Losing sight of the main vision. In difficult times, one might become distracted by pestering tasks, daily disturbances, and negative thoughts. All of these are short-term and should be minuscule when compared to the main reason why you’re working. Keep your eye on the prize.
As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Matthew Schneider.
Matthew Schneider is the CEO at e-States PropTech Inc and a thought leader within Generation Z. He has previously worked as an entrepreneur in various roles, from authoring and publishing a novel as a teenager to leading small-cap and derivative trades in the stock market. Matthew is a self-taught shark in the FinTech vertical, possessing expertise in project management, leadership, startups, asset securitization, and tokenization. Additionally, from his time as an entrepreneur and CEO, he touts skills in communications, marketing, finance, and business law. His personal philosophies emphasize ambitious work ethic, decentralized command, loyalty, and positive impact. Matthew is an enthusiast of music, exercise, and self-discipline, enjoying music production, weightlifting, and taking on challenges, respectively. He is deemed a leader in his network for his commitment to hard work, accountability, and setting admirable goals and expectations.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I think my introduction really says it all! I’ve been on the entrepreneurial journey for several years now, starting with my novel that I wrote and pitched, follow by two unsuccessful e-commerce businesses, and then my financial technology startup, e-States. Since our last interview, I’ve also had the opportunity to step up as a business advisor to two small businesses: a marketing firm and a health & wellness startup. Now, I am working to structure a real estate fund with some peers. All of it has stemmed from a persistent desire to build something interesting and work independently. Thus far, I’d say I’ve accomplished both of those objectives, for better or for worse. Entrepreneurship is certainly a tough campaign.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. 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?
Last time, I shared a story of our fallout with a software development team. This time, I’d like to share a more general theme: what Alex Hormozi calls “ignorance debt.” Unfortunately, this continues to haunt me, as I’m always learning something new and don’t know what I don’t know. Looking back, everything appears to be “so obvious,” but deciding what to do next is never straightforward when you’re in the midst of making that decision. Unfortunately, there isn’t much humor in the concept itself, but it’s important to acknowledge that we all exhibit less-than-admirable behavior and often feel foolish. Sooner or later, we all make mistakes, but the important part is to own those mistakes and extract value from them.
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?
Again, I’d like to take a broader approach and express appreciation to a wide range of people who have contributed to our progress. First, to my team members, who have continued to believe in the e-States vision despite any delays and complications that we might encounter; my close friends, who support me and offer reinforcement when I am mentally exhausted from the constant grind of a startup; the team at Idealogic who do far more than just development software and have demonstrated themselves as reliable partners; thought leaders in real estate and fintech who have offered their time and wisdom; my family members, the people who interact with e-States on social media, the patrons who have invested in our Seed round — the list could go on. The recurring story is that e-States has a strong enough mission that it can actually form strong interpersonal relationships between the people working together on the project. That, to me, is fascinating.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
From the beginning, e-States has stood out from its competition because we were founded on ethics, not a desire to get rich. When it comes to financial services, there are a lot of companies that will happily extract value from clients’ assets and transactions without providing anything truly meaningful in return. We don’t approve of that approach and believe that e-States’ relationship with its partners, clients, and shareholders needs to be mutually beneficial and built on trust. We have a deeply embedded mission to transform commercial real estate for the better by democratizing high-quality assets, giving more people access to powerful investment strategies. We also want our software to be so innovative and unique that it’s genuinely empowering to the people who integrate it into their workflow. I can confirm that being founded on sound principles, as opposed to an attraction towards wealth, is why we are still working on the company and its reputation is positive — if it were about the money, my co-founder and I would be long gone.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
They say startups go through a “valley of death,” in which all hope seems lost. Expenses are high, problems are plentiful, and the path forward is foggy. e-States has gone through several of these perilous moments. The first instance was several months into our software development, after we had already invested a considerable amount of capital. I was speaking with an attorney, and he told me that fractionalizing a real estate asset would take hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal expenses and federal fees, plus up to six months of waiting. I brought the news to Sean, my co-founder, and he suggested that we abandon the project and put the money into some properties instead. I declined and went back to researching the regulation, committing myself to the project and demanding a resolution that I preferred. As it turned out, the attorney was reading from the wrong piece of regulation. All hope was not lost.
Again, when we found out that the platform we built was far from complete yet our finances were depleted and the platform was in no shape to operate, we contemplated throwing in the towel. But I would not settle for premature failure. I did not believe that our hard work had brought us to this moment of reconciliation simply for us to give up. I began plotting new ways to come up with capital, narrowing down the workload into very specific tasks (so that finances could be tracked with precision), and reiterating that this project was going to test us in a new way: not technical skill or soft skills, but the ability to be patient. I believed, and still believe, that if one is patient and consistently works, sooner or later the desired outcome will be achieved. This message has been relayed to everyone who works with e-States in some manner: we are persistent and prepared, and therefore we are unstoppable.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
We have contemplated “giving up” not because we were tired or annoyed, but because we sincerely believed that we had encountered immovable obstacles that simply would not allow our business to operate. During some of these trials, I was having numerous major car problems. I drive a Saab, a car that’s unknown to most consumers and mechanics; I also didn’t have the money to take it to the mechanic, so I was forced to fix it myself.
I’ve replaced almost every major component in that engine, from belts, sensors, piping, electronics, to exhaust fixtures, suspension items, and everything in between. With nowhere to go (and no way to get around), I’d put the car up on jacks on cold Winter days, squeeze myself between the asphalt and the unforgiving, rusty underbody of the car, and begin to labor away for up to 12 hours straight, shedding blood, sweat, and tears.
With only simple tools, I’ve managed to replace even the trickiest parts, resorting to improvisation and makeshift solutions to make ends meet. On almost every occasion, I was convinced that I’d reached the end of the car’s life: this part is completely out of reach, my tools aren’t compatible, the car still won’t start…but every single time, I found a way. The car is still driving to this day, tens of thousands of miles later.
Though seemingly unrelated, my mind had sewn these two situations together. I am yet to encounter something that is truly so challenging that I cannot proceed. With commitment, I can do anything.
I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?
My understanding of leadership has not come from books but rather podcasts, and I have listened to enough podcasts to fill thousands of pages of books. Jordan B. Peterson’s early work encourages people to become courageous and maintain honesty even during the darkest times. Jocko Willink teaches us that every interaction with another human being is a form of leadership, as we have the opportunity to influence their thinking (and likewise, be influenced). Robert Greene and his novels, and now YouTube videos, demonstrate how to interact with people in a sort of dance, maneuvering within our verbal interactions to achieve a desired outcome. ‘Good to Great,’ by James C. Collins, is also a fantastic insight into high-performance companies and their leadership; the general consensus is that humble executives who know how to prioritize will see the most growth.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Maintaining composure. Several things will help one think, speak, and act in a proper manner despite a swarming and potentially overwhelming environment: showing up, detaching, stoicism, and faith. Though not an easy task of any sort, it is not only an expectation but an obligation that a leader will remain calm and think rationally, even if all hell has broken loose. Not all people are up for this task, but then they shouldn’t be leading. How you interpret a situation will be watched closely by your peers, and your reaction will set the mood. Transmuting an obstacle into a challenge may rally your team instead of demoralizing them. Possessing optimism in difficult situations will embellish your vision and commitment.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Very simple: lead the way. The morale of the team begins with the attitude of the leader. The power of one person’s ability to inspire others should not be underestimated. If there is a lot of work to be done, demonstrate your commitment by putting your head down and trudging through. If the path ahead is uncertain, give your peers a sense of certainty by holding an air of confidence. Humans like order, though the most interesting things are unveiled in chaos; enter the chaotic landscape and make it habitable for your team, giving them a sense of security and comfort. If you routinely practice this advice, your peers will replicate your behavior. That being said, this all depends on your team’s ability to trust you, and so you must perform exceptionally — repeatedly — to give those around you the safety to follow your steps without excessive risk.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Stay objective and take ownership. These are the keys to minimizing an emotional response and shifting the focus towards solutions rather than ruminating on all that has gone wrong. Taking ownership demonstrates to others that you are self-aware and ready to change things for the better. It also helps others save face, even if they contributed to the problem. After the news has been delivered, one must attempt to extract the lesson and move on. Self-pity, blame, and overthinking are common traps that often lead to a negative spiral in one’s thinking.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
First and foremost, plot your destination. You must have an idea of what direction is “right” and “wrong.” Then you can start filling in intermediary milestones that will guide your path. Acknowledge that not all milestones will be hit, but new ones may emerge. Decide which actions will lead you through the milestones and to your destination; for example, you need to hit a certain number of revenue number, which may depend on you landing a client, but know that you can continue to sell even if the deal falls through. You have to be able to fall back on routines when your expectations are not met so as to prevent regression. A missed milestone does not have to mean that you’ve gone backward, but rather you are on a different route towards your destination. That being said, it’s extremely important to be adaptable because this situation — things not working out — is the norm in business, not the exception.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
There is no other option than to persevere. No epoch in time is endless. There is always a way forward, though it may not be easy, obvious, nor lead to an ideal outcome. Do not quit. Leaders, especially, cannot quit. If you want to be the one percent selected from a crowd with the honor of leading, you must expel quitting from your vocabulary. No matter the stress or struggle, it is now your responsibility to grit your teeth and lead the way — otherwise, step aside for someone who will.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- Losing sight of the main vision. In difficult times, one might become distracted by pestering tasks, daily disturbances, and negative thoughts. All of these are short-term and should be minuscule when compared to the main reason why you’re working. Keep your eye on the prize.
- Instilling the wrong culture. When times are tough, bad leaders begin utilizing poor tactics such as threatening peers, placing blame, expelling negative energy, or sacrificing for the “greater good.” These create a hostile work environment that then contributes to a feedback loop and ultimately a downward spiral. In trying times, the team must become closer — and will become closer as a result, if they are able to work together and triumph over adversity.
- Not taking ownership. This is a responsibility for the leader only. You cannot make other people “take ownership.” You must take ownership for their faults. This is not only a matter of saving face but applying accountability to the right individual. The leader, assuming this person possesses a majority of the power, is now responsible for all shortcoming and wrongdoings within the company. Own the mistakes, the failures, and execute new leadership plans to prevent a repeat.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Detachment. This is the process of taking a step back from your current predicament and looking at things from a wider perspective. Do not be caught up in your emotions or overwhelmed by the forces currently acting against you. Maintain an objective perspective that allows you to examine things logically and therefore develop a practical solution. In order to detach, I often stop what I’m doing (for example, if I’ve just received abysmal news) and give my mind time to process the information. I’ll go for a walk, play the piano, or work out. This removes emotion from the equation and allows me to separate myself from the situation, understanding that I am just a player in a big game.
- Commitment. You should be all in or all out. And when you are all in, you must exert a phenomenal amount of effort, dispel distractions, overriding objections, casting away doubts, and enthusiastically push onward. The pain of stopping three feet from gold will haunt you for years to come. Additionally, you must present yourself as an unstoppable force. Keeping yourself in this mindset will rally your team, who will consequently contribute to your energy and create a positive feedback loop. “Do or do not, there is no try,” is applicable here. Ninety-nine percent is not completion. Either your business is making money or it is not. Either you have reached profitability or you have not. The threshold is never less than one-hundred percent. Anything below that mark is simply “No.”
- Self-Discipline. Your motivation will run dry. You will have tough days, lonely days, and moments at rock bottom. When all else fails, there is one thing that will carry you to the next day: self-discipline. You know that you have to move towards your objective. Staying in place will only prolong your suffering. Place one foot in front of the other, meager as you may be, and persist. Self-discipline means that you will do what is necessary even when your mind and emotions are battling against you. Besides, the punishment for failing to abide by self-discipline is always worse when your clarity returns; some major consequence occurred because you were too tired, too lazy, or too distracted? You’ll be very, very angry with yourself. Get going.
- Adaptation. Business is like a battlefield. Things are constantly changing and you have no choice but to adapt, or else be destroyed. Integrate and innovate. Learn new things. Challenge yourself. Your plan may unexpectedly collapse — you’re not just going to stand there and idle, are you? A new plan must be created. Perhaps you take action and don’t get the desired outcome. You perform the same action again and get the same incorrect outcome. Failure, like pain, is an indicator that something is wrong. You don’t have a choice: modify or die. Evolve your business or it will be crushed by competition or perhaps dwindle out of existence in the market.
- Preparation. You’re either preparing for winter or experiencing it. Having solid protocols in place before the bad things happen can prevent things from going completely haywire. There’s a military saying that goes, “The more you sweat in training, the less you’ll bleed in combat.” This is true in business as well. If you are actively working to improve the health of your business, fortify your finances, enhance the company’s culture, dominate the market, and ready yourself, the odds that total destruction occurs upon an unfortunate event are slim. For the most part, you will be able to adequately prepare by using tips 1–4; make sure your decisions are grounded in logic and truth. Put the proper amount of energy into building your company and securing its foundation. Hold yourself accountable and set high expectations, seldom swaying from the path forward. Meet the needs of the market and don’t be ignorant of new information.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“No one is coming to save you.” During the difficult times, we often beg and plead for a hero, for an excuse to escape our troubles. But this negotiation is always in vain, and it is only our immediate actions that will carry us to the other side. Reminding myself that I cannot expect life to get any easier and recognizing that everyone is so caught up in their own turmoil that they can’t afford extra baggage, I search deep within myself for the strength to pull myself up by the bootstraps and push onward.
How can our readers further follow your work?
My preferred social media channel is LinkedIn; Matthew Schneider or @realmattschneider
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!