Nick Sonnenberg, Founder of Leverage
Leveraging Your Business Operations
About Nick Sonnenberg
Nick Sonnenberg is the founder and CEO of Leverage, a business efficiency consultant, columnist and author of the upcoming book, Come Up For Air: How Teams Can Leverage Systems and Tools to Stop Drowning in Work. Nick’s mission is to create companies that disrupt the way people work by leveraging the power of remote teams, digital tools, and powerful automations.
His primary focus is to help teams operate more efficiently through his CPR® Business Efficiency Framework, a proven system for leaders, managers, and teams to maximize their performance and reduce overwhelm by using the right tools in the right way, at the right time. This framework consistently results in greater output, less stress, happier employees, and the potential to gain an extra full day per week in productivity per person. Nick has worked with individuals and companies of all sizes including Tony Robbins, Jay Abraham, Facebook, ConsenSys, and more.
Nick has also been featured in publications such as Forbes, Inc., Huffington Post, Business Insider, and Entrepreneur.
Nick’s interview will focus on how teams can leverage systems by focusing to stop drowning in work. Attendees will learn about Nick’s CPR® Business Efficiency Framework and walk away with actionable steps they can take to improve their team’s productivity.
Time: 45 minutes
Target Audience: Business owners, CEOs, managers, and teams who want to learn how to operate more efficiently and reduce overwhelm.
What you will learn
Nick Sonnenberg’s CPR® Business Efficiency Framework and how to use it to leverage systems and tools to stop drowning in work.
Nick Sonnenberg is the founder and CEO of Leverage, a business efficiency consultant, Inc. columnist and author of the upcoming book, Come Up For Air: How Teams Can Leverage Systems and Tools to Stop Drowning in Work. Nick’s talk will focus on how teams can leverage systems and tools to stop drowning in work. Attendees will learn about Nick’s CPR® Business Efficiency Framework and walk away with actionable steps they can take to improve their team’s productivity.
So Nick, you’re the CEO and founder of Leverage. business focused on efficiency, helping businesses become more efficient and better leveraged. And in our episode today, I’d like to walk through your career path, what you went through to become the entrepreneur, what led you up to where you are, are today. So, for the listeners, maybe let’s start around the coming out of college and into the workforce.
Yeah, so I studied financial math and statistics, and I graduated a year early. And my last year, I started realizing that I wasn’t planning on trying to graduate early, but I was just efficient with how I kind of structured my general education classes and knocked out many things at once. And so, my last year, I was thinking, Okay, I could get a master’s degree throughout my application and got into Berkeley, for financial engineering, and was a financial engineer for eight years after that I was a high frequency trader, for large French bank. And it was a really cool job, it was kind of like an intrapreneur versus an entrepreneur, meaning, I guess, they gave me access to billions of dollars. And kind of just let me do whatever I kind of wanted within kind of risk constraints, but I would develop algorithms, and trade stocks at microsecond speeds purely off of math formulas, and did that for eight years, made, I was a millionaire, in my mid 20s, living in the four seasons. And then had this itch to be an entrepreneur, I didn’t even know what it was, until I was in my late 20s. And I did a, I did a trip with one of my friends. And I saw him working by the pool, on his company. And I always thought I had the coolest job, I was managing billions of dollars doing really cool stuff with math had, at some point 16 computer screens, and just looking at him by the pool with his laptop, fully owning every aspect of what he does not, not having to report to anyone not having anyone say sorry, you’re not going to get kind of the bonus you deserve. Because some random person in France lost a billion dollars this year on something and now that’s affecting everyone, fully owning it, having the freedom to work wherever you want, when you want, it really struck with me and, and so by the time I was 30, I was really just passionate about this app. And didn’t have, you know, still don’t have a wife and kids and thought, you know, I would regret not giving this a try. And so after eight years, as a trader, I took the entrepreneurial leap, started this app, I’ve always been passionate about time. So it’s whether it’s high frequency trading, where I’m literally looking at microseconds. And sometimes, saving a microsecond in that space could literally mean the difference of millions of dollars. And so in that job, I was programmed to really be paying attention to saving, saving microseconds to automating. And even with my prior experience with college, really trying to be efficient with how I attacked, what courses I take, I’ve always been just obsessed with saving time. So the app was around saving time it was to make it more efficient to schedule things. And
about a year into that process I had, I had an idea for a side project. That wasn’t leverage in the in the way that it is now it was this Freelancer marketplace. And as a side project, started doing that, and it just kind of blew up in the first month, we were already making like quite a large amount of revenue. We never had to raise money. We just leveraged systems and tools and smart ways and grew it to about 150 contractors on the team, seven figures of revenue just by being smart with systems and tools and made a ton of mistakes. We grew too quickly. And although we were really strong at some things, we were really weak at others and went through, you know, my journey I was a millionaire in my mid 20s Almost. The company almost went bankrupt from premature scaling in my early 30s. You know cashing out the typical story of cashing out 401 K’s bank accounts frozen, just a nightmare. And it took a few years to clean that clean that up. And in that process people started reaching out to me, asking me if To help them with their systems and processes, and after a number of years, I just started seeing these patterns. You know, being a financial engineer, I’m good at identifying patterns. And over time, I started seeing, hey, this, this stuff, every business needs, every business needs to understand these collaboration tools that are available now. And it’s not just that you can use text and Outlook to get everything done. But there’s these amazing tools on the market that people just aren’t aware of, they don’t know when to use them how to use them. And after working with, you know, small vet hospitals, all the way up to Fortune 10 companies, everyone’s got the same issues. And so we started really investing in building processes and content around some of the key things that everyone was struggling with. And so I developed this framework, I have a book coming out in February of 2023, about kind of this framework and the findings. And over time, that has now become kind of the core offering now at Leverage, which is helping businesses get more efficient teaching them, your systems and tools, aligning teams on when, when and how to best use them. A lot of people make the mistake, they just think, oh, it’s the tool, like if you’re on this tool versus this tool, that’s the most important, but really, that’s secondary to just aligning teams on best practices of when and how to use them.
Okay, so I want to dial this back a little bit here, in and get into the definition of operational efficiency to you. And then I’d like to roll into as a follow up question, what type of businesses struggle with operational efficiency, so let’s first handle the, the approach to what operational efficiency means?
Well, I’ll tell you what it doesn’t mean. And let’s start with that. So it’s not an exercise in individual productivity, I feel that individual productivity is necessary, but not sufficient for teams or organizations to be productive. For a team or an organization to be productive, it requires collaboration, coordination. And sometimes people have to sacrifice their own productivity for the greater good of the broader audience. And so you want to have individuals that are productive. But that’s kind of table stakes. You need much more than that, you need to have this layer of coordination above the individual productivity, which is what interests me in this space. If I have to sum up operational efficiency, I think in one sentence, it’s shifting the mindset of, of, of a team or an organization, from optimizing for speed of transfer of information, and shifting it to optimizing for retrieval of information. And that’s a subtle, but it’s really a distinct and underlying principle with everything that we do with our clients. And internally, a big mistake that people make is, you’re overwhelmed, you’re underwater, which is why my book is called come up for air. Everyone’s drowning in work. And so what happens when people are strapped for time is they just try to take the path of least resistance and they optimize for whatever’s quickest in the moment. Right? So hey, Alan, can you get this done for me, it could be in an email, because I’m in Outlook right now, or Gmail, or I might happen to be in text, and I’ll text it to you, or whatever. So people are just optimizing for whatever is just quickest in that moment, because you’re just scrambling. What happens though, when you have every person doing the same thing and optimizing for their own time savings. It creates what I call operational debt, it creates a scavenger hunt. And in a month from now, when you need to find something, it’s a million times harder because there is no framework or aligned strategy on where that stuff should live. So you end up having to look in 10 Different places versus had you been organized from the start taken pause, put things where it belonged. An extra, sometimes it’s just an extra few seconds, that that makes the difference. But if everyone can spend the extra few seconds and put things where it belongs. It’s going to make it exponentially faster to find information. So for me, it’s the name of the game is systems and processes and alignment across the team and organization to make it as fast as possible to find information
in looking at operational efficiencies. You have your team members that may be drowning in work. Why do you think most teams are drowning? In
work? One I think that Companies have prioritized growth over top line over bottom line. For the most part, I think it’s disproportionate in most teams in most companies, right? A lot of this operational efficiency stuff. It’s somewhat invisible the benefits, at least initially. So if you have the choice between investing in marketing and sales, where you could almost immediately see the kind of return on time or return on investment, versus investing in your systems and your processes, which, you know, there’s no kind of timer next to people. So you can never know exactly, this person saved three minutes, this person say, five, I mean, we know through surveys, that on average, people are saving a full business day. But again, it’s like you have to survey it’s not scientific, like we launched this campaign, and we generated a million dollars in new sales. And so I think, because of that people have one, disproportionately invested in top line versus bottom line, I think that people are starting to realize that it can’t just be 100%, top line, 0% Bottom line, and that maybe it’s not 5050. But it’s somewhere in between, I think the pandemic awakened a lot of people to realize that, hey, you know, the work has changed. Office is kind of optional. Regardless of whether you’re in person or remote, being efficient, and using the right systems and tools and processes, and having teams aligned, is still always going to be best, and it doesn’t really matter. But if you’re going to try to compete in this new world and have a hybrid, working structure or remote, you really don’t have any option. You can’t just brute force it and tap someone on the shoulder and ask them a question. So yeah, I think that people have just over, over allocated resources to top line versus bottom line. And a lot of times, it’s not that hard to grow top line is, you want to avoid those setbacks. So you want to avoid that one key person on your team, if they were to leave. You know, how much is that going to negatively impact you, like I had a business partner pick up and leave, like, I’ve firsthand felt that pain. And I can guarantee that most people listening to this right now, if you think about it, you probably have one person where that person is really a bottleneck, it could be a finance person, where you have no idea how they do payroll, or how they’re managing the books, if they were to leave, like how much is that going to set you back? So I think that people aren’t spending enough time thinking about not just moving faster forward, but how do you avoid the setback. And so I think that those are the reasons why. But I think that it started I’m seeing a shift, and I’m seeing that, I don’t think it’ll ever be 5050. But maybe it’s 80%, top line 20%, to your systems and processes. But it’s important, and it helps to de risk your team and helps, it helps you also to put downward pressure on hiring. There’s a lot of companies right now that are putting hiring freezes or tightening their belts, and the more productive. And the higher performing your team is, the less pressure you have to add more bodies and more humans to the mix to get work done. Which not only saves you payroll, but it’s way easier to manage a team of 80 than it is a team of 100. You know, it’s exponentially harder. Every person you add to the mix, it’s exponentially harder. So I think that people are starting to get it, but it’s just taken some time.
What is the CPR framework?
So it stands for communicate, plan and resource and through our research and working with so many different types of companies, sizes, industries, those were the three things that were common that every business needs to think about. And so Alan, like, think about your business, you need to communicate with people, internally with your team externally with your clients. You need to plan so there’s tasks and projects that need to happen. You need to do certain things by certain dates for certain people, and so does your team. And the way I the way I explained that is imagine you were going to go camping in the forest with your team. You would need walkie talkies to communicate with each other. But you also need a map to navigate out of the forest. And most people don’t distinguish between the two. So they’re hacking communication tools to manage their tasks and projects, which you can do. It’s just suboptimal, right, like different tools are built for different purposes. And so a planning tool or a work management tool. We were partners with Asana You know, and answers different questions in one click, you should be able to know what’s past due. What’s the status of this project? What do I need to do this week? What’s my team working on this week? Text and Outlook, you can’t click a magic button and answer that. So tools are built for purpose. So you got your C, you got your P. And then as far as resources, that’s all the SOPs, processes, intellectual property that makes your company what it is, essentially. And so thinking about it in those three unique buckets is super is really important different tools, solve different aspects of that. And the first step is realizing that you need tools in each of those and then aligning your team on, we’re going to use this tool to solve this part of CPR.
So what is one simple thing teams can do right now, to come up for air to jump start this process?
I think that there’s a couple things that everyone right now could do, because different things take different, different amounts of time, right? So, documenting or optimizing process might be really important. And there might be some that you should do right away. But some of those might be really long projects, that will be important, but might not be the first thing that you should do. So, I would always recommend you, you do things in a strategic order. So, then you can start saving time and then reinvest that time saved into the next tool or process or technique that we’re trying to do. So, one quick thing that again, in general, this is what we see in companies, but every company is unique. is optimizing how meetings are done. That’s probably the number one quick win that most people can do. And there’s a few things one, a lot of meetings are just recurring. And when we when we analyze calendars of, of clients, and you stress test, and you ask them what why is it why you need this meeting? Why is it this long? Why are the All these people, a lot of the reason is just historical reason. Right? So auditing your calendar, and making sure that you really need those meetings, maybe you still need it, but it doesn’t need to be weekly, maybe it can be bi weekly, maybe it doesn’t need to be an hour, maybe it could be 45 minutes, if you have a moderator and you have an agenda, maybe doesn’t need six people, maybe it needs for all these little tweaks at scale, when you start thinking about the number of meetings that happen in aggregate inside of a company. It’s one of the biggest investments that companies make. And it’s kind of this invisible costs that you’re not even realizing. So, one, do that audit, to make sure that you have an agenda, we have a policy, no agenda, no meeting. And what the agenda will help you do too is you want to eliminate all the noise in communication tools, Intro week. So, if something isn’t urgent, it can wait till next week’s meeting. Don’t bother people in your communication tool. And even if you’re not on Slack and teams yet, and you’re listening to this, and you’re still on Outlook and text, that’s fine. Stop messaging people and those communication tools and add it to a collaborative agenda and covered in next week’s meeting, every less ping and ding that you can give to each other, the better. So that’s, that’s the first thing. The second thing too is there’s probably parts of an agenda that don’t need to be synchronous. Meaning doesn’t need to be live, it can be asynchronous. So for example, if someone’s giving a report out on metrics for the week, right, and that usually takes 10 minutes out of an hour meeting that doesn’t necessarily need to be live, they could pre record that using tools like loom or cloud app, or just open up a zoom and hit record, and then send that out to people on a Friday, or let’s just say, Now, when you have dead time, instead of sitting in the back of an Uber playing on your phone, watch that recording. And so now, when you show up on Monday at 9am, that our meeting can be 15 minutes, and you’ve just saved 10 minutes. That might sound not that important. But if there’s six people on that call, that’s six people times 10 minutes, that’s an hour, right? Not only isn’t an hour, but it’s a really valuable hour. Time isn’t linear 9am on a Monday, after you’ve worked out had your coffee, your brain is fresher at full horsepower. That one hour slot might be the equivalent of like four hours on a Friday from one to five in terms of your brain horsepower. And so think of it that way. Think of it at scale if one Meeting, sure you save a little bit of money. But if you’re having like 20 minute meetings a week, just you, and then you’ve got a team of 10, that’s 200 meetings a week, you know, it’s 800 to 1000 meetings a month. You know, even if you just are five or 10% more efficient, that could be millions of dollars to your business. And this isn’t rocket science, this stuff, this is stuff you could do next week. So I would probably start with that. And then beyond that. Another really kind of common problem that we see is how people use email. So teaching, teaching companies how to get to inbox zero, and is usually a pretty quick return on investment as well. And then beyond that, rolling out tools like Slack and teams and asana and process Street and notion like, you know, it’s a never ending journey. And they’re all important, but I would start with some of those two quick wins, and then move on to some of the other tools.
Last question here. So what is the biggest lesson you’ve learned while building your business? Well, I
think the biggest lesson is, it was way harder than I thought it would be. I was kind of cocky at the beginning thinking that high frequency trading probably the hardest thing, and managing a team, managing clients, and also with this stuff that we’re talking about the change management, it’s all hard. So the other thing is the CPR framework, it was surprising how really that’s kind of now with just like this tried and true principle that really works for any business of any industry.
Very good. Well, Nick, it’s been a pleasure having you here on today’s show. I’ve been visiting here today with Nick Sonnenberg. He is the founder, the CEO of Leverage a business efficiency consultant, and we’ll look for your, your book coming out in when is it? Yep, February,
in February. It’s already up on Amazon or comeupforair.com. you can get some info and some free resources if you’re into this type of content.
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