How can you make your story your strategy? Pete Sena is the co-founder of Digital Surgeons, a forward-obsessed design consultancy. In this episode, Pete discusses the beginnings of his entrepreneurial journey, why telling the story of your business is key for its success, and what drove him away from the fear of failure.

πŸŽ™οΈTalking Points:

(1:30) How Pete grew an 8-figure business in college

(5:56) Why you should use your story as your strategy

(12:28) What’s the hardest thing about being an entrepreneur?

(14:48) How to deal with burnoutΒ 

(20:53) Entrepreneurship and success

πŸ”—Connect with Pete:

πŸ”—Connect with Tom:

Tom Finn:

Hey there, thanks for tuning in to the Talent Empowerment Podcast. We're here to help you love your job and your career. We're going to unpack the tools and tactics of successful humans to guide you towards your own career empowerment. I am your purpose-driven little host, Tom Finn, and on the show today, we have my friend Pete Sena. Pete, welcome to the show.

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Pete Sena:

Good to be here, Tom. Good to be here.

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Tom Finn:

Let me introduce you to this fabulous human who is an entrepreneur at heart and a visionary with a rich background in creating businesses and shaping brands. He's the co-founder of a global innovation and design experience consultancy called Digital Surgeons. We will get into that. His career spans nearly two decades of building and leading teams, developing multi-channel programs and activations for startups and large companies. Now he's got a passion for innovation, he's got a growth mindset, he's forward thinking, all of those things are pretty cool and thumbs up by me. And he's got areas of expertise in marketing, branding, entrepreneurship, and design thinking. He loves web three, he loves AI, he loves the metaverse. He is all things entrepreneur. So let me ask you this one. I heard you were an entrepreneur in college, you started a marketing. company, branding, and you made it an eight figure business from college, so tell me how you did that.

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Pete Sena:

Yeah, well, we weren't quite that big, so big when I was in college. Um, I appreciate that warm intro. I think my wife would just say I'm a workaholic, but, um, that works as well. Um, so all jokes aside, I, I've been into design and tech since I was a little kid. And I originally thought I wanted to make video games. And then I decided that the same kind of things that you do when you're making a game, designing coding, interface design. that ended up sort of discovering marketing. And it was from that point forward that I started doing some of that stuff, tinkering, working in sports marketing while I was still putting myself through school. And at that moment, I had a crossroads moment happen and that crossroads moment was like, I can be a designer or I can be an engineer and write code. And the or thing just didn't really stick with me. And I'm always been more about an and person. You can't see it cause it's off camera, but there's a big ampersand in my office here. And I believe in this, this idea that like, or is a limitation for how we define people. It's a limit limiting label. I don't like to limit people with labels. So for me, it's an and, um, and ironically that led to me wanting to make cool shit for the internet and making cool shit for the internet at that time was buzzwords like digital marketing, web design, et cetera, et cetera. And I took all those skills I picked up when, um, making custom MySpace pages in high school and turn that into. the business that we know today as DS or digital surgeons. And that's really sparked me and afforded me a lot of opportunities to get involved in a lot of different businesses, both as an agency consultancy owner, but then also as an angel investor and as an advisor and that sort of thing. So really grateful for what the journeys afforded me. I'm so glad that I made the unexpected pivot. And it really came down to the fact that like, it was kind of like one of those 80s songs, like we're not gonna take it. We're not gonna take it, go. And it's like. But that sort of like weirdness is what drove me into, I guess, becoming an entrepreneur. And for me, I didn't know what entrepreneur meant. It sounded like a weird French word. I still can't spell it, and I've been doing this for almost 20 years. But thank God for Google Spell Checking Grammarly.

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Tom Finn:

So you've done a lot in this space, and you're clearly passionate about it. Did you ever have a kind of full-time, corporate, punch the clock pizza delivery kind of job?

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Pete Sena:

So I've had some, I've had some, uh, punch the clock style jobs. Um, one of my least favorite was when I was cleaning toilets to work my way up to get a high school gig where I was fixing computers, um, back when that was still a thing. Um, so yes, I'm a little bit old. Uh, thankfully the, the light is covering the gray. Um, but yeah, I've had a couple of, you know, some of those kind of dirty jobs, early jobs. Um, I mentioned that I was doing some work with a large corporate sports marketing company and that's where I got a taste of corporate and much like sushi, I didn't love the way it tasted. So I moved on to doing my own thing and luckily there's a lot more entrepreneurs out there today than there was 20 years ago.

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Tom Finn:

Yeah, that's true. And just for my West Coast homies, because Pete is on the East Coast, so we're not going to do a West Coast, East Coast wrap thing. But I will say, for us sushi lovers out here, sushi can be delicious. I mean, absolutely delicious. And I'm sure somebody would argue that there's probably a couple of corporate roles out there that are pretty good, too.

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Pete Sena:

Yeah, no, no question. Just obviously having a little bit of fun today. And ironically, one of my favorite types of restaurants is sushi restaurants. I just don't eat any fish or seafood. So totally random fact about me. Um, but yeah, love all types of amazing sushi restaurants and Japanese restaurants. And, you know, when I have spent a lot of time in Cali again, love the West Coast. Um, it's, uh, I feel like the West coast is more of my home than the East coast, but that's a, that's a conversation for another time, Tom.

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Tom Finn:

Fair enough. So tell us a little bit about branding and marketing as you see the world today, because so much is changing. There's so much data available to us. There's so much information, even just in our Google platforms, around what we're supposed to be doing and looking at. We couple that with all of the social media platforms that we're supposed to be engaged in. There are so many things we're supposed to think about as entrepreneurs or business leaders in general. Like, how do you manage all of this noise?

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Pete Sena:

Yeah. Well, first and foremost, I fundamentally believe that we are information obese and wisdom poor. And I think that there's a lot of noise out there. And one of the things I think that's kept me in branding and marketing as long as it has in terms of keeping my attention, which as someone with ADHD, I can sort of be a little bit like a squirrel kind of chasing the next thing. But I think what I love about branding and marketing is I really believe that your story is your strategy. And I think that the way that you express it, makes the difference between a great experience and a bad experience for people. So when you think about how to tell stories, when you think about how to contextualize that for people, that's what I think helps create contrast and help people find signal in the noise in this world where everything is just, you know, another bombarding message that's hitting us over their head wherever we are in life.

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Tom Finn:

So let's unpack that a little bit because you went really fast through it. Your story is your strategy. Tell me what that actually means. I mean, it sounds cool. It sounds like a good t-shirt slogan, but what does that actually mean in real life?

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Pete Sena:

Definitely sounds like a good t-shirt slogan. I should get working on that. Today I've got my, all I wanna do is drink coffee and sleep shirt on. But, so. Most companies sell the what, right? So one of my favorite books is Start With Why by Simon Sinek, right?

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Tom Finn:

Sure, sure.

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Pete Sena:

Classic, classic thing for anybody in any walk and talk. It was like the YouTube video that changed the world, that and a little of the Brene Brown stuff. But I think the interesting thing is we've been telling stories since we sat around a campfire and some of us still sit around campfires, but you know, back in the day when we came out of caves or wherever we came from, let's not get me into that conversation. We... have been telling stories and our brains and bodies remember stories, remember experiences more than we remember stats and facts, right? You know, what's your best friend's phone number? You don't know, but you probably know and remember the brand or business he's associated with because of whatever story he or she's told you about that. So I think when I say your story is your strategy, what I mean specifically is when you name the position that you are in a market, when you name and you capture that why first, You're able to bring people along on a journey and take them through a shift. And that shift is what made everyone. I see Nike's in the backdrop. I'll just use an example here. You know, I wasn't going to talk about Nike or Apple, but I can't now that I see it in the backdrop here, Tom, it's like. Nike made everyone feel like an athlete, right? It was long before Michael Jordan and that amazing sponsorship, you know, came to, to be where they gave every athlete. If you had a body, you were an athlete. And that was the just do it aspiration, right? Still to this day, rings true, even though they've modified it a bit, right? When you think about Steve Jobs and Apple, they weren't just selling a computer, right? They were selling a rebel lifestyle that went against big blue at the time, which was IBM. And that connection, that story, that experience, that rebellion is ultimately what drew people to Apple the same way that, you know, 20 or 30 years later, I'm a fanboy of everything that they come out with. except maybe that this new spatial vision pro thing. I don't think I want to spend four grand on the first iteration of that, but I might wait for the second version of it. But yeah, so that's what I mean by story is your strategy. And I think what I've been doing for 20 years with businesses, Tom, just to keep it simple for you in the audience here is like, come in, tell me the story of this business. Why is this product or service better than everybody else's? Why is it different than everybody else? And then helping to get down to the core truth of why'd you start this thing? what makes it different and break out. And then I use that to then build a set of stories, build a set of experiences that really amplify the things that we wanna talk about and really tune down the things, remove the things that are not gonna be as memorable to that noise in the system, if you will.

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Tom Finn:

Yeah, I love the way you said that. And I always think of Nike as a Phil Knight and one of the great books that I've read is Shoe Dog.

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Pete Sena:

Amen, brother.

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Tom Finn:

So for those of you that are entrepreneurs, if you have not read the book shoe dog, uh, go out, get yourself a copy. If, if you're like me, I read all day. I don't know how you are people. I'm like on the computer talking, reading all day. By the time the day gets done, I've got kids for days. Like I don't want to read anything and I just can't. So I do the, I do the audio books and I'll jump on the treadmill and throw the audio book and that's how I listened to shoe dog. And I got to tell you, that's one of those books you as an entrepreneur, uh, or really look, even as a high level executive, you can't put that thing down. I mean, it's, it is riveting. Um, so anyway, you mentioned Nike have just made me think of-

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Pete Sena:

No, I love that said that. And have you checked out Air, the movie?

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Tom Finn:

I have not.

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Pete Sena:

You gotta check that out.

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Tom Finn:

Oh, air, yes, no, I have. Yeah, yeah, I saw it. Fantastic, yeah.

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Pete Sena:

Super fantastic. One of the things I remember I was watching it and the scene when you see Ben Affleck who plays Phil Knight in the movie, you see the original principles of Nike up on the wall behind them. And I actually paused it and I was like, what are you pausing it for? And I took a screenshot of it and I sent it to, um, the president of my, of my agency. And I said, this is the kind of inspiring artifacts that we need to start embedding, you know, on t-shirts on walls and different rituals that we do. And we were both nerding out on it. And it's so funny because what, I missed the first time I read shoe dog, but I caught the second time is I think what makes that book so damn sticky beside the fact that it's Nike and the story's amazing. It's the underdog spirit story and Phil Knight, but there's a lot of principles of Buddhism and Zen and you know, Kaizen and a lot of different Japanese business principles that I think really inspired Phil's journey. And I think what's super powerful about that is if you look at a lot of those principles, These have been the basics of storytelling principles that have been used over time. So I don't know if it's maybe a coincidence or maybe if it's that there's just aspects of what I think is really important is that storytelling vision driven way of communicating that Phil Knight built a multi billion dollar business on.

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Tom Finn:

Yeah, agreed. And it is the principle and the backbone of all of those challenges that we all face as entrepreneurs that we all sort of look up to that story and say, OK, I get it. You know, somebody else has gone down this path before me. So what do you think the hardest thing about being an entrepreneur is for you?

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Pete Sena:

I think, again, this is, I can only share my story, right? So subjectively, this is extremely subjective. I think the hardest part about being an entrepreneur is letting other people down.

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Tom Finn:

What do you mean by that?

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Pete Sena:

So when you're an entrepreneur, one of the most key parts of being an entrepreneur is crafting a vision, leading and getting people to join in on that vision, to see themselves, to empower them, back to the sign you've got behind you, to empower them to see themselves in that story, in that vision, in that journey. But I think as entrepreneurs, especially when you're just getting started, no matter if you're a Harvard MBA, or if you're just some punk kid in a college dorm like I was, I was not the Harvard MBA, I was the punk college kid, and you fuck up a lot, hope it's okay if I swear, and you make a lot of mistakes. And I think that a lot of times, it can be unrelenting on your life, because being an entrepreneur is kind of like your first child in some cases. You have an attachment to it and a dedication to it, and a commitment to it. like no other person ever will. And I think knowing that and being aware of that and accepting yourself and giving yourself some grace is really, really hard to do. I spent a lot of money over the years, probably too late to be candid, on business coaches, therapists, strategists, consultants, you name it. And I think the one thing that entrepreneurs really struggle with is that aspect right there.

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Tom Finn:

I tend to agree with you and I think the hardest part for entrepreneurs is to ask for help.

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Pete Sena:

100%.

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Tom Finn:

We think we can do it ourselves, right? We just pound our chest, get back to work, put in another hour, don't break for dinner, just keep going, keep grinding. That kind of non-strategic approach that's just, I've got to wear this like a badge of honor, which doesn't actually work long term, you just get burn out. So have you dealt with that yourself, sort of mental health issues, burnout? I know I've been there many times. What about you?

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Pete Sena:

Yeah. Well, it's really ironic that you say badge of honor because I wrote a blog post a couple years ago right after I kind of swang back from a full-on, basically nervous breakdown. And I'm not laughing about that because I don't take any jest in that. But the blog post, I think part of the title is how I stopped wearing busy as a badge of honor. I think one of the biggest challenges that entrepreneurs face above and beyond the ones we've already covered here. And Tom, I think you just covered a great one. We think that by filling our calendars and that busy is something we should be proud of. And I think what I've learned over the years is it's not. And if you don't focus on self care, you're gonna burn out. And I've had a pretty hard example of burnout where I almost lost my marriage over it, I almost lost my business over it, I almost lost the friendship and the relationships I had in my life over it. And it was because I was just trying so hard to get over that next hurdle and to not let the people down that stepped in to be a part of that vision, to not let the people down that, you know, we're hiring my companies at the time to whether it was doing brand consulting or investing or whatever it was, you know, I'm the kind of person that's on the team that even when I've got nothing left, I'm going to keep going for you because, you know, I'm just not going to step off the field, but I think with that, you know, you can show up and be a jerk. You can, you know, you show up and not be your best self. And I think that, you know, that's what I've been so inspired by books like shoe dog or drive by Daniel pink, which is one of my favorites. Definitely. If you haven't checked that one out, definitely toss that on the, on the, on the treadmill next, but yeah, no, that's, that's how I would answer that question, I think.

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Tom Finn:

So for those of you that are listening thinking, okay, burnout, sure, you know, maybe you acted like a jerk a couple days, the way that this manifests for many of us as we go through this is almost like a fog. So think of it like you think you're doing the right thing, you're driving the car the right direction, but you're in a field filled with fog. And you actually don't know the right direction, but you have all the confidence in the world that you're going the right way, but you're completely misaligned. And so what's the hardest part as just business people, I think this might be a male thing too, right? Like at times part of just, I don't like to go to the gender thing, but honestly like we're dumb animals some days and we just try to push through, through the fog without actually thinking clearly. And it's until the fog lifts that you realize, oh shoot, look at all the damage I've just done behind me. And how do I? repair that and by the way now I gotta turn the car around and go back you know through this. Is that the way you kind of think about this in terms of your life's journey?

Pete Sena:

So I think the way you described it is something that I can definitely identify with. I didn't see it. I felt that. I felt that way at times. What I think, I've got a lot more tools now than I did 18, 20 years ago and have to unpack some of those. But I think what I would say just to sort of make a military reference, though I was not in the military. I have a lot of friends who were or are. A lot of times when you're training to be like an elite soldier of a particular group, maybe seal, whatever it is, they put you through exhaustion training where they don't let you sleep for a number of days and you know, they're, they're really training you for war. And I think in doing that, what we start to see is that fog happen, right? The, your brain, your body starts to shut down. Um, and I always believe that there's a great book called the body keeps score. Like your body will tell you when you physically need to stop. Um, and I think that. that feeling of just true exhaustion where you've just given it your all and you're just so laser focused on that North Star. Like for me, yeah, things would get foggy, but I was always like always had that clear vision from the onset to where I was going. I never lost sight of the North Star, but sometimes I realized that I was completely upside down and what I thought was going North was really South by Southwest or whatever it is, not the conference. So I would say energetically, it feels the way that you just described it. I think for me, the one thing I do want to put out there is I do think that a lot of people quit six feet from gold, right? Where what I'm seeing now is this culture. I call it the Kardashian culture, right? Where everybody sees this, these successful people, celebrity like folks who have it all, right? They've got all the amenities, the material things in life, all the cool relationships and the access and all that sort of thing. But what they don't see is what it takes to get to that. Right, so a lot of people, you know, wanna poke fun or attack some of these celebrities. While I don't know Kim Kardashian personally, I have worked with and do know some other folks who have been at a similar level of wealth or access. And I think what I've realized is that it's, we're programming people the wrong way now. Like I mentioned that information obesity, we're programming people to think that that's what good looks like. But what they don't, what we don't show people is the hard work that comes with it. And I say that because I think that when you enter that fog, what ends up happening a lot of times is people quit. And I think that they quit six feet before they hit the target or they hit the goal. So I think sometimes there's no way around it. You have to push through that fog a little bit. That's where I think that you have to like really look at your vision. You have to look at your values. You have to look at who's on the team with you and you have to push through sometimes because. I would be full of shit if I got on this podcast and said that every time the going got tough and I wanted to quit, I did. Because if I did, I wouldn't be sitting here right now. I think I would be probably working for someone else in some corporate job somewhere. And that might be great, but that but then I would be serving somebody else's vision and not my own. And it's better to work for the devil, you know, than the devil you don't, in my opinion.

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Tom Finn:

So I've been through that path many, many times, and I've been blessed to have a co-founder on my journey who's just a great human being and balances me out.

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Pete Sena:

Awesome.

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Tom Finn:

And so my story is one of similar nature where you almost go out of business multiple, multiple times, right? You're running out of funding, have to raise another round, or have to take out loans, or you've got to dip into your 401k, or refi your house, or whatever it is, right? That's... That's the entrepreneurial way, man. And I feel like I'm not the only guy that's been there. And actually reading some of this, talking to you, talking to other entrepreneurs, this is the way that it goes. But you're right, I've had those moments, man, just like you, Pete, where I'm this, I feel like I'm this close, six feet to gold, and I'm like, I just can't give up. One more, one more push, right? One more push. And then you get to the end of that push, and you're going, Well, we're in a much better spot. We're not good yet. One more push, one more push. We keep going, we keep going. And here you are six years later for me on my entrepreneurial journey, 20 years or so later for you on your journey. What has changed for you from the beginning of this to where you are now? Are there some themes that have holistically changed in how you approach your life?

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Pete Sena:

1000% yes. So let me get real vulnerable with you because you took us there. Success for me used to be running away from failure. And I believe that me doing it was me proving other people wrong that told me when I was a kid that I wasn't going to be anybody or anything. That's what drove me for a long time, is that fear of failure, that fear of just like fucking up. Now what drives me, now what keeps me in the game, is my family. is the, and my family is not just my wife and my child, my family in a lot of ways, even though they say it's not good to think about your employees as your family and all those kinds of tropes out there, for me, my company, the people in my life that rely on me, whether it's employees or investors or whatever, those folks now give me a sense of purpose that is not about... wearing that chip on my shoulder. I had to spend a lot of money on coaching and therapy to realize that the true reality of who I am is a nerdy, creative, techie geek that just wants to make cool shit for the internet and work with cool people. But there was a lot of like trying to kill and fight my ego and I'm still killing fight my ego almost every day. Thank God for meditation and the different things I've got, but. It's a struggle, right? And I think that the challenge, especially in the world I come in, a lot of my clients are tech CEOs or big brand owners. There's a lot of ego. There's a lot of gravitas, charisma. What I'm excited by and inspired by is I think there's a new era of leadership. I think we are seeing women and folks that don't look like you and I, Tom, that I think are doing a much better job modeling what good leadership looks like. And what I've seen, you know, we, we put a lot of our new managers through dare lead training from BrenΓ© Brown. Um, and BrenΓ© Brown, if for the audience that might not know, of course, you know, I'm sure Tom, you know, she's a shame and vulnerability researcher, right? And the work that she does is all about modeling vulnerability. We, Tom, like you said, the badge of pride, the badge of honor, the toxic masculinity that I think all of us maybe grew up on a bit, we look like we're of a similar age is, you know, we thought to be tough meant to sort of just take all the hits, right? But now I think to be really tough, it's when you can put yourself out there for other people and show the vulnerability and say, you know what, like I might not be showing up right now, but it's actually because here's what's going on at home right now. And then I think when we can see each other as people, I think we can do a whole lot better job. But that was like 20 years worth of my experience in two minutes. I hope it's helpful and actionable for you and the audience.

Tom Finn:

Do you ever pat yourself on the back? Why not?

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Pete Sena:

I take more pride in patting others on the back.

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Tom Finn:

Do you ever think that you deserve a pat on the back too?

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Pete Sena:

Sometimes when I'm... what I'm out of gas. I sometimes think that, yeah, I would really appreciate a little bit more of a pat in the back. But I think that part of, in my opinion, part of being a leader means that your job is to model for others the things that you wanna see. And I think that it's not really in my DNA right now to pat myself on the back. Maybe it's something I could work on, but.

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Tom Finn:

Well, look, from all of us out there in podcast land to you, Pete, here's your pat on the back.

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Pete Sena:

I appreciate that, Tom.

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Tom Finn:

You've been doing a great job. You've come a long way and your level of vulnerability is at an all time high in the ability to not only live in the present moment, but look to the past and learn from it. So that is an absolute massive Shaq diesel hand on your back. for that pat on the back because look man, many people can be six feet away, turn around, walk away and feel like a failure, right? What you're saying is you've been through it, you've lived it, you've done it for 20 years and here you are now saying and the therapist and the coach and the meditation and you're doing all of these things to better yourself so you can be a better father, a better husband, a better member of your community, a better manager to your team, a better leader. for your partners. I mean, I think that says a heck of a lot, man. You should be proud of yourself.

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Pete Sena:

I really appreciate you saying that. And the thing that I also want to put out there that I think is. something I see a lot is, you know what I think is worse than quitting before six feet from gold?

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Tom Finn:

What's that?

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Pete Sena:

Blaming other people for your lack of success.

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Tom Finn:

Ah, yes.

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Pete Sena:

I see that a lot.

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Tom Finn:

Do you really see that from co-founders or founders that have sort of buried the company?

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Pete Sena:

I see it from people at all stages in their career. I see it from a young college person who feels like they're entitled to more in their first job that is Wutherstone School. I see it from founders who have run out of money or not being able to raise a follow-on fund, who blame headwinds or tailwinds or whatever. I see it from employees at companies large and small. where it's their boss's fault, it's their teammate's fault, it's somebody else's fault. I used to use blame as a technique to cope with my inadequacies. And what therapy and business coaching taught me was blame people and don't make blame just a bad thing, right? So like, like. Now I blame my dad for making me driven and focused. I blame the CFO that robbed me in my company years ago. I blame him for teaching me about financial management and good management of finances, right? I blame people who have talked badly about me behind my back for teaching me about the things that are projections of themselves, right? Versus in the past, I would blame, oh, we had that really bad year because that thing happened, or I would blame it on this person or that person. But the truth of the matter is, is like when you're an entrepreneur, or forget about being an entrepreneur, like when you're just a citizen of this world, like you gotta look in the mirror and you gotta realize that you have every part to play in shaping your destiny. And if you get caught up in that blame shit, Like I would just say, flip that around because it's going to be the difference between you waking up and wanting to go right back to bed or you waking up and realizing that you've got a job to do, whether that's work or life or family, and you got to get up and do it. And we all do stuff every single day that we don't want to do. And anybody who tells you that that's not the truth is, you know, probably foolish.

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Tom Finn:

So do you think that's being purpose driven, or is that sort of pointing two thumbs at yourself and being accountable, or is it maybe a little bit of both?

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Pete Sena:

1000% it's both.

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Tom Finn:

So you're saying that the way that we should look at the world is find your purpose, be purpose driven, understand that you've got to get out of bed in the morning. And then when you do that, whatever happens, don't blame anybody else. Take those two big old thumbs, point them right at you and say, I'm accountable for whatever happens today.

Pete Sena:

Yeah, I mean, what I always say is first comes the what, then comes the so what. And one of the things I like to think about is one of my favorite Mark Twain quotes, right? The two most important days of your life, the day you're born and the day you realize why.

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Tom Finn:

Yeah, and that's the purpose part. And then the accountability part is just making sure you hold yourself accountable to that purpose and then go execute, right? Because that is the hardest part for most people. There's a zillion ideas out there, great ideas in people's brains. The hardest part is taking it and actually putting it into those fingertips and making it happen, right?

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Pete Sena:

Yeah, there's a there's a literal thing. I mean, I keep this cameras fixed, but there's a literal thing on that wall that I can send you an email with that says ideas are nothing without execution. And it's a it's one of those paint plank things. I did that with some friends. And it's been a mantra and a speech that's been with me and most of my companies for as long as I can remember. It was originally the five word Webby speech that we gave for when we worked with Lady Gaga. And it was like we had five minutes to come up with a speech. They're like, you have five words. And I'm like, Ideas are nothing without execution. And like that one five word speech, I've made posters about it. I've made t-shirts about it. Like it's been a screensaver background, like, but I absolutely, I think that vision without execution is hallucination and I don't want to hallucinate. And if I'm hallucinating, I want it to be because I took some mushrooms or something and not because I'm getting high on my own supply.

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Tom Finn:

Well done. So what's next for Pete? What is next on your trajectory? Because I get this sense with you that you're not a guy that's slowing down. You're a guy that's kicking ass and taking names, kicking down doors and opening up new markets. What's on the horizon as you look into the future?

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Pete Sena:

I love that question, Tom. So what I would say is. what I've gotten a lot of joy and fulfillment from. And right now, one of the things that, so I used to chase different things. Now I'm really more about attracting versus chasing, but I do think that the only thing I still chase is joy and fulfillment. And I chase those things down pretty hard. And what I've realized is I've got the, we've got our beliefs, we've got our principles, we've got our values. One of my core beliefs is creativity and curiosity is broken. I think it's broken in business. I think it's broken in the world. And I think that if you dig into the science on it, as I have, you've realized far smarter people out there can tell us that when you have a sense of curiosity and creativity in your life, you can live a more connected life. You can live a happier life in many ways. So because creativity is broken in business, it's broken a lot of people's lives, I want to inspire people. And my mission now, my Ikegai or whatever you want to refer to it as, um, is. I'm here to unlock creativity in people's lives. I'm here to unlock curiosity in people's lives. So a lot of the newer ventures I've been creating by design, they have a couple things in common, right? Number one, they've got to have network effects, right? You know, what's the multiplier effect on that? Whether that's, you know, number two, it's they've got to have what I call marketplace arbitrage, right? That's a really important thing. And then number three, I think, is like limited customization. One of the things I learned the hard way, is businesses that have high amounts of customization don't scale nearly as well as businesses with limited customization. What I realized early on in my, sorry, what I've realized later in my career now is that one business doesn't have to be all things. You can have multiple businesses, and in some cases by creating smaller businesses that have independent visions, you can connect them to a bigger vision. So now a lot of what I'm really passionate about is helping... business leaders, helping young people unlock that creativity, that curiosity. So I've been taking all the things that have worked for me over the past 20 years, really trying to codify them, put them into a set of frameworks and ways of thinking and being, and trying to put those systems into people's hands. And that's allowed me to do some really incredible work with people from all walks and talks of life. And I see myself doing that for the next 20 years. You know, I think that I'm at a point now where. I want to be able to lead from the back. I don't, I don't want to be the person that has to be in the limelight all the time. I want to help create a platform for other people. And I want to be the mentor that I needed that I didn't have when I was 19 years old, when I was, you know, messing up and trying to build an agency and I didn't know my ass from my elbow. I want to be able to be that for other people. And by other people, I mean, that could be the 17 year old kid who grew up with no parents and doesn't see a future for himself because he couldn't afford to go to college. And that's someone that I'm actually working with right now, or that can be the CEO of a company that just raised $20 million. Also someone I'm working with right now. Um, and I think how I engage with those folks and what I do with them, while at the surface level, it's a bit different at the core. It's exactly the same thing, which is how do I help that person unlock clarity of vision and mapping where they're at right now to where they're going and ultimately What better way to do that than with branding and marketing and storytelling. So that's kind of where I'm headed in the, in my sort of future state. It's at least part of the next three year plan. Um, as for like the 10 and 20 year plan, you know, if I make it that long, um, I think that's going to really come down to being able to create the multiplier effects with the different companies that I'm starting or investing in.

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Tom Finn:

Yeah, I love the way that you rounded that out for us. And one final question, when you look at your universe of companies, do you tie that altogether in your broader vision? You said that it's possible in your dialogue there, but is that something that you are focused on taking your, your vision tying companies underneath it together?

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Pete Sena:

1000%. So right now everything has this one word in common and that word is forward. And you know, my podcast is called forward obsessed. My innovation program is called think forward. Our thinking framework is called the Ford obsessed framework. And I refer to myself as the Ford obsessed founder. So I think that mantra of Ford obsessed people like, well, what does that mean Pete unpack that? Well, what that means is having an owner's mindset and everything that you do, right? whether you're an intern or the CEO or the board of directors, you know, having a sense of ownership in the things that you do, whether it's a singular task or an entire company I believe in. That's one part of it. The second part of it's growth mindset, right? You know, I'm a huge believer that the way we think about ourselves today, I strive to get 1% better every single day. I want to be a 1% better in whatever the areas that I'm working on. Cause that lets me feel like I'm taking this really big goal. and I'm chunking it down one tiny little thing I can do. What's the one thing I can do today or stop doing today that gets me to that phase? So for me, that forward mantra is something that I unpack in all the different things that we do. And look, for the audience listening to this, it's like, it's easy to say this. It's really hard to walk the talk, right? And what I realize is what enables me to walk the talk, right? I've got an amazing wife that has my back. I've got an amazing son watching him grow up. You know, I've got a literal like, picture of him that I look at every single moment of the day that kind of gets me right back on track, but I've got a tough meeting or I get my butt kicked by somebody emotionally or financially. So I think it's having that sense of purpose, knowing where I'm going and knowing that I wanna leave this place and by this place I mean the planet in a better place than I found it. And I think the only way to do that is if I get up and I keep showing up, right? And what I've recognized is that when I show up for myself, I can show up for others. And that's why things like meditation are important and you know. working out and taking care of myself. I never thought about that stuff 20 years ago. I would be so much better if I knew those lessons then because none of the books talk about that, right? Early days, it's hustle porn, all this hustle porn, all the things you gotta do to build, scale, blitz scale, this scale, zero to one scale, lean startup scale, hustle, but nobody actually says, hey Pete, take a pause. Go meditate for 15 minutes. When you come back, the world sky will stop falling. Hey Pete, that fog that you saw because you can't focus because you've been staring at the screen for 12 hours, take a break, go work out for an hour, call your loved one, listen to a song, dance and look stupid. So I hope if you're listening to this now, you recognize that anybody that tells you to have it all figured out, me and Tom don't have it all figured out, right? We're just here showing up to try to show you what's worked for us and hopefully it works for you.

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Tom Finn:

There isn't much of a topic I can put on top of that. That was beautifully said, Pete. Thank you for your thoughtful words, your energy, and the way that you approach your daily work. It's something to behold and appreciate how you're doing it.

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Pete Sena:

Appreciate that man. And I appreciate what you're doing. I think that this is a really inspiring podcast. I had no idea it existed until we got connected through, you know, mutual colleagues and you know, I'm looking forward to having that be something that pops up on my rides home.

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Tom Finn:

Awesome, brother. Well, look, thank you for joining the podcast. Thank you for being with us today. How can people get ahold of you if they want to get in touch?

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Pete Sena:

Yeah. So I'm Pete Senna on LinkedIn, Twitter, medium, um, most places. If you Google Pete Sena, um, if you, if the nuclear energy company comes up, that is not me, that's a different Pete Sena. Um, I I've gotten that sometimes, but, yeah, generally just at Pete Sena on pretty much most of the channels.

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Tom Finn:

Yeah, we'll take all of that, put it in the show notes. Can't thank you enough, my friend, for being on the show with us today.

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Pete Sena:

Likewise, brother. Appreciate you.

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Tom Finn:

And thanks to you for tuning into the Talent Empowerment Podcast. We hope you've unpacked a few tips and tricks to love your job. Certainly from this conversation, a little bit of vulnerability goes a long way. Get ready to dive back into all things, career and happiness on the next episode. We'll see you then my friends.

Tom Finn
Podcaster & Co-Founder

Tom Finn (he/him) is an InsurTech strategist, host of the Talent Empowerment podcast, and co-founder and CEO of an inclusive people development platform.

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