BiggerPockets Business Podcast 07: Crafting a 5-Star Experience that Keeps Guests Coming Back with Surf Resort Owner Ru Hill

BiggerPockets Business Podcast 07: Crafting a 5-Star Experience that Keeps Guests Coming Back with Surf Resort Owner Ru Hill

55 min read
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A data-driven approach. Cutting-edge technology. A rethinking of the traditional corporate reporting structure.

We’re willing to bet you wouldn’t associate these concepts with surfing. But Ru Hill is not an ordinary surfer. He’s a scientifically-minded entrepreneur who has used these ingredients to build an extraordinary business called Surf Simply in Nosara, Costa Rica.

In this episode, Ru reflects on why more than 30% of his guests are repeat visitors (that’s 10X the industry average!) and reveals how he’s been able to improve the customer experience by focusing less on the customer and more on his 35 team members.

You’ll be blown away by Ru’s explanation of the Peter Principle and how he’s avoided this trap by doing away with a hierarchical reporting structure. He also explains why paying someone more doesn’t necessarily improve their performance. And listen up for the one thing entrepreneurs often get wrong about social media marketing.

So, with guests on a 12-month waiting list, Ru plans to massively scale—right? Listen all the way through to hear what he plans to do next. And subscribe so you won’t miss a show!

Click here to listen on iTunes.

Listen to the Podcast Here

Read the Transcript Here

J: Welcome to the BiggerPockets Business podcast Show #7.

“Stop focusing on your guests and start focusing on your team and let them focus on your guests. And I think that was one of the best bits of advice that I’ve ever gotten. So, I really started thinking much more carefully about how I hire people, who I keep on, and how I interact with the people that are working with me”.

Welcome to a real-world MBA from the School of Hard-Knocks, where entrepreneurs reveal what it really takes to make it. Whether you’re already in business or you’re on your way there, this show is for you. This is BiggerPockets Business.

J: Hey there, everybody. I am Jay Scott co-host of the BiggerPockets Business podcast. I am here today as usual with my co-host, Carol Scott. How you doing today? Mrs. Scott?

Carol: Doing Great. Can I tell you what I did yesterday? That was so super much fun.

J: What did you do yesterday?

Carol: I was lucky enough to be a guest on Scott and Mindy’s podcast, the BiggerPockets Money podcast. They’re not going to hear this episode for a few weeks, but I did the recording, and it was such a fun conversation. So, listeners, make sure you listen to it in a few weeks. One thing that I was talking about is when I was still working back in the corporate world, and it’s something that I still do today is whenever I have what I call production work to do. So, if I have to write notes about something, if I needed to do a PowerPoint presentation, if I needed to do meeting prep, if I need to do performance reviews for my employees, I would make sure that I got up really early.

So, I’d work literally if it took … That meant I had to be doing that from three o’clock in the morning until eight o’clock in the morning. I would do that stuff and that way I would get that out of the way so that once I went into the office, I could spend my time in the office building relationships with people. So, I could not only go to meetings; I could do one on ones with people, I could mentor others. I could be mentored by others and be really visible. And so, I just think that’s a really good thing to keep in mind that no matter what you’re doing, if you’re a business owner or if you’re still working a regular fulltime job, try to carve out as much time as you can during the workday when other people are around to build relationships because they’re crucial. Keep all that busy work out of the office and just stay visible when you can so you can maximize your connections with people.

J: That is a very good tip. I love the fact that building relationships, is at the forefront, not necessarily doing your busy work or what you call your production work, but actually building relationships to grow your business, to grow your team, or if you’re in the W2 world to grow your career, and that’s a great lead into today’s guest. We’ve got a great show today with a guy named Ru Hill. He’s the founder of a company called Surf simply, which is a surf-coaching resort in Costa Rica, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s a resort where you can go, and you can learn how to surf.

Now we tend to think of surfer-guys as dudes. We call them surfer dudes, but let me tell you something. Ru Hill is not a dude; he’s a nerd. He’s actually a lot like me. He uses technology; he uses data; he uses scientific studies to figure out how to improve the world of education, Surf Education, and teaching surfing to his students. Now, he has built a great business. He has built a great team, but the thing he seems to do best is he’s figured out how to empower his team to provide an amazing experience to his students, and to his resort customers.

And in this interview, he’s going to talk to us about how he’s built that team, how he has empowered that team, and how he’s used that empowered team to create just an amazing experience that has generated a retention rate for his students. Students come back over and over again. So just listen to the show. This is an awesome show. If you want more information about this show, if you want to find out more about what we talk about in the show, we’re going to have links in our show notes. Go to

Let’s now bring in Ru Hill, founder of Surf Simply. Ru, welcome to the BiggerPockets Business podcast. How are you doing today?

Ru: I’m really good. Thank you so much for having me on the show. I’m really excited to be here.

Carol: Thanks for being here. We’re just absolutely thrilled to talk with you, and we’ve heard so many great things from a lot of different people, including our producer, Kevin. So big shout out to Kevin. Not only is he the amazing producer of the BiggerPockets Business podcast, he told us that he and his dad have come to your surf resort four times, four times. They’ve been that impressed with the experience that they received from you and your team that they just come back over and over and he said it was the most life-changing, awesome thing that he’s really ever done. So Kudos to you. Whatever you’re doing there has really worked some magic for a lot of people.

Ru: Well, Kevin and his dad, Dennis, are both much loved by all the staff here.

J: Well, from what we’ve heard, Kevin and his dad aren’t your only repeat customers, but I think we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. I want to build up to there, and I’d love to give our listeners a little bit of backstory on who you are and how you got to be this guy who is kind of changing the industry of Surf Education. So can you take us back a little bit and tell us how you got started?

Ru: Yeah, just a quick 60-second version of what Surf Simply is. For those of your listeners that haven’t heard of us and don’t know what we do. Historically, there’s always been two types of surf-coaching/surf-lessons available. There is the entry level stuff, which I’m sure anyone who’s been to a beach where there are waves, has seen the sort of taking people in the ocean for the first time, teaching them to stand up on a surfboard. And then there’s the coaching, which is done for competitive surfers, the sort of the top 1% of surfers. And so, what Surf Simply does is provide coaching for the 98% of people in between. Not all of them, but we sort of connect that entry level surfing all the way through to that elite level surfing and provide a road-map of skills going all the way through. And suddenly the 98% of people for whom there was no one out there that they could receive coaching from, were without for those people, which isn’t to say that you know, all of those people want to get coaching just like any sports.

But what we’ve found is that there’s enough people that really are looking for it. We’ve stayed quite small and we’ve chosen not to scale and get really big for reasons that I’d be happy to dive into later. But we’re in a position now where we take 12 people a week and we have our team of 9 coaches at our purpose-built resort here in Nosara in Costa Rica where I’m speaking for you from today. We’re not cheap, it’s $1,000 a day and we’re booked out about until somewhere in the middle of 2021 at the moment. So, about a year and a half in advance. So, and we have a waiting list. We have 12 surfers each week that we take, and we have a waiting list of over a hundred people for every single week. So, I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved and what we’ve got to.

J: That is crazy. I imagine when you started the goal wasn’t necessarily to build -or maybe it was. I guess that’s a question I have for you. When you started out, was your goal to build the scalable large business that has wait-lists of a year, or two years? Or did you start like a lot of people start this business where you like surfing and you figured you’d do some coaching and it kind of grew? So, which track did you take when you started and how did you start?

Ru: Well, I got into surf-coaching just because I wanted to have a job and pay for my surftrips that I wanted to go. And like a lot of people- and well, actually let me just rewind and say that when I was growing up, I grew up in a kind of an interesting household. At the time, my mom who I’m very good friends with now -I was very evangelically religious, and then my dad was a very pragmatic accountant character. So, I had these two kinds of influences in my life. And when I was about 12 or 13, I started being quite skeptical about the whole religious thing. And my mum and I would get into these very good-natured debates, kind of unpacking it or like a lot of kids do, I think.

Ru: And you know, at the same time I had a dad who was making me do cash-flows for all of my pocket-money since I was seven. So, I had to plan out exactly how I was going to spend my 50-pounds pocket money a week going forward like a year in advance. Which for a seven-year-old is forever. I still like fast-forward to when I started teaching surfing and I watched the way that surfing was being taught and I saw a lot of the same kind of woolly thinking that I had spent the last like 10- or 15-years kind of pulling out of these threads. That didn’t quite seem right when I was discussing all of my mum’s religious beliefs with her. And I was like, I know how to pull it, these threads.

Ru: I may not know where the threads are going to lead, but I understand how you’re meant to kind of like tug away at a problem and see if actually it’s got good sound reasoning behind it or not. And now I started thinking like I’m teaching here in Cornwall. At the time I was doing a sort of four lessons a day of 10 people, and I would do seven days a week. So over 10 years, that’s like 10-, 15,000 people that I taught. And I was like, you know, I can really start doing some, A/B testing. Why don’t I teach 200 people this way? And then 200 people, I’ll teach this way and 200, I’ll teach this way. And I start trying to tease out, where the effects are, and what’s working and what’s not working so well.

And I would, you know, that was a really interesting process just in and of itself. And it wasn’t born out of some desire to grow a business one day. It was just intellectual curiosity and thinking: I think that this can be done in a more interesting way. And also, my day is going to be more interesting if I’m doing a little bit more with my brain than just kind of repeating the same thing over and over again. And what was interesting, and I’ll just caveat this by saying that, you know, I’m aware that most of your audience are not going to be surfers. And I’m slightly hesitant to go down too much of a technical route; actually talking about the details of surf-coaching and have people zone out. So, I, kind of, say this because I think it actually has a broader interest as well in other businesses.

But the way that surfing was always taught to entry-level surfers is based on the idea that they’ve seen people stand up on a surfboard and therefore that’s what they want to do. But actually, once you surf a little bit, the real fun of surfing is this game of turning the surf-boards so you can get it as close to the breaking part of the wave as you can without getting stuck in the breaking part of the wave -or the Whitewater. So, it’s this game of turning the board on the face and trying to find out where the fastest part of the wave is and what would happen is, I teach people to stand up and then they’d say, you know, this is great. I really want to keep surfing. And I would say to them: Oh well if you want to keep going; then forget everything that I’ve taught you.

Let’s start again. And this time, I won’t teach you how to stand, I’ll teach you how to actually get the board to change where it is on the wave. And standing becomes just one of many things that you do in order to get the board to do that better; a little bit like holding the steering wheel in a car. So, this new way of teaching surfing that I think has been the success of Surf Simply was really born out of that. It was really born out of the fact that, rather than just giving people what they thought they wanted, we actually said, no. If you really do love this, this topic, this subject, this sport, this is the big picture. And actually, bear with me while I take a bit longer, whether it’s a week or two weeks to teach you this in a more kind of substantive way. So that was kind of how our methodology evolved. And then the next big challenge was trying to figure out how to staff the whole thing so that we could have coaches that were career surf-coaches and we could afford to pay them enough so that they didn’t leave after a few years, which is, of course, the norm in the surf-teaching business.

Carol: Great. So, thank you for that. And I’ve got to ask, Ru, like this is all so curious to me, right? Because on the outside, as an outsider, I think of surfing, and you think it’s just mellow and cool and you chill, and have a good time, but it sounds like you’re taking a very different approach to that, right? We’re talking about A/B testing, we’re talking about 10-, 15,000 people you coached, and you took a totally different approach and saw if you could do it differently. So, I’m curious, where did all this business knowledge come from? Where did you even have the wherewithal to take that approach in starting your business?

Ru: That’s a really interesting question. And it actually came from a totally kind of random place. So, when I finished school, I actually went to art college in London for a couple of years when I was doing fine-artpainting. And I was fortunate enough to have this amazing teacher, who actually also taught Damien Hirst and various other people. And I remember he said to us- and don’t worry, this is going to circle back around in a second. But I remember he said to us, you know, don’t try to be creative artists. You guys are like 20, you’ve got nothing really interesting to tell the world. What you want to do instead is you just want to learn these skills. You want to learn how to use paint and how to use a camera and how to use clay and metal and learn to be able to create whatever you want to create.

And then once you’re older and you start thinking, okay, this is what I want to create, you’ve got the tools to do it. And it just seemed to me really obvious that the same thing would be true of surfing. You know, that it has this cultural kind of stereotype. I guess like you say about being to do with, with lifestyle being all about, you know, feelings and expression and perhaps even spiritual in some way. And it sorts of reminded me of painting that people talk about in much the same way and that teacher’s approach to painting where he said like, let’s put a pin in all of the skills. And I thought of why wouldn’t anyone do that with surfing? That seems like a really obvious thing to do with surfing. If it can bring you so much joy as an artist, why wouldn’t it be able to bring you so much joy as a surfer?

And you know, I very firmly believe that the reason to get better at surfing, like most things in life, is that the better you get at it, the more fun it is. And very specifically with surfing, the better you get at it, the wider range of conditions you can go out and have fun in. So, I’ve kind of … maybe it’s partly to do with how my brain works, but I really enjoyed the process of going in and stripping away all of the cultural stereotypes. And if you look at surf camps that are listed around the world, they’ll say, you know, lifestyle, being on the beach laid back, feel the vibes that we have, none of that language and we’re very proud of it. And we sort of say: look, when you come here, this is a technical week of sports-coaching and all of those wonderful experiences that the moments of sitting there in all of the magnitude of nature and the people that you meet and the adventures and the travel that will inevitably happen to you if it’s a sport that you stick with, that stuff all happens on its own.

Let’s stay focused on the actual technical process of, of how to ride waves better. And I think a lot of people like it.

J: Yeah, it’s your analogy to art and creativity. A lot of us tend to think, okay, somebody is an artist. So, one day, they woke up and they started drawing, or they started painting, and they were just naturally good at it. A lot of us don’t think about the fact, especially people like me, I’m an engineer, so at heart, so I don’t think about it. But artists, they start with the color theory, they start with how perspective works. They start with all the scientific principles behind what it is they’re using to create. So, surfing’s really no different. We think of it as, hey, you just kind of learned to stand up on the board, and then you get better at it. But there are a lot of technical and scientific principles that go into that, and it’s really easy to ignore those. But when you focus on those, by the time you get to the point where you’re standing up on the board, and you’re riding a wave, you have this foundation, that’s probably the best word there. You have a foundation that allows you to progress a lot faster than if you just tried to jump in and get good at it.

Ru: Yeah. And, you know, I think- and we are getting slightly off-topic here, but I think it’s worth just putting a pin in cause it’s fascinating. This idea that we have in our culture these days that the arts and the sciences, the sort of the humanities and the engineering are two opposite ends of the spectrum is actually quite a recent, and I think, not a very helpful idea. If you go back only a few hundred years and you’re looking at the Michelangelo’s and the Leonardo Da Vinci’s, these guys, you know, they were the engineers, they were designing helicopters as well as doing beautiful paintings.

Carol: That’s right. There is a very close correlation. So, when you set out to start Surf Simply, you’re realizing they’re all these, the technical pieces and that you wanted to approach it differently. That said, was that really the foundation of how you started? Or was it really the goal to create a good experience? Or was it to take it on from a technical approach? I guess though, the overall, the question in that is, what was your overall mission when you started out? And how did you use that mission to get your first, your first participants, your first resort guests?

Ru: Well, so I, you know, I think now looking at it, there’s so many elements that we’ve plugged into what makes Surf Simply from the building to all of the peripheral experiences. But the actual core of the whole thing is really two things: one was I really wanted to make sure that we were doing the best tactical surf-coaching that anyone was doing, and that’s still our number one priority today. And it’s the one thing that I won’t compromise on at all. And then the second thing was in order to do that, and this was a really big business challenge, it takes, now, if we hire a new coach that has been surf-coaching for a long time and is a good surfer and is a good teacher, it takes us about two years to train them until they’re a completely self-sufficient coach and we can stand back.

And you know, if you’ve got the staff that are leaving every two or three years, it means you’re on this kind of treadmill where you’re never actually moving forward. You’re training people, and just as they get good, they leave and then you have to bring in new people. And I’m sure that that’s true for all businesses. And you know, I can’t remember what I’ve read. I think maybe I read it in the Freakonomics book or something. I remember reading somewhere a long time ago that there was really good data showing that companies like BestBuy and other similar companies in the US performed so much better just in terms of ROI when they were able to put steps in place to actually have much better employee retention. You know, so I felt like this is, well, I need to do personally for my business is figure out a way to be able to have someone who is intelligent and professionally competent enough that they could be doing any number of things, choose to spend their life being a professional surf-coaches at Surf Simply.

J: So, just to kind of summarize, because I feel like some of our listeners might be missing some of the important stuff here. You decided at some point you were teaching surfing, you had taught thousands of people in England, and you had picked some new methods, you were doing A/B testing, you were starting with the basics. At some point you decided, I want to scale this, I want to grow this. I don’t know if it was Surf Simply back then or if you moved into Surf Simply, but you moved to Costa Rica. And so, at the point, you are in the story, have you already moved to Costa Rica, and you’re starting to grow your business or were you growing your business back in England still at this point?

Ru: Right, so actually it was that staffing issue that prompted the move to Costa Rica.

J: Got It. Okay.

Ru: Because the thing is with surf-coaching is that if you’re teaching a seasonal thing, you’re only employing people for six or eight months a year and no one can really justify doing that long-term. So the move to Costa Rica was prompted by the fact that this is one of the only places in the world where we could open and be open for 10-11 months a year and therefore have income coming in, and therefore pay out salaries, and therefore have people that can actually be like, alright, this is me, I’m staying here, and this is what I’m doing. And then that opens the door to be able to train them up to the level that you want them to be at. So the Costa Rica thing actually came about as a result of needing to create that kind of a model for being able to pay people.

J: Got It. And did you build a business plan moving to Costa Rica? Did you say, I’m going to hire this many people, and the goal is to get this many students every week and actually put together a detailed plan for how you’re going to scale your business? Or did that all happen more organically?

Ru: It happened more organically. You know, I always try and plan like 12 months ahead with the business, but honestly, I never would have anticipated 10 years ago when I started in Costa Rica that we would be where we are now. So in 2007, I had spent the previous four or five years traveling all over the world trying to look for somewhere that ticked all the boxes that here does. So, you know, being able to be open year-round from a surfing-conditions point of view, you know, weather and proximity to a good market. Like we are close to the States here in Costa Rica. And you know, free from natural hazards and all that kind of stuff. And I got here to Costa Rica having been to Hawaii, Indonesia, around Europe and Australia and I was like, this is the spot.

So, I pulled up in my car in the car park, and I had a wooden sign that I just bought some black and white paint and, and we were called the Innocent Surf School back then. And I stuck it on the roof of my car, and it was my then girlfriend. And I would just pull up the beach like 5:30 in the morning. I would do a lesson at 6, 8, 10, 12, 2. And then I would go home in the evening, and I would try and build a website on this old laptop that used to overheat. And after half an hour it’d be too hot, and I would have to turn it off and start again. So you know that first year or so was just absolutely physically brutal. I think I was in the fittest shape of my life and just absolutely exhausted.

And then yeah, too. I took on another coach, and we rented a little shop just about a few hundred yards back from the beach, and that was nice cause we had AC in between the lessons. So that was like, it felt like a real luxury. And then gradually, more and more people started to find us online, and we needed foot traffic less and less. And then I gave a lesson one day to one of the guys that was one of the early guys at Facebook and was head of growth for Instagram for the whole of Asia. And he and I became very good friends, and he really mentored me through how to navigate the new social media landscape. And in fact, I remember sitting down with him one day after a surf lesson and him saying: I’ve been offered a job at eBay, and he’s like, I’ve been offered a job at this company called Facebook.

Do you think it’s going to amount to anything? And I was like, I don’t know. I don’t think so. But we built it up. We got more and more people finding us online then I bought some land and moved over to more like the week-long model. And there was a little transition there while I still doing some sort of walk-in lessons. And then 2011-2012, we started getting all of our bookings online, and everyone was just doing week long courses. And then 2016, I decided that we were going to borrow some more money, buy a new lot of land right next to the nature reserve with its own little walkway to the beach. And then we spoke with a company called Gensler, this amazing design firm who are behind all the Apple stores and various other amazing projects, and they were kind of excited to work with us. They’d heard of us, and they stepped in and helped us design this purpose-built surf-coaching resort, which you’ve sort of seen the pictures yourself. And that’s where we’re operating at today. We’ve moved in there just before Christmas. And so yeah, that’s how it all kind of unfolded

Carol: And it’s a tremendous growth story. You say it started organically, which it sounded like it did, but to hear those organic steps that just grew where you grew to where you are today. Cause I’m sitting here thinking about the fact that you said you are running around with a sign on top of a car and now you have this amazingly luxurious-looking surf resort that looks absolutely incredible. Like who wouldn’t want to go to it? The fact that you did that in such a fast manner blows my mind. It’s absolutely; it’s just phenomenal.

J: And it’s also a great lesson in basically taking things step by step and getting things going, not necessarily planning your entire business and your entire life before you actually get out there and start doing it. I know a lot of people would say, okay, great. Let’s start a surf school. I’m going to hire 20 coaches, and we’re going to book this out for several months, and I’m going to hire the guy from Apple who designed the campuses to come and design my resort. And I’m going to get some guy from Facebook who is an expert in social media and growth to come and do our marketing. You didn’t do that. You basically said I’m going to go start teaching some people how to surf. And the next step was I’m going to hire a coach or somebody else to coach with me. And the next step was I’m going to figure out better methods. And the next step was I’m going to figure out the marketing. And the next step was I’m going to figure out the experience. And the next step is I’m going to figure out the sales. And you basically, every step of the way, you put in the work, and you did what was necessary to create a great experience, but you didn’t wait until all those things were in place to get started.

Ru: Yeah. So, I think that one of your previous guests on the show actually said something that I really liked. He talked about the two types of business plan or approach, one being like a sniper, one being like a shotgun. Do you remember that? I thought that was great. And you know, the way I was think about it is whenever I’m making a business plan, you never know for sure what’s going to happen. And so the whole thing has to be, it has to have the ability to be flexible. And I always think of any outcome in terms of likelihoods, not in terms of what’s definitely going to happen. So there’s always a lot of, if this then that, if this, then that kind of maps that I’m doing and I’m always motivated to make any one step over another one just by -does this open more doors than it closes? If we do this if we take on this new facility, does this give us more opportunities, or does it give us less opportunities? So I feel like that’s a kind of a good rule of thumb. Whenever you’re mapping out a new business going forward, you don’t know it’s where it’s going to go, but if you’re, if there’s potentially more doors opening, that’s generally a good step.

J: One of the things that, it seems to me, set you apart from, and I don’t know if there are other competitors like direct competitors in the space, obviously that I’m sure there are thousands of people that teach surfing. I don’t know if there are surf resorts, but certainly, one thing that sets you apart from other businesses in any industry is that you’ve had such a tremendous focus on your customers and your customer experience. And that’s evidenced in the fact that I’ve heard your repeat customer rate is somewhere around 30%. Is that correct?

Ru: Yeah, yeah. It’s very -well consider… I was very fortunate that people like coming back, you know, I think that one of the things that people ask me a lot, which I think is the wrong question, is, you know, what’s the secret? And I think that the reason why it misses the point is because there’s just a million little things. You know, it’s like taking a sort of What’s the secret to building a Boeing 747 and making it fly. It’s like, well, there’s 100,000 things in there, which if they weren’t working properly, the plane’s coming down. And so, you know, I’m a big fan of incrementalism. And I guess from where I’m standing; it does look as if I’m sort of a disruptor and that’s kind of the buzz word in Silicon Valley at the moment.

But I feel actually like I’ve done a much more slow, steady, incremental improvement. And, you know, every day I have meetings with different members of the team, and we’re talking about just tiny little things like- with the muffins at breakfast, right? Do we need to tweak those little bit, the video cameras that we’re using for coaching, do we need to get, you know, a different resolution given that narrow this to this week, the surface of it bigger on the surface, a bit further out, just these tiny little things and gradually making each one of them better. And of all of those little working parts, I think the most important is the team and the actual people that work at Surf Simply.

One thing that became really obvious to me when we moved into the new resort, and when we do little satellite projects in other countries is that the beautiful accommodation in the beach and all of that stuff is really wonderful. But what people really come back for over and over again is the Surf Simply team and the staff that we have here. So at a certain point, a good friend and mentor to me said, stop focusing on your guests and start focusing on your team and let them focus on your guests. And I think that was one of the best bits of advice that I’ve ever gotten. So I really started thinking much more carefully about how I hire people, whom I keep on, and how I interact with the people that are working with me.

Carol: Great. I would love to talk more about that, Ru, because I agree with you that really does set apart a great customer experience is every single interaction that the customer has with any single person that is on your team, any single person that is on your staff. So how do you go about finding the right types of coaches that can really buy into the importance of creating an outstanding customer experience?

Ru: So, there’s a huge amount of advice and some pseudo-advice about interviewing and hiring people. And interestingly, the science actually shows that the more time you spend interviewing someone, rather than looking at their credentials, you actually become less likely to make good long-term choices because your own cognitive biases start kicking in based on how they interact with you, which is totally counter-intuitive. I can’t remember the name of the guy who did the research, but I’ll message it over to you afterward if you’d like. So what we do is kind of the reverse. First of all, we make applicants jump through a lot of hoops, and we’re fortunate enough now that we get huge amount of applicants wanting to come and work with us, which is a real luxury and it wasn’t always that way, and it makes life much easier.

So when people come and apply to work with us, first of all, we make them, if they’re going to be a coach, they have to shoot a video of themselves surfing, then they have to shoot a video of them teaching us something which has nothing to do with surfing and making it engaging and entertaining and concise and all of those kinds of things — and just making people jump through those few hoops whittles out a lot of people straight away. And then when we start the interview process, and we’re talking to people, it doesn’t actually matter too much what we’re asking them. We just want to let people talk. And the longer we hear them talk for without any red flags coming up, then the higher degree of confidence we can have that they’re not going to be bad. You can never, or maybe other people can, but I’ve never figured out how to tell if people are going to be good.

Ru: But if you’re really good at telling, if people are not going to be bad, you’ll save yourself a huge amount of problems. So that’s kind of how we approach it. If whoever can go the longest without throwing up a red flag, that’s the person that we’re interested in working with. And you know, and then when people come in like I’m sure like everyone that you’ve ever spoken to, the biggest mistake I made when I switched from being a surf coach to being a people manager is micro-managing people. You know, you so desperately want everything to be perfect that you’re looking over everyone’s shoulders and it drives them absolutely crazy. So learning to stand back and actually let people take ownership of their day and take ownership of what they’re doing. You know, and you start to hear them talk about your business as “we” rather than “they”; that feels really, really good.

So I’ve put a lot of time into a sort of standing back and letting people make mistakes and letting people take ownership of it. You know, I’ve, I’ve really tried to mentor people and push them in the right direction to nudge them in the right direction. My opinion now, and I don’t know if this is right, I’m still learning, but I feel like every time someone has been really problematic, I’ve eventually made the decision to let them go. And when I’ve let someone go, I’ve tried to always do it with dignity and treat them in a really respectful way and leave them financially really stable and secure so that they can walk away feeling like they’ve been treated well. But I think if you, and I’m sure every entrepreneur has had this feeling, you let someone go and you’re like, why did I waste two or three years trying to like get that person to be the person I wanted them to be, like a week after they walked out the door, all of these headaches disappeared.

I hired someone new. They’re amazing, and I’m so pleased that they’re in here. So you know, it may not sound very, very loving, but if someone’s not good, I take them out of the team, and I find someone else to come in who is good. And you know, as long as the people that are there understand why that person left and there’s no ambiguity in anyone’s mind, no one feels like, or maybe I’m going to go next. Like everyone can see why they went, and they know that they’re not doing that thing. People feel really secure, and they feel fortunate, and they see how many people want to fill the spot, and then people want to stick around.

J: I love the fact that a couple of minutes ago you said, stop focusing on your guests. Focus on your team and let them focus on your guests. And it sounds what you’re saying now is just a tremendous reinforcement of that. Treat your team well. Treat them like human beings, treat them with empathy, treat them with respect and even if you have to fire them, treat them the way you’d want to be treated if you ever had to be fired. And know that if you treat your team well, that your customers are going to get taken care of. And it amazes me how simple that rule is. I see so many business owners who think they treat their customers like gold, but then they treat their employees like crap, and they don’t realize that you can’t have that disconnect because the primary interface to your customers is your team and you’re basically modeling the behavior you want them to have with your customers. And so I love that, and it’s very clear to me why you have a loyal team and why your team is so good at treating your customers well because you’re modeling that behavior towards your, your team yourself.

Ru: Yeah. I actually think, I mean, just to go back to the subject of firing people, and I haven’t had to do it too many times, but I just go back to it because I think it’s interesting and I think people are really uncomfortable talking about it. One of my responsibilities to the team is to make sure that they are working with really good people and so it’s my responsibility if they’re having, if they’re having to work with someone who’s not making their day easy, it’s my responsibility to them- bringing someone new that’s going to be working with them really well. So, you know, I consider that one of my duties to them if you like. And the other thing is on the subject of building a really good team, which I think I’m fortunate enough to have done by luck and judgment, but I don’t think that paying people more makes them perform better, which is a really common trope that you hear.

Again, there’s some science to back this up, and it certainly has been my experience that someone will do a really good job if it’s in them to want to do a really good job. If you don’t pay them enough, they won’t stick around very long. They’ll go and do a good job somewhere else. But I’ve never seen anyone who doesn’t perform well, and you say, look, if I double your salary, you’re going to perform better. People just don’t really work like that because I guess there’s too much of a cognitive disconnect. The same reason that people know smoking’s bad for them, but they carry on smoking. It’s just the two different parts of the brain operating there. And so you know what I do is I never do any performance-based pay, but I fall over myself to pay people that are, that are performing well as much as I possibly can. But I really try to keep those two things completely separate. Does this make sense?

Carol: This is really great. I love the point you made a few minutes ago about your duty to your employees in terms of firing, which is a really good frame of mind to get yourself into because as business owners, none of us want to be the bad guy. You don’t want to be the big bad boss and ruin somebody’s day and fire them obviously, Right? So you don’t, you just have all that angst about doing it. But when you put it in the frame of mind that it’s better for the rest of your employees so that they can continue to thrive, they can continue to perfor; they can continue to say they have a great place to work. That I think it takes so much of that angst out of it and it really just makes it an imperative decision that just has to be done. It’s a non-negotiable, and you just get to it rather than just, you know, rather than procrastinating and letting it become more toxic throughout your organization.

Ru: Yeah. It’s funny; there’s this interesting piece of maths that was done by these Italian mathematicians when they looked at the idea of a typical triangular corporate top down structure, right? Where you have, you know, CEO, and then you have more and more people kind of going down the triangle right down to the, perhaps the janitor is at the bottom or whatever. And the idea is traditionally that if you’re good at your job, you get promoted. And if you’re not good at your job, you stop being promoted. You guys may be familiar with this, this kind of logical fallacy, right? So you get promoted up until you’re not good at your job, and that’s when you stop. So when you stand back and look at the triangle, everyone got stuck in the job. They weren’t good at. And I was thinking, you know, how do we short-cut that?

How do we short-circuit that problem? And I’m fortunate because so simply has got about 40 people that we’re a team of about 40 and I understand that what I’m about to describe probably doesn’t scale up to a bigger business, but it certainly works with a business of 40 and smaller. So when we’re talking about the business and the structure together, we talk about it as being completely flat and we talk about it as all having different responsibilities. So, it’s not so much that, you know, I’m at the top of the pyramid, it’s more like I said, I have responsibilities like making sure that everyone- that I hire good people so that the whole team is getting to work with good people and doing the reverse as well. And I’m responsible for making sure that their business is going to be profitable in 5, 10, and 15 years time.

And that the new building that we’re moving into is designed properly. And then Ronald, our gardener is in charge of making sure that the grounds are beautiful and Harry is in charge of making sure that the surf coaching program is developing. Jesse, our head-coaches, is in charge of making sure the week runs smoothly from a coaching point of view. And I go on and on. But the point is none of those things are essentially above or below anyone else. We just all have different responsibilities, and I’ve really tried to reinforce that message with everyone because I really believe it with all my heart, and I say it to people when they first arrive, and I can see them going like, is this one of those like new agey, like beanbag business things, you know?

And then after a while, they realize that it’s real and it’s actually just an accurate description of how a small business does function. And it takes away that kind of above and below. And I never talked down to anyone. I never talked to anyone as if I’m above them in some way. And if I see anyone else do it, I take them aside and have quite a stern word with them. And I think that harbors a really nice family feeling. Now we’re in a situation where we were open all the way through the year. We’re open for like seven or eight weeks, and we shut for two weeks and then we’re open for eight weeks, and we shut for two weeks because you know, life’s worth living. And now all of the team go on vacation together when we, uh, when we have one of these breaks, which is like the cutest thing.

Carol: Oh my gosh, I love it. So you are one big happy family. You’re not even kidding.

Ru: Yeah. It’s almost creepy.

Carol: They would be like, give us a break. But I’m curious too; you’re describing all these different roles in how you empower everybody to really take ownership of whatever their role is. Now nobody is above or below, everybody is lateral but have their own responsibilities. How do you foster within those different responsibilities, whether it be the gardener or whether it be your chef or whether it be any of the other roles, how do you foster that importance of treating your guests, treating your customers, treating your participants with that same dignity, that same respect, that same surprise and delight. How do you make that trickle from your employees no matter who they are, to every single person that comes onto your resort?

Ru: That’s a really good question. Again, I’m sure every small business owner starts and they have this culture that they would like to see within their business in this mindset where they’re really passionate about wanting to be proud about what they’re doing and do all of the good things, customer interface, product production, all of the other things that make that happen. And the first people that they bring on board, you know, probably don’t really get it. They don’t knew who they are; they’ve never heard of the brand before. And it’s almost like as the business owner, you’re sort of dragging them along behind you, you know? And then if you’re lucky, you’ll get one or two people that you just click with and that totally get it. And suddenly like they jump on with you, and now the two of you are pulling everyone along.

And if you keep going like that and you keep finding good people, then at a certain point there’s a tipping point where there’s more people pulling than being pulled. And then something interesting happens. You know, we’re as human beings, we’re really social animals, and nothing affects our behavior more than just wanting to conform with the group around us. No matter how much we might think. Some of us like to be rebels, you know, it’s hardwired into us from hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, and you know, and when someone comes into Surf Simply now there’s so much pride in the business and in how we treat people and in everyone being as good as the best in the world at what they do, that it’s just kind of a bit embarrassing for people if they don’t think the same way. And so, you know, you see people come in and you know that you get to kind of a thrill out of that too as well. It’s very empowering.

So people kind of take that culture on board now because they see that that’s just the culture and that’s how everyone thinks, and that’s, everyone talks about themselves and talks about their jobs and it would just be weird if someone didn’t. But getting a business to that tipping point is not easy. And I was fortunate enough to have some really great people that came on board early on and helped get us over that hell.

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J: So, I have a question. So, you started out by building a surf-school, for the lack of a better term. You grew this into a, I’m trying to think the best way to describe basically, a resort that tea…

Ru: We’d like to call it a surf-coaching resort.

Carol: Surf-coaching resort, that’s the terminology.

J: That’s perfect. So, a surf-coaching resort. So, in that transition, obviously now you have this pull between trying to be the greatest surf-school in the world, and I assume you’re also trying to be a great resort moving forward. Where are you looking to improve? Are you looking to continue focusing on being a surf-school that happens to be a resort, or are you looking to transition more into a resort that happens to have a world-class surf-school? And do you have to make that decision?

Ru: So, the question that I get asked every single week, two or three times by our guests is like, when are you going to open another Surf Simply. Like, when are you gonna scale this thing? When are you going to make it bigger? And you know, I’ve decided not to. And the reason that I have decided not to is basically because I want to be happy. And I want, you know, the people that I work with to be happy. So there’s this if you’ll indulge me for a second, I know I keep going on about scientific studies, but that’s how I live my life.

J: Love it.

Ru: So, the longest running scientific study is by a guy called, I’m just looking at his name, Richard Waldinger at Harvard University. And it actually was started back in the 50s, I think. And they tracked two or three hundred Harvard graduates and two or three hundred working-class Boston-kids all the way through their lives.

And they interviewed and touched base with them every year or two. And they tried to find lots of data about how they were living their lives, and then they measured how successful their lives were using metrics like self-reported happiness, length of relationships, criminality, income, all those kinds of things. And they were really looking for like, well, what’s the thing that makes a good life? What’s the one factor that makes a good life? And the one thing that rose to the surface above all the noise in the data was the quality of the relationships that uh, people had with the people around them. And it didn’t necessarily matter whether they were married or not or whether they had kids or not. It was just if they had good quality relationships with the people that they were spending most of their time with.

Now, most of the people that most of us spend most of our time with are the people that we work with. And I’m lucky because I get to choose them, but a lot of us don’t. And I just decided at some point a few years ago, you know, the metric by which I’m going to measure my life and the success of this business is, is how happy everyone is. And, and so I started working backward from there, and I thought, okay, well, you know, not having enough money definitely is a cause of unhappiness and having more money definitely does make you happier. And again, I know that’s not a fashionable thing to say, but money buys you time. You can pay people to do the things that make you unhappy, and you can spend more time doing the things that you love, whether that’s interacting with people or pursuing some other endeavor.

So, money is a big factor there. So that’s definitely really important in the lives of everyone at Surf Simply and myself. But more important than that is the quality of the relationships that we all have with each other. So I’ve put a lot of time and energy into that. So I’m not just looking at it in terms of do I scale the business and do I grow it as a resort or do we open more surf schools just for the hell of it. And I think that businesses too often make the mistake of thinking, let’s scale as the default unless there’s a reason not to. And I would argue that perhaps scaling is a good thing, but it shouldn’t be the default thing. It should be a conscious decision that you’ve made. So, you know, my goal is that I want to get everyone at Surf Simply over that sort of $60-70,000 a year income line, which you know, is, is the figure I’m sure you guys have heard of at which, uh, your annual salary stops.

Really, your happiness stops increasing when your salary goes over that line. You know, and that data is a little messy too, but I think if you’re going to draw a line in the sand somewhere, that’s a pretty good place to draw it. And then, you know, I try and work on the quality of the life of, of life that everyone works excessively. And for me personally, you know, I really love living here. I really love these people. I have quite simple taste, and I have enough income to buy all the things that I want to buy. And it’s really fun trying to make Surf Simply better. It’s not really fun trying to duplicate and scale what we have. So for example, we’ve got a VR headset and with, we’ve started playing around with a lot of VR coaching. And I’m really looking forward to starting to do some augmented reality coaching where we can stick glasses on people and have them out in the lineup and then leave virtual markers around the ocean so that you can just…

Carol: Woah, that’s cool. That’s amazing!

Ru: So much fun stuff to do over the next 10-20 years. And I love a life where I’m here working in this with this amazing team in this small place, and we’re playing with all this stuff. The idea of, okay, well let’s formalize everything and start just rolling out more locations might be amazing for other people. For me, that’s not super exciting and say that’s not where we’re going.

Carol: Yeah. So for you, you’re focusing these next 10-20, however many, years not on becoming bigger and bigger, but just simply becoming better and better in creating cooler and cooler experiences that can be more and more meaningful. That’s a very cool direction.

Ru: Yeah.

J: So something else I would love to talk about. Looking at some articles that have been written about Surf Simply and then looking at your website, we noticed that, you guys are currently booked out almost two years, so anybody that, that wants to be a guest at, at the a Surf Simply Coaching and Resort is basically gonna wait two years to be able to get out and visit you. How have you been able to manage that? What is your secret to basically marketing and building a pipeline that, that that gives you a wait-list out almost two years?

Ru: So there’s been a couple of different elements that have come into it, but I mean, one thing that anyone who finds us on social media will notice is that we don’t have, you know, hundreds of thousands or millions of followers. We have on the older platforms like Facebook and YouTube, I think we’re around a hundred thousand or so, and on Instagram with less than 10,000, I think. So we’ve always tried to put the emphasis on quality rather than quantity. And we haven’t ever tried to just grab as many fans and followers as we can. We only need 444 people a yea, and we’re full. So you know, if we’re putting some piece of content out and we have a hundred people that watch it that are really genuinely interested in spending $5,000 coming and staying with us, that’s amazing. I’d much rather that than a million people who just want to watch the video and then click away.

So, you know, we’ve always tried to focus on the quality of what we’re putting out and we’ve always tried to build it from the bottom up rather than from the top down. And I see a lot of people who start businesses, and they want to start by thinking, what shall I put out on social media? And, and I feel like that’s the wrong question. It’s like, what do we want to be? And then all you’ve got to do is once you’ve decided what you are and you’re being that thing, you just use social media to show people something that exists and something that’s real rather than creating something to post. Does that make sense?

Carol: It does, and that is a huge eye-opener for me too, right? Because I think we all were just in this whole social media world that we’re engrossed in right now. It’s just all the clickbait, all the get the most likes, get the most visitors, get the most views, get the most subscribers, get the most thumbs up, all that type of thing. But you’re taking a really different approach. Like you said, you can only have 444 people a year. So rather than just creating stuff that’s applicable to the masses, to people who are just going to engage for a second to be on their way, it sounds like you’re really taking a look at what is the exact type of content that we need to create to reach the right people so that we just have people who are Uber-engaged, who are exponentially just ready to rock and roll and make the commitment to coming to this resort. Is that an accurate assessment?

J: And not just figuring out what content they need to create, figuring out what they want to be as a business, and that will decide what content they create.

Carol: That’s really a very different way of looking at it. That’s huge.

Ru: Exactly. There’s this old Chinese proverb that I think is so true of social media marketing, and I might be getting it a bit wrong. So if any of your listeners are Chinese-proverb scholars, I apologize for the boldness, but my recollection of it is something along the lines of there’s this blind emperor, and he’s never seen an elephant. And he wants to understand what an elephant is. Sorry, a seeing emperor with, with a several blind wise men that advise him and that’s it. So he sends these blind wise men to go and check out what an elephant is and you know, one of them feels the leg and comes back and tells them it’s kind of like a tree trunk, you know, and one of them feels the ear and says, it’s kind of like a leaf, and one of them feels the tail and says it’s like a snake and so on.

And the idea is that they come back and they report to him, and the emperor is able to sort of accurately figure out what an elephant is. So I think that that’s a really good way of marketing. You’ve got these different platforms online, and each one is like a different one of those blind wise men. You’ve got, you know, TripAdvisor, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram and all of the other portals. And each one of them lends itself to showing people at different aspects of your business. And what you want to do is kind of leave clues like breadcrumbs around the Internet so that someone can come and they can look at all those places, and they’re seeing completely different content. But all of that content paints the same. They’re all different ways of looking at the same elephant looking at the same thing, right?

Which is your business. And they’re able in their own mind to piece together all of the clues and get a sense of what you are and what you’re all about. And I don’t think you can fake it because people are smart and if you fake it, people will be like, well that doesn’t quite have… like they’re posting this on Instagram. But you know, this YouTube video is like a completely different language and culture, and everything and these TripAdvisor reviews seem to be about something else. So you know, that’s why I advocate. Just make the thing that you have real and then all you’ve got to do is people will write their TripAdvisor reviews about us, and they describe what we are. We have a media team of six people that are just doing photos and video every week, and we put those photos out on Instagram, and we make a custom video every week of all of the guest experience.

And we interview them, and we put that out on YouTube. And then we do our podcast, although we haven’t done one for ages, but we do our podcast, and the idea behind that was just, I know that the coaches are really interesting, interested and curious, articulate people and all I need to do is sit them down in front of a microphone, and people will hear them talk, and that will be another breadcrumb that I’ve, we’ve left on the Internet and another clue that tells people what is this Surf Simply thing all about. Who are these people, how do they think? And so, you know, having this real thing and then just using social media as a way of letting people see different bits of the elephant and then they put the elephant together themselves, and that’s what they find compelling. I think that’s a good way to think about it.

J: Yeah. Individual pieces of a big puzzle that starts to emerge when you, when you start to to see and hear enough.

Ru: Yeah, exactly.

J: Love that. Love that. So let me ask you a question. What is coming in 2020 or 2021 or 2022 what are the things on the horizon that you’re thinking about that you haven’t gotten around to? Because it sounds like you’re constantly evolving. You’re constantly growing, even if you don’t want to start a new resort and get out of hand, you’re constantly iterating. What’s coming next?

Ru: Well, so we’ve just finished this like a nearly three-year project of building this new facility that we’ve moved into. So to be completely honest with you right now, I’m sort of like just sitting down and kind of taking a breath in and kind of enjoying it

Carol: Enjoying your new spot.

Ru: We’ve had, we’ve had some, um, we’ve been chatting with some other companies about doing some collaborations. We were, we were approached by the WSL, the World Surf League, who run all of the World Cup and everything, and they were interested collaborating, putting together a coaching program I’ll offer them. So, I don’t know if anything will come of that, but it’s really fascinating talking with them and they’re coming down to visit us in July. And, uh, they’re very kindly actually given us the use of Kelly Slater Surf Ranch out in California for the day.

Carol: Wow.

Ru: I’m looking forward to taking all the coaches and the chefs and the whole team up there for a day to play on that. So I’m not sure if anything will come of that, but that’s really fun. And you know, as I mentioned before, we’re always playing with all of the kind of the coaching technologies, and we’re kind of geeks. So we love rolling out new kind of Bluetooth headsets where we can chat with people in the water and virtual reality stuff like that. And the other nice thing about the podcast, which I never saw coming, but we seem to have found a nice place in the surf podcasts sphere and when we’ve had more and more people reaching out to us asking if they can come on the show. And a lot of the people are guys that, you know, I have posters of on my bedroom wall when I was a kid. So that’s kind of exciting too. So I’m looking forward to being able to spend more time interviewing fascinating people and you know, expanding my horizons a little bit that way. So those are the things that really excite me.

Carol: Very Fun. Very exciting. Thank you for sharing all that — so much fun. So, now we want to move to the part of the show that we call Four More. Okay. So these are four questions that we ask all of our guests in rapid fire style. So at the end of the four questions, we’re also going to ask you the more, which is, where can people find out more about you? Sound good? Okay, cool. So I’m gonna Actually Jason, I’m gonna let you take the first one. I just called you Jason instead of J. Ha Hah!

J: That’s okay. That’s okay. I answer to pretty much anything.

Ru: So you guys are married, right?

J: We are!

Carol: Something like that!

Ru: Aww, that’s so cute. I love that you guys do a podcast together. Sorry, that is not supposed to sound patronizing. I think it’s awesome.

J: No it’s okay, it’s okay!

Carol: We love it, it’s so crazy. Much fun together. It’s awesome.

J: Okay, question number one: Ru, what was your first or your worst job, and what lessons did you take from it?

Ru: So I think my first job ever was that when I was eight, my dad said that I shouldn’t have pocket-money anymore and what I should do is start a business. And so I borrowed a hundred pounds from him. I mean this is all with his guidance. And I bought 12 chickens and then I started an egg delivery business. And you know, I was about as studious as you could imagine an eight-year-old was and I think I worked, I felt like I worked really hard and I got to the end of the year, and then you have to buy new chickens cause they didn’t last that long apparently. And I made a four-pounds profit at the end of the year, which wasn’t enough to buy Optimus Prime. And I learned that you can do a lot of work and get not very much for it if you’re not smart about how you’re working.

J: I love that. We did the same thing with our kids at around the same age and they went with the traditional, we’re going to start a lemonade stand. You

decided to start a buy-some-chickens-and-deliver-eggs business. I love that.

Carol: It’s hilarious! Oh my gosh, I’m trying to stop laughing. That’s amazing. Who comes up with a buychickensanddeliveringeggs. That’s incredible. Not heard that before. It’s awesome. Okay. So that kind of – I was actually going to ask you where you realized you had an entrepreneurial itch, but I think that kind of answers that question. So I’m gonna ask you a different number 2 for the Four More. What’s an opportunity along the way that you’ve said no to? And do you think that was the right decision?

Ru: I’ve had a lot of people that have come and wanted to partner up and have offered to, you know, invest quite heavily in Surf Simply. And it’s been so tempting along the way, and I’ve thought, you know, you start fantasizing and lying in bed awake at night thinking about all the things you could do with the money that would suddenly be sitting in your bank account. And I just really value the autonomy that I have now to be able to do things on a whim, make mistakes, get things wrong, you know, make a decision and then it doesn’t work out and be like, oh well, you know, I thought there was a 70% chance that would work, and it didn’t. So, I mean, I’ve lived and I’ve learned, and you know, having a business partner to answer to with all of that, I think the guilt of feeling like I would let them down, I would find paralyzing even if they were the most understanding person in the world. So I’ve turned down a lot of investment, and I’ve managed to retain control of the business, although I have made three of the long-standing team members partners in the business, which I’m really pleased about. You know, watching the pride that they have as being owners is really cool. But yeah, definitely, definitely turning down investment. Yeah. And keeping my autonomy.

J: That’s great. Tremendous respect for that. That’s a hard thing to do, and it’s great when somebody does it, and they say it was the right decision, so that’s awesome. Okay. Question number three. What’s either in your personal life or your professional life, what’s the worst advice you’ve ever been given? Or just some bad advice you’ve been given? Doesn’t have to be the worst ever. And what did you do with it? How did you turn that into better advice?

Ru: You know, when people tell you to follow your heart, I think that’s terrible advice. I’m a big fan of data and science as you might have gathered over the course of our conversation. And I think the trouble with following your feelings is that you feel one way in the morning and one way in the afternoon. And if you make serious life decisions just based on how you feel about it you’re gonna make bad decisions and you’re going to regret a lot of your decisions. I think that if you make decisions that are informed by data, it may sound cold and calculating, but you know, I mean, I’ve just talked during a conversation about how it’s data that has made me prioritize my relationships with people and happiness over money. So it doesn’t always have to be this, either it’s data and money or it’s like spirituality and happiness as it sort of a false dichotomy.

But I think if you’re making all of your business and your life decisions based on information rather than how you feel about it, I think that you’re gonna live a much happier life and have better relationships and have a more successful business. And also, you know, any decision that you make it, you may have a bad outcome. And even if you don’t, you certainly have anxiety about it if it was an important one. And if you make the decision based on the best data that you have, the best information that you have, and it ends up being a bad decision, you can look back and go, you know what, I, I worked on the best information I had. If I had rewind time, I would do the same thing with the same information, and it didn’t work, but I couldn’t have done any differently. And that lifts a big load off you. And equally, when you’re feeling anxiety about your decisions, you’re like, well, I’ve made it based on good information. You know, like I’m only human. What else could I possibly do? So I would advocate your listeners to have a data, paper-based approach to decision making. And also, to remember as a business owner, all you’ve got to do is avoid catastrophe systematically. You just keep avoiding catastrophe

J: The secret is avoiding catastrophe.

Ru: Exactly.

Carol: Systematically, that’s the keyword.

Ru: Yeah. If you can do that, then you can get better.

Carol: I love it. Okay. So my fourth question is in your personal or business life again, what is something that you have splurged on at some point that’s been totally worth it?

Ru: Oh, I spend way too much money on going on surf trips. I mean, I know that’s kind of predictable, but I just booked up a stay at Tuvalu with my girlfriend, and we’re really excited. Like I know Fiji, it’s beautiful. I wonder these amazing ways around there. But yeah, I don’t know. I figure this is lovely; there’s this great book by a guy called Richard Wiseman called 59 Seconds, and there’s a chapter in it about how much happiness you get from purchases. And he points out that if you buy something like a new car, the happiest you are is pretty much the moment before you drive it out the showroom and then the graph just goes down, and two years later it’s kind of an old rusty car sitting in your driveway. Whereas if you spend your money on experiences, as time goes by, you get more and more joy out of the memory of the experience. And actually, you know, we tend to filter out the bad stuff and remember the good stuff. So the happiness kind of goes up. So I try to splurge on experiences rather than possessions.

Carol: Excellent.

J: That is a common theme among our guests …

Carol: …among entrepreneurs is…

J: Not surprising. Excellent. Well, thank you for that. Now we’d like to jump into the More part of the segment, and if you’d like, I’d love for you to tell us or tell our listeners where they can find out more about you. Find out more about Surf Simply. And for those who might be interested in taking their surfing to the next level, how they can sign up and get on your twoyear wait-list for Surf Simply.

Ru: Well, I mean obviously the website’s we’ve got lots of information about what a week at Surf Simply involves. If you go into our YouTube channel, there’s two interesting things. One, if you’re interested in surfing, there’s a bunch of tutorials that I’ve done on there, which I’ve had really good feedback about and people seem to enjoy. And we also do, as I mentioned, a video each week. So, you know, you can see who’s staying with us. What they felt about the experience? What the whole thing looked like? And we try and really paint a picture of it. So, you know, we recognize it’s not a cheap week, and it’s a big investment, and we want to reassure people that they really understand what they’re paying for before they come. So, if you’re curious, I would encourage your listeners to go and jump in and which one of those. Our podcast, I’m really, really proud of. It’s a surf podcast, but we go way off topic a lot. We do a deep dive on tons of science and engineering stuff, and I like to think it’s a podcast that you can sit down as a non-surfer and still really enjoy, so I do encourage people to check out that. And of course Instagram and Facebook and all that stuff too.

J: What’s the name of your podcast?

Ru: It’s just called the Surf Simply podcast.

J: Yeah. Okay, great.

Carol: Excellent.

J: Ru, thank you so much for being here with us today. This was tremendously eye-opening. I’ll be honest, I came into this interview expecting a surfer dude and I got a surfer nerd and I love that. And again, I’m an engineer myself. So that’s about the highest compliment I can give you.

Carol: It truly is. It’s been so much fun. And the same thing, I thought we’re going to talk about surfing. I’m like, I’ll dress down like a surfy T-shirt, and just the business insight that you have in all your data in all your science made this just such a rich, informative conversation. And I know our listeners are going to love it. So thank you so much for being here with us today.

Ru: Thank you so much, guys. I feel really flattered that you asked me on the show. I really enjoyed the conversation.

J: Awesome. Thanks so much.

Carol: Thank you. Talk soon.

Ru: Alright. Bye.

J: Bye. Wow, that was a great show. I really, he was not what I was expecting when I heard that we were going to be interviewing a guy who is running a surf-coaching resort. I honestly, I figured he’d show up in flip flops and a tank top with the spiked up, bleached out hair and stuff

Carol: Stereotype much, baby.

J: I know, I know. It’s horrible. And instead, he reminded me of what I would be if I were starting a surf resort and coaching. And I loved the fact that he talked about scientific studies. He talked about data; he talked about really digging in and figuring out what was going to work. He talked about A/B testing. You don’t normally hear surfer guys talking about A/B testing. So I just thought this was a tremendous episode and it’s really going to make me think differently about how I approach my creative endeavors in the future.

Carol: Right. It was super fun, super insightful, and I love how he pulled out all these really big studies like the Harvard University study and just so many things. Again, I’m right there with you. I was not expecting the depth that we got out of this conversation. It was really cool. There was so much great stuff in there. Loved it.

J: Alrighty. So I think we are good here.

Carol: Let’s wrap it up, baby.

J: Okay. She’s Carol. I’m J

Carol: Get out there and build those relationships today. Have an awesome one. Everybody. See you soon. Thanks for listening.

J: Thanks.

Carol: See ya!

Watch the Podcast Here

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In This Episode We Cover:

  • How Ru got started on his business and the story behind it
  • What A/B testing is and how it’s helped him
  • What artists should do at a young age
  • Tips for finding the right employees
  • His secret to getting repeat customers
  • How to find the right coaches
  • Why he doesn’t do performance-based pay
  • Whether you should scale a business or not
  • The factors that make up a satisfying life
  • And SO much more!

Links from the Show

Tweetable Topics:

  • “Stop focusing on your guests. Focus on your team, and let them focus on your guests.” (Tweet This!)
  • “I don’t think paying people more makes them perform better.” (Tweet This!)
  • “Bad employees aren’t going to become good employees just because you pay them more.” (Tweet This!)
  • “The more time you spend interviewing someone, the less likely you are to hire them.” (Tweet This!)
  • “Someone will do a really good job if it’s in them to do a really good job.” (Tweet This!)
  • “Every day is just avoiding catastrophe systematically.” (Tweet This!)

Connect with Ru

Ru Hill is not an ordinary surfer. He’s a scientifically-minded entrepreneur who has used these ingredients to build an extraordinary business called Surf Simply in Nosara, Costa Rica. Here are the lessons he has to teach about making raving fans out of your customers.