Podcast: Autonomy In the Workplace with Florin Ilie

Podcast: Autonomy In the Workplace with Florin Ilie

By Preslie Hirsch |
Jan, 28 2020

Welcome to the After5.io podcast, Practical Empowerment. You can watch the full interview above, read through the transcript below, or find it on your favorite podcast app: 

Preslie Hirsch: Hi there, and welcome to the first episode of Practical Empowerment: Inspiring Conversations with Valley Leaders brought to you by After5.io. I'm your host, Presley Hirsch. With each episode we’ll be bringing you thought leaders and community changers throughout the greater Phoenix area. And while geographically we may all be fairly close, the conversations, takeaways, and principles of leadership expand far beyond the heart of Arizona. 

Our goal with this podcast is to provide you with tangible tips to feel empowered as a freelancer, business owner or employee as well as in your personal life, through taking total ownership and autonomy over the life that you want to lead. But you have to take my word for it, because in this episode I sat down with the founder of After5.io, Florin Ilie. With a wealth of experience in web development, hands-on problem solving and working closely with a variety of teams, Florin knew there was an area of opportunity to build something that he truly believes in. 

Born in July of 2016, After5.io is a place where interests align in a context of known and consistent values, and a platform where people can help each other pursue and achieve their dreams. Professionals who have a need for independence, control and opportunities are connected with small businesses who need access to qualified talent. Simply put: Florin empowers people to solve problems with technology and actively builds relationships that inspire

Florin, thanks for being here. I'm so excited to chat with you today. 

Florin: So excited to talk to you Preslie. 

Preslie: So tell me about why you started After5.io.

Florin: Get rich, why else?

Preslie: Why else would we start a business.

Florin: In all seriousness, a big part of why we start any business is to generate revenue and to provide for families, to pay our bills and ultimately, for many people, it's a dream to build wealth. 

I think these days there is more to creating and building a business, more than the financial rewards that come with it. One of the big drives for a lot of people, including me, is something that gives you passion, that that makes you do what you do for the joy that you get out of it itself. So at that point, money and the financial rewards are sort of a bonus, a plus. But they are definitely an incentive to put the work and the effort, and put up with the times where you don't quite feel like doing it or you don't quite feel it's paying off as much as you would like, both in terms of financial rewards, but also in terms of what you expect from other people. Because not everybody's going to like what you do or resonate with what you do, or really care about what you do. And so those two components of what drives us I think are key to why anybody would start a business. You know, for me, it's both financially but also inner drive, why do I do what I do.

Preslie: Which I feel like that has to be a huge part of it because, in my opinion, there's much easier ways to make money and better get rich quick schemes than building a business, which takes so much work and time and thought.

Florin: I give credit to people that can use the get rich quick schemes to make, you know, a lot of money. And I don’t know how they do it, to be honest. All I know is that, for me, long-term investment and grinding it, Just putting work and real hours and real days and real years. That’s the only way I know how to do it. 

Preslie: What makes your company different than other companies in that space?

Florin: I think a lot of businesses start with a personal story and so did mine. I immigrated to the United States in 1999, 20 years now. At that time, I moved the United States with $1200 in my pocket and $3000 in debt to my parents, that was their entire life savings. I originally come from Romania, not a very wealthy country or a lot of opportunities there, at that time at least. So ten years later, I reached the top 1 percent worldwide of both by income and by net worth. 

How I got there, it’s kind of amazing. I did not ever plan or expect or anticipate to get there and to accomplish that. But somehow, day-by-day, year-by-year, one thing led to another: part good decisions part hard work, part partnering with people who contributed to the success. But it’s not all. And this is why I’m talking about After5 and why it is different, because a big realization for me after that was that hard work, smarts, day in and day out of doing the same thing over again and making even good decisions and having good luck is not enough to build wealth. 

The only way you can achieve that is by ownership and equity. So, equity and ownership is overlooked by most people. People are most familiar with the equity in a house and you build it over time. So it is in business. So when we grow our careers our professions, we graduate, we get a job, we learn on a job and we exchange a skill, our time, for money. It’s how it is, it’s how you learn, it’s how you grow professionally. After a while though, you realize that your income ability and your wealth building opportunities are limited to a market value. You are going to always only make as much money as the market you are in would dictate. 

That realization that it wasn’t just my hard work, smarts and everything else that I’ve done. Nothing would have happened if I didn’t own that business. That allowed me to reap the rewards of incremental equity that’s being built and goodwill. 

The two things that make a business valuable are equity and goodwill. Goodwill is really the key to everything else because. I would define goodwill as the value that people perceive in a business. Why do they use it? Why do they work there? That’s all goodwill. And then having equity in that allows you to build overtime Value that you retain. 

After5 came for me from that realization. How are people supposed to build wealth and do something they are really passionate about and have control over if they spend their entire life as employees. For me it was, can I help people transition in some way from a life or mindset of paying bills to that of building wealth. I appreciated that I could experience that, and I think this in itself is rewarding to me, regardless of how much money I may make or may not make. That in itself was rewarding enough for me to pursue it. It’s sort of the story of After5 and why it started. It sort of clicked for me one day when I was watched a famous video by Simon Sinek in 2017 called, “Start with Why.”

Preslie: So how do you treat the people that are involved in After5 different from employees?

Florin: For one, we don’t have employees. We don’t have employees because at this stage we can’t quite afford them, but also because… I talk to a lot of people when I’m recruiting and I don’t want to employ them. I want to find ways to help them in their journey to own what they do and treat me as a client. 

That is a key ingredient in the transition, to look at people who compensate us in some way, including our employer, as clients. Because at that moment we take ownership of that relationship. And when we take ownership, I’m in charge and stop blaming someone else for its outcomes. If I have a client, the client can walk away or not like what I do. It doesn’t matter what I do or say. That’s empowering. 

I want to attract and work with people who are at the stage in their life where that is important to them. 

Preslie: That’s such an interesting distinction to treat your boss or employer like their your client. I’m sure that’s a lightbulb moment for some people who are listening. How do you decide if a client is not a good fit? So you could see this as an employer or a client you're serving in a different capacity. Have you had experience with this or just your advice. How do you decide this just isn’t working?

Florin: Business is about transacting value and value is not always monetary. Working with people, a lot of times is quite rewarding to the degree that people can forego certain compensation levels or sometimes work for free because they like working with that group. Transacting value is not always monetary. For me, even though my core strength is not customer service or business development, I’m more on the technology side, I look at the dynamic that takes place between client and a customer and us as, in many ways, a relationship that takes place between two people in the context of transacting value. 

I have not been in the position to fire a client but, I would say the two reasons you would contemplate that are verbal abuse, a toxic relationship, bullying - those are real. They happen all the time. That has to do with them, but even more so with us. It has to do with us because we are in control of the boundaries we create. If we have loose boundaries and don’t enforce them, we allow that behavior to reach a point where we are contemplating whether we want to continue to work with the client or not. And so, rather than firing the client I would enforce the boundaries and qualify them in a respectful, polite, professional way. That would put the ball in the clients court. They are in the position to adjust and change or not work with us. 

Preslie: That’s  such a good point that it’s a relationship that’s exchanging value. Because then,if you were to compare that to personal relationships or professional relationship with with coworkers, you wouldn’t allow them to bully you or treat you with disrespect, so why would a client relationship be different. What are your thoughts on the adage, “The customer is always right?”

Florin: He is always right. There is a merit to that. I don’t fully subscribe to it but there is a lot of merit because they have a point. No matter whether it’s a complaint, or a request, they make ask for the sky, or they may just be rude to us. There’s a core to that behavior or that request. So, we have to acknowledge that. Part of my philosophy in life and in business is to serve people and part of that service is listening with empathy, with curiosity, and compassion and understanding where do they come from and why do they want that, and do our best to provide that for them. 

So, having said that, customers or people, sometimes we think what we want is not really what we want. I’ll give an example. Henry Ford has a famous phrase, “If I asked my customers what they wanted, they would say a faster horse.” People know they have a problem, the problem is the speed, but they don’t quite know the variety of solutions that may be available to them. 

Asking for a faster horse is definitely a solution, but it is within their view, their imagination. Henry Ford gave them a car. They didn’t ask for a car, and it worked pretty well. Likewise, a big part of serving customers is not always giving them what they want but giving them more than what they want. The easiest way to sell somebody is to give them exactly what they want. But that’s not always in the best interest of the client. Sometimes we take the risk of trying to paint a different picture and communicate something that may or may not work. We do risk losing their business by not giving them exactly what they wanted when they wanted it. 

Preslie: But had they gone somewhere and found the faster horse, when the car comes out they’d be like, “No wait! I want that.” That’s a good point, and a good quote. Where does empathy play a roll in the workplace as far as between an employer and their employees, or with freelancers. How does empathy play a role there, especially as a leader?

Florin: I think empathy allows us to navigate relationships. It’s the ability we have to understand how someone else feels. How we feel dictates a lot of how we act, what decisions we make. Our emotions are a huge bias in our lives. Understanding how people feel is essential to serving them. Oftentimes, people may ask for something but it’s not what they really want. Empathy allows you to feel and understand beyond what they’re saying and have that chance to understand what they really want. That’s the role of empathy in relationships in general, whether personal or professional.

Preslie: That’s such a great point. You said that and I started thinking about relationships with people I’ve worked with on a team and a boss or someone in leadership. Or even at the grocery store and it seems like someone’s had a bad day. Empathy is “maybe you had a bad day” rather than “what a jerk!” And what if you did that with your team or your leader, trying to step into their shoes instead of assuming what they feel. How does empathy differ from sympathy for someone who maybe doesn’t know the difference?

Florin: I would say sympathy is the ability to feel someone’s distress without necessarily understanding what they feel. And I think that is a stepping stone to empathy. We can’t always understand what people feel. We can try to do that by recalling an experience that’s somewhat similar to their experience, but to do that, you have to understand context. What else is happening in their life? 

There are so many factors that contribute to how someone feels, what they feel, that just saying we understand how someone feels, it’s a long shot. In many cases, we may think we do but the best we can do is have sympathy. Meaning I know they are not feeling that great today, they are going through something hard in their lives or stressful, I can’t quite tell how they feel but I feel bad for that. 

Preslie: Not being able to necessarily relate on a much more granular level but being sympathetic to their situation. You mentioned earlier that a big reason you wanted to start After5 was helping people feel empowered; that you don’t necessarily want to employ them because it gives them that agency. How does that change someone’s life in and out of the workplace, to have that level of autonomy and control over their career?

Florin: I think our lives are governed by mindset and I would say, in large part, by the stories that we tell in our heads about ourselves and the world. That tape that keeps playing in our heads defines what happens in our lives for the most part. We can’t control everything, but there is a lot we can. And not only control, I think it’s putting a weight, or allowing things to happen in your life. There are more opportunities oftentimes that we see. Changing a little bit of perspective, the mindset is essential  to feel more empowered in any aspect of life. The way our professional lives evolved, they very much have a huge impact on our personal lives as well. 

Preslie: What is something somebody could do today to feel more empowered, like they have more agency, more control? 

Florin: I think this is practical. Seeing someone as a client and looking through the eyes of a business owner. I think that is a practical step. That starts everything else. At that point, we start making decisions that shape our future in a different way. That’s the single most important thing you can do - start looking at those relationships differently. Take ownership of them and influence them in a way that nurtures growth. Rather than thinking of what you want, what you get, think what do they want? Looking at your employer, what do they want, why did they hire me? They didn’t hire me because they like me, that is a part of it but it’s because you bring value to that business. You are selling the value you create. That goodwill, that equity you create with your talents and your skills, you sell it. What else do they want? How else can you create and deliver more value?

And once you put that business owner cap on, go a step farther and add another client. Invest in growth, diversify. That is empowering to me. And employers, the ones that understand the value of people who are empowered, they will love that. Businesses that look at their employees or team members or organization as human assets are not in a position to be as successful as an organization that looks at the people that they work with as partners as equals, and cheers them up in their personal and life’s journey in their growth. And part of that growth is going through different phases and stages. And having people that move through those stages that have the courage and the passion - you want those people in your organization. The label you have, or whether you have a W2 or 1099 is irrelevant. What's relevant is the value that you exchange in that dynamic.

Preslie: And speaking of practical ways to feel empowered, what is your hope for this podcast?

Florin: I would hope that allows people to speak more on this subject. I want it to be a forum where people who have stories to tell on this topic would inspire and motivate others, or would allow them to say this is how they’ve done it. This is how they are looking at life or work or profession or passion or whatever they are doing. Or, the challenges, the fears they have, the lack of everything we have, because we lack so many things, and still we leverage our strengths. So how have they done it? So I hope this becomes a forum where they can share their experiences and others can be inspired by them. 

Preslie: I think we’re off to a great start! Thanks for being here. 

Hey there! Just a couple quick things before you go. First, thank you so much for listening to this entire episode and we really hope you enjoyed it. If you’re listening in iTunes, please take just a moment and leave a review, let us know what your takeaways were and what you’d like to see more of. And if you haven’t already, hit subscribe in your podcast app so you don’t miss any of our upcoming episodes. And until next time, thank you for listening and may you feel empowered today and every day to step into leadership and the life you’ve been dreaming of.

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