This interview was done with IdeaMensch in July, 2018 – published here.
If it takes less than 5 minutes, do it now.
Alan Percal is a credentialed actuary and WSOP champion. He spent his first three post-collegiate years working at a Fortune 100 company as an Actuary and has since developed an extensive background in entrepreneurship and tech startups.
He now runs operations for SetDev, a full-stack software engineering company based in South Florida while also managing two online media companies, CryptoMarket360 and PERC360. In addition to his endeavors, he advises for a couple companies and enjoys helping other business owners avoid the mistakes he has made in the past.
Alan calls Louisville home and recently got engaged. In his spare time, he enjoys golfing, playing poker, and listening to a wide variety of podcasts.
Where did the idea for SetDev come from?
The company I currently work for, SetDev, was originally a music tech startup that wasn’t able to generate revenue due to the strict royalty rules in the industry. The team realized they needed a way to pay the bills, so they transitioned to a full-stack software engineering company a couple years ago and have been servicing everyone from first time entrepreneurs to publicly traded companies ever since.
On the side, I also run two internet media companies. CryptoMarket360.com arose from my early interest in crypto currency education a few years back and has since grown to become a market leader in news curation with a daily email newsletter, podcast, blog, and crypto live reports.
PERC360.com is a website that limits articles to 360 words in an attempt to provide readers with their daily news insights in a quick and easy read. All the details, no fluff. The idea arose in 2016 from my passion for information. I would read a wide variety of articles online, but always wished I could get all the important points from each piece without the anecdotes and fluff, so I decided to create just that.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I have a pretty structured schedule, by choice, to make sure I effectively balance all my projects. A typical day begins around 7am with gym/breakfast/shower. I head into the SetDev office around 8:30 and use the time before that to clear up any SetDev, CryptoMarket360, and PERC360 emails or other pressing issues. From 8:30 to 12:30 and 2 to 5:30 I’m running the finances, operations, and client facing activities of SetDev. The time in between, and more so after and into the night, I am spending trying to grow CryptoMarket360 and PERC360. I enjoy learning and reading, so I’ll throw in some reading, podcasts, and/or YouTube videos.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I just do it. I know that’s probably a bit of a cliché, but I’m known within my friend groups as the person who will try anything. I have tried a lot of ideas in the past, most of which have failed, but I have no hesitation with trying. Because of this, I am constantly being pitched ideas by friends and colleagues because they know I will typically say “Ok, let’s do it” to a good one, which is normally what they need to move from the idea phase to production phase.
What’s one trend that excites you?
This will probably be an unconventional answer (I really wanted to throw in a blockchain and crypto plug here) but the increase in the amount of people taking an interest in politics these days I think will end up being a very good thing for this country. We have typically been a country of low voter turnout and even worse, mediocre political acumen among the general population.
While I think a lot of people who got invigorated by Obama and Trump (whether for their love or hatred) are still generally CNN/FOX puppets regurgitating the headlines they read and hear, but I think this is the start of the masses really getting educated on today’s issues and is a step in the right direction.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
If it takes less than 5 minutes, do it now.
I’m a habitual user of a couple of to-do lists and, in the past, I would typically get a ton of items on the list every day (more than I would eliminate throughout the day). I forgot where I heard about this little “hack”, but when I started sticking to it, I became a much more productive person. I would highly encourage others to try it.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell my younger self to be more aware of the image I was portraying externally. This may get a bit long but let me go into a little more detail on what I mean by that so others that are similar to me can benefit from my mistake(s). I spent the first few years of my career at a Fortune 100 company. I was determined to work hard, learn quickly, and help the company in every way possible. I would ask for more work, try to get my hand in a wide variety of projects to learn different lines of business, and get involved in as many different organizations within the company as possible. While my intentions were good, somewhere along the way I must have given off the wrong impression to one management level colleague who was senior to me. Ironically, this person was someone I had looked up to for advice and guidance in my first year at the company. But by year two, I found out this individual thought I was arrogant (and wasn’t shy about telling people this feeling he held). There is more to this story, however, irrelevant to the point I am trying to make.
After I found out about these feelings my colleague held, I was shocked. I tend to be a confident person and am very comfortable saying that I may have even called myself arrogant in my college days. But I made a conscious effort during and after my first internship (Summer before my senior year) to read a variety of self-help and business books. I think I matured quite a bit after recognizing many of my flaws.
I lost sleep trying to figure out how I could have made someone think I was arrogant. I immediately began a period of introspection. Was it the way I sat in meetings, leaning back and with my leg crossed? Was it my brisk walking pace around the office? Did I say something in a meeting that was cocky or made someone around me look bad? Did I ask those around me for feedback too frequently?
I still don’t know what it was that caused this person to resent me so passionately, but there is surely a reason for everything. This person didn’t just wake up one morning and say, “You know that Alan kid, he is an arrogant millennial.” So, if I could contact my younger self, I would likely have been a lot more cognizant of the image I was portraying. I would have asked my closer friends, you know the ones you can trust to always give you the brutally honest feedback, if they noticed anything. And I would have tried to do everything I could to avoid giving off an image of arrogance. Whether you are an analyst at a huge company, or the head of operations at a small tech start up, image matters if you want to be part of a productive workplace.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Texting is an incredible waste of time on average. My policy is if the text or response requires more than two sentences, I’m calling you.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Take calculated risks. Nobody ever changed the world doing what everyone around them was doing.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Networking. Meet people and ask them how you can help them achieve their goals. You will not only learn new things, but also build a network of people who will be there in the future when you need help with something or an introduction to someone. Even better, I’d say half the people that I met by grabbing coffee or lunch with have actually become close friends and will be invited to my wedding next year.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
My first startup in college failed because I made poor choices in hiring. For months after the company dissolved, I blamed the people I had hired as the reason the company failed. It took me almost a year to realize that I should have put the blame on myself for making the decision to hire them. I had done quite a bit of due diligence and thought I was hire the cream of my friend group, but if I could go back, I would have spent more time interviewing rather than trying to rush forward in just a couple weeks. I consider this a valuable lesson learned and is a lesson I now hold close with my companies and preach to the business owners that I advise for.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
A company that gives you an oil change and/or tops off your gas tank while you’re at work and your car is parked. I would pay an incredible premium to never have to go through the oil change process of dropping off or waiting for my car and to never have to stop at a gas station again.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I bought a custom fitted dress shirt from Indochino. Most of my dress shirts are the ones straight off the rack where you choose neck size and body size which typically leaves them somewhat baggy. Indochino makes them specifically to your measurements and they fit much better. Highly recommend you check them out for suits and other dress attire.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
I’m going to go old-school here and I know my team will ridicule me when they read this because they already do on a weekly basis.
Email. I have a method for almost using email as a reminder list for items that need to be taken care of in the next couple weeks. I will occasionally email myself notes in the subject line when I am on the go and them write them down formally when I get home. I also find it a very useful tool for documenting communication threads and prefer it over group Slack channels.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I’m going to break the rules and give two books here. “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and It’s All Small Stuff” by Richard Carlson and “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie.
I read both books during the summer before my senior year of college and they vastly changed my outlook on life. The former almost entirely eliminated my road rage and other small things that would ruin my mood and the latter showed me how many personal flaws I had in dealing with other people along with how to communicate in a manner that would end up optimizing the outcome for both parties.
What is your favorite quote?
“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the Gift.” -Steve Prefontaine
• If you can do it in under 5 minutes, just do it now.
• Stop wasting your time texting people all day long when you can have the whole conversation over the phone in 10% of the time.
• If you consider yourself a confident and bold person, be cognizant of the image you portray externally as to not come off as cocky or arrogant.
• Nobody ever changed the world doing what everyone around them was doing.
• If you are annoyed by various things throughout the day that affect your mood, read “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and It’s All Small Stuff” by Richard Carlson.
Alan is the head poker coach at ZeroSumPokerCoaching.com where you can contact him to stay in touch!