Ric Dragon created his dream job: learning and sharing knowledge. He authored the book Social Marketology, a deep-dive on social media and process in marketing. Ric is the Co-founder and CEO of DragonSearch, a full-service digital marketing agency providing service to wonderful businesses throughout the US.
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- Your Big Idea: Successful Entrepreneurs have One Big Idea. Follow JLD’s FREE training & you’ll discover Your Big Idea in less than an hour!
- “What I demand in all things is life, the potentiality of existence, and that’s that; we need not then ask whether it be beautiful or ugly, the feeling that whatever’s been created possesses life outweighs these two and should be the sole criterion in matters of art.” – Georg Buchner click to tweet!
- Ric gives us an overview of failure, then dives deep into a specific failure that business owners know all too well… the hiring and firing process.
Entrepreneurial AHA Moment
- As an Entrepreneur, when you realize that you are running your company based off your core values, an AHA moment of why you are doing what you do hits you like a runaway train.
- Ric has the desire to create the BEST digital marketing team in the world. Lofty goal? Yes. Achievable? Yes.
Small Business Resource
- 15Five: 15Five allows your company to surface problems, celebrate wins, discover great ideas and stay tuned in to morale.
- Google Docs: Create and share your work online and access your documents from anywhere.
- DropBox: A free service that lets you bring your photos, docs, and videos anywhere and share them easily.
- Marketing Profs: Marketing resources and strategies.
- Marketing Land: Marketing Land provides internet marketing news and analysis.
Best Business Book
- Social Marketology by Ric Dragon
- Ric’s site
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John Dumas: Hire Fire Nation and thank you for joining me for another episode of EntrepreneurOnFire.com, your daily dose of inspiration. If you enjoy this free podcast, please show your support by leaving a rating and review here at iTunes. I will make sure to give you a shout out on an upcoming showing to thank you!
John Lee Dumas: Okay. Let’s get started. I am simply electrified to introduce my guest today, Ric Dragon. Ric, are you prepared to ignite?
Ric Dragon: I am prepared to ignite.
John Lee Dumas: Awesome! Ric created his dream job, learning and sharing knowledge. He authored the book “Social Marketology,” a deep dive on social media in process and marketing. Ric is the cofounder and CEO of DragonSearch, a full service digital marketing agency providing service to wonderful businesses throughout the United States.
I’ve given Fire Nation a little overview, Ric, but why don’t you take a minute. Tell us a little bit about you personally – your age, where you’re from, etcetera. And then take another minute and give us an overview of your business.
Ric Dragon: Sure [Laughs]. I laughed because when I look back on my own life, it is rather funny. I’m a painter, an artist. I didn’t go to school for business, I didn’t go to school to be an entrepreneur. I have been a painter, and like a lot of painters, we’ve done a lot of things to make a living. That was my background. I’ve done many, many different things. I was the curator of a library, a very peculiar thing. I’ve done my share of old house restoration. I did a great many things until this whole world of computing and the Internet came along and it just filled a fabulous niche for me. It filled both my need to satisfy cabin fever and my need to just constantly learn. So that’s pretty much where I’ve come from. A little over 15 years ago, I formed a company called “Oxclove Workshop.” It did web and application development. Through those years of course, I was also doing online marketing as it was and got a chance to work with a lot of wonderful people, people like out of Grey advertising and Saatchi & Saatchi, people who really understood what we might call “old school” marketing.
Basically, I grew that into various businesses, and five years ago, I was invited to start this business, DragonSearch. At the time, I was actually quite reluctant to say yes because there were just so many charlatans and snake oil salesmen involved in search marketing, as what we called it then. It’s later becoming digital marketing. And then the whole world changed. We got all these social media, and applying a lot of my background in application development and process improvement, we developed our own way of doing things.
John Lee Dumas: I love it, and it’s so great to have somebody on the show with your background. I just really am looking forward to delving into how you have kind of intermingled your past experience with what you’re currently doing right now. So let’s look forward to that, but let’s transition now into the success quote. EntrepreneurOnFire is all about the journey, and we always like to start that journey with a little motivational quote to get Fire Nation pumped up for the content that you have for us, Ric. So what do you have for us today?
Ric Dragon: Well, I hope it’s motivational. It has been for me for many years. An author by the name of Ulrike Brückner wrote that “what I demand in all things is life. The potentiality of existence. And that’s that. We need not then ask whether it be beautiful or ugly. The feeling that whatever has been created possesses life outweighs these two and should be the sole criterion in matters of art.” Now that’s an art quote, right? But I believe that the same holds true for business and all of life – that things need to have life, and that that’s more important than considerations of aesthetics.
John Lee Dumas: I love that quote. It has so much deeper meaning than most quotes do. Can you just take that and take it down to the ground level and give us a specific example of how you apply that quote or the mentality of that quote to your everyday life?
Ric Dragon: Well, I think that sometimes the alternative is it’s all about what’s beautiful and what’s elegant. Sometimes what’s beautiful and what’s elegant is lovely and fills the need, but sometimes trying to make everything lined up and perfect just isn’t right and sometimes things are messy and you’ve got to jump into the messiness and solve the problem, so to speak. I was watching a video yesterday of a fellow – and this goes back to aesthetics – who made cymbals. He said, “You know, it’s not a hard thing to make cymbals that sound beautiful, but it’s much more difficult to make cymbals that sound interesting.”
John Lee Dumas: So how have you actually jumped in and used this specific quote in an example in the last six months?
Ric Dragon: Oh, you put me on the spot there! Because I think it’s more like just a daily way of thinking that we’re out to do great work, we’re up to interesting work. Interesting comes into play. I’m so much more interested in things that are interesting. So our solutions for let’s say marketing at the end of the day aren’t just about what the perfect, pretty, little solution in marketing is. It’s the solution that’s really going to change lives, that’s really going to make a difference. That’s so much more interesting and compelling.
John Lee Dumas: I definitely agree with that sentiment. I apologize for putting you on the spot, Ric. I’ll only do it five or six more times in the next 20.
Ric Dragon: [Laughs] Only five or six. I’m keeping score.
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs] So Ric, let’s transition now into the next topic, which is failure. You’ve led the life of an entrepreneur, you’ve led the life of an artist. Both lives are riddled with failure on a lot of levels.
Ric Dragon: Indeed, they are.
John Lee Dumas: And we don’t need to let the word “failure” define us as entrepreneurs. In fact, we can use the words “challenges” and “obstacles” that we need to overcome. Can you take us back to some point in your journey? It truly could be as an artist or as an entrepreneur, or both, because they do intermingle at so many levels, where you failed or you just had to overcome an obstacle. Take us back to that point, Ric, and share with Fire Nation that obstacle and how you overcame it.
Ric Dragon: Sure. By the way, when I was back in the days of art school, I found that the most interesting people to hang out with were the actors. The actors were doing a lot of very interesting work around different ways of trying to break through their limitations in how they acted and they had a very, very core fundamental belief in the fact that you had to be willing to make a total ass of yourself, make a fool yourself, to make horrible mistakes in order to do great things. I have found the same to be true, that often the safe road just wasn’t going to create the fabulous results.
I’ve had, by the way, in the past 15 years, at various times concurrently, at one point I was the CEO of five different business ventures, that on top of the web and application development company we had, we found that there were a lot of distressed businesses that we could acquire totally to earn now. Meaning we didn’t even have to pay any cash out. We could sort of acquire the company and pay the seller out over time based on profits. And so we had several companies going at the same time. One of the wonderful things was the day when I could actually focus just on one business. But certainly we’ve made a ton of mistakes back then. We’ve had to make mistakes where whether it was hiring, whether it was actually accepting a piece of business, but at the end of the day, if the rationale behind those choices was furthering the big picture, it made sense. We sort of knew that there was a certain amount of risk involved and we had to take it on, but it was all calculated risk. We didn’t take risk or do stupid things or make giant mistakes for the wrong reasons. We made them for the right reasons.
John Lee Dumas: I love that sentiment about making a fool of yourself. That you need to do that to really break through your own barriers that you set for yourself and that we all set for ourselves, and that’s just such a great psychological, mental breakthrough that we can all do on a daily basis to really just stretch our limits, break ourselves down and build ourselves back up as better, stronger people. So thank you for sharing that. What I do also want you to share, Ric, is a specific failure that you’ve encountered, something where you really had to pick yourself up off your feet.
Ric Dragon: We often think perhaps even more about our failures than our successes, right? Sometimes we think more about that. I do think that I look at my failures quite a bit. Most recently, I think a lot of the failures I’ve stopped and really examined were failures where employees didn’t work out. I think in particular about a particular couple of hires I made that were total flops at the end of the day. They were flops in so much as they dispirited other people and other employees end up coming to me, “My God, what a horrible mistake!” And the mistake was based because I hired a particular person that was very interesting and I felt would move the company along on a certain point, but it sort of fit more into very niched notions that I had as opposed to getting more buy in from the whole company. So I can’t be specific with saying the name. I’m going to make up a name and say it was John. I hired John and it was a total flop.
John Lee Dumas: But I love the name John!
Ric Dragon: [Laughs]
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs]
Ric Dragon: I’ve made mistakes around that. I think hiring mistakes, when I think back on various mistakes, were probably some of the most momentous mistakes because if we hire wrong, the expense of making bad hires is tremendous, much higher than you actually ever think. If you actually ever write down the cost of a bad hire on the back of a cocktail napkin, you’ll realize, “Wow! We spent three months training that person. We didn’t make profit. We spent a good month looking for that person.” The idea of four months of that person’s salary was the cost plus X percentage of my time and staffers’ time. I guess to be like, “Wow! That was a $20,000 mistake or a $30,000 mistake.” It’s pretty big.
John Lee Dumas: And then the opportunity cost of having hired the right person and what they would have done for your company.
Ric Dragon: Exactly.
John Lee Dumas: So Ric, that’s such a valuable insight because as entrepreneurs, one of the first things that we run into when we are on our path and we’re growing a successful business is the reality that we can’t do everything and that we need to bring people on to help us leverage our time, leverage our efforts and leverage our skills. For myself, that came in the form of hiring virtual assistants. So I first hired one virtual assistant to do all my transcriptions as I couldn’t sit here and transcribe five 30 minute interviews every single week. Those take about four hours for a professional transcriptionist, and it would have taken me even longer. Then I had to hire a social media virtual assistant because I couldn’t spend all my time on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Although it’s extremely important to have a great presence there, my focus had to be in producing the best quality podcast with the best quality interviewees such as yourself as possible, and that takes time and effort. And then I had to bring on a third virtual assistant – these are all fulltime virtual assistants – to manage my inbox and my calendars and everything that goes along with that and do some design work for me.
So now, instead of myself just working the 50, 60 hours a week that I do to run EntrepreneurOnFire, I have 170+ hours that are being put into it by my full team because a team is so important. So on that note, give us just a quick rundown of your team right now and what your idea is of an ideal team.
Ric Dragon: Well, I think I’m closer to having the ideal team than I’ve ever had before.
John Lee Dumas: That’s exciting.
Ric Dragon: One of the very helpful things with that was being forced to be busy on a very large project for a period of time. In which case for me was I was writing a book. And then after writing the book, I was traveling a lot, talking about the book. So I was out of the office for about three or four weeks at a time at one point, and I had to, I was forced to really trust that my general manager was running the show properly, and she did. It was fabulous. It even got to the point where with some of her communications to me, I learned how to be more Socratic and asking, “Well, how do you think this should be solved?” if she came to me with a problem. So it became more of a learning opportunity as opposed to me just dictating the answers. It was the best thing that happened.
John Lee Dumas: I think that is such a great – and I’m going to turn that right now as an aha moment in a way because it was an aha moment that I had too because I realized when I first brought my team on and had my team put together, that when I was having to actually direct them in every single facet of every single scenario, that it was still causing me a lot of time and effort and I wasn’t leveraging to my fullest potential. But when I turned it over to them to start making decisions on their own, empowering them, making them feel more part of the team, that’s when my team really started to take off. Did you find the same thing?
Ric Dragon: Yes. Exactly. So as you said, yes. So instead of you just providing the answers, they’re starting to provide the answers and they own the work more.
John Lee Dumas: And then there’s pride there and they take pride in what they do. They take pride in the company and they take on a more sort of role and it’s all a win-win. So Ric, that was such a great insight. I’m so glad we brought that up. I did personally turn that as an aha moment because that’s our next topic, is an aha moment. I don’t want you to use that one because…
Ric Dragon: [Laughs] Well I have another one for you.
John Lee Dumas: Good! Because that is such a great one, and I really am glad you have another one because there’s nothing that beats a great aha moment than maybe two aha moments. So this is number two. Let’s hear it.
Ric Dragon: So this was a big one for me. Now I’m going back. So 15 years ago, I started my business and I was very, very lucky that somebody that I was doing business with said, “Look, I know a guy who’s what they call an organizational expert, an organization development expert,” and there’s a lot of people out there that do executive coaching and they come and do [it offsite]. There’s an expert on every corner, and unfortunately, many of them aren’t very good. I was very lucky that the person I was introduced to was really good. So very early on, I was exposed to these notions that we often see in business that you need to have a mission statement and you need to have purpose and vision and values and all of these core pieces of work that businesses should do. And then hiring, you hire based on culture and you make hires based on this, and all of great business strategy kind of flows out of these very basic organization development concepts. You’ve heard of these. Right, John?
John Lee Dumas: Absolutely!
Ric Dragon: It’s all basic. As a young entrepreneur, a younger entrepreneur, you nod your head and go, “Yeah, that makes sense! Right! I’m going to have my mission and my vision and I’m going to work on these things.” And you do. You put hours into them at crafting them. But my aha moment was at some point, something turned where I really had the freedom and the opportunity to run the company based on a standpoint of culture and beliefs and purpose, and it changed everything. It’s one thing to know things intellectually and be like, “Yeah, we’ve got our mission or we’re out here for our mission” to the point where we really own it and operating from that viewpoint. When you’re actually operating from that vantage point of values and vision and mission, it’s transformational. The whole sky opens up, life is different. It’s beautiful.
John Lee Dumas: I love that. On that note, Ric, have you had an I’ve made it moment?
Ric Dragon: I don’t know. I drive myself hard. I just am constantly pushing for this other level of stuff, but yes, there’s moments where I’ve sat back and go, “Wow! I’ve accomplished great things here!” And the people around me, I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve got great people around me that are doing great things. Yes, we’ve made it, but at the same time, we’re striving to fulfill a vision that’s still bigger yet. And maybe that’s the entrepreneur’s curse.
John Lee Dumas: It’s a curse and a blessing all in one. I love this question specifically because it evokes so many different answers from the entrepreneurs. Some say, “I would never have an aha moment. That is just not in my makeup.” Others say, “I have an aha moment every single day.” To me, it sounds like you’re somewhere in the middle. You definitely have aha moments when you have reached a goal or you have reached an achievement, and you sit back and you appreciate what you’ve done, and I really encourage that to Fire Nation every single time I get the opportunity to because I think it’s so important to set these lofty goals, but once you reach them, you do need to step back and really own what you’ve done and appreciate what you’ve done before you move forward because this is all about the journey.
Ric Dragon: Well, exactly. I really do feel – I’m going to tell you about my three dogs. That I believe in business we have these three dogs and each one is biting the tail of the other in a vicious circle, if you will. They’re sales, cash flow and operations, and at any given moment, one of those dogs is going to be causing you a lot of trouble. I’ve yet to see a situation in which all three dogs are perfectly happy and content, going around their circle quietly. One of them is causing trouble. So today, I might be like, “Wow! We need sales! We’re doing work beautifully, we really know how to execute our work, we’ve got money in the bank, but boy, if we don’t get sales in here, we’re going to be hurting,” which often leads to that beautiful aphorism that sales cures all. If you get sales, you can work on the other things. But I’ve been in situations where we had sales. We had orders lining up, we had cash in the bank, and it was time to really focus on operations and operational excellence. And there are times you have to do that, and that is the [rule]. And then there’s other times where you can be operating beautifully or on your way to improving. You can have sales in the pipeline, and yet you don’t have cash. You can’t invest on the next big thing that’s really going to take you over the top. So like I said, at any given point, one of these three dogs is biting at me. I’ll come in today and say, “We’ve got a whole field of work to do on operational excellence, especially by the way in the world of social media and digital marketing where nothing sits still. It’s constantly evolving every day.” So the idea of sitting still and sitting on our hands and going, “Wow! We’ve made it!” I can appreciate it. We’ve accomplished things and it worked for clients and we’re proud of it. Boy, it’s no time to sit still.
John Lee Dumas: I love that visual, Ric. Have you ever had anybody in design actually create that and put it on any kind of a blog post or just anything and any kind of sales material?
Ric Dragon: So far, just on my whiteboard.
John Lee Dumas: What, in your mind, are this type of dogs?
Ric Dragon: Well, probably Airedales because they’re crazy enough to go in circles all day, biting at each other’s tails.
John Lee Dumas: Yes. I don’t know why, Doberman Pinscher jumped into my mind.
Ric Dragon: [Laughs] But they don’t have tails!
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs] Those little stubs. They’d just be chasing after it. So Ric, let’s move on to the next topic now, which is your current business. You’re rolling along. You have your three dogs chasing each other. A lot of things are rocking and rolling. What’s one thing that’s really exciting you right now?
Ric Dragon: Well, we set out on a journey of thought leadership, which is a way of marketing a services-based company. Where in my case, I’ve written a book, I’ve authored a book and I’m out there speaking. Actually, it’s my second book. Fabulous things are happening and we’re getting lots of mentions in the press. So that’s very, very exciting. And then meanwhile, back here in the shop, we’ve been doing some huge operational excellence initiatives which are taking hold, and that’s also very exciting. One of the things around that operational excellence that we implemented, we started using a third party system called “15Five.” Now 15Five is a software system that allows employees to get feedback on a weekly basis of what their big wins are, their big challenges, how is their morale and recommendations for something that we should do going forward. It’s really ignited our organization because the feedback loop has just been very rich and full. So we’ve been doing a lot of work around that.
John Lee Dumas: That is an exciting feature of your business, in fact too. So I’m really curious to kind of delve more into 15Five, if possible. Is that something that’s available in the open market?
Ric Dragon: Oh, sure. Sure. It certainly is. 15Five.com, I believe.
John Lee Dumas: Yes. That sounds like it’d be great for pretty much any small business or any small team that’s out there. So Ric, what is your vision for the future?
Ric Dragon: Well, our vision is we’re setting out to be the very best, the most incredibly best of boutique digital marketing agency. Now that means a lot of things to a lot of different people. What is it to become a huge digital marketing agency and then get acquired by BBDO or something versus being a certain size company. Certainly, with being a 20 to 30, 40 person company, what would it need to be the very best in the world at what we do? It sounds amorphous, but it’s sort of our daily vision. It’s what we’re setting out to be. I’m trying to improve receivables without hiring more people at this point. I want to try to, instead of constantly growing the headcount, I want to actually work at creating more revenue per head so that we can pay better. We look at the world through the employee lens, through the customer lens and the stakeholder, the shareholder lens.
So to the employee lens, I’d like to get my employees up to salaries that you would see in Silicon Valley. How do we do that? We’re upstate New York in New York City, but we really want New York City salaries across the board. From the customer viewpoint, we just want the most incredible, vastly superior and effective digital marketing strategies and implementations there are. Then from the shareholder viewpoint, we’re out to create a certain amount of wealth from our company.
John Lee Dumas: Fire Nation is all about the lofty goals. So Ric, best of luck in that venture. I have no doubt you will achieve that lofty, lofty standard. So we’ve now reached my favorite part of the show, Ric. We’re about to enter the Lightning Round. This is where I provide you with a series of questions and you come back with amazing and mind-blowing answers. Does that sound like a plan?
Ric Dragon: Yes. I will endeavor to satisfy.
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs] What was one thing that was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Ric Dragon: General George Patton. It was George C. Scott, it was Patton, and Patton was this really great leader, but boy was he a hard [expletive], right? He ended up getting in trouble because he actually slapped a private who just wouldn’t go back to battle, but he was constantly – very foul language and like we’re going to wade through the enemy like crap through a goose – and that was my model of leadership in my eyes when I started business 15 years ago. That it was sort of dictatorial. It’s the boss sort of says, “Let’s do it. Come on, let’s jump!” While I had a very strong notion of quality and guys, let’s really achieve this great quality, and I was the bulldog at the door ensuring that quality occurred, but ultimately, that form of leadership was an impediment because it wasn’t going to allow us to work as a unit to create even more value and you reach a point where you just can’t exceed. So I had to abandon that type of leadership and learn the forms of leadership that are a lot more about building consensus.
John Lee Dumas: What is the best business advice you ever received?
Ric Dragon: Probably hire based on culture and hire slowly and fire quickly.
John Lee Dumas: What is something that’s working for you or your business right now?
Ric Dragon: Well I mentioned 15Five. I would say having a feedback loop built in has been really highly effective and is driving some of our biggest changes today.
John Lee Dumas: Awesome! Well I’m so excited about 15Five. I’m going to have to ask you the next question for another answer, which is do you have an Internet resource that you’re just in love with like an Evernote that you can share with Fire Nation?
Ric Dragon: Okay. So 15Five, I just gave you. That was certainly more of a tool that we use a great deal. We are all moving towards the cloud more and more. I’m a daily user of Dropbox and Google Docs. But I would say as far as an educational resource, one of my favorites is Marketing Land, and another is MarketingProfs.
John Lee Dumas: Love it! So Ric, this next question is my favorite, but it’s a tough one. So just take it in, digest it, have some fun with it, and then come at Fire Nation with a great answer. If you woke up tomorrow morning in a brand new world, identical to earth, but you knew nobody. You still have all the experience and knowledge that you currently have, but only $500 in your pocket, a computer with Internet access, and your housing and food is taken care of. What would you do in the next seven days?
Ric Dragon: Oh boy, that’s not that difficult!
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs] Alright!
Ric Dragon: I would go on social media. And really, in social media, I would search out the most interesting and compelling alien strangers I could find. Whether it was on LinkedIn or Twitter or on Facebook, these people are out there. Listen, we’re living in a revolutionary time. We now have access to people who share our interests on the other side of the world that we didn’t have access to 30 years ago. This is fabulous. And so I can make connections with people, I can broaden my network of weak links exponentially extremely rapidly. What’s meant by weak links as opposed to strong links, strong links are those people who are really close to us – our family members, our very close friends. They’re great, they’re a wonderful and superb support group, but where we’re going to learn about new cultural ideas, new music, new art, new business opportunities, new jobs, is through our weak links. So in order to make more good fortune happen, we want to expand our cloud of weak links exponentially and very rapidly. So that’s exactly what I would do.
John Lee Dumas: That is some great specific advice, Ric. I have to agree with you. We are totally living in revolutionary times. EntrepreneurOnFire is downloaded in over 100 countries. People have access to the Internet, and therefore they have access to you, to me, to what we’re producing, and it’s incredible. It’s very exciting. The world is becoming so flat and so small, and it’s hearing things from entrepreneurs like yourself that are going to allow Fire Nation listeners to really speed up their learning curve and get to where they need to be faster. So thank you so much for your time. We heard some amazing and specific advice from you, and we are all better for it. Give Fire Nation one parting piece of guidance, then give yourself a plug, and then we’ll say goodbye.
Ric Dragon: Thank you, John. It was a delight being on the show. I very much appreciate it. I can go back to Brückner and say make sure it has life. I’ll quote Teddy Roosevelt, “Live life, lead life like a cavalry charge.” Just go straight forward and do wonderful things.
Myself, you can reach me at DragonSearchMarketing.com or please reach out to me on Twitter @ricdragon.
John Lee Dumas: Awesome, Ric. Again, thank you so much. Fire Nation, we salute you, and we’ll catch you on the flipside.