Bill is a Consultant & Traveler
Bill Penczak, CEO of MICA Ventures, returns to the podcast to talk about his most recent trips, starting his own consulting firm right before the pandemic began, the status of the accounting professional world, and much more!
• Recent trips
• How the pandemic affected his value of relationships
• Starting his firm in March 2020
• A shift of focus towards making connections
• You do a disservice to everyone if you do not bring your authentic self
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Photos of Bill’s Travels
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Ryan is CPA & CrossFit Athlete & Traveler
Ryan Lazanis, CPA, CA founded Xen Accounting in 2013, a 100% cloud-based accounting firm. Following its acquisition in 2018, Ryan started Future Firm which provides resources to firms looking to modernize and setup an online, automated firm of their own. He also sends out a free weekly email that curates the top 5 pieces of content firms should know about to help modernize their firm & to keep it on the cutting edge.
Ryan talks about how getting into CrossFit and travelling has helped him power through his more stressful periods of running an accounting firm! He also talks about why it is so important to have something that disconnects you from work and how he set an example in encouraging his employees to do so!
• Getting into CrossFit
• The competitive nature of CrossFit
• How CrossFit has helped him in the office
• Having something to disconnect yourself from work
• Places he likes to travel to
• Leading by example in his own firm
• Why the tone of workplace culture comes from the top
• Future Firm
Please take 2 minutes
to do John’s anonymous survey
about Corporate Culture!
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Welcome to Episode 261 of What’s Your “And”? This is John Garrett. Each Wednesday, I’m interviewing a professional who, just like me, is known for a hobby or a passion or an interest outside of work. To put it in another way, it’s encouraging people to find their “And,” those things above and beyond your technical skills, the things that actually differentiate you when you’re in the office.
I’m so excited to let everyone know that my book’s being published in just a few months. It will be available on Amazon and a few other websites, so check out whatsyourand.com for all the details. I can’t say how much it means that everyone’s listening to the show, changing the cultures where they work because of it, and the book will really help reinforce that for everyone around you.
Please don’t forget to hit subscribe to the podcast so you don’t miss any of the future of the episodes. I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week. This week is no different with my guest, Ryan Lazanis. He’s the founder of Future Firm, Inc. in Montreal, Canada and the publisher of Future Firm Weekly Top 5 Newsletter and now he’s with me here today.
Ryan, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?
Ryan: John, really appreciate it. Thanks a lot for having me.
John: This is going to be awesome. So looking forward to this, but I have my 17 rapid fire questions right out of the gate, so hope you’re ready for this.
Ryan: Let’s do it. Let’s do it.
John: Here we go. Favorite toppings on a pizza?
Ryan: We have the all-dressed pizza Montreal so it’s pepperoni, green peppers, and mushrooms.
John: Oh, nice. Yeah, that’s very good. What do you guys call it?
Ryan: We call it all-dressed. I don’t know if that’s what it is elsewhere as well, but it’s an all-dressed pizza here.
John: There you go. That works. How about more balance sheet or income statement?
Ryan: Oh, definitely income statement.
John: There you go. Do you prefer more hot or cold?
John: Oh, interesting. All right. How about a favorite number?
Ryan: How about lucky number 7?
John: Okay. Is there a reason?
Ryan: Generally, seems to be a lucky number. I’m just going to be with 7.
John: It’s the most popular answer in here by far, and it’s also my favorite number. How about more Star Wars or Star Trek?
Ryan: Star Wars for sure.
John: Yeah. Your computer, PC or a Mac?
Ryan: I actually have both but I’ve been leaning more towards Mac recently.
John: Interesting. All right. How about favorite ice cream flavor?
Ryan: Let’s go with rocky road.
John: Oh, fancy. All right, all right. How about suit and tie or jeans and a t-shirt?
Ryan: No debate. It’s a jeans and t-shirt for me.
John: Okay. Fair enough. How about Kindle or real books?
Ryan: I have a Kindle, and you know what? I went back to real books, so I’m going with real books.
John: Okay. How about a favorite color?
Ryan: Let’s go with black, actually.
John: Interesting, all right. How about a least favorite color?
Ryan: Least favorite. Let’s say yellow.
John: All right. Pens or pencils?
Ryan: Definitely pens.
John: Nice, no mistakes. I like that.
Ryan: Pencil for me, I’m a lefty so pencil doesn’t work so well, smudges all over the place.
John: That’s very true. What did you write? I don’t know either. I’m like, it’s all on my hand. That’s awesome. How about Sudoku or crossword puzzle?
Ryan: I’m going to go with neither.
John: Neither, fair enough, man. Fair enough. How about when you fly in an airplane, window seat or aisle seat?
Ryan: Absolutely, 100% every single time, it has to be a window seat. There’s no getting around it. It has to be a window seat.
John: All right. I like that. More early bird or night owl?
Ryan: Early bird.
John: Okay. Two more, two more. Favorite actor or actress?
Ryan: Favorite actor or actress. I’ll go Leonardo DiCaprio
John: Oh, yeah. All right. Fair enough. The last one. Favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?
Ryan: I’m not super into material possessions, but I have to say I bought a Tesla Model 3 the other day and is by far, I’m geeking out over it. I don’t even consider it a car. I consider it more like a computer or a gadget or piece of technology so I’m going with Tesla Model 3.
John: Nice, man. I love it. I love it. That’s very cool. Let’s talk CrossFit. I mean that’s pretty awesome. How did you get into that? Is that something you were doing from younger or more recently?
Ryan: I think when I started my own CPA firm back in 2013, I quickly realized that I was so focused on work, it was a virtual firm so I literally sit on my desk all day every day had no physical activity that I was doing, was super, super busy and there was a CrossFit gym really close to where I worked and really close to where I lived.
The thing I liked about CrossFit is they have classes every single hour, you go there, someone tells you what to do and you leave. There’s no thinking. It’s just very easy. I like that aspect of it and tried it out and just got into the groove.
John: That’s very cool. Yeah, and also convenient.
Ryan: Very convenient.
John: Yeah. When you’re in the mood, you go and then knock it out and then you come back.
John: That’s awesome. CrossFit, is that where you’re like chucking tires and jumping off big boxes? I’m not clearly into it so is that a variety of exercise type thing?
Ryan: It’s a super intense workout for anywhere from little as ten minutes all the way to an hour but generally speaking, it’s a super intense workout for about 30 minutes. There’s a variety of different movements that you have to learn so it is actually quite technical and there’s like Olympic weightlifting movements, there are chucking tires around, there’s carrying kettle bells around. It’s really strength oriented but there’s a lot of technique involved as well.
It is heavily criticized I’d say, and I think in some instances rightly so because there is a competitive nature to it which I’m also really attracted to. I’m a very competitive person. Some workouts will be do as many of these reps as possible in ten minutes or do as many of this in 30 minutes. There’s like a race against the clock which is not always a good combination with heavy weights, so you can get in trouble there.
It’s very addictive because of the intensiveness of the workout and after a certain period of time, you get addicted to that kind of high. There’s a certain high that you get at the end of the workout. I think that’s a big reason why a lot of people are real fanatics when it comes to CrossFit.
John: It’s interesting. Competing against yourself or against time. It’s not like competing against the other people in the room type of thing or it can be that way?
Ryan: Well, there is a bit of that community spirit as well. You see the same people, the same classes and you kind of get into a bit of a groove with one another and then you’ll start to see some people competing against one another and there are like the CrossFit games which is the best in the world squaring off against one another. It can be quite competitive.
I think that could also be dangerous in some instances because like I said, if you’re trying to do as much heavy deadlifts as possible, and race against the clock, obviously if you’re not doing the right technique or you start to get tired at the end of it, you could start to see some injuries pile up.
John: Yeah. That’s fantastic that you’re into it and that you’re aware of that, so you can keep yourself in check so that doesn’t happen. The exercises, that’s your favorite or one that you just really enjoy when you get there and they’re doing that one that day?
Ryan: I think power cleans or squat cleans, more along the Olympic weightlifting type thing. I enjoy the technique of it. I’m not a big guy. I’m 155 pounds, 5’9” but with the right technique, you could actually lift some pretty heavy weights which I think is cool, so all about really just learning the technique. I like to see those kind of movements incorporated in some of the workouts.
John: Very cool. Would you say that CrossFit gives you a skill that you bring to the office?
Ryan: I think it helps clear my mind especially when I was running my firm. I’m no longer running my firm. It was acquired end of 2018. I’ve shifted out of firm life but some days and some periods were super, super stressful and I’m a very intense person. I get stressed quite easily. I would really look forward to going CrossFit and just like wiping myself out and having a clear slate for that night and even into the next day.
I think part of that really helped me throughout my career. I actually don’t even know how I would’ve made it through some of the days without it. It was something that just really helped distress. Now, it’s just a part of my lifestyle. I don’t know if I’ve brought anything to the office, but I certainly was able to kind of leave some things at the door whenever I went to the gym and kind of just work through that. I was able to distress, like I said.
John: Yeah, and that’s interesting because I mean no business school tells you you’ll be a better professional if you do CrossFit or something like that, which clearly, if you weren’t doing that or couldn’t do it for a long period of time, you’re not good in the office.
Ryan: Exactly. I think it helps like whether it’s CrossFit or something else, I think you need something that kind of shuts your brain off at some point. When you’re in business, you’re constantly, or at least I was, constantly thinking about business all the time. When I started my firm, it was the first business I ever started. I didn’t even know how to cope with that in the beginning. I was just constantly switched on all the time, 24/7, it was the only thing I was thinking about, and I didn’t even know how to deal with it at the beginning.
I think maybe if I would’ve discovered it even a little bit earlier, that would’ve been helpful, but I think it’s important whether you have CrossFit or something else in your life, something that kind of turn yourself off from the professional world is super helpful.
John: Yeah, totally because I mean so many of us think you know, I did when I first started my business, same thing. There’s no office to go to. You’re always in your work. If you don’t work, you don’t get money. You’re always hustling, you’re always working, and you can definitely burn yourself out and you always think well, more hours. Even if you work for a company, more hours or better work or it’s more better, more better, more better, more better and you’ll turn yourself upside down.
There’s never enough and there’s never good enough. There’s always somebody doing more hours than you and there’s always someone doing better work than you. At some point, if you’re doing tax returns or bookkeeping or whatever, I mean you’re doing good work. Just calm down. There’s no one dying at the end. Maybe you, if you overwork yourself. But yeah, totally. I imagine that release and what have you, translates also to the travel that you do.
Ryan: Yes, exactly. I think that’s another thing I look forward to in life is taking a little bit of time to travel. I personally like to travel to more remote destinations, places that are a little bit off the beaten path, and that really helps me unplug as well. It’s another way for me to unplug. I switch my notifications off on my phone switched the emails off on my phone.
I wouldn’t check my emails on a daily basis and even I’d love going to places that didn’t have internet connectivity. They didn’t even have electricity, like put me on a little shack on the side of the beautiful beach. I’m really happy. I don’t need the luxuries or anything like that. I like to just disconnect and see other places in the world and how people live and see different cultures and I’d say that’s another big passion of mine.
John: Yeah, that’s awesome. Do you have some favorite places that you’ve been?
Ryan: I went to the Middle East for the first time. It’s in Oman which is destination that most people don’t know a lot about. I didn’t know a lot about it either. I had seen an Anthony Bourdain episode, looks super interesting. I said okay, we’re going to go. I went with my wife. I had a great time there. My wife is Indonesian and her whole family lives back there. Every so often, we head back to Indonesia and there’s I think 17,000 or 18,000 islands in Indonesia so there’s always a different spot to go and lots of remote destinations there, so different places like that.
John: My dad was stationed in the United Arab Emirates for a bit, just to the north of that. That’s awesome. Do you talk about either one of these at work whether it – when you had your firm or had colleagues or clients?
Ryan: Yeah. I think definitely, my team knew I would enjoy going away to these types of destinations and they knew I would be harder to reach. I’d encourage that as well. By the end of my firm, there was about 15 people on the team and obviously, if they saw me going away and unplugging, I would expect the same from them. I would not email people when they’re vacation, I would refrain from that kind of thing. I think everybody needs some downtime. Everybody needs to kind of reset their batteries and I think that’s a good way to do it.
John: Yeah, leading by example there and expecting them to do the same because I think that it’s hard for people to ask forgiveness. They’re mostly asking for permission especially in the professional services world and so if you model that in front of them, then they’re clearly going to be more receptive to it and do it themselves.
Ryan: I think it’s really hard to unplug these days especially with Slack. Slack helps solve a lot of problems, but it’s also created a lot of new ones. Yeah, you could easily go 24 hours in a day just getting dinged all the time for work-related stuff, especially with people working in different time zones now and a lot of remote work happening. You could just be dinged all day long. You need some way to just break that up and just kind of, like I said, reset the batteries.
John: That’s really fantastic. Were you always open about sharing hobbies and passions early on in your career even or was it something that more later on as you got more experienced and a little more confident?
Ryan: I think it’s something that I’ve always shared even when I look at my first biography that I wrote for myself when I started my firms in accounting. At the bottom of the biography, I’d say when I’m not doing this and that at work, I’m off travelling to remote destinations with my wife and DJing. DJing was also a big hobby of mine years ago.
I think you have to humanize things a little bit. You can’t just show the corporate side. I think especially in the days of social media and all that. You have to humanize yourself a bit and that helps build connections with others. If you’re just talking about the corporate side of things, it could be a little bit robotic. That’s why it kind of brings the hobbies into it as well.
John: That’s exactly it because I mean every other firm that offers the same service as you do can be equally robotic. They say the same stuff, then all of a sudden, it comes down to price. When you’re the buyer, when you’re a client, and the other thing too that is really frustrating is so many professionals when they call themselves trusted advisers and it’s hard to build trust when you’re not being genuine and actually showing that side of you.
Ryan: I agree, and I think it helps build those connections early on. I’d have people come up to me. They said, oh, yeah. I saw online. You said you were a DJ. Tell me a little bit about that. Then you’re not just talking about, again, the corporate side of things, you’re building that connection with a potential client.
John: Yeah. That’s interesting. No one came up and said so, I see you do accounting. Can you tell me about that?
Ryan: Yeah. Nobody’s ever said that to me.
John: No one’s ever said that in the history of the world. Ever. Anyone. Even in Oman. Nowhere. But that’s the thing that we want to lead with and the only thing we want to share is that technical skills side. It blows my mind that the only thing that differentiates you is the thing that we wait until the very end to maybe not even share at all.
Ryan: Yup absolutely.
John: How much do you feel like it’s on the organization to create that culture like you did at Zen Accounting and leading from the top or how much is it on an individual to create their little circle amongst themselves even when it’s a small company or a big company?
Ryan: Well, I think the tone comes from the top. If you have that more open philosophy and your open modes of communication, that has to come from the top. If you’re just starting out at a firm or organization, you’re going to kind of follow what the tone is and the culture and generally speaking, you’re just going to follow along with that. It’s up to the people at the top to kind of open up those lines of communication and make people feel comfortable about talking about things other than just work.
John: Yeah, because I mean if that’s normal there or you see everyone doing it or it’s almost mandatory, well, that’s what we do then it becomes that’s what everyone’s doing so it’s easy for you to share that and keep those passions alive as well because if you’re not sharing it, then it’s easy to let them slide and go dormant and then extinct.
Do you have any words of encouragement to anyone listening that’s like hey, my hobby or passion has nothing to do with my job and people probably don’t care?
Ryan: I think sometimes, people are a little bit embarrassed to talk about that stuff, even me, I’m like, am I going to tell people that I was a DJ and that I enjoy DJing? Does that even go with accounting? It almost seems like the opposite thing I should be doing. Again, it’s like your personality has to shine through these days and we’re working more and more in the online world and if your personality isn’t shining through, you’re never going to be noticed.
One of the ways to have your personality shine through is to talk about some personal things happening in your life. I make a point of that when I’m writing some of my content to kind of show my audience let’s say a little bit of a glimpse of what’s happening in my life. Obviously, I want to hear about what’s happening in your life as well but someone has to start that off.
I think like that’s a big thing for me these days in the professional world, in the online world, you have to humanize things and you have to kind of show that you’re a real person and you’re not just a robot.
John: Absolutely. I mean that’s what comes through – like you said with the content with the Future Firm Weekly Top 5 Newsletter that you have as well, which is really great to tell people a little bit about that. I know it’s helping firm leaders to stay in the future, future thinking anyway.
Ryan: After my firm, Zen Accounting, was acquired, I started a new project called Future Firm which is basically helping firm owners, leaders, partners in the accounting world to modernize and stay on the cutting edge. My previous firm was an online firm. It was a completely remote team, automated processes as much as possible using cloud based technology, and created a scale of a model in my opinion. Now, I’m helping others kind of see into the future and stay on the cutting edge and modernize.
What I like doing is kind of writing content. I have a blog. If you go to futurefirm.co, I have a blog there but what’s been really popular is my free weekly email called Future Firm Weekly Top 5. People can go to www.futurefirm.co/top5 and there, you’d have access to a free weekly email that I send to your inbox.
I’m researching all types of accounting content over the course of the week and I pick the top 5 most interesting pieces of content that help firm owners see into the future, help them modernize, and help them stay on the cutting edge. I curate that in a brief email and just shoot that out every Tuesday morning. If anyone’s interested, www.futurefirm.co/top5, to sign up to that free weekly.
John: Yeah. Absolutely, man. It’s just a great way to share some tips and best practices and things that others are doing because I find that professionals wait for someone else to stick their toe out and then once one person does it and it’s fine, then everyone else falls into line. I think it’s cool that when you had Zen Accounting, you were leading from the top and showing people that it’s not 24/7 billable hours, it’s having a life and having passions outside of that.
Ryan: That’s a big thing that I talk about. A lot of firms are interested in digital marketing these days but if you don’t show your personality, you’re never going to cut through the noise and you’re never going to have good success. Part of it could be showing your hobbies, part of it could be showing where you travel to. Part of it could be talking about your family. A lot of the things that you don’t normally do, this is what helps build the connections, at least in the online world. Obviously, in the physical world as well but it really helps cut through the noise in the online world so I talk about that quite a bit in my content.
John: I mean I agree. I mean when it comes to attracting and retaining talent as well. I mean if you genuinely care about the whole person, not just the accounting part or the law part or the engineering part or whatever their job is, there’s so much more to it.
That’s awesome, Ryan. Well, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”? This has been really great.
Ryan: This has been awesome, John. I really do appreciate you inviting me on.
John: Absolutely. Everyone listening if you want to see some pictures of Ryan and his travels or connect with him on social media and don’t forget to sign up for his Future Firm Weekly Top 5 Newsletter, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. All the links are there.
While you’re on the page, please, click that big button and do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture. Thanks again for subscribing on iTunes or whatever app you use and for sharing this with your friends, so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread that who you are is more than what you do.