PEARL LEMON INTERVIEWS:
Roger Dooley is an author and international keynote speaker. His books include Friction: The Untapped Force That Can Be Your Most Powerful Advantage (McGraw Hill; named one of the Best Business Books of 2019 by strategy+business) and Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing. He writes the popular blog Neuromarketing as well as a column at Forbes.com. He is the founder of Dooley Direct, a consultancy, and co-founded College Confidential, the leading college-bound website. He’s been a serial entrepreneur since he left a senior strategy position at a Fortune 1000 company to enter the then-nascent home computer market.
A Fireside Chat
I had the opportunity to have an amazing conversation with Roger Dooley today. From talking about SEO for Lead Generation sites, Roger agreed to a quick interview.
He took the time to talk to me and answer some questions so I could get to know him better and hear more about the things that have helped shape his business success to date – let’s get stuck into it!
What Is The Book (Or Books) You’ve Given Most As A Gift, And Why?
One book that I often recommend is Trust Factor by Paul Zak. He’s the scientist who discovered that oxytocin is the hormone of human trust. (He also found that hugs increase oxytocin levels, hence its nickname, the “hug drug.”) In Trust Factor, Zak describes research on what drives high performance at companies. He and his team visited both very successful and less successful firms and surveyed their employees about a range of topics. They also took thousands of blood samples. They found that high performing companies had high levels of trust, as shown not just by survey results but by the oxytocin levels in the blood of the employees. I’m a believer in the importance of trust. In my own book, Friction, I show that often bad customer experience and wasted effort by team members are driven by a lack of trust. More trust, less friction.
In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
Producing my Brainfluence podcast has forced me to read much more than I would have on my own and allowed me to exchange ideas with and learn from a host of very smart people. The discipline of creating a weekly episode ensures I can’t decide I’m too busy to read or have a conversation. I’m 100% certain that if I made a New Year resolution to read 50 new books in the ensuing year I’d have failed and abandoned it within a few months. My own thinking, understanding, and knowledge has been improved immeasurably by the insights of the smart people I talk to. Many of the ideas and anecdotes in my Friction book had their origin in my podcast.
What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?
After going through the college admissions process (a potentially complicated and harrowing process in the U.S.) with my two children, I realized how much we didn’t know when we began. And, at the turn of the millennium, there were few books or online resources that were helpful. So, mostly as a passion project, I joined forces with a couple of college counselors to create an online resource to help parents and students through the process. We got traction with our target audience quickly and in a matter of years we had little revenue but were helping millions of visitors answer their college questions. Eventually, we sold the business to part of the Daily Mail Group. More important than the financial rewards, though, was the knowledge that we helping millions of students achieve their goals. Almost two decades (and a few corporate owners) later, College Confidential is still serving students and parents – not a bad legacy.
If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it — what would it say and why?
“Easier is better” are words that business decision-makers, from C-level executives to junior web designers, need to internalize. Research shows that high effort customer experiences reduce loyalty by a factor of 10 to 1. And, almost 90% of customers who have a high effort experience say that they will say bad things to others about the brand. Unnecessary effort hurts employee engagement, too. Employees know when their time is being wasted by inefficient processes, unnecessary rules, and pointless layers of approval. When these persist, those employees rightfully conclude that management doesn’t value their time or effort, leading to today’s low levels of employee engagement.
Embrace randomness and change.
- Roger Dooley
When did you first become a rebel?
It’s not an uncommon form of rebellion, but just as my corporate career was taking off, I left to co-found a direct marketing startup. I was about 30 and in charge of strategic planning for a Fortune 1000 company, a job I really loved. Beyond leaving the corporate womb with its dependable salary, health insurance, and other benefits, I had to inform my CEO that I was quitting. It was difficult to tell the person who had brought me into the firm three years earlier and elevated me to the strategy role that I was leaving while there was still plenty of work to be done. But, it was the right decision.
What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?
Embrace randomness and change. Most of us start with a game plan for life – mine was to study as an engineer, join a large company, and rise through the executive ranks. But things rarely work out as planned. I unexpectedly became an entrepreneur. My most successful efforts all started as side gigs or hobbies. Almost everyone’s career path will be driven in part by random events and unexpected opportunities. When you are at an important fork in your path and are having difficulty deciding which way to go, always choose the one that represents change. That’s not just my advice, it’s based on science. If the choices appear evenly balanced, the change option is likely better. That’s because our brains skew the comparison due to multiple biases: sunk cost fallacy, status quo bias, etc. A study by Steven Levitt showed that subjects who, choosing between two apparently evenly balanced life options based on a coin toss, were found to be happier months later if the took the “change” path.
How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favourite failure” of yours?
Another business I co-founded was in the IT outsourcing space. We merged with another, larger firm that we thought would help us expand sales and enter new geographic territories. The expected synergies never really materialized, and a couple of years later I left. It felt like a failure, spending years working on a business without a lot to show for it. But the time spent there had developed my digital marketing skills – I had built a small SEO practice there. Departing freed me up to work on some passion projects, College Confidential and my Neuromarketing site. We grew the former to tens of millions of page views per month and ultimately sold the business to part of the Daily Mail Group. And, my neuromarketing writing led directly to my books, Brainfluence and Friction, and my international speaking and training business.
Tell us about your business. What does it do and what value do you add?
I’m lucky that my business is also a passion project. I’m on a mission to improve customer experience and employee engagement by showing people how to identify and eliminate friction, i.e. wasted effort. Businesses and governments all too often establish processes and rules with little regard to the effort they will require. When we can reduce and eliminate effort, we make people happier and the world a better place. There’s no downside to eliminating wasted effort.
Where do you see your industry in the next 5 years?
The speaking and training business was completely upended by the pandemic. Events planned years in advance were abruptly cancelled. The initial efforts to create virtual conferences, workshops, etc. varied a lot in their effectiveness. It’s now been a year since the first cancellations, and I see virtual events improving. I and other speakers/trainers have created studio environments to better engage audiences. Event software is evolving too. I think that most events will be virtual for the balance of the year, but I also see a lot of desire for in-person interaction. Going forward, we will return to in-person events, but I think many of these will have a virtual component, too. And, we’ll see an increase in virtual workshops and other training events. These can be staged at a lower cost and targeted at specific groups or individuals. Virtual is here to stay.
What's your favourite holiday destination?
A cruise ship! We have been avid cruisers for years, and have visited most parts of the globe via ship. The cruise experience has limitations – a typical port visit lasts just a day, hardly enough time to experience a place. And, that place is itself changed when big ships disgorge thousands of passengers into a town or small city. But, cruising is nearly frictionless – no packing or unpacking, a big variety of dining choices, and few border hassles. It’s relaxing and an efficient way to “sample” destinations you might want to visit at greater length. The industry was stopped in its tracks by the pandemic, but it will return as soon as the virus is controlled.
What popular celebrity do you admire the most and why?
Bill Gates is a voice of reason and devotes himself to improving the world in a focused way. He could just write checks to organizations that do good work, but instead, he gets involved and ensures that problems can be impacted in a real way. At a time when emotions run high, he’s data-driven and practical.
What one thing in life do you consider to be overrated?
Hardshell tacos. Like many Americans, I thought tacos were crispy, U-shaped things you put ingredients into and tried to eat without the whole thing becoming a shattered mess. Moving to Austin ten years ago showed me what real tacos could be. In particular, breakfast tacos. (You’ll occasionally see people flying out of Austin getting a bag of breakfast tacos to share with the people they’ll be meeting with later that morning.)
What did you have for breakfast this morning?
Nothing. I managed to get through a year of pandemic with no weight gain by developing an intermittent fasting habit. I generally follow a 16 – 8 plan and extend that to 18 – 6 or beyond if I can. Generally, that means I skip breakfast, eat around midday, and then eat nothing after early evening. I always loved breakfast – particularly fresh breakfast tacos – and I did not expect to be able to maintain this regiment. To my surprise, I adapted quite easily. If I want a breakfast taco, I have it at lunchtime. Switching to black coffee vs. adding a little cream was the most difficult part. Beyond helping with weight control, intermittent fasting is said to have other health benefits. I do have the occasional “cheat day,” I think something like that is necessary to stick with any dietary regimen.
Pearl Lemon are an SEO, PPC, PR, and B2B lead-generation agency. We are based in London but service clients around the world.
We have taken the time to interview entrepreneurs and experts (like Roger) in this new series.