On this episode of Leaders, James talks to Chris Bolte. Chris is the Founder and CEO of a company called Paysa. What is Paysa? It's a personalized career platform whose goal is to enable employees to optimize the value of their careers, across the full career arc. In other words, they help people understand what they are actually worth in the market today, and how to meet or exceed their worth. If you think we're going to talk about money in this episode you are right, but before we do, James talks to Chris about taking risks. More specifically the risks Chris took to get to the point in his career that he is today. If you're someone who is waiting to take a leap of faith, then this might just be the episode for you. Enjoy our interview with Chris Bolte.
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James Fratzke: [00:00:00] Chris welcome to the show.
Chris Bolte: [00:00:02] Hey thanks so much for having me.
James Fratzke: [00:00:03] Yeah. Thank you for being here. We appreciate it. Now you are the CEO and founder of a company called Paysa. I want to get into what that is a little bit later but I want to start by talking about you in your personal life and your career. I heard you an interview one time say that you left New York to come to California and while you did that you took a job that was in a different industry with a pay cut and everything else that sounds like a risk. Why did you take that risk?
Chris Bolte: [00:00:30] I don't know do it. I left New York you know for me. I was working in the TV industry. I was doing national sales for a small little cable network. And I was making great money. I had the you know nice office on the 40 second floor up in midtown Manhattan. It's insane. Yeah with the secretary all trappings expense account and I could not have been more bored. The industry is super static. There's not a lot of change. If I looked across the office, I looked at my peers and looked at you know kind of where I could go in the impact I could make it. It seemed fairly restrictive and very set in its ways and I started to get introduced to the Internet in the early days so early days. Infoseek and Netscape and Lycos and wired and that just seems like the new frontier. And I wanted to find a way to you know move back to California as an adult and kind of experience living in California as an adult. You know a couple of dollars in my pocket right. I was at that point in New York where you know setting down roots there. And so it was a nice time to make that change. So I essentially took probably like a 60 percent pay cut. Mop got all my suits you know. Got rid of everything in my apartment and moved out west. And it's really been kind of a it's a really nice ride both from a professional experience as well as on the personal side. So you know there quite a few times don't take it the first six months. I spent a lot of time looking back and what have I done. What happened. But it works out.
James Fratzke: [00:02:20] So when you it's I think for an entrepreneur and we're we'll get to that part of your story but I want to kind of focus in on what you just said in that first six months. You had some doubts and you thought gosh what the heck did I just do. And I think that happens a lot with entrepreneurs when they start their own business they start to have doubts they start to say am I doing anything that's worthwhile and that six months. What lessons did you learn or what tactics did you use in order to not just pack everything up and go back to what was comfortable for you?
Chris Bolte: [00:02:52] I think one of the big things for me is that I learned then that I continue to employ. Now is it really got to give yourself enough time and you have to focus less on what's behind you and much Lauren what's in front what you can create. And when I think about that your services go experience you know certainly missing friends and colleagues sense you know the paycheck and the respect of the job. I really tried to spend more of my time on creating the kind of the life that I thought that I wanted out there and making sure that I put in the right amount of effort and gave it the right amount of time to see if it was going to work. And so I think it any kind of big change or any kind of you know new launch nothing typically goes up and to the right in terms of pay everything is perfect all the time so you really have to kind of ferret out and you know go for what you want and give given enough time to put in the energy to see if it's going to happen it may not happen. You got to give that. You got to put the effort got it but the time in.
James Fratzke: [00:03:47] Did you know back then when you made the move because you went from one industry to another from one job to another so you were still working for the man so to speak. But did you know that you wanted to be a founder an entrepreneur or was that always kind of your path or when did that aha moment hit you?
Chris Bolte: [00:04:06] No I never thought about it like that the way I think about things is much more around what am I going to be doing. Is it something that I'm passionate about. Is it something I can get behind. Do I have enough influence and control over my destiny. And then lastly in my work with people don't want to work with. And I've been able to really get that in a lot of different jobs both as an employee and as a founder. That's worked well it's not been about I want to be my own boss. It's about kind of there's other criteria of doing something that I'm pretty excited about being able to control my own destiny as much as just as much as possible and work with people that I can learn from and respect and they respect me and learn from me and that I enjoy it.
James Fratzke: [00:04:51] Now you said in an interview one time and it kind of ties into what you just said that a lot of people have an ego and they kind of define themselves by the work that they do I mean how do you when you're going through that process of saying I want to be more purposeful. There's other things that are important to me than just that monetary paycheck that I might get. How do you kind of define yourself if it's not by ego. What does success look like for you?
Chris Bolte: [00:05:19] It's actually a really good question. I think it really I kind of look at a lot of different angles but I think the biggest one is the people that I surround myself with and my ability to kind of make an impact and influence and their ability to influence me. So I think about whether it be the industry or whether it be the team that I work with or whether it be you know my family my kids that really is kind of what drives me most as opposed to a title on a business card or a paycheck.
James Fratzke: [00:05:48] So you left New York and then he started working at Wired and then somewhere between wired and Paysa. There was another company that you founded. There's some other rules that you've had. Can you kind of help me fill in the blanks a little bit maybe share some of the lessons that you've learned along the way.
Chris Bolte: [00:06:01] I've kind of bounced around a bunch. You know I was at Wired. I was wired to AltaVista which at the time was kind of the dominant search player that I went to overture and overture got bought by Yahoo. And so the company before this is called data Park. We just saw a little niche in the market that we knew exceptionally well and we kind of you know there's a bunch of folks that I was working with that had done that in the past and we just decided to jump in together and see if we could build a business to help advertisers take greater advantage of search marketing and that that worked out pretty well. So from data POB How did you get from there to Wal-Mart labs. Yeah. So the data sequencing is I left it up and went to a little a little start about amount because cosmetics and cosmetics actually were purchased by Wal-Mart and that was the impetus for Wal-Mart labs. And so that was you know each one kind of each career stopped for me has been for the most part a really interesting kind of exciting journey. I mean it's always filled with kind of the zigs and zags and the ups and downs. You know when I think about the cosmic experience you know I never worked with such a great group of bright focused energetic and talented people both on engineers on the business side and people they became friends and you know for lifelong I would hope and we win over Wal-Mart. And it was a little bit of trepidation you know because we were only 40 45 50 people strong cosmic getting swallowed up in a company that's a you know a million people I think a million five. But we you know we went over there with the same kind of energy that we had across makes and the same kind of purpose. And people gravitate to that. You know there wasn't a whole lot of ego involved. It's just like just you know now to run a bigger stage what can we do and how do we make an impact to Wal-Mart business. And so we had a lot of fun. And from there that's where we jumped over and started Paysa.
James Fratzke: [00:07:53] So you've spent a good amount of your time as an employee as a contributor in that way. You've spent a good many of your time as a leader and as a founder and CEO. I think a lot of people listening to this that might want to go start their own business are probably sitting at their desk job right now listening to this podcast. Maybe not the most productive thing in the world. But for those for those folks listening what are the biggest differences between that being an individual contributor as like an employee and being a founder and a CEO. What have you noticed as the biggest differences in your life?
Chris Bolte: [00:08:28] There's no one else to blame. No date of the day. As founder and CEO there really is no old to leave the one accountable. And I think you know what I found working for someone you know you can often you can often find yourself playing the victim role and in many cases you are. You know your kind of subject to decisions that are not in your control and that's true. That's true in any role. You know whether founder and founder ultimately you know as founders you own it. And so there comes with that quite a bit of responsibility and at times so some stress with that. But that's kind of the that's the fun part.
James Fratzke: [00:09:04] Let me pivot a little bit. You talked about part of why you do what you do is to have those strong relationships with your family in the work that you do especially in the geography that you're in right that Bay Area Silicon Valley. Everybody's going a thousand miles an hour. Is there a such thing as work life balance for you? And if so what does that look like?
Chris Bolte: [00:09:27] Yeah I think it's different for different people depending upon you know what you want to get out of the experience. For me it's just being able to you know car about 45 minutes in a day and you know take my kid to a baseball practice or pick one of the kids up at school. You know it doesn't mean that you know I shut down everything you know from that point on you kind of have to jump back in and keep dealing but this is the nice thing about being a founder and running a small companies is you have a little bit of flexibility to kind of create your own day. That's given me the ability to kind of find that balance that it works for both. Nothing's perfect. You know if I need to jump out and take care of something I can do that.
James Fratzke: [00:10:06] Let's get into Paysa. What is the. And I know the answer to this but I'm let you do it because you're the founder. But what is that. Thirty seconds or 45 seconds. Elevator Pitch on what piece it does and then I have some questions I want to dig into after that.
Chris Bolte: [00:10:20] Why don't you. Why don't you tell me what it is. What's your read on it.
James Fratzke OK Chris I'm going to give you my read on. I spent a little bit of time on a platform where folks can put in their information their work experience their unique qualities how long they've been doing what they've done and then you guys are a data driven company that takes that information and compares it to other folks in similar roles at similar companies and says hey this is how much you could be making this is how much you should be making this is what your salary and benefits could be and allows them to have these personalized reports that they can take into the negotiating room with their boss and hopefully get the money that they deserve. How was that? Was that close?
Chris Bolte: [00:11:04] I think you did a very good job. Very good job.
James Fratzke: [00:11:06] Thank you Chris I appreciate that and you put me on the spot. But you know.
Chris Bolte: [00:11:10] I think about it you know in my mind it really is your personalized career coach. And we can't guide people with an actual person you know one to one. Right. But technology enables us to give an individual personalized look at their career and their job and give them recommendations about how they can improve. Right. And we've started with salaries just given that kind of the hardest things for many people are they being paid fairly. Do they deserve a raise. Where are they in the promotions cycle. And then also what sort of jobs are available to them. And we're actually even doing skills now. So what sort of skills do you want to add to your portfolio. You know do we just want to we want to make sure that employees are making balanced data driven decisions about you know their job and where they spend all their time.
James Fratzke: [00:11:57] And they do spend a lot of time there more time usually than they spend their family and friends and things like that and so some of those different benefits especially salary can help make that just a little bit easier. One of the things I really love about Paysa's that your guys is product is based on one of the most sensitive topics to talk about in the workforce. It's so taboo it seems like to bring up salary to your boss and to ask for a raise. Why do you think that is it because of the business not wanting to have those conversations or do you think that it's self-imposed that the employees just are way too nervous about the topic and they should have a conversation if they want to it's not going to be as hard as they think it's going to be. Where do you think the responsibility lies here Chris?
Chris Bolte: [00:12:44] Well I think I think it's always been. I actually think it's becoming less of a taboo topic. I think it's been in the company's best interests to not have these conversations in the company's best interest to support laws that you know and some in some states they actually made it illegal or they tried to make it illegal for employees to talk openly about their salaries. And so I think the companies have in many cases enjoyed the kind of the benefits of that that conversation being so comfortable. And I think now given the demand on the employee side and the spread of data around you know whether it be through Paysa or you can find it in places like LinkedIn Glassdoor then hey geese. I have a better sense for what my value is. That's a very enabling you know power for folks to go in and say hey you know geez I'd like to have this conversation. I think employees are often in debt believing they're in the position of peace. I'm really lucky to work here I should never talk about this and if I if I just do a good job they'll take good care. And that's too often not true. I mean that's just the way it is unfortunately and so squeaky wheel gets oiled. So our recommendation is you know you want to for all employees you want to stay close to where your market value is what you what your opportunities are. Be aware. Number one. Number two you want to stay close to the management team of your company and not always be asking but you know always make sure they understand the value you're contributing. And you know when times are when the time is right you know have that balanced data driven conversation and see what they can do.
James Fratzke: [00:14:16] Now there's a couple of questions I want to ask based on that I guess the first is what is the worst pieces of advice you've heard given to somebody about salary negotiations?
Chris Bolte: [00:14:26] Don't ask, They'll just take care of you.
James Fratzke: [00:14:28] Yeah. And I have found that to be a complete fallacy. So I completely agree with you there. And I'll depersonalize this a little bit but if you were giving advice to another CEO what would be the advice that you'd give them when it comes to salary and how to maybe have an open posture towards the team and management employees. Is there anything that you would kind of try to instill some wisdom in them and what might make their company more successful?
Chris Bolte: [00:14:55] Well we believe in here at Paysa and what we did it at other companies is understand what are the attributes you value of an employee and why that's where you want to allocate the dollars. Right. So if you can understand what you value and why you value it and to what degree it helps you both in hiring you know selecting the people and the retention of people that promotional people want. And number two as a manager at a larger company or is running running Paysa or other companies try to be proactive in providing salary guidance you know updates and promotions and raises. It's amazing a small you know relatively small raise will go when it's not been asked for in terms of solidifying that employees commitment to in terms of you know get them to you know continue to up their game and their workload et cetera et cetera. And a lot of people wait until the employee asks and then you've lost all the benefits. And so I think I think it's a pretty powerful tool if used correctly. Oftentimes people use it after the horse has already left the barn like doesn't make any sense to close the barn door and that point.
James Fratzke: [00:16:02] Let me shift gears really quick and just say that wherever you are right now Chris the birds are chirping it's so beautiful. I almost feel like I'm there with you. You know it's like Cinderella something. I love it. I walked outside was a bother you know I actually find it quite pleasant so. I want to shift gears though. What are some tactics that maybe you use on a day to day basis that help you stay focused on a day to day basis?
Chris Bolte: [00:16:31] I just I just do the you know for me it's just kind of a check in on you know what's most important. Both long term mid-term is short term when I figure out that I organize my day that way and making sure that I'm making headway on all three of those things and that if I've got stuff on my list that doesn't fit into any one of those three things that I dump it off as soon as I can.
James Fratzke: [00:16:52] How did you get to the point where you are okay with dumping things off though because I think like some of the things that I struggle with sometimes it's like I put everything on my shoulders and I go the only person that can do this right is me. So how did you get to the point where you even are aware enough to be like OK I need to get this out of my court?
Chris Bolte: [00:17:09] I am really good at knowing all the many things I'm not good at. Right. And I'm also I've had the benefit of working with you know super talented people like my partners in crime here Paysa. I mean they're much smarter much better. And so I'm like hey if you could help here. And they oftentimes will do much better work than I can.
James Fratzke: [00:17:28] What is your take on the millennial do you think they're whining. Give me everything right now. Do you think they might have some you know their perspective on what they're entitled to is a good thing bad thing like what is your hot take on millennials in the workforce?
Chris Bolte: [00:17:42] It's tough for me to just have a blanket read on it and I find it really kind of a the common feature at least within the technology Paysa for them is that they're all super eager to kind of do more you know to extend themselves and extend the product or sell the technology and reach and they're really creative and they're not bounded by some of the things that you know I might be bound by and if you can you know that kind of creativity that kind of optimism is you know really thrilling in many ways. And that's of the positive I think on the on the developmental side let's say
James Fratzke: [00:18:15] There you go! That was a very nice way of saying that Chris the positive and the developmental side love that.
Chris Bolte: [00:18:20] Well I think understanding that it really got to take care of the small nitty gritty work like there's a lot of you know not every day just filled with all the stuff that you love to be doing you've got to take care of some of the stuff that you know has to get done. Maybe you don't really want to do. But it's a core part of it and it's not pretty work at a past job I had was persons that incredibly talented smart Stanford's masters computer science degree and there were about six months in the job they said hey I don't want to I'm doing all the grunt work. I want to be doing what they pointed to another person on the team I want to do what that guys do. I said well that guy's been in the workplace for fifteen years. I mean he's you know much more senior. He's got experience he's got the skills to kind of direct these large projects and so they were interested in the minutiae. They just wanted to immediately leap to you know senior level positions. And so that's a that's a tough spot
James Fratzke: [00:19:13] And unrealistic when I guess you're saying so folks shouldn't come in expecting that?
Chris Bolte: [00:19:17] Yeah but I think it's a balancing act of you know you want to give them enough enable them to see and reach that way would also anchor them like there's a lot of other things that have to happen to make you know to make that work.
James Fratzke: [00:19:30] And I think that's great and that takes a good leader and it takes a good mentor I think in order to be able to kind of focus people's vision in the right direction which gets me to my next question which is mentorship. Did you ever have a mentor anybody that stood out to you that helped guide you down this path and if you have what are some things are some wisdom that they've instilled in you over time?
Chris Bolte: [00:19:52] Yes I have. I think different people have kind of instilled different things. You know I think one of the lasting messages that I've got from a dear friend were back in New York is to try to be as unemotional about things and to play law. Don't get caught up in the end the day of the ups and downs like right. You know keep your eye focused on you know what you want to have happen and work towards that and don't follow like there's going to be good parts and bad parts and you want to have more of the good and the bad. You know don't whipsaw yourself around emotionally on all those different things.
James Fratzke: [00:20:23] Again that's kind of the hardest challenge that an entrepreneur can have is that you get so caught up on the small ball that if something goes wrong and you're not able to pivot and kind of go in a different direction it could kind of spell doomsday. I think that's one trend that we've noticed after talking to a handful of different leaders and CEOs is the art of being able to stay strong, pivot, be resilient. Keep your eye on the vision not get detoured by too many of the small things has really led to their success over time. So I think that that's a good call out. We're going to shift into our rapid fire mode this is towards the end of our time together. Chris I'm going to ask him questions and you just kind of answer them as quickly and as thoughtfully as you can. Does that sound possible. Cool. All right. So if you could write a postcard to anyone past or present who would it be and what would that postcard say.
Chris Bolte: [00:21:17] The first thing that comes to mind is Carlton Fisk who was the catcher of the 1975 Boston Red Sox. And I write him a little postcard to thanks for the memory. It makes no continuity towards talking about but that's the first thing that came to mind.
James Fratzke: [00:21:30] No that's good! You'd be surprised at the number of answers that question really throws everybody for a loop. So you were actually I would think from time I ended asking it to time you answer it. Probably the shortest amount of time so congratulations. Yeah probably not. Probably the least thoughtful might say but not very thoughtful. I loved it. Let's shift to. Do you like to read?
Chris Bolte: [00:21:53] Love it.
James Fratzke: [00:21:54] All right. What are your top three books you want to recommend to people?
Chris Bolte: [00:21:57] I'll tell you. I can't give you top 3 but I'll tell you three books that I just wrapped up or I'm reading. One is Stephen King. Under the pseudonym Richard Bachman called the Long Walk. Another one a side book called Snow Crash and then I'd like to get Neal Stephenson I think. And I think the third would be No Country for Old Men.
Chris Bolte: [00:22:18] And I like to read too but I can't say I've ever read a Stephen King book. So congratulations to you for that. I mean it takes a that takes a lot.
Chris Bolte: [00:22:31] I mean you know there's a there's a lot of stuff to cut through. Right. But that's a good one.
James Fratzke: [00:22:37] Do you have any guilty pleasures or anything that you do that is just bliss for you and you know takes you away from the real world?
Chris Bolte: [00:22:45] Skiing.
James Fratzke: [00:22:45] What was your last ski trip you went on?
Chris Bolte: [00:22:48] Montana Big Sky. We have our family out there so we head out to Montana often. There you go.
James Fratzke: [00:22:54] Now I spent a week and a half in Bozeman Montana and it was one of the most pleasant experiences I've ever had
Chris Bolte: [00:23:00] Summertime or summertime or when winter?
James Fratzke: [00:23:03] Winter so it was snowing. I did not make it up in skiing although that was on my to do list it just didn't happen. So I don't know what that's about but I know I know. I do like to ski too. I was writing a book at the time and I was trying to stay focused on writing the book and not going having too much fun.
Chris Bolte: [00:23:22] So if you ever get the chance out there again next week actually. It's called Big Sky Montana. Absolutely stunning. Amazing scenes.
James Fratzke: [00:23:30] I will have to check that out and let you know I'll send you a postcard. All right. So before we let you go what is one thing you want to share with the audience that we didn't get to talk about today?
Chris Bolte: [00:23:43] The thing that I often think about is you're your own best asset and so care for that care for your health. You know develop yourself develop your develop your networks develop you know just continue to develop and improve and it will pay dividends whether it's a business or you know family life or wherever.
James Fratzke: [00:24:01] Chris that is such a great point and I appreciate you mentioning that I think so many people take for granted that they really are their best asset. And so thank you for that. Where can people find you. How can they stay up to date with everything going on with Paysa? And you in your world?
Chris Bolte: [00:24:18] You know you get me linked in and you get me on Quora you can obviously get me on paysa.com Anywhere any one of those years
James Fratzke: [00:24:24] And I can speak firsthand your core responses are very thorough and you know you are just a beast Quora you just answer so many questions. So if anybody wants to ask Chris a question specifically just make a core account and hit him up on there because he'll probably do it in extreme detail.
Chris Bolte: [00:24:44] I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing?
James Fratzke: [00:24:45] I think it's a good thing. I mean I've learnt a lot from your posts. So thank you for that. I appreciate it. Chris thank you for your time today. I appreciate that as well and we'll talk to you soon.
Chris Bolte: [00:24:56] Take care.
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