My guest today is Justin Nassiri, founder and CEO of Executive Presence, a managed social media service for ambitious CEOs, with a focus on LinkedIn today. We talk about why CEOs should care and focus on building a social media following, and how CEOs can optimize their social presence, including a walkthrough of the most important things to optimize on your LinkedIn profile. We also compare the top platforms for CEOs, LinkedIn and Twitter, and the pros/cons of each and where to start.
Justin also draws on his experience being a founder of two prior companies, Captivate and StoryBox, to be a more effective and balanced CEO in his current business. He has a lot of lessons learned and advice for CEOs looking to expand their reach and improve individual performance. This episode was super interesting and rich with actionable ideas and I think you’ll come away with a lot to apply to your own company.
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(00:04:05) Justin’s career prior to Executive Presence
(00:09:47) Capturing authenticity in a client
(00:15:04) Thoughts on different Social Media platforms for CEOs
(00:19:06) How to use LinkedIn in a more optimized fashion
(00:23:15) Growth pattern differences between Twitter & LinkedIn
(00:24:58) How to optimize your profile
(00:36:51) How CEOs can benefit from an increased presence on LinkedIn?
(00:41:32) Being Transparent on Social Media
(00:47:42) Lessons learned from founding 3 companies
(00:57:47) Finding work-life balance and creating high-quality work
(01:03:54) What’s a strongly held belief you’ve changed your mind on?
(01:05:10) What’s the best business you’ve ever seen?
Alex Bridgeman: There’s tons of different things that you’ve done. Over the course of your career, you were host of Beyond the Uniform, a podcast about military transition into civilian life and business. You were a founder of Captivate and StoryBox and now a founder and CEO of Executive Presence, focusing on LinkedIn for CEOs, which is what I’m really excited to talk to you about. But I first want to hear like those two companies and then the Beyond the Uniform podcast, what’s the kind of combining thread through all of those businesses that you’ve been so focused on in your career?
Justin Nassiri: I think authenticity, efficiency, and data is kind of the through line. So with StoryBox, StoryBox is basically someone takes a photo wearing an Arc’teryx jacket and puts it on Instagram, our software would find it and add it to the product page on Arc’teryx. And the premise was rather than showing models or fake imagery, let’s find real people wearing the clothing or wearing the product. And authenticity was the undercurrent there. Data was a big piece of that, of showing how that impacted sales and average order value. So that was StoryBox. Captivate was all around content repurposing. So we would go to companies that had a webinar or a podcast, and we turned it into months of social media content. So that also was an authenticity, efficiency, and data play. And then with Beyond the Uniform, I interviewed 460 or more veterans, and just one of the things that stood out was like, man, what a great medium to gather stories and insights. If I asked a CEO to write down their advice, they’re never going to do it. But if I just have a conversation with them and bring curiosity, they’ll ended up sharing insights they might not even be aware that they have. And so all of those things came together in Executive Presence, where it really is a play on authenticity, it’s really efficient with our clients, of just taking an hour of their time per month, and it’s all metrics driven. So even though each of those organizations have been somewhat different, there is those three through lines that I see in retrospect.
Alex Bridgeman: I love that focus on authenticity, especially with the fact that you can give data behind it. I imagine that you could have done tests pages where you had the integration on one product, so you’re pulling in social pages for that product and then more stock images on the other. What kind of difference did it make in terms of conversions and sales and add to carts with the authentic images? I’d love to learn more about that.
Justin Nassiri: Noticeable. I’m, unfortunately, far enough away I can’t quote the exact statistics. But it was dual digit percentages increase on all of those. And I think it’s just one of those universals we all know, that we buy things when we like the people, when we know, when we feel comfortable with the brand. And so, a way for a brand to create connection and build a relationship very quickly is by being really genuine and authentic and real. And I think the way that social media is driving us as a society is the sniff test for us is quite high; we can sniff out when something isn’t true or when something seems fake, and it’s very off putting. So, these brands, and most of them do this now, these brands that were willing to drop a little bit of the control and drop a little bit of the staging and instead show their product in the wild, consumers trusted it much more and ended up buying much more.
Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, especially with stuff like Chat GPT today, where it can now write very close to human sounding sentences. There’s a funny example on Twitter, there was this Twitter account that was trying to impersonate, or not impersonate, but taking insights and snippets from Andrew Huberman’s Huberman Lab podcast and then reposting them on Twitter. And Huberman himself would actually respond and correct him here and there. But there were a ton of comments to those posts saying like, is this a bot? Or is this Chat GPT? Like this reads fake. And so it feels like Chat GPT has given us like a measurable and pointable like, oh, that’s what fake looks like or that’s what an AI looks like versus the authentic from the heart person writing a tweet or article, blog post, whatever looks like.
Justin Nassiri: That’s my vantage point is I think as more and more executives are turning to social media to build their company’s brand, there’s a lot of what I view as generic content out there. There’s a lot of people who are sharing productivity hacks, or it’s basically like a Buzzfeed style approach to social media, five books every entrepreneur should read. That’s stuff that Chat GPT can churn out in droves. But when you have leaders sharing stories, when you have leaders sharing insights and being authentic and sharing their unique vantage point, I think that’s a competitive advantage against automation. Because Open AI, Chat GPT, that can’t really do that. It can certainly put generic content in the grave, I think it will do that. But the more vulnerable people are, the more authentic they are, the more they’re willing to share stories and what they learned from them, open up about failure, I think that that is AI proof because it is so authentic, and it’s so genuine.
Alex Bridgeman: So I want to dive into Executive Presence as a service and business and some of the things you’ve learned on LinkedIn and other platforms and why you’ve chosen to focus on LinkedIn first. But to that point of authenticity, how do you try to capture that with clients when your firm is the one drafting and handling posts? And perhaps I’m missing something, but I would love to learn how you’re trying to capture that authenticity while allowing that CEO to have scale with their social presence.
Justin Nassiri: Well, the first thing I would say is that one component of authenticity is social media works much better for individuals than it does for organizations. So for instance, with LinkedIn and Twitter, if a brand is posting or tweeting, it gets some engagement. But when the CEO, when a head of business is interacting, it just gets a lot more attention. Because we talk about human to human is the new business to business. If brands want to grow a following, it’s much more efficient to do that through an authentic brand ambassador than through a faceless organization. So, the way that we go about it is we tend to work with CEOs of very, very quickly growing companies. And universally, these CEOs are time starved; they do not have a lot of time. So we started by architecting and saying, okay, we need to keep things to an hour or less per month. These people are so in demand that that’s the most time we’ll get with them. And as I thought back to my experience at Captivate, as I thought back to my experience at Beyond the Uniform, I thought the most efficient way to pull information from them is through an interview. So after we onboard and figure out their content strategy, we start to do one hour a month where we interview them. And we go through and we ask questions that will pull out content that’s in line with their objectives. After the interview, we take the transcript, we have a content team who turns it in to tweets and LinkedIn posts, the clients able to review it, and then we post it on their behalf. And the coolest part about this is the next time we meet with them one month later, we start off by sharing the data and saying, hey, CEO, when you talk about leadership, people tend to tune out. But when you talk about marketing to grow your company, people really listen in. So we want to focus on that. And what we’re really trying to replace is when these CEOs go to a conference and give a keynote speech, they’re getting some applause or laughter or head nods, but they don’t really know what they’re saying is landing. We’re able to atomize that message, get it into much smaller, discrete parts, and give them the information of where their zone of genius is, where their advice is valued and where it’s ignored. And that allows them not just on social media, but across everything, to have a greatest hits list of advice and stories and anecdotes that really connect with people.
Alex Bridgeman: How much of that is driven also by that CEOs own personal interests? You mentioned marketing being an example topic that perhaps that’s something that their audience is really buying into or listening to and engaging more with. Do you think that that’s partially driven by wherever that CEO has thought the most about or is the most passionate about, that that passion or authenticity can come through more strongly in marketing over other topics? How correlated do you think those are or that effort is or that authenticity and engagement is with that own CEO’s personal interest?
Justin Nassiri: I’ll share a personal anecdote. I really like personal development work. Every week, I meet with a group of men and we do meditation and breath work and we share, and it’s a very important part of my life. And when I’ve shared about that on social media, it really doesn’t strike a chord. And so one of the early conclusions I had in my own social media work was even though this is something that’s really important to me and really helps me better be a better human being, my professional network really isn’t interested in it. So I don’t really talk about it online anymore. But I used to be an avid runner, and I would do ultra marathons, and I ran a lot. And I’d write about what I thought about when I was running. And for whatever reason, that really did connect with people, and I got a really good response. So I think it is a little bit of both where I believe authenticity sells. The more we can bring our full self to our workplace and to social media, the more people will connect with that. And we have to be willing to read the room and say, okay, even though this particular topic is near and dear to my heart, my audience really doesn’t care about that. And therefore, maybe I won’t talk about that as much.
Alex Bridgeman: Maybe next, we can take a lay of the land of different social media platforms. With CEOs, it makes sense to focus on LinkedIn, and I would love your kind of broad perspective on LinkedIn as a platform for CEOs. And then, kind of also what are your thoughts for platforms like Twitter and Instagram and others? Like, how could each fit into a CEO’s potential like portfolio of social effort?
Justin Nassiri: Well, I’ll zoom out and just kind of lay a bit of context for listeners, and that’s that thought leadership has always been important in business. When we think of Steve Jobs, when we think of Marissa Meyer, when we think of Elon Musk, when we think of all of these iconic leaders, they have known that they’re the face and voice of the brand. And when they show up publicly, it benefits the brand. And traditionally, thought leadership meant speaking at a conference, getting on the cover of Forbes, and more recently going on a podcast, which are all very valuable tools. But in my view, they had three things that held back. And that was, it was one time, it was one way, and there was very little data. So one time, you speak at a conference, if someone’s not in the audience, they miss out. You go on the cover of Forbes, someone misses that issue. You don’t get that audience. It’s one way; it’s just talking at people rather than having a conversation. And again, there’s no data. If someone’s nodding their head in the audience, you get a little bit of anecdotal feedback, but it’s largely data free. When social media came around, it solved for those three things. Because now instead of one time, it was continuous. You could grow an audience that you could speak to daily. It was two way instead of one way. You could literally have a conversation with people and learn and build a relationship and have a dialogue online. And then the third one is it’s data rich; there’s so much data on LinkedIn, on Twitter, on all of these about what message is working, who it’s working with, all of these things. And so as you said, when it comes to executives, we find that generally, it comes down to LinkedIn and Twitter. And both of those are valuable. And both of those I think most leaders should be on. We always start people on LinkedIn. The biggest reason there is it’s bumper bowling for social media. It’s pretty hard to get something in the gutter. LinkedIn or Twitter, if you say something wrong in a tweet, it can go viral in a negative way. It can be kind of your PR nightmare. LinkedIn, if it’s a bad post, it generally just doesn’t get any attention. It’s a very friendly, safe environment. We rarely, rarely, rarely see something going viral in a negative way on LinkedIn. Also, the quality of decision maker in my view is higher on LinkedIn. And also the content tends to be much more business relevant on LinkedIn. And lastly, most executives already have a network on LinkedIn. So when in doubt, I encourage people to start with LinkedIn, but with our clients, once they get to a certain stage, if they’re not on Twitter, we will generally expand there. Depending on your industry, Instagram, Facebook, even Tik Tok could be relevant, but by and large, we see that most professionals, most people, our clients tend to be venture capital or private equity backed, for that type of company, they tend to stay on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, that makes sense. I could see someone like Peter Thiel obviously benefiting from Instagram a lot more than maybe a CEO of an IT services business or something like that. And so starting with LinkedIn, what are kind of best practices for setting up profile, certain links? How do you begin using LinkedIn in a more optimized fashion?
Justin Nassiri: So I’ll give you kind of five tips in general on LinkedIn. We can talk about the profile as well, if that’s of interest. The five things that every leader should know about LinkedIn: The first one is it’s all about the person, not the company. And we already touched on this, so I’ll be brief. But company pages on LinkedIn are table stakes. But that’s not where the interaction and growth comes from. The interaction and the growth comes from a leader of a company or leaders. That’s first and foremost. Second of all, most people misunderstand how active you need to be on social media to slice through the noise and to be top of mind, which is really the goal. So most CEOs will post three to four times a year. In our research, we find that you need to post two to five times per week to maintain that top of mind relevance. And so two to five times per week is orders of magnitude more frequently than most CEOs post. A third thing is it can’t be all about your company. If all you’re doing on LinkedIn is saying I’m so humbled to be interviewed by Forbes, or I’m so excited that we just reached this milestone, people will very quickly tune you out as just company propaganda. Those posts, when done seldom, can do really well. And they have a role of showing growth of your company. But most of the content, and in our view, that’s 80%, actually, it needs to be educational. So if you are a leader in, if your company does recruiting, talk about recruiting – hey, most people who are hiring don’t realize this, if you really want to retain people, try this, this is something that everyone messes up. That’s when you do that, 80% of your content, adding value, educating, being generous, not talking about your company, that builds trust, it turns you into a thought leader, and it attracts people who are interested in that topic. So the third one is to make sure that you’re not just talking about your company. A fourth one is LinkedIn algorithmically rewards original content. So one thing we see a lot of leaders doing is they will repost content on LinkedIn. And it just doesn’t get a lot of visibility. Whereas if they wrote a text post, or if they wrote or did a video or had a photo and text that will algorithmically outperform everything else. Articles that drive content away from LinkedIn will get a penalty. And if you’re just sharing what someone else said, very few people will see that. So really focusing on original content. I’m blanking on what a fifth one would be. But since you asked about profiles, I’d just say, we view the LinkedIn profile, that’s a sales funnel for your company. And the number of times we look at a CEO’s profile, and they don’t have a banner image or their headshot is not professional or it’s not descriptive, it’s been given very little attention, it’s very clear. But what you want is you want people to be able to go to your page and instantly understand what you do and why they should connect with you. And we can go really down the rabbit hole on that because each section has a purpose. But in general, someone’s going to give your profile three to five seconds of attention. You want to make sure that in that glance, they know why you’re an authority, how you could help them, and why they should meet with you.
Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, I would love to dive in a little bit deeper into the individual tactics. But before doing so, I’m a little more curious too on you mentioned the algorithm. If your content isn’t very interesting, LinkedIn just tends to ignore it and move on and where Twitter could have more of a greater negative downside. How does growth compare on the two platforms? Do you think if someone is creating the content you’ve talked about where it’s not just company propaganda, I love that phrase, it’s not just that nonstop every day, how would growth compare between a Twitter profile and a LinkedIn profile for the average CEO?
Justin Nassiri: My perspective is Twitter, I would estimate that 60% of growth on Twitter is driven by interacting with other thought leaders on Twitter. Like it’s really a big component of growth is establishing relationships with others and getting them to interact with your content. So 60% is interaction and 40% is content. I think that LinkedIn is a different pie chart. In my view, LinkedIn is 60% the content you create, maybe 30% commenting on other people, not to get them to reciprocate, but when you comment on someone else’s post, if it’s a well written comment, it can actually drive audience growth because people see your name and title on LinkedIn. So there’s actually a lot of value to having your name out there more often. And then maybe that last 20% is getting influential people to comment on your post because that gets you a lot more views. So I feel like the growth, it can be similar, but the strategy to get the growth is pretty different.
Alex Bridgeman: Gotcha. Okay, so going into a typical profile, maybe even like starting before you’ve even gotten to the profile, if you’re scrolling through potential new contacts in LinkedIn, and I see Justin Nassiri, I see your photo, your name, your title, whatever company you’re working for, working at, how would you optimize those things? It sounds like a professional photo or headshot is a good start.
Justin Nassiri: Yeah, it’s so easy to do. Thumbtack has photographers. There is a company called Smart Shoot. Generally, a headshot should be $200, if not $100 or less, to get a really good photo. And honestly, most of us are walking around with an incredible photo in our pockets, or our camera in our pockets with our phone. I think that the biggest mistake I see is people who crop a photo that clearly there’s other people in the photo, and they’re just grabbing it, like that just doesn’t do well. You should give some thought to the background, the attire. It should be a high quality photo. So that certainly is one way to stand out. I actually believe that title is the most important thing. You have a very limited real estate to broadcast what you do. So, an okay answer might be “CEO at Executive Presence.” But people don’t know what Executive Presence is. So I might have it be, “CEO at Executive Presence. We help CEOs manage their social media.” And that descriptor is very concise. But it lets people know what I do. And guess what, every time I comment on someone’s post, that title goes along, and it’s clickable too. I literally had a client sign up two weeks ago who said, hey, I saw your- you commented on my friend’s post, I thought it was a really good comment. I clicked through. I saw what you did. And that’s why we’re talking. That was two weeks ago, which is wild to think about. And so sometimes I see people where they’re like, “CEO, dad, ultra runner, military vetera.” Okay, those are all great things, but I don’t really know what you do. Or if you just put your company, I might not know what that is. So being intentional and iterating on what that title means is really valuable. I’ll pause there. I don’t want to go too far ahead.
Alex Bridgeman: No, no, that makes sense. That title, that descriptor of the title being about the business and the place that you’re trying to funnel attention to versus like descriptors about me and who I am, like the those two should be separate.
Justin Nassiri: You want to think about- So, one thing I’d say in general with social media, it’s okay to push people away. If someone’s not someone that I want to work with, I may as well get that out of the way right up front. So it’s okay to push people away. But I do see titles where I wonder how deliberate or intentional that pushing away is. Someone I saw recently said they’re in this position, and they are- and it was a very clear religious reference, which is fine if their business is catering to people who share their religious belief, but it could be very off putting to someone who doesn’t. So in that case, it’s like look, if your primary customer shares your religious viewpoints, go for it. If it pushes people away, who cares, that’s going to make it more efficient. But if it’s not relevant, just be aware that you’re losing potential customers. And I know we’ll talk about the other sections. But I used to have in my featured section, I used to have an image, a photo of me with President Bush Senior. I had met with him one on one. It was this great photo of us shaking hands. And I had it there because it was instantly unique, like, wow, how did this guy meet a sitting president? And I took it down, because although it helped in that way, I realized that some people have very negative views of that President, some people have very negative views of that political party. It just wasn’t benefiting me. And so I took it down because I thought there was more to lose than to gain. And so I just wanted to highlight that you need to be intentional about who is your audience, who are you going for, and be intentional about whether you’re pulling in the right people or pushing them away.
Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, that makes a ton of sense and is a good example. Working through that, a typical LinkedIn profile and how to optimize, so we’ve talked about the photo, your role title and additional description. If you think of the next most important piece of your LinkedIn profile, where do you go next and how do you continue optimizing down the profile?
Justin Nassiri: So I would actually move up, and the LinkedIn header is one that I see a lot of executives not do a good job of. So at the top of the screen is an image on both mobile and on desktop. You would be surprised, I’d say probably half of executives, that is the default, which is gray, it’s the same for everyone. And that’s just a clear, I don’t care about my LinkedIn profile. The second most common thing that I’ll see is a generic image. And that’s generally someone who says, okay, I want an image there. Let me, if I’m in the Bay Area, I’ll get the Golden Gate Bridge, or I’ll get a park that I like, or a concert I really liked, or a picture of me giving a presentation. That’s okay. It’s better than nothing. But again, this is very precious real estate. So for example, we use Canva, which everyone can have access to for free. It makes it really easy to do this. We have a nice design. It has my company logo. There’s the Executive Presence logo, so good branding. And then there is a short description of what we do. So for me, it says we provide a fully managed LinkedIn presence for CEOs and top executives. It is so vital to have a succinct description of what you do. That’s another, just like your role, another way to make it easy for people to understand why they should speak with you. And so in general, what I would recommend is you want three things, you want a high quality image, just even if it’s a colored background, you want your company logo, and you want that very succinct elevator pitch on what you do. And if you want to go one step further, if you’ve won awards, if you want credibility, if you have some blue chip clients, maybe Tesla’s one of your clients, you could have their logos there. But the one that people most overlook is that description, and it needs to pass that three second rule. If I pulled up your profile and gave an audience of people three seconds to look at your header, could they tell me what you do? And if it’s a photo of you just making a presentation, they may think you’re an author, a public speaker, they may not realize that you’re a VP of sales. So really being intentional of communicating your value in each section of the profile.
Alex Bridgeman: This is great because my LinkedIn profile breaks just about every rule you talked about, except maybe my headshot which is semi professional, definitely taken with the phone in my pocket or the camera in my pocket. So this is fantastic learning just for me. I noticed you also have an audio recording. So next to your name, you can click, and I imagine that would help with if you have a harder to pronounce last name, I could see that being helpful. But it also kind of talks about, listening to the audio message, you talk about like look in my profile, here’s what I do. Is that kind of- I haven’t seen many folks use that feature before, so I’m kind of curious to your thoughts on it.
Justin Nassiri: I think, if you’re- I feel like a framework we’re all familiar with is websites. And if you run a company or you’re senior in a company, you realize like your website is kind of one of your calling cards, you need to have it buttoned up, you need to have it look good. And it’s almost like we kind of know the things we look for on a website. You maybe want to know about the team, what they do, their services, maybe their pricing. It’s the exact same for LinkedIn, it’s just people aren’t really familiar. So we talked about profile, we talked about the role, we talked about the header image. I would actually say in the top five, before we get to that audio, which would be much lower on the list, I think that one that people need to do is creator mode. A second one is company website. And then a third one is their featured section. So we’ll just talk about those briefly. Creator mode is something that takes all of 10 seconds, let’s call it, to turn on. You go to your profile, you can google how to do it. But creator mode is no downside. There are some perceived algorithmic benefits to being known as a creator. And it lets you mark up to five different hashtags of things you talk about. So it’s just one thing that’s very easy to do, and there’s no real downside. The next one is company website. It comes up right below where you’re located. So for me, Denver, Colorado, and then below it, Executive Presence, if I click, it goes to my website, free real estate. It drives people to my website. Some people, if maybe you’re an executive coach, you could say, book a consultation with me here. You can put the text to be whatever you want. And you can drive people wherever you want. But never turn down real estate to drive people to somewhere valuable, get your free eBook, sign up for our webinar, our newsletter, whatever it is, so that the second one is that website. And then the next one on the list, for me, would be the featured section, which most people don’t have on. It’s just a very prominent area on your profile, where you can feature an image, a post, an article. And so, when I first started Executive Presence, and I didn’t have a lot of articles about us, I literally screenshotted simple slides from my sales presentation. And I set those as featured images because it’s very clear, when you come to my profile, it would explain what we were doing. Now for me, I have some of my top performing LinkedIn posts that talk about educational value, there’s value there. Some of our clients, if they’re on CNBC, will put that video there because it gives credibility. But essentially, that featured image area is a visual way to give yourself credibility and to give another indication of what you do. So again, maybe I go on CNN to talk about running an ultra marathon, that might be valuable. But honestly, if that’s not related to what I do or a good conversation starter, I might be better going with a lesser known news outlet. But it’s really directly relevant to what I do for a living. So it just comes back to this point of being really intentional with our executive brand. What do I want to communicate to people? How do I want to be perceived? And that featured section item, that featured section is such a great visual way to really have that standout.
Alex Bridgeman: That’s fantastic. This is a wonderful case study or MBA on running a better LinkedIn, which I’m going to take all these notes and work on it tonight on my own profile. Before diving into- I’d love to learn about Executive Presence as a company. But I think summarizing LinkedIn strategies and tactics, it’d be helpful to hear for CEOs who have grown their companies or have done really well kind of without LinkedIn and without using it very well, maybe they don’t even have a profile picture at all, what can CEOs benefit from having an increased LinkedIn profile? If you could succinct it to a couple of key points and benefits from a LinkedIn profile that’s well put together and you post two to five times a week, what additional marginal benefits come from a LinkedIn presence that maybe some CEOs just haven’t thought about or haven’t considered?
Justin Nassiri: Yeah, I’ll give you three. The first one is activating your network. Most executives have spent a lot of time and money building out their network. They went to great schools, they’ve worked at great companies, they have thousands of connections on LinkedIn. The sad truth is most of those people who like you, who know you, who trust you, who want to help you, they have no idea what you do for a living. So the very first thing we want to do is activate your network. And you do that by talking a lot about your area of expertise. And I’ll give you a quick anecdote there. I had someone I went to school with 20 years ago, to date myself, we went to the Naval Academy together 20 years ago, I have not spoken to him in 20 years, we’re connected on LinkedIn, he saw my content, he never once liked it, he never once commented on it. But he reached out to me, this is a couple months ago, he reached out and said, hey, Justin, I saw what you do, I really like it, I’m going to introduce you to my CEO. They signed up two weeks later. Now, if I was making a list of people to reach out to and do on my sales outreach and all of that, I would have never thought of this guy. He’s a friend, but I haven’t talked to him in 20 years. But that’s one of the powers of LinkedIn. And that could apply to fundraising, to hiring, to business development, to customer acquisition. Your network is so valuable, but you’re not top of mind or relevant with them. So that’s by far the first value of LinkedIn. The second value of LinkedIn is being a thought leader. There are people who look to your industry, and they’re looking for the expert. And the truth is that the person with the loudest voice doesn’t necessarily have the most expertise. So by being active on LinkedIn, you can start to build this megaphone, where you can say, look, I actually know what I’m talking about, I actually am an expert. But that expertise only gets you so far. You have to have the audience to go along with it. So you need to be investing in that. And then the third one that I’d say is it’s an insurance policy. If you are a leader, you are going to make a mistake. It is absolutely inevitable. You are going to get recorded saying something, you’re going to mishandle firing an employee, you’re going to do something unintentionally that’s going to get you in hot water. That’s just the truth of the era we’re living in. For me, I want an insurance policy. I want people to see me make a mistake and say like, look, I know he made a mistake, but I’ve seen this dude for two years, I know who he is, I know he’s a good person, I know he has the right intentions. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt. And social media is one way to have that insurance policy where people see you, know you, and trust you, and they’re going to give you the benefit of the doubt when you inevitably make a mistake. And one last thing I’d say there is a big part of my strategy, I’m very open and upfront and vulnerable about all of the mistakes that I make building a company. Like, we all know how hard this is. No matter what you’re doing, if you’re building a company, you’re going to just screw up constantly. So I try to be open and honest of like, yeah, I’m making tons of mistakes. Here’s what I made last week and what I learned from it. That’s really true to who I am as a person. But that’s also a way to build up that insurance of like, I know in the next year I’ll make some major mistake. And I want to be in that habit of sharing about it. Yeah, I really messed up with this person. I wish I would have done it this way. This is what I learned. So those are the three ways – activating your network, building up that insurance, and then being that thought leader in your industry.
Alex Bridgeman: So you mentioned addressing mistakes and sharing learnings and things that- lessons you’ve learned over time as a CEO and educating your audience. But how far should you describe mistakes? So I could imagine a CEO saying we had to let this person go. It was a bad fit. Our hiring process wasn’t good for some reason. They didn’t fit with the team. This is what happened. This is my mistake. I’d be hesitant as a CEO to share that and name somebody and describe too much about the ongoings of my own company knowing that my employees might read it, customers might read it, prospective acquirers or investors or board members, like a lot of people could read that message. So how descriptive or how much depth should someone share about the ongoings of their company on LinkedIn? Like what kind of- or any social platform for that matter.
Justin Nassiri: I think about a couple of things. One is relevance. And then a second one is some history. So by relevance, I see a lot of people on social media where they’ll open up about something of like, I’m trying to think of an example that wouldn’t be triggering, but one person shared something very intimate about their mental health. And my judgment, and I think a lot of people’s, was like it’s great to share that, but it just feels like you’re sharing that to get likes. Like it doesn’t feel good. It just feels like this is coming out of nowhere. And it just seems like you’re really oversharing with the hope of getting attention. And so I wouldn’t recommend that. It needs to be relevant to what you’re doing and relevant to who you are. But then another one is having a little bit of age on the error. So, if you’re new to this, if let’s say, if you’ve been doing your job for 10 years, I would go back, go back to college, a mistake I made and what I learned, in high school, a mistake I made and what I learned, my first company, two companies ago, this is a mistake. So adding that age in there, to me, I think the benefit is like, hey, I learned from this mistake, and I’m applying that now. And so a potential employee or investor or client isn’t going to read it and say like, oh, man, Justin did that last week, let’s let this guy get a little bit more experience before I work with them. So I tend to kind of share mistakes, bigger mistakes that are much longer ago. Obviously, there’s a lot of legal things around like I would never share like I fired John last Tuesday and this is what I learned. There’s just a lot of liability there. But I’m trying to think of one that I might have done more recently. I shared back in November or, December, I’m like, hey, I lost a client, and this is why, and that was more recent, it was more real time. But it was trying to show openness and authenticity of like, oh, I messed this up, and we learned that we needed to change our process, and this is what I’m doing. Or I fired this vendor, and this is why, and this is what I learned and how I’m trying to be a better vendor for my clients. So I think if the magnitude of the error is large, trying to do something that’s in the distant past, and then applying some common sense of not sharing something that would get you in legal hot water or also just in general not sharing something that someone else’s business, so anonymizing it enough to protect their own privacy.
Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, I completely agree. What would you say to sharing company KPIs or revenue? There’s a lot of folks who subscribe to the idea of building their company in public. I personally think it is a more marketing tactic than anything else. But I know I would be really hesitant to share any company revenue or like specific measurable performance metrics about business. How have those more performance metrics fared on social? What’s your view of sharing in depth performance characteristics?
Justin Nassiri: I have different thoughts for information than I do metrics. So I’ll start with information. My personal perspective is on social media, I’ll tell you every secret I know about social media. I will tell you absolutely everything. I’ll give you the kitchen sink because I know how difficult this is. And while some people may go and do it themselves or have their team do it, more people are going to come to me because they’re going to realize like this guy knows what he’s talking about, and I don’t want to learn all this and stay on top of it. I’d rather just hire his team. So in information, I actually encourage most people to be very open. Like your knowledge is not the only reason your business is succeeding. It’s the process and execution, everything, your team. So be generous with the knowledge. On the KPIs, I do tend to be more conservative. So one example is, as a company, we give a percentage of our revenue every month to a nonprofit. It’s part of our commitment to trying to make the world a better place. And we talk about it publicly to try to normalize this with other leaders. So I will disclose the amount of money that we give away, but I don’t disclose what percentage of our revenue that is. That just to me feels uncomfortable to kind of be that transparent. So I just think that like with those metrics, I think most companies tend to benefit from obfuscating and making it a little bit more opaque. But you can still reveal something to make it tangible. Like in my case, we donated $1,900 last month, but that’s tangible. It’s a real number. Or I did a post where I said I spent $75,000 last year trying to become a better CEO. It was a great starting point. And then I went into great detail of every single thing that I’m doing, who I’m working with, which groups I’m a part of. So I think that you can be fairly open. But the more sensitive KPIs or maybe the more sensitive trade secrets, you don’t have to disclose that.
Alex Bridgeman: You mentioned things you learned on being a better CEO or trying to improve your skills as a CEO. Executive Presence isn’t your first company as a founder. I would love to hear some of the ways that you’re building Executive Presence that maybe tactically are different than how you build Captivate and StoryBox. I would just love to hear like lessons learned from founding those two companies and how they’re applied today or how your style has changed as a result.
Justin Nassiri: Yeah, well, the Instagram of my career path is that I raised 3 million for my first company from Eric Schmidt from Google and sold StoryBox and sold Captivate. And the behind the scenes truth is it was 10 years of entrepreneurial failure. Neither of those companies was nearly the success I wanted it to be. And I share that, my intention of sharing that with your listeners is, I am so grateful for Executive Presence because on a weekly basis, legitimately, there are decisions I’m making where I’m thinking back to how I’ve messed this up so much in the last 10 years, where I’ve done 100 mistakes. And then with Executive Presence, I’m trying to make the right decision. And so all of those failures, all of those scars translate into making what feels like a much better decision. And so, certainly that’s with team. My team at Captivate was 100% contractors. And that’s because I thought I wasn’t a great manager. And so I thought, if I’m not a great manager, let me find people who I can easily exchange them out and don’t have to manage them. And I can just, it’s just much more of a transactional relationship. Whereas my team at Executive Presence is all full time. We have some contractors, but the vast majority is full time. And so that was just learning that I can manage the right team. There’s benefits to having people bought in and having people thinking about things and how much ownership they have in the decisions they make. So that’s certainly one thing that’s changed. A second thing is my first company StoryBox, I really do think my intention was right. I really wanted to make people happy. And that unfortunately led me in this spiral of internal politics and just really dysfunctional teams. And with Executive Presence, I think about it every single week of just really staying focused on growth. If the company is growing, everyone’s going to be happy, everyone’s going to win. And really spending a lot more of my time now facing externally growing the company than internally trying to bend over backwards to make people happy. And there’s a lot we could talk about there. But a lot of it’s just trying to be really direct. It’s one of our company values. In the past, I would say what I think people wanted to hear, or I would try to be a chameleon to make everyone happy. And obviously, that doesn’t work. And a decade later, I’m much more comfortable being direct and just saying, hey, this is who we are, what we do, how I lead. If that’s not a great fit, no hard feelings, but don’t join us as a client or as a team member. So a lot of that just comes from these failures. I’m trying to think of any other quick anecdotes there. I think another one is I’m much more numbers oriented than I was in my first company. And I’m every day looking at different numbers, right now, for me and my role much more around sales than anything else. But the people who run our client operations are the same way with client metrics. And I don’t think I appreciated that in my first company, I looked at numbers because everyone said they were important, but I didn’t really know what to look at. And I think that that’s just a matter of having enough repetitions and having enough conversations with other business owners that I’ve started to develop, okay, what’s the most meaningful data and also evolving that. Honestly, each month it is changing. So, last week, I met with a friend who’s a sales expert. And as a result, all of the sales numbers I’ve looked at all year are about to change. We’re going to go one step deeper. And it’s just kind of- one thing I wish I knew is that that’s the nature of data. We looked at client- we looked at our retention rates, and we had retention data. And that was a huge step forward. And then we realized, oh, we actually need to look at this in different cohorts. Well, let’s look at our retention rates based on when someone signed, let’s look at our retention rate based on company size, and that leads to an insight. So it’s just kind of like data is always evolving. It’s just kind of meant to ask questions. And as you ask those questions, you go one layer deeper. So I really messed that up in my first two companies, but something I’m trying to do differently now.
Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, it sounds like sales is a big focus, something that’s maybe grown in focus. Would you say that’s true, that with your third company, sales is a much larger part of your mind share than earlier?
Justin Nassiri: It’s always been important. I would say the thing that changed most is last year I brought on Erin from my team, she has her MBA from Stanford, she was working at Boston Consulting Group, she worked at a very big company in a prominent role. And she came on and within a month got me out of company operations. And that freed me up for the first time in our company to really focus on sales. And so that was a learning as well, like, wow, when I hire someone who’s really good, it makes such a big difference. And that’s given me the breathing room to really focus on sales in a long time. So I feel like sales has always been something that I’m devoting time to. But this year is really the first year where I’ve had a team to support me where I could just really focus on sales exclusively. And three months from now, that likely won’t be the case because I’ll hire people to take that on. And then I can get more into the CEO role. But anyone who’s part of a growing team knows that the CEO tends to wear a lot of hats and does the job until he or she finds the right person to replace them. You’re just kind of catching me at a point where I’ve been liberated to focus on sales until I hire myself out of that position.
Alex Bridgeman: Gotcha. That makes sense. One thing that a lot of CEOs, every great CEO I know learns at some point is that hiring great people solves a lot of problems. Are there any reliable strategies or tactics or things that you do to help hire and attract great people?
Justin Nassiri: I like to- I don’t know the right way to phrase this, but the way I think of it currently is culture as a weapon. And I record most of our company meetings, and I put excerpts of them on YouTube and on LinkedIn because I do feel like we’ve got a great culture. And I want to not just say that, I want to show what that looks like. So, some things that I think about that just there’s no gimmick here, I just feel like this is the right thing to do, and so I’m trying to build a company in that way. We started with unlimited paid time off. I moved away from that because I found that there’s a lot of research that supports that people take less vacation when that’s the case. And then our lawyer also said there’s some financial liability there. So we looked around, most companies in our stage gave two weeks of vacation. So we give three weeks of paid time off, in addition to sick time and a generous holiday schedule. And there was no calculus there, there was no spreadsheet. It was literally my belief that happy cows produce good milk. I want to be fully charged, I want to have a great family life, I want to have a great personal life. That makes me a better businessperson, not a worse one. And so that was one of the things of just a generous policy. And we are trying to do it in a way where like I just got back from a week of vacation two weeks ago. I was off email, I was off Slack, my team could call me or text me, but they never did. And so I really want vacation time to be a hard unplug. And so that’s one of our things. As I already mentioned, we give a percentage of our profit, of our revenue to charity each month. We have salary transparency internally, so everyone on the team knows what I make, everyone knows what everyone else makes. That might make things more difficult for me. But I feel like when things are kept secret, there’s more likely that they’re things go wrong or that things are abused, or there’s discrimination or other things. So we want to be transparent in our salaries. So those are a couple things. Another one is we just started, so this month in May, or this quarter in q2, we’re bringing in a handful of different financial advisors to talk about personal finance. And that’s because one thing that keeps me up at night is the fear that one day I may have to lay people off, and I want them to be financially bulletproof. And so I also want them, as they’re earning more, I want them to put that money to use in a way that supports their goals. And so, we’re going to do two or three different trainings in q2 just to get them financially ready as a human being. So these are just little things. But I try to talk about this on LinkedIn because it’s aligned with my values. I’m hoping that other CEOs do this too. But it’s a great way to broadcast for people who might work for us. This is what our culture is like. And there’s a lot of great people that wouldn’t like those things. So it’s better for them to know upfront, and so if they can do their homework beforehand and realize this is an organization I don’t like, it’s much better that they know that and we know that up front.
Alex Bridgeman: You talked about that you spending time with your family and going on vacation and earlier in our conversation you mentioned meditation and that these things make you a better CEO, not worse. And I think it’s kind of a natural tendency of high performing or high achieving people to spend as much time as possible working and focusing on the project at hand. Can you talk about trying to find that time in your schedule, your life to spend time on things other than work and how that reciprocates and creates a flywheel between the two sides of your life?
Justin Nassiri: The first thing that I’ll share is it’s really, really difficult for me and I talked about this on LinkedIn recently, where I talked about how much I resent taking my son to school. I used to- I have a four year old son and a four month old daughter, and I’m just a morning person. I used to get into the office at 5:30 or 6, and by 8am, I had everything important done for the day before most people were starting. And that’s just not a reality for me. I get up, I get my son fed, I get him ready, we bike to school together. And so there is still a large part of me that says, like, man, I should be sending emails, I should be doing sales, I should be doing all of these things. But when I’m able, on those rare occasions, I’m able to relax that part of myself and I enjoy the bike to school with my son, and we chat, and we laugh, and we talk about things, I realize I’m showing up to my office with a smile on my face. I’m actually in a good mood. I’m in a great space. And I’m realizing that the more that I am in a great space, the more creative I am, the more patient of a leader I am, the more curious I am, like all of these things benefit my company. So it is a growing progress for me to trust myself, to trust that I don’t need to be working 19 hours a day, which I did for my first company. And when I was doing that, I was so depleted all the time. I wasn’t doing my best work. I’m a big believer that entrepreneurs are artists, like I think we are creating new things. And I think to be able to create and to do our best highest impact work, we need to be in a good spot. And so for me, some of those things that helped me get in a good spot is reading and meditating and having time with my wife and having time with my kids, having time outside, and having movement and exercise. And that’s just part of my life now. But I will also say that my goal is I bike my son to school because that gets me 20 to 30 minutes of exercise a day. And the only way I can do that consistently is if it’s part of my commute. And so that’s what I do. Or on the weekend, my wife has been great at getting me comfortable doing 10 minutes on the exercise bike. And my former athletic self says like, what a waste? If it’s not an hour, why do it? But no, physical is movement is important and 10 minutes is great. I used to go on 10 day silent meditation retreats; my goal is 10 minutes of meditation, which I would have scoffed at before, but 10 minutes is better than nothing. And so I feel like some of this balance is just realizing like I would love to meditate for 30 minutes a day. That’s not my reality right now. I would love to exercise for an hour a day. That’s not my reality. So just being honest about what makes me happy. But also being realistic that I might not meditate for 5 hours in a day, but 10 minutes is better than nothing.
Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, I agree with that. And it seems like that time away from work means that your time at work has to be focused on the most important things and quality over quantity with the activities and tasks that you’re doing. And I wonder and I’m curious if this is true in your case, but I would wonder also if that means or if that gives permission to other high achievers on your team to focus on the quality of your work, rather than just the simple number of hours that you’re working every week. And I think it’s natural for us to try to prove our value on a team by working really hard and showing people that you’re focused and dedicated, and often number of hours worked is part of that equation. But do you think that’s had an effect on your team of giving folks permission to have time away from work but also kind of almost like a nudge to focus on the highest quality work while they’re at work?
Justin Nassiri: It’s interesting because I do, I absolutely agree with that. And I also think that that’s part of the power of vacation is giving people more responsibility and giving them trust and letting them fill in your shoes for a little while, provided that you set them up to do that well. But I mentioned Erin, who I brought on who got me out of the day to day operations, and now we’re talking about hiring someone to get her out of that so she can be in her zone of genius. So I feel like that’s one thing I’m trying to work on as a leader is, as we have more capital to invest in our team, how can we elevate people to do their highest and best work. Not only does that lead to fulfillment and retention, but just a better outcome. And so, we brought on an editor and that freed us up to do other things. We brought on more writers. And just everyone we bring on, if they’re really good, it frees up each of us to stop having 10 plates spinning and say, okay, this is the one that matters. And I believe that our team benefits by having a craftsman mindset of just really being the best at what we do. Right now, for me, that’s sales, which I don’t honestly love and I’m not honestly that great at. I’m okay at it. And I celebrate the day when I can hire a salesperson where that is their craft, and they can really focus on that. And then that frees me up to focus more on growing our team and leading and being the spokesperson for us. So I just think that as we grow as companies, the goal for me is to give people more and more time to focus on that thing that they’re really gifted and talented to do much better than me or anyone else on the team. And then that kind of reduces the collective strain on the company organization to have people more and more in their zone of genius.
Alex Bridgeman: I love that. Bringing the conversation to a close, what’s a strongly held belief that you’ve switched your mind on?
Justin Nassiri: This one I thought about beforehand because I know you ask this of all your guests. The first thing that came up for me is that I’m not a good manager. And I’ll give you some context that I was in the Navy, I was leading people, and I wrote my business school applications about being a great manager. And then with my first company, I made so many mistakes, I revised them, and I said, you know what, I’m not a great manager. And then when I went on to Captivate, I took that belief and only worked with contractors. And it’s only recently with Executive Presence that I’m realizing I’m a good manager, but I have to be managing the right people. And so I brought on people who are very autonomous and very comfortable with ambiguity and okay not having a ton of direct feedback from me all the time. And those are people that I can manage really well. But I didn’t know that for my first company. And therefore, I thought I wasn’t a good manager, when instead it was I wasn’t hiring the people who are right for me to manage. Nothing against them. Nothing against me. But it just wasn’t the right flavor that works for my unique personality.
Alex Bridgeman: I love that. What’s the best business you’ve ever seen?
Justin Nassiri: I’ve thought about this one, too. And this is such a tough question. But as an outdoor enthusiast, I’d have to say Patagonia. I just love that they really seem like a company aligned with their values. And one of their values is environmental sustainability. And so if you go into a Patagonia shop, they will repair or help you repair any gear that you have. And that means that really people buy less because they’re getting more value from their stuff. But I’ll tell you, I buy more Patagonia stuff because I love that they’re putting their money where their mouth is. And they’re really trying to make the outdoors clean and safe, which is a big value of mine. So I just really admire that, to me, I’m sure there’s a business logic behind it, but to me, it seems like they’re putting their values before their profit. And I feel like we vote with our dollars. And I put a lot of my dollar votes towards Patagonia because I just think that they are living in alignment with their values.
Alex Bridgeman: That’s fantastic. I love that answer. Thank you so much for sharing your time today on the podcast. It’s great to chat with you. I love learning about all things LinkedIn. There’s a lot more depth than I realized. So thank you for illuminating more of that and also for sharing some of the lessons you’ve learned with being on your third company now. There’s lots of small details I’m sure we could dive into further, but this is a great overview for things we can learn from being a good CEO.
Justin Nassiri: Thank you, and thank you for the time, and also you’re a great interviewer. I appreciate you drawing out a lot of questions I hadn’t thought about before, so appreciate that too.