Millennials, the long game, and the myth of easy money

Automation is easy.

Lately, it seems that “fintech” — financial technology, the apps and websites you use to interact with your money — is all about ease. A great user experience is defined by speed and ease of use. Look at the products being developed: mobile deposit, online mortgage approval. They’re designed to be as fast and frictionless as possible. Everything along the value chain is moving toward automation.

But easy ain’t what we do here at Far West Capital.

We define a great user experience as a relationship that meets the goal of the entrepreneur. Anyone who’s run a company knows: It’s hard. You can’t just press the easy button and get a great business. There’s no automating that.

At the core, it’s about understanding the client’s needs and goals. It’s hard, long work, but it’s vital to connect. If you take an automated approach to relationships, clients are just another blip on the screen, just FICO scores and revenue. It’s nearly impossible to make a judgement call on a client’s behalf when you don’t know the person.

I think it’s a natural inclination to treat people like family. You don’t often get permission to do this at most workplaces. But when you care for clients like you do family, the caliber of that care’s going to be a lot higher.

Millennials get a bad rep, but they’re impatient, not lazy — and the difference is important.

In the last week or so, about five different people forwarded me a link to the same talk on millennials in the workplace, thinking I would love it. They were right. Simon Sinek is a powerful speaker and masterful storyteller who is single-handedly transforming how companies approach customers and employees for the better. (He’s unpacked the reason why some brands inspire such loyalty. If you haven’t heard him talk about Start With Why, do yourself a favor.)

Sinek talks about why millennials have a reputation of being hard to manage: They’re seen as entitled, lazy, unfocused, narcissistic and self-interested. Basically, they want to claim the summit without bothering to climb up the mountain.

Now, I’ve seen what he’s talking about, but there’s a pretty strong bifurcation. Sure, there are plenty millennials satisfied to sit on their mom’s couch eating Cheetos collecting Snapchat followers. But most of them work very hard — like the rest of us did in prior generations. Those are the ones I know. In fact, all of our factoring account managers are millennials, and none of them would have made the cut if they fit that stereotype.

What really stuck with me from Sinek’s talk were his points about impatience and instant gratification. In this world of next-day deliveries on Amazon, instant entertainment on Netflix, and swipe-right dating on Tinder, it’s easy to forget that some things still require patience, time, and consistent hard work. Lots of young people can’t deal with stress because they’ve never learned how.

They just don’t have the tools to cope, nor do they know how to wait for anything.

But they’ve got one advantage on us grizzled veterans: millennials clearly want to impact the world around them, and they’re choosing jobs at companies that share that commitment. Deloitte’s annual Millennial Survey found that college graduates looked for a first job at a company with a sense of purpose.

Millennials believe companies should spend less time on short-time roles and more time on broadly building contributions to society, more time focusing on their people — Deloitte Global Chairman Steve Almond

So, how do you channel millennial impatience toward a long-term, purpose driven goal?

The desire is there, but the patience — well, that’s another matter.

Here’s how we build a consistent culture of caring that helps our clients achieve their potential. It starts with the first conversation we have with a client.

1) Learn to ask the next question.

When you say, “Go build a great relationship” to a 30-year vet like Brian Center, he knows what that means. But a 22-year-old go-getter won’t. That means “building relationships” can’t be something left up to interpretation. It has to be woven into operations. It has to be a process.

Our portfolio development officers are the first line of contact for most clients. Their job is to understand the client’s needs, the real ones — not just the ones that brought them to us looking for working capital.

They learn about the client’s goals — business, and personal.

We have a client who came to us after they’d already been approved by another company, but didn’t feel they had the kind of relationship they wanted. They were running a business for another company and getting ready to buy it. They were poised to go from earning $0 to $3 or 4 million, quickly, and we were going to underwrite their ability to do that.

Before, though, we started asking questions. Okay, you’re going to grow the business. What is that going to do for you? You’re going to make a million. Great. But what comes after that? What do you want to do?

What this client actually wanted was to be involved in a nonprofit that does equine therapy. It was something his daughter really cared about, and he wanted to be able to support that. Once we get to that level, we’re no longer talking about solving cash flow or making tons of money. We were talking about helping make his and his daughter’s dreams of helping others come true. That’s a whole different conversation.

So always be ready to ask the next question.

The harder one, that gets past the obvious. Sure you want to make money. But why? What does that actually mean for you? Answering the deep questions and continuing to ask them keeps you focused on the bigger picture. We’re no longer just answering this client’s need for working capital — we’re helping him and his daughter achieve their dream.

2) Build a system to “touch” your clients.

Got your attention, didn’t I? But what I’m talking about here is connecting and checking in. We have a system built in whereby we “touch” or reach out to clients once a quarter. We ask them tough questions specifically designed to uncover problems. These are our questions:

  1. How are we doing with our promises? Are we doing what we said we would?
  2. Do you have what you need in terms of cash?
  3. Anything else we can do ?
  4. What can we do better? What would get us fired ?
  5. Who else should we be talking to?

Without these regular check ins, communication could stagnate. We could miss something important and end up failing a client. And that’s something we never want to happen. In the end, the continual work it takes to stay on top of relationships is far less arduous than blowing one up and trying to rebuild it. It’s something we never slack on.

How do you keep your team focused on the long game? I’d love to hear your tips.


Cole Harmonson is the CEO of Far West Capital, a company that funds the goals of high-growth entrepreneurs. Know a great company in need of capital to unleash their potential? Send them here and we’ll give them a call.