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How to Figure Out Your Owner’s Intent

Host Jon Penland, 

Some business owners lose sight of their initial motivation along the way. Some don’t even know why they’re doing what they’re doing. Casey Graham, Founder and CEO of Gravy, believes you need to know your ‘owner’s intent’ if you want to thrive. Tune in on this episode of Reverse Engineered to learn how he discovered his true owner’s intent. Jon and Casey also talk about motivating employees to figure out their owner’s intent, including the 3 drivers of intention.


46 minutes



Episode Summary

A recurring revenue model is one of the most popular business models today. Whether you run an online or a subscription-based business, you rely on this payment model to ensure recurring revenue and stable income. 

But a simple payment failure can disrupt your entire business flow and even make you lose customers.

In this episode of the Reverse Engineered podcast, our host Jon Penland welcomes Casey Graham, the Founder and CEO of Gravy. They talk about the reason for failed transactions, why we shouldn’t put too much trust into technology, and the importance of knowing your owner’s intent.

Key Insights:

  • Incorrect data is the biggest reason behind failed payments. Whether it’s a missing bank code or a name discrepancy, data errors are the most common reason behind failed payments. Casey says that we put too much trust into technology, which is why this type of error occurs. He explains, “Whether it’s the CEO, the COO, the CFO, the customer success manager, the bookkeeper, there’s not been one time where the data that they gave us in the sales process turned out to be actually verified and true during our verification process. And here’s the reason why: most companies do what I do or what I did in 2015 to solve the problem. They trust technology too much.”
  • You may lose a customer over a failed transaction. Not only does a failed transaction interrupt a seamless customer experience, but it also affects customer acquisition. Casey explains, “The reality of this is that you just think, ‘Oh, I’m going to set up some emails and send some automation out.’ But when a failed payment happens on one thing, it happens on all things. And so the reality is that because there are humans behind the failed payment, companies have to understand that they’re in a competitive sprint to win that customer back because what they do is re-go through the buying decision of, ‘Do I need this or do I want this?'”
  • What is your ‘owner’s intent?’ Sometimes, people still feel unhappy and unfulfilled despite their success and achievements. According to Casey, they might be missing the most important thing in life – living by their owner’s intent. He says, “You can have a career intent and an employee intent. It’s not just about being an owner, but it’s asking the question, ‘Why do I really show up and do this every day?’ And most people never really get down to why they do what they do. And we just go from job to job or company to company or thing to thing and opportunity to opportunity, and we never get truly honest — and here’s the key — about why we do what we do.”

Today’s Guest: Casey Graham, Founder and CEO of Gravy

Not only is Casey a successful entrepreneur, but he’s also a published author. His book is called “The No B.S. Small Business Book: How to Win When Most Fail.”

Episode Highlights

Think About Your Employees’ “Owner’s Intent”

“It’s all about helping other people and influence, and we have a bit of each in all of them, but there’s usually one primary driver that drives the beginning of this. And so a story would be — we had a lady join the staff, and she listened to my owner’s intent of my daughter and son working in and being proud of this company and all this kind. And she said, ‘Casey, can I ask a question?’ I was like, ‘Sure.’ She’s like, ‘I don’t really have any big income things that I’m trying to do because my husband does well, and he’s crushing it, and I’m not really into [having] influence. I just want to have a place where I could work and go get my kids off the bus. And I don’t care if I ever get a promotion or if I ever grow.’ So she was saying, without saying it, independence, that’s it. And so we built her owner’s intent to be to work at a place where she could get her kids off the bus without guilt.”

Learning How To Deal With Dual Relationships

“In my book, I write about that; it’s called dual relationships. And especially for people that hire friends or family and all that kind of thing, or we become friends at work, there is actually a soft skill called learning how to manage dual relationships, meaning I’m your boss in this conversation and then if we’re playing golf on Saturday, I may be your friend. But what people do when their friendships develop is that it becomes weird to wear other hats, and they don’t know how to manage both sides of the relationship, and the best leaders develop the skill of learning how to run dual relationships.”

Our Intent Always Wins in the End

“The problem in our careers, in our lives, and everything is when we say one thing, but then our intentions are something else. And so what I’ve found about our intention — our intention always wins in the end. It will always rear its head. And so that’s why it’s worth the time, effort, and energy to dig around in it early, so that you don’t have what I had in my previous life, which is broken relationships with others and a broken relationship with myself.”


[00:00:05] Jon Penland: Hey everyone, my name is Jon Penland, and Reverse Engineered is brought to you by Kinsta, a premium managed hosting provider. In today’s episode, I’m speaking with Casey Graham, founder and CEO of Gravy. Casey, welcome to Reverse Engineered.

[00:00:17] Casey Graham: Thanks for having me, Jon.

[00:00:19] Jon Penland: Yeah, we’re excited that you’re here with us today, and to get us started, can you introduce yourself to our listeners. 

[00:00:25 ] Casey Graham: Yup. Casey Graham. I live in Atlanta, Georgia, married for 17 years, my wife’s name’s Casey, by the way. And so, if I say Casey in a story, I’m not talking about myself in third person. 

[00:00:37] Jon Penland: Yeah, good clarification. 

[00:00:39] Casey Graham: And I’ve got two kids that talk a lot about, we do a lot of hunting and fishing and my daughter, her name is Darby, and my son is Gage.

[00:00:47] And we up here in 20 years in Atlanta, Georgia, business-wise. You know, I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was 27 years old and has started grown and sold three businesses during that time period and Gravy, my current company, that I’m the co-founder and CEO of is a, is number four. And we’re about, we’re about five years in, and Rock and Rowan have 94 people on our staff, and we return a revenue back to businesses that are losing money because of failed payments.

[00:01:18] Jon Penland: Yeah. That’s funny that you’re in Atlanta. I saw that on your LinkedIn, as I was preparing for this, I’m actually in Northeast Georgia, myself. We’re a completely distributed company. I’m up in the corner kind of halfway between Atlanta and Greenville, out in the woods out there. So, so not too far from you there. We’ll have to, we’ll have to connect after the podcast and talk about, you know, the area here up, up in the north Georgia mountains.

[00:01:41] But I do want to get a little bit of your entrepreneurial backstory. So, you mentioned, I think you said Gravy is number four, and so there are several that predated Gravy. Can you give us just sort of that backstory? What were you doing before Gravy? 

[00:01:55] Casey Graham: I was actually, before Gravy, well, to go back just really quick, and I won’t tell you the whole birth to now story, was, I was actually on staff at a church, and that’s why I moved to Atlanta, Georgia. And from there, I started my first business, and it was a bookkeeping business for churches.

[00:02:18] And so, that’s where I started, did that for a while, sold it. And then, I started another bookkeeping business for businesses. And so, I had the brain damage, brain damage on one side, and just did it for another market. Uh, we grew that, and we sold that business. And then, previous the to Gravy was, I had an online subscription business where we taught pastors in churches everything that they didn’t learn in seminary, which is basically all of the practical side of how to, you know, run a business, basically, which is an organization, it’s a nonprofit. 

[00:02:51] Casey Graham: And so, we were subscriptions and memberships. We had a software product that, it was a software product for the church space. And we did that and did that for six years, grew it. And then, we sold to private equity, in 2017, we sold a private equity, and it created, obviously, it was a big win, biggest of all of those.

[00:03:14] But what I always like to say is, while it was a big win professionally, personally, my life, it was falling apart at the end of that. And after that, I spent 14 months in a really deep dark place. And it’s not something that I’m proud of or would hope that anybody would ever go through.

[00:03:32] Casey Graham: But a lot of what we’ll talk about today came from those dark moments. And they came from a 14-month period after I sold that business to where I felt like, I sold a business, I sold more than a business. I actually sold my identity, and I didn’t know who I was. And I come from a family, my granddad, he killed himself when I was 12 years old and committed suicide because he was a business owner, and he had all this financial stress and all this stuff.

[00:03:59] And so, I went through some dark depressions and some hard times. And the reason I shared that at the beginning is, it’s a context for basically coming out of those ashes was what Gravy was birthed out of and kind of a renewing of who I am. And then, why would I, even now I have all these millions of dollars and stuff, why would I start another company and go through it again and do all that stuff? And so, that’s a little bit of the backstory that would give context to the rest of our conversation.

[00:04:25] Jon Penland: Yeah. And thanks for that. I definitely do want to get into some of that disappointment that you faced after that prior exit to private equity. I had a question, jot down about that, that we’ll get to here, in a little bit. And actually, I have a couple of questions in that vein around what you’ve done differently at Gravy, but in order to provide that context for our listeners, let’s set up what Gravy is.

[00:04:49] So, you know, you’ve exited that prior business to private equity, you’ve gone through this relatively dark period. And then Gravy is born. So, can you give us a bit of Gravy’s origin story? What prompted you to start Gravy? 

[00:05:01] Casey Graham: Well, when I was, in 2015, I was trying to sell that last business. And I don’t know if you’ve ever been a part of private equity conversations or the due diligence process. But, due diligence is basically when you get your ass kicked by spreadsheets and one of those spreadsheets was our customer cohort data of customers staying and paying, and these private equity people were looking at all of the different retention metrics around, “Hey, at month seven, what was happening?

[00:05:31] Why is there a drop-off? At month 13 we’re seeing this.” And it’s all those specific questions around retention that I didn’t have the answers to. And so, we had a failed exit attempt in 2015 because I didn’t have the answers to simple customer questions about where were these customers going. And I thought we had a big churn problem, but what I looked at and we really started digging underneath the rock of churn, when you lift up that rock, ’cause churn’s just the big bucket, there’s many different reasons why somebody will churn; in one of those, the biggest reason for us was failed payments.

[00:06:02] Casey Graham: And so, we fixed that problem over a two-year period. And that’s what allowed us to sell for five X what we were going to get in 2015 because we fixed the failed payment problem. Meaning that there was a customers that they had a subscription with us and for some reason or another their credit card failed, like it does for all of us.

[00:06:21] You know, we, we change addresses or the amount of the credit card or we’re traveling or any of those things. And out of that we learned the power of failed payments and that it’s a big problem. But the problem with failed payments, it’s a big problem that people have it, but it’s a boring problem. And it’s not one that anybody went to career day in high school and said, “You know, I want to grow up one day and I want to save failed payments for subscription-based business.”

[00:06:49] Casey Graham: But it’s very powerful. And so, out of that was the learning, that Gravy was birthed out of, is that we built the system at my last company and now I went out, and I wondered what other entrepreneurs were doing for failed payments. And when I would ask CEOs or CFOs, “Hey, what are y’all doing about your failed payment problem?”

[00:07:06] They would give me the same answer, like, “Oh, somebody in finance does that, or I think customer success does that.” But there wasn’t real clear answers of ownership or process or the technologies being used. And so, out of that we created Gravy, which is basically people hire us, and we’re their failed payment, recovery department for their businesses. 

[00:08:00] And we work with B2B companies and B2C companies that have recurring revenue, and, long story short, they have a lot of failed payments, and we returned this down payments back to them. To the tune of over the last five years, we’ve returned $532 million of failed payments back to our clients. And so, that’s what we do every day.

[00:07:41] Jon Penland: Yeah. You know, I think in the context of a technology business, particularly, you know, a relatively small and by small, I mean, I would include Kinsta in this category where we’re up to 200 and some odd employees, everybody has so much to do, right? There’s, we have a limited number of things we can accomplish.

[00:08:02] Right? And when you look at something like failed payments, I mean, you mentioned it is being boring. It’s not only boring, it kind of strikes you as, like, unpleasant, right? Like, this could be an unpleasant interaction, potentially, with this client. 

[00:08:15] And so, I just have a feeling that a lot of folks listening to this, a lot of our listeners, our small businesses, our agencies or other relatively small, medium-size businesses that are in that boat where they’re going, you know, “I’ve got 47 things to do, and I have time to do three and failed payments is one of these things that I, you know, I know it exists, but I don’t think it’s probably that big of a problem for my business.”

[00:08:42] Right? Like, “I can understand somebody else. This is a problem for them. It doesn’t strike me as a problem for my business.” So, change my mind on that. Like, how frequently do you, do you approach a business and find out that failed payments are actually not a problem?

[00:08:56] Casey Graham: Not a problem? Well. 

[00:08:58] Jon Penland: Ever find somebody who says it’s not a problem for them? 

[00:09:00] Casey Graham: Well, yeah, if they don’t have recurring revenue, it’s less of a problem. I mean, you can have problems at checkout, you know, if it’s a one-time all that kind of thing, but really our focus is only on recurring revenue businesses. And if you have recurring revenue, annual subscriptions, quarterly, monthly, you’re going to have failed payments.

[00:09:17] Just the way it is, in every single business, because the reason why is the banks are so protective and on the side of the consumer or who the business on the credit cards is that there’s always a war between, “Should this go through or should this not go through?” And I’ve never once seen a business that has recurring revenue that didn’t have failed payments.

[00:09:39] Jon Penland: Yeah. So, every business that you’ve ever looked at, every business that you’ve analyzed, you’ve been able to demonstrate that the problem exists. And I, my assumption is that it’s probably bigger than that, than they realize.

[00:09:50] Casey Graham: Yeah, I’ve never, so we have something called the Gravy data verification process. And so, we’ve analyzed over a thousand companies in the last five years. And, and every company that comes through, this is a stat that is true, there is 0% of the companies that have come through, whether it’s the CEO, the COO, the CFO, the customer success manager, the bookkeeper, there’s not been one time where the data that they told us, in the sales process, was actually verified and true in our verification process.

[00:10:23] Jon Penland: Okay. Wow. 

[00:10:25] Casey Graham: And here’s, and here’s the reason why. Most companies do what I do or what I did in 2015 to solve the problem. They trust technology too much. And what I mean by that is just about everybody has some type of widget or automation or Stripe retrial or emails we send out or texts we send. So, they’re doing something, but because they’re trusting that and the pretty dashboards you get that says, “Oh, this is your failed payments and this is what was recovered.” We just go, “It must be.” 

[00:10:59] But here’s what I would say to that is, nobody would buy a copy of QuickBooks and just open a copy of QuickBooks and say, “Oh, that’s, that runs our financial department and all the reconciliations right. And all the money’s right in, it’s all right.”

[00:11:15] It’s that the tool is just the tool, but you’ve got to have a team around the tool that does the reconciliation to make sure that what is being reported is true. You’ve got to see how they report all the different technologies and tools and different payment processors and subscription managers, they all report data differently.

[00:11:33] And it doesn’t connect well into all your other platforms perfectly, even though they say it does. And so, technology is always on a conveyor belt of a moving target. And so, it’s not always correct and right. And so, they trust technology too much. And that’s the number one reason why they don’t know what their data is, most of the time.

[00:11:49] Jon Penland: Yeah. So, a question that I had jotted down here is “How is Gravy’s approach different?” And I feel like you’ve already sort of hinted at that, you know, because my counterpoint was, you know, why not just set up automated recovery emails and call it a day. Right? Like, and so you’re saying, you know, that’s a ‘trusting technology too much’ type of approach. So, what does Gravy do that’s different than, you know, than creating a really fine-tuned, you know, automated recovery system? 

[00:12:20] Casey Graham: Yeah. Well, we have to start with understanding that behind every payment there’s a person. And I don’t know about you, Jon, but I don’t know how many other people are going, “Man, you know what I really love from a company is more automated emails.”

[00:12:38] Jon Penland: Yeah, no, on a regular basis, we have the conversation internally about “Do we really need to send this email?” Right? Because we’re sending a lot of email. 

[00:12:47] Casey Graham: And behind those people that have that a failed payment, oftentimes, they didn’t ask for that. And so, you know, like I was my wife, I always tell the story is that my wife and I were, you know, I was, one of those nights that we didn’t have the kids, and I was like, “I’m going to do whatever she wants to do.”

[00:13:09] And so, I asked her, “What do you want to do?” And so, she said, “I want to watch Hart of Dixie.” Do you know what that show is? 

[00:13:14] Jon Penland: I don’t know what that is. No, I should know being in the Heart of Dixie, but I don’t. 

[00:13:18] Casey Graham: Yeah, but it’s basically a terrible Southern soap opera that’s a current show that’s in old town Alabama and this, you know, but it’s who cheats on who and every episode has this drama and all that stuff.

[00:13:31] And so, she said, “Well, will you watch Hart of Dixie with me?” And I’m like, “Oh my God.” But I’m going to do it, and so we go to sit. 

[00:13:35] Yeah. So, we go to sit down on the, on the couch and snuggle up, and we go to Amazon prime and click, and we go there and then boom, we can’t get in. There’s a problem with the account that there’s a billing error.

[00:13:48] Casey Graham: And we’re sitting there, and then you can’t fix it on the TV. And so, they say, “Hey, you got to get, you know, go to your device and plug in your credit card.” You know, all this kind of stuff. And the reality was that in that moment, I was thankful to God I didn’t have to work Hart of Dixie, watch Hart of Dixie, but then secondarily, what happened was we just forgot about it and moved on and went and did something else.

[00:14:10] And then, the next couple of days failed payments started happening on all the other subscriptions. And so, the reality inside of this is that you just think, “Oh, I’m going to set up some emails and send some automation out.” But when a failed payment happens on one thing, it happens on all the things. And so, the reality is, is that because there’s humans behind the failed payment is that companies have to understand that you’re in a competitive sprint to win that customer back because what they do is go, re-go through the buying decision of, “Do I need this or do I want this?”

[00:14:44] Casey Graham: And so, unless you have a full-time team or team members, plus the technology tool, working in unison with clear metrics and focus and that we’re going to stay after it, you lose tons of revenue out of your business because of that. And so, you say, “What’s our approach?” Our approach is that we provide the full-time team with the tools.

[00:15:06] And it’s the only thing that we wake up and do every day. And so, because of that speed to recovery is the number one way to win customers back. And we, we’ve done over the 532 million that we brought back to businesses, 80% of failed payments that are one backer one back within the first 14 days. And so, without this relentless focus and clarity and asking the question who wakes up in the morning and our business that’s solely focused on this, we lose tons of money.

[00:15:36] Casey Graham: And then, you would say, “Well, Casey, what does that money mean?” Well, if you’re, let’s say, in a tech business, and let’s say your tech business has a 10 X multiple on it, for every $8,000 of MRR that you went back to that business, that creates a million dollars of exit value. Because you don’t just save the payment, you save the customer. 

[00:15:58] And when you save the customer, you save the LTV. And when you have the LTV, you have the exit value. And so, nobody wakes up in the morning fired up about this or thinking about this, but when you connect the real dollars to it, this is the forgotten about growth channel that has zero CAC.

[00:16:15] And so, that’s how we approach it, and that’s how we deal with it. So, for us, it’s not boring because we’ve put $5 billion of exit value back into the clients that we serve.

[00:16:25] Jon Penland: Yeah. It was funny, as you were telling your story about Amazon and you mentioned, you know, that failed, and then multiple other failed, and my brain immediately went to yeah, when that happens, I’m immediately going, “What do I not need to renew?” Right? Right, like, “What do I not need to go fix? Because actually, this is a great opportunity to stop paying for that subscription I’m not using.”

[00:16:2145 Yeah. So that’s great. And, as you mentioned, you know, Gravy has recovered what, over 500 million now since, since 2017. So, this is something that has been very successful for your customers. So, moving away a little bit now from, I feel like we’ve set the stage who Gravy is and how you came to it.

[00:17:02] Jon Penland: I want to move past that now into some of the different things that motivate you because you’ve been very transparent about those things on LinkedIn and other places where you’ve, where you’ve spoken. So, starting with that prior exit, which is something that you already touched on a bit, you went through this prior exit which led into a prolonged period of depression.

[00:17:24] What have you done differently as you started Gravy in response to that depression or other choices that you’ve made that are different as you approached Gravy as a result of that difficult period after that prior exit? 

[00:17:37] Casey Graham: Yeah. I developed something, and I wrote about this in my book. And it’s the most powerful concept, if you read the Amazon reviews, everybody talks about this as two words, it’s called Owner’s Intent. Now, you can have a career intent and employee intent. It’s not just about being an owner, but it’s asking the question,

[00:17:57] “Why do I really show up and do this every day?” And most people never really get down to why they do what they do. And we just go from job to job or company to company or thing to thing and opportunity to opportunity, and we never get truly, and here’s the key, honest about why we do what we do because in the previous company I said, and we were working with churches, that I do this because we want to help churches, our mission’s to help churches and all this kind of stuff. 

[00:18:27] Casey Graham: But, at the same time, all I really cared about was counting my money to become a millionaire. And so, I thought I showed up for one reason, but the reality was I was never stopped long enough, to be honest about stuff, as I really just wanted to create a six, a successful exit, and become a millionaire. 

[00:18:47] And when you do this and when you live this way, and you don’t have a bedrock of your owner’s intent of what it is, why you do it, and every decision flows through that and why you do what you do flush through that one owner’s intent,   you live with an incongruency, and you’re going to always feel unfulfilled. 

[00:19:02] Casey Graham: You’ll feel not happy, and you’re going to bounce around from thing to thing to thing. And then, what you’re ultimately going to be lived, driven by is fear. And it’s just fear of missing out or fear of not getting that opportunity or fear of not being able to provide for my family.

[00:19:16] But owner’s intent is how we started Gravy, and my owner’s intent, ’cause I didn’t have one in my previous company, my owner’s intent when I started Gravy was to build a company that my adult children would be proud to work at one day. To build a company that my adult children be proud to work at one day, meaning I didn’t need the money in starting Gravy, but I needed the meaning and the story and to build something that I was proud of.

[00:19:43] Casey Graham: Because even though my companies previously, I sold them, I was never truly proud of them. I was not proud of the culture. I was not proud of just the way the company was run. It was not something that I could say, “I was proud that we built that.” Yes, it made money, but I wasn’t truly proud of it. And so, I wanted to build a company that I was proud of.

[00:20:00] And so, every decision then, from the beginning, has come back to what I want this person to be my daughter or son’s boss. 

[00:20:10] Jon Penland: Yeah. 

[00:20:11] Casey Graham: What I want, if we’re going to do a team meeting and do it in person, “How would I do that?” Like, “What would I pay for? What would they get?” And so, everything starts coming through that. And because of that, we’ve been able to live and build our culture and build congruency of why I show up to why we show up.

[00:20:27] And then, I don’t just stop it with me. I make every new person that comes on our team develop their owner’s intent for while they are here. ‘Cause they own their career. And so, we asked them, “Why I Gravy?” And we have different people and they, and it can’t be, “I just want a job, and I’m happy to be here.” It’s like, “No, no, no. Truly, why are you here?” 

[00:20:47] And we dig down and help them figure that out. And from that we have alignment in our intention. And when there’s alignment and people are clear about their intentions, everybody’s more successful, and everybody feels more fulfilled.

[00:20:59] Jon Penland: Yeah. That line about wanting to build a business that you’d be proud for your children to work at, I think is, I have a slightly different experience. My kids, my oldest is 15, so I’m not there quite yet, but I have a brother, right. And my brother is just a couple of years younger than me.

[00:21:16] So, I guess he’s 36. And we had an opening a little while back, and I had to ask myself, “Do I want my brother to come to work at our company?” Right. And so, it was the first time I’d ever had that thought where I was like, “Is this the type of company where I would want a member of my family to be?” Because up to that point, right, it was like, Kinsta was at an arm’s length, especially as a completely distributed company, right. They can’t even see it. 

[00:21:41] Jon Penland: So, it’s at an arm’s length from the folks who are closest to me, personally. And I had asked that question of myself, and it was, you know, thankfully, the answer was, “Yes.” He didn’t get the job, but thankfully the answer was, “Yes, you know, this is a place I’d be willing to let my brother come work.”

[00:21:55] Jon Penland:  But it was the first time my eyes were opened to that. I always thought, you know, this is a great place to work, but suddenly when it was like, “Okay, but now it’s your brother.” That was a very different thought process than “Is this a place I would recommend in general?” So, I think that’s a great filter that like, “Would I want a family member to work here, would I be proud to have a family member come to work here?”

[00:22:19] And I did want to ask you about that, that owner’s intent. I jotted down owner’s intent for non-owners. So, I’m really curious when you talk about asking your employees to develop this owner’s intent thinking, can you give me some examples of what that looks like? Like, what does that look like, potentially, for somebody coming to work at Gravy? 

[00:22:42] Casey Graham: I found that there are three drivers for owner’s intent of why three, people work places and do things. Number one is income. Number two is independence. And number three is influence. Meaning number one, income being money. I need to make money. I want to make more money. Number two, independence, being time, freedom that I can call my own shots and do the things I want to do, how I want to do them, who I want to do them with. And then, number three is influence is, and these are, the influence when truly being a driver is rare, which is “I want to do good in the world, and the money doesn’t matter, and I’ll sacrifice my time all day long.” It’s all about helping other people and influence. And I, we have a bit of each in, in all of them, but there’s usually one primary driver that drives the beginning of this.

[00:23:32] And so, a story would be, we had a lady joined the staff, and she listened to my owner’s intent of, you know, my daughters, a son working and being proud of this company and all this kind of stuff. And she said, “Casey, can I ask a question?” I was like, “For sure.” She’s like, “I don’t really have any big income things that I’m trying to do because my husband does well, and he’s like crushing, and you know, I’m not really into influence.

[00:24:00] I just want to have a place where I could work and go get my kids off the bus. And I don’t care if I ever get a promotion or if I ever grow.” But, and so, she was saying, without saying it – independence, that’s it. And so, we built her owner’s intent to be to work at a place where she could get her kids off the bus without guilt.

[00:24:22] Jon Penland: Yeah. 

[00:24:24] Casey Graham: That’s a great.

[00:24:27] Jon Penland: I was going to say the income and independence make total sense to me. I think income is the first one that, you know, I would guess depending on where you’re at in your career, that could be a real driver. For me, I don’t feel, like, income is necessarily a driver that’s going to last the duration of career.

[00:24:22] But certainly at key points when you have financial goals and whatnot, that’s a driver that makes total sense. Independence is a huge one that I see in play a lot, you know, particularly working for a fully distributed company. We allow flexible schedules, where possible, we have generous time-off policies.

[00:25:00] Like, that’s a huge driver for folks coming to work at Kinsta. The influence one, I’m curious if you see a wrinkle where influence can actually mean influence within the business. Because when you were talking about influence, you were talking about like, I want to kind of serve the world through what I’m doing, but a driver that I feel like I see as a company that’s growing is we have folks join us, who I feel like are really driven by, “I want to build out this team, this function. 

[00:25:34]  I want to have a hand in building this company, and because this company is growing, I see that opportunity here.” Would that fit in that influence bucket? Is that where you think that might fit within that paradigm?

[00:25:45] Casey Graham: It has, so, another story, a guy I met with at our company. And he said like, I mean, he already made really good money, we do have the independent stuff, but I was looking for, this is not like, this isn’t about what your company offers and benefits. This is, like, why you do what you do. 

[00:26:03]And he had the income and had the, we have all this stuff, and he started saying, “Casey, I just want, I don’t feel like I have  a pillar inside of the company that I can be proud of, that I put my name on that we did for these three years, and I can say that that was mine.” And what he was saying is he wanted the influence to be able to do that, and that being his number one driver. And so, asking the question, “Well, if I gave you one of those, but I cut your pay, would you still do it?”

[00:26:38] And his answer was, “Yes.” He cared more about that than he did about the income. And I didn’t cut his pay, and we gave it to him. But the point of me, so yes, that can be true, but the true test of it is, “Are you willing to give up your title? Are you willing to give up income? Are you willing to give up some of your independence because you’re going to have more responsibility to put, to pull those things off?” But so you’ve got, so you got to pressure test.

[00:27:03] So, it said, there’s, there’s three rules for creating your owner’s intent, even if you’re a non-owner and number one is it must be one sentence. Number two is it must be yours. Like, some people try to borrow mine, and it doesn’t fit, the clothes don’t fit, right? It’s gotta be true, truly yours. And number three, it must be and this is what I was just talking about, pressure tested.

[00:27:25]  Meaning, some people will say, “I just want to, you know, a pillar in the company.” All this kind of stuff. “Okay, well, you can lead that department, but the pay for that area is actually less about…” “Well, I don’t care about.” Well, then that’s, that’s your true driver.

[00:27:38] Casey Graham: And so, it must be pressure tested. And so, I’ve found that there’s a couple of things that we can either get into or not, that are practical on this five steps on how, on what to avoid when you’re building your owner’s intent. You want to go through those? 

[00:28:29] Jon Penland: Absolutely, I, give them to me. 

[00:28:00] Casey Graham: Yeah, the first one is avoid thinking you should have a particular intent. We had, this lady felt bad because she wasn’t driven and didn’t want to double her salary. She doesn’t need to feel bad about it. You don’t need to feel bad about why you do what you do. You just have to be honest about it. 

[00:28:09] Number two is avoid what others think you should do. This is a big one, LinkedIn culture. I call it business porn.  

[00:28:19] Casey Graham: We see what they’re doing and these exits and unicorns and doing all this kind of stuff, like, especially for business owners, we get caught up in everybody else’s doing all this kind of stuff. Who cares? You can’t be what you think others think you should do. 

[00:29:33] The third thing is avoid what you think you can or can’t do. So, I, like, we had somebody come in, and they were starting to sell development rep, and they said their goal was to be a VP of sales within three years. They were like, “But I can’t do that. I can’t go that fast.” 

[00:29:47] Jon Penland: Yeah. 

[00:28:49] Casey Graham: So you, you can’t, you can’t do that. Number four is avoid what anyone else thinks you can or can’t do. So, avoid what they think you can or can’t do.

[00:28:57] And then, number five is to avoid what sounds good or noble. This is a big one. A lot of people, they make their intent, these beautiful things. But the reality is, like, I had this one lady that was a business owner. She said she wanted to influence a billion women. Well, who’s going to disagree with that. Nobody.

[00:29:18] So she wanted to influence a billion women for good, but every time I got on a call with her, all she talked about was the P&L. And so, I just challenged her about 90 days into our relationship and just said, “Hey, so you told me your owner’s intent is to influence a billion women for good, but you’ve never once brought up any metrics around that or how you’re counting that or that’s not, what’s keeping you up at night. You talk about money and this.” 

[00:29:45] And we were able to uncover for her that she was lying to herself, unintentionally, that she, it was all about this other thing. But it’s really about this. And so, the number one way to know what your owner’s intent is oftentimes, especially for business owners, is what stresses you out and keeps you up at night.

[00:30:04] That’s your true intention.

[00:30:07] Jon Penland: Hmm, I have to ask. So, you bring somebody into Gravy, and you put them through this process of defining or identifying, really. ‘Cause it sounds like it’s really a process of, of being honest with yourself, right? Like, what is it that actually drives me? So, what do you do when you bring somebody in, and you find that they’re in, that their intent is not aligned with what you’ve hired them to do. 

[00:30:31] Casey Graham: It happens all the time.

[00:30:33] Jon Penland: Exactly. ‘Cause I can imagine, like if, if independence is a big driver for somebody and they’re going to be in a, you know, live support position, that’s going to be difficult to align, right?

[00:30:43] So what do you do in that scenario? How do you approach that challenge? 

[00:30:47] Casey Graham: Yeah. Well, one guy’s, he came in, and he was a sales executive, and he said that his intent was to be a VP of sales within nine months. So.

[00:30:59] Jon Penland: Are we going to fire our VP of sales, like? 

[00:31:03] Casey Graham: I, well, he, you know, he still had a manager role and a director, you know, like all this stuff. And so I asked him, I said, “So, why are you here?” And he didn’t want to answer. 

[00:31:13] Jon Penland: Hmm. 

[00:31:15] Casey Graham: And then, he said something that was really, truly honest and awesome. He said, “If I’m being honest with you, which I don’t know if I can do” because everybody’s scared to be really, really honest, you know, to the person that’s paying their paycheck.

[00:31:30] Casey Graham: “I’m here because Gravy’s a stepping stone for me  to do that.” And I said, “It’s the best answer I’ve ever heard.” And here’s what, I said, “And here’s what I’m going to commit to do with you. I want Gravy, now that you’ve been honest. I want us to be the best stepping stone that you’ve ever had in your career.

[00:31:51] And we now know you want it, this is a stepping stone. So, we can plan around that. We know that your timetable’s short, but, like, coming here and crush it and then, I’ll use any relationship I have to help you get that role that you want to get, but at least we’re aligned, and at least we’re clear.” That’s a great example of that.

[00:32:05] Jon Penland: Yeah. And I really love that response. One of the ideas that has been kind of percolating in my own mind over the last week or so, somebody internally shared an article, is the mistake of thinking of your business as a family and, and this sort of scenario is exactly, yeah, this sort of scenario is exactly what they were getting at because in a family relationship that feels like a betrayal.

[00:32:28] But in a team business relationship, you can have that approach where you say, “Look, this can be a win-win situation. You work really hard. We’ll throw responsibility at you. You’ll have opportunities. You’ll contribute to our growth, and you’ll grow, and that will drive you towards your goals. And there will come a time where our paths split because your goals are not the same as ours in the long term, but because this is a business, not a family, we can have those goals that are not completely aligned to be together for a while. And then it’s not a betrayal when you leave.” 

[00:32:56] Right? And, and what we found is that by having that type of relationship, we’ve had folks who,  we’ve had a couple of developers who worked with us for a while, who really wanted to go do their own thing.

[00:33:07] And they did, they left, did their own thing. We’ve had a lot of those folks come back because when they left, we were cheering them out the door. We were like, “Hey, that’s awesome. You go do your thing.” And then it didn’t work out or they found out, “You know what, as it turns out, I don’t like running a business.

[00:33:22] I like building stuff.” Right? And so, then we found some of those folks coming back to us, and I think a large part of that was because we treated them that way, as they, as they went out the door. 

[00:33:34] Casey Graham: That’s right. And being honest, that the whole family thing is a joke. Like, you, you can’t operate that way inside of an organization, and it’s just not true. It’s like, it’s just not true. And so, I totally agree with that. That is a great point.

[00:33:54] Jon Penland: Yeah, it’s like you know, if my son, you know, does something, I’m not going to fire him, right? Like, that’s not an option. He’s going to remain my son, whereas the relationship in a business is completely different. 

[00:34:03] Casey Graham: Yeah. And so, in my book, I write about that it’s called dual relationships. And especially for people that hire friends or family and all that kind of thing or we become friends at work is, there’s actually a soft skill called learning how to manage dual relationships, meaning “I’m your boss in this conversation.”

[00:34:29] And then, “If we’re playing golf on Saturday, I may be your friend.” But what people do when their friendships develop is that they take off, it becomes weird to wear the other hats, and they don’t know how to manage both sides of the relationship, and the best leaders develop the skill of learning how to run dual relationship.

[00:34:48] Jon Penland: Yeah, absolutely. So, you’ve, you’ve laid out a lot of different sort of rules or, or three steps to building your own owner’s intent and the three different drivers income, independence, influence and what you avoid. I have to turn this around on you. So, thinking about your own owner’s intent and thinking about those three drivers, income, independence influence, and that sort of one-sentence guideline, what does that look like for you?

[00:35:15] Which of those drivers come into play? How does that, how does that play out for you, personally? 

[00:35:21] Casey Graham: Well, here’s the key. Your owner’s intent can change. And that’s why people never set one in the first place as a customer scared; they’re stuck with it. So, you just have to be clear inside of where you are at your life and your circumstances. Like, for instan ce, if you found out somebody has cancer in your family, your intent changes, right?

[00:35:44] Same is true in business, as circumstances change, you can change. The key is that when you change it, you let the people around you know that it’s going to affect. And I’m currently in a transition from, I don’t, I’m not skirting the question, but I’m in a transition. 

[00:36:01] No, I’m in the, I’m in the period of time of been doing Gravy now, for five years, we’re getting some size and scale and growing up, and all this kind of stuff of “I’m an entrepreneur. I’m not the best CEO in the world for a hundred-million-dollar business. And so, what does that look like for me, in the future, and am I a better a chairman of a board than I would…” You know, that kind of thing.

[00:36:30] And so, I’m currently revisiting my owner’s intent because I feel it changing that I accomplished the first one. I am proud of the business that we built. I’m proud of the culture that we’ve built, and it’s not perfect, but I’m proud of it. And so, right now, the reason, ’cause I don’t have it yet, on the next one. And so, I’m pressure testing it.

[00:36:49] I’m asking the questions. “Is it about money? Is it about influence?” Because I could be a board member in influence, and that’d be all it is. “What is it about for me?” And I have a feeling that is actually about income, and it’s actually about creating a business that has exit value. And being honest about that inside of the organization to having those conversations is “Where we are right now? What does that really look like?”

[00:37:15] Jon Penland: Yeah. And you’re hitting on another piece, I think, of this entire process where you talk about, you know, your owner’s intent can change. And, and I think you mentioned it’s critical that you communicate that it’s changing to those around you. And, I feel like within it makes total sense that a part of your hesitation is a podcast is not the best way for the folks around you to find out that your owner’s intent to shifting that needs to be a conversation that happens directly. And so, I’m curious, how do you, within your organization, communicate owner’s intent, right? Like, is this something that everybody throws in their slack profile? Do they have, like, a profile page somewhere? 

[00:37:52 ] Casey Graham: No, no, no, no, it doesn’t have to be public. You don’t have to share it with everybody. There’s no, like, mandate on any of that. We don’t force anybody. And if somebody says, “I don’t want to do my why Gravy thing.” We don’t make people doing any of that stuff. It’s just kind of part of what we do and who we are and this kind of thing.

[00:38:08] So it’s more of a, it’s not a rule-based thing. It’s more of just a culture-based thing that we talk in this language and as part of our culture. And so, that’s different than a rule that you have to do. And I would never make somebody do that.

[00:38:22] Jon Penland: Yeah. That’s, that’s a good clarification. Because there are certain things within, like, an organization where you go, “These are, like, pieces of our culture that are important. You don’t have to engage in them.” Now, I will say that sometimes engaging in those things can be a signal. Like, “This is a person who is core to our organization because they get what we’re doing here.” But, but yeah, you don’t want to, when you enforce those sorts of things, they become very superficial and ineffective. 

[00:38:47] Casey Graham: And who wants to do that? Like, I don’t want somebody making up some stupid answer, just so we check a box, you know what I mean? So, that’s about culture and influence more than it is about rules and, and HR.

[00:39:00] Jon Penland: Yeah. So, backing up a little bit from the owner’s intent, piece, something that you’ve been very public or open about is, is trying to share your knowledge, your experience with other entrepreneurs. You mentioned you  recently published a book, and what drives you in that area of your life?

[00:39:17] What is it that you’re trying to accomplish and in sharing your entrepreneurial journey with others who are on that journey? 

[00:39:23] Casey Graham: Yeah. So, I created my intent while I was going to write the No BS, small business book. And my intent is to grow Gravy the top of Gravy’s funnel. Number one from a sales perspective. And number two, this isn’t just one sentence, but this is the second part was to be able to recruit A-plus staff members at zero cost.

[00:39:46] Meaning a lot of people that read that book, it’s the starts the conversation of them reaching out to us that “I want to work in an organization like you have in the book.” 

[00:38:57] Casey Graham: And so, that’s the two reasons why I wrote that book.  

[00:40:03] Casey Graham: And that’s why I’m on LinkedIn. I’m on LinkedIn. My stated LinkedIn mission is to recruit A-plus talent for $0, period.

[00:40:10] That’s why I do everything I do, but I mean, that’s it. And so, it’s not just for Gravy, meaning there’s a long tail to that, and I know I’m 41 years old now that over the next 20 years, I’m going to have endeavors and do stuff. I’m an entrepreneur is that I want to be able to recruit great people fast.

[00:40:30 ] And what I found from writing and from LinkedIn and from all of that stuff, it just creates more opportunity for relationships to happen faster because the trust that happens because they feel like “I’ve been reading your stuff. I feel like I already know you.” That’s how my conversations start with people. And they’ll jump on a Zoom call.

[00:40:46] They’ll jump on a video call, and it’s not always just to recruit people, but just the connections in the network. And so, that’s why I do all that stuff. And it’s really worked out well for us.

[00:40:55] Jon Penland: Yeah. That’s awesome. I actually, I expected a totally different answer, right. Something about helping other people and whatnot. And I think what you’re getting back to is just, like, the criticality of that owner’s intent being honest, right? Like, no, like, “This is about trying to recruit A-talent at no cost. This is about building out that network for whatever comes next.

[00:41:14] And I don’t know exactly what that looks like, but I know that whatever I do is going to require the best people possible. And this is getting me four or five steps down that journey before I even know I need to take it.” 

[00:41:28] Casey Graham: That’s it. And again, everybody listening to this will be well, I can’t assume, but most people listening would be refreshed to go, “Well, at least that’s clear.” And so, the problem is in our careers, in our lives, and everything is when we’re saying this one thing, but then our intentions are something else.

[00:41:46] And so, what I’ve found about our intention, our intention always wins in the end. It will always rear its head. And so, that’s why it’s worth the time, effort, energy to dig around in it early so that you don’t have what I had in my previous life, I would say is broken relationships with others and broken relationships with myself.

[00:42:14] Jon Penland: Yeah. I think that’s a great way to sort of wrap up the concept of why it is that you drive so hard on this owner’s intent idea is because it sounds like it’s fundamentally all about honesty, right? Fundamentally, all about self-reflection, being aware of what your true motivations are, and then being honest about those things. Because, in a prior life, before Gravy, you weren’t necessarily totally honest with yourself about “Why is it that I’m doing this?” And that led to a whole lot of broken relationships and yeah, there’s a lot of fallout after that exit that, that led to a very difficult process for you.

[00:42:58] And, and, I mean, the beautiful thing is that while you’re pursuing your, your owner’s intent through this process, if you’re able to teach others to do the same thing, it’s almost like a, like a virtuous by-product right. Where, where you teaching others to pursue that, that owner’s intent, which is just, you know, basically being honest, will hopefully help them avoid the same sort of pitfalls in the future, right?

[00:43:25] Casey Graham: That’s right. And it releases a lot of guilt from people’s lives. Of thinking that “It’s gotta be this thing.” Especially with entrepreneurs. I don’t know how many business owners listen to this podcast, but man, like the pressure that business owners and entrepreneurs put on themselves to be the thing that they believe that they need to be because culture is baiting us into thinking that we’ve got to have this growth rate, we’ve got to have this type of culture, we got this.

[00:43:53] And a lot of entrepreneurs that I work with on this they end up scrapping that because they hate it. And they say, “I got 1.5 million in revenue. I make a 30% net profit, and I do everything I want to do in my life, and I’m happy as a lark.” If you can get there and not be going, “How do we get to two?”

[00:44:16] “No, I’m happy at 1.5, and that’s what I want to do.” Well, that’s a damn good business owner, and that’s a damn good intent because it takes the pressure and the stress off being something that you ultimately don’t want to be, anyway.

[00:44:27] Jon Penland: Yeah, absolutely. Well, Casey, as we wrap our conversation up to a close here, I want to give you an opportunity to direct our listeners to some sort of resource that you think would be beneficial to them. So, this is just something that you would recommend, say, listeners  of Reverse Engineered, who are, by and large, you know, small business owners, entrepreneurs, folks in that general area.

[00:44:50] What’s something you’d recommend to them, newsletter, book, blog, really anything?

[00:44:54] Casey Graham: Yeah, we set a website up that has everything. It’s, the website is 

[00:44:58] Jon Penland: 

[00:45:00] Casey Graham: Yep. And it’s got, you can get on my newsletter. You can buy the book and all that. But where I write content most often is I’m on LinkedIn and under Casey Graham, and you can come there, and I write, I write often there. I write one to two posts a day.

[00:45:14] Jon Penland: Okay. Awesome. Is there anywhere you would direct folks who want to learn more about Gravy solutions? 

[00:45:19] Casey Graham: Yeah,, 

[00:46:25] Jon Penland: Okay, well, Casey, thank you so much. 

[00:45:27] Casey Graham: Jon, thank you for this.

[00:45:29] Jon Penland: Yeah, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much for spending an hour with me today. 

[00:45:34] Casey Graham: Absolutely. Thanks. And thanks for all the listeners, and hope y’all go crush your owner’s intent. 

[00:45:38] Jon Penland: Yeah. And thank you to our listeners, as well. That’s all for today’s podcast. You can access this episode show notes at That’s K I N S T If you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to subscribe to Reverse Engineered and leave us a review on Apple Podcasts or the platform you’re listening on right now.[00:45:58] See you next time.

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