Founder and VP Innovation, Seer Interactive
As a kid, Wil broke the family computer and then fixed it before anyone found out, fueling confidence and a lasting love of technology.
Wil started out on track to be a teacher but he grew frustrated by the lack of innovation in the classroom.
Data-driven work appeals to Wil, because it puts people on an equal playing field to prove the value of their work.
As Seer has grown, Wil has focused on leaving a lasting legacy of impact on his team and on the surrounding community.
IVAN STEGIC: Hi there! You’re listening to ONE OF 8 BILLION, a podcast about all of us! I’m your host, Ivan Stegic. This podcast is supported by TEN7, a technology studio whose mission is to Make Things That Matter. Online at ten7.com
We all have a story, don’t we? We’ve all had successes and failures, joy and disappointment, love and sadness. And yet, we’ve all made it to here… to right now! Our stories are one amongst eight billion others… eight billion other stories, each of them unique, each of them grand in their own way, and each of them a window into the humanity that connects us all. ONE OF 8 BILLION tells life stories from around the world… let’s listen!
Our story today is about Wil Reynolds, founder of Seer Interactive, a digital marketing agency which started as a one-person shop in his living room and has grown to more than 150 employees across the United Status. Let’s hear about Wil’s journey, from hand-me-down computers to his role as a runner, a father and a business owner trying to create a lasting legacy of community impact.
IVAN: Welcome to ONE OF 8 BILLION, would you please introduce yourself…
WIL REYNOLDS: I am Wil Reynolds, avid runner, father to two boys, a husband to a wonderful wife and a son to two awesome parents.
IVAN: Thank you. That's awesome to hear. I love your introduction. Tell me a little bit about your here and now. Tell me about what's going on around you, and what's front and center in your mind these days?
WIL: Oh my gosh. Oh, God, there's so much. I think the biggest thing I would say that’s front and center is I've decided to be very aggressive about establishing Seer as a company that puts community impact at the core of what we do. I wouldn't say at the core, I think that's a little disingenuous, but it's going to be heavily influential in what we do. What that means and how you get something like that set up in the most efficient way possible to have the biggest impact is taking up a lot of time and brainpower. But it's completely worth it.
Something else that's been on my mind a lot, and I have not even talked about this publicly, anywhere, because it's very unpopular to say, but I'm going to be honest with you is, I've been lately frustrated with how hard it has been for me when especially young, African American and black, Latino kids reach out to me and I say kids, their twenties whatnot, and they recognize me because I have this crazy hair. And they're like, “Oh, I wanted to work in your company,” or whatever. And then I'm like, “Hit me up on LinkedIn,” and then I never hear back from them again. It's something I'm really trying to do some internal guesswork on.
Like, what is going on here that I'm meeting these people? I met probably eight people in the last year, and we keep hearing that so many folks need an opportunity. And then it's okay, you met the CEO, he gave you his mobile and said look me up on LinkedIn and message me, I will help you learn this stuff. What do you need to do? And to be batting zero for eight, it’s been super ejecting relative to the stories that we've been hearing. So that's been on my mind a ton over the last week or so. And every morning, I get up around 5:30 and go for a run so I have a lot of time to think about things and I will have to say that has been one of the things weighing on my mind a bit is WTF is going on there.
IVAN: Have you had any inspirational ideas as to maybe what the crux is behind it? Or are you still trying to crack that code?
WIL: I've been thinking about this for a long time, and I have to be very careful about what I say as it relates to the reasons because I'm not big on making excuses for people when somebody opens a door for you. At some point your feet have got to shuffle through that open door. I'm sure as hell not dragging you through my freaking Oh, please, and then you look at your lack of diversity as a digital agency, and you're like, you know what I'm putting in the fucking work.
Like, there are kids who have my number who I have been like, reach out to me on LinkedIn and blah, blah, blah, blah, and for none of them to reach out at some point, you got to be like, dude, like, I don't know if I'm in the wrong places, or what, but come the F--- on I'm not going to beg young minority kids to come and work in my company. I'm just not going to do that.
And the other thing that's been weighing on me a bit is this Joe Biden being like, I want to hire a black woman judge and I get that diversity is great and all that, that helps people to make better decisions and see the world through different angles, an unlimited size of a bench of judges, you only have a certain amount, there's always going to be some kind of diversity missing.
And I'm not saying that, given the history, there's never been a black woman on the Judiciary, so it's okay. But you know what, I'm not a black woman, but if I was a black person, and I am, and somebody lined up a bunch of other black people for me to compete against I don't want to just be the best of the black people. It almost takes away from your wins when somebody from the outside can be like,
Oh, you're obviously the best of the black women you could find. It’s no, don't take that away from people. I never wanted to line up against just the other companies in Philadelphia, or just the other companies that were founded by a black person or whatever.
I'm like, I want to go out there and put my big boy boots on and see if I can give all of these motherfuckers a run for at what I do. So, I've also been struggling a little bit with that, because it can just sound so disingenuous. And unfortunately, it can also give people ammunition to talk about the qualifications of somebody, when you diminish their qualifications in some way, I must hire a black woman, and that's the only soundbite that is heard, it’s not all the other stuff around it that ultimately gets heard, you know?
IVAN: Yeah, ultimately, we're all human and we all want to be living in a human society where we're competing against each other. And we have to be cognizant of all the diversity, but at the same time, we can't go too far, because that has effects as well.
WIL: I don't know. It's just like, Black folks aren't a monolith. And it's like, not every Black guy has been pulled over by the cops and treated poorly. And I'm one of them, and then I think a lot of my black friends. I'm like, is it just me? Am I the only one who hasn't been pulled over by the cops and treated poorly? No. A lot of friends are like, Yeah, me neither, but they have all these well-meaning white folks hitting them up and being like, Oh, man, I know it’s got to be hard.
And they're like, if somebody wants to talk about my hair, it's no you're not supposed to be the one that have to tell me about like hair textures, but I'm curious. I'm like, Oh my God just ask me about my hair dog. I don't care. I'm not that wound up on that shit. But then other people are and we're just in this weird point in our society where I just find it very interesting right now and to some extent for the first time, I'm a protected class because people probably aren't going to call me out for being racist if I say something that I believe.
Now, I am no Candace freakin Owens, man. Oh, God, that woman makes me want to barf. I'm so far from that. But I am like, Hey, guys, like how far does this stuff go? And it's a lot of complex shit going on in my head right now. Sorry for rambling?
IVAN: No, not at all. That's the point. The point is to get you to start thinking and speaking about what is going on now and what you're thinking about. I appreciate you sharing. I want to look at 8 billion people on the planet. That's a big number. How does that make you feel to know that you're part of this one in 8 billion other humans? I know it makes me feel both small and large.
I've said this before, it makes me feel connected and disconnected. It's so weird. What thoughts come to your mind, when you think about being one of such a large number?
WIL: It's interesting. I think it just makes you feel small. I think the bigger thing for me has always been when I travel a lot, I've been in a lot of places that are quote unquote, scary. And you realize that the average person is trying to go to work and feed their family and be provider for their family and make sure their family is safe and all that stuff.
I've been in places that people are like, Oh my god, I can't believe you traveled there. Isn’t not a scary place to be or isn't that dangerous right now? And you're like, No. It's like, nobody's screaming death to America in Egypt right now. They’re just trying to go to work like you and me. I think it's the common humanity across people that I've met at least but one in 8 billion makes you feel small, at least it does for me.
IVAN: Tell me about where life started for you Wil. Where did you grow up?
WIL: I grew up in South Jersey, lower middle class mother and father kind of thing. People that worked hard, and they did the best they could to raise two kids. That's where it started for me.
IVAN: What era was that? Seventies?
WIL: Oh, gosh, yeah. My memories don’t really start until probably the early eighties, though. I was born in the seventies, but my memories won't really start until I would say the early eighties.
IVAN: Yeah, me too. I'm baby of the mid-seventies. Memories, I think ’83 is somewhere I think I can say that would be my first memory. What's your earliest memory?
WIL: It's funny, I thought about this a good bit. They all contain my mom. My mom is just so freakin special to me. And I remember dancing on an ottoman with my mother to either Daryl Hall and John Oates or Billy Joel. I forget which one it was. And one of the reasons why that image is so vivid for me is because about four years ago my mom was sick, she had to be taken into hospital, and I just landed in San Diego, and turned around and got back on the plane.
I spent like the first half hour just thinking, What's your first memory of your mom, right? Because if I land and she's gone, I can't do anything about when my mom is going to pass, and I'm completely comfortable with the fact that there's only one way this is going to go, either I pass before my mom or my mom passes before me, and I think we know what she wants.
So, I sit on the airplane, I'm thinking of my mom and thinking of my earliest memory of her, and then I think of what would be my last memory of her if she's passed before I land.
And I was like, Ooh, if my mom passes before, I get there, then what would her last memories of me be? And what would she think about me in her last memories. And in that moment, I was like, I think she'd be really proud of the sacrifices that she made and how I walked through those doors that she opened for me hard.
And once I got to that Zen place, I opened my laptop and just worked for the next four hours because I was comfortable with the fact that I cannot control when my mom leaves this planet. I was comfortable with the fact that that's the order that she would want. She doesn't want to see me go before her, that's for sure.
And I was comfortable with the fact that when I think of how hard my mom worked to keep me on the right path and all that if she has no chance to see me one more time, and she only can think of how I turned out she'd be like worth all that sacrifice. And I really think that she would have, and then luckily, she pulled through and I talked to her just yesterday.
IVAN: That's awesome. I was hoping that would be the end of that story. So that's good to hear.
WIL: We all got to go at some point, right? I think it's just a heavy influence on why I live my life the way that I do, is because we all got to go at some point. Maybe that's why I'm impatient. I lost a friend at 12 and another friend at 13. One due to cancer one due to a drowning. And I'm like those parents never got to see how Carl and Nigel turned out.
They never got to see it. It's weird. It's really weird. I have this weird approach to death and people passing. I had to put my dog down a while back and I'm like, Look, either I'm watching her go down, or she's watching me go down. This is the right order. So, I just have a different view on some of these things.
IVAN: I love your view on it. And one of the things that sticks out to me about what you just said, I asked you about your first memory and you turned it around and talked about what would be the last memory. And that's such an interesting way of looking at things.
What is the last memory I will have of my kids and hopefully it's the right order for me as well? But it's such a seize the moment sort of thing. You want to do your best now, and always, so that last memory for the people you care about is a good one.
WIL: Dude, it's crazy. I think about death a lot, like my own death, because then it helps me to think about what I'm putting out in the world because I don't know when I'm going to go. And one day my wife and I got into some argument, it was pretty heated, and that's pretty rare for us because she is much calmer than I am. So, she's somebody that can defuse things and I'm just a firecracker all the time.
But once in a while I get under her skin enough where she's Yeah, motherfucker. Okay, fine. And this is how I feel about this thing. And one time I was talking to her about something, and I don't even think it was that deep of an argument, to be honest. I think is one of the things that she reflected on herself. And she's like, I think I might need to do better in a certain X or Y area. And she has this little board, and she wrote on that board things to work on this week or whatever.
And it was in our bathroom, because I think she wanted a reminder to constantly be like, Okay, here's something I'm trying to work on to help our family, help my husband to be happy or whatever it might be at the time. And I looked at that when I'm brushing my teeth, week one, week two, and I'm like, if I die, the last thing I want Nora to have is a list of things that I thought she needed to work on. So, I erased that board and said, "Things that I love about you", and every couple of weeks I'll write something on there.
And the reason why I do that is because if I die one of the things that she will have is something that I wrote to her about something that I appreciate her for, not something where she might be deficient from what I want her to be, because all of us have something about a significant other that's like, I really wish you were like this or like that, and that's the last thing I would want to leave her with.
So that board has been sitting up in our house now for probably two or three years, and I tell her I’m not going to fake it. I'm not writing some shit on there I don't feel just so you have something new all the time. But what I am going to do is when I feel something, I'm going to write it and I want you to know it. So that's one of the ways I ended flipping.
IVAN: That’s beautiful. That's absolutely beautiful.
WIL: That’s not what I wanted for her, because I don't know what I'm going to go man. And I don't want that to be the last memory of, "Oh, these are the things that I needed to work on, and did I get them done or not?" Was I the wife my husband wanted me to be at this juncture of our lives or whatever? That’s the last thing I would want somebody carrying around after I die, you know.
IVAN: For sure. What do you think happens after you die?
WIL: I hear worms eat my ass up. Yet. The other day, I had this deep reflection. You’re hitting me on a really weird week where I just reflected really deep on some shit. And I was watching this video of these kids, that were being really nice to other kids. And I stopped and I've been thinking a lot about am I leading my life in a way that shows my kids to be more like that?
So, I don't know, I’ve just been thinking about that too, because I don't know when I'm going to go, and I got two young kids. And I just hope that I leave this world a little bit better than I found it. It's like a campsite. Right? Clean it up a little bit more than I found it. And I think that's my responsibility to this world and this society.
IVAN: I think I feel exactly the same. And I take some time to get to a place where that's what you think and that's what you feel. But yeah, I think I feel the same. I want to turn it a little bit. We've been talking a little bit about death. I want to actually reel it in a little bit and go to where I usually go with this podcast, and that's a question a lot of people think about and what did you want to do with your life when you were a kid? What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I never really had anything I wanted to be, it just happened to me. But maybe you were different. Maybe you had something you wanted to be when you're growing up?
WIL: Nah, dude, I wanted to be like a fighter pilot, because I watched a lot of Top Gun, and my dad was in the Air Force. And my dad is like, You don't have 20/20 vision so that is not possible. So, find something else. [laughing]
IVAN: [laughing] So you spent your time in grade school and went to high school. What was high school looking like for you? Did you have any interests that were electronic? How did you get into the internet? And how did that evolve in high school?
WIL: Internet was pre-high school. We had a family that would give us hand me down computers. My house wasn't big enough for the family to put the computer with the big ass monitor anywhere. They were like, Stick it in Wil’s room, the youngest guy. So, my parents end up sticking a Commodore Vic 230 in my room, then a Commodore 64, then an Amiga because this family, the Hoods, they kept getting new computers and they would hand us down theirs.
So, every time they handed them down, we would just get them. And then when we finally got to the point where my dad was able to buy a computer for me, I got a Packard Bell 386 SX16. And I loved it. It was in my room, I got to play around with it a lot and that was cool. But it wasn't until I wanted to get sound out of my computer, and I had to get a Sound Blaster card and my parents got me one one Christmas and I didn't realize I was going to have to open the computer to put the sound card in. And I was 12 years old.
So, I was like, Ah, I don't know anything. I don't have tools. I don't have nothing. And I stayed up super late one night and I tried to get this card in, and I bent all the pins on my hard-drive on a brand new computer, and the ribbon wasn't going back in.
My dad was no joke. My dad was a pretty hardcore disciplinary and I know it was like $2,500 for a computer back then, that was a lot of overtime for him. And if I had a broke that he would have killed me.
So, I was sneaking out of my room at like two in the morning, as a 12 or 13 year old and getting my mom's tweezers and bending the pins on my hard drive back in. And that's when I overcame my fear of breaking computers and stuff. And I think then the addiction just started from there. So, it was about when I was 12 or 13.
IVAN: When you were 12 or 13 did you have friends who had Sinclair ZX Spectrum computers or was it mostly Commodore’s for you?
WIL: It was Commodores and Tandy’s. Remember Radio Shack had the Tandy computer?
IVAN: I've got to be honest, I read about it. I grew up in South Africa. We had Sinclair’s and a Spectrum 48K in the eighties. That's what I had. And my friends had Commodores and there was always this, us versus them between Commodore and Sinclair. So, I was curious if that was similar for you, but maybe it was Tandy and Commodore.
WIL: That was it for me, man, you had a Tandy or a Commodore in my neighborhood.
IVAN: Those things are amazing. So amazing. So, you get into computers at a young age. What happens after high school?
WIL: I go off to university. I ended up getting a four year scholarship after my first year. I went to the Financial Aid office, and I was watching these kids that had scholarships mess up in the first semester, and then they'd have a second semester to get their act straight, and then I'd watch them just doing bong hits, and keg stands all the time, and I was like, There's no way they're keeping their scholarships.
So, I went down to the Financial Aid office with a list of names, and I was like, I bet you out of this list of 10 people that eight of them probably don't have their scholarships anymore. I'm like, What happens to that money? And I got a 3.9, or whatever GPA over my first year, they all probably got kicked out and aren’t here. I'm like, What happens to the money? Because I think I should have gotten some of that.
And then sure enough, they were like, Yeah, you probably should have and then they gave me a four year scholarship from the end of my freshman year.
IVAN: No! Good for you. How cool it is that you were thinking about the budget, right? Because that money was budgeted, and now you're not spending it on the kids that screwed up?
WIL: Exactly. They had it budgeted for four years to pay for these kids’ school, and then you're like, wait a second, they ain’t here anymore, so, where's the money? [laughing]
IVAN: That's a great hack. It's a great hack. I love it. I love it. And what do you end up studying on that scholarship?
WIL: I went through a lot of different degrees, because when you've already had your first year under your belt, and then you have a four year scholarship, I knew I had five years. I loved hanging out and partying in college. So, I started off in Economics, but I couldn't pass econometrics, I'm not good at math.
So, then I went into marketing, and I couldn't pass accounting. And then I went into Economics Education and ultimately that's where I landed is, I wanted to be an Economics teacher, and I didn't have to get a BS in Economics to do that. So, I avoided all of the Econometrics and all the math heavy economics, and I was able to stay more of the average total cost, average variable costs, elasticity style of economics. I was going be a teacher.
IVAN: You were going to be a teacher?
IVAN: And so, did you apply for any positions as a teacher after college?
WIL: I didn't get past my student teaching because I was student taught in 1998, and I had three things that specifically led to me not teaching. And the first one was, so I'm really into computers and I had my grades in an Excel sheet, and my cooperating teacher was like, You need a grade book. And I was like, Excel calculates all my grades so that I don't have to sit there for a week, punching in numbers into a calculator with a ruler over the grade book to make sure you're adding up the right numbers.
I'm like, and it doesn't make any mistakes. Excel doesn't make mistakes. And she was like, What happens if there's a fire and you have to get the files for fire drills, and I'm like, I'll just pull the thumb drive out of the thing, or the zip drive or whatever, and I'll walk out and she was like, Nope. I was like, That's whack.
And then I was doing current events and I would print out my news on my printer at home from the USA today.com, and then I would come in and read it to the kids. And she was like, You need to actually get the newspaper. And I'm like, Ruth, it's the same news. Like, this isn't some side site. It's the USA today.com. I'm printing out the same news. I don't want to stop and pay for a newspaper every day or whatever. She’s like, The kids need to know that you read the paper. And I'm like, What the hell, it's the same news, like I'm just reading on a digital screen.
And then the last straw for me was when it came time to do the stock market game. So, I was teaching in like a lower middle income kind of area probably like a little bit rougher than where I grew up. And a lot more kids living in apartments and things like that whereas where I grew up, it was more like single family homes.
And then when the stock market came around, I'm like, Sweet Yahoo has this like fake stock trading account where I can put all the money into the different kids accounts, that's going to make them go watch the news, and keep up with what's going on and they're going to trade real stocks. And that's going to check off so many boxes, because especially this is 1998, so people are hearing about people like Jeff Bezos and Jerry Yang and Bill Gates dropping out of college and becoming billionaires.
So my kids are hearing that, Yo, my family’s telling me I got to go to college, these guys are dropping out. What's the deal? and Ruth was like, I got this board game that we've been playing for the last 10 years, and you got to spin the wheel, and each kid spins the wheel and it'll be like, oh, there's hailstorm in Iowa. So, all the corn people are affected. And I'm like, What the freak is that?
And I was like, You know what, I'm a little too into the technology therefore, I need to not go teach. Like I'm going to be like the black sheep that's going to be trying to bring technology into the schools. That's why I decided not to teach.
IVAN: Did you start a business right away? You were teaching what, into the nineties? And Seer is about, what 20 years old?
WIL: About 20 years old? No, I only did my student teaching in 1998 and bailed on that. And then 1999, I started doing search at a digital marketing agency.
IVAN: Wow. So, you've been doing search for a long time.
WIL: Yeah, it's crazy. This August will be my twenty-third year, pretty much waking up every day trying to figure out how search engines work, and what they do, and how they get the right signals, and all that stuff.
IVAN: You must really love it to have stuck around for so long.
WIL: You know, one of the things I've recently come a little full circle, that’s come to fruition for me is, and I'm not one of these, I wasn't given a shot because I'm black, or I wasn’t interviewed because I was black or whatever, but when you work in an industry in a business that is so performance driven, and so easy to show the value of your work, I think you can overcome some of those unconscious biases that people have.
Because it's Look, do you want to rank on the top of Alta Vista and excite and Lycos? Yes. Let me show you what I've done, right? Now if you don't want to hire me fine, but there is no ambiguity to whether or not unless you just don't believe that those were my clients. But if you believe that those are my clients, and that I was leading their strategy, then I'm proving that I'm able to do the thing that you need.
IVAN: And so that kills the bias. I love it.
WIL: It doesn’t kill it, but if you really think about, because the bias is so often unconscious, it’s subconscious bias. So as a result, people aren't saying you're this or that so I'm not hiring you, but it's like, you’re not like anybody that I know, or you tell different jokes than I do, or you curse a lot. I grew up in a house where I was watching Red Foxx and stuff with my dad at 12 years old, what do you expect?
And some of those cultural things caused people to be like, I can’t put my finger on it, but it's not a cultural fit. Whereas once you can prove that you can do the job, it becomes a lot easier for somebody to be like, Oh, that's right. This is about them doing the job, not about whether or not we're going to hang out, and we both like hockey, right?
IVAN: Yeah. I see. So, you spent only a couple years between student teaching and Seer. Did you have enough time to have someone who became a mentor or a memorable leader in your life that inspired you to do the things you've done with Seer?
WIL: Not really. I had one boss that I just loved. He was such a good guy. And it wasn't that he inspired me to do anything, he was a kind, good person. I just liked him. And he was a good dude. And he gave me a lot of latitude to make mistakes and to fix those mistakes when I was young. In my career.
There was that and then I had another boss after him that was like, Oh, that's not what I want to be, which I think is also helpful. And then I started Seer after that. So, I've only had two managers in my life.
And now I got this company and I got to try to be the best manager I can be with very little. I haven't seen the job done well before. So, I have to do a lot of reading.
IVAN: Yeah, it's amazing how a good boss will leave an impression on you, but so will a bad one. And I feel like that’s true, not just for leaders, but it's true for companies and teams you work on. And I am inspired by the really awful team I was a part of before I started TEN7, to help me run TEN7 in a way that team never ran. There's that yin and yang almost.
WIL: Yeah, and at least for me, I tend to work on extremes. So, for me it was all about I need to know everybody's name in this company, and I need to show them that they're not just a line item in a spreadsheet.
Because I worked at a Fortune 500 after my first job that I really enjoyed, and I personally didn't like feeling like I didn't matter to anybody there. It was like, Okay, you got to pay this much and get somebody in this role and blah, blah, blah, and you're good enough.
But then I think also as I got older and more mature, you start to realize that as a leader and a founder, sometimes you overweigh and build your business based on the things that you wanted out of a company. But then as your company gets bigger, you're like, it's hard to find people that wanted the same exact things that I wanted too. Right? And sometimes you have to go, Okay, what does that mean, you know?
IVAN: What size a company did you notice that changed? What were the number of people when you started to see that change happen?
WIL: I would say it was probably around 20, because it's only interesting to start a business when you're really young like I was and to survive, and to still be running the same thing because I can look back and how naive I was about shit that today if somebody said that as a leader, I'd be like "You're a freaking idiot." I thought that if we had open books, which we did, and that we were super aggressive in what we paid people, how we distributed profits and all that stuff that people would work with me forever.
And I know it sounds so stupid to say, but I thought that the only thing that kept people wanting to switch jobs all the time were companies that didn't care about them as an individual and a person and was like stingy with the money. But if you just showed people you cared about them as an individual, and that you appreciated them, and that you were as giving as you could be, that people would literally not want to leave. And that was the dumbest thing I ever thought.
And I wasn't giving people the latitude to be like, maybe I just want to change what I want to do. Or maybe I want to do the same thing, but just see how another company does it, man. And looking back as being that young, I was like, Ooh, man, I was super naive, about the kind of company that I built, and at about 20 people, I started being like, Not everybody wants what you want, and that's fine, but you need to talk to people more and understand what they want, and then determine if that's the kind of company you want to build culturally.
But you can't just assume that if you just pay people as generously as you can, and that you treat them well, that they're going to want to be with you for more than three or four years. But I just thought people would work with you forever. I know, it sounds crazy to say.
IVAN: Yeah, it does sound crazy to say. I almost feel like I'm that naïve right now and we're at about 20. So, I got to start talking to you some more. [laughing] How big is Seer right now? You were at 20 when? And how big are you now?
WIL: I don’t remember. We were 20 in 2007, and now we are 210 I think, with 15 open roles or something like that.
IVAN: What a wonderfully successful business and story. What do you think your greatest struggle has been in life?
WIL: In life? In life, I would say my greatest struggles probably just been being a better listener. It's something I struggle with every day. I know it, I have a lot of things that I do to try to make sure that I become a better listener. But I think that I'm wired to just try to fix things and address things.
So sometimes I'm not really good when it comes to let's just talk the talk. Also, which really surprises people is, I'm much more introverted than people expect, which kind of feels like a popular thing to fucking say, Oh, everybody's an introvert these days. But it’s really surprising when people really get to know me, and they're like, "Holy smokes, like this guy can just sit in his house with his family." That's what matters most to me is my wife and my kids.
And then after that I really don't need much. I love my team and being around my team and all that. So don't get me wrong. But I didn't miss anything with COVID. That's an example. Like people are like, Oh my God. I'm sitting right now in a room that used to house like, 40 people, and I've been the only person here for two years. And I'm like, Yeah, whatever. Do I miss once in a while seeing somebody? Once in a while, yeah.
But for the most part, I always just sat here looked at my monitor and got work done. So, how's that any different? That's me, though. That's me.
IVAN: Do you know where you are in the disc analysis by any chance?
WIL: I forget. I've taken it more than my fair share of times, but I forget. High D, I think, if I remember correctly.
IVAN: Yeah, that sounds where I would guess you were as well. But most CEOs are up there. So, that would be my only data point.
WIL: I posted my disc profile online as part of a blog post, so I could actually look it up and tell you.
IVAN: We'll link to it from the show notes. How's that?
WIL: There we go.
IVAN: There we go. What inspires you these days, and what brings you joy?
WIL: Accepting myself. I have some very unpopular opinions about certain things. For instance, how much time I spend with my kids, or how much time I could spend solving world problems. I've had this blog post that I wrote about having enough, and now I don't come to work anymore for money.
So, people often are like, Wil, then if you sold your business or whatever, you would have all these dollars and you could go and spend all your time volunteering and working in organizations and having a community impact. And I'm like, No, that sounds boring. I enjoy the work that I'm doing and the people that I get to do it with and the clients I get to do it for and as a result we get to have an impact in the community, but this idea of oh, if I didn't work what would I do?
I'm going to sit around all day and wait for my kids to come home from school and then what they're going to have friends they want to see and I'm like, Oh, I got nothing to do all day, I wish my kids were home. You know what I mean?
So, I don't know, I'm just so freakin content right now, the only thing I really want to do is just have a larger impact on the communities in which we work. And to try to set up more and more of my team members to be as financially solid as possible assuming they're making good decisions financially.
Buy a million dollar home, then it's going to be a lot harder for me to put a real good floor under you, for you to be financially secure. But you stay somewhat financially humble, there's a good chance that in this company, I'm trying to give out my equity to team members over time so that they have a piece of something that's actually pretty valuable.
So yeah, those are the kind of things that I'm really inspired to do these days. And it's my why for waking up, I want to be a great dad, I want to have an impact on the community, and I want to show the world that you can run a business that has those things at the core.
IVAN: Final question, what do you hope you'll see during your lifetime that we haven't seen as a society yet?
WIL: Oh, societally? Ah, man, you know what? I have real issues with the discrepancy between rich and poor. I live in a city that's a pretty impoverished city, and it is really hard sometimes to be like, how is it that our government is not taxing people like me more? Because when I have enough, that number is pretty low, and I'm good with it.
But there's a lot of people that if they had my money, they would be like, I'd slit my wrists, as Chris Rock says, What does Chris Rock say? I think he goes, If Bill Gates woke up with Oprah's money, he would jump out of a plane and slit his wrists.
And it's unfortunately, our society relies so much on people with wealth, to reach down and take care of our fellow citizens that if in my lifetime, I could see some bravery on, hey, you know, what, people aren't going to realize when they have enough.
So, we're going to be like, you're good now, we're going to start really taxing you, and put that money to people so they can have food. The amount of kids in our city who, their meals come from the school, and then the schools aren't funded appropriately, that just shouldn't be.
While at the same time, people are building, myself included multimillion dollar homes or what the fuck ever they’re doing. That just breaks my heart that there are people who don't have basic needs in our society, and nobody is stepping up to say, not no one, but no one can we get elected, is stepping up to say, Why don't you just tax people that make this kind of money at this level?
And it's "Yeah, I don't want that money going to the government because the government is inefficient," but that’s a whole lot better than me buying more than I need. So that's the thing that I hope I'll see in my lifetime is some way shape or form that it becomes cool to say, "Hey, I am highly taxed as a result of the successful businesses I run or whatever."
And I'm cool with that. And I think that's a good thing. Because I can't go out and distribute my funds in a way that helps make sure every kid has a meal every morning. Jeff Bezos could, but is he going to do that? Probably not.
And those kids, that's somebody's baby, that's somebody's child. That is somebody who they have hopes and dreams for that child, and not even have food. Consistently not knowing that you're going to have food every day before you go to school, I just think that's messed up. And I would love to see that change in my lifetime.
IVAN: That's awesome. Thank you for sharing that with us. I feel the same. You're talking about Philadelphia. That's where you live, right?
WIL: Yeah. But, like globally, my God, man.
IVAN: Oh sure, yeah. I get that. I was just curious about which area?
WIL: Yeah, I'm in Philly. And I think in Philly because there's such high poverty in the city and because I run every day, and I run outside every day, it doesn't take very long for me to get into neighborhoods that are completely decimated. And it doesn't take that long for me to see people sleeping in their cars. And I just think that as a society, we can do a lot more for those that are the forgotten folks of our society.
IVAN: Thank you for your time today. It's so precious, and I'm so grateful that you spent it with me.
WIL: Nah, man, this was a great chat because it's not the same old crap. I don't know if I'm supposed to say that. It's different. It's a different set of things to talk about. And I just appreciate you all giving me a platform to express those things and some really great questions that made me think.
IVAN: Well, it was awesome to have you on.
IVAN: I hope you’ll join us in the next episode of ONE OF 8 BILLION… when we hear from Lars Leafblad:
LARS LEAFBLAD: What I've read, these troubling stats around the mental health challenges facing our high schoolers and college aged kids who feel these expectations of performance and perfection and how do we help them navigate that?
Because we want to be equipping, it's smart, it's the right thing to do.
But if it's at an age where you are both encouraged to ask for what you need, or support it as you ask for help, or that as parents, we can ask one another for guidance on how we can best be supporting our kids and elementary, junior high school, college age, or whatever post high school life brings to talk about that and support those folks.
And I do think we're making strides.
IVAN: This has been ONE OF 8 BILLION, a podcast about all of us... online at 1of8b.com. Join us again next time as we listen to one of eight billion other stories!
ONE OF 8 BILLION is supported by TEN7, a technology studio whose mission is to Make Things That Matter. Find out more at ten7.com. I’m Ivan Stegic. Thank you for listening.
This is episode 128 of ONE OF 8 BILLION. It was recorded on January 28, 2002 and first published on March 2, 2022. Audio length is 39 minutes. Transcription by Roxanne Chumucas. Summary, highlights and editing by Brian Lucas. Music by Lexfunk. Produced by Jonathan Freed.