Ari Meisel

The Amazing Inflatable Business

Just Plug and Play

A few weeks ago, my twins were having a sleepover.

I had to blow up a bunch of air mattresses for the unruly gang of 8-year-olds about to descend upon my house. As I sat on the floor zoning out to the sound of the air pump, a thought came to me.

In the past few years, my team and I have built some incredible automations.

A seamless hiring process, a kick-ass content distribution system, and a sales pipeline that goes from lead gen to conversion without dropping a prospect.

So I was thinking, what If you could just transplant those processes into somebody else’s business, making their pursuit instantly scalable?

Yes, it could definitely help businesses poised to explode, I thought. But it could be even more meaningful to those innovative entrepreneurs out there who may fail from:

  • Doing it the hard way
  • Reinventing the wheel
  • Getting in their own way.

Because it’s not a character flaw that leads to extinction, it may simply be a toolkit problem.

My thought was, what if you could push a button and unfold these processes?

Would they work for anyone, no matter the business?

Yes. The answer is yes.

For example, our automated hiring process is fully “plug and play.” It includes a fully vetted Process Street checklist that is granular and shows anyone, I mean anyone, exactly how to do it.

Click this button. Copy this app over to your Zapier account. Now click this button, and it creates a Trello board for you from a template. Next, click here, and it creates the jot form from a template that candidates fill out when they apply for your job.

In about an hour, you’ve got a fully optimized, automated hiring process that’s immediately scalable.

Imagine having six to 10 processes you can unfold that will instantly grow your business.

You don’t need an Ops person.

You don’t need a VA.

You don’t need to master Zapier.

You don’t need to build an SOP.

The processes are ready to go.

They are fully automated. So there’s no interminable training session for you or your team. The process itself has already been optimized and tested on hundreds of people in hundreds of businesses.

Essentially, it’s a business in a box. Push a button, and you’re live. Your only job is to add talent or a product.

There’s one for hiring.

One for operations.

Another for the customer journey.

And one for product or service delivery.

As I put the fitted sheets on the air mattresses, I got to thinking about this company called Fitch. Do you remember it? Well, it was a personal, virtual assistant service just for buying stuff. You would tell them, “I want this thing,” and they found the best price and ordered it for you.

It was an awesome service, really responsive. In four months, Fitch was fulfilling a hundred requests a day. The customer satisfaction was huge, and then it was featured on Good Morning America.

Suddenly it was getting 10,000 requests a day, and response time went from four hours to two weeks. And that was the end of Fitch.

My plug-and-play processes could have saved Fitch. I’m sure of it. I don’t want to see that happen to anyone else. Good ideas should never be at the mercy of inefficiencies. It’s unnecessary.

So, if you want to add Miracle-Gro for your very best ideas. Vox me. If your business took a nosedive during the pandemic and could use a shot of adrenaline to right itself, please reach out. I want to help you get back and track and enjoy the kind of success you deserve.

Cog. Engine. Engineer. Inventor.

The Four Mindsets Every Founder Needs to Build a Better Business

We’re all familiar with KPI (Key Performance Indicator) a measurable value that demonstrates how effectively a company achieves its objectives. I couldn’t find one that made intuitive sense to me, so I developed the Ultimate KPI™, a behavioral framework for tracking and encouraging constant improvement.

The Ultimate KPI l™ is a concrete way to practice making replaceability part of your job. Remember that being replaceable does not mean being replaced. You’re not trying to make yourself or those around you obsolete. You’re not trying to put people out of a job. 

In fact, irreplaceability is the enemy. Really. It renders you stuck. It means if there’s no one else who can do what you do, you are a liability. If what you know only lives in your head, there’s no transparency, no transfer of knowledge, and most importantly, no growth for you or the business. 

Replaceability means practicing detachment, relinquishing the notion that you and you alone can “do that thing” or “solve that problem.” Replaceability removes bottlenecks. It means you and your team can work on more substantive projects.

It allows growth. 

The process of making yourself more replaceable involves first analyzing how you do what you do.  

  • How do you go through various processes?  
  • Where do you allocate your resources? 
  • How do you spend your time?  
  • What requires your attention but not your expertise? 

We can answer those questions using The Ultimate KPI™. 

Think about the 20 things you do regularly, activities, tasks, projects, reconciling bank statements, leading the team, brainstorming, podcasting. 

Did you know that every one of those tasks fits under one of four mindsets? 

Cog, Engine, Engineer, and Inventor.

The cog focuses on the minutiae, the boring, the prescriptive. They’re doing the requisite tasks necessary to get the company through the day. In terms of flexibility, they’re in a cage. They can’t go anywhere because if they do, the business will grind to a halt. And forget the notion of freedom. Cogs are barely able to keep their head above water.

Many founders recoil at the notion of being a cog. I get that. It sounds neither glamorous nor impactful. So the way to cast off the mantle of cog-ness is to acknowledge that you may very well be suffering from terminal uniqueness. 

Granted, you might’ve been unrivaled when you started the business, but at some point, you stopped being as singular as you imagine. No disrespect. I’ve been there. You started doing the work of cogs because it had to be done. There are other people and tons of automations that can do cog work. So maybe ask yourself, why are you doing it? Because anyone, even you, can jump that line and become the engine. 

Now you’re the driving force in the business. You are not a part of the engine. You are the engine. You still have to be there, wherever there is, so freedom at this point is elusive. You can’t go very far without the business halting, and your focus is firmly on the organization’s work. But, you’ve got enough headspace now to get interested in other work, ideas, projects, pursuits. But you can’t because you are otherwise occupied. 

But possibilities are the fuel that propels you to go from engine to engineer. Here is where you’ll discover the difference between working in the business and working on the business. Your hands-on engagement gives way to the cultivation of ideas. It’s more about using your voice instead of your hands. Maybe you go back and forth. Perhaps you spend more time brainstorming, but projects get done whether you are physically there or not.

Engineers focus on challenging scenarios and accelerate meaningful growth. You see some real possibilities in terms of freedom and flexibility. You can self-identify as free-range. Mostly. There are still limits. But many people happily roost here. They hit what I call the “good enough” line. There’s freedom, check. Focus? Check and some flexibility, and it’s good enough. But the problem is that good enough is a trap. 

Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t some Gordon Gecko, hungry hungry hippo baloney. It’s about your mental enrichment, which, come on, will slowly atrophy if left alone. And good enough is probably not good enough for your competitors. When you accept that reality, it’s simple to jump the line to inventor. 

The inventor gets to focus on their genius, the things that bring them the greatest joy and have the most impact. They have the flexibility to work anywhere, anyhow, anytime.

A good way to think about the difference between Cog and Engine, then Engineer and Inventor is the difference between using your hands or your mouth. If you are engaged in Engineer and Inventor work, you’re talking. You’re brainstorming, you’re interacting with other people. You’re going back and forth. Then somebody else runs with it and makes it happen. 

The Cog and Engine are literally hands-on contributions. When your hands are involved, you have to be physically situated someplace; in an office, in front of a laptop, behind a cash register. 

It’s important to note that the goal is not necessarily to eradicate cog activities. There are certain businesses where the cog work is the thing you do; carpentry, landscaping, bread baking, rock climbing instructor. 

The business cannot operate without the Cog, because it’s not just essential to the business, it is the business. So there is a place for Cog work. We just don’t need to get bogged down in it.

Also, it’s always going to be one task, one mindset. There is no grey area.  

For example, you may enjoy doing something and feel like it’s clearly Inventor work, but if it requires you to be someplace, it’s going to be the work of an Engineer. And it has to be identified as such.

Remember, each mindset contributes equally to the smooth operation of any business. But who is engaged in these activities can be the difference between a scalable business and a stalled one. 

If the founder is doing Cog work, there is no leadership. 

If the Engine holds on too tightly to any system or process, there is no transparency. 

If the Engineer is working in the business, instead of on the business, there is no forward motion. 

And if the Inventor is doing anything other than contributing a vision, the business will not grow. 

Putting it Into Practice 

I created an actual “pen to paper” planner to help you organize your productivity journey It’s called The Ultimate KPI Planner, which is so not clever but entirely accurate. 

Here’s how to use it:

  1. Write down 20 tasks, activities, projects you perform regularly.
  2. Identify each activity as either cog, engine, engineer, or inventor. 
    1. Cog – Is it manual and repetitive?
    2. Engine – Are the tasks essential but frustrating?
    3. Engineer – Are you working IN the business or ON the business?
    4. Inventor –  Does a project require your unique focus? Is there flexibility to work on it anywhere?  Does it allow the freedom to explore outside the business? 
  3. Pick 16 things you will no longer do at year’s end. 
    1. Use the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent must be offboarded in order to grow.
    2. Is the activity excessive, unneeded, unnecessary, inefficient, irrelevant? 
  4. Determine the Replacement Plan
    1. Optimize – offload or eliminate
    2. Automate – software system or process optimization
    3. Outsource – delegate internally or externally
  5. Monitor Continuous Change (Kaizen) 
    1. Monthly check-ins – with yourself and your team 
      1. How many tasks are gone, reassigned, outsourced? 
      2. Set a goal and if you do not reach it, go back and reimagine The Replacement Plan. 

The Replacement Plan is the holy grail of this practice. It makes zero sense to commit to a thorough house cleaning, and inventory the work you are doing, only to replace tasks with equally inefficient systems and processes. Or worse, get frustrated and fall back to your old ways; which would constitute a productivity relapse and those are simply awful.  

If you employ my OAO (Optimize, Automate, Outsource) Methodology, you will see forward momentum almost immediately.  The early successes you’ll feel will be the necessary fuel to keep you going on this road to focus, freedom, and flexibility. 

Caught in a Riptide?

Caught in a Rip Tide?

My very first memory Is not a good one. 

I was five years old. I was in Puerto Rico, vacationing with my parents. My father and I went swimming in the ocean and got caught in a riptide. It felt like hours. It probably wasn’t, but as a five-year-old boy, I was sure death was upon me.

If you don’t know what this oceanic nightmare is, you should. 

First, we may call them riptides, but technically it’s not a tide controlled by the waxing and waning of the moon. Rather, it’s a rip current, a powerful, narrow channel of fast-moving water prevalent along the East, Gulf, and West coasts of the U.S. and even along the Great Lakes’ shores.

“Moving at speeds of up to eight feet per second, rip currents can move faster than an Olympic swimmer. Panicked swimmers often try to counter a rip current by swimming straight back to shore—putting themselves at risk of drowning because of fatigue.

Lifeguards rescue tens of thousands of people from rip currents in the U.S. every year, but it is estimated that 100 people are killed by rip currents annually. If caught in a rip current, don’t fight it! Swim parallel to the shore and swim back to land at an angle.”

Source: NOAA. What is eutrophication? National Ocean Service website,, 10/05/17.

So if you get caught in that rip, it’s pretty much impossible to get to shore swimming against it. The frustrating thing if you have been stuck in one and then find out later is that the solution to surviving is to stop struggling, float, then effortlessly swim left or right about 30 feet. 

Now my experience was probably way more traumatic than I even recognize now. My throat seems a little tight, and my breathing is elevated whilst writing would indicate that the experience has not left my consciousness. 

But the thing about the memory that eats at me the most was that we could have gotten out of it so easily if we had just known what to do. 

Now, if you haven’t figured it out already, rip currents are the perfect metaphor for an entrepreneur struggling to scale, pivot, succeed, win or survive. 

Far too often, I see business owners swimming against the current like the last line in The Great Gatsby, 

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Oftentimes it’s of their own making. They’re doing things that feel hard, but they keep doing it because they think they’re supposed to or don’t know that there’s a better way. And that better way might be right next to them.

The strongest part of a rip current is the direct line between the water’s edge and the sandbar opening. It’s a naturally forming myopia. The direct line. But it’s also the most dangerous. Business owners who struggle in this space inevitably fail. The force is too great. The goal feels like it has to be the shore. All they care about is getting out of the water, getting back to the shore, and getting their feet on dry land. 

If they shifted that focus to something smaller and more productive, like, “How do I get unstuck?” Suddenly, the receding wave makes its way through the sandbar opening and meets up with water at its own level. Its pressure immediately drops. It simply requires patience and an understanding that thrashing around only makes the situation even direr. 

People drown when they needlessly struggle in the water or expend all of their energy swimming. To survive a rip current or any crisis in the water, you have to keep calm, and you have to conserve your energy.

And we see this in business too. Some people are so focused on the goal, make a million dollars, open 50 locations, expand to seven different countries that they lose sight of the solution right in front of them. That is stopping them from taking the first step that they need to make to get to that eventual goal. 

The most effective way to fight rip currents in your business is to follow basic swimming safety rules: 

  1. Never go into the ocean or try to solve a problem alone. 
  2. If you aren’t a strong swimmer or number one in a Google search, stick to shallow waters until you’re more fit. 
  3. Ideally, it would be best if you only swam in areas where a lifeguard can keep an eye on you. Accountability can save your life and your business. 

Yay. Another Blog Post About Management vs. Leadership

Do a Google search for the word leadership, and you’ll get 2,930,000,000 results. Management comes in at 6,040,000,000.

Funny that. Maybe the word leadership holds such an exalted position in our psyches that we don’t need help researching and defining it. Management, not so much. Management we need help with because for a lot us management looks like Lumbergh. And that’s not fair.

A gifted manager is an inexorable part of the success of any organization. But the two skills, management, and leadership are not interchangeable. And even though pretty much everyone has written something about the difference between management and leadership, it’s still hard to decipher.

In 1977, Abraham Zaleznik wrote the first scholarly article about the difference between leaders and managers. His thesis was while the organization needs both managers and leaders to reach its goals, their contributions are vastly different.

Leaders, he posited, promote change through innovation, and ensure commitment through empathy and motivation. On the other hand, managers encourage stability, exercise authority, and develop methods to get things accomplished.

Today this topic is bandied about on podcasts galore, if you’d like to go deeper down the rabbit hole.

And if all else fails, there’s always infographics:

Yet, with all this information out there, it can still be a challenge to internalize the difference in a meaningful way.

I had a conversation this morning with a client who doubted his ability to take his company to the next level. The exchange got around to the same murky management leadership distinction.

He said, “I got the business to where we are now, but I don’t know if I can get it where we need to go.”

“What is the skill set you think you don’t have?” I asked.

“Probably the big one is managing people.” He admitted somewhat sheepishly.

I said, “Well, that’s the problem. I don’t want you to manage people. I want you to continue to be the leader that got your business where it is; a person who empowers the people who work for you.”

“But what’s the difference really?” he asked.

For me, the easiest way to look at it is this:

Management is not a scalable skill. Leadership is.

Somebody who can manage ten people cannot automatically manage a hundred.

But somebody who can lead ten people well can lead a thousand.

Coach in Your Pocket

I’ve discovered a way to scale one-on-one coaching.

Do you know what word I hate these days?

Gamechanger. No, actually it’s two words. Gamechanger and resonate. That one also really bugs me.

The problem is I’ve been conducting my latest venture in a way that is really, what’s the word I’m looking for? Oh, right, game-changing. Damn.

Honestly, I initially structured my private coaching business around what was most convenient for me. Asynchronous communication. It gives me massive amounts of control. It allows me to respond when I have something to contribute. It is efficient and precise.

It turns out this kind of communication is so much more effective than any other coaching I’ve ever done. Happily, my clients are saying the same thing.

Several of them contact me three, four times a day for about a minute with a tactical micro problem I can address quickly. It’s like being a coach in their pocket. I look at it as the next incarnation of my Idea Capture methodology because now there’s a feedback loop.

It’s akin to reading someone’s diary, then someone else (me) critiques and comments on the passages. So the communication takes on a intimate problem-solving component I hadn’t anticipated. I love when that happens.

And while clients see the benefit of unburdening themselves of ideas or issues in a quick Voxer message, they are also finding that the platform works well with circumspection. I’ve been getting 12-minute messages when they are in the car on the way home.

There is no “real-life” situation where somebody will talk for 12 minutes straight — no coaching session, no therapy session, no phone call with a friend. Even if the other person lets you ramble on, you’re not able to do it. You’re going to react to facial reactions. You’re going to lose your train of thought. You’re going to get interrupted.

There’s something empowering about this odd vacuum chamber of Voxer that enables people to share some deep private stuff. It gives me so many insights into the entrepreneurs I’m coaching; profound observations and self-appraisals that help me be a better coach to my clients.

Now people say tech makes things less human, but that’s not what I’m finding.

For example, I’m conducting all my sales over Voxer. The platform allows me to answer my Voxes myself. You know it’s me because it’s my voice. It’s not an assistant. It’s not a salesperson.

The cool part is if somebody is not willing to have a sales conversation with me over Voxer, then they’re not going to want to be coached over Voxer. It’s a solid, wheat from the chaff litmus test.

Also, somebody doesn’t have to book a call three days from now that they either won’t show up for or sit through a 45-minute pitch that’s supposed to convince them that I’m the right person.

The platform is the pitch.

I have 12 clients right now, and we’re working at an incredibly intense level. Our conversations are deep and daily, and I don’t have a single call scheduled on my calendar. Clients are getting my attention, and we are solving problems quickly and well.

Now, after many years of experimenting with all kinds of coaching systems and methods, I landed on a perfect fit for me. It will not work for everyone, but I’m stoked; it works equally well for me and the entrepreneurs I help.

Scaling looks good on fish

Not me.

Do you know what you miss out on when the singular focus of your company is scaling?

Life. You miss out on life.

So I’m getting out of the scaling business. It’s time.

My expertise helped many people and grew my business fast and well. I’m damn good at solving problems, and when my clients presented my team and me with complicated, intriguing dilemmas, we solved them. It felt terrific.

Did I help everyone who joined my group coaching program?

Absolutely not, and BTW don’t ever let anyone tell you that they are 100 percent successful either. In fact, don’t let the “purveyors of scale” trick you into thinking that:

Scaling is something other than making more money. It’s not. It’s making more money. We can create a taxonomy around the notion of growth that hits on deep, meaningful ideologies, but scaling intends to create more wealth in the end. Let’s all stop pretending it’s something grander. And instead of asking yourself if your idea will scale, ask yourself, “Will it be meaningful?”. Then proceed accordingly.

You’re doing “it” wrong No one has, sells, or promotes a universal approach that works seamlessly. We humans are unique and flawed. Our businesses are borne out of that individuality. The shit that works will speak clearly to us, not be prescribed by someone with a sexy pitch deck.

Instagram is Real Life. We live in a society that is enamored of illusion. And that sense of make-believe comes at us 24 hours a day. No one’s intermittent fasting regime is that successful. No one’s Lamborghini is without engine trouble. No one’s kids are that well behaved. When we compare someone’s virtual outside to our very real insides, it diminishes our self worth and establishes bizarre, unattainable points of reference.

The hustle is not time-consuming. Yes, it is. And I’m arguably the world’s most productive man. The hustle, which produces scale, comes with a hefty price that may be impossible to recoup — teaching your kid how to ride a bike — watching your Mom show your daughter how to crochet. Registering first-time voters or harvesting your first (and only) cucumber.

Authenticity is a marketable commodity. When anyone tries to tell you how real or humble or grateful they are, run. Actions are more valuable than intentions, so watch how thought leaders behave. Don’t just listen to what they say. No one should have to sell how real they are to you. Gross.

The most important metric of success is your bank balance. Again, I call bullshit. Did you teach someone on your team to do things they never thought possible? Was it possible to help a client unravel an entrenched idea and change course? How many people thanked you for your insights? Were your employees able to construct a life that included, rather than excluded, their families? These are all the hazy accomplishments that genuinely define success for me.

Now, I’m not here to crush sour grapes or castigate the “coaching space.” There are talented coaches out there who legitimately believe in what they are doing, have methods that work, and who can create community even during these maddening times. A hearty Mazel Tov to each of them. You know who you are.

But I am The Replaceable Founder, someone who has put into place systems and processes that have allowed my own company (and maybe yours as well) to grow quantitatively. The experiment worked. It is possible for the founder to step away from a business’s day-to-day operations and still scale. But the machine needs to be fed, and that requires too much tending.

I could have been on a plane every week (when we went places). I could have worked on all kinds of marketing strategies to get more followers. I could have hired more people. I could have sent out more email sequences. But you know what, I didn’t want to. Chasing the scaling dragon was just not that important to me.

So, I said, enough.

It’s the self-aware founder who realizes when an idea, albeit a terrific one, has run its course. It’s not a failure. It’s not quitting. It’s a eureka moment of grace that illuminates a core truth.

I want to be more human. Yes, me, the guy who has built a few hugely successful businesses around the notion of harnessing technology.

I don’t want to manage from afar. I can, but I’d rather have intimate relationships with fewer people.

I want to invest my energy into scenarios that are meaty and complex. When I’m deeply interested in the problems I’m trying to solve, I’m on fire, in a good way.

I want to be there for people in a substantive, committed way. I’ve been volunteering as an EMT up in the Hudson Valley. As a country EMT, I’m with the patients longer than a city EMT where hospitals are not so far away. It’s kind of remarkable the connection you can build with someone who is hurt on a thirty-minute ride to the nearest hospital. I can’t solve all their problems, clearly, but I can be there, and simply being there for someone is a woefully underrated pursuit. I want to change that. I want to get better at that.

I want to be more me.