002: The Meaning of Wealth with Brad Johnson

In today’s episode, I’m speaking with my friend Brad Johnson. Brad is the host of The Elite Advisor Blueprint® podcast and coach to elite level independent financial advisors. As the former VP of Advisor Development at Advisors Excel, Brad coached a group of independent advisors managing over $1billion of assets annually. 

Brad has recently chosen to leave a 10+ year career to build a company of his own. We talk about this major life change and how he knew he was ready to leave, the key philosophical difference between money and wealth, and why now is the time to take a step — no matter how big or small — toward living the life you truly want.

Key Takeaways

  • What Brad learned from some of the greatest minds in the financial industry — and how he knew it was time to move on from a company he spent over a decade with.
  • The importance of creating freedom of time — doing what you want, when you want, with whoever you want.
  • The true meaning of wealth and why making more money is a shortsighted goal.
  • An investing strategy that piggybacks off the most brilliant people in the world.
  • The reason so many people have an unbalanced approach to investing.
  • 3 skills Brad believes helped him achieve success in business AND life.
  • The most powerful piece of advice Brad ever received about retirement.
  • The #1 habit to achieve success with your goals.


“Don't reinvent the wheel. If there's a model or framework that you can borrow from, just take that and run with it.” - @Brad_Johnson Click To Tweet “Happiness is lack of wanting to be anywhere else other than where you are.” - @Brad_Johnson Click To Tweet “Humans are not wired to be good investors.” - @Brad_Johnson Click To Tweet


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Connect with Justin Donald


Justin Donald: All right. I am here with my friend, Brad Johnson. And I'm really excited to have you on, Brad. In fact, it's been a long time coming. So, Brad is the host of the Elite Advisor Blueprint podcast, which is dedicated to sharing the blueprint of success to independent financial advisors all across the world. Brad has coached and consulted with top advisors in the US for the past decade and as an expert in this space. He previously was the vice president of advisor development with Advisors Excel, which is the number one company in that industry, where he coached a group of independent advisors who sold over a billion dollars or managed really over a billion dollars of assets each and every year. So, Brad, it is so great to have you on the show. Thanks for joining.


Brad Johnson: Justin, I'm glad to be here, buddy. I'm excited for you. I mean, this is going to be awesome, you kicking off your podcast and sharing much of what you've learned from your network about investing. And so, I'm just honored to be here, man.


Justin Donald: Well, I've got to say, our story of meeting is a pretty interesting one. And part of the reason I'm even doing this podcast is having had the chance to meet you. And so, I kind of want to dive into that. In fact, you and I met at a retreat, a dads retreat called Front Row Dads, and I'd love to hear your version of the story. This is totally just off the cuff, but I've got one version and sometimes, it's funny when you hear people and they have a similar version or a different version or a different perspective. So, I'd love to hear your story of how you met in our first interactions.


Brad Johnson: Yeah, so actually, the weird thing is had I not started podcasting myself, I don't think our paths would have ever crossed. So, John Ruhlin who's a mutual friend, author of the book Giftology and you know him from your Cutco days, obviously, he came on my podcast, I think it was around 2016 or so. And we just got to become friends. And he's like, “Hey, you're a dad. I'm a dad. I've got this buddy, Jon Vroman, that just started a dads retreat.”


And he was kind of a business guy, a speaker guy and obviously, a dad as well. And he was just looking around and looking at his calendar. And he said, everything on my calendar says business and nothing says dad or husband. And so, he created his own kind of version of a conference for dads that want to level up their game. And so, it was in that, I think it was the second one that I ever went to where we crossed paths and Jon does some different breakout sessions and things like that. And he pulled you up for kind of a, I think it was something you and Jennifer do on an annual basis kind of your annual meeting, just kind of readjusting, how can we build a better relationship? How can I be a better dad?


And it just resonated with me. I've always been a models or frameworks guy, and it's like, don't reinvent the wheel, if there's a model or framework that you can borrow from, just take that and run with it. So, I remember, we didn't know each other. And I think it was towards the end, I said, “Hey, man, I appreciated what you said and if you'd be up for it, I'd like some accountability.” And so, I don't think we knew each other at all, I mean, as far as background or anything like that.


It was just, we connected on the side of just wanting to be better dads. And so, we started just a weekly call, just a quick little 15, 30-minute check-in and where we just kind of shared what was going well, maybe some struggles as parents, where we were trying to get better, and the friendship grew from there. So yeah, it’s my side at least.


Justin Donald: Yeah, it's such a fun story. And for me, I just remember meeting this guy who, number one, I was like, “All right, this guy's really in shape” that he takes his health really seriously. He's really intentional with his family. And he's just a lot of fun. And so, of all the new people that I met at that event, I probably knew half the people and then half the people I had just met, I was like, “This guy, Brad, there's something about him, I really want to stay in touch with him.” So, it's really funny that you asked me that because in the back of my mind, I was like, “Hey, how do I stay connected with Brad Johnson?” So, it just worked out perfect.


And over the time of you and I knowing each other and hanging out and spending time together, I mean, just a lot has evolved in our friendship, which is cool. And part of the reason I'm having you as my first official guest that I interview, technically, my first interview was Ryan Levesque, interviewing me to kind of set the framework for what this podcast is all about. But you're officially, Brad, my very first guest that I'm interviewing. And part of the reason for that is because you were very instrumental in your encouragement and your prompting of me to share my message in a podcast format.


I'd always thought about it. I’d always wondered people that suggested it, but I mean, you were very persistent about the fact that I should do this and that I need to get the message out and that this would be a great avenue. And so, I just want to thank you for that and honor you for the influence you had in this podcast becoming what it is now.


Brad Johnson: Well, Justin, I am so excited for you, man. And by the way, I think that's the inner coach, you coach financial advisors for a decade. I know you did a lot of coaching and are still doing coaching now around The Lifestyle Investor stuff. It's kind of when you see something in people, you kind of want to encourage them to get it out there. And so, I think, where that first kind of that lightbulb went off for me, it was during kind of the very beginnings of the coronavirus lockdown. It's funny like this became a spare bedroom, this became my podcasting studio because I wasn't going into the office.


And we started just doing some Friday calls, little virtual camaraderie where you could actually interact with other human beings, which I think everybody was starving for at the time. And you, me, my other friend, Sean, who's also a Front Row Dad, Ryan, I think was in that group, and we just started nerding out on investing. And it was just really fun because we all kind of have that mutual interest. We've all been successful in different areas.


And I think I even maybe said at one time, I'm like, “Dude, this would have been a stellar podcast.” And so, I don't know if that planted the seed, but to me, podcasting, the beauty of it, for me, how I first started, it was a way for me to package what was kind of a virtual mastermind that I was doing with a bunch of financial advisors all across the country. And then, what I realized is the beauty of podcasting is it makes information that you have interest in. Go search on any podcasting app for something you're interested in and you're going to find probably hours of content on that topic.


So, all it really does is makes interesting conversations accessible. It makes them easy to seek out and basically learn from. And so, all you're doing is taking some private conversations that we've all had with different niches in investing and creating cash flow and the freedom to live life the way you want to live it and you're just making them accessible to a bigger audience, which I think is going to be awesome. I mean, I'm just so excited for the journey ahead. You're going to look back two, three, four years from now and just be like, “Wow, that was life changing” and that's what it's been for me.


Justin Donald: Well, I appreciate all the positive encouragement. It's been a lot of fun. We have discovered a ton of cool things together, anywhere from being a family man to raising our kids to investing to lifestyle to cool experiences and epic life changing, let's call them elevated experiences with the family, without the family. There's been so much that we've discussed and so much that we've already been able to do and so, I'm just so excited to have you here.


And you are right when you said, like, this is all about giving people access to conversations they otherwise wouldn't have, that super high level, that's philosophical in nature when it comes to investing and how to invest in, where do you start and what type of investments are best to get started with and giving people access to my methodology and to my network of experts and professionals, it really has been fun. It's been rewarding. And I'm just so thrilled to have this platform in podcast format to be able to share thoughts that I have but also interview great people like you that have great ideas and great strategies and success in many different avenues in your life as an entrepreneur and as an investor.


And so, I'm excited to really dig in here with you. In fact, you've got something really big going on in your life. You have a big transition that just recently happened. And I'd love to celebrate that with you a little bit. Tell us about that. I want to know more.


Brad Johnson: Yeah, so we have some other similarities there in life because I know you were very successful in your previous life. And then, at some point, you said, “Hey, it's time for me to kind of step away and go to the next chapter.” And that's really what it was for me. I started at a company named Advisors Excel very early on, 12th employee, I think, and that was 2007. And that was really my entry into financial services. And it was just an amazing run, great company, really changed the industry of insurance brokerage in the US, the largest fixed annuity broker in the US, top five life insurance broker in the US, large RIA over $10 billion of assets under management now.


But really, the beauty of it was, I was able to be just surrounded by the absolute best financial advisors. And by that, I mean, you can define best different ways, but these were students of the game, these were guys that were lifelong learners and gals that were lifelong learners that were constantly seeking out how to improve and get better and new financial planning strategies, but also how to level up in life, and thought leaders of Tony Robbins, Darren Hardy, and the list goes on and on, I mean, Michael Hyatt.


We had them to conferences and I was right there beside them learning, a student. So, I feel very fortunate that I was kind of immersed in this. It’s like university on life and business and how to get better. And we grew an amazing business together from the ground up. And really, for me, it just came down to, it was time for me to venture out on my own, leave the nest for lack of a better analogy. And I'll be forever grateful for every experience I had there, but it was time for me to kind of venture out and start my own business.


So that's really what I'm in the middle of, and the one thing that I would say back to kind of the lifestyle investing, I grew up very much in the world of building a financial plan, coaching advisors on how to do that, creating an income plan, investment strategies, tax planning, healthcare, legacy estate. And one of the things that was really refreshing as we got to know each other and kind of your approach to investing, it's almost like you're baking a cake, you put it all together, you put it in the oven, and then you wait a couple hours, and then it comes out finished. I feel like that's an analogy for a lot of investing, where people have their portfolio, they put money in there, they let it sit there and grow over time. And I've done a lot of that, done some startup investing that's even a longer version of that, you might not have liquidity for 6, 8, 10 years.


And one of the things that was really refreshing was you were kind of focusing on the opposite side of that coin which was cash flow investing. I put money in, maybe it's a form of debt or real estate, and it kicks off cash flow fairly quickly. And I was like, “Wow, that's really cool.” And it was a probably a couple years into, just talking through some strategies with you, I’d had a six-figure passive income that once again, if you're going to make a big life change, cash flow is key because without that, it's kind of tough to pay the mortgage. I'm a family man, married, three kids, it's kind of important that we keep a roof over our heads. So, it was just really cool to see the opposite side or a different form of investing. And so, yeah, that was one of the things so thank you because you helped me create some freedom where I was able to make a big life change.


Justin Donald: That's awesome, Brad. And obviously, it's a real testament to you. It's my pleasure to be able to share and help, but it's a testament to you that you took action and you made that happen because you think about like a big life change, like leaving a job, especially for you, you're one of the top guys there, top three guy there. I know you're making a tremendous income with them, that had to be really hard to walk away from. And maybe, it's part of what kept you there longer than what you could have or should have been in terms of tenure there.


So, I've got to imagine that gives a lot of comfort to know that you've got six figures of income that are coming in passively, that worst-case scenario, you've got all your bills covered, you've got your lifestyle covered, you're going to be fine, and you can start this next chapter of your life. That's really cool.


Brad Johnson: Yeah, I think when you look at just anything in life, I think the tough part where people kind of get paralyzed is they look very short term, this mortgage coming in next month or this paycheck coming in every two weeks. And I think really in life, sometimes it's really helpful to zoom out. We've all got one run at this thing and so, why not make the most of it and do life the way that you're going to be proud to do it and going to, as a parent, inspire your kids.


One of the things that I looked at is, if I was on my deathbed, 85 years old, 90 years old, hopefully, 120 years old, who knows by the time, the way technology is advancing, but if I was sitting there telling my kids that are 10, 9, and almost 5, “Hey, you can do anything in life you want to do, just apply yourself and go get it and embrace the challenge.” And then at the same time, I'm sitting there and not taking my own advice. It's modeling versus preaching. And to me, the true way that you show people or teach people is you just model the behaviors.


And so, for me, I just had to zoom out, I had to zoom way out on life and say, short term, this might be a painful and difficult and tough decision, but long term, I absolutely know it's the right decision. And the one thing we all have, we're talking about investing which most people equate to money, the one investment that we all have that's the exact same, whether you're Warren Buffett or Jeff Bezos or any other billionaire out there, we all have the same amount of time.


And so, what I really had to make the decision on, Justin, was, how do I want to control my time? And as an employee, that's just tougher. You've got somebody kind of maybe dictating that a little bit. And so, I knew deep down just long term, I wanted to be able to control my time and spend that where I see fit.


And I know, like, as we got to know each other, we started out with these weekly dads calls, but I saw a guy in you that made a very tough decision, many of which I'm sure your friends called you crazy at the time. And it gave you the ability to truly control your time and spend it where you get the most value from it. And so, I think that's a key aspect to lifestyle investing as you've coined it and I love the term. It's how do you want to spend that time in that lifestyle you want to create and you've got to make choices in life that allow you to do that. So, that was really kind of the thesis around the decision for me.


Justin Donald: Yeah, that's awesome. And you're so true, part of the reason why I coined that term was, I wanted to encapsulate to me what the most important part of my life is which is the actual lifestyle itself. So, it's lifestyle investor for a reason, it's not investor lifestyle. I care way more about being able to have the autonomy of time on my side, as you've just mentioned, this freedom of time and being able to do what you want to do with your family in as much time as you want or with your friends or travel the world. Obviously, I know that's a big passion for both of us. And I just think that that is fantastic that you've been able to carve that out because it's tough. It's tough to walk away.


A lot of people kind of get the golden handcuffs, you get accustomed to the lifestyle you live or the money that you make and you can become a slave to the job that you have or the business that you've started. And it's neat to see you be able to step out of that and step on your own and really make some moves. I just think that that's so awesome. And in fact, while we're on the topic, I would love to know because I talk often about what wealth is to me and what freedom is to me, but what do each of those mean to you? You touched on it a little bit, but I'd love to dive into that subject.


Brad Johnson: So, wealth, yeah, it's interesting for a guy that's grown up in the world of finance, where you're helping advisors help their clients create what wealth is for them. I think wealth is too often tied to the amount of money in a bank account because if you really define money and what money is, there's a great book, which I believe you've read as well, Sapiens, which really breaks down like humans and through time, the different, like the Industrial Revolution and Agricultural Revolution and how that's defined humanity in different shifts, but they go way, way back and they talk about the invention of money.


And if you really think about these imaginary paper bills we carry around in our wallet and like strive our whole lives for to attain, it's really like, if you zoom out and you're like, for this imaginary thing we've assigned value to, really, wealth to me is all that money really does, it gives you the freedom to create the experiences with the people that you want to do it with, that you care about and love. And if you really break it down, that's why once again, like, I think it's really important to enjoy the work you do to attain this thing called money to create these experiences because it's not the Industrial Revolution anymore, where Justin and Brad go and clock in to the factory and put in our probably 60 or 80 hours a week back then, because there were no labor laws.


So, for me, wealth is create enough money to give you the freedom to create life experiences and memories with those you love. And the thing is that, that can be very simple. There's a lot of people with no money that feel wealthy beyond imagination because they're doing experiences and life with people they love and care about. And so, I think it's detaching money from wealth is a key thing. One of the definitions I heard around happiness that I love, happiness is lack of wanting to be anywhere else other than where you are.


Justin Donald: That’s good.


Brad Johnson: So, it's basically being present. And so, right now, like, this is fun. I mean, I woke up this morning, I'm like, cool, I get to have a fun conversation with a guy that inspires me, that I can learn from, Justin, and we've had some fun experiences. And I know we've got a lot of shared beliefs around what's important to us in life. And so, like happiness, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else other than right here, right now. So, I think it's assigning the definitions and really doing life on your terms and not necessarily living by what the world defines as wealth because a lot of times, to me, it's the wrong definition.


Justin Donald: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. And you're right. I had friends that thought I was crazy when I’m stepping away from what I was doing for a career because I had passive income that basically, completely covered what I was earning. And my friends were like, “What are you doing you? You could keep working and you could make twice as much.” And I said, “No, that's not the goal. The goal is not to make more. The goal is to buy my time back. I want freedom of time first and foremost. That's more important to me than any amount of money that I could earn.”


And I love hearing your definition of it and the way that you look at it. I just think that's cool. I'm also really curious, because when we first started hanging out and we both were kind of discussing our philosophies around investing, one of the things that you were really focused on was kind of like seed investing, especially kind of in the tech space. And I'm sure that a lot of these, I know you've had some good payoffs on those, but I know a lot of them probably won't land.


I'm also curious kind of how did you get started investing? And then, what did that look like? What was that evolution over time? And then, what has happened now? Like, how has that strategy shifted? From infancy to let's call it the medium growth stage, you're an adolescent so now, you're a lot more mature in your investment world and strategy and you've had exposure to so much more stuff that you didn't have, I'd love to hear more on your investment journey.


Brad Johnson: Yeah. I think first of all, if you go all the way back, part of it is probably just I think most of us, it's kind of the nature versus nurture. It's how you came up in the world. And I grew up in the middle of nowhere Kansas, most people would say, in Minneapolis, Kansas, little small farming community, 2000 people. So, for those of you that have never been to Kansas which is probably most of you listening in from my experience, it's right in the middle of the state.


And so, growing up, it was helping out on the family farm. And so, I think, the value of a dollar was very clear to me early on, it didn't come easy. You have to go out, you have to work hard, you have to earn it. And so, I think that kind of carried through where I think different people, if you kind of grew up in a wealthy family, maybe you don't have that experience that I did growing up. So, I always valued a dollar.


And then for me, if you look at the very, very early days, money was simply like, it was the ability to get all these things which was very materialistic when I was younger. I was driving the beater car in high school. I remember, my buddy in third grade got the Air Jordans that everybody wanted when I was a kid and we couldn't afford them. And so, I think a lot of times it was like this want and this desire for materialistic things that kind of drove me early on. And I think as you get older and you mature as a human. And maybe, you make some money and actually buy them and then you realize, well, these Air Jordans don't make me any happier or this new sports car or whatever.


And so, it was just kind of, I think, in life, you mature and you realize, “Okay, well, these materialistic things don't necessarily equate to happiness.” But I think early on, that drove me to want to go do really well in life. I think as far as a philosophy around investing, I mean, I did the standard, go, remember I bought, I was always interested in finance. So even before I was in finance, I forget, it was probably E*TRADE at the time, I think, was my first account, I was buying. Here were my first three stock purchases, Google’s IPO. Chipotle’s IPO, and what was the third one? I think it was like Sirius XM, which was a dud.


Justin Donald: Nice picks on the other two! 


Brad Johnson: Yeah, not too bad. But what I realized is how much my own emotions impacted my investing because I'd literally get there every day and what that stock did the previous day. And so, I think that's the first thing you have to realize as an investor is you have to be very aware of your own emotions because humans are not wired to be good investors. I mean, you read every study. I mean, I've basically coached financial advisors for a decade plus so there's thousands of them. The Dalbar study is a fairly, highly referenced one where basically the average investor underperforms the benchmark, like the S&P 500 dramatically.


Just because there may buy low, sell high, basically, the average investor does the exact opposite, they buy high, they sell low. So, the market crashes. We just saw that experience with the COVID stuff. A lot of people freak out and sell at the bottom. So, part of, I think, the key to being a successful investor is either one, know your own emotions and keep them in check which is very hard to do.


I work with a lot of financial advisors that have their own financial advisor because they know they need that buffer, that other person in the way that when they want to freak out and make the wrong decision, there's somebody there to kind of be the buffer and keep them from, I'm selling my whole portfolio.


So, I think, just like you need an accountability partner in life, if you want to go work out at the gym, it's easier to meet somebody there. Same thing in finance, you want somebody that's kind of your accountability partner where you're just not making off-the-cuff decisions. That's one of the things that led me to angel investing, Justin, is if you look at angel investing or seed-level investing, it's opaque and it's illiquid. Compare that to the public markets, if I go and I buy Tesla stock, or there's Davey Day Trader out there, I don't know if you follow Dave Portnoy. But that's like, what not to do, but he's hilarious but just probably don't follow his investment advice.


Brad Johnson: But one of the things, the reasons I gravitated towards seed investing was basically, it allowed me to piggyback off of guys like Naval Ravikant who I call him like the Warren Buffett of angel investing. So, he started a company called AngelList where basically, if you're an accredited investor, you can kind of piggyback, follow on some of the most successful angel investors out there, most of them in Silicon Valley where they have access to these deals before anybody knows about them.


And so, for me, the beauty of it was I could make small, little incremental investments on a lot of companies, where you're betting on some of the most brilliant people in the world, some of that, you’re talking Stanford, Harvard, all of the upper echelon of graduates, many of which are computer scientists and very heavy in the tech space. And I could basically bet on them and these people are pouring their lives into making their companies succeed.


And guess what? Six months from now, I can't freak out and sell everything because it's illiquid. So, it's not transparent. So, there's not public information on it. And it's illiquid so you can't like kind of screw it up. Now, granted, many of them to your point, Justin, can go to zero, which is why you make small investments in many and you piggyback on people that have proven success there, but if you compare that to the public markets that are very transparent because they have to be with all the regulation and very liquid, it's hard to get a leg up with that type of investing.


And kind of the last piece that I'll kind of throw on that, I was an IT major so I've kind of always nerded out on that side. I also like the idea of investing in things that have tailwinds versus headwinds. Marc Andreessen who was one of the guys behind Netscape kind of the original web browser, then, gosh, he did, what was the other one? But basically, very early in tech and he's got to saying software's eating the world. And I think, if you look at COVID and we're doing this interview on Zoom, which is now a household name, guys like him had access to Zoom early on before Zoom was a household thing.


And so, if I can bet on the tailwinds of technology versus the headwinds that like, no offense, but commercial real estate, there's some headwinds right there with companies like Microsoft announcing all of their employees are going to work virtually forever, potentially. So, I want to bet on things that have tailwinds versus headwinds so like industrial warehouses, which I know you and I have both put some investments in, where companies like Amazon are gobbling up industrial warehouses because that's how distribution works now with products. So, anyway, long-winded answer to a short question, but that's just a little bit of my philosophy on that front.


Justin Donald: Well, I love it. And I love hearing your perspective. And I love that you're involving your expertise, the things that you're excited about, the things that you're going to take the time to read articles on and do research on because it's all fun and it's all interesting. And that's really what I encourage people to do. And when people say, “Where should I invest? What should I invest in?” To me, it's like, well, what are you interested in? Why don't you become a quasi-expert or why don't you really, truly commit and become an expert in that area? In that way, you'll be able to see more clearly what does and doesn't make sense to invest in.


So, I really like that and I love seeing the shift that you've made into more cash flow, forward investments, I think that that's awesome and it's great to balance the portfolio because if someone were to just invest as an angel investor, they’d probably have to be pretty lucky to make it. I remember Naval Ravikant who I think is just brilliant. He's one of my favorite people to listen to and learn from, but I remember him saying something to the fact that, hey, if you're a good angel investor, you're going to pick one company right. And if you're great, you're going to pick two right.


It's so like, the odds are really, really low on that, but like you said and I've copied you on this strategy is like piggyback off of the people that know what they're doing. So, piggyback off of Naval or other people that have great experience in the space. But for me, personally, I like having the cash flow element of it first so that way, everything's covered. Making an investment isn't going to affect your lifestyle so that to me is really important. I would rather invest with, let's call it like additional cash flow or cash flow that goes above and beyond what it costs me to live.


I'd rather use that as my investment vehicle into those angel investments, then maybe principal type of investment that I could earn some sort of a return on, where I'm not earning the total amount of cash flow that I would need to cover my lifestyle. Obviously, it's still important to have some emergency funds as well, but when you have assets that cash flow, I mean, that covers kind of the emergency stuff, too. So, there are few different ways to look at it.


Brad Johnson: Or both, I mean, that was one of the things that was cool. As we started dissecting some deals together, Justin, there were a few that we got into where it was more of a debt play and I guess I should say, first off, disclaimer, do not hop on here in Justin and Brad or your new financial advisor, this is our investments that we’ve personally done, we're not giving investment advice on this. I say that because I run a podcast for financial advisors. So, I know compliance is a really important deal.


But it was cool, you're like, “Hey, I've got this play, it's a debt deal.” And just for metrics, for easy math, let's say you put in 100,000, it kicks off 10% per year so now, you're getting a $10,000 payment. You get the original 100,000 back that you put in maybe after a year or two years, depending on the terms, and an equity kicker. So once again, if you're doing angel investing, you're putting money into a company for a portion of that equity long term. So, if someday when a liquidity event happens, like the company goes public or they're acquired by another company, now there's a liquidity event, you get paid based on your equity.


The cool thing is you open my eyes to some cash flow investing that kick off cash today and still have a little equity kicker on the back end that you can participate in liquidity, if that ever happens down the road. So that was another way to just look at it or structure a deal where you kind of get the best of both worlds.


Justin Donald: Yeah, totally. And it's fun. And most people don't even know that these options exist. To most people, it's like, let me invest in my 401k. Let me invest in the stock market. Oh, let me go ahead and do some equity investing. And so, most people, in my opinion, aren't real balanced in the way that they go about investing. I would rather cover my expenses first and then subject my money to what I think are riskier equity plays or the stock market that really kind of has the highs and lows.


I mean, I like stock market investing if you're going to do it unemotionally and for the long haul, unless you're a day trader. If you're not a day trader, you shouldn't day trade, in my opinion. I think that that can get people and has gotten people in a lot of trouble. But to me, the safer, the easier way to do is to have an asset that has intrinsic value that if worst case something goes wrong, the asset still has value to get you money back, you don't lose all your money, it doesn't go to zero, I think that's really important.


And so, I've just had a ton of fun, you and I and Sean and Ryan and just kind of the original investment group and all the things that we discussed and all the deals we ran by each other and what type of real estate do we like and what type don't we like and how is COVID impacting this and what are the new opportunities because of COVID. A lot of people focus on, hey, when you look at COVID, it's like, well, here's all the businesses that are struggling, but if you pay attention to it, there's a lot of new business enterprise it started because of COVID. And so, how do we kind of jump on, like you said, the tailwinds of those businesses and those investment opportunities?


Brad Johnson: I think an interesting thing that's always been fun for me, for those of you that are like, personal assessment test nerds, like I tend to be, I think that always happens in sales, there's a test called the StrengthsFinder. Have you taken that, Justin, by chance?


Justin Donald: I have. Yeah, I love that test.


Brad Johnson: So, my number one which speaks to my nerdiness is Futuristic. So, it always interests me, I'd much rather look out kind of the Elon Musk of the world. What's the future look like versus the past? And so, I think always a fun exercise when it comes to investing and speaking about tailwinds is like, just imagine the world 10, 15, 20 years from now based on the trends you see and I was early on the Tesla bandwagon. I think I was one of the first 50 that had a Model X in the Midwest when I picked mine up.


And from then on, once I got that Tesla, I started seeing the world in a different light. I drive by a gas station and I'd be like, I sure wouldn't invest in one of those because I basically started to see, here's what Elon Musk is really building. Everybody thinks he's selling cars but in reality, I just took a road trip from the middle of Kansas to Denver and I stopped at four supercharges along the I-70, so the major highway system running east to west and literally never went to a gas station the whole time.


And so, if you really look at what guys like Elon are doing, they're building, he's building an infrastructure basically, that's going to replace gas stations over the long haul, not today, but over the next 10, 15 years as companies like GM and Ford get into the electric car side and he's now got, call them 7-Elevens for electric cars all across the entire United States of America. And guess what? He's selling that electricity to people that plug in.


So, if you start to look at electric cars, I'm seeing a lot more of them on the highway, what's that going to mean to other things that support internal combustion cars. And so, that's what I also love about investing. It allows you to bet on the future world that you see coming. And so, part of that kind of the futuristic side of me, you look out and you're like, what are these tailwinds and these trends that are coming? Once again, virtual Zoom, a lot of offices are now converting to fully virtual environments. So, what are the tailwinds? What's the technology that that's going to drive? Zoom? We all should have bought into that IPO a few years back, we would have doubled a few times over by now. So, that's the fun part for me investing as well.


Justin Donald: I love it. That's so awesome. And you're sticking with kind of the core of who you are, which is great. In fact, that's probably why I am so excited about the podcast is because my StrengthsFinders are number one is Positivity and number two is Woo, which is winning others over. And it's basically like, I just love people, I love relationships, I love to teach, I love to connect, I love to have impact. And so, I feel like this is such a great vehicle to be able to do that. So yeah, it's just fun.


Brad Johnson: Well, I'll tell you what, buddy, and for those listening into this episode, I'm honored to be kind of the first official episode, but just hanging with Justin, his network is incredible. So, I'm excited to subscribe and just hear the other conversation. I mean, you might have the most eclectic friend list of successful people I've ever met, Justin, like people in crypto, people in real estate, people in media. So, it's going to be quite the ride and I'm just excited for you to kind of give access to your network that you've developed over the years. So, it's going to be a lot of fun for you, man.


Justin Donald: Well, thank you. I appreciate that and yeah, I have a whole bunch of ideas in store for the podcast and for guests and for just teaching topics. There's just so much content that I want to kind of discover with people and kind of clear up myths that exist and kind of bring clarity in the space of investing and just a different voice, a different strategy, a different way to do it, which is cool.


I'd love to shift gears with you a little bit here because I know that you have been incredibly successful in everything that you've done. I'm actually curious, what is it? What do you think are the top three skills or gifts that you have that have really allowed you to be successful in the endeavors that you've pursued, Brad?


Brad Johnson: I'll tell you, as an aside, one of the attributes of a great podcaster is asking questions that make you think, so well done there.


Justin Donald: Thanks.


Brad Johnson: I think the first one, if I had to say one over all else, one of my favorite sayings is your network is your net worth. And I don't mean that from just a sheer monetary. I think it goes back to that wealth. What is true wealth? Like your network is kind of your true wealth of the people that surround you. It's the Jim Rohn’s saying, you're the average of the five people you surround yourself with.


And so, I've always been a person like you that values people, that is curious. I try to stay very unbiased. I try to challenge my own beliefs repeatedly. Well, there was a recent documentary that's on Netflix now called The Social Dilemma that was kind of a documentary study on social media and how it's impacting humans. And the thing is, with these algorithms, whether your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, whatever, they're in the business of delivering things in front of your eyeballs that make you want to keep your eyeballs on that network.


And so, what it's talking about is the divisiveness. We see it in politics. We see it in a lot of things right now because you're basically just reinforcing the same beliefs over. If I lean hard right, I click on more hard right articles and then more hard right articles keep being fed to me because it's what keeps my eyeballs on that platform that's trying to sell me ads.


And so, I want to be the opposite of that. I don't want to be, and I'm not talking politics here, I'm just talking life in general where I constantly want to challenge my own beliefs and so back to some of the things that I think have made me successful is I value people with all types of religious backgrounds, political backgrounds, and I just want to like, be curious and get to know them. And I actually listen and I can respect that maybe their opinion is different than my own. I don't have to necessarily agree with it, but I can respect it.


And I think when you're dealing with humans, whether it's building a company, whether it's building your own network of people that you can learn from, I think that's really been a skill set that served me well. It's like the small-town Kansas boy that I'm just, treat others as I want to be treated and naturally curious and I try to put myself in whether it's podcasting, whether it's conferences. I constantly try to challenge myself to go out, get uncomfortable, and get in groups of people that challenge my own thoughts. And I think that's served me really, really well over life and I continue to plan on doing that with everything I do. So that's one. Maybe, we'll stop there, but that’s something that’s served me well,


Justin Donald: Yeah, I think that that's great and I appreciate you sharing it. I actually have a follow-on question to that since your people, your relationships, your network is so important to you. So, who would you say are three people that have influenced you the most in your life, that have really had the greatest impact?


Brad Johnson: It's a really good question. I think one that has really influenced me is my dad. My parents got divorced when I was going to be a freshman in high school, which anybody that's gone through a divorce as a kid, it's a life-changing thing, it sucks. I would never want to wish that on any kid. And mine was like, not dramatic at all, it was actually about as good as a divorce can be, but one of the things from my dad that just like I really appreciated was he was a single dad that kind of raised my brother and I. And I just saw him working and pouring everything he could into just providing for us.


And so, I think part of that just rubbed off on me as just wanting to always be there for my kids. And I think the thing in life, we've talked about this at a dads retreat, you can learn from good examples. If you had a great dad, that was like the perfect ideal dad and if your parents got divorced and you had a not-so-good dad or mom, you can learn from that example, too. And then, it's your choices as human, how do you live your life and your journey? So, my dad, for sure, just seeing him, he was a hardworking farmer that just did his best to raise my brother and I up and my mom, we stayed with her as well, but we lived with my dad so that was kind of more my first-hand experience.


As far as others, I'll tell you, Naval Ravikant has had a massive impact on me, just as a mentor from afar. He's a guy that's done really well on the investing front, but he's really challenged how do you become happy. And his approach is very philosophical, very stoic on, you can analyze your own thoughts. And I think it's really easy sometimes to get in these habits or these patterns that you just wake up and you're like, “I'm in a bad mood.” And you're like, “Well, analyze that, why are you in a bad mood?” Well, I chose to be here. I didn't get enough sleep last night or I had one too many drinks so I'm hungover, whatever that is and actually empowering yourself to have say so over that.


And I think a lot of stoicism, which has also impacted me quite a bit… Actually, well here, this is the book that's probably had the biggest impact day in, day out, The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday, which is kind of bite-sized stoicism daily reader. But I think a lot of times, people just get in these patterns and they don't ever actually analyze their own thoughts. And so, Naval, I think, has been very instrumental on just analyzing my own thoughts, what is happiness? What is wealth?


He has this tweetstorm, How to Truly Be Rich or something like that, just go look him up on Twitter. What I love about it, it's a very deep, deep dive on what is wealth and what is truly being rich and it has actually a lot not to do with money. So, I think it's just important to like, surround yourself with people that challenge your thoughts.


And for my third one, I'm going to throw Jon Vroman in there, Justin, and obviously, that was what kind of brought us together. I really value him as an influence in my life. I've gone to multiple dads retreats to where it's just I think important to look at your calendar. Your calendar is one of the biggest insights into what you actually truly value back to how you spend your time. And I think, my guess is there's a lot of successful entrepreneurs on here that are very interested in investing and all of that. But what's all that for? If you just die with a really big bank account and your kids don't know you or you're on your seventh marriage or whatever that is, it's like, what is true success?


And I'm going to steal a line from Jon. People would ask him what he did for a living and he'd say, “I'm a speaker, I'm an author.” And he's like, “Wait, what am I really?” And he’s like, “Well, first, I'm a husband and I'm a father and by the way, I also speak and write books.” And so, I think sometimes it's analyzing that time on your calendar and making sure the time on the calendar actually equates to what you actually really want to be in life. And so, Jon has really been very influential in helping me always keep my priorities in the right places and surrounding me with great fathers and great husbands that I can learn from like you. So, I think he's been very instrumental on that front.


Justin Donald: Well, I couldn't agree with you more. And I mean, Jon Vroman has just been a game changer in my world, too, a dear, dear friend. And yeah, I had a paradigm shift with that exact thing that you said. And part of the reason that I knew that I needed to get my time back, buy it back and really create freedom of time was so that I could show up as the best husband that I could be and the best father that I could be. And that, to me, really is what lifestyle is all about and being true to my core beliefs and who I am, how I want to treat people, where I want to spend time. So, I love that. I think that's so cool.


One thing I'd love to know, as we're beginning to wrap things up here, is if you could go back in time, what's something that you wish you would have known before you started your career, as you were kind of taking baby steps into the first part, the first chapter of your career? Like, what is it that you wish you would have known then?


Brad Johnson: Well, the one thing I will say that kind of piggybacks off that last comment is creating my calendar, my day, my week, my year by design versus by default. And I was fortunate, married my high school sweetheart, Sarah, we’re 15 years married this year. In the early days of starting my business and I was cold calling financial advisors from all over the country, it was a grind, 100% commission based, no salary. So, it was just kind of like the closest thing to sports and being a former football player in college, it was like, the unlimited upside attracted me because I knew if I would put in the work, the results would follow and the success would follow.


And so, like going back to what I wish I would have known then, is really making sure I designed my day and my week so that when it was work time, I was crushing, just like in the gym, you go put in your work at the gym and then when it was time for work to be over, it was time for family time. And there was a lot of sacrifices that Sarah made. We didn't have kids in the early days.


There were nights where I was away, either staying late at the office or taking the phone call on my cell phone that interrupted dinner or just different things, you look back and you're like, well, I wish I would have the wisdom back then not to work less hard, but to work more by design in the hours that I wanted to work and then create the freedom and back to the lifestyle, create the lifestyle I wanted where that work serve my life. I don't think I was horrible at it, I just think I could have been much, much better. 


One of our clients, he said this one time and it really resonated with me. He said, “Every year, you should try to retire a little bit more.” And this was a guy, he was working with, like 60-year-old, 65-year-old, 70-year-olds that had slaved away their entire lives at whatever job to get this amount of money in a bank account so that they could retire. And he's seeing them like retiring after like, the bulk of their years are gone, like their good quality years. And he's like, “Why would you do that? Why wouldn't you just create a business back to cash flow and allowing you to have lifestyle that could allow you to retire a little bit more each year?”


And like, full transparency, Justin, that was one of the things that drew me into wanting to learn more about how you had created that for you because I remember, like, we started doing these weekly dads calls and I'm like, “Does this guy ever do anything?” Like, “Is this just like the only thing on his calendar today?” because you're like, “Oh, Jennifer and I had a date day, then I took my daughter to the movie, like, two in the afternoon.” I'm like, “What's this guy do?”


So, it was just cool to see how you had created by design, not by default kind of what you wanted your week to look like but once again, you had to create cash flow and passive income to be able to do that. And so, it's cool now, like looking back. I don't think I messed it up horribly, I would just do a much better job earlier on designing that versus having to learn that 10, 15 years later.


Justin Donald: That is so well said, well thought out, Brad. I love the life by design. I often talk about when you're planning your life, planning it proactively, not living in it reactively. And so, I mean, you literally just did such a great job of encapsulating that exact feeling and that exact thought. I think that's cool. And really the importance and the power of having boundaries, too. So, just because you're not going to do work at a certain time doesn't mean you're not a hard worker, it just means that you're picking your priorities at those times and you're not going to allow something that's not a top priority to invade your time with your top priority. So, work at one point, when we're younger, we're going to do whatever and we're going to be a slave to the business because the thing that we value most is either significance or money or accumulation or whatever it is.


And then, the more wise we become, the more we realize, oh, gosh, relationships are more important and quality time spent with my family and my loved ones. I really need to shift things around. And so, that's really kind of the genesis of The Lifestyle Investor and kind of why I wanted to create this brand in the first place is to create awareness for a life like that. It's not an awareness to make a lot of money. It's an awareness to make enough that you live a great lifestyle. You can celebrate the moments you want to celebrate. You have total freedom of time to spend with whom you want, wherever you want. So, to me, that's just really inspiring.


Brad Johnson: Yeah, I think along those lines, I know, Jim Sheils wrote the book, The Family Board Meeting, which you read, and he was at one of the dads retreats. He for a long time, worked with a lot of entrepreneurs and he did basically a parents-kids event and he would actually survey the kids. And both being dads of young kids, there's this entrepreneurial myth that, as men especially, we provide and we support the family.


And so, Jim, I remember him speaking and he said, he would sit there and talk with these kids and the only thing they wanted, it wasn't the new gaming system, it was literally spending time with mom and dad. And we sit there and we tell ourselves a narrative and a story of like, I've got to go to the office and provide and do this and that. Really, the only thing they want is you to take the day off and go hang with them.


And so, one of my favorite things when it comes to just like doing things by design, Covey's 7 Habits, one of them is start with the end in mind. And so, start with the end goal, which if it's, I want to be a great parent or a great husband and have a deep relationship with my family, you start there and then, you fill in the variables that actually get you to that, whether it's your calendar and putting in the big rocks, the family board meetings, the date nights with the husband or wife.


And I think a lot of times, a lot of people do it the other way, where it's like, I'm going to fill in the calendar with all the variables and then, I hope I've got a great relationship with my spouse and with my kids. And so, I know you're very good at that as well as you start at the end and I think we both have annual meetings with our spouses, where it's kind of like laying out the year in advance and what's important to us. And it's much easier to do it that way than to do it by just like, let's hope this ends up at the end of the year that things worked out. So, I think that's really important to kind of do it by design. Just start with what you actually want to accomplish in the first place.


Justin Donald: Yeah. And Brad, you paid me a nice compliment that I'm good at it. I think maybe I'm good at it now. I don't think I was good at it when I first started doing it. I think what really just made it work is that I was intentional. So, I don't even know like when I first started, I didn't know what to cover. I had no idea. I just knew that I wanted to live my life intentionally, proactively by design. And so, I think that over time, I actually became good at figuring out what it is that I wanted to strategize and plan for but at the beginning, I don't even think you have to be good at it. You just have to be willing to make the time to invest in doing it, to be proactive, to take those first steps.


Brad Johnson: Yeah, I mean, I think for those of you out there, it's literally just ask your spouse, “Hey, could we sit down and kind of lay out the year?” I mean, just that conversation by itself is much better than how most people do it, and you kind of iterate and get better. And it's like, we were talking about podcasting. You just do it, you hop on the mic, you figure it out. And guess what? If you're like me, Justin, which by the way, this has been a great interview. So, your first one, I can't even imagine when you're like Episode 100, you're going to be a pro.


But like, looking at my journey, I listen to some of my early interviews and I cringe because I had the verbal tics and all of the things that you notice afterwards, but you just have to get out there. And it's like software, just get it out there and test it and iterate and you'll fix the bugs later. So, I think that's life, that's podcasting, that's a lot of things out there.


Justin Donald: That's awesome. Well, I've got one last question for you. And that's just what final remarks do you have? Is there anything else you want to say today? I mean, this has just been an amazing interview and I've just really loved our time, but I'd love to give you a chance to share any last thoughts you may have.


Brad Johnson: Well, I just want to say thank you. I'm super grateful for guys like you in my life, Justin. And the way I look at conversations like this, we're kind of joking ahead of time and kind of sharing just ideas on podcasting and the flow of the conversation. If one person out there listening in can just get like one idea that makes a positive impact on their life, like, to me, this was fun because I'm just sitting here riffin’ with a buddy and we're just talking life and things that are important to us.


And the beauty of podcasting is you can just package it and share it with the world and those that find value in it, it's theirs for the taking. And so, that's it, man. I really enjoy conversations with people that inspire me like you and that I can learn from and if it can help one other person out there, that's a win in my book. So, that's it on my side, man. 


Justin Donald: Well, that's fantastic. And Brad, I just really appreciate your time, your willingness to share, your willingness to be open and transparent and vulnerable, especially in a big transition for you right now. So, this has just been a total blast. And it's a true pleasure to number one, call you a friend and number two, be able to share our relationship and this conversation with many other people.


And to our listeners, I just really want to challenge you to take the next step. There is a next step and figure out what it is. It doesn't have to be a big step. It could be a real small baby step, but take a step towards what it is that you want, what is the life by design, what's the dream life that you have and start moving intentionally or proactively towards whatever that looks like. So again, thanks so much, Brad, and I'm excited to catch up again real soon.


Brad Johnson: Thanks, Justin. It was fun, man.


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