Robert Cruess is an original Founder and the President of ZeroNox. Mr. Cruess is an Entrepreneur and Businessman, having obtained a Business degree from the Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2009, and also holds a Real Estate License and Mortgage License. Mr. Cruess’ experience and expertise include starting and running several businesses, sales, product development, real estate, loans, youth outreach, and community growth. Mr. Cruess’ Business contributions include patents for products he has designed, starting multiple business’, and doing Multi-Million Dollars in Real Estate transactions through his Real Estate Investment Companies: Rico Property Group, Invia Investments, and HCS Investments. Mr. Cruess was born in Spokane, Washington but has lived most of his life in Porterville, California and the San Joaquin Valley, is married and enjoys time with his wife and 5 children, volunteering in the local community, and is an avid sports fan.
Alex is the co-founder of Ike Media and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Alex is the host of the top rated Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Box, Milwaukee Brewers and Wisconsin Badges Podcast on the Apple Podcast Platform. He loves producing original music with, you can find that at Ike Music on Spotify and currently resides in Oslo Norway, where he has been working to expand the influence of the Ike brand internationally.
How has moving to Norway added value to the IKE brand and impacted you as an individual?
Well, it's been so big for the international presence of Ike. So Ike, we've always had this goal of creating an international brand. That is something that we strategically thought about from the beginning when we set up the brand and how do you make that a reality, right. So, the first step actually was, when I was in school at Madison, I was invited to an international sports conference in Switzerland. I was one of 50 international global challengers, that's what they called it, or disruptors to the sports industry because of what we did on Twitter and that kind of really just got my brain going because I got to meet all different cultures here, all these different perspectives on sports, make all these great connections all over the world. And it just felt like my time or my chapter in Europe was not over. It just wasn't that we got the conference. I had to continue to expand those relationships and the influence of the brand.
So, when I moved to Norway, it was definitely one of the craziest things I ever did. And sometimes I can't even believe that I did it. I think the word that describes it was brave but it's something that's so, I think, relatable and people have to take a chance in life at some points, whether it's starting a business or moving to a new city. And what always happens if you embrace that opportunity is good things and that's been exactly what's happened for Ike. We've been able to not only connect with athletes then in the United States but sprinters or athletes in Europe, soccer players, models, all sorts of new people and it's expanded the way I view the world. I view it through a much larger lens now, and that has been so great for my personal development as well as Ike's content strategy, it's positioning, it's brand positioning, the type of music we create. So, it really stems down deeper into the brand. It's not like I can point to one thing that it's specifically changed, but it's had a huge impact and influence on the brand. And it's brought in a ton of international listeners. That's something we're very proud of on our podcast network is that we have over a hundred countries listening to our podcasts. And so, sometimes you have to pinch yourself that you can go to Norway. And one of the best athletes in Norway is listening to your Milwaukee Bucks podcast and then you talk over that and it's just kind of a smaller world than you would imagine. But it's really helped define that Ike is not just a United States brand, it's an international brand, a global brand. It’s definitely something that I think I'll remember forever. I can speak a second language now so that's always been a personal goal of mine as well, and to learn a second language without being bilingual. That has also given me the confidence that I can learn other things that are complicated.
For someone who wants to start a podcast, but hasn't yet, why should they create one in 2022?
Because it's how you create genuine connections with people today. It's so hard in a world of social media, a world of constant small and shorter content. We're all trying to intake shorter content to really create a genuine connection with people. And the real way I first kind of got the hint was through the music we produced, is that people who listen to your music, they don't just listen once they listen multiple times and then they feel like they almost know you at a personal level. And so, podcasting is kind of a continuation of that. You can share your story, you can let people get to know you, it can be vulnerable, and that's how you grow genuine connections. I think about the last time I sat down and watched a video on YouTube on my phone for 30 minutes, it's really rare that I'll do that, but podcasting, I can ingest that in so many passive ways. I think that it's just reaching more people each day and it's very forward looking. So, if you want to set up something that's not going to disappear in five years and that will be around for 10, for 20, for even 50 to a 100 years, I believe that is podcasting. I believe that's audio based content. And so, that's why I'm so excited to encourage people to take a free consultation with us, hop on the phone with us, let us talk about podcasts, explain it to you and really how it can help your business or brand, create real revenue and value through networks.
How can podcasts really create value for B2B businesses?
For B2B businesses, it's kind of a lot of people think, oh, you know, I'm not trying to reach the customers, the C level, but the B2B it's the network building. So, if you have a podcast, for example, in the FinTech realm, getting business in that realm either requires going to conferences, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to attend these big conferences in Amsterdam, such as Money 2020, or you got to put up a lot of money, but the podcasting is a way to make that connection with someone. You can invite them, instead of trying to say, "Hey, I want to sell you something". You can say, "Hey, I'd love to have you on my podcast". You get to learn about that person. You get to connect with them, see how well you vibe, almost develop a little bit of a friendship during the show. And then that leads to business, that leads to staying in contact and it's almost like a foot in the door in a lot of ways that you can't normally get that foot in the door. I find that the conversion is much better to just say, "Hey, would you like to join my podcast; would you like to have a conversation"; rather than saying, "Hey, would you like to purchase this? Or would you like to explore this sales-oriented mindset?" So, I think for B2B they can really benefit from just the network of it, not only the network of it, but the way it can help grow your brand within an industry too. If you want to be a thought leader, a podcast is a great way to become a thought leader because you get to talk about the industry, talk about what your business does, why it's different, what makes your technical advantage better than your competitors. And, I think just getting that word out, getting that out on the internet is so beneficial. I've seen the results time and time again. That's why I always encourage people. It's not just about having a huge audience. It's also about your guests a lot of the time. Are you connecting with the guest and that's really an important thing?
Even for us in the sports world, like connecting with a player rather than just doing it for the fans of its sports team. It's to build those relationships with the players which then might lead to an N.I.L deal or something like that, which is exactly what happened for us in the case of Caesar Williams, the Wisconsin cornerback. We started off on a podcast and a lot of relationships have been built that way. So, I encourage people to also think about the relationship building potential of podcasts.
Can you share with our listeners one of your most successful or favorite networking experiences that you've had?
Yes, it actually comes from one of the first times I went to Europe. There's this common expression you'll hear from people as an invitation. It's, would you like to take a coffee? Lori, would you like to take a coffee with me? And what that really means is you just grab a coffee with that person and you sit down and you talk while you drink that coffee, whether it's on a couch in a cafe. And it's something that I just kind of noticed that these business people that I was around people that I was looking up to were using as an easy way to start the conversation because it's, if you say, "Hey, do you want to sit down and talk about podcasting?" People might put up a hesitation saying, "Hey, not right now. Maybe later or let's get it on the calendar", but if you say let's just take a coffee or something simple, it's that same weight with the podcast invitation we just talked about. It's an easier way to get your foot in the door and I found that whether the person doesn't drink coffee or not, it's just almost a casual way to invite them into your world.
How do you stay in front of and nurture these relationships that you've created and fostered?
I think Ike is a big component of it. So Ike, for those listening, we've reached hundreds of millions through social media impressions every year. And that is a way of people almost feeling like they're up to date with what you're doing in a certain sense, because Ike is so all close to our passions in the sports world, but on a more personal level, it's not always that easy, but I think it's the power of giving them like a quality amount of time, whether that's like 30 minutes or a 1 hour phone call being present during that. And that's more powerful than me consistently checking in. I do have some friends that I'd love to consistently check in and just put things on the calendars just to have conversations with. But I try to do these deeper conversations, which brings it back to podcasting. It's longer like ingested content because you're spending more time in a continuous bunch. I know myself, I have a decreasing attention span. I think we all do just as a result of technology. And so to spend that quality amount of time, maybe 30 minutes or more with someone on the phone or in person, I found that to be very, very powerful and help maintain those relationships.
If you could go back to your 20 year old self, what would you tell yourself to do more of, less of, or differently with regards to your professional career?
So I was at UW Madison. I was a software engineering student, so that's actually my educational background and one thing I think I wish I would've done more is probably in college, I think it would be to further like my relationships with older individuals at that university, or just, because college is such a great opportunity to meet people. I find that the whole reason the Ike podcasts have grown to what they are is because of some of these relationships I met in college, for example, the Ike Badger's podcast. When I was 20, I met Zach Baun. He's now a linebacker for the New Orleans Saints. And we met just the old fashioned college way. We became friends because he had a golden retriever like the most old fashioned way you meet someone through a dog and we've stayed in contact. We've helped each other professionally, both ways. I did his podcast interviews when he was in the draft process. I was promoting him to help him get his name out there. And he's helped us in return through connections. He connected us with many Badger players. And so, I think just how much has stemmed from him. I imagine more could have been stemmed if I had maybe done more networking events, been out of my comfort zone a little more in a little more open to meeting people of an older age. When you're in college you almost want to just meet your friends and do the college things. And I was so heads down in that but those relationships you meet at that age are super valuable for the future. So, I think it would've been maybe probably networking a little more. And yes, I think other than that I'm pretty proud of graduating as a software engineer. I'm proud of the decision to move to Norway and move out of my comfort zone. And, I'm also proud that back then when I was 20 years old, we were putting out Ike content. It's been around for that long. And so I'm very happy that we did it. I think if I could give myself some advice, it would be less Twitter more like more other forms of content or something like that. Or maybe always listen to podcasts that would've been a great one, Lori. If I was listening to podcasts when I was 20, ingesting the great information you can get in podcasts, I probably would've been a little more ahead in terms of the new social platforms. I would've been earlier to those. I would've been ahead on the trends. And so that, I think would've been a great thing to tell myself is, "Hey, less trap music, more podcasts."
Any final word or advice to offer our listeners with regards to growing and supporting your network?
Your focus determines reality. Where are you focused? That is something that I have struggled with having multiple passions. Maybe not at first knowing what I exactly wanted to do in life. And so, having that focus I found has been really important like going after a certain type of client, being more niche oriented in a certain way, targeting very important people rather than just a larger group of people. And so, we found great benefits through that. I think podcasting is one of those ways and tools to grow your network through a focus. Every podcast has to have a focus in order to attract listeners. Whether it's a sports team, whether it's FinTech, anything having a clear focus is going to help you network within that group and lead to good results.
Connect with Alex:
After 28 years as a highly-skilled employee, David was told that his job was over. Despite the immediate trauma and fear, he knew that as his next step, he’d rather work for himself and have more control over his destiny. That was in 2006.
Today, David is a thriving community builder, podcaster, and speaker. He helps high-achieving professionals, who have had a late-career job loss, build their consulting or coaching business, so they can do what they love and get paid what they’re worth.
How did you learn to network and develop business relationships?
As I was thinking about our discussion today, I reflected on the 28 years in my career that I was an employee, before I started my own business in 2006. I always was involved in building relationships outside of my job and outside of my organization so I would always find opportunities to network with colleagues. I would join associations of people that were doing something similar to what I was doing, I would take advantage of opportunities to learn and to get some professional development. When I started my business, one of the things that I realized within the first year is that the network that I had, as an employee, was not necessarily the network that was going to help me build my business. And, although I did maintain the relationships that I had, with, with colleagues and friends that I had built up over the years as an employee, and in fact, those relationships helped me get some of my first consulting clients. I had kind of an eye-opening experience, with a friend of mine, who also went from being a longtime employee to being self-employed. About a year before, I was having dinner one night, and she said to me, "I'm part of this organization and I think you might find it interesting to come to a meeting." It was a BNI meeting, and I'd never heard of BNI or knew anything about business networking. I immediately realized the power of being in a room with other entrepreneurs, not just with professional colleagues and so I ended up joining. I have to say that not only do you get to network in networking organizations like BNI, but they also teach you networking. That's one of their goals as an organization is to try to help everybody do better at business networking, as well as build relationships as they do that. Even though I'm not currently a BNI member, I have relationships and still have clients that emerged from BNI. Some of my best friends as entrepreneurs also came out of that BNI experience and so that was sort of my first foray into business networking, and I got to be pretty good at it. I would not only do networking in my chapter, but I got to know a lot of people in other BNI chapters. The next thing for me in terms of networking, and building relationships, as an entrepreneur emerged from content creation, and in particular podcasting. I'm sure you know, as a podcaster that if you're doing interview-based shows, you get this opportunity to have in-depth conversations. Often they feel like intimate conversations with someone new on a regular basis and you get to build relationships with those people and you get to share your mutual knowledge with your audiences. I found that since I started podcasting seven years ago, it has enabled me to build relationships with new groups of people that I didn't know before. And I'm based in New York and even though I'm pretty well networked in the New York metropolitan area, podcasting enabled me to develop a whole new network that was international, which is great.
What is the connection between your relationships and the evolution of your business?
Well, for one thing, as far as the relationships themselves are concerned. One of the things that I've learned to do over the years, and I encourage other people to do when they're trying to build relationships, is focus on the relationship. So that means being curious, asking open-ended questions and I recently learned a framework for questions that I love from a podcast guest, Rock Robinson which he calls his Fab Five. The first one is about geography so asking where someone is from because it's not a threatening question so people automatically will start to think of who they might know in common based on geography. The second one is family, which is just asking someone to tell you about your family and that will allow you to learn something about that person. The same thing with school because pretty much everybody has some kind of school experience and there's usually something interesting to share about that. I like to ask people about their career journey because no matter where you are in the stage of your career, everybody's career is different. Then the last question is what excites you which then can start to get to something that may be closer to what it is you do in your business. So being curious and asking open-ended questions is key. The other thing is in the world, there are givers, there are takers, and there are exchangers and people that are best at relationship building are exchangers. I like to ask how I can help somebody else first. I try to be a generous person, I think that kind of sets the stage for how I like to be known, and then the last thing that I will usually end with, particularly if it's been a fruitful conversation, is asking if there is anyone else I should talk to and maybe for an introduction. If you get an introduction to somebody, they're much more likely to respond. The most important thing is also when there's some call to action or some action plan that you have as a result of a discussion with somebody else, make sure you follow up. So I try to be systematic about following up and make sure that I do if I offer to help somebody in some way. Relationships do take time and the good relationships are what has led to most of my long term clients, which is great and also opportunities.
How is social capital integral to the impact you are trying to have in the world?
So there's one thing that I have noticed with high achieving professionals when they go from being in an organization to being independent, is that the social infrastructure has vanished. So you have this formal structure that when you're part of an organization, that of course disappears when you walk out the door. But also, the informal structure follows it often. It may not disappear completely, but all of a sudden, your quote-unquote friends from work, you may find that they're they've ghosted you for a whole variety of reasons and you spend a lot of time alone, and the loneliness and the isolation, combined with the fear of doing all these new things. If you have gone from being an employee to being a consultant, when your job was terminated then there can also be shame associated with the job loss. It's not something people talk about a whole lot and so being able to connect with other people that have some of these similar challenges, that you're facing similar issues, people that are also building a consulting business. You don't need to reinvent the wheel, but if you connect with other people you'll learn things from them and they'll learn things from you. Connecting with other people, I think is important to be being to your ability to be able to overcome that and for me, I like to be a connector and so for me, yes, I do know a lot about how to build a successful consulting business, but I feel great when I'm able to connect people.
Can you share with our listeners your most successful or favorite networking experience that you've had?
I'm going to reflect back on my first visit to a BNI meeting when I was terrified about the idea of getting up and giving a 60 second commercial about myself, and my business was pretty new at that time. I did have clients, but didn't have a huge track record so I was pretty insecure about what I was selling, and to be able to get up in front of 30 plus strangers at seven o'clock in the morning and to give a coherent 60 second commercial was pretty terrifying. I have to say, the people in the room couldn't have been nicer to me and more supportive and people came up to me afterwards and just tried to be nice and helpful. When you're with people, I had a podcast guest who actually is an expert on networking, and one of the things he said was that we all know this the phrase, people do business with people they know, like and trust and he added another line to that, which is people do business with people they know, like, trust and care about them and at that meeting I felt like there there was genuine caring in the room and it made a huge difference.
How do you stay in front of and best nurture your network in your community?
I think it's important to actually have a process for keeping track of who you're connecting with, and having a process for follow up. So one of the things that I do is, I make notes after I speak to people and I keep the notes and I keep them organized. I also make notes on my calendar of when I'm supposed to follow up with somebody. So if you and I are speaking today and we decide to keep in touch, three months from now, I'll make a note in my calendar three months from now to reach out and add notes in my calendar as to some of my notes from our conversation so I can go back and look at it in case I don't remember all the details.
If you could go back to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell yourself to do more or less of or differently with regards to your professional career?
Follow your heart. I studied engineering for 7 years and I worked as an engineer for 4 years, and then I went into the nonprofit sector. And honestly, when I was in school, I had thought about whether this was really the right thing to study. I did well in school and in my career, but my heart wasn't really in it. So for every pivot I've made, mtt career has ended up moving me in a direction where I'm actually doing things that I'm happier doing. I will admit that each of the pivots usually came with not just me moving forward, but somebody pushing me to do it!
What final word do you have to share with our listeners with regards to growing and supporting your network?
If you're feeling uncomfortable in anything you're doing with regard to relationship building. Pay attention to the discomfort and if you believe that the step that you are about to take, which is making you uncomfortable, is a good step, take it. Because if you're feeling uncomfortable means you're probably in a state of growth and that you're doing something that's going to help you grow and relationship building can really help you grow quite a bit, as you've heard from our conversation today so take that step.
Connect with David
Smashing The Plateau Podcast: https://smashingtheplateau.com/episodes/
Going Solo Podcast: https://smashingtheplateau.com/goingsolo/