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Judd Lorson – Designing a Healthy Mindset as CEO

Judd acquired Alliance CAS, a specialty collection agency, in 2018 as CEO and in 2021 resigned from the role after a much more difficult road and path than he’d anticipated.

Episode Description

My guest on this episode is Judd Lorson. Judd acquired Alliance CAS, a specialty collection agency, in 2018 as CEO and in 2021 resigned from the role after a much more difficult road and path than he’d anticipated. Judd’s story was recently profiled in a Yale paper by A.J. Wasserstein titled “The Judd Lorson Story” which we will link to in the show notes and I highly recommend reading for background on Judd’s time as CEO.

For this conversation, we are focusing on new daily habits and foundations he has created influenced by his experience, what he values today, how those values have changed over time and the power of having a growth mindset.

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Clips From This Episode

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(4:10) – Judd’s background and career

(14:44) – What was a typical day or week like for you as a CEO and what would that ideally look like today?

(21:10) –  How do you feel now in your emotional balance now vs. when you were working in the business?

(23:07) – Do you think if you had started your work as CEO with these habits it would’ve been a more successful experience?

(24:42) – How are you planning to adjust your work-life balance in a potential second stint as CEO?

(28:13) – What advice would you give to young searchers who are in the process of making life changes outside of work such as starting a family?

(31:30) – What are some tactics you could use to engage with those changing dynamics over time?

(33:32) – What goals did you have for 2022?

(38:06) – What are some of your Slight Edge Habits?

(41:55) – Are you totally caffeine free?

(44:06) – Was there anything to simulate day and night while on the submarine?

(47:04) – What other changes in your daily habits or values are you looking to achieve in the future?

(50:04) – Is there a strongly held belief you’ve changed your mind on?

(53:12) – What’s the best business you’ve ever seen?

Alex Bridgeman: Can you give us kind of a quick four- or five-minute overview of your journey as CEO and then your transition out of being CEO?

Judd Lorson: Sure, yep. So I’ll start at the beginning. So I’m sitting right today in North Central Pennsylvania. That’s where it all started for me. I grew up here right outside of a small town called Williamsport where the Little League World Series is hosted every year. That’s kind of our claim to fame. Then I went to study engineering down in Philadelphia at Drexel University as a mechanical engineer. They had a co op program where you could go out for six months since so like after your freshman year, you didn’t get summers off anymore. You’re either in school, or you’re working kind of a full time engineering internship. So I got to do three different internships through my undergraduate education. And I learned enough about what mechanical engineers typically do to decide I didn’t want to do that right away out of school or maybe ever. I don’t regret the educational experience or the mindset I think that I picked up. But it’s clear to me that I wanted something that was a bit more hands on, I guess, while not wasting the education that I just received. So, I ended up joining the Navy out of college and went through their nuclear power training program to go serve on submarines, which was kind of a once in a lifetime experience. It’s kind of one of those things that when you’re on the other side of it, you’re glad to have done it but glad to be done with it. But I did that for eight years straight out of undergrad. Like I graduated in the middle of the global financial crisis in 2008. So in retrospect, it was a wonderful kind of decision and career move that provided some stability to me and my wife. We got married right when I graduated from college. And I was deployed around the world, spent some time in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf on board two different fast attack submarines. Officers are kind of a jack of all trades, master of none, when you show up as a junior officer. So you learn the engineering, the engineering plant, the nuclear power plant. You learn how to be what they call the Engineering Officer of the Watch. And then once you’ve qualified to do that, you move up to the forward part of the ship where you learn all the combat systems and navigation and learn how to drive and fight the ship, essentially. And it’s like, I mean, it’s a pretty quintessential like leadership and responsibility experience, like in your early 20s, where like I was the Officer of the Deck at like two o’clock in the morning, on the surface in the Persian Gulf, like going in between like oil wells that are flaring off gas and having like dolphins swim over the top of the ship. And I’m like, man, this is a $3 billion submarine and the captain’s asleep, and I’m in charge. Like, are they sure they know what they’re doing? It was a great experience. I learned a tremendous amount about myself and about kind of how to lead and manage people.

Alex Bridgeman: Before going to the next piece, what was life on a submarine like?

Judd Lorson: It was fun. It was challenging. It sucked. It was all of those things. We would be gone on deployments from the US for kind of like six to nine months depending on kind of what happened in the world. Your nominal deployment would be six months. You’d be in and out of like a foreign port maybe every 30 to 60 days to get more food. Nuclear power submarines in the US, they’re limited by basically the amount of food you can carry. You can make your own water by splitting down saltwater into its elemental components, and air. Like you can use reverse osmosis to make fresh water. Like you can make oxygen out of H2O, with a little bit of electricity. But you can’t really grow your own food because you don’t like have enough space. So we’d have to pull in and out to get more food to feed the people. And you could last maybe kind of like 90 days or stretch to 120. We never really did that because that was pretty miserable at the end- would be pretty miserable at the end where you’re kind of like eating all like beans and rice or anything else that could be preserved for a long period of time. So yeah, I don’t know. It was a good experience. As I said before, I did it long enough to get the t shirt. I’m glad to have done it. But I’m also glad to like be on the other side of it not doing it anymore.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah. I remember in middle school there- so I’m from Portland, Oregon, where there’s this science museum and they have a decommissioned submarine there as part of the museum you can walk through. And one of the things- one of the school trips we did was staying the night in the submarine. Even as like a 10, 12 year old kid, it was a small submarineThe bunks were three high instead of just two high. And if you like sat up too fast, you’d hit your head. And it was dark, there’s no sunlight. There’s lights, of course, but it’s not- There’s no natural light. And it was extremely claustrophobic. Like if you had any sense for boundaries and personal space, it was going to be challenging. But I can’t imagine that for extended- I assume you get used to it. And you can now like fall asleep next to a radiator or something like that now.

Judd Lorson: You get like- you just accept your circumstances. They do a little bit of like psychological screening and stuff like that for people that are claustrophobic, etc. But once- there’s kind of like an interesting law that we learned when we got on the submarine, the law of finite happiness. Once the hatch goes shut, happiness cannot be created or destroyed, it can only stolen from others. It was an environment of like pranks and oscillating moods and behaviors. But I don’t know. It was a good time overall and a great kind of trial by fire experience. Anyway, so yeah, I did that for eight and a half years or so. And then, as I was getting ready to transition out after you do like the active deployments, you usually get kind of like a desk job as a breather to decide if you want to keep going in the Navy or if you’re going to transition out and do something else. So I had a pretty wonderful opportunity to kind of work at the Submarine Learning Center in Groton, Connecticut, where I was stationed and had a super supportive commanding officer there that was just trying to help me evaluate if it was a good idea for me to stay in the Navy and become a department head on a submarine or if it was time to get out and do something else. And I ultimately decided, my wife and I, we didn’t have kids at the time. We’re thinking about starting a family. And we’ve seen how challenging that can be when you’re going on deployments and stuff like that. So I decided to get out and ended up using the GI Bill to go to business school, which was, again, kind of a great, wonderful thank you from the military for those years of service. I went to Yale School of Management kind of right down the road from where we were living at the time in Connecticut. And it allowed my wife who’s working at the hospital up in Hartford to keep her job. And I got to go to business school for free. So we had this like two years of, for me, like exploration. My wife was working hard. She kind of gives me a hard time for that every once in a while. Like I got a two year break, and she was working full time. But when I went to business school, I guess the point I’m trying to make is that like I didn’t feel as much pressure to pursue like traditional high paying career paths because I wasn’t going to be saddled with the same debt load that some of my classmates were. So I kind of came in with that mindset. And because of that, I think that’s part of what led me to search funds and ETA. I can remember, I’ve told this story before and I tell it in the case study about how there was a military veteran that had gone to Yale College. He was an older gentleman, but like he’s a donor to school, and they brought him in and they roll out the red carpet for him and anybody that he supports in the scholarship form, which is kind of like all the veterans, they’ll get like $500 for books or something. Like you get something from him. We’re all around the table. And I can remember everybody’s saying like pretty normal stuff, like, oh, I want to be an investment banker, I want to go into consulting. I think out of the lot of us, I was the only one that went on to be honest. And I was like, I don’t know what I want to do. Like, I think I want to own and operate business, but I’m here to kind of explore that a little bit further. And I can just remember the guy, his name was Maurice Pinto, and he just had these steely eyes and he like locked eyes with me and said, “You should do a search fund.” And I didn’t have any idea what a search was, like, “Okay, sir. Sounds good.” Like, I didn’t say like, I don’t know what you’re talking about, man. I just kind of like took it on board. And I can remember after that going home and just starting down the Google rabbit trail of what is a search fund, you come across the Stanford materials, etc. And then that was kind of my initial introduction to search and planted that seed kind of late in my first year of business school and went through the process of standing up a class at Yale about search funds that AJ Wasserstein, who I understand was just a guest on the podcast, that he now teaches a series of courses there on small business acquisition and ownership. So I got to meet him and learn a lot more about what that meant and decided, during my second year, that’s what I was going to do. So I spent most of my second year focused on how should I search. And this was back in 2017. I graduated five years ago. And the space has evolved quite a lot, frankly, since then. I’d say that it already- it was starting on it’s kind of like explosive uptick at that point, but it was at the beginning of that process. So I ended up deciding to do a sponsored search with an accelerator and searched for a year and a half and then acquired a specialized debt collection company in South Florida that focuses on serving homeowners associations, so collecting past due HOA, condo, POA assessments in Florida, Georgia, and North and South Carolina. I ran that business for three years as CEO. And then due to a variety of reasons related to my health, to my wife’s health, and the state of our marriage and the stress that those three years kind of caused me, I decided to take a step back and work with my investors to make sure that we had good leadership in place at the company and took a step back to an advisory role. And that was a little over a year ago. In the past year, I’ve been sitting on the sidelines, doing a little bit of consulting and advisory work and trying to repair my marriage and spend time with my two kids that I didn’t have when I started searching.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, a lot of what we’re going to chat about is kind of like lifestyle and values and kind of vision for yourself. I’d be curious to hear what was the typical day or week like as CEO? And then maybe today what would the optimum week look like if you were still CEO or CEO of a different company, perhaps?

Judd Lorson: So I think, and maybe I’ll pick a time where it was like the worst to give you a full spectrum. So, I can remember, this was after the pandemic started. So, let’s call it like mid-2020. My wife and I had just found out we were pregnant with our second child. We were kind of essentially like alone in South Florida. We didn’t have family around there. The business that I was running was able to quickly go remote. So, I would go into the office every day to check the mail, get the checks that came in the door, stuff like that, just kind of administrative stuff. But then I’d sit alone in an empty office. I’d get there at six or seven in the morning. I’d be on calls with lawyers working on lawsuits related to the prior ownership of the business. I’d be on calls with our lender on covenant violations and challenges with liquidity. I’d be talking to investors on a pretty frequent basis, keeping them updated with what was going on. I’d be talking to my managers kind of every day. I wasn’t really doing any traveling anymore. But it was a very kind of like insular and isolating experience. And then I would come home 6, 7, 8 o’clock at night. My wife and I would like be courteous to each other and talk for like a little bit, like eat dinner. And then she was really tired because she was pregnant. So she was sleeping a lot more. She’d go to bed. I’d stay on the couch. And I was like on this West Wing kick. So I was watching the entire season of West Wing. I’d watch TV until like two in the morning, fall asleep on the couch, and get up and rinse and repeat. And it was just, it was like a miserable existence, kind of like all the way around. The pandemic was hard. We had a toddler at the time. We were kind of like trying to tag team watching him. So some days, I would have to come back from the office for a couple hours because my wife was still working part time. And we had a little bit of support from a babysitter but like our daycare had closed down. That’s a pretty bleak picture. At the lowest of the low point, that’s what life looked like. And it wasn’t- I don’t know, that’s like both the personal and professional life. It wasn’t very fun. And then now, it’s like I’m not running a business right now. I think there’s a reasonable chance that I will run another business in the not too distant future. But in that kind of future state, I’ve tried to optimize my life in a sense to focus on the things that are important to me and not lose track of that. So, for example, even though I’m not running a business, I try and get a lot more consistent sleep now than I used to. I use an Oura ring to track my sleep. I use like a simple low tech solution to go to sleep. I’ve got my watch, like my GPS watch that I use for running, but it has like really simple alarms. There’s an alarm that goes off every night at 9:30. And that’s a signal to me that like if you’re not in bed, you should start thinking about getting in bed. And then the same alarm goes off at 6:30 in the morning. And I’m usually kind of like naturally kind of waking up. And that’s like a nine hour period of time, like that’s kind of plenty of sleep. So it’s time to get up. And I’ve tried to be super consistent with that. And like I get rewarded when I log into my Oura app every day and I look like oh yeah, there’s no like zigs and zags. And it’s like, oh, your sleep score was 72 last night, you did a wonderful job. Like oh, thank you Oura, I appreciate your feedback and support. But it’s kind of like a self fulfilling prophecy in a way. Like you’re looking for that feedback and you’re trying to behave kind of in a way that’s in your best interest, but you’re held accountable by the technology, etc. That to me is like a foundational habit that will help me better kind of prioritize my life. And then I wake up. I don’t check my phone. It’s like we keep them out in the kitchen on chargers and turn the light on in the bedroom. My wife and I get up at same time. And read my Bible or do a devotion or right now we’re jointly reading a book on marriage by this guy named Tim Keller. I’m reading like four or five pages that, ten pages of that in the morning, and then I’m actually reading the Handbook, I’ll read like a section of that. So it’s like personal and kind of professional reading, but no screens, a little bit of reading, and then I’ve got kind of a list of things that I look at every day. I’ve got an email that I literally like snooze, and it’s the first thing in my inbox at like 5:30 in the morning, so I can know what’s going to be at the top of the box of like here are priorities: Spiritual life, Lindsey, then my kids – Lindsey is my wife – then third is like health then professional life. The end is like friends, then family. They’re all important to me, but I’m trying to order them in a way that if I look at him every morning and I set myself up to not directly go into the inbox or like directly go onto the screen, those habits are building that I go out. Now I take kind of like an hour to myself in the morning, and the kids are usually up by 7:30, and my wife’s out in the kitchen with them. So I go out and I eat breakfast with them. And I still am not on my phone until like eight o’clock. I get up at seven. Like I don’t pick my phone, I try not to pick my phone up until like eight in the morning. And when I go out into the kitchen at 7:30, because I’ve looked at my priorities, and I know that what comes first is Lindsey, I go give her a hug and a kiss. Like it seems simple and silly. I wasn’t doing that before. I would do it like periodically. And I go around and hug my two kids. And that started my day. That might be the last thing I do right that day. But at least I’m trying to like start things off with like a foundational list of priorities. And I think when I become CEO again, or if I do or whatever the big ambitious thing that I dig into next, I’m hoping that those simple disciplines as simple daily habits form a foundation that can’t be eroded. Because when I was CEO of Alliance, I still think I was like a relatively disciplined guy before I started that experience, but a lot of those disciplines just eroded on the margin, like my diet, my sleep habits, my fitness habits, the interactions I was having with my kids and with my wife. They all just kind of slowly eroded over time to a point where I didn’t recognize what was going on anymore. But it didn’t happen overnight.  It just happened a little bit every day.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, when you compare your kind of daily thought process, mindset, maybe emotional balance throughout the day, how do you feel now versus when you’re running the business? And I imagine, obviously, it sounds like you were sleeping a lot less and diet, exercise, family life was struggling. I imagined it’d be a lot harder to stay focused and balanced and concentrated throughout the day if that’s the situation you’re working through versus today where it sounds like it’s much more balanced and healthy.

Judd Lorson: I’d use the word centered – balanced, centered, whatever you want to call it. But I don’t know, if you think about the parable in the Bible, they talk about the house that’s built on the rock or the sand. Like, it used to be built on sand. And now foundationally things are built on more of a solid foundation. It’s a solid, more centered experience where I can stay more focused, or I can be super present when I’m with my kids. When before, even like I can remember, I was doing this weird thing, like when I was running the business, I wasn’t aware of it at all, but my wife would point it out to me, I would be like muttering to myself, so like my lips would be moving. I don’t know, I’d be like fighting with an employee or I’d have some like internal battle that was going on inside my mind that it would start to like physically manifest itself on my face. And every once in a while, I’ll still do it. And she’s like, “Judd, you’re doing it again.” And I’m like, “Oh, sorry.” I get kind of lost in my own thoughts. Now it’s maybe like positive thoughts. Before it was just like a super negative kind of self destructive cycle. Yeah, no, I think that these foundational things, they just- and to be clear, life still punches you in the face every day and you’ve got an unintended thing that you’ve got to attend to. You act in a way that you shouldn’t have with your kids or with your spouse or with friends or family or whatever. But I’ve formed those habits but I’m able to quickly reset them the next day rather than having it be like a slow erosion. There’s always kind of like a reset point.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, do you think some of these are habits that if you had started your time as CEO with these habits, do you think you could have maintained them, or was life as CEO at the time just so all consuming, it’s really hard to maintain all of these at the same time?

Judd Lorson: I think that as a first time CEO, even if I had had maybe a stronger foundation going in, it would have been harder because just every day was like some new thing that I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. And now that I feel like I’ve had a pretty full CEO experience, I’ve kind of like seen all the things once, if and when I do it again, plus the habits and foundation, I’m in a much stronger position to have kind of that staying power or that ability to sustain the effort of the marathon for four years or a decade versus just feeling like I was having to roll with the punches on a daily and weekly basis. I mean, time will tell, but I think it still would have been pretty challenging. I mean, I had a pretty challenging three years of a CEO experience that you can read all about in the aforementioned case study, I still think it would have, even with some of those foundational habitants. And to be clear, I think, part of your point, they take a reasonable amount of time and effort. And I was dedicating a lot of time and effort to the business. Were all of those activities like value add, were they as efficient as they could have been if maybe I had a stronger foundation? Probably not. So I don’t know. It’s hard to tell, but I think it still would have been pretty challenging to have that balance the first time around.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah. So with your second or potentially second CEO stint in the near future, how are you planning to adjust either the time you use as CEO like when you’re working and how you use your team and like different ways to kind of optimize your time better? Because it sounds like you’re going to be working, perhaps, fewer hours. It’s not going to be like 6am to 8pm anymore. It’s going to be less. You’ll have to make sure your time is as efficient as possible. What are some kinds of things you’re planning to do or strategies or ways to use your team, time, and tools and what have you to make that time the most efficient?

Judd Lorson: I don’t know if this is a direct answer to your question, but it’s my philosophy on maybe business ownership has changed. And I alluded to this at the end of the case study, it’s about like rich versus king. So, when I took other people’s money to buy and grow a business, I was pursuing riches first or prioritizing that. I don’t even know if I was fully aware of it at the time, way back when, five years ago, it feels like a lifetime ago when I made that decision. But I’ve had a lot of time to reflect. And I’ve had a lot more exposure to like other types of ownership and search models. And I think my life has changed quite a bit as well over those five years. And, by extension, my priorities have shifted and changed, and now I prioritize being king. And that can sound like a negative thing – oh, you want to be dictator. No, I want to have- I want to be king of my own domain, whatever that means. For me, it means the ability to, if I take other people’s money, it won’t be in a control position. Like, I’ll own 51% of the business, and I’ll communicate clearly with my stakeholders that like here’s what I’m all about. And at the end of the day, I’m not going to pursue an extra percentage point of IRR in lieu of like being at home at 7:30 to tuck my kids in at night. There are certain kinds of things I just won’t bend or I won’t feel the obligation to bend. And I don’t know, like I take responsibility seriously. And I think that’s part of what made my first CEO experience so challenging, where I was trying to balance these priorities and responsibilities. And I just felt- I felt so responsible and so beholden to my team at the business, to my investors, to my lenders to take a messy situation and put the weight of the world on my shoulders and like figure out how to fix it. And if and when I do it again, I will be starting with a different construct. And that is one in which my boss is my wife and not my investors. And I think that it’s just a different mindset. It’s a different situation. It’s the classical traditional search versus self funded search kind of like mentality, but I’m certainly gravitating much more to the other side of the spectrum. And if that comes with trade offs of a smaller business or a business that has less growth potential, those are okay for me. Like I’m not as concerned with becoming the next billionaire. That’s not like the driving factor. I like small businesses. I think you can make a lot of money. But I also think that it’s a valuable place to spend your time when you have the skill set that I have, like the leadership and business training, etc., where you can make a big difference both for your own family and for other people.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah. And one thing we were kind of talking about before is that longevity piece where you’re trying to design your life such that you carry it on for a long time. And one thing we talked about earlier before was you were creating a family kind of during this time, and your life and set of priorities would evolve over time. And I think, like a lot of searchers who are late 20s or throughout their 30s and searching are kind of going through similar transitions where they are getting married, having kids maybe, kids are going to school, they own a house, what have you. Their life is going to evolve perhaps really dramatically over the next 5, 10 years or so. For searchers in that position, what kind of advice or set of priorities would you give to them or offer?

Judd Lorson: I think you have to try and be honest with yourself, but I think it’s really hard to do, because it’s hard to know exactly how your life is going to evolve. But I think a lot of let’s call it the late 20s searched crowd, I think they fail to appreciate or they just fail to even think about this concept. I don’t think you can solve it. I don’t think you can come up with the right answer on the front end. But I think you have to engage with it. And you have to accept the fact that this is a long term engagement, and my life and priorities will change along the line. I don’t know exactly how and when. And unless you do that, unless you’re thoughtful about that, or you force yourself to with your significant other, or if you don’t have a significant other yet but you might, like project this is kind of where I want my life to be, it’s likely that I’ll end up in the vicinity, where I want to be geographically, like, do I want to be married, not married? Do I want to have kids, not have kids? Do I want to be able to be a nomad and just buy a van and travel all over the place? Like you can still be a CEO of certain types of businesses and do that. So, I think I failed to engage with that, just from being naive kind of standpoint. Like it just didn’t- Nobody had kind of pointed that out to me. It’s kind of like it seems very obvious. And you would say, well, of course, everybody engages with it. I think maybe people do, but it’s like more superficial. I think it takes hearing from people like me that have gone through like a really challenging experience, saying like, hey, look, this could be your life. These are some of the challenging things that could happen. And you will be better prepared for those if you try and do this exercise yourself and project. Because it’s just like it’s this kind of like compounding effect in your life that’s like really- like compound interest. It’s like the hardest. What did Einstein say? It’s like the eighth wonder of the world. People just like can’t understand it. I think this is a similar concept of like compounding inside of your life. It happens very slowly over time, and then all of a sudden, you wake up and it’s exponential. Things have just wildly changed, and you didn’t even realize that it happened. And you’re a different person, you have different priorities. Like you’re thinking about your ambitions or aspirations or priorities, like they’re just changing. Before you’re focused on 80 hours a week, let’s grow this thing at 30% a year versus 25% a year. That’s just fine. I don’t know. I think it’s really hard to do, but I’d encourage people to try, if that makes sense.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah. What are some tactics you could use to try to engage with those changing dynamics over time? Maybe some milestones you could set for yourself? Or what other, what tactics do you think you could use?

Judd Lorson: I mean, this is interesting because my wife and I, we started at a pretty early age, like when we got married in our mid 20s, we do like an annual goal setting exercise. And we both have these binders, these notebooks that we carry around. We’ve moved all over the place, and they stay with us. We kind of tried to do this like at the beginning. Here’s some goals we want to accomplish this year. Here’s where we want to be 20 years from now. Let’s kind of work backwards, like similar to the EOS framework for your company. What’s the big hairy thing that you want to get to? Let’s pick that and then work our way backwards. We both did that kind of like individually and as a family throughout our lives and careers, like pre search, pre kids, pre business school. And it was kind of like an effective type process. Did we lose track of it a little bit when I bought the business and things kind of- things went through this deep trough in the cycle of our life? Sure, but I think that that was super helpful and important for us. And it’s a super low tech kind of thing. You just once a year, January 1st, set a calendar invite, set a date with your significant other or yourself or a mentor or a friend that you trust and just write some stuff down on where you’re at and where you want to go. You can develop it and be super robust, but you can also like it doesn’t have to be. And then remind yourself, like even if you’re only looking at it once a year, ideally, you’ll look at it a little bit more frequently, but it’s not something you’ll look at every day, but you’ll look at it maybe once a quarter or once a year. And that’s one way in which to manifest success in your life. There’s always going to be that element of luck. But if you work hard and plan, there’s a lot better chance that you’re going to get where you want to go than if you don’t do those things.

Alex Bridgeman: What kind of goals did you have this year?

Judd Lorson: So this past year, kind of going back to last fall, we- It’s a good question. I’d have to pull up my goal book to say for sure. It was to spend a lot of time with my family. We tried to hit some national parks. So we went to like four or five national parks in six months, which was awesome. We like to do that. I had a goal, when my son was born right before I bought the business, I ran a 100 mile ultra marathon back in 2018. And I wanted to try and do that again. And I set a goal to do that again this year. I ended up not being successful in that goal. But that was a big theme for 2022, to repair relationships, to get back on track with fitness, to reset habits, and to kind of reflect on what I wanted to do next. Those aren’t like the specific ones, but those are kind of like the broad themes of what 2022 was all about at least for me.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, the fitness one is pretty interesting. I’ve personally noticed that my kind of centeredness or balance throughout the day is so much better when I exercise in the morning. And now that I’ve gotten a better habit- one of my goals this year was to have a more consistent exercise routine. And after having one and going on and off of it for travel or for other reasons or if I’m sick, it’s pretty dramatic how much it affects your mood throughout the day or your ability to handle problems and think more long term.

Judd Lorson: Yeah, you definitely don’t have to do what I do, which is like strive to run 100 miles through the mountains. That’s kind of like high and to the right. But sleep, diet, exercise, if you can get those three things like marginally right most days, you can sustain an effort forever. But the minute you start to let one or the other slip, all the rest of your plans are going to kind of- they’re just going to degrade in some way. If you’re not sleeping consistently or enough or both, you’re just not going to be as sharp. And then you’re going to want to eat comfort food. And then when you get home at night, you’re going to want to watch Netflix instead of going out for a jog. I personally- exercise is like super important to me and I’m probably more into it than I need to be. But that’s just something I really enjoy. So, for me, I actually like to run kind of in the middle of the day. I don’t think that’s right for most people. I think most people should kind of like start out their day and do some sort of exercise in the morning. So that kind of sets the tone for the rest of the day. So, I still like to do my exercise before lunch. I feel like I perform the best and I enjoy it the most when it’s not like at the butt crack of dawn and it’s cold or dark outside. I like to do it like around like 10:30 in the morning. But that’s just me. I think most people start the day off right the day before by getting some good sleep, get up, exercise, eat a healthy breakfast. And after that, like the world is your oyster. Like what can’t you do if you do those three things right most mornings?

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, it’s pretty amazing when you have the diet, exercise, and sleep dialed in. I used to think like, oh, I don’t have time to do those things. Then you start doing them, you’re like, oh, I’m actually sharper and more productive and stuff gets done or stuff that wasn’t important that I may have done earlier, now I just don’t do or push off to someone else or something else. Your willpower is so strong.

Judd Lorson: I think it’s like priorities. And it’s also like, I think the counter argument is that you don’t have time not to do that. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Jeff Olsen’s book, The Slight Edge. It’s like these simple- it’s like a self help book. Like, he’s just talking in platitudes about this one basic concept that if you want to be successful in life, do the small simple things right every day, the things that are hard to do because they’re easy not to do. It’s like they fall on that edge, that spectrum. But like, it’s easy to not go to sleep at 9:30. But it’s also easy to go sleep at 9:30. So like it’s simple. Just go do it. And if you do those simple things most days, you’re on the positive side of the edge. But it’s literally like a knife edge. Like it’s a really hard thing. And once you get down on the other side, you just like start slipping down to the bottom of the hill. It’s a recommended read if you haven’t read it. That’s like the concept. It’s simple daily things that are just as easy to do as they are not to do, but they can make all the difference in the world.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, you mentioned going to bed at 9:30 being one of those slight edge habits. What are some other examples for you?

Judd Lorson: Yeah, so over the past year, kind of sleep, diet, exercise like in addition to the quality time with my wife and my kids have been manifested in the following ways. Like the sleep stuff I talked about. I’ve gotten on like an oatmeal kick. So, oatmeal is pretty healthy food, and I’ve had oatmeal probably 95% of the mornings over the past 365 days. And for me, it’s like a ritual. So, I don’t get instant oatmeal. I make steel cut oats myself. It takes like 10 or 15 minutes and it’s during that half hour or so when I’m like trying to be fully present with the kids. My son Logan, like he helps, and then my daughter, she’s like two and she loves these oatmeal concoctions that I make. So she’s always trying to get up on the stool next to me to like have some. I’ll mix in dark chocolate like cocoa nibs and blueberries and it’s like it’s good stuff. And a little bit of honey. It’s probably high calorie, which is fine because I’m burning a couple thousand calories a day because of how much I run. But didn’t exercise as much, I would probably cut down on the extra sweet stuff that I put in it and the volume that I eat. But it’s like a healthy basic meal that you can kind of- part of what I like about it is you’re not just pouring cereal in a bowl. It’s like I get out my pot that I use every day for it. I measure out my cup of water, then my half a cup of oatmeal. I stir it up, wait 10 minutes for it to boil. I prepare my peanut butter and my fixings and everything else I’m going to mix in with it and I mix it in, and I get to kind of sit down. I don’t drink coffee, but it’s like my cup of coffee kind of daily ritual in the morning. I’ve started to like draw a lot of comfort from it. It’s just something very recognizable. Even now, I’ll travel every once in a while to go meet with a CEO that I’m working with or something like that. I’m staying in the Airbnb and the day before, I’m like, “Hey, man, you got to take me to the grocery store. I got to get some oatmeal.” Because it like grounds my day, even if it’s got disrupted by travel or something like that. That to me, on the diet side has been kind of a helpful thing to kind of reset. Do I eat perfectly the rest of the day? Not always, but my wife and I are pretty aligned with the diets on which we’re trying to raise our kids of like less processed food and less added sugar and more stuff that’s nutritious and delicious and maybe takes a little extra time to prepare. We’ve always had that sentiment. But when I was running the business, this is like an anecdote, I would call Papa John’s Pappa Js. Like, I don’t know if you’ve ever had- used the app, but it’s like magic. We were in Fort Lauderdale. I couldn’t even drive to the store and come back with my pizza faster than I could like hit the app and it was like at my door. I would like be depressed and want to eat like a comfort food for second dinner when I was watching the West Wing at like 10:30 at night. I’d be like, oh, time to order some Pappa Js. And I’d like demolish like half a medium pizza, which is probably like 2000 calories. So, I’m not doing that stuff anymore. And I’m running a lot. So I don’t know, I probably lost- I don’t think I was overweight, but I was like- I was carrying an extra 10 or 15 pounds probably when I was CEO. And I’ve kind of pushed that off from my body. It’s kind of changed a bit because of how consistent my exercise routine has been over the years, which is a nice feeling. It’s been nice to get back there. Because I’ve always been pretty fit and always been pretty focused on kind of like running and fitness and had done a bunch of races and marathons and stuff like that before running the business. But then those three years were just super challenging to keep the routines up.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, no kidding. I bet that feels a lot better. You mentioned not having coffee. Do you not have caffeine at all? Or do you do decaf or tea or something else?

Judd Lorson: No. So when I was- this is interesting, though, see, we talked about the submarine life. And Submariners, I think they’re like chemically, physically, every way you can be addicted to coffee, they’re addicted to it. Because I don’t know, you’re on this weird sleep schedule. And the way we ran things when I was on the ship, you’re on like a short day. So like every- you’re on like a four shift day, so every third day, you’re up from midnight to 6am and then 6pm to midnight. And it was just like it wreaked havoc with your circadian rhythm. So everybody was just like black coffee, no sugar, intravenous. And I just- I don’t particularly like the smell of it. I don’t know, maybe I get this from my mom. She like turns her nose up at stuff. And my parents weren’t coffee drinkers, so I’m not a coffee drinker. So, I’ve never consumed an entire cup of coffee. I’ve only had sips here and there. So anyway, when I was in the military, it was super challenging because when you’re up on those odd cycles, it’s really hard to stay awake. So it was at the point where I was getting like in my late 20s and my metabolism starting to slow down little bit, so Dr Pepper and Mountain Dew and Coke, they didn’t do it so I started switching to diet soda. And I had like a terrible diet soda habit through my end of the military, like through business school, through CEO life. And then since then, we don’t buy diet soda anymore for in our house. It’s like a treat. Like when I go to Chipotle, I’ll get a Diet Coke. But now I do usually like green tea. I usually have like six ounces of caffeine or something like that. Yeah. There we go, six ounces of caffeine or so in the morning. And then I try not to do any other caffeine throughout the rest of the day unless it’s just like a special occasion or a treat because then it’s much harder to go sleep at like 9:30, 10 o’clock at night. And I’m starting to take a melatonin supplement just so that I can get into like a really good deep sleep rhythm because I’m a pretty restless sleeper. I try to avoid caffeine other than in the morning when it helps me get off and have my bowel movement and get everything started for the day. And then later in the day, I try and avoid it.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, with the submarine, do you do anything to- I guess on the submarine, people are up all the time. But was there anything to simulate kind of the day/night cycle within a submarine? Or is lighting pretty consistent throughout and it’s really hard to know psychologically what time it is?

Judd Lorson: We would do red light. So like at night in the control room, they call it like rig for red. And like the rest of the hallways. So it’s like if you’ve seen submarine movies, you’ve seen like, oh, that hallway’s dark. But there’s red lights there. Like that was used to simulate darkness. It was also if you’re submerged, like it doesn’t matter. But we would have to go to surface at least to periscope depth to communicate with the outside world kind of like once a day to let them know where alive. We had like a broadcast cycle where like either every 12 hours or every 24 hours, depending on where you’re at or what you were doing, you had to call home, you had to phone home and say, hey, guys, we didn’t sink, we’re still here. And we did that. If it was nighttime, people would be on the periscope. They’d be looking out and it’d be dark, so they didn’t want pupils dilating back and forth. So you would rig control for red so that simulated dark inside so that you could be looking at the screens in the control room and then go on the periscope. And you didn’t have like a transition period with your pupils. Like your pupils were already dilated so that you could see well in the dark. But they did something stuff similarly throughout the rest of the ship to simulate daylight and darkness. But your circadian rhythm got so messed up that you’re just kind of like tired all the time. And the oxygen level in the air was lower than normal air to prevent fires, which also is like high altitude essentially. Like it was just 18% instead of like 21%. So it was actually really great for exercise because you got like an extra workout. So I can remember I would like run on the treadmill pretty frequently. And when I got to dry land, I was like, oh man, this 21% oxygen air, like this stuff is good. Because you just got used to living in that lower oxygen environment where you’re just kind of like sleepy and tired all the time, plus your circadian rhythm was messed up because like every third day, you’re up from like late at night and early in the morning. And it was just miserable. They’ve actually since done a bunch of research and studies. And now they shifted back to a 24 hour day. Because it turns out, when you mess with people circadian rhythm, and you make them really tired and put them in a low oxygen environment, they don’t like perform real well and they don’t make decisions very well. We thought it was really ironic and it was kind of there’s like friction between the submarine community and the pilot community. Like pilots are mandated to get eight hours of sleep before they get in a plane. And you could put an officer in charge of a $3 billion submarine on zero rest. It was just like, okay, that’s just kind of like how we’ve done it for forever, so we’ll keep doing it that way. Turns out that’s like not the best answer.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, that doesn’t seem like quite the best answer. What other changes either in daily habits or values are you looking to continue adjusting and achieve in the future?

Judd Lorson: I have kind of like these outcomes or these areas of outcomes that I’m trying to reorient as like my North Star. So, what are these like guiding principles that I’m going towards? And we talked about it a little bit before. When I wake up in the morning, I’m trying to like reset and remind myself, these are my priorities, these are the orders, these are the areas, but I’d categorize it. I talked about this before with people where I think it’s really hard to do all three of these things like in complete 33% balance, all the time. At any given time, like one is going to suffer but you got to kind of try and cycle them around. So I’ve tried to break out my life into my spiritual and my family life, then kind of like my personal life of my personal health and wellness, and then my professional life and try to be thoughtful and segment them out so that I can try and load balance them at any given time. Or if I’m cognizant of like, hey, I’m training for a 100 mile ultramarathon right now, which probably means I can work less just because it takes a lot of time and energy to do that. And my family life will suffer a little bit. But once I finish with that training cycle, I’m going to reset and I’ll refocus on some of these other areas and priorities. Like I hear lots of people talking about the seasons in their life. Like, that’s just another euphemism for there are three areas of kind of you can be as a human being, like your work life, your personal health and wellness, and your friends and your family. I think you can balance them equally at some periods in your time. At some periods in your life, they’re going to fall out of balance, but you need to be cognizant of and focused on the fact that if they do fall out of balance, like remember, you can have them out of balance for a period of time on purpose, but you have to hold yourself accountable to like an end date. There’s got to be an end date to this push or this sprint, where like work’s just really crazy and it’s going to be really crazy because we’re doing an acquisition, or we’re selling the business or we’re rolling out a new ERP system and it’s all hands on deck. But at the end of that, I’m going on vacation for like three weeks or whatever it is so that like my family who missed me during that period of time to get some of me back. Right now I feel like I’m able to pretty well balance it because I don’t have- like I’m not training for the 100 mile race anymore. I haven’t fully jumped into like a new big thing professionally. And I’ve been so focused on kind of the family life aspect of it, that that’s still a pretty big component. Like I feel pretty balanced right now. But I know that it will fall out of balance, but my intention is to be thoughtful about when that would end and also always be aware that like it’s a third, a third, a third in each direction, and you’re best suited when you can do a third in each direction. If can’t for a little while, you got to figure out how to supplement or pay back one side or the other.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah. One of our closing questions is the changed belief one and this feels very on topic for our whole episode really. Any particularly strong belief you used to have that you’ve switched your mind on?

Judd Lorson: Yeah, so the one that I came up with is related maybe tangentially to the conversation that we’ve had today. But I don’t know, like the way I grew up and then my experience being trained as an engineer, and then serving in the military, I always looked at the world as kind of like black and white. It was either right or it was wrong. There is either a way to do things, or there’s a way not to do things. And I think I’ve come to the conclusion that that’s not like a full view of the world. Most things are actually in between, where it depends. It’s a gray area. It’s very unsatisfying for my right brain to have to like come to terms with that. I think that’s the case. That being said, I still think you have to live your life by a set of priorities and principles and have those kind of Northstars or those kind of centering aspirations. But outside of that, there’s a lot of ambiguity. And that’s challenging to navigate. But if you have- if you’re kind of centered in the right way and you have those priorities, I think you’re going to be just fine. And that also extends to the small business world. When I went in, I was just like everybody tells the truth, nobody lies, nobody cheats. And it turns out, almost all small business owners are like cutting a corner in some way. Like some more substantially than others. And I always just thought like if there’s a regulation, people follow it. If there’s tax law, people pay their taxes. And it turns out, some people just don’t like follow the rules, and they don’t get caught, and they don’t get held accountable for it. And that’s just the way the world works. Or even they do get caught, but it’s just like a slap on the wrist and they just go back out and keep polluting or keep cheating on their taxes or keep doing that thing in the business world that’s not- I would consider unethical, maybe it’s not illegal. And that was pretty eye opening for me when I started to interact with so many small business owners and I came from like a glass half full, like think the best of people. These people are definitely not trying to hoodwink me. Maybe I was just a little bit naive. But I’ve come to a conclusion that some people cheat, some people lie, some people steal, sometimes they don’t get caught. Sometimes they don’t get held accountable. And that’s just reality.

Alex Bridgeman: Do you feel like that’s made you more cynical or just a little bit more flexible in how you view the different actions?

Judd Lorson: I think it did make me very cynical for quite a period of time. But I think now I’ve kind of come more full circle where it’s just an awareness thing, where I’m not as bitter and as cynical because I’ve recovered a little bit. Like I’m feeling really good about my personal and professional life and all the experiences that I’ve had are in the column of like they were worthwhile to have done and I’m glad to be on the other side of them. I’d do it again if I had to because of what I learned from it, if that makes sense.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, that makes sense. What’s the best business you’ve ever seen?

Judd Lorson: So I have two that I’ve been thinking about more recently. One is internet service providers, both on the small and the large side. I’ve come into contact with local ISPs that like were in rural areas, and I had lunch with a business owner a couple of weeks ago, and this guy was telling me about his business. I was like telling him like, “Is Starlink a threat to you?” And he’s like, “Yeah, we had two people switch to Starlink. They came back to us because it didn’t actually work in their area yet. And they were just like unfamiliar with the technology and set up.” I was like, “Well, how many customers do you have?” He was like, “Oh, we have like a thousand customers, like very small business, clearing a couple $100,000 a year.” I was like, “Well, how many new ones? What’s your churn like? How many new ones did you get? How many did you lose?” And he’s like, “Oh, we added 200 customers last year. I think we lost three. But then we got two of those three back.” And I was like, are you kidding me? Like, it was just like an amazing business, like super sticky product. And he’s just like a local internet service provider that’s he’s deployed a little bit of his own fiber. And he has some wireless devices on a few different towers that he maintains. But otherwise, he’s piggybacking on some other telecom and just like white labeling their bandwidth. He’s not- Comcast isn’t trying to compete them away. He’s got like this little niche in this little rural area where like Comcast isn’t going to spend the millions of dollars to put the infrastructure in. It’s just like the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. And then you go to Comcast, like I happen to have Comcast where I’m at. We’re like the last stop on the line. There’s no other option unless I want to do Starlink. And that’s twice as expensive and has some like latencies and connectivity issues sometimes. And they can charge me whatever they want. They only charge me 40 bucks a month. I don’t know why. I’d have to pay the 200 bucks if they were going to charge it. So I feel like the telecom space is- I think it’s interesting. It’s changing and evolving a lot. But I’ve seen and experienced some of those business models, both kind of personally as a consumer and when I looked at businesses in the space, that like they might not be super growth-y, but they just feel like they’ll be around forever and they’re super sticky. And then I’ve also come across some specialized job boards that I think are super interesting, where you can build either the- you can build the employer side or the job seeker side, if you could build them both, you can kind of own the whole thing. Like outside of the Indeed world, outside of the LinkedIn world, if you’re super hyper focused on some sort of specialty, there’s so much need for that right now. Especially on the employer side, where people are trying to find to find good technicians, they’re trying to find like executive talent that join small businesses. I just think there’s a lot of opportunity there. I’ve seen a few that are pretty interesting. But that’s kind of that riches and niches thing that can’t ever become big businesses, but they will always be really, really wonderful small businesses.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, so those are two great ones, especially the internet service provider one. We will have to look into that more. I hope you find something interesting. Yeah, thank you so much for sharing on the podcast. It’s not a typical set of circumstances or stories that folks are generally comfortable sharing, so really enjoyed getting the chance to hear a little bit about them and you sharing some of the more lifestyle changes and things you’re working on. It’s definitely fun to hear about.

Judd Lorson: Yeah, no, thanks for having me. I actually enjoy talking about it because I feel like I’m in a good place now. And I’ve kind of come full circle. And I hope people can benefit from hearing my story and learning some of the things that I’ve been able to implement in my life and be successful with.

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