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Jan Farrell ⛷️ the real life Tony Stark (#10)

Episode 10 🍍90×9.co

Jan Farrell is the quad-lingual professional athlete who founded Liberalia Spain, a TPA for mobile phone insurance, specializing in claims management. He is not only a professional athlete, angel investor and startup founder but also a graduate of one of the world’s top business schools, IE Business School, where he now serves as an adjunct professor.

If you were wondering why people refer to him as the “real-life-Tony-Stark” here it is. When he is not busy with his responsibilities as CEO of Liberalia Spain, Jan is:

  1. A Board Member of the International Ski Federation in Bern, Switzerland
  2. The Director of Production at Farrell Import in Madrid, Spain
  3. A Brand Ambassador for: LEKI Lenhart GmbH, Amber Sports Corporation & MÁSMÓVIL
  4. An Advisor & Investor of The Little Car Company in London, UK
  5. An Investment Manager at BRETHIL INVESTMENT SL in Madrid, Spain
  6. A Professional Speed Skier for GB Snowsport

You can learn more about Jan via his YouTube channel here.




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Jan Farrell ⛷️ aka the real life Tony Stark (#10).

Jan Farrell is not only a professional speed skier who happens to be fluent in four languages, he is also an advisor, board member and investor to numerous startups, an alumni of and adjunct professor at IE Business School, a brand ambassador for several companies including: Leki, Amer & MasMovil, AND the CEO of Liberalia Spain.

Jan Farrell is the quad-lingual professional athlete who founded Liberalia Spain, a TPA for mobile phone insurance, specializing in claims management. He is not only a graduate of one of the world’s top business schools, IE Business School, but also an adjunct professor.

If you were wondering why people refer to him as the “real-life-Tony-Stark” here it is. When he is not busy with his responsibilities as CEO of Liberalia Spain, Jan is:

  1. A Board Member of the International Ski Federation in Bern, Switzerland
  2. The Director of Production at Farrell Import in Madrid, Spain
  3. A Brand Ambassador for: LEKI Lenhart GmbH, Amber Sports Corporation & MÁSMÓVIL
  4. An Advisor & Investor of The Little Car Company in London, UK
  5. An Investment Manager at BRETHIL INVESTMENT SL in Madrid, Spain
  6. A Professional Speed Skier for GB Snowsport

You can learn more about Jan via his YouTube channel here.







Listen to this podcast on your favorite platform:

iTunesSpotifyBreaker
OvercastPocket CastsRadioPublic



Adi 🍍

Hey everybody, for those of you who listened to our last interview with Olivia Ramos you may recall the story I shared about the young professional athlete and investor based in Europe. Today Jan Farrell has agreed to join us for this episode of 90×9. 

Jan Farrell is not only a professional speed skier who happens to be fluent in four languages, he is an advisor, board member and investor to numerous startups, an alumni of and adjunct professor at IE Business School, a brand ambassador for large names including Leki, Amer & MasMovil, AND the CEO of Liberalia Spain. 

Did I get everything?

Jan Farrell ⛷️

Yes, I think so. (laughs) I started up an investment club as well, but it didn’t have a name so we can’t really put it on the LinkedIn profile. 

Adi 🍍

Now that we all know you are a real life Tony Stark, could you share a bit about your origin story?  How did you get started with speed skiing, startups, and investing? Where did it all begin?

Jan Farrell ⛷️

I think I basically just exploited a talent that I have had since I was very small.  I was good at disassembling things and fixing things. So ever since I could remember I would just dismantle everything that I had; whether it was a pen, some sort of small game console, an alarm clock, things like that.  And then I’d put it back together again and it’d actually work most of the time, so I started working at school fixing my friends’ phones and quickly saw that that was a good business opportunity. I’d always wanted to ski race professionally, but skiing is very expensive, so I wanted to go to university and be an experimental physicist, or theoretical physicist, more like.  But I also wanted to be a ski racer, so I thought I could try to make some money and then be able to do some skiing. And that’s basically where I am still, eighteen years later. Still trying to do some business trying to pay for skiing, and a few other things have sort of come along with that. 

Adi 🍍

Speed skiing is a very niche sport, how did you even hear about it and what made you decide to get into it? 

Jan Farrell ⛷️

It definitely is niche.  It is so far-fetched, that even with it as my kind of natural way of skiing, I didn’t get involved with it in any way until I’d been racing in other disciplines for the better part of ten years.  So, I raced Alpine, I did ski cross, but what I really like is just going in a straight line really, really fast, like a lot of people and children you see on the slopes. You turn your head and they’re zooming down.  It’s really fun.  So for me, speed skiing is a really natural way of skiing.  It’s also the first competitive winter sport ever. The American gold miners in the nineteenth century were racing around the 1850’s.  Although it can be incredibly difficult to get into, but I’m working on that from the inside with the International Skiing Federation, trying to lower the barrier of entry and make it more accessible to more people.  

Adi 🍍

Isn’t it a very dangerous sport?  Or does it just look like that when we see the videos?

Jan Farrell ⛷️

Yes, but like everything in life, it’s about minimizing risk.  Like investing, you know? You want to take as little risk as possible.  So we do a lot to minimize risk. I skii above 200 km/h – my top speed is 231 km/h (154 mph).  I crashed at 216 km/h (134 mph), but nothing happened to me because I took the necessary precautions.  I fell in the right way, safety nets were there – so it all kind of went according to plan. When you see somebody who races motorbikes slide on a track, they get burned and bruised and it hurts, but it’s not necessarily fatal.  

Adi 🍍

Did you break any bones when you did that?  Were your parents freaking out?

Jan Farrell ⛷️

No, and I raced the next day.  My wife was in the crowd watching, and she freaked out but she freaked out in a worrying way.  She was angry at me. I think I was on the ground still sliding when I could see her running up to me like, “What did you do?!”  I was sort of like, “Sorry, but by the way I’m ok!” Crashes are not that frequent though. We get maybe one or two big ones a year, and normally you’re ok.  You can check out a few of them on my Youtube channel.  There are some interesting ones. I think it’s why people watch our sport, just in case we crash.  

Adi 🍍

I always thought the people who do that are fearless. 

Jan Farrell ⛷️

We’re definitely not fearless, we are fearful at the start of a race, but it’s about how you manage that.  I mean, after my crash I’m more scared than before, but you have to overcome your fears. It’s very interesting.  

Adi 🍍

Yeah, that’s intense.
So, your first company – how did you come up with that idea?

Jan Farrell ⛷️

Well Liberalia is kind of what I started at school in fixing phones for friends.  It started with a friend fixing phones, and he was unlocking phones so they operated freely.  We started a joint venture together. That didn’t quite work out, so I started my own company after a few months, and that company still exists as Liberalia.  It did change names in 2006, but since then it’s been called Liberalia. It has fifteen employees, I’m the CEO, and it’s an amazing place with inspiring people, and it’s been growing every year.  So I’m happy. It’s a good place to work.  

Adi 🍍

That’s pretty cool.  So the classic start-in-your-dorm-room type origin story.  

Jan Farrell ⛷️

Yeah, I mean I just was fixing phones at home for friends. When we opened the company we then rented some office space in the center of Madrid.  I worked Monday to Sunday, twelve hours a day, and partied. It was a wild time, I’m not sure I’d have the energy to do that now. I still do work Monday to Sunday, but try to keep the hours down from twelve to maybe eight, nine, or ten.  

Adi 🍍

You have so much energy.  So how old were you when Liberalia moved from being just you to renting office space?

Jan Farrell ⛷️

Eighteen.  

Adi 🍍

Wow.  And then you started speed skiing at a professional level a few years later?

Jan Farrell ⛷️

Yeah, I was racing Alpine just at a local level in Spain, and learning to race from basically that age and combining it with work.  Although work took over most of my life, so I wasn’t able to dedicate special time to ski racing. I started to take ski cross through a very complicated course.  It’s like motocross or BMX, but on snow. Great fun. But I broke my knee in 2008 and realized I wasn’t going to make the Olympic Games and carried on training and recovering from that.  In 2011, Gran Valira in Andorra organized a speed ski race which was relatively close by and so I started to inquire what I needed to do to get a license and sign up to race, get equipment, etc. I did it and it was love at first sight. It was a sport made for me and I fell in love instantly.  

Adi 🍍

That’s really cool.  This is why everyone calls you Tony Stark.  

What made you decide to transition into investing in startups? 

Jan Farrell ⛷️

To make money? (laughs)  Sometimes we forget the reason, but investing means to make money.  So that has to be the first reason, and sometimes you have to remind yourself of that.  But definitely there was an additional reason to be at the cutting edge of technology. I’m very much motivated by hardware, innovation, where the world is leading, devices that make your life easier, and improving the world along the way.  So I’ve specialized myself in hardware and mainly focus on hardware opportunities. So it’s kind of my area of expertise. And also on the manufacturing side, I’ve also sort of half lived in China for a year, on and off. So with the manufacturing side there I’ve become quite familiar with the process and what obstacles and things happen when you try to manufacture something.

Adi 🍍

When and where did you live in China, and what made you decide to go there?

Jan Farrell ⛷️

I didn’t really live there, I sort of came and went every month for a few days or a week or two. I was in Shenzhen, the factory of the world. It’s where most of the things that you’ve mentioned before – your iPad, your computer, your watch, your iPhone – are all manufactured.  So it’s the place to be for anything to do with manufacturing. We had, and still have, some suppliers there and I’ve been traveling there since 2003 to supply Liberalia and to manufacture things for several different business venues. Everything from beach volleyballs to stickers for MasMovil to all sorts of things I’ve had manufactured in China.  It’s great fun. A wild place.  

Adi 🍍

Do you speak any of the Cinese dialects?

Jan Farrell ⛷️

No, I started to learn Mandarin, but my Mandarin teacher sort of disappeared in Madrid and we left it there.  It was difficult. You do need to invest a lot of time into learning Mandarin, so my utmost respect to foreigners that do learn the language because it’s probably easier to learn to pilot a fighter jet or something like that.

Adi 🍍

Yup, it’s easier to go to space than to learn that language. 

So with the first startup that you invested in – how did you pick it and what considerations did you take into account when making that decision?  Could you walk us through that experience?

Jan Farrell ⛷️

Yes.  So my first real investment in what would be called a startup, as a real professional investor, at more than $50,000, and not friends’ ventures many years ago, etc. was Carv, the digital ski instructor.  So these are insoles which go inside your ski boot, and they teach you how to ski in real time through feedback to your mobile phone.  So there’s intelligent hardware, artificial intelligence, intuitive things – all that sexy talk is there, and the team is inspiring. How did I get there?  I had been exploring and looking for opportunities for a few years already. It’s basically the main reason I started to work at the IE Business School, to start to look at and familiarize myself with the startup ecosystem and see what opportunities there were and learning how to say no to a lot of opportunities that came my way.  And Carv came to me from several different directions; from my coach, from my PR agency, from a friend of mine who had skied with them. So in the end we connected with them and got talking, and I gave them advice, which they listened to, and they were very interesting. And yes, when I started to do my due diligence on them and look a lot through the process, I think my first one has really changed my approach to any other startup that I analyze.  It’s really matured my ideas and taught me how to detect what’s really important in a startup and what isn’t.  

Adi 🍍

I think it’s interesting that you pointed out that they took your advice and they implemented it.  I’ve had mentors who, after a year or two of keeping in touch, they would say, “If you find a startup that’s worth investing in, let me know.”  But that’s not how the conversation started, it was like they tested me for a year or two to see “How does she implement my advice?” before they made that jump, and I think that’s something that not enough people take into consideration when making their choices.  Usually they’re all, “Let me hear the deck, let me see the pitch, let me interrogate you for an hour, and then make a decision.” They should take a little more time to see how they react with you, because when you invest in a startup, it’s really like a marriage. Except maybe a little more stressful because you don’t have that fun time.  It’s high stress, high stakes– Well, you’re all about mitigating risk, so that does help. When you’re looking at a startup to invest in, do you have a way of taking into consideration the risk factors and how to mitigate them?

Jan Farrell ⛷️

Not formally, no.  I definitely think about risk, and I’m always trying to find where something can go wrong.  It’s kind of an instinct. So I don’t have an ABCD of risks to avoid. I think it’s a very natural thing to just talk to the team and see where it could go wrong and how could they lose my money.  When they just answer positively and convincingly to each one of your doubts or questions, that’s when you start to get interested in actually investing. 

Adi 🍍

With this specific company, did they have a financial model that they showed to you, and then they stuck to it?  Or did they kind of say this is what we’re expecting, this is our standard deviation, and then follow that trajectory?

Jan Farrell ⛷️

Yes, they had financial projections. I think in the first few years of a startup, the financials are wild.  It’s difficult to predict, and I don’t give it that much importance. Other things are more important for me.  What’s important for me to invest is first, obviously, the idea. So in my case it’s normally a product. Is it something people need, does it really solve something, and therefore will it be easy to sell?  I very much avoid things which need to be pushed into somebody’s needs or creates a category I’m not a very big fan of, because you really need to be able to convince people that they need it which is hard work and very, very money intensive.  So I’m really looking for something which solves a problem evidently, or is useful evidently, and will convince anyone that “Oh that’s a good idea and I’d like one of those!” If it’s too expensive or whatever, that’s fine, but is it really useful?  The next thing is the people, the founders. That’s just so, so, so important.  

And I agree with you, the advice component is important, but I do have to say something in defense of startups that don’t listen to advice.  How you don’t listen to advice is important.  Startups get advice fired at them constantly from everyone.  Especially if you’re raising capital, you’ll always be listening to advice from experts in their fields.  And yes, some or most of the advice is pretty excellent, but you can’t follow everything. So Carv is very quick to say no.  Like “Jan that’s a very good idea, but don’t have the bandwidth to do it,” or “It’s not a good idea,” etc. So they surprise me daily with that by using advice positively, but also quickly saying “No, we’re not going to do that.”  

Adi 🍍

If someone’s giving you consistently bad advice, would you really want them to be an investor?

Jan Farrell ⛷️

Yes, because an investor’s job isn’t to give advice, in my opinion.  An investor’s job is to give you the money, to really simplify things.  An investor should opens doors, get contacts. But really if you need an advisor, then employ someone.  I think a team should be complete without external needs and I’m wary when someone is really looking for a strategic investor.  Professional investors are normally people who have a lot of different ventures in a lot of different areas. Very few people only invest in venture capital.  Mostly you have a varied portfolio and you want teams that can get on and do things by themselves, not teams that need things. It’s a generalization. Certainly if you have ideas you should share them, but there is a very big component of trusting in building a strong team.  

Adi 🍍

That view comes from having invested in quite a few startups at this point, right?  Some investors are constantly pinging the startup, but it’s probably their first, second, third startup that they’ve invested in.  By the fourth or fifth they’re not going to blow up your phone.  

Jan Farrell ⛷️

Well, you might find situations in which you have to help, or can help.  But that shouldn’t be the pillar of the investor-startup relationship. I invested recently in Kokoon, an intelligent headphone that can help you sleep, and that’s one of the first investments which I made already thinking they don’t need me for anything.  They are complete and they have an excellent team. Okay, they’re looking for a Data Scientist, but I’m not a Data Scientist. If I was, I might try to help.  But after a few months, we quickly realized that I could help them on PR and marketing. I have that experience and there’s enough lead in marketing from my sport, for speed skiing.  They’re giving me a pretty interesting task and we’re developing things together. So yeah, I’m always willing to help, but it shouldn’t be the pillar or base of the relationship, I think. 

Adi 🍍

It’s interesting to see each investor’s view on this.  Gopi was on the show a few months ago and he’s an investor in InsureTech in Silicon Valley, so a completely different arena.  His view on the investor-startup relationship is very different, but it’s also a very different industry.  

Jan Farrell ⛷️

I’m actually quite interested in InsurTech because Liberalia now is essentially in insurance exclusively.  We only work for mobile phone insurance and we are a third-party administrator of mobile phone and damaged electronics insurance claims.  So I should be more interested in InsurTech than I have been up to now.  

Adi 🍍

I’ll have to connect you guys after this.  

What were a few obstacles that you were surprised to face in your earliest months as a first time investor?

Jan Farrell ⛷️

I think fighting against myself, like knowing what was my role, what was I doing.  That’s something that after a few years is far clearer. I have a much clearer idea of who I am and what I am, as I’ve explained.  I’m there to put money into the company, and I should only concentrate on if that money is going to grow and if the company can be successful.  Not trying to see how my relationship is going to work or not work with the startup. I mean yes, I could have an advisor seat, I could be on the board somewhere, but in the end I should trust my experience in business in general to be able to add value on that front.  But if I’m a shareholder, I should just be that. It’s interesting. It kind of helps you to separate things. Also for a non-professional investor in the beginning the whole terminology and the way things are done in the startup world are so different from real business and real big, mature companies. Like for me, I didn’t realize I was starting a startup when I was eighteen, I just opened a company.  I went to the register’s office and showed my ID, signed the papers, and started employing people. I didn’t try to bootstrap my way along or anything, I just got there and did it. To invest in the startup ecosystem you sort of have to familiarize yourself with it and sort of understand a lot of things. It’s a process as well.

Adi 🍍

Now that you’re in the startup ecosystem, do you have any advice for somebody that’s looking to move from the business world to the startup ecosystem?

Jan Farrell ⛷️

For investors or founders?

Adi 🍍

Founders.  You have a rare story of both. 

Jan Farrell ⛷️

There shouldn’t be a difference between business and startups, it’s the same thing.  So there’s things that are done very well in startups and things that are done very well in business, and I think there’s a lot to be learned from both.  Certainly being lean and not spending huge amounts of money on consulting is kind of key for a startup. To do it yourself and learn how to do it yourself should be applied in bigger companies as well.  It’s difficult to manage a PR firm if you haven’t been there and done it yourself. I have done my PR myself for ski racing as an athlete and for the whole discipline of ski racing, which I manage now. I’ve professionalized it now with a PR agency, but it’s so much easier to manage now when you’ve been there and done it.  And yes, there’s a lot to be said for being lean and bootstrapping your way through as much as you can, but also sitting down and renting some office space and coworking. For some startups, it’s a necessary step and they should do it earlier rather than later.  

Adi 🍍

Why?

Jan Farrell ⛷️

I think it’s like leaving your parent’s house.  It’s soft and cuddly yeah, but maybe it’s not what you’re going to do for the future.  It might not be that much more expensive, but it gives you a certain formality. This is a vast generalization, and it depends what you’re into, but I’ve seen a lot of startups that for four years have been in this small coworking space and it just doesn’t look very serious.  It doesn’t look very professional, and looking professional is also important, whether it’s for an investor, a customer, or a supplier. Sometimes having a nice building and an office with your name on the door is important. 

Adi 🍍

I agree with that completely.  At the startup that I’m working at now, the office I’m in is in the same space as HBO and Citibank, and you walk in and it’s like wow.  Their other space is in a WeWork, but they’re moving it into a serious office building also. When you make that jump it’s a little scary but it forces you to be serious about your next moves.

Jan Farrell ⛷️

Exactly.  Putting employees on a payroll and paying people just brings things into dimension quickly.  You can’t survive with not paying people, with just sweat equity or whatever. It’s okay for a few months, but if you really want to get serious then raise cash, put the idea up, and get going.  It’s not a red line for me to say no to an investment where founders are paying themselves a respectable salary from day one. It’s natural, it’s normal, they have to live off something. If they’re an experienced engineer who’s had a high salary and they want to start a company, yes they should be paid.  Maybe slightly less than market value, but not really low figures. It’s their job to convince the investors that they’re worth that. It’s basically go big. You have to think big and think into the future and not be scared of it. If you think big and you’re convinced of it then you’ll sell, you’ll attract investment, and it’ll all fit together.  

Adi 🍍

I guess that goes back to speed skiing when you’re afraid and you’re about to go down, but it helps you to focus.  Like my quarterly goals. If they don’t cause me to have a little bit of angst then my brain won’t switch from tinkering around to performance mode unless the goals are slightly terrifying.  

Jan Farrell ⛷️

Yeah after my crash I spent a season underperforming.  You’d look at the photos before and after my crash and I was positioned much higher. It was like my body was saying “Don’t go so fast.”  My mind was saying race, but my body was saying okay but not so quickly, which is actually more dangerous and slower. So I thought that I was strong enough to overcome that and teach myself to push again.  In the end I decided to work with a sports psychologist. I’d rationalized my ideas, but wasn’t able to execute them and put them into practice properly. I worked hard with him and we tested every scenario of me as an athlete and as a person, like how I react to stress and what happens if I don’t have stress.  The reason I’m saying all this is that the conclusion was that I worked much better under stress, that I need stress to perform. The other really cool conclusion is that I can’t stop being scared, but what I can do is know that I am going to be scared at the start, and that really helps. So, if that helps anyone.  It’s helped me not only in skiing. Imagine public speaking in front of a new crowd about a topic you’ve never talked about before, and yeah you might be a little bit scared, but that’s okay. Just accept it and do it. Accepting that you can be scared is a good piece of advice, I think.  

Adi 🍍

I was in a ballet company in my last two years of high school, but before each performance I was terrified, shaking.  It was like okay, you have this time to be insecure and freaking out up until you go on stage, but as soon as you go on stage you have to shut off the emotional side of your brain and just lean in.  I’ve found the same thing happens when I have to do speaking engagements for IE and other startups. In 2016 or 2017, IE had me do three speaking engagements in three cities in three days, and I’m an introvert like, “Oh this is great.”  Same thing. I was terrified up until I walked up in front of these groups of people in cities I’d never been in before. I had to think of it as making them feel comfortable, be more concerned about them being comfortable and confident, and that helped to shut off the “Oh my gosh everything could epically fail” part of my internal dialogue.  

Jan Farrell ⛷️

Even then, sometimes you can’t really shut down that part, so sometimes it’s easier to accept that okay, my mind is going to tell me that this isn’t a good idea, but I’m still going to do it.  Sometimes it’s being scared of being scared that’s the problem. Whatever the emotion; being scared or stressed. It’s like no, it’s going to happen, it’s going to be there, I’m going to go down the mountain at 200 km/h.  It’s just going to happen. I’m going to go in front of those people and talk to them so I might as well accept that I’m going to be a bit nervous beforehand.  

Adi 🍍

Yes, being scared of being scared, that’s exactly it.  Okay, we totally went on a tangent. 

Jan Farrell ⛷️

Yes, we’re both good at that!

Adi 🍍

Sometimes I think it’s more fun that way.  So, before launching all of these startups and getting into speed skiing, did you have a clear vision of what you wanted?  Or did you kind of just look at opportunities as they popped up and jumped at the next one that was most appealing?  

Jan Farrell ⛷️

No, I didn’t really have a roadmap.  For certain projects, yes. I mean for speed skiing it’s easy; I wanted to win.  So that’s a simple objective. For Liberalia, yes I wanted my company to be successful and grow, but we got into insurance by accident.  I think life is full of opportunities and you have to know how to deal with them and identify the ones that are not going to waste your time and are going to be really useful to you.  That’s a bit like startups. There’s so many opportunities and so many cool ideas and inspiring people out there, you really have to know how to cherry-pick. It’s about knowing how to identify the right opportunities, whether it’s skiing, business, or investing, it’s all the same:  Do you have the right criteria? So if I’m successful in investing, maybe people will follow me one day. That’s kind of the direction I’m going bit by bit. Let’s see if I really can have a good strategy for identifying talent. That could be really useful for other people and be extremely profitable.  It’s all about what’s happened and not what’s going to happen, I think, in many cases. You know, what has happened in your life, have you made the right decisions, have you been of strategic value in different areas in the past?

Adi 🍍

There are two schools of thought amongst high performers with what advice they give.  One is “You need a vision board and just keep updating the vision board!” The other, which is more like the Steve Jobs school of thought, is that you just have to trust that everything’s going to fall into place, and when you look back you realize all the dots connected.  You just can’t see how they’re going to connect until you’re standing at the end looking back.  

Jan Farrell ⛷️

For me, I don’t think it really matters.  This is one of those typical phrases: I can’t tell you the formula for success, but I can tell you the formula for failure.  In my opinion, it’s the person. It doesn’t matter if you’re skiing, or in a business you started when you were eighteen, or in a startup.  It’s the person and how they interact with others that’s key. So I always concentrate the most and do the most due diligence on the founders, and the leader.  I’m really looking and drilling to see if the person is a good person in all situations. Are they a people person or make other people feel good? That’s so important.  Can they build a team around them? If you’re not a good person, you can’t build a good team around you, they’re going to hate you. It’s being patient, listening to people, listening to advice in the right way, knowing how to deal with it, and knowing how to make people who give you advice feel good about giving you advice.  There’s so many components of being an integral leader and being able to push a project forward, which are critical. I think most projects that fail are because of the leader, the actual people skills of the leader. Whether it’s not engaging with suppliers, or customers, or the actual team. The overall well-rounded person who is fun to be with is who people will follow.  They will inspire others to work harder, to buy their product. That’s critical. Also it doesn’t matter if you have a roadmap or not. If you’re a hard worker and a good person, you’ll get it done. It sort of clicks into place. Obviously you have to have a good idea, you have to build a good team, be intelligent and persevere, and all that. There’s a whole bunch of things we’re missing in this generalization of a picture of a super founder, but I think the most important quality which a lot of people miss is being a good person.   

Adi 🍍

That’s huge.  I had one mentor years ago who would invest in different cryptocurrencies based on who the founder was.  Who are they as a person? That’s how he made his decisions.  

Jan Farrell ⛷️

I mean you can’t be too good.  You can’t let people take advantage of you.  That’s what I sort of analyze, that it has to be balanced.  Like are they going to be able to fire someone, or are they too good a person to fire anyone?  Will they change suppliers if the supplier is not working well? Decision making is key. I like to simplify things as much as possible for myself.  The sooner I can say no to a startup, the quicker everything is for everyone, and the less problems for everyone. My experience is that where I find most obstacles is, once I’ve already read a deck and decided this could be interesting and up my street, I try to get onto the founder as quickly as possible and see what they’re like. 

Adi 🍍

Do you have any high performance habits that have guided you throughout your journey?  Like some people read a book a week, or have a daily check in with mentors. 

Jan Farrell ⛷️

I think I’d have to if I wasn’t an athlete.  So when I retire in four years time, I think I’ll have to find some sort of strategy, but I think my sport keeps me and my mind ordered and disciplined sufficiently.  I don’t need to find any other sort of concrete things which help me. Other than maybe always making an effort to be good with everybody, and be patient, because I’m very impatient.  If somebody’s irritating you with this stupid idea in your company you can’t tell them that. You can say no in the end, but you have to listen to them patiently. I think that’s sort of the biggest conscious effort that I make, to try to not be impatient with other people. 

Adi 🍍

What’s your training schedule like?

Jan Farrell ⛷️

Year round, it’s about an hour and a half of physical preparation a day, six days a week.  I have three weeks off after the ski racing season. That basically involves the gym, a lot of weights, a lot of lifting, and some aerobics and rowing and things.  I’m on snow from the beginning of October or mid-October. In this case, we should be skiing in about ten days time in the Alps in Austria. Then it’s sort of flying over to Austria, skiing two or three days, flying back, and I repeat every sort of two or three weeks or right up to the racing season which is almost three months.  

Adi 🍍

When you’re gone do you have a daily check in with your teams?  You have the PR agency, Liberalia, and all these other things going on. 

Jan Farrell ⛷️

They’ve sort of grown to know me, so they’re on top of me.  They know that they sort of have to come and get me. It puts pressure off me, as well.  I try to avoid things depending on me remembering things. I try to make sure that other people are responsible for what they need from me.  If I haven’t replied to an email, they know that I have 24 hours for me to reply, and if not then they have to insist and call me or whatever.  It’s not that difficult during the season, I do come back to Madrid practically every week, with my wife and daughter. I do still live in Madrid, even if I’m away for a week.  

Adi 🍍

How old is your daughter?

Jan Farrell ⛷️

A year and a half, today.  We’re having a 1.5 birthday party, ever heard of that?

Adi 🍍

No, but why not!  Is she expressing an interest in skiing?

Jan Farrell ⛷️

I’d never heard of one either, but we heard about it and thought it was a good idea, so we’re doing it.  Yeah, we took her skiing before she was one. She started walking at ten months so, you know, I thought “This is my opportunity.” (laughs)  She got on a pair of skis two days before her first birthday party. Although I don’t want her to be a professional skier, I want her to enjoy skiing and enjoy life and make her own choices.  

Adi 🍍

When I was six months old, my parents went skiing with me in a backpack.  My mom was a ski instructor in Vail, Colorado for a little while. So when she married my dad she said, “I’m not going to stop skiing, we’re just going to bring the baby.”  So they pushed me to learn to walk quickly so that when I was a year and a half I would be on skis. That’s how I got started in ballet, they wanted to strengthen my legs before the ski season.  I think they realized it was a bad idea because my younger siblings didn’t ski until they were three or four. 

Jan Farrell ⛷️

I always say my daughter started skiing at the age of zero, but we just pushed her around a flat part.  Really, I don’t think three or four makes any sense. It’s just familiarizing yourself with the environment and learning to love snow, which you can do on or off skis. But really, physically and mentally, normally, three is the right age to start just having fun.  

Adi 🍍

Alright, we have two questions left, then you can run to your birthday party preparations.  As a seasoned gladiator of the startup arena, do you have a strategy you use to process when an unexpected emergency arises? 

Jan Farrell ⛷️

I really haven’t had many emergencies in startups in which I’ve invested.  Any type of emergency before investing would basically mean don’t invest. In general, I think what I would do and what I do in my company is to stop and think, and really try to rationalize what the emergency is and what the outcome now that it’s happened is.  I think you can apply that to other areas of life and business as well. Okay, you can be angry, okay we have a problem, we’ve lost money or whatever. What is the ideal solution and is it achievable? Because a lot of times we want to achieve something which, if we stop and think, is not possible.  So just stop and think about what’s the end solution from that emergency that you want, and then put mechanisms into place to make that happen. That’s sort of something I actively do to reflect on me and my life and the teams. Okay, this is the situation, let’s find the ideal solution, is that realistic, is it achievable, let’s do it.  It’s simple. A lot of times when you have an emergency, you carry on analyzing what’s happened, what’s happening, what we could do – No, no. Think of the end, the final point, and build back from there. Maybe it cannot be solved. A lot of times we try to find solutions to things that cannot be solved. Or we try to reconduct people that don’t have a solution, and you need to change the area in which they work, or fire them or something like that.  On Monday I had to fire an employee that had been with us for three and a half years, and he was a valuable member, but we decided that the relationship with his boss had deteriorated and it just wasn’t improvable. It would happen again, and the rational decision was for him to leave the company, unfortunately.

Adi 🍍

It’s interesting.  I think with younger talent, they tend to think they can get away with less than ideal behavior because of their skill set.  They don’t realize that it’s 30% your skill set, 20% can we teach you and how quickly can you learn something, and 50% how do you work with others. 

Alright, final question.  What are some tools and tactics that you use to manage everything you have going on?  How do you keep track of everything you have going on?

Jan Farrell ⛷️

My life is so busy that I survive by the day.  I try to do as many things as possible in a day and stop at a certain time.  I try to treat each day on its own and not get entangled with things which I haven’t been able to do the day before.  That’s why I kind of have the 24 hour rule with my teams; they have to reply within 24 hours, I have to reply within 24 hours.  Solve, find solutions, be quick, and if not, restart, start again. Each day is kind of new, like Groundhog Day. That’s kind of my life.  It’s horrible because I basically know that I will never reply to all the emails in my inbox. That’s my situation. I don’t recommend that situation to anyone, and I don’t think anybody should be in that situation.  But if you are, the solution I’ve found to having so many eggs in the basket is just to do what you can, solve as much as possible, and just make sure the people around you that are in charge of everything know what they have to do for you and the decisions you need to make.  Nobody’s perfect. I sort of disagree with your superhuman conclusion about me, I’m just a regular person with my insecurities, my fears, my problems, and my everyday life. I’ve had some success in some things I’ve done, and I’ve put the hours in. I’ve put the hard work in, and maybe I’ve made some good decisions along the way, but it’s all about working hard, being good to other people, and asking for help when you need it. 

Adi 🍍

I think it’s also a little bit of playing the long game. A lot of people are short-sighted and they have a Groundhog Day where they’re constantly spending that day investing time and energy into things that may not pay off in the long run.  Whereas for you it sounds like, I’m going to invest this limited amount of time I have in this one thing, and how is that going to impact us in one, five, ten years. Whereas some people are just kind of like they answered an email and they’re excited.  It’s not just answering 15 emails. It’s if you can only answer 15 emails, answer the ones that are going to help you move the dial the most. Like using the 80/20 principle to really select where you’re going to put the limited amount of time you have.  

Jan Farrell ⛷️

I’ll do that one day.  I think it sounds like I do, but I don’t do it enough.  I definitely think I should put more into selecting which emails I do actually reply to.  So thank you for the advice. (laughs) It’s not good for my people to have to come back to me because their boss didn’t reply to their email and have to ring him up and say, “We need a decision on this.”  I mean, I do explain beforehand and they do know that sometimes my days don’t go as planned and I’m not able to dedicate enough time to certain things. So they’re all very conscious about it. It works, I have to say.  It’s okay.  

Adi 🍍 

Jan, thank you so much for joining us today. 

Jan Farrell ⛷️

Thank you, it was very interesting.  I enjoyed reflecting about certain things.  Sometimes you don’t stop and think about your conduct or your attitudes or who you are and what you do.  These moments are very interesting. Thank you for the inspiring questions. 

Adi 🍍 

Well Lads & Ladies if you would like to keep in touch with Jan– Well, not keep in touch.

Jan Farrell ⛷️

Of course you can!  You can write to me.  If you need something, you’ll be welcome.

Adi 🍍 

To be email number 300 in his inbox.

Jan Farrell ⛷️

No!  I’ll do my best to reply and to make it interesting.

If you’d like to find out more about Jan and his incredible journey, you can head over to his YouTube channel or Linkedin profile.

About your host Adi Pineapple 🍍

Adi Soozin, Adi Vaughn Soozin

Adi Soozin recently transitioned from working as the Fast Growth Executive at The Million Dollar Pineapple to the Head of Growth & Operations at 90×9. Over the past decade she has worked as an on-call consultant and marketing freelancer for more than 300 companies throughout 48 countries, across 6 continents. The fastest she has grown a company is from $0 to more than $100,000,000 in sales in less than 5 years.

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