EP 7: Ben Miller, CEO at ChroniFI
James Mackey 0:12
Hello, and welcome to scale by Design. Today, we're joined by Ben Miller. Ben, thanks for joining us. How are you doing?
Ben Miller 0:18
Thanks a lot for having me, James. I'm super excited to be here.
James Mackey 0:21
We're pumped. I'm pumped, too. So would you mind before we jump into it? Could you share with everybody a little bit about yourself?
Ben Miller 0:27
Sure. So, after graduating college, I was on Wall Street for eight years trading foreign exchange derivatives. So for those of you watching on video, that's where all my hair went, a typical trading floor job, and I decided I wanted to do something more entrepreneurial. So I'm very passionate about personal finance. And so I decided to hang out my own shingle helping people figure out how they're doing financially so they can make better decisions.
James Mackey 0:53
Cool. So actually know, before we jump into some of the topics we discussed, could you tell us a little bit more about your product and what it does, and who it serves?
Ben Miller 1:01
So my company is called ChroniFI. The product is essentially its finance software that helps people simplify their finances by understanding them in terms of time instead of money. And so people can, you know, throw in their details and see, oh, here's how long it'll be until I'm fully financially independent, or until I can take a pay cut to do more meaningful work and then just mark to market on there, on their financial health and say, "Hey, here's how long I can afford to be financially independent right now, etc.
So it's an engine that helps people to make decisions that are aligned with their long-term best interests.
James Mackey 1:35
Is it sort of like a minute, like, where my head goes immediately is like a forecast, like a budget forecast?
Ben Miller 1:42
It's a great question. You know, you've got tons of players out there that are doing budgeting, you know, like Mint, YNAB, etc, some, some really solid companies in there. And so they're kind of past-oriented, you know, like, what did I spend my money on last month, but you got plenty of players that your point is focused on the future, you know, personal capital, wealth front, etc, that are focused on you know, here's, I've got money, what should I do with it, you know, it's future-oriented, where we're trying to slide in is essentially hitting people exactly where it matters in the present, you know, helping people understand how does what I'm doing right now impact my overall financial health?
James Mackey 2:19
Nice. Okay, that's cool. And so, right now, where are you in terms of your growth stage, I think I saw on LinkedIn that you have a seed round or a pre-seed round or something, some type of initial investment? Where are you in the product development roadmap, like do you have? Are you post - revenue? Like, what pre-revenue? Like where are you in that development?
Ben Miller 2:41
Yeah, it's, we're very early on, as you pointed out, we got out of an accelerator not too long ago. And so that was a great experience. The accelerators called Launch that were super helpful just in terms of expanding reach and network and stuff like that. So even before we joined the accelerator, we have had and still have a product live in the market. And so early days in terms of, you know, accumulating customers and things like that, but at least we've got our first wave of paid subscriptions, and we're kind of off to the races.
James Mackey 3:15
Oh, that's great, man. I'm gonna have to check it out. Sometime this week, I'll check it out. Is it like that? Is it like a free trial type of deal? Or how do you get started?
Ben Miller 3:23
Yeah, it's a 30-day access free trial, we don't want anybody to join up unless they're convinced that it's worth it. So basically, we want to make it transparent and forthright. That's one thing that I think I've got a strong opinion about within FinTech, in particular, I think people are waking up to the fact that if you're not paying, then you're the product. And so basically, you know, we just have a very straightforward business model of our sole incentive is to provide the best possible product for our users, rather than selling data or attention or things like that.
James Mackey 3:56
I love your website, by the way, so I'm just looking at the design on the site. It looks really good. I think you all struck the right balance between, simple, consumable, information and also providing enough context into what people are going to get from the product. So yeah, it looks cool, man.
Ben Miller 4:16
Yes, I'm excited to help you out. Yeah, no, it's, it's, it's tricky, right? Because we're trying to, we're trying to educate people on like, here's the way that you should be thinking about your finances, which is not easy, like, oh, here comes the seminar, you know, like, basically helping people think through a new way of thought, in a way that doesn't, that doesn't make them sorry that they check things out in the first place.
Because, once people do see that light, and it's like, oh, man, this is the way I should have been thinking about it all along. But helping to bring people up that curve is a big part of what we're up to. And frankly, you know, it's we're trying to address something that isn't addressed well in the rest of you know, The way we've set up our society. And that is, like, personal finance is just something that people are not educated on, you know, like, even at, you know, working, going to a good school and then working on Wall Street, it's like, I didn't learn anything about personal finance in either one of those places.
And so it's like, What chance does anybody have to be educated on this stuff? It's like, I was lucky to have great parents and you know, access to books and blogs and stuff like that. But, you know, who's gonna find the time for that? So that's the battle that we're looking to fight here is to help people figure things out for themselves.
James Mackey 5:32
I love it. Everything I learned about personal finance was actually from Tony Robbins. I learned so much with like, one of the best tips I ever learned was to automatically have part of your paycheck distributed into savings and investment accounts. So it doesn't even hit your primary checking.
Ben Miller 5:50
It's genius, right? Like, that's the thing is like, if you can make those single decisions that make 1000 decisions for you in the future, and just have that leverage. That's the way to making better decisions is just having less decision fatigue.
James Mackey 6:06
Right, just make one good decision, and then let that be on autopilot. And they serve you for years in the future. I love that. Okay, cool.
So one of the questions I had for you is, what was it like going from Goldman Sachs to starting your own products company? And I'm also really interested until like you were saying that you coded, you were doing like hands-on development.
So between working at Goldman Sachs and doing, you know, future options trading, like what Foreign Exchange derivatives trading, it sounds like, I don't know if I'm saying that right.
How do you do all of that full-time at Goldman Sachs? I'm assuming I mean, I don't know, you told me but probably a significant workload, I'm assuming that you had to work your tail off there. When did you learn how to code? And so just how did you make that transition from Goldman Sachs to starting up I just have so many questions. I used to like five in a row.
Ben Miller 6:59
That's great. We will dive right into it. Yeah, I, it's all kind of wrapped up in the story of the company, to be honest, it's something where I was, you know, let's see, I was at Goldman for eight years. And so I was there for long enough that it's like, maybe this is just what I am. Now, maybe I'm a trader. And that's just put me out to pasture. And this is what I do.
So it had been a while since I had, like, really taken on a new skill. And so I was insecure, frankly, I didn't know that maybe I don't know how to learn things anymore. You know, you come out of college, and bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and all that and ready to take on the world. But then once you start getting, you know, kids and mortgage and all that kind of stuff, it's like, okay, well, you kind of crave stability in a lot of ways.
And so anyways, like learning to code for me kind of served three purposes. One, I taught myself that I still know how to learn new things, you know, because I went from zero to dangerous in pretty short order, in terms of learning how to code, and then two, I found that there was, there was intrinsically satisfying work. For me, I had come to assume that work was just something that I did to sell my time so that I could have money and then buy happiness with money.
And I realized like, oh, wow, there does exist a form of work that I like doing, you know, there's a signal in there when like, I was waking up at four to practice coding before I went to the gym before I went to the office. And so I wasn't getting paid to do that. So it's like, okay, well, there are some people in some places that are getting paid to code. So maybe, it's worth tugging at that thread a little bit more. And so anyways, then, you know, of course, the other side of learning code is it's a useful and marketable skill. And so, you know, having that to not only, you know, bolster my credentials, but also to give myself the power to create my own product was, was a very appealing option.
James Mackey 9:01
For sure. So what was that transition, like, though, going from a, I guess, an enterprise environment, right? Something very structured, very conservative, old school, process-oriented, and driven to something like a startup where there's just no process and you have to figure out like, Okay, how do I build this product out from scratch? I mean, did you have a lot of good mentors? Did you talk to a lot of, you know, CEOs that are real product CEOs, or, I mean, how did you make that shift successfully?
Ben Miller 9:36
I love this topic, because it's something that I've you know, especially upon reflection, I've had a chance to kind of try to understand that because the the the initial nature, right, like I was hyper vertical, that is the nature of my role when I was on Wall Street was like I was trading foreign exchange derivatives. And so it is not only that but exotic derivatives. And so it's like, I got to a point where my career where it's like I could count on my thumb's, the number of places I could fly that trade, you know, it's not like I was a consultant at McKinsey, where I could just kind of like plug and play, go do any job in the world. It's like, I was very, very specialized.
And so getting to a point where I was like, Maybe this isn't what I want to do for the rest of my life. That's scary. Because it's like, okay, well, then what I'm going to be competing for, you know, if I jump into tech, I'm gonna be competing against a bunch of young and hungry, you know, Stanford CS grads. And so it's like, how's that gonna go? But it's, you know, you can, you can see, based on the way things have gone, that's ultimately the route that I chose, and I'm really glad I did. But, to your point, starting out there, I'm incredibly grateful for that opportunity, because it's just like, in terms of places to begin a career, there's, in my opinion, there's scarcely any better one out there, I was surrounded by incredibly intelligent people, and incredibly motivated people, and kind of came to take that for granted as just, oh, well, this must be what people are, like, you know, they're, they're all hard-charging and ready to solve problems and think creatively, and, and all that.
But, you know, then switching to entrepreneurship, it goes from, you know, on a trading floor, or the size of a football field, sitting cheek by jowl with everybody else. And now it's like, um, one dude in Colorado, you know, sitting in his office and like, so entrepreneurship can be lonely. But I have found that you know, the process of plunging into this space has been incredibly fruitful.
One big change, for example, is like, you go from like, well, I went from like, an East Coast, you know, banking mentality of, you know, you're trying to get a bigger slice of the pie. Now in entrepreneurship space, it's much more of an ethos of like, I don't care how big my slice is, let's just make the pie huge. And then who cares. And so it's much more, it's much less of like a zero-sum game. And it's much more like a rising tide lifts all boat phenomenon. Where yes, to your point, I have benefited tremendously from people who are willing to bend in a year and talk with a new fresh entrepreneur and share expertise, not because they think that I'm going to pay them back in some way in the end.
But oftentimes, because somebody else helped them originally, and they want to, like pay it forward. And so that whole process and the willingness of people who shouldn't be taking my call, to take my call and give me advice, and counsel and all that kind of stuff, it's pretty, it's pretty amazing like to plunge into that atmosphere of just people who want to build interesting things.
James Mackey 12:36
So the accelerator, you're a part of you said, was called Launch? Is that it? So what resources? Did they provide you with it? Was it more just like seed funding? Or did they really provide like, Hey, here's how you think about product development, here's how you think about, you know, customers, talking to customers about what they would value or, you know, here's how you do GTM? Or this is the marketing initiative you should start. I mean, like, what kind of guidance were they giving you throughout that program?
Ben Miller 13:03
I mean, the program was, the program was great. First off, I'll start by saying that what I've found, as I've moved, you know, from Wall Street to start-up land, is that, you know, on Wall Street, it's like, if you know, Goldman, and you know, JP, and you know, like, there's like a handful of banks, and if you know them, you know, the street. Whereas in the startup space, it's like everybody in their grandmother is an investor of some type or is involved in the ecosystem in some way. And all of them are slice and dice among, you know, different stages, different verticals, you know, whatever, whatever it may be, there are so many different ways that they segment themselves. And so what I found is that the same is true for accelerators.
And so I wasn't even thinking about fundraising, to be frank until, until late last year. And when I became aware of this whole, like, accelerator ecosystem, I was, you know, one of the things that quickly became clear was that they were very good at those certain things that were extremely complimentary to my own, my necessities, and so for example, like their network is excellent, their reach is excellent. And those were two things that I frankly, didn't have at the time.
And the one thing that I liked about their program is that it's very much kind of like a baptism by fire. It's very much like it's not like holding your hand on the business for three months. And then Demo Day at the end type of thing. It's like, every single week, you're talking with investors, you're talking with, you know, people that can help point you in the right direction, not only because, well, I guess I'll say this because they've seen so many different types of things. And so their opinions, well, individually, you may have to take them with a grain of salt. In the aggregate when you're building a mosaic of useful feedback. It's so incredibly useful to just get a whole bunch of people's opinions. And then you know, that's up to the entrepreneur to figure out what to take on board and what to check out.
James Mackey 14:58
Yeah, for sure. So I think I pulled up the website. Is it the launch accelerator.co Is that the right one? It looks like they've had a lot of companies go through the program.
Ben Miller 15:08
Yeah, there. And the thing that I also really like about them is it's only seven companies per cohort. And so, you know, you get some real attention from the team there. And, and you don't feel like drowned out amongst a sea of dozens or hundreds or whatever,
James Mackey 15:23
for sure. What was the process like to get accepted into the cohort?
Ben Miller 15:29
It's a great question. And one that is less familiar to me, honestly, they found me on the web. And, like, what they saw. And so the rest is history. So, you know, I wasn't even thinking about raising funding. I was going to bootstrap, self-fund, etc. And so I was involved in a startup tournament online and they happened to spot me on the leaderboard there. So
James Mackey 15:55
In Cohort two, two of my clients, Captivate8 and LeadIQ.
Ben Miller 16:04
Nice, I mean Jason's got a pretty decent footprint in that world.
James Mackey 16:08
I should introduce you to Mei, the CEO of LeadIQ. I'm gonna send you her LinkedIn profile right now on Zoom. Just shoot her an invite and tell her that, like I told you to reach out or something .
So we worked with her a lot. So what my company does is basically, tech companies borrow recruiters from us. So LeadIQ is going through a huge hiring push last year, so we helped them hire a bunch of people. Mei, she's incredible! So what's so cool is that she went through the same accelerator as you did.
And so Captivate8 is the other one. captivating that spell like a captive. And then the number eight at the end. So you can check it out. If you ever want any intros to anybody, either of those companies let me know. But that's so cool.
Let me see Cohort One. Yeah, they're both in Cohort Two. Those are the only companies that I've worked with, all the other cohorts worked with any of the companies, but something about Cohort Two, that must have been a special year, something in the water. Yeah. COVID.
So, one of the things that, you know, I know you had mentioned earlier was just kind of like, this concept of reinventing yourself, you know, maybe being like choosing to be vulnerable and do something new and dealing with impostor syndrome, which I'm glad that you brought that up because I think there's a lot of executives that feel the pressure to like, just totally avoid talking about that, because we're like, No, I gotta maintain this facade of like, whatever the, you know, whenever people think, but this is obviously BS.
After all, if you're growing, that means you're outside of your comfort zone. And if you're outside of your comfort zone, you're gonna be uncomfortable. And if you're not uncomfortable, then you gotta look in the mirror and figure out, Am I pushing myself? So yes, it's a natural byproduct of growth, I consider it growing pains, right? And so how did you kind of deal with that uncertainty, right? Because as you said, right, like, you get to a certain place in life where you start to value certainty more, it's like, you know, maybe when we're younger, we value the variety a little bit more as we get a little bit older, like we, we want predictable income and these types of things. So talk us through the just mental process of overcoming some of those fears. In the early days.
Ben Miller 18:24
Yeah. So I'd say, impostor syndrome is something that, man, I'll like it or hate it, it's part of the way that I see the world and a part of the way that honestly, a lot of people see the world, particularly people who are, you know, one foot over the abyss and either entrepreneurship or some sort of other creative endeavors.
And so it was, it was definitely endemic to my time in my earlier career. And it's no different now in entrepreneurship land, because there's so much to learn, you know, so in my, in my prior career, it was vertical, it was like, There's a million questions that I should know the answer to. And I'm just constantly waiting to be found out for not knowing the answers to them. And so we're not knowing the answers to some meaningful fraction of them at least.
And so, now it's a different kind of, you know, different kinds of imposter syndrome. It's just like that verticality has been replaced by this horizontal version of imposter syndrome, where it's like, okay, yeah, I went from something where I was, like, hyper-specialized on one thing to know something where I have to keep my eyes on marketing, I need to keep eyes on recruiting, it's, you know, sales and partnerships and getting the revenue into like, basically, product. I mean, you name it, an entrepreneur's job is to do that.
And by the way, if one of those things fails, then the whole thing falls flat on its face. And so good luck, you know, like, that's No, exactly. And so it's like, it's, it's kind of inherently crazy, right? Like anybody who's going into entrepreneurship is by nature saying, listen, the whole world is wrong. I'm right. Here's why. Because if that weren't the nature of it, there'd be no opportunity there.
And so that kind of, you know, one person raging against, you know, the, whatever the universe has to throw at him or her type of thing is, is, it takes a lot of getting used to. And it's an emotional workout for sure. But it's, sooner or later you kind of figure out like, everybody's winging it, you know, everybody is doing the best they can with what they got. And failing forward, that's the thing is like a lot of people in, you know, the kind of orbit or circles that I used to run in, in that kind of, you know, Wall Street's sort of lens come from a similar type of background where like, frankly, they've never failed.
And that's a big deal because a lot of them are incredibly capable people who are just afraid of failing. And so going into startup land is like, it's pretty not for the faint of heart, right? Because it's like, it's something where you're going from like, oh, yeah, I've got this long string of W's on my track record. And you know, what I'm gonna do, I'm gonna go take a crack at something where the odds are 90%, that I'm gonna have an L next, like, how do you convince yourself to do that?
And for me, a big part of the journey was honestly what I built the product to do, which was just like, trying to distill this complex nature of at least my finances and go like, what does it all mean about whether I'm operating from a position of strength or weakness?
How do I, how do I boil this down into something where I can go? Yeah, you know what this is, it's time to take a risk.
James Mackey 21:29
Yeah, I love that. I mean, you know, it's interesting, just as I've evolved throughout my career as I've been the CEO of SecureVision for seven years. So the company has completely evolved and changed. I mean, it's been a new company since 2020. We like overhauled the whole operating model, right?
But it's interesting, it's like, the more experienced and senior I get, and the more comfortable I get in my role, and, you know, my understanding of how to scale is significantly better. And then just also getting older and getting more comfortable in my own skin, like, a combination of those things. It's like, every year, I care less about having all the answers and just being open. And vulnerable about , I don't know, like, what do you think, right? And just having that conversation, and, you know, I know the things I need to know, that make me competent in my role.
But, a big part, I feel like being a CEO and running a company is having the wisdom to know when to be stubborn. Right? And hold the course, and when to be the student. And I think you have to be incredibly stubborn with your overarching goals, right?
Like the things that are your mission, for instance, but you know, you have to just know when to be the student, and I think it's okay, like, I don't have any issues. Now. I don't know if I could have done this five years ago, what if I'm on a leadership call with my VPS, advisors and stuff like that? And, you know, I'm stumped, like, you know, it's also down to just be like, alright, like, let's, let's, you know, I'm not, I want to think through this, I think this has big implications, we need to get it right. I'm not sure which direction to go right now on this.
And, what do you all think, like, what you know, and work and just being okay, saying that like, and honestly, it's what I noticed you, like, beyond lead with leadership, even doing that with employees is okay, sometimes, like, obviously, you know, context matters situational, but you're more relatable as a leader when you're human.
And humans don't always have the answers to everything, right? You don't want to be that guy or gal, right? Like you need to, it's a benefit to you with your leadership team and benefits you and your employees to just, you know, open up and be willing to be a little bit vulnerable there and not have all the answers
Ben Miller 23:51
100%. And that's the thing, the job of a CEO or an entrepreneur more generally, is just to be a really quick learner to be a very effective learner. Because like, you know, when I look at, you know, I'm running an early stage company. And so it's like, the only thing that I know about my projections for sure, is that they're wrong. It's my job for the next couple of years to just figure out how they're wrong and to, you know, like, that's the nature of any kind of forecasting.
There's so much so there's so much randomness and so many things to learn, you know, like bringing a product to market in particular, is just this constant learning journey where it's like, Oh, I thought it was for this type of person. These types of people are responding a lot better. I thought that they'd like this feature, but this one that's been buried deep down in the, you know, the woodpile is like, suddenly popping to the top of people's minds. It's, you don't know half as much as you think, you know. And so like closing that gap is the entire name of the game.
James Mackey 24:48
For sure. For sure. So, you know, just something that came to mind when the last thing you said about features and customers and stuff, just shifting gears a little bit. How do you go about determining the feature set and the product road an app like, you can't just listen to everything everybody says, right? I mean, you have to be thoughtful about what you're implementing. Right? I mean, and there are obviously expenses and resources tied to that. So what does that feedback loop currently look like? And how has that evolved since day one?
Ben Miller 25:18
Yeah, it's a great question. Because, I'd say a lot of it starts with founder market fit, I think that's very meaningful, and something that maybe doesn't get enough air time. You know, for me, for example, I was solving my problem.
And so that gave me a serious leg up on trying to get my hands around, okay, here are the type of features that are going to be needed here, here's what I'm curious about here, the answers that I want in order, to be able to make this jump, like that type of thing.
So that's, that's huge. I mean, that helps you at least short circuit a fair amount of the like, you know, get outside the building and vet the idea type of thing.
And then, you know, bringing it to market, which is its own, you know, strange beast to deal with, is where you need to, like, you know, up the iteration of the cycles. And so for my case, in particular, it was, uh, you know, I guess conventional wisdom, or now, like Neo conventional wisdom is like, is that if you're not embarrassed about your product when you bring it to market, you're waiting too long. And I've tried to take that on board that whole, like lean startup mentality.
But in personal finance you have to be a little bit more thoughtful, because nobody's going to touch it with a barge pole, if it doesn't have a decent face on it, you know, I can't release something that looks like eBay circa 1997. And like, and expect people to throw in their personal financial information. Like, that's just not how the world works.
And so I had to be very intentional and thoughtful about things like, Okay, here's what's worth investing in, right now, before I even do bring it to market. And here's what can wait, here's what can, you know, like, be reserved for version two or whatever.
And that kind of feedback iteration cycle, one thing that I've done very intentionally over the last year, for example, is just like, honestly, like, just cold outreach, like talking with potential customers, talking with people who I think should find this interesting, and just seeing what they think. And sometimes it's like, no, dude, I'm not interested. What are you smoking, though? Because I want some, this is crazy, like, and sometimes. And sometimes it's like, they're like, Yeah, this is how I've been thinking about things all along. And you know, if you're, here are some other people that I think you should talk to, and all that. And so like that, just assembling that mosaic of all that different feedback, and then just seeing what the picture as a whole says to you. That's a process that I was very afraid of when I was just entering entrepreneurship. Like, whenever I read those, you know, main state books about entrepreneurship and talking about like, the Get outside the building phase, I was like, uh, you know, I saw myself as an introvert, and I wasn't excited to go talk with a bunch of randos.
But then it's like, suddenly, as an entrepreneur, suddenly, I had something to say. And so it's like, okay, this is great, you know, conversation starter, if someone is willing to hop on the line with me, they already know, you know, kind of partway what I'm about and so let's, you know, let's just have fun with it.
James Mackey 28:14
Yeah. I love that. I love that. You know, so in the first episode of scale, by design, we head on a buddy of mine, Jacob garlic. He's a partner in a VC firm. And he spends about half his time in the Northern Virginia area. So we had, it's interesting. We live in the same building. And then we also have our offices in the same building. Like seeing each other all the time. Right.
But so like, one of the things he's talking about, like, feature rollouts. Like I thought it was really helpful, like pretty, probably a pretty basic insight, but sometimes those are the best. Because it just makes a lot of sense. Like, it's one of those things after you hear it, you're like, oh, duh, but you know, I don't know how intuitive it is. But he's talking about, like, basically, there are two types of features that you need to sell, right?
You need the features that people are going to use all of the time, right? Like, there are the things that they're going to use. And then there are the things that they're not going to use what they're going to ask for in the sales cycle. And so like the example he gave was, like, he was talking about his like, I think is like, a mother like buying a car. Right? And she needs like one thing it has to be and she's gonna use it all the time. And then she will not buy a car without a GPS. Right? Right. She's never set it up. She will never buy a car without it. Mm-hmm. And so I always thought that that was also kind of like an interesting component to product build out as well.
Ben Miller 29:34
Totally. I mean, that's the thing is like, there's this there's a ditch on both sides of the road, right? Because you can't bring something to market that just doesn't do anything. But meanwhile, it's like if you built too many things into it, then not only can it be a waste of time and money, but also it can distract you from like the crown jewels, you know, like for example, I am sort of like an incurable builder.
And so when I was building the product for myself, it's like, Oh, what if we, you know, I'm an options trader. By trade Former trades and so it was like, Oh, well, if you tweak this thing, then what happens? If you tweak this thing, then what happens? And so like, I just had this proliferation of random bells and whistles, and it's like, No, dude, you need to cut this down to the core, like, what are the greatest hits, like hit people with exactly what's going to be most useful for them. And then if they ask you for more than you can entertain it, but like focusing on the important stuff is important.
James Mackey 30:22
You want it to turn out to be like a Goldman Sachs dashboard.
Ben Miller 30:26
Like, see my share those Yeah. Well, I mean, that's part of nature too, is like in the ethos of my company in particular, like, it's all about simplicity, right? It's all about taking some complex morass and boiling it down to something you can comprehend. And so like the default, like what happens in personal finance, a lot of the time, you get this 20 Page sheaf of documents that are loaded with data, but completely devoid of information. And so it's like, okay, great. What am I going to do as a doorstop? You know, like, how am I going to use this like a stack of papers, but like, it's so much more valuable if you can, if you can distill it down to something simple. And so sometimes less is more.
James Mackey 31:04
Yeah, I hear you, man. Hey, so we have a few more minutes left. Can we talk about Yale?
Ben Miller 31:10
Yeah, sure. Sure. Let's do that.
James Mackey 31:11
So for those tuning in, Ben has a degree in economics and mathematics from Yale. Is that right?
Ben Miller 31:18
That's right. Yeah, combined. Major, not double.
James Mackey 31:21
Gotcha. Gotcha. I know that you've had some interactions with Robert Shiller and I don't know all the classes that he taught. I'm familiar with his behavioral finance course because they had it accessible online for free. And I watched it in my early 20s. It was impactful for me.
I learned a lot about human psychology watching Robert. I was hoping maybe you could share if something comes to mind. Like some of the top lessons, you might have learned from Robert, just because I would love to hear that just personally.
Ben Miller 32:00
Yes, I love that. I mean, he's the first of all, he's a great guy. He was my thesis advisor. And so I got to spend some one-on-one time with him when I while I was there, and, and it's something that like, I feel like it planted the seeds for some later developments in the sense that, you know, I don't know, economics is obviously like, a constantly developing science, and I feel like it was kind of around the time I graduated in 11. You know, it was around that time that it was like, actually, you know, what, behavioral economics is kind of where it's at, you know, this whole, like, homo economic is rational, you know, human type of thing.
Turns out, that's not the way people work. And so that's some, I think, in a real way, you know, his partition, his participation in that like, kind of original, you know, gangster of whatever behavioral economics type of role was impactful, you know, in like an in a timed release or delayed sense in the sense that, like, I went through the first leg of my career, assuming that it was all about, you know, basis points. It's all about, like, how do I increase my return, if I'm doing a crime against my family, if I don't choose the savings account that has the highest possible interest rate, you know, like, that type of thing just optimizing ruthlessly and it took me a while to realize kind of, you know, this, this more behavioral economic phenomenon that's going on underneath, which is like, personal finance is finance, but it's also personal like people are humans, they're fallible, you know, beings that make bad decisions occasionally, and are swayed by persuasive ideas and all that kind of thing. And so it's like, that whole idea.
You know, Shiller, for example, wrote a book on irrational exuberance, which I mean, it's there in the title irrational like that's, that's the way people behave over very long periods and repeatedly throughout history. And so it's like, appreciating the fact that people are not always necessarily going to know or do what's right for themselves, but that there's a role for just making it easier for people to do the right things for themselves. I think that's a huge Upshot from behavioral economics. That's, that's immensely helpful to the world, you know, understanding the way that we make decisions and idealizing ourselves as we are or like, you know, understand ourselves as we are and instead of as we wish we were.
Because I mean, for example, you take a look at, like, the Communist Manifesto, great, great system for a creature that doesn't exist, you know, like, that's, that's like, you can come up with all these theories till you're blue in the face, but if they don't map onto reality, then ultimately, you know, what are they worth? And so I think he was a pioneer in that space, alongside others, that really kind of got people thinking in a meaningful and reasonable way, about the way that people behave?
James Mackey 34:57
Yeah, I thought one of the things that impressed me the most was just He would, there'd be pretty complex topics that he could boil down simplistically, and express them in a way that everybody understood.
Ben Miller 35:07
Right? And that's real value, like, anybody can spout off and give you a million words about x. But if you can, like my dad used to say, if you can't make it simple, you're not that smart. Like, that's, that's the whole ballgame.
James Mackey 35:20
For sure, for sure. So the last question, this kind of goes to the behavioral piece and human psychology. I feel like so much when it comes to personal finance, it does come down to psychology, it comes down to decisions, it comes down to emotions. And for me, it's like, setting up a process in such a way that takes the emotion out of it on an ongoing basis.
So can you make a few decisions in a moment that you can plug and play and automate, that will then benefit you in the long term, because if you don't have that set up, who knows something happens at work, whatever you, you know, some people spend money too, you know, they or they change there, you know, to overcome certain feelings?
I mean, there's, there's just, you know, people are so unpredictable in the sense that, it's almost good to lock in your strategy and out of sight, out of mind, and just have it working for you in the background. And I feel like just so much personal finance is tied to like, kind of locking in strategy and not letting human behavior just completely throw strategy out the window. Would you agree with that, or?
Ben Miller 36:27
I think what you're touching on in my head, you know, falls under the heading of systems, like basically putting in place structures that do exactly what you were saying that help you make that one decision that's going to prevent you from having to make 1000 decisions in the future.
Because I don't know about you, but like, for me, it's like, pretty predictably, right around, you know, 3:30 in the afternoon, it's like, I just start to get tired of making decisions. And so it's like, that's when I start, rummaging through the pantry. And like finding something that I know I shouldn't be eating, because it's just like, I'm sick of making the right decision all day long. And then especially now, you know, modern society is flinging decisions at you day after day after and second after second, you know, like social media, there's all these claimants on our attention, that it gets very exhausting to try and have to make all those decisions on like a one-off type of format.
But when you put in place those structures that will make those decisions for you, and you put in place, the structures that simplify things, you know, that's, that's, again, kind of what my software is all about is like, if you're running after, you know, this goal in the future, if like, think of it like a running race, you can focus on you know, I'm going to stay low, I'm gonna get a turnover, I'm going to, you know, like, use my arms, I'm going to, you know, whatever, all the running tips that somebody would give you as a coach, or it's like, you can just go, Hey, I'm going to run against that guy, because he's really fast, and you're just like, catch up to that guy.
Like, then all of a sudden, things just kind of fall into place. Because you've just got one simple criterion that's like, Okay, if I can make this happen, then I'll be good to go. So boiling it down to simplicity, and putting in place the systems Yes, is crucial.
James Mackey 38:09
Yeah. 100%. Do you have any good recommendations for books resources, like, obviously, you know, your product of it, and beyond that, like, books, resources for people to learn what they need to know about personal finance. And a lot of it's just sales and marketing driven, not very helpful. Other, you know, other resources out there are just too technical. They're just too much.
Do you know of any simple, straightforward, actually helpful resources that people can pursue if they want to learn more about this stuff?
Ben Miller 38:45
Absolutely. I think far and away, the best book that I know of, on personal finance, is called The Simple Path to Wealth. That's by a guy named JL Collins. And the thing that's magical about that book is its specific, you know, so much financial writing is like, well, if you're this, then do this. And, by the way, you know, consult your financial advisor, and like, all that kind of just kind of cya type of stuff.
And the wonderful thing about this book was like, he was writing it for his daughter. So it's like, specific advice, like, Listen, you should invest in this ticker symbol. And here's why. Like, you know, it's not like, it's not like specific, hyper-specific investment advice that everybody in the world should follow. But it's like, it's authentic, and it's real. It's something that most people can see like, Okay, here's where this part fits into my life. And here's where that doesn't.
A couple of other books come to mind. I think The psychology of money by Morgan Housel, who's a VC, as well, like, basically, I think that's an outstanding book because it touches on a lot of stuff that we've talked about earlier today about how like, listen, people don't always behave rationally. Sometimes something that's not rational is reasonable. And you should think about it and the book that really got me off to the races was Your money or your life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. And so those three, I think if you've got those on your shelf, you're off to an awesome start.
James Mackey 40:11
That's cool. I love that. Well, thank you. And I mean, this has been a great conversation. I had a tonne of fun chatting and talking shop with you. We're coming up on time here. So I just wanted to say thank you for participating and being part of the show. And if you're open to it, I'd love to have you back on in the future.
Ben Miller 40:26
The feeling's mutual. I had a great time, James, and thanks a lot for having me!
James Mackey 40:31
For sure. And for everybody tuning in, thank you and we'll see you next time.