Chris Ronzio built a video production company that sold over $3 million in live event videos before he reached the age of 25. Now, he helps other entrepreneurs organize their operational chaos.
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Product Hunt – Chris’ small business resource
Expert Secrets – Chris’ Top Business Book
Trainual.com – Chris’ website
Connect with Chris on Instagram
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3 Value Bombs
1) Don’t get caught up in looking for tools to use – it’s always the process that comes first.
2) Prepare ahead and put your backups in place.
3) Focus on the job that needs to be done.
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(click the time stamp to jump directly to that point in the episode.)
[00:50] – Chris’ business career started when he was just 14 years old
[00:55] – He had a video production company that he started in high school
[01:25] – In college, Chris emailed the US Figure Skating team and ended up covering their events
[01:59] – 2 years later, they were the national sponsor for US Figure Skating and did all their videos up to the olympics
[02:18] – In 2009, he took a big leap and left the company
[02:32] – He sold the business in 2012
[03:09] – His area of expertise is in simplifying complicated processes in any industry
[03:45] – Share something we don’t know about your area of expertise that as Entrepreneurs, we probably should: Processes are what you do, and systems are the tools you use. The tool doesn’t come first, it’s always the process
[05:17] – Worst Entrepreneurial Moment: In 2011, right before Christmas, Chris’ production company was scheduled to cover a holiday show in California. At 10pm the night before, his crew sent him a message saying they found a better gig and they wouldn’t be continuing with the show. Chris had to drive to California, buy cameras, and cover the show himself. At the show, he discovered that the battery packs on the cameras were not charged and the audio connection from the board didn’t work
[06:32] – You need to have back ups!
[06:48] – JLD talks about his recordings and how they are backed up with a generator and a separate battery pack
[07:59] – Have more people trained than what you need
[08:18] – “Always prepare in advance”
[09:11] – Entrepreneurial AH-HA Moment: In college, Chris interned for a management consulting firm that pioneered the idea of disruptive innovation. His ah-ha moment was understanding the job to be done by the service you’re providing. Because of that, live streaming became his company’s game-changer
[11:52] – The concept of what needs to be done changed the trajectory of his company
[12:32] – His company’s shoots became timeless
[18:33] – The Lightning Round
- What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur? – “Homework”
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? – “Build your business around your life”
- What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success? – “I use this one-task app called Todoist”
- Share an internet resource, like Evernote, with Fire Nation – Product Hunt
- If you could recommend one book to our listeners, what would it be and why? – Expert Secrets – “it explains that everyone is an expert at something and everyone should be a marketer and understand how to get that out in the world”
[20:35] – “Make a list of everything you do… and that’s your starting place”
Chris: Absolutely! Let’s do it.
Interviewer: Yes! Chris is the founder of trainual.com, a platform for entrepreneurs to get their business out of their brain by documenting and delegating the process in their company. Chris, take a minute, fill in some gaps from that intro and give us just a little glimpse of your personal life.
Chris: Perfect. So, my business career actually started when I was about 14 years old. I was a high school kid in Massachusetts and I had a video production company that did youth sporting events before you could shoot them with a smartphone or even a home video camera. We were the guys with the HUGE over-the-shoulder cameras in the audience, so it started with just high school sports and talent shows at my high school. Then it was cheerleading and dance competitions. Then I had a girlfriend in high school that was a figure skater and she said figure skaters spend so much money on their ice time and their coaches and their travel and their skates that they would love videos and we should do that.
So, when I finally got into college I took a chance and sent an email to U.S. Figure Skating saying, hey, I’m a kid and I’d love to learn about how to get involved with your events and they misunderstood my email and put me on the RFP list. So, I guess this request for proposal and I spent all week putting together a proposal as if I have some huge video company with tons of equipment and crews. We ended up winning the event. It was this big championship in Virginia. So, I rented a Budget truck and packed all my roommates into a van and we drove to Virginia and shot this event and it went awesome.
So, two years later we ended up being the U.S. Figure Skating National Sponsors. We did all their video work up until the Olympics and we did some other huge events like the halftime show at the NFL Pro Bowl and synchronized swimming and equestrian events with horses and anything people would spend money on. So, that story kind of had two pivotal moments. First, in 2009, I took a big leap and moved away from the company. I wanted to live out west so I moved to Arizona and didn’t want to be in the day-to-day anymore and that was huge. We ended up with about 300 camera operators around the country.
The next was in 2012 when I decided to hand the business over to a president and entirely replaced myself in the company. So, I took six months, trained him on everything he needed to know, and a year later was able to sell the business. So, on a personal note, my girlfriend that recommended the figure skating is now my wife. We’ve been together 15 years and we’ve got our second child on the way next month.
Interviewer: Wow! So, you have had quite the journey in your entrepreneurial career thus far. What would you say today is your current area of expertise? What is that?
Chris: So, I really took this for granted in my last business and I think we all do with our unique abilities, but I found out when I started consulting that I had this ability to simplify really complicated processes in any industry. So, I was a consultant. I worked with about 140 different companies and ended up investing in eight of them and I saw that understanding process and step-by-step processes is really industry-agnostic as long as you ask the right questions. I had this ability to lay out a step-by-step process to make it consistent and really efficient.
Interviewer: So, what do we know about that process, about laying things out? What’s something that you see us as entrepreneurs that don’t have that skillsets as something that we probably should learn?
Chris: Well, everybody talks about systems and processes. That’s like a huge buzzword and I really think it’s the other way around because your process is what you’re doing and your system is just the tools that you use to make it happen, so it’s processes and systems. Whatever you’re doing you already have a process from Day 1 of doing it, whether you’ve taken the time to write it down or develop a system or not, you have a process. So, people ask me what tools should I use for this or that? You know, the tool doesn’t come first. The process comes first. It’s like you don’t build a highway just on a whim from Point A to B.
It starts with the most efficient path that starts as – you know, in Boston there were cow paths, I think, that turned into highways. But it’s, you know, first a trail through the woods then maybe you throw down some gravel or pave it and eventually it’s a highway. So, don’t worry so much about the system but document your step-by-step process.
Interviewer: Process is what you are doing, Fire Nation. Remember that. And, Chris, I thought you were going the way of the Big Dig in Boston for a second there, which probably would have been a whole different conversation.
Chris: Well, you know, honestly, the Big Dig is a great example because it never stops.
Interviewer: It really is.
Chris: And your process never stops evolving. It’s never DONE. People say, oh, as soon as I have my process perfect then I’ll write it down but your process will never be perfect. It’s always changing.
Interviewer: So, speaking of never being perfect, we’re human beings. We’re far from perfect and you’ve had some big homeruns, Chris. We’ve talked about them. Let’s talk about what you consider your worst entrepreneurial moment today. What was your biggest mistake, your biggest swing in the mess? What was that story?
Chris: I love that question. I actually think as an entrepreneur the worst moments turn into the best moments because when something is the worst it gets all of our focus and attention until it becomes something great. So, I was thinking through examples of this and if I go back to 2011 – it was right before Christmas. I had the video production company. We were scheduled to cover this little holiday show in Culver City, California, and at 10:00 p.m. before the night of the show the crew sends me a message that they found a better gig, a better paying gig, and they weren’t going to do it, so I was in a tough situation.
So, I did the only thing a business owner would do and I got in my car and I drove to California in six hours and then slept, you know, maybe two hours until I could wake up and stand at the front door of a rental shop and try to get a camera. By the time I got all the gear and got to the show I found out the battery packs weren’t working. They hadn’t been charged. The audio connection from the board didn’t work and we were missing performances, which as an owner of a video company for youth memories that’s like the worst thing you can do.
So, when I finally got it up and running, I remember standing there and, you know, there are four and five-year olds tripping over themselves on the ice and I was like how did I get here in my life that this is what I’m doing as the owner of this company? But it really taught me the value of having backups for your backups for your backups and it was funny as we were preparing for this show you said something about, you know, if you can record, the power is not great in Puerto Rico –
Chris: You’ve learned this lesson backups for backups and that was one thing I got out of that experience.
Interviewer: Yeah, I am here in Puerto Rico, you know, 100 days plus after Hurricane Maria ends, I’m more prepared than I’ve ever been. I mean, now you know, yes, we do have power back most of the time but now I have a generator that can run my whole house. Now I have my ENTIRE recording setup hooked up to a separate battery pack so if the power goes out and the generator fails then there’s a battery pack. While I’m recording with you now, you know, I’m recording into Adobe Audition and into another thing called Ecamm Call Recorder so you just HAVE to have the redundancies, Fire Nation. When it matters, it matters, and have the systems, have the processes.
As Chris would say, have the processes, have the systems, make things happen and make sure you have that focus on your systems, your redundancy because, man, the worst thing that can happen is for you to do something that you’re SO proud of and SO excited about and then it all goes up into a ball of smoke. So, Chris, that was my big takeaway. You’ve already kind of given one good takeaway but in just like a sentence or two, what do you want to make sure our listeners get from your worst moment?
Chris: So, I would say backups for backups for backups are important but the other big takeaway I got out of that was that experience really kickstarted for us having more people trained than we needed. So, if that crew canceled at 10:00 p.m. the night before I should have had a backup crew or more than enough crews in the area that I could just text or call. But at that time the business was running so lean that we didn’t have the luxury of being able to fail or the luxury of those situations. So, I would say always prepare in advance but you can train more people than you need and have those people just on a bench waiting for when those situations come up.
Interviewer: Yeah, not to scare you, Fire Nation, but as Chris was just talking I just remembered that I also have Badboys running, which is like a form of carbonite, which is backing up everything. Oh, I also have Dropbox running and, oh, by the way, I have an external terabyte hard drive that every couple of days I plug in that downloads everything on my computer. So, you know, it doesn’t have to have happen Day 1but just always be saying, how can I add another layer of security to what I’m doing? You know, start with one layer and over time go to two, then go to four, and then where you’re at is where you’re going to be at a very safe place. So, Chris, let’s shift and talk about one of the greatest ideas that you’ve had to date. Take us to one of those aha moments. Tell us that story.
Chris: Okay, so when I was in college, I interned for a few months at this management consulting firm and they had pioneered the idea of Disruptive Innovation, if you’ve heard of that… there’s a book, Disrupter or Innovator’s Solution or Innovator’s Dilemma. That was them. There was this Harvard Business School professor that cofounded the group and they worked with these Fortune 500 companies to just disrupt markets and create cool products. So, there’s this concept in that philosophy called jobs to be done and this always stood out to me. Classic example is a drill.
If you set out to compete in the drill market and you just wanted to make a better drill, you might just try to make a shinier, more pointier drill bit, or a bigger battery but if you really understand the job to be done by the drill maybe it’s to make a hole or maybe it’s to hang a picture or something like that. So, if you set out to make a better way to do that job, maybe you end up with like a 3M Command hook, which is what happened. So really understanding the job to be done by the service you’re providing is a huge lesson that was a turning point in my video business.
So, for my company, people weren’t purchasing videos from us because they wanted this epic cinematic experience in their living room. They just wanted to share these memories with their family, so early on when we started I remember we would edit these videos and they would have like a Puff Daddy song at the beginning and then fire explosions and then fancy Mistral font and all this kind of stuff, you know, because we thought we need to be creative. But what people really wanted was just great quality video and an easy way to share. Once we understood that we just focused all of our effort on how can we shoot HD video and get it to people in ten minutes or less and livestream it when possible? That was a big gamechanger for the business.
Interviewer: So, Fire Nation, you need to see what AREN’T people doing in your business that if somebody was doing that thing, well, wow, that could be a huge opportunity. I mean, Chris just went through this opportunity that he saw that other people weren’t stepping into and he stepped into that void. We all have that in our industries and our niches. For me it was the daily show. Nobody was doing that seven-day-a-week show. You’ve heard it all before but think about it for your industry. What is that thing? What is that thing that nobody is doing that if you step up and start servicing that one thing, then that person is probably not just going to go to you for that one thing. They’re going to say, well, why don’t I just shift all of my business over? So, it’s not just going to be for that one thing but they’re just going to want to keep everything under one roof. Boom, you have that client and ALL of their services! So, Chris, let’s kind of maybe before we break into the next topic here, I want to have YOU say what is one thing that really stuck out to you when you made this shift and you had this idea and you saw its execution?
Chris: For me, understanding that job to be done changed the trajectory of the company because I had a filter I could run every decision through. You know, when we were purchasing new cameras it was about the speed of how quickly we could get the footage off the camera, so we started buying memory stick cameras. It wasn’t necessarily about how we could edit the best and our workflow. We weren’t investing in expensive editing programs. We were investing in hardware that, you know, you could plug straight from a camera into a USB stick so people could walk out with files without having to wait. So, every decision in the business changed as a result of understanding what we were doing.
The other thing is that it was timeless. You know, when I look back on the videos from 2001 or something, everything looks so dated because it’s these crappy animations and fonts that don’t exist anymore, you know. But when all we did was focus on shooting the highest quality, pure footage available, that stuff still looks great. So, you know, there’s probably things that are people are doing that they could just cut away the fat and focus on the job to be done. It will be a great filter for every decision and their service will be more timeless.
Interviewer: So, there’s a Netflix, or visual, I was just actually watching this morning. It’s an eight-part series so there are eight episodes on quote unquote our favorite toys. It was toys from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. So, the go through Star Wars. They go through Barbie. They go through He-Man and that’s actually the episode I’m on right now is the He-Man episode. But it’s so funny to go back and watch stuff that just was SO amazing to us then, you know, and we look back at it now and, like, what would a child do today if you handed them a 2D cutout of a Barbie doll, which is how it started? Like, it’s just crazy to think, Fire Nation, the evolution that happened, so just recognize what’s awesome today is not going to be awesome tomorrow. So, don’t think that whoever is awesome is also going to be awesome tomorrow. Why not get ahead of the curve? Why not just do something that’s not just tomorrow but that’s next month, next year? Get ahead of that. Be cutting edge. Now, Chris, fast-forwarding to today for YOU, what are you most excited about? What are YOU working on that’s cutting edge?
Chris: Definitely my newest company. You mentioned this in the intro but trainual.com, like a training manual. So, I saw one thing over and over again as I was working with businesses while I was consulting and that’s that growing a business is actually really simple if you don’t get caught up in doing the work. Most entrepreneurs start off with a thousand hats and the hardest part is delegating and removing those hats. So, what I saw was the most successful companies were just really good at figuring out how to do something one process at a time and how to do it consistently and then how to document that thing in a way they could explain it to someone else and then how to delegate that thing so it becomes someone else’s responsibility, and that’s it.
But most people, most business owners, really struggle with that and it’s something you have to learn over time. Then the way that most people do it today is really bad. Like, maybe it’s through email or Google Docs or Evernote or you’ve got Dropbox but it’s inconsistent. There’s no accountability. It’s hard to organize. So, that’s why we built Trainual because we wanted a way for entrepreneurs to have a platform that they could just get their businesses out of their brain, get that tribal knowledge that exists because you already have processes, even if you haven’t written them down. Get that out of your brain, organize it into roles in your company and then grow as you delegate.
Interviewer: And where can Fire Nation find out more?
Chris: So, they can look – we set up a special page, trainual.com back/fire and we’ve actually got a special offer on there as well. It’s normally just a two-week free trial and we’ve extended that to two months for Fire Nation because we really want as many people to get on this as possible to be able to expand their businesses as they document.
Interviewer: Fire Nation, exciting times. Take action! We’re about to enter the Lightning Round so don’t go anywhere. Chris, don’t go anywhere. Fire Nation, we’re going to get be back when we get back on thanking our sponsors. Chris, are you ready to rock the Lightning Rounds?
Chris: Yes, let’s do it.
Interviewer: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Chris: So, remember, I was in high school so I would say homework because I had to choose between homework and making money on my business and homework always turned into right before classwork. But I think that taught me how to be efficient and manage my time.
Interviewer: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Chris: Build your business around your life, not the other way around. If you don’t like something, change it and don’t complain about it.
Interviewer: What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?
Chris: So, I use this one-task app called Todoist. Everyone’s probably heard of it but the habit is to put anything that pops into your head into Todoist or into your task list in ONE place. I’ve been doing this for years and, actually, I just printed off a list of 1,300 things that I’ve accomplished this year and it’s amazing to look back on that. Whether it’s personal or business, it all goes into one bucket and stops things from floating around in your head.
Interviewer: My favorite is WorkFlowy and I have to back that up to drop off because if I lost WorkFlowy I don’t know what I would do. Recommend one internet resource besides Todoist.
Chris: Product Hunt. If you ever think there has got to be a better way to do this, there is. There is always a better way to do everything and there will always be a better way. It’s impossible to keep up, so if you recognize some acute pain in your business, go to producthunt.com. Search for it and you’ll probably find a dozen apps or tools to fix it.
Interviewer Recommend one book and share why.
Chris: I always recommend the book I’m currently reading, which right now is Expert Secrets by Russell Brunson and I think why I like it so much is it explains that everyone is an expert at something and everyone should be a marketer and understand how to get that out to the world. I always thought of myself as an operations guy but even though my expertise is in process, if I’m not marketing then no one knows about the thing I’m good at.
Interviewer: Chris, I want to end today on fire, brother, with you giving us one parting piece of guidance, the best way that we can connect with you, and then we’ll say goodbye.
Chris: Simple thing… make a list of everything you do. When I turned my company over to the president before I sold it, it was a six-month process but it started with an hour of me making a rough draft of everything I was responsible for and that’s something anyone can do. So, if you ever aspire to grow within your company make a list of what you do and that’s your starting place. If anyone wants to connect with me, I spend most of my time on Instagram @chrisronzio or you can check out triainual.com.
Interviewer: Fire Nation, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with and, hello, you’ve been hanging out with C.R. and J.L.D. today so keep up the heat and head on over to eofire.com. Just type Chris in the search bar and his show notes page will pop up with everything that we’ve been talking about today. These are the best show notes in the biz, timestamps, links galore. Chris, thank you for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today. For that we salute you and we’ll catch you on the flipside.
Chris: Thanks so much.
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