The story behind the story: ‘a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reimagine everything’

In the weeks since we released Who’s Your Mike? A No-Bullshit Guide to the People You’ll Meet on Your Entrepreneurial Journey, I’ve been blown away by the positive reviews. I knew these stories were worth sharing, but it’s been humbling to hear just how much you’re enjoying the book. And last week I learned that Who’s Your Mike? was trending as an Amazon bestseller!

If you know me, your initial reaction to “Kurt wrote a book” was probably disbelief: “Umm, Kurt… don’t you hate most business books?” Yeah, that’s true. As I discussed recently, actually writing a business book was the last thing I thought I’d ever do!

Then came 2020. In March of that year, everyone’s world got turned upside-down, and almost overnight, we had to rethink everything—in our personal lives and in our businesses. Who’s Your Mike? is one of the things that came out of the pandemic for me.

When our world was shut down I initially struggled with how to best channel my talents into something productive. HireBetter doesn’t manufacture paper products or whiskey, so we couldn’t make the heroic transition to producing toilet paper or hand sanitizer. But I wanted to do something to help my community deal with whatever was being thrown at us.

To figure out my place in all of this, I had to take stock of what I’m good at and what I truly love doing. It really came down to my purpose: “To challenge and inspire those around me.” Here’s an excerpt from a post I wrote back on April 2, 2020:

In these times, what exactly does that purpose mean? How can I leverage my gifts? Well—I’m a connector, a facilitator, and I have the ability to challenge and inspire. I thought about the times I’ve needed help in the past—with either personal or business struggles. What would have helped me most in times of crisis?    

Survival and Thrival CEO Forums

My answer to that question—what would have helped me?—came to me almost immediately. As a longtime member of YPO, an organization whose mission is to help members become better leaders through education and idea exchange, I’ve benefited greatly from YPO Forums, where leaders come together to build deep relationships and help each other in good times and bad.

My strengths were well-suited to creating a forum-like environment for non-YPO’ers in this time of crisis. I knew this was exactly what leaders needed in those early days of the pandemic: a confidential setting to share experiences, encourage each other, and just have a group of peers in the proverbial foxhole together.

With a loose plan in mind, I leapt into action, getting to work on connecting other leaders in makeshift groups we dubbed “CEO Forums.” In my initial email to members of my network in late March, I told peers that I couldn’t promise these meetings would erase the problems we all faced but, “I can promise you that authentic engagement will lead to rich relationships. Some weeks you will need a lifeline and some weeks you will provide the lifeline.”

I won’t speak for the other 55 members of the five CEO Forums we assembled, but for me, they were an absolute godsend. I can’t imagine where I’d be now if not for the fellowship of those groups.

The encouragement, the faith that we would get through this, the shared experiences—was truly special. The groups experienced the ups and downs of 2020, and we got through it together. And for the most part, we didn’t just survive the pandemic – we positioned our companies to thrive on the other side.

Reexamining My Roles

In one of our very first sessions, my friend Craig Wiley poignantly proclaimed, “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reexamine everything!”

That message still resonates with me—and many others—to this day. And that mindset inspired me to do even more. It wasn’t enough to facilitate these CEO Forums every week. It became clear (due to the waiting list to join the Forums) that we needed other ways to share the messages, lessons, and community-building from the Forums with a broader audience.

I started sharing the lessons learned and key takeaways to the outside world by first writing articles and then hosting LinkedIn Live sessions with guests from those Forums called Survival & Thrival. A live feed on LinkedIn’s new platform – talk about getting outside of my comfort zone!

Then, when we got tired of talking about the pandemic and the CEO Forums ran their course, we pivoted to a podcast with a Let’s Go! mantra. No matter what the world threw at us, we had to find a way, no excuses—LET’S GO!

Putting myself out there definitely wasn’t comfortable, nor easy—change and growth never is, especially when the world was watching and commenting! The pandemic really did provide an opportunity to reimagine everything, including my role. It pushed me to do two things I never would’ve thought possible on March 1, 2020.

First, I stepped aside from my role as HireBetter’s CEO. I realized that my “highest and best use” wasn’t leading the day-to-day, but serving as the company’s chief evangelist.

I get to spend my days leading discussions with clients like the stories you’ll read about in Who’s Your Mike? and writing and speaking about my experience with these entrepreneurial companies. Besides, Cisco is a much better CEO for the company than me anyway!

The second previously unthinkable challenge I took on was writing a book. I wrote Who’s Your Mike? to share my stories of lessons learned over my career with an even wider audience.

And while the book was born OF the pandemic, believe me, it’s not ABOUT the pandemic. COVID gave me the opportunity to reimagine everything, and my experience gave me the courage to share a career’s worth of stories as an entrepreneur with the world. I assembled a team to bring Who’s Your Mike? to life, and got to work. But more on that next time…

Who’s Your Mike? is not a traditional business book: every chapter guides the reader through a different people challenge, so you can quickly identify how to solve troubling scenarios. In fact, I encourage entrepreneurs to “choose their own adventure,” by reading just the sections that’ll be most helpful to their situation. Here are just a few of the things you’ll learn:

  • There’s no secret formula to hiring smart – we all make hiring mistakes
  • Whether you’ve outgrown members of your current team, and what to do next
  • How to handle the people you’re sure to meet on your entrepreneurial journey

Posted by Kurt Wilkin

For the past 30 years, he has advised high-growth companies, starting his career with Ernst & Young, and today in his roles as co-founder and visionary of HireBetter and managing partner of Bee Cave Capital. He is a serial entrepreneur with multiple successful exits and has helped hundreds of entrepreneurs and CEOs build their companies. Kurt has called Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas home his entire life and proudly claims to have "Redneck, Cajun, and Hillbilly rolled into one beautiful package." That might explain his natural BS detector. As you'll see in these pages, his plain-spoken, approachable style helps cut through the clutter and delivers lessons for fellow entrepreneurs that they can apply—right away.