Over the course of his career in the United States Navy, Chris Diaz grew fascinated with studying the differences between his fellow fighters. What made one person successful in their role, and what caused other folks to struggle?
After wrapping up a tour in Afghanistan, Chris pursued the answers to questions like those at Drexel University. On his way toward earning a PhD in clinical psychology, he discovered how to help athletes and other kinds of professionals reach their peak performance.
Now, he’s running a business that helps leaders understand the parallels between the playing field and the boardroom. It’s the story of Serve1, on The Build.
More about today’s guest:
From 2820 Radio in Philadelphia, it's The Build. Conversations with entrepreneurs and innovators about their dreams, their trials, and their challenges. Joe Taylor Jr.: Potential. Over the course of his career in the United States Navy, Chris Diaz grew fascinated with studying the differences between his fellow fighters. What made one person successful in their role, and what caused other folks to struggle? After wrapping up a tour in Afghanistan, Chris pursued the answer to questions like those at Drexel University. On his way toward earning a PhD in Clinical Psychology, he studied how to help athletes and other kinds of professional reach their peak performance. Now, he's running a business that helps leaders understand the parallels between the playing field and the board room. It's the story of Serve1. Coming up next on The Build. Announcer: The Build is made possible with support from 2820 Press, providing business consulting and content strategy services to customer-obsessed companies nationwide. More information at 2820press.com. Joe Taylor Jr.: It's The Build. I'm Joe Taylor Jr., joined today by Chris Diaz, founder of Serve1. Welcome to the show. Chris Diaz: Thank you so much for having me, Joe. Joe Taylor Jr.: So, a lot of stuff going on in your background. You get outside significantly more than I do I think. Chris Diaz: Maybe a little. Joe Taylor Jr.: You spent six years in the US Navy, and then coming off the back of that experience, quite a bit of travel, decide to launch a business focus on psychology and success. Tell me a little bit about that journey. What's the origin story of your company? Chris Diaz: It really comes from a desire to share the knowledge and experience that I've learned over my time in the military and what I've come to understand while working with PhD clinical psychology at Drexel University back in Philadelphia. I'm interested in how people get the most out of life. The psychological tools, principles, skills that can be utilized wherever you are in your life with whatever you want to do, because, quite frankly, everybody wants to be able to do more, reach more, to be more, but how do we do that in the lives that we live? Chris Diaz: So while serving in the US Navy, I would look around and see some of my closest friends go off to the special programs like Navy SEALS, MARSOC marines, or special forces with the military. And I would see that those individuals that were able to successfully make it through the courses were, physically speaking, about on par with everybody else. The differentiator came down to how they applied these mental skills. At that point I realized that I needed to understand my own mind better so that I could then share that knowledge with others. Joe Taylor Jr.: So what of your personal journey have you been able to turn into platform or roadmap that you share with your clients? Chris Diaz: Yeah, I think this podcast isn't long enough to cover everything that I've come to learn, but I'll try. Many of these skills and techniques that we utilize are things that can be done wherever you are in your life and everyday. For example, how you focus on being more present in each and every single moment. Some people call this mindfulness practices, right? That's one thing that we work with our client, the importance of understanding that as dynamic organizations we have to take a holistic approach to improving performance. So providing awareness to people that we work with and our clients on the importance of nutrition, of sleep, of exercise for performance, of recovery, of what psychological framework you have, what's your environment that you're in. These are all important components of looking at the makeup when someone is trying to improve their performance. Joe Taylor Jr.: It feels like as Americans, we live in what appears to be a pretty abundant society. What are the things that get in the way of nutrition and mindfulness? Chris Diaz: The fast-paced environment that we live in is what gets in our way. There's this need for instant gratification. There's a fallacy of multi-tasking that exists where we come to believe that we can do more than one thing at one time, when the science and research is pretty clear that our brains aren't capable of doing that. In the entrepreneurship world, there's a bit of a culture, not just in entrepreneurship, but in general there's a culture that promotes and enhances working late hours, being up at 2 o'clock in the morning, sending emails, things that are really counter-productive to increasing performance. Our society as a whole, I believe, is not really set up to teach us the way that we get the most out of the limited amount of time that we actually have here. Joe Taylor Jr.: I think we'll come back to that in a moment because I want to hear your point of view about building a business if you're going to deliberately avoid what we hear referred to a lot as a grinding. We hear all the time about, and I've talked to folks on the show who will tell me very proudly about the first few years of the business that they spent up very, very late at night, up very, very early in the morning, and then at month 18 something snapped. Chris Diaz: Sure, I'm happy to talk about the fact that we absolutely "grind." We just grind a little smarter. We take deliberate steps to make that we're maximizing the resources that we actually have, where we put our energy towards, how we think about things. It's no different than any other entrepreneur in that there is a great deal of sacrifice. We just try to utilize the science that we've come to understand and know to be true to our maximum benefit. Joe Taylor Jr.: So tell me a little bit about the typical or the ideal client that you serve. How do they find you, and how do you start to put them on a path to achieving the results that they're looking for? Chris Diaz: Sure. Primarily we work with athletes, and athletes can be defined in different ways. Collegiate athletes, working with either individual sports or team sports. The individual that works out at the gym we consider an athlete, right? So some of our clients are Crossfit [inaudible 00:05:57] that we work with. What we try to do is really come at it from a place of needing to understand that individual, what their needs are, and really what their goals are. So there's not this tailor-made system that exists for everyone, that one shop fits all. It needs to really be customized and more of a concierge service to meet the individual wherever they are. Joe Taylor Jr.: Tell me a little bit about the team that you've build to help tackle all these challenges both for growing the business and working with your clients. Chris Diaz: Yeah, I'm very, very, very blessed to be surrounded by people who are much smarter than I am. My co-founder, Samantha Winters, is our Director of Research. SHe's finishing up her PhD in Applied Behavioral Neuroscience, so she comes from the aspect to performance looking at the data analytics, neuroimaging, those are her specialties. On our team also is Emily Galvin, who is a certified sports consultant, and she takes over our sports psychology consultation services. She's worked with a number of soccer teams in the area. We are diverse collective, so we also have a number of nutritionists that we work with and just specialists in their individual fields. That's a little bit of our team. Joe Taylor Jr.: Tell me a little bit about how you decided to make the transition into becoming a founder. What was the inciting incident for you that said, "I think I can make a business out of this"? Chris Diaz: You know, every story is unique. I didn't know what consulting was. I was in the city after getting out of the Navy going around and speaking at events, doing talks, and at one point I had one friend who was working at McKinsey and they said, "You know what you're doing is called consulting." And it's like, I don't know what that is. So I went to Google and realized, "Oh, this does sound a lot like what I'm doing-" Joe Taylor Jr.: This is a thing that people charge for. Chris Diaz: Yeah, lots of money apparently! So falling into this world is really how I describe that story. I realized if I'm being a consultant, I need to figure out how to best do this. So we went ahead and moved forward and found the steps to form an LLC and kind of get started in this. Joe Taylor Jr.: And then in terms of attracting your first clients, were those folks that you attracted from speaking events or in the community? Chris Diaz: Yeah. Very much so. So in the community I had gained a reputation for some of the work that I had done in the veteran space here in Philadelphia, and I got approached by some local business leaders in the city about helping to produce a TV show where they would take adaptive veterans. Adaptive is the term that I used to use to describe handicapped or disabled. So these veterans from across the country would be the best in their particular sports, gold medalists Paralympians, world record holders, and put them through a unique competition that would take them outside of their comfort zone. So I was asked to come on board and serve as the Chief of Operations for this program, and it successfully aired last Veteran's Day on CBS Sports. We're very proud of the work that we did on developing this show called The Triumph Games. So really, again, falling into these opportunities. Chris Diaz: From The Triumph Games came other clients. Our major sponsor for The Games was Johnson & Johnson, and they have an organization called The Human Performance Institute, which is one of their subsidiaries. After the work that I did with The Triumph Games, they said, "Hey. We'd like you to come and actually be one of our coaches." So now I serve as a performance coach for them. It's really one client leading to many clients and many more opportunities. Joe Taylor Jr.: Now we've had a number of folks on the show who are veterans or who work with veterans in their business. One of the themes that I hear again and again is this challenge that veterans face transitioning out of military life into civilian life. Folks often struggle with identity. They struggle with finding a place to fit, bias that employers may have. What are some of the things that you've seen for your clients and your experience that civilian business can do to really unlock the talent of veterans who are coming over from active service? Chris Diaz: Well thank you, Joe. That's actually a very important issue and something that's near and dear to my heart. The reality is that there is this idea that veterans need some type of special support or handouts, and that really couldn't be further from the truth. Veterans have been leading this country since our very inception. So this generation of veterans that's going out right now is no different from that. There just seems to be a public misperception about what it is to be a veteran in this country now. Chris Diaz: The way that I like to describe the transition that we go through is in this term called the perpetual transition. That's described in that way, because a veteran will leave the service and some veterans will go straight to school, like myself, other veterans may move back home for awhile, some veterans may start working right now. There's this constant cycle, this perpetual transition, that occurs until an individual finds their footing and finds their place in the world. The fact is that often times employers are looking for veterans but aren't meeting the veteran wherever they are during their perpetual transition, causing a bit of disconnect. That's what I've experienced in terms of what that transition is like for the individual veteran moving from the military to civilian life. Joe Taylor Jr.: So for civilian business owners, especially entrepreneurs, what are some of the things that they can do to attract that talent? Not necessarily frame it up, as you put it, as a "handout", but what can we do to really unlock the talents of folks that are coming over? Chris Diaz: I think that conversations like this are great for raising awareness about the fact that when you're hiring a veteran ... And I'm very cautious to make blanket statements because frankly I believe there is a bit of putting a veteran on a pedestal for what they've done. I absolutely believe that anyone who's served this country, and there's different ways of serving by the way, deserves our respect and admiration. But to think that because somebody is a veteran, this means that I need to hire them, I think that is doing a disservice to your company and it's doing quite a disservice to veterans in general. Part of the problem that exists is that veterans are people, and so as people we all have very different opinions about the best approach to things. So I never want to come across as speaking for all veterans. Chris Diaz: Now, how I would look at it is when an employer or entrepreneur is making a decision about a veteran, understanding that their experience is gonna involve many of the things that entrepreneurships need to strive. They need to be quick thinking on their feet. They're gonna need to have to work with people from all different places and be used to that environment. Be able to understand the hierarchy of a structure, to know what it means to grind as you said. Those are all characteristics that any employer would want to have. Not just because it's a veteran, but because that's the kind of employee that you want. So I believe that those are the type of things that many of us bring to the table. Joe Taylor Jr.: We'll come back to the idea of the "grind" and how you're actually your business. Often, in my practice, I run across folks who have built a business and then they want to go out and find speaking engagements or build a platform that they can use to promote the business. It sounds like you built that platform first and extended a runway to turn that into a business. So what's your typical week in terms of the percentage of time you spend doing things like speaking, recording, and creating shows versus actually the work that you're doing with clients one-on-one? Chris Diaz: It's one of those constant struggles for us. I like the word struggle because that means that is takes a lot of work, thoughtful effort, and planning to be able to make this work for us. It's not easy running a business and working on a PhD and having a family and doing the things that, really quite frankly, excite me and make me enjoy life. So a normal week for me? I don't really have a normal week, in terms. Joe Taylor Jr.: What's normal? Chris Diaz: Yeah, what's normal? Serve1 is part of a veteran-owned business incubator here at Benjamin's Desk, called The Bunker. So that's a weekly opportunity of me, a PhD, to sit around a table with 10 Philadelphia-based CEOs that all have their MBAs and running businesses. I think of The Bunker experience for me as an MBA, which I call here the Masters of Business Application, because I'm actually getting the real-world experience. So things that for us are benefit are we had the CEO of Saxbys come and talk to us, and the Josh Kopelmans of the world, and the David Bookspans, and so I'm really gaining this insight from leaders in the space. That is one of the most valuable experiences being here at Benjamin's Desk and something I look forward to every week. That's about four hours. Chris Diaz: Our team meets at least once a week, and we put in about eight hours of deliberate work. Quite frankly, for us to be able to be successful, I need people on the team who are force multipliers, who are people who are gonna be able to go out there, bring ideas, and then execute on them on their own, not a lot of hand holding, because we just don't have the time to do that. So that's how we try to get the most out of the time that we have. Joe Taylor Jr.: Thinking about the kind of talent that you want to attract to your team, who do you look for? What makes a good team member for Serve1? Chris Diaz: I love that question, because we've given a lot of thought to it. I love catching people that are on the way up and rising. The question that I ask anybody who has an interest in working with us is I ask them to clearly ... to see whether or not they've given some thought about what their purpose is in life. If Serve1 can't help you get closer to fulfilling your purpose then this isn't the right place for you. We put a great deal of value in that, because in this world where there are so many different opportunities for you, when you have to be an entrepreneur, you have to know that you are helping somebody fulfill their purpose in order to know you're going to get the best out of them. Is it going to be working on the weekends? Is it going to be a late night? Is it going to be bringing out ideas and feeling comfortable because they know that their purposes align with the work that they're doing? So, that's something that I've put a lot of stock into a potential team member. Chris Diaz: And then people really that aren't interested with talking about how we look at performance but really live their lives. So everyone on my team, we're all active athletes. Sam is a competitive triathlete. Whitney, our Nutritionist, has run a number of marathons. I practice Brazilian jiu-jitsu. So we live the life that we work with our clients about. That's another important component when we're looking at potential team members. Joe Taylor Jr.: Thinking about purpose. Do we know what our purpose is? Do we determine it? Or does it find us? Chris Diaz: That's a wonderful question, and I don't know that there's an easy answer to it. I've recently realized how blessed I am to have come upon my purpose relatively early on in my career, where now everything in my life is aligned towards it. I don't draw distinctions between school, work, and family, because it's all really aligned to this purpose. For me, helping people get the most out of their life, having impact in a positive way on them. That's fortunate, and I don't know whether or not I thought of that or whether that found me. So it's something that I think I'd probably need to think a little bit more about. Joe Taylor Jr.: What do you think surprised you the most about this journey so far as an entrepreneur? What are you spending time on that you never thought that you'd be spending time on? Chris Diaz: I spend a lot more time on the business than I do in the business, something that I've come to understand is pretty common across the board. Time, soul-sucking, logistical items that you think are just easy line items that you can check off your box are never really that way. So it's trying to build something with no structure and trying to do something that's new and different, and how you go about understanding that there are no roadmaps and that everyone kind of has to figure out their own path. Those are some of the things that I've come to learn fro this process. Joe Taylor Jr.: So what I love about your story so far is that you're doing a lot of deep work with clients. You're part of The Bunker Labs incubator in Philadelphia, and we've talked about Todd Conner and his organization, how they're doing really great work across the country, but service business doesn't really fit the typical model of a business you would see in a startup accelerator, or an incubator. So tell me a little bit how you expect to scale the business when much of it is built on individual client work. Chris Diaz: There's obviously, as you know, no easy answer of how you scale a service industry. We're looking at what kind of content we can develop and then deliver via technology, so having potentially a subscription service where people can log online and we send them directly to their homes weekly things, daily things depending on it, right? We're interested in the use of Skype as a way for some of our sports psychology services to be offered directly to the client. So if an athlete is getting prepped for a game, they could dial in and get a Skype session right before having to compete. These are all the kinds of questions that keep us up a little bit at night, right. Trying to discover how do we scale and bring our ideas out to the masses. Joe Taylor Jr.: One of the challenges in the marketplace right now as we compete so often for attention among consumers with lots of other things that take up both time and money every month. Thinking about your service and the other things that would compete for attention, who are your competitors? Is it other providers that are doing what you do? Or is it something like a Netflix bill? Or some other activity that's kind of keeping somebody outside of that focus or outside of that flow? Chris Diaz: It's very interesting. We feel like we've found a bit of a niche in this marketplace. If we were to go out to Chestnut right now and do a 360 loop, we could probably find about five different gyms, whether it's a jiu-jitsu gym, a kettlebell gym, Pilates or yoga studio. What we find is that what we do at Serve1 is that we complement all of these organizations, right? Because these businesses are selling performance, they're selling improvement, they're selling the best version of the individuals, and many of them fall short in how you round out that process. That's where we come in and we deliver the content that we deliver and really the work that we do. Chris Diaz: So we don't find ourselves in this crowded market space in terms of a direct competitor, because I don't really feel that there's anybody in the area that's doing this type of work this way. Joe Taylor Jr.: One of the interesting things that I find about personal development, person improvement, Americans have this great heritage of self-help. It goes back to Benjamin Franklin. Folks will say he was one of the first self-help authors specifically. And yet, there's a lot of skepticism. There's a lot of folks that feel like, is this something that we're gonna get a return on if we invest time? Tell me a little bit about how you can measure success for a client? How would a client know that they're moving positively towards the goals that they've set with you? Chris Diaz: That's a fantastic question. We stay away from moniker of self-help or motivation or speaking, those types of things because we are first and foremost science practitioners. That's bit of a differentiator in what we do. Part of what we do is we have a hypothesis, and then we go about testing that hypothesis. That's what Sam is so great at with the actual numbers and the data analytics. So, you're not going to come in and work with us and say, "This is how I feel, and I think I felt better. I'm not sure." There are tangible measurements and assessments that we give our clients that are tailor-made to meet your goals that help you understand whether or not you're reaching them. It is very much an evidence based approach to how you maximize your performance and not just like, "Well I think I felt better at the end of it." Joe Taylor Jr.: Hmm, interesting. Think about the growth that you expect to achieve for your company over time. What kind of goals are you seeing for yourself? What are some of the milestones you want to see Serve1 reach over the next 3-5 years? Chris Diaz: It's an exciting time for us, and because of the position that we find ourselves in, we can be very selective with who we choose to work with. That's the approach that we're taking, where we're not trying to set the world on fire with a million customers. We have a slow-burn strategy in place, where we are going to strategically align ourselves with businesses that meet our overall vision. Then develop deep relationships with them and the experience and skillset to be able then to take it to bigger clients. That is where our focus really is. It's on the individual relationships that we're building here in Philadelphia, huge sports town, fantastic culture of fitness. We want to be part of that growth for the next 3-5 years. Joe Taylor Jr.: One of the things I observe as well is that we've allowed competitive sports to take on a slightly larger role in the lives of our kids and our children's lives. How do you actually steer kids in a way that they can focus on performance in a way that brings positive results across their life and not just the metric of "did your team win or lose that week." Chris Diaz: Great question. I think the answer is probably two-fold. So working with parents, really, to provide them in awareness and understanding that the idea that early sport specialization is what's necessary to help your kids get to an elite level is wrong. There's no science to support that. It's quite clearly been disproven, and yet there's still this pervasive idea that "if I don't have my kid in lacrosse at five years old and carrying a stick year-round, he's never gonna go to college and do that." So early sport specialization, breaking that myth up is part of the work that we do. Chris Diaz: The second part about how we work with kids, or individuals in general, is really making it not about the outcome. We're not outcome-focused. I tell one of our clients who's a men's soccer team that they're never going to hear us talking about wins, because it's not about wins for us. It's about the process and doing the tangible things every day that will lead to wins, that will lead to these results. But it's not in the win itself that we measure success. It's that approach and philosophy which is different from what many people think, where, yeah, we absolutely care about people getting the most out of life, but we recognize that there's things that are out of their control that don't determine whether or not it was a successful game if they didn't end up with more points than the other team. Joe Taylor Jr.: So shifting to a focus on the process, it feels like you start to unhook from some of the pressure or the stress that sometimes comes with that focus on outcomes. What are some of the things that you find that we, as Americans, put in our heads that get in the ways of, I won't even say success, we'll say being in a mindful state or appreciating what we have? Chris Diaz: There is such huge stigma around mental health, probably one of the bigger barriers to achieving these performance gains that are necessary. I can't tell you how often I'll be speaking to a coach or an administrator or general manager who will say, "Oh yeah, no. I get this whole mental thing." But there's such a stigma around mental health, and I happen to work in two arenas where there's the most stigma: the military and in sports. So breaking that down, I believe is what we're excited about, because there is a changing wave that's coming that we're riding where they're realizing, "Wait a second, there's only so much physical that I can possibly do. Where's that differentiator going to come from?" And we believe that happens between the ears. Science proves that. The rest of the world proves that. So we're glad to be part of that change. Joe Taylor Jr.: So, thing about the rest of the world, are there specific countries that you observe that are a little bit more advanced than us? Here I go talking about winning again, but who's doing it well? What countries can we look to as role models for things that we could start to adopt? Chris Diaz: Yeah. A lot of the research that I end up reading comes out of countries like New Zealand, Australia, and the U.K. It's really taking a progressive approach to this holistic version of performance. It's what some professional sports team here in this country now are doing. I have to give a shout out to the Philadelphia Union who have one of the more progressive performance programs run by Garrison Draper. It's not a coincidence that this is the best year that the Union are having. We are about to make the playoffs this year. It's because they're taking this understanding that performance is more than just how much weight you lift and how many goals you score. It's tracking with GPS devices and using data and metrics to help inform decisions. It's tracking nutrition. It's understanding sleep, recovery, and reconditioning programs. Those are the type of things that are happening now at a broader scale, but still haven't penetrated even the most major sports teams. Teams like the New York Yankees, which I happen to love, still don't have like this approach. It's slowly happening in this country, but there's still ripe for opportunity. Joe Taylor Jr.: I think you bring up an interesting topic here. The dominant sports in America have been football, baseball, basketball. But we've seen in the past 20 years such an embrace of soccer to which the soccer. To which the rest of the world looks at us and say, "Where have you been?!" Chris Diaz: I call it futbol, but yes, it is playing a little bit of catch up. It is one of the sports that Serve1 specifically specializes in, but even sports that have this culture of maybe being resistant to psychological services, we've seen the benefit. One of my mentors is a man by the name of Dr. Michael Gervais, who serves as the Sports Psychologist for the Seattle Seahawks. Their organization has gone through transformational change under the leadership of coach Pete Carroll implementing these psychological services that are offered by Mike. Even in the world of professional football, psychology is starting to have greater affect. Joe Taylor Jr.: For someone who doesn't necessarily define themselves as an athlete, what are the two or three things that a listener could do to bring more mindfulness to their life and to maybe shake out some of the things that are holding them back from the success they seek in business and their personal life? Chris Diaz: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share this, Joe. I would ask the listeners to take a brief moment and place their feet firmly on the ground. Really just allow yourself to be where your feet are. Take a deep breath, close your eyes, and be wherever you are in time and space. As you take a breath, your mind will start to wander. You're going to have these automatic thoughts like "this is boring" and "what's the point of this?" Bring your attention back to your breath. Chris Diaz: It's as simple as that. It's bringing conscious, not just mental, attention to whatever you are, wherever you are in time. That's mindfulness. So it's not this necessary, eastern philosophy where you have to sit in the lotus pose for 20 hours a day. It can be done wherever you are. Right before starting this podcast, I took a mindful breath to make sure that I stayed here and was centered. That's one thing that you can do. Chris Diaz: Another thing that actually came out of the famous Positive Penn Psychology Department by Martin Selignman is keeping a gratitude journal. The science is pretty clear that when we find things to be more grateful for it improves our quality of life. So every morning before I get my day started, I write down three things from the previous day that I'm grateful for. Have felt massive benefits from just this little practice. Chris Diaz: So those are just a couple of things that listeners could do, regardless of being an athlete. I will say that while the focus of the work that we do is with athletes right now, that's not to say that any of these skills and techniques can't help anybody. We very much recognize the benefit of that. We've just decided to take on this bare of sport as our market. Joe Taylor Jr.: Thinking into the future, 5-10 years out, how big of a company does Serve1 become? How many folks do you think you impact in a given year? Where do you want this thing to grow? Chris Diaz: Fantastic question. Five years from now, I see Serve1's model of performance being implemented across sports franchises, across local gyms, across industries that value performance whether that be you're an attorney, a surgeon, an entrepreneur. You being able to utilize these skills wherever you are in your life. Joe Taylor Jr.: Great. Chris Diaz, Serve1. Thanks so much for stopping by The Build. Chris Diaz: Thank you so much for having me, Joe. Joe Taylor Jr.: The Build is a production of 2820 Radio in Philadelphia. Our producer is Katie Cohen Zahniser, and our consulting producer is Lori Taylor. Our talent coordinator is Katrina Smith. Our research team includes Allison Hartman, John Maccini. Our post-production team is led by Evan Wilder at Flowly Audio in Detroit. My name is Joe Taylor Jr. Thanks for listening to The Build.