Travis Steffen is a serial founder with 8 successful exits to date. He’s a growth mentor for several of the largest startup accelerators in the world, he’s the bestselling author of Viral Hero, and he’s a former Inc 500 CEO. He’s a doctoral candidate in marketing with a specialization in AI, and he’s been featured in the majority of the business publications you’ve heard of. He currently serves as the CEO of GrowthTeam.ai, which works with subscription-based businesses to double their growth rates within 90 days.
What is your typical day, and how do you make it productive?
Wake up at 6am, gym by 7am, home before 9am, quick breakfast, then I’m on calls for the vast majority of the day until around 5pm. Wednesdays are off days for me though, so if it’s a Wednesday, I’m either allowing myself to recover and taking a lot of time to think, or I go visit family or friends. I think a mild morning routine is useful, but I don’t agree with the gurus that it’s the primary key to success.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I try to ignore my own ideas almost always. I try to start with a series of at least 20 structured, unbiased customer interviews, and I get curious. I don’t want to “lead the witness” or steer them in any direction. If I did, I might as well skip these and build my own idea. Instead, I try to get to know them on a cellular level and allow them to give me all the info we could need. After doing at least 20 of these, I go back and try to find patterns. Then I go back to each of them and propose possible solutions. This ends up becoming my Alpha cohort of whatever I try to build.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Seeing what’s happening in AI excites me and terrifies me at the same time. My doctoral work is in marketing with a specialization in AI, and because of that I see a ton of research that’s so far beyond what most people could comprehend. The implications for how this technology will change (or potentially destroy) humanity and how we live our lives (or not) are pretty wild.
What is one habit that helps you be productive?
I’ve got my own productivity system I’ve iterated on over the past 15 years. It isn’t something I teach, because ultimately it’s designed for the way I think and operate on a day to day basis. I use a physical task list that’s partially templatized, I categorize everything, and I practice batch-based execution similar to a Pomodoro-type technique. There’s a lot more to it, but those are a few highlights.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Find a way to both appreciate and celebrate what you’ve done so far today, while also maintaining the hunger for bigger goals in the future. Most people choose one of these, but both can be achieved with a small shift in perspective.
Tell us something you believe almost nobody agrees with you.
Most people say that you can’t raise capital through exclusively using cold outreach. I’ve raised a ton of capital that way and likely always will – as I’m always a bit too heads-down building things when others are out networking.
What is the one thing you repeatedly do and recommend everyone else do?
I start nearly every day at the gym. It serves as my moving meditation for the day, and it’s where I get my best ideas. I sleep better, and I’m an overall better human being because of it.
I’m also a firm believer that couples therapy can make you a profoundly better CEO. You can develop active listening, the ability to read between the lines, empathy, and ways of understanding other people who don’t think in the same way you think. These are underrated skills for a CEO.
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?
I usually just take a walk, listed to something that makes me laugh, and attempt to think about things through a different lens. I’m also a big proponent of Stoic philosophy, so keeping up a regular practice in that is a big difference maker.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business or advance in your career?
I attempt to never get off on being an authority figure in any way, and try to live mostly in the seat of the student. I want to learn from any credible source I possibly can, and I’ll always be the annoying person asking a ton of rapid fire questions.
What is one failure in your career, how did you overcome it, and what lessons did you take away from it?
I had an acquisition go bad a few years ago and went from being very well off financially to 7-figures in the red. It was incredibly humbling and also was one of the most valuable experiences I’ve ever had. I was able to rebuild everything really quickly, and that’s desensitized me to risk more than anything else has.
What is one business idea you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Super niche training and staffing for customer success roles in tech. This has been one of the most difficult roles to hire for in my career, and also one of the most important for subscription-based businesses due to the impact it can have on customer retention.
What is one piece of software that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
I love the Opal app on the iPhone. It blocks my social media apps all day long except for a few hours a day. These companies hire people like me to engineer addition into their apps – and it works. Preventing that sort of habit creation in an app that’s proven to negatively impact your mental health is essential to succeeding in my opinion.
What is the best $100 you recently spent?
The Time Timer. It’s a simple timer I use multiple times per day for calls and productivity exercises.
Do you have a favorite book or podcast from which you’ve received much value?
I love Extreme Ownership. It’s one of the few books I’ve read where I remember the exact place I was while reading, because it catalyzed such a dramatic shift in the way I live my life and run businesses.
What’s a movie or series you recently enjoyed and why?
There’s a show on Netflix called The Playbook. It profiles various coaches in professional sports and how they see the game they coach, as well as the world. It was really inspiring, while also being really instructive on how to nurture a group of incredibly high performers to work together to achieve something greater than they could on their own.
- Ignore your own ideas. Instead, go interview customers in an unbiased way. Don’t try to fit it inside your ideas. Let the data speak to you and only then should you form opinions.
- Don’t get too full of yourself, even after a few wins. You absolutely don’t know everything, and you’re more likely to fall flat and be humbled from that vantage point vs. when you sit in the seat of the student and you’re always looking to learn.
- Sometimes your biggest losses are your best teachers. As humans, we don’t build strength without having to lift ourselves up during hard times. We don’t build patience by getting everything we want right away. Having a self-imposed delay of gratification and falling in love with the journey is the way to win bigger.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.