Aaron Running

Who are you, and what do you do?

I am an entrepreneur trying to revolutionize the fast casual dining market. I currently own Copenhagen Sausage Garden, Santa Barbara Biergarten (opens Dec 1), and two locations of Fire & Vice on the central coast of California. I aspire to open 100 locations in Southern California with high hopes of taking the concept national. I have been in this industry for 4.5 years.

In my early career, I served 39 months as an officer on the nuclear submarine SSBN 733 Blue and spent two years on shore duty as an associate professor at Cal State – Maritime. I learned the importance of process, attention to detail, and leading successful teams.

My first career post-Navy, I was an Account Executive selling MRI scanners in Oregon and New York. I absolutely loved this job. I learned so much about managing relationships, corporate culture, rewards for performance, and the importance of study to be the most knowledgeable in your area of expertise.

In my spare time, I parlayed commissions from my sales job into investment rental properties. The research and loan application processes taught me everything there is to know about finance. Financial leveraging was my key takeaway during my MBA program and it was put to good use.

These experiences has culminated into my comprehensive approach to business. I wake up every morning, metaphorically slap the floor (like a lock down defender in basketball), and say to myself, “How can I better my business today?”

What is one habit of yours that helps you be productive?

I have a daily ‘to-do” list ranked by priority. The Pri-1 items need to be accomplished by the end of the day. Pri-2 within a couple days. Pri-3 are items that need to be on my radar to slowly chip away at over a period of time.

As a business owner, I can never complete everything that needs to be accomplished. There is just always something to do. The priority one items are the only ones that are required to be completed that day, so I can quickly shift my focus as the day unfolds.

For my own sanity, I need to know that I can take time off without sacrificing the health of the business. If I have completed all of my Pri-1 tasks for the day and I don’t feel motivated to continue working, I will give myself a break and come back the next day ready to work.

What is your morning routine and how does it help you get the most out of your day?

I find that I am most productive when I wake up and hit the gym. My body always feels more energized after a workout whether it is weight training, cycling or running. When I finish up, I quickly shift my focus to my ‘to do’ and start checking boxes as I complete them.

In the last few years, what lifestyle, habit or behavior change has had the biggest positive impact on your life?

Two things:

Exercise in the morning: It helps set your routine and gives you an early accomplishment just in case the rest of your day falls apart

Delegation: If I can train others to do a task that I do, then I should no longer be doing it. This has freed up my time to focus on bigger things, plus gave me more free time to enjoy life. I follow the mantra “trust but verify” which means that just because you have delegated an item, you trust that they will do their best but you ALWAYS verify that it was completed to your standards.

When you feel unfocused, what do you do?

As a business owner, your attention is pulled in many different direction. It is easy to get caught up in the minutia of the day to day operations, but can easily distract from your most important role for the business. If I have a critical, time-sensitive deliverable coming due, I always isolate myself away from distractions, by working from home or a quiet coffee shop. If my priority one list is taken care of for the day, I allow myself time to watch a few YouTube videos. I try not to beat myself up too bad for wanting to do a mindless activity for a bit, but I always come back and hit my list again.

What is one piece of software or a web service that you get immense value out of? How do you use it?

Quickbooks online and Revel Point-Of-Sale.

QBO and Revel give me a real time snapshot of my business. I download all of my bank and business credit card transactions into QBO weekly and then categorize them. This allows me to analyze the health of my business and shows me trends so I can react to optimize my operations. Understanding your financial position at all times is the number one most important factor in owning a business.

In Revel, I can check real time sales and labor so I can quickly make adjustments to meet our current metrics. These tools help me optimize cost, value, efficiency, and customer service.

What is the one book you recommend most often and why?

First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham

It reinforces the idea that you should follow your talents and your passion.

What advice would you give a smart and ambitious recent college graduate? What advice should they ignore?

I spent two years teaching college and the number one mistake I see college graduates make is that they choose a career based on their major instead of a field they are most passionate about. Your college degree is just a way to open doors and get the interview, but it is how you prepare that will differentiate you from the others. You want to wake up every morning excited to take on the day, so make a plan to help you do that.

What is your favorite quote, one you aim to live by?

Business is a game; money is how you keep score.

As you make more money, you will realize that it hardly contributes to your overall happiness factor. Although I live a minimalistic lifestyle, making money correlates directly to how well I am running my business. You have to enjoy the journey, because making money alone will not fulfill you.