Teaching Empathy Through Storytelling: Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey

Teaching Empathy Through Storytelling: Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey


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About Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey

Bonnie Harvey is the co-founder of Barefoot Cellars along with partner Michael Houlihan. She was Vice President and “The Original Foot” for 19 years. There she had a wide variety of duties, doing whatever was necessary to operate the business. While Michael’s role was “big picture visionary,” Bonnie translated his ideas into workable processes and displayed a genius for managing the millions of details that come with a start-up. She proved to possess a rare combination of creativity and business savvy that served Barefoot well.

In the early days of the brand, Bonnie was responsible for bottling oversight, supply inventory and label design—in fact, the famous footprint is actually hers! Later as Barefoot grew, she focused on overview and direction of the business, setting company goals, and attending to Board of Director matters. She managed all financial aspects of the business, oversaw legal relations and compliance, and edited countless press materials, presentations, official manuals and other documents.

Along with Michael, Bonnie donates professional time to non-profits to help them improve their image, increase donations and achieve financial sustainability. She also coauthors weekly business blogs at The Barefoot Spirit and Consumer Brand Buiders with him, and they consult together with several clients.

Bonnie is an inspired speaker and speaks at conventions, corporations, national conferences and schools of entrepreneurship.

Bonnie has a passion for helping young entrepreneurs choose the right path. With her varied “hard-knocks” experience, she offers practical solutions for all aspects of starting a business. She loves showing others how to avoid painful and costly mistakes and directing them toward profitability.

Bonnie is the recipient of the 2014 Distinguished Entrepreneur Speaker Award from the Turner School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Bradley University, and keynote speaker at the World Conference on Entrepreneurship in Dublin.

Bonnie is the Co-author of The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand, a New York Times Bestselling Business Book.

Michael Houlihan is a highly sought-after business strategist, keynote speaker, consultant, and corporate trainer. Presentations are often with Bonnie Harvey, his Co-founder of Barefoot (now the #1 wine brand in the world), providing decades of real-world, practical business experience. Using out-of-the-box thinking, pay-for-performance, positive culture, channel distribution management, and “Worthy Cause Marketing,” they help start-ups, entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 corporations increase their sales, profitability and brand equity. For the first time, their secrets to success is available in an exclusive online series at BarefootSpiritGPS.com

He, along with Bonnie, bootstrapped Barefoot (a novelty wine brand) into a national mega-brand, selling 600,000 cases per year in 50 states and 28 countries. They’ve keynoted at many prestigious conferences, symposiums, universities and forums.

Clients benefit from Michael’s expertise:

– EJ Gallo: Preserved brand’s positive company culture, innovative thinking, & growth without expensive commercial advertising. Started with Barefoot sales of 600K grew to over 13M+ cases.

– VinoPRO: took sales from under $500K to over $10M in 3 years. Repositioned company from brokerage to the leading U.S. outsourced outbound wine telemarketing firm. They are ranked #238 on INC 500’s private company list for fastest revenue growth in 2013, and made the list again in 2014.

– Atmani Tours: Structured premier tour company and achieved financing for high-end European & clients in Asia. Located in Sonoma County, CA, #1 wine tour destination.

They regularly contribute to national and international media including The Business Journals (43 cities), Entrepreneur, Forbes, Inc, & others, on a wide range of business topics. Michael lives in the wine country with Bonnie and they are avid supporters of conservation and humanitarian causes and regularly donate their professional time to local NPOs.

Listen to a free chapter of Michael and Bonnie’s audio theater book.

Follow Michael Houlihan on LinkedIn

Follow Bonnie Harvey on LinkedIn

This episode was also recorded in video format. To watch the conversation, tune in below:

Mary Drumond

Mary Drumond is Chief Marketing Officer at survey tech startup Worthix, and host of the Voices of Customer Experience Podcast. Originally a passion project, the podcast runs weekly and features some of the most influential CX thought-leaders, practitioners and academia on challenges, development and the evolution of CX.

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About Worthix

Worthix was born in the Experience where customers are the backbone, and customer-centricity is the soul of every company. Innovation is at our core, and we believe in welding technology to bring companies and customers together. Our purpose is to use cutting edge mathematical models and Artificial Intelligence to extract actionable, relevant, and easy-to-understand insight straight from your customers’ minds.


Mary: Welcome to Voices of Customer Experience. Now we’re doing video.  So we have the listeners who are joining us on the podcast and the viewers who are joining us on the video version. Welcome back. And today I am joined by two amazing people. I have here, Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey.  Say hey folks.

Bonnie: Hi! Hey, folks.

Mary: They are the founders of Barefoot Wine, and I’m going to let them introduce themselves because they’re truly amazing, and their story is great. So I’m not even going to preface this with much. Bonnie, Michael, take it away.

Bonnie: Thank you, Mary. Thank you very much. Well, the short story of how did we get into the wine industry, is that we really weren’t wine lovers when we moved here to Sonoma County. But we loved the beautiful green and the rivers and the ocean and everything here in Northern California. And we were both business consultants. So there’s so much grape-growing and wineries here in Sonoma County. That obviously was an area where we had a lot of clients. So I had a client, and it didn’t take me too long when I was organizing his office, he was a grape grower, to see that he hadn’t been paid for his grapes for three years.

And I said, well, let’s look at your contract and see if we can’t get some funds here for you. And he says, well, we have a handshake deal. Oh, okay. I said, well, we got to bring in the big guns, my new boyfriend over here at the time. And I said, you go collect that $300,000 that’s owed to my client, Michael.

Mary: So Michael was the muscle. This is what I’m hearing Bonnie.

Michael: Whenever she wants something moved, right? But, uh, yeah, so I go over to the winery and  at the gate the guy says, well, I hope you’re not here to collect any money because we’ve just declared bankruptcy.

Bonnie: Bad sign.

Michael: Yeah, bad sign. You know, it doesn’t look good for the home team.

But  I go through with the meeting anyway, and I’m meeting with what they called the secured creditors. These are people who have actual contracts and whatnot. And they’re all on the board of directors now because they’ve taken over the winery and that’s how they think they’re going to get paid, by selling off parts of the winery to pay themselves for the grapes that they fronted the winery.

Well, you know, this wasn’t going anywhere. But I was able to walk out of that meeting with goods and services in lieu of cash. I knew they couldn’t pay us cash. So we put together a trade deal where they agreed to bottle bulk wine for us. And I thought, well, that’s better than a stick in the eye, right? You know, so we got $300,000 worth of wine in glass.

But no label, you know, and no marketing program and no knowledge of what the hell we’re doing. So I come home with this contract, you know, goods and services for debt, and I show it to Bonnie and say, Hey, there you go. You know, I think, you know, we’ve got to first base anyway.

Bonnie: Yeah. I said, well, that’s not going to pay any bills now.

Now we’ve really got a lot of work cut out. Now we’ve got to get all the licensing. We’ve got to design a label. How about, you know, a sales and marketing plan? Sounds good. Right? Shouldn’t we do that? So Michael went out to find out what it was that the market wanted. And this is our first big lesson Mary, that we learned when we started in business with barefoot sellers, was ask people what they want.

Michael asked that question of the largest buyer of bottled wine in California at the supermarkets. And his first response was nobody ever asked me what I wanted to before. Imagine that.

Michael: And so, so what happens is he says, because you asked me, I’ll tell you. And so he gives it to me in supermarket jargon, like I’ve been in this industry for three generations and I would know what he was saying. And he said, all right. So he says, give me a salt and pepper act. Make it better than Bob and cheaper than Bob and put it in a pig. Can you do that? And I said, yeah, I can do that.

Mary: Sure.

Michael: [00:04:39] I’m writing down salt, pepper, Bob, pig. I’m going, what is that? You know? So I asked my friends. And my friend says, Oh, salt and pepper, that’s like a red wine and a white wine under the same label. Like a Cabernet Sauvignon or Sauvignon Blanc. 

I said, well, that’s what we got. And  I said, well, tell me, you know, uh, who’s Bob, anyway? He said, Oh Bob, that’s Robert Mondavi. I said, not the Robert Mondavi, the founder, you know, of California wine. And he says, yes, he says, and you’re supposed to be cheaper, and better too, remember that. So then I said, pray, tell me one last thing. I said, what is a pig? He says, that’s the big fat bottle of wine. That’s twice the size of a 750. That’s 1.5 magnum. So what the guy was telling me, and this is what we tell our clients today, is what is your access to the market? Not what is your idea, but what will the market let you have?

And because we were broke and inexperienced, we went in there hat in hand, very humble and said, just tell me what you want. Right. So the guy tells us what he wants. And of course, nobody ever asked, so nobody ever listened. And so we saw that there was this opportunity in the 1.5 liters size.

So like for the first five years, barefoot was only for sale in the 1.5 liter size. It was just Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.

Bonnie: There was much less competition on the shelf in that size. So that really enabled us to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond.

Mary: Let me ask a question here before I lose my train of thought. Do you think Michael, that if you had been super-duper experienced and if both of you had had all of this, like prior knowledge of the market, you’d been able to see that opportunity?

Michael: No, because we would have known better. Right?

Bonnie: We’d’ve known so much, we wouldn’t have looked beyond what we thought we knew.

Mary: Right.

Bonnie: That’s what people with experience and history think. Maybe it’s a family business. You think, Oh, I know this business. I can easily take this over. But we had no idea what we were doing and that turned out to be an advantage for us. Didn’t it?

Mary: Yeah, that’s what it sounds like.

Michael: So we tell our clients today, you know, don’t finish the design of your product until you understand what the market will accept 100%. So don’t walk down there with something that’s all completed and say, here it is. Here’s the features and benefits. You got to buy it. Here’s the price. Don’t do that. Go there and just talk to them.

Mary: Yeah, the concept of the minimum viable product, right? You come out with a minimum viable product and you build it with the market. You get customers to build it alongside you, right? Yeah. That’s one of the fundamental values in customer centricity, is that the customer participates in the product or in the service from its inception. And that’s what you guys did.

Bonnie: And the customer wasn’t only the chain store buyer. The customer was the end-user. So we had to get out there and find out what the end-user wanted. While we found out that the majority of wine was sold in the supermarkets here in California, and that it was being purchased by women and they were buying it as an everyday drinking wine to enjoy with their dinners, along with their staples.

So this was a product that they wanted to be able to whip through the grocery store, 15 minutes flat and fill three, four bags. Okay. She had to be able to see it, our female shopper, our end-user, from four feet away. She had to have it jump out at her and be very recognizable and look like nothing else on the shelf.

It had to be easy to read. It also had to be nonvintage, vintage being the year the grapes were grown, because she wanted a consistent flavor.

Mary: Yeah.

Bonnie: You didn’t want it to change bottling to bottling or year to year. So we learned all of that and the buyer had also told us, make the name the same as the logo. Boy, that was really big information. And I think if we hadn’t gotten that information, that Barefoot, nobody would have developed it and it wouldn’t be the number one selling wine in the world today.

Mary: Bonnie, I heard that that’s your foot.

Bonnie: Oh, you heard that, did you?

Mary: Can you verify this information?

Michael: Well, you know, you got to get the audio book because there’s a part in the audio book called the birth of the foot.

And so, Bonnie and I had been talking for a while about, Oh, it’s gotta, the name has gotta be the same as the logo. You know, it has to be visible from three feet away. These are the things that the people in the marketplace told us. By the way, even that information was blue collar information, that was not white collar information. And that’s a reason why barefoot was a success is because we were working with people who are like clerks who are dealing with the real customer, putting bottles on the shelf, watching them sell and people who are like running bottling lines and noticed which labels really got bottled a lot of, and which bottles didn’t.  And so we would ask them their opinion and it was so very pragmatic approach. Right.

Bonnie: We made friends with people in low places.

Mary: That’s a secret man. Don’t tell people.

Michael: One night, you know, we were out with our friends and we were partying and it was late. And I guess it was about three o’clock and you know, we finally dragged ourselves into the house and I’m ready to go to bed. And Bonnie says, wait a minute, I’ve got it.

Bonnie: I know what the label looks like. It just came to me in a flash and I was so excited. I had Michael write it out on the Blackboard.So the foot originally was, Davis Bynum had produced a wine called barefoot. And so we bought the rights to use that name on wine. He hadn’t produced it in 12 years and his label had a foot on it. That was at the bottom of the label. It was just lying there, kind of dead. You could just, you know, put a tag on it and send it back to the morgue. I said, no, we’re going to design a label so the foot is standing up. So it looks like an italicized exclamation point and we’ll put the word barefoot into the arch right in there in big letters.

And it has to have a high arch to give it this room. And so he drew it, he sent it off to the artist that we had in Southern California, Laurie Laboy. And, uh, she came back with this kinda squat, funny-looking foot. And I said, no, no, we want a long, thin foot with a high arch. She said, well, give me a picture. I can draw anything you give me. I said, okay, Michael, I think I’ve got one of those right here on the end of my leg. So I sent him out to get the biggest ink pad he could find, I put my foot in it and put it on some artists’ paper and sent those off. And that’s how my foot ended up on the label.

Mary: Amazing. I love it. If that’s not storytelling, I don’t know what it is. I mean, that’s amazing. And I think that, I don’t know if it was accidental or if you guys did research into the name, but I can imagine when you described your persona, the buyer of barefoot wine, how she could identify with that as well. Like getting home, kicking off your heels and grabbing a bottle of wine.

Bonnie: Exactly, which is why our slogan was get barefoot and have a great time.

Michael: And all of our ads showed couples together in romantic settings. You know, either having a picnic, barefoot in the Clover or, you know, walking down the beach barefoot, or maybe they were in front of the fire barefoot after a hard day’s work. And so, you know, the whole idea, and this is what we tell people today, it’s the difference between a brand and a label. So a label is very static. You know, it identifies the product. There’s no doubt about the label, but the brand is much bigger than the label. The brand is more like a movement, it’s like, what is the story behind this label? You know, what does this label stand for?

And that’s what the barefoot spirit’s all about. It’s about what is behind the brand. And so that’s why we wrote the book. And that’s why we’re advisors today, is we’re trying to help other folks discover their own spirit and emulate that spirit in their culture and take their business to new heights.

Mary: So, what is the barefoot spirit? The essence of it.

Bonnie: It’s people working together and doing that by putting themselves in the other guy’s shoes. So you’re always being cooperative. You find out what the other guy likes or doesn’t like, or needs or feels or what kind of attention that other person needs and you give it to them.

So we found out first what the supermarket buyer wanted. Gave it to him. And we found out what the consumer, what the female shopper wanted, make it easy for her to find, same taste, easy to pronounce every word on the label. And we worked with our entire team, working together towards the same goals. And when we had challenges or opportunities, we all worked together as a team to solve the concern. To move ahead, to achieve the goal. And it was really that kind of company culture that worked so beautifully that we didn’t have turnover the last five years of our company. We had our company 19 years. So because that worked so well for us and it was unique, that’s why we wrote the book, the Barefoot Spirit.

Mary: That’s amazing. I mean, it sounds like you were able to capture the essence of empathy at a corporate level.

Bonnie: Yes ma’am.

Mary: And translate that into the culture.

Bonnie: That’s the golden rule. Treat others as you would have them treat you.

Michael: Yeah, it turns out that in most cases, it’s just plain good business. You know, you’re going to have more loyal employees. They’re going to be much more engaged in problem-solving. They’re going to speak well about your company to others. And all the way down the line, your customers are going to be more loyal.  Your vendors are going to give you extended credit and better terms because they like you, so this gets into the whole thing about how soft skills earn hard cash.A lot of people think, Oh, soft skills. That’s something fuzzy. We threw that out with the technical revolution. We don’t need that anymore. But we need it more than ever. It’s not old-fashioned, it’s classic. It’s like saying the new hire is old-fashioned. It’s not.

Bonnie: And it pays.

Mary: I tell my team this all the time, so I’m a B2B marketer, right? I sell my product to other companies and it seems like at some weird moment, folks decided that when you’re a company and you’re selling to a company, then you have to have a certain company identity to sell to the other company. And everybody is just forgetting that there are no companies, there are just people working like behind or beneath the flag of a company, but as people. And if you can reach out and touch those people, that’s the basic concept of human-to-human marketing. And I don’t even understand why someone had to coin that term because it seems like it would be logical, right?

Bonnie: It seems like the natural thing that people would want to do.

Michael: You know what you’re saying about people is so important. All you have to do is lose a person on your team to find out the relationships that that person had with other companies outside of yours, that your company depends on, and then have to go back to square one and start out all over again. And, you know, they were getting priorities. They were getting better prices. They were getting tips on what’s going on in the marketplace, all that stuff.

Why? Because they had that relationship with this other person, the other person was treated like a human being and felt they were a human being. So that, yeah, we shouldn’t have to teach that. It’s crazy, but we have to teach it now.

Mary: Some might argue, now let me play devil’s advocate. Cause y’all know how I feel about this topic, but some might argue that that might not be sustainable. Because it might not always be possible to find individuals that are able to connect with other people in that manner. And in order to grow in order to increase the size of your team to therefore grow the size of your business, you have to have a model that you can train people in and replicate that large scale, right? Now, is it possible to train everyone in empathy? Is this possible?

Michael: Um, you know, I would just butt in here, but I know Bonnie has a lot to say and I just wanna butt in here and say you know, that’s a really good argument and it makes a lot of sense, but it really speaks to the problem with onboarding, the problem with hiring, the problem with attracting the right people. And so this is why it’s really important that when you build your brand and your brand has a public face out there, that job applicants know about your brand, they know what you stand for. They know how you treat individuals in the company. And so because you do, you attract a certain type of person. Now, yes, they still have to be trained in the rudimentary aspects of the job. There’s no question about it. The job’s got to get done, but it’s really about the style that the job is done in. And how do you attract people who have the kind of style that you share in your own company spirit? And so now I’ll yield the floor to the Senator from Oregon.

Bonnie: Yes. Thank you. So, first of all, any company has a leader. In our case, it was us. We were the founders. So you have to lead with what it is that you want your team to do. You have to be a good example. And in order to be a good example, I mean, you have to be there and show them the situations that you’ve experienced on a regular basis and how you came up with the principles that your company runs by, you know, the base, the foundation that your company has, which is how do you treat people?

It’s you know, how you do business. And, we wrote a lot of things. We had checklists, manuals, procedures, and we believed that if the mistake is made, we should celebrate it because we’re going to write it down, write down what went wrong, how to correct it. And that mistake is less likely to happen again.If you face it right on, face first and, and don’t try to hide it.

It’s those kinds of lessons that need to be preserved. The founders may not always be there, but those principles that the company relies on, that they operate on and that they’ve found success by doing so, those have to be preserved.

So the staff has a person, a philosophy that they’re following and by working together where everyone is on the same team, working towards the same goals, with the same playbook, that’s how you have excellent company culture and greatly reduce turnover. Turnover is the number one hidden expense in any company.

And I think we’re experiencing a lot of different company cultures right now because of COVID and all the working situations, working at home, working part-time in the office, trying to communicate with your coworkers. We really need a foundation now in business that we can rely on that feels comfortable because things are so chaotic all around us.

Michael: Yeah, I’m glad Bonnie mentioned the foundation because, you know, we like to say when the cement is wet, you can move it with the trowel. But when it gets hard, you need a Jackhammer. And so the question is when the person comes through the door, they’re wet cement and you can guide them and you can show them ways of solving problems and handling other people and resolving situations without blowing your top, that they might not have learned in their last job.

In fact, they probably didn’t. And you can also give them permission to do things like make the stakes, right? Like Bonnie was saying, they come from a culture where you make a mistake, you’re fired or you get an F or, you know, your dad takes the keys to the car away. You’re punished. Right. So the idea is when people walk in the door, in the first 48 hours, they’re kind of feeling it out. They’re going, what did I get into here? Where are the walls? What can I do? And so that’s what it’s really important. We say overkill on orientation. And so that’s the kind of stuff that we put into our book.

And that’s what we’re promoting today with the barefoot spirit is, what do you tell that person when they’re hired or even before they’re hired? How do they know what you stand for? How did they know what permissions they have?

Mary: Yeah, it’s, this is a trait of human behavior that I think exists in every single sphere. Children do this with their parents. They test the limits. They try to understand what the dynamic is. We do this in relationships, right? If you start a new relationship and start tolerating certain behaviors early on, breaking that dynamic later is impossible. So if you don’t create that foundation of the way that things should be, then you’re in very, very deep trouble.

So it really has to do with that powerful onboarding, but I also hear from what you’re saying, that it requires leadership because everyone needs a leader to follow. They need that example to follow. Now when companies have strong leaders and strong founders that are able to incorporate this spirit, this culture into the company, I mean, I can understand that working, but what happens once those founders move on, they retire, they sell the company? In some cases with big organizations, we’ve seen cases where the founders are deceased and their children take over or a board takes over, or they bring in a professional CEO from the market. What do you do then?

Bonnie: That is a very difficult time. And that’s a very good question too. It’s going to change when that person leaves, the founder leaves. So what we want to see is more founders preserving their legacy so it is always available to anybody, you know, 10, 20, 50 years from now in that company. So they can see the challenges that the founder had, the principles that they developed due to the mistakes that they made, or how they handled certain challenges. And it should be preserved. And I think that’s really the only way that a founder can be assured that the company will continue to have the philosophies that, that founder worked so hard to develop to make it successful.

Michael: Yeah. I’d like to just add to that and say, companies go through their four growth stages, right? From startup, to build up, to build out, to enterprise. When they get to enterprise, they have divisions of labor and specializations. The engineers now, they don’t think they have anything to do with sales. You know, the people in HR, they go to their own conventions. They don’t care that much about the business. They’re trying to be professional, they call it.

And so now you’ve lost this kind of team spirit because you have all these Jedis and they’re all working and they’re going to be the best Jedi or Ninja on the block. But what you really need is a team player, you see. And so, the idea is, the best way to communicate values is through story.

You can tell people, listen, when somebody says this, be nice to them, ask them what they want. You can do that til you’re blue in the face. But if you tell them a story, you tell them a story about here’s the guy that you had an argument with. Listen, they’re arguing. Okay, look at how our founder has to deal with diffusing the situation.

Okay. Look at this. The guy winds up buying two truckloads of the founder’s goods, you know, he was ready to kick them out of the office when he walked in. How did he make that transition happen? And so, because you are confronted and in experience. They talk about employee experience. This is an employee experience. The employee experiences the founder’s seminal moments, and in the process gets entertained because it’s actors playing out the parts, but they’re also getting educated. They’re going, Oh, look at how we handled this. See now that’s what wants to live forever. You know, because you’re right. Companies get washed out, they get corporated out, you know, they get to a point where, you know, information is a commodity.

You know, we say it gets, it gets to a point of what we call corporate constipation. Nothing’s moving. Right.

Mary: Yeah so, what I hear is you starting to discuss a passion project that you guys have, which was to develop a vehicle in which to continue telling the story, in a way that isn’t only narrating facts, but actually creating an emotional connection with the listener so that they feel that they’ve become a part of that story. Isn’t that it?

Michael: That’s it

Bonnie: Very good. Yes, indeed.

Michael: Basically. And Bonnie will have a lot to add to this, but basically, when the employee experiences the story, it’s like the theater of the mind. It’s video, but it’s video in your mind. You don’t have to stop and look at a book. You don’t have to stop and look at a screen.

You can keep vacuuming, changing your baby’s diapers, making pasta, jogging, whatever you want to do, and you can have your earbuds on and you can listen to the story. And in the story you’re hearing about your founders in a very humiliating way, you know, they’re in a garage or whatever, you know, Very few companies started out on top. Let me tell you, they all start out at the bottom and that is the kind of bootcamp that employees get to experience. And when they experience that bootcamp, they say, Oh, look at how these problems have been solved. Right. And so, yeah, we did it for ourselves.

We took our book, the barefoot spirit, and we put it into a theatrical play with Hollywood actors, you know, audio-only. But it’s got sound effects and music. It’s terrific.

Bonnie: We had Ed Asner play a supermarket buyer

Michael: Yeah

Bonnie: Snarky old Ed.

Mary: You guys went all out in this. It was a full production.

Bonnie: We always go all out Mary. I don’t know how to do it any other way.

Michael: We have two speeds. We have off and we have full blast.

Mary: Fantastic.  Did this start as something that you, you wanted to do for your book and then it ended up growing into a business project? Or did it happen the other way around?

Bonnie: Well, we were lecturing at universities that teach entrepreneurship throughout the world and where we would speak, they would also have our book. And we started noticing the students coming in with earbuds. We asked them what they were listening to and they said they were listening to self-improvement books or whatever their subject in school was. They wanted to learn more. And this was a good opportunity because they could do it walking in the halls. You know, waiting for the speaker to start, whatever. We go, we’ve got to get to more people, our message and our book, because we really feel it’s extremely valuable to anybody in business. So we’d better take our written paperback book and put it in audio form so we can reach more people.

Michael: So we went out and we got like the top 10 business audio books on audible and we listened to them and they were good. We learned a lot, they were very good. I recommend them to everybody, but they were single-dimensional because they were all being read to you. It was just like somebody reading a book to you. And maybe it was a movie star that was reading a book, or maybe it was a comedian, but it was still being read to you.

And we thought, gee, that’s kind of boring. I wonder if there’s a better way to do it. And then one day we were driving across the Arizona desert going to an event in Tucson on our way from Phoenix. It’s just God awful boring. You know, it’s like highway 10. It’s nothing but desert.

You’re doing a hundred miles an hour, but it doesn’t look like you’re moving. And so we go to the lower end of the FM to, to find out where the public broadcasting stations are. And we tune into Prairie home companion, and they’re doing a skit called Guy Noir private eye. And it’s a 1945 remakes skit where they have like five or six actors and actresses. They have sound effects. They have a band

Bonnie: They’re all performing live.

Michael: And they’re performing it live. And it’s scenes. It’s not being told to you. It’s been performed for you. And we went, that’s it. And so then we got together with our friend, Ryan. Ryan Foland.

Mary: Ryan is my man.

Michael: Yeah he’s our man, too! So we get ahold of the him. And he says, listen, I’ve got a friend I used to work with in Santa Barbara who has an acting troupe and a recording studio. And you know, he has done movies, an award-winning guy in Hollywood, you know? So we introduced the guy’s name is Matt Wineglass, imagine. Barefoot gets together with Wineglass.

Mary: Sounds like fate.

Bonnie: You can’t can’t make these things up. So that did it

Michael: And we had such a blast making that. And we got a great writer, Rick Kushman, who added a lot of comedy to the story. And we loved it so much, we said, you know, maybe others would like this. Maybe this would work for other companies.

Bonnie: Maybe they need it.

Michael: Yeah. Especially the ones that are facing, you know, the disintegration of their founder’s culture because of the corporatization that takes place over time. And so we thought maybe these founders would enjoy their story being preserved for all time in an MP3 format that young folks are familiar with and can enjoy.

And so that’s how we got into it. And that’s, that’s how, you know, we just pivoted from one thing onto another, but it was more like a pirouette than a pivot.

Mary: I’m going to say, like, I remember as a child, listening to drama tapes and audio recordings of books. And, and even if it was just a single narrator, but he did voices and made it interesting. And did like, little tiny sound effects, even like the tapping of feet or anything like that, it automatically added emotion. It added, like you said, a dimension. And this invokes emotion in the listener and emotions create memorability. And you remember it. You see the picture.

Bonnie: You see the story in your mind. So you’re part of creating it yourself. That makes it more memorable.

Mary: Yeah, this is, this is what we carry with us. Memories.

Michael: Exactly. I was going to say, you know, most of the business books we’ve read are, you know, here are the three things you gotta do, the five things to never do. And the 28 things your customer wants from you. And that’s the structure of the book. And almost all business books have been written for the past quarter-century are in that structure.

Mary: I never get past two thirds of a business book. I can’t.

Michael: I remember the fourth thing I’m supposed to do. But anyway-

Bonnie: But a story you can remember.

Michael: Yeah, you identify.

Mary: And you have to find out the end.

Bonnie: Oh yeah. What was the consequence?

Michael: So that’s the fun part. It is kind of like a cliffhanger. I mean, business is a cliffhanger. There’s no question, you know that in your own business. There are days when you don’t know if you’re going to be in business the next day for crying out loud, you know, it’s downright scary.

Bonnie: We call our productions business audio theater, BAT.

Mary: And so, are you, are you considering expanding this into like fiction or something like that? Since now you’ve got this whole setup.

Bonnie: Nope. Now we’re gonna, we’re gonna stick with business owners, preserving their legacy. Business is something that we know rather than the entertainment field and we’ve been through every aspect, every process to make this happen. And so we know how it goes. We feel very comfortable with it and we really want to help other business owners and founders preserve their legacy and keep their messages and their principles alive in their employees’ minds and in their company.

Mary: Well, I look forward to listening to the business audio theater barefoot spirit that you’re going to launch next. Clearly.

Michael: Well, okay. It’s launched and it’s available. And we’re going to give your readers a free chapter. We’re going to give them a link.

Bonnie: Which is the sample of what business audio theater has done. Yes.

Michael: It’s twenty-five minutes long. It probably has like six or eight stories in it. And they’re, they’re humorous, they’re surprising. But they’re telling, and your listeners will hear that. They’ll hear it and they’ll say, Oh yeah, that’s what happened to Michael and Bonnie, when this happened, you know.

Bonnie: Came from our paperback book, which was a New York times bestseller, by the way.

Michael: Oh, are we showing badges? [Holds up medal]

Mary: Oooh, look at that.

Michael: This is the audio book publishers association. And the barefoot spirit was one of the five finalists for the business category. And the audio book publishers association has all the big boys, you know, like McGraw Hill and, and, uh, Penguin  uh, and all the big publishing companies. And then here comes Michael and Bonnie’s little Footnotes Press. And we’re up there, you know, with the big boys.

Mary: [00:38:17] Well, here’s the thing that I love about this. In the same way that I champion the idea of, you know, human to human marketing and ignoring all of these labels that people want to slap on things just because it’s a business setting, this, it’s the exact same, same thing that you guys are doing. You’re taking a business book that would normally be.[00:38:40] Oh, super formal. And, um, academic and I don’t know what, and you’re putting this human spin on it and it’s, it’s revolutionizing the way that business books are done. And okay, maybe, maybe not every book out there will, will have the ability. Maybe it hasn’t got the storytelling element that, that your book has. [00:39:04] But I think that it’s a beautiful lesson. That we cannot forget that just because individuals are doing something for work that they connect to differently or that their, their, their behavior and their psychology is different just because this is learning and not entertainment or amusement.

Michael: [00:39:23] Exactly. And, you know, the employee experience. Uh, really has to be fun if you want to get people engaged. You, you’ve got to, you’ve got to give them some entertainment. Come on. I mean, people listen to dry stuff all day long, and most companies, they go to work, you know, they might get a video of the founders they’re talking to you, or they might get a, a manual or they might get a written history.[00:39:51] But when somebody gives you a 1945 radio theater, that’s the seat of your pants, rocket ride, cliff hanger. You’re going to go wait a minute. This is an interesting company.

Bonnie: [00:40:03] Yeah, exactly. And we don’t need a book to be written to produce a business audio theater production for a founder. We have a writer, Rick Cushman and others that, that we use to take that founder’s story and principles and message and put it in an entertaining format. So you don’t have to start with a book.

Mary: [00:40:28] It’s, it’s so interesting. You know, here, here at worthix,  we, we try doing that. You know, we try keeping that spirit alive and we’re still a startup, we’re still small. And we try to tell the stories of how the company started in the early days. We’ve got this tradition that we do called tequila Friday. And it is exactly what it sounds like. We drink tequila on Friday in the office to wrap up the week. And this has been a tradition ever since we were accelerating at 500 startups in San Francisco. And we, we started off doing tequila Friday to celebrate the end of the week. And it’s been a tradition ever since. Now, once the company reaches a certain size and multiple locations. And like you said, an enterprise level, how do we keep the tequila Friday story alive? Like I definitely see a tequila Friday business audio theater production. Telling the story of worthix. 

Bonnie: [00:41:26] Yes. Yes. Well, what it is, is tequila is a wonderful beverage, but it is definitely a beverage of choice. It could be any fill in the blank Friday.

Mary: [00:41:40] Barefoot spirit Friday.

Bonnie: [00:41:41] It is a social gathering for the people in the company. And that’s what really brings people closer together. So you’re not trying to hammer out the last, you know, details of the week in the meeting and what has to happen next week. You’re relaxing, you’re being yourselves.[00:42:00] Uh, you’re talking to your coworkers and it really builds company culture because we’re all human. We all have our human and our family and our off work side. And by sharing that with each other, you’re building that company culture. So yes, you can do that. As you grow with your satellite offices all over the world, and you could call it social Friday, or you can call it tequila Friday or whatever, but yes, go for it. Mary, you can keep going on that theme.

Mary: [00:42:34] Keep that culture alive.    

Michael: [00:42:36] Gotta take that Saturday off after tequila.

Mary: [00:42:44] Yes it is. But I mean, look guys to our listeners who are listening at home to, to the viewers who are watching this right now. Today, I was definitely schooled in empathy. Um, and it’s such a beautiful message and it’s such a beautiful spirit and I’m so happy to have you guys here today. This is a wonderful way for us to kick off the new season of the podcast.[00:43:07] So thank you guys so much and any parting words to leave with our viewers and our listeners today?

Bonnie: [00:43:16] Well, let me go first. Well, I really want to thank you for having us, Mary, and I just want to say that there’s always a leader in a company. And that leader has a story to tell, and we want to help you preserve your legacy and tell your story.

Michael: [00:43:36] And, uh, the only thing that I would add is, uh, if you want an example of what we’re talking about, uh, you go to www.business audio book. com. So it’s no it’s business audio theater, www.business audio theater.com. And when you go there, you’ll see a pull-down for samples and you could listen to two minutes samples treatment at samples or whatever.[00:44:08] Uh, and, uh, you could even listen to a complete chapter there for free. And when you listen to it, you’ll, you’ll say, Oh, this is really interesting. And you’ll get a few lessons out of the deal. So that’s our gift to you. And, uh, thank you for having us, Mary. It’s been a ball.

Mary: [00:44:25] It’s been awesome having you folks have a great day and stay tuned, viewers and listeners for next week’s episode.

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Mary Drumond

Mary Drumond

Mary Drumond is Chief Marketing Officer at Worthix, the world's first cognitive dialogue technology, and host of the Voices of Customer Experience Podcast. Originally a passion project, the podcast runs weekly and features some of the most influential CX thought-leaders, practitioners and academia on challenges, development and the evolution of CX.



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