Eli Harrell is the Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Valhalla.team, a company dedicated to amplifying the impact of entrepreneurs who are solving meaningful human problems. He concurrently serves as part-time faculty for Southwestern University PHINMA and a Strategic Advisor for JobYoDA Inc.
Eli is also the host of the Products With Purpose podcast where he tells the stories of people who put everything on the line to create real impact.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- Eli Harrell’s entrepreneurial background
- The lessons Eli learned from his parents’ business mistakes
- Why having a purpose is essential in entrepreneurship
- How Eli helps clients build purpose-driven brands
- Eli’s strategy for taking an idea from initial concept to final product
- Honoring your lineage by being a better ancestor
- The lasting benefits of continuous personal growth
In this episode…
How does your desire for success direct your life? Does your success give back to the growth of your community?
One of the best ways to live a purpose-filled life is to contribute to other people’s purpose. It is human nature to desire success, freedom, and happiness. As an entrepreneur, you can create impact in your community by serving the needs of the people around you. Create products that make a tangible difference and build a company that solves meaningful problems.
In this episode of the Innovations and Breakthroughs Podcast, Rich Goldstein interviews Eli Harrell, the Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Valhalla.team, about creating products with purpose. They discuss Eli’s strategy for taking an idea from initial concept to final product, how to build a purpose-driven company, and how to be better ancestors.
Resources mentioned in this episode:
- Goldstein Patent Law
- The ABA Consumer Guide to Obtaining a Patent by Rich Goldstein
- Eli Harrell’s website
- Eli Harrell on LinkedIn
- The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber
- Seth Godin on LinkedIn
- Longpath: Becoming the Great Ancestors Our Future Needs – An Antidote for Short-Termism by Ari Wallach
Sponsor for this episode…
This episode is brought to you by Goldstein Patent Law, a firm that helps protect inventors’ ideas and products. They have advised and obtained patents for thousands of companies over the past 25 years. So if you’re a company that has a software, product, or design you want protected, you can go to https://goldsteinpatentlaw.com/. They have amazing free resources for learning more about the patent process.
You can email their team at email@example.com to explore if it’s a match to work together. Rich Goldstein has also written a book for the American Bar Association that explains in plain English how patents work, which is called ‘The ABA Consumer Guide to Obtaining a Patent.’
Welcome to Innovations and Breakthroughs with your host Rich Goldstein, talking about the evolutionary, the revolutionary, the inspiration and the perspiration, and those aha moments that change everything. And now here’s your host, Rich Goldstein.
Rich Goldstein here, host of the Innovations and Breakthroughs podcast, where I feature top leaders in the path they took to create change. Best guests include Joe Polish, Roland Frazier, and Mitch Russo. This episode is brought to you by my company, Goldstein Patent Law, but we help you to protect your ideas and products. We’ve advised and obtained patents for thousands of companies over the past 28 years. So if you’re a company that has software, product, or design, you unprotected, go to goldstein patent law.com where there are amazing free resources for learning about the patent process. You could email my team welcome goldstein pc.com to explore if its match to work together. You could also check out the book I wrote for the American Bar Association that explains in plain English how patents work. It’s called the ABA Consumer Guide to Obtaining a Patent I have with me here today, Eli Harrell. Eli is the co-founder of of valhalla.team, where he helps entrepreneurs to build high performing teams. And he’s also the host of the Products with Purpose podcasts. In some, I’d say the focus of his work is helping entrepreneurs to solve meaningful problems in the world. It’s my pleasure to welcome here today, Eli Harrell. Welcome, Eli.
Thank you Rich for having me here. I’m excited.
Absolutely. So, um, let’s talk about, um, kind of how you got started with entrepreneurship. And I understand you grew up in a big family and, uh, and so how did that lead you toward your path of, uh, of entrepreneurship and helping other entrepreneurs?
Yeah, I guess in a, in a very quick capsule, I’ll just say that it, it was a very, the path was not, not the typical one. Um, I was the oldest of eight kids. My parents were entrepreneurs. I was homeschooled and, um, in the, in the eighties and nineties in the us that was a little bit unusual, but grew up working with my dad in his business in order to help him take care of all of his kids. And I think I, I just wanted to get home to play <laugh>. So I, I got, I got good at making things more efficient and I just, I learned and I saw my parents as I was getting older. I saw my parents succeeding in some ways and then making some other mistakes as entrepreneurs as well. So I’ve just been, I guess I’ve just kind of been in that entrepreneurial world my whole life. Um, yeah. Uh, cool. You want me to, yeah.
So you, you saw them making mistakes and like, just give me an example of, of maybe something which you saw happen and you, and, and, and that helped you to, to help other entrepreneurs not make similar mistakes.
Probably where I, The E Myth is where that, the book by, oh man, what’s his name? Forgot.
Yeah, Gerber been a long time. I think I read that in my mid twenties. And when I read that book, I’m like, oh my God, this is, you know, a lot of this stuff is exactly what I’m seeing go wrong. My, my, my parents did really well, uh, customer service, running operations, like they did really well in, in building a, a, a good solid, successful business, but it couldn’t grow past them. And, um, you know, being able to kind of build systems, document them, make it so that you can hire people off the street that have the right skillset and plug them into those systems, they, they never really got to that place. And so it couldn’t scale past them. Uh, I think those were the biggest core mistakes that so many people who are technicians become founders, you know, run into those problems. But
Yeah. That’s excellent. I could totally relate to reading that book. And just to give a quick synopsis for the audience that anyone that hasn’t, um, the, the central notion is that most businesses are not started by preneurs. They’re started by technicians who had an entrepreneurial seizure. So in other words, it’s like technician being, you’re a really good carpenter, um, or you are, um, maybe a lawyer and you are, you are, um, focused on your craft. So if you’re not necessarily an entrepreneur, you are someone who has a skill and then you seek to build a business around that skill. And the way that entrepreneurs go, that they go wrong is then that they are not really set up to be an entrepreneur as much as they’re set up to be that technician who happens to have a business.
And, uh, and so it sounds like one of the things you’ve learned, one of the things that you learned was the importance of having those systems set up, um, that then allow you to grow your business, that allow you to scale.
Definitely. And something I’m, you know, still trying to get better at, uh, pretty happy with the, the company I’m running now. We have systems documented better than ever before, thanks to amazing tools that we have in this world now, like Notion and other, other amazing platforms that help us do those things.
Yeah, absolutely. And, and so then now let, let’s talk a bit about purpose and like purpose re related to entrepreneurship. Cause I know this is something very important to you. And, um, so like, why is it important to you to have purpose, um, be central to the work you do with entrepreneurs?
Yeah, good question. I, I realized over a couple of decades of running, you know, starting and running businesses and, and helping other people with theirs that, uh, well, I, I guess the decade of my twenties, I spent doing what a lot of people do, which is chasing, quote unquote success in the American dream. And you had these ideas in your mind of what you want when it comes to freedom and experiences and having things. So you had all the stuff you wanna have, and then I’m thinking, here’s what I’ve gotta do to get it. So I was just really focusing on the doing and the having for, for that decade and not really much about who, who I was becoming. I got really burned out, really unhappy, um, ended up fortunately being able to sell a couple of companies that I built just a ton of stress in, in doing all that.
But, um, gradually started realizing that what I really wanted was progress and growth, not necessarily achieving some, some grandiose vision of freedom. And then I realized I wanted contribution. Like I wanted to be feeling like I was making a difference for other people. And I think we’re all kind of wired that way, that we, that even if we reached this level of financial success, we’re going to eventually wake up and realize we’re still not happy unless we’re, we’re doing something that feels meaningful. Um, so I, I think humans, it appears to me humans are actually wired that way. We just don’t really know it sometimes until way late. Um, so
We tried to ignore it.
Yeah, exactly. And I
Can just get through this. I can make some money and, uh, it’ll all be okay. I could ignore this, like, this thing that’s kind of pulling me to, to want something more, right. Like Yeah. To press it.
Exactly. And, and the images we see of other people who appear happy, sometimes we think it’s because they have things or they’re not actually happy, they just look like they are. Um, anyway, so I, yeah, I’ve, I’ve realized that the people on this planet that I respect the most, who I think are genuinely living the most meaningful lives are doing what they’re doing more driven by that contribution, um, than by what they’re acquiring. So I, I thinks, you know, just, just kind of took me a while to redefine success and realize that it’s, it’s much more important to me to feel like I’m, you know, and I, I won’t go into the topic of how much contribution am I actually creating or impact am I creating on this planet? Cause that’s a whole different thing, but at least the feeling that I am is way more rewarding than just chasing numbers.
Although it would be nice to drive one,
But Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Feels like more of like a, you know, a weekend in, in Vegas rental than like, you know, being the guy who, who, um, pulls out of his driveway and like wakes up the entire neighborhood for no good reason. Um,
<laugh>. So, um, so yeah, so that’s like, you know, in terms of, of purpose and like, like how, you know, one of the reasons why you see it as being important, and I know that you work with a lot of purpose-driven entrepreneurs on building their teams. And I’m wondering, do they come to you purpose-driven, or do you kind of help them see the light in terms of like reaching for a, um, a bigger purpose? Like did they come to you saying, I just need to scale my team, and you, and you kind of help them, help shift them towards kind of purposeful entrepreneurship or, um, or they come to you saying like, oh, purpose, it’s so important to me, I resonate with you. Help me.
Really interesting question. So we’ve evolved over the years. You know, when Garrett and I started this business, our original vision was to, um, get to the point where we had kind of the cash and the team and the experience set that we could, um, help spawn startups that solve meaningful problems. So we wanted to kind of raise entrepreneurs, um, have kind of an incubator system where we could, we could really start these companies that solve problems. But then we, we realized a couple years in, there’s a lot of people out there already working very hard to solve these very meaningful problems like climate tech, education, food sustainability, et cetera, et cetera, things we really care about and things that the world needs super bad right now. And a lot of them are using technology to do it, but they might be just two degrees off in the product that they’re building.
And you fast forward two years down the road that’s like leaving from Hong Kong to New York and being two degrees off and ending up in Miami, it’s like you, you’ve, you end up failing because you’re just, you’re just a little off. And we’ve got the capacity in the product development expertise to help those people. So we, we have, um, we’ve shifted over time to focus our market, like our target market would be purpose-driven, impact, impact driven startups that are kind of really in business because they’re so passionate about solving that meaningful problem. So I would say that the majority of those people that we, um, get connected with are already really in business from the beginning for those reasons. But I would also say since that’s, that’s a really interesting question that you just asked me. Any, anybody out there building software that is values aligned with us and you know, really cares about the people that they’re doing their work for or with, um, if we could help them shift more or, or, you know, kind of move more and more in that direction, I’d be ecstatic to have those conversations. So I’m, I’m, you know, we’re open to those conversations with anyone I think, and, and I’m just a big fan of helping people see that business is more fun and more rewarding when, when we focus on the impact that we’re having.
Awesome. Um, and so like in terms of like steering at a few degrees in one direction, um, that kinda leads me toward the notion of like what you do with an initial concept and, and how do you clarify the direction for a concept, right? And, and how do you get it mapped out? So like, we’d like to talk about that a little bit.
Yeah, sure. Um, a lot of times we’re working with the, the typically the two, the two times that we are most valuable for a company building software, uh, would be when they’re either an established company that realizes they need to build a software product or a tech company that’s built in an M V MVP and realizing that they need to shift from maybe a contractor to building internal capacity. And we help them build out that internal product development capacity from building a team if that’s what they need, um, building out processes. But, but let’s, let’s talk about when you’re first for, for anyone out there who is early in an idea and they’re thinking about or getting ready to or have just started building something, um, the process of getting that idea out of your head and articulated and visually put out into the world so that other people can start to work on it, the way that you go about doing that is, is critical.
Um, we have a process we call the product blueprint sprint. So we call it p b s. We’ve got a kind of modularized where we, we help people, um, teams whe whether it’s an individual founder or a couple of people that have been talking about this idea, depending on what the stage is, we help them to get that through workshops. We help them get that, uh, articulated lots of questions and, and, and, um, discussions to get it mapped out into both a scope of, of what it would take to build it, but also very detailed documents that explain the user journey and show some mockups in the early days. But that’s just a first step cuz then you really need to get that validated. You need to start getting it in the hand getting that concept that’s now articulated clearly enough. Um, you need to start getting lots and lots of feedback from the people that you think you’re actually solving the problem from. And I think that’s the stage where people often don’t spend enough time is, is getting, they start building something before they’ve done enough conversations with the people that it’s for to make sure that they’re probably building, you know, at least 80% the right thing. Right. If that makes sense.
Yeah. Oh, absolutely. And then I guess the importance is to be in touch with target, target market with that prototype and, and pivot is necessary.
Yeah. And I think the, the majority of people out there now building software products are already aware of this change in approach, but fortunately we’re learning as a, we’re, we’re globally learning finally that, um, build as little as you can in the beginning, just, just keep it as simple and as, as inexpensive as possible to get that, that prototype into the hands of actual users before you commit to building something complex or expensive.
No, it’s a bit of agile, um, agile development. Um, it’s a bit of design thinking. Um, and, uh, you know, and it’s a bit of, I think you mentioned to me before Seth Godin, like the notion of just creating something and shipping it, just like don’t get carried away with, with like your thing being perfect, just ship your product, I think Yeah. Philosophy there.
Yeah. And I’m happy that, that, I see that being much more norm these days is, is like, people are used getting used to this idea. It’s like, it’s okay to put something into the hands of users that isn’t perfect because, well, what is, I mean, how many, how many times have you ever used an app in your life that you thought was absolutely amazing and perfect and that you couldn’t, maybe a few, but those have been years in the making and many, many, many customer feedback loops happening to get to that point. So we’re all kind of used to as users, if you think about that, it’s like, as a customer, as a user, as a, as a a consumer, I use things all the time that are not perfect and that’s just, okay. So why not put something into the hands of other people that’s not perfect and get feedback. That’s the way it works.
Yeah. I think it’s just a bit of a philosophical shift for, for a lot of people of, of not, um, of, of, um, not following that urge to have it be perfect.
Yeah. It is hard,
Yeah. Being okay with, with that. And so in terms of, um, of, uh, philosophy, um, something you, you said to me when we were talking before is, uh, about how we can be better ancestors, right? So what does that mean to you?
I just read this book Long Path by Ari Wallak, I think he’s also from New York. Um, he’s, I just found him on Big think on YouTube and, and, uh, haven’t really heard too many people talking about this book yet, but it’s a pretty easy read. And so I’m borrowing that phraseology and that that language from him. Um, but just, I, I guess over the last 15 or 20 years, I’ve, I’ve repeated, I’ve just con consistently seen the benefit of zooming out and looking at things over, you know, n not such short-term thinking, but the more we zoom out and look at long-term thinking before we zoom back in to do something, the, the more benefit there is to it. And this book is about zooming out beyond even our own lifetimes and just really thinking about how am I showing up in the world? What decisions am I making in the context of how can I be a better ancestor? And just thinking about what kind of world are we leaving and, and what are we doing right now that will make this place better for people after us? And I just find that to be such a powerful way to think. Um, and I would really recommend that book to anybody out there that’s, that’s creating anything. It’s just like, what can we, how can we design what we’re building and the organizations, the cultures, the products, anything we’re doing? It’s just a, an amazing lens to look through, I think.
Yeah. It’s striking to me just that phrase, um, is it, it’s, it’s quite a, a striking reframe to the things that we do. Um, and, uh, <laugh>, it’s kind of a silly aside, but I just rewatched, um, um, star Wars Rogue One, um, and, uh, God, I mean, I gu I guess I have to spoil the plot to say it’s like, kind of like all the, all the characters in the movie Die, right? But they, they contributed something in the process of doing so to, well, to the Star Wars trilogy and yeah. All of that. And it’s just like a fascinating thing to, to, and and it’s kind of in a notion, if we want to be better ancestors, we’re gonna die in the process, right? Like, it’s, it’s basically saying like, okay, there’s a, there’s a point at which we won’t be in. Everything we’re doing is towards a, towards something that’s going to happen. Um, of course the people that are gonna be here when we’re not.
Yeah. Yeah. It’s a very gets you thinking differently, doesn’t it?
Yeah. Yeah, it definitely does. And, um, and, and so I think growth is very important to you, like personal growth is important to you. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, uh, you know, why is important to you to, to, to continually grow?
So I, I’ve been working on a, on a book for a while now, and one of these days I’ll be announcing that it’s actually being published. But, um, it’s called Scary equals Happy. And this, this realization happened for me in my early, um, probably mid thirties where I realized that I’d spent the decade of my twenties focusing on the dream of, of, you know, being successful. And, and, um, I had been just working really hard to attain my dreams, but I wasn’t thinking at all about who am I right now and who do I wanna be and who am I becoming and what does that even mean? Started like paying a lot more attention to those things and realized that people want to grow. Like we, we don’t feel happy if we evaluate ourselves and our lives and we feel like it’s flat if we feel stuck, if we feel like maybe even we’re heading, you know, in the wrong direction.
It sucks. We all want to feel of, I, I think it’s core to our existence. We want a feeling of progress. And typically we’re measuring that progress in external metrics. We’re looking at our lives like, okay, what’s my bank account look like? What’s my salary look like? What are my savings looking like? You know, what, what do I have? How’s my house? Da da da da. And really, I think we should be, I think it’s much more in our control. We can move the locus of control internal and say, I am in control of who I am becoming, and I have the power. No matter what external situations are happening in my life, I can be focused on making me better. If I become more valuable in this world, probably the external stuff will also follow, you know, I’ll, I’ll be more valuable, therefore I will make more money or, or whatever.
And, um, so I started realizing the only way to grow consistently is to do things we’re uncomfortable with and all these little scary things in our lives that we’re naturally avoiding if we headed toward them, because they’re not, they’re not a gun, they’re not a lion, they’re not gonna kill us if we head toward these things that we’re scared of that don’t actually have risk on the other side of them is where all the magic and growth is. And, um, I started just testing that. I was like, okay, if I can find anything anywhere in my life that makes me uncomfortable, if I just headed directly toward it, what would happen? And I started learning like, wow, I, I’m just, you know, public speaking, um, conversations with other people that I notice I’m avoiding and just have them anyway, no matter how scary it is, you know?
And hope I can say that on your podcast, but, uh, yeah. So anyway, yeah. So just, um, it, it has become, there was a period of time, even in the last eight or nine years, where even though I had two kids and a family and I was on the other side of the planet and I was, I was not necessarily set up financially, I decided to set aside f I decided to set aside money and, and just say, I’ve gotta, I want to grow myself as fast as possible, um, read as much as I can, spend time around people, whether that’s through knowing them personally or through podcasts and books and YouTube videos. And, and yeah, I, I, I love helping people also who are on that kind of very focused on growing themselves. I really love conversations and coaching and, and helping other people grow. It’s, it’s really, I think it’s one of the most rewarding feelings in the, in, in the human experience when we feel like we’re actually learning and growing and, and growing capacity and growing perspective and Yeah. Passionate about that.
Totally agree. And, and so you work with people on creating high performing teams and like, it’s the kind of like the, the, the big not so secret secret about leadership is it’s, it’s about growing the leader, right? Like it’s, it’s like, um, typically an organization becomes the alter ego of the founder, of the person leading the organization and whatever kind of hangups and like unresolved issues they have become the issues of the organization, right? And so, kind of, some of us know that, but a lot of people that are, are running organizations don’t necessarily know that. So people come to you wanting to have you grow their team, and so you must, I’m putting words in your mouth, but you must like know that the important thing is for them to, to embrace growth as well in order to, uh, in, in order to overcome whatever challenges they’re having. And I’m wondering like, how do you help people to that have no context for personal growth to realize like, Hey, this is where the magic is at, is in growing yourself so that you can grow your organization?
I, I think you’re touching on one of, one of the most challenging problems I’ve ever run into in life is that I’m not sure you can get someone else to want to grow. I, I don’t like if you’re in a partnership relationship and you are on this path of making yourself better, growing, trying to, trying to understand your own hangups and, and your partners not, can you get them to want to, you can lead by example and maybe they realize it at some point. I’m not sure. I haven’t, I haven’t figured that one out. So I typically,
Let’s, let’s put partner partnerships aside for a moment. So people come,
Just clients, just clients
That have come to you, yes, sure. Hey, I need help growing my team. Can you realize that like, you know, they’re kind of in a pattern of just trying to beat their, all their team members out, like trying to be number one all the time. And so they’re not allowing their team, you know, like they’re, they’re so used to winning that they’re like trying to win against their own team members. And you just realize like, hey, like this person, like did some personal growth work that would, you know, do, um, tremendous service to the things that they want to accomplish here. Yeah. So do, do you encounter that?
So less these days to, to be really honest with you, the pattern that I’ve seen is that people who are impact oriented are usually also really working on themselves. I, I’ve noticed a lot of really good leaders in that space, um, seems to kind of correlate that the, the more you’re focused on helping other people on this planet, the more interested you are, you know, like humility there. I, I don’t know. It just seems like we run in, I feel very grateful that we get to work with a lot of kind of values aligned people. And if I do run across someone where we don’t have, you know, for example, one of our core one, one of the reasons I’m in business with the people that I’m in business with is that we, we have a shared belief that business should be about humans first.
And even if you, even if money was your top goal, you still would be better off, you know, just follow Simon Sinek. Like, we really believe in putting people first, um, as a philosophy. And it’s not just a tactic, it’s like really what we care about. So if, if we meet someone who isn’t, um, interested in those same things, I don’t think we would actually end up working with them. But, but if I was working with someone and I noticed those kind of things and I could, and there was a potential for me to offer feedback, like I certainly would do that. Um, but it might reach a point where we just couldn’t keep working together because that’s, that’s too, too much misalignment. The way, the way you’re describing it sounds, sounds misaligned enough that I I would, would probably fire that client to be frank
<laugh>. Right? Well, I mean, I guess, you know, they say like when you, when you really ex express yourself, right? When you really express who you are mm-hmm. And like your values,
So that if you stand for something Yeah.
When you stand for something Yeah. And you express like kind of what you’re all about, you will attract the people that are attracted to that and, and the people that aren’t into that will stay far away. So it sounds like you have been kind of like really clear and out there with what you’re about enough that the people that say, Hey, I want to work with you, they Yeah, they’re, they’re aligned.
That’s a scary thing to do at first, you know, because I, in bus in my first businesses, it was like, you always just want any customer that you, you’re trying to grow your business. And yeah, it feel, feels very scary to turn down business or to stand for something that might repel people, that that just feels scary. But I’ve heard people that I trust advocate that over and over again. And the more I, you know, just kind of gradually hit it in that direction. And the more I’ve had the courage to do it, the more I believe in it and the more it works. And it’s just, life is so much better when you’re working with people that, that see things similarly and Yeah, it does. It’s true.
Well, I suppose that if you are, um, humans first oriented, then you will naturally turn down business that isn’t aligned, um, with you. Um, even if it’s scary to do so.
Yeah, I think it’s, um, yeah, I agree. I agree. And I concur and <laugh> it is true. <laugh>.
Awesome. Well, um, I, I really appreciate you taking the time to, to tell us a bit about what you do, um, in the world and, um, if people wanna learn more about you or get in touch with you, how do they go about doing? So
I’d love to connect with people if you think, uh, anything here that I’ve talked about is interesting. Let’s have a conversation on LinkedIn for no particular reason would be fine with me. Depending on what you have in mind, um, link LinkedIn is a great way to reach out. And on my LinkedIn you’ll also find if you are building a software product, we have an a five minute, uh, evaluation that you can kind of find out where the bottlenecks might be in product development. That’s a, a quick scorecard you can do there, which is a good way to get, get started talking to us if that’s something interesting to you. But yeah, love to connect.
Awesome. Well, uh, Eli, thanks again. I really appreciate you taking the time and being on this podcast,
Rich. It’s been a really fun conversation and, uh, yeah, thank you so much for having me here.
Thanks for listening to Innovations and Breakthroughs with your host Rich Goldstein. Be sure to click subscribe, check us out on the web at innovationsandbreakthroughs.com and we’ll see you next time.