have- let me pull up my exact template. Yeah, I basically bucketed questions. I would find the questions that I enjoyed and then I would figure out how do I layer those in to my interview in a way that allows me to test exactly what I’m going after.

Alex Bridgeman: By the way, have you read the new Brad Jacobs book?

Ayman Al-Abdullah: I have not, no.

Alex Bridgeman: It’s called How to Make a Few Billion Dollars. It’s about him building the various consolidators he’d been a part of, but he includes this 45 question doc at the end of the book about these are all the questions that he sends to candidates ahead of actually interviewing them. He sends it like a couple of days ahead, they fill it out, send it back, and then you have the interview. But a lot of them are culture focused.

Ayman Al-Abdullah: Yeah, I mean, it’s only after you’ve interviewed, hired, fired hundreds of people, you realize how important personality is to fit. Because even the Navy SEALs have figured this out. There is a performance versus trust matrix, Alex, where they evaluated who would actually thrive as a Navy SEAL leader. And you would think it would be 100% performance. It’d be the biggest studs, the guys who were running, like the biggest- the ones that were running the three mile run the fastest, the ones that were the best shooters. But what they actually determined was those that voted the leaders were on the trust framework. And so, it was okay if they weren’t the top athletes. What they cared more about is, could I trust this person with my family? If I were to turn my back, do I know they have my back? And so, when you analyze that, it had nothing to do with performance, it had everything to do with personality. And so when you’re not evaluating that as part of your interview process, you’re hiring mercenaries that can do the job but essentially will sabotage your company. And there’s a place for mercenaries. I’ll bring them on as a contractor with a very specific skill to deliver a very specific result. I need this email copywriter to deliver me a campaign, a drip campaign that’s going to deliver seven figures in value. Cool, they’re never going to be in an office, I’m never going to be interacting with them, all I’m getting is a deliverable via email. Excellent. But if you’re going to be with them day to day, if you’re going to be in the trenches, you do not want someone screaming, we’re all going to die. You want someone screaming, we got this, let’s do it. So, I got the questions. So in regards to hungry, this is what I’m asking. Tell me about the toughest problems you’ve solved. What’s your proudest professional moments? What are the times when you’ve worked on a problem that’s above and beyond? I want to see their resourcefulness. I want to see them going above and beyond. And so, I want to know specific examples where they were hungry, where they didn’t just do the status quo, but they rather went above and beyond and even beyond the job description. We’re looking for people that go- that they’re not just going, that’s not in my job description, that’s not my job. We’re going really above and beyond. In terms of humble, who’s your favorite team and why? Describe your favorite boss. Describe your perfect company culture. Tell me about a time when you’ve worked with a difficult person and how did you handle that? Tell me about a time you’ve almost quit and how did you go through that? Tell me about a time when you’ve had to sacrifice for a team. And so, I’m trying to unpack how is this person’s dynamics within the team. And then in terms of weird, I’m trying to ask like, how would your friends describe you? I’m trying to ask, what are you doing on the weekends? I’m looking for their personality. I’m looking for things that are beyond just what’s on their LinkedIn. And I’m looking, honestly, it’s going to show through in the interview process, the type of individual they are. And Alex, ultimately my litmus test at the end was does this person meet or raise the bar? Would I be excited to go on a trip with them? So if I were stuck on a layover in Helsinki, would I dread it or would I be I can’t wait. Was this person born to do this job? And then lastly, and this is the one that often tripped me up and made me recognize whether or not I was maybe just saying yes just to say yes, maybe compromising on the role. And the number one question that I would ask that would eliminate a candidate was, am I afraid if this person went to a competitor? And if I wasn’t afraid, Alex, I would say no. And it’s hard to say no when there’s a pain, which is why the very first process step during a job kickoff is we hire a contractor to backfill the position so we don’t feel pain while we look for the ideal full time candidate.

Alex Bridgeman: Oh, that’s interesting. I hadn’t heard that contractor supplemental piece added as part of a job search, but that makes a lot of sense.

Ayman Al-Abdullah: That’s the very first thing we do. So, we will kick up a- because it’s so easy to hire an agency or a contractor, you can have them spun up and ready to go the following week. And while they’re not going to be 100%, you’re going to get 80% of the work done. Part of their job is going to be documentation, and then their final job is going to be the onboarding of the new full-time employee. And then we’ll scale that contractor back down at 10%, 20%. And no matter what, if the candidate doesn’t work out, we can scale that contractor back up; they already know how to do the job. If they do work out, amazing. If they go on vacation or they’re sick, we have someone else that can do the job as well. And so, it avoids you cutting corners as part of the hiring process, but it also creates redundancy as part of a scaling team.

Alex Bridgeman: Could you also do that for roles like sales, where it’s very customer-facing versus email output as the main deliverable with that relationship?

Ayman Al-Abdullah: Sales is harder. Sales is harder. And so, what we’ll typically do with sales is we’ll hire two to three candidates at the same time with sales with the expectation that we’re only going to move forward with one.

Alex Bridgeman: And so that’s a couple months training period or a couple weeks?

Ayman Al-Abdullah: We made it clear to all of our salespeople they have to close two deals in two weeks.

Alex Bridgeman: That’s pretty quick.

Ayman Al-Abdullah: We move fast, Alex. You’ve got two weeks, learn the business, source, jump on sales calls, close. And I’ll be honest, everyone that actually wanted the job or was truly hungry, they figured it out. They closed within two weeks. There was one guy that came from the esteemed background, had all the sales pedigree, the most perfect LinkedIn. He was out the door at 4:30 every day. I’m like, you’re going to close in two weeks. He’s like, oh, yeah, I got it. By the way, he was like a family member, so I think he might have thought we were just going to let it slide. Like, you’re going to close. He’s like, yeah, I’m going to do it. I’m going to do it. The Friday of the second week, I’m like, hey, did you close? He’s like, I only closed one. I’ve got one on Monday that’s going to work out. I’m like, what do you mean? Trial’s over. He’s like, no, but I got it on Monday. I’m like, two deals in two weeks. You knew the agreement. Hand in your laptop. And so that was it. And I think it’s just being crystal clear and recognizing there’s a binary decision and not sacrificing or compromising as part of that in order to maintain high standards as you scale and grow the team.

Alex Bridgeman: Describe the best salesperson you’ve ever hired. And how’d you find them?

Ayman Al-Abdullah: I mean, I’m going to jump to my very first salesperson that I hired. And the reason I reached out to him is he’s one of my best friends. And I actually worked under him at a roofing company we worked at together in Miami. And the reason that he was such a good salesperson is because he never wanted the sale. He just wanted to help. I think that’s the key difference. And in fact, the very first sales call we went on, we went to an abuela in Hialeah, Miami, this old lady. She had a leak in her roof. And she was like freaking out, worried about patching this job. And we both jumped on a roof, 80 degree August Miami heat. Actually, it was probably like 100 degrees and we’re just sweating up there. And he’s like, you know what, I think we can just fix this right now. And he just went and started fixing it. And he came down, and he’s like, hey, you’re good. You don’t need to worry about it. It’s all done. And she’s like, okay, how much is it? He’s like, no, don’t worry about it. It’s done. And she’s like so thankful, walked away. Seven, eight months later, she’s like, you know what, I just want a new roof. She called him first and we got the new roof. Never cared about the sale, only cared about- And so when I hired my first salesperson at AppSumo, he was the one I called. And he was like, what do you mean? Like, I don’t know anything about tech. He’s like, I can teach you tech. I can’t teach you what you know. That ethos of helping rather than selling, that’s something that’s part of your personality. And so, he’s still with AppSumo to this day. I think he’s a phenomenal salesperson. And at its core, it still comes down to he wants to help rather than sell.

Alex Bridgeman: So, you mentioned, of course, you can teach tech, can’t teach some of the personality, that willingness to help and sell. What else falls onto either side? Like you need to have this or like if you don’t have this, it’s okay, we can work on that, we’ll teach that as part of our sales training or onboarding or just pick that up through osmosis. When hiring sales, what else falls into need to have versus we can train?

Ayman Al-Abdullah: Well, we go back to this role fit. Were they born for this job? I mean, you’re an accountant, I’m an accountant. We’re not born to be accountants. You’re probably not very detail-oriented, Alex. You’re not dotting every I, crossing every T. You probably skim some papers. You probably don’t read a lot of manuals. You clearly weren’t born to be an accountant. So, I don’t know why you did accounting. I’m the same way. And so, when it comes to salesperson, is this person gregarious? Do they love hosting? Do they want Super Bowls to happen at their house? Do they make friends with everybody? Were they born to be a salesperson? Are they always recommending the latest restaurant or a bottle of wine? They’re just always selling. You can’t teach that. It’s just the way they are. It’s their personality. They were born to sell. They were the ones telling everyone, oh, you’ve got to try this, or you’ve got to try that, or check out this music, or oh, this movie’s amazing. You can’t teach that. You’re born with that. I can teach you how to properly phrase a question so it doesn’t seem desperate. I can teach you how to overcome objections or even better layer it into the pitch so they never even come up, but I can’t teach that personality. So, I think just understanding those four decision frameworks: Do they raise the bar? Would I be excited to hang out with them? Were they born for this job? And would I be afraid if they went to a competitor? If you’re really nailing those four, it’s really hard to make a bad hire.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, I think I log into QuickBooks maybe every three weeks at most. So detail on the accounting side is certainly a little bit light on my end.

Ayman Al-Abdullah: And that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, I think it’s amazing. I mean, I’m very glad I got the accounting degree. But if you were to lock me in a cubicle room to do tax returns for the next 40 years, I wouldn’t make it, Alex. Like, it wouldn’t happen. And whereas I know there’s people in my accounting program that they love it, they thrive on it, they read SALT returns, they read the latest tax filings. When the IRS code changes, they can’t wait to dig into it. And I’m like, oh my God, like get a life, dude. But they love it. And you know what, I’m so happy for them. So, it really does come down to, were you born for this job? And I think there are certain individuals that there was a nugget of their personality that got them excited about taxes or accounting, and then they were rewarded early. And that reward turned into passion, and that passion turned into purpose. And now all of a sudden, they’re some of the best accountants in the world. They are flying private and marrying people they have no business marrying because they’re the best in the world at what they’ve found. They figured out their passion. And so, the question is, can you find your passion? Can you find the individuals that are excited about what you’re hiring for and ensure that everyone’s aligned on the purpose and mission of the company? And if so, then you’re going to have an amazing time.

Alex Bridgeman: As an aside, what did you think of The Accountant with Ben Affleck?

Ayman Al-Abdullah: I haven’t seen it. Is it good?

Alex Bridgeman: You haven’t seen it? Oh, it’s great. Like the best accountant in the world helping the most dangerous terrorist organizations, drug lords get their accounting straightened out. Like how do you audit yourself if you’re a giant cartel, like you’re not going to KPMG, like they’re not going to help you. So, someone’s got to come in and know their debits and credits.

Ayman Al-Abdullah: Wow, that’s super interesting. That’s a hell of a job. That’s a hell of a job.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, not one that I want. Like I said, not accounting, but definitely an exciting place. For that kind of is this person born to do this, have you had time to have internal reflection, like was I born to be a CEO? Like for folks who want to be CEOs or are becoming founders or are founders, there must be- the same kind of criteria must apply where how do I know if I’m meant for this or if I’m a good fit for this type of role?

Ayman Al-Abdullah: Watch what you do when no one’s looking. So, when you’re waking up in the morning with your fresh cup of coffee, what books are you reading? What does your YouTube homepage look like? What does your TikTok and Instagram algorithms look like? Who are you when no one’s watching? Success leaves clues. And I think the more that you can be honest with yourself about who you are, who you try to hide from the world, the easier it will be for you to start to carve a path that is aligned to your true purpose. So, for me, I geek out about business history. I read all the business books. I’ve had an HBR subscription since I was seven years old. It’s like something that I just love and it’s something that I’m incredibly passionate about. And so, I think it’s one of those things where you can’t fake that. Like when no one’s looking, I’m learning. And I’m always thinking about business. I’ve started and sold multiple companies even before I graduated high school. And I think that that’s a hard thing to fake. They did a study, they’re like, your Instagram is actually a better reflection of who you are than most people think. They say it’s the highlight reel, but it’s hard to fake the highlight reel for years, for decades. It’s actually like who you are. Like when you’re posting about the gym multiple times a week, you’re probably pretty fit. When you are on the track, you probably like cars. If you fish, you are probably a fisherman. It’s hard to fake those things. And so when you’re analyzing, what are you doing when no one’s looking? What is the stuff you post about? What’s the stuff that you’re trying to think about? When you’re looking at your calendar and analyzing what meetings am I most excited about, it’s going to start to leave a trend about the things that get you most excited. And you’ll start to be able to create a bucket of, well, if this was a corner office test, which corner office am I building towards?

Alex Bridgeman: Explain the corner office analogy a little more. I like that one.

Ayman Al-Abdullah: Yeah, so if you’re on a floor and you look to the corner office and you see an overweight, stressed out individual, then why are you working on that floor? Why are you striving so hard? You’re probably on the wrong floor. Whereas if you look in the corner office and you see someone that you admire, that they’re doing work that you’re like I can’t wait to go do that work, you know you’re on the right floor. So, keep working. And so, when you’re industry, when you’re analyzing the trajectory that you’re on, who’s in the corner office of where you’re at? Do you admire them? Are you excited about building that life? And if so, then you’re on the right path, you’re on the right floor. If not, get back on the elevator.

Alex Bridgeman: As you were CEO and as you’ve worked with other CEOs, to the point about habits and reading and other kind of non work activities, what have you found that’s either consistent or has been really helpful for other CEOs as they kind of manage all that comes with that job?

Ayman Al-Abdullah: Well, number one, you’ve got to always be five to six steps ahead of the company because the CEO dictates the pace of growth of the company. And if the CEO doesn’t know what to do next or doesn’t know how to solve the existing problem, then the company is going to go through asymptotal growth. They’re going to be exponential and then flat, then they’ll be exponential again and then flat because you’re always approaching the next flat line of the company’s growth. And so, whatever I did, I was always trying to surround myself with CEOs that were five or six steps ahead of me. I was trying to get coaching or learning from individuals that were two to three years ahead of me. I was hiring coaches that had accomplished what I was trying to accomplish. Number two was ensuring that I maintained a good workout routine. I think that health is the foundation for wealth. And the opposite of that is imagine you’re trying to work when you have the flu or feeling incredibly sick; it’s impossible. Whereas the opposite is someone with maximum energy, maximum vigor, bringing it every single day to the office. Like how energized is that company going to be? So, figuring out how are you doing that. And then the last is the ability to disconnect. So, at the end of every single day, Alex, I go through a ritual that distances me from the computer, distances me from the phone, and allows me to be fully present with the family, and then allows me to come back the next morning highly energized. And then same thing on Friday, where I’m able to disconnect for the weekend, come back on Monday, well, really Sunday for just a couple hours, excited, pumped. And then that Sunday planning ritual I think is really critical. So, every Sunday I do two things. I do leg day and I do planning. 30 minutes, 40 minutes. If I hadn’t hit Inbox Zero, I might just quickly get to Inbox Zero as I start the week fresh, but 30 minutes planning the week, so I’m going proactive into the week rather than reactive. And if I’m able to do those things, which is I’m always learning, I have a foundation for health, I’m disconnecting, so I’m able to focus on the family and hobbies and relationships outside of work, and then I’m being proactive rather than reactive, those alone allow you to ensure that you’re maintaining sustainability in growing a business rather than driving burnout while you’re trying to grow your business.

Alex Bridgeman: What goes into that 30, 40 minutes of planning on Sunday for the week ahead? What are you focusing on? How do you structure that?

Ayman Al-Abdullah: So, I actually created a journal called the Everest Journal that gives me the framework that I do every single Sunday. But honestly, the reason I created it is because I was tired of creating the same boxes in my moleskin every single week. And so, you can literally just grab a moleskin and do it. If you want, while you’re there, grab a coffee, go on airplane mode, go sit in a cool corner of your house or go to a coffee shop and just do exactly what I just did. Number one, let’s write down your biggest wins. So, at the end of the Everest Journal, I actually have a page with all of the wins on a week by week basis because it’s so easy to forget how much progress you make in a quarter, in a year, in a decade. And so, by having that log of wins, it reminds you of the progress you’re making. And I only write my wins. I don’t write my losses because I found myself dwelling too much on those. So, I only write the wins. Number two is task migration. And so, I don’t know about you, but I’ve got tasks everywhere, email, Notion, Slack, written in the journal. Sometimes I throw it in my calendar as a reminder. And so, let’s go and review all of those and make sure that we have them captured. And so, we’ll bring those over to the next week in a prioritized order, which is what are the A tasks that have to get done? What are the B tasks that would be nice to get done? And what are the C tasks that are errands? Then we’ll revisit my 90 day and monthly goals to make sure that it’s still aligned with the 25 year vision. T3s, B3s on the week. So, what are the top things that worked well this week? What are the bottom three things that I’d like to improve? And how do I layer those into lessons for the future? And then that’s my reflection. So that’s 15 minutes. And then the next 15 minutes is what are my big three of the week? So, I reiterate my 90-day goal or my monthly goal. I write what are three things that I’d like to accomplish this week. I will transfer that to a post-note and stick it to my monitor. So, it’s front and center every single morning. I will write my reward. So, at the end of every week, like at the end of this week, I’m going to be picking up a sauna. So, I’m super excited about that. And then I’ll write out my workouts. And so, I have the same, almost the same workout routine every single week. And I’ll write that out. And then I’ll schedule everything on my calendar. So, I’ll do about three hours of deep work a day as a goal, an hour workout, and then typically my meetings in the afternoon.

Alex Bridgeman: Oh, so you do the workout in the middle of the day?

Ayman Al-Abdullah: Oh, yeah.

Alex Bridgeman: Oh, interesting. I’ve been generally a morning guy, but what prompted the middle of the day? How does that work for you?

Ayman Al-Abdullah: I found myself sleeping or getting sleeping in the middle of the day. Number two, I needed a break from the screen. Number three, I remember being at Microsoft, corner office desk, and I remember seeing a guy leaving the office and I’m like, oh, where are you going? He’s like, oh, I’m going to the gym. And I was like, that was my ultimate version of success. Like a midday workout, like in the middle of the workday. And so, I literally wrote that down as one of my goals. Like craft a life where I can work out in the middle of the day. And yeah, now I work out almost every- There’s definitely some times, Alex, where I wake up at five, six in the morning and I’m like, man, you know what, it would be really good if I just got my workout in right now and I’ll do it. So I’ll definitely create a variety, but nine times out of ten, I’m usually working out in the middle of the day.

Alex Bridgeman: I found that traveling often throws off workouts to a large degree, as of course does getting sick. You mentioned the flu earlier. That definitely hits hard. What do you do for traveling, or do you just try to limit travel as much as possible?

Ayman Al-Abdullah: Traveling for work or traveling for the workout?

Alex Bridgeman: Oh, for work, yeah. You’re going on a trip somewhere, conference, what have you.

Ayman Al-Abdullah: Explain to me why that’s bad.

Alex Bridgeman: It’s just more challenging to find time, at least I’ve found.

Ayman Al-Abdullah: Okay, so I’ve got the hack. You book your hotel based on the best gym in the city.

Alex Bridgeman: Oh, that’s brilliant.

Ayman Al-Abdullah: Yeah, so I find the best gyms in the city. My assistant books a one week or a month pass or if they have day passes, I’ll just do that. And ideally, the hotel is within walking distance of the gym. So, in Austin, I stay at Soho House, which gives you access to Collective, which is the best gym in Austin. And I literally would wake up at five in the morning, walk to Collective, work out, shower there. They have a co-working space there. And so I would work from Collective and then go get on with my day.

Alex Bridgeman: Oh, that’s phenomenal. That’s a great hack.

Ayman Al-Abdullah: New York, Equinox. What’s my favorite Equinox? Let’s find a hotel within walking distance of Equinox. And now I’m excited to work out while I’m traveling because it’s an opportunity to try a new gym, try a new environment. I’m walking there, so I’m getting my steps in. I don’t get to walk a lot in Durham. It’s like a driving city. And I get a little bit of that European vibe I love. Ideally, I could walk everywhere. Unfortunately, Europe doesn’t have a lot of gyms. But yeah, I get to walk to the gym, get to quickly get my workout in, and get on with my day.

Alex Bridgeman: That’s phenomenal, that’s outstanding. You mentioned a 25-year vision. What are the components of your 25-year vision?

Ayman Al-Abdullah: So, the big four, health, wealth, happiness, and relationships. So, how do I want to look, feel, be energized 25 years from now? In terms of wealth, what is the empire that you’re trying to build? And this is related to the hero’s journey. So, we should unpack that in a little bit. Happiness. So, for me, happiness comes from my hobbies, comes from how much freedom I have in the day. So like, how am I creating the boundaries and space? Am I upholding and living to the virtues that I said I am? I think that self-esteem is your relationship that you have with yourself or the reputation that you have with yourself. And if you are saying that you’re going to do something to yourself and not doing it, then your self-esteem goes down. And so, upholding those values. And then relationships. How do I make sure that I’m not letting my friendships atrophy? How do I make sure that I’m not letting my marriage atrophy? How do I make sure that I’m not letting my job as a dad go down? And so, nailing those four pillars becomes crystal clear. And the more I’m able to refine that, the easier it allows me to be, to go into the Everest Journal every quarter and write down my 90 day goal that helps me get closer to essentially who I want to be 25 years from now. That’s really what the 25 year vision is. My favorite definition of hell, Alex, is on your last day on earth, the person you became meets the person you could have become. And so, the 25-year vision is how do you close the gap between who that person is and who you are? And what’s great about the Everest Journal or any 90-day journal – I’m not trying to pitch this, in fact, it’s sold out right now – any 90-day journal is that 90 days is 1% of 25 years. And so, if you can get 1% closer to your 25 year vision every 90- In fact, if you look down here, I literally have all of my journals. Maybe you can’t- I literally write on the spine, Q2 2023, Q3 2024. I write down the quarter, and then I write down, this is book one out of 100, book nine out of 100. And so, I can literally see my life dwindling down by the journals in my corner. It’s like, oh shit, I’ve got to pick up the pace. I’ve only got 80 books left. There’s not that much time.

Alex Bridgeman: That’s smart, I love that. I haven’t done much- I do love journals. I love the physical paper, especially Japanese journals and finding, I don’t know if you can see this, but there are these pens that my brother has found. There are these Japanese really fine point pens, like point 38. They’re phenomenal. I love them.

Ayman Al-Abdullah: I mean, Japanese stationery is world-class. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a Japanese stationery store. It’s like, it’s heaven.

Alex Bridgeman: It’s so fun, I love it. My wife and I, we went to Japan for two weeks after we graduated together. And that was just so much fun. Lots of stationary, lots of tea. So much fun. Yeah, the journaling piece is something I need to, I should start more. That’s really interesting to think about, especially the ability to review like on a week to week basis. Like how was the last quarter? Like did I hit my goals? Was I underperforming, overperforming? What’s wrong? What’s going awry? That’d be a fun exercise to do.

Ayman Al-Abdullah: I think it’s the most valuable 30 minutes of a CEO’s week. And you’re the CEO of your own life. You’re the one that decides, hey, how am I carving out my future? And so you’re the ultimate vision and decision maker and executor of your own life, if you don’t know where you’re going, then it becomes very easy to be aimlessly floating in the sea of life and end up in the wrong port.

Alex Bridgeman: When did that click for you? Like when did you find that, like land on that mindset?

Ayman Al-Abdullah: I remember I had just, I was about to graduate with my accounting degree and I was doing an internship at a place that I was going to work full-time. It was like a mid-market accounting firm. And I remember being in a cubicle-filled room with no sunlight, flickering neon lights. And over the intercom, they had announced they’re transitioning from 55 billable hours per week to 60 billable hours per week. And the person who sat next to me started crying at his desk. And I go, this is not how I want my life to end up. And I recognized that I had essentially allowed life to happen to me rather than be intentional with how I wanted my life to be. And so, at that moment, I recognized, I just went through and just pulled up a piece of paper and I’m like, well, what do I want my career to look like? What do I want my first job to look like? And just started working on the ideal. And I’m like, I love tech, I wanted to work in tech. I want to work at a company that I respect. And sure enough, through a variety of different courses, I found myself landing at Microsoft working at Xbox, a company that I respected. I loved Xbox. My first day at work, they walk me to a closet, they hand me a cardboard box, and the closet is floor to ceiling, every game Xbox has ever made. And they literally start throwing the games into my cardboard box, and they go, this is your homework. And I’m like, this is the best job of all time. This is completely different than the guy crying at his cubicle.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, that’s very different. Pretty soon, you’ll be able to throw in the new college football game into that, that cardboard box. That’ll be a lot of fun. Speaking of being a CEO, that was a fun one in college to like manage all your recruiting and pick your players, strategy, all that stuff.

Ayman Al-Abdullah: I mean, I always say, and in fact, it’s probably already true. I remember thinking someone is going to be an NFL college or NFL coach because they’re world class at Madden. Like Madden is essentially simulating them picking plays, managing a team, and a lot of it is going to translate into being able to read an offense, read a defense, call audibles. And I know eventually it’s going to get to that. I think even Ender’s Game has an example; you have people playing video games that end up flying drones in the cyber galactic war. And so, I do think that a lot of video games will translate to real life eventually.

Alex Bridgeman: I am a huge proponent of every NFL coach pulling in some Madden guru during the season who has total control over timeout usage, third down play calling, and two minute offense.

Ayman Al-Abdullah: That’s super smart, I love that. Yeah, I mean, who better to do it? They’re literally getting thousands of reps every single day.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, and then you just- yeah, get thousands of reps, as many reps as you want. You can do the same situation and practice multiple different variations of it.

Ayman Al-Abdullah: That’s so true. Or even better, if they can give those simulations to the head coach. It’s like, hey, fourth and two, 20 seconds left. Are you calling timeout? What are you doing? Are you running a play or are you giving it to Marchon? What are you doing?

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, all of that. And I was reading about, so I’m a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, I was reading about Omar Khan, who’s the general manager. He became GM in mid-2022 or early 2022. But I was reading about him as a kid preparing for the draft. He and his dad, they would take all these newspaper clippings about college players from around the country, and they’d create their own draft board and watch the draft, and then follow along and simulate different trades that they would make or who they would select. And first off, like super cool that from a young age, I admire people who from a young age have a sense for what they want to do and a strong sense and they really lean into it, but also cool for his family to like help encourage that and lean into it and get just as excited as he is about it.

Ayman Al-Abdullah: I mean, you want to talk about watch what you do when no one’s watching, it’s like he’s literally been playing GM since he was five years old.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, and it turns out he’s pretty good at it.

Ayman Al-Abdullah: Well, I mean, he got his 10,000 hours before he turned 18. And he got a chance to evaluate and learn how did his draft compare to reality? What were the duds and who did he miss out on? When did he get it right? And so, he got those reps. By the time he became GM, he’s like, I’ve already been doing this for decades.

Alex Bridgeman: Exactly. As a CEO, is there something comparable to get reps or study other CEOs decisions or investments, read investor presentations or conference calls, talk to other CEOs? What are some rep gathering activities someone could do?

Ayman Al-Abdullah: Well, you have to first ask, what does a CEO do? I don’t think a lot of people know. It’s like, what is the CEO’s ultimate responsibility? You’ve interviewed a bunch of them. Like if you were to distill it from what you’ve seen, if you were to think, what’s the three things that a CEO does, or five things, what do you think a CEO should focus on?

Alex Bridgeman: Some combination of pick your team, pick your market, and keep cash around, keep cash in the bank.

Ayman Al-Abdullah: That’s a great combo. I tell people it’s essentially five things. Number one, it’s vision. So, what’s the plan? Where do you want to go? Number two, it’s hiring the exec team. Number three, it’s allocation of capital. And that includes dollars and time. Number four is ensuring you never run out of cash. And then number five is the culture of the company. So how are you ensuring that the culture aligns with the vision? So not only where are you going, but how are you going to get there? So not just performance, but personality. So, for those five things, how do you get reps on any of them? How do you get reps with vision? How do you get reps with culture? The CEO position is maybe the most unnatural position in all of business because you have to be both incredibly well-liked and make incredibly uncomfortable decisions. So it is one of the hardest positions to get reps in because until you’ve sat in the CEO seat, it’s really, really difficult to get reps in on vision, get reps in on building a culture, get reps in on hiring an exec team, get reps in on allocation of capital, figuring out how do you get an ROI from $1 invested in marketing versus $1 invested in product. What does your investment thesis look like? Maybe the only thing that you can get reps in is not running out of cash. So monitoring runways of different companies and making sure that you have positive cashflow. But yeah, it’s hard, Alex. This is why it’s one of those things where you kind of get thrown to the wolves and it’s like fighting a UFC fight and you’ve never thrown a punch in your life.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, that’s dangerous. That’s scary. You mentioned the hero’s journey earlier. I feel like that would probably tie in really well here.

Ayman Al-Abdullah: Yeah, so the hero’s journey is interesting. So, we talked a little bit about the 25-year vision. So, every individual that’s on, that at least decides that they want to go on a hero’s journey goes through essentially multiple phases. So, let’s start on the knight phase because before that is scribe. The scribe is the young person looking up to the knights and seeing them go on adventure. But the knight is really all about adventure. And this typically happens in your teenage to 25. You want to travel a lot, you want to get into a little bit of trouble, you want to experience a bunch of things, you want to date a bunch of people, you are in adventure mode. You’re not there to settle down, you’re not there to get married, you’re there to travel the world and see the world and do adventure. But eventually, you’ve done enough adventuring. You’re like, you know what, I’m ready to settle down, I’m ready to move into my next phase of life, and that’s where you go into Princehood. So Princehood is essentially figuring out, well, what is the- I know I want to build something, I don’t know what it is, but I know I want my own empire, eventually. And so, with Princehood, you start to transition away from adventuring and more into building. And so, if I’m building, this typically happens maybe 25 to 40 is Princehood. And so Princehood is I’m building something and I’m getting really intentional with what I’m building. And then eventually you figure out what that Princehood is, and that is you transition from early Prince, I know I want to build something, to middle Prince, which is now I know what I need to build. And you go heads down into build mode. And then eventually you go into late Prince, which late Prince is I’m getting close to building this empire. But right before you go into Kinghood, or the hero’s journey, you go through a 10-year tunnel. And this will typically happen from 45 to 55, where it kind of starts to rear its ugly head maybe mid-30s, but it’ll really get there in the 40s, and then it starts to really- and this, some people look at it as like the midlife crisis. Some people look at this as just everything going wrong, your health and your life starts to- you realize how short life is and you go through a lot of scar tissue. There’s a lot of scar tissue with the business, scar tissue with life. You might experience some of your first deaths in this moment. And if you punch through, if you’re able to make it to the other side, at around 55, you finally made it to the hero’s journey. You’ve entered kinghood. And kinghood is, it’s hard to fake. You recognize someone that’s standing at the top of their 25-year empire and you can just spot them from a mile away. They’re confident in who they are. They’re confident in what they’ve built. They’re not jockeying. They’re not insecure. They kind of just are who they are. So that hero’s journey allows you to go from that scribe that’s looking up to the knights all the way to kinghood where you’re overseeing an empire. And there’s a big component of that of how does the the queen fit into this if you’re a man. I’m using the male analogy for you because I’m speaking to you, Alex, but obviously there’s a female version of this as well. But how does that all fit in, and then eventually certain individuals graduate from the kinghood into an elder. So, this is the wise elder that bestows back a lot of that wisdom back into the community and to the family and the communities that they’ve served. And so when we go through that hero’s journey, a lot of it is about, what does a CEO do? What does a father do? What does a leader do? And it’s to protect, provide, lead, and decide. It’s all the same. And so how are you protecting your community? How are you providing for them incredible jobs and an incredible experience in life? How are you leading them towards a more compelling vision of the future? And how are you making good decisions in order to take advantage of the community and really take care of the community? And that’s ultimately what the Hero’s Journey- I mean, the work of Joseph Campbell and a lot of other people have been able to analyze this. When you go all the way to the oldest stories from the caves 10,000 years ago, to the Bible, to the religions of today, to corporate America, they all follow the similar story structure of we know there’s something better and how do we get there? Who’s going to help us get there? And the more that you understand that story dynamic, the easier it will be for you to craft a compelling vision for your company and for yourself. And the more you’re able to bring those along with you along that incredible journey.

Alex Bridgeman: What becomes more difficult with each transition or what are some challenges you often see folks run into as they move along in that journey?

Ayman Al-Abdullah: Step one is not moving along. I mean, I’m sure you’ve seen 45-year-old knights. They’re still partying and having a good time. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but just sometimes there’s an underlying sadness because they have yet to make that decision to build. So, I think that’s mistake number one, not recognizing what stage they’re in in their life and making the decision to move on to the next one. Big mistake number two is expecting it to be easy. I think that particularly in the funnel, a lot of CEOs, individuals on this hero’s journey, they burn out or they’re not seeking help or they’re not leveling up. They’re making the same mistakes over and over again. They’re not learning from their mistakes, and they get stuck in this death loop rather than a strategic flywheel heading in the right direction. And with that, they stall out, and they actually end up never graduating, not because they don’t want to, similar to the people we just mentioned, but because they can’t. They haven’t figured out how to punch through. And then the last one is they’ve built for others. They’ve realized at the end of the journey, they have built an empire that they are not happy with, that they have become the world’s best lawyer and they hate law. They’ve become a world’s best surgeon and they hate being in the hospital. And it’s because mom and dad wanted me to. Society told me I should. I’ve become a king of an empire I care nothing about. And so, we call those- there’s three failures. That is failure of vision. You failed to be truly crystal clear on the vision you wanted in your life. The second one is failure of execution. So, your inability to learn and your inability to punch through. And then the last one is the failure of purpose. It is thinking that life is just supposed to be an adventure rather than a way for you to close the gap on your own potential. And so, I think the more that you can get crystal clear on your vision, your execution, and your purpose, the easier it will be for you to craft a life that you’re proud of.

Alex Bridgeman: Who do you admire? Who do you feel like- who do you admire who’s done that journey well that you’ve learned a lot from?

Ayman Al-Abdullah: I don’t like to admire people that are alive because I feel like their story isn’t done. So it becomes really difficult for you to admire an individual that’s currently going through that path. To me, I think it’s really important to analyze individuals that have gone through that journey in the past. You have an all-encompassing view of who they are and what they’ve done. Barring any new information, you kind of understand exactly who they are and what they’ve done. So probably the person that I admire the most is Cassius Clay. I don’t know if you know who this is. Do you know Cassius Clay? So, Cassius Clay, who Muhammad Ali was actually named after, was actually an abolitionist in the 1800s. And this is an individual that was born into a family that was rich off of slavery. And instead of deciding to benefit from that, he made it his life’s purpose to go do anything in his power to get rid of slavery. And so, he would not only get into law to fight against slavery, but he was one of the world’s best gun duelers. And I think he got into over 100 gunfights and he won all of them and ended up winning all of them against people that were pro-slavery. He had a mob of 100 pro-slavery people try to kill him. I think he killed them all. I think he ended up being like one of the highest ranking officials in the government without being president. I mean, if you look up a story about Cassius Clay, you’re like, why is there no movie made about this individual? I mean, talk about crystal clear vision, dog-headedness execution, and clear purpose. I mean, absolutely one of the baddest men on the planet. So, yeah, when I think about people that I admire, it’s probably hard to top someone like Cassius Clay.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, he sounds way, way near the top of the list. Before we close, what topic are you most passionate about that maybe fewer folks ask you about, you don’t get the chance to talk about as much?

Ayman Al-Abdullah: I mean, I love- I think CEO fitness is a whole other angle that not a lot of people think about. I think personal protection is something that not a lot of people think about. I think relationship dynamics is something that people don’t really think about. Yeah, I mean, those are things that like, those are three areas that I sort of really geek out on or I’m trying to get better at. And yeah, I mean, I personally just enjoy those three areas quite a bit.

Alex Bridgeman: The relationship dynamic piece, that’s not one we’ve touched on. What do you mean by that one?

Ayman Al-Abdullah: Yeah, I mean, I think that maybe your most important decision as an individual is who you decide to marry. And I think that not a lot of people spend a lot of time thinking about, number one, what type of life they want to craft, and number two, who they want in a partner. And then number three is just recognizing that if someone’s been with someone for 10, 15, 20 years, that’s not easy. Ask anyone that’s been in a relationship for 20 plus years. Like, there’s a lot of breaking points. It takes work. And so being able to go through and understanding, number one, your attachment styles. So I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Gottman’s, the Gottman’s were able to predict with 97% accuracy who would get a divorce just by watching one person fight, like one fight. And if they looked at a couple fight, they could predict with 97% accuracy if they would get divorced. And what they recognized is there’s certain things that happen that breed resentment and contempt. And so, if you’re able to understand your attachment style, so how you fight, so do you stonewall or are you anxious? Like for me, I’m a stonewaller, my wife is anxious. And so, every time that I would pull away in a fight, in her mind, she saw that as a rejection. In my mind, I’m like, I just need a moment to breathe. So that way, my emotions don’t take over. And what I didn’t realize is every time I did that, I was severing the relationship. It was creating death by a thousand cuts. And eventually, one day, there isn’t someone to come back to. And in both directions, her anxiety was like too much in my direction. So, understanding those fighting dynamics is really important for the two of you to recognize. Number two, how is the masculine showing up in a relationship? And so, the masculine should respond, not react. That’s not creating safety for her. If I’m reacting to something, maybe in not a positive way or being overly emotional, that’s not giving her the safe space that she needs, creating structure in our environments. That’s not going above and beyond and being the masculine in the relationship. And I think that just understanding the dynamic, and we go back to protect, provide, lead, and decide. Those are the dynamics that my wife and I have decided for our relationship. And obviously she is a huge component of that. And so understanding how the two of us work in a way that works for us allows us to be in a relationship that serves both of us and ensures that we are very happy in the relationship and a lot happier now than we were even 10 years ago.

Alex Bridgeman: I love that. It’s definitely true. It’s a huge decision, maybe the most important decision, finding someone who fits well with you and aligns with your values to the point of the values you talked about earlier, having an aligned values is really important too.

Ayman Al-Abdullah: And people don’t- they spend all this time crafting a vision and core values for their company and none for their relationship. How are the both of you looking out into the world in the same direction? How do you both have each other’s back while you both build the empire together? We talked about that Queen’s dynamic in the King’s Journey and vice versa. And so, understanding how critical- there’s a great book by Alison Armstrong called The Amazing Development of Men, which goes through the hero’s journey. I think as an audio book, I think it’s phenomenal. She has another one for women called the Queen’s Code. And I think that all couples should listen to both of those books so that men can understand women and women can understand men. And I think both together, it allows the masculine and the feminine in order to move forward with maximum clarity and just recognizing like, look, there’s differences with us and figuring out how we both work together ensures that we have a healthy dynamic and healthy relationship as a result of it.

Alex Bridgeman: I love that. Ayman, thank you so much for chatting today. It’s really good to see you. I’m excited to meet you in a couple of months somewhere in Durham, but thank you for sharing a little bit of time ahead of that.

Ayman Al-Abdullah: Alex, it was great catching up. These were great questions and I’m really hoping everyone listening in enjoys today’s episode.

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