Ep 042

The Story Behind Future Proof & Transforming Your Live Events into Experiences

With

Matt Middleton

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Inside This Episode

Today, I’m speaking with Matt Middleton, the CEO of Advisor Circle – a venture studio and incubator that’s modernizing the wealth management industry and inspiring the leaders of today to think and act differently.

Our industry doesn’t need to be dull, boring, and traditional. It can be more creative, more impactful, more innovative, and more fun. And Advisor Circle is building products that are leading the charge.

The products they spin out of their studio come in different forms, including conferences, festivals, software applications, and media experiences. What unites them is vision: That when you connect the most innovative financial services companies with forward-thinking financial professionals, good things happen.

4 of the biggest insights from Matt Middleton

  • #1 How Advisor Circle built its signature event Future Proof into the world’s biggest event for independent financial advisors.

  • #2 3 tips for turning your next client engagement from a run-of-the-mill event into an impactful experience.

  • #3 How to adopt Advisor Circle’s frictionless system to facilitate one-on-one meetings between mutually interested event sponsors and advisors.

  • #4 It can be hard to differentiate from the advisor next door. Take Matt’s tips for using data to stand out from the crowd by creating a more unique offer, brand, and business.

KEY TAKEAWAYS: 

  • From an unlikely background to finance
  • What is Advisor Circle?
  • How to turn an event into an experience
  • Creating a win-win for attendees and sponsors
  • Modeling conferences after recreational events
  • Design-your-own-adventure events
  • Inspiring user-generated content
  • Improving the advisor-sponsor relationship
  • How to gather data for a better event
  • The future of finance events
  • Access to key speakers
  • Being a superhero for your kids

3 TIPS TO TURN YOUR LIVE EVENTS INTO AN UNFORGETTABLE EXPERIENCE | MATT MIDDLETON

HOW FINANCIAL ADVISORS CAN BUILD BETTER CONNECTIONS AT LIVE EVENTS | MATT MIDDLETON

HOW FUTURE PROOF IS CHANGING THE PERCEPTION OF FINANCIAL ADVISORS | MATT MIDDLETON

SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE: 

PEOPLE MENTIONED IN THE EPISODE:

THIS WEEK’S FEATURED REVIEW

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MIC DROP MOMENTS WITH MATT MIDDLETON

  • When you connect the most innovative financial services companies with forward-thinking financial professionals, good things happen.” – Matt Middleton

  • Don’t call it a conference. Conferences are a tired version. It’s a work obligation versus something that I aspire to go to.” – Matt Middleton

  • “Most of my friends, they’re in jail right now or they’re dead. For some, that type of background is the catalyst that propels them to greater things. For others, it’s their crutch in life.” – Matt Middleton

  • “When thinking about events, the very simple thing that I operate around is, ‘Am I building something that I would personally want to go to on a weekend and that I would want to tell my friends and family about during holidays?’” – Matt Middleton

  • “Regardless of your age and your interest level, there’s always this common thread, which is that people like to gather around things that connect to them based on their hobbies, their interests, and their lifestyle.” – Matt Middleton

  • “Let people experience events how they want to experience them and they’ll have a better experience and want to come back.” – Matt Middleton

  • “The more successful you become, the more confident you become, the more you become you.” – Matt Middleton

  • “Stop hiding yourself. Expose yourself, all the flaws. That’s the beautiful thing about us as humans is we all are imperfect. And that is what makes you unique and that is what makes your business the business you want to build.” – Matt Middleton

Brad Johnson: Welcome to another episode of Do Business Do Life. Really excited. Got Matt Middleton here with us today. Welcome to the show, Matt.

Matt Middleton: Thanks, Brad. Looking forward to it.

Brad Johnson: Well, man, I was joking like we had literally done a podcast before the podcast. We just started just talking like background and conferences and future finance. So, I already know this is going to be a really fun conversation. But as we dive in, I think the best place to kick it off is you’ve got a really interesting journey through finance that has led you to creating some really, we talked about conferences and events. I wouldn’t even title it that. My time out at Future Proof, that was an experience and I know we’re going to get into that. But really it started in kind of finding your way through finance, through media, and through your time at Informa and then has led to what you’re doing today with Future Proof. So, for those unfamiliar, maybe we just give the short bio of how did Matt find his way through finance and what brought you to where you are today.

Matt Middleton: Yeah, no. So, I appreciate the time here. Yeah. So, it’s interesting, right? You know, like most people coming out of college, I had a lot of ambition with what I thought I wanted to do. You know, taking it a step further, even I grew up pretty poor, not a sad story by any means. Grew up in a faith, great family. My mother passed away super young. My dad and my mom met at 14. They dated. So, you know what that’s like, like first type of girlfriend-boyfriend situation. Unfortunately, with everything that happened with my mom, my dad ended up moving in with my mother at 16 and I ended up raising my aunt who at the time was 13. And so, yeah, just the situation that is very hard to kind of understand. You know, I put myself, I’m 36 now. I’m still trying to figure out life. I can only imagine what they went through. And so, when you look at that is I was born into this very small family, but very gritty Irish Catholic. My parents ended up figuring it out. They had my brother at 20, me at 22, my sister at 24.

So, again, like Delta not the greatest set of cards, and then double down on that, right? And so, my early childhood was much about being a close family in a kind of moral code, but not much resource and not much financial knowledge. And fortunately, my parents worked very hard to put me in a position where I could elevate a bit further. And so, that got me into playing sports. And then I ended up going into a Catholic high school. And really that’s when I got exposed to people that weren’t of my situation, let’s call it, people that came from wealthier backgrounds, had people that worked in different areas. And that led me uncovering like the finance industry. So, at that time, I really looked at it and it’s like, “All right.” Well, young kid didn’t really have a path. It’s like, “I’ll go do this.” So, I did a couple of movies. I’m like, “This looks fun.” And so, I went to school and I bounced around. I did entrepreneurship. I went to sports management. First, I wanted to be a sports agent, realized law school wasn’t for me. And then ultimately decided like I’m going to land on finance.

And so, I went to school for financial services, graduated, naive and bold, like, “Oh, I’m going to go tear this industry up,” and very quickly realized that unfortunately at the time it’s a closed-door industry, right? You either know someone, you got placed, you have some mentors, and again, you’re placed, or you have money. And so, I found myself trying to enter the space young and hungry, but with no resource. And ultimately, it led me to someone saying like, “Yeah. We’ll sponsor you for your 7 but write a list of people you know on this.” And then very quickly I realized like, all right, they want to list out wealthy people. I didn’t know anyone wealthy. And so, I was kind of very early on left with a bad taste in my mouth about the industry. And then when I say the industry, it’s massive like just show how naive I was at that time. And so, fast forward, I got an entry-level job at this company called Informa. They were a big media publisher that did B2B events, business intelligence, etcetera. And so, I started cold calling, right, calling people, “Come to this event,” selling advertisements, doing all of this. And I cut my teeth there.

And what I realized is that I really just loved working with people and then so bounced around so early days of Informa. I was kind of early on the fintech scene, fintech when before fintech was like it and it was cool. It was really like early days payments, processing, really non-sexy stuff. I did that for a couple of years, then bounced into the hedge fund space and kind of learned that like sliver of the industry. Then I found in 2016 Informa acquired a business inside ETFs. It was a bit at the time the largest ETF event, met up with who my co-founder is now, Matt Hougan, and he became kind of a mentor of mine, if you will. And I fell in love with the ETF product because what it did is it embodied this really democratization, if you will, of investments. And it stuck to me because I was like, wow, access. I like that. It’s something that I felt I didn’t have growing up and then going into my early professional years. And so, then that led me into understanding the advisor role and then following this trend of this acceleration of the RIA space.

And I just loved what it stood for, entrepreneurs, fiduciary, freedom, doing things differently like challenging the status quo, building the business that you like. And I just, again, then I started connecting all of the dots from my career of fintech and seeing how technology was enabling these RIAs to go and build better businesses, serve more people. And I just really fell in love with our sliver of this industry, the financial advisor, mostly the independent financial advisor space. And so, from there that led me, obviously, to getting connected with a lot of my partners today and starting Advisors Circle in the height of COVID in 2020.

Brad Johnson: Well, thanks for that download. I didn’t realize we had a shared background in cold calling. That was fun, right?

Matt Middleton: Yeah.

Brad Johnson: But I relate to a lot of that story. I grew up in small-town Kansas, farm kid, didn’t come from much. And it’s crazy how many people, when you meet them in finance that have become somewhat successful, have very humble beginnings. It’s kind of that drive to figure out the thing that their family never had. You think that’s part of what kind of pulled you into finance a bit?

Matt Middleton: Yeah, it’s interesting. All right. I go back and forth on this. So, my wife, she’s Egyptian. She came here. She immigrated here when she was nine and pretty much bounced around in families and friends’ houses for five, six years before kind of landing, you know, her parents were able to get their own place. And so, like we come from obviously two different backgrounds, but of a similar upbringing. And like we have that same drive. It’s like that grittiness that I aspire for more. Tell me I can’t do something and I’ll go do it. So, I’d like to believe that is true. But on the other side, I grew up with a lot of kids like my early days. Most of my friends, they’re in jail right now, they’re dead. And you start to think about like for some, that type of background is the catalyst that propels them to greater things or it’s their crutch in life. And so, I haven’t really figured out what the secret key is to unlock the positive side of that but I do believe it definitely plays a role.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. It’s an interesting point. Well, let’s go into, so you spent the time at Informa, which sounds like had really exposed you to a lot of different aspects of finance. And then you got into the event space, which is you go into Advisor Circle in what you’re doing now and I definitely want to spend plenty of time on the cool experience I had at Future Proof and how the different ones you look through. But let’s make the jump to Advisor Circle, what you’re doing there, and then catch us up, and then let’s dive into all the cool stuff you’re doing now.

Matt Middleton: Yeah. So, effectively, Advisor Circle is a holding company. It operates as a quasi-media company, quasi kind of consulting and marketing company. The belief is that if you look at the media space today, it’s very different than even what it was 4 or 5 years ago. And labeling yourself as a media company might sound cool in like a creator sense, but as an industry, it’s really in a unique and interesting way. And so, we didn’t want to pigeonhole ourselves into saying, “Look, we’re another media company or an events company.” We wanted to keep it open because we believe our unique backgrounds and how we service the community could lead to other avenues that are nontraditional media. And so, events could be one vein. You know, publishing could be another. We could invest, right? We get a lot of people that come to us and like, “Hey, how do you scale these things in our space so quickly?” and so thinking about distribution and all of these different things.

And so, we’ll see where Advisors Circle grows into today. It’s a more modern, experiential kind of specialist media company, but it has the ability to be its own venture company later on and invest deeper into the people in the companies inside our space that we believe are kind of doing the good work that will help modernize our industry. And then through our media content and events, we can help distribute them their products and services and their message.

Brad Johnson: Awesome. All right. So, one of the things in there is there’s a lot of shared beliefs. I could tell just even before we hit the record button here with the way you see experiences, live experiences in finance, in the way Triad does. And we were talking one of the things we did at Triad, we made a list of Triad bad words and one of them is events. But you have to say event so people know like what it is you’re talking about. But both of us have been to, I’m sure, a number of financial services events over the last decade, decade-and-a-half that we’ve been doing this, and they all kind of blend together. What hotel was that at? And then you go in like this the vendor hall with all the booths, sending stuff in, you’re bumping into people, and we’re like as Triad came to be, we just turned three, we’re like as we reimagined what a live experience is, we said events are forgettable. Experiences are life-changing. Events all blend together. Experiences kind of get you a little out of your comfort zone and create connections and all of that. And you didn’t ask me to say this. I just keep it real on here. Future Proof is the coolest financial service experience. I’ve attended a lot.

And there were a few things and I want to get to like the lens you look through and how you created this because I believe in just your second year but you became the largest world conference in existence by attendees. So, that speaks to people are like, “Yeah, that’s cool. I want to go there.” But things like having it at Huntington Beach, outside on a beach in California, things like the lineup of really cool speakers you brought in, a lot of podcasters, a lot of people that are heavy in media, Josh Brown, Barry Ritholtz, Joe Duran. I attended a session with him and there’s a really cool lineup. Food trucks, Redman, Method Man, that’s not normal in finance. So, I would love to hear and just knowing our audience is independent financial advisors, primarily in the US, but all over the world, many of them have grown their business on live events, experiences, whether for their clients, whether to acquire new ones through dinner seminars, different things like that. What tips could you give when it’s like, “Here’s how to change an event into an experience,” and the lens you look through? I just love to hear your thought process there.

Matt Middleton: Yeah. And it’s a great shout. I mean, thinking about, and I love how your framework of experience is to events. We have the same thing. It’s like don’t call it a conference, right? Conferences are a tired version. It’s a task to work obligation versus something that I aspire to go to. Look, when thinking about events, the very simple thing that I operate is like, am I building something that I would personally want to go to on a weekend that I would want to tell my friends, my family during holidays about? And then if you check those boxes, okay, now, how do I make it beneficial? And so, depending on your audience or the theme of the event, that obviously will change. For us, as you think about the financial advice space, is there enough content? Is there enough networking opportunities, shared moments that are memorable that allow me to take something out of here and hopefully transform myself? And I don’t like to use that word, transfer, because a lot of people like transformation, this, that. But it really is true.

If you attend an event where you made such an interesting connection that you experienced something that just made you think differently and you could bring that back to your office, it is transformational. And so, we look at it through that lens of we’re not just hosting an event. A lot of people and even how you describe it, it’s like, “Oh, it’s the coolest event.” It’s like, yeah, like our brand is intentional like we designed it to be intentional like that, to like stand out amongst the crowd and the noise but at its heart, like we’re very intentional about how we connect people about the types of content that we put on stage, types of speakers, the different formats, the way literally the salt air makes you feel, right? Every little detail we treat it almost like it’s going into Disney World, right? And so, how could you have that effect in our industry?

And then I would just say like at a very human level, our industry, whether you’re an advisor serving, hosting a seminar for potential prospects or clients or you’re someone in our space where we’re hosting an industry event for advisors, like just create the experience at a human level, like at the core, what we’re all here to do. It’s like we connect based on our hobbies, our interests, our lifestyle. Most of your listeners are advisors. They probably have different niches and they serve similar types of people. Like, what are their interests? What do they like to do? And find ways to connect those groups of like-minded people, create those connection points so that they strengthen their relationships, but ultimately will sharpen their referral base to you and obviously grow your business. And so, the biggest thing, like while there’s a lot of like flashy lights around it, calling it at a festival, the colors, being outside, all of that, like, yeah, that’s all true but that’s a form of advertising and marketing.

At its core, what we did to transform the industry is we stopped segmenting people based on their advisor channel or assets or job level, all of that. Like, that’s just segmentation. But what we decided to do is let’s create an event where we can bring out the uniqueness of each individual professional that’s there. And if we connect, whether you’re an advisor, an investment manager, a fintech company or what have you, if we connect them based on the music that they like or based on a food that they are passionate for, or any other hobby for that matter, we could bridge that into an experience. Well, guess what? We now just reduced that kind of traditional avant-garde that you have, right? You talked about it earlier where it’s like you go to these events and it’s like, “All right. I go into content and then if I’m an advisor, it’s like, there’s that trade show hall. And there’s the food there. So, I need to go there because I’m going to eat but like I don’t want to make eye contact. And you’re like you’re doing this the ultimate swim move to try to avoid it until the last day.

And then you’re like, “Let me go get the tchotchkes for my kids because I’ve been gone for two days and I feel guilty.” And then we do this whole song and dance. No one’s happy, right? The sponsors who really should be praised for these events because they support it, they’re the reason why the great events are great because they helped to fund it, right? And so, they should be acknowledged, not avoided. And then in turn, the advisors that are attending or any attendee build the experience for them. Don’t make them the product. And I think that’s really where we kind of it’s not too difficult when you think about it. Like, Future Proof, it’s a big event but at its core, it just operates like how it should operate, how all events should operate.

Brad Johnson: Yeah, it was cool. I mean, if somebody asked me, “Hey, what was your experience about Future Proof?” And I just try to sum it up in a couple of words like, “It was cool, It was fun. It was fresh.” Those aren’t adjectives I use for other financial services conferences I’ve gone to. But like even you mentioned the Disney experience. Hosted in a beautiful place. Beautiful property. But even checking in, the registration process, seamless, easy. Here’s an email with a QR code. Scan. Boom. Here’s your bag. Thank you. You all invited me to host a live podcast out there, so I appreciate that. I’m grateful for that opportunity. If I’m asked back, I would love to come back again.

Matt Middleton: Absolutely.

Brad Johnson: But it was just like, boom, here’s your session. It was all on an app, intuitive, easy. My check-in process, there were probably 30 people checking in and there was a little station, less than five minutes. So, we call it member obsession at Triad. Like, look through the lens of the attendee and look through every stop along the way. I felt like you all look through that lens of attendee obsession. It’s like, let’s make this seamless, let’s make it easy. And then I saw how that impacted. Like, vendors who go to these stuffy halls and hotels, I think because it was outside, it almost like opened up this freedom of like having fun. Like, I forget which vendor it was but I had to walk like a tightrope to get like a Modelo, you know? And it was like they actually had fun with it. So, like, “Hey, we’re outside. We’re on a beach. Let’s not have like a stuffy little five-foot-long conference table with brochures on it.” There were some really cool setups there where they almost embraced the space a bit.

And so, I want to ask you like and this goes back to kind of if I’m an advisor out there hosting a dinner seminar or a big client event, if you were to like kind of say, here’s the pre-game experience, here’s the during like once they get there and here’s the post-game, I saw a really intentional experience all the way through. What would be some mile markers you would check off, like as you thought through Future Proof, if you were applying not to a financial advisor that might be doing events or experiences of their own?

Matt Middleton: Yeah. So, I mean, I always say to people, a lot of people that aren’t making living and breathing events every day, think about events as the live experience. It’s the two or three days or one day, whatever the case may be. It’s that once people arrive to pick up their badge, now what? And what I challenge my team always and my team’s great at this is thinking about the entire journey. So, what do people feel when they come to our website? Where did they hear us? Like, what are people saying about us when we’re not in the room, right, virtually or in the real room? And when they find us, wherever they find us from, in that context, they come to our website. What is that feeling that they get? And like you described it, it’s fresh, it’s cool, it’s different. Is it for me? Like, now I’m interested. I’m intrigued. I want to find out more. Okay. Now, they’ll take that journey. And, frankly, our view, and I probably shouldn’t say this but our view is like we want to give you as much information and show that we’re trying to not just play a part of this industry but transform this industry.

And if you feel by coming to our website, either you’re offended or like you want to mock it because it’s not for you, well, guess what? It is not for you. We want to quickly define that so that we could see each of us in a time. And so, for the people that go onto that journey with us and then they register, what is that? Everything needs to delight, right? We want to surprise and delight at every single level. And that could be from the point in which they register to the communication that they receive. And after again, just tactically, most people you got someone who register, it’s the goal, get the registration in and then like send them an email with their badge details. Well, that could be a nine-month journey where you just have no contact. And so, thinking about who are you serving, what do they need, how do you constantly surprise and delight. And then once they get on site, how do you make it to your point of like this smooth transition, frictionless at all levels? And then for us, taking a step further, thinking about the different constituents that we have there. And what is the incentive structure?

You know, I talk about sponsors like I think this like dirty thing in the industry is like sponsors. Others like investment managers, this evil thing, and like when it comes to advisors but like what you don’t realize is like without them supporting these events, these events don’t exist. And that experience that you desire will never happen. And that’s why you have certain events where they’re not serving you food, right? Or it just feels like it’s stuck in an era where it shouldn’t be. And then you have events like Future Proof where people embrace this new differentiated approach. We have great sponsors and partners and they not only kind of conform to our way of thinking, they transform and humanize their brand in ways that don’t exist. And then what you do is you create a better outcome for them. In turn, you create a better experience for the advisors and everyone wins because the incentives are aligned for the common goal. And what happens there is guards are down and you very quickly realize, like, I’m interested in that technology, or hey, talk to me about your funds, or we’re casually dressed so you don’t have a difference between that person is wearing a three-piece suit and that person’s wearing golf shoes.

And so, it just makes it where everyone is more approachable, regardless of your industry stature or where you represent in the industry from a company standpoint. And it just creates this very harmonious community and platform, which frankly, it’s not like we knew that going into it. It’s like we just say, “Hey, we’re going to do this and see how the industry transforms it. But you could see how much of a need it was in the industry because of how everyone has now evolved and adapted and really building upon it each and every year.

Brad Johnson: Were there models or companies you borrowed from with just like, “Hey, like Disney does this. Let’s incorporate this,” or like, are there any influences on your live experiences that really impacted how you thought through it?

Matt Middleton: Yeah. I mean, I’d like to say, so we made the early connection to like South by Southwest but it wasn’t in terms of how we build. It was more like we need our industry who only does it this way and it’s conditioned this way to think outside of the box as we present it. So, that was early, like, “Oh, we’re the South by Southwest for finance or whatever.” The truth is like no, like we didn’t because we really pioneered this completely, entirely outdoor B2B model, right? Not just in our industry but look across the event space. No one has done this before. I get contacted all the time about people like, “Hey, can you tell me how you did this? I never thought about, like Huntington Beach only has venues of this size. Like, how do you do it?” It’s like, “Well, we don’t use the venues.” He started like just rewiring. Like, if I wanted to create this, how would it go? And so, I would say the context or the genesis behind it really was in COVID, during COVID, you’re right, you know, the ultimate reset for events.

From a budget standpoint and a calendar standpoint, people are kind of conditioned to say, “I’m going to go to XY event every year because that’s what I’ve always done, or we’re always going to sponsor this event because feedback hasn’t been bad. It hasn’t been good, but it hasn’t been bad so we’re just going to continue on. And in 2020, that actually stopped because there was like you physically weren’t allowed to have events. And so, we looked at this as a unique opportunity to come in and vie for number one slot, having a real impact. And so, how do you stand out? How do you differentiate yourself? The funny part about how the festival came to be is like I started to poll a bunch of friends and people in the industry, people I worked with, “What’s the best event that you’ve ever been?” trying to get characteristics of each one. Ultimately, what happened was like the qualifying question thereafter was, “An industry event or a personal event?” And I’m like, “Whoa, that’s where it is.”

Brad Johnson: Interesting.

Matt Middleton: That’s the problem. And so, I would say follow up any event, it was music festivals, right? It was alumni, college alumni weekends. It was local like community gatherings. It was something for your kids where you have a connection with their parents. And ultimately what happened is regardless of your age and your interest level, there was always this common thread, which is people like to gather around things that connect to them based on their hobbies, their interest, and their lifestyle, whether it’s they went to the same college or grew up in the same neighborhood, kids are the same age, etcetera. So, how do you create an environment where people, one, are more approachable but, two, you create themes, opportunities, and frankly, content around things that are interesting on a personal level because we could connect them personally? First, there’s an opportunity to get business done, second, and basically further these relationships, because at the end of the day, we’re a relationship business, right?

We’re not going to events and I’m selling you this mouse and for me to get ROI, we have to sell a hundred mouses. It’s not like that. And so, when you start to think and unpack, like what are the needs and desires of this industry, you very quickly come to something that is far different than most events pre-COVID. And that’s kind of the genesis of how it came to be. And then just Huntington Beach, how we selected it was I pretty much went on a road tour during COVID where I was like the only person on the plane, the only person, they were opening up hotels for me and I went to everything. I went to Dallas, I went to San Diego, all of these big places where we frequent at conferences. And nothing hit this vision that I had for this like completely transformative festival until the last stop, which was Huntington Beach. I checked out the Hyatt and I’m sitting there and I’m just like, “Oh, like it’s an event space. It’s not bad. It’s a really nice property but I’m like, It’s still not it.”

I found myself kind of just like, all right, after a two-week run here, risking my health, I’m staring out at the ocean from my balcony and I’m staring at this endless parking lot. And I’m just like, “Why can’t we have it here?” And so, I quickly called up our venue sourcing consultant who he was taking the trip with me and I was like, “Hey, can we get a meeting with the city while I’m here?” And he was like, “What?” I was like, “Yeah, I want to take all four properties. Can we do this outside? I want to do this whole thing outside.” And he was like laughing at me. And then very quickly, we met with the city, kind of shared our belief and the rest is history.

Brad Johnson: That’s cool. Yeah, that’s a first principles thinking right there. It’s like throw all the rules out the window and I’m trying to create something different. It doesn’t have to be inside of a hotel. There’s no rule with conferences having to be inside. I also love just the thought process of what are the experiences or events you’ve been to that are memorable, that that you’d go back to, that you loved. It’s funny how many of those examples you just gave are completely outside of finance. And to the hobbies and shared interests, that was one of the cool things. And I don’t remember how much of this is on the website, but when I was actually out there, there was a dancing class, there was some sort of, there’s a lot of foodie sort of classes, cooking classes. And it was almost like this buffet of just pick your favorite thing. It was super intuitive. It was in the app. So, let’s go back to advisors and let’s just say we’ve got to narrow it down to three things. And these are like things like we did this, it wasn’t crazy expensive, and it changed the game for the attendee experience.

If there was one, two, three things that an advisor, let’s say, is hosting a client event of maybe it’s 20 people, 50 people, 100 people that they could borrow from your playbook, insert these three things and it would turn it from an event to an experience. What would be some tips there?

Matt Middleton: Yes. I think one would be, depending on where it’s located, like get local. Work with local venues, whether that’s restaurants or other chefs, and whatever the local activities are like embrace the locale. Most people, they travel around to these spaces and it’s like this beautiful resort, this beautiful city, but you don’t leave the hotel. So, embrace that. Whether that is venturing out and going on a little tour, that could be something as simple as a bar crawl or food crawl or something like that.

Brad Johnson: You brought local baristas in. That was one of the things, like I was talking to the, “Do you have little coffee stations?” And the guy is like, “No, I’ve got a store like two blocks over.” And it was cool.

Matt Middleton: Everyone there was local and we bring all this. That’s the one thing about supporting, it’s important for us. Like, we’re not just coming as an industry and taking over your city for four days. We’re embracing it and actually supporting it. And I think now in the scale of Future Proof, I think we put in something like $5 million, $6 million indirectly into the city with local vendors and restaurants and such.

Brad Johnson: Wow. Cool.

Matt Middleton: Super cool. But going back to like the ways you could take it is like, yeah, get local. Either go and venture off, support them, or bring them in. They love this stuff. And so, you could do a lot of hands-on training and it doesn’t all have to be educational based. So, a big thing right now and looking at an advisor space is like personal branding and marketing. Like, this is a big thing. Everyone’s talking about growth. Well, like having training there on an educational aspect, but do it in a workshop where they actually walk away with something tangible. So, education that isn’t just talking about like their portfolio or anything like hands-on shared learning experiences, whether that be something that challenges my mind or lets me experience something that I may be interested in but never had the time to do, that’s a huge win, very cost-effective opportunity. The second one is thinking about what is the experience, right when you walk in the door. You always want to surprise and delight.

And so, this year, one of the things we did was we had after leaving one of those Breakthru sessions like we knew Breakthru is new. There’s going to be a large crowd walking in and then all at the same time walking out. And so, what we did is we hired local dancers to come in. They dressed casual like us, and they started walking the crowd, and then just broken out into a dance. And so, again, it’s like everyone’s pulling out their phones. Obviously, that was a little bit more costly because it was a production but do things depending on the size and format of your event. Like say, I went in here expecting all of this and it was a five-star experience. But then on top of it, they did that. That’s that one thing because that’s what they’re going to tell their friends, their family about. And so, what is that one thing that you want to focus on that maybe that’s unique to your brand or to who you are at the theme of the event?

The third thing, and it sounds silly but it’s like feed people and give them food and beverage as you would want it. Most people, what we tend to do in the events space is like you manage the business like you manage your real business, which is through this vein of a budget without any feeling of an experience. And so, it’s like, “Whoa, coffee cost this. Like, all right, we’re going to shorten the coffee.” Well, then they’re going to be sleeping in your sessions, right? It’s like subtle things. So, you have to be willing to make an investment. Obviously, be smart with your costs but don’t cheap out on the experience. And that food and beverages tends to be this thing that is like you could do everything right but if you give them a rubber chicken or a burnt coffee, that’s one thing they’ll talk about forever. And so, just think about really leveling up the hospitality aspect in the food and beverage specifically within your events.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. On that last one, it was cool because I felt like I was actually kind of just walking through Huntington Beach because all of the food trucks were just lined up. That’s what I’m feeling. So, it was completely by my design, what my food and beverage experience was because I could go get coffee over here. I could go get like you had an Italian ice over there and you kind of like design your own journey. And it felt like I was walking down the street. So, I thought that was really cool. And it was kind of an all-inclusive experience. I was having to pull out my wallet every time, you know?

Matt Middleton: Yeah. I mean, we call it a create-your-own-adventure experience, right? What we’re trying to say is like for Future Proof specifically, it’s large scale. Like, our goal is by 2025, we’ll have 10,000 people. We’re never going to be able to serve every single person’s desired event experience. But what we can do is give a large enough experience where you could create and design your own adventure. And that’s to the people you want to meet, the industry content you want to have, the hands-on learning experience and moments you want to share in, as well as the food you want to eat. And so, everything is remove the constraints. Most people, in most events, they want you down there early for their opening session so they start breakfast at 7:00 and they end it at 8:00. And so, now you have this very rigid hour where if you missed it and you want to go work out, well now you’re not eating breakfast or it’s an inconvenience to you. And so, we kind of just broke that. It’s like, why did we have to have all these constraints?

Like, let’s just offer basically these food trucks and like a tapas-style offering. Let’s offer it for six hours a day. One, can we do that? Like, is it feasible? And the answer is actually yes. It’s just a little bit more work and thinking differently and ultimately, how you just experience that and share it, it’s like, “Oh, I’ll try that or I’m breaking up for a meeting. Let me go grab this.” It’s like, cool. Everything has to be sit down and structured or structured in a way of like, “I’m programmed to do this,” and do this event experience this way. Like, let people experience it how they want to experience it and they’ll have a better experience and want to come back.

Brad Johnson: I love those tips and those are all doable. You know, any advisor, if they think through it intentionally can replicate some of that. You hit something. It’s one of the things we talked about a lot at Triad. So, Kelly, who runs our social, does an incredible job of this. But one of the things I’ll say is like, “If they’re not there, I want this sense of FOMO.” Like, if they’re watching through IG, Facebook, wherever, LinkedIn, I want them to be like, “Man, I wish I would have been there.” And one of the things as I looked at the design, you had a lot of very social friendly backdrops that had like Future Proof, bright colors, hashtags, all of that, which, by the way, I think a lot of advisors missed the boat. They pay a lot of money for this fun experience, but they’re not shared. And that’s free media, that’s free reach that they’re actually not taking advantage of. So, was that part of the design? I’m assuming it was. And how did that play out? Did you see a lot of shares? Did you see a lot of social content being created organically from the attendees?

Matt Middleton: Yeah. So, again, initially, you’re going into year one looking at how not to be the traditional finance conference, right? You start to see just natural trends, like things are Instagrammable, as they say. And so, how do you leverage that where people have fun with your brand and then create and make their own kind of content or experiences off of that? And so, it was definitely very intentional from year one. Year two, we just built upon that based on the success but 100% it’s our main source of media. Like, user-generated content is our main source of media amplification. And it’s hard to say that when you have CNBC live streaming from your event broadcasting, right? So, if I put into numbers, I want to say we had something like 15 million impressions, social media, user-generated content impressions over three days.

Brad Johnson: Wow.

Matt Middleton: So, for an industry, for like regular that maybe is not that big, but from our industry, as you know, that’s unheard of. And what’s cool about it is to your point of, like, people embrace it and then they express how they feel at this event to their audience, which is the strongest ability. So, when you talk about referral or marketing, it’s not what we say as like the host, right, because everything is marketing, but it’s how you make someone feel and how they represent that or even better, embody your brand being a part of that community, that effect. And you can’t pay for that.

And so, yeah, it was very tactical to have those moments where we could give people the opportunity or almost like incentivized people the opportunity to take pictures and share about their experience. But the end result is something that we couldn’t have even imagined. And I think that truly is why Future Proof has become the largest live event brand in our space is because people feel like they are building it with us because they actually are versus, oh yeah, I went to this event and I was in this ballroom locked up for three days straight. And I broke out for a steak dinner, right? And that was the extent of it.

Brad Johnson: You make a solid point there. A lot of attendees are like, “Man, I went offsite to get a decent dinner,” because they’re like, “I’m tired of being locked up here.” Okay, I want to go to one other thing. And this was cool. I heard you say connection and relationship a number of times. So, you did something that, I think this was the first year of Future Proof, and there’s probably a tech stack on the background. So, any of that you want to share publicly, I’m sure advisors would love that with, whether it’s the app that you facilitate. I don’t know if you custom built it or outsourced it, but you did connection a way I’ve never seen it done before.

And the best analogy I can say, it’s like Match.com for a conference attendees. And so, you took your registration process and you created some sort of database and then it was like, “Hey, if I go as an attendee or as a sponsor, here’s the types of people.” And it was almost like this filtering thing. And then what do you call that session? The connection session, what was that?

Matt Middleton: It’s called Breakthru.

Brad Johnson: Breakthru. Okay, so your Breakthru session and I’m just painting a picture here for those that weren’t there, it was a couple tense and it was just like speed dating, almost, like set up a two-person table and all with numbers on that 1 through 300 or however many different tables you had. And here’s, I don’t know if you’ve heard this feedback or not, but I talked to Corey Westphal, the CEO of Mobile Assistant who was out there. And he’s been to every conference tech. He’s lived in fintech for well over a decade. And he goes within two or three hours of doing those connections.

I had more benefit at Future Proof than I think I’ve had at any conference in this amount of time, because he was connecting with the people that needed this product that were the right target client. And I share all of this because I think there’s a whole ‘nother avenue that financial advisors are missing. I look at client events, many of them, similar demographic, obviously, similar belief system because they’ve all joined the same firm and they do, I’ve got a client on the East Coast, I do like a Boston Harbor cruise and create these really cool experiences. And these connections have to happen kind of organically where I just happened to go over and grab a cocktail at the same time. But you did it really intentionally. So, number one, I’d love for you to share as much as your playbook as you want to. But number two, if you can apply like here’s how a financial advisor could pull some of this off at a client event, like take it away. Share all your secrets, Matt.

Matt Middleton: Yeah, no, absolutely. So, again, give some context to kind of our thinking as it relates to our industry and then I could transition to how it could be applied to advisors in their events. Yeah, so Breakthru, like most people are like, oh, this technology, technology. At the end of day, our industry, we should know already. Like, if you talk, if you lead them in technology, the technology’s not effective, right? What you’re trying to do is create an experience or try and transform something for someone, remove friction.

And so, really, again, going back to first principles, it’s what are people arriving at events to do? And pre-COVID, you could argue that the most important thing that people did or attended events for is content, right? Brad, I couldn’t get access to him. I love his podcast. He’s going to be here. I’m going to travel to L.A. to go see him, potentially get the ability to meet him or ask him a question. Boom. It’s worth my trip. That’s not the case anymore, right? What we’re doing right here, people will be listening to this in the gym, on the way to work, at their convenience. They’ll be pretty much sitting on the table with us having a conversation.

And so, thinking about the way in which content has become distributed over the last, it’s called 7 to 10 years, and what that means for live event experiences, right? So, our thesis when creating Future Proof and really the genesis behind the Breakthru experience is that the only reason that people are going to travel for events going forward is that if number one thing, if you could connect them with people that they either need to know and otherwise don’t, that they know but can’t get access to or that they know, currently work with, but could save a lot of time and money. Again, removing different friction points.

And so, then starting to map that out, it’s like if you could bring a large-scale audience together that effectively represents the entire industry ecosystem. And you hear us saying that a lot, like you bring the entire ecosystem, that’s intentional. What that does is it allows you to create what most events try to operate as is a marketplace, right? For two or three days, you’re bringing the entire industry together, all different company types, all different tools and services, all different job levels and functions. And what happens is you create, as you just described. We like to say, it’s like Match.com meets like LinkedIn Sales Navigator, right?

And so, what we’ve done now is allow people to opt in, saying, “Hey, I’m coming to this event because I want to meet new people or existing friends and colleagues.” Great. The next step is they go and fill out a profile. Five minutes. Here’s who I am in the industry. Here’s who I am as a person, my interest and hobbies and lifestyle. Here’s what I’m hoping to get out of the event. Here’s what I’m in search of.

From that point, the next stage is we basically put everyone in an interface and allow everyone before the event to see everyone else. This whole discovery aspect, it’s just so interesting to me, like sponsors pay a tremendous amount of money to support these events, and their golden ticket or the thing that is perceived as value is like I get this stale on a rival spreadsheet of the attendees with inaccurate data. And then what happens is I get it a week before all at the same time. So, the larger the events, the more people get that email list at the same time, the more people that just naturally due to time constraints operate in bad behavior, starts spamming everyone.

So, now, as an advisor, in our instance, an advisor, you get this unsolicited amount of email. We’re now going into this event that you are otherwise excited to attend. You’re like, “Oh, let me try to avoid this person. Let me avoid that person, not answering this.” And it creates that horrible experience that, like as an industry, we complain about, which is people are guarded, there’s less traffic, and all of these other things. And it’s like, well, hold on, we are the problem. So, let’s be the solution.

And so, what this process is, is really a three-and-a-half-week pre-event process where if you opt in to meetings, you fill out a profile, then you get access to everyone and their data, that’s verified by us, so you know it’s accurate. And then you have the ability not to message and do all this other thing that takes time and creates friction. It’s prompts. Are you interested in meeting this person? Very interested. Interested. If you desire to add another area which helps in the algorithm, it’s like, why are you interested? And you have a text box of 200 characters, right? And you don’t have to fill that in.

And so, then you just go through it, move, move, move. We then obviously optimize, like there’s still bad actors in that, really start spamming everyone, so we remove them. And so, what we do is we create, not only this platform or this tool or technology, but we create this system in which our industry connects and meets each other at events. And so, really, we’re changing the entire experience early on to allow for people to, one, discover other people at the event that they should know or might be interested in knowing by 120 different data points, allowing them to request the meeting. The next process is simply receiving all of those opt-ins. How cool is it? The biggest things about dating apps is like when you open it up and you’re like, “oh, someone wants to connect with me.” It’s that sense of feeling wanted, right?

And what’s the craziest thing in this process was, again, sponsors are so conditioned to think that they have to push, push, push, they’re selling. But what was the big realization is a lot of advisors, the reason they come into this event is to check out the latest tools, the latest technology, the latest investment products, right? They just want to do it in their own kind of world. They want to control that, versus feeling like, again, they’re the product.

And so, what happened is once that opt-in stage came to be, you basically got a lot of industry participants like, “Oh my God, I got 100 advisors that want to meet with me. And cool.” Now you could opt-in to that. And then what it is, is there’s you create that incentive structure where discovery is easy, the process is frictionless, double opt-in opportunity, right? So, there’s mutual interest in connecting. And then the algorithm runs and based on people’s schedule and availability, really, it creates up to 24, in this case, up to 24, one-to-one 15-minute meetings. And we’re not selling this as like, look, this is your demo opportunity, this is a due diligence session. No. It’s like sit at the other side of the table with this human and see if it makes sense to continue a conversation after this. And that’s it.

And so, the commitment level is very small. It’s 15 minutes. It’s the most efficient time for you to say it’s worth another discussion or not, right? And then you go at it. And so, you can get a lot of efficient meetings done while also taking in a lot of content while also just experiencing the entire festival. And that’s really the genesis around the Breakthru meetings aspect and what we do. And it was really transformative. We had over 16,000 one-to-one meetings facilitated and pre-scheduled in year one, which is exciting.

Brad Johnson: And this was the first time you did it, right?

Matt Middleton: First time, yeah.

Brad Johnson: This last Future Proof.

Matt Middleton: Yeah.

Brad Johnson: I’m assuming just based on feedback from what I saw, I’m assuming that will be coming back next year. Is that fair?

Matt Middleton: Yeah, yeah, we’re expected to double it, both in physical space and just the sheer number of meetings. We had about 80% of the entire audience kind of opt-in to participate in it. So, we expect that number to rise also. And then just the growth of the event we’re planning to go from 3,000 to 4,500 people next year.

Brad Johnson: Cool. Yeah, such a cool idea. I love the 15-minute too, because it’s like a 15-minute meeting if it’s a bad one, it’s not like a half hour or hour, where you’re stuck. So, I think that’s really smart. So, I’m curious now, and if there’s any technology that wasn’t custom built that an advisor could go out and like, “Hey, we could–” so now, if I’ve got a, let’s just call it a client event, I’ve got a Boston Harbor cruise, I’ve got 50 retirees. And back to connecting on, like obviously, there’s golfers in that group, there’s wine lovers in that group, is there a way you think you could facilitate kind of that same concept in a small client event? How would you go about doing that if you were an advisor out there?

Matt Middleton: Yeah, I mean, 100%. Look, there’s a lot of– let’s make some assumptions here. Clients of advisors, they’re obviously high net worth. They are probably either active entrepreneurs or, again, like senior professionals, they all have interesting backgrounds and hobbies. There’s ways in which you could connect your group, whether you are a niche down or whether you cast a wide net based on all of these different things. So, first is just trying to understand like, what is that web, if you will, of interest levels? What are all the different use cases as to why someone might want to meet with each other? And then mapping that out and then simply finding ways through the registration process and other things to ask those questions so that you could get a decent amount of data without feeling invasive. The other thing that…

Brad Johnson: On that map, real quick, like let’s just say they go to a website and register, similar to Future Proof, so you might say top three hobbies. And so, maybe it’s like wine, golf, you’ve got a different mix there. So, now, you start to get a cross-section of attendees. Should that be a five minute or less process? Because obviously, you don’t want to have them right there, like, what’s your thought just facilitating? Like, the gap between you need enough to make the connections, but not too much where nobody actually finishes it sort of thing.

Matt Middleton: Yeah, I think about it differently. I don’t think there’s a perfect time. Some people are like, oh, the least amount of clicks or under this and there’s the non-negotiable. I actually think about it is we live in a world where data privacy is so high end that for people to give information, they have to know they’re receiving something in return, right? So, creating the incentive, why are you asking the question? If there’s something on the other side of that answer that benefits me, I’m more open to doing that. And so, the way to frame it is like for us, it’s a two-step process, right? We collect data at registration because we physically need to know, are you qualified for this type of ticket? Or we want to make sure we have the right types of food or the right music genre after the event. So, we’re asking you these nontraditional questions because people know. Now, the experience it’s going to be hopefully customized anymore. There’s a carrot at the end, right? And so, okay, that’s step one. That allows us to understand who they are in the industry and their interests hopefully create a better large-scale experience.

The next stage for us is for people who show interest in wanting to meet, well, to make this process more meaningful for you, I be able to connect you with other like-minded individuals or people that at service level, you may not see the relevancy, but based on this, we can. We’re going to ask you another series of questions. And again, I think our registration process is probably, depending on how you do it, four to five minutes. The profile completion again is another probably four to five minutes, depending how deep you go into it. Not everything is required, of course, but thinking about it less about like, as you would build technology or software like the least amount of clicks, what’s the visual, that’s all important. I don’t want to discount that.

But ultimately, it’s creating an incentive structure that it’s like the why in which I’m asking you this. What am I getting out of that? And so, if you could create that already, I think that gives you the ability to inquire more because it’s going to benefit them in the long run. And so, that’s where I think you get really interesting. And most people, if you look at it in our profile stage, I think we have 50 different hobbies and interests in everything from sports and activities to kind of leisure experiences and travel to different foods and music and all of these different things. And you’ll be shocked, the areas in which people I try to breeze through is like, what are you coming to the event for? It’s like industry themes, but it’s like, tell us about what excites you. And people, it’s like people like, hey, could only like 10, right? It’s like, okay, it’s like people actually embrace that.

And so, as I would look at it, if I was an advisor creating a retreat style event for my client base and prospects is I would map out, what are the characteristics of my ideal persona, my current and prospective, and then put that in a series of questions with all these different data points and then allow them to select them. And then from that, that will quickly allow you to say like who is best to meet and that could be based on their same job profession, that could be based on their same kind of financial ambitions, that could be based on locale, that could be based on sports teams, whatever the case may be, like the process is actually pretty easy, especially in today’s world where you have something like ChatGPT and this AI where you could jump in a bunch of data and it could segment it for you and say like, what are the perfect base I want? It’s a rules-based process, right? So, I want to connect people in 15-minute intervals and they have to have five matching characteristics based on this data. And it’s instantly, it could do that.

And so, then you could just work through that in creating the experience. Obviously, our algorithm allows for that to do instantly and then it places people on our number of tables a little bit more sophisticated in that regard. But there’s really not a huge constraint to someone trying to do this. It’s just a rules-based algorithm model based on qualified data.

Brad Johnson: Thank you for sharing that thought process. I mean, essentially that attendee obsession, like what do you want? And if you give us more info, we can better deliver that access to those connections that are going to serve you. I mean, it makes sense, right? It’s not that complicated. I would assume also that that data as you guys citing through, it’s like, wait, we don’t have this, this, and this. We need to add that because 25% of our attendees want this thing. I’m assuming it helps influence the actual live experience as well.

Matt Middleton: 100%. I mean, so much. And the funniest thing is, as an industry, I think our biggest issue, and I say this as an events industry, but also as a financial advice industry, is we make a lot of generalizations, right? We assume, this person has this net worth, this is who they are. And it’s like this very persona-based building, and it couldn’t be further from the truth. And what we’ve uncovered in asking these questions, which maybe feel a little bit more invasive, is that we actually are able to create and curate a better event and experience for each individual, and more so what we found is like, wow, people are more unique than they are the same. And that is super cool because what happens is as an industry, especially in financial advisor, you come across the websites like we talked about it, every different shade of blue, right? Everyone has the same kind of look and feel, you see copy that other financial advisors, whether you aspire to be them or are competing with them, you see the copy they use, and then you’re like, “All right, I’m going to take that sentence.” And then we’re all starting to talk the same language.

And what happens is we just constrain ourselves. And most people with, let’s be honest, like financial advisors, it’s a service business. And so, what are the things that differentiate you? At the end of the day, access to the same products is relatively the same, cost is relatively the same. You start to think about it, it’s you, like you are the business, right? So, how do you represent you on your website through your events, whatever the case may be? Because that’s what sells, that’s why people work with you, agree to work with you, continue to work with you, and refer you.

And so, thinking about being able to get a valid data that allows you to better create this and better represent your offering, your brand, your business more importantly, and something that most people don’t talk about also allow you to say like, “This client isn’t a good client for me,” right? Or, “Hey, through this discovery, I should be spending more time and energy marketing or creating content in this area.” That’s the type of things that as a data-driven business practice that you’ll uncover. And most people, we talk about data all day long because it’s finance, but we actually don’t implement to ourselves in how we build our businesses.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. Well, let’s go here. We’ve got a little bit of time left. So, one of the things, to your point, if I was going to paint a broad brush, what did Future Proof and what did you help create that stood out and was different, you led with the personality of the experience. And back to your like, if I’m a financial advisor, oh, that sounds good on this other advisor’s website, copy/paste. I mean, we helped build websites for hundreds of independent financial advisors all across the country, and here’s what you would see. You’d go to the About page, which, by the way, analytically is the number one click section because everybody wants to know who is this person, right?

So, you click the About, here’s the bio, stuffy shot, Duke tie, even if the advisor doesn’t even wear a suit and tie normally, they’re in a suit and tie on the website, right? And it’s all of the profile, the bio info is super professional, boring, like here’s my designation, blah, blah, blah. Oh, by the way, I’m married with three kids, at the end, like as an afterthought. And what I saw you all do really well by design is you led with here’s the personality of the experience. Different color scheme. Not like shying away. It’s like, no, we’re for this group that’s maybe more drawn to music festivals and fun and connection, but not the stuffy group that wants to go to a typical conference. And I see a lot of advisors, like they’re fun people when you get to know them. That’s what I love about this business and the relationships that it’s almost like they hide it professionally. It’s like, bro, let that out. Come on. That’s what this thing is about.

So, I was doing a little research and you had a comment about the future of finance and you said something to the effect. So, if I butcher it, please correct me. Kind of this influencer sort of it’s happening everywhere, but it’s definitely happening in finance, like influencers and unique, distinct personalities and brands will be the future of finance and where this thing’s going and what attracts like-minded people that fit that niche that they’re serving. I’ve seen you start to do it in your live experiences. I’ve seen it with some of our top performing clients. What’s your take on that thought process?

Matt Middleton: Yeah, look, I’ll kind of go through my own personal journey here. It’s like, my 20s coming out of college, we started with this. It’s like, I wanted to be in this industry so bad, so I started to conform to it. I would change the way I dressed, the way I talked, way I did my hair, like I became a shell of who I am. And then I carried that for a full decade and I elevated in my career. But again, I became more distant to who I really was. And I found myself at the age of 30, sitting here almost like a midlife crisis. I was like, not in the best health. I had a toxic relationship with my former girlfriend where I lived with forever. The work was kind of stagnant, not inspiring. And yeah, like professionally-wise, I was growing, every year was raise, making more money than I ever imagined to make, but I hated myself.

And I take that because I believe that what we try to embody, Future Proof is a little like personal ambition, too. Like, I don’t want people that were me either not being allowed in the industry or feeling that they have to be someone else in this industry. Because to your point, the more successful you become, the more confident you become, the more you become, and that’s who you attract and that’s going to increase your client retention, that’s going to allow people to build closer bonds with you and then want to refer you again, which allows you to grow your business the way you want to grow it. So, stop hiding yourself, expose yourself, all the flaws. That’s the beautiful thing about us as humans is we all are imperfect. And that is what makes you unique and that is what makes your business the business that you want to build and your clients attract.

And so, it took me a while to figure that out. And so, my hope is if we’re successful from Future Proof standards, it’s not going to be by business metrics. It’s really like we– I keep saying this 10,000 number, it’s not just like, oh, we want to grow a big event. Our belief is that if we could get this thing to 10,000 people, is completely outdoor event, casual, connect this very professional guarded industry to the end person, the investor who we all serve or aspire to serve, well, then we have just hopefully changed the optics and the perception of the general public on our profession, which is the thing we need to do most.

And frankly, Josh, obviously, is a close friend, like Josh on CNBC isn’t going to do that, right? People, in talking into industry talk is not going to do that. But if someone is scrolling through Instagram who is a potential client of an advisor but doesn’t know where to even start or ask a question and comes across Future Proof as if it was Coachella and was like, what is this? Oh, this is this industry. This industry is fun. Well, this industry is diverse. I want to– all right, now, I know the people that I might be attracted to, and now, I hopefully become more financial savvy and actually aspire to learn and grow.

And so, we have this big, obviously, it’s fun, it’s exciting. We want to connect people in interesting ways. But our North Star, if you will, is certainly to become larger to a large enough platform where it kind of changes the perception of what a financial advisor is and move it from like that. Old school Wall Street three-piece suit, commission based, like, view to where every day people that want to help you build the life that you want to have and support whatever that ambition is. And so, obviously, it’s like a little fluffy there, but that’s truly how I feel, and personally, taking my personal story into this in helping a lot of people. And I know you mentioned it, like most of the time, you look at someone’s website, you jump on a call and you really get to know him, like, why aren’t you talking about this?

Brad Johnson: Yeah, no doubt.

Matt Middleton: Like, it’s a different person.

Brad Johnson: Yeah, I love that. And you mentioned downtown Josh Brown. He was one of the early guys on Twitter. I was like, “Man, he keeps it real,” unapologetically real. And by the way, it’s one of the reasons, him and Barry, his business partner, have built such an incredible brand and not that long a time because he was not afraid to be who he was. And by the way, that turned some people off, too, and he was okay.

Matt Middleton: 100%. Yeah, I mean, he did it his way. And I give them all the credit. I’ve known them since they had, I want to say like 300 million. And we’re just kind of the scrappy RIA with, frankly, their model is like they get poked out a lot, right? And I love it because they were early on into this and it’s like, yeah, like savvy social media and all that, but just really keeping it authentic and real. And they attract, like they don’t have people that are going outbound. They attract all inbound inquiries and that’s how they grew their business.

And now, what happens is they have this loyal client base that is bringing their friends and family, and it’s just a beautiful model. And so, yeah, I love those guys. Obviously, the last thing I’ll leave you with here is, it’s important in your career to find those people that are long-term people and that share the same vision. And they certainly are, to me, on a personal level, but also from a business standpoint, like friends for life, people I enjoy, I look forward to hanging out with, not just could we do business together. And I think that’s critically important for most people to think about as they’re finding their way in their career.

Brad Johnson: Yeah, that’s one of the things we say around Triad a lot, play long-term games with long-term people.

Matt Middleton: 100%.

Brad Johnson: It’s just like compound interest, it gets better with time, so do relationships.

Matt Middleton: So true.

Brad Johnson: Well, okay, so couple minutes here. I’ll finish with a question that we finish with always on this show. But we didn’t unfortunately have time to get into all of the cool speakers, but I did want to just like in the minute here, too, I was able to sit in, you interviewed Joe Duran, former CEO of United Capital. He had some really cool takeaways of just the future of the wealth management space.

And one of the things that hit home that I loved is it’s like, these crazy multiples of buying RIAs that he almost basically said they were depleting assets because you’ve got this 4% withdrawal rule, a 1% fee on top with a guy that’s lifestyle in it, not really bringing in, and he’s like the highest multiples are going to go to organic growth sort of companies that are growing year over year, not depleting year over year. And so, number one, I love hearing that because that’s what we’re helping our Triad members do. But I’m curious, like if there’s one, two, three takeaways, I know you have an incredible lineup there, with a lot of just who’s who when it comes to finance. Were there any like, aha, like golden nuggets that you left Future Proof with, whether an interview you hosted or just a session you sat in on?

Matt Middleton: Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting. I think Joe, obviously, he’s proven to be just uber-successful and smart. And I actually took a lot from behind the stage content with him. And so, thinking about how he positions his life and it’s not just, obviously, his positioning now, rise, and telling the story of United Capital. But what I thought was foundationally interesting to him was like, just be different and stand out. And a lot of things that I didn’t quite realize at United Capital, his success was not like, oh, I’m early to this M&A or this acquiring model. He basically only acquired teams and firms that had a kind of millennial or younger advisor stance because his view is to your point is like, its organic growth, but if you have someone that just has our assets have stayed like that and they’re just basically looking for a succession plan, that’s less attractive, like, yeah, you’re gathering assets. So, at face value, it’s interesting, but what’s the future of that?

And so, I thought that was really interesting not to think about it through a spreadsheet in the traditional M&A space, right? But more so about what is the team dynamics, what are quite literally the age and the ambitions of individuals? And it just showed a lot. So, someone who I just looked at is like the ultimate– obviously, a visionary in our space, but the ultimate dealmaker, seeing like the inner workings of how he thinks about it and the connections. And so, his next thing, if I kind of teased out a bit, was he truly thinks AI is going to transform the space in ways where it will make certain things more attractive that might end up being attractive in terms of business characteristics, previously.

And so, yeah, it’s things like that. I would say for me, it’s less about what is the one or two golden nuggets that I got from someone on stage. It’s more about those speakers who are storied and, obviously, very successful, actually engaging in the grounds of the event with other people and almost having those cocktail conversations is what I like to say. That to me is where I get the most. Some are confidential, obviously, but others, people are just very open. And I think it’s a testament to what Future Proof is, where it’s like your guard’s down, you’re seeing the ocean. People just have a question, I’m happy to help because this industry is very giving. We built this stereotype that it’s very guarded and structured and like exclusive versus inclusive and it’s actually quite not.

Brad Johnson: Yeah, yeah. Now, you said it earlier, it’s creating access. And I saw that. The person would walk off stage and walk right down in the crowd and they’re over there interacting with somebody around a cocktail table. So, incredible experience. All right, well, last quote, Matt, this has been really fun, man.

Matt Middleton: I really enjoyed this.

Brad Johnson: So, I appreciate it. All right. So, this is the Do Business, Do Life podcast. And one of the things we were talking about before we hit record, there’s so many shared belief systems between Future Proof, how you do things in Triad, and how we’re trying to create a really intimate experiential community. But one of our criteria to get into the community is we want to do business with people we want to do life with, and kind of the intersection versus the balance where it’s either/or. And so, I’m curious, we’ve talked all about it, but if you had to define what that means for you, Matt, like, here’s my definition of Do Business, Do Life, how would you put that into words?

Matt Middleton: Yeah, it’s interesting. I started this business two and a half years ago now and it’s a lot. There’s a lot that I look at, it’s like I don’t really have life, like personal life and professional life. It’s all just one big blur, like most of us nowadays. And I always go back to it. There’s certain moments where you have to have a moral code is my belief, frankly, and always stay true to that. And it’s not always going to be equal. And so, what I mean by that is there’s going to be times where your business is more demanding and you only have a certain time, you only have certain energy. Find that, pace that, like, all right, I only need to achieve this then, which means like maybe family takes a slight backseat at a time, and then very quickly reassess and that do you have to over-index on your family or your personal obligations?

And so, the way I always look at it, and I’m very fortunate, my now wife, we got together, we were in college. We broke apart for a little bit. She ended up having a child who I now adopted, my son, and it’s his birthday, ironically, he’s turned 10 today. And so, I just look at it as like he was the catalyst that propelled me in my career to really think bigger than I ever imagined and not think selfishly. And so, for me, very simply, it’s like I always just tell people like, wake up every day and be the superhero your kids think you are. And whatever that means is, is to you, right? But an example of this is, I coach my son’s football team, his basketball team because he asked me to and I’m like, can’t say no, but my wife sits in the back and it’s like, “You can’t commit to this. You’re not going to able to do it.” And it’s like, that natural instinct, you’re like, “Tell me I can’t do this.”

And what you really will find out is test your limits constantly, but just know what are your core things, like to me, family is everything. Time spent, I’ll never get that back. It’s great. Like, I grew up with not much money, so, obviously, I’m motivated by that. My son has no clue, right? He never grew up in those conditions. Hopefully, he’ll never have to experience it. So, what is he going to want? He wants my time. He wants my attention and make sure that is that. So, to me, it’s like what makes you a superhero in everyone’s eyes and try to be that every day. And that hopefully, will keep you on that guiding path.

Brad Johnson: I love that, man. It’s funny, you bring up coaching football. I played football in college, and my oldest now, that’s his favorite sport, and the gift of being a coach to him through fifth grade, sixth grade. And I thought I was done because he hit junior high and then we’ve got this little team he got picked up on and it gave me a chance to be his coach again. And I look through this lens that we’ve got a finite time. Like, I read a blog, Wait But Why, Tim Urban, great writer, if you’re not familiar.

But he’s got this, he looks through these different frameworks and he said, “In between 0 to 18, 90% of the days in a year, we will most likely have with our children. As soon as they hit 18, it drops to 3% if they come back five times a year for two days at a time.” And so, we’ve got this finite time that, unfortunately, I’ve been guilty of taking that for granted and the more I zoom out and look through the lens of like, man, the time is ticking, I will regret not saying yes and being that superhero you’re talking about when he’s out of the house. And so, I just love that lens you’re looking through, it’s like, no, I’m going to find a way. I might not know how, but I’m going to find a way to be the coach. And so, it’s so true, man.

Well, hey, this has been an awesome conversation, Matt. Hopefully, we connect in person before I go to Future Proof next year. So, thanks for the time, man. This has been awesome and I know there’s a lot of benefits all the advisors listening in out there.

Matt Middleton: Really appreciate it, Brad. Always a pleasure, my man.

Brad Johnson: All right. We’ll see you. Till next time.

Matt Middleton: Take care.

Disclosure

These conversations are intended to provide financial advisors with ideas, strategies, concepts and tools that could be incorporated into the advisory practice, advisors are responsible for ensuring implementation of anything discussed is in accordance with any and all regulatory and compliance responsibilities and obligations.

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