Arthur Toole - Founder & CEO of SIFT Institute

Do your best and outsource the rest.

Arthur Toole was raised in a single-parent household in Birmingham, Alabama beneath the minimum living standards according to society. Because of his amazing mother, he defied statistics. He worked full time and served in the US Army Reserves while attending college.

After graduation, he went active duty in the infantry. He then obtained his MBA with the goal of preventing soldiers from being victimized by the entities that preyed on them.

Equipped with his MBA, he worked for Citigroup in decision analytics and marketing until he was recruited by USAA. Two years and three promotions later, he realized his purpose-to provide people with the education needed to free themselves and to use banks to expedite the achievement of their financial goals.

With that in mind, after several iterations, SIFT Institute was born. Now, as SIFT’s founder and CEO, he helps people attain what they truly deserve-financial freedom and economic empowerment.

Where did the idea for SIFT come from?

While SIFT technically started in 2011 and was legally formed as a corporation in 2015, it actually started in March of 1999. I was working for AT&T with the teleconference center and this lady who was about five to ten years older than me literally just walked up and said, “Hey. I need you to help me with my finances. I need you to help me do a budget.” I didn’t even know what a budget was. I didn’t know anything about it, but for whatever reason, she thought I was the person to go to and so I helped her. I was hooked from that point.

Now, the interesting part was that I took a personal finance class in college later and it sucked. I hated it. So I abandoned that idea. It wasn’t until I was on active duty in the military stationed at Fort Benning as an interim company commander and I saw how great people were making bad financial decisions that something in me said, “I have to do something to eliminate this problem.” I didn’t know it was going to be SIFT, but I knew it was going to be something that would help people become financially free. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there were a lot of people working really really hard and they were making decisions based on income rather than based on choice.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I don’t even know if I make it productive, but here we go.😊

In order to explain my typical day, you need to know that I travel between Maryland and Georgia every week. Friday night through Monday morning, I’m in Germantown, Maryland where my wife and kids are and then Monday evening through Friday morning, I’m in Atlanta, Georgia where SIFT Institute is.

A typical day for me starts at 4 A.M. I get up, read the word and then walk or jog for five miles each morning. I have a Fitbit so I’m always in a Fitbit challenge. I like beating my competitors so getting five miles in every morning ensures that I’ll at least be competitive. Between that and a little workout afterwards, that’s about the first two and a half hours. If it’s Monday, the next thing I do is get my kids up, drop them off at school, catch a flight down to Atlanta, immediately have meetings with my leaders about what’s going on with the state of SIFT and then teach a class on investing that evening. That takes me to about nine. Then I probably remember that I didn’t eat so I’ll eat and then I crash. I wake up and do it all over again until it’s time for me to fly back to Maryland. Every day, I am working on streamlining every aspect of our company and making sure that we are serving in the absolute best way we can.

How do you bring ideas to life?

How I’ve done it historically was always based on a gut feeling. There was something wrong and I felt it. I may not have been able to articulate it, but I felt It. Once I identified people who were having the problem I identified, I listened to them try to create a solution for their problem. Once I created a solution, I tried to apply it to myself. If I could apply it to myself, I would test the solution on others for free and receive feedback. I kept testing the solution and receiving feedback until I had something that was worth charging for. I have learned that you receive the best feedback from a customer who has used their hard earned money on your solution.

For instance, I never started off creating SIFT. Originally, I started off just wanting to provide financial planning services like budgeting for people. I wanted to help them manage their own money better. I wanted them to master saving and budgeting so they could become financially free. While I did that in the first business, it was going well and people were coming. It just wasn’t profitable and then people really weren’t implementing it unless I stayed on them every day. I abandoned that business, but it did confirm that there was a need and that people at least recognized that they had a need.

The next thing was, “Okay well, I recognize that they have a need, I recognize that they won’t really do it for themselves so what if I try to help do it for them?” And that morphed into something else. Eventually, that failed also. I just kept failing until I realized that the sweet spot was teaching them, empowering them, giving them the tools, and creating a system that would help them hold themselves accountable. And that’s really what SIFT is. SIFT teaches people how to financially free themselves through entrepreneurship, employment or investing. Upon completion of our programs, we pair our students with other graduates and, as a community, they all work together to achieve the goals that they have set for themselves.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

More and more people are realizing that they are stronger than they thought and that they do not have to depend on one source of income (i.e. a job) to have a comfortable life. They are now taking steps to leverage their talents to create useful things that will help society and profit from it. I want to be one of the people that serve these creators. My secret agenda is to take the lessons that I learned on this 20 year journey of entrepreneurship and share them so they can get to their goals faster and with less pain, lol. Think about, what would the world look like if people were doing what they love, helping the world AND putting money into their pockets?

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I am very stubborn and I don’t believe in being defeated. That in and of itself is interesting because I’ve been defeated more times than I’ve succeeded, but I just don’t quit. I’m relentless in my pursuit of the things that matter to me.

For instance, SIFT Institute was my fourth iteration of being entrepreneurial. And the prior businesses failed in increasingly gigantic proportions. But the underlying reason for me to go into entrepreneurship was so that I could help other people. It wasn’t about money, it wasn’t about my family, having a big nice house, buying fancy cars or going on trips. It was that I really believed that people were unfairly impoverished and I wanted to solve that problem.

I didn’t have the skill set, I didn’t have the connections and I came from the poor side of Birmingham, Alabama. So, I didn’t have anything other than something in me that said that my job was to serve the people and provide them systemic access to wealth creation. That’s what I held onto and that’s what’s gotten us to this point.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I have two, so I will go with the first one. It was during the season when I had just had a failure in business and my wife told me, “Look. I need you to go get a job so you can put some food on the table.”

I quickly learned that once you have been an entrepreneur for awhile and break away from corporate America, it’s kind of difficult to go back into corporate America because they’re going to want you to explain that gap in your resume. If you say that the gap is because of entrepreneurship, they think one of two things:
1. You really sucked at it and now you have to come back.
2. You took a break and something happened, but the moment you get over whatever it was that made you get a job, you’re going to leave.

Both thoughts result in them not wanting you. I applied everywhere for everything. I even applied for a job at AutoZone as a night driver and they didn’t hire me.

I was eventually hired to build a financially literacy program for college students. I thought this was perfect for me until I realized that the leadership did not have any desire to increase financial literacy for students and they also didn’t care for anyone who challenged their opinions. Needless to say, I resigned after six months. What I learned from the experience is that you cannot buy peace of mind. That’s simply something you cannot put a price tag on. Also, I learned that if you truly commit your very being to what you believe is true, opportunities will find you in the right season.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I don’t know if I would have kids. No, I love my kids. I’m kidding.

If I had to start all over again, I would understand that it takes time to build something. I would have started younger so failure wouldn’t have mattered as much. When you are 22, you have no money and you fail, worst case scenario you go back to mama’s house. But when you’re 30 or 35 and married with kids, failure impacts a significant amount of people beyond you. Your decisions have ripple effects on people who are 100 percent dependent on your ability to make good decisions. I would have either started earlier or I would have stayed in corporate longer to improve the concept more so I would have been clearer on the objective.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Fail. That’s easy. Fail over and over and over again. Go ahead and get the first big failure out of the way. People don’t start because they’re afraid of failure. And what I’ve learned is that if you fail enough, you’ll realize that you won’t die. And then you realize, “Oh okay. It was just a mistake. I can still live.” Now, failure is not fearful. Failure loses its power over you. I fail every day, every week.

That is the one thing I would tell a new entrepreneur or a new young person just starting out. Just fail. Go and get it over with. Take the biggest task, go hard at it, fail and then realize that you didn’t die.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Do your best and outsource the rest. I think that has been the single most thing that has grown SIFT and any business that I’ve touched. I came into entrepreneurship wanting to own a business enterprise but had a self-employed mentality; the two can’t co-exist. When I say business enterprise, I mean profitably serving. In order to do that, you have to have people in place who are skilled at the key aspects of the business to facilitate what you are not good at. If you don’t put the right people in place, you’re forced to do it and your business suffers.

In the beginning, I did not have the money to really hire anyone so I was forced to do it myself. However, I told my vision to everyone and eventually came across a woman who had a similar vision. She ended up working for me for free for 6 months until we were able to generate revenue. When it came to a task that neither of us could do, we outsourced through sites like fiverr.com and upwork.com.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I lost everything on a business because I wasn’t paying attention to details. And I had family’s money, friends’ money, my entire life’s savings and retirement funds invested in it. I was just totally wiped out. I think that was one of the lowest times of my life honestly. I had to figure out, “How do I navigate this?” I was afraid to call people, I was afraid to tell people and it took me awhile, but finally, what I did to overcome it was I wrote an email, sent it to everybody and then I called everybody and let them know. I told them, “Just give me some time and I’ll pay back the losses” and I did. I was faithful. I had to go get a job (I actually got a couple jobs) and then I went on and had to focus on what I was good at from an entrepreneurial perspective.

That’s how I overcame it and what it taught me was people see your heart and they see your intentions and people will stand on that even in challenging circumstances. One of the other things I learned is that effective communication can mitigate a multitude of errors.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

You know what? This is what I would do. I would say take your best Idea — do it two ways; think back over your life and think of the questions your friends ask you the most. The things people come to you for counsel on the most. And I’d say go for a walk, make it an hour and just walk casually. Take your phone and, if you have a smartphone, record the thing that they ask you about, discuss your answer to it and then discuss how you have used that answer in your own life and then give people 10 things to do and 10 steps to follow to achieve the results that they desire.

Take the recording (go to Upwork or any of these freelance sites) and pay somebody $50 to transcribe it. Get a friend to edit it, put it in a book and sell it. If you’re not comfortable putting it in a book and selling it, then create a website, get your domain name (your first name then last name dot com) and then write blogs on that specific thing. It will cost you less than 300 bucks and you’ll be surprised at the results. And I know this because that’s how I wrote and published my first book.

Yes. I published a book called Don’t Eat From The F.I.G. Tree: How to “Blacklist” Yourself To Become Wealthy. And literally, it’s 36 things that people need to be doing today. The regular Joe. Not the millionaire, not the people who come from money, but the regular Joe. It’s things that they could do today and they would be financially better off than they were yesterday. And I never wrote a single word of it. I was literally in the car driving from Birmingham, Alabama to Atlanta and I thought about my own mortality. I saw a car accident and I was like, “Man, if I die today, would I want my kids to struggle to learn how to manage their money the same way I had to?” The answer was no. Then I was like, “What do I need to do now to make sure that doesn’t happen?” And so I just recorded it and it turned out to be 36 things.

Then, I ended up losing the recording. My wife found the recording 9 months later, listened to it and was like, “This is amazing. You’ve got to put this out.” And I was like, “No, that’s just for my kids.” She stayed on me and was like, “No you’re going to do it.” I thought, “I don’t know anything about writing books. I’ve never been an author. It’s probably not going to sell.”

I hired somebody $50.00 to transcribe it anyway through a site that was called Elance at that time; now, it’s Upwork. I had some friends look at it for free. They edited it for free and one of my marketing professors helped me create a cover for it. It was literally less than 300 bucks. I published it on Amazon and it started selling. I made $300.00 in the first couple of weeks. I didn’t know how to market so the sales kind of drifted off and that was in 2012. This year, I had a university order ten thousand dollars worth of my books.

In order to do this, you must believe one important thing:

Everybody is gifted at something. You are good at something and people around you know it. Most likely, you are giving it away for free because you never thought about it this way before.

The most challenging part may be figuring out what that thing is. Remember, reflect on what everyone comes asking you for, record your best advice on it, give 10 steps on how somebody can achieve the results in that and sell it. Do either a book (which is easy), video recordings or a podcast and keep at it every day. The rest will come. You will become known for that.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

The best $100 that I recently spent was on gymnastic lessons for my baby girl. It’s interesting. When I started entrepreneurship, I believed in going all in. So literally, at that time, I was getting up at 2:30 in the morning and working until 10 at night. I sacrificed some family time to build something that never really materialized. And I didn’t get really much return for my efforts. Over the last 12 months, I’ve recognized that while people say you have to have balance, I think they have misunderstood the true meaning of that statement. Rather than going into my understanding of that statement, I will just say that you have to allocate time to the things that are important to you in the season when it matters most.

My youngest daughter, Lauryn, has been asking for gymnastics for a year and a half and I have been saying no. Finally, I conceded. We’re on her third lesson and I get to see the light in her eyes like I’ve never seen it before. She is truly ecstatic and she gets to see me watching her. I shut everything down. I don’t answer the phone. I don’t care what’s going on with business. It’s her time. And to see her smile like that every time is better than any other investment I’ve ever had.

It’s just now that I’ve learned…

What point is it to fight for financial freedom when you can’t spend it with the people you love? So, I have taken steps back over the last 2 years to do some self-discovery. I came from a place of lack. I came from a broken home where my mom was a high school graduate, my father was out of my life and when he was in my life, he was very abusive. My mom had a high school diploma and three kids to take care of and she made it happen. She birthed in us the will to fight for what we really believe in, but she also birthed in us that survivor’s mentality. So for me, part of entrepreneurship was to survive on my own terms so I wouldn’t be dependent on a job.

But what I’ve learned is that surviving and thriving are two different things. Surviving in entrepreneurship means you put in 16-20 hours a day so that you can put food on the table. That’s surviving and you can survive that way. Thriving is setting up a system in business that won’t make you work 16 to 20 hours a day so that you can spend some of your quality time with those that you love. And that’s hard. That’s a hard thing to consistently balance. I looked at my kids and realized that they will only be four, five, six, seven and eight once. And despite all of the failures and all of the challenges that I went through, my kids always loved me. They have no idea how hard entrepreneurship is. All they care about is that dad helped me tie my shoes, dad watched me play soccer and dad watched me do gymnastics. He watched my first whatever. So it forced me to grow up from a self-employed person to a business owner. By going out and hiring the best people to make SIFT grow, I can now spend quality time at home.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

I use WordPress with my website and I love it because any non-tech person can use it (and I am the testament to that). I can go in and I can manipulate stuff and I know nothing about WordPress. That’s great.

When I’m training people or having classes, I use gotowebinar. I like gotowebinar primarily because it records, houses your recordings and makes them available for replay for you. It can also send messages to your customers or to your employees when the webinar is complete.

For a CRM system I use Greenrope. Greenrope is relatively new and unheard of, but it’s a CRM system that also has marketing and things like text-to-chat features. It’s an all-in-one system.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

You mean other than Don’t eat from the FIG tree? 😊

The Law of Success by Napoleon Hill. It breaks down what was necessary to be successful and it dispels a lot of people’s reasons for not starting in entrepreneurship. One chapter of the book talks about the reasons that people give for not starting a business. This book was written almost a century ago. I believe 99% of all self-help books are a rehash of books like this.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Gary Vaynerchuk, www.garyvaynerchuk.com
• ET The Hip Hop Preacher (Dr. Eric Thomas), www.etinspires.com
• Michael Lee-Chin though he’s pretty quiet. He’s not in the public often.
• In terms of someone who is very impactful, but not alive, A. G. Gaston.

Connect:

http://siftinstitute.com/
Sift Institute on LinkedIn: https://in.linkedin.com/company/sift-institute