Ep # 4 | Be More Risky

Adam Walker

Adam: The "Hat Man" graduated from Georgia Tech in 2003 and was married two weeks later to his beautiful wife Jess. He has five children and is the co-founder of Sideways8, a digital agency based out of Atlanta. At Sideways8 they start by creating an amazing website that communicates to the right people in the right way, and then they help drive traffic to that site. 




Shantel Khleif : I am so excited to welcome Adam Walker. He is a busy man, he is the co-founder of Sideways 8, 48 in 48, and a dad of five, and I cannot wait to unpack his journey, how he got stated, and Adam, thanks so much for coming on the show today.

Adam Walker: Yeah, thanks for having me. I'm excited about it.

Shantel Khleif : Yeah, of course. Well, can you educate the listeners about how you got started?

Adam Walker: Let's see, how I got started. Man, that is difficult. Well, I could say this, I married my wife two weeks after graduating from college. So that's how that started, that's pretty clear cut there. That's a whole story, how we fell into five kids is also entertaining, but probably for another podcast. Let's see, Sideways8 we're a digital agency and basically I started accidentally. People knew that I was good with technology, they asked me to work on their websites and "Can you do this?" and "Can you do this?" And "Can you design this and build this?" And I just figured it out. I kept saying, "Yes, sure, yes, okay, sure," and eventually it became a part time thing and I was doing it just to make extra money while I was doing other things and then eventually it became a Hey, this could work as a full time thing, and then I can have a lot of freedom and I can kind of work for myself and I thought, "Why not?". So then I was a solopreneur for a while doing that and then eventually I realized the solopreneur thing is getting old, I'd rather have a partner and on my second or third attempt talked Aaron into partnering with me to found Sideways8 and that was back in 2010 though I like to kind of say we started in 2010, we got serious in 2015 and it's been a pretty amazing ride the whole way.

Shantel Khleif : That's amazing. Did you study software and web development in school?

Adam Walker: Yeah, well you know I'm old enough to where in middle school I built websites for fun. I was just that nerdy dude, you know? So no, actually I did not go to school for it. I don't think I ever took a class for design or for code or for anything else. I just kind of figured things out along the way and really enjoyed that process. My very first client was a client of my aunt. My aunt did their newsletter and she was like, "Hey look, I do the newsletter for this sewing machine company and they really need somebody to take over their website because somebody dropped the ball and I think you can figure this out."  So I bought FrontPage and at the time just sort of figuring it out, just to help her client out and then they became my client and they're actually still my client. I think we're working on site number five for them at this point. And that was back in ... I think they became my client in 2002, maybe 2001, something like that.

Shantel Khleif : I feel that's a true testament to the company you've built and the trust that came from your aunt, for sure.

Adam Walker: Yeah, and they're great. They've been an amazing client to have for so many years and I really cherish their friendship. So it's been a really good relationship.


Shantel Khleif : When starting this business specifically who inspired you? Where did that passion come from? How did you start imagining more? Did you always know that you wanted to be your own boss?

Adam Walker: Yeah, I don't know that I ever made a conscious decision about being my own boss, it just sort of happened. I was starting things as far back as high school. So in high school some friends and I saw a need in the community and when I was a senior in high school we started 501(c)(3) nonprofit to address those needs and we did things ranging from a coffee shop that was in downtown Atlanta to did some feeding and clothing and blanketing of the homeless and little thought points to some youth rallies and things like that. So I just kind of naturally gravitated towards starting things because I'm not very risk adverse. I don't mind risk, I'm okay with that. If it works out great, if it doesn't then okay, whatever, move onto the next thing. So I think it just kind of came naturally to just start stuff. I think across my career I've probably started I think three nonprofits in total and I guess two companies, depending on how you want to count it. The first iteration of webdesign and then the second and then probably Sideways8 from there, so maybe three.

Shantel Khleif : What you would say is probably the most influential factor in your business success and would you say that would it be not being risk adverse?

Adam Walker: Well, not being risk adverse I guess really. Yeah, I think that's the biggest thing, most people look at something and they want a degree of certainty before they take the jump and for each person they are okay with a different degree of certainty and if I'm not mistaken I think Andy Stanley gave a talk on this, that somebody told me about second hand years ago. Basically the question is "How sure do you have to be before you say yes?" And so for me honestly, I don't have to be all that sure to say yes. I'll probably take the jump with a 50/50 win rate or maybe a 60% likelihood of success. I think most people need really more like an 80-90% guarantee of success before they'll take the jump. I think that's allowed me to do things that other people would not want to do.


Shantel Khleif : Fair enough. What do you think is the biggest mistake you've made as an entrepreneur or do any come to mind right away?

Adam Walker: There's always a few. There's always kind of the stories about maybe hiring the wrong person, that's always something that's a mistake. That's a big thing, you have to hire the right people that are the right culture, the right fit, can do the right job. I think ultimately though it's the risks ... I mean, I'm not afraid of risk and yet I would say that the biggest mistake that I tend to make is not being risky enough. So I would say that I'm okay with more risk than an average person, but I actually want to be okay with more risk than that. Because I still do tend to play it a bit safe sometimes when I think we could grow farther if I was willing to sort of put myself out there a little bit more.

Shantel Khleif : That's great. I think that rings true for a lot of entrepreneurs. I think in general we may seem very risky, but we know that we can even push ourselves a little bit further to take that next step.

Adam Walker: Yeah, exactly. I've got to be willing to do that. There's a lot more on the line for me than there used to be, so that makes it a little harder, but nonetheless if I want to grow that's what it's going to take.


Shantel Khleif : Let’s talk about your day to day. So how do you optimize your day? What is your routine in the morning? What does it look like at the end of the day as well?

Adam Walker: So I am constantly working on this and I've actually just this week started a new pattern. So this is not proven yet, but I can give it to you, what I'm doing, and hopefully in a few months I can tell you how amazing it is. So basically I prefer, and I did this last year and I just started again this year, but I like to get up at four AM, which I know sounds completely insane. But you have to bear in mind I have five kids and if I want time to get up and to read and to think and to create and write, I'm an avid blogger, I blog on adamjwalker.com about every third day. So it takes a lot of work to kind of create that amount of content. So I get up, I read, I pray or meditate, I then create content, go to the gym, I'm at the gym for about an hour and 10 minutes, an hour and 15 minutes. Then I'm back and I'm ready for my day at six or 6:15 and so that's kind of my first routine. So I walk though that whole morning routine everyday and I started using an app called Morning Routine to help with that, actually gives me time. So I'm gonna do this for 10 minutes and then I'm gonna do this for 15 minutes, then I'm gonna do this, and it actually tracks the time for me which is amazing. So then I've also got an afternoon routine to keep myself at Inbox Zero, to plan tomorrow, to make sure that I'm able to unwind for maybe 10 minutes or so before I go upstairs and sort of reenter life in the whirlwind that is a large family of seven. So I kind of got those two set routines to book end the day, an opening routine and a closing routine. Then I've created these other routines that I sort of stick in at different parts of my day that take me different amounts of time. So for example, one of the things that I need to do is I need to create a lot of content because I have a lot of things going on and I want to be able to create valuable content for those things in order to drive traffic to the appropriate websites and to gain more exposure to the right people. So I'm starting actually two more podcasts and I'm just doing this other kind of stuff, and so in doing that I need set time to create content. So I've created a content routine. So it's like a 10 minute countdown on brainstorming. Then I'm gonna create content for 30 minutes, then I'm gonna refine that content for 15 minutes and then I'm gonna do whatever is next, and then I've got another routine for sales and networking, for example. So I can take those and I can look at my calendar and say, Okay, well this routine takes 45 minutes and I've got a gap of an hour here, and I can just plug it in right there and then I've got this routine that takes 30 minutes and I can plug it here in my calendar. So then I can have all the meetings and craziness throughout the day, but I can still get the other stuff done that I need to get done because I'm plugging in a preset routine and I know how it's gonna go.

Shantel Khleif : That's great. When you're pulled in a lot of different directions, and/or if something pops up do you just have that flexibility in your schedule? Like a buffer window for extra things or are you able to move things around like those routines you mentioned?

Adam Walker: Yeah, I mean I can move the routines around. Because I'm up so early when I get home from the gym I can sort of choose do I want to go ahead and knock out this routine now? For example the content creation routine I knocked out this morning at seven AM because it's about I think a 50 minute routine, but it was easy for me to knock out because the kids were still asleep, so I knocked that out. Then I've got more free time during the day today to take care of other stuff that pops up. So I think every day's a little bit different and I do know that I kind of got that overflow of tomorrow morning if I really need it.

Shantel Khleif : One thing you mentioned the Inbox Zero, I would love to unpack that a little further. So do you carve out an hour at the end of each day to actually sit down and do those? What does that routine look like? Because I think that's fascinating.

Adam Walker: Yeah, well I try to do the Inbox Zero at the beginning of everyday and then end of everyday and the beginning I try to do it really pre- eight AM. So before the onslaught of everyone else getting up and getting to their email. So typically because I've got an Inbox Zero at five PM the night before getting to Inbox Zero before eight AM is actually pretty easy, so that's probably maybe a 10 minute deal. Then I'll try to carve out some time around lunch time to get back to Inbox Zero, maybe that's 15 minutes or so, then at the end of the day I'll carve out time as a part of my closing routine and that's maybe 10-15 minutes as well. Then at the end of the day I'm Inbox Zero, everybody's been replied to, all the tasks are in task lists or on my calendar, wherever they need to be, and I can move on and I've got a clear mind to move forward in the rest of my day.

Shantel Khleif : Is that a technique that you learned kind of over time or something you've been doing forever to help break down your day?

Adam Walker: I've been doing it for a while and I've also, as a part of that, been trying to only check my email really three times a day and I've even got a little disclaimer at the bottom of my email that let's people know, "Hey, I only check email at certain times during the day, so if you need something urgent here's how you need to approach it," because I can't be a slave to email and that whole idea that you're doing this and then you're checking email and then you're doing this and then you're checking email. It slows you down. So if I'm on the go and in-between meetings and it's convenient maybe I'll check my email really quick then, but otherwise I try to keep it out of sight and out of mind so I can move forward to the next thing and really focus fully on what's in front of me because that's the big problem with email, it's draws your focus away and it makes you significantly less productive.

Shantel Khleif : Absolutely, on that note do you ever feel drained and if so what do you do to recharge?

Adam Walker: Frequently, yes. So I would say the best thing that I do to feel recharged is my morning routine and getting up insanely early. So full confession here, right? So, I was in a great habit of getting up at four AM up through December of last year and December of last year hit and the Christmas holidays and all the insanity that goes with that hit and staying up late and all that stuff and just ruined me and I could not for the life of me get back to a four AM wake up. I could get to a five AM wake up, but not a four AM wake up. But the last two days I've got back to a four AM wake up, and the energy that I feel, I feel so much more energetic, I feel so much more recharged, just yesterday and today than I normally would even getting up at five. It makes a huge difference in my day, huge difference.

Shantel Khleif : If you could take one thing off your plate today what would it be and why?

Adam Walker: One thing off my plate today? Man, that's a good ... Well, I think it would probably be cleaning my house, which as a family we're actually working towards minimalism as a family which will significantly help with that. So we've got a lot of stuff we're gonna be getting rid of in the very near future. So if I could snap my fingers and be minimalist already with our family, that's what I would love to take off my plate, but I cannot and thus I will carve out time for that as well.


Shantel Khleif : Fair enough. What's one thing that you'd like to do more of everyday?

Adam Walker: I'd like to play more with my kids. With having so many kids it's easy for them to sort of play with one another and for me to sort of just hover a little bit and sort of manage the play, I think I'm trying to be on the floor more wrestling more and playing more.

Shantel Khleif : Being in the digital world, is it difficult not to allow your kids to have screen time, what are your thoughts on that and the balance?

Adam Walker: We've actually continually trim that over the years to get less and less and less and less and this summer our kids have really spent almost no time on screens and I think their behavior tends to be better, their focus tends to be better, I think that they tend to be better as individuals when they're not on screens as much. So I think moving forward we're gonna keep that to a minimum, hopefully for them and for us as well. Because I mean it's easy for us to just sort of check out at the end of the day and sort of dig into a screen and I'm not entirely sure that's the best thing for us.

Shantel Khleif : Do you feel that any of the kids aspire to be an entrepreneur as well and to follow in your footsteps?

Adam Walker: You know, I hope that they know it's an option. I don't know if they aspire to it. It's really funny because they don't have any context and so they get really upset when I leave in the morning to go to a meeting, and I'm like, "But I'm here 70% of the mornings, which most parents can't be. So this is not like ... you have it ... this is not normal. You need to appreciate what you have." So it'll be interesting to see as they grow up what they want to do and if they feel like they can conquer the word on their own or if they want to plug in somewhere. I think it's also personality type. Different people really just get wired in different ways. I think there are those of us that would really struggle working at a corporate job. I think there are people that love it and do a great job at it and their lives are very full because of it. So I think it just kind of depends.

Shantel Khleif : Is there anyone that you took advice from as you were growing your family and multiple businesses?

Adam Walker: Yes, so one of my very close friends Jeff Hilimire is probably the guy that I bounce ideas around with the most and I read his blog and share his posts as much as I can. He does an amazing job. His blog, just for your listeners sake, is jeffhilimire.com. So he talks a lot, and I think you're probably going to end up interviewing him so I won't give too many spoilers, but he talks a lot about work-life balance and this idea that you have to really say no to a lot of things. He and I are very intentional about what we do. So I tell people, I do family, I do my for profit work with Sideways8, I do my nonprofit work with 48 in 48, I am to some degree involved in my church and local community, but to a smaller degree, and that's it. That's all I do. So I'm not trying to go off and do a while bunch of things or go to a bunch of movies with a bunch of friends or go out to a bunch of pubs, I don't have time for that. I have those three things, and that's who I am, that's what I'm about, that's what I do, and I do virtually nothing else.


Shantel Khleif : Are there certain tools or software programs that help you stay organized? And I know you mentioned the Morning Routine app, are there any others that come to mind?

Adam Walker: Let's see, my favorites. Obviously Google Calendar, I sort of live and die by the calendar. I think of all of us probably do, Google Calendar's a big deal. I also really like Todoist, as far as my task list app goes. I moved from OmniFocus to Todoist relatively recently and I've really appreciated and enjoyed that, so I use that constantly. From a project perspective with my teams I use teamwork.com, which works really well. Though I'm not really in the project so much these days, I'm not in there as much as I used to be, but it's so great. As far as like a CRM goes, ProsperWorks is what we've been using at Sideways8 lately, and it's been great. So I'd say those are probably the big ones. I'm also tinkering around with Cloze a bit, as far as a personal CRM, that's a whole other ballgame right there.

Shantel Khleif : It sounds similar to Contactually, is that what Cloze is?

Adam Walker: Cloze and Contactually are very, very similar and recently a friend of mine that you may know, Mickey Mellon, from another agency here in town wrote a blog post about why he's moving to Cloze from Contactually and I'm giving it another shot, I'm taking a look at it. I've been a Contactual user for many years, I'm looking at Cloze and seeing if it's comparable or not, because it's a lot less expensive.

Shantel Khleif : What is rocking your world lately? Is there a book or a podcast or a blog that is just keeping you up at night and super inspired?

Adam Walker: I've really been enjoying, there's a podcast called Tell Me Something I Don't Know, it's by the same guy that does Freakonomics Radio, and it's just a funny radio show, informative podcast like quasi game show sort of deal that it makes me laugh and I learn really crazy and interesting things though it. So that's been really kind of fun, and I've really just been sort of enjoying podcasts in general. There's just so many different ones out there, so I'll listen to podcasts when I'm working out and then I'll listen to audiobooks when I'm driving and so right now I'm listening to the audiobook called Hug Your Customer, I think it was a recommendation from Daniel from Friendly Human. It's a great book. I think the most interesting and fascinating book that I've read or listened to that probably was just very surprisingly inspiring to me, so that'd probably answer your question more directly, was actually Arnold Schwarzenegger's autobiography. He's an interesting guy, he may not be a great guy in certain aspects, but his autobiography is fascinating and how driven he was towards success and how he went about achieving that success is fascinating.

Shantel Khleif : Well, is there anything next on the horizon for you? Are you starting to explore other businesses? I know you mentioned another podcast. What's next?

Adam Walker: Yeah, well that's the next thing. You know, right now I do the podcast Tech Talk Y'all where we talk about start ups and technology and it's got a little bit of an Atlanta sort of slant to it, and that's been a lot of fun and it's kind of got me hooked on podcasting a bit, so now I'm also as a volunteer going to host the Atlanta Children's Museum podcast. It's gonna kind of talk about parenting and it's gonna kind of mix in what's going on with the museum without it being necessarily direct about it. So it's gonna be more informative and more fun I think, than sort of direct advertising. So that's gonna be great and that's gonna come out this Fall.  And I'm also staring a podcast, because I love nonprofits and I do a lot of the nonprofit work through 48 in 48. I'm also starting a podcast about nonprofit marketing, just really trying to help nonprofits understand how they can better represent themselves on the internet, how they can connect with people, how they can interact. So I'll definitely have to have you as a guest on that one for sure, it'll be great.

Shantel Khleif : Yes please, let me know when you launch it. I'm happy to update with the link so that everyone can follow along and listen, that's really exciting.

Adam Walker: Yeah, I appreciate it. It's gonna be a lot of fun. So that's it and of course 48 in 48 is taking over the world, so that's the big thing that's coming down the pipeline.

Shantel Khleif : Yeah, weren't you guys just in, is it London?

Adam Walker: Yeah, we were in London, so we're gonna expand. So for your listeners sake, 48 in 48 is a nonprofit and we do events to build 48 websites for 48 nonprofits in 48 hours. So this year we were in Atlanta, Boston, New York, and Minneapolis. Next year we're gonna expand to London, so we just did an exploratory trip there which was great, and probably to one other city that has yet to be determined.

Shantel Khleif : Sounds exciting. I'd love to travel with you guys and help out.

Adam Walker: It's a good excuse to go to a city, it's like, "Hey, I'm gonna go to this city. I'm just gonna leave a week early, no big deal. Don't pay any attention."


Shantel Khleif : Haha, well for our listeners if they are thinking about starting a company is there anything that you wish you had known when you first got started or know now that you will apply to future businesses?

Adam Walker: Yeah, I think the big things for me ... And I think I did this accidentally with most of the things I've started, but I love starting a business or starting an organization with a co-founder, and I did that sort of by happenstance with both 48 in 48 and with Sideways8 and also in some of my other nonprofit founding earlier in my life. And that really was an amazing experience being able to work with people that I'm close to and grow it and sort of share the burden. So that's been a really big deal. I think the other thing is, and the thing that I haven't done well, is casting a really solid vision for where I want to take it. So one of the reason that Sideways8 really didn't grow very quickly until around 2015 is that we just didn't really have a clear vision of where we wanted to go, what we wanted to do, what we wanted to be, and once we started defining those things and defining how we want to grow and do we want to have employees and do we want ... ? I mean, once we've defined those things we went from 2015 Aaron and I were the only full time employees. I think now we have six total full time and then another probably seven or eight part time employees or part time team members I guess. So I think just having a very clearly defined and compelling vision to take you in the right direction is critical.

Shantel Khleif : Yeah, that's great. If that didn't come naturally to you, to maybe articulate what's going on in your brain, did you have coaching to go through that or how have you put that vision in place?

Adam Walker: I've had a bit of coaching and that was great. I've also had some mentors along the way, which has been great. I think every entrepreneur or really anybody in any kind of leadership at all needs coaching and needs a mentor, either one or both. I've also joined EO or EO Accelerator, that you're a part of as well, and that's been hugely helpful to really push me and push my thinking. As a matter of fact I've got a meeting today and as a part of that meeting we have to go over, "Okay where are we at with our quarterly goals and have you met those goals?" And "Where are you at on your sales?". And I've got a revenue number that I'm targeting and they're all gonna ask me, "Where are you at? Are you on track? Are you not on track? If you're not on track what are you gonna do about it?" Have that accountability is critical.

Shantel Khleif : That's amazing. I'm also in that group and a big fan of it, so I'm glad that you mentioned it. Okay, last question to wrap it up. What does imagining more mean to you in your story?

Adam Walker:  What does imagining more mean to me in my story? I love it. When I think of imagining more I think of bigger vision and thinking about what is beyond me in terms ... I guess what I'm saying is, in terms of legacy what am I leaving behind? So what I want to leave behind, what I want to imagine more is I want to leave behind a better world, I want to use and leverage the things that I'm doing 48 in 48 to benefit my community and the world wide community. I want to leverage Sideways8 for the sake of my family and the families of the people that work on our team. Honestly, I just want to help people and when it comes to imagining more I'd say that's what comes to mind for me.

Shantel Khleif : Thank you so much for sharing, Adam, and spending some times with me today. I enjoyed learning more about your journey and how you imagine more every day.