Bonus Episode: Who’s Running the Business?

Bonus Episode: Who’s Running the Business?

Introduction:

This week, in a special bonus episode, we talk to Steve Krull and Dan Golden, co-founders of Be Found Online, a digital marketing agency based in Chicago. In the second quarter of 2020, as COVID hit and their clients stopped advertising, Krull and Golden watched helplessly as their agency lost 40 percent of its revenue. And then things got much worse: By the end of the year, both of their wives would be diagnosed with cancer. This is a conversation about how Krull and Golden have coped with matters big and small, personal and professional, throughout an experience they compare to being in a knife fight in the middle of a forest fire.

— Loren Feldman

Producer:

Jess Thoubboron is founder of Blank Word Productions.

Full Episode Transcript:

Loren Feldman:
Welcome, Dan and Steve. We’re gonna have a business conversation here, but it’s not going to be your typical business conversation. We’re not going to talk about how to double your revenue or triple your profits or rise to the top of the Google rankings—although these guys could probably help us with that last one.

Steve Krull:
You can slide one of those questions in. We wouldn’t argue with that.

Loren Feldman:
All right. Maybe we’ll get to that. But really, instead, this is going to be a conversation about an extreme challenge of work-life balance. Last year, both Dan’s wife and Steve’s wife were diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. Let’s start with the obvious. What are their names and how are they doing? Maybe Steve, you first?

Steve Krull:
Roxanne was diagnosed in April of last year with Stage IV colon cancer with metastases to the liver and the peritoneum. At one point, a doctor called it “peritoneal something or other,” and I completely freaked out, because you read about these things… Long story short, after chemo and a very invasive surgery and lots of other follow-ups, Roxanne has had no evidence of disease in three consecutive scans. So she’s doing marvelously at the moment.

Loren Feldman:
Well, that’s good to hear. Dan?

Dan Golden:
So my wife, Rachelle, was diagnosed coming up on a year ago, at the very end of 2020. We knew she had Stage IV lung cancer of some kind. Towards the end of January, we got even worse news than that—that it is NUT carcinoma, like 20 to 30 cases a year in the U.S. And an average life expectancy of six months. So it was a brutal year. She’s here. She’s doing better than she has all year. I use a forest analogy. Half of this year, we were in the middle of a forest fire in the middle of a knife fight in the forest fire. We’re certainly not out of the woods, and there’s smoke around, but we’ve kind of had a bit of a clearing. And, you know, there’s this asterisk—the “how’s it going question” is like…

Steve Krull:
I hate that question!

Dan Golden:
It’s the reason I’ve been off LinkedIn all year. Because it’s such a loaded question. For people that know what’s going on with me, I have a lot of really good days. To add to the shit-list here, our third baby was four months old when she was diagnosed. Adding to just the logistics of running a household while she spent the first six months of the year half the time in the hospital, and when she was out of the hospital taking care of her and the kids… To answer your question of the podcast, “Who’s running the business?” Right now, Steve.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it on this podcast: Thank you. I could give you the woe-is-me list—and it’s pretty big and legitimate, in my humble opinion—but I’m really lucky, in that I’ve got a supportive team that stepped in everywhere. We got the call from the doctor telling us the worst news of the prognosis and everything about two hours before I was signed up to do a webinar in January with 100 attendees.

Steve Krull:
I remember that.

Dan Golden:
I tried really hard to compartmentalize, and it went okay.

Steve Krull:
You did a great job. Those of us who knew were concerned for you. I wasn’t worried about the webinar at all. We could have taken a left turn on that. But just watching you and how you rose to the occasion was impressive, given the kick in the nuts that you got.

Loren Feldman:
That is amazing. And let me just say, I really admire you guys for doing this today. It’s something you don’t have to do. Why don’t we take a step back for a moment? Tell us a little bit about the business that you guys started and built. How did you come to start a business together?

Steve Krull:
The short version of it is Dan and I worked alongside one another very nearly 20 years ago. Dan was an undergrad student at Northwestern and got himself an internship. It was between digital marketing and the cigar store, and he chose digital marketing. And as they say, “The rest is history.”

Anyhow, I was liberated after an acquisition in early 2006. I had zero agency experience, and I hadn’t had a job in digital marketing. And I said, “I’ve got a great idea! I’m going to start an agency.” So, I did. And, wouldn’t you know ,that over the course of a couple of years, Dan and I kept running into each other because I was doing organic, or SEO, and web strategy. And Dan was moonlighting doing local search and paid search, and there was always this crossover need. And we kept running into each other, kept having a need.

And then over time, there are a few things that happened. And I’ll let Dan tell the next story about how BFO really came to be, because he was running a place called Be Found Local in his spare time. I was running the Krull Group, and we had a really, really good reason to sort of turn everything into BFO back in 2009. Go ahead, Dan.

Dan Golden:
We co-founded a company because we hated accounting. It was September, and we had been working together all year. Whoever had gotten the client was the one getting paid. We just hadn’t done any math and decided to join forces at the beginning of 2009, and spent one weekend with a bottle of whiskey and some paper napkins and figured out what was fair and went at it right after a recession, the Great Recession, started. But it turns out, we were on the right side of marketing.

Loren Feldman:
In what sense?

Dan Golden:
In a difficult business climate. When the recession hits, and when the next one hits, there’s going to be a lot of people who say, “Stop spending money on marketing and agencies.” The work that we do, search performance marketing, sells itself. It sells itself. Right? So brands were shifting dollars to what we were doing during a very difficult time. And so we’ve got our fair share of business war stories, and confounding the two big ones we’re talking about today was COVID happening in the middle of all of this.

Loren Feldman:
How far had you gotten when COVID hit? You’re 10 years into it. How big was the business? And what was working? What wasn’t working?

Steve Krull:
I think in 2019, we were five and a half million at that point. And we had shrunken a little bit, and we had some challenges that we were facing. We were looking at 2020 with sort of eyes wide open, a chance to reboot. We were making some changes to the infrastructure of the company, trying to reboot a little bit of the culture. And here we were going to set sail the good ship BFO, on sail for yet another tour, and wouldn’t you know?

My story starts as though my wife had had some issues, and she went to get a colonoscopy. And they put it off because of COVID. They started closing the hospitals and postponing treatments, and the doctor said, “Well, we can’t do any of that. We consider it elective at this point,” because there was no reason to believe she had cancer.

So fast forward to February, and we hadn’t shut down for COVID yet. We’re still a month away. And we get a report back from the doc that says, “Removed polyp, likely malignant,” and there’s sort of the, “Hmm…” And then there’s the, “Oh, shit.” And there’s the, “What does that mean?” And then you get the call, and it says, “We’d like you to talk to this person, and this person, and this person, and a few of these people.” And by then, you sort of know all bets are off. Like you’re not just having a simple polyp removed, you’re gonna get more. So there was the colon resection surgery, and then, boom, boom, boom. Before you know it, it’s April, and she’s diagnosed.

So COVID hit, we shut down stuff—what was it? March 13th was the date that I remember. And nobody came to the office, and we went into panic mode. We went into crisis mode trying to figure out which clients were going to keep the lights on, which clients were going to turn the lights off. It was a nutty time. And all the while, you get this—it’s a little black rain cloud that you can’t leave behind.

So to the same point where Dan said, “Who’s running the company now?” I wasn’t running the company then. Hats off to Dan and the other wonderful folks who were running BFO. Because, I would sit at the keyboard, and I couldn’t do a damn thing. There was nothing to do.

Starting in April, when she was diagnosed, I was trying to work, and I was vapor lock. So I was kind of half in half out. I think our friend Michael Goldberg would call it “half pregnant,” Dan. And there’s no such thing. So it was this crazy point where both of those things smacked at the same time. And then added to the roller coaster was I lost both parents that summer, too.

Loren Feldman:
Oh, geez.

Steve Krull:
So my wife starts chemotherapy in June. My dad passes away in late May, early June. Mom passes away in August. And then you’ve got all this COVID, so you can’t see people. You can’t get together. You can barely mourn your parents as this is happening. It was just, it’s insanely nutty.

Loren Feldman:
That’s unbelievable. You talk about not being able to work, and initially at that stage, Dan kind of was running things. How did it work before COVID? How did you guys manage the business together as co-founders?

Dan Golden:
How did Stan Krullden function? We tried a lot of different ways. For being two co-founders, there’s usually the yin and the yang, and we’re like two yangs. It depends on the year. On the walls of BFO’s conference room, every which way we could design an org chart has been tried and I think…

Loren Feldman:
What worked best?

Dan Golden:
I think eventually what we got to was sort of Dan pointing out more and Steve pointing in more, if there’s a way to generalize kind of where our roles had evolved to.

Loren Feldman:
I’m not sure I know what that means.

Dan Golden:
Doing webinars, going to conferences.

Loren Feldman:
I see.

Steve Krull:
We’re not talking about belly buttons.

Dan Golden:
Steve’s got a much better operational mind than I do. And putting us where we add the most value and where we each have fun. Before the pandemic, I spent all day on Zoom meetings. Sometimes I just did it from the office with people here too.

Loren Feldman:
You were doing that before the pandemic?

Dan Golden:
Yeah! I mean, I knew people all over the place. You know, I’m networking, selling, doing pitches, meeting people. I thrive on meeting people and having authentic interactions. When the pandemic was hitting, I would be selling someone, but I would also have the laundry in the background and just being authentic.

Loren Feldman:
You were ready.

Steve Krull:
You had a very authentic beard for quite a while.

Dan Golden:
When she first got diagnosed, I had already not shaved, but I basically looked how I felt, which was not good.

Steve Krull:
I did the same thing. I had this crazy beard down to here, and I was just like, “I don’t care anymore.”

Dan Golden:
It’s tough to reach out. I have friends who we do business with. To reach out and be like, “Hey, how’s your SEO doing this year? Also, my wife has cancer. Your mobile site is a little bit slow.” Forcing that upon someone, but also just interacting like everything’s fine, it’s hard. And I know so many people go through shit like this, and have to pretend in this slice of their world…

Steve Krull:
You don’t want to wear it on your sleeve, but you also don’t want to hide from it. I don’t want to use it to evoke sympathy. I want people to understand the situation, but I don’t lean into it. But it’s that loaded question, “Hey, Steve, how are things going?” I look at him and say, “Remember, you’re the one that asked. Now, do you really want to know?”

Loren Feldman:
Well, that’s especially fraught dealing with employees, I would think. How did you guys decide to handle that? Were you immediately open with them? Or how did that evolve?

Steve Krull:
That was a tear-jerker for me, standing up in front of the team, letting them know the situation. Man…it’s hard.

Loren Feldman:
In person?

Steve Krull:
No, we were COVID-ing. We were still learning how these boxes work.

Loren Feldman:
You were standing up in front of the team on Zoom.

Steve Krull:
Yeah, it was tough. It’s tough just thinking about talking about it, when you’re in that situation, because you don’t know. I’m in a much better place now, certainly because of Roxanne’s current circumstances. I didn’t realize this, and I want this for Dan—it’ll happen soon enough—you don’t realize that the weight’s lifted until the weight’s lifted. And you realize just what you’ve been pulling around—that little, black rain cloud that you can’t get rid of. And it was truly sort of this reawakening for me, when we started getting more good news. It’s like this idea like, “Oh, wait a minute. You mean, I can be myself a little bit?”

But in terms of talking to the team, I gave the team regular updates along the way, tried to keep them informed of what was going on. Even when I was out—I took three or four months off last year, and Dan was gracious enough to cover for me then—little did I know, I’d be re-paying him this year. Like, what? What? Where? It’s just this crazy thing.

But the weirdest thing happened along the way. Because we’re similarly afflicted in this circumstance, it actually strengthened our relationship as co-owners. And I want to say that, in the past 12 months, it’s not that Dan and I are liars, cheats, and thieves. We’re very transparent. We’re very honest. But I think even with each other, we’ve become more vulnerable and more transparent over the course of the last nine to 12 months, and it’s been phenomenal. We haven’t seen each other as much, and that may be helping the relationship, too.

Loren Feldman:
Well, I’ve got to think it has to have helped, to some extent, that you each had someone you were close to who was familiar with these circumstances. And you didn’t have to go looking for somebody who understood.

Dan Golden:
We have some of the same doctors now, too.

Steve Krull:
We do. Dan’s taught me words, like, I thought I knew a decent amount about cancer. I learned lots of new words, just talking to Dan, and back and forth. There have been a few bottles of whiskey in between us along the way, no doubt.

Loren Feldman:
Under normal circumstances, you probably can’t hide something like this. I mean, you’ve just got to be out of the office dealing with this issue. People are gonna figure out something’s going on. But working remotely, there’s some chance that you could have faked it for a while, I suspect. Were either of you inclined to try to do that?

Steve Krull:
No, I’m too stupid to do that.

Dan Golden:
You know, I’m still working on my LinkedIn post announcing a personal update since April. It’s hard, and part of that is, by the time I got the courage to finish a draft and sleep on it, we got some new shitty news the next day. Even this thing, I saw the email again, and we got the last scans, and the first doctor said she was happy. And then I said, “Hell yes, guys, let’s do this on the 14th.” And then a few days later, we meet another doc, and we’ve got PET scans on January 3rd now. You know, it’s tough to predict.

Steve Krull:
The one thing that I take out of this is, I want to say that BFO has always been this company that would support one another to support the team. I never thought I’d be the person who needed it, or that Dan would, and that we’d be providing that support for others. And the thing that most amazed me in this is, even if I didn’t see all of that, the team didn’t just step up—the team jumped up to help us, to support us. And I can’t be more grateful for the support that we’ve received: Dan, myself, Rachelle, Roxanne. Along the last two years, it’s been a crazy, tumultuous journey. And like everybody else in COVID, you’re dealing with a shift in business, right? We lost… was it 40 percent of our business last year in Q2? It just sort of went “Pfffft.”

Loren Feldman:
Really?

Steve Krull:
But we’re not alone in that. And we lost some folks to The Great Resignation, some of that pent-up demand that you’ve talked about a lot with… what’s the name of the recruiter in Texas on your podcast?

Loren Feldman:
William Vanderbloemen.

Steve Krull:
William, yeah. He talks about that pent-up desire to leave, and we had some of that go on. But I’m just so grateful. Even some of the people who’ve left have been very gracious in their departures, supporting us as much as they can as they leave. And we know that people need to grow, they need to move, and we support that. Now, I don’t want to lose people. I love everybody I work with, but the way that the team has stepped up and continued to take charge and be accountable has been amazing to me.

Loren Feldman:
How many employees did you have when COVID hit?

Steve Krull:
Twenty-ish, twenty-five-ish? Somewhere around there.

Loren Feldman:
And today?

Steve Krull:
Twenty-ish, twenty-five-ish? Somewhere around there. [Laughter]

Loren Feldman:
Have there been periods where both of you have sort of been unavailable at the same time?

Dan Golden:
It’s funny, we always thought the grand experiment would be when you and I could go to Burning Man for a week and the company would still be standing when we got home. That would have been much more fun.

Steve Krull:
It would have been a lot more fun. Next time. I don’t think so. I think I was hit or miss for a large part of last year. Ultimately, I took off in July and came back in Octoberish.

Dan Golden:
Well, I was also having a baby.

Steve Krull:
That’s right. Oh yeah, we were out at the same time then. You had a baby, and I had chemotherapy. So yeah, we were out at the same time for probably a few weeks there last summer.

Loren Feldman:
And did that—

Dan Golden:
Our team knows what to do.

Loren Feldman:
To fill the void?

Steve Krull:
Yeah, well, it taught me to get out of the way. But that’s me. They talk about it a lot, right? Set the vision and get out of the way. That’s one of the mantras of EOS, isn’t it? I’ve talked to a lot of successful entrepreneurs. They say, “The day your business is most successful is the day that you can take two steps back and not worry about it.” And I always thought that I was doing some of that. And I’m sure Dan’s felt that way too. But this was that wedge that just said, “I just need to be back here.” And I couldn’t participate. I had to watch.

Dan Golden:
The Band-Aid can come off, and it doesn’t take all the hairs. Dammit, if I knew that, I would have taken a legit sabbatical one of these years. I mean, I’d say that’s one lesson. That’s one reason why we’re doing this thing. If you’re [listening to] this and you’re not in the middle of some shitty situation like this, and you own a business, set things up so that if something like this happens, you have the kind of team that’s going to jump in. Steve and I always prioritized spending whatever we needed to make sure we had really good insurance for the team.

Back to the lucky list, I’m in Chicago, we have good health care coverage. There are a lot of people dealing with—800,000 people who lost someone over the last two years. And I couldn’t imagine, certainly having to go to work, like leave the house. I know that leaving the house is hard for all of us now. But having to work a full-time job while in the middle of something like this…

Steve Krull:
Yeah, I’m extraordinarily grateful that we have the flexibility. I know people who’ve gone through chemotherapy and held down a full-time job. And their husbands couldn’t take the time off to go to and from chemo. Or to Dan’s point, his wife had inpatient chemotherapy, and he has spent a lot of time in the hospital.

Dan Golden:
I missed, like, three days, and that was just because of COVID risk.

Steve Krull:
Oftentimes, that person has to continue working, because they’re the insurance coverage. I’m just so grateful and thankful for what we’ve been able to do and build and the insurance that we had. Just the ability to have choices and the way everything sort of came together. The situation is horrible.

And to the point Dan, I think, was going after is that if you’re an owner, go to Burning Man. Don’t wait for this to happen. Grab your co-founder, or two, whatever, however many co-founders you have. Cut out. Go to Burning Man. Everybody take two weeks. Let your clients know that you’re not going to be there, and let the inmates run the asylum. Just let that happen, and come back and appreciate what you see and what you have in the humans who are there, and what they’ll be willing to do to support one another. And ultimately, they’ve supported Dan and I in this.

Loren Feldman:
Was there a learning curve, in terms of stepping away during those periods when you had to step away? I mean, you had no choice. I understand that. But I’m wondering if, initially, were you trying to keep up with email? Were you trying to stay involved in certain decisions? Or did you just have to let it all go?

Dan Golden:
I floundered for a month. There were times where it became hard. Her cancer’s so rare. She’s been my client this year. Learning about this, I’ve got doctors in Europe, learning how they do it, and getting them to talk to U.S. doctors and replicating treatments. I’m using all my business collaboration skills. Everything I learned from running big accounts: sending emails, looping in all the different specialists, asking for other opinions, sharing information. I’ve got a Google Drive that’s more organized than the fucking medical systems at the hospital.

I couldn’t get myself to write to respond back about a webinar or a blog if I had a doctor I needed to write. I need to do these things. In general, in business, I can juggle 10,000 things and blogs and clients and fire drills and whatever. We’re a marketing agency. That’s what we do. But with something like this, how could I spend an hour talking on Zoom to a stranger?

Loren Feldman:
How about you, Steve? Was it hard for you to step away?

Steve Krull:
It was initially. I would echo what Dan said. It was probably about a month of floundering. And I made the mistake, if you will, of saying there were a couple things I wanted to stay in the loop on, which meant that I had to sort of keep my hand in there looking at stuff. And you don’t have the capacity for it. The other thing you don’t have is the patience for it either. So you find that your fuse gets shorter and shorter for stuff that has become less important. It was more important two weeks ago than it is now, and it probably wasn’t that important before, but I assigned it a higher priority.

That understanding, over time, finally there were a few letting go moments that I just sort of had to turn around, and if you will, walk away from BFO, and all of that responsibility for a period of time so that I could focus. So that I could keep my energy in the right place. So that I could keep my energy focused on Roxanne and help her get better. Because she could see me wearing some of BFO when I was being the taxi service, or she was lying in bed for three days after chemo and not wanting to move. And she could see me wearing it, and I didn’t want to wear it anymore. And there’s this point that I reached that I said, “You know what? I’m in really good hands here. And I’m gonna let that go. I’m gonna let it roll, and things are gonna work out. And if they don’t work out, we’ll deal with that. But I’m going to be here, and I’m going to be present for her. And I’m going to stop trying to fix all the things, and I’m going to fix the one thing.”

Loren Feldman:
And at that point, Dan, I guess you probably had to start pointing in more than you had been. You probably had to assume responsibility for employees and issues that you hadn’t been so much previously.

Dan Golden:
Yes, but delicately. That’s always the balance as leaders, is not to be like, “I’m stepping up and taking over all those things.”

Loren Feldman:
“I’m in charge here.”

Dan Golden:
Right, because we still want to empower the team. And meanwhile, we’re in the middle of, “Do we get PPP funding?” We’re two months in, where some of our biggest clients, like all of our clients, were furloughed, in the middle of the pandemic shit show. Really, it’s giving the team space to step up. I don’t know, I’m looking back trying to tell this story. It’s a blur.

Steve Krull:
It’s really interesting, Dan, to hear you say that, because the conversation has just picked up on things that I put away in my memory. I’m like, “I remember that now.”

Dan Golden:
I mean, yeah, it’s the amnesia of this stuff. Back in the middle of the forest fire, it seems like it’s forever ago, but it’s months ago.

Loren Feldman:
Well, you can forget that, at this point, PPP did happen, and your business obviously survived. But going back to that second quarter of 2020 when your clients were running in the other direction, were you concerned about whether the business was going to make it or not at that point?

Dan Golden:
Look, we’re in a client services business, so we’re always concerned about that. But I don’t believe that it was this existential threat. We get one of those every two years when a big client leaves or some shit hits the fan. We were concerned about staying strong, staying afloat—not knowing how long this was. One piece of advice that I think is practical that we did during all the COVID pivots and banding everybody together is separate the conversations of offense versus defense. Because it’s really easy to go to, “What do we cut? What do we hold? What do we do? How do we hunker?”

But we knew that something was going to come roaring back. I think we all wish it wouldn’t have taken so long. But we’ve been through crises before as a business, and I think we were very well-prepared. And we also had a good 2019, which made us well-prepared for what hit us. And we’d also completed—with Steve carrying the torch on this one—re-documenting our company vision. We had this fresh document that we could keep pointing back to like, “Let’s let this guide us through.” And I can’t tell you how many people just picked up the torch because they’ve done it before.

Loren Feldman:
Do you guys have thoughts about whether you want to go back into an office at some point, or you’re not even thinking about that yet?

Steve Krull:
Our landlord has been awesome through this. Our landlord owns a lot of retail space, a lot of bars and restaurants, and some breweries. And he’s always been a very nice guy, a very fair guy. So early on in the pandemic, he got kicked around quite a bit, as you might imagine. He had people not paying rent for long periods of time, he had a couple of buildings under construction, some other things. He’s been very, very gracious. Our lease ran through July of ‘21. Along the way, there was a variety of negotiations, and one of those was, we gave him back about 25 percent of the space that he turned into an apartment. He cut our rent accordingly.

And then as we finished up our lease, he gave us a really, really sweet deal to stay. We didn’t need all the space anymore, because we’re not forcing anybody back in the office. The office is optional. And where we landed was, he was going to try and rent the entire space, which is about 5,500 square feet. And he asked if we would stay. And I said, “Well, sure. What’s it gonna cost me?” He said, “Well, give me a number.” So we talked about that. We bounced back and forth. He was very generous, very gracious. He said, “I’d rather try and rent a place that has a tenant in it than try to rent an empty place.” And I can absolutely understand that.

And then he said, “If I can’t rent it, we might break it up into individual offices. We’ll update the floor plan.” And I said, “Well, great. If you do that, could you put a wall right here, and then talk to me about this part?” And wouldn’t you know, just a couple of weeks ago, he shows up with a floor plan. We’ll cut the kitchen in half, and we’ll get the front half by the fishbowl, Dan.

Dan Golden:
We still have the fishbowl. That makes a ton of sense. I’m gonna have to move my shit again, aren’t I?

Steve Krull:
Anyway, he’s gonna start construction in February. He’s going to add the wall, and we’ll get other tenants next to us. But we’re gonna stay because it’s a great deal, and we have one of our teams that likes going into the office a couple of days a week, and one of the guys is in the office three or four days a week. I go into the office a couple of days a week now.

We’re not mandating it. We used to try. Because we were paying 15 grand a month in rent and utilities and such, we used to try to say, “Hey, we need three days a week in the office.” The worst part of that thinking—and this is me waking up to say, “Boy, I could have been a better leader then”—is that the manager of half of those people was a remote employee. Why on Earth would I insist that they come to the office three days a week when their boss lives somewhere else?

Loren Feldman:
So you guys both talked about how you kind of dread the “How’s it going?” question, especially having to calculate, “All right, how much information does this person actually want to hear?” Do you have any advice for employees, for people talking to someone who’s going through something like this? Do you want to talk about it? Do you not want to talk about it? How would you like people to approach it?

Steve Krull:
I’ll start this one, Dan. So we’ve got friends on both sides of the spectrum, friends who are knocking on the door all the time to check how you’re doing, how you’re doing, how you’re doing. There were points when I could get a little tired of talking about it. But I’m always respectful of my friends, because they’re truly interested. They want to know. And then you have friends who are really afraid of your situation, and are scared to ask about it. And that’s fine, too. And we need to hold space for them as well.

I’m of a mind that says, “Let’s talk about it.” Because what I find talking about it does is… There’s this weird coincidence. Dan and I share a mutual friend who’s an agency owner up here in the North Shore of Chicago. I met with George. I met him for drinks and dinner—I don’t know, six or nine months ago—and we got to chatting. And he kind of asked me, “Hey, how’s it going?” I didn’t know George all that well, but we got to know each other a lot better that night. And wouldn’t you know it, George was the introduction to the crazy vaccines that Dan is trying right now. So I’m of a mind that says…

Loren Feldman:
Vaccines for cancer?

Steve Krull:
Yes, so that led to that. So I’m a big fan of talking about it and sharing. And even if you’re that uncomfortable friend that doesn’t know what to say, I can tell you this much: You’re not going to be judged by somebody who’s in the thick of it. There will be no judgment there. Say what you feel. Be true to yourself. Be that friend, because we truly appreciate it. We might hear it too much. But we can’t feel enough love.

Loren Feldman:
Nobody wants to add to the burden. I think that’s part of it.

Dan Golden:
You know, reach out without expecting anything. It’s so tough. When the “How’s it going?” is right at the end of the thing, I’m just like, “Thank you, I see everything, I appreciate everything.” To those listening who have sent me notes who have been in the know, we can’t get enough love in this situation. And telling people, reminding people you don’t expect a response is helpful, even though I’m like, ”I don’t give a shit anymore.” But that’s one thing. It took us a lot of time to even start sharing it between the different circles, and setting up a CaringBridge. My wife is also very private. There’s a lot that I always have to consider in sharing. I can tell you, with a couple tiny exceptions, nobody’s fucked it up.

There are a lot of people that are afraid. Rachelle, with NUT carcinoma, that’s super, super rare. She calls him her NUT buddy, who also has this and is also beating the odds. He’s at two years, and she’s been in contact with him. Her realization, she’s like, “I don’t know what the fuck to say to him.” Like the one person. And he also has small kids. And like, we don’t know what to say. Nobody does.

Steve Krull:
Yeah. You just gotta talk.

Dan Golden:
Yeah, and it’s tough. Do I want to talk about it? It depends on the day. You know, it depends on the hour in the day, and it’s weird. Where I find it’s awkward on my end is when I do want to talk about it but not bring it up, and then it’s weird. Like, I think COVID made all of us awkward when we started seeing people again: “Hi, person. Let’s do fisting.”

Loren Feldman:
Or elbows.

Dan Golden:
But with this, it’s weird. I find it easy when people know what’s going on. And then I can say, “It’s been a good day or a bad day,” without having to go too deep into it.

Loren Feldman:
As you guys have said, you’re at different points in your journey with this. So this question probably only makes sense for Steve. Have you been able to get excited about getting back involved with the business? Or does that still feel like a far lesser priority than it once did?

Steve Krull:
No, I’m getting energy from the business. I’m gaining energy from sharing my experience now versus doing things. So I hope the perspective that I’ve gained is sticking, in terms of working with the team. And there are some old faces and some new faces. It’s one of those where I’m excited by the decisions that are being made as a group. I’m excited by the decisions being made as an individual. Yeah, there are certainly days that are still shit shows. That’s just life and times of any business. This whole thing, if anything, it’s taught me that life is going to keep coming at you.

Sometimes, I was wildly distracted, and I still am. If you catch me three or four days leading up to Roxanne’s scans, even though—knock on wood—we believe they’re going to be clean, because they have been, she’s a wreck. And I’m equally a wreck, just because you know what you’re hoping for, but there are no guarantees. And you have to go through it to know. And so now I have a different perspective and a different sort of energy for the business. But I’ve come back to appreciate it a little differently than maybe at the point where I was out last year.

And then even to say when Dan left, I think my perspective has changed, too, because there was some overlap there. The first four months of this year, Roxanne and Rachelle were both fighting a forest fire, and Dan and I were in there at the same time. And then Roxanne sort of found a little way out of the woods, and we’ve had three scans since. And I keep hoping and praying for Dan and Rachelle to find their way out of the woods. But that overlap time? Dan and I—he was gone. And I was probably a bit of an empty chair at times, and maybe for a large part of that. So to say I leaned on the team would probably be an understatement. And to say that they delivered is probably also an understatement.

Loren Feldman:
It may be too soon for you guys to even think about this, let alone talk publicly about it, but has it in any way changed the way you’re thinking about the future of the business and what you want to do with it down the road?

Dan Golden:
I’ve never been good at articulating the three-to-five-year plan that everybody is supposed to be able to say. And we’ve done that as a business, so it’s not entirely true. I’ve been able to do that. Now, it’s damn near impossible, but I’m doing it in compartmentalized ways, right? I think about every scenario in my life. I got a couple of trial runs at this when I had the first couple of kids. When the first, Jacob, who’s turning eight next March, arrived, Steve and I both were… We grew up in the business because we created the business, and that transition to leading, there’s no clear transitions in any of this stuff, but I was much more entangled.

And we went through a process—actually, we’re migrating Dropbox to Google and finding a bunch of old stuff. And there was the “Dan baby Band-Aid plan” of ripping off the Band-Aid when I had the baby and what were the things being juggled. I learned some great lessons at that point. Because when I took off of everything, when I came back, I didn’t just jump back into doing everything. I picked what I was better at and stopped doing some things where I was really just causing issues or was unnecessary and other people could handle—using that time when you come back to think about what you want to be doing.

Right now, when I get time and space—and I’ve had a little bit of it recently—it’s super exciting when I can do things professionally. I did a webinar a little while ago. For me, it has been exciting getting back into anything professional that’s different than cancer. But I also recognize—what I don’t want to do is just step back into things where I can let the team down next month if we have to change treatment. It has certainly changed my risk profile and kind of how I think about what’s important to me. It’s kind of an impossible time, though, to really plan.

Loren Feldman:
All right, we’re just about out of time. Is there anything that either of you or both of you would say to someone else in your position, or a similar position? Any advice or guidance that you would offer that we haven’t covered yet?

Steve Krull:
I would say that you never know when you’re going to get hit by the proverbial two by four. And in this case, it wasn’t me getting hit, it was my family getting hit. Make sure your house is in order, in terms of your company finances. Even if you’re the smallest company, you can have clean finances. Get things lined up. Understand what your cash flow looks like. Basic cash flow reports out of most accounting softwares are horrible. Get an accountant or a bookkeeper who understands cash flow. Understand how much money you have. Understand what your business run rate is. Understand where you are at a point in time.

Because when we started COVID, before Dan and I got on our goofy merry-go-rounds, we were financially prepared for a downturn, because we were expecting a recession. And so we had put some money in the bank. Ideally, we were hoping to say, “Hey, let’s go buy a business or two,” depressed assets. Well, Uncle Sam saved everybody, and that’s wonderful, too. But we decided, “Well, we should hunker down instead because of COVID, and let’s see if we can preserve capital so we can maintain our team” became the goal.

I think that having clean finances with an understanding of that—which we all say we do, but I don’t know that we all really do it. So I’m not saying dive in and own it yourself. But make sure there’s a clear understanding and a path to having cash in the bank. So that when you do—because you will—get hit by a two by four of some sort, whether it’s a downturn in your business, or it’s a circumstance like Dan and I are facing, you’re going to need to know that you’re solvent and that there’s money there for you to keep a business running, and understanding where you can tighten, and where you can loosen, and what you can do.

Dan Golden:
On adding the team, the more stuff you can give away, there’s a million business reasons why you want to do that as well. Boy, practical advice. Here’s one: we were about to sign up for a million-dollar life insurance policy, and we put it off for a few months before getting the diagnosis. Have all your insurance stuff in order, because the worst can happen at any point. Don’t put shit off. Get your house in order, certainly.

Lean on the people around you. It’s tough to talk about this stuff, and a lot of people don’t. You don’t have to be crazy like us, and volunteer to do this conversation publicly. [Laughter] There are a lot of people out there that have been through stuff and want to help. I can’t even remember during the forest fire, but I’m pretty sure every family at my kids school fed us at one point. Competitors that I know from different business circles volunteered to take over my pitches.

Loren Feldman:
And take over your clients.

Dan Golden:
No, they’re like, “Seriously, whatever you need.”

Steve Krull:
I had a friend reach out and ask if he could step in and help lead the business. He said, “I’ll put some of my stuff in mothballs and help BFO if you need it.”

Loren Feldman:
Wow.

Dan Golden:
Say yes. You know, because a lot of people actually mean it when they offer. And a lot of people don’t know how to help, and that’s okay, too. But, yeah, take people up on it.

Loren Feldman:
That is good advice. All right, thank you. I appreciate your volunteering to have this conversation. All of our thoughts are with Rachelle and Roxanne. Our best to them. Thank you both, Dan Golden and Steve Krull.

Steve Krull:
Thank you, Loren. If anybody listening wants to talk about this at all, if they’re in similar circumstances, feel free to reach out. It’s about sharing your experience, because only by sharing that can we help our loved ones.

Loren Feldman:
If you need help reaching Steve, you can go through me. I’m [email protected] and I’ll connect you.

Dan Golden:
We can be found online. It’s kind of our thing.

Loren Feldman:
Well said. Thank you both and take care.

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