Guest of today is Eli Harrell. Eli is the founder of Valhalla Online Services Incorporated. This firm is located in the Philippines. He helps founders and executives to solve problems through creativity and providing a wide-angle lens perspective. He says that he “loves helping people see things from another view, unpack complicated scenarios, make decisions and develop new partnerships that help them grow faster, build beautiful culture and get more of their art into the world.”
He has helped companies in Australia, Europe, North America, and even Asia to bring their world-changing, business improving software products to life.
Welcome, Eli. We are so excited to have you. Thank you. All right, great. So just so that our audience can get to know you better. Can you give us a little bit of your background, your experience? And, you know, how did you migrate to the Philippines? How was that story?
I will try to make it pretty concise and relatively short. My background is a little bit less than usual. I’m the oldest of eight children and I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. Although it was west coast in California, my parents had a business so I grew up as an entrepreneur with them working in their business when I was a teenager. And I was also homeschooled. So I think I learned more about business then. Then I did about how to pass tests and, you know, get through school but I been an entrepreneur my whole life, got married pretty young, had two kids in my mid-20s. In my 20s, building to construction companies, and I guess technically, financially, had reasonable success, kind of had the American dream in my 20s. But kind of realized in my early 30s, I was focusing so much on what I was doing and the businesses I was building, but I really wasn’t very happy. So I sold my interests, my equity in those companies. And I was actually doing some consulting in 2013-2014 for a US company that was opening some markets in Asia and into the Philippines for about a month. And I felt like the economy here was really thriving and a little bit chaotic but felt like I could make maybe more impact here and wanted my kids to grow. I wanted my kids to spend some time in a place where outside the country, so we took a crazy move here for a year. And we’ve been here five and a half years. So this is home now. I really like I like Asia. So that’s how I and that’s kind of how we ended up here. A little bit of my background.
Yeah, great story. Alright, so I’m done one thing growing up in an entrepreneurial family, was that an advantage to you or disadvantage because I have a similar background. I come from an entrepreneurial family as well. So you know, I can share my thoughts. As you know, I didn’t want to have to do anything with entrepreneurship because I saw how they worked so hard and they were always so busy. What was your experience like?
Yeah, that’s interesting. You know, contrasting with the way you looked at it because of seeing your parents really do. Yeah, I saw my parents, my dad worked way too much. Fortunately, I got to work with him. So that’s the time I spent with my dad. But I saw my parents do a lot of things, right. And then I saw a lot of mistakes that they made. And when I started reading some, like I read the E myth in my mid-20s. And I realized that my parents had kind of, you know, not known a lot of things about being entrepreneurs that if I ever did it, I wanted to learn from their mistakes, but maybe I didn’t really have a choice because they didn’t set me up for employment. So I think I just learned how to how to find opportunities, and I love solving problems. So yeah, I don’t think it really scared me away from being an entrepreneur, but I can. I did, I did see a lot of things I wanted to learn.
That’s great. All right. So I read one of your articles, very well written. In the ‘you economy,’ you talk about the ‘you economy’. So tell us what this ‘you economy’ is all about.
Well, it’s been a long time since I read that article that I wrote that was a while ago. If I remember correctly, what I was talking about that I was actually kind of speaking to people in this country in the Philippines at the time, quite a bit. I always forget to look at the camera, by the way, sorry. In the way that the world is evolving right now and then and the changes that are happening, I think that it’s good for all people to realize that there’s a lot of jobs that are going away. And if somebody can tell you how to do your job, if your job is just sort of, you know, part of the machine, and you’re easily replaceable. We will see a lot of those jobs go away with AI in the next 15 years. So but also, there’s a lot of opportunities that if we take ownership of our own learning and growth, we can turn ourselves in. There’s a book I really liked called ‘Linchpin’ by Seth Godin, I recommend that as a read for anyone, but to turn yourself into a linchpin, what is the art you want to bring to the world? What is it that you bring to the world that’s unique about you, and also focusing on building the right skill sets. So that be invaluable. But we can deliver often that value to the world directly. Not. So there’s a lot of people like freelancers or developers who work remotely. Even, you know, entrepreneurs or small business owners that are not physically stuck in an office, they can move around and run their businesses from many places. So it’s an interesting time. It creates a lot of different opportunities for people to bring their value to the world in a different way.
Yeah, for sure. So do you think that you know with the advent of AI and all that people will move more towards creative jobs and the mechanical jobs as you put it in all the repetitive jobs, they will sort of start to vanish?
It’s interesting. I just read a book called AI superpowers, about looking at China versus the US and sort of the race toward the AI and the future of AI. We’re not as close as some people are afraid that we are. But we will see jobs like, you know, we’re going to see a lot of driverless vehicles, you know, maybe Uber starts to not need drivers. There’s a lot of, Yes, a lot of jobs that will start to go away. And I think one of the other questions that you said, you might ask me, which would be about people that are in tech, I think a lot of your followers are its people, right? I think that’s an amazing skill set to have. I want my son and my daughter even if they want to learn coding languages. I think that’s an amazing skill set. But I would also recommend that people recognize that as some of these jobs start to go away the one area of the one that we can that will never lose value, as long as humans exist is human skills, right EQ, our ability to communicate and understand other people, we’re going to need more and more people who understood who are really good with people, I don’t think that’s going to go away. So whatever it is that you do, keep working on those communication skills and understanding humans better. And I think it will make us it will just make you better at what more a little bit more future proof, I think, yeah, for sure.
That’s very good advice. Now, do you think, you know, you’ve had experience living in North America and the Philippines, and you were homeschooled? So you have a very unique perspective? Do you think our education system is set up for you know, and they are giving the right education to the kids and youngsters to face this future scenario?
Overall, Not so much. I think it’s in some places. Yes, some schools. Yes. But you know, they’re evolving more quickly than others. But as a whole, I’ve heard a lot of people that I respect a lot. Peter Diamandis, few other people have said, and I agree that the educational model that we’re using globally, is not just broken. It’s kind of obsolete, you know because we could we needed that for factory workers and the industrial Revolution. It’s, we can’t replace it overnight. Yeah. So but I know, I don’t think that people, I think overall, the model that we’re using is still very focused on getting a diploma to get a certain job, you know, in a certain industry, and that’s breaking down. I think everybody knows it’s kind of breaking down. Right. So Sure. So yeah, yes, very good.
No, I was just saying that you know, to your point, earlier point that focuses on communication and creative jobs. I think that that should be the focus. Moreover, I think we should start to sort of personalized education system rather than giving everybody the same education because everybody is different. Everybody has different categories. What do you think?
I agree I agree. Even there what I would love to see what I would love to even look for ways, part of it, and innovative business models that can attack or solve parts of this problem. I really think what we need to look at is helping young people or anyone doesn’t matter the age, helping people in mass to focus more on individual extreme ownership of their learning and growth. Because, you know, I don’t think that’s the model that we’re using right now. You don’t choose what you learn, you know, somebody paid to teach you and then you get to the point where you someday you’ve finished and I think psychologically, subconsciously, that doesn’t really set us up very well to take advantage of the time we live in, which is you have access to all knowledge right, so that people are not really people are not you know, like there’s just there’s so much information out there from expertise is experts in any field, but people don’t know where to start. And they haven’t really been taught how to put learning, you know, strategically into their daily lives. So I think, just for me that the core concept is, I want to help as many people as I can get onto a better path of self-teaching and taking more of just mental and emotional ownership of their own growth. Yeah. Because then no matter what the school system is, you still know how to supplement that or, you know, and then obviously continue on after you finished that program.
And yeah, that’s, that’s quite interesting. Like one thing I will say here is like, you know, this is where I can actually be helpful because if we want to personalize the educational system or any type of you know, personalization, AI will play a big role in that so you know, even though it may take me some jobs, it may actually help us prepare for the future. Right.
Good point. There may be a maybe AI can be better used to help us find good content, you know, things that we really want to learn is out there.
Exactly, exactly. Now, tell me a little bit about the entrepreneurial mindset because you grew up in an entrepreneurial family. And, you know, it is incidental. But today I found out that one entrepreneur, I didn’t know him, but he was having a difficult time he started several businesses and over the five years, he did not have any successful ultimately, he got so frustrated, he actually committed suicide. So you know, I was really touched by that incident and this importance of mindset and being mentally prepared for the entrepreneurial journey. You know, that became a very hot topic for me. So what is your opinion about this? How do you train your mind to face these challenges?
Yeah, that’s a really good question, it’s a big question to unpack. I think I would start addressing that topic from the perspective of what is success in the minds of people who want to be entrepreneurs, so I see a lot of people who have corporate background or you know, whatever the background is, and then they decide they want, they really have this dream, or they have this idea, they have this passion to go into business. And they’re just very driven, I think by the vision of creating something that was their idea, getting it to the point of quote, unquote, and success. And then, of course, there’s the financial aspect. But these measurements of success, often are a trap. Because even if you do, you know, really, when you see people who have achieved them, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re happy. And so are we defining success, the really the way we want it to be and if we imagined if it was successful by those standards, what would change what would be the same and if there’s still a lot of things that would be the same that you don’t like then maybe, that’s the whole picture. So this is a very, very big topic, but my core recommendation to anyone would be along the way. And even before you start, keep asking yourself, are you who is it that you want to become along with that journey? Because I think it’s far more important to be focused on who we’re becoming, rather than all the stuff we’re doing. Because all the things you’re doing in business, sometimes you can’t control them. Sometimes you’re wrong, sometimes they fail. But if you’re focused more on, on the information you’re taking in and kind of who you’re developing yourself into that where you can still look at those failures and say, I learned a ton and now I’m a different person, and I can move on to another opportunity. But it’s the actual journey of growth. I think that is more rewarding than this business success.
So Exactly. I completely agree. I think knowing yourself as a person plays a big part in this. So, as you put it, you know, it’s more about the journey learning and growing yourself as a person, rather than financial success or some other measures that, you know, society has set up for us. And I think, you know, in your story, you brought it up, like, you know, you were a successful entrepreneur in us. And you still talk something was missing, right?
Yeah, pretty much. I had two construction companies that were grossing roughly four and a half million a year and built them pretty fast. You know, by a lot of people’s measurement that would be a success, right? I often don’t even talk about that because I don’t really think of it that way anymore. Because I wasn’t paying any attention to who I was becoming like, I was angry all the time. I was really overweight. I had headaches, I just was a mess. So on paper, things look good, but no, it wasn’t great.
Yeah, um, yeah. So you know, this topic is coming up. Lately more and more about loneliness. So, you know, entrepreneurs, they say, you know, obviously they’re trying to do something that nobody else has done it. So even sometimes their family members and friends do not support them. So do you think the life of the entrepreneur is a little bit lonely?
It often is. I think it. Yeah, it is. And but it doesn’t have to be, I think it’s important to recognize that that’s a real thing. And that, honestly, if you asked me what causes businesses to fail, I would feel the underlying cause of almost all failure is some kind of emotional pattern. And it’s, it’s the fact that you know, loneliness can be one of them. People get depressed people to get confused, frustrated, you know, embarrassed. There’s a lot of reasons why people are lonely to the core and it’s actually the way they feel and yet so entrepreneurs who end up in a very lonely situation. They often are unsure how to ask for help. They don’t know who to ask them. Maybe they’re not maybe the pride that doesn’t let them ask. But, but yeah, I think it’s something that if I would give coaching advice to a new entrepreneur, one of the big pieces of advice I would give them is really go out there and build a small circle. Start with the people who you can really reach out to periodically and stay in touch with maybe find a mastermind group, even if they’re not specifically connected to what you do just people that have the right energy or the right they’re reading the right things, trying to people who think the way you want to think and they’re acting the way you want to act, not necessarily the lifestyle you want to feel that’s not my best measurement, but yet so surrounding yourself on purpose, you know, get out there and get advice. I think a coach is a really good idea if you can, yeah, don’t be alone. It’s not necessary.
Great. Well, set alright so now let’s talk about your journey. So you said you know you set up to construction companies and then you set up a new company, the Philippines along the way you must have made some mistakes. Can you tell us a little bit about that? How did how what kind of mistakes did you make? How did you overcome them?
Wow, where to start so many I’ve been involved in businesses in many different industries. So yeah, construction was kind of where I started. I’ve been involved I had a cyber-security company, we got all the way to a proof of concept with directors of MasterCard, like we’ve done a lot of different things. I’ve done advising coaching and been on the board of a number of different companies in many industries and made a lot of mistakes. I don’t know which one to pick out. I would say.
I mean something that that you remember specifically like if something stands. If not, then you can move on to the next question.
One mistake that really stands out is more of a pattern, I think in my 20s. By not realizing, you know, by not having a habit of putting things from other places, I could only see what I could see. And I think the big mistake was just not gaining bigger perspective by having a habit of, of learning new things. And so in my first couple of companies, I don’t think the mistake was the partner that I actually had four equal partners, and a lot of people would say, that’s a huge mistake. It might be. But I think the bigger mistake was, I thought that because I perhaps had more experience in operating that kind of a business, more experience in sales. I had been successfully running one of those businesses pretty much on my own, that when we had a bigger partnership, that people should just automatically kind of listened to me and defer tonight’s judgment. But I think it was being I wasn’t being I really wasn’t using the concepts from How to Win Friends and Influence People, I was really not using them and me, I ended up I think the business did not do as well as it would have if I had paid a lot more to attend to the relationships and how I made people feel. It didn’t matter if I was right, it didn’t matter if I was good at it. What mattered was I was making people feel the wrong way. And prioritizing that just taking better care of relationships in business, I think that was where I made a lot of mistakes for the first number of years. I think I’m gradually getting better now.
Good. That’s good. Yeah, I mean, that’s a very important lesson. And I can relate to that I’ve gone through similar issues and it’s all about as you put it as you know, communication and again, looking inside you while what makes you do these type of things and try to address them. So that you know people around you feel whether they are working with you for you or whatever. All right.
Can I share one? One real quick thing? I just? I’ve been using this question over the last two years, and I really love it. So I just want to share it.
And I wish I had this 15 years ago, when someone that I’m interacting with working with or who are working for me, do something says something that kind of really bugs me and you know, it makes it difficult to deal with. I keep asking this question, what can I learn from this behavior that I don’t respect in this person right now? It’s not the person, it’s the behavior and what can I learn from it? And the more you can focus your attention on understanding why people you know, psychologically, emotionally behave the way they do. It just changes everything. And it’s hard to be angry and curious at the same time. Just a tip that’s really been helping me.
Very cool. That’s awesome. Now let’s talk about the mechanics of building a company. So you know each company every company especially for-profit companies, they need revenue they need customer so how. How do you grow your customer base? How do you get your first clients when you start a company?
First clients, probably depend a bit on the model, if it’s B to B to C, or B to B would make a difference. But often I think most companies will, especially if you’re starting small, and, you know, bootstrapping, which is the name of this show, your first customers are probably going to come from people, you know, and that’s, that can be a good thing. There’s a lower risk. I would, I think, the sooner, In fact, I even highly recommend if there’s any possible way that you can pre-sell or, you know, get your product out before it’s even ready and just get so much data back but as far as growing in the early days, so people you know, to start with it a lot of data back and then once you’ve got something that they like, referrals, I think, I saw I can’t remember right now, but there are a really good IC deals, it’s called referrals selling, I think or referral selling. I could put I could give you the link later. But I think it’s a really good idea to have a formally designed referral generation system. And it could be you’re giving your existing customers you know, a discount or some kind of a reread like a, a, a gift or something if they do refer you. But simply just having a good system of asking for referrals is a really good early day’s way to grow with very little capital, very little investment in marketing or sales. And then as you scale you need you to need to find a traction channel that is scalable and the book attraction. There are two books called traction, but the one can be really awkward right now, but the one that’s about growing your business, it has 19 different traction channels in it and it has this Bullseye brainstorming model that I think is very useful to figure out which ones do you want to test? How do you test them over short periods of time? Then find the one that’s really going to it’s going to scale through your business to really good book. It’s an easy read.
Awesome, that’s great. And so, um, you mentioned bootstrapping. Have you bootstrapped any of your companies so far?
I don’t think I’ve really raised capital. The only company that I’ve been involved with that did raise capital was a SAS company that I was a VP of for two years. And I helped them build their sales model. But yeah, I would say most of the companies that I’ve either helped start or started myself have been basically bootstrapped.
So, can you tell us a little bit like, do you think there is an advantage or disadvantage for entrepreneurs to bootstrap their companies? Which way? Do you recommend they should go? They should, should they raise money first, or should they try to bootstrap the company?
I think that taking on outside investors can be very distracting. And if you could possibly build a business without it, then you know you’ve got a model that really works. You’ve known you’ve got something you know that there are times when tech startups that are they need to compete by taking over different right bite penetrating certain markets that it’s been very logical to take on lots of capital so you can grow fast. But in general, I think we’re a little bit caught up in this idea of, you know, getting an investment to grow. And you know, you’ve seen so many stories where people just never figured out a model that was actually profitable and then all that capital goes not right. So highly ranked, I do deeply believe in building a model that could sustain itself through growth. Yeah. And if you can find a way to not have I, I love investors and I want to be investing in more businesses as I go along, right, but it can really be a big distraction to need. You need to explain every decision to the investors etc. So I believe in bootstrapping.
Exactly, you know, I couldn’t agree with you more. Actually, there was a study done in, I think it was Inked magazine or Harvard Business Review, they said that there’s a negative correlation between the amount of money people raise or most startups raise and the probability of their success. So if you raise more money, you know, it’s not, it’s actually less likely you will succeed.
It’s exciting, and it’s tempting. But yeah, I think that that makes sense to me.
Sure. So now, you know, if you’re launching your own company, you’re bootstrapping it. You can’t do much without Dream Team or you know, people helping you out. So what is your methodology of attracting the right people building the right culture for your startups or companies?
Yeah, another topic that could be discussed for days or weeks. But I think that for me, one of the big lessons I’ve learned over the years is building a team based on values actually building a team based on the people themselves. My business partners and I, we really believe in growth mindset so we don’t necessarily look for people who are I mean, you want a player’s right I’m not going to argue with that. But what is the definition of an A player is an A player, the person who is just the best in the world that you know, online marketing or content writing or graphic designer, whatever it is, you know, fails, maybe but all of those things are evolving so fast. Right? Doesn’t matter if you’re the best right now or not. What matters is how much can you learn and how fast people what’s your habit of teaching yourself? We really focused on finding people that already have strong habits of self-learning. Like we really we actually, we hire readers. If you don’t read books, you’re going to have a hard time getting a job with us. As we Yeah, so very, I like open people I like people that are willing to be vulnerable and admit their mistakes.
They’re not they don’t get disappointed when they make mistakes. So I think to build a culture that you’ve really thought through what you value and what you want to what you want that culture to be based on and then hiring people that fit those values truly not just, you know, you get excited about people because they’re, they’re talented, or they’re very agreeable, or they’re great communicators. And then two, three months down the road, you kind of find out that some of the values that you really do care about, they’re not really there. So take your time, trying to hire people that fit your values. And then probably most important, and this is not the one, but easy advice to follow. But you want to attract amazing people, you’re going to be that person, at least someone that they think they can learn from, be someone, you know you want amazing people in your company you want them to stay, show them that you’re going to lead them toward growth and make sure that they understand your vision Not only have what you want the company to become, but who you’re you want to help them become.
Yeah, that’s very good advice. Very sensible advice for short.
Easy to follow. But I admit, yeah,
No, I mean, we are all humans are, you know, we’re all flawed, but as long as you have some sort of a guideline to guide you, you know, you always make an effort to move towards that direction. So even getting that direction is good enough, I think. Yeah. So you brought up a number of good points there. Now, you also talk about this concept of Extreme Ownership. Is that part of your culture that you want to build as well in your companies?
Definitely. There’s a good book by the same name called Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and he was in the military. Yeah, he had a lot of great stories about how at first he didn’t take full responsibility for things that were happening that he felt like leaders had had kind of not giving him the opportunity to do things the way he wanted to do. And then he changed his mindset and said, No, I know what happened here. I’m going to lead up and he learned how to do it the right way. I absolutely want myself with people who are willing to do that. I don’t want a vertical organization where people, you know, are waiting to be told what to do. I want to bring people on board who think in different ways that I do and would challenge me and extreme ownership not only of their own learning, growth but Extreme Ownership of, of the future of the company. Like if it’s a shared vision, and they care about it. Then I’m there. Yeah, I want people that and it’s not, especially in the culture I’m in right now. That is not a state, you know, that’s not a common thing you find in people. So it’s something that really you have to kind of cultivate in people.
Great, awesome. Well, is there you know, this has been an amazing conversation. Is there anything else that I haven’t asked about entrepreneurship or building companies or, you know, just living in the Philippines that you may want to share with the audience today?
Um, I think perspective is something just because you mentioned living in the Philippines. We, I will say, I don’t know how many people that listen to you are from the US or, and I don’t know if this even applies to Canadians, but we don’t get out and see the world enough. And when you move around more, it’s changed me so much living in different places. The perspective that I’ve gotten the beliefs that I had, that I thought were just true, or not actually true, and it’s just changed so much about the way I look at the world. And I think three main areas we should be paying attention to one is is what you said earlier, like constantly asking ourselves, what is it about myself that I don’t yet understand and I don’t think we this is not something we finished. This is a lifelong challenge to learn about ourselves, the way other people work, how do we work to other people work? And therefore, how does the world work because the world works the way it does. Because of the way people work, our fears, our psychology, our emotions, like the world is built around that. And the more you can focus on learning, and then travel really helps that, hey, it’s hard to explain why it accelerating so much. But when you just transplant yourself to another culture, it just kind of made I mean, you probably know what I mean.
I recommend it more get around the world. If you can, it would, it will help you in business. I know that sounds weird, but it’s true.
No, I completely agree. And, you know, I meet a lot of people, obviously, in North America, they haven’t traveled outside the country. So that’s one recommendation. I always give them you know, go outside and probably visit some other countries, maybe you know, visit countries who you know, third world countries and see people who are they live, you know, they, they are so natural, like, you know, they just don’t give up and they are living there trying to make a better life for themselves for their families with very little resources that they have and you know, they don’t complain. And so you learn a lot, you know, if other members of our own species can get by with so little, I don’t think then you know, we should be complaining it I think that’s what happens when you travel abroad as you know, you start complaining less and less. And as you put it, like you take ownership more and more.
I think comfort actually can be an enemy and you don’t grow, we don’t grow and we’re comfortable. We have to actually get uncomfortable to grow and we don’t do this on purpose enough. So, yes, I think travel does that to you, but it’s good if you can stay in a place for a good while and then you start to see not just being a tourist.
Yeah. Great. Awesome. Well, thanks a lot for this. Lovely conversation, I think of everybody in the audience got a lot of, you know, good, valuable nuggets of advice from you. Now, before I let you go, can you tell us a little bit about your company how people can reach out?
Sure. So the company that I’m focusing most of my energy on right now is our software development company. We are an agency here in the Philippines. And I think that a lot of companies out there could benefit from outsourcing part of their part of all software development. But it’s, it’s kind of got a bad rap for good reason, because it often doesn’t work well, when you go to hire developers in another place that either doesn’t understand your business model or you know, maybe they don’t actually care as much about that. They just want to get paid. It can turn out poorly. So my partner Derek and I are both lifelong entrepreneurs. We’re not, we’re not by, you know, we’re not by training developers. But we have an amazing team of developers here that we work very closely with. They’re in our office. And we just love helping entrepreneurs. We love helping startups. We love helping SAS companies, we often even do projects for enterprises in the business process back in custom software. So yeah, feel free to reach out to us and jump on a call with me and see if we can be a good fit for that or not as somebody who’s building software, you know.
That’s great. That’s great. What is the website address? We’ll put it in the show notes.
Yeah, it’s all valhallaonlineservices.com.
Awesome. That’s great. Well, thank you so much, once again, and hope to have another chat with you soon.
Links & Mentions From This Episode:
Eli’s Website: https://valhallaonlineservices.com/
TetraNoodle consulting services: https://bootstraptechstartup.com
TetraNoodle professional training: https://courses.tetranoodle.com