Mike Barrett: [00:00:01] Job interviews: career and life advice from just about everybody.
[00:00:05] [Musical Interlude]
Mike Barrett: [00:00:09] Hello there. Today, we are talking to Walker Peek, which sounds like a made-up name for a competitive hill walker, or something … Is that a thing? Can you be one of those?
Patrick Barrett: [00:00:18] Hmm …
Mike Barrett: [00:00:19] Anyway, that’s not what he is. He’s a different thing. He just has a name that almost sounds like it’s from a comic book. Walker Peek is a business owner, an engineer, former NASA contractor; holds multiple advanced degrees. Just a super, super interesting person, and I think—
Patrick Barrett: [00:00:36] He’s the total package.
Mike Barrett: [00:00:37] Yes, absolutely. He’s “Peak” Walker. Maybe that should be … Anyway, whatever. I think you’re very likely to get a lot out of this conversation, even if you don’t see yourself going into business ownership or engineering or anything that. Basically, every interview we’ve done, this is an interview where, even if you are not, like I said, specifically interested in the limited things that Walker has done—you’re not interested in doing those things for yourself—you will learn a lot, for sure, about some things that definitely will touch on aspects of life, or professional choices that you will very probably find interesting at some point in the future. This will be very useful for you to know, as you make your own plans, and projections for what you’d like to do after high school and/or college.
Patrick Barrett: [00:01:21] Walker was somebody who, as he grew up, he knew he wanted to start a business. He was always into that, but he didn’t really have any idea what that would be. Sometimes, we talk to people, or you hear about people who have a certain passion from early on, and it’s in a certain specific area. They love, I don’t know, board games, or coding, or something, but that wasn’t Walker’s story.
Mike Barrett: [00:01:43] Those are two very nerdy things to be …
Patrick Barrett: [00:01:46] Yeah—
Mike Barrett: [00:01:47] Or just manga, or—
Patrick Barrett: [00:01:48] Mountain climbing.
Mike Barrett: [00:01:50] I mean, they love being a fighter pilot, or something—
Patrick Barrett: [00:01:53] Yeah. Carpentry. Whatever it is. Actually, those are all valid things that you could love.
Mike Barrett: [00:01:57] Fantastic things to learn! Less nerdy than the other things.
Patrick Barrett: [00:02:00] That was a longer list. Thank you, Mike, for chiming in. Some people have that specific thing—”Oh, I really love this,” and Walker didn’t have that, as far as the actual content area to go into. He wanted to start a business, and a lot of people, I think, have that kind of—can relate to that feeling of, “I generally want this job, but I don’t even really know what that would mean, or what it’s going to be like.” I think it was in college that he—we’ll find out—he did some brainstorming and finally had that idea of what to even go into, when he was almost through most of his schooling, at that point. I think that’s a very relatable position to be in, where he was, when high school was just kind of nebulous. “Oh, I want a business,” but what does that even mean?
Mike Barrett: [00:02:42] Touching on what Patrick just said, and not to give away too much of what Walker discusses in a moment, but one thing you’ll find here that I think is very interesting, and anyone can really apply it, is the idea of having structured ways of solving problems. That’s one thing that’s a huge theme, motif, if you will, that extends all throughout Walker’s life. Certainly, it’s something that you can borrow, no matter what field you plan to go into. It’s just a good way to deal with things as they come up, to already have set models and things that you can refer to.
Patrick Barrett: [00:03:15] This is something that comes up a lot. Our goal with these episodes, it’s pretty much never to show you the one way to do something because there isn’t the one way to do something. There’s just the million different ways that a million different people have done things, and some of them have things in common, and some of them don’t. It’s always very instructive to see what a person has done. Mike described Walker has this very structured way of solving problems that it’s worked super well for him. It can be a useful tool, for sure, for just about anybody. You don’t have to use this exact thing, but it’s definitely useful to see it in action. Even if you don’t use it so consistently and throughout your life, the way Walker has, if you’re ever stuck on something, this could definitely be a useful tool to have in mind. We’ll talk about Walker starting his business. We’ll see that what goes along with that is making his own website, and going online, and training himself on how to do that, and teaching himself various skills along the way, learning about dealing with employees, and HR—human resources—as he gets his company going. There are so many interesting obstacles. Certainly, for you, if and when you are an employee sitting across from someone, the insights you can gain from hearing about the boss’s perspective, it’s definitely a useful thing to be aware of.
Mike Barrett: [00:04:34] Yeah, so without further ado, let’s go take a peek at what Walker has to—
Patrick Barrett: [00:04:40] Let’s walk over.
Mike Barrett: [00:04:41] Let’s walk … What else could we do here? “reklaw …” No, that’s Walker backwards. Anyway—
Patrick Barrett: [00:04:47] Let’s keep “reklawing.”
Mike Barrett: [00:04:49] Walker Peek.
Patrick Barrett: [00:04:50] Walker Peek.
Mike Barrett: [00:04:51] He should use that as the title of his autobiography if he ever writes one.
Patrick Barrett: [00:04:53] “Keep Reklawing.” Yeah.
Mike Barrett: [00:04:54] “Keep Reklawing: The Walker Peek Story.”
Patrick Barrett: [00:04:55] You could really go down the rabbit hole with this. We’ll be back at the end of this episode with the best sentence, using him name front and backwards.
Mike Barrett: [00:05:03] —with more takes on Walker Peek’s name. Yeah.
Patrick Barrett: [00:05:05] Forwards and backwards. Yikes. All right. Here we go.
[00:05:08] [Musical Interlude]
Patrick Barrett: [00:05:10] Many students think that SAT, and ACT questions about grammar and style must be completely subjective because it seems impossible to know for sure which version of a sentence will be the one that seems best to the people who write the test. It turns out that these question types actually follow strict, predictable rules, and standards, just like every other part of the test. Once you learn those rules and standards, you can find the right answer with certainty, and without subjectivity. To find out more, look for our “SAT Prep Black Book Second Edition,” and our “ACT Prep Black Book Second Edition” on Amazon.com.
Patrick Barrett: [00:05:41] Hello. We are here today with Walker Peek of Commercial Acoustics. Could you, in your own words, describe what your job is, what you do?
Walker Peek: [00:05:49] Yeah, sure. Thanks for having me here, guys.
Patrick Barrett: [00:05:51] Thank you for being here.
Mike Barrett: [00:05:52] Thank you for being here.
Walker Peek: [00:05:53] It’s a pleasure.
Mike Barrett: [00:05:53] It’s a much bigger favor that you’re doing us than we are doing you!
Patrick Barrett: [00:05:56] Exactly. “Thanks for taking up my afternoon.”
Walker Peek: [00:05:58] So, Walker Peek with Commercial Acoustics. I’m the president of the company. I started it five years ago and we’re basically an acoustic consulting and engineering firm. We also sell a number of acoustical and soundproofing products.
Patrick Barrett: [00:06:14] Cool. Is this a lifelong passion of yours? Is this something that, if we were talking to you when you were in high school, would you say, “I’m going to grow up and start a business about acoustics,” or how did that come to be?
Walker Peek: [00:06:24] I knew I wanted to start a company. I’ve always been very passionate about being an entrepreneur. I had no interest in acoustics growing up.
Mike Barrett: [00:06:33] What did you think you might start a company in …?
Walker Peek: [00:06:36] I thought it would be engineering, which is why I’ve kind of blended that into our product offering and service offering—
Patrick Barrett: [00:06:41] That makes sense.
Walker Peek: [00:06:42] —but acoustics, I’m not a musician. I’m not an audiophile who loves music, and mixing, and stuff.
Patrick Barrett: [00:06:48] Yeah, like that’s always been a thing for you, or anything …
Walker Peek: [00:06:51] Yeah. The opportunity presented itself, and I just kind of went for it.
Patrick Barrett: [00:06:54] Can you describe how that opportunity presented itself? What happened?
Walker Peek: [00:06:58] It was my girlfriend (wife) at the time, living together in Tampa, which is where we are now. I was still working part time. I had just read a book, “The 4-Hour Work Week,” by Tim Ferriss. Very dangerous—
Patrick Barrett: [00:07:11] Oh, yeah. We’ve read that one. It fills your head with a bunch of ideas.
Walker Peek: [00:07:14] Right. Exactly.
Mike Barrett: [00:07:15] Pandora’s box of a book.
Walker Peek: [00:07:17] Some of them are good ideas.
Patrick Barrett: [00:07:19] Oh, yeah …
Walker Peek: [00:07:19] Some of them are maybe not as great. I was looking for a side hustle at the time. I wasn’t super-thrilled with my job, although it was a cool career path. I was working as a NASA contractor for Craig Technologies. My girlfriend was studying for med school upstairs, studying the boards, so she was finishing med school. She just thought I was making way too much noise down there, and I had to keep it down. I couldn’t talk to my buddy or listen to the basketball. We were drinking some beers; we were like, “You know, we need to find a problem …” and she’s like, “Shut up! We’re trying to study here!”
Patrick Barrett: [00:07:51] “Shut up! You’re causing a problem!”
Walker Peek: [00:07:54] There’s a problem! So, that was the initial genesis of the idea was, “Hey, let’s come up with a soundproofing product.” A soundproofing curtain was the initial product, and it went over the door to block sound. Started the website, started growing it that way, direct to consumer—as we were discussing before we started taping here. Direct to consumer has its benefits, but also its challenges, so we pivoted to do more of a B2B sale, and that’s Commercial Acoustics, and that’s who we are.
Patrick Barrett: [00:08:24] Yeah, and that’s the business. When you said, “We were searching for a problem,” were you literally, at that moment, talking, “Oh, I wish we had a problem.”
Walker Peek: [00:08:31] Yes. Me and my buddy were like, “Dude, we want to start a company!” He’s like, “Yeah …”
Mike Barrett: [00:08:35] “If only the universe would make me aware of a problem …”
Walker Peek: [00:08:39] It was just perfect timing. We actually had a notepad. We were listing all potential problems, and we added that one on there.
Patrick Barrett: [00:08:45] I’m just curious, what other problems were you talking about that like—did you have anything you were interested in?
Walker Peek: [00:08:51] Well, I always keep a notebook of ideas. One of them, right now, is recycling. It’s such a pain in the butt. Like old ink cartridges, and things like that—
Patrick Barrett: [00:09:00] Certain things you don’t know what to do with them, yeah.
Walker Peek: [00:09:02] Exactly.
Patrick Barrett: [00:09:02] Or old batteries …
Walker Peek: [00:09:03] Exactly. Things that are really valuable still, but it’s like how you are going to get it back to the factory to reuse it—
Patrick Barrett: [00:09:08] You don’t just leave it out by your front door, and somebody comes off and takes it away. Yeah.
Walker Peek: [00:09:12] Exactly. We had some other ones. One of them was a gas glove, so you don’t get your hand dirty and filthy when you use the gas pump.
Mike Barrett: [00:09:20] I feel like, maybe for your sake, you should stop listing all of these great ideas—
Walker Peek: [00:09:25] I actually published them for a while. I had a little startup website. I was like, “Hey, anybody who wants these ideas, please use them,” because I’m not going to get—
Patrick Barrett: [00:09:32] I’ve thought of doing that because I have a lot of things that I am like, “I am never going to have time to pursue that.”
Walker Peek: [00:09:36] They’re probably—most of them are awful, mine anyway. Probably most of them are awful.
Mike Barrett: [00:09:41] “Your ideas are probably real dumb.”
Patrick Barrett: [00:09:42] “I don’t think anybody wants this,” but yeah, I understand that feeling of, “I wish this existed, but I don’t have time to do anything about it. Can you describe— you were there having that conversation, taking these notes; you have this lightning-strike idea that hits you. What’s the next step you took? Did you register a domain? Did you …?
Walker Peek: [00:10:05] We had like 20 ideas listed out. Recycling was one of them. I’ve got this guy in my neighborhood who would come around and everybody’s recycle bins and trash cans … You were throwing out like a four-post bed or something like that, and he would come and pick it up in his pickup truck, take it to the recycling place, and get 100 bucks for all the steel, and the metal—
Patrick Barrett: [00:10:22] Yeah, for the metal in there?
Walker Peek: [00:10:23] Yes. I was like, “Man, it’s crazy that we just throw things away, and it’s impossible to get it picked up. Me and my buddy walked around for a few nights and grabbed stuff out of people’s recycle bins and tried to … We tried to weigh them and see how much they were worth and took them to the recycle plant.
[00:10:38] We basically had this list of 20 ideas. We gave two metrics for them. One was likelihood of success, one to 10, and the other one was, “if it is a success, how profitable will it be?” We measured those against each other, picked the three with the highest aggregate score, and then did prototypes on each of them—the recycling, the gas glove, and the acoustic curtain—
Patrick Barrett: [00:10:58] Really? That’s cool. Did you make up that metric of, “We’re going to—”
Mike Barrett: [00:11:03] Where did you get the idea of those metrics?
Walker Peek: [00:11:04] I was in grad school at the time doing business school up at Columbia. It was a distance-learning education. I was supposed to be up there a few times a year. It’s funny, now, online school is very popular, but Columbia— they called it the Columbia Video Network—CVN. It was around in the ’70s. You would order a VHS, a videotape. They would mail it to you, and you would have to go get your HR person or whatever to proctor your exams.
Patrick Barrett: [00:11:31] I had no idea that—
Mike Barrett: [00:11:34] I didn’t know anything about that.
Walker Peek: [00:11:35] They were the original— I think them and Stanford maybe were the top two.
Patrick Barrett: [00:11:39] Was this basically the same content and stuff, or just this entity existed back from that— I assume it’s—
Walker Peek: [00:11:46] I think the content’s changed a lot. They were one of the ones that came up with the financial engineering metrics that led to the ’08ñ’09 crash. Gaussian copula is what it’s called. It’s a financial derivative analysis tool, and it’s one of the things that led to the crash.
Mike Barrett: [00:12:09] Wow! Gaussian copula.
Walker Peek: [00:12:10] Yeah, I’m surprised I remember that word.
Patrick Barrett: [00:12:12] It sounds like a constellation, or a starship.
Mike Barrett: [00:12:15] Yeah, it sounds like the bad guy in a sci-fi movie [Laughing]
Patrick Barrett: [00:12:19] Everybody should’ve known that was going to go wrong.
Mike Barrett: [00:12:21] Right. It just sounds so scary.
Walker Peek: [00:12:24] It was 10 courses and most of them I took and cared about were entrepreneurship, or business courses, but half of them were engineering, half were business school. This one course was like “Entrepreneurship—How to Determine Product Ideas-
Patrick Barrett: [00:12:38] How to evaluate ideas?
Walker Peek: [00:12:39] Yeah, exactly.
Mike Barrett: [00:12:40] How to Gaussian the copula.
Walker Peek: [00:12:41] Yeah.
Mike Barrett: [00:12:42] This was grad school. In undergrad, did you plan that you would eventually go to business school or do anything in a business course?
Walker Peek: [00:12:50] I did a minor in business at UF, and UF, it was kind of a party school.
Patrick Barrett: [00:12:55] You could definitely follow that path if you wanted.
Walker Peek: [00:12:57] Yeah, it was Title Town, at the time.
Patrick Barrett: [00:13:00] Of course, it was.
Walker Peek: [00:13:00] I was there from ’05 to—
Mike Barrett: [00:13:03] For the audience, there was a period of 24 months, or something-
Patrick Barrett: [00:13:06] We just won every championship [Laughing]
Mike Barrett: [00:13:08] -where they just won every major sporting championship. Football was like three times, I think.
Patrick Barrett: [00:13:11] Football, basketball, track, gymnastics-
Mike Barrett: [00:13:13] Basketball was … Yeah.
Patrick Barrett: [00:13:14] I think softball, or baseball, at least one of those; maybe both. What a time. Anyway-
Walker Peek: [00:13:18] A good time for UF … At the same time, UF is actually a really good public school, too. It was always ranked number five to seven top public schools, like UCLA, UVA, and then Michigan, and Florida-
Patrick Barrett: [00:13:29] Also, value-wise, and everything-
Walker Peek: [00:13:31] Oh, totally.
Mike Barrett: [00:13:31] In engineering, in particular, I think they’re pretty strong.
Patrick Barrett: [00:13:33] Yeah, they have a few specific programs that are extra-strong. You were there, you were-
Walker Peek: [00:13:38] I was there. I did engineering at UF; civil engineering, structures focus, and then, I did a minor in business, and then, I knew I wanted to start my own engineering firm pretty early on. I had a mentor of mine, Carol Craig—if you’re listening, shout out.
Mike Barrett: [00:13:53] She’s probably not but thank you. Thank you for assuming somebody might be.
Walker Peek: [00:13:59] She’s a very impressive entrepreneur, and she taught me a lot. We have definitely different styles, and different focuses, but I learned how to start a company from her.
Patrick Barrett: [00:14:10] How did you come to be connected with her?
Walker Peek: [00:14:13] From church, growing up.
Patrick Barrett: [00:14:14] You knew her from way back.
Walker Peek: [00:14:16] Yeah, when I was a kid. She was probably about- she’s probably 10 or 15 years older. She’s friends with my folks.
Mike Barrett: [00:14:22] Do you remember the moment when you decided, or started thinking, “Gosh, I’m probably really going to want to have my own engineering firm …”? Were you 10? Were you five?
Walker Peek: [00:14:31] I wish it was earlier. I remember, I just loved her lifestyle. She was probably early 30s, and I was 15 or something. I was like, “Man, this is so cool. You just get to do whatever you want.”
Patrick Barrett: [00:14:41] Yeah, she’s got a good thing going on.
Walker Peek: [00:14:42] That sounds like a good idea! I played sports, but I wasn’t a great athlete, so I knew that wasn’t going to be a thing. I was like, “Let me …”
Patrick Barrett: [00:14:50] This’ll only get me so far.
Walker Peek: [00:14:51] I was like, “Well, that’s something I’m pretty … I’m pretty smart. I think I can figure that out.”
Mike Barrett: [00:14:56] That’s really cool.
Patrick Barrett: [00:14:58] You said you took the top three scores on this metric that … Was it directly from these courses, pretty much, or …?
Walker Peek: [00:15:05] No, it was just kind of a blended-
Patrick Barrett: [00:15:07] It’s kind of your own, like, “We’ll approximate these important ideas with these two things?”
Walker Peek: [00:15:11] Exactly.
Patrick Barrett: [00:15:12] You took the top three from that, and then you made prototypes for them?
Mike Barrett: [00:15:16] Worked them up? Yeah.
Walker Peek: [00:15:17] Prototypes, or at least, minimum viable products. Was it that Eric Reiss Book, back 10 years ago, or whatever-
Mike Barrett: [00:15:25] Also a phrase from “The 4-Hour Work Week.” Minimum viable product, yeah.
Walker Peek: [00:15:29] I just happened to read both of those right about the same time. I was like, “Yeah, let’s just get it out there; see if anybody wants it.” We take a photo, and at that point, I did go and buy a URL—residential-acoustics.com from HostGator. I really liked that one because you buy the domain and host it at the same place, so it’s a lot easier. Just took some photos, like in my bedroom. I found this mass-loaded vinyl type of product that goes inside the curtain. I bought a sewing machine. I learned how to sew.
Patrick Barrett: [00:15:59] Cool.
Mike Barrett: [00:15:59] Wow!
Walker Peek: [00:16:00] There’s a thing called a bobbin in a sewing machine.
Patrick Barrett: [00:16:02] I’ve heard that word.
Mike Barrett: [00:16:03] I know the word.
Walker Peek: [00:16:04] It’s a disaster. It was such a-
Patrick Barrett: [00:16:07] Stay away from bobbins.
Walker Peek: [00:16:09] I have so much more respect for my mom, now, because she came down and saved the day. She’s like, “I’ll show you how to do it. You’ve got to thread the bobbin.” That was hard. We got a prototype. I hung it over the window, and I just couldn’t hear the cars go by. I’m like, “Whoa, it actually worked …” I was shocked! I was literally shocked. I was like, “I cannot believe that worked.” I was like, “This is the best one.” The recycling, I think there’s a business opportunity out there. The gas glove, we did some prototypes, but they didn’t come along very quickly. Then, this one-
Patrick Barrett: [00:16:39] Of the three, this felt like the clear- as soon as you started working on it, this one obviously has merit?
Walker Peek: [00:16:45] Exactly.
Patrick Barrett: [00:16:46] When you made that first prototype, did a lot of your engineering experience come into play making that, or was it more of a straightforward-
Mike Barrett: [00:16:53] Could anyone have made that the way you made it, you think, or they would’ve needed your background?
Patrick Barrett: [00:16:57] Like up to that point, or …?
Walker Peek: [00:16:58] I did take a class at Columbia that was very useful called Industrial Engineering. It was industrial design, not from a sense of making things pretty, and nice, smooth shapes, and stuff, like Apple, and Porsche, like making beautiful designs. It’s not aesthetically, but functionally-
Patrick Barrett: [00:17:13] Like functional design, yeah.
Walker Peek: [00:17:14] It’s called TRIZ. I don’t recall if that stands from something, but-
Patrick Barrett: [00:17:19] Sounds like it should [Laughing]
Mike Barrett: [00:17:21] It does sound like it …
Walker Peek: [00:17:22] I bet it does. I bet it does [Laughing] You basically break down all of the core components and the features of a product, and you rank them each one to 10, also. I knew it had to be relatively easy to open and close, but how important was that versus functionally how much sound did I want it to block? Because those are diametrically opposed. The heavier something is, the more sound’s blocked; usually, or at least there’s a correlation there. Whereas people aren’t going to want to use it if it’s too heavy.
Mike Barrett: [00:17:52] If you can’t put it on the curtain, or whatever; a curtain rod.
Walker Peek: [00:17:56] Exactly. Ease of installation was a big thing. Cost was a major factor; aesthetics was a factor, but we realized it was relatively low. We basically just did a focus group and broke all these down, and I started attacking them one at a time. How do you attach it to the wall? How do you do this, this, and that? I think, in hindsight, anybody could do it, but it certainly gave me an advantage that I had worked as a product engineer at Kennedy Space Center for four or five years doing manufacturing-
Patrick Barrett: [00:18:21] We’re going to get back to that later because that sounds really interesting.
Walker Peek: [00:18:24] I think that helped, from a manufacturing, and design perspective, but grad school helped from a “Hey, you can make anything. You’ve just got to break down what’s important.”
Patrick Barrett: [00:18:31] Yeah, people just make stuff. It’s not like you need a secret power-
Mike Barrett: [00:18:34] It sounds like it did a lot to help structure your thinking-
Walker Peek: [00:18:37] Yeah-
Patrick Barrett: [00:18:38] It sounds like it’s maybe less on the actual design itself, but more learning to prioritize—“what do I need here?”
Walker Peek: [00:18:45] Exactly.
Patrick Barrett: [00:18:45] Yeah. That makes a ton of sense. So you had the idea. You scored the ideas. You came up with the top three. This one was a pretty solid one. Mom saves the day with the bobbin knowledge [Laughing]
Mike Barrett: [00:18:57] What if your mom hadn’t known how to handle bobbins? We wouldn’t be sitting here. You would’ve gone with the gas glove.
Patrick Barrett: [00:19:04] You came up with one that worked pretty well. The next step after that?
Walker Peek: [00:19:08] Took a photo. Installed WordPress on the website; installed WooCommerce; that’s an e-commerce platform.
Patrick Barrett: [00:19:14] You did this yourself, up to this point?
Walker Peek: [00:19:15] Yes. YouTube with two monitors; YouTube on one, and WordPress on the other. YouTube, to me, is the greatest educational resource in the history of the world.
Mike Barrett: [00:19:24] It’s like what college was supposed to be.
Patrick Barrett: [00:19:26] It really is, but it’s on demand, in your house, on your phone, every moment of your life you can access the information-
Mike Barrett: [00:19:31] What do you want to learn?
Walker Peek: [00:19:31] Wikipedia is amazing, also, but YouTube, it’s like, “How do I install this?” I type that in, and 18 YouTube videos pop up with- then, you find the guy who’s got the best YouTube video, and you just follow all of his tutorials-
Patrick Barrett: [00:19:45] Once you find the good channels—yeah, it’s amazing.
Patrick Barrett: [00:20:01] “Who are these people?” [Laughing]
Mike Barrett: [00:20:04] Did you do anything with SEO, which is search engine optimization to try to get the people to come to your site? How did they find it?
Patrick Barrett: [00:20:11] How did you get the traffic?
Walker Peek: [00:20:11] We do a lot of that nowadays. Our number-one growth opportunity, from a marketing perspective, is SEO. In fact, my marketing coordinator, Rachel, is at the digital marketing seminar that’s downtown, right now.
Patrick Barrett: [00:20:25] Oh, really? That’s awesome.
Walker Peek: [00:20:26] It’s at the Tampa Convention Center.
Patrick Barrett: [00:20:27] I didn’t even know that was happening. We should probably be there.
Walker Peek: [00:20:29] My sister flew in last night.
Mike Barrett: [00:20:30] Also, since we live in Tampa and are into that, they should have marketed it to us-
Patrick Barrett: [00:20:35] That’s right. Who are these guys?
Walker Peek: [00:20:37] They called it Digital Summit 2019.
Patrick Barrett: [00:20:40] Oh, wow. We need to go to the 2020 one, I guess. For these initial customers—as you said, people started adding it and buying it—do you know where they came from? Was it advertising? Did you have a little SEO right off the bat?
Walker Peek: [00:20:51] We didn’t do PPC—pay per click—Google advertising, but it was definitely some SEO. I started writing blogs. Back four or five years ago, that’s a lot of what SEO was, and it still is, quite frankly. It’s just content marketing-
Mike Barrett: [00:21:03] Also, if you have a niche product that isn’t dominated by tremendous companies with tons of content production, then you could rapidly climb up.
Walker Peek: [00:21:14] Nobody was going for-
Patrick Barrett: [00:21:15] Yeah, you become the guy who’s-
Walker Peek: [00:21:17] -soundproof curtains- super-niche. 15,000 searches per month, but there was two companies out there even relatively interested in it because nobody could make it at our price point. We started manufacturing in-house. I got a seamstress on Craigslist; rented 1,000 square feet at a factory space, downtown Tampa. We were just able to keep costs super-low, so we could sell it for 100 bucks, or 150 bucks. There was one other company out there selling a soundproof blanket you had to hammer into your wall versus ours was somewhat aesthetic. It has its limitations, but it gets by-
Mike Barrett: [00:21:50] More than a blanket with nails in it.
Walker Peek: [00:21:51] Exactly. Exactly-
Patrick Barrett: [00:21:53] Which I already have in my house, by the way [Laughing] I’ve got to hammer up a blanket … That’s interesting. As far as you know that initial set of orders was, you put up some articles; they just found you through that and ended up …
Walker Peek: [00:22:07] Yes. Probably our big pivot after that to focus on our company that we talk about nowadays, Commercial Acoustics, is one day, people started calling. I was doing- not really sewing anymore, at this point. I got somebody for that, but I was still taking all the calls, writing all the content, taking care of financials, and accounting, and that kind of stuff. Then, somebody called, “Hey, my neighbor upstairs is real loud. Can you please help me with that?” I said, “No, you can’t really do anything.” “Well, can I put a rug on my ceiling?” I was like, “I don’t think that’s going to help.” I can tell you now, it definitely does not. Now that I actually know what I’m doing, yeah, it does not help. We just realized … Over and over, four people call in a row. I’m like, “I’ve got to stop saying no to these people.”
Patrick Barrett: [00:22:48] This is something people want.
Walker Peek: [00:22:50] Totally, and because I was an engineer, I knew how to work with architects and contractors. I started calling them, “Hey, before you guys build your next one, I’ve got four calls from somebody who lives in your previous one, and they hate it.”
Patrick Barrett: [00:23:02] “Everybody hates your building!”
Walker Peek: [00:23:04] They’re like, “Well, what can we do? What should we do differently?” I started selling product into the actual buildings, themselves.
Patrick Barrett: [00:23:12] During the construction phase, these materials are added to the physical structure for this exact purpose.
Walker Peek: [00:23:17] During construction phase; Exactly. It’s such a niche market, nobody knew how to do acoustic consulting and product sales, until I could find the exact product with the thickness, and the dimensions, and all those characteristics they needed. So I found a few manufacturers, partnered with them, and that’s what’s brought us to where we are today.
Patrick Barrett: [00:23:36] That’s awesome. As you said, nobody was targeting soundproof curtains. Do you find that when you contact these businesses, do you say, “Hey, I do this,” and they’re like, “Oh, nobody else does that; we need you,” or are there other people doing this, and you just have this “in” with them because of your experience?
Walker Peek: [00:23:53] There’s nobody who does exactly what we do because we do acoustic panels for restaurants, and churches, and worship centers. We do soundproofing for walls, like in apartments, and condos, and movie theaters. We’ll do sound-masking for offices, like white noise. Then, I, along with one other engineer, are the two acoustic consultants. By blending all those capabilities, we can come into a space, and be like, “Hey, you need masking …”
Patrick Barrett: [00:24:17] Like a one-stop-
Walker Peek: [00:24:18] Yeah, exactly.
Patrick Barrett: [00:24:19] You can tell them what they need, and then get it for them.
Walker Peek: [00:24:21] And right sizes. Exactly. Because you got to a panel company, an acoustic panel company, with a sound-blocking issue, they’ll sell you panels, whether you need them or not.
Patrick Barrett: [00:24:30] Yeah, that makes sense.
Mike Barrett: [00:24:33] This question might sound really ignorant—are there specific mathematical formulas and things that you need to know; if you can measure a certain amount of sound, then you need a certain amount of dampening? If there are those kinds of things, how did you learn them, and how large or small of a role does that play in your day-to-day existence?
Walker Peek: [00:24:52] Another mentor of mine was when I was out there looking for manufacturers, trying to find a good product—and there are quite a few products in the flooring underlayment space; very few in the wall soundproofing, which is a huge part of every building—so there’s a great market opportunity there. My mentor gave me a few textbooks, “Architectural Acoustics Illustrated,” and “Architectural Acoustics,” by David M. Egan. They’re still over on my bookshelf over there, and I’ve probably read each of them about four times now. And then, there’s a lot of PDFs out there, ASTM specifications. I forgot what that stands for, but it’s-
Mike Barrett: [00:25:30] I hope the T is also the same T in TRIZ. It’s probably not, but [crosstalk 00:25:34]
Walker Peek: [00:25:37] These are standards that exist. They cost like 40 bucks a pop, and I’ve probably bought about 10 or 15 of them and just read them. There are measurements, and there are engineering standards—STCs, IICs, NRC, you need to understand, to do what we do. It’s not super-complicated. It’s not mechanical, or structural engineering, where you need a ton of analysis, but you need to be systematic. You need to say, “Hey, there’s a kitchen next to an office. What STC do I need?” or “There’s an office next to an office.” It’s all about adjacencies. What does each wall need to block?
Patrick Barrett: [00:26:09] All these acronyms you just listed, did you know about these back in engineering school, or do you just, once you got into this [crosstalk 00:26:16]
Mike Barrett: [00:26:16] Got out there in the world-
Walker Peek: [00:26:17] I learned it now. I learned it about four to five years ago, right when I- right after the curtains had taken off, and we were pivoting to the B2B business.
Patrick Barrett: [00:26:27] So you were selling the curtains. How many different products were you selling when you were still selling to residential?
Walker Peek: [00:26:34] Just the one, really-
Patrick Barrett: [00:26:34] It’s a curtain that went over a window, basically?
Walker Peek: [00:26:36] Two to three versions of it, but that’s it.
Mike Barrett: [00:26:38] Did it come in different colors, or sizes?
Walker Peek: [00:26:40] Yes. Every one’s basically custom-made to order, so there were a lot of different- like red, blue, green; probably about 20 colors, and lots of different sizes. At the end of the day, it was still just one core product.
Patrick Barrett: [00:26:51] Yeah.
Mike Barrett: [00:26:52] That is really cool.
Walker Peek: [00:26:54] Nowadays, we probably- it’s still a good product for us, but by far, our biggest product’s called the Wall Blokker. Last year, we sold it in about 50 different countries around the world. Actually, I’ll say in the last three years, about 50 countries: most, if not every state in the U.S. We sell into movie theaters, apartments, condos—anywhere where you need to block sound, basically, because what architects traditionally have done is, they’ve put a wall up. Then, if they need to block more sound, they just double up the drywall. They just add two layers of drywall on each side-
Patrick Barrett: [00:27:28] That’s like the one solution that they do?
Walker Peek: [00:27:29] The worst way to do it; the least efficient way to ever block more sound because the sound- this is something we learned in high school, in physics, is sound travels faster in a denser medium. Under water-
Patrick Barrett: [00:27:41] So, you’re speeding it up.
Walker Peek: [00:27:42] You’re speeding it up. You’re helping the sound pass through the wall by adding more drywall. It’s kind of insane.
Patrick Barrett: [00:27:48] That’s funny.
Walker Peek: [00:27:49] Nobody knows that; the drywall guys don’t know-
Patrick Barrett: [00:27:51] Nobody’s focused on that, yeah.
Walker Peek: [00:27:53] The GCs-
Mike Barrett: [00:27:53] When you said that, that made me think that the sales pitch might be kind of easy, at least in some circumstances. They’d be like, “Hey, not only do you not know what you’re doing, but the thing you’re doing is worse than if you did nothing.”
Walker Peek: [00:28:06] Yeah.
Mike Barrett: [00:28:06] That leads to another question—how did you develop what I’ll call your pitch? I don’t know if you think of it as a sales pitch, but your presentation, when you would go out to these architectural firms and those kinds of companies and present yourself, how did you develop that presentation, whatever it looks like now, and was there any kind of formative experience? Did you have theater training when you were younger, or any public speaking? How did you develop the confidence and knowledge to go do that?
Walker Peek: [00:28:35] I’ve always been very—my wife would say—loud. I’ll say outspoken.
Patrick Barrett: [00:28:41] I’ve heard that kind of thing before myself.
Walker Peek: [00:28:44] I’m a loud guy. I like public speaking; it’s fun for me.
Mike Barrett: [00:28:48] Well, you’re killing it, right now.
Walker Peek: [00:28:51] The lunch-and-learn, we call it, is our pitch to architect groups. I’m doing Universal Studios tomorrow. We probably do one a week. I haven’t actually done one in several months. I have two full-time salespeople. We’re opening up a third office in Orlando, right now, where we’ll teach him to pitch, as well. It’s one hour; you have a captivated audience. Basically, you go with a slide deck; usually 25ñ30 slides. I just kind of created it over a week and a half or two weeks. We had to get it blessed by AIA, American Institute of Architects. I’ll try to dial down the acronyms. We have a ton of them, like 15 minutes [crosstalk 00:29:27]
Patrick Barrett: [00:29:30] We’ll ask if we need to.
Walker Peek: [00:29:32] They had to bless it so that I could show that I’m actually teaching architects something valuable. A lot of lunch-and-learns out there are much less educational than ours, like furniture dealers, and stuff. “Hey, check out these new chairs.” Really, you’re feeding them; you bring them lunch; you give them an AIA credit-
Patrick Barrett: [00:29:50] I’d do that.
Walker Peek: [00:29:52] They need these credits to maintain their license.
Patrick Barrett: [00:29:55] Really?
Walker Peek: [00:29:55] The architects- they need 18-
Mike Barrett: [00:29:56] So, it’s like a continuing education thing for them?
Walker Peek: [00:29:58] Exactly.
Patrick Barrett: [00:29:59] This is specific to architects?
Walker Peek: [00:30:01] Yes.
Patrick Barrett: [00:30:01] I’ve never heard the term “lunch-and-learn,” so that’s …
Walker Peek: [00:30:04] Designers do. I think a lot of firms do them.
Mike Barrett: [00:30:07] I’d say it’s a fairly common way to pitch an office on something- whatever the office is, and whatever that-
Walker Peek: [00:30:11] That way, they don’t have to go anywhere. It’s good for architects because we are AIA-certified so that we can give them one of their 18-
Mike Barrett: [00:30:18] One of the 18 credits.
Walker Peek: [00:30:19] Credits, exactly-
Mike Barrett: [00:30:20] I remember, my first job was in a … Well, not my first job, but the first corporate job that I had, we used to get lunch-and-learns all the time, but they were for financial planning; kind of personal things for you, as an employee; you could go if you wanted; free lunch, and then, some company would try to sell you on whatever.
Walker Peek: [00:30:37] Sure.
Patrick Barrett: [00:30:37] You would reach out to these organizations and just say [crosstalk 00:30:43]
Mike Barrett: [00:30:43] Is there a lunch-and-learn calendar you can easily get on?
Walker Peek: [00:30:46] Not online. It’s kind of old-school. You do have to pick up the phone, and-
Patrick Barrett: [00:30:48] Like through that network, kind of?
Walker Peek: [00:30:50] -and call. Yeah, and just say, “Hey, when’s your next lunch-and-learn available?” You usually talk to the office admin, or the office manager, or somebody, some gatekeeper. We do a lot of networking. There’s a lot of AIA events in town; just kind of rubbing shoulders- and be like, “Hey, I’d love to give a lunch-and-learn.” They realize that there is nobody else doing what we do, [crosstalk 00:31:09] so they do pretty much say yes.
Mike Barrett: [00:31:11] The thing that you’re doing is super-valuable, which is something that we’ve touched on a little bit in other episodes. I think that a lot of our younger listeners might be averse to the idea of sales, or pitching, or that kind of thing because until you get out in the world and see that it’s not bad, you have a negative connotation, I think, for a lot of people. When the product that’s being sold, and the service that’s being sold is useful, and beneficial, and helpful, and there’s no other way that the person could know about it unless you get their attention and say, “Hey, here’s this thing you need to know,” that seems like it would work pretty well. It sounds like it does.
Patrick Barrett: [00:31:43] Yeah, a mutually beneficial thing, and as long as, of course, you’re being honest and direct about what you’re doing, there’s no reason to have this view that Mike mentioned about- I think a lot of people have it. It’s just this suspicion of sales stuff, but you’re going to be in the business world, and sales is hard to avoid.
Walker Peek: [00:31:59] I don’t like sales particularly. I like talking about the product, and the business, but if they don’t need it, oftentimes, we’ll be the first one to tell them that. “You guys really don’t need this here.” [crosstalk 00:32:10] Then, they trust you, too-
Mike Barrett: [00:32:12] -it can hurt your reputation, if you get a reputation for selling people on things, they don’t actually need … When you’re dealing with a professional audience, especially, they’re very trained in that area. They can probably tell if they need it, and if they know they don’t need it, and you can tell that they don’t need it, it’s not like you’re going to fool them into thinking they need it.
Patrick Barrett: [00:32:31] The lunch-and-learns, would you say that’s maybe your main way to connect with people who might need your services?
Walker Peek: [00:32:38] Our main go-to-market for a lot of our products and services is the architect community. However, with SEO, we do get a lot of inbound traffic. The church guy who called earlier, “Hey, my sanctuary is super-loud,” or restaurant owners; we get a lot of clubhouses. “Hey, it’s super-loud in here.” Another equation we use is called Sabine’s formula, which is … Pay attention in math class because there actually is a lot of-
Patrick Barrett: [00:33:05] You do add things together, yeah.
Walker Peek: [00:33:06] -summation principals and stuff that’s super-helpful for me. Basically, the formula—I won’t break it down now—you use the volume of the room (length, width, and height) and then, you use the surface acoustic absorption coefficient of each surface. You add them all up, and then you get what the reverb time of the space is. If it’s a super-reverberant room, that’s not good, if you have speaking engagements in there. If it’s a gym, if people are playing basketball, no big deal, but if it’s an auditorium, and, sometimes, those are in the same room, you have to-
Patrick Barrett: [00:33:41] Like multipurpose-
Walker Peek: [00:33:43] Yeah, you have to prepare the space as if it’s an auditorium because when somebody’s on the microphone and nobody can hear them, that’s a problem.
Patrick Barrett: [00:33:51] Wow, useless room.
Walker Peek: [00:33:52] Yeah, exactly.
[00:33:53] [Musical Interlude]
Mike Barrett: [00:33:56] Hey, I have a question for you. If somebody asked you what the difference was between the SAT and the ACT, what would you say? Most people would say that the ACT is more of a test of what you actually learn in high school, while the SAT is more of a test of abstract reasoning or something like that. People usually believe this because the ACT has done a very good job of marketing itself as a different kind of test from the SAT. The differences between the ACT and the SAT are actually much smaller than most people realize, especially when you compare the two tests on a question-by-question basis. What I mean by that is that most of the questions that appear on one test could appear in basically the same way on the other test. Understanding this important fact can help you a lot in your college admissions strategy. To learn more, listen for the special segment at the end of this episode, and for more on the ACT and SAT, head over to QuestPrep.com, or search for the “SAT Prep Black Book,” or the “ACT Prep Black Book” on Amazon.com.
Patrick Barrett: [00:34:50] You mentioned when you had the proof of concept, and you made the curtain, and it worked, that you rented office space, and you found a seamstress on Craigslist. Did you have money saved up? I think a lot of people who think about a business, they’re, “How do I get started financially?” How were you able to come up with the money, I guess, to do that? Did you have investors?
Walker Peek: [00:35:14] I’m super financially conservative. I had a buddy, Dylan, who had … I was like, “Hey, man, let’s start with 3,000 bucks.” He had three grand. He was about 10 years older than me—still is—he’s not dead, or anything … He’s actually getting married pretty soon [crosstalk 00:35:30] A good buddy; he lives here in town. We’re still very friendly. He gave me three grand. He was a partner, but not super-involved because he had a really good paying job and had a lot of responsibilities. He helped me logistically with some stuff. I ended up giving him- paying him out a few years later, like 15 grand, so he made a 5X return over 18 months, which is good, and he got to enjoy the hustle-
Patrick Barrett: [00:35:57] The ride.
Walker Peek: [00:35:57] Him and his brother had done something similar; not acoustics, but they had a startup in the past.
Patrick Barrett: [00:36:02] A similar arrangement.
Walker Peek: [00:36:03] Yeah.
Patrick Barrett: [00:36:04] That’s cool. Did you reach out to a lot of people, or you knew he would be somebody who …?
Walker Peek: [00:36:09] This is the guy who was-
Patrick Barrett: [00:36:09] This is the guy you were talking to.
Walker Peek: [00:36:10] Yeah, exactly [crosstalk 00:36:10]
Mike Barrett: [00:36:12] He was in it from the beginning.
Walker Peek: [00:36:13] Exactly.
Patrick Barrett: [00:36:14] It was understood that you would be the guy- it would be more your company-
Walker Peek: [00:36:19] It was 75ñ25. That was the original arrangement. We read a book called “Slicing Pie,” which is how to set up equity arrangements in a startup. Operating agreements don’t need to be 50 or 100 pages; just a single page of just writing it down—75 percent, Walker’s in charge of product dev, marketing, and whatever else is left.
Patrick Barrett: [00:36:41] Bobbin knowledge.
Walker Peek: [00:36:42] Bobbin knowledge. Dylan was in charge of—put in three grand, and then help with logistics and sales. Time just didn’t work out with him. He was just super-busy. We ended up buying him out, and it was a very positive relationship for both of us.
Patrick Barrett: [00:36:58] That’s really cool.
Mike Barrett: [00:36:58] One thing that you have mentioned a lot of times is the idea that you read a book on something and applied the principles from that book, or just had it in the background. Where did you acquire that love of reading, and do you read mostly nonfiction, business stuff, or do you- talk to us about your reading habits.
Walker Peek: [00:37:17] It’s probably 70ñ80 percent nonfiction. I read what I need to read to feel like I’m improving the company, or improving myself, like Warren Buffett’s … His big thing, his every day, never stop improving or learning. That’s the main thing that sets apart successful people from unsuccessful is they keep learning or teaching themselves.
Patrick Barrett: [00:37:37] Which, YouTube is a huge help for as you mentioned earlier [crosstalk 00:37:40]
Walker Peek: [00:37:39] It’s not just reading. I actually-
Patrick Barrett: [00:37:41] It’s an amazing resource.
Walker Peek: [00:37:42] Yeah, totally. I listen to Audible probably every single day. Maybe half the time I read, half the time I listen. Most of it’s nonfiction. “Winning,” by Jack Welch is a freaking amazing book about HR development because I had no training in that. I’ll tell you, it’s still probably my biggest weakness—the difference between managing and leading; how to deal with needy employees, or how to encourage the ones who are doing really well, and how to try to fix issues with other ones that can be problematic. Employees are very delicate creatures, at times.
Mike Barrett: [00:38:18] Well, we all are.
Patrick Barrett: [00:38:22] Well, so much of business, and this has come up in other interviews, so much of any kind of pursuit you have, as an adult in the world, is working with other people, whether they’re your coworkers, bosses-
Mike Barrett: [00:38:32] Can’t avoid them.
Patrick Barrett: [00:38:33] -employees. People are different, and you don’t really know how different people are until you’re trying to make some kind of enterprise with them, and you might-
Mike Barrett: [00:38:40] Yeah, different from each other, and different from you; whatever you think is the standard thing that all people have is not.
Patrick Barrett: [00:38:46] It’s interesting because here you are, you’re an engineer in an engineering world- there’s other components, as well, but it’s unavoidable, if you’re going to have something past a certain size, there’s going to be other people involved, and that’s a skill-
Walker Peek: [00:38:59] There’s customer service; there’s sales, which is a big difference in mindset. There is manufacturing. Nowadays, luckily, we grew to a scale that we were able to stop outsourcing most of our products; just bringing them in-house was just-
Patrick Barrett: [00:39:12] Yeah, we saw in the back, your whole warehouse area, and guys. That’s awesome [crosstalk 00:39:17]
Walker Peek: [00:39:17] Yeah, we’re really happy. Our first place, no air conditioning-
Patrick Barrett: [00:39:21] Was this the 1,000-square-foot place you were talking about?
Walker Peek: [00:39:23] Exactly. We bought out a little bit more each year, a couple hundred square feet here and there.
Patrick Barrett: [00:39:27] Yeah, a little more space.
Walker Peek: [00:39:27] We subleased from a cabinetry shop, so there was a lot of dust, and that wasn’t very smart, when you have curtains with fabric-
Mike Barrett: [00:39:36] Grabbing all the dust [crosstalk 00:39:37]
Walker Peek: [00:39:37] Exactly. We had clients calling, “Hey, why is there wood chunks on my curtain?” That was a problem. We learned a lot while we were there.
Mike Barrett: [00:39:51] Along the lines of teaching yourself, and always trying to improve, and that kind of thing, how would you say, if at all, the technology that you use to run the company has changed, and where do you get—if you have upgraded things, or changed, for example, software systems, or manufacturing systems, or anything like that—where do you learn about the best new things to try, and how do you make those decisions about, “okay, let’s switch to this software, or that software?”
Walker Peek: [00:40:18] I’ve got to say YouTube, once again. I’ll definitely Google it first. Early on, we used Word and Excel for everything. I’m an Excel guy. This is why—I love Excel because you can use it for so much. You can write macros, and basically make it your own computer software with very basic programming knowledge. But when we started doing real accounting, we used QuickBooks, or a different one, called Xero, and we had to learn about that. We started using WorkflowMax for project management, instead of just emailing, “Hey, are you going to be on-site, tomorrow?” You have to have that information disseminated to the right people.
Patrick Barrett: [00:40:55] Everybody can access that information, yeah.
Walker Peek: [00:40:58] Totally. Salesforce, that’s a big one for our sales team. It’s a CRM. That’s a gorilla. They really own a huge market share, I feel like. Although, there’s hundreds of CRMs out there. Literally-
Mike Barrett: [00:41:09] CRM, by the way, for the audience, is customer relationship management, right?
Walker Peek: [00:41:13] Exactly.
Mike Barrett: [00:41:13] It’s a way that you, as a business owner, can make sure, if someone calls in with a problem that you’re following up with it appropriately, and you can see how it’s been done in the past; how you should maybe change it for the future; those kinds of things, right-
Walker Peek: [00:41:23] Exactly.
Patrick Barrett: [00:41:24] So, you can track the relationships you have with each individual customer, and where they are right now, what they need, and … Is it also for sales leads, as well, or [crosstalk 00:41:31]?
Walker Peek: [00:41:30] Sales leads, as well. You go out to a networking event; you meet 30 people; maybe five of them are architects, or contractors, and maybe two of them say, “Hey, yeah, actually I have a project right now.” Maybe you enter just the five people in as level one, but the two people with specific projects as a level two lead-
Mike Barrett: [00:41:48] These are people who have a specific thing they might need this for-
Walker Peek: [00:41:50] Exactly. Five interested parties; two qualified leads, and you set up follow-up dates with them. Instead of just using a written calendar, or a Microsoft Outlook calendar, you get pinged, or whatever, when it’s time to go back and follow up with them. Then, you can write down- I don’t like to be like, “Oh, yeah, I saw your kid is two years old today. I wanted to call and say happy birthday …”
Mike Barrett: [00:42:14] Which is a thing that some people do-
Walker Peek: [00:42:15] Oh, absolutely.
Patrick Barrett: [00:42:16] “Oh, I just wanted to pretend like I care about your kid for a second … [Laughing] so we can talk about windows …”
Walker Peek: [00:42:22] I’m not really into salesmanship like that, but I will say, “Oh, yeah, last time we spoke, you had that high rise in St. Pete going up.” Then, they’ll say, “Oh, actually the funding didn’t work out, but we are starting a new student housing development in Tallahassee, and I do think your product could be a good fit. Here’s the architect’s name,” and you start going down that route. It’s a technical sale. It’s a very technical sale that we do.
Patrick Barrett: [00:42:46] Meaning that you have to have technical knowledge of what is happening, in order to be able to speak the language, and organize-
Walker Peek: [00:42:52] We are not just selling carpet into a house or something like that. The average sales cycle is about 12ñ18 months. It’s not-
Patrick Barrett: [00:43:00] Wow, so from first contact to they place an order with you, basically?
Walker Peek: [00:43:03] Right.
Mike Barrett: [00:43:05] That’s the kind of thing actually that your CRM can help you know for sure, because the CRM records-
Patrick Barrett: [00:43:09] It’s easy to not know that if you don’t have software driving it [Laughing]
Walker Peek: [00:43:13] A hundred percent.
Patrick Barrett: [00:43:14] I’m telling you, yeah.
Mike Barrett: [00:43:16] During your formal education, were you learning these different technologies and software things, or is that more stuff that you picked up when you were out in the world?
Walker Peek: [00:43:25] Software? No, I just … I think my first job, Craig Technologies, it was so cool because one thing that we started doing was manufacturing. I worked on Kennedy Space Center for about three years—my first three years after college; UF. Excited, graduated; I had a Honda Accord. I put all of my life’s possessions in that Accord, on Friday afternoon … I didn’t go to my graduation. I never go to graduation stuff. I don’t really care about that.
Patrick Barrett: [00:43:50] You know you graduated.
Walker Peek: [00:43:51] Exactly [Laughing] I also don’t like birthdays. I’ll go on the record for that.
Patrick Barrett: [00:43:56] All right. Yeah. Quote me.
Walker Peek: [00:43:59] Exactly. I put all my possessions in the Honda Accord; went down to Gainesville; started my job Monday, and I was out there doing-
Patrick Barrett: [00:44:08] Went down from Gainesville to Cape Canaveral?
Walker Peek: [00:44:10] Exactly. I worked on Center for three years, and government bureaucracy … You learn a lot about how to manage your time and how to be professional, but that was not a good fit for my personality-
Patrick Barrett: [00:44:23] Was it a frustrating environment?
Walker Peek: [00:44:25] It was frustrating at times.
Patrick Barrett: [00:44:25] Was there a slow pace of making decisions, and-
Walker Peek: [00:44:27] There’s a slow pace, and there’s a lot of check boxes. I wanted to be an engineer, too, so I was working really hard. My manager at one point, just right after shuttle was winding down; space shuttle, and Constellation was the follow-up program to take us to Mars by 2030, yada, yada. Then, it got canceled. The Augustine Commission, Feb 1, 2012, or something, they canceled the program during the Obama administration. Neil Armstrong actually came down, and said, “Hey, you guys are way over budget. I would not continue to fund this kind of thing.” It was a whole thing-
Mike Barrett: [00:45:02] Neil Armstrong-
Patrick Barrett: [00:45:03] Sure, if you’re in that world- a major development that you can’t do anything about [crosstalk 00:45:07]
Walker Peek: [00:45:07] It basically ruined what we had been working on for several years, at that point. I really wanted to advance my career. Back then, I was very ambitious …
Mike Barrett: [00:45:18] Wait—what do you think you are now? What is this? [Laughing]
Walker Peek: [00:45:22] I just had a lot more fire in the belly. I remember I stayed late, and my manager came up and he said, “Hey, you really got to remember to pace yourself, right now. We don’t have a lot of work to go around.” I remember hearing that. I was like, “This is just not …”
Patrick Barrett: [00:45:38] That’s an interesting feeling. “Don’t get too much work done!”
Walker Peek: [00:45:41] Exactly [Laughing] Nobody wanted to go through layoffs, and they had had to do that at the end of shuttle. Everybody was very cognizant of that. I just thought, hey, I didn’t like that conversation-
Patrick Barrett: [00:45:50] It’s just not the environment you want to be in, yeah.
Walker Peek: [00:45:52] It didn’t rub me the right way. Luckily, my mentor and boss, Carol, brought me into the headquarters, where I got to learn a lot about how things work behind the scenes, as far as writing proposals. Then, she took over-
Patrick Barrett: [00:46:03] Like the business side of things as opposed to the engineering side of things?
Walker Peek: [00:46:06] Exactly. That was a great couple of years. They were taking over our manufacturing center at the time. We had bought all these nice machines, and yada yada, but we didn’t know what software we’re going to use to manage the workflow. It’s ERP—enterprise resource planning, or MRP—manufacturing resource planning. It’s actually not quite the same, but it’s basically the same. How you would do a route, or a job route, or how would you manufacture something on the floor. I got all these demos, and that was my first time picking a software program. It was going to be Fishbowl, and it ended up being Shoptech. I remember, it was a big … I couldn’t believe they let me make that decision. I was 23-
Patrick Barrett: [00:46:51] “Do they know who I am?” [Laughing] “Do they know I just wasted several years—”
Mike Barrett: [00:46:57] In retrospect, do you think it was a good decision that you made?
Walker Peek: [00:47:00] It was definitely a usable software. They had some really powerful softwares that were super-expensive. One of them was an IBM Maximo, they call it. That one’s 10,000 bucks per seat per year-
Mike Barrett: [00:47:13] Maximo; it’s right there in the name. They’re not-
Walker Peek: [00:47:15] It’s crazy. It was so impressive-
Mike Barrett: [00:47:18] This is the maximum thing.
Walker Peek: [00:47:18] For Boeing, you would need something like that. You have hundreds of thousands of parts that go into every aircraft, but-
Patrick Barrett: [00:47:25] And each one is pretty important.
Walker Peek: [00:47:26] Exactly, but we were just manufacturing small parts … Training on that system might take three or six months-
Patrick Barrett: [00:47:33] Didn’t seem to justify-
Walker Peek: [00:47:34] That’s something that I do- I’m just so financially conservative, or cheap might even be a better word.
Mike Barrett: [00:47:40] Cheap and loud. Loud and cheap.
Walker Peek: [00:47:42] I just choose the cheapest thing that I think will get the job done.
Patrick Barrett: [00:47:45] That works. That’s a good guiding principle [Laughing] in any situation.
Mike Barrett: [00:47:49] Yeah, definitely. It’s gotten you this far.
Patrick Barrett: [00:47:51] As opposed to the most expensive thing that doesn’t work is the worse way to do it. [Laughing]
Walker Peek: [00:47:54] I had a guy yesterday who came because one of my printers had an issue. He was trying to upsell me $18,000 commercial printer that can do … It’s one cent per page, instead of 35 cents per page, he was telling me, with my ink printer. I was like, “I believe you, man, but 18 grand’s just too much, man. This works. I don’t print that many pages.”
Patrick Barrett: [00:48:14] It’s 2019, by the way.
Walker Peek: [00:48:15] Yeah, exactly. It’s important sometimes, but really not most of the time-
Patrick Barrett: [00:48:19] Yeah, for some people, but …
Walker Peek: [00:48:21] -but not for us. We don’t fax. We email everything.
Patrick Barrett: [00:48:24] So, you were with NASA- do you want to go back to how you got into that?
Mike Barrett: [00:48:28] Are we still talking about NASA because I wanted to ask a question about that before we jump to-
Patrick Barrett: [00:48:32] I was just going to say, for context, when you said you were frustrated with NASA, you were with NASA as a contractor the entire time, or at first directly with-
Walker Peek: [00:48:40] I was a contractor, not a civil servant-
Mike Barrett: [00:48:43] Before you speak about that, could I … My question fits with that exactly, so I’d like to knock out both things at once. We really have to work out a question etiquette or a certain way of indicating for each other who’s going to ask the next question. What I wanted to say is could you elaborate on the relationship between the contractors and NASA and all that stuff because I would bet that a large portion of our audience thinks if you’re doing work for NASA, you must be an employee of NASA, or an employee of the federal government, or an employee of something like that? My understanding, and it sounds like this is what you’re saying, is you can do work that is NASA work without actually being an employee of NASA. Can you explain for us how that works?
Walker Peek: [00:49:22] Just like defense contractors, it’s the same thing; like at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. There is a lot of Air Force personnel. There’s also a lot of contractors down there. I will put this from my perspective, and I’m sure a lot of civil servants will disagree with this … They are more like the planners, or the overseers, a lot of times-
Patrick Barrett: [00:49:42] The civil servants are, or-
Walker Peek: [00:49:43] The civil servants, yeah.
Mike Barrett: [00:49:44] The civil servant is an employee of the government.
Walker Peek: [00:49:46] Exactly, and it usually was a GS-8, GS-9, GS-10-
Mike Barrett: [00:49:49] The government writes the paycheck for that person.
Walker Peek: [00:49:51] Those are pay thresholds. To go from an Engineer I to an Engineer II, which would be from a GS-9 to -10, I think, you have to have four years of experience, or three years and a master’s degree. It’s a very straight-line, checkbox deal. If you want to be a GS-14, which is pretty high up, you have to do an exchange program to a different space center, like Goddard, or headquarters, or Johnson, or Marshall-
Mike Barrett: [00:50:15] These are spelled-out requirements that are in some handbook or something, somewhere?
Walker Peek: [00:50:18] They’re pretty spelled out.
Mike Barrett: [00:50:19] Yeah, okay.
Walker Peek: [00:50:20] A lot of times, they’ll be part of the planning committees. “Shuttle’s over, Constellation’s canceled, SLS is the next program to- Strategic Launch System, space-launch system, maybe. Basically, 130 metric tons to low-earth orbit, or 70 metric tons. What’s more important? What’s the mission-critical elements that we need to do here? Do we want to go to the moon first, and then Mars, or, hey, we’ve already been to the moon?” Then, they’ll say part of the technology in this level of this new component, it’s actually a risk reduction to go to the moon first, instead of going straight to Mars. They are part of the mission planning group.
Patrick Barrett: [00:50:57] These are the civil servants who are having these conversations about “what are our priorities?”
Walker Peek: [00:51:01] Exactly. Then, a lot of times, they’ll say, “Okay, now the mission’s developed; hey, contractor, go design the actual wing. Go design the thermal protection system. Go design the fuselage. Go do the propulsion testing.” There’s a lot of actual- the engineering, the design, and testing, a lot of times, is done by the contractors, whereas the planning … That’s oversimplified, certainly, to a large extent because there’s a lot of contractors on the planning groups, and vice versa, but that was my experience there.
Patrick Barrett: [00:51:31] Is your understanding that the civil servant side of things, these people, it’s not their focus, or expertise to design those things, or they could do that, but for some reason, it’s more efficient, or preferable?
Walker Peek: [00:51:43] The benefit of- a lot of times, the civil servants get paid less, but there’s a lot more job security. At Kennedy Space Center, I think there were 20,000 employees; 2,000 were civil servants-
Patrick Barrett: [00:51:54] Wow, that’s a lot!
Walker Peek: [00:51:55] -and 18,000 were contractors. Then, after shuttle, there were 2,000 civil servants, and 5,000 contractors. They did a huge layoff, and it’s all the contractors that get laid off.
Patrick Barrett: [00:52:04] Is it that the contractors, there might be more of short-term engagements- “We need you for this right now, but you won’t be here necessarily in a year.”
Walker Peek: [00:52:11] Yes, five-year contracts; three-year contracts-
Mike Barrett: [00:52:12] Which is also, again for the audience, it’s kind of a typical aspect of what is called contract work. There’s a specific contract for a specific project, and we need this company to do this one specific thing, and then, maybe we’ll have other contracts down the line, but it’s not a permanent engagement-
Patrick Barrett: [00:52:26] And when you complete that- As the contractor, you’ve got to go find another contract.
Walker Peek: [00:52:29] Right.
Patrick Barrett: [00:52:29] Maybe with the same people, or maybe-
Walker Peek: [00:52:30] Exactly.
Mike Barrett: [00:52:30] Whereas, when you’re the civil servant, the federal employee, your expectation is I’m going to have this job basically forever.
Patrick Barrett: [00:52:37] You’re more likely to have a career there.
Walker Peek: [00:52:37] You will be there for life. It’s basically impossible to fire a federal employee. You have to really do something bad. [Laughing]
Patrick Barrett: [00:52:45] And leave evidence behind.
Walker Peek: [00:52:48] I’ve got a lot of friends who were contractors with Craig, and with other firms, that ended up being civil servants. I think they’re just as happy. I don’t think they’re less happy, or- I think they realize it’s a different-
Patrick Barrett: [00:52:59] Seems like a personal preference.
Walker Peek: [00:53:00] Exactly. It’s a different type of [crosstalk 00:53:02] position sometimes.
Mike Barrett: [00:53:04] To bring it back to your experience, it contrasts heavily with, I think- tell me if I’m wrong, but in your company, if you met someone who was 20 years old, and had no formal education, but was just super-gifted at understanding the acoustics, and the math, and everything, you could just hire them if you wanted, and make them-
Walker Peek: [00:53:21] Absolutely.
Patrick Barrett: [00:53:21] You could make the call and say, “I think you have what it takes here.”
Walker Peek: [00:53:24] Yes.
Patrick Barrett: [00:53:24] There’s not set of checkboxes that you’ve got to fulfill if-
Walker Peek: [00:53:27] No checkboxes for us-
Mike Barrett: [00:53:27] It’s just whatever you want [crosstalk 00:53:28], basically, as the decision-maker.
Walker Peek: [00:53:30] Now, I will say, with the HR learning I’ve been doing, it is smart to be more structured, and more- I thought I was so smart; I could tell if somebody had this gift, you know? I’ll tell you, a new book, and one that I’m a big fan of- not new, but a really interesting one-
Patrick Barrett: [00:53:46] New to you, yeah.
Walker Peek: [00:53:46] -is by John Morgan, the attorney. It’s called, “You Can’t Teach Hungry.” You can teach a lot of technical skills. You can teach people how to set up microphones, and how to videotape, and edit, and stuff like that, but you can’t teach somebody to want to work 50 hours a week.
Patrick Barrett: [00:54:02] That drive.
Walker Peek: [00:54:03] Or while they’re sitting there at their desk to want to work and get stuff done.
Mike Barrett: [00:54:06] Yeah, and to be inquisitive- that’s actually a theme that’s come up, I think, in every single-
Patrick Barrett: [00:54:10] It’s come up a lot.
Mike Barrett: [00:54:11] -talk that we’ve had, when we ask people, “Hey, could you boil down what you think is the secret of your success, or other people’s success?” Nearly always, the answer could be paraphrased as “caring …”
Patrick Barrett: [00:54:21] Yeah, you just have to care about what you’re doing-
Mike Barrett: [00:54:22] It’s just caring how you’re doing, right?
Patrick Barrett: [00:54:24] -whether it’s your own enterprise, or you’re an important employee for someone else.
Mike Barrett: [00:54:28] You’re helping a client; you’re helping your company.
Patrick Barrett: [00:54:29] You become personally invested in whatever it is you’re trying to do, as opposed to just clocking in, and clocking out.
Mike Barrett: [00:54:33] Right, and showing up on time, asking follow up-questions. If you don’t understand something, saying, “Hey, that doesn’t make any sense to me. Can someone please walk me through this?” Taking the initiative, basically, seems to be the bright line that divides-
Walker Peek: [00:54:46] A big thing we’ve done to try to make sure that that’s in everybody’s mind every day is, as we’ve grown, we’ve been able to have better salaries, and benefits, like healthcare, and 401(k), and all that stuff, but we also do a bonus program every six months, which is 10 percent of the income that the company makes, we share- all of the operations employees get; not the salespeople because they’re commission-based, to a large extent-
Patrick Barrett: [00:55:11] They have their own commission.
Mike Barrett: [00:55:11] They’re already getting some share of that [crosstalk 00:55:12] the way their thing works-
Walker Peek: [00:55:13] They have their own bonus structure-
Patrick Barrett: [00:55:14] But everybody else is connected to that-
Walker Peek: [00:55:16] To the guys who don’t … This is “Hey, everybody’s tired of you not pulling your weight around here,” or, likewise, leading by example. Everybody wants to be part of that. It’s almost an ESOP, the employee stock ownership program, like Publix has. Publix has the nicest employees ever because they all care-
Patrick Barrett: [00:55:34] Everybody’s so happy!
Walker Peek: [00:55:35] A lot of them make a lot of money with no high school education or certainly no college. You get in there early, you work hard, you show up on time every day-
Patrick Barrett: [00:55:43] Prove yourself as an employee-
Walker Peek: [00:55:44] You’re professional-
Patrick Barrett: [00:55:45] You’re engaged with it, yeah.
Walker Peek: [00:55:46] Yeah. You can retire at a relatively early age, without a formal education. There’s a lot to be said for bonus programs and ESOPs because it gets everybody aligned with their incentives.
Patrick Barrett: [00:55:57] This is all so interesting. [Laughing]
Mike Barrett: [00:56:01] Yeah, it really is. One of the things that I really wasn’t planning that the podcast would get in to, but it’s has for each episode, and this one certainly falls into that is this exploration of just different business models. You can work as a government employee; you can work as a government contractor; you can work as an… intra-preneur? Not a word. Entrepreneur; startup. You can work in a big company, in a small company, doing retail, doing sales, doing all of these different kinds of things. So, thank you very much for explaining to us just your take on the whole contractor/government thing-
Patrick Barrett: [00:56:34] Yeah, a lot of those different channels- There’s two things I definitely want to cover in the limited time we have left. One of them is: let’s say you’re 15; you’re in high school; you’re thinking about your future. As you mentioned, you knew you wanted to do something. You wanted to start your own company. I think you said you had a general interest in engineering, at this point?
Mike Barrett: [00:56:53] That it would be an engineering firm.
Walker Peek: [00:56:54] I love physics. I don’t know- who was our physics teacher back in …?
Patrick Barrett: [00:56:57] Hegeman.
Walker Peek: [00:56:58] Hegeman, yep, exactly. He was kind of a grumpy man-
Patrick Barrett: [00:57:01] A crotchety guy, but likeable, for sure.
Walker Peek: [00:57:03] Dude, he was grumpy.
Patrick Barrett: [00:57:04] Interesting. I mean, it was a cool class.
Walker Peek: [00:57:05] Yeah, I loved physics. I liked math. I loved physics. I just-
Patrick Barrett: [00:57:09] That started in high school with that teacher?
Walker Peek: [00:57:11] Yeah, actually before him, even Mr. Scott if you had him-
Patrick Barrett: [00:57:14] Jake Scott?
Walker Peek: [00:57:15] Yeah.
Patrick Barrett: [00:57:15] Oh, absolutely. He’s a friend of mine, and an awesome dude-
Walker Peek: [00:57:18] Do you still keep in touch with him?
Patrick Barrett: [00:57:19] Yeah, yeah. I haven’t seen him in a little bit because he’s moved-
Walker Peek: [00:57:21] Oh, dude, give me his contact info-
Patrick Barrett: [00:57:23] I will do that.
Walker Peek: [00:57:23] -because I want him to listen to this-
Patrick Barrett: [00:57:24] He actually came up in another thing briefly because he did a cool-
Mike Barrett: [00:57:27] Yeah, he gave a TED Talk-
Patrick Barrett: [00:57:28] TED Talk, a TEDMED thing, yeah.
Walker Peek: [00:57:29] Gotcha. I want to give him a shout out and let him know: Hey, you are partially responsible-
Patrick Barrett: [00:57:33] He would be so happy because he loves physics so much. I don’t know how else to phrase that. It’s so interesting. It’s so cool. Yeah, that’s awesome. Would you say that love of- that interest in that subject came …? You became aware of it in those classes?
Mike Barrett: [00:57:47] From those teachers?
Walker Peek: [00:57:48] At a relatively early age … I don’t know if it’s any specific teacher, although we just mentioned some very important ones. I don’t know, I just liked it. I think it’s fun. I think it’s interesting to be able to explain the world in very concrete terms.
Patrick Barrett: [00:58:01] It’s so literally tangible. Everything around you is-
Mike Barrett: [00:58:03] It’s there. It’s physical. It’s right there in the word. On the flipside, are there subjects that you don’t like, or never liked, possibly because of not great teachers?
Walker Peek: [00:58:14] Nothing jumps out. We all went to Stanton, for- do people know that on the podcast already?
Patrick Barrett: [00:58:18] We did. All went to the same high school. It’s come up in other-
Mike Barrett: [00:58:20] I think they probably will, yeah.
Patrick Barrett: [00:58:20] I don’t think we’ve mentioned it here.
Walker Peek: [00:58:21] Stanton’s awesome.
Patrick Barrett: [00:58:22] Absolutely.
Walker Peek: [00:58:23] Honestly, UF is a top-notch public university-
Patrick Barrett: [00:58:26] Stanton was harder.
Walker Peek: [00:58:27] Columbia is one of the top universities in the world, but Stanton was- the smartest people I ever met were at Stanton.
Patrick Barrett: [00:58:33] Absolutely. I agree 100 percent-
Mike Barrett: [00:58:34] How did that happen?
Patrick Barrett: [00:58:35] I don’t know how that happened. It was a magnet school, but there’s other magnet schools, and I don’t think- somehow, they didn’t …
Walker Peek: [00:58:40] We all cared. We all tried-
Patrick Barrett: [00:58:41] That was a big part of it. It’s the same theme.
Walker Peek: [00:58:43] It was competitive, but …
Patrick Barrett: [00:58:43] It was a bunch of kids who thought it was cool to be interested in stuff, and do things, and the teachers who, I think, fed off of that, and vice versa. It was an amazing environment. I don’t know how it came together, but I hope they’re still doing it. I hope it happens in other schools.
Mike Barrett: [00:58:56] Yeah, I hope it’s happening somewhere.
Patrick Barrett: [00:58:57] It was really cool.
Walker Peek: [00:58:58] Right, yeah.
Patrick Barrett: [00:58:58] As you said, English teachers that really had high expectations-
Walker Peek: [00:59:02] Totally.
Patrick Barrett: [00:59:03] Would you say that in your background, in your family, education was emphasized that this is important; you need to work hard, or …?
Walker Peek: [00:59:10] My folks were both attorneys. They really let us do our own thing a lot, as far as education goes. My brother was in your grade, so you knew him. An advantage for me, early on, was when he was doing his flashcards, like 12 X 12 kind of stuff, I was a year and a half younger, so I was learning it when I was five or six, and he was seven or eight.
Patrick Barrett: [00:59:31] Kind of had a head start on some of that stuff.
Walker Peek: [00:59:32] Yeah. I totally got to learn things ahead of time.
Mike Barrett: [00:59:35] Leapfrog a little bit.
Patrick Barrett: [00:59:36] As a fellow younger brother [crosstalk 00:59:37]
Walker Peek: [00:59:38] Exactly. It’s a big benefit. Honestly, really- [Laughing]
Patrick Barrett: [00:59:40] Whereas we just dragged them down.
Mike Barrett: [00:59:42] As an older brother, looking back, I can see, yeah, it would be a benefit.
Patrick Barrett: [00:59:47] Interesting. Then, you went to UF. Do you remember when you were applying for schools, were you stressed out about test prep, or GPA, or admissions? What was your experience …?
Walker Peek: [00:59:59] Test prep. One thing is I just love practice tests. That’s what I do-
Patrick Barrett: [01:00:04] Not everybody will say that.
Mike Barrett: [01:00:06] I don’t know how long I’ve been doing this—quite a while … You’re the first person I’ve ever heard say that.
Walker Peek: [01:00:13] As a preparation tool, but if I have to take a test, I want a practice test. I don’t even want to look at anything else. I want to know what is exactly- maybe not the exact questions, but the exact type of questions-
Patrick Barrett: [01:00:26] That’s probably the perfect thing.
Mike Barrett: [01:00:27] Yeah, and this is a very engineering way to look it, like “how do you deconstruct this problem?” Which is actually how we- yeah, it’s how we look at it, too.
Patrick Barrett: [01:00:32] It’s also pretty fundamental to our approach is you’ve got to look at exactly the kind of thing you’re going to have on test day [crosstalk 01:00:38]
Mike Barrett: [01:00:38] The test is, in a sense, a product designed for a purpose. What is that purpose, and how does it achieve that goal? What are its constraints, all those- that’s how you looked at it, it sounds like?
Patrick Barrett: [01:00:47] Which is very much an engineering situation.
Walker Peek: [01:00:49] I was always a math guy, so I always did well on the math stuff. I don’t have a great vocabulary because I never really read that much growing up. That was before Harry Potter, I think. I played a lot of video games, but I didn’t read, and I played a lot of sports.
Mike Barrett: [01:01:07] Sorry, if I could interrupt you, because we talked about your reading, in general, now, in your real life … Was the thing that flipped that reading switch, realizing that reading could help you objectively learn stuff, or was it something else?
Walker Peek: [01:01:20] Maybe. I think it was in college at UF, freshman year. College, you have so much free time-
Patrick Barrett: [01:01:26] You do. A surprising amount for a lot of-
Walker Peek: [01:01:28] Compared to high school [crosstalk 01:01:29] Now, I’ll give you my pitch or my thought on college versus technical school.
Patrick Barrett: [01:01:36] Oh, yeah, we’d love to hear that.
Walker Peek: [01:01:36] Don’t let me leave that one because I think that’s really interesting. I read “On the Road,” by Jack Kerouac, which is a super-interesting book.
Patrick Barrett: [01:01:43] At what age?
Walker Peek: [01:01:45] Probably 18 or 19. I was like, “Whoa, that’s great literature!” [crosstalk 01:01:49]
Mike Barrett: [01:01:49] That is an American classic, for sure.
Walker Peek: [01:01:52] That’s just phenomenal stuff. I was like, “Wow, I didn’t realize there were actually really good books like that out there.”
Patrick Barrett: [01:01:55] I can enjoy this … Yeah.
Mike Barrett: [01:01:55] Isn’t that amazing? Sorry … I know we’re running out of time, but it’s just a pet peeve, as someone who loves language, literature, all that kind of stuff … It’s so frustrating. It’s not your fault at all. It’s not really anyone’s fault-
Walker Peek: [01:02:07] I feel like I am at fault here.
Mike Barrett: [01:02:08] No … It’s so frustrating [Laughing] that you’re obviously very intelligent. You’re motivated to read; you love reading; you’re clearly physically capable of it. You went to this school that was trying to emphasize reading, and they just couldn’t put anything in front of you that you wanted to read.
Walker Peek: [01:02:22] Well, it was all-
Patrick Barrett: [01:02:22] Not just this school, but-
Mike Barrett: [01:02:23] No, I know. Then, you get out of school, and-
Walker Peek: [01:02:25] It was Chinua Achebe stuff, or it was-
Patrick Barrett: [01:02:28] I know! “Things Fall Apart.” [crosstalk 01:02:29] It wasn’t… relatable. It wasn’t … I remember reading that [crosstalk 01:02:32]
Mike Barrett: [01:02:33] -expect a 16-year-old to relate to that, if they haven’t-
Patrick Barrett: [01:02:36] I don’t know if they had put the perfect book in front of us, I don’t know that we would have been in a mindset because when you have to do it, and you have to do it by Thursday-
Mike Barrett: [01:02:43] Anything you have to do-
Patrick Barrett: [01:02:44] -and you have three other projects to do? Like A Separate Peace?
Mike Barrett: [01:02:46] -must not be valuable because if it were valuable, you would never-
Walker Peek: [01:02:47] Yeah. I actually went back and reread that a few years later. I was like, “Actually, that was a really good book.”
Patrick Barrett: [01:02:51] There are books- for sure.
Walker Peek: [01:02:53] So, I was just an idiot back then [crosstalk 01:02:56]
Patrick Barrett: [01:02:56] There were books I read in college that I enjoyed much more …
Mike Barrett: [01:02:58] Well, you know, it’s a funny thing … I really admire a lot of Robert Frost’s poetry now. You really have to be an adult and go through some things.
Patrick Barrett: [01:03:04] Yeah.
Mike Barrett: [01:03:05] Why would you make a 15-year-old read [crosstalk 01:03:07]
Patrick Barrett: [01:03:06] Absolutely. “All Quiet on the Western Front” I reread in college for another class and I got so much more out of it compared to when I read it in high school [crosstalk 01:03:13]
Mike Barrett: [01:03:13] Because you can actually understand that people go to wars, and it’s a real thing-
Patrick Barrett: [01:03:16] -so maybe Chinua Achebe… maybe that book is great! But at the time …
Mike Barrett: [01:03:18] It is a classic. It is a great book.
Patrick Barrett: [01:03:20] It’s considered to be. Yeah, absolutely.
Mike Barrett: [01:03:21] But you can’t understand it if you-
Patrick Barrett: [01:03:22] But definitely, as a teenager … Yeah, it’s funny how often you look back on something as an adult—man, if I could just go to school and learn about American history, now, I’d be so into that!
Walker Peek: [01:03:30] Right.
Patrick Barrett: [01:03:30] At the time … There’s no limit to what-
Mike Barrett: [01:03:32] Anyway, I didn’t mean to divert that, but it’s so interesting. You are clearly someone who-
Patrick Barrett: [01:03:37] Has a capacity to-
Mike Barrett: [01:03:38] -appreciates reading in a variety of ways. It’s just such a sad thing that the reading you had to do did not spark that-
Walker Peek: [01:03:46] Well, it wasn’t that interesting to me.
Patrick Barrett: [01:03:47] So, you took the practice tests … You did well enough on the test. You got the score you wanted?
Walker Peek: [01:03:52] I basically got all the math ones right because that’s what I was good at. Then, the English one … Okay, yeah. I got maybe like a C, C+ [crosstalk 01:04:02] good enough. I wanted to go to UF. I knew it was definitely a good enough score to get into UF, and the GPA, going to Stanton was good enough.
Patrick Barrett: [01:04:11] The whole package worked out, yeah.
Walker Peek: [01:04:12] I was like, “Hey …”
Mike Barrett: [01:04:14] Again, for the audience, for some universities, especially private ones, and especially more selective ones, like the ones you could think of as the most-
Patrick Barrett: [01:04:21] The famous, big names, yeah.
Mike Barrett: [01:04:22] -prestigious schools, or whatever … For a lot of those schools, the process is not very transparent on how you get in. You need a certain GPA, you need a certain score, you need certain things, but that’s not all you need; There’s other stuff. With large state schools, it’s way more clear. They make it pretty clear if you score this, and this, and this-
Patrick Barrett: [01:04:38] Right, above 1270, and above 3.2.
Mike Barrett: [01:04:40] -you’re pretty much going to get in. At the time, that’s what it was. You could know “I have the score; I have the grades; I’m basically almost certainly going to-“
Patrick Barrett: [01:04:48] “I’m in a good position.” Yeah, right.
Mike Barrett: [01:04:49] “-get in if I apply to these schools.”
Patrick Barrett: [01:04:50] Your admissions experience, you pretty much knew you wanted to go to UF [crosstalk 01:04:53]
Walker Peek: [01:04:53] I did early admission, and I thought about doing some Ivy League stuff or some Dukes, or whatever-
Patrick Barrett: [01:04:58] Yeah, trying to go that route-
Walker Peek: [01:04:58] -but at the end of the day, it was free, at the time-
Patrick Barrett: [01:05:01] As you said, you’re cheap [crosstalk 01:05:04]
Walker Peek: [01:05:05] -it was free because of Bright Futures-
Patrick Barrett: [01:05:06] In-state tuition.
Walker Peek: [01:05:07] Exactly.
Mike Barrett: [01:05:08] -which was an in-state program. Yeah, basically, if you had certain grades, certain test scores-
Patrick Barrett: [01:05:12] Yeah, certain GPA, scores-
Mike Barrett: [01:05:13] -and those kinds of things, then [crosstalk 01:05:13]
Walker Peek: [01:05:14] You have to look at what is the cost benefit. Even back then, I was doing that, and I was, like, hey, it’s basically free to go to this school. It’s the number-six public school in the U.S. A lot of my friends are going there. I want to go there. I love the Gators. I’m wearing a Gators shirt [crosstalk 01:05:29]
Patrick Barrett: [01:05:29] Yeah, how could I not? I was going to say, we’ve got orange and the blue cups-
Mike Barrett: [01:05:31] I didn’t even notice. These are the school colors-
Patrick Barrett: [01:05:33] I didn’t know if that was a coincidence, or not-
Walker Peek: [01:05:34] I only let us use blue and orange markers in the conference room. That’s a fact. It’s a weird thing. I just love the Gators [crosstalk 01:05:42] My trade school thought is-
Mike Barrett: [01:05:47] Oh, yeah, I wanted to get that. Yeah, please. Thank you.
Walker Peek: [01:05:48] I think it’s so important to think about what you want to do because there’s a lot of private schools … A lot of people go and get- I did this exchange program through Rotary Club for six weeks. I was with this guy who went to FIT, I think. As far as I know, it’s a really good school. It’s a really good engineering program, aerospace engineering, especially, but he paid a lot of money and ended up doing industrial psychology or something like that. His grad school loan was 50 or 60 grand, and he was coming out making 35 or 40. He’s like, “Man, it’s going to take me 10 years to pay off.”
Mike Barrett: [01:06:22] A while to pay that off, and that’s assuming that he keeps his job and all that kind of stuff. A lot of people-
Patrick Barrett: [01:06:26] Yeah, and in the meantime, you’re not enjoying the finer things, or-
Walker Peek: [01:06:29] Saving anything, or traveling, or whatever [crosstalk 01:06:31]
Mike Barrett: [01:06:31] Because a lot of people, several years into their career, they’re like, “Oh, I actually don’t like this.” Then, you’ve got to go do something else, and now, you’re still paying-
Patrick Barrett: [01:06:37] Hopefully, they’ll hear this podcast, and then decide to do something else.
Mike Barrett: [01:06:40] Anyways, please continue-
Patrick Barrett: [01:06:42] But the cost-benefit, yeah.
Walker Peek: [01:06:44] After my time on the Space Center, working in the manufacturing plant, afterwards, we did a lot of aerospace manufacturing; 5-axis machining on mills, and lathes, and especially making precision aluminum, or titanium parts, or Inconel; it was like a nickel alloy; very specific stuff. You can’t fly an airplane with steel because it’s just too heavy. You need really strong stuff- a high strength-to-weight ratio is what we’re looking at-
Patrick Barrett: [01:07:11] It’s like you mentioned earlier with the curtains, you want to list what are the priorities; what strength, weight, cost, whatever it is-
Walker Peek: [01:07:17] Exactly. 100 percent. Kind of funny, I never really put those two together, but actually, it’s the exact same thing.
Patrick Barrett: [01:07:23] Same analysis for airplane parts, or for window- noise-blocking curtains.
Walker Peek: [01:07:28] One thing we had such a hard time- staffing, and I have a hard time here, at Commercial Acoustics, is finding skilled employees because everybody wants to go to school and be an IT guy, or everybody wants to go to a four-year university. We are hiring 3-axis machinists with high school degrees and that went and did a six-month, or a one-year- what do you call it? Not fellowship, but-
Mike Barrett: [01:07:53] Internship, or something.
Patrick Barrett: [01:07:54] Yes, like they get a certificate or-
Mike Barrett: [01:07:55] Like an apprenticeship, basically
Walker Peek: [01:07:57] Apprenticeship [crosstalk 01:07:57]
Mike Barrett: [01:07:58] -still call it that, or does it go by a different-
Walker Peek: [01:07:59] That’s what we would call it, yep.
Patrick Barrett: [01:08:01] This was not the- your current company. This was back-
Walker Peek: [01:08:03] At Craig Tech, yep.
Patrick Barrett: [01:08:04] -working with the Craig Tech, which-
Walker Peek: [01:08:06] We were hiring for 45ñ50 grand. There were these kids that were 18ñ19 years old.
Patrick Barrett: [01:08:09] And they had just done these programs.
Walker Peek: [01:08:11] The beautiful thing is they get done with their eight-hour shift, and they go home. They don’t have email on their phone. It’s not like our life, where it never really ends-
Patrick Barrett: [01:08:19] There’s always the possibility that somebody’s trying to reach you-
Walker Peek: [01:08:21] Right, exactly.
Mike Barrett: [01:08:21] Another beautiful thing about that is if you go through one of those programs, and you get one of those jobs in the field, if you see, “Gosh, I really love this, and I would love to do more higher-level, abstract stuff,” then, great, you can go get a degree in it, and do that, but you’ll know it beforehand that you love it, as opposed to-
Walker Peek: [01:08:37] Not even degrees, as much as training seminars. Then, you can do 5-axis machining, which is not just left, right, up, down, forward, back; you can also turn-
Mike Barrett: [01:08:47] You have an additional-
Walker Peek: [01:08:48] Right, yeah, exactly. Then you can start doing really cool stuff that I couldn’t do, and I was watching these guys. I was part of the manufacturing planning, or engineering, but I couldn’t actually run the mill. I didn’t know how to do that. These guys were making three times as much as I was-
Patrick Barrett: [01:09:03] Because they can use the machinery-
Walker Peek: [01:09:05] They were my age, or a little bit older. We couldn’t find anybody to take their place. These guys, like plumbing, welding, machining—all these great careers that-
Patrick Barrett: [01:09:16] These are paths you can and should consider.
Mike Barrett: [01:09:18] Yeah, absolutely.
Walker Peek: [01:09:20] Actually, funny enough, a little anecdote here is I got my low-voltage license recently because the sound masking we were doing, I didn’t recognize that that’s actually … Recently, like about eight years ago, Florida changed the law; South Carolina, and most of the other states in the Southeast don’t do this, but anything that goes into a wall that you have to plug in somewhere, it has to be installed by a low-voltage-certified electrician. Well, we didn’t know that. I had to go get my low-voltage license, and that’s not really a super-easy thing to do, but now we can do … There’s no low-voltage guys around-
Patrick Barrett: [01:09:59] It’s a differentiator.
Walker Peek: [01:10:00] There’s all this work. Yeah. If somebody could come to a three- you have to have three years of management experience in low voltage, which I was just barely able to clear that hurdle, or four years of work in the field and then sit for this test. I just did a lot of test prep for this one, like two weeks ago. The same types of approaches, by the way. The exact same as the SAT [crosstalk 01:10:22] Tons of sample questions. I guess my point is that I strongly encourage people who aren’t certain that they want to go do something very specific at a university to consider getting a real job first, not just delivering food or whatever, but getting a real job and seeing what you like because sometimes, you’re too young to know what you like.
Patrick Barrett: [01:10:42] Sure, absolutely.
Mike Barrett: [01:10:43] Well, another thing- I’ve heard this actually, now, from several former clients, when they were younger, in high school, and college, they really thought they wanted to work with people, and then they start doing it, and they’re like, “Oh, god …”
Patrick Barrett: [01:10:54] Then they met some people [Laughing]
Mike Barrett: [01:10:57] I personally do enjoy working with people, or else we wouldn’t do the things that we do, but you have-
Patrick Barrett: [01:11:01] It’s a person-to-person difference [crosstalk 01:11:03]
Mike Barrett: [01:11:03] You have to have a very specific skill set to be able to deal with just any random person walking into a store, or a restaurant, or whatever. If you gear up for a career dealing with people all the time, and then you meet your first hundred people and don’t like 60 of them [crosstalk 01:11:17]
Patrick Barrett: [01:11:17] -or you’re not comfortable in that situation, or whatever.
Mike Barrett: [01:11:19] Right. Absolutely.
Patrick Barrett: [01:11:20] Can you describe what is your normal day like, your normal week?
Mike Barrett: [01:11:23] Yeah, that’s a more important question than mine.
Patrick Barrett: [01:11:24] When you get up in the morning, what’s your experience, just [crosstalk 01:11:25]
Walker Peek: [01:11:26] There’s this platitude everybody says: “Stop working in your business; start working on your business.” As the chief engineer, I still have to do a lot of consulting, a lot of site visits, things like that. Rather than going and doing it myself, now, I’m trying to train people to do certain parts of my job, like become a force multiplier, essentially … Hey, I used to do all the accounting. Now, Chloe, who you met briefly, does most of our bookkeeping. I’ll still do the financial reports, and the tax accounting, and stuff like that I work on with a tax CPA, but I’m able to outsource and just … Most of my time is training now. Training and auditing is a big thing. I put together this big master process book because, sometimes, Casey will put a sign quote in the sign quotes folder, but name it this way, and then Mark would do it this way, and I’ll do it this way-
Patrick Barrett: [01:12:16] It’s got to be the same.
Walker Peek: [01:12:18] We’re re-using numbers, and now we can’t invoice for it, and now it’s a whole thing. Industrial engineering that helps me a lot is breaking down a process. It’s what does everybody do, day in and day out? Where are the inefficiencies? Why are we-
Mike Barrett: [01:12:33] And the redundancies.
Walker Peek: [01:12:34] So many, so many.
Patrick Barrett: [01:12:35] Yeah, so understanding and improving the day-to-day processes of your business is a big part of what you’re currently doing?
Walker Peek: [01:12:40] Absolutely. I’m still very involved. I’ll still do a lot of purchase orders, but Chloe- now, she can do a lot of them, like 95 percent of them. So, training … I’m still kind of- my wife will say I hold it together with duct tape and super glue. There’s a lot of still “doing the actual work,” but stopping doing everything and spending your time training. Then, hiring is a big thing. HR is just so critical, and I don’t mean sexual harassment, or-
Patrick Barrett: [01:13:09] A lot of HR stuff you think of, yeah.
Walker Peek: [01:13:11] Right, yeah, like, “Hey, he’s bothering me.” “Oh, hey, he got violent at work.” “There was drugs in the workplace.” Not that kind of HR. I’m talking about people development HR; giving them a plan. “Here’s what I want you to do … What do you want to be in five years? Here’s a one-year plan. Here’s what I need you to do, so you can be part of our organization.”
Patrick Barrett: [01:13:29] Yeah, so everybody’s on the same page-
Mike Barrett: [01:13:30] That’s something else- to just quickly jump back, you’ve mentioned it before-
Walker Peek: [01:13:34] I can run a little bit long. Just [crosstalk 01:13:35]
Mike Barrett: [01:13:36] We’ll talk to you literally until midnight-
Walker Peek: [01:13:39] I’ll give you a two-minute—[crosstalk 01:13:40]
Mike Barrett: [01:13:42] One of the things that I think a lot of our audience is maybe also not aware of—you, as a business owner, or even just really anyone in a management capacity, anyone who’s hiring people, you know that it’s actually really hard to find a talented, intelligent, driven young person, and you want to find them. You need to find them, and it’s very hard to do, and to do it in a sense where, or with a level of certainty, a level of confidence that, yes, this actually is a person who’s going to be here three years from now, five years from now. It’s hard to find those people. Tell me if you disagree with that, but I think what a lot of our audience maybe doesn’t recognize is that, again, it comes back to being personally invested in something, showing up on time, trying to learn, trying to be useful. Your HR issues, in a sense, revolve around that. How do you find, and train, and retain those people? You want to find them, in the first place, and that’s not easy.
Walker Peek: [01:14:35] It’s so funny. It’s almost like the dating scene. Somebody’s like, “Man, there’s just no good guys out there.” All my guy friends are like, “Man, I just can’t find a decent girl.” Yes, there’s lots of them out there-
Patrick Barrett: [01:14:47] Yeah, how are these people not connecting?
Walker Peek: [01:14:48] Exactly! I like both of them. It seems like a good fit, but … With employers, and employees, so many employees or potential students—potential employees—they’re like, “Yeah, I just can’t find a decent job.” Employers are like, “I can’t find …”
Patrick Barrett: [01:15:02] “I can’t find the right workers.”
Walker Peek: [01:15:03] Yeah. “Nobody shows up to work on time.” It’s expectations, clear expectations, especially early on. Very first day, if something’s not right, you tell them, right then. If it’s not fixed the second day, it’s a problem. If you’re 10 minutes late the first day … It depends how tight of a ship you want to run, of course; like for software developers, it’s a little different than salespeople, or customer service. The ultimate challenge is, as a small business owner, you’re fighting the big businesses with the bigger compensation packages, oftentimes. We like to say it’s not the big that eats the small; it’s the fast that eats the slow. We try to be very agile and grow quickly. Part of what I’m doing is I’m selling the dream to somebody; I’m trying to sell this vision of, “Here’s where we are now …”
Patrick Barrett: [01:15:50] When you’re looking to hire an employee.
Walker Peek: [01:15:51] Exactly. Exactly. “Hey, I can offer you this now, but we just grew a hundred percent last year, and we’re growing like this. I want you to be part of our future …”
Patrick Barrett: [01:15:59] You’re getting in early.
Walker Peek: [01:16:00] Exactly.
Patrick Barrett: [01:16:00] This is something that’s going to be bigger than it is now.
Walker Peek: [01:16:02] Exactly. So, by selling the vision-
Mike Barrett: [01:16:04] This could maybe … Oh, sorry-
Walker Peek: [01:16:04] You have to make sure that you’re achieving the vision, at least as closely as possible-
Patrick Barrett: [01:16:08] You can kind of prove, for now, what is happening, right.
Walker Peek: [01:16:10] Exactly. Luckily, we’ve been able to outpace our goals the last 18ñ24 months. We’re five years in … It’s a challenge. That’s maybe what brings some of the stress in is because even if you’re growing the question is are you growing fast enough to keep everybody super-engaged? Luckily, we’ve had very low turnover. The people who fit in, we’ve been able to reward, and they’ve grown almost as quickly as the company has. People who don’t fit in, or who don’t work out, we have a process for that. We call it the Opportunity for Improvement, it’s a OIC form. I say, “Hey, you’re not meeting our expectations. Here’s how.
Patrick Barrett: [01:16:47] That’s the best you can do is give them the-
Walker Peek: [01:16:49] You have two opportunities to fix it up, and you have a follow-up date. Boom. Here’s the follow-up date-
Patrick Barrett: [01:16:53] See what’s happening. Yeah.
Walker Peek: [01:16:54] You’re still not … That’s Jack Welch, a hundred percent. He is like, “Hey, be brutally honest because you’re not being ethical. You’re being unethical by not telling them …”
Patrick Barrett: [01:17:04] You’re wasting your time, and their time, if you know [crosstalk 01:17:06]
Mike Barrett: [01:17:06] Right, because they, in theory … That’s also like dating; they could be doing better, thriving in a different environment. The longer you keep them-
Walker Peek: [01:17:12] Yeah, and when you lay somebody off without any warning, they are blindsided, and they’re just mentally, emotionally, financially- they’re not ready; they haven’t been preparing for that.
Patrick Barrett: [01:17:21] Whereas if they’ve met with you a couple of times, and they know there’s issues-
Mike Barrett: [01:17:24] At least they’re not shocked by it.
Walker Peek: [01:17:25] Yeah. “Here’s what I’m not doing well; here’s what you’re not doing well. It’s just not working. I want to give you one more chance, but … ” HR should not be all negative, but you want training-
Patrick Barrett: [01:17:34] It’s purpose is sort of to deal with the negative things, I would think, because the positive things don’t really need to be addressed so much-
Walker Peek: [01:17:40] Yeah, and then, training, and growth opportunities, and that kind of thing. It’s so many moving parts … I have to say, “Winning,” by Jack Welch just basically- I model all of my HR practices off that book.
Patrick Barrett: [01:17:52] It’s interesting when I said “what is your day-to-day life like? What is your work week like?” I think almost everything you mentioned was office/administrative/accounting/people/processes, as opposed to, “How do I block sound coming through here?” Is it kind of the case that, in the earlier years, you were working on the actual engineering problems; now, those are mostly addressed, and it’s more just implementing your product and getting it out there?
Walker Peek: [01:18:15] We’re still doing some product development, and we manufacture here, so a lot of it’s quality improvement in our manufacturing process. First-piece inspections; just determining what is good versus not good. That’s a tricky thing, sometimes. It’s the same panel that two different clients gets very different reactions, and it’s just crazy-
Mike Barrett: [01:18:35] That’s interesting.
Walker Peek: [01:18:37] It’s expectation. It’s closed-loop feedback to the salesperson: “Hey, you shouldn’t sell this type of panel at eye height. This panel needs to be higher, whereas this type of panel can be right up to my face;” Wood frame, versus resin-hardened, versus whatever. We’re doing a lot of learning, still, every single day.
Patrick Barrett: [01:18:55] Would you say that, for the most part, you’re in this office looking at a computer screen; that’s a certain percentage of hours-
Walker Peek: [01:19:02] 50-50.
Patrick Barrett: [01:19:02] 50-50? Okay.
Walker Peek: [01:19:02] I do spend a lot of time out in the field still with architects. “Hey, why is this … Why is it so noisy in this apartment?” You see all my testing equipment over there. I’ll fly out to Seattle, Chicago, New York, once or twice a month, to go do field testing. People pay a lot of money for that because it’s not super-easy to do. There’s not a ton of acoustic consultants nationwide. There’s only maybe 150 of them, so we get work all over the country.
Patrick Barrett: [01:19:29] Are you doing those lunch-and-learns, as you mentioned, in those other parts of the country, or is that more local?
Mike Barrett: [01:19:35] Yeah, how do they find you?
Walker Peek: [01:19:36] AIA, you have to pay a lot more for like a passport license … Passport, whatever … registration. We stopped doing that this year. We only give credits in Florida-
Patrick Barrett: [01:19:48] You have enough going on locally [crosstalk 01:19:51]
Walker Peek: [01:19:51] Exactly. We gave a lot of lunch-and-learns that just … Although it gets the word out there, and it helps you understand, “Hey, there’s this super-unique product …” When I talk about the price … I’ll give you my quick plug here. The Wall Blokker, our flagship product line, used to be used for automotive. Basically, instead of doubling up drywall, you take away multiple layers of drywall; put one layer of this on the studs of the wall, and it breaks that structure-borne link between the drywall, the gypsum, and then the stud, itself. Now, the drywall is floating off the wall, and it adds a lot of mass, which is what the architect’s trying to do when he adds the drywall on. He doesn’t realize—or the contractor, or whoever—that it’s not the right thing to do. We partnered with an automotive manufacturer. We really got rid of a lot of our product lines; reinvested heavily in that. I spent a lot of my time going and doing field testing to prove that our product works or to show them where they need it. A lot of times, we won’t test our own product because there is a conflict of interest there. “Here’s how this one’s doing. [crosstalk 01:20:55] Get somebody else to come test our room and then, we’ll see how it works.”
Patrick Barrett: [01:20:59] I do want to ask also—and again, let us know as soon as you need to leave—what do you hope for in the future? What’s your vision for next year, 10 years from now? Do you hope to sell the company one day? Do you want to expand it to other areas?
Mike Barrett: [01:21:09] Do you have a concrete exit strategy in mind?
Walker Peek: [01:21:12] No exit strategy is set. We did bring on investors about three years ago. It started out with the three grand. My parents, a couple of years after that, when we were making $200K in revenue, put in $10ñ15K, and they are still investors in the company. Then, we got some institutional investors, very small shop, but wealthy family investment that … They got a really nice return on it, so far, so I think they really happy with it.
Patrick Barrett: [01:21:39] Are these people that you knew already, or how did you connect?
Walker Peek: [01:21:41] I met them through one of our sales reps. She had met them through family connections. “Hey, you should meet Walker,” and “You should meet these guys.” It was a good meeting. We just recognized we were both hungry to grow the business-
Mike Barrett: [01:21:55] Which you can’t teach.
Patrick Barrett: [01:21:56] I was gonna say [crosstalk 01:21:57]
Walker Peek: [01:22:01] I don’t believe in growth at any expense. Profitability is super-important for us. We’re not a software firm, like Twitter or whatever, that can be negative for 10 straight [crosstalk 01:22:11]
Mike Barrett: [01:22:11] Just lose money hand over fist-
Patrick Barrett: [01:22:12] Somehow, just completely tank all the time.
Walker Peek: [01:22:15] I’ll tell [crosstalk 01:22:16] you, software … A great book right here … I have one more book. It’s Peter Thiel, “Zero to One.” Talks about technology. People always talk about tech companies. Everybody thinks software is like … There’s nothing more—less technologically advanced than software. You’re typing in numbers in a computer terminal. That’s not technology. Technology is material advancement, and material science.
Mike Barrett: [01:22:38] That’s true.
Walker Peek: [01:22:38] Stealth technology-
Mike Barrett: [01:22:39] Like put a person on Mars. That’s …
Walker Peek: [01:22:42] That’s not software that’s putting us on Mars. New propulsion technologies; new structural techniques so that you can fly a spacecraft that far; new biomedical approaches so that you can keep people alive with enough food there-
Mike Barrett: [01:22:56] Active in the physical world, which may rely on software, to some extent, but that’s not the [crosstalk 01:23:00].
Patrick Barrett: [01:23:00] That’s a piece of the puzzle, but that’s not it.
Mike Barrett: [01:23:02] Right.
Walker Peek: [01:23:02] Exactly. That’s his big—and I believe strongly that we have this new type of material technology, and our grandiose vision … We all sat together, last year. I had somebody come in and talk to the whole team; we had maybe 10ñ12 of us at our house at the time. We did what’s called the Vision Quest; which everybody thought that we were going to go smoke peyote-
Mike Barrett: [01:23:22] I was going to say-
Patrick Barrett: [01:23:23] Out in the desert. Half of you come back …
Walker Peek: [01:23:25] Exactly. Leave the weak. Yeah. Only the strong survive.
Patrick Barrett: [01:23:30] Exactly.
Walker Peek: [01:23:31] We did that at my house- well, just had the Vision Quest, I should say [crosstalk 01:23:36] and had this awesome vision of 2025—what should the company look like? Our grandiose vision is we want to change the way buildings are built, and if there’s ever drywall touching drywall for purposes of blocking sound, something went wrong. That’s-
Patrick Barrett: [01:23:52] Anywhere in the world, pretty much?
Walker Peek: [01:23:53] Yes, anywhere in the world. If you are putting drywall on drywall to block sound-
Patrick Barrett: [01:23:56] You’ve made a mistake, basically.
Walker Peek: [01:23:57] Something went wrong. You’d be amazed; you’d go up and down the street. It happens in every single building. Every single building, people are wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars putting drywall on drywall to block sound because it’s just this thing that they think is a good thing. That’s not a good way to do it. We’re re-educating the construction marketplace of, “Don’t do that. Don’t do what you’ve always done.” “Well, don’t fix what ain’t broke,” they’ll say. “Well, it is broken. You just don’t know.”
Patrick Barrett: [01:24:23] Yeah, you just don’t know- it’s always been broken.
Walker Peek: [01:24:24] Right, and then you move on, and when the tenants move in, then it’s too late, and they’re bitching at their property management group-
Patrick Barrett: [01:24:30] Yeah, you missed the window.
Walker Peek: [01:24:30] -and the construction firm’s already on the next project. So, it is broke. You just don’t know it’s broke.
Patrick Barrett: [01:24:36] Would you say then that, to get there, your challenge is more of a marketing/education one and not an engineering one?
Walker Peek: [01:24:43] Yes, it’s a modes and method sale. We’re not just selling a different type of drywall, or a different color carpet. We’re changing the way they build the buildings-
Patrick Barrett: [01:24:51] Yeah, this is an aspect of this that you are not addressing, and you don’t know that you’re not addressing it-
Walker Peek: [01:24:55] Exactly. You don’t know what you don’t know, and at first you’re like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. That’s-,” I’m like, “Yes, this is what I do.” [crosstalk 01:25:01]. You have to approach it with a certain level of modesty because-
Patrick Barrett: [01:25:05] For sure.
Walker Peek: [01:25:05] Hey, we tell architects, “You guys know thousands of codes, we only know two. The Florida building code is 1207.2, and 1207.3, and that’s all we know. You guys know everything [crosstalk 01:25:15] but we know it well …”
Mike Barrett: [01:25:17] Also, sorry, just to pause for the audience—when you’re talking about these codes, the codes are documents, basically, put out by the government in some capacity that, say, “If you’re building a thing in this physical area,” this jurisdiction that we control, like the state of Florida, or a city could have codes, or whatever, “If you’re building a thing where this code applies, then these are the rules and specifications for how that has to be built. You’re saying to the contractor’s like, “Look, I know thousands of codes,” or you’re saying to them, “You know thousands of codes, I only know the two parts of the code that …”
Walker Peek: [01:25:46] Right, and you think you’re meeting the code and you’re not. Once the time comes, the complaints happen, they call in a consultant to test it. “Hey, actually, you’re short of the code.” How do we fix it? There ain’t no fixing it. Yeah, it’s too late to fix.
Mike Barrett: [01:26:02] Without just knocking everything down and doing it again, which you can’t.
Walker Peek: [01:26:06] Certain things you can fix afterwards. Restaurants and churches, you can add acoustic panels, but when it comes to a room-to-room transition, or sound transmission, there is no fixing it. It’s start from scratch.
Patrick Barrett: [01:26:17] Well, I know you do have to get going. You have a meeting after this but thank you so much.
Mike Barrett: [01:26:21] Beyond useful, thank you very much.
Patrick Barrett: [01:26:23] This is very, very interesting and very, very helpful. Thank you for having us. Thanks a lot. You were awesome.
Walker Peek: [01:26:26] I enjoyed it. [crosstalk 01:26:25]. Thanks a lot guys.
Mike Barrett: [01:26:28] Cool. Thanks.
Mike Barrett: [01:26:30] Once again, a very, very sincere thank you to Walker for taking the time to sit with us and go over a lot of stuff. The one thing that I really found interesting about his- well, just that entire interview, really, was the way that he approached so many things from a very structured way of thinking, I guess, and I guess that probably- I don’t know if it was something that comes directly from his engineering training or is it more the case that he was drawn to engineering because that’s how he thinks about things anyway? Either way, probably like a feedback loop reinforcement thing. I found it really interesting, the way that he had processes for all kinds of stuff, and he was aware of formulas for different things, even things that he hadn’t done in a long time. He was like, “Oh, yeah. I remember the name of that formula, it was blah, blah, blah, and it worked like this.” Just a very disciplined way of thinking, and it’s very interesting to me that that can be applied in so many different domains. He can apply it to hiring, and training, and a bunch of things that are outside of the limited scope of engineering. Not that engineering is limited, but you know what I mean; outside of, specifically building his product and doing those kinds of product-related things, he’s also able to apply that disciplined mentality to every aspect, really, of his professional life.
Patrick Barrett: [01:27:47] I thought the same thing. It is definitely, like you said, a chicken or the egg situation. Was it his own inborn, natural inclination to do that or did he pick that up as he went along? I think, like you said, it’s probably a combination of the two. Yeah, a lot of times, when we asked the question and I thought, I was like, “Oh, why did you do this or that?” I thought, “Oh, I just- it was my gut feeling.” He was like, “No, I wrote this down.”
Mike Barrett: [01:28:10] He’s like, “No, here’s my list of things. I gave each thing a score. I added up all the sub-scores and then I had to do X.”
Patrick Barrett: [01:28:16] That was just like, “Oh. I could see how that would be very effective and very useful.” I love the process of, “We wanted to start a business. We came up with all these ideas and we gave them scores, the top three …” There was a logical process. It’s not like- you wouldn’t have had to have special training to come up with that, but I think it definitely, it just it’s that mindset, like you said, that he already has, probably, and has had it reinforced by using it successfully. It makes a ton of sense; it was pretty simple. It was, I think, two or three scores, then the aggregate of those, and then just take your best shot at—at a simple, early version of each of these things. Obviously, it was effective.
Mike Barrett: [01:28:57] Some other interesting takeaways—for all of these interviews, I am always of the opinion that even if you don’t specifically want to go into the field of the person that we’re interviewing, it’s still helpful for you to know how that part of the world works. How, in the case of this last interview, how startups work, how NASA works, how being a government contractor can work, all of these kinds of things. Even if you don’t go into those fields, now, you’ll have a better idea of how that does work. You will be surprised as you become an old person, like us, you’ll be surprised how often it’s actually useful to know those types of details. They come a lot closer to your own career than you would expect that they will at this point. Just to name a couple of those things, differences between B2B marketing and B2C marketing, that’s a thing that comes up, really, across a whole bunch of different industries—government contractors, civil, excuse me, civil servants. That’s hard to say.
Patrick Barrett: [01:29:55] Not really. [Laughing]
Mike Barrett: [01:30:00] Oh, no, you’re right. So, serval civants have a … Oh, wait. I did it again. No, but civil servants and how they differ from contractors.
Patrick Barrett: [01:30:09] Nice.
Mike Barrett: [01:30:10] Say again?
Patrick Barrett: [01:30:11] Nice.
Mike Barrett: [01:30:11] Thank you. All of those types of distinctions are things that will certainly touch on or will be touched on by a lot of people’s careers listening to this, even if they don’t actually go into those direct fields. One other thing, he had two or three quotes that I was really, really impressed by, and a couple of them go back to some of the themes that we’ve seen over and over again in our other interviews. My favorite one was, “You can’t teach hungry.” It was a really interesting point.
Patrick Barrett: [01:30:39] Yeah, absolutely, though. Certain things stick in your mind like, “Oh, yeah. That’s—”
Mike Barrett: [01:30:43] It goes back to what we’ve said about how it may be hard to believe this if you are a young person listening to this, but business owners, managers, all kinds of people out there in the world, they want to find and hire dedicated, hardworking, passionate young people who can help their enterprises grow, and it’s very hard to find those people.
Patrick Barrett: [01:31:04] It reminded me, I think at one point he said it’s like the dating scene; you have female friends who are like, “There’s no good guys out there.” Then the other people are like, “Oh, I can’t find …” You have all these people out there trying to find each other. There’s definitely people looking for jobs who are thinking, “Man, I just want to go to a company where I’ll be appreciated and I have that drive, but I feel like where I’ve been, so far, has been not what I’m looking for.” Then you have the companies who are like, “Oh, man. We just want to find these young employees who will stick around and work hard and everything.” I think part of that is just maybe you’ll find that company on your first shot, but probably it’s going to be a few companies in, a few jobs in, and to make that part of your goal is to do the best you can where you are, if only for yourself, even if you don’t like the situation very much; you can work on your own skills, you can- maybe it’s a similarly unhappy co-worker who one day says to you, “Hey, I found this other place and it’s way better and you should come along.” You don’t know where that’s going to come from, so I would say, it’s hard to make a general statement for every single person. Mostly, it makes sense to do the best in the situation where you find yourself and keep looking for that match, because there are, absolutely, companies out there who understand the value of, “If we treat our people better and appreciate the work they do, they’ll stick around and we’ll all be better off,” basically.
Mike Barrett: [01:32:22] Similarly, a lot of what we talk about is aimed at people—and honestly, maybe people like us, people who are more apt to want to get involved in something and invest in themselves, and really make a contribution to an employer or to a team. If you’re on the other end of that spectrum and you’re thinking, “Oh, gosh. The last thing that I want to do is work in that kind of way,” which is- we’re laughing, but it’s a totally fine way to feel. It is actually how the majority of people feel; they’re not super-fired up about their jobs. Useful to know, too, that that was how Walker described a lot of the people that he worked with in his government capacity, how he had a manager come around and say, “Hey, stop working so hard.”
Patrick Barrett: [01:33:05] “Whoa, slow down.”
Mike Barrett: [01:33:08] “You’re taking all the work for the other people.” There is certainly a large portion of the economy and a large portion of the human population that views work in that way, and that’s totally fine. We’re not saying that you shouldn’t view it that way.
Patrick Barrett: [01:33:19] I think a major goal of ours, maybe the major goal of ours in this podcast is not to tell you what to do, but we hope that we can give you the best information, the most information we can about what’s out there so you can make an intelligent, well-informed choice based on what you hopefully learn from these episodes and what you know about yourself. If you know, “You know what? I’m not that driven,” and maybe you want to find a job that is more friendly or open to that kind of a situation. That’s similar to what Mike was saying before, even if you weren’t thinking of going into this exact field, you might observe, “Oh, it seems like the people who worked in this circle, in this sphere, in this industry have this way of doing things that matches more of my personality. Maybe that’s something that I should look into.”
Mike Barrett: [01:34:07] From a work-life balance standpoint, there is a lot to be said for those kinds of jobs, whether they’re government jobs, NGOs, in some cases, whatever it might be. There’s a lot to be said for not having to think about your work when you are not actually doing it. A lot of the more driven, growth-oriented jobs do involve constantly thinking about the thing that you do professionally, even when you’re not actually doing it. That can certainly be stressful, it’s not a thing that everybody wants to do. Also, when Walker was talking about job security, it all plays into that as well; there are jobs you can get that are lower stress. The manager will tell you not to work that hard, you have higher job security. That is certainly a thing, it happens not to be the thing that we’re super interested in, just personality-wise, but it’s absolutely out there. It’s definitely a valid way to find fulfillment. If that’s the kind of thing you like to do, it certainly exists.
Patrick Barrett: [01:35:05] Yeah. Another thing I wanted to mention earlier when we were talking about Walker’s whole system for evaluating his different options and everything, when he would use that system—so often, I think, Mike and I have certainly encountered this and I think most people who have spent some time in the workforce have encountered this, there are often a lot of, sometimes relatively simple, sometimes not, systems in place that can help you make decisions and solve problems and that sort of thing. A lot of people just don’t use them. The fact that Walker was able to, I’m sure there’s more than he mentioned, but he certainly seemed to have several simple basic kinds of analysis that he would come back to and use, and that’s such a big difference. It’s one thing to know that, and it’s another thing to consistently say, “Oh, I can do this analysis and that can help me out.”
Mike Barrett: [01:35:54] Yeah, absolutely. This reminds me of something I read about the way Elon Musk describes his own thought process. I don’t know if it’s a true statement about how he describes it or not, but it certainly seems to fit. That’s the idea of having these mental models, I think, is the phrase that Musk used, and we certainly have a lot ourselves. One of the books that is, for me, one of the best sources of those models that I ever found is a book called ‘Algorithms to Live By’. I won’t get into the whole book now, but one chapter, for example, is on something called overfitting, which is where you have a certain amount of evidence and you draw extrapolations from that evidence that are actually, maybe, overly precise or whatever that turn out not to be true. Anyway, when I’m in the middle of doing something like that, I’ll be like, “Oh, wait, I’m overfitting right now.” I have that as a set encapsulized mental model that I try to be aware of in decision-making.
Patrick Barrett: [01:36:45] You start to look out for that kind of thing. It’s like starting to get into this situation where, “Oh, yeah, this is familiar and I’m doing that thing that is not so useful.”
Mike Barrett: [01:36:53] Another thing, we’re jumping all over the place on the important things to take away from this interview. Walker referred to a variety of professions where you don’t necessarily need what we would maybe think of as the standard four-year degree and then grad school and maybe some other grad school and all of that stuff, just to name a couple of those: plumbers, electricians—machinists was a thing. I knew that stuff had to be machined, I guess, and I know there’s a movie called ‘The Machinist’, but somehow it never occurred to me it’s a viable thing. This, again, is part of what the podcast is for; it’s to show you show you all of the, or not all, but a wide selection of the available career paths. Each of those things, to be clear, does involve some training; I’m not saying you can just walk off the street and be an untrained machinist. That’s, I presume, that’s not a thing.
Patrick Barrett: [01:37:43] Probably not a big market for those guys.
Mike Barrett: [01:37:46] What the training is, is different from the academic general education, four-year degree thing.
Patrick Barrett: [01:37:54] Sometimes we talk about not going to college as an option, and we almost never mean not doing any kind of training or any kind of preparation like that post-high school. There are vocational-type jobs and there are things like that where you can be trained in a completely nonacademic, non-college environment and have a career, have a salary or whatever.
Mike Barrett: [01:38:15] Those jobs are absolutely mentally stimulating, they’re rewarding. You’re providing incredible services. Imagine your life with no plumbing and electricity.
Patrick Barrett: [01:38:23] No machines.
Mike Barrett: [01:38:25] Or no machines. You need a, which to be clear, a machinist is not someone who makes machines, we’re just being silly. Those professions are absolutely 100% as valid as anything that requires 12 years of schooling or something like that.
Patrick Barrett: [01:38:41] Yeah, absolutely. Another thing, jumping back to the second major thing, I think, that we were discussing earlier where Mike mentioned, maybe you’re not an engineer, you don’t want to start an acoustics-related business. Well, first of all, there’s a lot in this episode that is specific to and relevant to starting any small business, which a lot of people will either do or be involved with one or something at some point.
Mike Barrett: [01:39:03] Or consider it or you’ll have a friend who does it. You can give them some advice, all of that stuff.
Patrick Barrett: [01:39:07] It’ll come up in one way or another, and that is definitely widely applicable in a lot of ways. Over the course of not just this episode, but many episodes, I think one of the major takeaways for our audience will be that you’ll see the commonalities from job to job, and you’ll see this idea that keeps coming up with “employees who care make a big difference.” Which some people, I think, get; they’ve been in an environment where that is rewarded, and some people haven’t—it’s noteworthy. Like, “hey, every single time we talk to somebody who seems to be doing pretty well, this theme has come up of, ‘Be engaged and care about what you’re doing and what the results are,”’ and everything like that. Have a plan for yourself and be working toward that plan. Even if your plan is, “I don’t like this job, but I’m looking for something else,” that can be your plan, if that’s what makes the most sense in your situation.
Mike Barrett: [01:39:54] Again, continuing the theme of jumping around with no real structure—one other thing that I found really interesting here was the way Walker described that a lot of people who are very highly-trained professionals, very successful in their field, put up a lot of buildings and all of those kinds of things successfully—they’re all doing acoustic dampening wrong, which was interesting. That’s a niche, a need that Walker identified, not immediately at the beginning of making the company, but over time realized, “Hey, people are doing this wrong and I can teach them how to do it properly,” and then there’s a widespread need for that thing. It’s important to realize that no matter how well-developed a field is, if there’s a portion of the field that people have not really bothered to investigate or test out or whatever, they’ve just always done it a certain way, it’s not a guarantee, but there’s a decent chance that they might not be doing that thing in the best possible way.
Patrick Barrett: [01:40:55] There’s another thing Walker mentioned when he put up his website; he installed some basic stuff, he looked on YouTube to see how to do that. He set up his thing so people could order that first sound dampening curtain, and he was like, “Oh, I got an order, that’s amazing.” He said, I think that- I forgot what the exact term was, but it was some search term on Google that there’s traffic, but there was nothing there, there’s no good search results. He shot up right there because he was so relevant, and people found him that way. There is- I feel like it’s a natural human inclination to be like, “Oh, well, it must have been great to just be the guy who had that idea when nobody else had it, but I can’t do that now. I can’t just go make a sound dampening curtain because now there’s a market for it and everything, and it’s too crowded. It always- by necessity, if you go back and look at what somebody else did, yeah, when they did it, that was an opportunity. Sometimes, a similar opportunity will exist right now, but sometimes it’ll be a different opportunity. You really want to avoid, if you can, that mindset of, “Well, sure, if I knew that then, then I would have gone and done it. What do I do now? How do I know what to do at this point?” He didn’t know at the time that that was what it was. Also, people go into areas like that where there is already competition and they do it better or they have a different take on it that works well. I remember seeing a quote from, I think, he was some guy who ran the patent office in America in 1905, and he was like, “We’ll probably have to close this down in the next few years because everything has been invented.” It’s important to realize that that is a totally- every age of people living, everybody has thought, “Well I guess that’s all the stuff, I guess that’s all the ideas.” Because, of course, you don’t know what the new ideas are yet because nobody’s had them. It’s really important to try to resist that feeling of, “Oh, well, if I had known to do this or if I could just look into the future.” Walker didn’t look into the future; he had this thing that- this problem that came up right in his own life and he fixed it.
Mike Barrett: [01:42:49] I think we can assume, he’s not here right now when we’re recording this to tell us if we’re right or not, but based on everything else that he shared with us, I think we can assume that if he had tried this sound dampening curtain thing and it hadn’t worked, he was going to do some other thing after that. This wasn’t like, “I’m only going to do this one thing. I have to make it work.”
Patrick Barrett: [01:43:07] “Here’s my one shot.”
Mike Barrett: [01:43:08] It was more that he was the personality that wants to get out there, solve new problems. This is one that he tried, this happened to work, but if it hadn’t worked, we know from the way that he switched jobs in the past and other sorts of behaviors like that, he probably would have gone on to try a different thing until he found something that he was happy with.
Patrick Barrett: [01:43:27] It was interesting, and this connects to another idea I was going to mention, how he said, he knew from a young age that he wanted to start a business. He had no particular interests at all in this topic growing up, but the business thing was what he was interested in. As you said, he didn’t know for sure, he couldn’t have known that this would have succeeded and would have gone somewhere and everything. It’s clear from what he said, as you mentioned, we can extrapolate or remember, basically, because he pretty much directly said this, that he was going to figure out some kind of a business thing to do, this one worked out for him. You look like you want to say something [CROSSTALK 01:44:02].
Mike Barrett: [01:44:02] I do want to say something. Also, along the lines of knowing from an early age that he would like to do something at some point for himself, he mentioned having a mentor. I found it very interesting that even though he had the mentor, and mentorship is certainly a topic that has come up in other episodes and I’m sure will come up again, even though he had that mentor, he was able to say, “Well, her way of doing stuff is not my way of doing things, but it was extremely helpful to get her input anyway.” That’s an important thing to keep in mind, too; if you have someone who you think of formally as a mentor, it doesn’t mean you have to follow every single thing that they have done. You would be wise probably to give strong consideration to what they suggest, if you respect them enough to be their mentee in the first place, then, of course, probably, you want to give some deference to what they say. You don’t have to do everything that a mentor says, and even if you have, not impromptu, what’s the word, an unofficial mentor or an older person or a more experienced person in your life that you think of as someone who you follow as a role model, even if they don’t know it, following them as a role model does- why can’t I talk today?
Patrick Barrett: [01:45:06] Civil servant.
Mike Barrett: [01:45:07] Civil servant, role model … Following them in that kind of way doesn’t obligate you to do every single thing that they do. There might be portions of their approach that you like very much and can benefit from, and other portions where that’s less the case. Totally fine.
Patrick Barrett: [01:45:22] It doesn’t mean that you have to never talk to them again or that they’re useless to you if you find, “Well, they went down this path. It’s not really what I would want to do.” You can get a ton of value and it goes back to the incredible value of this podcast. If you can—
Mike Barrett: [01:45:36] You’re welcome.
Patrick Barrett: [01:45:36] Yeah, again, and again. You’re welcome. You can find information that might not be exactly directly relevant to what you’re doing, but there’s so many commonalities across different human enterprises, any place that involves talking to customers or filling orders or making a website or whatever, these things come up over and over again; being able to deal with people comes up over and over again.
Mike Barrett: [01:45:58] For me, I just have one other domain that I would like to approach in this wrap-up and then I will be done talking, and Patrick, you can—
Patrick Barrett: [01:46:05] I have way more.
Mike Barrett: [01:46:07] This is my last thing. Well, it’s a joint thing, but Walker’s approach to education and specifically- or as a subset of the whole test preparation thing, I found it very interesting and heartbreaking, as I mentioned it during the interview, that he’s a huge reader now, definitely sees the value in reading—which there is a tremendous value in reading—
Patrick Barrett: [01:46:31] There really is.
Mike Barrett: [01:46:32] Of all types. Yes, sees the value now, went to a school that was very demanding and academically rigorous, could not be bothered during his— I want to be clear what’s frustrating about that for me, it’s not him as the student. The student, in my opinion, is the audience of a movie or something. If the movie doesn’t keep your attention, it doesn’t give- that’s the movie’s fault, that’s not your fault. If the-
Patrick Barrett: [01:46:53] To a point. I mean, there are some students—[crosstalk 01:46:54].
Mike Barrett: [01:46:54] To a point, sure. Of course.
Patrick Barrett: [01:46:56] Who could put in a little more effort.
Mike Barrett: [01:46:59] If a curriculum or a set of books to read or something, if that’s not motivating to students—and by and large it’s clear from looking at the way students don’t read books across our whole country and educational system, our system in general, no matter where you are, is not doing a great job of engaging the majority of the people who would benefit from it—it’s just frustrating that here’s this person, obviously, very intelligent, very driven. Even if he wasn’t as goal-oriented in his youth as he is now, who was? That seed of that intellect was, obviously, present in him and somehow, school just failed to put stuff in front of him that he would be motivated by and interested to learn. I said that for a couple of reasons; one of the big things is if you find yourself as a student now thinking, “Oh, God, why do I have to read Jane Eyre and all this stuff that doesn’t appeal to me?” That doesn’t mean that all of literature is not worth pursuing. There’s something out there for you, I promise. This is just a personal thing, whether it’s certain types of poems, plays, web novel. I don’t care what it is, there’s stuff out there. The fact that the high school has not successfully put that in front of you doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Patrick Barrett: [01:48:12] I have a deeper, more important response but I wanted to mention, it reminds me for a moment in the Simpsons where Marge says to Homer that they should go to a bookstore, and Homer says, “We already have a book,” which is one of the funniest moments I’ve ever seen. Yeah, there is that mentality like, “Oh, well, I didn’t like this book or these three books in a row, so I’m just not into this.
Mike Barrett: [01:48:31] If you’re a teacher listening to this, please take it to heart, honestly. I know that in most cases you have a set of books that you have to read, it’s determined by the county or the department or whatever. It’s a reminder that there are very intelligent minds sitting in your classroom who are desperate to be entertained and instructed, guided. Literature is one of the best ways to do that, and we are just falling flat, left, right and center on that.
Patrick Barrett: [01:48:58] I think when I have observed this, and Walker’s definitely not the first person that I’ve talked to who has felt this way, and I have loved to read from a young age. I definitely did a lot less reading for pleasure in high school.
Mike Barrett: [01:49:10] I got super good at high school, in high school, at having, pretended- pretending to have— Pretending- man today is rough for me.
Patrick Barrett: [01:49:18] Pretending to have read.
Mike Barrett: [01:49:19] Thank you very much. That’s exactly what I was trying to say.
Patrick Barrett: [01:49:23] It’s another interesting life skill that you pick up, that’s not what’s intended. I definitely know a number of people who became way more interested in reading post-education, basically, which is very unfortunate.
Mike Barrett: [01:49:35] It has a lot to do with once you can read the stuff that you want to read or that you feel you need to read, of course you’re interested. Why would you not be?
Patrick Barrett: [01:49:42] I think that to me, and this gets to a deeper issue with education in general, that I’m sure will come up again and again in this podcast.
Mike Barrett: [01:49:51] I think we should try to solve the whole thing right now. [CROSSTALK 01:49:53].
Patrick Barrett: [01:49:53] OK, sure.
Mike Barrett: [01:49:53] No, I’m kidding.
Patrick Barrett: [01:49:54] I have seven hours. I think that for a lot of people, this shift that happens- there’s going to be people who are interested in literature anyway, and maybe they’ll enjoy it—middle school, high school—without a ton of extra effort. Even if the curriculum—which may or may not be the teacher’s fault, as you pointed out, a lot of teachers are severely limited with what they’re allowed to even do. They’re told from on high, “This is what we’re reading, and this is what we’re doing, and best of luck to you,” which is a whole other issue.
Mike Barrett: [01:50:22] I don’t think anyone wishes them luck. At this point, it’s hard to believe that anyone cares. That’s very cynical, but that’s my takeaway.
Patrick Barrett: [01:50:33] “Here’s what we’re doing. Good luck. I didn’t mean that last part.” Yeah. I think the switch that happens afterward is realizing a connection between your actual life and what you’re studying. There’s this unfortunate thing that I think goes back a long way where the school experience for many, many people became just a separate idea because, if you look at it as I would like to, like a video game or something where you’re training up in the early stages to get your skills leveled up or better, so you can go out there and do stuff better, which is what school can be, and should be, and sometimes is, and then, sometimes isn’t. That’s way more engaging to think, “Oh, if I get better at math then nobody can lie to me about the money I’m supposed to be getting …”
Mike Barrett: [01:51:19] Right, or that touches on a concept that I hear frequently, and I understand where it comes from. It might sound like I would even agree with it based on what I’ve just said, but I don’t, which is when people say, “Well, why am I learning trigonometry? I’m never going to have to build triangles in real life,” which is true, you aren’t.
Patrick Barrett: [01:51:35] Walker said at one point, he was like, “Oh, there’s this pretty advanced formula I use all the time.” He’s like, “It actually …” Here’s the shocking twist at the end: “I actually use that math that I learned.”
Mike Barrett: [01:51:44] Yeah. I would draw a distinction between specific mathematical, scientific, historical facts that you’re probably never going to need to know, in terms of a life, or death, or work-oriented situation. You’re never going to need to know exactly what Napoleon Bonaparte did or exactly what SOHCAHTOA means, and how it was derived. Probably-
Patrick Barrett: [01:52:04] Well, you might.
Mike Barrett: [01:52:05] You might, but probably, it can be argued that any individual student, if you look at the whole set of facts that they learned in school, 80 percent of that probably will never come up again in their life. That is 100-percent true. The way of thinking about it is what is being modeled there, and that’s what’s worth learning. Yes, you’ll never learn … You’ll probably never use this specific formula again because you’ll never need to calculate the area of a circle or something, but the idea of formulaic thinking is what you learn; that kind of thing. Maybe you could argue, when we talk about literature and how people are being forced to read books that they don’t like, maybe being able to fake your way through having read something, maybe that is the valuable skill. I hope that that’s not the goal, but there are works of literature that do speak directly to people and are directly relevant. Game of Thrones is a fantastic example. Everyone I know who’s read Game of Thrones, there’s someone or something somewhere in there that they’re like, “Oh, even though this is a fake thing set with dragons and medieval whatever, this relationship between these two people is heavily similar to my relationship like this, or this other thing that I observed and really helps me think about it.” You could be doing that with literature, and we aren’t.
Patrick Barrett: [01:53:13] But specify “read,” and not watched, because we’re not endorsing any aspect of the watching experience of Game of Thrones.
Mike Barrett: [01:53:18] Oh, yeah.
Patrick Barrett: [01:53:19] I’m not. I don’t want to be on record saying anything positive about [crosstalk 01:53:21]
Mike Barrett: [01:53:21] Yeah, no, that’s very true. I would like to point out—there’s no way to prove it—I was early on that. Several seasons in, I was like, “They are losing—this is not going to end well!”
Patrick Barrett: [01:53:30] That’s a whole other podcast.
Mike Barrett: [01:53:33] I can show you my group texts from the time.
Patrick Barrett: [01:53:36] Oh, please do!
Mike Barrett: [01:53:37] I was super popular about that.
Patrick Barrett: [01:53:40] Do that.
Mike Barrett: [01:53:40] Anyway, that was one thing … He’s now a voracious reader, clearly an organized thinker, and for whatever reason, that was just a total miss for him in high school. I know from having worked with lots and lots of kids, gone to lots and lots of conferences, and talked to lots of teachers about this, that is a very common thing and it’s just frustrating. That’s one thing. The other thing I wanted to say about him, academically, which I found very interesting, I think he’s the first person I’ve spoken to in a long time who welcomed the opportunity to take practice tests and viewed it as, “Oh, this is a thing—” I don’t know if he said this specifically or if I just took it away, but he seemed to view it a fun; like playing a video game, trying to get your score up.
Patrick Barrett: [01:54:21] Skill-building.
Mike Barrett: [01:54:22] Skill-building, exactly. That’s a great way to look at it, that’s how Patrick and I look at it, for sure. If you can come to look at it that way. There’s certainly tons of structure and patterns, and for all of my complaints that I just had about education, I’m actually not as much against standardized testing as most people are, because I know that a standardized test is an opportunity to use mental models and very disciplined thinking, prioritizing things. It actually is, if you approach it in the way that I recommend you approach it, it is actually a very good way to develop a lot of useful life skills.
Patrick Barrett: [01:54:59] Problem solving and—
Mike Barrett: [01:55:00] Problem solving, legitimately, yes. Problem solving. The way that he was like, “I used to love taking practice tests,” that’s awesome. If you can come to have that viewpoint of- gamify it in your head, like, “Okay, the last time I tried ten questions, I missed seven of them. Now, I understand why I did that, and now I’m only missing four,” which if you don’t know this, it’s because the questions repeat themselves over and over again. If you’re missing seven questions, it doesn’t mean you don’t know seven things. It probably means you don’t know one or two things that are asked about seven times. I shouldn’t even say knowing, it’s a skill that you’re missing, that gets asked about repeatedly. Anyway, it was nice to hear that, and if you’re listening to this, there’s a very good chance you will eventually take some kind of standardized test; I would strongly advise you to try to have that mindset going into the practice if you can, of, “Oh, this is fun and it’s a way for me to show that I am acquiring a set of skills.” Those skills are honestly often useful, well beyond testing if you acquire them correctly.
Patrick Barrett: [01:55:57] It makes me think, when you describe that, the mindset about practice tests, it’s almost like; I used to watch, I think this show might still be on, American Ninja Warrior, which is just this big crazy obstacle course. It’s so cool looking and I just want to try it so bad. It was originally- there’s multiple versions of the show. I don’t know what it was, but I remember thinking, “I’d love to go do that.” I don’t know if they do this or not, but say you were going to go on American Ninja Warrior tomorrow and you were going to go on that obstacle course and you’ve seen it on TV, but you haven’t had a chance to do it. The practice test is almost like somebody left the door unlocked the night before, and it’s like “look, you can just come in here and check all this stuff out now.” You can see this is a real course and like a practice test, these are real practice tests. You can see what it’s like ahead of time. Imagine, obviously, that’s going to be super helpful if you could sneak into the facility, so to speak, have it all laid out for you. See exactly everything that’s going to be on there; The SAT won’t be word for word what’s going to be on there, but it’s all the same standardized concepts that will appear and once you know what those concepts are and how to look for them and everything, which, of course, is how we teach our approach to test preparation, it’s a lot like that. It’s like that feeling, of, “Wow, I can— This is an important thing. Even if I don’t see the lifelong, skill-building value of it, I know that the score, at least, is important for pretty much everybody. This is an important thing and I can have this advantage. This is so valuable to have these real practice tests ahead of time.” Walker obviously appreciated that, which is cool.
Mike Barrett: [01:57:23] That, actually, leads me to one last thing on the topic of standardized testing, which is not something I planned to be speaking about in this outro, but here we are. When I was just now talking about taking practice tests, we both were talking about taking practice tests. I was, in my mind, the two ways to approach it were, you’re taking them, and you don’t like it, or you’re taking them, and you try to like it. That’s because we’re so enmeshed in taking standardized tests effectively that in our minds we’re like, “Of course, you’re going to take some practice tests.” I should point out, there’s the majority of people who take the SAT or the ACT, or subject tests or any of those kinds of things, the AP, IB tests, whatever. The majority of them never actually take a practice test, an official practice test made by the same company that’s making the test that you’re going to take on test day; so, the College Board or ACT, Inc. or whatever. Most test takers never do that. Even if you don’t end up using any of our test preparation products or methods or whatever, which of course is totally fine, do yourself a favor and definitely take a practice test. You should absolutely take one. Again. I’m just assuming you’re going to, but that’s not a valid assumption. Most people don’t, so you should take one. Then when you take it, try to have fun. Those are the two things together.
Patrick Barrett: [01:58:35] Try to have fun might be a tall order but try to see the value in it. If you can have fun, great. A lot of people can’t, but try to recognize the value of working with it. Obviously, we write test preparation materials. We do that and we certainly we recommend them. We wrote them because we think that they’re really good and helpful.
Mike Barrett: [01:58:53] It would be funny to have written them and be like, “Well, yeah, but don’t use ours.”
Patrick Barrett: [01:58:56] I wouldn’t— “Be smart about it.”
Mike Barrett: [01:58:58] I just spent years writing this thing and it’s hundreds of pages long, and it crashed my computer many, many times. Don’t …
Patrick Barrett: [01:59:04] Hundreds of thousands of words, many sleepless nights. We, obviously, very strongly recommend our own materials, we, we’re very proud of them. Even more than using our materials, it’s more important to use practice tests. If somebody said “I can only do one or the other,” we would definitely say practice tests are a must.
Mike Barrett: [01:59:18] Practice tests from a real source, actual practice tests. Because, without getting too far into it, those are the things that are guaranteed to follow the same patterns, constraints or whatever as the test on test day.
Patrick Barrett: [01:59:28] It’s like breaking into the wrong obstacle course facility and preparing for the wrong obstacles.
Mike Barrett: [01:59:33] If you use the practice test from another source [crosstalk 01:59:33].
Patrick Barrett: [01:59:35] That analogy, yeah. I have a million things to say, not a million, but I have a few, I can—
Mike Barrett: [01:59:40] This is fun. It’s just so long.
Patrick Barrett: [01:59:42] I know.
Mike Barrett: [01:59:42] Anyway, it’s my fault.
Patrick Barrett: [01:59:43] I’ll try to rattle them off a little bit, but I think they’re very interesting so I’ll jump into it.
Mike Barrett: [01:59:46] Hit me.
Patrick Barrett: [01:59:46] All right, here it comes. Rapid fire. It was very interesting when he described that he and his friends were trying to come up with business ideas, and his, I think, girlfriend at the time was studying upstairs. She was like, “Oh, it’s so loud out there. I can hear you, now I can’t—” It seems like a scene in a movie or a made-up thing; that was actually what they ended up doing, was this problem that came up right in the middle of their actual lives. So often, that is what happens with a business or a new idea or something like that, is you are living in that problem. You know what the problem is, and you realize that it’s real and it’s not a guarantee that anything you try with that beginning is going to be successful, but it’s a logical place to start, and it’s where a lot of people start.
Mike Barrett: [02:00:26] There’s an old proverb related to that, which is, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” When I was a kid, I’m just remembering, we used to learn proverbs in school. I don’t mean- not religious proverbs, but sayings.
Patrick Barrett: [02:00:37] Aphorisms?
Mike Barrett: [02:00:37] Yeah. They are also mental models, a little bit. Not exactly. but if you’re trying to think of a problem to solve, well what are the problems that you have? Those are the ones that need solving.
Patrick Barrett: [02:00:48] That was very interesting. Again, sounds like made up, but is not. I think you’ll find if you are engaged with some goal, whether it’s starting your own business or having a certain job, that you will find yourself in situations like that. I feel like I have, where I’m like, “Oh, this almost seems scripted.” These things are falling together in a way that I wouldn’t have predicted or foreseen or aimed for in the beginning. It was more that you’re just try to make the next decision you can, that’s the best decision that makes sense to you at the time. Then you’ll find yourself saying, “Oh, this fell together in an interesting way.” I love the story of when he realized- I think it was when he was making the, maybe, the prototype for that curtain that his mom taught him how to sew. It’s a cool thing. Again, he didn’t have an interest in sewing or acoustics or whatever, it was, “I want to have a business, I want to be in that world. This is the path in front of me. I’m going to learn this skill that I never would have thought I was going to learn otherwise.” You sit down and you do it, and it was awesome that he had his mom there. I’m sure that he could also have learned from YouTube. He said YouTube teaches him almost everything, so even if he didn’t have a close family relative who could teach it to him, he still could have gotten there. That’s a really cool example of, “Here’s the situation I’m in. I didn’t expect to need to use the sewing machine, but I’m going to figure it out.”
Mike Barrett: [02:02:02] Along those lines, too, I like his quote about how because of his classes in product design and those kinds of things, he just knew already that everything can be reverse engineered and taken apart. It’s true, I think his phrase was “you can make anything.” Which is true if you have the materials..
Patrick Barrett: [02:02:19] Somebody made it [crosstalk 02:02:20].
Mike Barrett: [02:02:20] That has been— Right, someone has made it, there’s no magic, whatever. There’s no limitation in theory to the things that you can make, and certainly that would include prototypes for curtains. You can just make one even if you don’t know how.
Patrick Barrett: [02:02:33] Another cool thing to think about with that is, curtains have existed, I’m not a curtain historian, but for a long time. You might think. “Oh, how many different new kinds of curtains are there?” This thing that started out was—
Mike Barrett: [02:02:45] I know we had them when I was a kid, so it’s at least forty years of curtains.
Patrick Barrett: [02:02:51] There could still be, obviously, a thing on Google that there’s no traffic for because somebody hasn’t come up with a good way to do this. I think he said one of them that somebody else made was a sheet that you nailed into the wall or something?
Mike Barrett: [02:03:01] I just had an idea; you feel free to steal this. What about sound amplifying curtains? What about curtains that make it unbearably loud in whatever room you’re in? What about that? That’s a thing. Well, it’s not a thing, but it could be a thing.
Patrick Barrett: [02:03:14] We’ll get back to and see how Mike’s [crosstalk 02:03:13].
Mike Barrett: [02:03:16] That was silly and stupid, obviously, but it does actually point out a very valuable mental model. This is the following thing, is a very serious thing that people genuinely discuss and use. This mental model is, “What if I did exactly the opposite?” Like, “Okay, the advice is to do X, what if I did exactly the opposite of X, what would happen?” It doesn’t mean you should do the opposite of X, but it often will lead to interesting insights, either about new things you could do or about why it is that everyone doesn’t do those things, but it’s useful to know. Stupid, but sound-dampening curtain, “Okay, that’s a thing. What about a sound-amplifying curtain, or a light-dampening curtain, or a sound-dampening other thing?”. You know what I mean, you can just spin out ideas from an existing idea using these mental models.
Patrick Barrett: [02:04:00] I remember I was watching an interview, I think, with a guy who started Expedia or Travelocity, one of those early sites. This was back in the day when those were new. It was a new idea; this is the first big one of those. This was the guy, I think, who had started it or one of the two guys or something, one of two people behind it from the very beginning. He was talking about brainstorming sessions, and they talked about how they would start with something that was completely not doable, like, “This would be the best possible thing.” I think he described, it was like if you were to get fast food, the model they started with was, the best thing would be if you just drove your car by it. They had a cannon and they fired it into your open car window as you were driving by.
Mike Barrett: [02:04:37] You never had to stop?
Patrick Barrett: [02:04:38] Yeah, and so they do your order already or whatever, and they’re like, “Okay, that can’t happen, but let’s work back from that.” It’s not uncommon to start with something that’s totally unreasonable or totally unhelpful or something. If you’re having a mental block and you stop somewhere, then it means that the way you’re thinking about it, is not effective, so just try a different thing. It takes a few minutes, maybe, and you might have something [crosstalk 02:04:57].
Mike Barrett: [02:04:57] If memory serves, because I saw that, too, I think that was the CEO or founder or something of Priceline.
Patrick Barrett: [02:05:02] Priceline sounds right.
Mike Barrett: [02:05:03] He also, they would do another exercise in their meetings, which was they had a guy or person whose job was just to think of what can we do now that wasn’t possible last time we had this meeting? How has technology changed, or the laws have changed. What’s a thing, last time we talked about this, we didn’t think we could do it and now we can do it? Doesn’t mean you’re going to do it, but what are the new parameters in which we’re operating? That, again, is just a mental model. What’s the thing I can do now that I couldn’t do five years ago?
Patrick Barrett: [02:05:28] So many blocks for new and useful ideas are assumptions that people are making about the limitations or needs or anything like that. The more you can be aware of what assumptions are we making that might not be valid or what assumption has changed since last time, that’s going to make a difference.
Mike Barrett: [02:05:43] A related concept to this, by the way, and not to stray too far into this, because this could be the subject of its own, not just podcast episode, but series of podcasts. A related concept for this that you hear a lot as a buzzword now is, systems thinking, which is thinking about things, in terms of systems. Which, by the way, is also how we approach standardized tests; we were doing it before people popularized the phrase systems thinking, but that’s that. Also, reasoning from first principles is a phrase that you hear often. It’s the same thing; what are the bare minimum constraints, the laws of physics, the actual laws? What are the things I can’t do and what are the things I can do and must do and want to achieve and so on, and how does all of that play together without assuming that everybody else’s way of thinking about this is necessarily valid? How would I get from the very bare bones of the problem and the constraints to my own solution?
Patrick Barrett: [02:06:33] Another thing I wanted to mention was, it’s cool that he had this business concept and then he went on YouTube and learned HTML, CSS, Java, PHP, whatever, to set up his own WordPress site. To be clear, he didn’t become a master of any of those things, but in the path of getting where he wanted and making his own site, he encountered these things; you go online—this is the flip side of what we were talking about earlier, about “I wish I could have known that ahead of time. I wish I could have had that foresight that nobody can really have.” It’s a very human thing to use that as an excuse. Your brain, a lot of times, there’s a part of anybody’s brain that wants to be lazy or allow you to not make that effort.
Mike Barrett: [02:07:13] I still, very frequently, wish I had bought Bitcoin back when that was a—
Patrick Barrett: [02:07:17] The flip side of that is, we all, fortunately, live at a time where we have YouTube. You can learn so much, not even in your room, at a park, anywhere. Literally anywhere if you have a smartphone or if you don’t, you can go to a library and stream things. There is so much information available in a way that was not even true, even ten years ago, let alone fifty years ago. The fact, everything about living in our age is not an advantage, but this is an enormous advantage for people who will use it and be aware of it.
Mike Barrett: [02:07:45] I would add to that, and this is partially for reasons that we have encountered personally. Not everything that’s on YouTube is reliable. Not everything that’s out there in the Internet is something you should definitely follow a 100%, but it’s a perspective on a problem. For some problems, for example, if you have a broken dishwasher, this happened to me when we were traveling a few months ago, the dishwasher in our Airbnb broke. I don’t know anything about dishwashers, but I know how to Google the name of the dishwasher, where the problem is, and you find some YouTube videos. In that limited situation, people are taking the dishwasher apart. I can follow step by step; I can see that this thing is blocking this other thing. You have that end of the spectrum where YouTube or any tutorial is pretty, definitely dead-on. At the other end of the spectrum, things like parenting, or what’s the best diet to follow? Whatever, there, it’s a little bit less obvious that a certain person is definitely correct. Just the fact that you have access to all of these different takes on it and you can weigh for yourself, “Does this seem to fit with what I’m experiencing? Does it look like this person—does it sound this person has really thought this through? Is what they’re saying coherent or whatever?” It’s incredible that you can do that now across such a wide variety of disciplines and problems that didn’t exist before.
Patrick Barrett: [02:08:56] It’s this, in my experience, these resources are most useful for this kind of commodity, skills information where it’s, “How do I change this black from blue to green on my website or how do I make this font bigger?”
Mike Barrett: [02:09:07] Although even that, there’s dozens of ways to do, but you can see that there’s this—
Patrick Barrett: [02:09:12] This guy has- this YouTuber. What is the noun? Has 20,000 views on this video and lots of good comments, and it’s a pretty straightforward thing that I could— We’re not saying, “Hey, take your life savings and invest in something that some person in a YouTube video tells you to do.” It’s not an infallible resource, but in this scenario, if I want to install WordPress, if I want to do certain specific skills, use a sewing machine, fix a dishwasher, as you said. My uncle fixes a lot of cars and he has told me that almost anything that you do with a car, you can find a YouTube video that’s specifically that part in that car. He uses it all the time, and he’s fixed a ton of stuff. It’s not a perfect resource, we don’t endorse it fully, with no qualifications or anything. Obviously, Walker made really great use of that.
Mike Barrett: [02:10:02] I’d like to jump in with a question. Is this the first episode for which our post-episode discussion is longer than the episode?
Patrick Barrett: [02:10:08] We’re getting there.
Mike Barrett: [02:10:09] Okay, good.
Mike Barrett: [02:10:09] Cool. Super quickly- oh, another huge, huge thing that I did definitely want to mention, and maybe I’ll try to wrap it up.
Mike Barrett: [02:10:16] No, I do think we should talk about it. It’s as much, it’s a—
Patrick Barrett: [02:10:19] No, I understand.
Mike Barrett: [02:10:20] It’s a joint fault of both of ours. We like to talk about these things.
Patrick Barrett: [02:10:24] We do.
Mike Barrett: [02:10:24] I just find it amusing, that’s all.
Patrick Barrett: [02:10:26] There’s so much to analyze. This is the other side of the, “I wish I could have known to make that thing at that time,” mentality. This is at least a three-sided issue. His business pivoted, I think, a few years ago from selling to consumers, this original product, which he said did well. Then he kept getting calls from people who said, “Oh, my neighbors are loud and what can I do about that?” Walker was like, “Well, as far as I know nothing. At this point, the building has been built. There’s a limit to what you can really do.” He could have and a lot of people would have just thought, “I get these calls from people, but they’re not my audience. They’re not my customers.” Instead, he got it enough that he pivoted, he looked into it. He realized that he could get in with the people building the buildings in the first place. That was a whole new direction for his business. On the one hand, sure, he got that initial situation where he found that his product pages ranked well in Google because there was limited competition, and he was really- he found an untapped market. That’s true, but it seems like the bulk of- or from what he said, the bulk of what his business is now, isn’t even that; that was an inroad to this other thing that he discovered, and it was on him to recognize that and make that change and do it well, and read all the textbooks, as he said, get the information and everything, and take advantage of that.
Mike Barrett: [02:11:44] We touched on it briefly earlier, but that distinction between a B2C business and a B2B business. I’m mentioning this because I’m assuming most of our audience will not be familiar with that, and it’s actually very important. B2C is the business sells to customers; end-user people, just the average, individual people operating as people. Versus a B2C business is one that sells- sorry, B2B excuse me, is one that sells to other businesses. A classic example would be a grocery store is a B2C business; the customers come in and they buy fruits, vegetables, whatever, but the suppliers who sell the vegetables to the grocery store, those are B2B businesses. Their clients are other businesses. It might not sound like that’s a huge difference if you’re not familiar with business and work in general, but it is actually a very big difference. From an office life standpoint, an employee standpoint, it’s one thing to sell, for example, to other businesses, and one thing to sell to customers. It’s one thing to serve businesses and one thing to serve customers. If you think about the show, The Office; that was a B2B company. That was a paper company that sold paper to other companies. Obviously, it was a comedic take on all of that, but in the same way that those people, those characters in that show, they weren’t thinking, “how can I appeal to a wide audience of people who might want to buy paper?” They were specifically thinking, “well, here’s this one other company that might want to buy the paper, and what do they-?” It’s just a very different way of thinking about stuff.
Patrick Barrett: [02:13:15] Fewer leads that are much bigger, generally.
Mike Barrett: [02:13:18] The way the business is done, all of those kinds of types of personalities that succeed in those two environments, all that stuff is generally very different. It might not sound like going from selling to individuals, buying on the Internet to a big construction company, so it might not sound like a giant change, if you’re not familiar with how those things work, it is actually a huge change. It’s just a completely different viewpoint in terms of how you are going to deliver what you deliver and the types of legalities and just all of the other practical considerations that go with it. It’s very different.
Patrick Barrett: [02:13:50] There’s just so much, but—
Mike Barrett: [02:13:53] Well, at this point, I think [crosstalk 02:13:54], and I’m as guilty that we’re just repeating everything that you already said. It was very useful. How about that? Don’t even listen to us talk anymore. Just go back and listen to it again.
Patrick Barrett: [02:14:02] Yeah, slow mo.
Mike Barrett: [02:14:03] Repeatedly.
Patrick Barrett: [02:14:04] Anyway, super, super interesting, starting a business engineering stuff, school stuff, the NASA thing which we didn’t talk about, a little bit with the whole- the way that it worked, which was unexpected.
Mike Barrett: [02:14:15] Which was, “Don’t work too hard on it.” No, I should add, I know other people who work for NASA, either as a contractor or as an employee. They are hardworking people, I don’t want to suggest that [Laughing] but in his particular, and then the limited—
Patrick Barrett: [02:14:28] The specific time that he was there was [crosstalk 02:14:31] and funding was low, and everything was scarce.
Mike Barrett: [02:14:34] His very specific boss, and also his specific personality. He is somebody who, for sure, you can tell who is going to work as hard as possible. Maybe that boss wasn’t going to everybody saying, “Hey, stop working so hard,” maybe it was just this one employee who’s doing five people’s jobs or whatever. “You specifically, please stop working so hard.”
Patrick Barrett: [02:14:50] Walker said he was young, he was out of school, had a fire in his belly or whatever, and he just really wanted to get going on something, and that’s just wasn’t the environment where he [crosstalk 02:14:57].
Mike Barrett: [02:14:57] I don’t want to make it sound like we’re looking down on all of NASA or all of government contractor, whether- it’s not bad at all. It’s just this one specific—
Patrick Barrett: [02:15:03] This story in particular. Yes. Thank you, Walker. That was super enlightening. You could tell that Mike and I are just holding ourselves back from talking for another forty minutes about this.
Mike Barrett: [02:15:18] I almost find it impossible to believe that anyone is still listening, and so I feel like now would be a time, if you had something to get off your chest you didn’t want anybody to hear, now would be the time to say it. Oh, well, I can’t think of anything. My life’s an open book. It is.
Patrick Barrett: [02:15:34] That’s all for now. If you like the show, please take a moment to rate and review us on iTunes or the podcast player of your choice. Of course, if you want to hear more episodes, remember to subscribe as well. You can find our “SAT Prep Black Book” and “ACT Prep Black Book” on Amazon.com, and you can find our online video courses on QuestPrep.com. Please tune in for our next episode coming up in a couple of weeks, and in the meantime, feel free to reach out to us on our Quest Prep Facebook page or the Quest Prep YouTube channel.
Mike Barrett: [02:16:06] This episode was hosted by myself, Mike Barrett, and my brother Patrick Barrett. Our guest was Walker Peek. Every musical element was created and performed by Parker Haile Hastings. All the planets in our solar system could fit between the Earth and the moon with room to spare. Here’s that special segment we promised you on the differences between the SAT and the ACT.
Mike Barrett: [02:16:32] Here’s that special segment we promised you on the differences between the SAT and the ACT. Now, on the surface, there are clearly some major differences between the SAT and the ACT. The most obvious one for most people is that the ACT includes something that it calls a science section, while the SAT does not include something that it calls a science section. Also, ACT math questions have five answer choices, while the rest of the questions and all of the multiple choice SAT questions have four answer choices. Another superficial difference is that the SAT math section includes a set of questions where you have to grid in your answer instead of picking from a set of provided choices. And the tests also have different numbers of questions and different time limits for each section, and the sections are presented in different orders. It’s true that if you just take things at face value, the two tests might seem different, but lots of things in life should not be taken at face value and this is one of them.
[02:17:19] The truth is that those differences on the surface don’t actually have any real effect at all on the best way to approach either test. When you understand how the individual questions on both tests are written, you see that they’re actually highly similar. Most of the techniques that work on one test will also work almost exactly as well on the other test. This applies even to some things that really seem like they would only be valid for one test or the other.
[02:17:40] For example, let’s talk science. Doing well on the ACT science section, actually, requires much less scientific knowledge than most people would think. The ACT science section mostly consists of reading comprehension questions related to passages about scientific studies and experiments. You don’t need to know obscure scientific concepts to answer any of those questions. The passages on the science section contain text and figures that you use to answer the questions, and in most cases you won’t have any prior experience with the topics being discussed in a particular passage. Just as you normally wouldn’t have any prior experience with the topic of a passage on the reading or the English sections of the ACT.
[02:18:16] The ACT science section is, actually, primarily, a test of your ability to read text and figures carefully and not a test of how much science you already know when you walk in the door. Some questions will require simple estimation or math knowledge, like knowing that a 100 times 10 is 1000, and a handful of questions do require basic scientific knowledge like knowing that H2O is the chemical formula for water, something along those lines. The key skill that will be the deciding factor on almost every question on the ACT science section is the ability to read figures and texts carefully.
[02:18:47] That includes noticing things like the labels on a diagram or the particular units in a measurement, stuff like that. It turns out that those key skills are also used on the SAT to answer questions that rely on data and figures that appear on the SAT. It’s just that the SAT asks fewer questions about each chart or a graph that appears on the SAT, and the SAT inserts those kinds of data-based questions in each section of the test, rather than lumping them all together and having a separate section that it calls a science section. If you are a well-trained test taker and you know how to analyze and deconstruct these kinds of questions by using your close reading skills, your knowledge of answer choice patterns and so on, then you can take that exact same skill set and apply it perfectly well to the relevant questions on either test.
[02:19:29] It’s not like the ACT actually rewards you for being a good high school science student, which is what most people mistakenly think the ACT science section is for. Both tests, instead, reward you for reading graphs and passages and answer choices very carefully. Again, even though the tests seem a bit different on the surface, the majority of individual questions that could appear on an official SAT could also appear on an official ACT and vice versa.
[02:19:54] Now, it’s true that there are some other small differences besides the ones that I’ve already mentioned. For example, there are a few specific math or grammar concepts that might appear on one test but don’t appear on the other, but there aren’t a ton of those kinds of concepts in the first place, and none of them are extremely advanced. Most test takers don’t even notice that some ideas appear only on one test and not on the other. In fact, honestly, that’s the kind of thing you really only notice by being completely obsessed with breaking down standardized tests, for some reason, like we are. In terms of the fundamental strategies that you should be using on test day, and in terms of the task of approaching either test on a question-by-question basis in the most effective and efficient way possible, the two tests are very, very similar.
[02:20:36] For example, the single most important skill on all sections of both tests is reading carefully. The math sections on both tests mostly rely on relatively basic concepts presented in unusual ways. Even the ACT science section, as we just saw, is a lot like a reading section on either test with some math and diagrams thrown in, along with a very little bit of basic scientific knowledge that comes up on a few questions. Techniques like the vertical scan and advanced back-solving still apply extremely well to both tests, and the wrong answer patterns for similar questions on both tests are often identical. Even though the tests have different time constraints, the time management process for deciding which question to work on next, still applies equally well across both tests.
[02:21:18] Of course, it’s still true that if you know how to answer each question in the most efficient way possible, then you’ll find that you have more than enough time to answer each question with total confidence without rushing on either test. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea by now; the tests just aren’t, actually, that different when you know how they really work, and when you think about them on a question-by-question basis, which is how a trained test-taker should be thinking of any test.
[02:21:41] Now, if you’re not familiar with the way that we approach standardized tests, then you may be wondering why the SAT and the ACT ended up being so similar. The basic reason without going into too many details, is that they’re actually both designed to accomplish the same task. They both need to provide a standardized, reliable, consistent measure of the performance of a huge group of college applicants year after year after year. Since they must accomplish the same goal and they’re bound by the same constraints in terms of things like time and scale and so on, the result is they’re a lot alike.
[02:22:11] At this point you might be thinking to yourself that you know some test takers who did much better on one test than on the other one, and how can that be possible if everything that I’m saying is true? Well, that is definitely a real thing. There definitely are people who just naturally prefer the SAT over the ACT, or the other way around, the ACT over the SAT, depending on the person. Scores do, sometimes, reflect those preferences. In my experience, a lot of those preferences and performance differences are just mental. A student is told by a teacher or a guidance counselor or somebody that one of the tests will probably be easier for that particular student, then that allows the student to be more relaxed when taking the test, or the other way around, makes them more nervous when they take the other one.
[02:22:51] It does, genuinely, seem easier or harder because the test taker is more or less nervous, based on the advice that they were given by somebody else. It’s also true that some test takers are more affected by things like differences in time limits or the number of answer choices on a question or things like that. These little differences in the structure, or timing and some question sub-types and things like that might contribute to the scoring differences that some test takers experience, especially if they’re untrained test takers who don’t really realize what the tests are actually rewarding. For most test takers, especially for trained test takers, there’s no way to predict whether you’ll do better on the SAT or the ACT until you try them both, because, again, they’re highly similar with just a few superficial differences.
[02:23:30] Some people score at a higher percentile on the SAT and some people score at a higher percentile on the ACT. Luckily, trying them both does not mean that you have to do twice as much prep work, because the same fundamental techniques and concepts, say it with me, cover the vast majority of questions on both tests. The differences between what’s allowed to appear on some questions on the two tests are so minor that most test takers never even realize them.
[02:23:53] All of this is a big part of the reason why we offer our SAT and ACT video courses as a bundle. If you sign up for either course, then you automatically get unlimited lifetime access to both courses. That way, you can be fully prepared for whichever test you eventually decide to take, or maybe you’ll decide to try both. Remember that colleges, for their part, don’t care at all which of these two tests you take. Also, remember that our video course comes with the best guarantee in test prep, which is a 30-day, no-questions asked 100% money back guarantee. If you try the videos and you don’t like them, we don’t want to keep your money.
[02:24:26] Our video course costs significantly less than most other options out there. In fact, lifetime access to both the SAT and the ACT courses together is less than the cost of fifteen minutes of phone tutoring with me. For more on our books and video courses, head over to QuestPrep.com or search for the “SAT Prep Black Book” and the “ACT Prep Black Book” on Amazon.com. Thanks.