Ep 324: Life Lessons of an Entrepreneur with Denise Villa



Taking the leap into entrepreneurship can seem incredibly daunting, especially when you already have an established career.

As a result, it can often take a life-altering event to prompt you to reassess your trajectory and make a pivotal change.

That was the case for today’s guest Denise Villa, Ph.D., and co-author of Zconomy: How Gen Z Will Change the Future of Business―and What to Do About It.

After structuring her entire career around teaching, a series of life events prompted Denise to reevaluate what she wanted to do with her life. In our conversation, we talk with Denise about how she made the shift to entrepreneurship and what it’s been like embarking on this journey with her husband and business partner, Jason Dorsey.

We delve into the complexity of entering into business with your spouse, why trust is essential in any relationship, and how their different skills and traits complement one another.

Denise also expands on their company called The Center for Generational Kinetics, why they are passionate about separating generational myth from truth, and what it was like co-authoring Zconomy with her husband.

Today’s episode is full of refreshing insights on entrepreneurship, partnerships, and how to uncover what you truly want.

Make sure you tune in for this joyful conversation filled with tons of relatable stories and useful advice!


  • Introducing today’s guest Denise Villa, Ph.D., and co-author of Zconomy.
  • Denise’s background in education and the events that led her to become an entrepreneur.
  • How life-altering events can cause you to reevaluate the trajectory your life is on.
  • Denise’s thoughts on the skills necessary for being a successful entrepreneur.
  • Why there is no such thing as an overnight success.
  • Insights into what makes a partnership successful.
  • How Denise and her partner have succeeded in going into business together.
  • Why trust is essential in any partnership.
  • Some of the rules that Denise and her spouse have in place to help to create boundaries between work and their personal life.
  • How Denise’s family shaped her identity.
  • The importance of helping people to get to know you and not just what you do.
  • The research company that Denise and her husband founded and how it utilizes her skills as an academic and teacher.
  • Learn about how Denise and her husband co-wrote Zconomy.
  • Why data-driven research sets you apart in the field of thought leadership.


“There is so much patience needed in becoming an entrepreneur. It is not an overnight success. All the overnight successes, the majority of them are never overnight. If you think 10 years is overnight, that’s an overnight success. Nobody ever talks about the 10 years before the overnight success.” — @DrDeniseVilla [0:16:56]

“Figure out what you’re good at, figure out what your partner’s good at, and then stay out of each other’s way.” — @DrDeniseVilla [0:22:26]

“Being a parent has been the best leadership training on the planet.” — @AJ_vaden [0:29:01]

“Our company is really founded on separating generational myth from truth.” — @DrDeniseVilla [0:46:12]

About Denise Villa

Denise Villa, PhD, is the CEO and visionary behind The Center for Generational Kinetics (CGK), the leading Gen Z and generational research, speaking, and consulting firm.
Denise has led numerous organizations, serves on the board of several non-profits, advises startups, and was recognized as an Austin Under-40 Finalist.

As a speaker, Denise has presented at events coast-to-coast, served as a Gen Z and Millennial expert on a variety of panels, and delivered research to audiences as diverse as SXSW Interactive to student housing developers, pipeline construction, and financial services professionals.


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Zconomy: How Gen Z Will Change the Future of Business―and What to Do About It

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RV (00:07): Hey brand builder, Rory Vaden here. Thank you so much for taking the time to check out this interview as always, it’s our honor to provide it to you for free and wanted to let you know there’s no big sales pitch or anything coming at the end. However, if you are someone who is looking to build and monetize your personal brand, we would love to talk to you and get to know you a little bit and hear about some of your dreams and visions and share with you a little bit about what we’re up to to see if we might be a fit. So if you’re interested in a free strategy call with someone from our team, we would love to hear from you. You can do that at brand builders, group.com/pod call brand builders, group.com/pod call. We hope to talk to you soon. AJV (00:54): Hey everybody. And welcome to another episode on the influential personal brand today is super, super special. Cuz I get to interview one of my very closest dearest, best friends, Denise Dorsey, Denise vi I, I know Rory’s like it’s via not Dorsey but Jason Jason Dorsey and Denise are two of mine and Rory’s closest, most dearest friends. Fate brought us together on a, on a very unexpected, true value event almost 10 years ago now. Yeah. Which is impossible. They are just some of our most amazing friends. They’re also some of the smartest human beings on the planet. And truly Denise is the smarter of the two Jason to be more public facing but lemme tell you just a little bit about Denise and I’m not gonna read her professional bio. I’m gonna give you my personal bio on Denise. AJV (01:54): And I’m just gonna tell you guys why you need to listen if you are listening to this and you’re trying to decide if you should make the leap from what you’re doing to what you feel like God called you to do, you should listen to this episode. If you are a, a working mom, if you are trying to balance entrepreneurship, being a CEO, being an executive, being a leader, just being in the frigging workforce while also trying to balance being a mom and manage your family you should listen to this. If you’re trying to juggle multiple jobs all at once Denise is the CEO of the center for generational kinetics. She is still sitting as COO at a very amazing biomed company. She also runs a real estate development and investment group. Urban gravity’s, one of the fastest growing real estate developers in Austin, Texas. AJV (02:47): She is also an author of the economy. It’s like the list goes on and on. So it’s like, I often go, do you sleep? Like, do you like what? She’s also a marathon runner. It’s like, I’m like, I’m pretty sure I’m like way below standards when it comes to Denise and all of our accomplishments. But it’s like, you should listen. I’m going, man. Like what are the peaks and valleys of managing all the things because although they’re rewarding, they’re hard. Like let’s get real. They’re really hard. Also if you work with your spouse or you’re considering working with your spouse, you should listen to this episode. If you wanna write a book or you wanna go out and speak or think, think about this, not only working with your spouse, do you also wanna write, write a book with your spouse? AJV (03:35): Like these are all the things that are Denise villa Dorsey that you should stick around and listen to. And that is just really scratching. Really truly like barely scratching the surface of all things. Denise and I would say most importantly of all, I’m so excited for this interview. One, she didn’t wanna do it. She was super reluctant because she’s super humble. And doesn’t often put herself in the spotlight and so I’m genuinely excited to help the entire world get to know your brilliance and you’re, you’re so steady. Like you’re so consistent and calm and sometimes I’m sit at the dinner table with you and Jason and Rory and Jason is so animated and him and Rory are over there, scheming their ideas. And I’m like, people like, what are you talking about? and you’re so patient and calm and supportive. And I’m like, dear God, give some of that’s like, I love that so much about you. I, I really admire you in so many ways. So thank you for being on a podcast today. DV (04:44): Aww, AJ, you’re so sweet. I think the podcast is over. I’m gonna take all these beautiful things you just said and I’m done AJV (04:51): DV (04:54): And I’m excited to be here with you and thank you for having me really. AJV (04:57): Oh, I’m just so excited. And I’m honestly, I’m too, I’m so excited to get, to hear the parts of you and your message and these, these interesting parts of your life and your career that don’t get to come up in normal conversations where, when we’re with our kids or when our we’re and our husbands, or we don’t have extended amounts of time together for you guys listening. I live in Nashville, Tennessee, as you may know. But Denise lives in Austin. So our times are like far and through between. And so when there’s so much to catch up on like so many of these questions, I’m like, oh my gosh, I don’t know the answers to these. I’m so excited to see what you’re gonna say, but, okay. So we’re gonna start here of helping our audience get to know a little bit about you. AJV (05:40): And I think a part of your backstory is really unique and really important to the people who listen to our podcast. Because as I mentioned this to you, it’s like much of our audience are trying to make the decision of, do I stay where I am or do I go and do something different? Right. And there’s nothing wrong with where I am, but at the end of the day, I just feel like something’s missing. Right? Sure. Part of me that’s like, could I really do it? Or is there something bigger for me? It’s like, is this what God really intended for my life? And, and I think you’re one of those unique people in our life that it’s like, you made a really dramatic shift in your professional life because you were already so successful as a teacher and then a principal and in the world of education and academia. AJV (06:32): And that’s like, that’s a no joke job, a super underappreciated underpaid job, by the way. But you made a major decision of going, I’m going to leave, like what? I went to school for, what I thought I was gonna do my whole life, what you’ve been doing, what you’ve been very successful at doing to go out and go, I’m gonna, like, I’m gonna jump this ship and I’m going to join the crazy people on the world of entrepreneurship. And what I would love for the audience to hear is like, what’s a little bit of your backstory of like, where were you? What made you want to make that kind of jump? And ultimately, why did you do it? DV (07:08): Yeah, no, that’s a great question. And I’ve pondered that a lot, I wish I had like a, a straight answer and it was exactly at this point, but I think a lot of things happened and when I reflect back on it I wouldn’t have traded any of the experiences for it, but it was kind of the catalyst to move forward. So at the time I was a a principal at a, at a high school in Texas, a 2200 student, so very big 200 over 200 faculty. And things were going, you know, full, full on crazy times. Like just, you know, the amount of hours you put in. They need to, all those kids need to, you know, and it was my job to, to do that for everybody. And I loved it. It was fulfilling. It was really a great place to be. DV (07:58): I was also doing my PhD at night. So I was finishing my dissertation. I had also just finished and completed a year of, of an internship for super. So that was kind of my pathway. And I was on this pathway. I knew where I was going and my husband who’s been entrepreneur since he was 18 never known anything else. And was also traveling at that time. I probably 220 days out of the year. Wow. And you know, I just took a moment and we both did, and we’d had some really big life changes happen. Within that year as well. One of my best friends was diagnosed with stage four cancer. And one of my other best friends was gave birth and ended up being in the hospital with a hole in her heart and they weren’t sure she was gonna make it. DV (08:52): And there was just a lot of things going on. Quite honestly. And my husband said, you know, why don’t you take a moment, let’s just take a moment and breathe, finish your dissertation take a sabbatical and, and go back to education. And I said, no, , I couldn’t imagine doing it. In fact you know, if anybody’s making a big leap, I’m sure you go through lots of ways to try to figure it out. I was sick. I was sick to my stomach almost every night for about a month. And I finally got there to say, you know, God help me to think through this is this where I need to be. And I just felt like it was. And so I did. And about two months later this opportunity just kind of opens up and being an entrepreneur of nothing that was done on purpose. DV (09:50): It wasn’t like a, you know, I had didn’t have a plan in place. It just, it just was. And basically once that opportunity happened, I just jumped both feet in and, and did it. And I love education. I love the kids, I, the parents, schools everything about it. But now that I’ve been an entrepreneur now for 15 years, I think, going on, no, actually going on 17 there’s no other better place in the world for me. I just enjoy so much and I still help people. I just help in a different way. And I think that’s why I enjoy it so much. AJV (10:31): I love that. And you know, it’s interesting, like this is like the third conversation I’ve had in a really short time period where I have talked to someone who had some sort of life event that occurred in one of these pivotal decisions that they’ve made. You know, I’ve, I’ve had those. And I was just talking to someone earlier today about that she left a very high paying corporate software job of, you know, what happened is her mom was diagnosed with cancer and she goes, man, is this how I wanna spend my days? Is this what I wanna be doing? And like, to hear you about a friend and then the daughter of another friend. And I know that these life events cause us to wake up, right? Like so evident, so many, right? So many of us, what I’m curious is just to hear your genuine opinion and your perspective of why does it take that sort of thing to actually cause us to do what we want? Like, what is it about us as humans, right? That’s like, I’ll stay on this path, even though I know there might be something more for me until we realize life is short. And it’s a lot shorter than I used to think yesterday, because today I have news I didn’t have yesterday. I’m just, I’m so curious, like, what is, is it that DV (11:54): I can’t speak for everyone, but I think for, for me I’m very goal oriented. So I mean, I’m still goal oriented and my husband does this too. People think we’re crazy about this point, but in my bathroom, I have a glass board, not a white board, a glass board, and it has all of our goals for the year so that we can see them every morning when we’re taking a shower, when not AJV (12:16): Taking a shower, DV (12:17): They’re just like right in front of me, there’s no reason not to pass it up. So I think for me as very goal oriented, I set these goals. I wanna be a principal by this age. I wanna be a superintendent by this age. I wanna do X by this age. And, and then life just continues happening. And, and then all of a sudden you’re given a moment of pause because of some life extraordinary event. That just for me, you know, just put everything else aside and, and gives you pause and thought and, and how, and what do I wanna do? I mean, I spent the last days of my friend’s life with her and I could not have done that as a teacher or as a principal. I just wouldn’t have allowed me to. So I wouldn’t change that transition for anything. DV (13:07): I mean, I was meant to be but I do think that you, people just go on this journey and it’s just so fast and furious you know, that we don’t take the time to, to stop for a second. And then we get the time and, and we think, is this where we’re supposed to be? I mean much like COVID yeah, COVID paused the world. And then so many people that came out of it were attorneys and now there’s screenwriters and moved to Costa Rica or, you know, people that were screenwriters who were like, I don’t wanna be this anymore. I wanna do this. I mean, and I just think that we don’t have enough pauses in our life. AJV (13:46): Oh, I love that. I’ve, I’ve shared this quote a few times now. But I was reading an article and that just like flashed across my screen one day. And it was from Ariana Huffington and she said, people have been calling this the great resignation, but I don’t think that’s what it is. I don’t think we have a great resignation. I think what we are experiencing is the great reevaluation yeah. Of what do we wanna do and how do we wanna do it? And what’s the in and what’s worth it. And is, is money really the answer to all the things. And many of us discovered, no, it’s not. DV (14:21): Yeah, exactly AJV (14:23): Not. And I think that’s a huge part of it’s like these life events cause us to reevaluate what we thought was important. DV (14:29): Mm-Hmm right. Yeah. No, exactly. And I think that you know, it’s, it’s that pause and then also, you know, how quickly is the next pause too? Like, you know, cause like I said, I’m goal oriented. So then I started creating all these next goals and then you start moving and moving and then you have another pause and you think, is this where I’m supposed to be? So I think for, for society as whole, we are all trained to just go and move fast. I mean, I mean that’s to respect the hustles right behind me. I mean, I do respect the hustle at the same time. We have to give some time to, to think I’ll share something kind of vulnerable for myself too. So I just turned 50 last week, May 8th. And I was thinking about the last six months coming up to my 50th was just a, really a big reflection for me again, of where do I wanna be with my life. For the first time, life didn’t seem as long as it did when I was 48. And you know, you only have so many years left. I wanna make sure that I’m spending them for me the right way. So I think that’s been another life event for me is coming into this age and I, by the way I love being 50. I think it’s great. 50 is a new 30. It AJV (15:52): Is. And 30 age is just a number, DV (15:55): But it does. It gave me pause. Just thinking about where I wanna go. AJV (16:00): Yeah. I just, I sometimes, and I, I totally feel that and it’s like, you know, my husband, Roy’s turning 40 in just a few weeks and I’m not, I’m giving myself, I’ve got a full, like what, 22 more months before AJV (16:16): . Yeah. And so I, it’s one of those interesting things where it’s like, even that, of like these milestones of like, wow, it’s like to what you said. It’s like somehow, you know, in, in the, in the switch of 24 hours, it’s like, life just feels a little different and it’s like, am I spending it the right way? Am I doing it the way? And I, I have asked this to Roy several times over the last few weeks. And I’m like, why don’t we ask ourselves when we’re 25 or 30 or 35? Like, what is it about life that causes us to actually find what we wanna do at later ages? And I’m, I’m curious to you because it’s like, not only are you a CEO and you’re an entrepreneur and you’re an investor and you’re all these awesome things. You’ve also had the privilege of being EO president. So for those of you don’t know, EO is the entrepreneurs organization, but you were EO president for EO Austin through the pandemic. AJV (17:09): So you also, you have an enormous entrepreneurial community. And one of the things that I think would be really interesting for our audience because it’s like what I tell people all the time, it’s like a personal brand should be treated like a business because it is one, it is one, right? It’s your reputation. It’s what people think of when they think of you. And regardless of what that looks like rather you are an executive or an employee or a salesperson, or you go out on your own as a solo entrepreneur or you build a company. It doesn’t matter anywhere in between. There are components of entrepreneurship that are present in everything that we do. And so what I would love to hear from you for our audience is what do you think are the necessary skills? And those could be mental, emotional, or tactical skills that it requires for someone to make it as an entrepreneur. DV (18:05): Oh, that’s a great question. So patience, I think is one. I have a lot of patience. Some entrepreneurs would disagree. They would say patience is not, is not a great one. And I would disagree with them back. There is so much patience needed in becoming an entrepreneur. It’s not overnight successes. All the overnight successes. Majority of them were never overnight. If you think 10 years is overnight, that’s their overnight success. Nobody ever talks about the 10 years before the overnight success. So I think patience is one tenacity. Tenacity is huge. You’re gonna get shot down. You’re gonna get said, be said, no, you’re gonna say, they’re gonna say that this is the worst they’ve ever seen, whatever. But if you truly believe in what you’re doing, then you, you you’ll keep going. You definitely just keep going. So it’s necessity would be another one. I think also being a listener, not just a communicator, not just being able to speak eloquently and, and cheer on the crowd, but to also be a good listener. Hear what people are saying, take that in, take the feedback, make the adjustments go back out there. I think those three are probably my top ones that I feel that are necessary to be a great entrepreneur. Other at least for me, AJV (19:33): Oh, I love that. And I think, you know, the patience one, I didn’t expect you to say that, but that is so true. Like when I said earlier, it’s like, you’re so steady. It’s like patient, would’ve been the other word. It’s like, you’re so patient like you are. And I think that’s like, I think that’s a really great reminder to everyone who’s listening today is yeah, there is no such thing as an overnight success like that does not exist. You see the success overnight, but there is no overnight success, right? It’s like, correct. Just cause you just learned about somebody doesn’t mean they hadn’t been hustling for years. Exactly. Get to that point. And I love, I love it when people say, oh man, they just came outta nowhere. And I’m like, DV (20:11): Really AJV (20:13): Thing. Like come outta nowhere that it’s like, you know, our awareness of someone is what makes us think like, oh man, they just blew up and it’s like, Mel, they didn’t blew up. Right. They’ve been building that engine for a really long time and then they just turned it on. Right. Exactly. That’s a great reminder to all of us, of man. It’s not gonna happen overnight. DV (20:35): You know, nothing ever does. And nothing that is worth really having at the end of it is ever just so quick. It’s not like a, it’s not like a light switch. And I also think the, the three that I mentioned are great. Especially if you have a partner that has the opposite of the three . So my husband does not he’s my business partner does not have patience. So, you know, that helps us balance out because he will be like kid going, let’s go. I need this right now. And I’m, and I’m so patient I’ll be like, ah, you know, okay, give me, let’s just be patient about it. So it really like, you know, it helps me, it helps him, I cool him down. He gets me going a little bit more. So I think it’s also helpful when you have the right person next to you. AJV (21:23): Oh, that’s such a great transition too. It’s like Jason and I share more of those personality traits and you, and yes DV (21:29): You do do AJV (21:30): we often find ourselves talking, man, we think so much alike. But I think that’s a really great transition into partnerships. Right. And you know, whether it’s with your spouse or not, there’s, you know, ups and downs, highs and lows peaks and valleys of working with someone else in a partnership. But especially with your spouse. So I’ve got two questions for you. One, what advice would you give to anyone who is in a business partnership of how do you make this the most effective, efficient, successful relationship possible? And I think it’s also really important. It’s like, I know way more partnerships that have ended that also ended relationships, friendships separated families, right? It it’s like a divorce completely, so many ways. And it’s like, just like a marriage takes a lot of work, so does any friendship or partnership. AJV (22:28): And so I, one I’d love to know it’s like, what have you seen both personally and just in the entrepreneurial community of what makes a successful partnership. And then the second thing is I wanna talk about, and then how do you work with your spouse? And you and I both sit in the boat and I, I share this with you often. It’s like, there are so few people that are at my life stage married to their business partner where we’re the sitting as the CEO of the company, we have young children, like it is a rare situation in most events. And it’s got amazing, beautiful components and really frigging hard ones. And I know a lot of people who get started, like they get started with their spouse cuz that’s who we can afford. Right. it’s like, we’re, that’s all we can afford. So. Okay. So first let’s talk about partnerships and then I wanna talk about what, what advice would you give to people who are working together, both as partners and then as married partners? DV (23:32): Okay. No, that’s great. I think for me, number one is trust. You have to trust your partner, your business partner infinitely. If you do not or have reservations or even have like a little inkling that their trust isn’t there, it’s just not gonna work. It’s just, I can’t imagine going through every single day of what people do in a business and not completely 100% trust your partner that you’re working with. So that would be number one. Number two for me is figure out what you’re good at, figure out what your partner is good at and then stay out of each other’s way. We learned that the hard way working together. And I think the first year we really overstepped on Jason stepped over on my toes. I stepped on his and it wasn’t until we figured out our lanes and we stayed in ’em that we were able to grow and we were able to be successful in our partnership. DV (24:35): And, and even now, I mean, we’ve been doing this together, you know, almost 15 years and every once in a while we crossed lanes and we’re like, uhoh Nope, Nope, Nope, Nope. Let’s get back in our lane and I think that is very helpful for, for us and for other partners. And I think lastly, this has to really do, if you’re married to them, maybe not your, you weren’t married to them, but we really came up with rules around our household as well. Now I will not say that I follow every single role to a T. But I try. And the last thing we wanted in our relationship was our relationship to be all about work is so easy to all of a sudden all the conversations we’re having or about work or about your kids. And we just didn’t want that. DV (25:27): So we set boundaries on times a day that we can talk about our business on the weekends. You know, there’s no disgusting on Saturdays and on Sundays you can only get me until noon. Because if you’re my husband, he wakes up at 6:00 AM. He wakes me up at six 30. And the first thing you have is out of his mouth is, Hey, did you get this transaction done? Or, Hey, did you close this deal? And I’ve not even opened up my eyes for like two minutes yet. They’re like, can I brush my teeth first? So we really laid out boundaries around that. That was very helpful. And then, you know, finding people like you and Rory, I mean, you guys are amazing, but finding other like people that you can have the conversations with and talk to people, it’s a rarity of what you and I do with our husband and to have that back and forth with somebody to share it with is phenomenal. And that’s very helpful. AJV (26:22): Yeah. I think, you know, you said two things in there that I just wanna like pull out. Cause I think these are so significant is one of them is around the trust factor. It’s like, you’ve gotta give your partner. And you could say your partner is anywhere from a vendor to a contractor, to an employee. It’s like, I think this transcends just a business partnership, but you’ve gotta trust and give them the benefit of the doubt even when you’re not sure. And so my question to you in this is how do you build trust in business? DV (26:52): Oh, that’s a good one. So I’m all in or I’m all out. That’s my, so I in business, if I’ve decided that you’re my partner, whatever that is my salesperson you’re a partner in our business. You’re a vendor, anybody, anybody that we’ve touched, I’m a hundred percent in you’re on our team. I completely 100% trust. However, if that trust is broken is really hard for me to repair it. And that’s just me, myself. I’m a hundred percent in giving you everything, but if you break it I’m out. And I, I tell people that front I’m very open and honest without with anybody that I work with. Like you have everything, but you destroy it. And I walk away. Like I just, I just not worth my time nor can I do I wanna work on it to get it back. I just don’t. AJV (27:50): So I’m just writing this down cuz that’s like, I think so what I hear you saying and what I’m writing down is that it’s like, you have to make a choice to be all in. Yeah. Right. It’s not like, oh, it just happens. Right? It’s like, no, I’m choosing to be all in. And I’m choosing that. You’re my partner. I’m choosing to trust you. DV (28:07): Exactly. Exactly. No reservations, because if there’s any reservations, then there’s no reason for us to even be partners in anything. AJV (28:17): Okay. So that is so, so, so I guess one of the things that I’m hearing too is this has actually been a really recent conversation in our household and our business is Roy’s always telling me, babe, you’ve gotta give me the benefit of the doubt. you gotta give me the benefit of the doubt and it’s like, I want to, but he goes, there are no buts whether you do or you don’t Uhhuh. And one of the things that I have to remind myself of is that is a choice, right? I’m choosing to go this is whatever it is that you’re doing. This is for the good of our family and our business. And that’s a, that’s a, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a chosen perspective shift. And that’s a bit of what I’m hearing in you too, of going no, it’s like, I’m all in or I’m all out. And it’s kind of like what they say in the court. It’s like, you’re innocent until proven guilty. It’s like, I’m gonna trust you until you, until you show me, there’s a reason not to trust you. DV (29:09): Right. Exactly. And for people listening I’m a lot like RRY so it doesn’t, we share a lot of the same characteristics. So surprised AJV (29:21): Patience is one of virtues. I have other gifts, other gifts. But it’s like, but it is, I think that’s like so important it’s like in any relationship is you’ve gotta make the choice to see the benefit of that. I have to make the choice to trust you. Because if not, then everything is filled with doubt. DV (29:41): Yeah. And, and then you’re going behind their, their, I wouldn’t say their backs, but you’re going behind and trying to double check the work. Did this get done? Did that get done? Did you know everything? You know, and it’s just, people make mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes, we’re all human. And there’s a difference between like, oh, I messed up. That’s a mistake. And there’s a difference between a total mistrust of something that you did like that the, to me, those are very different. AJV (30:10): Okay. I’m, DV (30:11): It’s an error. I’m not forgiving when you deliberately, you know, right. Needed me to not trust me. AJV (30:18): Yeah. The same thing with like your kids, right. It’s like, yeah. You know, it’s so much of leadership of business is parallel to parenting. Being a parent has been the best leadership training on the planet. DV (30:33): like, AJV (30:34): If you like, it’s like trying to get these two little humans to do something that I want them to do. And there’s no incentive. There’s no money. There’s no, like, it’s like, oh man, OK. I’ve gotta really get my negotiation skills to work with these two humans. But I think that’s like so true. It’s like, but it’s all in a choice of like, I’m choosing to say, you know, Jasper, I know that you wouldn’t intentionally knew such a thing, but that’s a choice because the other half of me is going you little rat. I know DV (31:08): , AJV (31:08): You know, and it’s like, that’s such a choice and it happens in business all the time. Right, right. It’s so easy to fill our mind with. Well, I mean, they’re just doing this because you know, it’s easier for them or I’m the one stuff doing all the really hard work they’re out there getting to do what they love and what they’re passionate about. And then I get stuck with everything they don’t want. DV (31:26): Mm-Hmm yeah, exactly. AJV (31:27): That’s really good. The second thing I wanna highlight is you talked about these rules. So can you give us an example of like, what’s a role that you guys have in your house to protect, you know, your personal relationship? So the business doesn’t take takeover? DV (31:42): Sure. So one big role is, like I said earlier about talking about business. So no talking about business on Saturdays and Sundays, we can start after 12. And so I will say, you know, Jason could talk about business 24 7. So you know, sometimes 1140, he’ll be like on a Sunday, Hey, I have 10 more minutes and then we can start talking about this. So that, that’s one thing, another thing is date nights, you know, date nights, we go out, we make specific rules that we are not talking about business at all during this date. And it’s so easy for it to come up. Mm-Hmm , I mean, you think about just even a typical work day and you’re out with your spouse you know, how was your day? Well, I did this at work. I did that work. So to take that completely out of the equation, I mean, it is, it is a little tough, but you know, I, and so does Jason, we’re both on the same page about this. We just refuse to let it dictate our life to each other. Because there is more after this and we know that and we wanna continue that journey together forever. And so how do we create kind of this foundational work, even though we’ve been married 16 years to continue that so that we have those places to grow later. AJV (33:02): So what do you guys talk about if you don’t talk about, if you don’t talk about at your daughter and if you don’t talk about work, what are you guys talking about? DV (33:10): Ah, what we talk about things we wanna do, where we wanna go, you know, places that maybe we wanna live. We talk about, you know, our families, our parents, maybe we, my husband travels quite a bit still now. And so there’s a lot of things in a week that transpire that I never get to even tell him about. I told him I’m a podcast with AJ. He’s like, there’s just like a lot of things that you have that you never get to share. And so we talk about things like that. And then we talk about I’m part of entrepreneur, you know organization here in town. I have a lot of entrepreneur, friends and things that are going on in their world and I wanna hear about his friends. And so that’s the, the timing that we use to celebrate those kind of experiences. AJV (34:03): Yeah. And I, I ask cause of genuine co you know, curiosity for my own marriage. But also because I think that’s really good for all of us to go, you know, this is like one of the big mantras. That’s in my life right now is that I want people to care much more about who I am than what I do. Yeah. I don’t wanna be defined by my work because that’s how I defined my own worth for a really long time. And I’m in recovery from finding all of my worth in my work. And what I have found is like in all general natural situations, it doesn’t matter if it’s with my husband or at a networking meeting or at my EO group or, well, a group of friends, like somehow it always transitions to, well, tell me more about what you do. And I’m like, it’s so hard to like pull out of that world and go, no, actually just wanna talk about I, DV (34:59): The best book you just read AJV (35:01): Or something. And it’s like, it’s like, it’s amazing. And I don’t know if it’s this way all around the world, but I know that it’s like this in the United States. It’s hi, here’s my name? And the next question is, so what do you do? Yeah. And it’s ingrained in this component of our lives. And it, it folds over into work is the majority of what our life is about. And I was so genuinely curious of not just for our own spouses but for each of us out there of like the thing that I love about personal branding and reputation is that it’s at the heart of who you are and who you are, has nothing to do with, with what you do. It’s a piece of it is not who you are and finding things to talk about that allow people to get to know more of who you are, I think is a kind of a novel idea, believe it or not. Well, DV (35:51): I also think that people have to be open to the discussion, right? I mean, in the United States and I, I I’ll say this just in the United States, you and I both travel a lot outside of the United States, but here, so many of the conversations when you meet someone are so superficial. Yeah. And they don’t go deep. And what I have found, you know, as being part of the EO community for the last 10 years, I mean, they really trained on like specific questions and to get deep and come vulnerable. And if you’re not gonna be that person, then we don’t need you in our community. Mm-Hmm and I’ve taken that kind of thinking onto people. I just meet anywhere. And it’s very uncomfortable. I will say, cuz I get deep really fast. But if, AJV (36:37): If DV (36:37): You’re not gonna have a meaningful conversation with me, well, you know, there’s a hundred emails I could probably answer. And I really wanna spend the time with you and get to know you and learn, how did you become you? And I’d rather have that conversation than answer the hundred emails for sure. Oh AJV (36:53): Man, I’m gonna write this down. How did you become you? Not what do you do, but how did you become you? I’m always writing down what are good questions that I can ask that are not, so what do you do or tell me about your work or like that’s a really good one. So so do you, do you ask that to people? DV (37:13): I do. I do. I do ask that the, the first, the first glance, you know, especially if they’re outside kind of the entrepreneurial world, not heard about these things, they look at me going, excuse me. Oh, what, and, and so then it’s really probing. Like how did you become you? Where did you grow up? AJV (37:33): The first DV (37:34): Question you have, like, you know, just kind of going down the journey and then you see the person getting more comfortable. Cause at the end of the day, people like talking about themselves, they really do. It’s just, we’ve been trying to really, for a lot of people, we only speak about this and we don’t speak more about this and we do this and you’ve learned kind of these ways to put yourself out there. So that you’re, you’re captivated in the best light. And so when you kind of go in a different route, people are just more willing to have conversations. And then you’re able to share about you and your story and your authentic self of who you AJV (38:11): Are. Oh, I love that so much. Anything that helps me create stories around, tell me who you are not about what you do is like a big thing in my life right now, I was at a it was a charity event thing and I was standing outside, standing in line to get a glass of wine. And this young lady walks up to me. She just introduced herself. You were just like chit chatting. And she just says, well, what’s your name? How do you know the host? And she goes, how do you fill the hours of your week? And I was like, I’m sorry, what , how do you fill the hours of your, that’s DV (38:45): A great question. I’m gonna write that. AJV (38:49): I stopped in my tracks. And I said, you mean like, what do I do for work? And this was like six months ago or something. This is like, kind of like triggered my own default to asking these silly questions. And she’s like, well, I mean, that could be a part of it, but you know, just how do you feel the hours of your day? And I was like, well, in the mornings started, I was like, well, in the mornings I have two toddlers. And so, and then I started like regurgitating my schedule. And she was like, that’s so fascinating. DV (39:21): AJV (39:22): It was one of those things. I’m like, how do I spend hours? But it was like such a nice of, and then I said, are you intentionally trying not to ask like the people do for work? And she goes, yeah, it’s a really intentional effort of mine. And I said, I’m totally stealing this and I’m gonna . And I was like, and thank you so much for caring more about me and just how I filled my hours than the stuff that I have on my business card. And she was like, you’re welcome. And she just walks away. Lovely. DV (39:52): I love AJV (39:54): Very similar. It’s like, so tell me about how you became you. Right. I love that. I, I love that. And so, alright, so I’m gonna flip that on you. So Denise, how did you become you? DV (40:06): Oh, I should have never given it away. AJV (40:12): You DV (40:12): Know, I think our life is fools with, we talked about it, ups and ups and downs, right valleys. I’d say I became me starting with a very strong minded beautiful kind mom. I was very fortunate to have her in my life and, and to have her in my life. So my dad died and I was five. And my mom raised me as a single mom for wait till I was about 14 when she remarried. Luckily for me though, I have 52 first cousins and 32 aunts and uncles. So I always had family around. And I think, you know, they helped me become who I was. All those cousins all lived in the same city. So we were always at somebody’s house. I was always playing sports. I was mostly boy cousins for some reason we didn’t , there was a lot of girl cousins should have been 50 50, but it wasn’t. And then you know, you continue on your life. And for me, probably the biggest thing in my life was moving to Austin and going to undergrad. And hopefully my mom will never hear this podcast. DV (41:30): I think it was probably one of the only lies that I’ve ever really told her, which at that time in my life, I really needed to get away. It was time for me to fly the co and she really wanted me to stay. And I graduated from high school, top 10% of my class, and I’m a first generation college graduate. My family didn’t know really the how to make the transition for me to go to college. And I said that UT Austin was the only college that accepted me and I wasn’t accepted anywhere else. And, and mind you, I did pay my own way. So this wasn’t a financial burden on my family, but I needed to go. And I left and I, that was probably a huge pivotal moment. So I went from this little pond of an all girls Catholic high school to all of a sudden 50,000 students at UT. And it was awesome. I loved UT . I had a great time a college barely pass, but I got through it. AJV (42:36): DV (42:39): Awesome. And then I just, I kept growing. I found my passion for teaching there and felt really fell in love with it. I really felt that was the right place to be. And I would not have found that without two things, one, my mom who gave me permission to look outside of making money and to really find something that I was good at. And then secondly, was an offsite internship I had to do at the school for the blind, visually impaired and the two together and the young boy that I was working with at the school paved my way for the next 14 years. And then you know, there was lots of movement and I think years later, about eight years after teaching six, six to eight years, I decided that I wanted to go in and get my master’s and then my PhD in education. DV (43:34): And I think for me that was also a big pivotal point. I think I realized that I could do something even more than just for me, it was helping my classroom than it was even more. If I could help the school, then it was even more I could help a district. And so I really wanted to expand that. You know, so I think that’s really, and then from there I came an entrepreneur and then that was, you know, that was crazy. I mean, our journey has been fascinating at our companies. I’ve worked with the largest brands in the United States. We’ve been truly blessed in so many ways. And I think all of those things made me mean , ah, AJV (44:20): I love that. And I, I think, you know, this whole thing is like building an influential personal brand. And I think the best way you can build influence is you just get to know someone that’s the best way to have influence it’s. If I don’t know, you, you have very little influence over my decisions day to day, but if I know you and I, I like you and I trust you, you have great influence over my daily decisions and behaviors. And I, I love that. And I think if we all need to be a little bit more focused on how did you become who you are not, tell me about how you did all these things you did. Right. AJV (44:56): And I, and it’s like, and I still, like, there’s still a huge part of teaching in you. Right. And for those of you listening you know that about a year ago, we talk about this all the time. We launched our, you know, national research study, the trends and personal branding you know, it’s Denise’s company, her and her husband’s company that fielded this research for us. And it’s like today, he’s like, you run a team of researchers, right? It’s like, there’s still that education component that has stayed with you, even through your entrepreneurial journey. It’s like, you are a research firm, right? It’s like, you’re doing research for books and you’re doing research for these huge brands, but there’s a seriously academic part of what you do that has made you so successful DV (45:39): Completely. And thank you. I appreciate that. Yeah. Teaching is, is embedded in me. I love it. Sometimes I come off just as a teacher or my husband always gets mad at me. He’s like, don’t use your teacher voice on me. And I don’t mean to, but I, I love, I love getting educated. And so kind of my love language is to serve others in the, in that same way. So I really enjoy being part of those educational moments with our team and training our talent development programs that we do even like our talent acquisition and just teaching about the jobs. It it’s, it’s fascinating. And I get so much inspiration by seeing somebody’s face to slide up. I mean, I remember when I was younger, I started teaching when I was 22 and I remember thinking how that would never go away for me. DV (46:36): And you know, now I’m 50 and it still has never gone away for me. It’s, it’s almost amazing coupled with, and I will share this coupled with now, many of the students who I was in educational, like I said, for 14 years, just about so thousands of students that I’ve interacted with and I get every once in a while, somebody who pops up who comes up to me and says, are you miss be? And I say, yes. And, and they say something that just, you know, makes me smile. Like, I remember when you said this joke and I’ve always kept it with me, or I’ve had a couple of people say I became a science teacher because of you, those moments in time, you just they’re true blessings. AJV (47:21): Amazing. No, I’m not miss via I’m Dr. Via , AJV (47:25): , that’s who I am. I love that. I think that’s so awesome. And I know I’ve just got one last thing I wanna bring up. And I know that we’re rounding out our time together, but you recently went on a pretty big research endeavor with writing your first book. Yes. And so Z economy is all around, you know, gen Z and the rise of this new generation. Right? Finally, the heat is off us millennials. and put the heat on the new emerging generation. And a huge part of that is you did that in partnership with your business partner and your husband, which I’m sure was no easy feat. But you guys did massive amounts of research. Yes. To put out this book. And so just give us that high level of why do it on gen Z and like, if there was like one thing that you learned through this process of doing research for your own project, right? Not for other companies the process of writing this book of, you know, getting all of your thoughts and research on paper or just on gen Z. Like if there was one thing that you’re like, man, through this entire journey of the research, the writing, the topic, doing it with my husband, like this is the one thing that I would share with someone who is interested in knowing a part of my journey, this would be it. What would you say? DV (48:52): Okay, those are good questions. So why gen Z? So our company is really founded on separating generational myth from truth. So that’s the core. And it was founded because we were finding out that CEOs were using data and the data wasn’t matching what they were saying. So that’s kind of how our company really started is, well, if they’re taking this data and it’s not matching what they’re saying, there’s teaching element and saying, they’re not understanding the data for some reason, another, or the data is not being read in a way that shows the information correctly. So let’s just make our own research company, that one shares the data correctly and shares a story that goes with it. So gen Z is kind of that new generation. There were so many myths that came up with millennials and you guys did get a lot of hate. not by us a lot, AJV (49:52): A lot of it. DV (49:54): And so of course, when gen Z started coming up, there was a great way to bring out what we were seeing with this generation. And we have been following them for probably a good seven years now. And what I love about this generation from the very beginning was really their, their money sets, which was huge, never saw it in any other generation except the baby boomers. And so that has been a huge part of them and their hard work and diligence which once again, was being portrayed in their earlier lives. And I think we’re seeing it again still into adulthood. So those are two of my favorite aspects about gen Z. I’d say the learning part of writing a book with your spouse. So this was two years of a labor of love. And I will say labor of love it was a long time and not only was it a long time, our writing styles are completely different. DV (50:59): I have come up through an academic work body of literature writing as you’re being published for different peer reviews, right? It’s a very different writing style than my husband who is a, you know, a, a published author multiple times over that has a very different voice and merging those two together. Oh my goodness gracious. That was probably the hardest things that we did. But at the end of the day, it worked, it took a lot of giving on my part and a lot of giving on his part. And there was many things if you get the book and you’ll notice, oh, Denise definitely wrote this. Because I channel data a little bit differently. Well, when my husband does so well, as he makes the everyday user read it and understand it instantly. And so we just, we really had to practice merging those two voices. And and so on top of doing the research, which took about a year to do then putting that together and merging the two voices, it was definitely almost as hard as having a shut , AJV (52:08): It’s kinda like birthing a child of sorts. And I love the stories of anyone who has ever gone through the process of writing a book, you know, back like what we said. It’s like, nothing happens overnight. AJV (52:21): Neither does writing a book. Y’all it’s like, and I, we have so many people who enter into this very fortunate community. We’ve been able to help curate at brand builder’s group of going all right. My goal is the next 12 months is to write a book, get it published. And I’m like, we’re gonna need to adjust those goals. , it’s like, do you already have the book? Cause that’s about the only way we’re gonna have this done in the next 12 months. But one of the things that I love about this is, you know, you know, Roy and I, our next book is gonna be together. And so part of this is like as you know, and many of you who listen to the podcast, we’re quite different, by the way we communicate talk see things I’m very black and white, everything is black or white to me. AJV (53:03): And Rory is very gray, right? He’s like, well, that’s the best part of this and the worst part. And I’m like, Nope, she’s this or this . So it’s like, I think there’s a, a beautiful blending of how do you take the best parts of each person’s perspective and mold them into something that’s going to appeal to an even larger audience. And I love the way that you guys have been able to do, do that. And you know, we talk about research all the time. It is a constant theme ever since we did the research report on the national study for the trends and personal branding. I’m just such an advocate of like, that was what we said, we’re doing this, but our flag in the ground, that we are the first company doing what we’re doing and the way that we’re doing it. And we’re gonna do this study on personal brain because we believe it’s the future. We believe it’s the future of marketing, but it’s like to have data like that really sets you apart and thought leadership. And it’s like, you come from a really academic background. And for people who don’t come from that, it’s like, yeah, it’s like incorporating real data points really do attract a different type of clientele audience. That’s really powerful DV (54:10): Completely. And you have that backup to show you, Nope, this is what it said. And it’s statistically valid and we’ve done confidence in our roles and, and you can play up all the words and it’s, it’s valuable. And it also aligns with what you’re doing. It makes you feel like I’m doing this right. Or man, I need to know this. I actually have to change this, cuz I’ve been saying this and look, the population doesn’t agree with that. And so I think it’s very helpful to give people some kind of, one piece of mind and then two different strategies that maybe they just weren’t aware. And we all have our, you know, for lack of a better word, you know, box that we live in. And sometimes it becomes an echo chamber. So to look outside of that is, is, makes us grow. I mean, at the end of the day, that’s what it does. AJV (54:59): Yeah. You said something that just made me think about this is, you know I’m I’m, as you are. It’s like, I think feedback is one of the gifts that I didn’t always want. But I always need, and it’s like, I love getting feedback and input, and to me doing research was like another way of getting feedback. Yeah. It was, I can’t see what I can’t see. And sometimes I’m just, you know, the old saying I’m too close to the forest to see the trees. Yeah, exactly. Cause I need to get outta my own echo chamber. Right. Mm-hmm and I need to get a larger perspective, a larger scale of how does the pop population at large view this and then how do I take those data points to validate or unvalidated? Like, one of the things I loved about doing research is the amount of things that we’re like, oh, we had that really wrong. AJV (55:44): Like that was really good to go. You know, I think one of the big data points that came up to me, which I thought was so interesting to hear yours about gen Z was like mine about personal branding. Was that testimonials 62% of Americans say that testimonials is the number one most important factor when deciding whom to hire, not if you have a book or viral, Ted talk are large social media following none of those things, it was like at the very, very top of the list. And then 10 percentage points down was the next one, but 62%. Where do you have testimonials of other people validating that you are, who you say you are and you do what you say you’re gonna do. And for us, and the way that companies and people spend marketing dollars, I’m like, oh my gosh, this is the cheapest, fastest, easiest thing that you can do. It’s like you take that or it’s like, get on national media, create a viral Ted talk, get a New York times bestselling book. And I’m like, oh my gosh, like we’ve been, we’ve been putting all of our time energy resources into potentially the wrong avenue. It’s not that we shouldn’t do the other things, but it’s like, where should the majority of our intent go? It was so, so helpful. DV (56:55): And if you’re a gen Z, you’re gonna look at least 10 of ’em before you make a decision. I mean, you know, so there is some even way the different generations look at reviews who you’re trying to hit will give you some idea of what do these need to look like, or how many should I have up there, et cetera. Which I think is, is really helpful when you’re looking at your own personal brand or your company or anything, really people, people search those number one thing. And I, you know, I will say that we had so much fun working on your report. I just, I love working with friends because it gets me even closer into the mindset of what you do and what you and Rory do. And it was really neat working on that project. AJV (57:39): I agreed. I think you guys are brilliant in so many things I love this. I could continue this conversation on and on and on. And I know that we are way past our time that I love talking to you. I love, and I, I love what I’ve love most about this conversation is truly learning how you became who you are. That is gonna be my new question. So I’m transitioning out of how do you hours during the week of how did you become who you are and for everyone listening, it’s like, if you don’t get anything other than the importance of helping people get to know you, not what you do. That is my big takeaway from this conversation. That’s the heart of creating authentic leadership and being an entrepreneur that people actually wanna follow. Denise, thank you so much for being on the show. DV (58:28): Aw, thank you, AJ. It was a pleasure. Thank you for having me really appreciate talking into doing it. AJV (58:34): Oh, this was so awesome. I love it. And for everyone listening make sure you stay tuned for the recap episode and we’ll catch you next time on the influential personal brand. See y’all.

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25 of the World's Most Recognizable Influencers Share Their Tips on How to Build and Monetize a Personal Brand

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