Episode 146: DeliverFund Founder Nic McKinley on Defining Your OWN SUCCESS
"When you look at a problem like human trafficking and you know you have the ability to help solve that problem, how can you not do that?"
We're joined in our first episode of 2023 by Nic McKinley - former Air Force Pararescueman and CIA officer, founder + chairman of DeliverFund, all-around badass. Trust us, he's been called the "real-life Jack Ryan."
Nic discusses how he ended up on the path of entrepreneurship starting DeliverFund, a counter human trafficking organization using data and technology to fight slavery around the globe. He also details how he defines success at this point in his career, the radical creative thinking his team uses to fight trafficking, and his stance on TikTok and internet regulation.
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Nic: You know, we can talk about AI and things like that, but AI is not coming for creatives. As long as people are creative, they will always have a job. Now, are we gonna be able to do that faster? You know, are you gonna be able to create some graphic design that you don't really wanna spend your time doing and you can have an AI do it now? Sure. Or, or writing some copy for SEO that doesn't really matter how good it is. It just matters that it has the right words. And so many of 'em. AI can do that. Sure. Absolutely. But the creative process is one that is truly human.
Lisa: All right. Welcome back to Outside By Design. I know that we took a break for a while, I've had this podcast since like 2012 and just took a break and rebranded it a little bit. So, the big difference between the new Outside By Design and the former Outside By Design is that now the focus is less on the business of creativity in the outdoor industry, and it's more about people who have designed a life outside the norm.
Because after having this podcast for like 10 years, I was ready to have bigger and deeper conversations with people. And I have loved every single guest that has been on the show and I wanna know more about them, and I wanna ask harder questions, and I want to know what their thoughts are on, like, what it means to be successful and how they define that. So I've changed the podcast a bit and I think that you're going to love it.
Today is a baller episode. We are kicking off this season strong. I got to interview Nic McKinley and he's kind of a big deal. You can Google that guy. He is the founder and chairman of deliverfund.org and his mission is to end human trafficking. I always research every guest as thoroughly as I can before I interview them, so that I can ask a lot of hard questions. And an article popped up right away from a website called spyscape.com, and it quotes Nic McKinley as a former CIA officer and US Air Force Pararescueman and a Harvard graduate, but yeah, that he spent 17 years parachuting out of helicopters, dodging bullets, and coming face-to-face with terrorists, which he didn't really get into in the podcast. But then it quotes him saying, “Anytime you're in those situations, I have what I call my rules of operation. The first rule is to be cool.
The second rule is to not get caught. And the third rule is that if you do get caught, you refer to rule number one, and just be cool.” I think that's brilliant.
So I got to ask him a lot of questions about how he created a life outside of the box and designed a dream life, and I think he's surprisingly humble and very mission driven and an all around cool human being.So I was delighted by this interview and I think you will be too. So enough of me. Let's take it to Nick.
Lisa: Well Nick thank you so much for being on the podcast today.
Nic: Hey thanks for having me Lisa. It's great to be here.
Lisa: Cool. So the very very first question I ask everyone is to describe where you are in the world.
Nic: Where I am in the world: one of the most beautiful places in the world. Having lived in, you know, 14 different countries and traveled to even more, I have seen a fair amount of the world and the Flathead Valley in Montana is definitely, definitely top 5 most beautiful.
Lisa: Yes, it is. I lived in a little cabin between Whitefish and Olney for like 10 years and I had a pretty I had a hard time assimilating back into civilization when I moved back to Colorado.
Nic: The dream life.
Lisa: Yeah. Okay, so the internet tells me that you're as close as it comes to the actual Jack Ryan, Tom Clancy's fictional hero. Um, there's a lot out there when I googled you, so I'm just kind of curious in your own words like what is your story and who are you?
Nic: Ah, my story is extremely interesting, I'm a whole whole lot more like Forrest Gump than Jack Ryan. But it's just because of the incredible opportunities I've had and the incredible, just, the doors that God has opened for me and allowed me to to walk through. So I was actually orphaned when I was very young, before I was two years old. I ended up being adopted by an amazing family from Wyoming at the age of 3 who then ported me off to Billings, Montana. Now from Montana standards, Billings is obviously not the shining gem of the state. But as compared to most other places in the country and a lot of other places in the world, it was a phenomenal place to grow up. Didn't realize how lucky I was to grow up in Montana, wanted to get the heck out of there, and instead of going straight to college - this was not a popular decision around my dinner table - I enlisted in the United States Air Force to become an Air Force pararescueman. Which is the Air Force's ground special operations component. One of them, one of the two.
And I was a Air Force pararescueman for 10 years, did 14 combat deployments as a pararescueman. Then left, joined my first startup where I was the third employee in a private personnel recovery startup primarily working for, you know, Fortune 25 companies, and then I got recruited to the Central Intelligence Agency and I spent a number of years there within a very small specialized operational facilitation unit. I did 16 combat tours with the Central Intelligence Agency. And then I left in 2015 to start a counter human trafficking nonprofit called DeliverFund and I also started a private intelligence company which ultimately ended up becoming a software company called Verify. And I have a consulting practice, and the world's most amazing wife, and a 3 year old little boy who is borderline a terrorist and an absolutely beautiful 5 year old little girl. So that's me in a nutshell.
Lisa: [Laughs] Wow. Okay, that's a lot. I guess, just, you know, most of our audience is not military. We're mostly creatives and people who work in marketing. So you were jumping out of airplanes for the Air Force and then - or like, what what was that like?
Nic: Yeah, so yeah, over two hundred free fall jumps while I was in the in the Air Force. But one of the things that I specialized in in the Air Force pararescue teams and pararescue writ large specializes in mountain rescue. We’re the only special operations component that has a very specific set of training where every single PJ goes through a baseline training in mountain rescue. And we learn rescue in all environments, right? Everything from one hundred and thirty feet below, you know, the water level, you know and diving, all the way to… I believe the record for the highest altitude mountain rescue was actually held by the pararescue team in Alaska. So we have a very… the pararescue teams have a very tight knit relationship with the outdoors community and with outdoor brands because, yeah, we probably single-handedly got Arc'teryx started, you know, and The North Face and Mountain Hardware and all that before that. We are an insane purchaser of outdoor equipment and every PJ can ski every, PJ can skydive, every PJ can scuba dive, every PJ can rock climb, ice climb, I mean these are these are things that we do professionally so what do you think we do on the weekends? We do the exact same stuff. It's just, instead of doing it in camouflage Gore-Tex, we do it in, you know, whatever civilian Gore-Tex we have, all of which was usually bought on taxpayer dollars. So I basically got to be a professional outdoor recreationalist for 10 years.
Lisa: Wow, that's amazing. And then you and then you join the CIA, which sounds… I mean, again, all I know of the CIA is movies. So like, what was that actually like?
Nic: Yeah, and all the movies are true. All the movies are absolutely true. I tell people the… the Borne Identity is is basically a follow documentary… except not. It's more like, do you remember back in the seventies there was a movie called Spies Like Us?
Lisa: Um, no.
Nic: Well, it's a Chevy Chase and… I can't remember, I can't remember who else was in it. But it's a hilarious spoof on intelligence, on the intelligence community. And that's really more what the CIA is like. You've got a bunch of really good people, incredibly bright people, who are trying to do their best to keep this country safe but the bureaucracy always is getting in the way. And you know, politicians - I'm sure everybody has seen and noticed - are not the brightest people in our country. And they are always getting in the way as well. And, you know, people's political beliefs and, you know, biases and things like that get in the way of what are incredible people trying to do their best to to keep the country safe. So the CIA was very very cool. Very interesting place to work, I was incredibly blessed to get to be one of the people who got selected to work there, especially within my unit, which is a highly selective unit within the CIA. But at the end of the day, it's still a government bureaucracy.
Lisa: And is that, like, I know you started DeliverFund. But is sort of all that bureaucracy what led you to want to go do your own thing? Or kind of, how did you get… how did you get to DeliverFund and like, why human trafficking?
Nic: So, two interesting questions. The human trafficking issue was really one of those things that when you're confronted with a problem like human trafficking and you find out about it and you have the ability, you know, through all my specialized training and networks and things that I built before within both special ops and at the CIA, when you look at a problem like that and you know you have the ability to help solve that problem, how can you not do that? And I looked at, well, you know, I had the highest security clearance you could get in the government. I'd been through more kinetic-type training than most people in the government, and so I thought I'll just go join Homeland Security or whatever, right? And go be a special agent with Homeland Security and and go, you know, be on one of their human trafficking units at Homeland Security investigations. I knew enough to know that I was just going to be just one more cog in the machine and I wasn't really going to be able to have the impact that was needed. Because the problem was primarily that the government wasn't focusing on this issue. And I had some encounters at the CIA where we had human trafficking intelligence that we tried to get actioned, and nobody really cared. There's nowhere to put it.
So people can think about this, think about the war on drugs. We have a drug enforcement agency, yet 90% of drugs are legal. So we spend double-digit billions of dollars a year fighting a war on drugs - that everybody knows is not going well - to counter the illicit sale of legal commodities. Right? Fentanyl is is a legal commodity, you know, you get that after surgery. So when you look at it through that lens, 100% of human slavery is illegal. Where's our counter-human trafficking agency in the federal government? It doesn't exist. There's amazing men and women in Homeland Security that are doing the best they can. There's amazing men and women in the Department of Justice and the FBI that are doing the best they can. It's an extremely limited resource.
And again, the bureaucracy gets involved. There's some whistleblower news that people can find around a gentleman who was working for the FBI, he was working internet crimes against children, right? So child exploitation and human trafficking crimes. And they pulled him off of those crimes in order to do January sixth investigations. Now regardless of what anybody thinks about January sixth politically, we can all agree that we should be prioritizing crimes against children over, you know, some basically political pranksmanship. And so that's why I just decided that I can do better and I can put together a team of people who can do better. And I'm going to go try and we tried.
We started it - really started it in 2013, I was kind of doing it off the side of my desk while I was at the CIA kind of putting it all together, and then I left the CIA in 2015 because the CIA is not a place where you just like give two weeks notice and walk out the door. It doesn't really work that way. Especially if you want to do the right thing by your coworkers and by the country. So I started putting it together in 2013 and then left in 2015 and simultaneously realized that I needed to make a living because the food was not free and my rent had to be paid somehow. So I also started a private intelligence company at the same time. So I was starting really two startups because apparently I am a- let's just say I have a high tolerance for pain.
Lisa: [Laughs] Yeah.
Nic: So I started two startups, and I went back to grad school at the same time to try to… because I knew I didn't know a lot about business and I needed to learn that stuff. And so I went back to school, started two companies, worked odds and ends jobs while I could to make ends meet until I could get these companies up to the point where I got out of one in November and DeliverFund is still still running strong, doing more work better faster and cheaper than we've ever done before.
Lisa: That's amazing. And you use technology with DeliverFund?
Nic: We do. We are primarily a data company. So when you look at… let's think of… so a story that everybody's aware of, you know, the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. Everybody wants to go watch the movie about Seal Team Six kicking in a door and you know shooting Bin Laden. And that's incredibly important work. But what about the team of women at Alex Station at the CIA who spent 10 years telling the seal team what door to kick? That's the incredibly important work and that was what I realized was needed in the fight against human trafficking. Again, if I would have went to go be a federal agent with Homeland Security or the FBI, I would just be - again - one more cog in the machine. And that's not a scalable solution. So how do I… how do I make it so that all of the existing cogs, I can enhance them, right? All of the existing officers that are fighting human trafficking, how do I make it so that industry can fight human trafficking?
If an outdoor company is making apparel in Malaysia, how can they make sure that there's no human trafficking all the way down to the tier 0 level. Well they can't, but we can with technology. And so those are the problems that we set out to solve and it started with enhancing law enforcement's efforts and equipping, training, and advising law enforcement. And now that has grown into working with industry, helping industry partners like AirBnB keep human traffickers out of AirBnBs, helping large social media companies keep human traffickers off their platforms so that they can't contact our children in the first place. Helping construction companies and textile companies figure out if they're… you know, screen for human trafficking in their supply chains and then help them figure out solutions if they do find it. Those are the truly scalable solutions to the human trafficking epidemic that we have, not just in the United States but across the globe.
And the way that you solve that problem, the way that, you know, essentially put salve on that pain point, is by providing data and AI algorithms that can help people find that information passively without actually having to go actively look, right? Because the last thing people want is one more thing to go do. So… and that was the traditional approach to fighting human trafficking was okay, we're going to hire people and we're going to make that their job within the company but that… there's no business case to do that. So if a bank is already screening for money laundering activity, how do we enhance the screening of their money laundering activity through the application of data and AI to make it so that their existing platforms and their existing processes now just do one more thing. And they do it in a way that doesn't require them to go hire 150 people.
Lisa: This is amazing because you have taken my main rallying cry, which is that creative thinking can change the world, and like you have used creative thinking and your mission is to end human trafficking and you're doing that through software and creative thinking and like, it sounds like quite a bit of try hard.
Nic: Yeah, again, high high tolerance for pain. When you look at, you know, just the mathematical probability of the existence of Nick McKinley, it's incalculable, you know, I was on an incredibly… shall we say, bad path. You know, being an orphan I mean what do statistics show that would have happened to me until I was adopted, which, also statistically improbable by an absolutely amazing family who then poured into me all the things that were needed in order to give me the platform to be able to do this kind of work. And then you know the Air Force pararescue team I believe has about a 8% acceptance rate, so eight out of a hundred people make it. You know, the rest go on to excel elsewhere. The Central Intelligence Agency has, by its own standards, a 1% acceptance rate. So they, you know, accept one out of a hundred. You know Harvard accepts - where I did my undergrads and grad school until I dropped out - you know, has a 5% acceptance rate. So when you start looking at that, it's like… is it try hard? I didn't make it through all that stuff in my first try, some things I failed and I had to go back and do these incredibly difficult things again. So it was more, just, failure doesn't really register with me, which professionally can be amazing. And a real leg up. Personally, it doesn't always work out well for you, especially in regards to relationships and things. But yeah, failure just didn't really register for me. It was just like, no this is what I'm going to do. And there's no timelines. There's no, I'm going to do this within 5 years… it's no, this is what I'm going to go do. Like, this is the path I'm walking. And maybe it'll take 7 years, maybe it'll take 70 years. I got a decent idea that it can be done, and I'm just going to start marching down the path and see where it takes me.
Lisa: Yeah, it's amazing. You're so tenacious, that seems to be like the theme. The through line. You kind of answered my question, why are you wired like this?
Nic: Ah, you know that's a really interesting question and I… it's probably because of brain damage. [Laughs] And I say that tongue in cheek, when people go through very difficult childhood circumstances, and I don't remember anything about my childhood, you know, pre- being adopted. But all the professionals that I've talked to - and the one part about the CIA that's very true from the movies is the screening process to get in is… shall we say robust. And you are forced to talk to lots and lots of people about lots of things and you usually have machines hooked up to you so there's no lying. And most of the professionals I've talked to, and just, you know, everything from therapists to psychologists for psychological screening because all the jobs I've been in have been you know, kinetic or lethal in nature. To doing that type of work to you know the work that we do in the fight against human trafficking is is extremely mentally taxing because of the content that analysts have to see and the things that you become immersed in. They all have helped me realize that there's no possible way that a child goes through you know, being born and being in a family to being an orphan at a young age without it literally damaging their brain. Without them having some type of issue from that.
And there's this really interesting podcast with a guy named Harry Stebbins called 20VC out of the UK and where he interviews venture capital investors. And he's interviewing one of the one of the lead investors at Sequoia Venture Capital, obviously one of the top VCs in the world ,and he said that he looks for founders who have childhood trauma. And that if you look through… if you look through his portfolio, one time he was noticing that you know he invested in Apple, Steve Jobs was you know an adopted kid. And Elon Musk had an extremely difficult and abusive childhood. And, you know, you start looking at all these entrepreneurs and you usually find that there's something in their childhood that kind of flipped a switch so to speak that made them able to suck up the intense amount of pain that was required in order to deal with entrepreneurship. I mean as a guy who did 30 combat deployments, I mean I still to this day could tell you how to get from one side of [unintelligible] Rock to the other, it's, you know, one side of Tripoli Libya to the other, you know, what roads to take, I mean I could tell you that off the top of my head because I lived in these incredibly intense environments. And entrepreneurship is way harder, way harder than any of that because those things, you go, you do the work, you either live through it or you don't, right? It's kind of binary at the end of the day. Entrepreneurship is like, it's not as high of a level of stress, so instead of being an eight it's a five, but it's a constant five. And it's a five for decades. And you either can push through that or it breaks you.
Lisa: Seriously, yeah. A lot of our audience is built on creative people and so like I always joke that I future trip for a living, like I imagine worlds that don't exist and I figure out how to build them.
Nic: That's awesome.
Lisa: Like that's… like I live in this imaginary world and then build it. And I think… like, I can definitely see what you're doing with technology and kind of like… I don't know, I really like the rebellious nature but it's like you're doing so much good with it. But I really like how you're kind of doing your own thing - I know DeliverFund is a nonprofit.
Lisa: And I just, yeah, I think… I think… I like your spin on entrepreneurship very much. And I guess like, just for me and for our audience, like what are some stats on human trafficking? Just so we know like how big of a problem this is that you're trying to solve.
Nic: Yeah, stats are very difficult to come by because this is an underground market. And it's very difficult to get human traffickers to take surveys about their business.
Lisa: [Laughs] Yeah.
Nic: And you know you can't find the data on on Pitchbook or Dun & Bradstreet. But the best data that we do have largely comes from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Some of it comes from different university studies. But let me give you a couple statistics just to look at this globally. So they estimate - they being the collective “they’ - estimate there's roughly 27,000,000 slaves in the world right now, as we're having this conversation. Now, what those slaves are doing depends on the environment they're in. In westernized countries it tends to be primarily commercial sex related labor. But in India and you know Malaysia, it's going to be rugs and furniture and making bricks. So that's the, yeah you know and off the coast of say the Philippines and Vietnam you're going to see a lot of like forced labor in the fishing industry. In Japan and China, primarily China, you're going to see a lot of forced labor in the textiles industry and also in the electronics manufacturing industries. So it really depends on where you're talking about geographically you know what those slaves are doing.
Now let's bring that - and from a from a dollar perspective, they estimate that that's roughly a $32,000,000,000 a year industry. Again, these are very rough numbers but not small. So it's the fourth largest illicit commodity industry in the world. So narcotics is obviously number one, weapons proliferation is number two, fraud - s financial fraud right? The, you know, the prince in Nigeria who just needs to move some money to America if you could just, you know, answer his email and send him some money. Credit card fraud, you know, cryptocurrency fraud, you know, pig markets, things like that. Those are, that's number three. With human trafficking coming in is number four. So that's how big of a problem we're talking about.
Now let's break that down to the United States of America. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children found that in a five-year period they had an eight hundred and forty six percent increase in suspected child trafficking cases. So think about that, that is essentially an eight hundred and forty six percent increase - or an indicator of an eight hundred and forty six percent increase in what is a market size. That's massive. And so then my question is why? Well, when you look at what was happening in the world at the time that they started to see the uptick in those suspected cases, you saw the mass adoption of smartphones. And the Facebook app. So social media, readily accessible social media. That's what happened.
Nic: Suddenly a non-familial forty-year-old man who was three thousand miles away from a 12 year old girl who just made a video or a posting talking about how she was mad at her dad for not letting her wear a miniskirt. That used to be - you know, I grew up with 3 sisters. So I know the process, they go to their room, they listen to angst music and write in their diary. That's what used to happen. Now they get online on a mobile device, sometimes a mobile device that their parents don't even know that they have, right underneath their parents' roof and they start posting about it on social media accounts that their parents don't even know that they have. And that predator can start talking to them at that very moment of vulnerability and telling them how oh they're so pretty, and it's just their dad's just trying to keep them from growing up. And that's the problem. And now traffickers, predators can access children at scale because the barrier to entry for them is extremely low. They just have to have an internet connected device and access to the internet. They don't need to own the device or the internet connection. They can literally do it from a public library. We've seen that. And they can start manipulating people in what is a sales funnel.
So just to make the math easy: they know that in order to make money, they've got to talk to a hundred young girls online. And of those hundred young girls, 50 of them will actually talk to them. Twenty of those 50 will actually strike up a type of relationship. Ten of those 20 will go into a deep relationship with them, five will agree to meet them, and two will actually show up.
Nic: And what do those two young girls represent to that trafficker? Roughly 90 to $100,000 a year in tax-free income. So it's a business. And one of the things that, you know, not to get into any politics around the wars or anything, but there's some good things that happened. And one of the good things that happened was we really understood how to fight illicit commodity markets. And terrorism is an illicit commodity market, narcotics is an illicit commodity market and if you distill the emotion out of the fight against human trafficking and you look at it academically for what it is, it's an illicit commodity market. So if we have 15 years of experience fighting the illicit commodity market of terrorism, well, why won't those same processes and procedures and tactics work for fighting human trafficking? That was the thesis. And we learned also that we were not going to kill our way out of the war on terror and ah, again, it wasn't for trying, it just, it doesn't work, right? You kill one terrorist and three more pop up. You actually need to disrupt the market. You need to disintegrate the market so that the different components of the market don't really work. And if the market doesn't work then people can't make money.
And trafficking is not ideological, right? There's no… there's no religious grounds for - well, there is in some places in the world and some, you know, parts of Utah. [Laughs] But otherwise, there's not a lot of there's no really religious grounds for trafficking and there is… it's a money play. That's why traffickers do it. And so we knew that we had to attack the money and we had to attack the market and we needed to do it at scale. And the only way you're going to do that is with data and software. So that's why we work in direct support operations with law enforcement. We build target packages on human traffickers. Those Target packages get human traffickers put in prison. But that's not really the bread and butter of what it is that we're doing, we're using that information to inform our technical development roadmap so that we can build better software weapons in the fight against human trafficking.
Lisa: What does that mean, like AI that sounds like young girls?
Nic: No, so it's actually just the opposite. It's when… so traffickers have to advertise online. It's marketing. That's what it is, right?
Nic: It's literally no different than anything anybody else does in any other business. They have to advertise online. It's actually the achilles heel of the trafficking market. And so we can… there's 32 different indicators of trafficking activity within one of these advertisements. And when our - traditionally our analysts look at those advertisements they're trying to make a judgment call around which of those indicators are available. Well anything that you can write down in a list, in a checklist, you can quantify which means you can program it. And so we are building AI where the computers will be able to do the work that traditionally only humans have been able to do. Then, if you have… you’ve got the world's most amazing data analysis tool but you don't have any data, well that amazing analysis tool is now worthless. So years ago we actually started collecting data on human trafficking activity and human traffickers and that has turned into the largest, cleanest human trafficking database on the planet. The human trafficking watch list, which is, you know, known human traffickers within the United States of America, that's a product that we built and control. So we started farming all of these different data sets out to industry and law enforcement partners to make it so that they can keep human traffickers out of out of industry, right? Imagine if a human trafficker couldn't get an email account, couldn't get a Facebook account, couldn't get an Instagram account, couldn't get a hotel room, couldn't rent an Uber, couldn't get, you know, couldn't get a loan, couldn't open a bank account, couldn't open a credit card, couldn't get a phone, like, we just create so much market friction that they will not traffic. They will self-select out of the trafficking market.
So the way that we do that is with software and data. And so that's where we're taking those algorithms and they're basically a passive signal detector. That's what we're, that’s what we're looking for, right? So think of it like an old school radio, right? You tune in the radio, or I guess these days, you know, XM or you know, even if you're just downloading a podcast off of iTunes, you're looking for one very specific thing. It all exists. You just need a device to help you find that very specific signal within the air that you're looking for. That's all we're doing. It's just that our signal detector is very specific to the fight against human trafficking.
Lisa: That's incredible. And I also didn't know that it was like so heavily using social media.
Nic: Yes, social media is the number one recruitment tool and the number one sales tool of human traffickers.
Lisa: Wow. Okay, so what… gosh, do I even ask your stance on TikTok?
Nic: Sure, I mean I'm happy to break that open. I think when it comes to technology writ large - and I will caveat this with saying I am not a big government guy. I have seen as far behind the curtain as anybody alive. Anybody who wants more government, come have a conversation with me and I'll tell you exactly you know what goes on back there and the things you don't see. So I'm not a big government guy. Let me, I'll start there. However, I do believe that the internet is a place that needs regulation. And technology companies are a way that needs regulation. Very similar to the way that we have - yes, we have too much regulation around banks right now but we have laws, as an example against predatory lending practices, right? Where you know banks cannot bankrupt people who are, you know, cognitively unable to understand what it is they're signing. And we have these truth in lending disclosures and things like that, right? Those are all good, I don't think anybody would say that that's bad except maybe a bank that can't bury some fine print for some nefarious activity that they want to do. Well, we need something similar for the internet. So I think the conversation is broader than TikTok. It has actually nothing to do with TikTok. TikTok is just doing the things that are in their best interest. The Chinese government are doing the things that are in their best interest. Exactly like when I worked for our government I did things that were in the best interest of the American taxpayer even though I was in another country. Those countries would call me a criminal and then I come back to my country and they call me a hero. So which is it? Everybody's going to act in their best interest, and so what we need is regulation that just sets the rules for doing business on the internet in the United States of America. Just like we have rules for banking, we have rules for, I mean all kinds of things right? Our road. We need rules for internet, cyber-based businesses and they don't need to be obtrusive. And I think that there are rules that most of your [unintelligible]-type companies would actually want.
There's an incredible book called… I believe it's called Weapons and Tools that was written by the chief counsel, the former chief counsel of Microsoft. And the whole book is essentially a call for regulation. So here you have an attorney who represented a company that was in antitrust lawsuits against the US government who was asking the US government to start regulating their industry. And we're seeing that now, you know it's it's great that you know we've got chat CPT and the GPT type AIs in the national narrative now. We've been using those technologies for years and are really on the leading edge of that. But when I would start talking about AI and what AI could do, nobody would listen. Because it wasn't in the news cycle. So now that that stuff is in the news cycle, people have had firsthand experience with it. They're seeing how it's really neutral. An AI tool is not inherently good or evil. It's like money. Money is not inherently good or evil, you can use your money to donate to a - shameless plug - an amazing nonprofit that's fighting human trafficking. You can use your money to buy narcotics or illegal weapons. You can do good or bad with your money. It's a neutral resource. Well AI is very similar right? So It's a neutral resource and what it becomes is based on what you feed it. And that's, you know, that's the internet writ large, that's technology writ large. So when it comes to companies like TikTok, you know, do I agree with the things that TikTok are doing? Absolutely not. But show me where it says they can't do that. So that's why we need some rules around this new world that we live in to keep the bad actors out and to make it an even playing field for everybody.
Lisa: Have you noticed it like an uptick in sex trafficking because of TikTok and because that's such an appealing app to kids?
Nic: I… I don't really want to get into a legal fight with any one specific company by mentioning their brand.
Nic: But what I will say, is that social media is the number one recruitment tool of human traffickers and it is the number one sales platform for human traffickers. So. And when I say social media I'm talking about anything that falls under the umbrella of social media fits that description to varying degrees. And the more young children that are on the app the more, the higher the probability that you will have predators and human traffickers there.
Lisa: It is interesting like I had to get a permit to replace my fireplace in my house. You know, like that's regulated. And like I can go ahead and build an app with no- you know it's just a free for all.
Nic: Or an Ai algorithm.
Lisa: Yeah I just think like being a human is such an interesting thing. Yeah, it's very interesting. It's just fascinating to me like what is regulated and what's not so I hear you on that.
Nic: Yeah, so we… it's a long answer to say we just need more regulation in internet-based activities, contrary to popular belief. We do need a complete overhaul of Communications Decency Act rule 230 to be able to increase liability in some places and create a better standard in others.
Lisa: Yeah, and a lot of our audience is very familiar with coding and just sort of like this interesting, like, if this, then this. And I like that that's kind of like how your app- or your tools, it sounds like, are like helping look for things. Is by using like coding rules.
Nic: Yeah, it's… you know, we have a line of t-shirts on our DeliverFund store called “from shooters to computers” and one of my graphics designers is absolutely talented, amazingly talented and she will take iconic movies, like, you know scenes like scenes out of Pulp Fiction and that have people holding guns only instead of holding guns they're holding keyboards. And a lot of people don't realize that the wars overseas got very technical, especially, you know towards the last three years that I was there. It can be extremely technical, where most of the weapons we were using were computer code based as opposed to you know firearms or explosives based. And the computer code based weapons are so much more effective. You know the chance of collateral damage goes to zero, you know, the chance of of hurting something that you didn't mean to hurt. And they're really the way that that modern society works and so why are we still using tools that were from the dark ages to fight wars in the modern world. You know, terrorists are recruited online. Child trafficking victims are recruited online. It is no different. So we focus online.
Lisa: Wow Yeah, you make it - I mean obviously it's very layered and very deep, but you just made it sound so simple.
Nic: Well thank you. That's what I try to do.
Lisa: Yeah. So what is success to you? Like, how do you define that for yourself and yeah, what does that mean for you?
To me success is… interesting. So I'll define this in a way I think that's probably very very different from your average person. To me success is having my children be at my funeral and tell me I did a good job. That’s success.
Nic: That’s success. Now, there's things that we need in order to make that happen. I need a whole lot of shall we say divine intervention with my own personality probably to make that happen, but we also need control of our time. If I… you know, part of the reason I left the agency too, other than you know to do this work, is I was gone ten months a year. I had already been through one failed marriage, which ended up being a complete colossal smoking hole in the ground because I was gone ten months a year. So like what do you expect, Nic?
My unit at the at the agency had a over eighty percent divorce rate, the ones who were not divorced had already made up their minds that as soon as the kids turned 18 they were going to get a divorce. So when I I met my wife who's one of the most amazing people on earth, and you know, and I decided that okay well I want to try this whole marriage thing again, I had to leave. Otherwise I was just going to be gone. So now we're an entrepreneur, you know, being an entrepreneur and I'm, you know, 8 years into the entrepreneurship journey and I am on a plane… you know, last year I traveled 30 times. There was only fifty two weeks in the year, I did 30 trips last year. That's the wrong answer. So I'm trying to only do twelve this year, no more than one trip a month. So I need to be there for my kids, which means I need to have some control of my time. And so we tend to look at entrepreneurship as, you know, how much money you make or how big your company becomes or you know what you sell it for as the sign of success, and I'm very blessed to be friends and have mentors of some of the you know, biggest names in Hollywood to biggest names in business and venture capital. And every single one of them has told me - and we're talking billionaires who you know are incredibly recognizable household names in Hollywood - have said that they wish they had spent more time with their kids when they were younger. So, that's to me what success looks like, is having control of my time. And I'm not there yet, you know, full transparency there, I'm not there yet. But I'm definitely working towards it. That's the standard of success that I'm working towards.
Lisa: That's so relatable, I think.
Lisa: I mean, like, as bad ass as everything you're doing is, like that's just such such a relatable thing.
Nic: Yeah and to do it in a way that doesn't cause me to have to compromise, you know, morals or or ethics. Regardless of what somebody's world beliefs are, you know, I'm a Christian and so if my children are saying, you know, ‘dad, you did a good job’ at my funeral. Well, where did I go from there? And so regardless, what somebody believes, right, where you're going, if there is a next step that people believe in, I want to show up at the gates so to speak and I want to hear the, you know, ‘well done good and faithful servant.’ So whatever somebody's personal belief system is, you need to learn to control your time and have control of your time. Which means you need to have a certain amount of resources to be able to do that, depending on you know what that what that lifestyle you want to maintain is. I mean some people can do van life, I'll tell you right now that ain't going to work for my wife. [Laughs] You know, convincing her to go camping is enough, even though she's an amazing sport about it. So you need to… you need to do that in a way that does not does not cross any moral and ethical lines and I think you see…
I saw a sort of interesting article about the the Forbes cover and entrepreneurs. And like the last - it's the Forbes 30 under 30. And the Forbes 30 under 30 they're saying went from 30 under 30 to 30 serving 30 because so many of the entrepreneurs on the cover of Forbes - which is like a huge honor right? Oh look at me. I'm on the cover of Forbes an amazing entrepreneur - but they were doing shady and oftentimes very illegal things in order to make that happen. And so it doesn't… I mean now that they're in prison, they have no control of their time. But even if they managed to make millions to billions of dollars, if they did it in such a way that was immoral and unethical, well, they failed. They did not reach the measure of success. And so I think that you know the word success is really a blender and the question is how many ingredients did you put in it? And when you pour out the success, you know, what is it made of? You know, is it made of charcoal because you torched everything to include all of your relationships to include your family and all that? Or is it, you know, is it vibrant and healthy because of all the different ingredients that are in it. So not to deep dive too - you know, wax philosophically there but that's kind of the way that I look at success or have learned to look at success.
Lisa: Obviously I've never met you and we've only been talking for 45 minutes but I think your gift is the art of reduction.
Nic: [Laughs] Yeah, well, yeah, kind of reducing things to the, you know, the irreducible minimum, you know. And there's a concept in physics called foundational thinking, right? Where you - like what is the irreducible minimum and how do you reduce something to that? And in business you have things like the Toyota 5 Y's, which are just like versions of that. But really getting things down to, you know, what is truly meaningful. You know, I have a consulting practice and my consulting clients, oftentimes what I help them do is figure out what the mission is. And oftentimes the mission that they articulate is not their actual mission. And we help them distill down and figure out what is their mission. And then how do you make decisions in a way that keeps you focused on the true mission. And I hear so many entrepreneurs, as an example, who want to spend more time with their families. But they're not designing the processes around how they do that because their identity is in entrepreneurship. And what is entrepreneurship? Well anybody who's ever been an entrepreneur knows in the beginning, it's hundred hour weeks. Hundred hour plus weeks. And… but that becomes their identity. Because that's what got them there. So they just keep doing the 100 hour weeks because that's what makes me feel fulfilled because I've destroyed everything else in my life. So instead of actually refocusing on the reason they were working the 100 hour weeks, the reason they were building a company in the first place - which is usually personal or familial, often times both - they lose sight of what was the original intent and they just continue to pursue the same process. So we have to bring them back around and say okay, let's talk about why you were doing this in the first place. Let's find out what your true mission is, then when we find out what your true mission is, then we can start putting some decision making frameworks so that you can hold yourself accountable so that you don't fall back into the exact same patterns that made your business successful. And oftentimes - and I'll tell you right now like, DeliverFund is a great example, right? I have an amazing team. So if I was putting 100 hour weeks into DeliverFund again, I'm probably going to destroy the company because I'm just going to get in the way of my team. So there comes a point I think in entrepreneurship where it's actually better for the organization for you to, when you have something that's running well - and there's always going to be emergencies, right? Things are always going to happen. There's always going to be inflection points. But for the most part when things are running well, you really need to step back and serve your team and allow your team to just do the things that you hired them to do. I think it was Steve Jobs who said that you don't hire smart people to tell them what to do, you hire smart people so they can tell you what to do. And oftentimes what they're telling you to do is get out of their way and let them do their job.
Lisa: Exactly, exactly. Well I know your time is valuable and, yeah, I so appreciate it, is there anything else that I haven't asked you that you want to share with our audience?
Nic: You know, you mentioned that most of your audience were creatives and I think that's amazing because I have an amazing creative team of people that I brought in because that's not my strong suit. I can… strategy is my strong suit, right? Reducing, you know, reducing things down to their foundation is my strong suit. But the creative piece is so important and the reason why is, you know, we can talk about AI and things like that, but AI is not coming for creatives. As long as people are creative, they will always have a job. Now, are we going to be able to do that faster? You know, are you going to be able to create some graphic design that you don't really want to spend your time doing and you can have an AI do it now? Sure. Or writing some copy for SEO that doesn't really matter how good it is, it just matters that it has the right words and so many of them, AI can do that. Sure. Absolutely. But the creative process is one that is truly human. And I personally… you know, there's a philosophical debate about AI and whether or not computers can ever become sentient. I don't believe they can, because they will always be a created thing. And so the creative process is so much of a human process. And that's why I don't get concerned when I hear that, oh, Indian students are crushing American students in math and, you know, that Japanese students are just absolutely destroying American students in science. And I'm like yeah, well but we will always be at the top economy. You know why? Because Apple: designed in California, built in China. That's why. Because one of the things that we do so well as Americans is foster creativity. We encourage creativity. And that is something that, you know, if your audience is primarily creative just that they can pat themselves on the back and breathe a sigh of relief and know that their skill set is always always going to be in use.
Lisa: Amazing. Well, Nic, yeah, thank you for this interview. This was amazing and really one of my favorites. I've had this podcast since 2012 and I think this was really just super interesting. So yeah. I appreciate it.
Nic: Aw. Well thank you for having me, and thank you for the kind words.
Lisa: Yeah, thank you so much.
Lisa: Thanks for listening to Outside by Design, hosted by me, Lisa Slagle.
This show is produced by my creative agency, WHEELIE. You can find us at our website, wheeliecreative.com. You can also visit wheeliecreative.com/podcast to find more episodes, transcripts, and show notes. And of course, we're on Instagram. It's @WheelieCollective.
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