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Kurt McSparron, President and Founder of The Executives’ Club of Fargo-Moorhead, joins us for this episode. The Executives’ Club began in 2015 to bring together local business owners, entrepreneurs, and key decision-makers and help them make valuable, meaningful connections. Kurt discusses how he grew the network to where it is today and the importance of refining your business ideas and messaging with the help of your allies.

Learn more about The Executives’ Club of Fargo-Moorhead here: http://the100.online/

VO: Let's get geared up for startup success. Join Josh's. He interviews knowledgeable guests from all corners of the entrepreneurial world and gets the answers to the questions you've been asking. Get ready to learn something new on this episode of From Idea To Done.

Josh: Hey everyone. On this episode, we have Kurt McSparron. Kurt, thanks for coming in today.

Kurt: Thank you, Josh. Great to be here.

Josh: Why don't you tell us just a little bit about yourself, your background, and the organization you're with.

Kurt: Well, in 2015, I founded a company called The 100 Inc. And that is currently doing business as the Executives Club of Fargo Moorhead.

Josh: Tell me a little bit, what does The Executive's Club what's it do, what's it about

Kurt: The Executive's Club of Fargo Moorhead is leadership unfiltered. It's where we bring visionary business leaders together for extraordinary conversations and those executives through their own initiative, they create our agenda, they design our programs, and they lead those conversations.

Josh: So a networking group, it's kind of self, self-directed,

Kurt: It's a networking group on the surface, but we like it to have a lot more value in depth than a simple networking group.

Josh: Okay. Who's able to join?

Kurt: It is focused on, and our target audience is business owners, key decision makers, entrepreneurs,

Josh: Okay, any particular shaped size industry.

Kurt: Not at all. In fact, that's one of the pluses of the group is we try to keep it very diverse. We have some of the largest, the owners of some of the largest companies here in Fargo Moorhead, as well as a good handful of solopreneurs and everyone in between.

Josh: Okay, awesome. So 2015, 7 years ago, how did the 100 come to be?

Kurt: The 100 in came to be, It was built entirely on the subject that we're discussing today, and that's creating a network of valuable connections. Our objective was to bring together a hundred individuals, business owners, and those key decision makers who would then collectively build a network that was not simply a contact list, but a trusted inner circle of meaningful connections.

Josh: So the topic we're talking about today is kind of the concept of a hundred allies. We want to find a group of people around us that are gonna be able to help us get feedback on our ideas. How how'd you find those first group people? That first hundred.

Kurt: First hundred I think we started, there were 70 when we wrapped up our first six months, we had 70 people and probably a dozen of those were close friends, allies that I had in my network, people who I knew were high performance entrepreneurs, and I think it just evolved from there. It was bringing in my immediate network, that inner circle, and then asking them, Who else do you think from your network should be a part of this? And it grew organically in that way.

Josh: How, how'd you get connected with that initial network? Was that just prior business relationships?

Kurt: Yes. Yeah.

Josh: Okay. Yeah, that's something that we teach all of our entrepreneurs to go out and find people in your market, and if you can't, that's an indicator that, Well, should I actually do something in the space? Because how likely are you going to be to succeed if you can't tap the market?

Kurt: Right.

Josh: What did you, flashback to 2015 when you're starting everything, What have you learned now that you wish you'd have known then in regards to again, getting that initial traction?

Kurt: Oh, gosh, a lot. , . I think starting out with a well-defined vision, purpose, goal, all those things that we read about in EOS Intraction, I don't think I had that as firm as it should have been to start out. I think all entrepreneurs have a vision in their head, but whether or not they can convey that vision properly and effectively to get enthusiasm from those around them can be a little bit difficult.

Josh: Absolutely. And that's why I think it's so important to get those close allies to you. Cuz if you can't explain to a room of friendlies what it is you're trying to do and they don't get it at that point, what's the likelihood that you're gonna attract that colder market or that secondary market after you've worked through your friendlies?

Kurt: Right. If you have to go out and raise funds and you have to pitch this idea to a room full of investors from across the country or around the globe, , Yeah, good luck that they're gonna grab onto it. If your best friends don't quite see what you're seeing.

Josh: Yeah and it, it's sometimes a frustrating exercise to I see a lot of entrepreneurs go heads down and they write their business plan, they try to perfect everything in a bubble , and then they take it out and they start talking with people. They'll get frustrated because they'll say statements like, Well, you just don't get it. This is good. I know what I'm talking about. And so when you're talking with those first few, the first dozen, couple dozen people you're talking to with the group, did they get it? Make sense?

Kurt: In some aspect? I think the first line was usually we're looking at starting a business group to which everyone rolled their eyes and says, Great. Another business group,

Josh: Yeah

Kurt: We've got a hundred right here in Fargo, Morehead, We don't need another one. No, this is gonna be different.

Josh: Yeah.

Kurt: This is what every entrepreneur says, . No, my idea is different. Trust me. So yeah, I think there was a limited amount of enthusiasm, but I think, well, I know that people were looking for something and they could sense that there was something different possibly gonna happen with this . And I think we mutually picked up on that. They could see that I was trying to do something different and they were looking for something different. So we don't exactly know what this is gonna be, but let's start pulling it together, figure it out together.

Josh: Let's figure it out together.

Kurt: Right.

Josh: Yeah. Well, and full disclosure, I'm a member in the group, and the thing I really enjoy about it is that it's a safe space for me as an owner. I'm not getting sold to. I don't have to bring leads in. I can show up to events and have meaningful conversations and y'know entrepreneurship's lonely at the top as they say.
I just, the fact that I can bounce ideas off of people, I can get connected to somebody that's a venture capitalist venture or investor or a real estate guy to ask questions about. If I wanna put a building up, what should I be thinking about those sorts of things to where, again, like I said, I'm not being sold. I don't have to bring leads into. So I find extreme value in that but it almost is a, I've gotta give first

Kurt: Right

Josh: Before I can ask anything

Kurt: As most relationships should be . And yeah, the fact that it's not a sales group was we built it intentionally as sort the opposite to a lot of the other networking groups that are built around leads, tips, referrals. There are those out there and they serve a wonderful purpose. But business owners wanted something that, I don't know that they really knew what it was, but something where I wasn't getting sold something I could just go to as a resource.

Josh: Yeah, I think anybody that's started something had some traction or some success, they know they can go sell their stuff. They know who to talk to. As an owner, it's different than me as a sales rep or me as trying to figure out what I should be doing. So,

Kurt: Right. Yeah. There are an unlimited number of business groups that are primarily attended by second, third, fourth in command. The sales manager, generally people out in the field, not necessarily those key decision makers, and most owners don't necessarily attend those as they advance in their career within their industry. They go for the first few years to get their name out there and get their face attached to their brand, but they quickly realize that attending those means, I'm gonna get pitched.

Josh: I remember going to one of 'em locally here, and it was a bunch of people selling nutritional shakes and realtors and chiropractors and I thanked the host for the meeting.
But I walked out there going, I don't know where I fit in this world at all.

Kurt: And I've got a stack of business cards from some people that I, I guess they're nice to have in my contact list, but they're not gonna be people I turn to for business advice and counsel.

Josh: Yep. Yeah. I think something you had said a little bit earlier too is that you had your warm market and then you used a little trick we do here on the podcast is at the end of this, I'm gonna ask you, who are two people you think should come on the podcast we should talk to? And so now if I can tap into your market and then their market, you're getting connected with people that you don't know. And if Kurt sat down in front of me and said, Hey, I've got this idea for a business group, which you did seven years ago, , I've heard the pitch from Kurt, and I get it right, But if I bring somebody into the group that hasn't heard it yet, and you're able to give 'em the pitch now it's market that you don't know.
You don't know the angle for how to position or pitch it. And the further away you get now you can write copy for the website or however you're trying to advertise it, and it makes more sense because you've got that message better refined

Kurt: and bringing in those key people, those allies, right off the bat. They should help you define that message. And I think that's what brings anything together, gives it some momentum. .

Josh: Well, I bet you learned a lot and were frustrated early on of,

Kurt: I'm still frustrated,

Josh: That's fair, but getting it out in front of people early before putting a lot of resources into it, probably made some fruit some fruit for you, right?

Kurt: Right. We intentionally built something without very much structure to it. It's not completely different from building a widget where it was, we go into the shop and we make it and here's our product.
We put something out that was completely fluid for the most part. Here's an avenue that we want to be on, but we're not really going to set the course or the road out in front of this. We want the group and this group of allies to form where this goes , what it becomes.

Josh: Which in some ways could probably be hurting cats to some extent. If you get a lot of vocal people that have ideas and but at least you're getting feedback and ideas, you're able to then kind of cherry pick which ones you like, which ones you don't, and how to move it forward. Because again, feedback is so critical,

Kurt: But it is a tough group to target in that way to try to bring something concrete together, bring a bunch of type A personalities with their own focus. Tough to get focused on something else. Entrepreneurs. Yeah, it is. It's herding cats. , no question about it.

Josh: Well, I suppose you have, this kinda goes back to the concept of the allies. If you have a diverse membership group, if you have people that are solopreneurs and you have people that run multi multimillion dollar businesses that all have different needs and different availabilities how have you been able to make that work over the years of having such a wide demographic? Cause at the end of the day, we're all business owners, but we're at different stages of career, of our lives.

Kurt: Right. We've had to try to find the common ground. And once business owners sit down and recognize that, then it brings people to the same table. , there are only X number of business problems you will ever have, and they're probably gonna fall into one of eight categories, and we can all relate to those on whatever level you happen to be at right now.
It's a marketing issue, it's a finance issue, it's a personnel issue, whatever those are. So we try to find that common ground, put a general topic on the table, and let everyone give their insight and experience in relation to that topic, .

Josh: And that's what I really enjoyed about the group is just that those conversational pieces of being able to sit down. And I remember I was at one of the luncheons once and a gentleman sat down next to me, he looks really familiar. Everyone kept going, coming by and saying, Hi, Steve. Hey Steve. like, Oh. So we were chatting a little bit, and he is like, So I go, Steve, what do you do? He goes, I work for Scheels. It's the owner of Scheels at 28 store, whatever they are giant company. And we got into a little bit of stuff, and we had a lot of common similarities, even though we are nowhere near the complexities of what a giant retailer like that is trying to do.
But yeah, it comes down to people, money, marketing product.

Kurt: And not that Steve would remember it either, but when you go up to his office, there's the picture of his grandpa and his partner at the little general store out in, was it Sabin? I think so, yeah. Yeah. Scheels Hardware, whatever it was called. So even Scheels, and most companies, every company has come from that small starting point. . They don't start with 5,000 employees . They start with one person and an idea, and they grow from there. And that's where that group of allies can either tell you, Good idea, bad idea, , your idea has potential. Here's what I might do.

Josh: Well, it gives you the chance to pivot as well. And so if you're coming in saying, I've got an idea for business owners, you get them together and they say, That problem's already been solved.
We're doing it this way, , but here's the problem that we're really having. Right? You can pick it up and move the needle completely the other direction because you're in front of your market.

Kurt: And that's where that group of allies is gonna assist. If you lock yourself in an office, put together your business plan and try to go to market from there without any feedback, you will fail.

Josh: I've done it many times. We've got clients that have tried to do that, and you learn a lot when you do it that way. And it's very expensive. And it sucks. And it hurts. And I don't advise it .

Kurt: No, exactly. No, I, I've said that circle of allies should be, I believe, the number one priority of every entrepreneur and executive. There should be nothing more important than having that inner circle of trusted companions.
Whether you're preparing to launch a business, whether you're trying to grow on scale, or even whether you're planning your exit strategy, there should be someone in that circle who can assist with that, who's either been there, done that or has someone within their circle who can, wants to buy your company or whatever that might be. Expanding those resources is key.

Josh: We did that here at Codelation probably year and a half, two years ago. We put together a small group, and I think it was facilitated through The 100 of four or five people, and we're trying to bounce an idea around, and one of the team members said, Turn it into a SaaS product and scale it as big as you can. Another person said, Split it out on its own. Go raise five to 10 million. And that's what Codelation becomes now is this product.
And there are two or three other ideas in that conversation. And it was like, there's no wrong answer there, but it helped me open my eyes to how everyone thinks. And then I went back to the board and said, From a resource standpoint we define resources as people, money and expertise, , what's what fits us the best? And so we started put that ball into play, but knowing that there are pivot points and we could go another direction was something to where it's like, I never even thought of it. Right in that way.

Kurt: And you can start to break it down of these ideas that we received. Are there any that we simply cannot do? was set those aside, or is there something that we could do a couple years down the road? Where can we start with any of these? Yeah.

Josh: And for us, it started with building an audience.
. That's where we're at today, is we've developed a lot of the product around it. We've gotten that in front of our target audience, but now we need to be able to build that audience bigger, give away a lot of good content before we can try to monetize it. And so it's a very long tailed play that we thought was gonna be six to 12 months. It isn't anymore. It's a much longer end game for us.

Kurt: And as I think back to that meeting now, that was a good diverse group of people at that table, couple people around your age, younger who are in the similar industry. There were a couple seniors there. Financial experts, marketing experts.

Josh: Yeah. So I think at the end of the day, a lot of people are scared to share their idea. And we're in a very Norwegian, Midwestern area here to where nobody wants to say something bad about your idea. They want to be supportive and helpful, which is the worst thing to do because now you're thinking, All right, great. Everyone loves this idea, . So then you go build it. And then it turns out they really didn't care.
But so many entrepreneurs are scared to share that idea because they don't want to feel vulnerable. They don't want to get that feedback. Cause it might not be what they want to hear.

Kurt: In regard to entrepreneurs, there's a lot of negatives around Midwest, nice, or Dakota nice, Minnesota, nice one. We don't like to ask for help. Yep. I'm okay, I got it. I can do this myself. People don't like to give you the negative, the bad feedback. They start, you put that all together and it creates much more of a need in this part of the country to do exactly what we're talking about, to get honest feedback.

Josh: Well, it's something that everyone puts their armor on and the world's falling apart around em. But how are you doing? I, I'm fine. I'm okay. Yeah, yeah, I'm good. Yeah. It's like, no, I remember I went to a three day retreat, where as entrepreneurs and everyone is like, This is great. I'm so energized. And we got to a small group session and I was just sharing my journey of how hard it is to get to this point, . And then people started opening up of like, Yeah, I had to sell my house, or I got divorced over it, or whatever it was. And it was like, there's some real vulnerability, honesty happening there. And I think we sometimes put that wall up of everything's great, we're perfect, and you miss some opportunities.

Kurt: That really is the key, I think, to getting a good inner circle. A good group of allies is always asking the right questions and sharing, making yourself vulnerable without putting too much on the table. You have to find that a good balance there.

Josh: This retreat was definitely focused on openness, vulnerability, get real with people. You probably don't want to do that with potential clients, but you want to get that real honest feedback of, here's the problem we're trying to solve. Here's how we think we're gonna do it. , what do you think? What have you tried? Would you buy this product? But what have you tried in the past to solve the problem? Why haven't those things worked? If you can ask questions around the problem and not, Hey, Kurt, I've got this widget, will you buy the widget? Do you like the widget? Right?
Well, sure. I'll say yes. So you just stop bugging me about it, . So I think there's some nuance in art of kind of uncovering the problem and the solution within the allies. But yeah, the Midwestern nice is definitely something you need to figure out how to cut through,

Kurt: Right. Yeah. I've always, Questions are the greatest resource that we have. I've always told, especially young people going out networking, you have to have three to six great questions in your back pocket just to ask people. and I challenge young people and people our age and older go into any meeting or any networking event and see how long you can go in a conversation without ever making a statement, just asking questions, , and you will start to build better relationships. people like to talk about themselves, but you'll find yourself in a battle with someone else who's trying to do the same thing and you're asking questions back and forth. But people appreciate that interest in them. No one wants to go to a networking event and just be blasted with information. Here I am, here's what I do, here's what I've got. Here's what I can do for you.
I don't believe you anymore.

Josh: Well, it's something too that I feel my biggest asset right now is the goodwill that I built up. And to have somebody start chipping away at that an event or asking too many favors, it's like, yeah, you gotta build up the bank balance before you can make withdrawal.

Kurt: Right? And that's where those allies come in people that you can turn to at any time but not too often. But it has to be mutual. And those great questions, they don't just happen. You should have them prepared. They don't come off the top of your head . They should be strategic. They should come out confidently, genuinely .

Josh: Yeah, and that's a good point. I ran a kind of a workshop to try to figure something out one time of what should we do within the business? We brought in a bunch of people from the area, and I didn't have those questions put together real well. I just tried to wing it, , and it came across as disorganized. And so if you're going to your allies, you should have some real strong thoughts on what it is you're asking. And when you were getting the ball rolling with things, were you meeting in person with them? Was it phone calls? What was the main media that you were

Kurt: I would dare say at that time it was 90% plus in person, face to face, . But then I'm old in my fifties. But we prefer face to face. It worked for what we were doing. If I'd tried to send out an email or text or anything else trying to explain what we were pulling together, I don't think that the passion would've come through in any way.

Josh: It's easy to hit, delete, or just ignore it. Right. Because guess what? I'm busy.

Kurt: And people have to feel your passion about a project.

Josh: Yep.

Kurt: No question about it.

Josh: Yep. No, I think it's easy to fall back under 2022, fall back to technology and just say, I'm gonna put together a survey. I'm gonna send it out . And I got three responses. It's like, Oh, nobody thinks the idea's good. It's like, that's not the case. I just get hit with how many emails a day?

Kurt: They received 10 other surveys that day and yours just didn't make the top of the list. Yep. I'm sorry. And then it sat there for a couple days and they thought, Well, it's too late to respond now.
And it disappeared.

Josh: Just got buried by 50 more emails that just came in that I'm not gonna get to either.

Kurt: Right. .

Josh: So yeah, I do think that if you can make it happen and in person or a Zoom call or something, so you can at least pick up on the emotion or the They're getting disconnected now. It's like, Okay, am I rabbit trailing or Yeah. I think one of the biggest things when we are trying to do some of the idea validation with somebody is the opportunity to say, That's interesting. Tell me more about that , or Why didn't that work out for you? And pick up on things that you can't do through a survey. You can't do through an email.

Kurt: Right. There again, you're asking questions. Yep, yep. You're promoting that they're pushing that relationship.

Josh: Yep. Yeah. There's a great book that we promote a lot. It's by Rob Fitzpatrick called The Mom Test, and it's how to ask those questions, . So it's not a leading question, do you? My idea, do you think you would buy it? Right. Again, it goes back to the what's the problem we're trying to solve? What have you tried? What's worked? Why haven't you used that again, , and to really get to the core of I was paying too much for the thing. I never used it. It was just annoying.

Kurt: Right

Josh: It's like, Okay, can we solve those problems or not? Maybe not.

Kurt: And if you're a person's brilliant at sales and you've done it for a while, you've asking the right questions of the person you're meeting, getting them to explain their issues, their challenges, their problems, eventually it comes back to you and they ask, Well, what do you do? And you can tell them how you solve that problem that you just talked about. Yeah. Laid out. Well, it works perfectly to start with questions.

Josh: I came across a good one the other day, and it was around the objection of, Well, I just maybe need a little more time to think about it, . And it was something to the effect of, I totally understand that, but what questions can I help you answer? Because we know the most about what it is we're trying to do here. So I'm probably the one that can help 'em block that for you. . So what questions do you have today, Kurt?

Kurt: Right.

Josh: So yeah, there's always ways that you can pivot an objection or come across and really get to the core of that pain point. It all goes back to that of, I don't want to join another networking group. Why I don't see the value, or

Kurt: I don't have time, which was the number one objection, which is why our number one rule was there's no obligation, there's no time requirement, an initiative, come and do what you can. If you can't, you can't.

Josh: Yep.

Kurt: That got everyone's attention. . Okay. It takes no time of mine. I can maybe I could be a part of this.

Josh: Yeah. Did you leverage any other, You said that you reached out to your initial market, , you tapped into their market. Were there any other tips or tricks or anything that you used to get in front of additional potential members? We talk about joining online communities. Cause a lot of our stuff we build is nationwide SaaS products. And so getting into the groups to where you can't ask those questions, Did you use anything like that or any other ways to reach potential

Kurt: Geographically our group is just right here at Fargo Moorhead, we didn't necessarily have to be out reaching people who weren't within a few minutes drive so that made it easier in that regard. But again, I think it was those in person relationships and meetings that led to a meeting with the next person, the Steve Scheels of the world. Like you said, if someone grasped the idea, they saw the potential of it, let me send.
And so a quick email, say you got that warm introduction through an email that way, and through a text, I'm gonna send him over to see you right now. He's on his way and here's what he is gonna talk to you about. That helps.

Josh: The head chatter starts going of, I don't know who this guy is. I don't want to be in a networking group. I don't have the time . I don't see value in him. I've already made up my mind. But if Kurt calls me and says, Hey, Bob's coming over. He wants to talk to you about this. It's like, Okay, I trust Kurt. Right? I'm gonna take that meeting.

Kurt: Yep. Here's something pretty cool. That's not too expensive. Okay. You got my attention, . Yep.

Josh: Well, and I think having those allies around, we've talked about a lot of over the last couple years of not charging enough .
And so I think you get some feedback that again, you might be in your own head on that is not an issue at all.

Kurt: Right.

Josh: So I, again, I'll go back to the Midwestern thing of we undercharge for our value . We don't think we're good enough, , and anything that's talking about something we're bragging about ourselves and none of that is true.

Kurt: Yeah. , the story you told me a few years ago that I think you lost a client maybe in Chicago or some bigger city, I don't know if you got them eventually, but because you simply didn't charge enough for what we want something more expensive than that. Sorry it.

Josh: It's so easy to go into that and say, I wanna land this deal. I'm gonna discount, I'm gonna do this. It's like they don't want the cheapest solution. They want the right solution.
And if that's with you, great. If it's with somebody else, , they're gonna pick it, but they buy based upon value and not price.

Kurt: And that's where those allies come in when you're launching a product as well as, Oh, any multi-level networking or something, you start with your friends and family, , and right off the bat, hopefully your friends are gonna buy your product. Or if down the road you're struggling to meet payroll, you can probably reach out to a couple of those allies and say, Hey, I just need a couple jobs here.

Josh: Yep.

Kurt: Can you help me out?

Josh: Yeah. Yep. Well, and that's something too. I know there's a local company that's raised some funds, but they started off with an email list and a very targeted email list, and it's towards marketers, and they built out their product, they wire framed it, they did everything against that email list, and every week or two they'd send out saying, Here's where we're kind of going with it.
Here's the features. Do you like? Don't? Because it was their target audience that they were talking with. They launched it, I think 9 99 a month with the concept of getting 300 paying customers. . They got 300 paying customers, and they went and raised 250, $300,000 to take it to the next level. And now their base package is a hundred bucks a month, and they're selling into enterprise. They're selling $6,000 a month things. And so it's like you just need to prove that there's a market need for it, . And you don't have to stay there. You can always move upmarket down market. But getting that feedback early on is so critical,

Kurt: And your ally should tell you that. Yep. Yeah. I think one of our members said it best and he had a quote they had given to the groups that building professional relationships is the fundamental basis of my business practice.
That seems on the surface like a nice thing to say, but when you break it down, it is the fundamental basis. the platform, everything. His business practice is built on building professional relationships. trust. Yeah.

Josh: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely.

Kurt: Yeah. That's very profound. It's not simply a part of his business. We do this, this, and this, and I spend some time building relationships that is the fundamental basis of his practice.

Josh: Well, it's the North star and you can make every decision based off of does that align to the North Star

Kurt: Right, yep.

Josh: Well, Kurt, thanks for coming in today. I really appreciate the time with you. How do people find out more about the 100.

Kurt: The 100, doing business as The Executives Club of Fargo Moorhead is online at the100.work.

Josh: Great. And if they want somebody wants to learn more about membership, they can contact you through the website,

Kurt: Through the website. If you just type in my name on Google, you're probably gonna find contact information. Kurt McSparron.

Josh: Wonderful.

Kurt: We're out there. You can call Josh Christy at Codelation , send you over.

Josh: We'll get you connected somehow.

Kurt: Right.

Josh: So again, Kurt, thanks for coming in. I appreciate it.

Kurt: Thank you Josh very much. Have a great day.

VO: Thanks so much for tuning in to this episode of From Idea to Done. If you're enjoying the show, please feel free to rate, subscribe, and leave a review wherever you listen to your podcasts. We really appreciate it, and we'll catch you in the next episode.

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Erick and Josh talk about big ideas, companies that are winning and those that aren’t, and current events in the crazy world of software startups.

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