John Ruhlin on The Art of Gift Giving and Building Great Relationships – EP 30

John Ruhlin

John Ruhlin on The Art of Gift Giving and Building Great Relationships

Today, I’m speaking with my good friend John Ruhlin. John is a master networker, keynote speaker, sales and marketing expert, and entrepreneur who has built an entire business around the art of gift giving.

It all began when he created the Corporate Gift Program at Cutco – which he still owns to this day – and now he’s creating gift packages for some of the largest companies and pro sports teams in the world!

His book Giftology, has ignited a movement that is helping other businesses level up their gifting game and increase their bottom line. For over a decade, the Giftology System has been helping privately owned businesses and billion dollar companies get to new levels of success with it’s proven process.

In this episode, we’re talking all about the art of gift giving and the profound impact it can have on both your personal and professional life. You’ll learn how bad gifts damage relationships, and how good ones can cut through noise and leave lasting, positive impressions — not just with friends and family, but with partners, clients, prospects, and more! 

If you want to learn how gifting can win hearts and become your best marketing tool, don’t miss my conversation with John Ruhlin!

Key Takeaways with John Ruhlin

  • How gifting helped John conquer his introversion, use his love language of affirmation, and forge authentic connections with incredible people.
  • How your friends’ success can rub off on you.
  • Who uses Giftology–and how John has created passive income and opportunities to scale from his business.
  • Why guys are so bad at giving gifts, how bad gifts damage relationships, and how good ones cut through noise and leave lasting, positive impressions.
  • How to give gifts to people who don’t want “stuff”–and why gift cards are the worst gifts you can give.
  • Why you’ll never see the word Giftology on any gift John gives.
  • A three-year challenge you can do to create wonderful lives and impact lots of people.

Clips From the John Ruhlin Interview


John Ruhlin Tweetables

“If you show up for people, they feel it and they will advocate for you. They'll run through walls for you. If you show up like everybody else, you're just like the noise, and I don't want to be that.” - @Ruhlin Click To Tweet “The idea of giving you something that's thoughtful and meaningful and that hits your heart, that's how you win somebody over.” - @Ruhlin Click To Tweet


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Read the Full Transcript with John Ruhlin

Justin Donald: Alright, I am so excited to be here with my good friend John Ruhlin. John, how are you doing?


John Ruhlin: I’m great, man. This is a long time coming, brother. So pumped that you have a show and a book and dude, this whole platform. So, thanks for having me on.


Justin Donald: Well, it’s been fun. And you’ve got a very special place in my heart, obviously, being a longtime friend. I mean, we’ve been friends now for 20-plus years, but of all the people that have suggested over the years that I should write a book, you are one of the strongest voices in my corner. And I just want to honor you and thank you for really giving me the push because you nudged several times at the right time, sometimes at the wrong time early on when I wasn’t there, I wasn’t ready, but I mean, you nudged at the right times, too, and…


John Ruhlin: Nudged, shoved, headlocked, I did whatever was necessary, dude, to make you realize the genius that you had to share with the world. So, I’m glad you finally relented.


Justin Donald: Well, I appreciate that. And, man, we have had some fun. And it was cool because I had the luxury of being along for the ride for your book and seeing the very first copy of your book, holding that in my hands. I don’t know how many people got a chance to read it, but I read the original book, your first book ever printed. And that was kind of my introduction into formally, what is now Giftology.


John Ruhlin: Yeah, that was five years ago. In June, it will be five years. And the first ones were like either handmade, the hardcovers or the paperbacks which now are outlawed, I don’t even print them anymore because I hate paperbacks, but yeah, I mean, you were one of the first, I think you bought like a hundred copies and started sending them out to people. Yeah, and it’s evolved a lot over the last five years, but you were in the corner right at first. So, super grateful.


Justin Donald: Friends supporting friends. And when someone’s got a great idea, you have to get it out to the world and you got to help support them, and that’s exactly what happened. And it’s really been neat watching your career because we have known each other for quite some time. Our wives are wonderful friends. They talk probably most days of the week.


John Ruhlin: Yeah.


Justin Donald: And so, it’s fun getting a little bit of insight from them on what’s going on, their perspective. And so, when you and I, we catch up, it’s always so fun, but we have just such a unique history. We have the perspective of being good friends, but then we have the perspective of having worked together in Cutco and having really built some cool things and networked together. And today, it’s been so fun just sharing contacts that we know would be beneficial for each other to just kind of connect with, do life with, do business with.


John Ruhlin: Yeah, it’s been, yeah, the cross-pollination. And I mean, as you’ve evolved into other arenas to be able to show up at conferences together and recommend each other for Masterminds and go to bat for each other and send books to other contacts and clients. Dude, it’s been fun. It’s what I was hoping for all along, I was like when I said, “Hey, you should join EO or YPO or something like this,” you’re like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s maybe someday.”


And now, dude, you’re like the entire ’21, you’re like all of these amazing groups, and some of them, I’m not even in. And so, it’s fun to be able to have people that are in your corner in other rooms when you’re not able to be there advocating for you. I mean that’s what we all need, right, is we need strong wingmen to raise us up and open doors that we can’t sometimes walk through ourselves. So, dude, it’s been fun.


Justin Donald: Yeah, there’s no doubt. And it’s interesting because in different seasons of our life, we can be, or at least I can be ultra-focused, just total tunnel vision on whatever the one thing is, some outcome, some rock, some goal that I want to accomplish so much so, that I can put the blinders on and not see anything else and sometimes, not even see the bigger picture because maybe my goal is too small or what I’m pursuing is just too much of a short-term focus. And so, it’s been neat just kind of networking in these different groups.


And you and I, we share something in common, and that is that we collect relationships. People ask me all the time, “Well, what do you collect?” And there’s not a whole lot of stuff I like to collect. I like to collect relationships because I just love people. I like to collect experiences with those relationships. And you are very much the same way in that. And you have unbelievable relationships and you’re a master networker, and I’d love to know your thoughts on that.


John Ruhlin: Yeah, well, I think a lot of people like to collect wine, and I like wine and I like bourbon. I like good food and I like driving nice cars, but I don’t need to own a lot of those things, like I’m not a stuff person, ironically, because I sell tangible gifts. It’s kind of like really? And it’s like, well, the reason I got into gifting, to begin with, was because I was an introvert and I wanted to engage these relationships and I used gifting as kind of that leverage point or tool, but words of affirmation is my love language.


So, I love being with people and I love the reciprocation of words of affirmation. And so, to me, instead of betting on blackjack, I would like to bet on people early on and find the diamonds in the rough and find our mutual friend, Hal Elrod, and like go to bat for him early on or find other people that are like, hey, like you, I’m like, you need to get your book out, like, dude, get it out. Like find the people and nudge them or push them out of the nest. To me, that’s way more fun is to bet on people or to your point, to collect relationships like, I forget who the original person the quote this was. I’m not the originator, but your network is your net worth.


And I think that having the right people in your corner that will take your phone call, that respect you, that will go to bat for you because we’re all going to have ups and downs in our business, in our lives, and not to have the people that are around you to have your back when your backs are against the wall, to me, is like one of those places I never want to be. I want to have dug my well before I’m thirsty. I want to have people that want to go to bat, because who knows what life is going to throw at us.


Justin Donald: No kidding. In my 10th commandment really kind of zones in on this, the power of your peer group, the power of coaches and mentors, people that have done what you want to do, people that are currently doing what you want to do, and people that just play the game of life at a bigger level, play the game of business at a bigger level, play the game of finances and investing at a higher level or the game of lifestyle even, just fun and experiences at a higher level. I mean, that is where I just feel like passion just kind of pours out for me and generally for most other people as well. And I know you can relate because you’re part of all these really cool groups. You’re part of a ton of Masterminds and you have a lot of cool experiences. And you have worked really hard to intentionally put yourself in a position to meet people and to know people and connect. And it’s really been cool to see as a fan from the sidelines.


John Ruhlin: Yeah, man, well, you’re the same way. I mean, one of the groups that I helped organize, The Selfless Givers, like, came out of me and John Hall and a couple of guys getting together virtually. And then, we got together once in person, and we put together an email list and sent it out. And then Kizer kind of organized that. You were one of the ones that got involved with that group as well. And just, unfortunately, I had a conflict so I couldn’t go to Cabo, but the amount of people that were like, “Justin was the highlight of the entire trip!” He was the one that showed up and was fun and up for anything and poured out all this knowledge of deal flow and what he’s up to and like even rocking the Speedo and doing crazy stuff that would just make people feel comfortable and laugh and enjoy themselves and the amount of people that text me, like, “Dude, you’re close with Justin, right?” I’m like, “Yeah, I’ve known him for 20 years.” He’s like, “He was not the same person, like on Zoom that he was in person like he is way funner, way cooler like he’s a cool guy on Zoom, but he was like a hundred times better.”


And so, I think that there’s a specialness that you have, that’s why you’ve been pushing me to be in Austin is like there’s power with proximity, there’s power with being able to be with these groups. And I’ve always done it from afar where I’ll show up for the event and then go back home, but I think that surrounds yourself with the right peer group and the right people is a lot of success. It just rubs off on you. It raises your game. It influences your thoughts and things that you can’t even really describe or really put into words.


Justin Donald: Yeah, there is no doubt that proximity is power. I remember Tony Robbins saying that once. And by the way, that is part of the reason that we moved. It’s a huge part of the reason that we moved to Austin. And of course, we are strongly encouraging the Ruhlins to move to Austin, as you have had many, a full-court press from me, so.


John Ruhlin: That’s an understatement. As we’re sitting with only a towel on in the sauna, that’s an awkward full-court press, but yes, you’ve let me know many times, like, “Dude, what are you waiting for?” Like, “Why are you holding back?” I’m like, “Well, Austin’s not an easy market to get into right now since COVID hit.” So, we waited for five months and got to hang out a lot over five months, but still working on the permanent resident side.


Justin Donald: Yeah, well, we can’t wait to be in Austin, so that’s super cool. Just let me know and that’s going to happen. And in general, there’s just so much that I love about where you are in life, this chapter that you’re in because you have gone from a high-level salesperson to a very differentiated specialist in the gifting space to investing in companies and helping turn companies around. And it’s been really fun to watch. And I’d love to hear just kind of some of that story, what that looks like, what some of these new adventures and endeavors that you’ve embarked on in this current season of your life are.


John Ruhlin: Yeah, we had things, I mean, things started with selling knives, which we both did, and then trading the corporate gifting program for Cutco and kind of building a business, basically gifting agency, which we still own, that’s still a core part of our income is, that done for you service on the gifting side, but I think I learned early on, even when I was selling the knives, I was like, I didn’t really want to be a knife salesperson. I wanted to have a business. I was going to use the knives as a delivery vehicle for the emotion.


And to this day, we still do millions of dollars in the silly knives because it connects with people. It’s a unique gift, whether it’s pro sports teams or whatever else, but I learned early on, I didn’t want to be pigeonholed into just one thing. And you’re building all these relationships. It was like really gifting was my currency. It was really about the relationships and even the clients that we now have, like, they have more needs than just gifting. In fact, gifting might be number seven on the list, but if you can help them use gifts to get more referrals or more deal flow or more loyalty from their employees or whatever their pain point is, that’s what they really care about is the results.


And I realize that, like I wanted to expand beyond gifting and use gifting as a way, as a delivery vehicle to open these other doors to invest in businesses. And so, I was fortunate, I sold half the business to ride. My business partner owns half of Giftology, and really everything that we do now in his background, ironically enough, was in doing business turnarounds. So, he had excess capacity and he was like, I’m going to pick up a couple of clients from referrals from lawyers and bankers. And then, we realized, like, you’re doing all this amazing stuff for these guys, we should not just get a retainer, let’s get a percentage of upside. Like any business owner, if you can grow their profit and you’re going to say, “Hey, I’m going to take most of my upside as profit in a percentage of profit,” every business owner loves that. And a lot of business owners want to exit. So, we said, “Why don’t we take some phantom equity, some stock, 5% to 10%, if we hit these targets and if they have a liquidity event? They don’t ever pay anything out unless they sell.”


And so, that’s like over time, we just realized we’re adding this value. How do we structure the deals in such a way that they get the result that they want and we get the result that we want? And so, that’s been fun to see. We’ve had three exits over the last four years. Nothing crazy. I mean, the businesses that we’re doing are in that $5 to 20-million-dollar range in sales. So, we’re not selling like Uber or DoorDash, but one of the companies that we start out with that was small that you’re aware of is a company that started out in fulfillment and then realized the technology that they built was actually more applicable in the e-commerce space for everybody else.


And that company actually has a nine or ten-figure exit potential. And honestly, we’re the third-largest shareholder of that company, but that came from long-term, long-game relationship building. We had that client for five years before some of that stuff started to matriculate. And so many people, I think, say they played the long game of these deals and opportunities, but most people are playing in days, not decades. And I think you and I have both seen the results of pouring into people and doing deals as such that allow for people to win, everybody to win, and so that they want to come back and do more deals with you.


And so, a lot of our focus right now is, yeah, we want to grow the Giftology brand and speak and whatever else that’s cool, but really, our long game and our big picture, where we’ll have like the Grand Slams are going to come from investing in deal flow and investing in the companies that we’re partnering with or getting advisory shares because people are coming to us saying, “Hey, we love your platform, we want your advice.” And so, that’s been some of the fun of saying, like, “Hey, we have this.” People are like, “Oh, you’re still doing the little gifting thing.” And I laugh, I’m like, “Yeah, still doing the gifting, the knife thing,” because they have no idea, they might have lost track of us and didn’t realize that we’ve actually gone into these other arenas. And yes, we’re not Google, but we have done some fun things on some fun levels.


Justin Donald: Yeah, there’s no doubt. And I know that we can’t get into a whole lot of details of this company, but I’m also thrilled about said company because there’s so much opportunity just with agreements in place currently with contracts that are already structured, with the ability to expand some of these contracts. I mean, the upside is really exciting and could just be incredible game-changer type of incredible results. And it’s such a smart solution in the e-commerce space and in fulfillment in general. I mean, you’re taking, in many cases, entrepreneurs that their biggest pain point is figuring out all the third-party logistics. And it is incredibly challenging. And then, when you have multiple platforms that you’re on, it enhances and really, it exponentially increases the complexities. And you have this one-stop shop that can solve all these solutions for an entrepreneur. It’s incredible.


John Ruhlin: Yeah, it’s like, I mean, when Shopify came out, people were like, oh, that’s not going to work, like this never. And then they did, but Shopify was for small companies. Well, Shopify was for small companies. This software and backend platform is for mid to large companies, like how do you deal with 40 marketplaces? Like it’s one thing to sell on Amazon, which is great because it’s 50% of Internet sales, but there’s another 50%, which is eBay and Overstock and overseas and all these other things. And most companies don’t have the sophistication or the bandwidth to say, “Hey, Amazon is great, but I can’t bet everything on Amazon,” because Amazon could change the algorithm, or they could compete with you the next day.


Like Amazon is amazing and ruthless all at the same time. So, it’s like having diversity and even the direct-to-consumer brands that want to grow. So, yeah, I mean, I couldn’t be like in 20 years, it’s one of the most exciting things I’ve ever been a part of. It’s funny, when like one bat could dwarf what I did in two decades, but that’s the beauty of technology and that’s the beauty of being in the right rooms and that’s the beauty of betting on the right course and the right jockey. And so, yeah, some of these deals have been a lot of fun.


Justin Donald: And there’s so much opportunity, even just internationally. You have all these companies that want to get into the US or you have companies in the US that want to get overseas. And so, the opportunities are really endless. And I wish we could give more of a formal plug here and do some help for…


John Ruhlin: For the group, yeah. It’ll be a follow-up interview.


Justin Donald: Yeah.


John Ruhlin: It’ll be a follow-up with the leadership. They can talk directly to the horses that are actually meeting the company. I just get to play Mr. Connector and open a few key doors, but I’m not in the day-to-day grind of executing, but yeah, I mean it’s a brand that people are going to know about in the next couple of years, that’s for sure if you’re in the e-commerce space.


Justin Donald: That’s awesome. Well, I’m excited that you’re involved in it. And I have the luxury of also being an investor in this company. And I am so excited about the direction that it’s headed. And a lot of people in my Mastermind are also very excited about this and the opportunity to invest.


John Ruhlin: Yeah. Awesome.


Justin Donald: So, I’d love to know, a lot of people probably don’t realize the scale and the magnitude of the relationships that you have, the clients that you have, I’d love to hear some of your high-profile clients that use you and Giftology for solutions in the gifting space.


John Ruhlin: Yeah, well, most of the people that, whether it’s a solopreneur, might be a big speaker or whatever else that has, maybe it’s their event planners or their speaking clients or their consulting clients all the way up to the Chicago Cubs, and for them, it’s not the players. You think, oh, they’re going to give it to the players, like the players get stuff all the time like it’s the sweet owners, it’s the CMOs of Pepsi, it’s the people that are spending lots of money at those ballparks, anybody that has high-value relationships, whether that’s with their employees, their investors, their mentors.


And so, if you look at homebuilding like we’ve worked with DR Horton, the largest homebuilder in the country, well, who they buy it for. Ironically, they bought it for all of their suppliers, which is weird. People like why would you buy a gift for people that you’re spending millions of dollars with? Well, if you want their best ideas, you want their best service, and you want to be a true partnership, you should be buying gifts for your suppliers. And that’s an example. Somebody else that uses our services as Jesse Itzler, and we just got a chance to meet his wife and spend some time with Sara Blakely, who owns Spanx, they’re both billionaires in their own right, but we landed that relationship through EO.


I was on a committee of helping organize speakers. We had a few hundred thousand dollars budget to bring in some of the top speakers. And so, it was like Darren Hardy and Jocko and these guys, but I got to build the relationship with Jesse, and he’s a relationship guy. Well, I opened up, I think I booked him, it was like four different speaking gigs, and I’m like, I’m going to be your agent. And he read Giftology. And he’s like, man, I want to start doing it, like, this is who I am. Like, I use gifts my whole life to get access to people and to appreciate people and to get referrals. So, he brings us on his big Mastermind with thousands of people. And of course, it’s all walks of life.


And now, we’re talking at a Fortune 50 company who’s one of the largest in financial services and insurance about keynoting their top event. So, we work people, like does this work in technology when I spoke to Google? And I laughed, I said, “Are there human beings here?” And they said, “Well, yeah.” And I said, “Well, then it works.” What people don’t understand is it’s not about the gift, it’s about the relationship, because every business rises and falls on relationships, and most people suck at showing gratitude, even their spouse, let alone scaling that thoughtfulness to all of their employees. Most people, it’s like, “Hey, you worked with us for five years, here’s your gift card. Go buy your own gift.”


And that’s not a gift, that’s basically an obligation. It’s embarrassing. Like hey, you just put in 10,000 hours with us. Go buy your own $50 gift. Like, really? I buy a nicer gift for my interns. They don’t even work for me officially yet, because I want to recruit them. I want them to show up excited to work for Giftology. So, a lot of the industries that we’re in are ones that have margins that tend to be B2B, but the clients that we love to work with tend to be privately owned because sometimes the publicly-traded companies are like, oh, there is managing quarter to quarter, and you’re dealing with a middle marketing manager somewhere, whereas the entrepreneur that might be running a 20-million or 50-million or 100-million-dollar company, it’s their name on the line and they understand that they built their whole business on relationships and they better show up for those people.


Now, with another dinner or golf outing around like ballgame tickets, all the same crap everybody else is doing, they better show up differently for those relationships and they better invest in those relationships as if they were taking them out to dinner in Vegas and spending a thousand bucks. And so, all of our industries, oil and gas, insurance, it’s not about the industry, it’s about the mindset of the leader of that division or of that company saying, you know what? I need to be different than everybody else and I need to appreciate these people or else, I’m not going to have them.


Justin Donald: Yeah, there’s so much that I’ve learned from you, and you just outlined a lot of great things about gifting and how to do it right and what to do in general. I think some of the big takeaways that I’ve had over the years, one of them is to include their spouse in the gifting process in some way, shape, or form. And I think that is brilliant. Another thing that I’ve learned from you is avoid consumables because once they’re gone, that gift is not remembered. And so, it’s better to have something that stays for a long time that is memorable, that gets used, that gets frequent use.


Another one that I learned from you that I think is incredible, and by the way, I’ve learned so many different ideas, but this one I thought was really brilliant as well. And that’s, don’t gift at the time that they’re expecting it or that other people gift, but gift at times where it’s unexpected and so it lands better. And so, I’d love for you to share any of your other strategies that are really important on the gifting front.


John Ruhlin: Yeah. So, what I would say is that most people, when they’re gifting, they start with the what, they want to start with cool, sexy, and guys are the worst at this because we shop with our eyes. We’re like, hey, we want a piece of technology, or I like steaks, I’m going to send steaks, or I love wine and cigars or golf, we’re going to send everybody Pro V1s, we’re going to send everybody like Opus one. And it ends up not landing because it’s all about them, it’s all about what they want. And the what is the seven-step. If you look at our recipe of how we’re putting together a relationship plan for somebody, the what is the last step.


The who is way more important than the what. And so, as we’re walking through, it’s like, who are your top hundred relationships or your top one thousand? What is the value of those relationships? Most people, when they’re investing in business, they’re like, hey, I want to invest $100,000 dollars. I want to get this return on investment, internal rate return or over five years, I want to get this. Relationships are the same way, you should be taking a percentage of your profit. And it’s to say each of your relationships is worth $50,000 in profit. You should be reinvesting 5% to 15% of your net profit back into that relationship to keep them, to grow them, hopefully, cross-sell or upsell or grow with them.


And then the secret sauce is if you can get that person to go advocate and sell on your behalf and duplicate themselves, whether as an investor bringing in other investors or if it’s an employee recruiting their family and friends that can work with you like it should be a math equation. And most people gifting is this like obligatory woo-woo, warm, fuzzy thing, you check the box because it’s a five-year anniversary or you check the box because it’s Christmas. And if you only show up for your wife or your husband on anniversaries, birthdays, and Christmas, like those are table stakes times. Like you don’t earn brownie points like that’s expected, but if you can show up the timing of it showing up to your point, I call it just because gifting or we call it planned randomness, like laying out two to four times a year, I’m just going to love on this person.


Whether that’s your spouse, if you just show up on random Tuesdays and say, “Hey, honey, I booked a spot for you,” like kids are taken care of, go. You earn a million times more brownie points. Same with a client. If you only do gifts after deals are done and after referrals are given, those are like, you say you’re in the relationship business when you’re giving gifts, when you’re loving on them at transactional times, you do this, you get this, whereas if you show up for that relationship, that client, that investor, that employee just because the exponential value of that goes up, because they’re like, wow, they did this because they wanted to, not because they had to. So, that whole recipe process, so many people like John, I did Giftology. We have a swag budget. Who cares? We cut it. When the chips are down, we cut it.


And I’m like, that’s interesting. Are you doing Giftology? And you’re like, “Well, we’re doing Giftology-ish.” And I’m like, “Oh, let me tell you, if you decide to bake bread a hundred thousand times, and each time you don’t put in the yeast, guess what you don’t get any of those times? You don’t get bread, you get mozza, you don’t get bread.” So, the little things in relationships, it’s the handwritten note, it’s the timing, all of that makes the difference.


And so, if your TRIBE wants to go download our entire recipe, like our entire playbook of what we take the Cubs through or Google or anybody else, they can go do it on their own. If they hire us to walk them through it, it’s going to cost thousands or tens of thousands, but they can do it on their own for free. You go to Giftology System and literally, like our step by step of who, when, how much, what, all of that’s there because most people will take a while to download everything, to go to relationships and then they got to do it, and they’re like, “Oh my gosh, it takes a lot of energy and effort to play Santa Claus year-round. To actually do this well and not cut corners, it’s not rocket science, all the recipe is there, but it’s like…


And if you miss one little detail, you could actually spend money to damage a relationship. And that happens all the time and people don’t realize it, like slamming your leg on something and thinking it’s a gift, that’s a manipulation. People do it all the time. They send Tiffany stuff and Rolexes with their logo on it. And the person who gets it is like, “Do you honestly think I’m going to use this Tiffany’s vase out with all of my clients? That’s the tackiest thing in the world, but it’s been taught for decades as branding and marketing.


So, what we walk people through, so many times, people push back and like, I don’t like knives. I’m like, the gift isn’t for you. I want to put my loved one. I’m like the gift isn’t for you. I don’t want to handwrite the notes. I’m like, then it’s automated and it won’t land, it won’t feel personal. Do you want this to create results? Or are you just trying to check a box? And so, after they walk the process like crap, like this is actually a strategy. This isn’t just an expense and that’s what flips. Like if everybody was good at this, it would be like noise, but because people suck at this so bad and when they show up for people this way, like, oftentimes they’re moved to tears. And that doesn’t happen in business very often unless you really connect to somebody’s heart. And that doesn’t happen by just outsourcing it and not following the details.


Justin Donald: That’s powerful and what a wealth of information and knowledge to be able to apply to strengthen and just enhance relationships. I just think this is wonderful. Now, it does cause me some concern because you have such a high bar. Now, what do you have to do to make sure that your wife’s feeling loved? I mean, she knows you’re the gifting expert, right? I mean, goodness sakes, you’ve got to really deliver now.


John Ruhlin: I paint myself into a corner all the frickin time. Lindsay, as anybody that knows my wife knows,  she keeps me honest, she keeps me classy, and she keeps me humble because she will tell me if I knock it out of the park, and she’ll also tell me if I was doing Giftology-ish, she will be the first to call out like BS and have no problem doing so, but if you talk to her, she’ll tell you like, “Hey, John, this was amazing. This was over the top.” This one was a basset, so.


Justin Donald: It’s good to have some good accountability, that’s for sure.


John Ruhlin: Amen.


Justin Donald: And I can tell you, I am a recipient of at least several of the gifting ideas and strategies that you use. And I think they’re incredible. I don’t want to give away any of the goods here, but I recently received an item that had a heartfelt message that was personalized with a video and…


John Ruhlin: The artifact mug.


Justin Donald: Yes.


John Ruhlin: You can talk about it.


Justin Donald: Yeah, the artifact mug is just such a cool experience and such a cool idea for a gift, something that’s really powerful. And it’s something that is going to be used frequently, which is one of your tenets. So, I think that that’s awesome. And then, I’ve also been the recipient of attending events that you’ve thrown, whether at your house or renting out a restaurant or doing something at one of our mutual favorite places, Cleveland Heath. And you just do such a great job. So, I just want to give you that praise and let all of our listeners and those of you watching just know how great of a job John does and he really is the professional of all professionals and the expert in the gifting space.


John Ruhlin: Well, it’s my team at Giftology, I get the credit for being the poster boy and the ambassador, but you don’t want me handling the details, but I will say, like, the mug is one of my favorites. And it used to be the thing I made fun of the most, like the corporate coffee mug. People are like really? Like mugs are your number one thing? And I’m like, well, this is a thousand-dollar mug. And the reason it’s a thousand bucks is it’s carved into it is somebody’s life story, legacy, family, tragedy overcome, fate, like core values. It’s almost like a lifetime achievement award put into a functional piece of art.


And so, like I had mentors that have gotten them, I’ve sent them to accept probably 130 of these over the last three years. And then, there’s like, John, this is more valuable to me and more impactful than my $50,000 watch. The watch could be replaced if I had a house fire or whatever else. Like this is something that’s irreplaceable because of what it means and it reminds me of you, it reminds me of my values, it reminds me of my why. And so, most people drink coffee or tea every day. So, when people are like, John, are you just advocating for spending stupid money on people and bribing them? I’m like, it’s the exact opposite of that. Like the $30,000 Louis Vuitton bag, like that makes people feel uncomfortable sometimes when they get something like that, because they’re like, why you’re not really trying to buy me a thoughtful gift, you’re trying to buy my loyalty, but when you do what we’re talking about, it’s not swag, it’s not promotional products. That’s not a gift. That’s a promotional product, but a bribe isn’t a gift either. A bribe is a bribe. It’s you’re trying to manipulate.


So, if you can come in the middle, most of the things that we’re talking about are a few hundred dollars per gift, up to a few thousand at the most. And so, I’ll push people towards a thousand-dollar mug that tells somebody’s life story that makes them bawl like a baby when they get it, even billionaires, versus a $10,000 watch. You spend 90% less and you have a hundred times more impact. That’s a good math equation. That’s a good investment. And so, many times people misunderstand. They think I’m playing on the bright side or on the trinket side. And really, we’re toeing the line in that tension in the middle.


And when you do it really well, like guys like you could buy whatever you want. Literally, like, but you’re not a stuff guy, but you could if you wanted to. And so, the idea of giving you something that’s thoughtful and meaningful and that hits your heart, that’s how you win somebody over. Hit somebody’s spouse’s heart and their kid’s heart, that’s how you win somebody over, is being more thoughtful. And it’s not like people give the excuse, “Oh, John, it’s the thought that counts.” I sent the Amazon gift cards, it’s the thought that counts. I’m like, that BS, that’s lame, that’s a weak ass excuse to give a weak gift. It’s the thoughtful thought that counts.


And so, you feel that when somebody has put energy and effort into something or they just kind of like melted in. And that’s what we’re talking about, it’s like if relationships matter, then show up, show up the same way you do your fantasy football league, show up the same way you show up to your marketing planning meeting or your financial meeting, like show up for people. And if you show up for people, they feel it and they will advocate for you. They’ll run through walls for you. If you show up like everybody else, you’re just like the noise, your mediocre masses. And I don’t want to be that. And I know you don’t want to be that. And most people don’t. They just don’t realize what they’re communicating when they give crappy swag and trinkets to their most valuable relationships. You’re basically communicating, go advertise for me, I want to manipulate you and you don’t matter. It’s not a good use of capital to do that and communicate that en masse to people.


Justin Donald: Yeah, that’s powerful. And I mean, it gets to the point that it makes sense, like I’d rather a heartfelt letter note than just to get a gift card somewhere for something, I mean, I could probably dig up right here on my desk like a pile of gift cards. I mean, literally, I do. I literally have a pile of gift cards.


John Ruhlin: It’s the worst. It’s one of the top 10 worst. Like when somebody downloads our system, one of the things we send them, even if they’re going to do it on their own, is like avoid these 10 gifts. Now, there are always anomalies. Any of them could be a good gift if you did it the right way, but in general, 99% of the time, gift cards are towards the top. It’s like, here’s a piece of plastic. I didn’t know you well enough, I didn’t care about you enough. Go buy your own gift, but you have to shop at this store. Like it’s a gift deal, it’s an obligation, it’s like the worst. And most of them, hey, they don’t get used, they get lost or put in the back of a desk drawer. Or if they do, they’re like used in and they forget where they even came from because people do have that stack. And it’s like you want to talk about one of the weakest gifts on the planet, it’s the gift card. It’s the worst.


Justin Donald: It’s literally on my desk to remind me that I should probably use it. And I still don’t even look at that stack. It’s kind of hysterical, but…


John Ruhlin: I bet on so many levels, man. To your point, the note, people will say, “John, I can’t do a gift, I can’t afford it.” I’m like, well, in college, I afforded $500 a month on gifts. So, I don’t care what size business you have, this applies. Maybe $2500 a month, six grand a year, instead of buying a beer and whatever else that you could afford to do this, but people, let’s say like I could never afford it or I have a client that I’m not allowed, it’s the Department of Defense, it’s Walmart. I’m like, hey, most people can receive a gift. If they cannot receive dinner or go to the Super Bowl, they can get a gift. You’re just being cheap. You’re just using that as an excuse, but if it is, like, you can’t buy them a cup of coffee, a handwritten letter that’s really thoughtful is actually more valuable.


The reason the mug is valuable is like it’s the handwritten letter on a piece of clay. It’s the heartfelt emotion. It’s actually what provides the meaning and the context. So, if for some reason, your back’s against the corner and you can’t afford, which I call BS, or if you’re a college kid or if you’re talking to somebody that can’t, write them a note, and if you really want to make it special, go read them the note in person. You’re likely to cry and they’re likely to cry. And they will never, they will hold onto that note for the rest of their life. So, like what we’re talking about isn’t spending money. It’s really about making wise investments. And the note, to me, is part of the secret sauce. It’s part of what provides the context that makes it land a certain way. So, a hundred times more note over a gift card or any of that other crap.


Justin Donald: I love it. And it’s interesting. I know you’re on to something because when you have big brands like high-end, high-quality brands that are kind of ripping off your name, your Giftology name, it tells you that you’re doing some things right. I would love to know, I don’t know if we’re able to get into this, but I thought it might just be a nice place to clear the air and let people know what’s going on, but…


John Ruhlin: Yeah, you mean Waterford. Yeah, you talk about Waterford. Yeah.


Justin Donald: Yes, I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to say it, so…


John Ruhlin: Hey, I mean, I can try to go in court or whatever else, but I was like, I will rise above that with our platform and the fact that other people, other global brands are using the word Giftology that way, it tells me that we’re onto something.


Justin Donald: Yeah.


John Ruhlin: And to me, I’m not really in the crystal business. I’m like whatever. Like that’s not my favorite gift. If I’m going to do crystal or an artifact mug, I’m going to choose an artifact mug a thousand times over. So, let them play their game, and I’ll continue to play my game, but it is weird when companies that are larger than you are adopting, or even the language. I start to see like people in interviews and whatever else, they’re like adopting some of our phrasing and some of our positioning. And I’m like, “Oh, that’s interesting.” I hope they give credit where it came from. Like, I don’t mind somebody using our quotes or ideas or whatever else. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, but bottom line is, if you’re going to make an impact, you’re probably going to have imitators and you’re going to have people they’re going to copy or knock you off or they do it with our course, Giftology course, will take it and try to rip it off and do different things. And most of the time, we just take the high road because it’s like I’m going to focus on creation and value and building relationships. And it’s like anybody else, like nobody wants to deal with the knock-off, they want to deal with the genuine.


So, our methodology, in some ways, we didn’t invent it like a lot of it’s biblical. It’s like Proverbs 18:16, a gift ushers you before kings. I didn’t invent generosity or gratitude, but what I think I’ve done is wrapped it in a certain way and made it easy for people to execute at scale and put a spotlight on these kind of old world, either Christian or biblical or old-world principles, and showing people how, like, this applies more in 2021 than even it did 2000 years ago, because everything’s digital now and so much is experiential, but like we still, as humans, want to be honored, we want to be appreciated, and I think we long for that intimacy. So, let people knock it off. I’m going to keep creating and surround myself with guys like you that are going to like, I’m always noodling on what the next thing is going to be.


Right now, we’re doing artwork for Jesse and Sara. We did partner with an artist and since he was a rapper and she had Spanx, we made this $25,000 piece of artwork made of thousands of broken records and Spanx packaging that was there. It was a family portrait of them and their four kids. Most people aren’t even going to spend $250 on a gift, let alone $2500, let alone $25,000. So, plenty of room for haters and imitators or whatever else. I’m going to keep doing my thing and love it on people. And hopefully, some of these brands that are out there that are imitating will eventually, and some of them have, they’ve reached out to collaborate and to have us be a part of their company and whatever else, but it is pretty funny.


Justin Donald: Imitation is the highest form of flattery, right?


John Ruhlin: Yep.


Justin Donald: And I think that you’re seeing that big time. And I just love that picture. I mean, the artist that created it has such a gift. It is so cool.


John Ruhlin: She’s amazing.


Justin Donald: And there is the Kobe Bryant one as well, right?


John Ruhlin: Yeah, that’s going to be unveiled here in the next few weeks, where I think it could sell for a couple hundred grand or maybe even seven figures. It’s a nine-foot-tall piece of Kobe made of thousands of broken records. And people that see it from afar, from like 10 feet afar, they’re like, “Oh, is that a watercolor?” And then, they go up and realize it’s thousands of these pieces of the record. And so, we bought it for 33 grand, and we donated it to Make-a-Wish because that was Kobe’s favorite charity.


And so, the goal is to sell the artwork and then to create NFTs on the blockchain so that people that can afford a million-dollar piece of artwork can still participate at a high level, and they’ll be able to have a piece of this. The goal is to sell it for $24, which is Kobe’s number but it’d kind of take the disadvantage to bring them into the advantage and kind of use Giftology as the bridge of like how do you involve people at the highest level and create something that’s of interest and leverage kind of our connection.


So, we’ve been talking to Kobe’s photographer, Andy Bernstein, and a number of other people with NBA connections and celebrity connections. And so, yeah, it hasn’t been unveiled yet, but if you Google it, by the time this comes out, you may be finding that piece, but that same artist that did the piece for Jesse and Sara made– It’s like really her Opus because she was a huge Kobe fan. And when he passed, she was like, I want to do something amazing to honor him and auction this piece off. And then, unfortunately, she and her husband’s car got stolen and she was going to fire sale this thing. I was like, that’s the worst idea on the planet. I’m buying this thing and you do the opposite. We’re going to take months and put a spotlight on this thing and we’re going to blow you up and we’re going to honor Kobe and we’re going to raise money for Make-a-Wish. And she’s like, why are you doing that? I’m like, if you shine the spotlight and love on enough people, the reflection of that will eventually come off. And I learned that from John Kane, one of our mutual friends and close friends and advisers.


And so, people all the time like, why are you doing that? I’m like, “Because I’m playing the game for decades.” Vaynerchuk talks about it and he actually does it. Most people don’t. Most people are playing it, that short game. I want this in three months. It’s not how life works.


Justin Donald: That’s awesome, and I mean, both pieces of art are just incredible and I love it. I’m just really pleased to know that you are not gifting Waterford’s Giftology collection, crystal glasses. I feel really good.


John Ruhlin: I don’t give anything with Giftology on it. Like, that’s the ironic part. Other than my book, because it’s the title, but if you get a gift from me, it’ll never– I mean, other than the book, it’s not going to say Giftology, because that’s not a gift. That’s a marketing ploy. That’s a tchotchke. Even the nicest gift on the planet, you put your logo on it, that just ruins it. So, yeah, no Giftology Waterford any time soon.


Justin Donald: Well, I’ll tell you, I am just so impressed with all that you’ve done. And I’m excited about some of the collaborations that we’ve had and some of the gifting that we’re going to do together. And I couldn’t agree more that just a thoughtful, well-packaged gift, if it’s going to be a book, it should be a hardcover that just pops with some other cool things accompanying it and a nice message. And if it’s not a book, it should be something thoughtful that is going to be useful, that’s not going to be consumed and thrown away.


And there’s just so much that you hit on that is incredible. And I think that everyone listening and watching this really can benefit from implementing Giftology and just the entire strategy that you have really brought into play in this world. So, I want to thank you for that. And I just have loved spending time with you here today. I’m curious if you have any last thoughts that you’d like to share before we let people know where they can learn more about you.


John Ruhlin: Yeah, well, I would just say start. I mean, I think like anything, it can feel overwhelming. It’s like, oh, my gosh, I have hundreds of employees or dozens of clients or thousands of whatever, and that can be overwhelming. So, like, the goal for us is to get people to start writing down who those people are. And if you do like The Five-Minute Journal, write down three names a day. For a month, you have a hundred people. And start with those, and maybe it’s not world-class gifts for everybody, maybe it’s a handwritten note for the 10 people that got you to where you’re at now or a mentor or an advisor or somebody that poured into you, but the big thing is start, and then start treating it with intention, like it’s an important priority.


And so, people are like, “Oh, John, you’re the gift guy, you’re obviously good at it.” I’m like, I was a goat milking farm kid who liked my love languages and gifts. So, I’m not naturally bent this way. I just had mentors that showed me how important it was, and I mimicked them for 20 years. So, I got really good at working the gratitude muscle. And so, what I would say is like start, because if relationships are going to rise and fall your business and your life, really, then you better get good at either thinking about it or at least budgeting for it and then partnering with somebody to help make this possible or somebody else is going to love on those relationships and take them. I mean, that’s just a simple fact, personally or professionally. Like we all need appreciation, we all need honor, we all need gratitude.


And most people tend to take their warm market for granted. I already got that person. I already got that investor. I already got that employee working for me. And guess what? When they decide to leave, it’s too late. It’s too late to say, “Oh, I want to pay more. I want to love on you more. I want to appreciate you more. I want to show gratitude.” No, game over. So, I think that most people wait until it’s too late before they start showing that gratitude and appreciation. So, start today, start small if need be, start walking before you run, but it’s possible and it’s important and it’s powerful.


John Ruhlin: I challenge everybody. Do this for three years, not for three days, not for three months. Do it for three years and come back to me, say, “John, you know what? Loving on my relationships and showing gratitude and honoring them and being really thoughtful wasn’t worth it.” I never had anybody in 20 years come back and said, “Yeah, I invested all this money and all these people and it screwed me.” No, like your relationships flourish because that’s where you’re watering, that’s where you’re pouring the love on. And it sounds woo-woo and cheesy, but at the end of the day, this is a strategy for people that want to create wonderful, massive lives and impact a lot of people.


Justin Donald: I think that’s brilliant. And one of the things that I want to say too, for our listeners and those watching is that this can be really helpful and useful in the context of business or relationships. Maybe you are working a job and this could be a way that you do something kind for the people in your department, the people that are in the department you want to be in, your bosses, maybe this is something if you’re a business owner that you’re doing for your clients and you can cherry-pick who the best ones are, it could be for prospects, but I’m also going to go out here and say, I think that you should consider doing this for people that you just want to bring into your peer group or that you want to have them pull you into their peer group.


This is a great way to be intentional and connect with people that you don’t have that relationship with yet, that you would love to play the game of life and business the way that they do it. It doesn’t have to be a business relationship. This could be a hey, I want to kind of upgrade or create some extra depth in my peer group. And upgrade maybe isn’t the best word for it. I don’t mean that we’re necessarily leaving people behind, but my intention is to be intentional about who I’m spending my time with. I think this could be perfect for kind of cultivating and creating, fostering those relationships, which to me are the most important relationships.


Who are the five people you’re spending the majority of your time with, because you’re going to think and act like them, you’re going to become more like them? And so, picking those people wisely and being intentional is so important. And people ask me all the time, they say, “Justin, I don’t have mentors. I don’t have these people that I would like to have.” And for me, it started out with just authors of different books. And then, I would eventually meet people. And so, I have utilized this, but on a much smaller scale and not with all these principles for a long time ago, before Giftology began to at least put myself on people’s radar. And now, learning these skills, I’ve been a lot better at intentionally crafting gifts and having experiences with people that are really important in my life or people that I would love to be more important in my life or to kind of enter their sphere of influence. And so, I would encourage anyone and everyone checking out this episode to consider for your current and/or future peer group.


John Ruhlin: Amen. Yeah. To play the long game. If you give a gift and then have an expectation, it wasn’t a gift, it was a manipulation, whether it’s with your wife or whether it’s with a prospect or an author. Vaynerchuk talked about it. His book was Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, which is give, give, give, then you earn the right to ask, but you can’t expect. You’ll ruin it. It’ll ruin relationships by giving, and then, hey, I sent you a gift. Now, you’ve got to give me your time. No, I gave you a gift. Now, maybe you’ll be on your radar. Now, maybe I’ll do something else for you, maybe open a door, maybe I’ll refer some business, maybe I’ll make the connection like there are different ways to love, but there’s no question that if you want to expand your influence or expand your sphere of influence and who you’re running with. Like when you show up for people in unique ways and they’re like, who is this person that’s done this crazy thing? Like you do that a few times, they’re likely to take your phone call or text or whatever else, it doesn’t guarantee anything, but at least gives you a shot, gives you a warm and crack door which is a lot of time, toward this meeting or looking for.


Justin Donald: John, your message is so powerful. Where can people find you online and learn more about what you’re doing?


John Ruhlin: Yeah, I would say, I mean, we’re on social media, Instagram, you can go to @johnruhlin, or they go directly to our website, which handles speaking and consulting. And then that’s done for you, the gifting agency is that


Justin Donald: Awesome. Well, I have just thoroughly enjoyed our time. It’s always a pleasure getting a chance to hang and just talk about life and talk about cool things and really just share ideas that have been powerful in our own lives. And one of the things that I like to close every session, every podcast episode that I do with is this, take some form of action today and move towards financial freedom, move towards the life that you desire to live, one built by design, not by default. Thanks for tuning in and we’ll check you next week.


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