Discover a purpose greater than yourself — a cause that millions of people care about and one that deeply inspires you. This doesn’t have to be new, but it needs to be relevant and it needs to matter to you. You will need deep passion and commitment for the road ahead.
I had the pleasure to interview Rick Stollmeyer. Rick co-founded MINDBODY in his garage in 2001 and today serves as the company’s CEO and principle visionary, ensuring that everything the company embraces — from product line, to business development, to team member enrichment — serves the tech company’s purpose: to help people lead healthier, happier lives by connecting the world to wellness.
Thank you so much for joining us Rick. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I am the youngest of five boys and was raised in a small business family. My father was a small retail business owner specializing in lighting fixtures, which my grandfather, a couple of my uncles and three of my four brothers were all involved in. You experience a lot of ups and downs depending on the sales of the business when growing up in an entrepreneurial family. Sales were down when I was in high school, which was part of what motivated me to go to the U.S. Naval Academy since college would be paid for.
Even at a very young age, I was extremely purpose driven. I always wanted to do something more — to be involved with something bigger than myself. That being said, going to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland was a natural fit for me at the time.
Once I left the Navy, I held a series of different engineering management jobs — I was at four different jobs with three different companies in six years. No matter how many positions I held, I couldn’t find what I really loved. My last job prior to launching MINDBODY was at Vandenberg Airforce Base on the central coast of California where I was an engineering contractor involved with the launching of satellites into low Earth orbit.
It was during that time that my old high school buddy, Blake Beltram, showed me the market opportunity of software for yoga and spin studios. It was then that the idea of MINDBODY was born. Our initial discussions started around 1998, but we took the big leap in the fall of 2000 — I was 35 at the time.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
I have a rather unique approach to business that is fueled by my life experiences. I believe that businesses should be about purposes greater than themselves and should practice a conscious form of leadership. They should be united around a set of core values that feeds their purpose.
For technology, MINDBODY has always been on the cutting edge for what’s happening in the wellness industry. From the deploying of the software to these small studios, which was a breakthrough idea in the early 2000s, to using the internet to synchronize data to create web booking, and then finally putting the entire web package on a browser system. Today, we know that as software as a service (SaaS). We invented that for our industry in 2005, but the idea first started in 2003. We were one of the first SaaS businesses in the world.
There is a philosophical component to leadership in how you create a great business, and then there is the technological integration that puts it all together. We created an open API platform where far more ideas can be explored and developed. Through this direction, we made ourselves more valuable and supported innovation that was better equipped to keep pace with the industry.
With that said, the early realization that we had, no matter how quickly we innovated, was that there was no way we could address everything our customers wanted. No matter what we did, there was always going to be something someone else wanted. There is a book called Crossing the Chasm that addresses the idea that you know you have achieved mainstream acceptance when customers start demanding features far faster than you can keep up with. That happened to us fairly early on. It was like, “Ok, MINDBODY — I bought your value proposition and now I need it to do this, this, and this.”
I will say that our agility in the early years was fantastic because we were lean, and I was the original product owner. I’m not a software engineer, but what I do know is how these businesses think and operate. I know how to listen to customers, take their asks/needs and translate them into a reasonable user format. That basically is product ownership.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
From nearly the beginning of creating MINDBODY, my partnership with Blake Beltram [Co-founder] was doomed. Within a month of starting, made it clear that the business wasn’t his dream and that he had many other things he wanted to do with his life. He spent most of the next two years planning an exit and eventually left in the summer of 2003. Six weeks later, Blake came to me and said, “I want you to step aside and I want to come back.” The business was struggling at the time, so I was open to the concept.
I took Blake’s idea and surveyed the team, which consisted of 20 people at the time. The top employees at our company didn’t like the idea of me stepping down and would consider leaving if there was a leadership shake-up. It became clear to me that the business would fall apart because while Blake built the original project, he was never really a part of developing the team.
I told Blake that his idea wasn’t going to work for me, so I offered him to come back as co-CEO for six months. If it was the right fit, I would hand off my baton to him — but he didn’t want that. After this, Blake and I didn’t speak for a decade. I wouldn’t pick up the phone to call him because I was so angry and felt violated. I was running like hell trying to survive and was heavily in debt, but when times got tough, I got tougher — I was determined. I’d say to myself, “I’m going to get across this desert and survive.” In that, I was not being collaborative, and I wasn’t picking up the subtleties of how he was feeling. I should have offered to get a drink with him, walk on the beach, reconnect the relationship — but that’s what I didn’t do. I was in a fight or flight place out of fear. Overall, neither one of us made the other justify their actions.
The best part of this is that we were reconnected by our nieces who coincidentally met while attending UCSB [University of California, Santa Barbara]. We apologized to one another and recognized our own roles in what had happened. That was magical for me. Shortly before I had this conversation with Blake, I told one of our New York sales reps a bit of the story. I told her how I felt like there was a hole in my heart. I said I was always going to feel that way if I never saw or spoke to him again. She said very specifically that I had to resolve this. It was only a month later that our nieces met, and they were committed to bringing their uncles back together. A couple of months later, Blake and I reconnected. We were able to rebuild our friendship and I asked him to come back to MINDBODY and work on special projects.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In late 2001, less than a year after we started in my garage, a new yoga studio owner in Hong Kong called us to order our original desktop software. This particular product was pre-cloud and delivered via CD-ROM. This guy had taken a yoga class in Whistler, British Columbia, decided to create his own chain of studios in the far east, and noted that they were using our software. This was a very exciting break for us, and I enthusiastically sold him the software in one phone call. I didn’t mention that we had not yet supported a customer outside of North America and certainly didn’t describe the two-car garage that our entire business was housed in. A few minutes after hanging up the phone and high fiving with our small team, one of our newest team members (a college student) asked, “How do we ship a CD-ROM to Hong Kong?” I had no idea.
In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘thought leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?
A thought leader comes up with a fresh perspective to think about something. It’s a new way to see a reality about our lives and demonstrates through their own life and their own actions what this new concept or idea is. This causes others to adopt a similar practice, and I believe that I have done that in multiple ways. Influencers don’t necessarily come up with the idea, but they bring and pull people to it. They identify the amazing thought leaders and drive audiences to them.
Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader? Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?
The world has a lot of problems and needs more thought leaders to approach those issues in innovative and breakthrough ways.
Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?
It’s about coming up with new ways to overcome challenges, solve problems and deliver value to people. In essence, thought leaders create breakthrough differences.
We’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry? Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.
- Discover a purpose greater than yourself — a cause that millions of people care about and one that deeply inspires you. This doesn’t have to be new, but it needs to be relevant and it needs to matter to you. You will need deep passion and commitment for the road ahead.
- Do the work. Read everything you can find on the topic and spend time with people who are deeply engaged in the cause. Ask them open-ended questions and do far more listening than talking at this stage. You’re not aiming to reinforce your own beliefs, you’re aiming to discover powerful truths.
- Think about your purpose from multiple angles. Ask yourself questions that a lot of people care about and look for non-obvious truths beneath the basic facts. For example, we all know that wellness is a mega-trend and that wellness business formation is hot right now. Why? What are the historical and societal factors driving the trend? What are the most important catalysts and barriers facing business owners and consumers? These are the types of questions that matter.
- Try your ideas out on people. One-on-one conversations with other passionate people and small speaking engagements will help you find your voice and refine your message.
- Practice steps 1–4 continuously for years. Malcolm Gladwell identified the principle of 10,000 hours in his book Outliers, and I firmly believe in that. To be truly great at anything, to be an outlier, you must possess the basic talent and then you must work hard for a long time. Thought leaders are outliers by definition and there are no shortcuts.
In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach?
I recently had the opportunity to moderate a conversation with Kristen Bell at MINDBODY’s annual BOLD conference. Her willingness to be vulnerable and open about the most challenging parts of her life was inspiring. Her recognition that the industry she is a part of creates a false perception of the world was refreshing. Celebrities don’t have everything figured out and she is purpose driven to help break through that perception. She’s a successful entrepreneur and the principles and ideas that her business and her advocacy stand for are the things that matter to her generation. I believe that she is a generational thought leader.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
No matter what you call them, thought leaders are important. Rather than get caught up in the label, we should focus on the ideas that they are putting out there and the lessons we can learn from them.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
Take some time out for yourself and do things that bring you tremendous joy. It could be meditation, or a simple head clearing walk around your neighborhood. It doesn’t take an enormous amount of time to quickly recharge, you just have to find what works for you and be conscious about taking those mindfulness breaks.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I agree that business leaders have enormous influence — our employees count on us to care about their health and wellness. A movement that I would want to inspire with a lasting effect is challenging business leaders across the country to help improve the health and wellness of their employees by investing more in activities that increase exercise, provide nutritional education and reduce stress levels. In ten years, I would want 120 million Americans engaged in wellness activities — that’s more than twice the number engaged today. At MINDBODY, our purpose is to help people lead healthier, happier lives by connecting the world to wellness. Together, we can make a difference by investing more in the programs that will help people reach their personal goals — ultimately making them better team members.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote?” Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Do the work and love the work.” This goes back to being purpose driven. If you are working towards something you are passionate about, it will fuel your love of the work you are doing.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can find me on LinkedIn, or on Twitter @stollmeyer.
Please share a brief third-person bio (three sentences) with your name, company and accomplishments.
Rick Stollmeyer co-founded MINDBODY in his garage in 2001 and today serves as the company’s CEO and principle visionary, ensuring that everything the company embraces — from product line, to business development, to team member enrichment — serves the tech company’s purpose: to help people lead healthier, happier lives by connecting the world to wellness.