Solving the Scaling Bottleneck: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Operations With Jhana Li

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Welcome to episode 196 of The Agency Accelerator!

In today's episode, our host, Rob Da Costa, delves into the world of business operations with the operations expert, Jhana Li. As the founder of Spyglass Operations, Jhana has a wealth of knowledge and experience in scaling startups and optimising resources.

Together, Rob and Jhana explore the importance of identifying and closing gaps in operations, the connection between operations and profitability, and the key metrics to measure operational effectiveness. They also discuss the critical role of operational expertise in unlocking the potential of teams and regaining focus on high-value activities.

So, whether you're an entrepreneur looking to scale your business or someone interested in the fascinating world of operations, you won't want to miss this episode of The Agency Accelerator!

Topics Covered In This Episode:

[01:00] Introduction to Jhana and why operations is such an important topic

[02:37] What do we mean by operations?

[04:20] What stage should you start thinking about the operations role?

[06:30] The importance of measuring the leaks and cracks in your organisation

[08:00] Operations should not be seen as a cost but as an investment

[09:45] What key metrics should you measure in your agency?

[14:40] How do you find the right operational person

[17:06] What systems & processes should they implement?

[21:42] The importance of Standard Operating Systems

[25:35] Put systems in place BEFORE the lack of them becomes an issue!

[30:00] Final tips from Jhana


“Operations responsibility is to identify cracks and gaps and ensure they are filled so you are not leaking money!” - Jhana Li
“Most CEOs and leaders are not good at operations!” - Jhana Li
“Operations should be seen as an investment, not a cost” - Rob Da Costa

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 Full Episode Transcription

Rob Da Costa [00:00:00]:

Hey everybody, and welcome to this week's Agency Accelerator podcast. I'm your host, Rob DeCosta and I'm thrilled to have Jana Lee joining me today. Jana is the founder of Spyglass Operations, a firm that provides operational consulting and support for high-growth startups. Now, she's got over a decade of experience scaling startups from early traction to over 100 million in revenue. So exciting stuff.

Rob Da Costa [00:00:26]:

I'm Rob Da Costa and this is the agency Accelerator podcast. As someone who has stood in your shoes, having started, grown and sold my own agency, I know just how it feels in the ups and downs of agency life. So this podcast aims to ease your journey just a little by sharing mine and my guests' experiences and advice as you navigate your way to growing a profitable, sustainable and enjoyable business.

Rob Da Costa [00:00:51]:

And in today's episode, Jana's going to share her expertise on building efficient operations to help agencies accelerate their growth whilst avoiding some of the pitfalls. Now look, I know that operations isn't the most sexy topic, but trust me, as you will hear, it is absolutely vital. So we'll cover some strategies for transitioning from solo founder to growing your agency towards 1 million in revenue and we'll discuss when is the right time to bring in operational support and how founders can avoid getting stuck in the weeds. Now, Jana began her career driving operations at several fast-growth tech startups in Silicon Valley and she saw firsthand some of the bottlenecks like tech infrastructure and team processes, and how they can restrain a company's growth even when they have an amazing product or service. So after years of solving these challenges for startups, Jana founded Spyglass operations to provide dedicated operational support so founders can focus on their core strengths. So I'm really excited to have Jana share her insights and strategies around startup operations. So let's dive in. So, first of all, welcome to the show, Jana.

Rob Da Costa [00:02:00]:

I know that was a big, long, garbled introduction for me. So is there anything more you want to add about how you started Spyglass and exactly what you do?

Jhana Li [00:02:08]:

No, I think that covered it and I would double-click on my lived experience, my background experience. Really being with those early-stage startups, we do our best work with companies that are doing less than eight figures in annual revenue because that's really the bread and butter of operations. And operations for startups is really its own flavour. So I'm excited to dive into it.

Rob Da Costa [00:02:30]:

Fantastic. So let's just give a bit of context to this conversation. So you and I and all the listeners are on the same page. Can you just tell us exactly what we mean by operations?

Jhana Li [00:02:40]:

Yeah, 100%. I think it's an important question because if I was to ask ten founders to define sales, I would probably get ten of almost the same answer. If I was to ask them to define operations, I would get ten different answers and probably half of them would be crickets. Right, so let's start with my definition. It is my own definition, but it's a really important one, I think, when it comes to understanding the value of operations and how operations drive the money pipeline. So I define operations as any action required within a business to optimise the ROI on a company's core resources. Those resources are time, energy, money and human potential. These are the four resources that go to work in your business every single day.

Jhana Li [00:03:24]:

The job of operations is to make sure those resources are being used as efficiently and effectively as possible to maximise ROI. Revenue, profit, productivity.

Rob Da Costa [00:03:34]:

Fantastic. And when you put it like that, suddenly it sounds vitally important and not something. I think the challenge is, of course, that entrepreneurs are. They start their business for a reason. They're creative, they want to be in control, so they find it really difficult to let go. And, of course, what works in the very early days suddenly stops working. I always used to say you could shout across the desk at people, maybe not so much now because we're not all in a physical office, but that quickly stops working, doesn't it? So what stage would you sort of advise people to start thinking about this operations role? And at what point would you say that they should actually hire a dedicated resource?

Jhana Li [00:04:18]:

Yeah. So the best metaphor I can give you, Rob, is to imagine your business is a bucket. And money cash flow is water flowing into the bucket. And the goal of growing your business is increasing the water line within the bucket.

Rob Da Costa [00:04:31]:


Jhana Li [00:04:32]:

Sales and marketing, that's the pipe coming into the bucket, pouring new water into the bucket. But every single business, every single bucket has its gaps, its cracks, its holes, right? There's no such thing as a perfectly efficient business. As more and more water pours in, the pressure inside the bucket builds and the cracks start to widen. The gaps start to get bigger. New holes start to open up. The job of operations. And the way that operations help your company grow is by identifying those gaps and cracks and then plugging them, right, so that the water that you're working so hard to pour into the bucket actually stays in the bucket. To your question about when should we bring in operations, the perfect answer is, well, when the amount of water, the amount of money leaking out of your bucket is equivalent or greater than the cost of bringing in an operator who would then be able to close those gaps, keep that water in the bucket, and allow the bucket to continue to grow and rise.

Rob Da Costa [00:05:28]:


Jhana Li [00:05:28]:

So realistically, where does that tend to happen? Depends a little bit on the business model as well as how operationally talented the CEO is. Like most CEOs, not so good at operations, a few who are maybe more systems-inclined could wait a little bit longer. But generally, what we recommend and what we see in terms of where an operator becomes a really important lever for growth is right around that mid-six-figure run rate. So somewhere in that 40 to kind of revenue mark and where it becomes really essential is as you start scaling towards seven figures and where it is actively holding you back and costing you more money than it would require to fix these problems is when you get above that seven-figure run rate, no doubt.

Rob Da Costa [00:06:12]:

Yeah, that's this great metaphor. And I love sort of things like that because it helps people really visualise the issue.

Jhana Li [00:06:17]:


Rob Da Costa [00:06:18]:

Do you find though, that a lot of people are not actually measuring? I know this is a crazy thing to ask, but they're not actually measuring how much they're leaking out of their bucket. They're just focused on putting more water in the bucket and trying to keep their clients, but they're not measuring that leak and therefore they don't actually know what it is, and therefore they don't know how much it is. And therefore they don't know when to hire the operations person.

Jhana Li [00:06:39]:

100% yes to all of that, right? Especially because operations really is a unique lens in your business. When I step into a business, I can't see the gaps, the holes, the cracks, right? It's like these blaring neon signs to me that say, this is where this company could be more efficient. When I talk to the average visionary founder, they are not seeing any of that, right? And that's okay. Visionary founders have their own amazing genius of a lens, right? You're a master at looking at that pipeline full of water pouring into the bucket and figuring out how can we send more water through. That's an amazing skill set. But you're not focused on the cracks and the gaps and the leaks. Which is why, in my experience, entrepreneurs wait way too long to bring in operations, right? They bring it in when the cracks and gaps are so huge that you can't not notice. Right.

Jhana Li [00:07:31]:

When they're in so much pain, when they are so stuck in the weeds, when their team is so underperforming or their clients are churning out like crazy. Okay, maybe now we have some gaps maybe it's time to look at this. But the reality is that that's probably one to two years after the moment that those gaps first appeared and could have been closed and could have been keeping all of that water in your bucket this whole time. And so it's one of the most important things that I have to coach entrepreneurs on, which is how do we identify the cracks and the gaps, at least have an idea of where they might be, so that we know when to bring in that operator, not so that we can close those gaps ourselves, but so we can bring in the right expertise to help us do that.

Rob Da Costa [00:08:13]:

Yeah, that's so true. Do you think it's partly because people look at operations and they see it as a cost rather than an investment?

Jhana Li [00:08:20]:

Yes, absolutely. Right. Which is why the bucket metaphor is so important. Because if I'm just bringing in this operator and they're not ROI positive, I don't see how they connect to the money pipeline, frankly. Why would I hire them? That makes no sense. I'm not going to do anything that's not ROI-positive for my business. And so it's important to remember, like operations, our job is not to pour more water into the top of the bucket. Right.

Jhana Li [00:08:42]:

That's marketing, that's sales. But that doesn't mean that that's the only way to increase the water line. The other way is to make sure that the bucket is as effective and efficient as possible, and that the least amount of water is leaking out so that all the water being poured in actually stays in the bucket. And the bigger your business grows, the more of a compound effect that will have on your company. Because now, if you were pouring, let's say, one drop of water into the bucket when you're small, cool, like a little leak or crack, there is probably not going to make a huge difference. But when you're pouring a massive volume of water in and a massive volume of water is leaking out, all of a sudden it becomes a really expensive problem to have those cracks leaking out of the bucket.

Rob Da Costa [00:09:25]:

Yeah, absolutely. It's such a big issue. Can you give us, I mean, obviously you've worked with lots of different startups, so can you give us some of those common kinds of metrics and KPIs, I guess some of them are obvious, but it's worth stating them. What are some of the common things that people should start measuring so they can see whether their bucket is leaking or not?

Jhana Li [00:09:46]:

Yeah, absolutely. Great question. So for this, I would go back to my original definition, right? We've got four resources in your business. Time, energy, money, human potential. And what you're going to see as these cracks start to widen is leakage, is waste in each of these four categories. So if you are the CEO and founder of your business, let's talk about time and energy first. The biggest, loudest example of this is going to be your own time and your own energy.

Jhana Li [00:10:13]:

Do you as a founder, find yourself every single day starting to wake up and feel more and more reactive to your business? Working on the lower value, lower leverage activities just because they have to get done and not working on the really high value, high leverage activities that you know you should be doing, right? That gap between the value you are creating for your business and the value you could be creating for your business if your time was spent on the right things. That's a crack. That's a gap, right? That's time and energy leaking out of your bucket, not creating the money that it could be creating. So your time and energy is going to be the loudest and clearest example of when it is time to bring in an operator. One of the most ROI, positive things that we as operators do is help our CEOs get their time and energy back and reallocated towards the things that are going to move the business forward, right? Like we as founders are assets in our own business. If we're not utilising ourselves, well, then our business is suffering as a result. And the operator's job is to identify what is trapping you in the weeds. What are these low-value activities? How can we get these things off your plate, either to a team or to a system or an AI or something, so that you can get your time back?

Jhana Li [00:11:25]:

You can refocus on pouring more water into the bucket, right? So time and energy are going to be really loud examples specifically for you. Money is the most measurable one, Rob, right? Specifically, profit. So as you're scaling, it's natural that profit is going to start to drop because you're investing more in your infrastructure and your team. But if it is dropping too much, if your profit margin is disappearing, that is an operational problem, right? The best operators in a business are taking ownership for profit as their North Star metric. They are responsible for making the business as profitable as possible. And then the fourth one is human potential. And in my opinion, this is the most underutilised of the four. But the human potential is your team, right? Your team has all of this human potential, all of this work ethic, all of this creativity, all of this innovation that they could be bringing into your business every day.

Jhana Li [00:12:17]:

But are they right? Are they being proactive, resourceful problem solvers? Are they innovating? Are they creating? Are they running with you and building this business alongside you? Or is your team coming to you every single day with the same sets of problems? They're not thinking for themselves. They're not asking the right questions. They're not being proactive. Right. That on the surface, looks like a team problem. It's actually an operational problem. Operations, when done well, systematically invite and unlock the highest levels of performance from your team. And so if you're feeling really frustrated at your team, which so many of our clients are when we first work with them, that is an indicator that it might be time to bring in the operational expertise that knows how to build that dream team, a player team that you deserve and that you're dreaming of.

Rob Da Costa [00:13:02]:

Yeah, I love all of that. I'd give you a virtual high five the ocean because you're saying so much of what I say, but in a much more articulate way, I think so. I always talk to my clients about understanding what an hour of their time is worth. Not that we're selling time to our clients, but understanding what an hour of your time is worth and making sure that the tasks you do are worth that or more. And if you're doing lots of tasks that are worth less than that, why are you doing them and what can you do to get them off your plate? I find that when founders behave like that and they're working at the lowest common denominator, that encourages their team to do the same thing as well. So we're now all overpaid people for the job that we're doing. I also think that is not enough. This is a crazy thing to say, really, but not enough.

Rob Da Costa [00:13:49]:

Agencies have got their finger on the pulse regarding profitability, and they're not measuring that. So they become busy fools or a charity, as I like to say, they're running a charity because they're working really hard, but they're not making the profits. And I think the human potential piece is fantastic as well. Like, be a great role model, and get your team to work at the top of their game. And I think it's a really fascinating connection to say, actually, operations can take kind of charge of some of this stuff. So a couple of questions. Let me just throw these questions at you. You can answer them in whichever order you feel is the right one.

Rob Da Costa [00:14:24]:

First of all, how do we go about finding this person? And what are we looking for in them or this team? And second of all, what are some of the kinds of systems and processes that they may implement that would remove some of these bottlenecks and would be the first things that they would look at?

Jhana Li [00:14:40]:

Fantastic questions. Okay, so in terms of what to look for, all of the best operators that I've ever known or worked with have the same way of looking at a business. If you ask any of them, hey, how do you think about business? What do you think about the team? They're going to tell you, I see business like a puzzle. I see it like a map. For me, I see it like a DJ board, right? It's just a bunch of knobs and dials and levers that if I just tap in a little bit more culture and dial back a little bit on the system, right, I can optimise this thing because that's how I see it. I see it analytically, I see it as a set of systems and patterns. Any operator that I know who has that raw operations DNA sees business the same way. It's an underlying lens that we cannot turn off even if we try.

Jhana Li [00:15:26]:

So that is the operational talent. What we put on top of that is knowledge, right? How do we build SOPs? How do we build systems? How do we build data? These are tactical, how to sets of knowledge. But the best operators, Rob, we often find, may not have that tactical set of knowledge because there's just not a lot of resources out there for formal operations training. So when we go into our clients' businesses, we generally start working with our clients on what we call our Ops inspection, which is a company-wide audit, and we're interviewing their team. And what we're looking for is, is there a hidden operator? Somebody who has that raw talent, may not have the formal training and knowledge to layer on top of it, but that's fine. We've got coaching programmes, we can solve that problem. Is there a talented operator on your team that with the right support, could level up and fill that role? Because if so, that's going to be the most cost-effective way for you to bring this talent into your business without having to go out and hire an expensive, batteries-included operator, right?

Rob Da Costa [00:16:27]:

Yeah, absolutely. That's a really great way of looking at it, looking internally. And I think perhaps, and maybe this is where you come in, but I think one of the challenges often is that the CEO or the founder, this stuff is so alien to them that they don't even know what to look for. Then they just see it as a pain in the backside to try and resolve it and they don't even know where to start looking. So how do you overcome that one? And I guess that second question I had was like, once we've got this in place, what are the first systems that we'd be looking at?

Jhana Li [00:17:00]:

Yeah. And I guess in my line of work it is a bit of a blessing because if all CEOs were phenomenal at this, I would probably be out of a job.

Rob Da Costa [00:17:08]:


Jhana Li [00:17:08]:

We come in and we do the audit because we are the operational lens that can tell you who that it takes one to know one. We can identify an operator from 100 yards away. We know what to look for. We can tell you what systems or processes need to be made more robust based on where you're at right now and where you're trying to get in the next twelve months because we've seen it hundreds of times. So I think the short answer and the shortcut is there are resources available to shortcut that learning curve, to bring in that operational lens and to get going faster if that's not the route that you want to go. Unfortunately, it's a trial-and-error process. And I'm seeing that play out with a friend of mine right now who's not a client, but a friend. And he brought in a six-figure COO to his company.

Jhana Li [00:17:51]:

And two months later he's texting me and he's saying, Jonah, I don't actually know what this person is here to do. And I think they might be underperforming, but I'm not sure because I never set or aligned on expectations for the role. So he's made this six-figure investment because somebody told him, hey, it's time for you to have a COO. And he thought, I don't know what they do or how they do it, but COOs are supposed to make my life easier, right? So I guess I'll buy one. And he has no way of actually measuring whether he's getting the ROI on that investment, which if that were true for any area of the business, that would be insane, right? Nobody would tolerate that. And so I think it's really important to know what level of operator you need. Do you actually need a COO or could you get by with an OpS manager? Because one of those is half the cost and might be more ROI-positive for you. And then once they're in the business, what do they actually need to be doing? So to your question, Rob, in terms of what are the systems, what are the processes, right? It's really going to depend on the stage of growth your business is in.

Jhana Li [00:18:50]:

That makes sense, right? The operations infrastructure is going to need to evolve as your business evolves. So in broad strokes, what I would say is that your operator is responsible for optimising task and workflow management, right? Like, how is the day-to-day getting done? And are tasks getting done as effectively as possible on time? Are deadlines being met? Are people being productive? Right? And the system, the go-to system I call the single source of truth. That is your project management system, right? That's an asana or a ClickUp or a Choose whatever software you want. It is the single source of truth. It is a single system where your team can come every single day and get the 80-20 of what they need to be effective in their role. They can see their tasks, they can access their SOPs, they can see what projects are there in the middle of.

Jhana Li [00:19:40]:

They can see client information that they need in order to go back to that client and service them. Right? Like it's the one-stop shop so that your team is not clicking around a million tabs every day trying to track down info. And if that system is done well, the other major pillar that your operator is responsible for optimising is communication, right? A single source of truth done well should reduce by like 50% to 80%, should reduce the amount of talking that needs to happen in your business. And this is like one of those hidden gaps, right? We talked about how do we know what the gaps and the cracks are. Talking. Communication is a sneaky one because time spent talking is time not spent generating revenue. Just straight up.

Rob Da Costa [00:20:24]:


Jhana Li [00:20:24]:

And so how are we talking when we need to talk? Right? Meetings are important. Talking is important. But how do we talk as little and as effectively as possible so that the large majority of our time is spent actually executing and driving revenue? And so I'll see CEOs where they're like, I don't have an operational problem, but they're also spending 4 hours a day in Slack being blown up by their team. Yes, you do, because that's 4 hours a day you are talking and not driving growth to your business. That is incredibly expensive. That is a huge crack in the bucket.

Rob Da Costa [00:20:57]:

Yeah. Goodness. So much to unpack there. I really like that single source of truth. Just a personal story, really. I learned the hard way based on the lesson that you're just describing. I mean, I'm fundamentally sort of a single business person business, but I do have a VA team of admin and social media marketing and so on. And I had lots of failures with that until I stopped and wrote down my standard operating procedures and implemented Asana and made sure that is our project management tool and make sure that we used it properly.

Rob Da Costa [00:21:32]:

And now it is completely my Bible. I can see exactly what's going on. I can see where the bottlenecks are. I can see whether I'm the bottleneck. I know where I need to focus. And so I would just encourage everybody to look into this as early as you can in your business because it becomes very difficult. I guess that's when they call you in, maybe, but it becomes very difficult to retrospectively fit this, doesn't it? As opposed to getting it right as you evolve and put it in at the right time.

Jhana Li [00:21:59]:

Yeah. And it's a challenge. Right. Because I am a huge advocate, Rob, CEO founders are generally not the best people to close their own operational gaps. Right? Again, your zone of genius, your brilliance, is figuring out how to pour more water into this bucket. It is also a waste of your time and energy to try and force yourself to learn this skill set that you don't like and does not come naturally to you and is, let's be honest, even at its best, marginally effective when you do it right, versus keeping your time and energy focused on pouring more water into the bucket and outsourcing, bringing in the expertise that sees the cracks and the gaps and can close it. So I would say that, yes, in my ideal world, every entrepreneur would have perfect systems and a strong foundation, and they're able to bring their operator in and level that up in perfect harmony.

Rob Da Costa [00:22:47]:


Jhana Li [00:22:48]:

The reality is most CEO entrepreneurs I know are going to be really effective at kind of like brute force strength, their way to growth, right, to that kind of seven-figure run rate or around there. And at that point, the chaos becomes too much, and the time and energy leakage becomes too noticeable. The cracks in the bucket are starting to cost you, clients, because balls are being dropped or deadlines are being missed, or you're having to slow down marketing and sales because you know that you don't have the bandwidth or capacity to actually fulfil on these clients on the back end. That's a huge operational cost.

Rob Da Costa [00:23:24]:


Jhana Li [00:23:24]:

So when these things happen, at that point, it's like, all right, how do we bring in this missing skill set and whatever mess of a group of systems we have right now? That's what we've got. And this operator can now come in and massively overhaul and make it better. I think that is the more realistic movie that I see played out. But yes, if you're an operationally inclined CEO or you're listening to this and being like, dang I should probably get on it. Even little things like having a Slack channel and not texting, WhatsApping and emailing your team, but just slacking them. Huge. That's an amazing efficiency gain.

Rob Da Costa [00:23:57]:


Jhana Li [00:23:58]:

Just putting your communication in one place, having Asana, maybe it's not perfect, maybe you're not using it as well as it could be used. But we've created a team habit of using this one system. We're throwing tasks in there, we're using it during our meetings like we're starting.

Rob Da Costa [00:24:12]:


Jhana Li [00:24:13]:

Even doing that is going to set your operator for much more success and be able to help you grow much faster than stepping in. And it's like, yeah, our communications across five channels. We have a bunch of stuff in Google drive that's not organised. What can you do for me? Right. And it's, again, we see it all the time, it happens all the time, but you just need to set expectations that you're setting your operator up for a lot of work. It's going to be a long time before they're able to straighten things out to the point that you're starting to see the ROI of that investment. And so that's just the expectation I would set, which is depending on where we're starting from. A company-wide overhaul is a big transformation.

Jhana Li [00:24:49]:

It's a big scope of work. You have to give your operator enough time to be able to do that successfully. And if you aren't seeing massive profitability growth in the first 30 days, doesn't mean that they're doing their job incorrectly. It means that they've been set up for a pretty steep curve and you have to give them the time to go through it.

Rob Da Costa [00:25:05]:

Absolutely. I feel like sometimes entrepreneurs believe that their journey to a million dollars, pounds, whatever, it has to be a hard journey and that's just the rite of passage, that it has to be hard, but it doesn't, does it? And I guess the message we could give everybody here is to start looking at this stuff before it becomes a problem because it's so much harder to untangle it when it's a problem. I had just a quick story. I had a client who I wouldn't name, obviously, that had grown. They weren't big, but they were about 20 people. They had four account delivery teams. Each of those teams was led by a very strong-willed, sort of senior account director. And as a result of that, each of those teams did things their own way, literally, from client reporting to setting targets to team meetings.

Rob Da Costa [00:25:54]:

Everybody did it their own way and they called me in and you should have been the person to go in there, not me. They called me in to say, hey, Rob, can you kind of help us untangle this? And it was very, very different because they had a new managing director. That's why they wanted to untangle this. But they had four people who were very opinionated, very possessive of the way they did things, and very reluctant to change. And if you could go back ten years and they'd have just got this right when they had that first team, before they brought in a second team, they wouldn't have created these silos and they wouldn't have created so much aggro and grief in the agency. And what that meant was they had a high turnover of staff because people weren't happy. It was not a particularly pleasant environment to work in. So, as you mentioned earlier, there's all these knock-on effects of this.

Rob Da Costa [00:26:39]:

So I guess just get it right sooner than later if you can.

Jhana Li [00:26:43]:

Well, I think that you said a really brilliant thing, which is that scaling your business does not have to be hard. I always say that operations, if growing your business is going down a slip-and-slide, I don't know if you have that in the UK, but slip-and-slide operations is like pouring soap and water onto that slip-and-slide.

Rob Da Costa [00:27:00]:


Jhana Li [00:27:00]:

You're on the ride either way. It's going to be a ride either way. But how much friction is introduced into that process? How slow versus fast are you able to go? And at the end of the day, how much are you enjoying the process? I have seen entrepreneurs brute force their way to the eight-figure mark. That is not a joke.

Rob Da Costa [00:27:20]:


Jhana Li [00:27:21]:

But they are miserable working 17 hours, days, absolutely on the brink of burnout and want to burn their company to the ground because they hate it so much.

Rob Da Costa [00:27:30]:


Jhana Li [00:27:31]:

It's an option. You can get there, right? You can do it, but you don't have to. You just don't have to. And so I would say that the final and maybe the most important ROI of having strong operations in your business is how much are you enjoying the process of running your business and how energetically sustainable is it for you to do so. Right. Operators are also the key to unlocking weekends with your family and trips with your loved ones. And the definition of personal freedom I don't know a single entrepreneur who starts their business not wanting or not believing that they can create some freedom and autonomy for themselves. And then you fast forward to that movie two years later and they are absolutely trapped in this business, feeling like they couldn't step away for a weekend without everything falling apart. Right.

Jhana Li [00:28:20]:

So what happened to that dream? Operations are the key unlock there because a well-operating system can run without you. Rob, I rafted the Grand Canyon for three weeks last year. You could not get in touch with me if you tried. I was fully out of service.

Rob Da Costa [00:28:36]:


Jhana Li [00:28:37]:

When I came back, everything was fine. Business was running like clockwork. Right. Operations is the reason I was able to do that because I was able to delegate and trust my team and trust the business itself, that it could run without me.

Rob Da Costa [00:28:50]:

Yeah. We had someone on the podcast a while ago who just posed this question. What would happen if you took a long vacation, or worse, ill? You were forced not to work due to illness. What would happen in your business? And that is quite a stark thought, I think. I always say to people, when people start their own business, they do it for three reasons. They want flexibility, they want freedom, and they want control. And often they give up flexibility and freedom because of the need for control. And then they find themselves in the place that you just described, where years later, they're thinking, why on earth have I created this monster that I'm now working for? So I think that the sooner we recognise that and we are willing to relinquish control to people who have a better skill set than we do.

Rob Da Costa [00:29:34]:

Because even though entrepreneurs might be quite arrogant to think that they know everything, they don't. Right, like you say, they have their zone of genius where they're super skilful, which is what got them to start their business. But it's usually oil and water, isn't it, when it comes to operations? Before we wrap this up because I'm just conscious of time, have you got any parting thoughts? I mean, you've shared tonnes of great nuggets with us already, but any parting thoughts? Before I ask you my last question.

Jhana Li [00:30:01]:

I would just reiterate and give everybody, listening to this, my biggest, most giant permission slip, that you are your company's most valuable asset and resource. Your time, your energy, your creativity, your drive. Right. Without that, the business is literally nonexistent. It is the single most valuable thing your business has. And so make sure that you are treating yourself as valuable as you are, your time, your energy. And most entrepreneurs I know don't bring in operations because we are taught that we can just outwork this problem, right? Just hustle, just grind, just outwork it, just outsell it. And the reframe I would offer you is that if you are feeling, if any of the things I said today are resonating, you're feeling stuck in the weeds or like your team is underperforming or like you're spending all of your time doing this low leverage stuff.

Jhana Li [00:30:54]:

It's not annoying, right? It's not frustrating. Or it is, but I don't care. And you don't care. You don't care that it's annoying. You don't care that it's frustrating. You're going to show up and outwork the problem. So it's not any of those things. It's expensive.

Jhana Li [00:31:06]:

It is inefficient. There is an opportunity cost that your business is incurring every day when you show up and put your time and energy towards less than your highest value contribution. Your business is losing money when you do that. And so you're not going to be making this investment or this decision because it's frustrating. Because it's annoying. Because it's hard, right? You're doing it because it's expensive and it is an ROI-positive investment to get your own time and energy back.

Rob Da Costa [00:31:37]:

Hallelujah. I feel like we need to overlay a round of applause to that. I really hope people take that to heart and they take stock of wherever they are and then think, okay, what do I need to do next? Because I love having guests like you on the podcast because it makes me reflect on my own business as well. And it actually reminds me there are still lots of things I need to implement around what you've talked about today. So let me ask you the last question I ask all my guests, which is if you could go back in time and give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?

Jhana Li [00:32:11]:

I would tell myself that if there is one skill that is going to serve me better than anything else, it is going to be my ability to learn. I don't need to have all the answers. I don't need to have done something before to be good at it. I just need to be able and willing to learn faster than anybody else. And so long as I have that, I can confidently continue to step forward and step into the unknown because I know I will be able to close the learning and the knowledge gap. I think if I'd known that earlier, Rob, it would have saved me a lot of slowing myself down, a lot of impostor syndrome, a lot of holding myself back because I didn't feel ready, as opposed to creating, honing and really living in confidence that it doesn't matter how big the learning curve is, I can tackle it and I can tackle it quickly. I'm ready for this.

Rob Da Costa [00:33:03]:

Yeah. And do you think your younger self would listen to you and take that advice?

Jhana Li [00:33:08]:

I think theoretically, they'd be like, yeah, that makes total sense. Perfect. Thanks. And then probably not. I would have to go back through and learn it the hard way, the way that I actually did in real life.

Rob Da Costa [00:33:17]:

I always ask that as a second question. I actually think the advice you just gave probably has more chance of being heard by a younger person than a lot of advice that we would give ourselves. If people wanted to find out more about you, Jonah, where would be the best place for them to go?

Jhana Li [00:33:34]:

Yeah. So actually, the most kind of free value add that I would be able to give to people who've resonated with this episode would be on my Facebook group. I do weekly live training every single week. They're totally free. So if you just want to learn more about operations, I would direct you towards the Spyglass Ops Facebook group. If you're in that group that says, I know I need this, I don't want to learn it. Just fix this problem. Go check us out on our website,, and you can learn more about how it is we serve our clients and transform their businesses.

Rob Da Costa [00:34:03]:

Great. I'm just writing all this down so we will leave links in the show notes for both the Facebook group and also your website as well. I just want to say a huge thank you for joining us today. I always know these are great when I learn something, and I know. And we could have gone on for another 50 minutes, so thanks for joining us today.

Jhana Li [00:34:21]:

Thanks so much, Rob. This was funny.

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