Laura Gassner Otting 1.21.21
12:55PM Jan 24, 2021
Let's go well couldn't make more marbles. My name is Brad Hart. And today I am really excited to introduce you to somebody really wonderful. This is Laura Gassner otting. And she is up in Massachusetts. She's a former political amazingness person, she'll tell you all about that. That's not my field. But she has made a transition into a different kind of life that's more fulfilling for her. And since that's very, very much akin to my own story, I just felt such a, you know, a kinship. Honestly, with with Laura The first time I heard her on clubhouse, we've been moderating rooms together, I was like, you got to come on and tell your story to the Marvel makers and what you learned in this process, from building this company to selling it your employees to now what you're doing today. So welcome, Laura, to the show, are so excited to have you.
I'm really excited to be here.
And we actually had a really fun conversation before the interview, because we had so many internet troubles. But now that we're here, we got to talk about rowing. I want to hear about that. And I would love to just ground everybody in your quick story. If you want to take three to five minutes and just share some of the ups and downs and left's and rights and all the things in between. We appreciate it. So the floor is yours.
Yeah, absolutely. I love it. And I love that you say ups and downs and left's and rights because I spent 20 years doing executive search, interviewing people and finding out from them exactly why they do the work they do and what makes it interesting to them. And there's always some story behind the story. And I found that the only interesting people in fact, you know, the best people that I spoke to, were the ones that had left's and rights and u turns and who didn't have the straight line path. So for me, My story starts off being this idealistic young woman who thought she was gonna grow up to be the first US Senator, democratic senator from the great state of Florida. PS, that job is still available. So you know, Florida get on it. But I thought that I was going to be the first one. And so I went to law school, because that's where all the politicians came from at the time. And then I got to law school. And I was like, I've made this huge mistake, I don't belong here. I don't want to be here on I want to be one of these people. And I started doing what most people do when they're realizing that they're sort of in a bad place in their life, which is I started dating a guy who was terrible for me. But I joke around that this guy had amazing tastes, and precisely two things, the first being obviously girlfriend, and the second being unknown presidential hopefuls from tiny southern states. And he dragged me to this guy's campaign office. He was like, I'll put your back bike in the back of Iraq. z tells you everything you need to know about this guy. And we're going to go to his campaign office because kids if you're listening, that's how you found out about candidates at the time. You couldn't go on the internet, the internet didn't exist. You had to literally go to like a strip mall and go to a local office. We walked in, and there in the corner was this tiny black and white TV with this impassioned young governor from Arkansas, talking about how there's nothing that's wrong with America that can't be fixed with right with American I was like, Yes. And he said, and the solution is service community service in exchange for college tuition. And I was like, Yes. And then they said, all four principles are coming to Gainesville, where I was in law school in two weeks, do you want to volunteer? And I said, Yes. And I started volunteering on the campaign. And we got 36,000 people to show up in this tiny town. And the campaign offered me a job. And again, I said yes. And he got to the White House. So I got to the White House, and I helped create America.
And again, I know there's some Gen Z's and millennials listening. We're talking about Bill Clinton.
Yes, exactly. So I got the you know, I helped create AmeriCorps, incredible, amazing community service program, more than a million young people have served. And then after four years, I went to my boss, and I was like, Alright, ready to get back on the campaign trail? Let's go. And he said, Well, Laura, you're now 25, which means you're way too old, to do campaign work and eat cold pizza and sleep on high school gymnasium floors, but you're way too young to be the domestic policy adviser. So go talk to my friend Arnie Miller. He runs the biggest search firm in the country that does exclusively nonprofit work, we'll find you a mission driven job. You'll spend four years in a nonprofit hiding out and then you'll come back and do something big on Al Gore's campaign. And I was like, awesome. Sounds good. So I went to go talk to Arnie. And about five minutes into the conversation. I was like, Wait, you're in Boston. The guy I'm dating now who didn't drive an Iraq city is about to move to Boston. I think he's the one I should come work for you? And he said, Yeah, you should. And I was like, great. What do you do? And he was a headhunter. So I became a headhunter. And I worked for him. I spent five years learning from the best and the brightest had to do the most amazing work in the world and the most amazing people. And then I had a moment of rage, where I realized that I could do it faster and better and smarter and with more authenticity, and integrity and profit, then he was doing it. So I walked into his office, and I was like, here's the new way. And he was like, there was the door. So I had a choice. I could either stay and do things the way that he was doing them, which I found wasn't really a solution for my clients, which left me only as the problem for my clients, or I could start my own thing. So I did, and I started my own firm and I ran that for 15 years. And as you say, I sold it to the women who helped me build it and then I got asked to do a TEDx while I was in the middle of Hillary Clinton. campaign, I had no interest in doing it. I was scared out of my mind. I did it anyway, 2600 people my first public talk ever, and that talk got some attention, which got some attention, which got some attention, which then got me booked on stages where people were paying me a lot of money to speak. And I was like, all these other people have books. I should get me one of them. So I wrote the book that I'm now on book tour with limitless how to ignore everybody carve your own path and live your best life. And that's your five minutes, which brings us up to today.
I love it. And I really love working with people who have experience in politics and and you know, that that world because they have sound bites ready to go. It's perfect. You know, like, five minutes you hit it not only have to like look at the clock. It's awesome. Yeah,
So a couple quick points I want us to dig into further. So I love your whole story. I love everything about it. And that you got to work with some of the biggest campaigns, obviously, you know, Bill Clinton was a revolutionary face at the time. And everything that came out of that was, you know, changed the way America looked at itself. And you got to live through some crazy times, up and down, you know, the 1990 nine.com, boom, and bust and all that. So when I think about, you know, the times I missed because I was 15 at the time, or whatever it was, you know, I wonder? Yeah, I know, right?
I really liked you, Brad.
Thank you very much. Take my earpiece out.
We got her five minutes. But yeah, so I think about all that. And I like, I really just want to extract the lessons and the wisdom for the folks out there. So this marble making community have its entrepreneurs, its investors, its philanthropists. I'm sure at some point, one of them's gonna want to sell a company at some point, right? And ideally, you know, I asked you, Hey, did you do an Aesop? or How did it work? And you told a really fascinating story, and I thought it was just really well articulated. So I'd love to hear that story, again, about how you sold your company to the women who helped you build it.
Yeah, so I was about 10 years into running a company, I had this realization that I hadn't really learned anything new in a while. So when we launched the company, the way that executive search firms work is that they charge one third of the first year's cash compensation for any particular search that they do. And I found because I got into this work for a mission driven purpose that doing the Chief Strategy Officer of the Kellogg Foundation is a whole lot easier of a search than, say, doing a fundraising search for a local domestic violence shelter. Like it's just hard. And those organizations need the money so much more. And I just felt like, if you're working at a firm, and you're the boss, you want to incentivize your team to do the work as fast as possible for as much profit as possible. So doing the work for the big Kellogg Foundation, which I love, they were great client of ours. That got me the promotions, that got me the bonuses, and I was leaving the domestic violence shelters and the local charter schools and all these other amazing organizations to the last 5% of my energy, because they were the last 5% of my paycheck. And it just, it didn't feel right to me. And I wanted to set up a firm that was that, that, that put everybody on an even playing field. And so that's what we did. And I won't get into the details of the business model. I think that's not that's not relevant. I mean, we can but I don't think thrilled to this question. So when I started the firm, I had to be this like Moxie driven iconoclastic, there's a better way for all of my potential clients. And then about five years into it, the entire nonprofit sector started to catch on and they would ask their headhunting firms. Well, why won't you do it this way? And why are you charging us like this? And what about doing it that way? So we started to spawn competition, which is how you know, you know, you're onto something when other people start to emulate you, then five years after that. So now we're at the 10 year point, I realized, I hadn't learned anything new in a while. And I knew this I was literally going up to the elevator for a huge Titan in the hedge fund world, who I won't name but I was furiously researching him online. And I remember walking into his office, and there were like, 17 people around this giant, you know, Gordon Gekko kind of desk and looking at over the whole Central Park. And, and, and he said, Well, he goes, listen, I need to start a family foundation. And I'm getting a little older. So I want to get good health care. So I should probably get to some, you know, hospitals, and, you know, I want to get my kids in some good colleges. So I should probably get to some universities and I looked at him and I stood up and I put my hand out and I was like, You know what, it's been really great to meet you. But you've got like 16 lawyers outside the store who could just write this checks for you don't need me, thank you very much. And he was like, stopped in his tracks and everybody in his office like who stopped breathing and, and he said, Well, what would you do? And I said, Well, you know, in the in the in the research that we did on you before taking this meeting, okay, I didn't tell him I was on my phone in the elevator in the way up. I couldn't find much. research, research research. I couldn't find much about you, sir. But I did find that you have pools and all of your homes. Are you have ice skating rinks and all of your home, so we're not given to the environmental causes because ice skating rinks in the Bahamas. So you have ice skating rinks in all your homes, and you seem to be very private. So it seems to me if you care about your kids, and you care about health care if you maybe put together some sort of, I don't know, the best sports concussion research labs, partnership between universities and hospitals, and you know, pick your spot here, that would get you everything you wanted. And you wouldn't have to put your name on something big because it feels like you're a very private person. And he was like, well, that's a really good idea. Go find me somebody to do that. And I was like, What if I just find you somebody to have a longer than I don't know, three minute conversation with you to figure out your strategy of what actually matters to you and how you want to handle it. And then he was like, Yes. And then everybody in his office basically breathed out at once, and we were good to go on off to the races. And as I walked out of his office, my partner looked at me, and she was like, That was amazing. And I said, that was malpractice, I need to leave, it's time like, I'm clear, I should not think that was flying went over my skis. And if this is how I'm taking these meetings, clearly, I shouldn't be here anymore. But what it happened at the 10 year mark, is that I realized that this the nonprofit world didn't need this iconic classic person being like, you should do it a different way. They just wanted somebody who was really, really good at the work. And I was good at the work. But I was bored with the work, my team was really good at the work. And I wasn't interested in doing the deep, deep, deep work I was interested in like innovating and changing and growing. And that's not what the sector needed anymore. It's not what I needed to solve my team needed. So I said to my partner, I think I need a plan. I think maybe I should leave. And I think it's going to take some time. And I think we should try to figure this out. And that started the emotional roller coaster of the exit.
Okay, and so now, you had an opportunity to to look yourself in the eye and say, Hey, this is something that I'd love for a decade. But my heart's pounding anymore. And there's people who are better at it, they want to step up and fill. And I found this to be a lesson that shows up again, and again, with all the high performers I talked to, is if you stay stuck in a position to long no matter how high and lofty was and how much you want it at some position, you're actually screwing three people, you're screwing yourself because you're not growing, and you're not gonna get to that next level, you're screwing the person who could step into your shoes. Because you know, you're you're occupying a chair that you no longer want to occupy. And you're screwing the world because you're not stepping up and serving at a higher level. So, yes, that big catalyst for you, and how did you go about transitioning out of the company?
So that moment, that moment of walking out of that office? I was like, Oh, yeah, I got it, I gotta do something else. I haven't learned anything in a while. I'm not bringing my a game to this anymore. The people who are being served. I mean, we found the executive director of the ACLU two weeks before the Ferguson riots happened, it's important that we put the right people in these positions like it matters, like you got to get the job done ever. Yeah,
it's nuts out there,
more so now than ever, and you put the wrong person in a job, you've totally screwed their career, you've totally screwed the organization, you know, you've taken them away from the place where they would be much better, as you said, you're scrolling through people. So that for me was a really, that was like an aha moment. And so I turned to my business partner, and I was like, I need a plan. And, and she was not happy. She was not happy. Because I think, you know, when you when you tell somebody that you're going to leave it, they start going through, they start going through, like all the emotions of grief, you know, for she was in denial, she didn't believe me, this is your life. You created it, it's your baby, how could you do this? Then she was negotiating, like, what if we just created this little like, skunkworks thing on the side, and you just did that? Then she was angry with me, you know, there was a lot of feeling of rejection. I mean, there's a lot of that, that goes into it. And I got, I'm not a very emotional person. I'm sort of like a very logical person. And she's a very emotional person, which is why we were great business partners. But it didn't necessarily make us great negotiators at the exit. Now, we did one thing smartly, which is before we signed the partnership paperwork, we talked about the potential divorce before the marriage. So we at least had a process to follow. But then in the process, things unraveled, because I started getting emotional. So we did a valuation of the company. And we had a number. And I was like, Great. Okay, that seems fine. seems fair. And she said, Okay, great. That seems fine. It seems fair. But we don't have that kind of cash laying around. Like we operate to zero every year. That's the plan. Like we have a partnership, right? It was we paid all out. She said, and you're the founder, and it's a professional services company. So if we give you all this cash, and then we go into debt, and then you leave and then the founders gone if people don't hire us, we're like, we're screwed. What do we do? And I didn't have an answer to that. And the we all started getting all up in our fields about it right so like, my ego was hurt like how dare they not want to pay me I created This thing, I built this thing, I gave them a platform, I'm handing it off to them, they're, you know, they should love me for it. And they were feeling rejected and wondering why I wanted to, like take the money and run. So it was really tricky time. And, and we, you know, I found that the company, because I wanted to have maximum impact in the world. And I also had a six week old child when I started it. So I wanted to have maximum flexibility in my own life. And I didn't run it for maximum profitability, or I would have kept doing one third first year's cash compensation, but I wanted to run for enough money, right? There's like, What's the need to make money, and what's the I want to make money and in between that as the rest of your life, and so I, I ran it for maximum impact and maximum flexibility and enough profit. While I was running the company, when I started to sell it, I got all up in my head, and I attached my outcomes to maximizing profit until one day, my husband said, you know, you've never run the company for maximizing profit, while you're trying to sell it to maximize profits sell it to maximize impact you want it to exist. Everything I've ever created still exists, I'm really proud of the fact that I've built institutions and not cathedrals, I'm really proud of that fact. And, and, and I could sell it for maximum freedom, if I just got out, and I could do the next thing. And then I would make enough money. So the way that we structured the deal was initially it was like, they were gonna buy out 10% better, we're gonna buy the next 10%. And then about the next 10%, it was gonna be like a slow drip, so that they would feel steady and good and fine and comfortable. But I was unsettled with that, because I was like, I'm kind of going to be involved, I'm kind of not one foot in one foot out. And also, I'm going to be left of liability, but no control. Yeah, that's a huge problem. And I was talking to a friend of mine. And he was like, why don't you just sell to them for $1 sell to them for $1. And then it's not a taxable event for them. And you're out completely, and they just retain you as a consultant. And for that refer that retainer, they pay you a percentage of their revenue, as as long as they show even $1 of profit for the next five years. With the idea being that you that's as far back as you can really cast a shadow, I can't really say I'm responsible for their success now. But five years, yeah, I could say five years is
set in motion. So we came to an agreement, we you know, they they want 1%, I wanted 5%, we came down to 3%. Now, we figured it out, they gave me i get i got quarterly financials, I got a year in Financial Review, any number that changed up or down by 10% was highlighted in red for me. So that, you know, I know, they weren't just like paying themselves out. So they weren't going to show a profit like it was it was done very honestly, in a way that I still had skin in the game. Like I wanted to continue to promote them because I wanted them to do really well. And they still had skin in the game because you know, they wanted everything to work well. And
just a real quick, I'm just curious. Yeah, first perspective, like, what size of revenues were you dealing with? And then what type of profit margin is a company like that even have?
Oh, so we were doing several million dollars a year in that. So we were over $3 million a year in the revenues that we're doing and our profit margins were like in the you know, 30 to 40%? Because we overhead we were a completely virtual company.
Got it got. So you're still making six figures even as a consultant at that point?
Absolutely. So So here's the here's, this is the punchline of the whole thing. After three and a half years of payout I'd already made, what I would have made had they paid me if you've just handed me a check. When I walked out the door I actually made actually make 50% more than I would have. So but I just so you know. So I ended up selling it with the same reason I ran the company maximizing impact maximizing flexibility, and that again, enough profits.
Well, and it's such a great lesson, because we all have these gut feelings, especially when you know emotions are high. And there's a lot of variables and it's charged. And there's a lot of things. And when you just get really clear and like block out all the noise and really talk to people vulnerably like, hey, this doesn't feel good to me. Does it feel good to you? No. Okay, great. Well, I don't want anybody walking away with a rock in their shoe. So how do we talk this through and come up with a deal that could potentially be better for everybody. When you do that? It's like, divine intelligence has already planned it out for you. All you got to do is just listen, and it works out better than you could have imagined.
It's so true. And I'll tell you part of the divorce before the marriage agreement we had was to bring in a mediator to talk about it and we had immediate Well, yeah, it was great idea except the mediator was paid on an hourly basis. And it turns out that the more they have to mediate the more they get paid sure
that that exists everywhere.
Yes. So exactly in the same way that when I was at the old search firm, I was paid one third first year's cash comp meant that if I got a higher salary for my, the person I found for my client, my client had to pay More money that seemed to be reverse incentives. And I started a company that incentivize us completely differently. So like, the cobblers children have no shoes. So when we finally one day, I was so frustrated, I was so upset. I felt like rejected, like, how come they don't appreciate him? Why is this gonna finally just call my business partner? I'm like, this is horseshit. Like, can we just talk about this? Like, what do you want to get out of it? This is what I want to get out of it. Here's like, where I think you're strong. Here's where I think I can help. And she was like, Oh, thank you for saying that. Because I thought you were thinking completely differently, because it was just getting lost in the game of telephone.
Well, I think this is actually an opportunity. Nobody's quite addressed yet. And it could work in mediations for divorces, you know, traditional divorces or can work in, you know, business partners solutions, is mediation with an incentive on bringing everybody to an authentic, vulnerable place. So they don't feel like they have to posture hide behind lawyers, and just have a conversation and work out the terms. And when you do that, you know, everybody wins faster. Nobody, you know, runs the clock. And just, you know, because that's what the whole divorce industry, for example, is based upon. It's like, how much money can we extract from this transaction between these two people, we're in an emotional state
bonus that you pay out like if this gets closed within 30 days,
you should have got to get better mathematical formula to figure out how to compensate lawyers and mediators in order to get the deals done faster for the benefit of all the highest good for all, but there's nothing current. So it's like, how do we create a compassionately capitalists solution to a long standing problem of human dynamics? And that's a really interesting question. So I don't have the answer. But I think it's worth chatting about. So I'd love to just do a couple quick rapid fire tips or, or kind of lessons that you always love to share? Because I know you're great at sound bites for like, a few minutes. And then what I'd love to wrap up by talking about your book and where people can find you online.
Sure, sure. So should I just shoot with it with it with it?
Yeah, go crazy. All
right. I'm gonna give you the best personal and professional advice I've ever gotten in my life. And it was really hard to hear because at the time, I was building my company, I was building my family, I was involved in lots of local organism, you know, community boards, and it was this, you're just not that important. You're just not that important. And for any entrepreneurs, any CEOs who are out there who were like, Oh, my God, I'm running, I'm running, I'm running, I'm so stressed. It's because you're doing all the things that you shouldn't be doing. There are things in your life where you are that important. Figure out what those are. And then less than release the rest of them. So I asked myself four questions when anybody asked me to do anything. Number one, will this thing help me? Do I see myself on the other side of this task, this email this conversation, this sucker punch of a big cheer the bake sale? Ask, do I see myself closer to my goals than I was before? Number one, number two, will it help somebody else? It's not necessarily going to help me, but I can see how it clearly helps someone else? I'll do it. Number three, will it cause me joy? It's not going to help me it's not going to help someone else. But it's just going to be fun. You got to have some fun in your life. And then number four, and this is the most important one. should somebody else do it? Is there somebody else who was better suited, more, more qualified, more available to do it than me? And if there's the answer to that one is yes, then you're just not that important. And you can focus on the things where you are that important.
And it's such a great lesson and harkens back to what we're talking about earlier. Like if you're in a position where somebody could be doing something better, faster, stronger than you and you're not living in your strengths, and you're robbing the world. You're robbing them and you're robbing yourself.
Yeah. That's beautiful. I think that's a great place to end up. What do you think?
I think it's good.
We nailed it. It's a 30 now
I love it.
And where can people find your book? Give us a little bit of a pitch and, you know, where can they find you online?
Yes. So based on this 20 years of doing executive search, I interviewed 1000s and 1000s of people who were just miserable they were super successful in what they did, but which is why I was calling them but they all took my calls because they weren't all that happy despite all the success they weren't all that happy. So I was fascinated by the idea that success didn't equal happiness and I saw there were like a handful of people who had both and they had what I came to be understand was consonants this alignment this flow this when what you do matches the who you are and I outline the four things that go into consonants calling connection contribution and control in my book limitless How do we go How do we ignore everybody carve your own path and live your best life and it is available in hardback and paperback on Audible and on Amazon Barnes and Noble anywhere fine books are sold. I love it
beautiful and you know if you're not following LG o on all socials, I think your LG on all socials, right
I am at Hey, LG o
show on all socials, you can check her out on clubhouse remodeling rooms together. She's a total powerhouse, total badass and a heart centered leader and I'm so grateful to have you on the show today. Thank you so much, Laura. grateful to have you and on behalf of all the marble makers, thank you for taking the time.
Oh, thank you for having me. This has been so much fun and I'm so like this is the greatest benefit of all of clubhouses, getting to meet great people like you, Brad.
Thank you very much, Laura.