Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots
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518 - The Standard of Self-Care: Unlocking Personal Growth with Chris Pallatroni

March 28th, 2024

In this episode, host Victoria Guido interviews Chris Pallatroni, creator of The Standard, a platform dedicated to sharing self-care stories. Chris shares how his interests in gardening and mental wellness fueled the inception of The Standard, which was initially intended to be a landscaping venture.

He delves into the hurdles faced while developing the platform, highlighting the struggle for product-market fit and the critical role of integrating technology with human connection to enable meaningful support and interactions.

Chris underscores storytelling's pivotal role in enhancing mental health, advocating for the sharing of personal triumphs over adversity to motivate and assist others facing similar challenges. He envisions The Standard as a vast collection of genuine, relatable self-care narratives aimed at reducing the feeling of isolation among individuals. Through inviting users to share their experiences, Chris seeks to leverage human connections to cultivate a community supportive of mental health and personal development.

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Transcript:

 VICTORIA: This is the Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots podcast, where we explore the design, development, and business of great products. I'm your host, Victoria Guido. And with me today is Chris Pallatroni, Founder of The Standard, a storytelling platform where people share stories about self-care. Chris, thank you for joining me.

CHRIS: Yeah. Thanks for having me on. It's a pleasure.

VICTORIA: Wonderful. So, before we dive into all about The Standard, why don't you just tell me a little bit about what's going on in your world outside of work? Anything fun? Anything exciting?

CHRIS: Yeah. Well, first of all, I've got two boys, so for anybody that's listening that has kids, I mean, let's be honest, your life is completely chaotic. So, I've got two boys, one's almost 12, one's almost 10, so all boy, all the time. That's just another way of saying our house is really loud, and there's just tons of stuff happening, sports, whatnot. I also have a wife, a beautiful wife. She's my better half. I've been with her for 24 years. So, between that, I got three cats, not that they take a lot of energy, but there's just a lot of love in our household. So, that's sort of, like, the family side of things.

And then I'm an avid gardener. I'm really big into mental health and wellness, which, as we start to talk about The Standard, will become really evident. So, I'm all about just doing the things that you need to do to take care of yourself, so lots of running, lots of working out, lots of just being in nature. I know you're a surfer, so, I mean, let's be honest, water is amazing. So yeah, anything I can do to, like, duck out into nature and spend time with my family. Honestly, there's just not enough time in the day.

VICTORIA: What is growing in your garden that you're the most proud of?

CHRIS: You don't want to get me started on gardening. So, before I started The Standard, honestly, I thought I was going to be a landscaper, and the name of The Standard actually was going to be applied to a landscaping company. So, I am a professional landscaper. I took all the classes: soil, science, irrigation. I got the degree in design and maintenance.

I have a tiny, little property, but I have about 700 plants on my property. So, I know everything on the roses, and grass, and camellias. I mean, I'm that guy that, like, likes to see...nature is just amazing, first of all. And it also has very therapeutic qualities when we start to talk about mental health and well-being, birdsong, water, greenery, sunsets, sunrises.

I'm also developing a piece of land. We have a house we're building, and it's three acres. So, I'm in the process of building out, like, what I'm going to just describe as the most amazing garden anybody's ever seen. I really take a lot of pride in gardening. I'm very disciplined and very specific on how things grow. And so, I've got a property that's about an acre and a half I'm planting, which will probably have, like, 20,000 plants on it when it's all said and done.

VICTORIA: So, you have 700 plants now, and you plan to have 20,000, so you don't want to choose favorites. There's nothing...you got to, like, spread the love around.

CHRIS: God, it's like saying, which child do you love more? I mean, right now on my property the ones that currently stand out is I've got a couple of these Eden Rose bushes that I've trained to climb up. I've got three of them. The one in the front of my house is about 20 feet tall at this point. So, I've trained it to grow up the entire side of my house. In full bloom, it will have about 300 roses on it in full bloom. And so, an Eden Rose has about a 220 petal count. So, it's a very dense rose. They are a pain in the butt to prune, but they're pretty spectacular in full bloom.

VICTORIA: That sounds really beautiful. And I hope you send me some pictures [laughs] after the show. Send them to me in an email because I want to see...I love growing, but I do not have a green thumb. I usually try to pick what is most likely to survive [laughs].

CHRIS: That's my wife's strategy. She's like, what can I not kill? And, surprisingly, even with, like, cactuses, she still finds a way to kill some of them, so...[laughs]

VICTORIA: Some people have it, some people don't. I do agree on the therapeutic side. And I'm curious, too, having this background, how did you go from landscape and this interest in growing things to starting businesses?

CHRIS: Yeah, you know, the landscaping actually picked up at a much later stage. So, if I rewind my entrepreneurial journey, it started in 2004. I got mixed up with some guys as I was finishing up my degree in economics and finance. I was like, look, I don't have, like, a 4.9 GPA, so I'll probably need some sort of internship that starts to separate me. Anyways, got mixed up with some guys that were running a franchise painting company, took part in that, really loved the idea of seeing something grow. Did really well on that internship. You really ran, like, a mini-painting division of this larger company, so knocking on doors, producing painting jobs, so forth, and so on.

At the end of that, which was a really intense about a year internship, they said, "Hey, we're going to build this marketing company. Do you want in?" And I was like, "Let's do it." And so, what I really wanted...and that was, like, my first major let's start a business. And I loved the idea of taking something from an idea to...the idea was, could we sell it for a hundred million dollars? So, the money was attributed to it, but I wanted to see something grow.

And so, we went at it for, like, 15 years. We did end up selling, not at a hundred. We sold it for, like, 70 million. But we did really well. It was a bootstrapped company. We built this massive national marketing company. It's sort of like match.com for contracting. You can take a consumer that's interested in remodeling their house and connect them to a local contractor. And we built that all from, like, a bedroom with plyboard and literally rotary phones all the way to a national brand that's...I think we became the second largest in the space.

It's still the company I still work for. As I build this other business, I'm still working at that. We're pushing 250 million now. But the concept of building something and selling it I thought was really intriguing. Landscaping was just a hobby that came in much later in my life. Thought that was going to be my next venture. I decided to pivot after getting all of the education, mainly because I wanted to build something that had application for everybody.

And what I started to realize in landscaping is the average consumer doesn't have $50,000 to dump on their backyard. And what I didn't want to do is work for rich people and wineries. I really wanted to build a magical, little space for the average person. But I also started to realize most people don't have that type of income, which then pivoted me to The Standard, which I thought had more universal application.

VICTORIA: That's really interesting. So, I love that because there's, like, a common phrase you hear about tech where every company is also a tech company now. So, it's really interesting to hear and, like, to hear about you think about growth and how it applies to businesses and that care that you put into it as well.

CHRIS: Yeah. I mean, I think everything is tech-related in a lot of different ways. I don't know, I think at least with The Standard, like, there's such a human element, and I still need to figure out so much about it. But as tech-driven as we get, we're still a social species. We still want human connection. And maybe at one point far off in the future, like, a robot can replace some of that, but the human connection, the human story, the ability to feel connected and not isolated or alone has very profound impacts on people's mental health and well-being.

And so, as much as I still have to figure out, I try not to over-index on too much tech and try to keep things very authentic and organic. Because I think when you do that right and you can do the matching of a consumer that's interested in a specific story with someone that has gone through that experience who can share that story, that connection is very profound. So, I do think it is a blend of tech, but I try not to dive too deep into the tech side of things.

VICTORIA: Right. It's more that you need technology as a tool to solve the problems of the people that you're trying to work for or trying to, like, provide services for. So, it sounds like, to recap a little bit, you were part of growing this company. You were able to build it and sell it for 70 million. And then, you decided to, like, keep doing it. You're like, that was fun. Let's do another one [laughs].

CHRIS: Well, I mean, in all honesty, I think some of the challenges become when you're starting a company, which is incredibly invigorating. But if you're starting a company in an area that you don't have expertise...so, although I know a lot about mental health and wellness, I've read hundreds of books. I interviewed lots of people. I hired you guys to do some market research for me. So, I'm not naive, but I've never built a platform that does what I'm trying to do. And in all my research, I haven't exactly even seen a platform that does exactly what I do. So, it's hard to have that perfect measuring stick.

And so, you know, what I've realized along the journey is it's really easy to spend money, and it's really hard to find product-market fit. And so, what I've chosen to do, and maybe it takes a little bit longer to get there, is rather than, like, go all in, quit my day job, and really just financially stress the crap out of myself and my wife, I still have a day job. I get paid exceptionally well. I'm very senior in my company. It's not overly stressful, but it also pays the bills.

And so, I think one of the things I've learned about being an entrepreneur is you've got to enjoy the journey. And so, I do enjoy what I still do, and it serves a very valuable purpose. And it gives me still the freedom to play around with The Standard, to still do the things that I want to do. Sure, I can't burn as many hours on it, but at the same time, if I quit this job, my runway would highly compress, and maybe that's good for some people, but there's still just so much I have to figure out. So, I need the runway.

VICTORIA: I can relate to that, and I think that's a really common story for people who have a great idea, and they need the time and space to find the right product-market fit to move forward and then make the big investment with your time and all the, like, other financial investments you would need. So, maybe to go back to the beginning a little bit, what led you to think of starting The Standard in the first place?

CHRIS: So, I'll try to say this as succinctly as possible. Life is really hard for a lot of people, you know, and you can dice it up in a lot of different ways, whether we're talking about, like, you know, global events that happen, be it war, be it COVID, you know, anything on a very large level. But even on an individual level, like, we lose people. People are dealing with weight issues, how to eat healthy, stress. There's a lot.

When we start to think about the concept of mental health and well-being, it is overwhelming. And I'm built for discipline. I've always been that way. I'm incredibly disciplined as a person. Some things may feel like they come a little easier to me, but I also look at like, oh my God, I got to worry about like, how do I sleep right? And how do I eat right? And then, how do I exercise? And then you got to be grateful for stuff, and then have social friends, and then be with your family. Like, I mean, adulting is tough; let's just be honest.

And so, a lot of the concept behind The Standard was I have the freedom to explore a lot of this stuff. I've had the luxury to read hundreds of books and, meet so many people, and really invest a lot as to educating myself about these various topics that I think are important.

I also have the luxury to deploy a lot of these strategies in my personal life, and it's a privilege to be able to do that. And a lot of people don't have that. They're struggling. They're working multiple jobs. They don't have a lot of time in the day. Maybe they're commuting. They don't have the luxury to take care of themselves. And that's just the Western world. Do you want to, like, dive into the Global South or start to look at, like, Ukraine or stuff like that? Like, there's just people, like, literally just trying to make it through the day, let alone be grateful about something or eat healthy.

And so, I started to realize, like, God, if I think this is even remotely challenging, what does somebody else feel about their mental health and well-being? And so, that was sort of the jump off of, like, it is tough to maintain your sanity. It is tough to do all of those things. Is there a way that I can make that process easier for people? And so, that just led to a rabbit hole that started about six months before COVID hit, so late 2019. I spent a lot of time researching.

I read several hundred books on habit formation and neuroscience and all these different topics. And, I mean, to the point where I was reading every morning, typing notes of these books, mind mapping this out, looking for the connection of all these topics. And what I was trying to figure out is what is the least amount of information somebody needs to know to have the most profound effect on their life? And what I came to as a conclusion was most people will not read a book or listen to a podcast. Some will, but the average person won't. They don't have the time, the desire.

But everybody's got a problem they're trying to solve, whatever that problem may be, and if you could take somebody that has a problem and you could find a way to connect them to somebody who had that problem but is a little farther down the road. So, let's pick something pretty simple, like weight loss. I've interviewed a lot of people on my podcast this year that have lost 100 pounds, which is a really big number. And even if it's not a hundred pounds, you want to lose 20 pounds. The point being is that weight is a big issue for a lot of people. It affects their self-esteem, their body image. There's a number of things that, like, impact that.

But if you could connect somebody who's really struggling to lose weight with somebody who has lost that weight and could share their story, how they felt, the habits they've deployed, and most importantly, they could talk about that experience, what would happen is the person that's been through that issue, if you will, would use a set of language that would be very specific and would resonate with the person that hasn't overcome the challenge yet.

And this is what's so unique about it is: I don't know what that particular challenge is like. I've never had that particular issue. I won't know the language to use. But if you've ever talked to somebody who has lost a significant amount of weight, they will use words, and they will give examples that only somebody who's struggling with it would resonate with.

I remember doing an interview, and a lady was like, "God, you know," she's like, "I was so overweight. I would be very thoughtful of getting on the ground because I wasn't sure if I could get back up. Or I'd be very thoughtful of the chair I sat on in case it broke." I mean, these are the things I'm like, unless you're overweight, you don't think about that.

And so, my idea was like, could I take somebody who's overcome some of these problems, get them to share some of those self-care stories that they used to solve whatever that problem was, and then create a mechanism in which somebody who was struggling with, in this case, weight loss, that they could type in, "How do you deal with weight loss?" and they could connect to other people that have developed the habits and the mindsets that helped them through that? And weight loss is just an example, but you could pick anything from racism to depression to domestic violence and so forth and so on.

The caveat there is you need a mechanism to connect the person that's overcome the challenge with the person that's still going through it. So, you got to get a lot of people on the other side of the tunnel to share their story and to know that they're doing it maybe not to monetize it but to do it for the benefit of other people who were like them at one point.

VICTORIA: Yeah, if I can try to summarize what you meant when you said, like, what's the least amount of information to have the most profound realization on how to impact your life? It sounds like what you discovered was that it's human connection to other humans who have had the same experience and survived it and overcome those challenges.

CHRIS: Yeah, without a doubt, because I think when you're struggling with an issue, you tend to think you're alone. You tend to think the way you're thinking about your addiction to something, or your weight loss, or your body image; you tend to think, oh, this is just me. And what motivates somebody who's in that mindset is to hear somebody else who can use a certain set of language that helps them realize, wow, I'm not alone. There is other people that have gone through this particular issue. And what that does is it starts to open up the door, open up their mind in a way of, wow, change can happen.

Now, you can't copy other people's habits. It doesn't exactly work that way. But what it can do is at least give you a starting place to say, "Here's somebody who I feel is like me in some ways, and they've made it to the other side. Here's some of the habits, and the mindsets, routines that they specifically have that have helped them get through this. Maybe I can try some of those on, at least as a starting place, and then I can modify them as time..."

So, it really starts with the mindset and the clarity of I'm not alone and maybe there is some hope. And I think that's a really big thing when you're talking about some of these very large issues that people run into on a day-to-day basis.

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VICTORIA: So, what lessons did you learn from your previous experience in starting a business are you taking into what you're doing now with The Standard?

CHRIS: Oh my God, so many lessons. Well, I mean, here's the brutal reality is: I've chosen to go in an industry that doesn't exactly have carryover effects. I was in marketing, dealing with homeowners and contractors, and now I'm diving into mental health. So, I, unfortunately, don't get to, like, flex my black book and, you know, voilà myself into, like, success here. I've also chosen to go from marketing and generating leads to now I'm trying to build a platform, which apparently is one of the hardest things you could possibly do.

But here's one that I really do take away, and it's probably not in the way that you actually intended that I would answer, but here's the biggest lesson I've taken away. When I built the first company, Jason Polka was our CEO, and Gabe Luna...it was three of us that really started it. So much of that entire journey...especially after the first five years of building the infrastructure, and you started to move out of the basement, and you had a corporate office, and, you know, you felt a little bit more legit. You started generating 10, 20 million dollars a year in revenue.

I'd say from year, like, five through the time we sold it, I just wanted to sell the company. So much of the conversation became around, when is this going to happen? And it was always a grind. I mean, building a company is just tough. I mean, maybe some people, it works out, and everything's great, but it's really tough. A lot of businesses don't succeed, and we were very lucky that we did.

But so much of it was me just trying to check off that final box of, like, I just want them to say, "We did it." It wasn't even really the payout. It was, just, I want to know that we were capable of doing it. And what happened is there was so much of that ten years where I wasn't enjoying the journey. I mean, don't get me wrong, like, I love the people I worked with, some great friendships. But it was so much of like, how do we fast forward this a little bit?

And so, once the day happened that it was sold, and especially as I started to embark on this other side, I said, look, I'm now in my, like, early 40s. Like, that can't happen again. I mean, maybe I never sell the next company. Maybe I'm working on this for a decade or two decades. I need to enjoy the journey. Like, my kids are young once. Like, I've got this wife. I've got this life. Like, selling a company is great, but it is not the defining thing of your life. Like, you still need to live your life.

And so, the big lesson I took away from it is how do I enjoy the journey as I go through this process? And I'll be honest, that is a big mind f, if you will, like, it's not an easy thing to do because as entrepreneurs, you're very much like, well, what metrics, and what's the next milestone? And dah, dah, dah, dah. And, like, dude, it's brutal. So, I'm really trying to, like, enjoy the process, even if the process is a struggle.

VICTORIA: What are your top strategies for enjoying the process or making it fun?

CHRIS: Well, one, take care of your mental health and your well-being [laughs], whatever that is for you. I do a lot of weekly planning. And so, when I do my weekly planning, it literally will come down to I look at my schedule, and I make sure I get my runs in there. I get my gardening in there. I get my time at my kids' events, my time with my wife. I get my workouts. I make sure I eat healthy. I do everything that I can to take as good of care of Chris as I possibly can. You know, a cliché is to say, but you can't pour from an empty cup.

So, if you want to give your best to your company, your family, your friends, your community, whatever, like, you really do need to prioritize yourself. Self-care is not selfish. So, that's the number one thing I do.

I'd say the other thing, too, is how do you deal with anxiety? How do you deal with this constant...and anxiety is one of the most pronounced mental health issues on our planet. 350 million people deal with this annually. It's easy to start to think about the future and to fill in the gap with the worst-case scenario, to get anxiety of, like, oh my God, I didn't do this, or I shouldn't be doing that.

And so, learning to just take a deep breath, do the best job you can. Let your intuition carry you, and not be so judgmental when it doesn't turn out the way you want it. Like, I wish I had much more success at this stage of the business than I do. But I'm still making forward progress, and I'm enjoying the process, and I'm learning stuff. And could I be faster? Yeah, probably.

So, I try not to over-index on what I'm not doing, and I try to just take the best next step possible and just trust it will all work out but be okay if it didn't. That's easier said than done sometimes, especially if you've never had success. I think part of it is the fact that I've been successful in selling a company. I mean, in a lot of ways, like, hey, I know I could. Maybe I can do it again. Maybe I can't. And I'm okay either way that that pans out.

VICTORIA: I think that part about being okay if it doesn't is so important. And tying that together to what you mentioned earlier about being financially stable enough to invest in what you want to invest in, like, it's a really big, important thing for founders. And I think if you're constantly worried about how am I going to pay myself? How am I going to pay my bills? You're not really going to be focused on building the best product, or actually solving the problem, or being willing to pivot in a way you need to to create something that is going to last and be really impactful for people. I think that's really interesting.

In climbing, there's some...it teaches me that because I have some projects that probably I might never complete them [laughs]. They're really hard. The people who actually create videos of themselves climbing it are, like, six feet tall, and I'm never going to be six feet tall, but I just try to enjoy the hike up to the climb. I enjoy going up to this little boulder and just, like, touching it and feeling it.

So, I'm curious if you could say more about how are you thinking The Standard will solve that problem and, like, create that connection for you and, like, solve your anxieties as, like, a founder about, is this company working well enough? Do you connect people in that same way as well?

CHRIS: There's a famous quote that says, "It takes seven years to become an overnight success." I mean, maybe in some ways, it even takes longer, depending on what you're trying to build here. And, I don't know, success is somewhat arbitrary. You know, like, I remember when I got the call that we sold our first company, which was the moment I was waiting for, I remember getting the call. I was driving home. "Hey, we did this. Here's your payout." I did not feel any more successful in that moment. Like, it wasn't like that checked off the box. I'm like, well, there I go. I'm super successful now. It was like, now what?

You know, my kids didn't, like, hug me and be like, "Oh, successful dad sold companies," you know, it wasn't. It was like, you know, life continued. And it was just such a powerful reminder of so much of the significance that we put on things is like, it's us. Like, I don't want to say nobody else cares because, you know, a lot of entrepreneurs are trying to build products that, you know, change the world, make a meaningful difference to people's lives. And we do put a disproportionate burden on ourselves of, like, God, if I don't do this, maybe it just doesn't get done.

I think, for me, when I'm building The Standard, I try to, one, I always try to think of like, enjoy the journey. Am I doing things that I enjoy doing? So, we started a podcast last year. I mean, The Standard, like, so just a quick on timeframe, I mean, I spent a year building it. So, I did all this research for about two years, including hiring you guys.

I got to the place where I'm like, okay, I think I got a concept, not product-market fit. I just got a concept, and I want to start to build that out into reality. Hired a designer, really great designer. Found him, you know, cold-called him, got him involved. Took us six months to build literally, like, a wireframe of like, it could look like this.

And then I was like, okay, great. Now I'm going to go sell that to a VC and, like, convince him to give me millions of dollars. And I was like, and then I quickly realized, like, you absolutely have nothing at the moment, Chris. Like, there's nothing here. There's, like, you think you got something, like, you've got nothing. Like, there's no users. I mean, you got literally nothing here. And I was like, okay, great, so nobody's going to give me any money for this. Where do I go from here?

And then I was like, well, I need to build something to see how people interact with it. So, then I decided to go through a no-code platform when I spent ten months teaching myself how to build something using no-code. So, I used bubble.io, which was a really great product. Now, that was a big mind cluster right there because I'm not a coder. I'm sort of the visionary of a product. That's, like, I'm not the technical expertise. But I didn't have a CTO. So, I was like, I need to solve for this problem. So, I taught myself how to use this.

That was incredibly painful but incredibly rewarding because I know how to build something. So, then I built this, and then we beta test the launch, but now I'm like, okay, [inaudible 24:46] I built this, but I don't even know if it's a product-market fit. I don't even know if I built the right thing yet. Now, I got to see people who will interact with it. And then I was like, well, then how do you even get this thing to be exposed to the world? Like, it is just every step along the way; there's some mountain that seems insurmountable. You find a way to get to the peak, and then you realize there's a larger mountain that's [laughs] right behind it.

And so, then it led down to, like, how do I get people to be aware of what I built? Played around with that for six months. And then, I was like, I got to start a podcast, like, now I'll interview people. And so, it's just a constant iteration of, like, toying around with some stuff. And look, there's plenty of things I do that I'm like, that clearly fails.

And I think the question I ask myself a lot with the things that don't work is, did you give them enough time to be successful? Did you go about them in the right way and then decide to pivot? And, like, you won't always know all the answers to that. So, I think the point in giving sort of that timeline right there is it's a constant evolution, and you just do the best job you can and be okay with how the sort of the cards fall.

VICTORIA: Yeah. And if you fail or it doesn't work how you expect it, it's like, well, did I learn something? And did I have fun doing it? [laughs]

CHRIS: And if you take care of yourself along the way and you haven't sacrificed your own mental health and your well-being, your relationships with your kids, your partner, whoever it is, then at least you, like, if you fail, you're not like, and now I'm 30 pounds overweight. I'm miserable. My mental health is suffering. Like, you've got to balance that out. And so, I think that's going back to enjoying the journey as like, don't lose sight of the things that are really important. Building a company, yes, important, and for some people, it is really important. But at the end of the day, your health, your sanity are the most important things that you have.

And so, I see all too often that a lot of entrepreneurs and just people in general are willing to literally kick that to the curb to chase some prestige, some recognition, some financial gain. And look, man, like, you know, there's plenty of rich people out there that are completely miserable, that are unhappy.

I always think of Steve Jobs a lot. He had really lot of good...he did a commencement speech at Stanford when he was diagnosed with cancer. And, I mean, this is one of the most successful business people on our planet. Apple is the most successful company today at three trillion dollars or so market cap. And here's the visionary of the company. And when he was diagnosed with cancer, all he wanted was more time. It wasn't like, oh, I need more time to build another product. It's like the dude just wanted to be around longer. It didn't matter how many billions of dollars he had or products. Those were things that sort of fell to the wayside. It was all about his health.

So, point being is like, just over-indexing on success and not really looking at what is success; success is your mental health, your well-being. That is real success.

VICTORIA: Yeah. Wow. I can relate to that, too. I had, like, at a very young age, decided, oh, I'm going to be, like, an IT project manager. And then I got my PMP certification and I was like, oh, well, what do I do now? [laughs] What's the next thing? And it's just like, keep going and going and going. So, enjoy the moment, you know, love the journey, and prioritize that above those things. And that includes, like, learning, learning all these different parts of, like, how to build a business and how to build product.

It reminds me of a journey that we hear where you could have a great idea and you're like, oh, I need to design it, and then I need to build it. And then, like, a year later, you're like, wow, I haven't talked to any users yet [laughs]. It's like, I don't actually know anything about what people want. And that's a really difficult thing to do.

And it's a very emotional journey as well to go out and talk to people and try to ask questions in a way that doesn't give you false positives or false negatives and being able to leave your ego to the side and actually connect with people and hear about their problems. So, how has that been for you? Has there been anything in your discovery process that has surprised you and caused you to pivot in direction?

CHRIS: And although you didn't ask the question in this way, a recommendation I would have for a lot of people and, you know, if you read The Lean Startup, it's a good book. It's one worth reading. I read a lot of product books and stuff. I would say, like, imagine you have no money. How will you test your concept? Like, so, like, I came into building this with some capital behind me, my own capital. And it's just easy to spend money, and not that I was naive to think spending money you do need to invest in some things, but I wish I had a lot less money than I did coming into it because I would have spent a lot less money.

And I think you don't need a tremendous amount of money to start to get that user feedback that you're suggesting. I think there's some very organic ways that you could do it. And you really got to imagine, like, you have nothing. Like, how will you test this with $100? I was listening to a podcast episode the other day on the founder of Boston Dynamics. He was being interviewed, and it was a really cool one. Boston Dynamics is one of the leading robotic companies out there.

And this guy had, you know, started the company 30 years ago, and he was walking through some of his early days. And he's like, he was talking about building the pogo stick robot and how he only had, like, I think it was, like, it was either a hundred or a thousand dollars to, like, build this robot, or maybe it was 3,000. It was a really, really low amount. And he basically was trying to build a robot that, like, jumped up and down on, like, a benign budget himself.

It was a complete failure, but he learned some things through it. But he had enough success in that that when he then pitched that concept to the next person, I think it was, like, some congressional person, they gave him, like, a $250,000 budget, which was, like, back in 1980. But the point being is like, he had so little to start with, but he was still able to get some success. Versus if he had had 250,000, I don't know that he would have figured it out at that moment. He would have spent a lot more money.

And so, I think for entrepreneurs that are starting something out, you're so right: the product-market fit is huge. It's hard not to get false positives. It's hard not to just hear what you want to hear. And so, what I've learned is that, like, there's a difference between what people say and what people do. And what you need to be doing is paying attention to what people actually do, not what people say.

I interviewed lots of coaches across the planet. I'd share this idea. And, I mean, I had a phenomenal, like, 90% of them were like, "Chris, this is amazing." They would share some of their personal videos with me. And I'm like, wow, God, like, everybody thinks this is a great idea. And then, I started to realize like, it's probably because I'm decently looking. I can talk to people well. Like, there's a little bit of a me factor. I was like, well, what happens when I take me out of the equation? Will still 90% of people still think it's a good idea? And the answer was like, no. It completely changes.

If I'm not there to navigate or provide the narrative, which, as entrepreneurs and founders, we're typically the storyteller, but if you remove me and I just show you it, you'll be like, "Ah, it's cool." But, I don't have enough of the expertise in product design and the sticky factor. I haven't found the right combination for somebody just to interact with and be like, "This is pretty sweet. I want to use it."

So, going back to your original question, is like, you need to do more of that, and you need to learn how to do that stuff. I am still like you at surfing. I'm a novice at this. Like, I'm out there trying, but I am crashing all the time. And I am constantly trying to get back up and figure out how can I do this better and not provide an illusion that I'm getting it right, really paying attention to what do users actually like and not like? I am far from figuring that out. I'm still dedicated to doing it, but by no means have I hit a home run here.

VICTORIA: What keeps you motivated? What keeps you going and trying to solve that question?

CHRIS: You know, it goes back to an original statement I made with you is like, life is so hard for so many people. I jokingly will tell people, I said this a lot when I was interviewing coaches, is like, look, I'm very aware of my privilege. I'm a white, male who lives in Northern California in the U.S. I was born in the '80s. Like, I did not grow up with, like, this insurmountable, you know, adversity that I had to overcome. Like, there's a lot that was easier for me to obtain in my life.

And look, I work really hard. I am incredibly focused. I put in a lot of work. I'm very focused in that way. But I also just recognize, like, it might have been different if I was born somewhere else, if I looked a different way, if I didn't have access to the resources that I did. And so, my point with that statement is that I am a massive believer that whatever excess currencies you have, time, capital, energy, whatever it is, it is our obligation to help as many people on this planet in whatever way we think we can help them.

There are 800 million people on our planet that don't have clean drinking water, which is mind-boggling to me, considering the age we live in. I mean, we take it for granted you turn on the faucet and water comes out. That is a luxury that we have in living in the United States and in the Western Hemisphere. I mean, when you think about 800 million, that's almost 1 out of 8 people that don't have clean drinking water. And that's just drinking water, let alone access to vaccines or whatever you may choose.

And so, the point that I'm making is that for those of us that have excess of anything, and maybe it's just time, or maybe it is you have a lot of money, we should be doing the best job we can to help other people in the ways that we think would help them. For me, I'm focused on mental health and well-being. For somebody else, that might be providing good food, or medicine, or whatever it may be, and that's okay. We just need more people contributing to, hopefully, you know, lift as many people up to the point that we all have good lives. That's what keeps me going is the fact that, like, I don't take for granted for one second how easy my life is.

VICTORIA: I love that. And I like that you're trying to build technology that helps people and isn't just trying to, like, make the most money you can, or try to, like [laughs], flip it around or just share something that, you know, is really personal to you and, like, really is meaningful to you. So, I really appreciate you sharing that with me. What does success look like six months from now or even five years from now?

CHRIS: Look, success for me is pretty much what I've stated this whole episode is, like, I'm taking good care of myself. I'm very present in my life with my wife, my kids, my friends doing things that make Chris happy. That's what success looks like.

Now, clearly, we're here talking about The Standard and growing, and so I'd love to see more progress being made. I'd love to see more users on the platform. I'd like to be learning and figuring out, how do I help people share their story in a way that empowers them to share that story? How do I get people to want to share their story that don't feel like they have to be paid to do so?

You know, what I find so interesting when I talk to so many people and, you know, I ran 45 episodes of our podcast this year. So, I talked to a lot of people that have gone through some adversity, and they'll all say the same thing, "Dude, I will help anybody that is going through what I've..." Like, nobody wants to see somebody struggle, especially when you know how hard adversity is, whatever that may be for you. You don't want to see other people struggle because you know how painful that is.

I want to see people who are willing to quote, unquote, "give back" and say, "Look, if I can share a few things about how I've navigated my adversity, whatever that adversity is, because it will benefit other people going through this, I don't need to be paid for that. I just want to share it because it's sort of the right thing to do. It's sort of a pay it forward." I think in today's age, like, in the creator economy, like, everybody's like, "Well, I'm not going to help out unless I get paid." And, like, look, that might be a very privileged statement that I'm making, that I have the luxury.

But when I build The Standard, right or wrong, and some people would argue, "This is, like, the dumbest business model ever, Chris," is like, I don't think about monetization. Like, I'm not like, how do I get paid on this? Is it ads? Do I charge people? Like, I'm just trying to build something that I think actually will help people, and I'm trying to do it for the right reason. So, it's people before profit. But, at one point, there has to be money involved to some extent. But I don't put the money part first. I put the people. How do I get that right?

So, my hope would be, in 5, 3 years, whatever the time would be, is that more people buy into the message and they're like, look, if all it takes is me to spend 20, 30 minutes to create a couple of videos on my habits and share a little bit of my story, and there's a way to memorialize some of the things that I've learned for the benefit of other people going through it, that's great. That's a drop in the bucket of my time. That if enough people started to do that, it would send a signal to a wider swatch of our community, or people, or species that it's okay to share some of the things that make you who you are. And if you did that, it lets somebody else do that.

And if you get enough people doing that, you build a phenomenal habit bank, if you will, of just stories that other people can leverage for their own benefit. That would be success from my perspective. I try not to attach a certain amount of users. It's really just like, can I start to convince more and more people that you probably already have some information that would be really valuable to other people?

I'm just trying to organize it in a way that someone can find it, but I need people to share their story because the platform is not about me. Although I'm on it, it's not about Chris Pallatroni. It's about you. I mean, I'm sure you've gone through things in your life that you've learned, and you've navigated that. If you could share that in a way that was authentic and easily organized, other people would hear your story and be like, God damn, that's me too. I'm just trying to get more people to do that. That would be success in my mind.

VICTORIA: Well, it reminds me of a program I'm involved with. You might have heard of Big Sister, Little Sister, or Big Brother, Little Brother. It's a mentorship program. So, you have a one-on-one relationship with someone who's...like, the little sister I have really reminds me of myself when I was that age, like, you know, early high school awkwardness, trying to figure out how to navigate friendships and family life and getting a lot of pressure on, like, what are you going to do with your career? Even though you're still, like, really young.

So, it's interesting to think about how could you scale that and, like, have more content, like, take some of the little bits of conversations we have and, like, share that with other people who are going through the same thing.

CHRIS: Yeah, it's exactly that. And there's lots of stuff out there. I mean, you think of, like, you know, Alcoholics Anonymous like, in a lot of ways, that is it. Or people that have gone through school shootings, like, they find a lot of comfort in talking to other people that have navigated that. Like, there is no topic that does not touch mental health and well-being. Like, there's none. Like, I mean, I've read them all.

And so, it's just about taking people...and this is the beauty of it, like, sure, there are experts out there, Mel Robbins, Tony Robbins, you know, they've read. Their whole life is about self-development and empowerment. But if you take an average person somewhere in the world and maybe they have read notebooks on self-development or any of that, and you just start to dissect their experience as a human, what I know to be true is that they'll say, "I went through this," whatever this may be. And if you start to unravel the, how'd you cope with it? What did you learn? What habits did you develop? What mindsets did you develop? There is profound wisdom.

It may not be textbook. They may not understand the science behind it, but what they will share is something that is very real and that it's said in a very authentic way. And the words they use are incredibly powerful that if you could just capture that in a very authentic way and store it, and most importantly, find a way to organize it so it's easy for somebody to find, that's what this is about. And so, there's lots of this that exist out there. There's just no central mechanism that tries to tie this all together. And so, that's sort of what I'm attempting to do.

VICTORIA: That's really cool. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing your story and talking about what you've been building. Is there anything else that you would like to promote?

CHRIS: No, not at all. I mean, I would just say, like, if anybody's interested, like, the platform that we have is thestandardapp.com. It's not an app; that's just the URL for it. Or you can find us on pretty much any social channel. It's just The Standard. We do run a podcast, which is The Standard Podcast, where we interview a lot of the coaches. But any one of those things will give you a really good idea of what we're trying to do. And if you feel like you've got something of value, we'd always love for more people to come on and just share their story in a way that's authentic to them. And that's really what we're about.

VICTORIA: Awesome. Thank you so much.

You can subscribe to the show and find notes along with a complete transcript for the episode at giantrobots.fm. If you have questions or comments, email us at hosts@giantrobots.fm. And you can find me on X @victori_ousg.

This podcast is brought to you by thoughtbot and produced and edited by Mandy Moore.

Thanks for listening. See you next time.

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