The First 17 Years: Finding mentors in unexpected places with Jack Burns and Tony Reisz

In this episode of The First 17 Years, Tiffany recounts the ripple effect of having clients who turn into mentors—even if they fire you. Listen to hear perspectives from Jack and Tony as they reminisce on their motivations behind offering their time and friendship to a young Tiffany. In what was a critical time in Element Three’s growth, unexpected mentorship changed the course of Tiffany’s life.

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Business is transactional. That is until someone decides to invest beyond what they can get. Jack and Tony made that deliberate decision, changing Tiffany’s life.

Chapter 6: Dedicated to Jack Burns and Tony Reisz

In this episode of The First 17 Years, Tiffany recounts the ripple effect of having clients who turn into mentors—even if they fire you. Listen to hear perspectives from Jack and Tony as they reminisce on their motivations behind offering their time and friendship to a young Tiffany. In what was a critical time in Element Three’s growth, unexpected mentorship changed the course of Tiffany’s life.

For more exclusive content and a deeper look into The First 17 Years, follow @ScaredConfident on Instagram

Tiffany: When you decide to do something big or feel called to do something big, there's an expense that you don't understand that other people have to pay to.

Intro: She didn't know what it was yet, but she was really trying to build something meaningful. She just always had these big ideas. There was no fear, no hesitation at all.

It was like, this is my moment. And I'm gonna take it. I don't know how long it can stay this bad, but it can't really get worse.

Tiffany: These people, these voices, these experiences, they were my mentors. They are the people who help build and refine and grow me into the leader that I have the opportunity to sort of be today.

This is the first 17 years. Tony rice is high expectations.

Tony: I'm like, Tiffany. Yeah, you can do that, but no one else around you can. So what are you gonna do? You're gonna travel around to every single client you have, and you are going to be the one who has to unpack that story. So I told her you don't scale, Tiffany, your company can't scale, you don't scale.

Tiffany: Jack Burns is challenge. The status quo.

Jack: I hired element three to do a little bit of work on our marketing materials and. And I fired element three,

Tiffany: Tony and Jack. They are clients who turned into mentors and champions, Jack and Tony were both at places in their career where they understood business. And they had just decided that they were gonna give back as part of who they were as professionals.

And while I saw myself as. Like more of a vendor, like somebody who was just doing services for them, they really were both the ones who initiated this idea of like giving me feedback on things I didn't ask about and stepping into mentoring me without me even realizing that they could add such insane value to me, my perspective.

And they saw me as a business leader, not just the marketer who could help them with something. And. It was a really game changer to see clients that would take on just that level of, I don't know, like commitment to help embracing me getting better and helping get element three to a place where we could just serve clients better, knowing what they wanted and needed.

And it was a game changer for us.

Tony was a CEO. At a company and they were getting ready to launch huge new product and they were getting ready for a great big trade show. And they did like a call out for agencies. And in that process, we won the work. And that was really the first time I worked with Tony, met Tony. And so that's how I met him.

He hired us as his agency to launch a really big product.

Tony: I was the CEO of Ontario systems at the time, and I was introduced to Tiffany by Casey Stanley. And we were facing some really interesting challenges in the market on who we, I would say were becoming, and we needed to tell a, a different story.

And Casey said, look, there's this young lady in Indianapolis that I really think you ought to meet. And I said, okay. And she came to my office actually in Muncy, Indiana for our, for our first meeting. And I remember when Tiffany walked in. And of course she was dressed to impress, dressed to the nines, but she just had a certain jus and when she sat down the most impressive thing about her was the fact that she asked penetrating questions.

It almost felt like she had turned this completely around on me. Like it wasn't me asking about element three. It was her wanting to know more about us and, and what we were doing. And it was a, a very interesting, almost dramatic first impression. Now, by the way, at that point in time, I had run a number of companies.

I had hired hundreds of executives. I had had thousands of people work for me. So it's not easy. I would say to impress me off the bat, but there was literally something about her and it was this approach of, you know, just the way that she would ask questions and you'd think about it. And you'd go, that's exactly the right question to ask.

How does, how does she know how to ask that question? And I knew at that moment, truly that there was something special about Tiffany.

Tiffany: Tony's a guy that knows how to use questions. Like very well. So sometimes he asks questions because he actually has the question. Sometimes he asks the question because he knows the answer, but he wants to know if you know the answer.

And sometimes he asks the question because he wants to know if you know that what he's doing is asking you questions to know what you know, and, you know, from the jump, it was like that with Tony, he is really strategic. About who he partners with and the way he, he doesn't vet out what you can like necessarily your output.

Like he's not a guy where you can show him a bunch of like, Hey, these are fancy ads we've made. He's like, I don't care. You did it one time. I wanna know how your brain works. I wanna know how you solve. I wanna know if I can put you into. Any situation, and you have methodologies that you trust to get yourself to an outcome and to an answer.

And so that's what I most remember about the early days of, you know, working with Tony to like win the work, but also just working with him and somewhere through the process, you start to realize, oh, some of these questions you already know um, I see how this is working now. That is a really exciting process to be in because you know, he's always a half step ahead, but he really leans hard on you for your expertise.

Once he begins to trust how your brain works.

Tony: And spent a lot of time with her personally, a lot of time with her. So it wasn't just, well, it was very important to me. So it was, the project was really important to me. It was complicated. I didn't feel internally. Like we knew what the hell we were doing.

And so as a byproduct and we had to get it. Right. We had had some, some missteps in the market on, on telling a story about a transformational product that we were working on. And we had had some missteps technologically before I had got there. We had had a failed product. We had done enough missteps on my watch that I wanted to make sure we got this right.

And so this wasn't something I was willing to just delegate to the rest of the team. And I wasn't just willing to let it sit there and. Sit in a black hole somehow and come back and see if it worked or not. So I was very involved with the project. I mostly gravitate towards executives who are mission driven, executives who want to grow, and that fits Tiffany to a T there's also, you know, there has to be chemistry there too.

So there has to be two people that respect each other. I really respected Tiffany for what she did. And the more time I spent in, in her business, the more I was able to give her some of my own observations of things that like the whole life self examined mistakes I had made in my own career, in my own life that I felt comfortable sharing with Tiffany and saying, Hey, here's some things I see that you might want to think about or consider along the way.

Tiffany: Jack was hiring a design agency to help the company that he's the CEO of through some like brand pivots that they were doing. We pitched the work, we won the work and Jack was involved in it. But I would say more from a like cursory level. Jack's not a guy who gets real into the weeds of things. He really points.

The boat gives you direction and wants you to run with it. And what I remember about Jack, especially the early pieces of it is that he just knew his business cold. Like it was crazy. He'd been in the business for a long time. He knew the people, he knew the industry, he knew his competitors. He, he knew his customers.

Like he just knew the industry cold. And I remember just standing kind of in awe of that. Especially as somebody early on in my business, just being like, man, there's no question. He's unafraid to ask. There's like no level of depth. He's not willing to go to like, understand what his customers want. And I just remember that from working with him, but Jack ultimately fired us.

Jack: I hired element three to do a little bit of work on our marketing materials and. Then I fired element three due to an account manager issue. They weren't quite getting what we were doing and I'd met Tiffany, but I really got to know her after that. I had very high regard for Tiffany. I thought she was super smart.

I thought she had incredible energy and was trying to build something meaningful. She didn't know what it was yet, but she was really trying to build something meaningful. She had a strong desire to really understand our essence. And the person we were working with can quite translate that it's hard to do.

I get it. We're a very niche business, but she had that desire and, and I felt it and, and I just thought she was great talent and good people and somebody I wanted to know and have a relationship with and keep that relationship over time. I

Tiffany: think that my experience with Dak firing us was so profound because I had experienced the exact opposite of what Jack did.

More often. So too often, what happens maybe in every industry, but in ours it can definitely happen is like you've worked with clients for, I had one client and we had worked with them for years, had literally driven through ice storms, snowstorms done, just crazy stuff to deliver for them. And they fired us through certified mail.

And I, it has just like, I'd never been so. Like taken aback about how disposable the relationship was for them, because we had put so much into it, you know, maybe that's what they needed to do. May I'm sure if my today self could go back and service that client, there's probably things I could have done better.

I just didn't see it then. And that just felt so abrupt and personal. Kind of hurtful if I'm just like being honest as a human. And so Jack, when he came to the place where he was no longer gonna work with element three, instead of emailing me or calling me or shooting me a text, things that would've been much more efficient in his day of things he needed to get done that had strategic.

Consequence to his life. He set time with me, came over to my office. Didn't like, Becking me into his, drove over to my office. And we sat in the conference room. My recollection was, it was like an hour and a half. I don't know how much it actually was, but his body was like, So patient, he wasn't like in this, like tap his fingers, I'm in a hurry.

Like I gotta get this over with like, look kid, we're not working with you anymore. It was like, Hey, we're no longer gonna be doing work with you guys. I think that there's some observations that can be helpful as you continue to grow. And if you fix these things, I'm probably not gonna bring my business back to you.

I'm just simply telling you cuz I wanna be helpful. And I think you have what it takes to build something great. Just today. You're not ready for me and my business. And he like, wasn't mad. He wasn't like demanding a refund. He just was helpful. That was so impressionable on me as a young leader to realize that he took whatever it was out of his day to come over to my office, to take as much time as I needed in that conversation to, to extract the maximum of value and learning.

And then we stayed friends.

Jack: Those kind of decisions are significant. I've been fired and you need to understand, and you need to understand one, so you, so you can appreciate what actually happened and why. And two, if there's any action to take about it, you're prepared to do so. I've gotta believe that that was it.

The core of some of that conversation.

Tiffany: He said to me at the end of it, if I can be helpful, let me know. I did, I would text him and say, you wanna go grab sushi? And I would have all these questions and things I wanted to sort out. And it was so unlikely that it all came together, but I just tend to take people at their word when they say stay in touch.

I do. And especially when there's people who like. Catch me so off guard, I just feel to have this like weird gravitational pull towards, like, I have to see more. Why do you think like this? Why is it so disruptive? It was like the way I wanted to be experienced as a leader and as a business person was like patient and helpful.

And the fact that he could see me in element three was such a broader lens than just. That one project we did for him was just a really cool thing. I remember feeling like I wasn't doing it wrong. If we had screwed. That he was like, look, this is part of the process of building something is you hire people.

You think you've trained them. You think there's a certain thing playing out in the market and then you get feedback from customers that it's different. And then it's your job as a leader, go and fill in the gaps and figure out how do you do it better next time? And he didn't make me, it just like it.

Personal, but it was in the sense of like, he I'm rooting for you. There's a lot of good stuff here. And he could like, see the good with the bad, and he could make a judgment call for like the risk. He was willing to take that day with the company. But I knew leaving. He was somehow still an advocate for us, even though he wasn't gonna be giving us his business.

And if he would've walked into a friend, you know, that day and he said, and they said, should I use element three? He probably would've. Maybe, what do you need him for? And she's gonna get there, but they're not there right now. I think that's what he would've said. And I just felt that like, he was rooting for us.

I felt like even though we'd screwed it up, I wasn't doing it all wrong. And it just felt like a natural part of the process of building something.

Jack: I don't know if I taught her anything, but certainly being account. Is one of the top things you can do and accountable is not about taking blame. When something goes wrong, accountability is about owning yourself, understanding the essence of that and just embodying it if you will, including when you make mistakes and things go wrong.

And they do my guess is she got tons of advice on how to build a business and tons of advice on how to manage a, a family aspect in the business. And my recollection is I always tried doing. Encourage her to go inward for these answers, opposed to listening to what people think should be had, you know, had had Tiffany stayed in corporate.

She would've succeeded in a huge way, and instead she. Took what looks like a harder path now for people probably it's like, oh, that was easy. Of course you're successful. And well not, of course you're successful. It's a massive risk and it's the opportunity cost of what would've happened. Right. But instead she's built great business and reputation and it continues to grow.

Tiffany: Tony could see the future for me in that he knew I had great instincts and this isn't like self glorifying that I had a. Ability to go in and just be like really intuitive about complex situations. And he was buying companies and bringing teams together and I could kind of come in and just like put my finger on it.

And he trusted that he uses the words, my superpower, he trusted that, but he was smart enough to know, like this doesn't scale. It's like, she's one person and yes, there might be a company around her, but when it comes to this, nobody else can do it and he wasn't wrong. And so he saw, he called out early, like you're gonna hit a ceiling fast because you're the only one that knows how to do this.

You've gotta find. Somebody else, or be able to have somebody extract from you, your process that you go through to make your superpower repeatable. So he found me in my superpower, he did a great job of applying that lots of times, and then also really challenged me to think. You can't just think to the end of the quarter or to the end of the project, Tiffany, or the end of your quota.

You've gotta really figure out how you're gonna make this a competency inside the company and not just something, you know, how to fly around and do,

Tony: I don't remember whether it was invited in or what I don't. It just, I don't know. I felt organic, you know, it felt like it's like, it just kind of happened over time.

And as much as I gave Tiffany in this. Tiffany gave it back to me in absolute spades and at critical points in my life and my career where I needed her guidance, where I actually went and sought her out and said, look, I'm struggling on something here. You have a superpower here. I need your time. And I think it was just over time and it was, it was very organic that it.

Tiffany: I think in the early days of working with Tony, my mission was really to prove that we could put good marketing into the world, that we could extract messages. We could work with leaders that actually wanted to build companies that were gonna stay and build long-term enterprise value. Not just perpetuate like the trash heap, that can be the internet when it comes to marketing or, you know, name your, your medium.

There's a lot of senseless marketing that you can spend your time on. And I think I found a fit with Tony and he and me in element three, when we started to realize, like, we both really care about this, we both really care about. Who is the leader and what is in their DNA. And then how do you take who that leader is and begin to create shared language so that you can inspire connect and.

Motivate leaders and teams to sort of fight for that cause, and you know, Tony's always been really intentional about that and he really is good about like calling out where there's lipstick on a pig and like, Saying like, no, we're not gonna do that. We're gonna talk about the real thing. No matter how hard it is.

And there's this urgency in Tony and the way that he is, the way he talks, he's got this massive presence. He's probably is not actually six, seven, but he like feels that way. When he walks into a room, his handshake is firm. His words are sure his decisions are certain. And there's just like this intensity to him.

That for me, I can't help, but like, just be inspired by. I think the other thing Tony does great is he's like a cheerleader. Like he looks you in the eyeballs and doesn't say the words like kid, but he's like, you're good. You can do this. These are problems. We're solvings these are wars worth fighting.

This is a noble battle ground, and you're gonna show up. Great. And you're gonna figure it out and we're gonna do it with everything that we've got in us. Yes. Yes. Let's go do that. I wanna do that. And. That's just like Tony, that's his, it's his way of inspiring and leading.

Tony: She has the ability to tell the most complex story you can possibly imagine in the easiest way possible so that everyone understands it.

She's UN. Canny, edit, uncanny, edit things were, you know, and I pride myself in being able to do that, but she can walk into a room, ask a bunch of questions. She'll walk out, she'll come back and tell a story. I'm like, that's exactly right. That is exactly the story. And she knows she knew nothing about it.

She's just, that's her superpower. It's absolutely crazy. And I really valued that in her. I mean, it's. That is such a unique gift that she has, you know, but we got to talking about the business. I'm like, Tiffany, yeah, you can do that, but no one else around you can. So what are you gonna do? You're gonna travel around to every single client you have, and you are going to be the one who has to unpack that story.

Then how do you tell it to everyone else? How do you teach other people on, on how to do that? So I told her you don't scale, Tiffany, your company can't scale, you don't scale. It's like she comes in. I know exactly what to do. I can tell this story very simply few people know how to ask those questions.

Now you have to do it with 10 clients. Okay. I can manage 10 clients. Can't in a hundred, do 200. And, and by the way, now, wheel it back down and go to 40 really complex. Still can't. That was a big one. And honestly, she was really open to hearing that conversation, you know, as she began to grow, I gave her a lot of feedback on the people that she had around her.

And I didn't think some of the people that she had around her were good enough for her. And so I challenged her on the people that she had and not falling into the trap. They're okay. They're gonna help me get through this, or they've been with me for this long. Therefore they're the one to take me to, to the next one.

And, and, you know, but that's not just a unique Tiffany blind spot. I think those are blind spots that anybody faces. One of the ones we talked about recently, you know, in order to, and, and so many of 'em been around scale. Is everything. Can't be bespoke. You have to have playbooks for the things that you repeat and with every client, there's gonna be certain things that you repeat.

And there's certain things that are gonna sit on top of that are called more bespoke. But in order for you to be able to really hit stuff out of the park and be able to do it more faster, better, you have to have a legitimate set of playbooks that sit underneath that, that you've honed. That you can teach to everybody else because it's also how you get to quality because everyone just delivers their own unique version of it.

It's hard to do. It's really hard to do, but you know, the thing about Tiffany is she is open to that feedback and she seeks it out. I mean, there were times too, where, you know, she called me and said, look, I I've got some really complex things that I need to talk about.

Tiffany: When, you know, someone in your circle is very wise like Tony and you know that they're good at questions, you wanna be sure that the questions you bring to them are good ones.

And while there were a lot of questions that I brought Tony at its core, it was really how do I do this? I had some semblance of an agency. We had some clients, some were good fits and some were bad fits. I had some talents in marketing and not in other areas. And I really was trying to understand from him.

How do I build this? I knew that he was gonna be honest with me about what does my buyer want from a value prop perspective and how do I, you know, even things like, how do I price it? Like, will you pay 50 grand for this or 250 grand? And you don't know. And so having a place where. I could just honestly ask a bunch of questions and he was able to put on kind of three different hats.

One was, he kind of had a decoder ring for who I was as a person. He saw that very specifically, the other thing. That he saw was he knew kind of the relative competitive set that I would like the marketplace I was competing in because he'd hired so many different service businesses. And then the third hat that he could wear was like the hat of the customer when he is the buyer, what is he looking for?

And so that triangle of perspective that he had was so refining and helpful. And there's years that we work with Tony and there's years, we don't work with Tony, but he has the same type of, I just, I guess, just intensity and engagement and wanting to help us be successful and help me figure it out that it just felt so awesome to have a.

Partner like that have a thinking partner like that have outside perspective like that, because it can be really risky to be vulnerable to your clients that you don't know everything when you're in the service business, like in consulting and stuff, it's like your job's kind of to go into the room and know stuff.

And so to admit that you don't know stuff to people who are paying you can be a really risky proposition and. An immature version of that. They can like, hold it against you. You know what I mean? And he was just so professional, never bent on his expectations of us and never wavered in his like demand of excellence of the work that we did or work anybody does for him.

But he was willing at times to sit in that like me seat and say like, why don't you think about it this way?

Jack: When she was trying to figure out how to remove all the family elements and own element three all by herself. She was really conflicted about how to go about that because the relationships in her life and her family were more important than the business.

And yet she wanted both the thrive and she was getting advice from different people and was just really torn and. I thought I saw her getting caught up in what she should do and the way things should be. And people saying, well, you built this whole business, so you deserve. This, and of course the word fair, the word deserve the word.

Should those don't exist in the real world. Nothing should be. And she didn't deserve anything. She was in the exact situation she had negotiated to be in and she wanted to change it. So the question was, you know, what are you gonna do about that? And my advice to her was it, it, it was her dad who was the other power player and, and had leverage.

And she didn't wanna damage that relationship, but she also. To get out from under, if you will, I guess a better way to put that is to be completely autonomous. And my advice to her was just go to her father and ask him what he needed and let him know what she was trying to do and what he thought was fair and whatever it was, even if it was more than anybody ever said, just do it and move on and build the business and have your family and never regret

Tiffany: it.

The asterisk beside Jack firing us really was not consequential to anyone. Except for me. I didn't, I don't know. I might have told somebody, but every to everybody else, it was like we just got fired. But the way it changed me was that I wanted to show up in the same, grace filled big picture way as Jack did for me.

And so I know that I extend. Much more grace, much more situational awareness, much more can see the individual person and the talent in this situation when we're working with, you know, difficult vendor relationships. And I feel like it's like a pay it forward moment for me when. Or going through a sticky scenario and I have a chance to be punitive or grace filled.

And again, it's like, it doesn't mean that every time you can resolve the situation with the business staying intact, but there's a way to do it in such a way that they feel really respected. Even on the exit. Jack was not gonna compromise on his. Values or his expectations of his vendors. And he shouldn't, he didn't give us grace at the expense of his own business progress and he didn't get business progress at the expense of our learning.

Jack: Tiffany is always trying to do good. She's always trying to do right. Yeah. She's trying to build a business, but the journey and the. The people and the building, it, it's not about money. It's not about status. It's not anything, there's an aspect of it. It's it is like being engaged in a high level game. It just envelopes you.

And she's done that. And at the same time I mentioned, I mean, she she's got that magic thing. That's just, you know, lights a room up, but it's genuine. I think she's just that way all the time. I've never seen her. Not that way. It's not a mask she puts on, but doing that while having tons of kids and raising tons of kids and having a successful husband and making that work, doing this podcast for crying out loud and the vulnerability that she demonstrates with this, I mean, who in the world would do.

Tony: When someone really values what you have to say. I don't care if they do it right. It's, it's just, they understand that the power is in their decision, not in the advice, it's them, you know, seeking that advice out. And then the power is in their own decision. Not whether they take the advice or not. Right.

But someone like that, who's willing to do that. It's just unusual. I believed in her and because I also knew that she could rise to the challenge. And I knew, and I told her I was putting her in over her head and it was okay because I, I was gonna be there beside her to help her out with it. But I, I thought she was capable of doing it and not just her, but I thought the people around her were, were capable of doing it.

And I've done that multiple times. I continue to do that today and it's because I believe in her. I trust her implicitly.

Tiffany: I think as a leader, it can be really difficult to remember the power of one and the power of slowing down. And I think that's why, especially today, as I look back at the patience they had, the time they took and the intentionality that I felt them see me as a young leader.

There's so much to do. There's so many decisions to make. There's so many people who need you. There's always somewhere to go there's family to be home with at whatever. And that Jack and Tony both stuck their head up and saw me specifically and invested. I hope someday there's a young business owner that feels that I paid that forward and did the same thing that I took the time to see them, that I took the time to be available, that I took the.

To be slow and patient through these relationships. I also learned a lot just about my personal life. You know, watching Jack and Tony live a life filled with ambition. I also learned that you have to find your line. You have to find the spot where you won't drive past this point. You won't give more than this.

To your job, to your career, to your ambition, that you have to have guardrails that you protect for yourself, for your family, for the other pursuits that you have. And their honesty on that side of the fence helped me understand that balance in whatever definition that means for you in whatever stage you're in.

Is a critical part to being able to do this with longevity, the way they came into this mentorship, this relationship with me as a whole person and not just the professional silo of who they were helped me better understand. What it was gonna look like to create boundaries so that this was a sustainable pursuit of ambition.

Next time, on the first 17 years something happened. And then he came to the pyramids and met with me and stared into my soul. I don't remember any of the words except for him. I was pregnant. That's a really relevant part of the story. Uh, Ainsley was born in the summer and I don't know, it probably, it was probably like spring or something.

I was getting ready to have this baby. He says, in your head, when you have babies, bad things happen. And I don't know if I actually balled, but I felt like balling because I was like, that is exactly true because when I had had Aubrey two years before I was in an absolute state of terror for like a year after I had her and I was panicking, but I didn't see that in myself, but that's totally what was happening.

And he was like, not paying attention to my actual words. He. Taking in like all the things I couldn't say. And now I can say that about that interaction, but I think that was like all the difference. I hope each of these conversations are a reminder to stop. Thank the mentors in your own life. The people who have helped us each unpack life and just live the journey much more.

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