Dan Kasper Interview
[00:00:00] Andreas Deptolla: Welcome to The PEO Podcast, where we interview industry leaders to discuss all things PEOs from compliance to technology, to client relations, everything in between. I'm your host, Andreas Deptolla.
[00:00:18] Dan Kasper: for me personally, I have a series of values that I hold is important to me. I have an ethos, I have a vision mission personally. Um, and I bring that to the table, no matter what environment that you're going to get, that if I was in the Navy, it's kind of. Know my wishlist or even my personal world, that is who I am.
[00:00:36] Andreas Deptolla: Welcome to another episode of The PEO podcast. Today as a guest, we have Dan Kasper, the CEO of Wishlist Rewards and former Navy seal and special operations officer. We'll be talking about leadership, building high-performance teams, and culture.
[00:00:55] Hey, Dan, welcome to the.
Dan Kasper: Hey, it's great to be here. Andreas, I've been looking forward to this [00:01:00] podcast for some time.
[00:01:02] Andreas Deptolla: Likewise. And this as a quick disclaimer here for the audience, Dan is a dear friend of mine, and I'm also on the board of, uh, the company that she's running with water. So then why don't you start off as giving us a little background on yourself?
[00:01:17] Dan Kasper: Yeah, happy to. Uh, so originally born and raised in Minnesota, Atlanta, the frozen Tundra. I grew up there as well, went to school, uh, after I graduated with a degree in business. Um, I did ROTC program through, through college and was an officer in the Navy. So it was in the Navy for about six and a half years.
[00:01:34] I love that piece of my life really formulated who I am and kind of what I stand for was molded in that environment. Uh, made a jump from the military and landed at Airbnb. I was on their trust and safety team to help kind of build and scale operations in both north America and Asia Pacific. Love the tech space.
[00:01:51] Um, but also realized about myself. I have more of a building type personality. So I had a chance to make some moves over to Denver where I, you know, worked for this guy named [00:02:00] Andreas and wage to kind of took over a wishlist from them. And we're about building cultures and building people then helping to drive people to, to really grow businesses through performance and through culture.
[00:02:10] So that's where we're at.
[00:02:12] Andreas Deptolla: Awesome. So I want to go way back now. Um, you, you mentioned the special forces, you know, becoming part of Navy seals team. What was the motivation for you? What motivated you to take that path? You know,
[00:02:24] Dan Kasper: well, outside of the movie, top gun, which was really good. I'm committed to it.
[00:02:29] And that is really the concept of adventure. The military wasn't something that was part of my family outside of my grandparents through world war II is something that was just kind of unique to me. It was always something in the back of my mind. So really the concept of adventure, getting out in the world and seeing and doing some things I wouldn't otherwise get to do.
[00:02:46] Paired with a, I guess, running up in the lakes in Minnesota, my love of water kind of led you to the data. So I had no idea about special operations or that concept. Um, until I found out it was the most challenging path. And I found that out when I [00:03:00] was in the ROTC program going through college, but I've always been drawn to the road, less traveled, you know, the path that very few others go down the path.
[00:03:08] The most kind of roadblocks or things that are hard and obstacles. And, um, and so I decided to go forward. And a lot of that is because through those paths, through those places where you're really challenged is really when you learn most about yourself and when you most grow. So that is where I kind of chose to go down that path.
[00:03:25] And so I set my sights on special operations, uh, in college, and I refuse to accept anything, but for progress towards that, So you
[00:03:33] Andreas Deptolla: you're, you're, you're talking about girls here, right. And I'm sure the, the initial training process of becoming a special forces officer was, was a big part of that. Describe us what that training looked like.
[00:03:44] What, what, what did
[00:03:44] Dan Kasper: you go through? Yeah, happy to, so my specialty within special operations with explosives, so I was the platoon commander. Uh, leading the, all the explosive S experts within the seal teams. So my into the military was actually through ROTC. So I did that in tandem with college. [00:04:00] Um, and during that process, it it's, uh, an application to be selected to even go into the training for that.
[00:04:06] So I was able to apply. You had to get referrals for commanding officers. You had to go through a physical training program and luckily, or by smoke and mirrors. One of the ways that I was one of nine officers selected in the United States, my graduating year to go into that. Community or at least to train for it, to try out.
[00:04:21] And so the phases of that training was multiple phased approach. Um, and so my first stop in that journey was actually the first three language schools. I went to the defense language Institute out of Monterey, California studied French of all languages. Uh, their theory was right. 32 countries in Africa speaking.
[00:04:37] However, I, of course I landed in the middle east and didn't use it at all. After that journey of language school, uh, I went to dive school from there. My specialty school was bomb disposal school, which was essentially learning how to respond to IED is to chemical weapons, biological nuclear, anything that has to go, boom is what, what my focus was from there.
[00:04:55] We learned to jump out of planes with the army and over at army airborne school went to various shooting [00:05:00] schools and then tactical school as well. So it's essentially multiple phased approach and it took about just under two years. I heard
[00:05:07] Andreas Deptolla: like the success rate and, and correct me if I'm wrong of, of, of the special force training is less than 10%, right?
[00:05:13] So less than 10% that are accepted, actually making it all the way through. What was your personal keys to success here?
[00:05:21] Dan Kasper: Yeah. I mean, I think that that metric is about on point. I mean, our class size is pretty large. We graduated about nine people total and that specific training path. So it was interesting too, to find that journey and kind of end up with the few people that you cross that stage of graduation.
[00:05:38] When you get that pen on your chest. To me, it's, you know, it really comes down to the success is two things. Um, and there's multiple factors and multiple subsets, but the two things that will allow you to succeed and choose to succeed. And mental resiliency. So the teamwork concept when everyone starts training and, uh, it's, it's kind of a chaotic, everyone's trying to push themselves forward, trying to get to the finish line [00:06:00] first.
[00:06:00] And the instructors are ruthless when they see you working independently. But as training goes on, you learn that you have to rely on others. For your own individual success and all of the success of your team. And the more that the instructor started realizing and watching you work as a team, they would start backing off.
[00:06:17] And so the teamwork concept, the sooner that you realize that you will never win by yourself, you will fail unless you rely on the people out and around you. That was the first concept. And the second one. It's mental resiliency. I would say mental because the physical game will break you. They will break you sooner than you care to admit you are.
[00:06:35] Will you always think you're in good shape. You've been training for years to go through this training pipeline, but you will break and you will break frequently and you'll break off. However, what gets you through is that mental peace? Uh, that resiliency that says, okay, one more step, one more step. And actually I had a mantra through my training and I've probably said it probably 10 million times and it was fine.
[00:06:53] That was my mantra that I kept on saying to myself. Um, and it's, you can't look at all the training. You basically send this, how am I doing right now? [00:07:00] Find a way, find a way. And so that was my mantra to really, to choose to win and kind of break down in micro environments to, to kind of push through. So that was, that was at least my key to success was the teamwork piece.
[00:07:11] And then also, how can you survive?
[00:07:13] Andreas Deptolla: Find a way a lot. Love, love that mantra. If you look. Those different components. Right? You talked about like, you know, the, the, the physical aspect, obviously, like people can train for that on the mental side, building resilience. Do you believe that this is one of those things that are innately born?
[00:07:29] Can that be trained, but what have you
[00:07:31] Dan Kasper: seen. Um, I think it is, I think it's both, but I would say mostly it is something that can be taught. I mean much like you, you do an iron man, you've done iron mans in your past, and that's something that isn't easy to do. You can train for it. But at the end of the day, there's so many factors that feed into it.
[00:07:45] So to me, it's being comfortable with being uncovered. And just the mental acceptance of pain and, uh, choosing to succeed. Um, and then I think that's, it it's really a choice. Um, and it comes down to a bunch of micro choices along the [00:08:00] way to really push through. So I think it's, it is something that can be trained for, I think peach will potentially have a higher aptitude or knack for it innately, but it's something that really can be trained and really harness out of an environment.
[00:08:12] Andreas Deptolla: And then like holistically, like special operations team. Yeah. Considered best in class from your point of view, what are the foundations for high-performing teams and maybe how do you translate some of these lessons that you learned during your time as a special forces on the business
[00:08:29] Dan Kasper: side? Yeah, I mean, it's a very interesting question.
[00:08:32] That connection has been an interesting journey for me too, but, you know, I, I was really molded in a place. The Navy was, was really foundational for who I am. I was the molded in a place for teams for literally life and death and being crafted in an environment where it was really that high stakes is something that I still take.
[00:08:49] Um, and to some degree people, which is really the foundation, in my opinion to high-performing teams, that's it, it's about the people you have in your organization, the talent that they bring [00:09:00] to the table. And that is the really the foundational concept to all high performing teams. It's the people you have on your bus.
[00:09:06] And so that's an interesting thing and it's something that I also take away. Um, you know, what makes a high performing team this in the Navy is this the same concepts that make a high performing team in the business world quote comes to mind by the name of Zig Ziglar. And we have it, um, you know, in our product as well as your voiceless, but he says, Hey, you don't build a business.
[00:09:23] You build people and the people build the business. So in my opinion, you know, that teens concept is equally as life and death. The overall organization, as it was in the Navy, may not, maybe not, you're not physically threatened, but if you want a sustainable high. High-performing organization. It really first starts with the people that you have on board.
[00:09:42] And so that's an interesting piece that I always try to articulate to as the same concepts that I've been working with from the special operations committee are the same concepts here that I'm using a wishlist. I just go about it in a different way. So in my opinion, if you want a high performing team, you need a couple of different elements.
[00:09:58] And the first thing you need always [00:10:00] need to do again, in my opinion is you start with yourself. You are the foundation for all the change that you want to see in the world. You can't just go out and say, okay, these are the changes and not make that change yourself. But first looking internally, what do I need to do as a team leader?
[00:10:14] What do I need to do as the department head or the CEO of the organization to really craft an environment, to allow high. I think the next piece of that is getting the right people on board, getting the right people with the right backgrounds, with the right skillset, the right. And then once you have them, it's about setting that mission, right?
[00:10:31] Determining the why, why do people, where are we going? What are we trying to accomplish in the world? What gets us out of bed in the morning? What gives us that energy to work those extra hours put in the extra effort and what have changed are we trying to create, I mean, when teams are out to accomplish something, they're not just social clubs.
[00:10:46] There are of course social clubs, but in the business world, you're out to, to accomplish something. So what is our mission? What are we out to accomplish? And then find that last piece to me is aligning and adjusting. And that also, I think is a key piece because, you know, there's a saying in the Navy that the best plan [00:11:00] goes out the window, as soon as the first bullets fly.
[00:11:02] And that's true in the business world too, you can have a best component, but things will always change the environment, change your team changes. And so how can we align as a team to work in the same direction, but also be able to do that?
[00:11:13] Andreas Deptolla: A lot of what you said absolutely resonates. Right? Ron people about like building these high-performing teams.
[00:11:19] How do you think about from, from your own perspective about leadership and is it an approach to changes over time changes based on different situations? Tell us more about your personal leadership style. Yeah.
[00:11:31] Dan Kasper: So, so my concept of leadership and how I define it, my goal is to truly inspires others around me to change and create lasting change themselves, no matter their environment or challenge.
[00:11:42] So a lot of it is allowing kind of removing obstacles and being an expiration to others who want to create a change themselves. Cause that's where lasting change happens is internally. You can't force it set upon others. So how I think about leadership, but it's not, I'm really critical of leaders. I think there's is a true.
[00:11:58] Difference between leaders [00:12:00] and managers. Um, and what that entails for me personally, I have a series of values that I hold is important to me. I have an ethos, I have a vision mission personally. Um, and I bring that to the table, no matter what environment you're going to get, that if I was in the Navy, it's kind of the same thing about wishlist or even my personal world.
[00:12:15] That is who I am. That's what you're going to get now with that said, I do craft and adapt to my strategy. Based upon the environment while still adhering to those values. Uh, so for example, I was a bit more direct in the Navy and there was a couple of different things that I did differently in those environments than I'm doing here at wishlist.
[00:12:33] But again, it's coming from the same set of core values. And so that's kind of how I approach the space of leadership. And my goal is to really allow people to create lasting changes. You
[00:12:44] Andreas Deptolla: mentioned a little bit earlier, the, the, the importance of getting a Playhouse in, right? So the organization really on an order for, for the organization to scale, what are your recommendations for audience to get phenomenal people into the organization?
[00:12:59] [00:13:00] Obviously we all see this, this wall of talent going on, right. It's hard to find really, really good people. What, what are your recommendations to get the right people? I think
[00:13:09] Dan Kasper: there's a few things that you should look for in crafting a team. That's going to be a high performing team, the first thing, and it's also becoming increasingly important and at least more on radars is the concept of diversity.
[00:13:21] I mean, I think diversity is absolutely critical to high performing teams. Now diversity has multiple. To that and what that looks like. But overall you want people that have different backgrounds that look different that think different, that are different because that adds a piece to the puzzle. You know, even if you look at the special operations team, each person has a specialty that has a different background, a different lens, and you apply that as a team.
[00:13:44] And now you have different people looking for different things with different lenses. And the sum of all those ports is greater than each of those individually. So I'm extremely interested in that concept and what it does through. Is to propel organizations forward. So you want [00:14:00] people to think different periods, I think, and kind of feeding into that is my next concept is you want independent thinkers.
[00:14:06] And to me, this is really critical. You want people to understand their environment, to read and react, understand where the mission is and where you're moving towards, but also apply their own log. There's some, there's a millions of scenarios that can happen in each person's every day. And you want them to be able to make those decisions within their swim lanes.
[00:14:23] So give them a why understand where they're going and give them the swim lane of where to operate in and then essentially get out of their way. Let them think. Let them reason you're hiring smart people for a reason. They have a different perspective, a different lens. So I think independently thinking through scenarios is absolutely critical.
[00:14:39] And the third piece is just an overall growth mindset. I think that's super critical to creating these high performing teams and a desire to learn. And a desire to be better with themselves, you know, to never really fully be satisfied with what they're doing and what they're accomplishing or themselves, and just desire to be better.
[00:14:56] Um, in all cases, that's a, it's an addicting thing to [00:15:00] have on your team when everyone together pushes themselves to become better. So I think those are the three pieces that really come to mind in terms of. People should be looking for when building a team,
[00:15:11] Andreas Deptolla: what, what you're outlining here. If I would kind of like summarize that in my head, sounds like, okay, this is, this is how you can build a great culture as well.
[00:15:19] But I wanna, I wanna hear it from your perspective, like how do you define culture? Right? It's a term that's often used. Right? What, what does it mean to you? And then at wishlist, how do you build that culture and how do you
[00:15:32] Dan Kasper: live? Yeah. I mean, you're right. I think it is somewhat close. You want the right people in the organization, you have to look for a piece, but then culture is also, in my opinion, it's a series of normalized behaviors within a group, and you're going to have a culture, whether you you're intentional about or not.
[00:15:47] And so the key I think for leaders is to really craft intentionally the people and also what you want your culture to be. And there's a few different factors in my opinion, that feed into building a great culture. And the first is extremely [00:16:00] foundational to any relationship. And that's true. You need to be able to trust the people that are on your team, if you don't have trust everything else that you're trying to build upon will crumble.
[00:16:09] And I think, well, they're like, oh, damn well, how do you build trust? And to me, I've done a lot of thinking about that and I was just fine. Hey, make, what's important to the other person important to you. Whether that be their role or whether it be personally that key trust can be built by merely making what's important to them important to you.
[00:16:24] I think another piece is ownership. People want to have an impact. They want to see and be able to make decisions and change. And so, again, this is key to understanding the vision and the why behind the organization, but then give them something to own. Give them something that they're able to make decisions.
[00:16:39] I the ownership culture and whether that be its successes or equally important as failures is owning that behavior and owning those responsibilities and performance. I think adaptability is absolutely key to a successful culture. And that ties in with the concept of resiliency, being able to remove maneuver throughout the multiple variables that everyone encounters on a daily or weekly basis [00:17:00] and to comfortable, and those uncomfortable moments use them as opportunities as a stepping stone, like challenges.
[00:17:06] Can either deal with it by saying, I can't deal with it, or they can see them as challenges to really become better. And I think that's key to having a cult. A great culture is having that adaptability and resilience resiliency as
[00:17:17] Andreas Deptolla: well. That's more about like what wishlist, uh, provides in terms of value to
[00:17:21] Dan Kasper: it's.
[00:17:22] Absolutely. So wishlist is in the HR space, HR technology space, human resources, space, specifically rewards and recognition. And so what we're out to accomplish our mission is to amplify company performance, through igniting the power of people. And so we have core human concepts, the human psychology that's been around for millennia, the core human connection pieces that trust the impact of the love and belonging that's in Maslow's hierarchy of needs.
[00:17:46] We then in turn digitize that so teams that are now working remote or in various areas, Or leverage technology to really have those four human concepts that are digitized. And third we're also linking that to business performance. And now I think that's a huge gap. And [00:18:00] so important does, I mentioned before businesses are out to accomplish something and we want to show culture because it also builds business performance.
[00:18:07] So that's the tool that we're creating. Historically we've helped organizations reward their employees for birthdays, anniversaries performance. And what we did differently is instead of doing plaques trophies, we're very passionate about experiences about the memories. Made stories that can be told and how that connects to the overall employer brand.
[00:18:24] So our raw rewards are currently consisted of about 5,000 experiences. So think driving Ferrari skydiving brewery tours, but we're also in the mix, all of this evolution and this evolution is essentially, we realized that rewards are very important, but there's a broader problem to be solved out there.
[00:18:39] And so we looked out in this space and we saw other competitors and experience reward. They didn't really have that connection to the why of the business, the mission of business performance and their recognition solutions out there. They didn't have an and meaningful rewards nor did they really connect to the overall modern workforce as a lot of solutions haven't changed in the past decade, [00:19:00] even though the demographics of the workforce has changed significantly in the past.
[00:19:03] No year or two alone. So we've actually recently launched a new product. It's really built for this exact environment that we find ourselves in postcode and environment, people working remotely. The future of work has changed. And now it's really exciting to be in the people's space in a time where people need it most.
[00:19:19] Andreas Deptolla: And you just mentioned pandemic. How has the rewards and recognition market changed during the. The pandemic specifically, what do you expect
[00:19:28] Dan Kasper: now for the future? Interesting question and one that we've spent a lot of time to try to understand what's going on so we can be best advocates for our clients and users, but you know, there's really never been a time in modern history where organizations have had the strength and the resiliency of their culture tested or exposed more than.
[00:19:46] 2020. And you know, the aftershocks of the environment that we had worked through last year are really shaking organizations to their core. We're seeing that employees can feel unappreciated, unsupported, and alone. They want to see their impact on the organization, even though they're [00:20:00] working remotely, they need that sense of community and belonging, which is so core to the human condition, but they also want appreciation.
[00:20:06] They want to feel seen and heard for the work that they're doing, even though they may not be in the office. Conversely, the companies that we're seeing are also scrambling to adapt to this new era of work, which has changed significantly in the past year. They've been companies I've worked super hard to keep build a culture, which we just talked about.
[00:20:22] It's about high-performance. I want to keep it alive, but they also want to understand performance the same time. It's 2021 there's technology available on the market. That is really revolutionary, especially in the people's space, since they want to be able to automate and customize, and they essentially want to create.
[00:20:36] An environment where employees are doing the best work of their life, because they know that pushes the business forward. So, um, you know, saying something bold. If, if organizations haven't changed, how they're approaching their people and supporting our people and culture in the past year, they're going to experience some type of issues because the environment is so badly.
[00:20:54] And this feeds into the adaptability of strong performing teams and leaders. The environment has changed. So we, as [00:21:00] organizations need to change. And that's another really the future of work has changed. Successful companies are really altering their behaviors in some capacity to meet the new needs. And so some of the concepts that I think are important to look for.
[00:21:11] And no solutions where there'd be wishlist or any people solutions. Cause you know, that's what we want to do is of course it's the wishlist, but some things to keep in mind, regardless of what solution you're going for is understand and look for impact based solutions you want, you know, currencies are out there.
[00:21:26] Points-based systems are out there, but you want to see the impact. And that's really the key to the changing demographics. So who's in the workspaces. How can I see how my work, my team's work has an impact on the organization? How is it impacting our values? For us. I think another key important capacity is looking at choice.
[00:21:44] What is meaningful for one person may not be for others. Again, diverse audiences are diverse teams. We want to make sure we have solutions. I'm not on the reward side, but also just in general to the business. So people allow people to make decisions. I think understanding how people are working together, [00:22:00] even though people in businesses are remote, remote is super important.
[00:22:03] Elaboration mapping, understanding, Hey, maybe that new hire that you just hired. It's really the core of your communications or your strategy within a team, or maybe that managed that you've had really is kind of on an island. So understanding how people are fitting into your organization through technology, I think is important.
[00:22:20] And then also a diversity inclusion that fits in none on how you're building your team. But it can also fit into making sure that I'm including others on my team that do various perspectives and thoughts. It's going to help accelerate your team. It's going to help you understand to making sure the voice of your team is heard as well from an executive level audience.
[00:22:37] Andreas Deptolla: You know, from PEOS, uh, HR leaders, many people are looking for great talent right in the market right now. What are the best ways if somebody wants to hire from the special forces, are there, are there any resources, any organization that, that you can,
[00:22:55] Dan Kasper: uh, Yes, a great question. And I'm extremely excited [00:23:00] about the talent coming out of the military, specifically special operations environment.
[00:23:04] Um, and the reason being, especially for tech environments is the environments are strikingly. Similar. People always ask you, how did you make that jump? Well, the environments are close enough where you're working in global environments with new technology that hasn't been used before. You have limited resources, it's high impact diverse teams.
[00:23:21] So I could go on and on, but the environments are very similar. So I highly, highly recommend. Chatting with somebody in the special operations committee or broader military in general, you're going to be surprised. You're going to be surprised about the impacts that have had from a young age, the budget they've dealt with, the decisions they've had to ma make and their history are pretty fantastic.
[00:23:40] I personally went through an organization that was life-changing for me. It was called the piano foundation. You check it out on the honor foundation.org, but it helps special operations personnel through a phased approach. Get paired up with top notch organizations to have executive coaching, MBA style.
[00:23:55] Um, you learn, you know, what your skillsets are. You learn how to articulate your experience to people in the civilian sector, but there's some phenomenal talent coming out out of that organization. So highly recommend checking them out. And if you're looking for some great talent in the tech space startup space, that you're going to be surprised by what's coming up.
[00:24:12] Andreas Deptolla: On a foundation. Thank you. If somebody wants to reach out to you personally, as any, any kind of follow-up questions, what's the best way to find you and connect with you?
[00:24:20] Dan Kasper: Uh, LinkedIn is perfect. So just go to an under Dan Casper with a K type Dan gastro wishlist, and now my mean mobile pop up there and would love to connect and then have a follow on.
[00:24:30] Andreas Deptolla: It was a privilege. Thank you so much for, for being on the show today. We'll enjoy our company.
[00:24:35] Dan Kasper: Appreciate it. On drives is a great opportunity in mind as well. And thanks for all you're doing on the thrive pass side of the wellness space is really changing. And I think your approach specifically is really unique.
[00:24:44] So thanks for that. Thank you, sir. Bye. Now
[00:24:49] Andreas Deptolla: This podcast is sponsored by ThrivePass, a trusted PEO partner for employee benefits from pre-tax accounts to COBRA administration, ThrivePass empowers employees to thrive through exceptional service in innovative technology. More at thrivepass.com. Thanks for listening to today's episode, don't forget to subscribe and visit us peo-podcast.com to learn more.
[00:25:16] I’m Andreas Deptolla and this is The PEO Podcast. We'll see you next time.