EPISODE 007
From Rebel To Resilient
Bryan Smith is the co-founder of a startup called Leon Health Science. He was a rebel growing up but always had the natural instincts to find problems to solve to earn money.  With his background in Professional Sports Performance coaching and understanding the data science behind sports performance, he's found a new problem to solve---helping people be better employees and happier individuals overall using data science. Bryan's fascinating journey from being a young rebel to being a US serviceman in the Army to now being a startup co-founder is a compelling example of how discipline can be life-changing.
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Host - Monique Mills:

Welcome to the Unpolished MBA podcast. On this podcast, we have conversations with tech startup founders and entrepreneurs and traditional corporate MBAs. Many say that startups equal the unpolished MBA because those without the formal business education are scrappy and do many things. Untraditionally to achieve business success. But anyone who has built a business from an idea can attest to the fact that the experience is another level MBA and there's nothing quite like it. The candid conversations shared here is helpful to both sides of the fence. One is not better than the other, just different let's jump in.

Host - Monique Mills:

Hi, I'm your host, Monique Mills. And in my work, I get to have great conversations with a lot of smart and interesting people. Today. I'm sharing a conversation I had with Bryan Smith, the founder of a startup called Leon. He used to be a wellness professional and a pro sports performance coach so he is well versed in fitness and the data science behind performing well in sports. So you're going to hear how he transformed his knowledge into helping people be better employees and happier individuals overall.

Host - Monique Mills:

You're just getting started in this startup world. But I would love to know why did you start it and where do you see it going? All right. So the first question I have for you, Bryan, is, are you an entrepreneur or corporate employee?

Guest - Bryan Smith:

A 100% an entrepreneur.

Host - Monique Mills:

MBA or no MBA?

Guest - Bryan Smith:

No MBA.

Host - Monique Mills:

Okay. So you said a hundred percent entrepreneur, how did you get into entrepreneurship? And that was, by the way, that was a very strong answer.

Guest - Bryan Smith:

Yeah, I know it's funny. My whole entire life, you know, I've always, I've always been that person who sort of tries to make like a dollar doing pretty much anything. Like, for example, when me and my friends, we used to... You're familiar with Christmas caroling, right? We used to go Christmas caroling in July for money. And pretty much sing Rudolph the red nose reindeer and you know, stick our hands out at the end and, you know, we pretty much started Christmas carolling, you know, in October leading up to Christmas and none of us were singers. You know, we're all sports kids. Singing definitely wasn't in our repertoire. And I'm sure we sounded very bad but it was way to make money. And then I also lived next to a golf course. So what we would do is we'd go into the woods or the creek beside it, and we'd find golf balls and we set up a little table on a golf course and then sell the golf balls back to the golfers.

Host - Monique Mills:

I call that smart.

Guest - Bryan Smith:

Yeah. So I've always been that way. So yeah, when I say a hundred percent entrepreneur, I mean, it, in that sense, but I also too, as you know, I'm not a very sort of manageable person and, you know, I don't like sort of being told what to do. So it was like one of those things where being an entrepreneur was probably my only option.

Host - Monique Mills:

I hear that a lot from other entrepreneurs. It's like, Hey, I like to basically do what I want to do and not in a bad way, but I want to work on things that I find interesting. I want to solve problems that I want to solve. I want to help people or work with clients that I select--not wanting just any project or what have you, given to me. You mentioned that you all were athletes. So how did you even come up? Can you even think back to, how did I even come up with "let's get these golf balls and sell them back to the players"?

Guest - Bryan Smith:

You know what I mean? It's funny. Like I moved into that area when I was probably in like fourth grade and the kids that were like older than me by a couple of years, they were already doing it. So it was, it was definitely sort of a taught process for me. You know, but it's funny. It's like, I think I had my first job at folding pizza boxes at a pizza shop when I was, I think in like kindergarten, right. It was like a dollar a day and they'd give you all the pizza and root beer or whatever you wanted. So I think I was always sort of money motivated from a very, very young age.

Host - Monique Mills:

Well, you know what, it sounds like one thing you mastered, which, I mean, I don't know how some people feel about it, but I think it's smart and very clever, is you're like, I don't need to reinvent the wheel. I learned the older kids did this. And I think that the smartest entrepreneurs are those that are able to build off the ideas of others.

Guest - Bryan Smith:

The smartest entrepreneurs see opportunities. They know, especially within the startup space, we're trying to solve problems. But you have to be able to distinguish what those problems are and where you fit within the market.

Host - Monique Mills:

Right now, you're working on something new. Tell us a little bit about what you're working on now and then how you even decided to start this.

Guest - Bryan Smith:

Sure. So I own a company called Leon. You know, Leon we're a couple years old right now, but you know, COVID sort of forced us to pivot a little bit from our traditional business model or maybe more accelerated a little bit as far as where we wanted to get to. And in a sense, what we're, you know, our tagline is 85% of employees hate their job and our goal and our mission is to make employees happy and how we do that is by data collection. So, you know, we get an understanding of the employee sentiment regarding burnout and mental health and wellness and performance and culture and all these other things. And then what we do is, using AI, we recommend specific services, specific content, and specific sort of events that these employees can tie into to fix whatever issue they might have.

Guest - Bryan Smith:

So if we see that based off surveys and engagement metrics, that our employee is trending towards burnout, what we do is we recommend a service like Headspace or Talkspace or soul cycle or yoga or meditation specifically for that individual. And then we also curate learning modules to help that individual understand exactly what burnout is, how to fix it, why it happened and how to prevent it. And then we curate specific events. So that could be virtual events, live events, pop up events, annual conferences, all designed to really superpower employees. So we're like an employee advocate.

Host - Monique Mills:

Is it something that you're deploying through technology or is your company a service and technology company?

Guest - Bryan Smith:

It's a platform. So from a company perspective, we obviously provide a service and that service is providing people analytics to both HR managers and benefits managers and sort of founder led people understanding the state of their team. So once we get that data and we end up being sort of the, you know, quasi employee wellness provider, per performance employee provider, all designed to help a company create better or happier, higher performing really bad a$$ employees.

Host - Monique Mills:

You know, it's interesting. I say that because the entire thought of burnout, been there done that is, is very rampant in the startup community because, you know, you're doing so much. How do you even? How are you balancing it? Are you using Leon?

Guest - Bryan Smith:

Right. So it's, it's important to understand my background. So my background before I started Leon, I was in sports science for USA track and field. So essentially what we did is we collected a bunch of data that could be blood analytics. That could be heart rate that could be EEG, like literally measuring brainwave activity to help us understand the readiness of a professional athlete to perform on an Olympic level. So essentially we could predict injury or predict performance on an athlete. So, what we did is we sort of parlayed that into employees, right? So it's sports science data science, but for employees. But to answer your question directly, you know, burnout is a physiological process, right? Where there's a lot of different things involved, right? You can test blood and understand if someone has burnout.

Guest - Bryan Smith:

And I think a lot of times we look at burnout as a like mental state, which it is, but it usually starts with a physiological state. So you know, how I manage burnout is you have to look at burnout as a holistic type thing, right? So you have to make sure you exercise. You have to make sure you're providing some sort of mindfulness or yoga or meditation. You have to make sure your diet is on point. You have to make sure your family life is good. You know, all of those things add into one big sort of stress ball of burnout.

Host - Monique Mills:

So you mentioned people, employees hate their job. And that's one of the things that your platform helps people work through. What if they hate their job, because it's not their thing, right. Similar to you. What if they just have that entrepreneurial spirit and they want to do something more? Is this something that can be picked up on in your platform as well and help guide them professionally?

Guest - Bryan Smith:

Yeah. So the metrics that we track are going to be based off a wellness, which is a bunch of different things--burnout, performance, and culture. So we don't just work to fix the sort of mental or physical state of an employee. We work to make them higher performers or better team players. Right? So when we, when we provide content to an individual, say for performance, it's going to be, you know, the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles talking about what a high performer is. Or actually you're from Atlanta, so Mohamed Sonu (Atlanta Falcon) talking about what a professional athlete does and have. They look at performance. You know, so it's like when I say it's about superpowering employees, it's about superpowering human beings to be high performers. And whatever you want to categorize a high performer is, but we want to make people better human beings better. And the adverse effective of that is a better company.

Host - Monique Mills:

Before you started doing all of this, what made you decide that this was the idea you were going to create a company out of though?

Guest - Bryan Smith:

Yeah. So you know what I said before that I was very bad at listening to people or, you know, as a child, as a kid, as a teenager, that was a negative thing, right? I wasn't the best student and I probably got in a lot of trouble. And what ended up happening is when I was 18, I joined the military. So I was in the Army. And then when I was in the Army, that was the first taste of, you know, discipline that I have ever probably received in my life. But it was also the first taste of accomplishment which was super powerful for me. But what if you, if you look at it, the scope, as far as, you know, what I've done, professionally, me being in the military was learning about how to superpower myself or optimize myself and then progressing into a sort of university in college and then going into sports science. And now I'm super powering athletes, and then progressing that into the employer HR space. Now it's about superpowering or making better human beings and better employees. That little sort of kernel of, "$hit, I can't listen to people. I need to do something about it. Let me start by making myself better." And then applying that to everything and applying that professionally everywhere else.

Host - Monique Mills:

In your work though, as you're building a company, basically from scratch, how is that on your mental wellbeing and your stress levels in the startup world. VC's say, are the dogs eating the dog food? Are you able to eat your own dog food at this stage of your company?

Guest - Bryan Smith:

Yeah, that's a good question. Yeah, two nights ago I was. We have some videos being produced right now. And I was, I got the video and I sent it around to some of our formal and other advisors for feedback. And I was, you know, we invested a lot in this and, I was super excited. One of our investors came back and said, you know, I absolutely hate it. We should not release this video, which, you know, happens. But, I took that call as I was laying in bed, like probably around nine 45, 10 o'clock. And it bothered me so much, I internalized it so much that I didn't sleep that night. Like literally didn't sleep that night. You know, but that's what I've realized is, you know, this living, living in the startup world, it is a constant roller coaster of emotion. Because especially as a founder, you're so attached to the success and, almost the ego, of your company that every failure or every no, or every rejection that you receive, you know, affects you personally, you know, it's a really tough thing.

Guest - Bryan Smith:

Or, you know, another example, we released our landing page about a month ago. And it was, "85% of employees hate their job." And that was our headline. And we had over 125,000 hits to the website in 48 hours, which is amazing. But that also came with about 300 direct messages to me, you know, saying pretty much like how dare you say that, you know? So, you know, it's amazing that you have all this success, but yet at the same time you have all these detractors and all these people saying, you know, pretty much calling me an a$$hole, for doing this. You know, so I think as a startup founder, you know, resiliency and mental health is so very, very important, almost more important than anything else to tell you the truth.

Host - Monique Mills:

I think a lot of founders get caught up in what other people think when ultimately there's pure, genuine sincerity in solving a problem to help people. And as long as you stick with that mission, you'll be good. But you've gotta put on this armor vest, you know, to kind of protect your spirit to keep you going. It's tough.

Guest - Bryan Smith:

Yep. Totally agree. You know, I don't think if I didn't have my sort of background, I think that a lot of people, and it probably happens all the time, you know, where it just destroys people. It destroys companies and it destroys livelihood. You know, it's, it's, it's not fair, but it's sort of the part the world that we live in.

Host - Monique Mills:

I definitely applaud you for the work that you're doing. It takes courage. I always, you know, anytime I don't care, if people say, Oh, I had this company and I shut that company down and I started something else and I shut that down. And I'm like, still that's, that's commendable. That is a success. Many people think about doing things and never actually execute. And for anyone who has stepped out and decided to execute on an idea, I have to give you kudos.

Host - Monique Mills:

Well, that's it. So what do you think? Are you built for this startup life? You know, Bryan talked about having an entrepreneurial spirit his entire life so much so that he sang Christmas carols for money in the summer months. He talked about also being a bit of a rebel, but then joining the military and feeling not just discipline, but also a sense of accomplishment. I'd argue that discipline is a part of success and helps you achieve goals. No matter what you do, there are always going to be times that are uncomfortable, things and people you don't like, but having the audacity to keep moving toward your goal anyways, makes you a winner in my book.

The Unpolished MBA conversation continues, and you can be a part of it by going to unpolishedmba.com. Thank you for listening.


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