Ep 160: Building a Trusted Personal Brand with David Horsager

RV: (00:07)

We say around Brand Builders Group a lot that reputation precedes revenue and reputation effectively is an unconscious calculation of how much people trust you. Do they trust you? Do they trust your brand? Do they trust what you are saying? And it only made sense that I would bring to you one of my very best friends David Horsager for an interview, and I’ve purposely been waiting for you to meet him. He is one of my most trusted friends. We are super close and he is the guy on trust. He owns the topic of trust. He is the CEO of the trust edge leadership Institute. He wrote a national bestseller called the trust edge. He also every year puts out a study called the trust outlook. And then he invented something called the ETI, the enterprise trust index, which kind of measures trust inside of organizations and things. And he is a hall of fame speaker. He works with companies like the New York Yankees, FedEx Toyota, global governments, department of Homeland security and just really, really world renowned. And so he’s here to share a little bit of his story about how he became the guy on trust and how he built the business he’s got today. So brother, thanks for being here.

DH: (01:28)

Hey, Rory, it is a treat to be with the brand builders and just playing with you and what a journey, great to be in a friend group and mastermind group and just doing life. So yeah,

RV: (01:41)

Thanks. We should mention, we should mention that, right? That you and I, and Jay Baer and Jason Dorsey are in a, a true peer colleague, unpaid friend, friend, supported mastermind. We call it the struggle. We have been together five or six years,

DH: (02:00)

I think at least something like

RV: (02:01)

That. We’ve had all, we, we, what people don’t know, every single one of us, we for back-to-back-to-back years were inducted into the professional speaking hall of fame and where you first or was Jay.

DH: (02:16)

I was, I think, yeah.

RV: (02:19)

And then me and then Dorsey. That’s right. So the power of surrounding yourself with amazing people, but I want to hear your, I want you to share the story of how you started, right? Because somebody’s listening out there right now are going, gosh, I’d love to speak. I would love to work with the New York Yankees. I’d love to have a, you know, a multi seven figure business. I’d love to do these things. How did you start?

DH: (02:47)

Yep. So I, it goes back, you know, I grew up on a farm in the poorest County in Minnesota and, you know I was a youngest of six kids and I, I definitely had kind of vision for great things, grateful for my parents to be the great leaders they were. And mom and dad are still 91 now and still run the farm. And actually just sold about 750 acres. So they’re thinking about how they can give away money these days. But I basically, after after college, I went to be on staff with the youth and faith and the organization. And after that, I, I later became director and I built a little bit of leadership curriculum for kind of college students do youth, whatever, move back to Minnesota. And this is how it started. We put every penny we had into that first organization.

DH: (03:35)

I have to tell my kids, this is back in the 19 hundreds, you know? But we moved back to Minnesota. I had one booking for $500. One thing I’d booked. I moved back, moved everything from living on a golf course, down in Arkansas to back to Minnesota. I, and so we jumped in and, and I, I thought, how are we going to save money? How are we going to do this? So we found not, not really an apartment, the basement of 86 year old Clara. Miller’s no windows, no bathroom, no kitchen, black mold on the walls. And that’s where we started this. And we lived there for two years and actually we we started with nothing. And by that October, I don’t everything we had into marketing and videos, all this stuff. And we add a dollar 40 to our name, 60 cents in the business account, 80 cents in the home account after paying her urgent bills, that’s all we had. And at the time we figured if we could just make 700 bucks a month, I could pay my urgent bills. And I think my, I think my, I think my statement that year from the IRS was that I made $2,000 or something. So for the, for the year. So anyway, that, that was the start. And I’ll tell you, it’s not

RV: (04:53)

Fast start a dollar 42,000 bucks your first year.

DH: (04:58)

Yup. 2000 in profit, 2000 in profit, not revenue. Okay. So and that was half a year in, you know, so all we had was a half a year to work with her, but basically we started with call, call, call, call, call, and working till 11 at night. And making calls people that say that phone calls don’t work anymore. I just don’t where we we still make calls. But anyway that was, that was how we started. And we’ve shifted things, you know, several times the grad work was a big launch pad. Obviously all my work around trust became interesting to people, more famous than me. The book.

RV: (05:36)

Yeah. Let’s talk about, let’s talk about trust, right? Because you, you know, that we, we talk about she hands wall with our community and being known for one thing and breaking through the wall. You are one of the best examples of that. Of just, just owning one thing, one topic, one issue, one problem of trust. How did you decide that? How did you land on that? How did you choose it? Did it choose you kind of a thing? Like what was that?

DH: (06:07)

It was a mix. And I think I was, I had been kind of sharing this leadership work, got asked to speak to the us coast guard Academy, a few other things. And basically I still remember where I was. I was at it was not that it was some big spiritual epiphany, but I was, it was before we had the four kids and all that. And Lisa and I were traveling together and we’re at an event down in, I think it was Tucson, Arizona. I just remember it was probably the most expensive place we’d stayed at till that point. It was the Lowe’s resort. After a day of this, at this business conference, I just turned thinking the problem they think they’re having. I don’t think it’s real problem. It’s not a leadership problem. The reason people don’t follow that leader is trust. I think that’s the problem.

DH: (06:47)

They think they’re having a sales. It’s not a sales issue. The reason people don’t buy as trucks and, and, and it kept going, and this was just intuitive. This was not grad work. This wasn’t research basis. It was just, Oh, that’s a trust problem. That’s a trust issue. That’s just me now. Fast forward. I believe everything genuinely is a trust. I believe you. I believe most people are not solving the root issue. It’s always a trust issue at the core. It’s not a leadership issue. It’s not a sales issue. It’s not an innovation issue. The only way to increase learning issue is increase trust in the content that the teacher or the psychologic saving the environment. It’s not a diversity issue. The only way that, that biggest Harvard study shows diversity on its own pitch to people against each other, the only way to get the benefits of it is increased trust, which is our many with trust.

DH: (07:29)

So, so, but back then, so I press into it a little bit. I started thinking about it, more sort of reading. There was, by the way, Rory back then there was nothing written on trust and leadership. There was no research. I mean, a lot of people are talking about trust the last decade to deck over two decades ago. Nobody, almost nobody in business and leadership was nursing psychology stuff. So I decided at the time now speaking some already, I kind of had enough going on that way. It wasn’t like I had to, but I thought I just had gone away for this one weekend. I thought, I think it was just to get my bachelor’s degree. So I just look at colleges and turn up the one that I graduated from. Usually you want variety in your grad work, but I just decided, Oh, I can get right in.

DH: (08:14)

And they have my transcripts and they had this organizational leadership degree and I put every bit of my research and my final dissertation, everything on trust. And that became interesting to some people. And that led to my passion, that then led to us using that framework in organizations. And it worked, we saw tripling of sales. We saw retention reduce. We actually had something real. So I think one thing that I will differentiate on the two people that are just brand builders is I’m big on, and I know many of your people are, but I’m just saying I was, it was real for me. It was, I was genuinely passionate. This work changed me. So I would just argue with people, find one thing, but something that is and true to them because now my work has been used on six continents. We just had an outside university triangulated, revalidation, revalidated, the work as the framework that builds trust globally. So I mean the research added passion, the books added passion, the scene change in people and organizations that passion. I just, I should walk over to the other side of my desk. There’s I just got a postcard from a guy that said five years ago, you were here and helped us with this. And it changed our organization. And here’s how and whatever. So, you know, that was the, some of, you know, there’s a long, there’s 20 years in there, right.

RV: (09:33)

But it’s connected to your personal passion, personal belief system. And then you mentioned the grad work, and this is something I wanted to talk about. You know, we’ve had, we’ve had Dorsey on Jason Dorsey came on you know, the, our, our audiences, you know, a little bit familiar with that. But one thing that you, you do, he does, and Jay Baer does, and we’ve not really done, which we are in the middle of is really doing more data driven research. So you started it in PR in grad school, and now you do an annual study. And so talk to us about why data, how data, how does, how does that happen?

DH: (10:14)

I remember at the core, I love story. I love keynote speaking, but I thought was different. I saw speakers that were kind of motivational with no depth or value. And, and we said, instead of putting money into marketing, we’re going to give value. And really our research study became a way of showing value. That was a marketing play. We didn’t mean it to be, but that’s, that’s kind of what happened. So so the, we do the annual study to be on just the cutting edge of thought leadership around trust. You know, we call the trust outlook. That’s what it’s called. Trust, outlook.com. You can see our last several years, we had done one way back, you know, called trust trends in 2014 big study, I had done a course, my grad work, we put out some different studies over time that weren’t so deep.

DH: (11:00)

Like w w I remember we did one at the Obama Romney election to judge trust between those two at the time. So we, we did some other studies, but basically, and now we even had a tr revalidated by an outside university that, and they said, this is the framework for building trust globally. So it’s, it’s costs. It can be costly, but it’s the way of being authentic thought leaders in your space. And so we do use that data. Of course, it gets out on social media. You know, the trust outlook out of the trust edge leadership Institute puts this out and, and all that. And then, you know, I can start, you know, whether it’s in a boardroom or, or with 5,000 people in front of me with something very fresh and relevant to them. And even my, I know you have certified folks, my certified certified trust ed coaches around the world.

DH: (11:49)

There’s a whole part of the platform that we offer that has research slides. So you have trust and leadership slides. You have trust in sales, trust, and culture trust in policing. We have people dealing with our trustworthy for corruption issues and needs to Africa, you know, so, so it gives them grit and beef, and it serves them well, to be able to start with research, I’ll give you a one in one research I’m finding last year, the number one reason people wanted to work for an organization ahead of being paid more ahead of more autonomy ahead of a more fun work environment with the pink bunk table. Number one, they wanted to, they wanted trusted leadership. And really that just points to our whole, the whole new book, trusted leader. Like people either want to be a trusted leader, or they want to follow leaders. They trust and more than anything else. So that just backed up. You did take that one piece of data that can show 92% of people said this or that or whatever. And all of a sudden it backs up what we’ve been saying, and it gives grit to it. And people people want more depth than ever before. If you’re going to build a brand, you know, they want to feel like you genuinely do. It’s not just some idea pulled out of your head, you know?

RV: (13:03)

So when you, you mentioned the money part of this, and it also, you know, kind of makes sense. Like if you’re the trust guy you’re doing research and pulling data and all that stuff, it helps, it helps it be trusted. That’s very aligned,

DH: (13:15)

Huge differentiator by the way, huge. Because if you know who else in my space, that is a big, big name and whole family has a big name for years. The difference between us as I as far as trust goes, our book, our first books came out about the same time, but we have done all this, you know, proprietor

RV: (13:35)

Anybody, right? Like, like, yeah. I mean, just anybody do you know this data, which, you know, if you didn’t listen to the interview that we did with Jason Dorsey, you should go listen to that interview about how data is the differentiator. Now you mentioned the cost, right? So I thought that was interesting that you said, instead of putting it all into marketing, we put it into this and it kind of ends up also be marketing. Are these, you know, to pull off a study, are you talking thousands of dollars, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands? Like, I mean, what’s the,

DH: (14:09)

No, it depends. So for us, I can remember the first time I did study for maybe it was only, I don’t know. Well, not the first time, the first time I did the trust, outlook way of doing a study, it was, I don’t know you know, I don’t know, 30,000 or something, we’ve done them 10 hundreds of thousands, tens of thousands. And I did it only on the us side. And then I’m sharing the data. I’m at a massive conference up in Toronto and I’m like, Oh my goodness. Each piece of research says us the worst. I was so embarrassed that I said never again. And we went to global and global it’s much more expensive generally, but now we do it in house. So we do it in numbers that aren’t aren’t figure like those, like one year we were up toward almost, you know, a six-figure study there

RV: (14:57)

Just a field, the study. Then you got to like, produce the assets and like do the infographics and it’s, and the time, I mean, there’s a bunch of time to write the questions and all this stuff. Huh.

DH: (15:08)

But we, but nowadays it’s, it’s so worth it. I mean, we make, it’s such a differentiator that in an hour, you many people could do a study for, you know, that 20 to 30,000. That was actually quite, you know, I don’t know. It depends on how much of the globe you’re going to reach, but we, you know, one year we took the top, top GDP, peak country on every continent. So it wasn’t like every, every country, but then you have seven or whatever countries that we decided to, to go after. So you had some relevant, you know global data, but we’ve done them different sizes. But I think today you better do global, not just us generally unless you’re doing a specific area, like we did a specific executive edition. That was just us. And we also added interviews of those CEOs.

RV: (15:58)

Do you think this is part of what leads to this has led to speaking engagements is basically just publishing this kind of thought leadership. You know, we all hear, you know, we hear YouTube, LinkedIn podcast, blog, you know, book. We hear that pretty often. And then this is another whole piece is like, Oh, the study. And then is that the, I mean, are those the things that drive your speaking or is there some other like secret formula to getting speaking engagements?

DH: (16:26)

Well, the secret formula in speaking is in the mix, but I will tell you something I can tell you you know, when we make beautiful, real magazines, like I could grab one and show you across the room actually. So, you know, just trust, outlook that, you know, the whatever and, and you can see it

RV: (16:47)

And you print it, you make it as a magazine and print it. Okay. Okay.

DH: (16:50)

Yeah. And you can see the data in here if you’re watching, or I just said, you know, pie charts and whatever, that’s makes it interesting and fun to read and this many of this or whatever. So I’ve had someone hire me for a tens of tens of tens of thousands of dollars by opening up the page and saying, building trust in crisis or building trust in the midst of change. I’m like, Oh my gosh, it was this article right here. And that person hired me for a, you know, tens, tens, tens, tens of thousands of dollars a day. Because they’re like, this is what we need. Come spend a day with our executive team. We need to build trust in the midst of this change so that that’s not always you know, I’ve had, I mean, you go to the book and you go, you’ve written some amazing books that I love.

DH: (17:39)

I mean, that is another part of it. I had someone pick up the book of high powered, you know, Senator to pick up the book in the Denver airport. And that’s why I spoke to Congress twice. I had the president of Procter and gamble pick up the book in a, on a Sunday with his, when he’s with his daughter at a Barnes and noble. And that’s why I spoke to Procter and gamble. So th th there’s, there’s some kind of anomaly type things that, that, but th the, the book, the research for us, as far as speaking it is, you know, doing a great job and by the way, and you’ve done so well at this from back to your Toastmasters data, everything, you know, but I’ve had mentors on like I’ve hired comedy, I’ve hired, you know comedians to look at myself.

DH: (18:26)

I had helped me. I’ve had, I’ve hired speech coaches. I’ve hired improv. I’ve heard all these things. I’ve had you look at my speech before I gave my hall of fame speech. If you remember, because I’m like all of the mentors on being great on stage the book piece, the research piece you know, there’s social media pieces that we’ve gone more all in on than we ever were before too. But I would say something about the speaking piece, a big differentiator for us by the way is how we think people, huh? That’s, it’s, we’re just better at thinking everybody. And then many, like, I can’t even believe all the people that say, you know, the other 25, 35, 45, $55,000 speakers. I never got anything for having them at our conference. I couldn’t believe how you followed up and thanked us, and we send a big package and all this stuff. So I think, you know, there’s all, all kinds of little things that can make it, you know, build your brand

RV: (19:26)

Well. And, you know, I’d take that in investing into your business and investing into your trade, both the, both the message part of it and the depth of the thought leadership, and then as well as the presentation of it, you onstage, which seems like all the way back to those very early days, you’ve always been investing into it and growing. So, so you started in 1999. I’d love to hear just a, kind of just a couple minutes on your business model today, right? So this is 20, over 20 years later. Now you’ve got a team, you’ve got these great websites, these great demo videos like you, you, you, you can see how over years it has built up. And, and I’d love specifically for you to talk a little bit about like the train, the trainer model and the certification business model, because I think you do a really great job of, of taking your curriculum and having other people be able to teach it, you know, and that’s, I think that’s a scalable model for what, you know, a lot of people can learn from.

DH: (20:31)

So it sounded the research, the ways we fulfill the mission of developing trusted leaders and organizations around the world, remember we think that’s helping to deal with the root cause. So we’re, we’re training, leading leadership events, sales events, all these kinds of things, but are all these different problems, but there’s three business units. One is speaking and training from us. That’s me speaking a hundred events a year. Now we have a five camera studio right here, 20 yards from rehab producer. Full-Time I mean, we’re doing that. Whether that’s onstage live or virtually, we’re doing, you know, that’s, that’s a kind of, that’s a one and done though, right. Then there’s, then we have the consulting piece. And that is, you know, I had built several assessments in my grad work and was overseen by the, the guy that wrote the book on three 60 gap analysis.

DH: (21:16)

So we have an enterprise trust index it’s built on 50 years of Accenture data and, and, and my grad work and its way of measuring trust in big organizations and closing gaps. That’s consulting. I have consultants subcontracted on my team to do big. Those are big, significant issues. We’re working with the global pharmaceutical that you all would know right now, trying to pill trust globally with the vaccines going on all this stuff. Okay. So that’s, that’s really customized part, our biggest push right now. And the love is this certification part. And that is we certify independent coaches and corporate trainers inside of companies to use our content, but we don’t just certify them. We support them. So they pay monthly or annually. And we heard a lot of people say, well, I’ve got this one. We, you know, I got certified and then I never got support, or I got certified.

DH: (22:07)

And I just got these five, you know, 20 videos and worksheets. We give them everyday, my 21 years, we took and built ourselves and coded and created a beautiful platform that has everything that we heard they wanted. So it has, you know, research-based content and courses they can use on their people. It has assessments unlimited. They can use these assessments. They can see the cool, beautiful pie charts and everything, and how they can close gaps. They CA it has community. So I’ve got, you know, I’ve had the Dean of Penn state and the Dean of university of Nebraska that are certified the police to the seat, Las Vegas, and the, you know, people in Uganda, Kenya, Quebec answering them one of the former heads of, you know Nike is one. So you have this group really cool group of learning pros, whether the inside of companies or independence that then monthly, we support, they, they have the online community built kind of a, you could say a Facebook, whatever, right. In our site. And then we have monthly calls where they get to share ideas and sharpen each other. And, and yeah,

RV: (23:17)

So they pay up, they basically pay a fee to get certified. And part of that includes access to this library of stuff they’re in this community. And then they have the ability to like, reteach your content, effectively

DH: (23:33)

Assessments on limit. They can make so much money, you know, to using our content and having our support. And they get real people in my company when they need help. And they get these monthly calls and they get our annual event with it. So they pay an onboarding fee and then they pay monthly or annually, whichever way they choose on the support and ongoing we’re updating the site all the time. It’s we had some, we’ve had some big companies come and look at it. Like they heard about what we’re doing. Like, what are you doing? This is, you know,

RV: (24:01)

I mean, they pay, they pay a one-time fee at the beginning, and then monthly after that is basically how it works

DH: (24:07)

Or they pay the one-time fee plus annual, and then they can use it for you. But they pay either, either they pay that one time fee, plus they’re paying monthly, or they play the one-time fee and an annual, and then it doesn’t get again until another year.

RV: (24:21)

I gotcha. But, but, but, and so that is, that’s a model that you guys are doing, where basically you can certify and train and support other people to go out and teach your content, which you make money from. They can make money from, and it helps you spread the mission.

DH: (24:38)

And, and it’s so fun. Like I had a, I was at a banquet with John Maxwell and I got seated up, you know, I didn’t necessarily do it over. I just got to be seated with him. Anyway, we you know, he said he said, David, you’ve got to stop just letting corporate dudes. Cause I used to do train the trainer only like you buy this big pack, you know, three ring binder, and then you can you buy the workbooks? And the annuity is in buying the workbooks. And the thing is today, people want it flexible. They want to teach one-on-one one on a thousand. They want to be able to do all these things. So we said, well, if we can support them, I mean, it’s cool. What’s happening. This one, one of our corporate trainers, our trainers in Indonesia, she’s using our work on banking and oil executives. And she’s using our work in this foundation with girls that are coming out of sex trafficking to rebuild trust. I mean, how fun is it to see the mix of use of, of, of these coaches that are making money with it and making a difference with it?

RV: (25:35)

Yeah, really, really cool stuff. It’s a long way from your dollar 40 11 in the basement with no windows.

DH: (25:46)

There’s a lot of people like you, like, you know, mentors, God’s grace, my wife, I mean, this has been a journey. And you know, thankfully it’s been amazing

RV: (25:59)

Well and influential leader that the trust edge, if you will, you’ll want to, one of your first books is to me a book that is, I, I think of it, like take the stairs. It’s a book that every single person should read. No matter your age, your position, your title, like you should read the trust edge. I fully plan on having our boys read it. Like as soon as they can. It’s, it’s, it’s just like a solid staple that everybody should read.
We have the trusted leader, the brand new book coming out about how to apply this inside of organizations and to apply it to your own life, to develop a culture of trust. Where should people go if they want to get trusted leader, you know, right now I know you’ve got bonuses and all that stuff at the time, this is coming out. So where should people go to connect with you?

DH: (27:30)

The best place where we have some special guests for all your listeners is trusted leader, book.com/rory, R O R Y. So trusted leader, book.com/rory. Otherwise you can find everything at trust, edge.com and all kinds of things, but you get a bunch of free resources. If you just go to trusted leader, book.com/rory,

RV: (27:54)

I love it. So go there trusted later. Book.Com/Rory pick up the book. I’m telling you this is quality stuff. Not, not just the, you know, the watching clearly the way that they do what they do is super valuable for you as a, as a, you know, someone as a personal brand, but also the actual substance of the content that David and the team they teach is absolutely extraordinary. Incredible. It’s made such a difference in my life, our marriage, our kids, how we run business, we are just huge, huge fans of the trust edge. And so excited about the trusted leader. Now, applying this and helping our leaders go through it. So go to trusted leader, book.com/rory. David, thank you for being here, brother. We wish you all the best. Thank you.