March 1, 2023

Episode 190: Michael Zalle, Founder & CEO at YellowBird

Michael Zalle is the Founder and CEO of YellowBird. He is responsible for creating, building, and launching new concepts and companies, resulting in multiple successful exits over a 25-year tech career. He has built a career through a unique balance of commercializing novel business models, operationalizing innovative technologies and platforms, rapidly scaling operations, and building market-shaping ecosystems. Michael’s companies and purpose are ever focused on serving others. Whether it be satellite systems for First Responders, environmental products for flood and spill response, or time and economic support for difference-making organizations, Michael believes in “doing well while doing good.”

Michael’s college journey began at San Francisco State University and was completed at Pepperdine University Graziadio Business School while working full-time and traveling at age 19. As a lifelong member and mentor for the Amputee Coalition of America, he enjoys the time he’s able to invest in mentoring kids with physical challenges.

Married 22 years with two children, Michael spends most of his free time at lacrosse or soccer games chasing balls, applying band-aids, and handing out snacks. He enjoys traveling and engages in a variety of sports including golf and tennis; he ranks himself as an incredibly average golfer and perhaps even worse tennis player.

Julian: Hey everyone. Thankyou so much for joining the Behind Company Lines podcast. Today we have MichaelZalle founder and CEO at . YellowBird uses matchmaking technology to connectthe right people in the right location with the right experience for the job. Michael,so excited to chat with you and learn about.

Not only what you're doing, at atYellowBird, but your journey as an entrepreneur and also the companies thatyou've been a part of, and you've touched as a, as an investor as well. It's soexciting to chat with somebody with a wealth of knowledge to really, not onlykind of unpack the experience of, know the founder and, and tech in particularbut also what you see in the market.

So before we get into all that goodstuff, what were you doing before you started YellowBird ?  

Michael: Well, first thanksJulian. This is I'm excited to be here. I really am. Before YellowBird. It'shard to believe there was a before YellowBird. But we're only three, three anda half years old now. But before YellowBird I was in the satellitecommunications world, so we were dealing in it sounds really eggheady stuff,but basically geostationary satellites.

What it really means is in the satellitebusiness, you're beaming up and you're landing data from one location to. Andyou can think of it from a, from a use case scenario, kind of like you do yourdirect TV or your tv signal, except it's bidirectional. And I did that forabout 15 years. So it was a, it was a good business.

Enjoyed every bit of it, but I'm, I'mhappy to be doing what I'm doing now.  

Julian: Yeah. And what was thetransition, you're, you're focusing on satellite technology, but now you'rerunning, a company that helps people in, in job and, and connecting the twokind of marketplaces. What in, what got you into a two-sided marketplace modelfrom, from a product service?

Michael: So specifically whatYellowBird does is we focus on environmental health and safety professionals.Mm-hmm. . And so we're not just matching just anybody, but really it's educatedprofessionals that. Focused on the environmental health and safety. So you canthink of folks like the OSHA people or epa. A lot of folks that need trainingand safety and things to that effect.

What I was doing is I was doingsatellite in a lot of high consequence industries, so it was a lot of areasthat had unfortunately destined injuries. And so we would be selling servicesto help people call 9 1 1 or get help if something bad happened. And so youkind of, my friends used to call me a storm chaser because we used to do awhole lot of work after h hurricanes and things like that.

Yeah. It's a natural segue into doingthis. I love the peop the people aspect of technology. I was literally dealing,22,000 miles in the sky most of the time. And I like now what we do is matchpeople to needs. And so that's, yeah, that got me there. And then I really likethe Uber model of the world.

But I didn't particularly like theincome of the Uber model of the world. So has a lot of the same aspect of theUber or Grubhubs or two-sided marketplace features. But you can actuallyleverage people's skills and then they make a very good wage doing what we do.So  

how's the main. .  

Julian: Yeah. And inparticular, what was the incumbent before that?

Was it just pen and paper? Was it likeworksheet or, or spreadsheets and databases? Like what, what was it forit?  

Michael: Yeah. You just, younailed it. You nailed it. I mean, it, it, there wasn't one way and there'sstill, as much as I like to say we're changing the world of, of VHS labor,there still isn't one way.

I'd love to say that Gilbert was theonly way people were doing it, but we are not quite there yet. Yeah. The thereality is, is that there's 50 ways of accomplishing the same objective, butnone of 'em are all encompassing and none of 'em are tech enabled. Yeah. Soyou'd have individuals that were on your team that were responsible for safety.

Mm-hmm. , that happens a lot, especiallyin small. , or you have the general manager who's also the HR person, who'salso the coffee buyer and is also the safety manager. . Yeah. Right. And thenyou get into bigger organizations and they'll have a safety department, butthen they have, 30 or 50 locations.

Mm-hmm. or a hundred locations, or 500locations. Mm-hmm. . And now they're dealing with outsourcing to independentcontractors all across the country to try and execute. And it's really cl.Yeah, so like the vision initially, and we've changed not changed materially,but originally it was okay who used to do this and is retiring.

Yeah. And if they're retired, well maybethey'd stay engaged if we could put them on a platform to let them go out anddo this type of work. It's kind of a continuing your career on your terms.Yeah. Now we have people from all oaks of life and we have over 5,000 people onthe platform already and, and growing fast.

Julian: Yeah. One thing I findit so fascinating, running a two side marketplace myself, The, the qualifyingpart because that, is such a critical and, and piece to, to the success of bothsides, right? In taking quality people and then helping those quality peopleget hired and, and then creates that kind of continuous cycle.

How do you think about the qualificationprocess and what kind of testing have you done to really hone in, not only dothey have the, the credentials, but they also, are someone who, who you knowis, is a good actor or, or will kind of complete the task. .  

Michael: Yeah. I could tellyou're on a marketplace. Cause you're asking perfect marketplace questions. .Yes. It's the hardest thing that we do. Yeah. It's, I always say, we deal withinsurance companies and, and, and law firms and big contractors and all thisstuff, and they ask the same question. How do you know what your professionalsdo?

The, the easy answer. Is we dobackground checks. We go and check their certifications of the upload. Wevalidate, some of the data that they've given us through our third partyvalidation. But the hardest part of what we do, I think you actually contendwith too, which is how do you represent a human being appropriately and how doyou find each person's super?

Right, like right, you could have threepeople have the same certificate, certification. The same city. One happens tobe of Hispanic descent. The other person happens to be somebody who is fromjust middle, middle America and a third person is from Indian descent. And theyall have different walks of life.

They've all worked in differentenvironments. They've all done different things, and. Their certification isexactly the same, but which one's gonna be the best person? I just used theirethnicity and their background, but we also look at where they've worked andwhat they've done and what their experience is.

Indexing all of that is actually thehardest thing we do. Yeah, far.  

Julian: Yeah. Yeah. And what,and it's, it's interesting just like defining the index, but in terms of, Ithink they think cultural background is extremely important, especially for,what community or, or what individuals gonna serve and how much of what you'redoing has a human layer to it.

Being that, there has to be kind ofsome, I guess in intuitive decision making a part of this process, how do you,right. How do you really kind of, kind of. Resources and some track resources.That component, cuz for me that that's kinda the hardest part is how much timedo we have somebody allocated to going through this process and, and makingthat intuitive decision making, which is, I think, it, it's harder to indexthat kind of stuff.

Michael: Well, not to plug yourbusiness, but I'll tell you what, in the development side of the house andusing developers that use native language processing and that can use dataindexing in the best way. our needs as a platform change significantly. I saidthe hardest thing we do is actually to identify the superpowers of ourprofessionals.

And I say that a lot and that's verytrue. But honestly, the hardest thing we do if is actually the thing thateverybody does, which is coordination of time and calendars and syncing up thewhen and where and how of somebody's efforts. Yeah. And I, it should be so easyin the world. We live in between all of.

Restaurant and Grubhubs and Ubers andall these other scheduling things, and yet we spend more time than I care to.Brute forcing the scheduling aspect of yellow and it's, it's crazy because it shouldbe, it should be the easiest thing that we do, but it's not .  

Julian: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Thatlayer, like the coordination piece is difficult, but I mean, if you find asolution for it, let me know because I, I think that's something we, we spend alot of the time.

Mm-hmm. , but it's such a necessary partof the business. I think thinking about, I know you've been a part of a fewstartups and and you've also invested and been an advisor and been around thecommunity for a while. What are, what are good companies doing and, and whereare, where are founders kind of missing in that process or needing to take on,say, the learning curve when building a company?

Because I think, I think, that's kind ofthe biggest component, is the foundational. And not skipping any steps becauseit oftentimes either causes technical debt or, or comes back to bite you insome way. What are some companies that you've seen doing exceptionally wellthat should be replicated, and where do other founders kind of miss in thefoundational building of their startup?

Michael: It's such aninteresting question. . I use a term, I actually used it a little while agowith with somebody that I was meeting with the, the saying that what gets youhere won't always get you there. Yeah. And I used that term a lot and it soundsreally simple and, and kitschy, but what we needed three years ago and what weneeded two years ago and what we need today are very.

Yeah. In fact, the people we've, we'vehad people leave, we've had people join that would not have done well when wewere three people in a goat, , we were, we were doing things so manually tryingto figure out if, even though it was product market fit, and if somebody wasgonna buy this service and was it viable?

And if it was viable in Phoenix, wouldit be viable in Indiana? Mm-hmm. , would it be viable in New York City? Covidhit. So we learned a ton through that process. I would say the best executivesare the best startup people that I know. Embrace the fact that progress is betterthan perfection. Yeah. And making sure that, that you're making progress in theright direction.

You. . I, I, I kind of liken it to whenyou're teaching a kid, and I don't know if you've ever been around now, youdon't have kids, Julian, but when you're teaching a kid to ride a bike, whenthey first start riding, they're kind of going weaving back and forth, almostfalling off, and you're like, you're doing it.

But the reality is they're not doing itvery well. They're just doing it right. I mean, they're almost gonna fall off.They're almost gonna crash, but, and, but you're so excited that they're on.Yeah. Right. And that's kind of what being in a startup is like. It's, it'sokay. My goal for today is just not to crash.

My goal today is not to be on the Tourde France. It's just to be going the right direction and hopefully when thewheels stop, you can put your foot down before you fall up the bike, right?Yeah. And then two years later, well now, maybe I'm doing a little bit betterat now my goal is not to have balance, but now my goal is, build some, someother skills around the bicycle and so forth.

And so I would say not raise, not beingso focused on any one thing. . Yeah. As weird as that sounds. Cuz you're goingto drive yourself crazy. It's whack-a-mole. Yeah. It's totally whack-a-mole.Yeah. You think, okay, this is the thing that's stopping me from beingsuccessful, I'm gonna focus on that. Mm-hmm.

and then you figured that out and thenthis is the thing that's gonna stop me from being successful and you're beingincrementally more successful the whole time. Mm-hmm. . And that's what I'velearned. I've done this three. and each time it's like having a kid, youforget. You forgot how, how difficult it was in the early stages.

right? Yeah, yeah. It's the same thingwith business, right? You just Right one foot in front of the other.  

Julian: Yeah. Yeah. I, it,it's fascinating especially because, I think, if I um Sounds like you, the waykind of your model works and, and maybe similar to, to the model we run,whereas, the majority of whatever's billed is going to be for those workers.

Right. And then you obviously kind oftake maybe a cut or maybe there's a percentage, there's a fee or whatever.Mm-hmm. , But it's, it's a long term game. If you, if you run the model in thatway versus, when it's a gig economy model, I think you can have a little bitmore hyper growth because of, of, you how you kind of play with the economicsof it.

But, as we've seen in the more recentyears, becoming more and more under fire, And criticize because of, of, of thelack of benefits towards the, the workers component. Right? The supply. Yeah.But what, yeah, but I, my question to you is how do you get through, thechallenge of waiting and being patient for that long-term?

I guess payout later on when, whenthings have built, because it's a hard process. It takes time. It's, what kindof keeps you motivated, what decisions are you, micro decisions are you makingto stay on? While you're waiting for that large pool to build up. And is thereanything that you've seen be successful during that time period to kind ofincrementally increase in terms of that pool of, of operating capital?

Michael: Wow. You have, you'veasked a lot of questions in one question there. No, no, no. I love it. I loveit. I don't mind it All this is enjoyable for me. I, I like talking about thejourney and hopefully I can give some insights. First of all, I'm stillfiguring it out. Let's be honest. We just closed we just closed our seed round.

Technically we're not closed, but we're.We're over, we're over committed on our seed round. We've just raised 5million. We're we are now over committed to just over six. So it's an excitingtime. Yeah. But you know, candidly, there have been moments over the lastcouple of years that I was not sure how we were going to survive, just from acapital perspective.

Yeah. It's hard to cash flow a businesslike this. Yeah. It's you expect, when you win a big award and I guess thefirst statement, so you asked me about the capital. reality is, is that you'realways on the edge of your skis the first few years in business. Yeah. It'sjust the way it's gonna be.

You have to kind of accept that as we'regonna figure this out. I have a mantra. You're like, we're gonna figure thisout. We we're doing the great things. We're right. We're going to come up witha way, and as long as you have that. Mindset and just honestly just notthrowing in the towel is probably the most important piece of all of it.

Yeah. There have been times that I'vehad to borrow from my 401k. There have been times that I have had to go to aninvestor that I've already put the amount that they would need to put, wouldn'tput in and say, look, I've got payroll and, and I've got checks coming in, butI need a gap. The hardest thing with a technology company like ours, both ofours is.

You don't have any assets to leveragewith a bank, so you can't get a line of credit. Yeah. And if you're growing asfast as some companies do grow, and mine is one of them, I'm very blessed tosay that we can outgrow our cash. Yeah. And that's scary as I'll get outbecause you're like, oh my God, I'm gonna be so successful, I'm gonna run outtamoney.

Julian: Yeah. . And that's a,it is a real thing. Yeah. It's a real thing. It's,  

Michael: it's actually, Inever, when, when I was younger, I never actually thought that was a thing. Oh,well if you're, if you're generating enough business, there's always moneyavailable. No. Nope. Not always. Yeah. I mean, really it's so I guess thefirst, the first piece of the equation.

just always have the mindset of I'mgonna figure it out. Sure. And work with people as well as you can and be openand honest and truthful, and you don't have to tell stories to get people to bepatient with you. Yeah. The other piece of the equation is, and I actually wasin the same conversation as earlier that I was talking to this lady in, in ouroffice here.

I was saying that it's really, reallychallenging. Have the wrong people. Mm-hmm. , which we all will at some pointhave the wrong people. Mm-hmm. , if you're running a business, it, it happens.How long do you try to make them the right person or when do you say, okay,this is not working and I need to make a change?

Yeah, and I am notorious for waiting toolong. . I am notorious in trying to figure out how that's gonna figure outworking and I guess the greatest advice that I can. Anybody is, know thebenchmarks of whether you're being successful or not. It's so hard in themiddle of this journey to actually stop and take a breath and say, okay, fromwhere I started to where I am, to where I'm going, to where I want to be, can Isee that I'm making real progress?

Yeah. Not the, I'm gonna lie to myselfbecause I'm working hard. Cause working hard means nothing. We all work. Yeah,everybody works out. Yeah. It's, I agree. I'm gonna get the results right.Yeah. Yeah. And, and I've had to do that a couple of times with my wife andsay, look, this is working and.

Stick with us please. I need the support. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. I took an 80% pay cut to do this. Don't remind me again.. Yeah, yeah, yeah,  

Julian: yeah. Yeah. I guessthat's a, that's something that I, I think I've asked a couple founders about,but, I, outside of your co-founder relationships or, or even mm-hmm.

relationships with your team, how do youget your, personal team in line and, and what kind of conversations are youhaving or, or what kind of system do you have with them? Continue to, to havethem on your side and be that support network firm. For me at least, it'scommunication and, and it's really being honest about where things are.

What have you seen that's beensuccessful for other founders who are navigating those, those decisions oflike, yeah, I'm, I'm taking a pay cut, but not only is this something worthinvesting time in, it's, it's, it, it, it's gonna be paying dividends in largeramounts and in, in freedom, inability and connections, network and things.

You can't als always. .  

Michael: Right. It's what,that's such an important and difficult question. I married a wonderful womanwho is risk averse. She does not like the entrepreneurial journey. She does notlike the risk taking that of who I am. We are very much opposite in so manyways. Our values are the same.

Our, our love for our children and lovefor our life and journey is the same. . Honestly, there's been times, and I'veactually said this to her, you should have married an accountant. . , youshould have, somebody who goes to work nine to five makes a paycheck. And sheactually would've probably been happier at times than she did, if I'm beinghonest.

But, she's exactly the opposite of me inmany, many ways. And, and it's not a bad thing. Yeah. She keeps the house inorder, but I also have to listen when Okay. It's becoming too much. Yeah. , Isold, I sold, I had a very, I'm very fortunate and I, and I do acknowledge thatI've had successes and failures, but I'm very fortunate that I, I've had moneyand capital to do this with Yeah.

Not enough to that. I could sustain usnow, but early on, if I needed a few months, I could, I could afford it andSure. , but still we hit a point where she said, look, this big house iscosting us a lot of money and you're not making the money that you were. We, sowe sold a, a nice, fancy, beautiful home. Yeah.

And we bought a smaller home. And wepaid for it. And we don't have a big, we don't have a mortgage. And we, we, andthe whole family, I, well, the way I say it is the whole family had tosacrifice. My family loves our house. They actually like it more than our lasthouse. So maybe my ego, maybe my ego had to sacrifice, if I'm being honest withmyself.

Yeah. But it is one of those thingsthat, she's, she said, look, if you're gonna do this, we have to make a changebecause Yeah. We have an $800 water. Yeah. And she, she, I live in Arizona.Don't be surprised, but, and and we had, lots of air conditioners. I live inArizona, right?

So the power expensive. And we, shetold, she basically said, look, if you're gonna do this, and we need to makesome changes. And I had to be willing to listen and, yeah. And stay married,which is always nice, .  

Julian: Yeah. It's thoseconversations are so key, I think, in, in terms of just like, not only settingexpectations, but also clearing your mind as a founder and, and, and havingyour house in order a lot of times.

But, I guess and, and the ups and downsand of, business especially with, I think two sided market. Especially withpeople, it's it difficult when, when dealing with, economic circumstances and Iguess yes. How do you kind of think about operating your business modelthrough, just external pressures being around the corner.

Mm-hmm. honestly every which way. Andeven, within my sector there's a lot of people, there's a lot of jobs, butthere's a lot of risk averseness in terms of hiring and doing things. So how doyou kind of operate at that model or how do you think about operating whenworking with external.

Michael: So YellowBird,essentially, if you look at what we do for a living, we talk to people who arerunning complex risk and safety in environmental situations. So if you're aconstruction company and you're go, I'm working on a bid and if I win this bidand it's a hundred miles from where my headquarters is, I'm gonna need to getsubcontractors to do all these various things.

I'm gonna need a safety manager on sitebecause one, it's the law, but two, I need to make sure that people are allsafe. Right, right. And. in that circumstance. Our model is about surge demand.Now, I don't know with that, and I, and I probably have some people in mycompany that would throw a shoe at me right now for even making your statement.

But reality is, is that what we'rereally great at is the right people at the right location with the rightskills. Yeah. Again, I've just raised a bunch of venture capital, so I'm usedto venture capital type of questions. And they're like, well, what is your,what does your average professional make for income?

I mean, can they do this full-time yet?And the honest answer is no, they can't do this full-time yet. We have somepeople making full-time wages. We've got people who are making six figures withus, but the vast majority have other jobs. They're doing this as ancillary.They're going and doing site surveys.

They're going and doing an a safetytraining of some sort. They're helping execute a large program, say a hundredsites in a hundred locations. Yeah. They'll go and be five of those sites. Andwe have a bunch of people doing that. But the quick answer here to yourquestion is I look at it as if I'm offering enough value through the equationYeah.

Through the cycles, people are gonnastick with. and I can't set the wrong expectation if I went to every pro andsaid, you signed up on our platform and I'm gonna give you full-time wagesimmediate. , I would have 5,000, maybe 4,995 angry people, , , I five that arelike, yep, you did it, but reverse are gonna be pretty ticked off at me.

Right, right, right. So you have tokinda set your expectations correctly. It's like, look, our platform is reallygreat for gig and for surge needs, and we hope to get there that you can makethe choice if you wanna do this full-time. Mm-hmm. . , even on the low wagestuff like Ubers. And, and again, our average, our average person makes like75, 80 bucks an hour.

Yeah. I mean, they're not low wage. Andsome of our jobs can be weeks, some could be days, some could be hours, butmost are, between two and two and five days. That being said, that's a goodincome, but I don't wanna set the expectation that you're gonna be able to liveon YellowBird yet.

Yeah. And I think that's actually whereUber kind of went sideways. Mm. Because people start doing it full. , and thenthey start realizing that they're not making enough to do it full-time. Andthen they got ticked off at Uber . Yeah,

Julian: yeah, yeah, yeah.Right, right. Yeah.  

Michael: Wasn't really designedfor that, but, okay.


Julian: Yeah. I, yeah. Theexpectation setting, I think is something that, marketplaces will live and dieon because, without that honest transparency, people are able to make their owndecisions. And, and if you're not acknowledging that through the way you set itup, you, you obviously end up with situations where people are, are, upset ordisgruntled by the circumstance.

So, think, thinking about, the, the lastfew years and even last year tell us a little bit about the progress, thetraction. What are you excited about, in terms of the, the current outcomes,but what are you excited about the next year in terms of features or that youmight be adding, maybe initiatives that you're doing?

Tell us a little bit about the tractionand what you're excited about. .  

Michael: Oh, I'm, I'm in suchan exciting place right now. I can start to dream again. , when you're raisingcapital and you're, you're burning capital and so you're always kind of worriedabout the next Yeah. Next three to five months, you're not thinking about thenext two to five years.

And we're now at that point where I canstart imagining again a little bit about Yeah. Starting to execute, which isvery, it's, it's my happy place as just a human being. Yeah. Again, what we doright now is a relatively rudimentary, but it's a very difficult thing to do,which is write people with the right skills.

What we don't do is the rightpersonalities and the right backgrounds, per se. So, the personality aspect ofwhat's your secret sauce and your personality, where are you really shining andthriving? Mm-hmm. , it's the hardest thing in a gig economy, right? Mm-hmm. , Ihate to keep using the, the ride share examples, but you know, they added thatbutton of silent please.

Because there were a lot of drivers thatwere talking the ear off of their writers and they're like, dude, I just wantto go to the market. Don't talk, don't talk to me. Right. And that was alearning. They had to have gotten that feedback from people and you weregetting one star and they're asking, why are you giving me one star?

It's cuz they tucked my ear off. Yeah.And then they over time added the silent please or prefer, whatever it happensto be. So where we're going as a company is we're gonna work on personalitymatching, not just skills and locations and geography. We're gonna focus on AImatching, where we are taking data points off of your, your resume, yourLinkedIn, your your profile that we've built internally, and we're going to usethe if then statement.

So, If you are like this other pro who'sbeen successful in this scenario, then you'll be a good match in this scenario.Yeah. And we're gonna build more AI around that or machine learning aroundthat. I'm super excited about that. And then upskilling, I'm very excited aboutupskilling. I mentioned firefighters earlier.

Yeah. I think I mentioned firefightersearlier. No, I didn't. I was talking to somebody else, so , sorry. No, you'regood. I was talking to somebody earlier and I. , we do a lot of fire analysisfor for insurance companies going in and making sure that their fire, they'reup to fire codes and things like that, and retired and active firefightersactually are on our platform for that.

Well, those people theoretically couldbe upskilled to also do hazardous materials management. I know it sounds dorky,but that's a real thing, like when you're dealing. Steel plating or chroming orany type of manufacturing, industrial manufacturing. And you're dealing withchemicals. You know who better to do that than maybe an fireman who has beenaround that kind of stuff, but maybe they're not trained on what it, what thatlooks like.

Yeah. So if we could scale those people,I'm super excited about that because you can open the doors for where theydidn't even think they had income opportunities.  

Julian: Right. Yeah. Yeah.It's amazing. The upskilling part, I think is where. A lot of time andinvestment can go to and, and but it's the hard, it's a hard part because itdoes take a lot of resources to kind of attack that and, and do it in a waythat benefits, not only the, the, the workers, but also the opportunities thatthey'll be able to have access to.

What's the, thinking about where, whereyellow Bird is today, what are some of the biggest challenges that you face?,  

Michael: , I don't know if youhave ever done the Jim Collins books mm-hmm. , but you know Right. People inthe right chairs doing the right jobs. Or as he says, the, the right behinds onthe bus and the wrong behinds off the bus.

Yeah. Making sure that you have theright people with the right vision to execute. I still worry about thatconstantly. Yeah. Are. , are we spending our resources in the right areas?  

Julian: Yeah. Yeah. And ifeverything goes well, what's the long-term vision?  

Michael: What a great question.The quick answer is, I don't know, , now that's not the VC answer.

The venture capital community wants tosay, we're gonna exit in three to five years and we're gonna get acquired by. Ainsurance company or by a consulting company or by a large contract largecontractor of some sort, those could all very well happen. Yeah. We're growingat such a rapid rate that is pretty exciting and we will have those options.

There is also the option of continuingto grow and, see what things look like in three to five years. If we, when weget to a hundred million in revenue, , you get to really ask yourselves what dowe want to do? Yeah. I'm not married to my companies anymore, I, I, I'm okaywith, I'm okay with whatever route works best for the company.

As long as we're being successful. Yeah.We're having fun. I will get offers to be acquired. I already know that. Yeah.I'm not. when that will happen, and yeah. Whether or not we'll want to take itbut that's, that's the, that's the reason we all do this. Right, right. At theend of the day, take care of our family, take care of each other, and have agood time.

Yeah. Yeah. And I'm still having a goodtime and most of the time my family's tolerating it .  

Julian: I love that. And, andI know we're I, I always like to, to, go through this section really quickly,but I called the, the founder F faq, so I'm gonna ask you some RapidFirequestions and we'll see what we get.

What's the hardest part about your jobtoday?  

Michael: Staying out of the wayof other people doing their jobs.  

Julian: Yeah. That's a goodone. What how, how do you maintain culture in a, in a, in a remote? And itsounds like you have some in office, but how do you maintain culture? What,what structural things would you advise other founders implement?

Michael: All right, so, so ourcultural values are be awesome. Lifelong learning, own it, authenticity and bespicy. And those values as a company, although they sound really quirky and. .We have, we live up to those. We have a good time here. I mean, we have SpicyMondays, we call 'em. It started on Zoom. Yeah. Where during Covid we all wouldhave a theme.

We had, Sesame Street theme or we hadHawaiian shirt theme or favorite hat theme, yeah, yeah. Just to keep it fun.We've done a good job. We really have, but it's hard. It's really, really hard,especially with, as we have some remote. In, I say in office, but even ourin-office people aren't in office every day.

Yeah. The whole culture of of go wakingup and working nine to five, five days a week. seven days a week. Yeah. That'sthe ceo. seven days a week if you don't wanna work. The eighth day , no. No.But five days a week being in the office all the time, it just doesn't, itdoesn't happen anymore. Yeah. And so I.

I'm 47 years old and I've been around along time, and I'm kind of the elder statesman in the group nowadays, and Ihave to kind of get used to how to maintain that culture and listen to the teamand mm-hmm. , focus on output and not ours. . Mm-hmm. . Yeah. Which is the mostimportant thing that any of us can do.

Mm-hmm. . Yeah. Yeah. And measuring andmeasuring output is hard. Yeah.  

Julian: For other founders outthere, what, what advice would you give them in terms of hiring the rightpeople? Where do you go? How do you vet them? What do you do? As team is socritical from going from zero to one and even one.

Michael: I, it is, I'm gonnasound like a total cliche, but I'm gonna say it anyways. , make sure thatyou're honest with yourself about where you are weak. Yeah. Nobody is strongeverywhere and I am not the greatest detail person. I am not the greatest atkeeping a, a solid calendar . I am not, I'm not a great operator.

I have, I brought in a co-founder. Justsix months after starting the company. And she's all those things. She's anoperator. She's a detailed person. She has a memory like a, like an elephantman. Yeah. She can remember the names of people she interviewed three years agothat are pros on our platform.

Wow. I mean, it's, it's insane. Yeah.Know where you're, where you're weakest and were your most vulnerable, and hirethose areas first. And you should be okay because. And that's gonna change.Yeah. It's gonna change. So sometimes you think to yourself, well I can do thisfor now because it's not as important.

I will also tell you that having anaccountant that you trust is really, really important. Yeah. And it's not froma theft perspective, it's from a, being honest with you perspective, cuz mostentrepreneurs. Will outspend themselves into a bad spot. Yeah. Yeah, that'strue. You get a little bit, you get a little bit of money, and you hire sixpeople and you're like, whoa, that's not smart.

Probably should have just hired two. Seehow it went, and then hire one more. But you like. Yeah. Well, I need thisperson. I need this person. I need this person. We're gonna be good for sixmonths, so we're good. And it's like, okay, six months comes pretty fast. Yeah,yeah, yeah. And now you're under the gun of what am I gonna do?

Right, right. So that's that's part ofthe, of the journey. Yeah. Of yeah. And, and honestly, not another totalcliche, but fine mentors. Yeah. I have so many great mentors. I have so manypeople that I. that I can call on and just say, all right, I'm freaking outhere. We, we just got this opportunity, or we just lo or I hired somebody and,and.

I got over my skis and I, I don't haveenough money to pay everybody that I've hired. I mean, cuz that was a problemfour years ago. Three years ago. Yeah. Yeah. And when your early stage ithappens, it's like, okay, you're banking on this deal that you know is gonnacome in. Yeah. It's gonna happen.

So I gotta get ahead of this so I havethe people I need. . And so you hire before you win and that happens a lot.I've learned that lesson , you don't hire until you win. Yeah, yeah, yeah.  

Julian: Yeah. I like thementor piece. I, I think that goes under, not undervalued, but it, it is, it iskind of the, the hack in a lot of of companies to be able to, and a lot offounder journeys, to be able to lean on people who've done it before or have aninsight that, or even just extract you from the moment to have you see kind ofa granted view.

Men mentors are definitely key. I knowwe're coming to the close, close of the episode, but before we do one lastquestion. What books or people whether it was early in your career or now haveinfluenced you the most?  

Michael: Oh, wow. Wow. Well, Imentioned Jim Collins. Good To Great is a great book. I love listening topodcasts.

I'm a big podcast fan. So. , I shouldhave had notes in front of me on the podcast and books that I, that I listenedto. Adam Grant. Thank you. It came Taken for Granted is a big, I'm a big fan ofAdam Grants. Yeah. I'm also a big fan of there's a new book that I've justfinished and I've been reading and I've been listening to it, so I'm actuallyjust gonna pull it up here.

It's called speaking Peace. Mm. ,speaking pieces by Marshall Rosenberg, and it was the, if you've heard ofnon-violent communication. Yeah, yeah, yeah. He wrote the non-violent communication.But this speaking piece is actually better than the non-violent communication,in my opinion. Really. And the reason for it is practical.

It gives you practical lessons and itteach you, teaches you the difference between feelings and needs. Yeah. And youknow how. . And when you manage people and that even can be your kids, you usethe example of your children. It's like, I need you to clean up your room. No,you don't. Yeah, yeah, yeah. You don't need them to clean up your room. You'dlike them to clean up their room and here's the reason why. . Yeah. But you godown this path and when you, when I ask you to do it and you don't do it, howdoes it make, how does it make me feel? Right. Right. Yeah. I feel like youdon't respect the house. I feel like you don't respect me.

I feel like you don't respect yourself.Yeah. But you go and you, you kind of dissect it because usually people use theterms, and this is why I really like this book, is they use terms that areemotionally charged. Mm-hmm. . , you never listened to me. You don't trust me.Yeah. I can't trust you.

It's like, hold on a second. It's like,let's  

Julian: reasons. Yeah.  

Michael: Let's, yeah, let'shold on. Why do you, why do you feel you don't trust me? Well, I asked you todo this and you didn't do it. Yeah. Okay. So you're upset because I didn't dothis. Let's talk about why, yeah. But I think this book is just really, I mean,it's making me think, I don't mean to be get on a book report here, but , it'sjust super, I mean, I've been, as I'm driving to work, I've been like, huh,yeah, yeah, yeah, I can, I can put this practice and I'm.

I'm actually dealing with some of thesethings in my home and work every day. So it's, yeah, it's pretty fun. So yeah,so I would I would definitely recommend speaking peace and I got a thousandbucks.  

Julian: Sure, yeah. Yeah,that's a great place to start. I love the communication bit cuz it's somethingwe can always improve in something, I think I talk about my personalrelationships a lot now and learn a little bit more about how to communicatethe, the exact kind of reason or purpose or feeling or motivation.

And how much more important that is thanthe conclusive thought. And, and moving backwards from there. It's like you're,you're moving through it in a progressive way. And that's a cool, that's a coolthing. I'll, I'll add that to my ring list and I know, I know we're comingclose to the end of the episode and I, I want to give you a chance to give usyour plugs.

So, tell us where we can find you, tellus where we can support and your LinkedIns, your websites, where can we be partof YellowBird and you as a founder and.  

Michael: Well, anybody whowants to link in with me, I, I post a fair amount and I always try to give somelevels of wisdom about things I'm learning, both in health and safety as wellas in life.

So it's Michael dot z z a l l e,LinkedIn slash Michael Zalle. Our website is It's g I cannot seem to get the cuz the guy won't sellit to me. And I'm also fighting with yellow bird hot sauce, who's got way moremoney than I do, so I'm never gonna get so is going to bewhere I'm stuck forever.

And if anybody has. Ideas or interestsor things that they want to talk to me about, feel free to DM me. I try torespond to my direct messages as long as I'm not getting pitched. I do getpitched a fair amount, and I'm happy to give guidance and mentorship to anybodywho's interested. But it's, it's becoming a problem on LinkedIn where, youknow, of my 50 messages a day, three of 'em were people who actually, youactually.

Julian: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.Exactly. Exactly. Well, Michael, it's been such a pleasure having you on theshow and going through your journey and what you're working on at, atYellowBird and all the wisdom that you shared. I, I appreciate and I know ouraudience will. So thank you again for being on the show and, and I hope youenjoyed yourself on Behind Company. Lines.

Michael: Hey, I loved it, man.Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

Julian: Of course.

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