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Laurie CoronaMike Simonsen is the Co-founder and CEO of Altos Research, a real estate analytics firm founded in 2006. Altos provides real estate brokers and agents, financial institutions, investors, and builders with real-time data and insight into the US housing market. Mike has 15 years of experience in software development, marketing of enterprise applications, and security products. In developing the Altos product offerings, he combined his expertise in analytical systems development with a personal interest in the real estate market. He is on the Board of Directors at the Entrepreneurs’ Organization San Francisco chapter, where he served as President during the pandemic.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Mike Simonsen talks about his leadership role as President of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) San Francisco during the pandemic
  • How did the pandemic impact the way webinars and Zoom meetings can move businesses forward?
  • Mike explains how real estate trends align with a hybrid workforce
  • Why the EO is a great place to learn structure, techniques, and content for entrepreneurs who want to scale their businesses
  • Mike details the characteristics and qualifications of a high-performance forum and how collaborative placement works
  • How to control and generate happiness, raise your serotonin levels, and how positive emotions impact the world around you

In this episode…

As an entrepreneur, solving conflicts and navigating unaligned values among your people come with the territory. So, where should you go to discover tools for personal development and advanced learning to help you through these kinds of issues? Where can you turn to establish deep connections with people around the globe to develop your leadership skills?

Mike Simonsen’s drive and passion have guided others at a leadership level to strengthen their businesses. He advocates for “hacking happiness.” What does that mean? He practices bringing joy, purposefulness, and the essence of happiness to his business and his Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) chapter. Under his leadership, Mike counseled his EO chapter by delivering high-performance forums, structure, and resources to take businesses to the next level, even through some very trying times.

In this episode of the Rising Entrepreneurs Podcast, John Corcoran sits down with Mike Simonsen, Co-founder and CEO of Altos Research, to discuss how entrepreneurs can cultivate personal development. Mike talks about mitigating difficult times during the pandemic, why collaborative placement is essential for selecting new Entrepreneurs’ Organization members, and “hacking happiness” to control your experience.

Resources mentioned in this episode

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Episode Transcript

Intro 0:02  

Welcome to the Rising Entrepreneurs Podcast where we feature top founders and entrepreneurs and their journey. Now let’s get started with the show.

John Corcoran  0:12  

Hey everyone, John Corcoran here, the co host of this show where we feature top entrepreneurs and business leaders sharing their story. We’ve got a great guest here today. His name is Mike Simonson I’ll explain in a moment who he is former president of the EO San Francisco chapter very well beloved, within the chapter. And he’s got a lot of involvement with the EO for many, many years. So we’ll talk about that. Of course, this episode is brought to you by EO San Francisco. EO Entrepreneurs’ Organization is a global peer to peer network of more than 16,000 influential business owners in some 200 chapters 60 plus countries if you are a founder, co founder owner, or controlling shareholder of a company that generates over seven figures a year in revenues, and you want to connect with other like minded successful entrepreneurs, well eo is for you in the iOS San Francisco chapter enables leading entrepreneurs in the Bay Area to learn, grow and achieve greater success. You can learn more by going to eonetwork.org/sanfrancisco. All right, Mike, pleasure to talk to you here today. Now, you are the CEO and founder of Altos Research, which provides analysis and analyzes real estate markets in real time, and your customers include it really anyone with exposure and US residential real estate. So that’s brokers and agents and financial institutions, investors, builders, and you also were the president of the EO San Francisco chapter and a longtime member and host of the Top of Mind podcast, of course, as well. And you are actually the president of the chapter going into the pandemic, right, wasn’t when you 2020?

Mike Simonsen  1:43  

Yeah, there was, it was, it turned out actually, in retrospect, to be a real privilege to be in that role at that, at that time. Because it was, you know, the world was turned on its head. And in our organization, we needed to come together in, you know, big ways. And we did. And so it was a remarkable time to be in that leadership role in a, you know, once in a lifetime event, hopefully once in a lifetime event. And so, yeah, it was, that was it, you know, it derailed some of my priorities as, as President some of the things I wanted to get done, you know, all of a sudden, got thrown out the window. But, you know, we, we were able to pull together and help some people who, you know, had amazing businesses that shut down overnight. And, like, it was a, it was quite a time.

John Corcoran  2:46  

What was that like for you, as you’re, you know, if we’re in March 2020, you know, as you see this, your your friends, your peers, you’ve been involved in yo for many years, you deeply ingrained in the chapter, you’ve got lots of great friends, what was it like for you, as you’re talking to your friends whose businesses were just, you know, I know, you and I both know, people whose companies went down to literally nothing in the course of weeks.

Mike Simonsen  3:11  

Yeah, in weeks and and was fascinating as to you could kind of see it come and starting and even December, we could start hearing the smart people around me start talking about it. You know, and I had done like an EO trips in January and February, I did a President’s meeting. And, like, we knew it was sort of around and, but but we didn’t realize what was coming exactly. But then we could see, starting in January, February, really the businesses that had tourism related revenues, they they plummeted very quickly, very quickly. And that was before any lockdowns happened, it was like, this was like the world is stopping because of where we can see what’s happening. And, and so that was that was like, you know, that’s, like scary. That’s like, what do we do for those people? And, and then what’s that going to have? What second order effects are they going to have for everybody else? Yeah. And you know, we could see it before the lockdown.

John Corcoran  4:24  

And what were some things that what sorts of meetings were involved in then what sorts of decisions were made? What did you do as a as a board as a president as the chapter?

Mike Simonsen  4:35  

Yeah, there were, you know, we had some some companies that went from, you know, like 10 million $50 million companies to zero overnight. And so some of those companies we and the people, colleagues, friends, we did, like we rally together and do It’s, like specific tactical work and like, how do we get expertise to a person who needs it? Right now, and, you know, expertise was like, Man, I have to I went from, you know, selling 1000s of dollars a day 10s of 10s of $1,000. A day to now I’m getting dinged on credit cards, you know, wanting refunds at the rate of 1000s of dollars a day. Yeah. What do I tell people? How do I word that email? How do you know all of those things. And so like, there’s that kind of thing. That was was really, it was amazing to be able to marshal the resources of the chapter and of the, you know, the whole organization together to help some of those folks that were in the most dire need in that moment. And then, of course, the big thing at that time, was, when the stimulus stuff started happening, PPP, was, was started to happen. It was chaos. Nobody knew how to get it. Nobody, like, you know, I’ve had my company for 17 years, and I think could be of a and nobody would be of a knew what, like, how to nobody knew anything. But eventually, some people with good banking relationships started to know and we were able to get things together. And, and, you know, I remember that time, my, my, you know, in my company we had, we had customers canceling and saying, Hey, we’ve got to drop, you know, what’s your billing us, and we’ve got to cut it. So we cut our salaries across the board by I think it was 25, or 50%. Just like, we have no idea what’s coming, and we need to preserve the cash. And so we did that. When we did that, before there was even any inkling of PPP, we just had to do it. And so we knew we were in that survival mode. And, and so like, then when those things, like those resources started happening, it was infinitely valuable to so many of us. Yeah, I remember other things too, like we, I watched a colleague, run a webinar for his customers. And, and the webinar was like, you know, what do we do when and when the markets in fear? And I thought, Well, my customers need that. And so I launched I did a webinar for my customers. And here’s what we’re seeing in the market. And here’s what, what we can expect. And I was blown away by how, how many my customers wanted to see, like, I worked, they cared. And that my idea to do that was like watching another yield member do it. I thought, like, just by having the group as was really like all kinds of powerful things like that.

John Corcoran  7:50  

Yeah, yeah, I mean, I’ve said before that I think that the way that EO responded to that pandemic is a case study in how organizations should respond. Because within a couple of days, my had, you know, a text message a day or a couple a day that had a list of these different calls that were happening throughout the day, just people hopping on Zoom calls, working through things together, and then an email and all this stuff, like almost like there was a plan in place, which I’m sure there wasn’t. But they rallied it together. It was really incredible how much education happened within days,

Mike Simonsen  8:25  

within days. And I was, you know, as president of that I have this cohort of the presidents of the other chapters, and I’m watching the smart things that they’re doing with their chapters. And, you know, one of them holds a town hall meeting and make it everybody in the same room. And one of them’s you know, recording videos, and I did a, you know, I did a talk with with Finn Kelly, who is the president of Colorado at the time, on some of the crisis management things that that, you know, personal management things that we know how to do. And, and so there was a lot of those resources to just, you know, it was just amazing time to be in the organization. And like I said, to be a leader, like what a privilege to be a leader at that moment.

John Corcoran  9:08  

Now, at the same time, you have a company that serves the residential, real US residential real estate market. And if I remember correctly, early on, people were saying, Oh, this is going to kill this hot housing market that we’ve had. That’s what everyone thought it ended up being the opposite. But certainly your your stomach must have been dropping, thinking like, oh crap, what’s gonna happen to my company? So talk me through what the experience was like for you, as you balance your dual roles of being President of the chapter and also having to keep your business afloat?

Mike Simonsen  9:41  

Yeah. Well, you know, we we assumed that the market would be like have to freeze and tank and and, you know, there were different there were varying degrees of prognosticators or people thinking it’s another repeat of 2008 and Um, that were, you know, I was a little less fearful than some of those, that some of those because the data that I knew, but what I did it was it was funny what I did at that time was like, so I did this webinar and everybody cared all my customers came on and I said was like, Look if if the market is going to tank what Altos Research does uniquely strong in the world is that we track the entire US market every week and we publish those numbers every week and and we so we can tell us exactly what’s going on. And what was amazing was that we had literally three weeks of down market price adjustment. Three weeks before people started buying houses again, and not very long at all on believable like it was all of a sudden do the by the fourth week I look and I’m like guys, markets

John Corcoran  11:05  

wrong with this software we’re selling

Mike Simonsen  11:06  

Yes, exactly. You start second guessing yourself and like, it’s up. And then the next week, it’s up again, I’m like, okay, and I started doing videos every week publishing these out and sharing these videos. And, and so now I’ve been doing those for more than two years straight every week, and just every weekday and because every week is a new story now. And and it’s, you know, the first thing that happened was, normally in April, May June, the available inventory of homes for sale climbs, because you know, it’s the spring selling season, new new listings come to market. But what was happening in 2020 was, you know, we had those three weeks, and then all of a sudden inventory decline, people bought stuff, inventory declined, people bought, and then like, all of a sudden, we’re like, we’re record few homes, and it’s still falling every week. And prices are climbing. And it was it was just like, who knows where this is going to stop who knows what’s going on. But but you know, by then, by, you know, as the market, we’re used to seeing the data that way. And it was really fascinating because traditional real estate data uses the houses that sold last month or the month before before they published that’s what you typically here with the headlines is, you know, it’s April now or may now and it’s like, oh, March or April numbers are here. They’re up big and, but But of course, you know, the market right now is what matters. And so there were the traditional folks and housing data that were still buying like August of 2020. We’re still predicting a big head, the market cratering, and we’re looking around the markets on it’s fun to be able to be contrarian and bullish at the same time. Like that’s the best position to be in.

John Corcoran  13:00  

As you look back on it, you know, over the last two years. Maybe that’s it, but But what is the thing that’s most shocking for you just having followed this out? I can’t imagine that it played out the way that you thought it would at the very beginning of the pandemic.

Mike Simonsen  13:17  

Yeah, no, I mean, it never occurred to me that we would have had the strongest housing market ever, as a result of the pandemic. It’s the phenomenon of remote work, is we called it Zoom towns, people moving to the Zoom towns. And, you know, in San Francisco, moved up to Truckee, or, you know, they, they moved to Bend Oregon, or, you know, Boise, Idaho, that kind of thing. And, and, in that phenomenon hits so strong. And in retrospect, it was, you know, and I’ve been really sensitive to it. Like I had a friend we were skiing that week of the march 15 When the lockdown happened, and I had a friend who was in an Airbnb, and he never left. He never went back to San Francisco apartment. And and so had I been really sensitive at that moment, I would have said that’s a trend, you know, in whatever the first big April but it took me longer to catch on to really what was happening there. That that trend that remote work trend continues now. It’s not it’s not decreasing. It’s still growing. And yeah.

John Corcoran  14:32  

Yeah, I just I spoke to a neighbor across the street just about this. Just, you know, you have these conversations all the time. You know, he said, Yo, yeah, I used to work in the, in this city, and now they want us to come in two days a week and I don’t really want to, I mean, I’ve had so many conversations with people like that

Mike Simonsen  14:47  

Tons, right and and so that phenomenon is not changing, right? And so but but that’s something that is, you know, it is uniquely that’s the moment in time we’re gonna look back in history and go out remember that but Order that time we were in the office five days a week. And you know, my daughter is never going to know that

John Corcoran  15:07  

such a last thing, just a sea change. That doesn’t just affect the way that we work but the way that we live because people people are going to be able to live wherever they want to or a lot a large number then we could do to live well,

Mike Simonsen  15:21  

yeah, a large, you know, that are fully remote, a large that are hybrid, like your friend. But the nice thing about your friend there is so it’s a couple days a week and what what you have what happens migration wise, is that now my you know, the commute window, an hour commute window, if you’re doing a commute every day, and it’s an hour, that is a killer. Hour is deadly. But if you’re only doing it for two days, and maybe you’re staying overnight that night, you can all of a sudden go two and a half hours, like you zip in on Tuesday morning, you go Tuesday over Tuesday night, Wednesday, in your home, late Wednesday night. So your radius grows much bigger outside of the city. So that’s an interesting trend in when the bubble burst, you know, you know, in 08 09 2010 The the radius shrank like the further out you were from this core, that the harder that cratered like the things further out, you know, cratered harder. But like that’s flipped. Now. And and so that’s a totally new phenomenon that, you know, I never saw coming, but sure looks like it’s here forever.

John Corcoran  16:27  

Yeah. I mean, if you said if, in March of 2020, you’d said Hey, guys, here’s what I think is gonna happen. People were private said

Mike Simonsen  16:34  

You’re crazy, because you’re crazy. People are, you know, who’s nobody’s gonna have any money at all right? People, you know, like, all of that kind of thing is for sure.

John Corcoran  16:42  

Let’s talk about EO, San Francisco again. Now you served as chapter president. And then after that, you continued on what’s called the leadership or path of leadership, and you served on the Global Forum committee. So first, tell us what that is, and what that role entails. Yeah,

Mike Simonsen  16:59  

I, I have a particular passion for forum. And any, like the, you know, the secret sauce of EO is how we are trained in form, how we conduct ourselves and form that highly structured, that highly structured meeting and how we communicate with one another in forum. And over the years I have, I’ve been in not high performing forum experience. And I’ve been in high performing forums. And let me tell you, when it’s high performing, it’s life changing. And I wanted to bring high performance forums to everyone in EO. And so I was a forum chair in San Francisco for a few years that I was president elect. And then I was president. And when I was president, I was like, I still wanted to continue that, like how do we really deliver high performance forums to everyone in San Francisco. In a really, when the forms are performing well, the chapters performing well, we have our highest retention rates ever, because nobody wants to leave their their high performing forum, because it’s so great. So we have had all those things. And so then, you know, once you’re president of the chapter, you can get to move out of the way for the other leaders to be able to do their leadership. But we have regional, the US West region, and there is forum leadership there where I help did a couple of years of helping each of the chapters, forum chairs lead and get their forums to high performance. And then there’s the Global Forum Committee, which is, you know, there’s 10 of us from around the world who have a passion for forum. And we are really about leading the forum content and structure and resources and things for all of the global members of 16,000 members in EO and it’s, you know, doing the best new techniques and training and it’s content, and it’s resolving conflict, and all of the things that that we can teach people to have high performance forums. And so because like, it feels really impactful to me, I chose to do that first at the regional level. And now at the global level.

John Corcoran  19:11  

It’s a big shift to go from serving your local chapter, everyone who lives within whatever 100 mile radius, you know, many of them already to serving on a global committee, what does that experience been like for you shifting and now working with people entrepreneurs all over the globe?

Mike Simonsen  19:28  

Well, my one of my favorite things about a EO, is the if the, the deep connection with amazing people all over the globe, and you do an EO meeting, and it’s like, you’re rad. Tell me about your business. Right? Like it’s, I geek out on that. And so, so I love that about being at the Global committee, right? There’s people from all over the world and they’re all committed, you know, really passionate about forum and skillful in forum and So I love that it’s it is, you know, we’re at the leadership level in EO that really helped guiding EO to to the next generation of growth. And, you know, we’ll go from 16,000 members to, you know, many, many more than that. And what does that mean? And how do we, how do we best deliver that? And how do we deliver how to deliver forum in a world where not everybody lives in the same city anymore? Now, like, there’s interesting questions like right now that we need to help solve for people, how do we solve values, conflicts over things like they were, you know, there can be things like COVID, intense values, conflicts about how we handle the pandemic? And so like helping people members navigate those kinds of things is real rewarding for me.

John Corcoran  20:51  

Yeah. And it’s changed too. And in my forum, you know, we’ve had conversations around, you know, what do you want to do now, because what people wanted to do a year ago is different for what people want to do now, in terms of, do we do a Zoom meeting in this context? If someone has to miss, can they zoom into it? Do we do a hybrid where we have some people who are maybe they’re at risk? Or maybe they were possibly exposed? You know, all these things kind of have to be navigated as you go along?

Mike Simonsen  21:18  

Yes, yeah, exactly. And, you know, it’s a highly dynamic world. And we, so the things that make a forum high performance, there are some common things or some universal things about it.

John Corcoran  21:31  

Let’s talk about that. Actually. Tell me about that. Yeah.

Mike Simonsen  21:35  

So high performance forums have this sort of a number of rules, you know, we have the forum mindset, which is where active listening, we are not giving advice, we’re sharing experience, we are like, there’s a there’s a structure to that, and the high performance forums have taught themselves to follow that, even when they’re tempted not to a follow the that forum mindset. Because when you deviate you, you end up with, you know, like, you end up with lower performance, right? You think, like, I think I can rewrite the rules here. But But actually, like, the rules, we do the rules for a reason. It’s like, you know, it’s like, it’s like doing doing art, you know, you learn the technique, then you can compose the song, then you can really, truly express yourself, if you try to go right to expression first. sounds horrible. Yeah, it sounds hard. Right. And so So, you know, those kinds of technique level things that we that we teach, you know, and it’s things like, you know, structuring the meeting, and how we do our reflections on monthly reflections. And that the, the ability of a forum to add new members. So there are some forums who have like, Oh, we’ve been in the same six dudes for, you know, 15 years, and we don’t want anybody else. But but that’s brittle. And, you know, and the strength is in the dynamism and the new experience that you can add. And so there’s characteristics like that, that I’ve tried to, we tried to capture over time to really teach people, what are the characteristics of a high performance?

John Corcoran  23:16  

Yeah. And then one of the tensions also as adding new people to a forum, I understand that it’s been some shifts in thinking about this over the years, there’s different ways of doing it, there’s kind of a dating situation where forums kind of figure out if it’s a good fit or not, then there’s just I forget what it’s called. But it’s, there’s a there’s a euphemism for it, but it’s basically just like, Here, take this new person, whether you like,

Mike Simonsen  23:39  

there’s what we call collaborative placement. Hello, yeah, you know, it’s, it’s like a new member joins EO, they are qualified for EO. And if they, if they’re qualified for EO, they are qualified for any forum in EO. And so, you know, there are some things that we have to make sure that that a person doesn’t, you know, matches for, for for a forum, for example, if there’s business or conflict or, you know, the person outside of EO, there are those kinds of things that are that are important. There are sometimes geographic things like, well, we meet, you know, virtual all the time or we never meet virtual, we’re always there’s a couple of things, structure, things that that are wise to make sure are working before placement, but but with collaborative placement, it’s like take those into account. We know that those what those things are. And then if a person is qualified for EO, they’re placed in the forum. What happens is the the old school way of dating, meaning like, oh, you’re a new member will let me interview you and see if I want you in my forum. And then they say, Well, let me see if I want to be in your forum that that seems tempting on the surface with a new member. The problem is you can’t really To tell if a person is going to be skillful in the forum mindset, with an interview a first date with the first day, you know it. Yeah. And so therefore, what we tend to do is we tend to pick people to look exactly like us. And therefore, we lose the power of the the diversity of thinking views that that, that EO brings us. And so and we also get, you know, can you imagine being that that new member, who is like, oh, yeah, you’re not a good fit for us? Oh, you’re not a good fit for us. Now, I gotta see, I interviewed with your forum, and I got to see you at events and stuff. And I wasn’t good enough for you. Yeah. I just, it’s, it’s a it’s

John Corcoran  25:44  

a bad way to enter an organization you normally feel like, I’m not wanted here. Yeah.

Mike Simonsen  25:49  

Yeah, it’s, it’s the worst, it’s so. So we use collaborative placement. And it’s one of the things that we teach about high performance forums, right. It’s like, and high performance chapters, if you are, you know, like, we have a process for admitting new members, figuring out their qualified figuring out, if they are willing to be vulnerable, and share and trusting, you know, and know that they’re not here to like pitch their business for other people, you know, and so, if that person qualifies, they’ve gone through our qualification process, then they are qualified for any forum in the chapter. And that’s really what collaborative placement is, it’s really, you know, when we shift to that the payoffs are significant across the organization. But if you’re an old forum, and you’ve never had that before, now it can feel like oh, you’re trying to shove somebody down my throat? Yeah, that’s yeah, that changes hard.

John Corcoran  26:50  

What I love about this is that there’s so many lessons that are applicable to our business and to entrepreneurship. And, and so like, for example, like, one of the lessons around forum is that you should own your experience, you should speak straight. If you don’t like something, some way it’s handled, you should speak up and say it to other people. And there may be an alternative, you could try something else, there’s bridge forums, which are people that meet at different intervals, and they might be with other chapters, instead of people in their chapter. And all those I think all of those things are good lessons in life, and as a founder, as an entrepreneur, to speak up for yourself to own your experience to change things if they’re not the way that you want them to be.

Mike Simonsen  27:33  

Yeah, I mean, for me, you know, everything I do in EO is, like, applicable personal development, and the whole thing is a learning organization. And it’s a, you know, personal development process for me. So, being a member in a forum, I sit there, and I learned from all these other rockstars around me, and I want to steal that, you know, and then being a leader, you know, you then you that steal those that, like, you’ve watched those other amazing leaders around you. And like and so, yeah, like, that’s, that’s exactly how it plays out for me. And, and EO has never been about, like, you know, here’s some more revenue for me. But it is about like, my, my life and business are entirely unrecognizable from what they would be before.

John Corcoran  28:25  

Yeah, and I, we’re running short on time. But before we end, I want to ask about, you develop the talk called Hacking Happiness, which you develop through EO and that you give the different chapters, which is really about well let you use it in your words, but it’s really about generating more happiness, and then it had the impact that that happened in your business. So can you share that?

Mike Simonsen  28:49  

Sure. Yeah. Hacking Happiness is the the, the the essence of hacking happiness is that the emotions of happiness and the related emotions, the positive emotions are, they’re really expressions of neurotransmitters, chemical signals in our body. And the essence of of hacking happiness is that we have control over those neurotransmitters. When we do we increase serotonin, we feel more joy and purposefulness, we are also smarter and we answered questions faster on the phone. And so we we, but the but the the essence is that we have control over those chemicals. Therefore, our emotions result the positive emotions result, which results in all kinds of magic in our world in and it’s magic that for me, doubled the size of my business and you know, it is and you know, and I like to think that in this EO when I was the president it allowed us to have because I practice these hacking happiness packs. It Like It allowed us For example, to have the highest retention we’d ever had in the chapter. And it’s, it’s because we’re giving serotonin to as many people as we can and, and and getting that positive reinforcement experience and that’s what the talk is about. It’s really about how we do that the techniques but also the science behind it, why that works. Why, you know, we were told all these things do this, you know, have gratitude do these things. But for me, it’s why do we do those things? We do those things because I can adjust my, my neurotransmitters with that, but I can create the emotion as a result.

John Corcoran  30:33  

Mike such a pleasure talking to you. Where can people go to learn more about you connect with you and learn more about what you do?

Mike Simonsen  30:39  

Well, altosresearch.com is the company website. You can find me on Twitter. Mike Simonson on Twitter, I talk a lot about housing data, if that’s the kind of thing you’re into interested in, or our YouTube channel, I have a personal YouTube channel where I post some of the hacking happiness videos and things out if I do a chap talk for a chapter and I recorded I’ll share it there. So you can find me on YouTube as well.

John Corcoran  31:01  

Excellent, Mike. Thanks

Mike Simonsen  31:02  

so much. All right, John.

Outro  31:04  

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