TMBA547: How Coronavirus is Disrupting the Events Industry

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You don’t need us to tell you that these are challenging times. But, here at the TropicalMBA podcast, we have been inspired and motivated by the stories of resilience and adaptation that you’ve been sending in.

One such story that we received recently resonated strongly with us, in part because it was about an industry that we have been working in for years.

William Griggs created Virtual Reality Rental just over four years ago.

He built a ten-person team that brought VR experiences to conferences, parties, and other corporate events across the United States.

Then COVID-19 struck and it all collapsed literally overnight, forcing him to reduce his staff by more than half.

William joins us today to share his strategy for waiting out the current uncertainty in the events industry, and how he’s challenging his remaining team to grow into the new roles that are necessary for these times.

See the full transcript below

Listen to this week’s show and learn:

  • The “lightbulb” moment that led to the creation of Virtual Reality Rental. (2:45)
  • The benefits of offering value and asking for nothing in return. (15:20)
  • What Jim’s business outlook for 2020 looked like before the COVID crisis hit. (31:47)
  • The strategies they used to recover a quarter-million dollars in accounts. (42:30)
  • Jim’s thoughts on what the future holds in a post-COVID business world. (45:31)


Mentioned in the episode:

Before the Exit – Our New Book
TMBA Masterminds
Partner With Us
The Dynamite Circle
Dynamite Jobs
Dynamite Deals
Tropical MBA on YouTube
Virtual Reality Rental
Empire Builders
EO Houston – Entrepreneurs’ Organization
Amegy Bank
LeBron James
Chance the Rapper
Rick Rubin
Tim Ferriss
Josh Waitzkin

Enjoyed this podcast? Check out these:

TMBA537: How Will Coronavirus Affect Your Business?
TMBA541: An American Based in China Shares His Perspective on the Coronavirus Outbreak
TMBA546: Adjusting to the ‘New Normal’


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Thanks for listening to our show! We’ll be back next Thursday morning 8AM EST.


Dan & Ian





Full Transcript

William: It’s kind of ‘ignorance is bliss’ and kind of wishful thinking. And there’s definitely a lot of denial in the space even today, in the event space. There’s a lot of denial, ‘Oh yeah, we’re gonna have events back open’. We just don’t know.

Dan: Hey, welcome back to the TMBA podcast. Bossman. Are you on the line, are you there?

Ian: Hey, man, I’m here. You’re not. What happened?

Dan: I’m not. I moved out. I used to be there with you for a couple months in the pod shop. And we would hang out in your garage and occasionally we would fire up the YouTube and talk to the audience of this pod and one of the coolest things about that was we got a lot of emails. People just saying, ‘Hey, here’s what happened to my business when Coronavirus hit’. A lot of us out there are just thinking on our feet right now and responding.

And on today’s show, we’ll hear one such story. You interviewed Texas based William Griggs. He’s the founder of a company called Virtual Reality Rental dot co, which was a growing four year old business, providing virtual reality experiences to corporate events. And those in person conferences and parties just aren’t happening, as we know all too well. We had 14 events, minimum, lined up for 2020, including DCAustin and DCBangkok, and I think will swoop back at the end of the show to share our thoughts on those in particular. But first, I just want to get your thoughts about speaking with William today. Maybe, for an entrepreneur, the thing we fear the absolute most, which is our business just going away.

Ian: Yeah, I was very interested to talk to William because we’re kind of in the same boat in a lot of ways Dan. Part of our business is an event business. And that basically went away overnight, the same as William. And so it was interesting to get his take on what his process was for kind of winding things down and then eventually spinning things back up.

Dan: So let’s get to the interview then Ian and again, we’ll switch back at the end. And the first question you asked was how Wiliam first got the idea for Virtual Reality Rental dot co:


William: So my background was in b2b marketing. I worked with a lot of what I would call lovingly ‘Events ladies’, they were all they were all ladies that I worked with. They were in the events industry, on these different b2b tech companies in Austin. And they would all be really amazing at logistics and planning and budgeting. But they didn’t have a lick of nerd in them right and so they would ask me as one or maybe the only male on the marketing team or one of a couple. ‘Hey, what’s the coolest craziest thing we can do at South by SW, the coolest craziest thing we can do at our conference coming up’. And I would be the one that would tell them about the newest and latest technology. And so after playing with kind of the first round of VR, when it came out four or five years ago, I was able to basically have a light bulb go off in my head and say, ‘Hey, this could be the next offering’.

And then essentially, what I did was I kind of went out and did a little bit of what I call market research, right? Not that I coined that term. But what I did was I went out to folks under the guise of doing a research project to see if this would be something of interest to them.

Ian: Tell me exactly how that market research went, like what was your process.

William: So the process was actually fairly simple. What I wanted to do was twofold. I wanted to see if there would be any interest in technology of this kind and then I wanted to understand what their language was, what was their vocabulary? So essentially what I did was I went out and talked with event company owners, folks that planned events for clients, and ask them about how they worked with their technology vendors, what they cared about, what made them want to pull their hair out, what made them want to work with them again, to gather that language, that vocabulary, that checklist of things we needed to do and to satisfy them as a customer.

And then we would talk about technologies that are out and about and what’s coming around the pipe and what would be cool. And what I realised is they really cared about the former, they didn’t really know much about the latter. Which meant that if we could come in and speak their language, check the boxes that they cared about, and had a cool offering that we could have a business and it could be successful.

Ian: And so, at the time, were other people providing virtual reality setups for these event companies?

William: Not at that time, we were definitely on the forefront of that. There’s definitely competition that has popped up, some that’s come and gone, but at that time, it was so early that you know, certain technical problems you would have. So for example, we landed an event where we needed to have two VR stations set up and I said, ‘No, no big deal’. And then I went to set up two in my house, and realised that they interfere with each other using infrared. And when you went on the internet to Google, ‘How do you have two of these VR setups in your house?’ There was a post on Reddit, and the only answer on that post was ‘Haha, no one has two of these’.

And so actually, what I ended up doing was trying to expand my solution zone, right? So I only know so much. So then what do I do? I go and talk with my buddy Danny and I say, ‘Hey, Danny’, Danny’s a mechanical engineer, his solution zone is much larger than mine. I say ‘Danny, we’re having this interference. When I go to the manufacturer, they say build a plywood wall. When I go to the internet, they say no one has these things. What the heck do I do?’ He says ‘Infrared, infrared?. That’s a part of physics. Physics I don’t know that much about, call a professor up at the University of Texas. I talked with six professors. Of course, you end with the last one that finally gives you the answer. And the answer was – a blackout curtain.

Ian: And so these event companies, they saw you as an asset, right? Because for them to be successful, they had to offer unique solutions to their customers. And then you come along, and you say, ‘Hey, guys, I’ve got this new technology’. And so what happens at that point? How does word it out that you are the VR guy?

William: So what’s interesting is just how things began. Right? So we were thinking about it right now as we launch new businesses, and I’m sure we’ll get to that later. Just that flywheel effect, right? I don’t know if anybody that’s listening has actually googled what the heck of flywheel looks like, but it explains it very well. So a flywheel is a giant wheel at the front of the steam powered engine locomotive. To get it going. takes a lot of energy. But to keep it going takes a little, a little bit of energy, just spurts of energy. And so at the very beginning, it was a lot of a lot and a lot of energy. But it goes back to those event ladies, right? So they were the first folks that hired me to do their events. They allowed me to bring in cameras, we took photography, they had awesome events, made us look awesome by association. We start to go out to event companies in the Austin area, start to get some awareness that way. But what we did focus on is really what ended up working the best which is search engine optimization and making sure we’re showing up for relevant keywords related to our service.

Ian: William, I want to get back to these event ladies because you keep mentioning them and I can kind of see their importance. You know, there’s these people on the ground in every business that are really the ones that actually make things happen, you know, there’s us, the owners, the CEOs. We don’t do much. We really don’t. It’s these people on the ground that make things happen. These hidden positions of power, basically. And I think that you probably found them in the event industry. And they’re these event ladies, they were the ones that were actually making sure that the events go smoothly. And so what were the event ladies, what was their incentive? What did they see in you? That maybe you didn’t see in yourself?

William: Obviously pre COVID-19 there were a lot of events, you know, everything was going very digital. And so one of the differentiating factors for a lot of these b2b companies was actually to take things back person to person. But guess what? Every b2b company started doing that. So it was less special. So what did they have to do? They had to ratchet up what the heck they were actually doing and what they’re offering, whether that was keynote speakers, and bringing in you know, famous politicians or famous authors. And so what they saw was an opportunity for them to honestly look really good to their team.

But one of the other things that they do so intelligently is they build their own portfolio. They’re rolling stones to a certain extent they move from company to company, just like we all do in modern times of employment, but they are always building their portfolio to show that next employer, what the heck they did, how awesome it was, how cool it was.

And so they were able to leverage our nerdiness, essentially, to make them look good, because we didn’t represent ourselves at the events we represented the brand, represented their company, and then we represented them well. And then what they would hear back is, ‘Oh, my gosh, that was amazing. The CEO tried it, got a shout out at the ‘all hands meeting’ the following Friday about how cool this was’, because if you think about most corporate events, even to this day, well, not to this day, but even as late as February, right? A highlight at an event would be a caricature artist or a photo booth. If that’s your highlight, then you’re basically matching everyone else that’s already out there and you’re not exceeding it.

And so, what a lot of these folks are trying to do is they’re trying to build relationships with their prospects, build relationships with their customers at these events, build up a pipeline from a b2b perspective. And to do that, oftentimes at trade shows, they’re surrounded by all their competitors. So how are they going to stand out from all their competitors? Is that they’re going to hand out bigger pins or better pins? Or are they actually going to do something that’s interactive, experiential, and something that gives folks a better experience at the event?

Ian: Do you remember the first VR event that you put on?

William: I remember a lot of them and there were some definitely early successes. But there are also some early let’s say setbacks. The biggest bomb that I can think of today was super early on in the business. We’re talking the first five or so events and it was just a comedy of errors. It started with the moving van. So we had so much equipment at this event where we needed to rent a cargo van. Well, we had two events in that time and Austin and Uhaul thought they were smart and thought we had accidentally double booked. And so they went ahead and cancelled one of my vans.

They then go to the other team that has a van, borrow their van, drive it over to the house, get the lockbox on the side door, open it up. They got that by right. Open it up, got the key out between the side door in the front door, lost the key. So now they can’t get in the house. And then I’m in San Francisco. So we’re having to contact the landlord, landlords out, like, I don’t like two hours outside of Austin. So he’s contacting his wife. They let the folks into our house, they get the equipment. Now or it’s rush hour in Austin.

And so they have to go about maybe two miles, but it’s gonna take them like 45 minutes to get those two miles from East Austin to downtown Austin. Of course they get there, the client is pissed, as you can imagine, and then they start setting up and they can’t get any of it to work. It’s two setups and they can’t even get one single setup to work. They think they broke it somehow in between transporting it from the house to the event and that thing still gives me the sweats. You can probably see I’m sweating just thinking about that. That lady did not cut me any slack. That lady read me the riot act. And then at that point I was super early in the business, all I did was profusely apologise I just said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry’. That was an experience that I’ll never forget, unfortunately.

Ian: William, I want to back up a little bit because what I’m hearing as you were doing your first five events and you’re already on a plane to San Francisco. So how did this happen? How fast between your first event and your fifth event and all of a sudden you’ve got multiple locations. How does this work out?

William: But we started thinking it was going to be a Texas based business. And so part of our strategy was cold email to event folks in Texas based businesses. But you know, we were such noobs. At that point, we didn’t really think that the same people that run a business event in Austin could also run one in San Francisco. And so we reached out to this lady named Katie, and she worked for Cognisant at the time. Cold email. No joke, she calls me back and says, ‘Hey, William, this is Katie’. I’m over in my room trying to solve the infrared issue that we talked about earlier. I was actually at that point trying to sew roofing tiles in between sheets. And she calls me again, this is an automated campaign set out to go out in the morning. She calls me and she’s like, ‘Oh, this is amazing timing. We have this event going on. In San Francisco. We’d love to work with you’. Sounds great.

Ian: And so tell me a little bit about how you started to acquire equipment. Because if you have multiple locations going on at the same time, my guess is that you can have to have a bunch of equipment. So tell me how you started to acquire equipment for the company?

William: Well, that’s a funny story to think back to but, you know, as I think about it, and I think it’s always fundamental, you know, the Origin Story, right? The Origin Story of any entrepreneur will heavily influence how they do things. So my mom is a preacher, and my dad as a teacher, right? And so when you think about funding the business, they’re not funding the business, right? They’re great people, they do great things for the community, but it formed me on how to build things and how to start things, right. So there was no investor. I didn’t want to seek investors. I kind of got out into the startup world, it didn’t seem like an investable business. I wanted it all on cash flow.

And so what I wanted to do was to devise terms, payment terms, that would enable me to always be able to get as much equipment as I needed. And so what I was able to do was to use down payments, the 50% up front to acquire the equipment necessary when I needed to. So you might make less money, but eventually it flips right you have enough equipment to handle the normal demand and then you expand as necessary.

Ian: And so at your peak do you know how much you had invested in all this equipment?

William: So at the peak, which is actually technically now, the equipment we had, it’s actually funny to think about it. First it started off taking up my office in that house in East Austin, then it took up the office and the spare bedroom. And that’s how I got the first handful of employees and event managers is they would come to my house and they love to remember that now as being kind of creepy. They didn’t mention it at the time, but in hindsight, yeah, that is a little creepy to come to some guy’s house and he’s got no furniture, no, nothing, just VR setup in the den.

But the peak times in terms of equipment is now, right? So we’re talking, you know, depending on that type of headset, you know, you might have, you know, there headsets that we have hundreds of ,their headset that we have 20s of and there’s headsets that we have, like 10s of and so, you know, hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment,

Ian: Where is that equipment right now?

William: If you asked me that in February, the answer is different than you asked me that in April. So we go from moving the equipment and always wanting the equipment to be moving and out. So therefore, you don’t actually need that big a storage facility for the equipment. Because the whole goal is having it moving.

So now fast forward to today. And one of the things I’m sure we’ll get into is we made the decision based on the outlook of the industry to chop expenses, right, we had to cut expenses, and one of the biggest fixed expense was the office.

So we had to go from a really nice office that we built out, a lease that we signed in February, because everything’s going great in February, for a whole another year and then by March you know, negotiate ourselves out of that lease but on good terms so we can come back if need be. So now it’s sitting under lock and key and a storage unit.

Ian: At the height, William, how many people did you have working for you?

William: The way we operate our businesses, we had 10 full time folks. And we had, probably close to 30 part time or contractors. So now it’s four people, including myself.

Ian: And these are part time or contractors because I’m on your website and you know you guys are doing events in basically every single city in the United States? And so how does your team operate? How do they move around?

William: Yeah, there are folks that this is like their dream job. Travel around from city to city, they might start out in Austin and then go to San Fran and then from San Fran they might have to go and do an event in Chicago. But when they look at that they say I’m getting paid well, and I’m getting paid to travel and I don’t have anything to do until the event setup time is going on. So those are the folks we found. And there’s quite a body of those folks that work for big brands, small brands, everything in between, they might work for, you know, a half dozen different companies doing those things. And so they probably have home bases, but they’re probably not there that often.

Ian: Roadies, modern day roadies.

William: Right, in the event industry. So they get to go do cool things with cool companies. You know, one of the one of the folks we hired super early on was a gentleman who was working at ‘BestBuy’ giving virtual reality demos. And he gave me this demo. I knew nothing about VR. It was fantastic. He did an amazing job and I thought, man, if he can do a great job inside ‘BestBuy’, where everyone thinks he’s selling them something and trying to get a commission, then he’s got to do a really good job at these parties where all people want to do is have fun, right? And so that was one of our longest running event managers and team members.

Ian: Well, tell me about that guy. That’s, that’s very interesting. So you go into a local ‘BestBuy’, I imagine this person’s probably making less than $15 an hour and you offer him a position as a travelling roadie setting up VR systems. And now he basically is a remote worker of some sort.

William: Yeah, so that gentleman’s name is Robert. And so for Robert, you know, one of our tactics early on, was to try to find, and it still is to this day, like ‘Who else has solved this problem?’ And start to think about that whenever a problem arises, who else has solved this problem? And so part of our problem early on was finding people that knew much about VR and were interested in VR. And so we went to meetups in Austin, but then we started thinking, ‘Okay, who’s giving VR demos?’ They’re probably trained by folks and so that’s where that tactic went to go to ‘Best Buys’ and I drove every single ‘Best Buy’. I think there’s like five in Austin, whereas like now that I live in Houston, there’s like 35. It’s insane. Not everybody made the cut, right? Most people were not that great. They weren’t that inspired. They weren’t that motivated. But two of them did. One guy, two guys did. And so those guys, you know, they really enjoyed the position and really enjoyed the travel and really enjoyed, you know, interacting with folks.

And just again, it was looking back to it. And when we talk with both of those guys about that experience, just one of those things that you kind of put down is like, what the heck, this random dude walks in, asks about VR, I give them a demo and then he says, ‘Hey, I got this company you might be interested in’ and next thing you know, like for one of the guys his name was Bruno that we got that we’ve found at a ‘BestBuy’. He in one week. Not that long after joining was in Beverly Hills, San Francisco and Honolulu in the same week.

Ian: And so at any given time in this business William how many people did you have on planes in the air, different cities.

William: Our busiest time of year is always going to be and will forever be holiday party season. So holiday party season is super packed because everyone’s doing an event. And everyone’s doing it on similar dates. And you got to be able to service those folks and be able to do back to back events. So the way we structured it is we had about 20 event managers, and so that would be a maximum of 20 folks in the air flying around or driving from one place to the next to service these events.

Ian: And how did you keep all this straight? Did you have a position in your company that was in charge of HR, I mean, basically, you’re saying you had 30 contractors and 10 full time people. That’s a lot of people to manage.

William: So what I started doing super early on with the business is try to doodle out how the heck this thing worked and then show that doodle to all these other folks on the team so they could see the bigger picture. That was something that I learned super early on was, as the founder, as a CEO, I’m thinking about this all the time. So all the thoughts are in my brain. And so when I’m asking someone to do something, it’s very limited. But if I can show them the map, it starts to expand.

So if you were actually looking at our, what we call our growth model, you’ll see where the leads come in, you’ll see where they get converted into sales, you’ll see where the execution occurs. And that allows team members to take on more responsibility. So super early on, it was a very organic process of saying, ‘Hey, if I didn’t go to these events, I could sell more events’. Okay, great. So now, at that point, I’m not going to the events but I’m managing the event folks, and I am selling the events and I’m marketing them.

Okay? If I didn’t manage those folks, I could sell more events, right? If I didn’t market these things, I could sell more events. And then if I wasn’t the only salesperson, I could sell more events. So is this kind of domino effect of getting myself out of delivery of the service, and then getting myself out of marketing the service. Then lastly, getting myself out of selling the service to where, you know, February, I wasn’t doing any of those things.

Ian: So fast forward to February of this year. When there was starting to be a little bit of news about a pandemic in China, and it might be coming to the United States, and you’ve essentially removed yourself from the business. So what are you doing for your company at that point?

William: At that point, I’m basically in part indulging some of my shiny object syndrome. I know a lot of the listeners probably can feel that. So what I looked at is we have this amazing business Virtual Reality Rental Co. It’s, you know, it’s making money. And we’ve got all these customers, can we sell them other things? And so if you were to look inside of my, let’s say, Dropbox here or my Google Drive, you would see maybe three or four new properties that we were working on, that we’ve since paused, that were all in the event space, right? How can we have a shared back office but sell the same folks that we’re selling things to already and sell them more or sell them different things going forward? So that was the main focus of my time, I would say, basically, the last hour of every day was one on ones or managing the actual team.

Ian: Which is, I think, an admirable place to be, which is essentially extract yourself out of the business because you figured out a way to motivate other people in your business to operate for you, and you’re starting to look and do the thing that only the CEO can do, which is uplevel your business and potentially sell them more and better and unique product offerings. But William, why did you feel, or did you feel, at the time like the VR offering had capped out? Why don’t expand to more cities, countries, events? Why did you feel like it was time to start offering a more diversified product offering to these companies?

William: Well, it’s twofold. So with Virtual Reality Rental dot co, we had been focused on demand harvesting. So, harvesting as much demand as possible. So if you were searching for VR sports simulators, or VR rental Austin, we wanted to show up and that’s great. But what we wanted to do next was grow the pie because at that point, we’re capped out by folks that are actually searching for this. And so what we were doing was switching towards demand generation. Because the vast majority of folks don’t know that that exists, or they haven’t thought of this idea. And so we were working on building, as a part of that next step, was essentially a platform that would enable us to build an audience in the event industry that would allow us to promote our stuff, partner stuff, stuff we come up with in the future, so that when we have things that have never been created or seen before, you have an audience to promote those two as opposed to purely sticking to the demand harvesting,

Ian: And so, February, March timeline, when did you first start to think about the pandemic and how it might have an impact on the events business.

William: Far too late. In hindsight, it’s just like perfect, right? I should have taken all the money we had in the businesses shorted some stocks or something like I should have seen it so much earlier, but it’s kind of ignorance is bliss and kind of wishful thinking. And there’s definitely a lot of denial in the space even today in the event space. There’s a lot of denial in the event space. Even today it’s like, “Yeah, we’re gonna have events back open”. We just don’t know. In hindsight, way too late. But in real time, it felt super freaking early, because I would talk to the team about it, or some members of the team about it. And they were like, ‘Nah, I don’t see it. I don’t see it happening that way’.

You know once South by Southwest is cancelled that’s way past. That’s when it, for a lot of folks that have been in the industry, it clicked. But there were big events like Mobile World Congress and such in Europe, they were getting cancelled far earlier than that. And I said, well, ‘Let’s model it out in our best self and our best mind frame. Let’s model out all the things we may have to do. So that we know what our plays are in case we have to do them’.

Ian: And so what point did you realise like, ‘Hey, there might not be another event at all going forward in 2020’.

William: We basically launched a project and internally, I called it ‘the Coronavirus project’, very original, obviously. And what we told the team was, ‘Hey, we’re going to collect data. If you find interesting articles, send it over. If you have a buddy who works at the CDC, tell me what they said. And let’s collect as much data as possible, and kind of input it into our brains’. And then basically take that data and start to model out what are the potential options? And what are the potential scenarios. So what we were able to do is basically model out around 57 scenarios, whittle it down to about 14 with a variety of assumptions. But imagine just a big Excel spreadsheet that says, ‘Hey, sales are going to take this big of a hit’, ‘Hey, these folks that have these events that have signed contracts, they’re going to fall off, hey, these folks that haven’t signed contracts, but they had these events coming up, they’re going to fall off’. And what does that look like from a cash perspective. Early on, we were all about safety and making sure folks are safe on our team. But you know, as things start to fall off, then it’s about the safety of the business and the longevity of the business.

Ian: And so through this modelling, did you come up with any action?

William: Basically, through the modelling process, it essentially became clear what we had to do. So when we looked at the event industry, the only thing that we were certain about was uncertainty. So it was like when you look out your window, and all you see is fog. Yeah, you can see that first step that you’re about to take, but you can’t see the third or fourth step you’re about to take. And so when that was the case, that that made it abundantly clear that we had to move, we had to make decisions that we did not want to do, that we never thought we’d have to do, but that we were forced to do to for the greater good of the business and for the folks remaining in the business.

As we go through our modelling process, it’s trying to get the emotion out of it, and trying to make it as real as possible. Just say, these are the numbers, right? We did a good job of having reserves, financial reserves, but you always will run out of money eventually, if you don’t make changes, if you don’t make money, if you don’t cut expenses. And so it became very clear that one of the models was really our only choice or the lesser of the evils.

So essentially, we after lots of lost sleep and lots of long nights and lots of just like tossing and turning and honestly lots of conversations. When I say collecting data, I talked with people in San Diego, I talk with people in Houston, I’ve talked with people in Indianapolis, people in DC, people in Florida.

Those are folks that are in the finance community. Those are also folks that are in the event community. Just to collect the data. ‘What are you seeing, what are you hearing from your clients, what are we thinking about?’ And that leads into all it was, was uncertainty. I’m seeing wobbles out till February of next year is what I’ve heard. And I’m hearing other folks saying, ‘I haven’t had a single cancellation’.

With the model, it became very clear to maximise the likelihood this business can survive and maximise that we can actually go from surviving to thriving was to make a layoff. And what I’ve always seen in the past and thankfully never had to do was that when you do a layoff, you want to do one layoff. You want to cut to where it really hurts, but you want to be able to commit to the team. And so what we did on that Friday. And it was honestly, as you can imagine, the hardest thing that I’ve had to do, these are folks that some of them have been with us. Some of them had multiple promotions, some of them with us three years, four years. And here it is. They’re getting like, oh, from something that they didn’t even do, right, something that they had no control over.

Ian: How many people did you lay off on that Friday?

William: So that was four. So those were four of our full time staffers.

Ian: What was your feeling on that Friday afternoon after you laid off those four people?

William: So basically, if you think about a layoff, right, and even the way we did it, it was building for a long time. Again, when you look back, it feels like February was like two years ago. So I say a long time it wasn’t a long time in terms of number of days but number of hours and number of like cycles in the brain. What’s the best solution? What’s the best solution? How can we do this? What can we do? What are we going to do about this? Like 3am waking up, you know, in a sweat like literally at a sweat trying to figure out what the heck to do. This is not what’s supposed to happen. Great January, great February, March falls out. Nothing they did, all the people that I like, had gotten a promotion in the last year because they did such an amazing job, and now having to let them go, not because of anything that they did.

The feeling afterwards ties back into what I told them on the call. So on the call, I told them everything. I told them very clearly, there was nothing that they did, and also told them very specifically that we’re going to race. I said, “We’re going to race. I’m going to race to build something else that I can hire you back for, because I don’t want anyone else to have you, and you’re going to race to find a job that you love just as much, if not more, and I’m going to help you get that job. So if that’s a letter recommendation, you need me to call the CEO, I’m calling the CEO. Tell me what you need. I’m going to check in with you because you’re going to think this is an empty offer. If you don’t, if you don’t contact me, within a week, I’m going to send you a text message and say, What can I do?”

So that’s really the focus at that point. But it wasn’t until literally Sunday did I actually have the biggest kind of like, like feeling about it. So Sunday night, I basically got a fever. And I had this fever that got up to 103, just constantly. And for the following week, I was in bed, couldn’t get out of bed. So I’m out for a week, so that I’m just literally just lying in bed, staring at the TV, mellowing, like, thinking about how has this happened. Right? And there was just a realisation that how stressed I was, and how just in it was that I didn’t realise.

Ian: Do you think you were stressed, depressed or a combination? This is something that you’d built over years, you know, and it came tumbling down in a matter of weeks.

William: I don’t know. I’m the forever optimist. Definitely stressed. I don’t know about depressed because I already had five new business ideas and have a short memory to a certain extent, I forget how hard those four years were.

And again, I actually credit this podcast, because of the thoughts around entrepreneurship being a skill, you all talk about that. And that’s what I went to immediately. I was like, this is a skill, all those things I learned about hiring and firing and marketing and sales and all these things that I never knew before, now I know and I can apply it to the next business. I even told a friend. I was like, if you had told me four years ago, I was gonna build a multi seven figure business. And I was gonna learn all this stuff, and I was gonna make money during the process, and then it was gonna go away overnight. I would still take that. Hey, there still might be something here. 2021 is looking. Alright. People are interested in that, what late 2020. But it’s really about the skill set that was developed over the period of time that helps me stay upbeat about it.

Ian: And so, William, you laid off four people? And how many people do you have in the business right now? And what is their daily function since there’s no events going on?

William: Yeah, so essentially, like I said, all those contractors right are not being used. They weren’t laid off because they weren’t full time. We’re not utilising them right now.

Ian: Were the guys that ‘BestBuy’ were those guys contractors?

William: They were part time folks. Yeah, one was full time and one was part time.

Ian: And so did they go back to BestBuy? Do you know what happened to them?

William: I have checked in on both of them and there seem to be doing all right. But I think most people are just trying to weather this storm at the moment. So no, no update on the job front for those folks.

Looking at the model, one of the things we had to make the decision was obviously, who to let go and who to keep on. And it was not based on how good of a job they were doing, or not how much we liked them. It was purely based on a type of skill set. And so the folks that ended up getting let go, were mostly folks that were there for extra capacity. Now, that’s a simplified version of their role, but you know, they’re able to make things better and improve things but they didn’t start things. They didn’t create things from scratch, that wasn’t their skill set. They were there to execute systems and improve on systems.

And so when we were looking at our business, we had to say, ‘Okay, well who can help us move further faster given this kind of new reality?’ And so what we did was we stuck with folks that were good at creating things from scratch and helping to build things out from scratch and that way we can build something new.

Ian: And did you guys apply for the PPP loan?

William: So we apply for the PPP loan. You know, we originally had banked through Chase and a few other bigger banks and you know, those are just a nightmare to work with. And one of the big things that we benefited from is, late last year, I joined a group in Houston called EO so EO Houston, Entrepreneur Organisation, Houston. And they have a crazy Whatsapp group, which had it had its own like COVID-19 channel where people were posting about PPP loans. And we were going through the process trying to figure out the PPP loan. And somebody said, ‘Hey, you got to go with Amegy Bank. This lady at Amegy Bank, she’s going to help you out’. And so we contact this lady at Amegy. She doesn’t know us, but we, you know, had the referral in and she was just great.

Fast forward, still didn’t get it. Because some of the perverse incentives specifically around how much we needed. I don’t know if you saw this. They pay out a fee, a commission based on how much you grant. Now they tried to do a stair step approach where it’s cheap, they get a smaller percentage of a bigger loan, and that smaller percentage of a bigger loan is still way bigger than a larger percentage of a smaller loan. So all the banks were doing biggest clients first, not just long term clients, but biggest clients, the ones that need the biggest loans first. So we didn’t make that first round. For me, from talking with plenty of entrepreneurs, it just seemed like a giant shit show. And so I just assumed we weren’t going to get it. Right. Fast forward. We’re moving out of the office. We negotiate a break on the lease, thank goodness, right 4k a month and we just signed 12 months. And luckily, they gave us an out, due to our circumstances. The day we’re moving out is the same day we get the new PPP loan approved.

So I’m in Houston, we have a team member in Austin. She is probably five feet tall, one hundred pounds. She’s moving the entire office by herself. There’s no one left to help her. We’re deciding to move out of the office, we’re going to break this lease. The next day, we get the biggest sale we’ve ever had, but it’s for 2021. And then the next day, we actually are moving out of the office. And then we get the PPP after having been denied it. So the emotional rollercoaster is just insane.

But back to your original question. When we decided to keep who we decided to keep, I actually had a presentation. I basically launched a new idea for them. And I said, ‘Hey guys, we’ve got Virtual Reality Rental dot co, that’s in kind of a frozen state of sorts. So we’re going to maintain that, we’re going to keep an eye on that. But that’s going to be our 5%. But we actually had to focus our 95% on what I was calling ‘the search’. What do we want to have? And all we wanted to have was a sustainable business that helps solve problems in a repeatable way. That’s all we wanted. So what we went through is a process where I said okay, well if you want to have something different, we got to be somebody different because what you were doing a Virtual Reality Rental was you were executing proven things, you’re executing things, you’re making things incrementally better. We don’t have time for that. We don’t need that.

So what we need to do is we need to be better, we need to be somebody different. So we talked a lot about emotions, because that’s affecting everybody. And essentially what I ended up doing was setting a whole new set of expectations. And actually I’m imagining they kind of probably laughed at me and rolled their eyes, but I basically gave them like six people to be. I was like, ‘Who we were, is great. And we’ll You know, you’re not dissing that, but we need to be new people’. Right? the first person that says we need to be one part, LeBron James, how do we need to be one part LeBron James? Well, heck, he treats his body like a temple, and he is always driven to get better. Because if we’re up all night looking at Drudge Report and CNN and Huffpost and we’re not sleeping, that’s going to hurt your performance right?

Second person we wanted to be with Chance the Rapper. I want you to be Chance the Rapper because prior to COVID-19, I took a couple team members to the Rodeo Houston rodeo, and we watched Chance the rapper, and good God, does that guy have fun? It was insane. I mean, he’s like, of course, yeah, he’s making like, whatever. 600 grand to perform for an hour. He was just dancing. Yeah, he’s just dancing and flailing. I was like, man, he was having so much fun. He was so grateful. He kept you saying thanks to the crowd. So I was like, take care of your body. Take care of yourself. And then we’re gonna we’re gonna try to have fun here. Right. And then I say we want to be one part. Rick Rubin. Do you know Rick Rubin?

Ian: Oh yeah, a famous producer.

William: Exactly. I say, ‘We got to be creative. If you see ‘The Gift’, he’s got no shoes on. Apparently he likes to be one with the earth. He’s creative. He’s eccentric. He’s himself and he’s brave. We did one part Diddy, you know, Sean Combs, endless energy dreaming big, high standards and just confidence because, again, for tackling this and this is new for everybody. And I haven’t started some from scratch, man, your confidence goes out the window very quickly, right?

One part, Tim Ferriss because of experimental and just putting yourself out there kind of being fearless and going out and just nerding out on things. And then last part is Josh Waitzkin, he’s often featured on a Tim Ferriss podcast, but what I liked about him, which I thought was a good example, was if you’re listening to his podcast, and his kid’s awake, he’ll like pause the podcast and be like, ‘Hey, I gotta go mess with Johnny’, I don’t know what the kid’s name is, but whatever. And they’ll pause the podcast, and so we talked about investing and family and having a balanced, thoughtful approach to it. So you’re kind of like, you know, in this time of the pandemic hitting like we want to be one part Diddy and like so confident in our abilities, but we don’t want to disregard the family. and we don’t want to hurt our health.

In addition to those inspirations, we also launched new core values. I said, ‘Hey, we got this new search, like those things that were amazing. That got virtual reality to where it is now. We got to do different things’. And then essentially, at the end of that, I said, ‘Bibbity, boppity boop, you all are entrepreneurs’. I said, You got it, you got to shift the mindset from an employee who wants answers to an entrepreneur who seeks answers. From someone who thinks, oh, ‘That’s impossible’ to someone who thinks. Nothing’s impossible.”

Ian: And where are you guys out in your search right now?

William: So one of the things that was super important. There’s a podcast called ‘My First Million’. Have you heard this podcast?

Ian: Yeah.

William: One of the guys on the podcast which I’m blanking on his name, he talks about this concept that he had when his company got acquired. And he works inside of Twitch, which is owned by Amazon, which has this concept of an ‘import export’ list, import he’s like writing down the things that Twitch wishes they could buy, but they’re having to build and an export is the things that they got really good at home grow, that they could probably sell to other folks.

So we did the exact same thing. We took that model and applied it to our own business and said, ‘Hey, what are the things that we got really good at? And how can we export those things?’ Essentially, the things that you’ve heard about so far in the story, are those tests, right? The first thing is, how can you be a b2b service based business owner that actually doesn’t work in the business and doesn’t talk to customers and the customer doesn’t request you or demand you to work on their project and you’re not doing any accounts receivable. And everything’s rolling, right? And it’s growing without you in the database. So that’s the first one and we’re calling that ‘Empire Builders’. So that’s the first thing we started with and we started the website ‘Empire Builders dot Inc’, don’t if you’ve ever used that domain extension before.

Ian: No but I know that all the good ones are gone. So we’ve all moved to Inc. and dot cos And so what’s your hope with this ‘Empire Builders dot Inc’ site? What do you think it’s going to become in the next few months?

William: So what I’ve noticed as I’ve joined different entrepreneur groups, and I’ve talked about it with entrepreneurs, is that I’ve definitely noticed that I’m a weirdo in a certain regard when it comes to systems and processes and the way I think. And so when we think about getting from, you know, someone who was super early in the business, and super overworked to someone at the end of the run in February, obviously, we think it’s gonna bounce back but at the end of the round in February, was not doing the day to day was not doing any of the core elements was just developing the team members and leading them. That was a lot of trial and error. But I figured it out. And it’s something that I know, I can help others with. That’s the goal, right? How can we help folks build their empire? Well, one thing they have to do is they have to have a business. Second thing is that business needs to make money. And the third is they need to remove themselves from that business. And so we have this process that we’ve helped other business owners with, we’re still early days, most of that’s been just colleagues and friends and people in my community, but to take it and actually make it into a systematic process where it can help other b2b service based business owners and build a community around those folks. There’s a tonne in the SaaS space, right? There’s a tonne in different business models, and we want to kind of be that for b2b service based companies.

Ian: And so as this Virtual Reality Rental dot CO is kind of in hibernation. You mentioned that you got your biggest sale for 2021 a month ago, who’s thinking about throwing events in 2021?

William: Big companies, big companies that have to get big spaces at big trade shows.

Ian: Do you think that we’re gonna see events come back? Do you think they’re going to change in any way?

William: I see all sorts of predictions. What I always stick with, which is my non answer to this question is, ‘I can’t control any of that, all I can control is trying to come up with solutions that help folks solve problems’. And so that’s what I’ve been focused on is like, ‘Hey, we’re monitoring this, we’re seeing what all these smart people are hypothesising and coming up with and yeah, we hope it’s gonna come back’. But what I want to do is I can’t control that at all. I want to control what I can control and that’s, you know, the help folks solve other problems in their business.


Dan: Shout out to Mr. William Griggs. I think it’s super cool what William did today, kind of fearless to come and share such a challenging time in your business. On behalf of the audience thank you.

Ian: A lot of people are going through this, you know, trying to figure out how they’re going to survive, what they’re going to do next. It takes a lot of courage, I think, from William to come on the show and say, ‘Hey, man, my business tanked. And here’s what we’re doing about it’. We talk a lot about, ‘Oh that’s just what entrepreneurs do. They just get back on their feet and they’re back running at it’. But as William described, it’s emotionally draining. I don’t care if you’ve done it before. I don’t care if you practice for it, your fit, whatever. It’s tough to do. A lot of times it’s not even fun.

Dan: Yeah, man. I mean, one of the things we’ve been talking about and why speaking with William was pertinent is because, of course, we have an events business as well. It’s not just a business, I think me and you and the team, I know many of our attendees and members are just genuinely sad that DCAustin didn’t happen. At first I was, ‘Okay, it’s a challenge. It’s the right thing to not host the event’, and all that. And it became very clear that we couldn’t in the end. But it wasn’t until a couple weeks afterwards that we were sort of looking at each other. And we were like, “What a bummer”. Like, it’s really sad that we didn’t have that, you know, memory this year.

Ian: For me, at least Dan these certain milestones happen in our lives every year. And DCBKK and DCAustin are two of them and then there’s some smaller events here and there, but I felt a very weird void. A couple of weeks after I was like, “Oh, well, at this point in the year I should have been feeling happy that I just hung out with all these other entrepreneurs in Austin”, and I didn’t have that feeling. So it was weird after it passed.

Dan: You kind of have these sort of ‘conversation tendrils’ too – people to follow up with and ideas that you got and collaborations that you came across. And they’re still there just in different ways. So yeah, that was sad. And if you would ask me, in early April, what the chances are of us hosting an event in October in Thailand, I would have given you just a grim, gnarly, nasty figure, and I don’t know, it’s been occurring to me lately, maybe it’s crazy but maybe something is possible. And I know it’s a big and complex issue, and I haven’t thought it all the way through. But one thing we recently did do is, you know, we went into the DC forum and basically they said, “Look, we’re gonna collaborate with the membership here and, and get everybody’s input on this decision, whether, you know, we do something that approximates the event, whether we do a virtual event, whether we, you know, run an event”, we just don’t know yet and we’re going to basically take as much time as we can. So we’re in the listening phase right now Bossman, and it’s been awesome to listen to you and William here today. Let us know what you think of this conversation. We’re probably going to be having it in one way or another for most of 2020.

And that’s it for us this week, Boss Man. We’ll be back as always next Thursday at noon, Eastern Standard Time.