How do entrepreneurs get past the desire to quit? Ray Zinn, a man who avoids using the word “quit” sits in discussion with Suzanne Evans whose has been on the Inc 500/5000 list of fasting growing companies for 5 straight years.
Ray Zinn: Good morning everyone. So happy to have you with us today on this podcast. My name is Ray Zinn. I’m Silicon Valley’s longest serving CEO. Recently, I sold my company in 2015, and now writing books and just enjoying helping out universities with various projects that I have on Tough Things First.
With me today, I’m so delighted to welcome Suzanne Evans. Hello, Suzanne. How are you today?
Suzanne Evans: I’m awesome. Thank you so much for having me, Ray.
Ray Zinn: It’s delightful to have you. I think after reading your bio that I’m going to call you Suzanne “Wonder Woman” Evans because Suzanne has done some remarkable things. She started a business from basically a humble beginning, I think a secretary’s great, but it’s a humble beginning, to a company that does $7 million in sales in record time. She’s also written a book, New York Times Bestseller, How You Do Anything is the Way You Do Everything, which is really a nice title to a book. We’re going to talk a little bit more about that in this podcast.
She’s been on the Inc 500 and 5000 list for five straight years. She’s really just done remarkable things. Her book is a New York Times Bestseller. She’s helped thousands of business owners get on a fast track to success.
Her company’s called Driven, by the way. I’m sure she’ll tell us a little bit about what Driven is. That sounds good. Being Driven is a good thing. With that, Suzanne, tell us a little bit about yourself and your company, Driven, and how you help businesses.
Suzanne Evans: Thank you so much. It’s funny. We were bantering a little bit before we started the podcast today, and I am a seventh generation North Carolinian, but I think the most important thing is I’m seventh generation farm family. I believe the farmer was the original entrepreneur. I grew up in that family and that experience, and strangely moved from that experience to working in the Broadway theater industry.
I worked in the Broadway theater industry for 10 years. What I learned working in the Broadway theater industry was every night is almost like opening a new business, and especially every show that you open. The company that I was working for as a secretary opened five Broadway shows while I worked there for about a decade. I’ve really never seen an industry that puts up “businesses” as fast as a Broadway production company does because even though we opened five Broadway shows over those 10 years, all of those shows had road shows, they had international productions, they licensed to other people. You’re constantly opening a new show.
From there, I started my own business, which I really thought would be a little side hustle, make some extra money, maybe eventually be able to transition out of my job. About 10.5 years later, here we are, with the company that I have. Certainly, there’s a lot of detail to how I was able to do that and what I did and what I got right and what I got wrong, but the main piece of all of it was having a really driven spirit and attitude and willingness to make a fool of myself, a desire and a hunger to make things better, get things right, help people.
I learned a lot along the way. I was fortunate to learn a lot from my parents, and I also learned a lot from the Broadway production company I was working in, but mainly I find that the most successful entrepreneurs long term are people who are committed to figuring it out as they go, asking for help, and failing over and over again with very little emotional reaction to the failure.
Ray Zinn: That’s pretty good. I have a saying that, “He who repeats the past fails in the future”, so hopefully you learn from those mistakes you made and just didn’t repeat them because repeating the same mistake and then expecting a different outcome is called insanity. You must have been able to overcome that in some respect, Suzanne. Tell us, what is one single thing you can say helped you in your success?
Suzanne Evans: I think a couple of things. I had parents who were almost dogmatic around commitment. If I started piano lessons, they didn’t care if I played the piano the rest of my life, they didn’t care if it was something I wanted to continue to do, but if I committed to the year in piano, I finished the year. As a matter of fact, from zero until 12th grade, I never missed a day of school, never a single day. My parents rule was, “We’ll take care of everything, and you have one job. It’s to go to school and it’s to do the best you can.”
If I woke up and I said I was sick, my dad said, “Well, if you own your own business or you work for someone, they don’t really care if you’re sick because they still need the job done. I want you to get up and go to school this morning, and if you don’t feel well later in the day and you can’t make it, just call us. We’ll come get you, but I want you to go and I want you to try.” It was the greatest gift I was ever given because you’ll never meet someone more committed than I am. There’s tons of people smarter, there’s tons of people more experienced, there’s tons of people more accomplished, but I am committed and I was taught that if you ask God to move mountains, expect to wake up the next morning laying in the bed with a shovel.
Ray Zinn: That’s very, very similar to my experience. I ran Micrel, my semiconductor company, in Silicon Valley for 37 years. In 37 years, I think I only missed seven or eight days of work in 37 years. One thing, I lived a healthy lifestyle and that allowed me to be healthy enough to have that sort of record. Very similar to you, Suzanne, I was able to just … Even though I didn’t feel particularly fantastic on a particular day, I still went to work because I was committed. I think your comment about being committed is correct. If you commit to take piano lessons for a year, you better show up every time for your lesson and practice those lessons. Yes, that’s great. What was the other thing?
Suzanne Evans: The first was commitment. The second was a willingness to make a fool of yourself. I was very fortunate that I did a lot of theater growing up, so I did have a little bit of a performance background. One of the keys to being a great performer is improvisation. Even if you don’t know where you’re going, keep saying yes and you’ll figure out how to get there. The second was really … So many people wait to be perfect. They wait to know it all. In the day and age we live in with technology and with marketing and with the ability to connect with people all over the world in an instant, you can’t have it all figured out. You have to step in and let parts of it evolve. The second part was willing to get things wrong, willing to mess up, willing to make mistakes, and know that really, truly the only fools are the people waiting to get started.
Ray Zinn: That takes courage. I think the key to that is just having that ability to look things right in the eye, and as they say, have the stare of the iceman, as you would. Just not flinching. I know I did a little performing in my day. If you make a mistake, don’t let the audience know it. That’s what I used to do.
Suzanne Evans: Right.
Ray Zinn: I didn’t say, “Oh excuse me. Oops.” I didn’t do anything like that. I just went on. If I pronounced a word wrong or if I made the wrong move or entered at the wrong time, I made it look like that was part of the show. If you make a mistake, never let anybody know it was. Just pretend it was part of the act.
Suzanne Evans: Absolutely. Again, the audience doesn’t know the script. The audience doesn’t know the routine. The audience doesn’t know the dance steps. If you keep dancing, if you keep singing, if you keep performing, most of the time, they’re not going to question. As a matter of fact, they’re going to join in.
Ray Zinn: Yeah. I remember my mother, her dad, her father, was from Germany. I remember taking her over in her 80s over to Germany to meet her relatives. They had a party for her. It was interesting. We went into this big room there and everybody was clapping and cheering and everything as my mother walked in because it was a surprise for her. My mother said, “Why is everybody clapping? Why is everybody cheering?” I said, “Because they’re honoring you.” She said, “When are they going to stop?” I said, “When you tell them to.” She said, “[Spanish 00:10:15]”, which is, “sit down” in Spanish. I turn to my mom. I said, “Mom, you just said sit down in Spanish.” She says, “I know, but it’s a foreign language, isn’t it?” She wasn’t afraid at all. She wanted to say it in a foreign language, so she spoke it in Spanish.
Suzanne Evans: [inaudible 00:10:35]
Ray Zinn: You got to have courage. You just can’t let things bother you. My mother was the oldest teacher in California. When she retired, she worked longer than anybody else. I think she was 75 when she was asked to retire from teaching. Again, I have very similar parents, very similar to your folks, where commitment and just courage and dedication and vigilance and all those things were part of the normal training that I received as a child. I also was raised on a farm, but it was more cattle. Still, AG culture, and so I know that routine.
Suzanne Evans: Yeah. We had cattle as well.
Ray Zinn: Yeah. It’s all part of the life you live. As an AG culture person or a farm person, you got to get up and milk the cows. You got to get up and feed them everyday. Even currently I have some horses at my ranch, and I got to get up and feed them. I could ask other people to do it for me, but I do it myself. I get up to feed my horses and clean the poop out of the corral and out of the stalls. You can’t be afraid to do the tough things.
You had some questions for me, Suzanne. Let’s talk about some of those things you would like me to address.
Suzanne Evans: Yes, absolutely. I love the concept of tough things first. I wonder … I talk a lot about the cycle of quitting and how people get trapped in a cycle of quitting. It just becomes this behavior that they live over and over again. I wanted to ask you with your experience and your incredible background, is there ever a time you should quit? How do you define or know if it is time to stop or give up?
Ray Zinn: As an example, in 1994, I went on a roadshow to take my company Micrel Semiconductor public on Nasdaq. On the roadshow in London, I lost my vision. I literally went blind due to a medical problem, and I still had three or four days of the roadshow left to do, visiting these investors. I could have, I should have maybe, flown back and got the thing treated, but I went ahead and finished the roadshow. I had to fake my way along because I couldn’t see my presentations any longer, but I adapted and was able to finish them, and then got back to the Bay Area a few days later and went and saw the doctor.
The doctor says, “Well, your eyesight’s not going to recover. It’s permanent damage.” Then the lawyer said, and my board said, “Maybe we ought to unwind the IPO.” I was devastated. You can’t imagine what it’s like to go from … My vision two weeks earlier was 20/15 because I was a pilot, and then to lose my eyesight instantaneously, it wasn’t slowly, it was instantaneous, not be able to drive, and had to have somebody drive me to work.
Here I was, the CEO of a company just ready to go public, and my board saying, “You ought to unwind the IPO and find somebody to replace you and just deal with it.” After much prayer and soul searching and so forth, I went back and told the board, “I’m going to move ahead. I’m not going to quit. I’m going to go forward.” We went public and had a very successful public offering. Here I am, blind and difficult, you would think, to run a company when you’re blind, but I did. I went on for 22 more years running the company as a blind person, but I did it. I think I did it better. Once I lost my vision, I think I was a better CEO than I was when I was sighted.
When is it time to quit? I don’t know. You can be forced to quit. When I sold my company in 2015, I didn’t want to. The board said, “It’s time for us to sell the company”, and so I didn’t want to do it, but things, conditions, change. The board voted to sell the company, so that’s what we did. Even though you could say that I quit the company, I had to resign as the CEO. I didn’t quit. I still went on to help universities. I got six universities that I work with. I don’t know that there is a time to quit. If you maybe have to modify some of the things you do and alter your approach, but I’m not sure there is necessarily a time to quit, Suzanne. Maybe that doesn’t get you where you want to go in your questioning, but I’m not sure there is.
Suzanne Evans: I think it’s an amazing response. I’ve only found one answer to that question in my experience, and that has been unless something is extraordinarily dangerous to your health or well-being. Whether that’s a relationship that there could be violence involved or something like that, then it is, but I find that even if you don’t want to continue to do it forever or you’re not even sure, completing it to the end of its cycle gives you more knowledge and information than stopping before.
Ray Zinn: Again, we’re talking about now a medical problem. I certainly had a medical problem. Losing my vision was a medical problem. I couldn’t fly my plane any longer. I don’t call it quitting though. Even though I couldn’t fly the plane, I could find somebody to fly it for me. Quitting has a different connotation. Quitting means giving up. I don’t think that even if you have a medical problem, like I did, if you’re a dentist and you lost your eyesight or if you’re a surgeon, certainly you’d have to change the way you do things, but I don’t think you have to quit.
Quit is really a word that I think … Quitters never win. Quitting is just an awful word. Quit. It doesn’t even sound good, does it, Suzanne? I think you can change the way you do things, but I don’t think you have to quit. Ray Charles was a wonderful singer and piano player, and he was blind. I don’t think you have to quit. Quit means give up. How does that sound to you, Suzanne, giving up? “I give up.”
Suzanne Evans: I think you have to adapt. I think you have to be flexible. I think you have to change. I think you have to be creative. I think you have to be innovative, but I never sat around a table with highly successful people and the conversation of their success was around, “When I quit this thing.”
Ray Zinn: Right. There’s some things you would like to quit, like if you smoke. Okay. Quit smoking.
Suzanne Evans: Right, right.
Ray Zinn: Quit. Don’t keep it up. Or if you have another bad habit, swearing, maybe using vulgar language. Quitting? Okay. Let’s talk about quitting bad habits. I’m willing to quit a bad habit, but I’m not going to quit a good habit. How’s that?
Suzanne Evans: Exactly. There you go. I think that’s where we can nail it.
Ray Zinn: There you go.
Suzanne Evans: Then I had a leadership question for you. I was very curious about leadership tactics, styles, culture that you may have needed to develop and master to stay engaged in a company, in an industry, as long as you did. It’s one thing to … We see so many CEOs now go from place to place to place to place. Who did you need to be and what did you need to master to create what you created?
Ray Zinn: The thing you talked about earlier. It’s commitment, not giving up. That’s what I mastered. Even when I was not feeling well, I still went to work. Even though things weren’t going well at work and you say, “Oh heck with this”, and you want to go home, you stay with it. You stick with the habit until it sticks with you. A good habit that is.
Suzanne Evans: I love that. Ray, I love that. I want people to hear, “You stick with a habit until it sticks with you.”
Ray Zinn: There you go. Emerson said, “That which we persist in doing becomes easier.” Not that the nature of the task changes, but our ability to perform it becomes easier. That’s what it … You just have to be persistent. You just got to keep at it, and back to that not giving up. What my people saw in me, and what I try to pass onto them, was just don’t quit. Just stay with it. That’s how you learn. You don’t learn by giving up and quitting.
When I lost my vision, my employees all thought that I was going to leave, I was going to quit, but I didn’t. I said, “No. Listen. We might have to make a few changes here, but we’re not going to quit. We’re going to stay with the course.”
In fact, I’m reminded of an accident, a fishing, not a fishing, a research accident that happened in Baja, California, the gulf of Baja, California that is. There was a naval … Excuse me. There was a research vessel years and years ago that capsized in what they call a [inaudible 00:21:00], which is a major storm. There were eight on board. I think five perished and drowned and three made it to shore. The news reporters asked, “How come you three made it and the other five drowned?” All three of them said, “Because we didn’t give up swimming. We didn’t quit swimming.”
Suzanne Evans: Wow.
Ray Zinn: So that’s the key. The only way you’re going to drown is if you quit swimming. For those of you who have been swimmers know that if you quit swimming, you’re going to sink. You just got to keep swimming. You got to keep at it. Only people who quit are going to drown. That’s the key to, I think, leadership. I think in your book, The Way You Do Anything is the Way You Do Everything, is just don’t quit. Just keep swimming.
Suzanne Evans: Yeah. It’s interesting. As you know, there’s so many trainings on leadership and so many people who specialize in teaching leaders to be leaders, and so on and so forth. I wonder how much, what a difference it would make in companies and in cultures and with people if we focused a little bit less on training to be leaders and training people on leadership and just were good people who people wanted to model and successful people. What I’m hearing you say is you didn’t have to spend a lot of time on teaching people to be leaders because you were so busy being a leader and not quitting and adapting when things had to change that people just followed that model.
Ray Zinn: Exactly. It’s like doing anything. People are going to follow you if they believe that you’re worth following. They’re going to follow the leader. There’s that game that we played as kids, Follow the Leader.
Suzanne Evans: Right.
Ray Zinn: What you do is if they will just replicate what you do, as long as you’re doing good things, then you’re going to have a successful operation. I know of many, many experiences that they come follow me, follow me. Follow my lead. As long as you take charge and you are a good leader, setting the proper example and the proper strategy and mission for your firm, you’ll succeed. It’s not that you’re not going to have trials and difficulties, but you will succeed as long as you don’t give up and you keep pursuing your dream, at least that’s my view of it.
Again, maybe it’s a good segue to conclude our podcast, Suzanne. I really appreciate having you on the show today and being able to share your vision and my vision with regard to not quitting and being driven and having that passion to succeed. No matter what your passion is in life, whatever your goal is, please keep moving and read Suzanne’s book, How You Do Anything is the Way You Do Everything. Look her up. She has a website. What’s your website, Suzanne?
Suzanne Evans: Driveninc.com.
Ray Zinn: If you want to learn more about how to succeed in business, go to driveninc.com. That’s a fantastic … Thank you so much, Wonder Woman, for all you’ve done to help us on the show and create this ambience of not quitting. Again, we appreciate having Suzanne with us today and sharing her vision of being driven.
Look up our website, toughthingsfirst.com. We have all of our podcasts listed there. You can also get my book, toughthingsfirst.com. Excuse me, Tough Things First, on Amazon or any of your other favorite book retailers. Then my new book, Zen of Zinn, Z-E-N of Z-I-N-N. That’s a philosophical book. I recommend it to anyone who wants to just learn about the philosophies of life. Whether you’re in business or you’re just an individual, it’s things that will guide you, give you guiding principles in your life.
Again, thanks to Suzanne for being with us today and sharing her views on driven, being driven, as you would. Thanks again. Join us again on our next podcast. Give us your ideas, your questions, your thoughts. We’ll respond and hopefully include you on a podcast. Thank again, Suzanne.
Suzanne Evans: Thank you.
Suzanne Evans went from secretary to a 7 million dollar business in record time. Her company, Driven Inc, has been on the Inc 500/5000 list of fasting growing companies for 5 straight years. Her NY Times Best Selling book, “The Way You Do Anything is the Way You Do Everything”, set hundreds of thousands of business owners on their fast path to success. Suzanne has grown her brand from humble beginnings inside a 350 square foot Manhattan apartment to a sprawling office where she works with clients around the world.