I love brainstorming with a group of people who can riff off each other and push each other’s ideas to make something beautiful.
Brad Stroh co-founded Freedom Financial Network in 2002 and Bills.com in 2005, where he currently serves as CEO. Both companies have been recognized by the Inc. 500 list, Entrepreneur Magazine’s Hot 100, and Freedom Financial Network has been named multiple times as one of the Best Places to Work in Silicon Valley and Phoenix. Additionally, Brad was named to Silicon Valley’s “40 Under 40” list and was a winner of Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award along with co-founder Andrew Housser. He is an investor, advisor and board member to several entrepreneurial companies. Brad received his MBA from Stanford Business School, where he was an Arjay Miller Scholar, and received a BA from Amherst College, where he captained a mediocre lacrosse team.
Where did the idea for Freedom Financial Network come from?
Before starting Freedom Financial in 2002, we were at Stanford Business School mapping and digging in to many different business models and markets. I knew a little bit about the consumer finance industry from my days as a venture capital investor, and Andrew had a close friend that was struggling to resolve a pressing personal debt issue. We realized that we could solve a very large macro problem in a massive industry that had many inefficiencies… and we could change individual people’s lives for the better in the process. That’s where we saw an opportunity to create a new type of business that would serve consumers better and build a valuable business in the process. We talk about balancing the “heart” and the “dollar” sign and we knew we had our mission driven business the second we stumbled upon it.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I’ve always been a ‘morning person’ – so my day almost always starts early, typically around 5am. I wake up and catch up on what is going on in the world (sports world too) by watching Bloomberg TV and ESPN. I also use that quiet time in the morning, with a cup of tea, to do some emails and create a little plan for my coming day. Typically, that plan includes a window to meditate and also a workout at some point (I love working out at lunch, on days when my schedule allows).
The first thing I do each day when I sit down at my desk is to call everyone in our Company who has a birthday. Some days, that’s a dozen calls. I love it and it starts day off with a great amount of joy and also gratitude for who I get to work with. When things get going, I try to walk around at least once during the day and say hi to everyone I can grab a moment with. I get pretty busy, so stealing a few moments to ask my colleagues about their kids, trips, books that move them, or anything that isn’t simply work-related is always a gift for me. In my meetings, I try hard to be present and not be tapping on my laptop or distracted with emails. It’s hard, but just being thoughtfully engaged with each person I am meeting is something I work at.
Beyond that, not surprisingly, my workday is typically consumed with meetings; I usually have several one-on-ones with my direct reports (CTO, CRO, CMO, CPO, and Divisional Presidents) where we review strategic priorities and any challenges they are facing. I also spend an inordinate amount of time just constantly communicating with our company and making sure that we are all on the same page. Some days that can be a 2,000 person all-hands meeting and some days that is just a series of many back-to-back check-ins. Since we are hiring so rapidly (we’ve hired over 900 people so far this year), I typically have two or three final round interviews as well. I love meeting new people, and I am so proud of our Company that I love selling our story and our vision. Sometimes it’s tiring, but most days I really love the amount of the day I spend with current and future teammates/friends.
I typically leave work relatively early (before 6pm) so that I can spend time with my kids and my wife, since they’ve always been my number one priority. After the kids go down, I like to read fiction or watch sports (unless The Big Lebowski is on).
How do you bring ideas to life?
With brilliant people who function like a jazz ensemble; I love brainstorming with a group of people who can riff off each other and push each other’s ideas to make something beautiful. For me, idea refinement is a group effort.
I am pretty good about synthesizing different perspectives, using critical thinking and being analytical in exploring opportunities… but I almost always crave a group to really dig in to something complex and to debate my ideas and thoughts with. I’ve been blessed to have a brilliant co-founder and now team to help me sharpen the concepts and to bring ideas to life.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Blockchain technology (not simply cryptocurrencies)… it will be hugely disruptive.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
What advice would you give your younger self?
Hire people you love who share your values and inspire you. Also, fire *holes.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Brutal honesty and transparency, in the long-run, is the best way to communicate. Sometimes it’s a little uncomfortable in the short-term… but it’s better for everyone’s psyche.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I never take a course of action as fixed or immutable. Every single day I make sure that I am deliberate about our Company’s strategy, decisions and actions. Just because we start something doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the right to be questioned or even killed. Sometimes that’s hard.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Be intensely data driven. That means you have to invest in a strategic data infrastructure. That means you have to have the tools and teammates to build bad-ass BI platforms to answer all of the questions your leaders and operators need. That means you need to have Jedi-master data scientists who are asking the questions you don’t even know exist yet. It’s liberating and transformational for a financial services business to have a powerful data platform.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I’ve lost key teammates over time that broke my heart. I am still overcoming the loss of our first employee/close friend. I also still pine over the loss of the former head of Bills.com. You don’t overcome heartache, you survive it and be grateful for the magical time you had working together.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
A meta-cryptocurrency with a point-of-sale network to displace the hugely inefficient credit card and merchant payment processing infrastructure we currently endure.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I donated to Tipping Point to help support families impacted by the Northern California fires.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
Salesforce. Tableau. Google Cloud Platform. Box.com. They are all secure, cloud-based, scalable platforms that scale with our business needs. They all let us deliver amazing products to our own customers… so we love ‘em.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Man’s Search For Meaning by Victor Frankl. Read it and call me if your life is not permanently changed.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Mom. She doesn’t have a blog, thank God.
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.