Success is very hard to come by for those who don’t carry the right mindset for it. Creating a good mindset is all about setting yourself straight, and focusing on what you need to do. Eric Kapitulik is a former United State Marine Corps and the founder of The Program LLC, a consultancy group that focuses on experiential training. Joining Michael Zipursky, Eric discusses the need to develop a good mindset for the ultimate good of the work you’re trying to achieve. Otherwise, without this good mindset, your endeavor won’t be held together properly.
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Expand Your Mindset With Special Ops Turned Consultant Eric Kapitulik
I’m here with Eric Kapitulik. Eric, welcome.
Thanks, Mike. I’m fired up to be here.
You served in the United States Marine Corps, leading a team of twenty covert operation specialists. You now run your consulting firm, The Program LLC, where you help organizations develop leaders and build more cohesive teams. Your clients include well-known names like GE and Goldman Sachs, Detroit Pistons. You even climbed Mount Everest from what I’ve researched and heard. Let’s start off. Tell us what motivates you? Where does all this energy to excel come from?
It’s a little bit of nature and nurture. I don’t believe in luck except when it comes to the family you’re born into. I was lucky. I was born into a great family with parents. My dad’s a policeman. My mom was a school teacher. We certainly couldn’t afford everything that I wanted, but I had everything that I needed. It was nothing greater than A, their love, and B, opportunity. They worked extremely hard and gave my sisters and me great opportunities in life. When I think about the things I’ve done in my life, some of the personal things, why do you do that? A bit of it is nature though, other than the same token, my parents always pushed me.
My mom has something that I always think about with my children, which is you don’t let kids grow up. You raise them. That’s always struck a chord with me. I was raised and they pushed me to do things. By the same token, as I look back on it, at least my truth, I don’t know if it’s the truth, is I don’t know if they had to push that hard. By nature, I always wanted to challenge myself. As an example, back in high school I worked one summer with my college counselor building stone walls. He was the wrestling coach. I didn’t wrestle. I’m not tough enough to be a wrestler. He was a wrestling coach and he and I would build stone walls.
No tractor, no nothing, just by hand. On one day, we must have worked on this monster of a stone to get it right into place and we couldn’t do it. Finally, he said, “Eric, the heck with it, go home. We’ll deal with this thing tomorrow.” I went home. I was fifteen years old at that time. That night, I couldn’t sleep thinking about that stone that had beaten me. I got back on my bike with my flashlight, rode my bike out to the stone wall and I worked by myself for hours and finally got the stone into position. The following day we show up and I’m there back again on time. Coach says, “It was a bit like Pinocchio.” All of a sudden the stones in place when he shows back up the following day. He’s like, “How in the heck?” I told him. He said, “Why do you do it?” I said, “I can’t accept leaving it and that challenge, I don’t know if I can do it.” That has driven me throughout my entire life.Everything in life is habit-forming—which means you can develop bad habits, too. Click To Tweet
Here at Consulting Success®, we’re big on mindset. We see and we observe a lot of consultants who are focused on skills and the development of their skills, but they don’t pay much attention to mindset. To me, Eric, clearly mindset is a very big part of everything that you’ve accomplished to this point in the military, but also even with your business. How do you work on developing? Do you still actively and consciously work on developing your mindset? Is it something that has now already become a habit from everything that you’ve gotten to in terms of this point?
Everything in life is habit-forming, but because it is, that means that we can develop bad habits too. From a physical aspect, I decided that I was going to work out lately. It was one of my workout days. I didn’t want to. Right from the get-go, I don’t want to work out. I didn’t want to do it. I then go, “You’re going to.” I was going to do a swim. In my head, I spent all this energy saying, “You’re sore, you’re tired, you don’t want to pull anything. Do this easy swim workout.” I spent all this emotional and mental energy talking to myself about how to do things easier. I got in the pool and finally said,” You are being soft. Stop. You got to get better.”
As we teach at The Program, this isn’t the program or tool that believes this. This is science. Nature tells us we either get better or you die. There is no middle ground. Finally, I get in the pool. I said, “Get better.” I pushed myself and had a great swim workout and finished. At the end, I feel great about it. I’m proud of myself all the rest of the day. By the same token, I’m thinking to myself, “Stop being soft? Go and do it.” Why do you spend so much energy trying to talk to yourself out of it? Make the decision to do it and then go and do it. It’s something I have to fight with still every day. All of us, we have to fight it.
I love that example, thanks for sharing it. I’m thinking about all of the consultants out there who have their daily struggle with marketing. They may need to pick up the phone and call someone but they don’t. They know they need to take some activity or some action that this isn’t comfortable for them. Instead of doing that, they default to playing on LinkedIn or their website or something working their business plan because it’s more comfortable and easier to do. What would you say to someone who knows whether they’re going to acknowledge it publicly or not? They know deep down inside that they are being too easy, too soft. They’re not taking action. They’re not living up to their full potential because there’s some fear or something uncomfortable for them. What advice might you offer to someone in that situation?
First and foremost, I would say, “I have great empathy for you. I understand.” Pick up that phone and start doing cold calls. Talk to a coworker that you need to have a tough conversation with. To work on marketing for me, I understand the dread that we have for doing those things. What we teach at The Program, what my teammates and I teach is there are nature or nurture, it’s a little bit of both. Some people are naturally more disciplined than others. A disciplined person does discipline to things. If we are going to believe that the more disciplined we can be, the more success it will lead to then realize it’s not about being disciplined. It’s about becoming more disciplined.
Don’t maintain because there is nothing in life as maintaining. You either get better or you die. Rather than say, “I have to start doing this to be more disciplined. I have to start doing that to be more disciplined. I don’t do this. I stay away from doing that and this too.” Pick one thing. If that is cold calls as an example because that’s the one that comes up all the time. As an entrepreneur, as somebody who owns a small business, and you’re not only the CEO, but you’re also the director of sales and the director of marketing. We have to do them if we’re going to grow our business is instead of saying, “I’m going to make 50 cold calls every single day this week. One cold call, let me do one now. I’m going to do one every single day.”
A good friend of mine is the offensive coordinator at the University of Southern California for their football team, Graham Harrell. He decided, “One mile a day, I’m going to run. I don’t like to run. I’m not good at it. I’m a sprinter.” He was a pro quarterback. “I’m a fast-twitch guy. I want to do this. I’ve got to increase my endurance so I’m going to run 1 mile every day.” I texted him saying, “Don’t let all these big-time interviews you have lead to excuses for you not getting your mile in.” Graham wrote me back and said, “Don’t worry. I had an 8:30 meeting. I got three in before the 8:30 meeting.” That’s what 1 mile a day leads to. That’s what one cold call a day leads to. We do one and then it becomes the expectation for us. Although it starts with, “One cold call.” It then gets to the point where we’re saying, “I’m not happy with just one. I’m going to do two. I’m going to do three.” We start to discipline things. Just do it.
Your business has now gotten to the point where you have seventeen team members or so?
Depending on the day, yes.
Walk us through the transition from you exiting out of the military into starting your consulting business. Why did you decide to build a team? Why not make it The Eric Show and build it around you, have a more lifestyle type of business. Why for you was it important to bring in some of these special operators from the military as your team members and build a company, build an organization, build a brand that is more than you?
It is now knowing what I know about building a team and running a business where it’s not The Eric Kapitulik Show. Some things are appealing about The Eric Kapitulik Show. For your audiences, are they more appealing than the appealing things about not being The Eric Kapitulik Show? I can understand why a lot of people do that rather than build a team, build a company rather than a one-person consultancy. There are lots of great benefits to it. I had the great privilege outside of daddy and husband. Marine is still the title that I’m most proud of. I had the great privilege of being United States Marine Corps officer.
I spent eight years on active duty. I could’ve spent 38 and on the day of my 38th I thought, “That was awesome.” There were other things I wanted to go and try to accomplish in my life outside of the military. It was a challenging decision for me to leave active duty. I made that choice and with everything in my life, I don’t feel that I’m incredibly smart. I don’t feel like I’m ever the smartest guy in the room even when there’s me and nobody else. I’ve got a certain level of intelligence that allows me to work hard and go and find the answers. I thought it was strength of mind. What is discipline and hard work? Whatever I decide I’m going to do, I then make the decision that I’m going to make it the right choice.Don't maintain because there is nothing in life as maintaining. You either get better or you die. Click To Tweet
There’s a lot of people who might be reading who are either still in the military or they’ve been exited. They’ve been in a situation that they can draw some parallels to being in an organization like the military. This is demanding and disciplined. It’s coming back into civilian life. What advice would you have for someone making that leap from that type of lifestyle and it’s all encompassing into now building a business? What takeaways do you have or lessons or looking back in hindsight, things that you might suggest for someone who is making that transition?
It’s a challenging one, so I can understand that. It’s not just military to civilian life. What about if you’re at a great company, you make enough money, you’ve got good benefits. You’re thinking, “Do I start my own thing? Do I leave these things?” College, high school students are sending in their college job applications. They’re going to get applications. They’re going to get into a lot of great places. There are some bad decisions we can make in our life. Thankfully a lot of times, we’re faced with decisions that we have to make. You do the best you can in figuring out what feels best. What would you feel is best for you at that time in your life? Once you make a decision, it becomes challenging. It’s not the decision. It’s then working to make that decision the right decision. That comes after making the decision. We then got to work to make it the right one.
It’s a sign that you learned in the military about the importance of making a decision? I’m asking because I’ve observed as I’ve studied many successful business owners, entrepreneurs that people who hesitate, who don’t make a decision are often in a position where they end up struggling a lot more. Whereas if you look at those who are more successful, they made a decision. It may not be the right one, but they’ve made a decision and they end up spending time adjusting to that decision. At least they’ve made a decision and therefore they’re taking action. They’re having more live feedback that they can adjust to. Is that something that it came to you in that or taught in the military? What’s your experience around the importance of making a decision?
There are a lot of people in the military. There are lots of officers, senior-enlisted men and women who struggle with that. They want to wait and get as much more information and get 100% of the information when the truth is the enemy is changing out there, whoever the enemy might be. Instead, we’re put in a situation. We have a certain amount of information. We then make based on that information and we should look at whatever information we have. Based on the information that we have, we have got to make a decision as quickly as possible. Why? It gives us more time after making that decision. Work on making it the right decision and/or changing what the plan is. We make a decision. We come up with a plan as to how we’re going to execute. We go down range and we start executing. The situation dictates the enemy. Many different things change what our plans should be. The quicker we make the decision to implement that plan, then the more time that we have making those changes to get us to where we want to get to.
One of my former Marines once said when I was in special operations, “Sir, you don’t always make the right decision, but I’ll tell you what, you make a decision.” I thought, “Thank you. You tried to give me a compliment here or not?” I took it as a compliment. With that said, I will say this, I had the opportunity. One of our teammates, Ben Littauer, is a Harvard honors graduate, one of the smartest people that I know. I’m yelling at Ben constantly about, “Ben, make a decision and you’re waiting too long. Go execute.” I’m better for having Ben on my team because the truth is best is somewhere in the middle. If you are a person who is going to struggle with making that decision, you surround yourself with people who want to go, go, go. If you are a person, especially as a leader who’s go, go, go, make sure that you bring people in that are going to make you better. Thankfully, I have in that case, along with a lot of large number of my other teammates.
As you started the business, what was the first thing that you did to start generating clients? Where did your first few clients come from?
People tell me, I get a lot of credit now and people will say, “That was a program. What a great idea.” I always think, “It’s a great idea, isn’t it? It’s not my idea, but it’s a great one.” What I mean by that is when I was still in the Marine Corps, one of the last things I did was work in the admissions office back at the Naval Academy. Right when I had shown up there from my special operations tour duty, the head lacrosse coach, he had been my head lacrosse coach when I played there years prior. I showed up there and the weekend before some lacrosse players had gotten in trouble. He called me at work and said, “Can you come down here and wear these guys out for a couple of days.” That’s what I did. I went down and worked out with the team doing our special operations workouts. Fast forward years later, the assisting coach on that team had been named the head coach at Harvard men’s lacrosse.
He called me and I had been open a week and he had said, “Can you come down here? I took over the softest team on the softest fort. Can you come down and wear these guys out for a little bit?” That’s what I did. During that time, I called the team captains out to come and lead some of the exercises with me as I was working out with the team. These are great young men, smart, intelligent, and good people. They struggled with leading an exercise for their team. From that, these guys have enough guys that work out, strength and conditioning coaches, those types of things. They don’t need me to get bigger, faster, and stronger. They need some help as leaders. From that one client, Harvard men’s lacrosse, I worked with two other men’s lacrosse teams in year one.
How did you get the other ones?
The head coaches were coaches that I played for, against, or with.
Did you reach out to them? Did they reach out to you once they heard?Competition is good everywhere because it makes you better. Click To Tweet
No, if you start your own business and somebody reaches out to you, then play the lottery because you’re the luckiest person in the world to everyone. From those three teams in year one, we worked with nine teams in year two. Now, we work with over 160 teams on an annual college and pro athletic teams and major corporations annually. You asked about why create and have a whole team rather than just me. Two main reasons and I’ll move on. Number one, if you’re by yourself, by definition you can only be making revenue if you are working. That didn’t make sense to me. I wanted to have an organization where the members of the team could be making money when other members of the team are working. I’ve been on teams my whole life whether it be athletic, military, or business teams. That idea of teammates helping teammates, I love being around it. It makes more sense. To us, it made more sense financially. Albeit, it only makes more sense financially after a long time.
If you’re a leaner business in terms of fewer staff members, employees, you can experience much higher profit margins initially. If you’re building a team, your profits can be significantly reduced. You’re investing a lot more back into the business. It’s a longer-term play. It might take several years for you to start getting back that level of profitability that you might have as an individual. If that’s the direction that you want to go, and you feel good about that, then it can be worthwhile. The one thing to know for some people is there are a couple of ways you can look at even as an independent or a solo consulting operator.
You can look at revenue share, performance deals where there are percentages. Equity plays are also retainers based on access where you’re not necessarily doing the work and spending hours. In most cases, you’re not making money unless you’re working. For most consultants that is unless they’re looking at some of those more advanced strategies, it can be challenging. I’m wondering, you got this first call to come down and work with this team. You’re new. How do you even approach your pricing and fees? What did you even say like, “I’ll come down?” How did you charge them? What do you know to put that together? What were your thoughts on at that time?
The industry that we are in, we created it. There have been others who’ve tried copying us. The Program was the first team that made experiential training offering not turn around and fall back into my arms. We’re going to call that trust development. True adversity-based training where people are going to get outside their comfort zones. In doing so, are going to get better as individuals and as a team. We created that market. I didn’t have comparables to look at when figuring out our pricing. I would suggest this to a lot of business owners if in a similar situation of what should we charge for this? Capitalism is awesome because the market is going to tell you what you should charge for it.
That first one I thought, “I want to make some money doing this. I got to get a client to start with, somebody who’s going to vouch for me.” I charged almost nothing. In year one, with those other two clients, they said, “How much is it?” I added a couple of $100 to what I charged the first guy. They both said yes. In year two, I did the same thing. I thought if everybody is saying yes, it’s too cheap. How did I figure it out? I’m sure that this isn’t the way they’re going to teach you. I went to business school and it is not the way they teach you how to figure out pricing in business school. That’s the way I did figure out pricing is I charged a certain amount. I went out. I performed that service. I’m calling people. I’m talking about my service, our service now. At that point, it was my service.
How do you price now? Where have you landed in terms of your pricing and your programs? Is it a fixed project rate? Are you doing hourly? Are you doing more based on the ROI and the value? How do you structure your pricing model?
Our core business is college and pro athletic teams and corporations. For your college athletic team, it’s based on the number of instructors that we’re going to send to go work with you is what it comes down to. We know to jump it, where you’re located, and the number of instructors that we’re sending. That’s going to figure out what we want for profitability, but also what our expenses are going to be for that event. For every single one of our athletic team clients, we know the duration of the event. We know the follow-up that’s going to be performed. As long as we know where they are located, which of course we do, we can figure out. For almost every team, it’s, “Here’s the price.” We’ve gotten to a point where we feel based on our number of instructors because we could make more money if we charged less. We could send other instructors that we have who aren’t at the same caliber as the ones that we do have.
You’re playing the long-term game. It makes a lot of sense providing exceptional results.
It’s a bit of that where you located and the number of instructors that we’re going to send. With corporations, with an average athletic team, the service is going to be two days in duration. We’re going to come back for a day to follow-up. There’s going to be Skype and FaceTime sessions. For a corporation, we’re doing more and more one-week long transformational weeks from leadership development and teenageship development process. A company will hire us to do a transformational week with as many people as possible that they can send there.
Is that price fixed for that program for that one week for each organization? Are you looking at some variables?
The only variable then is the location of the training taking place and how many people are being sent. Based on the number of participants, we’re going to send a certain number of instructors. We like to keep around a 15:1 ratio of participants to the instructor because we can provide feedback to every single person in which we find is key. Those things are the variables that we need to know before we can give a specific price. For corporations, they’ll say, “For the year, we would like to do a transformational week. We’d like two sets of refresher trainings for a day or two days.” We come back and act as on-site what we call our mock visits. We might do one of those once a month. Every athletic team, I could almost say, “Here’s the attachment. This is what it cost us.” For corporations, the whole thing is customized.The most successful individuals and teams stay laser-focused on what they can control. Click To Tweet
You shared that early on that the clients came by you reaching out and then the connection that you had. How about now? Fast forward us to the present. What is the best method or tactic that you are using or your team is using to fill your pipeline of new opportunities and win clients and deals? What are you guys doing from marketing and sales approach?
I still cannot overstate the importance of cold calls. When we do cold calls, we’re able to leverage a lot of other names of clients that we have. Before, we’re doing a cold call and we’re not leveraging any other name. Now, when we’re doing a cold call, we can get out in the first 5 seconds. Here are some of our other clients we’re looking to work, that’s helpful. I feel like cold calls are important if not for growing our clientele. We talked about mindset, Michael. It’s that mindset of hunger. I don’t have a referral that I can use that I can call. I don’t have this warm lead. We’ve got the people who’ve called us now to work with us. That work is done. I can still be hunting.
We hunt by cold calling in that mindset, that thirst, that desire to go out and sign more people. It stems from a passion for what we do for developing better leaders and creating more cohesive teams. If somebody here is a salesperson that’s going to have a passion for science one more person because of the monetary value of it, they’re not going to be at the program long. They won’t be. You’re doing it because I got to have other people become better leaders and teammates because it’s going to make your life better. I’ve got to go and sell this because it’s important for us. That is hugely important and to making everybody at The Program long-term successful.
It’s why it’s still key to our sales strategy is cold calls. After several years in business with working with 160 teams on an annual basis, we should leverage our clientele, which we do all the time. The only thing I would add to that though is for your audience is if you’re waiting for somebody to give you a referral. Some people are not corporate, but they understand, “You make more money if I give you a referral.” There are some people out there who understand that naturally and are thinking about it and will say, “I’m going to talk to so and so and call them.” That’s a minority.
However, if you are doing what you say you’re going to do and providing a world-class service or product out there, then people want to help. They want to help. If you’re that person providing that service, or in this case, me and my teammates, to call one of our clients and say, “We want to grow our business.” If it’s the direct competitor of yours, forget about them. I hate them. I don’t want to work with them. Who’s a friend of yours in this industry that would benefit from our service? I’d love the referral. People go out of their way to provide it. We have to leverage our client base, but you have to be proactive about it.
If you’re waiting for people to contact you, it’s the classic saying, “Hope is not a good strategy.” Most humans like to help. They need a little bit of that push or not. Even a push, they need to know that you’d like their help. You sharing that is important. You touched on one thing I want to hit on or go a little bit deeper on, Eric, before we wrap up here. You were one of the first, if not the first in this industry of training, leveraging the military and its Special Ops experience. There are a lot more people who have come out of the military or are in the Special Ops and are building leadership consulting or training businesses. A lot of consultants out there reading see that in their industries where there’s a lot of other, “Competitors,” or people providing similar services. What has been your mindset around the increasing competition or people who are doing similar things to what you’re doing? How do you keep that level of differentiation and ensure that your business continues to grow?
First of all, competition is good everywhere. It makes you better. What happens is, you start to only focus on the competition in what the competition is doing. We don’t. It starts with the leader setting the tone with the team. My teammates all the time bring up, “This competitor this. This competitor that.” Stop. How are we getting better? What are you doing now to make The
Program and our services better? We’ve been in business for several years. They’ve been in business for a couple of years. If you’re saying that they’ve caught up us and passed us, then that’s our fault. We had it first. We did create the marketplace. There are some challenges with doing so.
One of the great things about it is you’ve got the first-mover advantage. Don’t lose that advantage. How do you not lose it, Michael? By waking up every single morning and challenging yourself and your teammates to get better, make yourself better personally, make the company better, and make our services better. What are we doing? As long as we can stay laser-focused on it, we’re going to be successful. Too many people we concern ourselves with so much in life. The most successful individuals and the most successful teams stay laser-focused on that which they can control. We control us. Let’s stay focused on it every single moment of every single day.
Thanks for that message there, Eric. The last question I want to bring up here. I have the audio to Eric’s book along with Jake MacDonald. The two of you wrote this book. It’s called The Program: Lessons From Elite Military Units For Creating and Sustaining High-Performance Leaders and Teams. It’s a great book that everyone should check out. If you could tell us, especially for everyone who’s reading. Eric, where should people go to learn more about you, more about your company, The Program, and more about your book?
Eric, thanks so much for coming on. I appreciate you spending some time with us here. Taking us through a bit of your journey and ensuring some of those best practices. Thank you.
- The Program LLC
- BarnesAndNoble.com – The Program: Lessons From Elite Military Units For Creating and Sustaining High-Performance Leaders and Teams
- Amazon.com – The Program: Lessons From Elite Military Units For Creating and Sustaining High-Performance Leaders and Teams