JOHN A: Good day, everyone. I’m excited to welcome you to another Purposeful Planning Podcast. This one’s entitled Lessons from the Ranch – Entrepreneurship and Reclaiming Our Family Stories. Our guest today is Lewis Weil. He’s the founder of Money Positive. I’m gonna let him tell his purposeful Odyssey story. It’ll be a wonderful kind of way to walk into what the topic of our conversation is around. Lewis, take it away.
LEWIS: John A, it is a delight to see you. I miss your face. I like that we both have beards today. And let me preface this by saying I apologize in advance. I’m at my office space, which is also an artist collective. And I forgot they’re filming a music video today. So if there’s any odd sounds in the background, please, please understand. So while I started Money Positive, I first came to the Purposeful Planning Institute back in 2015. My journey to Purposeful Planning is a bit twofold. I run a RIA registered investment advisory business called Money Positive. We work primarily with working people with working artists. People who are trying to get organized and build budgets, real basic stuff, but maybe not the kind of thing you would expect to find at an event geared more towards family offices. And how I ended up at Rendezvous back in 2015, I was studying family offices. I am a big believer in planning for the very long-term. The magic of compounding works with the more time you can give it, the better. And the best way to do that is over the course of generations. And before this, I was a scientist. I was a molecular biologist. I was studying to make this transition to financial planning. And in the process, trying to research ‘How do people plan for the very long-term?’ and there are surprisingly few resources. And by that I mean websites and books that are focused on long-term financial planning. Most things are very short-term because most money needs are in the near-term. And the books by Jay Hughes, he was one of the very few resources that I found that was directly on the topic. In a moment of courage, I emailed Jay Hughes and he wrote back and he was like, “You have to go to this event, Rendezvous. It’s in a couple of months run by the Purposeful Planning Institute.” He might have sent an intro you all generously gave me a scholarship to attend. And as I was sitting on the plane to — I’m in Austin, Texas, by the way — to fly to Denver, I got the email that the state of Texas had approved my RA. So my first time representing myself as Lewis for Money Positive was at Rendezvous, and I got to meet Jay Hughes and he gave me a big bear hug. And it was a perfect way to launch a business. I still have friends from that first Rendezvous and I’ve been back. But the other direction. The thing that led me to becoming a Purposeful Planner and thinking very long-term is my own family’s history. The Weil family is a Jewish Alsatian family. We came over in the 1860s and landed in the Port of New Orleans, settled in Corpus Christi, Texas. We are one of the earliest Jewish families in the Gulf Coast. And we have a storied history . We have maintained our contacts over the generations. I’m a Gen five, for now into Gen seven and eight. And we’ve managed to have family reunions every few years for the last 50 years. At those reunions, I would always hear stories about the family’s ranch, about the family’s grocery stores, and about the family’s businesses. And I remember as a child asking, “When are we gonna go to the ranch? I want to go see the wild family ranch. The Weil family ranch and all these stories of Old Yeller that were written.” The author came and would write on Old Yeller at the family’s ranch. We were unsure via would rest at the family ranch in the middle of the Mexican Revolution. He would come with his soldiers and they would get some R&R before going back across the border. And it was about the King Ranch, which, if people know is a, I believe, the size of Connecticut. It’s a famous ranch. And one thing to note is there is a King Ranch edition for trucks now. There’s not a Weil Ranch edition. So I asked, “When did we get to go?” And they said, “Well. It’s not in the family anymore.” My great grandma, my great uncle had a grocery store. It is the first documented time of the word pastrami. There’s a non-zero chance my great uncle invented brisket, pastrami. The grocery store is not there anymore. And that got me thinking, “How did this happen?” And as a young man, as a child, that bothered me. “Well. How come we now have to ask permission to go visit the ranch?” Now, all we have left is stories. Which is one of the reasons that got me thinking about long-term planning about Purposeful Planning. Now, as a solidly middle aged man, I now appreciate that having stories is enough. That having the stories is valuable. I’m glad that we’re still together and that we still meet. Of course, it would be wonderful if the reunions were happening on the ranch. But I now realize just that I’m a lucky person to have the stories and to have the family. But those two things led me to your doorstep.
JOHN A: I love that story. And it is a perfect purposeful odyssey for us to talk about what you’re going to share with us today. Thank you for that, Lewis.
LEWIS: Thank you, John A.
JOHN A: Well. Do you want to share some of the lessons? You’re a keen observer. I suspect that your background as a molecular biologist has helped you hone those observation skills. But I’d love to hear some of the lessons that you’ve acquired in this journey and how you would apply those back to?
LEWIS: Yeah, thank you. And what inspired me when I saw the opportunity for the podcast was that what I’ve picked up is the entrepreneurs journey. The journey of the rising generation of the next generation. Both in my own life of starting my own business and helping people start businesses, and the importance of having purposeful businesses, of having purposeful planning. The entrepreneur’s journey is an important one, regardless. So whether you are trying to create something from scratch or trying to demonstrate that you’re ready to step into your role in the family, going on that journey is important. And so when I’m working with someone who has this desire or this motivation of finding, “How do we build upon it? What are the strengths that someone has? And what resources do we need to pull in to start building to start building that?” So a lot of times I work with people who are self-employed. I work with a lot of working artists and they don’t even really think of themselves as businesses. They don’t realize that their businesses, a lot of people just have a great idea. And they just run with it. And next thing they know they’re in a business. So I can share this; I’m helping a person, a delightful woman, start a bookstore. I’ve helped people start breweries and also medical businesses, art businesses, everything under the sun. And a lot of it is about understanding your own story and finding your confidence. There is, of course, the balance sheets and market fit and everything. But at the end of the day, it’s about building your confidence in yourself so that you’ll have confidence in your business. And one of the reasons I wanted to talk here, and now is one story, one thing that comes up a lot, I’ve noticed at Rendezvous and other family-office oriented events, is the unwillingness of older generations to hand over the reins. And I think that, even if it’s within the family business, an entrepreneur’s journey is important for both building one’s own confidence as a rising member of a family, and in the older generation to see someone come into their own.
JOHN A: I just want to say that this couldn’t be more timely. Today is a day of celebration because last night was my oldest grandchild’s graduation from high school. So I’m living, breathing, and seeing that growing up. And we aren’t quite fully turning reins over to him but we’re certainly giving him encouragement to stretch his wings and fly now. And it is, from the older generation perspective, extremely satisfying. I totally concur with that. And I think you’re onto something very powerful when we talk about the importance of the encouragement to the rising generation family members to be bold, courageous, and to exercise the boldness of starting a business and experiencing entrepreneurship that not everybody has the courage to do that.
LEWIS: Yeah. This has given me two thoughts. One: there’s the typical entrepreneur’s journey. And in my work with people in my research, the typical journey never happens. And so the idea that you’re going to do this, then you’re gonna get product market fit, and you’re going to find investors, then you’re going to get all this growth, and then you’re going to go public, and then everyone’s going to be rich, it’s not that straightforward. The funny thing is that it’s never that straightforward. But everyone holds themselves to that standard. But the bigger thing that’s jumping out of my mind thinking about this is the embracing of failure, of lack of trusting failure. I’ve had to learn this from a single person. And I don’t mean this as a dig at any of my colleagues that Money Positive of letting go and letting someone fail. Instead of trying to tell them it’s not going to work for this reason, and this reason, and this reason, and then when it doesn’t, saying, “I told you so.” But that’s how people learn. I would not have had the confidence to start Money Positive. My first business wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t tried it and failed. I didn’t even think about the fact that it had failed. It wasn’t until it was like, “Oh. Yeah, that failed.” I went out of business denial, but without that I would not have had the confidence. So whether it’s a CEO, someone in my position that is delegating technically, “I’m the best person to do this, because I’ve done it before,” but really the best person to do it is the person who needs to learn and who has the ambition and drive an interest to go do it. But getting your cut as the person letting go of some power, getting comfortable with failure, and as the entrepreneur being comfortable or accepting of the fact that failure is part of the journey.
JOHN A: Fail early. Some advice I’ve heard and I don’t think others fail often because it doesn’t happen the first time. You do have to sometimes try it on multiple occasions before something really clicks big but this journey of the entrepreneur and linking it back to the transitions have families and family members go to, it’s fascinating that you bring this to us, Lewis.
LEWIS: Thank you. Yeah. What I’ve come to realize now is that having had my own businesses and helped others with their businesses, it is the thing that causes businesses to fail. A business isn’t over until you decide it’s over. Sort of the bank coming and taking away all of your office equipment. You’re not done until you decide that you’re done. And realizing that it is an important thing that — one thing when I’m working with someone — is we’re trying to give people runway. I have learned that runway is the one of the most important deciding factors in whether a business will be successful. Someone who has given a long enough timeline will be successful. I’m thinking of a funny story. So my business before this, I was a seaweed farmer. If anyone is unfamiliar and hasn’t looked at a map, it is in Austin, Texas landlocked. This is going back to my days as a molecular biologist. I started growing seaweed as a science experiment. And then caught on that it was more interesting for its culinary applications. And next thing I know I’m in a farmers market, selling seaweed that I grew in an aquarium in my garage.Iit grew from there. I was growing it in greenhouses making artificial seawater. Towards the end, I had a 1000 gallon raceway that I was growing seaweed, and I was selling it to all the upscale sushi restaurants in town. I was selling everything I could borrow, but it never turned into a business. One of the reasons was that no one knew what it was. And it was the most popular Hawaiian dish that everyone was unfamiliar with. That dish is Poke. And there are now three Poke places within a few minutes of my house. If I had been in it long enough — not to say, well, that’s a good investment or not — I could have been the seaweed king of Austin. Whether I still wanted to be or not was a question, but I brought it up because it was a reminder that the business wasn’t fair, that if given a long enough timeline, given enough experimentation, giving enough trust, and giving it enough runway, you will succeed. And that’s why patience and failure are so important, which might be something for an older generation who doesn’t remember what it was like early on. When you’re a busy entrepreneur, you brush off the failures. The failures are gone. That project is over and done. And you’re onto the next thing before. It’s already out of your mind. And most people aren’t going to remember all the things that they tried and failed at. So patience and willingness to try things I see as problems. And I have a handful of clients who are in this position where there is a family business. And basically they need to build the trust of the older generation to step in, ideally. And this is one thing I wish I could put in every older generation’s mind is letting the younger generation step in and try things and fail. Before it’s too late. Because if they are standing to inherit the business, it’s going to happen one way or the other. And they’re stepping into whatever dad’s left behind. I’m thinking about someone in particular stepping into whatever dad left behind but didn’t trust their children to take over during their life. Well. They’re gonna get it and they’re going to be doing it with lawyers, and they’re going to be duly doing it with customers banging on the door who don’t care that they passed away. They just know that they have some contract terms that are due. So trusting whether it’s within the family business already, or letting someone start their own thing as a way of demonstrating and growing to come in and take their place in the family business. One thing I’ve heard over and all over is the issues of trust. And I think letting someone go on that entrepreneurial journey, whether it’s internal, giving them enough seed money to get started, or giving them enough to first boost their confidence, I think is critical. And I want to share that I don’t know why the family ranch is gone. I’m guessing it’s just that the children probably didn’t want to take it over, or there was a drought and everyone said, “Who cares? I don’t want to deal with cows anymore.” And a young immigrant family, they made the decision that they had to. But thinking of it brings it up because thinking about the future generations, and what they are being purposeful, and not just thinking about, “wWhat do we do in this situation?” But thinking as an ancestor, “What kind of ancestor do I want to be seven generations from now? What do I want? My great, great grandchildren that I’ll never meet? What do I want? What do I want for them?” And I understand that they probably weren’t in a place to think like that. But you can at least have the thought. And it’s no cost of anything.
JOHN A: And with the help of a Lewis or another member of the Purposeful Planning Institute, you can kind of capture and preserve those thoughts, those stories, that vision so that it can have that seventh generation impact. It’s so important, Lewis. I think we feel a common bond. Your PPI in the minds of many is strictly concerned with the issues that family offices deal with. And yet, that’s not the vision I had when PPI was founded. Clearly, some of the people who have contributed mightily are the Giants who’ve kind of built the family office industry in the foundations upon which family offices are hoping to have success. But in my practice, while I ended up at the end, the last 20-some years serving extremely wealthy families, I started out really working largely with what we’d call the Millionaires Next Door. So I have an appreciation for trying to make sure that what we do at PPI is scalable and can be, in some way, some fashion (not all), but there are lessons that we can bring down and help infuse, integrate into the journeys of a middle class clientele. I’d love to hear what your perspectives are. Are there things that you’ve noticed and observed within PPI that you specifically are trying to kind of bring into a Millionaire Next Door and more mainstream financial planning?
LEWIS: I have even better. I’ve got people coming to me with $0 in the bank and a bunch of credit card debt.
JOHN A: They’re successful.
LEWIS: What one thing that I think is fascinating about us, Money Positive, is we work with someone whether they’re making $30,000 or $300,000. Some of my poorest clients have been Medical Doctors. When you work for a living, the problems are much the same. And I definitely think that having my first event by, in fact, the most of my professional activity, through PPI has had a very meaningful impact. And I think something that makes us different, that makes me different, is that I don’t discuss things down. This might sound bad. Maybe someone does want to hear this from a financial planner. I actually don’t care about money. I’m not a nerd for money. I don’t read every story. It’s not what I think about as people. I like people. I like helping people and realizing that that’s something I picked up at PPI. That it’s people in their journeys that are important, that money is the tool. It’s the way that they interact with the world. One thing I picked up was the event, oftentimes, when we’re working with someone, what we were first doing is often helping them get out of debt, and then building up an emergency fund, then starting to invest. And one thing I picked up at PPI that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise, is engaging with even if it’s $10 a month. I still call it philanthropy. Asking the people that I’m working with to engage with it, and start seeing where they are sending money, where they are volunteering, and how they can get together. To find out what’s important to them and work together, and then how can they get their kids involved? How can they make this part of their lives? Because one thing I picked up on it at Rendezvous is that it’s a place where a family can learn how to get on the same page, and be acting as a unit towards a greater goal. Without it being, “Maybe the family is a business.” And it almost doesn’t matter, the dollar amount, it’s the act. That’s so that is a big thing that I picked up on that I probably would not have. I was doing that from day one, eight years ago, probably would not have picked up that before. And the other thing was maybe the attitude and coming back to the entrepreneur’s journey of, “We’re not just here to make your debt go away, or figure out what to do with your student loans.” We’re figuring out here: what do you want to do with your life? What is your purpose? Because I noticed that once people had some financial security, they realized that they didn’t like where their life was. That all people would, with jobs that they were just working, because they needed to pay the bills, or because they felt they had to. The number of people who go back to school who start businesses, once they have that foundation, that the whole point of all this is Purposeful Planning, of trying to give to people. And I think this is true no matter whether you’re already financially secure or not, is to get time and energy back so that we can be putting it into the things that give us purpose. I love to help someone quit their job so that they can be a stay at home parent, not everyone has to go out and become a dynamo entrepreneur. If you realize that, “I’m in the most precious time in my life is with these little kids.” So giving someone that ability or to help them, “I want to try this thing.” And giving them understanding of the business aspects and the runway, all of it comes back to purpose. If there’s no purpose, what are we doing?
JOHN A: That’s a beautiful note to end this conversation on. Lewis, I just want to express to you how, to me, truly sacred the work that you’re doing. I think that entrepreneurship, being able to help individuals and families create abundance in their lives emotionally, understanding the meaning of money and wealth, whatever level we’re serving at. This is really sacred work. And to then hear you say whether it’s just $10 a month, you’re introducing them to the joys of philanthropy. I just want to give you a big purposeful hug. And thank you for being part of our community for setting an example, inspiring us, and sharing these lessons with us. Thank you.
LEWIS: It’s my pleasure. If there’s anything I can do to give back to the community, I’m here.
JOHN A: Thank you, Lewis. And thank you everyone for joining me today with Lewis. Take care.
LEWIS: Thank you, John A.