On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by Workamajig — Kelly and Ty Fujimara, Founder of Cantilever, discuss breaking out of your own mental model to relinquish control and start trusting your team.
EP 95: Trust Your Team and Relinquish Control, with Ty Fujimara
Kelly: So welcome back to Thrive, your agency resource. Today, we're talking about trusting your team and the benefits of relinquishing control. I know super, super scary stuff. Ty Fujimura, CEO and Founder of Cantilever Web Design and Development, is my guest. He's based in northern New Jersey, and I'm really, really excited to have this conversation. And I'm super excited that you're game to have it. Thanks so much for joining me Ty.
Ty: Thank you so much for having me. It's an honor. I really like the show. And, it's great to be on and talk with you anytime.
Kelly: So you say that the persistence of relinquishing control in your agency is like one of the hardest things in the universe. Why is that?
Ty: Well, I think anybody who's been through the experience of building a business will understand that to a degree. Agencies are particularly difficult, because I think, typically, they start because of one person or a group of people who are very passionate about doing a certain type of work. And so, as you're building a team, it's very difficult to break that model and to break the expectation that the founders are the experts, and that they're the brand. I think it's totally valid if you have an agency where that's always the case. There are many great agencies out there, and a lot of different industries where they bear the name of the founders, maybe it's a small team that's around the founders. And that's okay. That's a great vehicle for them to get their work out there. For me, that was where I was at for a long time. So probably for the first six or seven years of Cantilever, we were at most five people, I think, and we really didn't consciously make a decision to grow until a few years ago. And the impetus for that was just realizing that it was harder for us to have the influence on the world that we are trying to have. And our mission is, first of all, we want to do great work for our clients. We have a particular philosophy of how we build our sites, which is called Digital Hospitality. And so we want to bring that to as many people as we can. But the second part is that we want to be a larger part of the general movement of both our industry and the rest of the world towards these new ways of working remotely, working asynchronously, upholding people's humanity a little bit more.
Kelly: Personal fulfillment, would you say?
Ty: Personal fulfillment. Absolutely. Work-life balance is the typical term that I think of a little differently. So anyway, we made this decision to grow. And when you do that, you have to start reckoning with how we will continue to do the same great work that we've done, but with new people, and that's the magic. And the reason that I say it's so difficult is because it requires a very careful balance. If you bring people in, and you don't give them the tools, you don't equip them with the resources, the understanding, the training, that they need, it's going to be very, very difficult for them to replace or improve on what you've already been doing. On the other hand, if you give people too much, and you overburden them with all sorts of rules, and regulations, and procedures, and all that stuff, it can be too much as well. It can be stifling for them. And it can drive really great people away. Great people want to be able to chart their own course. So you need to find that balance where people have the resources that they need, but they're still able to find their own path and their own solutions to problems. And I certainly haven't figured that out. So I'm not speaking from an expert perspective, but I'm certainly a veteran of these decisions. And, it's something I have learned to findvery fulfilling that art. It's almost its own form of design, figuring out how we can strike that balance.
Kelly: Yeah, so what I hear you saying, and we chatted a little bit about this before the show, that trusting the team is actually a very worthy endeavor and correspondingly very difficult because of all the reasons that you stated. But you actually had somewhat of a realization recently, which I thought was really interesting about the reality of the gap between your own ideas and your own thoughts and feelings and emotions around running the agency and those who you idealize or who you idolize. Talk a little bit about that, because that gap seemed a lot larger in your mind than it was in reality.
Ty: Yeah, I don't know. I've been on a kick of trying to understand some people that I really admire. And one of the books I read recently was Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss. And it's really useful in that it's a compendium of hundreds of different, really amazing people who've accomplished a lot of cool things. And it kind of distills down some of their collected wisdom. So you can see a lot of the trends. And one of the things that are really apparent when you go deep on exploring the way that these people lead their lives is that they're probably not all that different from you, the way that they think about things, the doubts they have. They’re staying up late at night thinking about the problems that they're facing. But I think that we all have a certain mental model of like, what's possible for us, and what we're allowed to want, and what we're allowed to have, that is very powerful. And that manifests itself when it comes to the types of clients who you ask to work with you, the amount of money that you're charging the level of people who you try to bring into your organization, and the amount of control that you relinquish because if you have a mental barrier, I've been in many places where I've thought, I'm really the only person who can do this. But that's patently not true, right? Because there are thousands of different agencies that fill this function somehow without me with other people. So as a founder, it's very easy to fall into that trap of limitation that says, “I have to do this. We can't charge that much. We probably can't do that project. We’ll probably lose that. They won't say yes. And, if you're not getting a healthy amount of no’s, you're probably not trying hard enough to get a yes.
Kelly: Yeah, I agree with that. I want to put a pin in something that you just said, because I do hear it over and over and over again, even with my own clients. As the agency leader owner, I am the only one who can do X. I've tried to find other people, it's not possible. They’re not out there. So therefore, I have to stay in the weeds to do this one particular job. I have to interface with the client and I have to stay in this role because nobody else can do that. And all I hear when that comes out of their mouths is literally you don't trust your team. You have an issue with relinquishing control. So I wanted to put a pin in it, because I think there's a lot that hinges on that statement, which is really just a mindset. Right?
Ty: Of course. Yeah. And to give you the deeper version of that, I learned over time that I was subconsciously deliberately putting people into difficult situations, knowing that it wouldn't work out because it would prove that fallacy.
Kelly: Confirmation bias.
Ty: So yeah, I would like to sort of thrust people into certain situations where I hadn't necessarily prepared them to succeed or given them the resources that they would need. And I had no idea that I was doing it. I only knew in hindsight that I was doing it.
Kelly: I was going to say, in retrospect, you weren't doing that consciously. I want to make that clear.
Ty: Exactly. And I realized that what that was is, me expecting the process to fail. And so therefore, sort of molding reality, such that that would happen. So I obviously feel terrible about that, because I think there were a lot of opportunities that we had for people to do better work, that I ended up sort of stepping in at the last minute and fixing everything, and that just further reinforces that myth. So I say that I'm being very honest because I think there's a lot of agency founders who might be going through that exact same thing. And, I think I have by far from figuring this out by any means. But I think if you're consistently struggling to get past that, like three person, four person, size of organization, where you really actually have to stop making all the decisions, you might want to consider how your own actions may be sabotaging that process and really be honest with yourself about the effect that you're having. I think it's also very easy to see the mistakes that other people make. And it's very hard to see the mistakes that you make. So it's very easy to excuse yourself for being late on something or making a mistake on a certain thing. But if someone who you're working with makes that same mistake, it really stands out to you and if you're already inclined to doubt the process, then you're especially going to read into issues that, oh, this is just proof that this was a bad idea the whole time.
Kelly: Ty, that is such a profound statement. It's such a profound realization. I think it's obviously very true. And I do see it happen all the time with agency leaders. I'm positive that I did that myself.
Ty: Yeah, I think the thing that's hardest for me is like I am so dedicated to our clients. And I don't say that in like an advertising kind of way. It's an obsession to do our total best for clients.
Kelly: I understand.
Ty: So anytime I start to feel like that is jeopardized, it freaks me out. Now, I have to realize a lot of the time that actually that's not really happening. It often can be more the case that it's something that I'm thinking is necessary that might not actually be necessary. So that's another thing, I'm just realizing, as a method of understanding this. Talk to your clients. Figure out what their pain points are in different situations. So talk to them when you're more involved and talk to them when you're not as involved and find out if they've noticed changes, if they're having any issues. I think having an open dialogue with your clients is really powerful and important because you will encounter situations where yes, something is going wrong, and you need to fix it, if you're dedicated to your client’s success, which we all should be. But you'll also find out there are situations where you kind of thought there was a problem, but to your client it doesn't seem material to them. And that's a big lesson as well.
Kelly: I think it's great advice to talk to your clients. I wonder if the reality though, is that most agency leaders, and this just goes for most humans, there's some kind of inherent fear that's operating underneath the surface that would actually prevent you from having that conversation in the times when you're more involved and when you're less involved for fear that they are going to notice, for fear that you are going to be right. And so what do you do? You avoid the conversation.
Ty: Of course.
Kelly: And then that creates this whole sort of bubble of very little communication during those periods, and then something could happen. But I think that all of this really speaks to this idea that there's a connection between the ethos of an agency, like being rooted in the founder himself or herself. And not remaining stuck in your own patterns, like you talked about this with the example of a barrier to pricing at some point at your agency. You can talk a little bit about that and maybe there are some other examples, but I just want to highlight that it shows up, like our own fears and different things that have happened to us in our lives. And like the things that have made us who we are, they pop up when we own an agency because there's so many opportunities for them to surface.
Ty: Totally. Yeah. So yeah, when it comes to pricing, in particular, we've had certain key rate levels that we've always been resistant to charging because we always perceived it as too much. And then we realized, in a lot of cases that were actually way under charging relative to what some of our competition were charging, and that we were delivering a tremendous amount of value. And especially when we've worked with some of the largest organizations in the world. We've given them products that have made many, many times what they invested in them in return for these organizations. So we are experts. We provide value and we should be charging accordingly. But it's just so hard to get out of your mental model of what you should be making, and I've had that mental model.
Kelly: Or what you’re worth.
Ty: Yeah, what you're worth.
Kelly: Just to say it a little bit differently.
Ty: Yeah, that's a better way to put it because you shouldn't be charging based on your own sense of what you need. You shouldn't be charging what you need. You should be charging what you're worth. And, that's the barrier that I think is very difficult, but I have kind of a corollary in my own life, which is like, I have a certain level of income that I remember my mom when I was like 12, she told me that that's what we made as a family. So I always thought, well, that's more than enough money. If I'm making that, I'm good. And we luckily had plenty growing up and I always felt like yeah, if I'm doing that, then I'm successful. But inflation happened and I'm in a different circumstance in my life. And it turns out that that level of income is much less than I really am worth in the market. So that's been very difficult for me to get over, to think well, actually, if I'm in a position where I'm going to be making more, I like to almost find a way to use the money so that I don't make more, like a latent guilt. So that's very hard to get over. I think everybody has this idea of what's fair, what they should be earning, what the company should be charging. And a lot of the time that's false. It's based on some ingrained prior narrative, maybe from when you're very young. And if you can break through that and just try immersion therapy, just say out loud the rate that you think you might be worth, or a prospect comes in and just try to charge them what you really think you're worth. Maybe they say no, but again, if you're not getting no’s, you're probably not charging enough.
Kelly: Yeah, I think that that's really true. So you talk a lot about breaking out of your own mental models, which obviously, I love. And I think 2020 forced us all to kind of reprioritize every single, little tiny, dark corner of our lives, right? No one was really immune to that. So that actually in some serendipitous way forced you to trust your team more than you had been historically. And as a benefit of doing so, there's this thing that you shared with me, this visual, or this feeling of kind of taking off in a plane and that split moment where you feel like the weightlessness underneath you, like you're just gliding. Talk a little bit about what happened last year that kind of led to that, and give us a little bit of those good feelings, because I really want people to understand, like trusting your team, yes, it's scary, but there is really this beautiful thing that happens.
Ty: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I would say like in a lot of things, 2020 was like five years of progress in one year. We went into the year probably at, I don't know. I don't even know how to quantify it, but like making a lot of progress in terms of the relinquishing control aspect. And, it's not just about relinquishing control. It's about improving the level of service and quality that we can give to clients. That's something that I was thinking about, when you were talking about having those conversations with clients earlier. The goal is not, I need to remove myself, so I can make more money. The goal is that I need to remove myself so that we can do better for you. We're bringing in people who are more talented in whatever their realm is than I ever was. And we're equipping them with proven procedures so that they can do an amazing job for you. And so, we've been making a lot of progress in that regard. But because of the circumstances, first of all, leading an agency in the beginnings of that pandemic, it forces you to make more, big picture strategic choices because there is no business as usual. So a lot of my day all of a sudden just had to be more strategic. And I was thinking a lot about finances planning, business development, and marketing. In March and April, we ramped into our marketing, because our normal sales pipelines are totally gone. So what are we going to do to make sure that we at least have something? And so we put a bet basically, in that some of our marketing would work, which eventually did happen. And that was pivotal. So if I had been just focusing on delivering our work, I wouldn't have had the head space to make sure that we had worked in two months. But then, as the pandemic continued, I started to have much more personal responsibility because all the things that I used to be able to delegate in some fashion in my personal life, I could no longer do. So I have many, many hours a week, even just personal chores that I need to take care of personally that I didn't need to do before and then the big one is childcare because we haven't been able to have consistent childcare for the longest time, and it forced me to go, “Wait a second. Actually, my whole life as long as I've had kids, I've said my kids are my priority.” But how true has that been? When I've always been willing to do a work trip or spend a night away, just because I think it'll make a client, it'll improve a client’s experience, or it'll give us all, it'll allow me to make a little more money or something like that. So the pandemic has forced me to be much more present in my children's lives, which has forced me to realize that actually, I should have been doing that the whole time. And the only way that I can do that is by trusting my people. So if I trust my people, and I train them, and I equip them well to do a great job, everybody wins. Our clients will get better service more consistently. They can ramp up better because I'm not a bottleneck, nobody's relying on me. But everybody has learned from me, the lessons that I've learned. My children benefit, because I could spend more time with them. And I benefit because I have that feeling like you said, of things I can’t step away. I can be hiking around on a Tuesday morning with my kids, and I know that things are being handled to even a higher standard that I could have achieved on my own.
Kelly: Yeah. And what do you think are the benefits to the individual team members?
Ty: Yeah, so I think individual team members benefit greatly because they have the authority and the respect within the organization to make the decisions that they think are right. And when you remove yourself as a bottleneck, it allows people to thrive, to choose a word to come into themselves as creatives and I think do their best work a lot of the time. Again, it's such a balance. It's very challenging because when you have people in the team, they need to understand what the goals are. And if you don't give people clear goals, if you don't ask them what their barriers are, if you don't address concerns, or make sure things are smooth early on in the process, you're going to run into problems. So it's not easy. I think the process of delegation and growing your team is made very trite and trivial by some treatments of it. When you can add into phrases, it totally diminishes the difficulty. But the true difficulty is how can you build an organization that can do your thing better than you could? That's a really, really hard thing.
Kelly: And on top of that, to build on that, how does that land with you? Because if you were this really egoic person, you might do things that tend to sabotage.
Ty: Exactly. Yeah. And I think the majority of people who start companies are egoic and think of themselves very highly. And I think that's true of myself and to my peril. It’s easy for me to fall into those traps because I have that flaw. And so, I guess that's also part of what makes it hard, that we all happen to be, people who are crazy, and sort of egotistical enough to think that starting a new company is the right idea when there are all these companies out there. They're probably the ones who are the least likely to want to do that process. And so it's like a particular challenge for your audience and your clients and myself. But that's what makes it special. I think life's not worth doing if it's not challenging. And if we're not overcoming something, I think we should be finding taller mountains. So I'm all for it, even though it keeps me up at night and it's a big challenge of my career. But I know that every time we reach a new level of success, it's so fulfilling that it keeps me going to find the next level.
Kelly: Yeah. I mean, that's really well said. And I also want to just kind of highlight that it takes a lot of courage to be this vulnerable and to say, hey, I definitely don't have all the answers. This is something that I'm currently struggling with, like as of right now. Yes, I've been doing it for a while, but I haven't figured it out necessarily. But being willing to even share that story, like what Brené Brown says, integrity is choosing courage over comfort. I think that you've certainly done that here today. So thank you very much.
Ty: I appreciate that. I apologize to anyone I offended. Hi YouTube. I think we should reach a higher level of vulnerability in the agency world because it's very difficult for people to understand that these are challenges that everybody goes through and it's the challenges, the reason that it's worth it. It's not a reason to quit.
Kelly: That's right. Thanks Ty. Have a great day.
Ty: Thank you.