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Paul Crusius: “Build a culture that you yourself like”

Build a culture that you yourself like. Create an environment in which you can thrive and don’t force it. It’s OK to hear from others and look at other models as an example, but you also can’t fake it if it’s not your style. When implementing anything new, we always ask ourselves, “Do we like […]

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Build a culture that you yourself like. Create an environment in which you can thrive and don’t force it. It’s OK to hear from others and look at other models as an example, but you also can’t fake it if it’s not your style. When implementing anything new, we always ask ourselves, “Do we like this? Do we want to do it long term? Do we have a chance to become the best ones to do it?” And then we scale.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Crusius. Paul Crusius is the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of hear.com group, the fastest-growing hearing care company in the world. The group is headquartered in both Miami, Florida, and Berlin, Germany. With its two core brands hear.com (North America and Asia) and audibene (Europe) the company is currently active in 10 countries and employs more than 1,200 people. After studying Business/Managerial Economics at the prestigious WHU — Otto Beisheim Graduate School of Management in Germany, Paul spent six years as a leader and consultant for a variety of industries at The Boston Consulting Group, an American management consulting firm. He currently lives in Miami with his wife and two kids.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to build my own business, so I went straight to business school. But I figured out that I needed to get to know a lot of different industries in order to pick the one that made the most sense for me. I landed a position at Boston Consulting Group that provided exactly that opportunity. Every 2–3 months, I’d get a new project in a new industry. When I got a chance to work on a consulting project in hearing care, I fell in love with it. It’s this perfect hybrid between a consumer business and healthcare, and it’s a beautiful space in which to start a business. The potential to build a great company and have a real positive impact on millions of lives is just enormous.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

While not a singular story, I’ve always found it remarkable just how fast you can achieve really meaningful things with a small, young, aggressive team by simply going after it and leveraging your resources. Looking back, you don’t learn that at university — you don’t learn how to build momentum — but it’s really powerful to see in action. What we’ve done with Hear.com has been incredible. We started with a 10-slide deck and just the two of us. Soon there were five of us and just like that, we had customers and we had built ourselves a business. In this digital age, all you have to do is validate your opportunity, and have some idea of how to tackle it. If you can do that, you can be off and running in a couple of weeks or months.

The difficult part is figuring out exactly what the market needs. Many teams go wrong here because it is so tough to observe, listen and execute precisely. This also the prerequisite to scale the business in a fast and high-quality way.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

We were about 18 months in, had our first two VCs on board and we were growing really nicely. We had a super young head of development, and he came in one morning and told us that he had pulled an all-nighter to work on a project and had somehow accidentally erased the entire web site — literally the entire digital presence for the whole business. We were stunned! And this sounds really shocking and horrible, but what we learned from that is how quickly you can get back up and running with a great team in place. Within a week we had restored 80–90% of the site. It took 3 months to rebuild it all, but in the first week or two, we had the bulk of it back, and that 10% remaining it seems really wasn’t worth much.

It turned out that starting with a greenfield is way more beneficial than scary, because it forced us to focus on what really matters. Also, in hindsight, he was probably too young for the role, but he really delivered so much innovation… you just have to live with these kinds of mistakes. Major things like this happen when you go really fast. It’s a calculated risk. As they say: if you do not break things, you are not going fast enough.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’d definitely have to say my wife. We’ve been together nearly 21 years, and she really is absolutely, extremely supportive of my work, including the risks. Her biggest concern is whether I’m happy while doing it. To her, that’s what really matters, and it takes a lot of pressure off to achieve some pre-conceived notion of success. I wouldn’t be the same without her support.

In the early years, my co-founder and I were both about half a million (U.S.) dollars in debt, and I never once got any comment or any criticism from her. She said, “If you believe it works, let’s do it. I trust you that it will turn out fine.” It helps tremendously that neither of us are looking for any sort of particular living standard — we’ll make do with what we have and being happy is most important. If it hadn’t been for her support, I probably would not have gone as fast as I did, and it’s turned out to be successful.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

Get a change of scenery. I always find it extremely helpful to change my location. I’ve traveled all my life, working in all sorts of environments and I’m always much more productive when I change scenery often. I just came back from two weeks working in a cottage on the Florida Keys, and I’m already thinking about what’s next. In two weeks, we’re going on a working vacation to the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Even if you just pick up your laptop and walk to the park, it’s tremendously helpful. I’ve seen too many founders get overly focused on solving problems that they become so rigid in how they work, sequestering themselves in an office so they can “focus.” But I think this actually has the opposite effect because it reduces their angle and perspective on the issue. A change of scenery can often shed new light on a difficult issue and give you the inspiration to find the solution.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

Build a culture that you yourself like. Create an environment in which you can thrive and don’t force it. It’s OK to hear from others and look at other models as an example, but you also can’t fake it if it’s not your style. When implementing anything new, we always ask ourselves, “Do we like this? Do we want to do it long term? Do we have a chance to become the best ones to do it?” And then we scale.

We’ve probably missed out on some great talent who doesn’t fit our culture, and we’ve had to say goodbye to some. But authenticity and staying true to yourself is the most important factor in keeping the culture distinct and cohesive.

The really hard part is to scale a strong culture. Many companies stay small because they have a hard time scaling their particular culture beyond a certain team size. We are investing massively into protecting, cultivating and shaping our entrepreneurial culture.

For example, my co-founder and me share our business principles with every new hire, we conduct annual multi-day get togethers with every single employee in the company with a purely social agenda (no business talk), we ensure that no part of the organization gets larger than 50–80 people and we ensure that these units are led by leaders that are role models of our values and principles. That way we try to maximize the probability that we grow our culture and teams in a healthy way for the long-term.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In some cases, retirement can reduce health, and in others it can improve health. From your point of view or experience, what are a few of the reasons that retirement can reduce one’s health?

I’ve seen this dichotomy play out personally with several relatives. One grandpa got increasingly sick in retirement. He slowly did less and less and got very little personal interaction. He didn’t seek out or find a replacement for the social interaction he had while he was working. He didn’t find a purpose and had no goal apart from taking care of his wife. When we drastically reduce our engagement in socializing and other purpose-driven activities, our energy level declines, and then our health follows suit.

Staying active and engaged is so important, as proven by my 100-year-old great uncle. I’m convinced he lived that long because he surrounded himself with younger people, people who think and approach life from a younger perspective. Both he, and my other grandfather, stayed active, curious and engaged. I try to emulate this, to maintain curiosity and nurture that by staying in touch with younger people who often think much differently.

Can you share with our readers 5 things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Surround yourself with younger people, with younger minds and continue engaging in and discussing current topics with them. My grandfather and uncle proved that this helps to keep your mind and your body engaged and healthy.
  2. Stay informed. Make sure you have the foundations to engage in those current event conversations by keeping abreast of what’s going on in the world. Too many people just “check out” when they retire, and it creates isolation and loneliness that causes mental decline.
  3. Take care of your hearing. If you can’t hear well, you can’t communicate well and remain engaged in society. Don’t accept hearing loss as a part of getting older. I know so many people who stopped socializing because they couldn’t hear and it was extremely frustrating for them, so they just stopped. There are so many solutions to hearing loss and getting the hearing care you need can make a huge difference in your mental wellness and longevity.
  4. Get some exercise. Not only is movement important for keeping the blood flowing for healthy brain function but it also creates social opportunities. Playing tennis with former co-workers, joining a Silver Sneakers program or simply getting together to walk with friends regularly can be a huge benefit to mental wellness.
  5. Conceptualize something. Use your professional experience to write a business plan and discuss it with other people. Choose something you’ve always wanted to do — now is an opportunity to explore a passion. I’ve seen a lot of retiree founders outperform younger entrepreneurs because they have no ego in the work. They’ve already achieved a successful career. Now is the time to stretch your wings.

In your experience, what are 3 or 4 things that people wish someone told them before they retired?

I’ve heard many say that they wish they hadn’t worked so much — that they didn’t spend enough time with their loved ones along the way and they regret it. If you’re close to retirement, it may be a bit too late, but start right now to make downtime a priority.

It’s heartbreaking to me that so many people stay in careers that they’re unhappy with because they lack the courage to change. They don’t listen to themselves or put in the effort or shy away from the tough questions. They just “put away” that burning desire or passion, keep their heads down and before you know it the years have flown by and you’ve missed that opportunity. We should all make it a priority to optimize for personal happiness.

Finally, who says you actually have to retire? Of course, if you’re working in a physical job, retirement may be necessary for your health, but that doesn’t mean you have to just quit doing stuff. In my travels, I’ve been so thrilled to see lots of older folks working in our national parks, for example, and I think that’s really special. They’re staying active, engaged and have a purpose. There’s no rule that says when you hit a certain age, you have to just quit. At this stage in life, you have the freedom and flexibility to adjust your schedule as you’d like, so find something you enjoy and stay involved.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

Oh, there are many. One of the more influential ones was definitely “Principles” by Ray Dalio. Frankly, I do not read a lot of books by professional investors. However, this one was very fascinating. From the standpoint of developing and using “principles” to guide your own decision-making to the concepts of radical openness and transparency — I can connect to many aspects laid out in the book. It inspired me to drive for more principle-based thinking as we build out our entrepreneurial culture at hear.com.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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 have two, actually. The first is tackling climate change. Not killing our planet is vitally important to everyone on earth, but it’s also the most psychologically difficult problem to solve because it demands that we all change our behaviors and we see the positive effects of our actions only decades later. That kind of broadscale long-term oriented change is incredibly difficult.

Second, I think everyone should have a sound financial education. It’s surprising and sad to me that so many people are poorly educated when it comes to financial security. This leads to living potentially suboptimal lives under the pressure of financial hardships and a lot of unhappiness. Investing in your health is a big part of this, and many people either won’t or can’t make it a priority because they can’t afford it. Just as an example, there are 500 million people in the world with hearing loss — people whose lives could be drastically improved if they could hear well again — but so few are investing in personal hearing care. Hearing well has such positive impact on your mental and physical wellbeing. It is one of the smartest investments that you can make. We at hear.com are putting an enormous effort into making hearing care more accessible and more affordable. For example we have launched a very popular program that allows you to get access to latest medical grade hearing care at less than 2 dollars a day. Also, to further expand access we are striving to be able to offer a special program that allows for medical grade hearing care at even less than one dollar a day. That way we can ensure that financial considerations do not hold people back to take care of their hearing and their lives. We want everyone to hear well to live well.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

One of my favorites is “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” by NHL legend Wayne Gretzky. I think it’s extremely relevant to nearly everything in life. Staying idle means missing out on a lot of opportunity and joy.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Jay Z. I love his music and I am deeply impressed by the business empire he has built.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/paul-crusius-1bb232/

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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