Larry Kesslin, is an Entrepreneur and a Connector at Spire. His father walked the tight-rope between professional success and financial failure, using “Think and Grow Rich” as his Bible. As a child and teenager, Larry absorbed the lesson that the family’s emotional well-being depended on its volatile financial fortunes. In his fifties, Larry’s quest has intensified. Instead of “success,” he seeks significance. He recently reconfigured his consulting business partnership of 20 years in order to find the intersection of purpose and personal connections that bring deep joy to life. “Success Redefined: When Wants Become Needs” is the account of his journey.
He has learned a number of incredibly valuable lessons on his journey, not the least of which is that it's hard to be purposeful when you can't pay the bills, that he is going to share in this interview.
In this interview we talked about:
His transition Journey from Corporate America to Entrepreneurship.
Why it's important from a community perspective, that how business leaders can shape and change the world?
More about Capitalism.
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Intro 00:01 This is Silicon Valley Tech behind the scenes, a podcast hosted by Shawn Flynn and Sunil S Ranka. Here’s where we talk to the real heroes to find out how decisions are made, and how they're executed to create the thriving businesses of tomorrow.
And that was Larry Kesslin, the Chief Connector at Spire. Spire formerly Corporate Alliance is a community of business people that foster trust, respect, and a spirit of ideation amongst its members. Larry, at his core, he's an Entrepreneur and a Connector. He has been searching his entire life for the balance between purpose and work to create a new definition of success. This road that's not easy to navigate in today's society. He's excelled at. On today's show, we talked about the power of network, we talked about how to create wins for everyone, and much more. So let's begin.
Shawn Flynn 01:04
Larry, you have this amazing background where throughout your whole life it sounds like you've been the ultimate connector, can you share with us maybe a story or a time that really impacted you that kind of propelled this, the ultimate connector that you are today.
Larry Kesslin 01:18
That's a really good question. Well, first of all, thank you for having me on the show today and I appreciate the opportunity, I would say probably the most, one of the most impactful connection opportunities what happened to me back in 2012, I got involved with a nonprofit here in San Diego that was bringing computers to rural villages in eastern Northern Uganda. And I got a chance to go visit Uganda in the summer of 2012. We took about a month, and we left the end of July came back at the end of August and when we were in Uganda, I had amazing experience, the first challenge we ran into is that we got to the airport. Somebody told me I was waiting at the baggage carousel for my bags in entebbe, and we had a taxi driver waiting for us there and this person says, oh, there's a list over there. And I'm like, what kind of list a list of all the bags that didn't make it on the plane. I'm like, oh, okay, so I'm like, my bags are here and I walk over to the table. And the first four names on the list were Kesslin and Kesslin and Kesslin and Kesslin, just my last name. So there are four of us, my wife and my kids were 12 and 10 at the time, we have a daughter and a son. They're now 20 and 18. My son will be 19 next week, I was sent to lady I said why my name is on this list. And they said well, there's a bunch of bags that the plane was overweight. And we couldn't fit the bags on the plane. I said so what do we do, she said, you can get in touch with the office here in Kampala, and talk to them. So this is a Sunday we go to the it's like 3:30-45 in the morning, we land we get in the taxi around 4:15 ISH because all we had was a carry on, we had nothing to pick up. And we start driving from Entebbe to Kampala which is about an hour drive and it's pitch black, I'm in the passenger seat on the other side of the car, because they drive drive that's a British colony so they drive on the wrong side of the road. My wife and two kids are in the back. This guy is passing cars on turn and I'm like dude alive. I just want to get there alive. I'm in no rush at 4 o'clock in the morning. I don't need to get there. So it's pitch black, on the side of the roads, bicycles, cows, people walking. It was like, it's totally different world to what I'm used to. And I get to Kampala and then on Monday, we finally call Turkish Airlines. And they say come in tomorrow. And we'll talk to you about your bags. So we go shopping that day, we spent a couple 100 bucks on some stuff my wife needs my daughter needs. And the next day we go to the office and Turkish Airlines and we say to the gentlemen, we lost our bags, can you help us? He said I think can give you $600 I'm like that's a good start. We'll take that. And he comes back about 15 minutes later. And he says I just talked to my manager and I can only give you $300 I'm like there's four of us. I'm in a country that I don't know, and you're gonna want it. So I said can I please talk to the country director so the country director invites us in and we go sit with him. And I'm sitting in this chair across the desk from him my wife's next to me and she's pissed. She's yelling at him and I'm I'm an entrepreneur, you know, when you're an entrepreneur, you realize that most things in life aren't attributable to the person sitting across the table from you so this guy is just sitting there he's the country director for Turkish Airlines. He's not the one that decided not to put our bags on the plane. He's not the one who did anything other than sitting in that chair in that moment. So I'm relaxed. I'm just talking to him and my wife's given him a, I can't believe you're only doing this. I'm like, sir, I understand, he said, sir, I can only give you $300 per bag. But in the first couple of days, I can only give you for one bag. He says your your bags will be at the airport tomorrow morning on the same flight arriving at 03:45. I'll have them shipped to where you are. I said no, no, no, no, I'm going to go pick them up because I need to get to my next stop. So I ended up going to bed it's timezone changes, I have to go to bed about 03:30 in the morning, and the taxi driver picks me up at 4. So I like a 30 minutes of sleep. And I go down to the airport and I'm walking in and the guy who offered me the 600 bucks that changed it to 300 bucks is walking out of the airport at about a little before 5:00 am and I say hi to him and he just walked right past me. I should have known at that moment that my bags still weren't on the next plane either. So we get back from the airport, go back to Turkish Airlines. This is now Wednesday. And now I go with the guy I'm staying with who runs a nonprofit there and he's like, do you know why we're back in the guy's office? And within 30 seconds he hands me another $900 sir, and then my friends yelling at him and I'm like, Joshua, it's okay. He gave me enough. That's good. So we ended up getting $1200 in cash for losing our bags for eventually six days. And the guy we were staying with had lots of people stay with him so we had all these clothes. I tell you the story because when we first got to the city in eastern Uganda a day and a half later called Bali, we got to this little village in outside of Bali called the Bio Daya. I happen to be Jewish and it's a Jewish community about 1500 Jews in Uganda. 500 of them live around this community with a rabbi and we spent some time there because we were going to build technology center with 30 computers on their campus. So the woman who brought me there who runs the nonprofit says there's a young man here, who is probably the smartest kid I've met since I've been coming to Uganda. And he needs $1,000 to take a pilot's test now, here's a white man in Africa called a Mazinga. Here's a Mazinga, who just got handed $1200 from an airline. I spent literally about $200 on supplies so I literally had $1,000 left. And there's a kid who needs money to become a pilot. And I was just given money from an airline.
So I sit there and I tell my wife, I said, there's this kid here, who needs this money. And are you open to giving it to him, and she's like, let me meet him. So the next morning, we meet him and she says, yeah, I liked him. He was super smart, he quoted the Bible. I mean, learner kid, grew up in Africa, was legally named Armstrong. I mean, Armstrong pilot, I mean, it's just too good to be true. So I went back to my room, and I was told to bring crisp $100 bills, 2008 or newer. So I went to three different banks to find crisp, $100 bills to use as exchange and I handed him 10 $100 bills The next morning, and he leaves. He says, Thank you very much. He's appreciative and I said, we'll be in Nairobi at the airport, you're working out. And this is a kid who was making $1 to $2 a day, working at the airport, sleeping in a tent about 10 miles from the airport, and he would spend every day cleaning planes carrying bags, whatever he could do. And the guy who ran the school on the the airport would let him attend the school because he was so smart. He had no money. And so I gave him 1000 bucks. He takes the test and two and a half weeks later, we end up in Nairobi at Wilson airport, and I told him the flight we're coming back on we went to Amboseli and Masai Mara after spending time up in Gulu, I spent a lot of time in these rural villages. It changed my life. Literally, I came back from that trip. I have another story about after I got back, but so I'm at the airport a day before we come back to the US and there's Armstrong, Mr. Larry, Mr. Larry, and I'm like Armstrong, how are you? He says, I passed my test. Like I'm showing that is great. And he says, Now I need money for flight lessons. But I'm like, I'm Armstrong, I just got back from a week of Safari., give me some time to process this. Congratulations for passing your test. I have your cell phone number. When I get back to the States, I will call you. So for the next year and a half every other Sunday at 7:00 am pacific time I would get on the phone with Armstrong in Uganda. And after about a month, we agreed that we would send him some money. I sent him. He said I need $7,000 to get my private pilot's license. Okay. And his English was very challenging. So I ended up saying, Here's $7500 my business was doing well. Money to me was just like flowing it was I was in a good place in my life. And I said, Why don't you take the 7000 for the flight lessons. Here's $500 to go take some English tutoring. So he gets English tutoring and then goes to meet, gets his pilot's license couple months later goes to meet the guy who promised him a job and he shows him the private pilot's license certificate. And this commander at Tanzania air says Oh, Armstrong, you need a commercial pilot's license, not a private pilot's license. So I started doing some research on what it would take. And I did some research on the US versus Nairobi, and it would cost about $60,000 in either place. Then i said Armstrong, I can't afford $60,000. And I can't raise money for a picture. So here's your project, you got to figure out how to get a visa back to the night. That's a kid making $1 to $2 a day. So you figure out how to get a piece of the United States. We'll take it from there. This is now middle of 2013 second week of January in 2014. He got his visa. In February 6, he landed at San Diego airport. I picked him up and imagine a kid growing up in a in a mud hut, with a thatched roof, who spent multiple years of his life living in a tent on somebody else's property going to an airport every day and coming to San Diego. Getting picked up by a successful business person who at that time was driving a Ford convertible on a 10 lane highway, top down Saturday night, coming back to Carlsbad. And he's looking around at all this stuff. It's like magical. It's like this whole new world. And my mother-in-law happened to be in town that day. She was leaving the next day. So I couldn't have him stay at my house. So I dropped them at a buddy's house to stay overnight. And I pick them up the next morning and he's walking around the house. He'd never seen sheetrock before. He'd never seen recessed lighting before. I mean, not a hot that's roof kid, like his father grew up with a loincloth, like grew up as a nomad in Uganda, in has gone from loincloth to close to cell phone in his lifetime.
So Armstrong comes to my house, and he says Mr. Larry, can I build a fire. I am like Armstrong, what would you like? He said, I'd like to make some te. So I said come over here so I take him to the water cooler with a little red button. I said put your cup over here and here's a tea bag and he pours the water and he's looking behind the machine. He's like where's the fire? I stood him a washing machine, a dishwasher or refrigerator. I mean he is like amazed. So that was 2014 Armstrong this year got married in my backyard in June. He was in the army for close to a year. So he's an american citizen now. He is fully trained FAA certified as a Frame Inspector Engine Inspection. And he's about to get his commercial pilot's license. And the airport that he used to work at, there was an Italian couple older Italian couple that owned a hangar with three airplanes in it, he died. And the woman's been looking for Armstrong for two years, because he hasn't been back. And he finally went back and he saw her and she says, I want I had been looking for you, I want to sell you my hangar and my airplanes. So he put $15,000 down, she wanted $100,000 for everything. He's gonna go into business with her. He got married in June, he is pregnant with their first child. And they're going to move to Nairobi, because the commitment I made with Armstrong, as I said, I will invest in you, my wife and I, we will invest in you. But it's not for you to become an American, you're here to learn what you need to learn to go back to your country, and make a difference in your world. So he's worked at FedEx, since he's been here, he's worked a lot of places a lot of places and he wants to build a FedEx in Africa. He wants to build a commercial carrier company and people and he's got he's just got a dream. He's 31 years old and you talk about connecting to me that's connecting, I had an opportunity. Somebody introduced me to somebody, I took advantage of that opportunity. I've connected him dozens and dozens of people that have donated to his cause. I found a friend who had a nonprofit that said, I'll handle your all of your stuff for 6%, just whatever you send to me, I'll just take a small percentage, and I'll put the cash in his account. So they can do it as a donation. And we've set up this whole infrastructure to help Armstrong become pilot. So we had this whole campaign, and I probably raised about $25,000, my wife and I probably invested about 50. And when we got back from our trip in 2015, my life changed in 2012. When I got back from that trip, and in 2015, we told I'm sorry, we're out of cash, we can't support you anymore, because I walked away from my business after 20 years, because of this whole need for purpose and meaning in my life. Imagine coming back from Africa, spending a month with people like Armstrong, probably the happiest people I've ever met in my life that have nothing. And then six weeks later, I went to this conference called opportunity collaboration. And I don't know if you know about OSI but it's down in Mexico once a year in the US once a year. It's all about solving world poverty. So I started doing well in my career and I wanted to do good now. So I started going to all these conferences, I went to socap in San Francisco for my 50th birthday, I started going to opportunity collaboration, I went to do a be a mentor at a Latin American incubator in Nicaragua in early 2014. So I just started spending all my time and money trying to figure out how to change the world. So I go to this conference, literally six weeks after I get back from from Africa. And the first three questions I'm asked in my little work breakout group is called a colloquium. They put 15 people in a room, there's 400 people at this conference, they break them into small groups. First three questions. I'm asked, What is poverty? Who gets to define it? And why are we trying to fix it? I'm sitting there coming back from Africa, saying these people were pretty happy. They might not have had much. So are they really poor? Are they just impoverished? At the end of the day, about a year later, I realized, you know, we're the ones who are poor. They're just impoverished, they have so much. And then I did a TED talk in early 2014, about the disconnected, connected world. And my theory, which I turned into a book called Success Redefined, is all about the fact that in Africa, the people that I saw had deep, meaningful connections. There's a study out of Harvard over 80 + years that says at 50 years old, they can tell somebody who's going to be happy to 80 by one criteria at the age of 50. And that's the depth and quality of their relationships. People have deep meaningful relationships at 50. They'll be happy at 80. If they don't, they'll be lonely at 80. Very simple. So in Africa, people are not only connected to each other for some reason that I believe I can explain. But they're also connected to the land because they're still farming and they still pick their own food. They're connected to their ancestors, because there's no Google to give them all their answers and they actually go to the elders to get information and wisdom. So they're deeply connected to everything. Rugged individualism, we're about ourselves, we're about me, so I can't. The thing that I digested after about 18 months after getting back from Africa, when I did my TED talk in 2014, in January, I literally left I did the TED talk on Saturday, I left on Monday to go to Nicaragua to do that incubator project. And it was all this stuff coming together and Maslow, Abraham Maslow created this hierarchy of needs and the foundation of mezzos hierarchy is food, water, shelter and safe. Let's just call that survival, like real human survival. In the middle is love and belonging and self esteem. Let's call that me. Me at the top is self actualization, which is our own individual purpose. my contention in the book I wrote is that if Massa was alive today, he would tell you that it wasn't about survival is your fundamental needs and self actualization is an aspirational thing. He would say that survival is our greatest human instinct as an animal on this planet, but it's also our greatest human purpose. And if you think about the hierarchy differently, the foundation of Maslow's hierarchy is our own instinctive purpose, which we don't have to think about and the top of it is our own individual purpose which we were given and if you're beyond survival, You need to find your own purpose. So you can connect more deeply with other human beings. Because what I found in Africa, if you're in survival mode, you're connected to everybody else around you in survival mode, because you're all trying to do the same thing get through the day. And since we're past that most of us can we have our own definition of survival in our culture, first world survival is different than food, water or shelter safety. We need to find our own reason for being so that we can connect more deeply. So when Sunil said to you earlier, when he introduced you to me, I spent my entire life I'm 57 years old, I'd say the first 50 years of my life, maybe even 50 to 53 years of my life. I spent trying to get to know people through their favorite sports teams, through what sports they were interested in, through their hobbies, through all the stuff, all the surface level stuff, when I start to talk to people about who they are, and if they're who they are, matches my who I am, the connection is like instant. And there's such a difference between connecting at a purpose level versus a surface level. And that's what I've been looking at for the last, I'd say five years of my life actively. You asked about connecting. There's a guy, Jason Gaynor, who has this community made podcast up in Toronto, he does these conferences, and I listened to him and he uses this term, which I really love called the uncommon commonalities. And when I look to connect people, I love connecting people around the uncommon commonalities. somebody tells me, they're interested in martial arts. Oh, I have a bunch of friends that are interested in martial arts that are, I have one friend that's been teaching it down at UCSD for 35 years Neville Bilimoria. So I'm like, you shouldn't be my friend nevel he, you'd have a great conversation. And I don't know where it's gonna go. I introduced two guys to each other because their smile reminded me of each other. And they really loved having breakfast together, I have no idea. Sometimes I meet people and names pop in my head. And it's never the same name. So I mean, that's who I am. That's not just, it's not what I do. It's at the core of my being. So what I've done over the last five years since I re-designed my life, is how do I make a living being the person I was born to be versus the person I was taught to me for the first 50 years of my life.
Sunil Ranka 18:31
So read this amazing, we've been talking for. We've been listening to you for last 20 minutes and every sentence what you said, transpired into an a whole episode of its itself. The topics like uncommon commonality, deeply connected people, and one of the things that you just talked about resonated fairly well is people that 50 will be happy and 80 if they are deeply connected and rooted with the in terms of the relationship. I mean, some of those things, and listener can definitely connect to that. But bringing up one more important point, what we've been talking with each other is your transition from the corporate America to Entrepreneurship. That's one of the hardest part because when you are in corporate America, you live in the shelter, you live in that cocoon and balloon, and you feel you're a king of the kingdom but that kingdom is never yours till you build one. How would you describe your journey from transition of from corporate America to Entrepreneurship?
Larry Kesslin 19:36
Well, I would say that the biggest challenge that I face from after 29, I had a conversation with my boss at 27 and I said I was at GE, small little company at the time, only about 300,000 employees. And Jack Welch was the CEO at the time. And so I walked into my boss's office, I'd been there about 3 years, maybe 2.5 years. And I said, here's my take on the company. There's 25% of the people that do everything, get everything done, they handle all the problems, they get everything moved through. There's 65% of the people that are really nice people. They're good people, they're kind, they're generous. They're good. They don't do anything. And they might even be really efficient, but they have no effectiveness in the organization at all. And then there's 10% that actually caused problems. Like, how do you deal with that? So the first thing that triggered me is that he didn't argue with my numbers. So at GE, you're rated one through five. So the top 25% were the ones, he says I leave the ones alone. So I'm a 27 year old corporate person, thinking that this might be my career. First thing I'm taught is you don't get to work with the best people. You let them do whatever they do, because you leave them alone. Lesson number one, this guy had been there 17 years stock options. I went to his retirement party 20 years later, he retired after 39 years and I was living in San Diego and I flew to Charlottesville, Virginia to go his retirement party. So that was the first thing he says I take the top 10% of 65% trying to get them into the 25%. And then majority of my time is managing the noise. I'm sitting there as a 27 year old saying, this is not for me. So two years later, I ended up doing a week of volunteer work, same stories in Africa, spent a week with 85, inner city kids in Colorado and I came back at the end of that trip, realizing that those kids were much more much happier than I was, and they had so much less than I did. And part of my challenge was that I was a number at a big corporation. That was meaningless. I landed on Saturday, and I called my boss on Monday, and I told him, I'm done. I was like, what I mean, you're resigning? What are you going to do? And I said, I have no idea, but not this. And that was March 2 of 1993. My last year in GE was April 15 and the transition took probably a good five years to figure out how to make some money. But the biggest challenge Sunil, for those people that are thinking about that transition is that most people don't understand a couple things. I guess lesson I learned when I got out is that 75 plus percent of my time was internally focused in GE, and most of my relationships were relationships inside the company. So when you work for a big company, most of your relationships live inside the company, and you need to build relationships outside your company, before you leave. Because of all your time sucked up inside and you go someplace else, you have no network, your whole infrastructure has gone, really big, important piece. The second thing is if you actually go start your own business, you don't realize how much of your time is taken up by inside of a corporation. So the amount of time you actually have to do work is infinitely more on the entrepreneurial side than it ever was in corporate America. And the last piece is about money, what's a little bit of money to a corporation is a lot of money to an entrepreneur. And you start looking at money very differently. When you're writing, let's say you're part of a $5 billion organization, and you get to write a check for $200,000. For a piece of equipment, that's corporate money, you don't even bat an eye, you just go write the check and it's done. You start writing a check when it's your own money, the conversation totally changes that's like, I can either write that check, or I can send my kid to private school. That doesn't happen in corporate America, there's no budget, that there's a blend, there's a there's a blur on the entrepreneurial side, between my money and the company's money. But in corporate America, the money for the company is that money for the company, and you have the budget to do this stuff. And a lot of entrepreneurial businesses don't work that way. So if you're thinking about leaving the corporate cocoon, the bubble, be prepared to figure out how to build your infrastructure, replace the ecosystem that you live in with the new ecosystem, or else you'll be very lonely. And it will be challenging to build and find that support system that you really need as an entrepreneur. I just see too many people, career long, 20 years, same company, or even 20 years for different companies, whatever it is, they don't spend much time outside of their company the job that they're in. So go find some communities go find some networks of people that you can get to know outside your company before you leave. So you actually have some type of infrastructure. And now your friends, anybody who knows you closely as an entrepreneur, they all have an agenda, or believe in what you're doing and support you. And then they tell you what they think you want to hear, or they don't believe you, and they don't support you. And they have an agenda to help you fail type of thing. So I think you need to find people that don't have an emotional attachment to you and can give you unbiased feedback, versus those that are committed. There's a organization called score, service corps of retired executives. And there was a guy that I met in New York City, who said to me and a few other people, I'm here to tell those crazy entrepreneurs that they should go get a job. So he's one of those naysayers, that's corporate guy his whole life, and understand entrepreneurship, and there is there to shoot down people's dreams. There's lots of people like that, and you need to just let it go. Just need to understand.
Sunil Ranka 25:01
This is this very interesting, because what I have believed throughout my career is people who know you very well, they may or may not buy directly from you, and the people whom you do not know and meeting for the first time they believe in your vision and mission, and they tend to buy more from you. So this this totally makes sense because one of the thing what I've realized is people make the first impression mistake is they tend to go to explore their immediate network, who are their good friends, acquaintance, thinking that that's my network, and they try to just tap into that, but that that network is so shallow and small that you run out of it very soon. So I would advise the same way, which is just said ready that expand your network before you bring on the entrepreneurial journey. Yeah, yes, cool.
Shawn Flynn 25:56
Larry, can we go a little bit deeper into how important is it to have a story.
Larry Kesslin 26:05
I think everybody relates to story. I think one of the challenges we have in our society today is we're just inundated with data. We're just given we're fed lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of data. And all I've been doing for the last, I'd say 15 to 20 years since I wrote our first my first book with a partner. On the second book, I would stand on stage and I would just tell stories, people remember stories a lot more than I remember information, I can identify and connect. So the end of my TED talk is a story about a young woman who now is a client of the outsource accounting firm I'm working with and she's in DC. And it's amazing story. It's probably worth telling. So she's, her name is Carrie Rich. She's in a mid 30s now, and she's brilliant. So director of a Inova, which is a Health Insurance company in DC. And she's a director at 26. So grant, Georgetown, graduate school, super smart, on the fast path. And it's our 26th birthday and our boss looks at her and says, instead of me taking you out to lunch, let me give you 100 bucks, I wanted to see how much you can raise and what a difference you can make in the world. So this young lady decides that she's going to raise $6,000, for six different charities around the world $1,000 each, she writes this whole email up. And she talks about the organization in Haiti that there's $1,000 will buy 24 families meals for a year, whatever the number was, she did this for six different charities. And she sent out this email and the subject of the email, the subject title line was the global good fund. So she sends this email out to all of her friends and our email inbox and within about two, three weeks, she gets $6,054 and she's very pleased with herself and she raises the money and she starts giving it to these organizations. And about two or three weeks later, she gets this email from some very famous person, she won't share with me because he wants to be anonymous. I found it is a key. That's about as far as she got with me and he said, How do I donate a million dollars to the global good fund. So she's thinking it's one of her friends pranking her. So she sends back a snooty little email saying, if you're serious, come to lunch tomorrow at this restaurant and bring a certified check for a million dollars, and we can discuss it. So she shows up at lunch at this place the next day and this guy shows up with a certified check for a million dollars made out to the global good fund. This is a 26 year old, who's just raised $6,000, to go make an impact and this guy says, I want to invest in you to see how you can go change the world. So she goes back to her boss, and I know that but this check throws it on his desk and says look what a little bit of money did because he started with this $100 gift. And he looked at her. And for some reason, I think he set this whole thing up. But I don't know, I don't know him at all. but he looks at me and he says that I know that you work for me and at the global good fund, I work for you. And he said a matching the million dollars. Now here's a 26 year old woman with $2 Million to go change the world. So she started a fellowship program, that she still runs today, multimillion dollar project that brings in entrepreneurs from all over the world she raises money from some of the top corporations and top philanthropists around the globe and she mentors them. And one of her top coaches is good friend of mine that introduced your church so I connect all these people together. But that story of how do you use your life to actually affect the world, which is a topic Sunil and I have talked about and it's something that is passionate to me right now in my life, is how do I help people understand that business is not a vehicle to create more capital so that you can live a better life. There's nothing wrong with having a business that creates capital that allows you to live a better life. But if that's the sole purpose for your business, that's why I walked away from my last company. Most of my clients, that's all they thought about so when I started doing my own conferences, and the SEC the last conference I did I started talking to people really about purpose and meaning and why do you do what you do? And they all looked at me with these blank faces. So that conference, I went to six weeks after going to Africa, went to three years in a row 2012, 2013 and 2014. And when I was in 2014, I realized I was spending 51 weeks a year helping people make money so I could make more money. And spending one week a year going to this conference trying to figure out how to change the world. What if I spent 52 weeks of the year figuring out how to make money from making a difference, versus using my money to make a difference. And that's when I walked away from my company, pulled my kids out of school for six months, took a trip around the world and came back and I started from scratch. In San Diego my last business required me to get on airplanes and go to meetings all across the US. I had a team of 9 or 10 people working on projects for our clients all over the country and I didn't want to get on airplanes anymore. I was living in San Diego who wants to leave San Diego. Why would you go to the airport for anything other than pleasure. Why would you get on an airport An airplane in San Diego to go someplace else to do business, when there's enough business here to make a living. So when I got back from my trip, my kids were 13 and 15. And I'm like, I want to be there for the next few years of their life. I want to be there every day. And I've totally redesigned my life to connect and find and build a community of purpose driven leaders here in San Diego. And one of those purpose driven leaders that I met happens to own an outsourced accounting firm. And he's become a client of the community. But also I've been doing business development work for him. And I'm having the best time of my life. Because I'm representing all people that care about more than just making money that a business as a vehicle so cash flow capitalism, everybody is saying that Capitalism is a bad thing, Capitalism is amazing thing, what's bad is greed. Make creating cash flow is a beautiful thing, what you do with the cash flow, that's a whole another conversation. And just because Jeff Bezos started Amazon, there's no reason he's worth $100 billion in my book, what what is he going to do with all that money. What is he going to do to improve society. Other than buy whatever the hell he wants in this lifetime and is 10 generations to come.
What is that? That's not capitalism. That's greed, in my opinion. And there's people like Gates who said, well, I was making it that whole time, and now I'm giving it back but the Gates Foundation, that's fine. I was approached a month ago by a friend, I'm actually having dinner with him tomorrow night. He just got appointed to one of the top boards in San Diego Solera got appointed to this board, Conrad Brothers, they have a billion dollars to give away, right now they have about 200 million in cash, and they have about 900, or a billion dollars worth of real estate assets. They're gonna liquidate, he's gonna have all this money so would you give it away all at once and like a 10 year period? Or would you do the 5% and let it sustain for life? I said, What about a third option? What's that? I said, what if you became the Gates Foundation in San Diego? What if you became the bellwether place that actually taught everybody. How to give money effectively. Which organizations are actually doing good? Because business is the foundation cash flow is the foundation of everything, that we live in a society that needs cash flow, but why does some people need a billion dollars? What are you gonna do as a billionaire I, my kids are kept a million and a half each. If I make tons of money, if I make $10 20 30 40 million, it's not going to my kids will just screw up their life. How many Trust Fund kids do you know, that are really healthy and grounded versus how many of them are strung out on drugs and have no purpose in their life. We're not helping them by giving them all this stuff. That's not the solution.
Sunil Ranka 33:47
So this is very interesting, where when and this was one of the reason when we spoke for the first time, it struck a chord together. I always thought business as a cash flow important, but at the same time, it was more like money making. But when we had a conversation for the first time, and to understand that a purpose driven business could be fun as well. So steering to the next thought here, why it's important from a community perspective, that we got to have the purpose driven business leaders, and how they can shape and change the world.
Larry Kesslin 34:28
So the nonprofit ecosystem was built 50 years ago, late 1960s, the 501 C, ecosystem was built. So 501 c 351 c six, all the different structures. And if you're going to San Diego in 1975, and you were interested in homelessness, then you could go to one of the five or six homelessness organizations in town, join the board, not be asked to write a check you were joining the board because you are passionate about solving the homelessness problem. And you would meet all the other people in town that were trying to deal with homelessness. And because the executive directors for these different organizations needed each other because it's this new structure, and they're helping each other, you fast forward 50 years. How landscapes changed in San Diego, there's close to 12,000 nonprofits, probably close to 1000 dealing with homelessness. You joined the board of a nonprofit, homelessness type organization, odds are you're writing a check because you come with a check. Odds are half of the board members are there because the corporation told them, it's really good to be on a board to put on your resume. They're not there because they're passionate about homelessness. And they're taking on roles within the nonprofit that they're not qualified for, nor have they ever been trained for what the responsibilities are to be on the board of a nonprofit. The founder of that nonprofit is concerned about their cash flow, so they're not introducing their board members to other board members. You end up in this little silo and you don't get to see the entire picture of the thing you're interested in solving the problem. So it's now become this fragmented machine. And it's broken. And actually, in many ways, I think the pandemic will help. Because a lot of those organizations that can't raise money will go away because they really, if they were needed, they should be a project at another organization, not their own organization. So the business community has this opportunity to fund things that actually work and business people understand the economics. And honestly, a nonprofit is a business, just as a business with a different tax structure than a for profit organization. yet we've created this whole ecosystem, we call nonprofits, and I've been in meetings because in San Diego, I've been on this path to create this PR, we started the chamber purpose, I started purpose San Diego, we started all these programs. And I've been in meetings where people at nonprofits would say, don't call me a business. Like what do you mean, don't call you a business, you're a business? No, we're a nonprofit. That the difference. The only difference is that you don't pay taxes the same way that a private corporation does. You have a tax advantage, you're still a business, you still need revenue and philanthropy is not a revenue stream. But our whole system is saying, well, we just need to raise more money, yet, you're spending all your time raising money because you have no economic engine. Capitalism is all about creating economic engines. So we have choices, we can create socially conscious companies that support a cause or we can get companies that create cash flow to take a portion of their cash flow, and fun projects that they're actually integrated in getting involved in because it's not about the money. The change in our life doesn't come when we write a check. I mean, writing a check is guilt alleviation. The change comes when you actually get your hands dirty. When you actually go in and do something, you go change somebody's life, you meet an Armstrong, you actually get involved in their life right in the check was the easy part. Every other Sunday morning at 7: 00 am, that was the work, spending time when he got here and spending hours with him trying to explain to him how to build relationships and connect with people and ask for money and get the things that he needed. That's the work. That's what capitalism can do. But many people I mean, they're just happy enough to have a bigger boat, buy a nicer house, drive a nicer car, nothing wrong with any of those things. But if that's the ultimate goal, I have found that not to be enough. And I'm not judging anybody else anymore. I'm done judging whether somebody else has enough purpose in their life, compared to me, all I'm doing right now is trying to find all those other people that have the same level of passion for purpose that I have and let's go make a difference together. I'm done trying to convince people that they need to do this. I'm trying to collect the people that already understand it and are looking for their tribe. So that's the organization that I run in San Diego, it's called Spire, I want to inspire business leaders to do more than just make money. I want to help them aspire to live their best life so they can actually leave this planet better than they found it.
Shawn Flynn 39:07
And Larry, for our listeners, we have to wrap up because of time. If they want to find out more about Spire and get in contact with you and find out what you're doing, what's the best way to go about doing it.
Larry Kesslin 39:19 And you can just go to spiresd.com and learn about the organization. I also work with an outsourced accounting firm called RG Alliance. It's very purpose driven. And we're involved with a lot of organizations, and how do we help companies, use their finances to understand how their businesses is impacting the world. And the last question we asked of all of our prospects now is how does your business impact the community? And we get one of three answers. One is, I don't know and I don't care. Not a good client for us. One is, I don't know, I've never thought about it, but that's a great question. I'd like to figure out how we can. And the third one is this is exactly how we impact the community and we're very proud of the work we do. those last two are great prospects for us. The person who says I don't impact the community, and that's not the role of my business. Not going to be a good client for us.
Shawn Flynn 40:14
Larry, that was amazing. Thank you for your time today on the Silicon Valley Tech Podcast. We were I mean, we learned a ton and with that Sunil & Myself, we want to thank you and we want to wish you the best in your journey. We hope that all our listeners contact you help you out and that everyone can grow together. So with that, Larry, thank you for your time today.
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