Prioritizing What Matters Even When It’s Hard With Tony Perez

Jennifer and Tony discuss the emotional toll of building and exiting a startup, and how to create time and space for what matters most to you.

Seeking Satisfaction 012 Tony-Perez
Seeking Satisfaction
Prioritizing What Matters Even When It's Hard With Tony Perez

Show Notes

Tony is one of my favorite people. He is smart, driven, and incredibly successful but he’s also a regular, approachable, friendly guy with a killer sense of humor.

  • He’s serious without taking life too seriously.
  • He’s all-in on whatever he does — which is totally my jam.
  • He shows up unapologetically as himself no matter what the situation.

He’s also built several profitable companies, like Sucuri, which he and his co-founders successfully exited.

In this podcast episode, Tony candidly shares his experience building, growing, and exiting Sucuri. And you’ll hear about the stress, challenges, exhaustion, and his eventual depression. You’ll also discover the changes he made in his life to create more satisfaction, deepen relationships with his family, and support his mental and physical health.

Tony Perez On His Cattle Ranch
When Tony Perez Is Not Building Security Products To Keep Families And Websites Safe, He’s Running A Farm To Table Cattle Ranch.

We also talk about:

  • The power of non-digital hobbies for digital entrepreneurs and professionals.
  • Why every parent should try something new — something hard — and learn alongside their kids.
  • How physical exercise supports your mental clarity and focus.
  • Misconceptions and dangerous mindsets that plague startups and why you shouldn’t always listen to the advice gurus toss your way.
  • The strategy behind how Tony initially grew Sucuri and is growing CleanBrowsing and NOC — and it’s something anyone can do!

And of course, we get the inside scoop and hilarious behind-the-scenes stories of how Tony moved his family to Texas during the pandemic and built a full-scale ranching operation with wild mustangs, cattle, sheep, and goats — and absolutely no experience.

I can’t wait for you to listen!

Mentioned Sites, Resources, And Tools:

Get To Know Tony Perez

Tony Perez Holding His Dog On A Horse
Tony Perez is a part-time rancher and full-time technologist.

Once upon a time, Tony Perez helped build a startup that exited to GoDaddy. He remained an executive at GoDaddy for three years before returning to the startup world to work on two ventures.

A lifetime ago, Tony was a US Marine, and somewhere along that journey, he completed his undergraduate and graduate degrees in technology management and business. These days he is a part-time rancher, building a pasture to table meat operation with his family, and full-time technologist, building two startups: NOC and CleanBrowsing.

Extra Minutes With Tony Perez

To hear more from Tony and learn his tips and tricks and personal mantras for getting out of your own head and out of your own way to pursue your dreams and passions, check out the Seeking Satisfaction Extra Minutes Membership.

Seeking Satisfaction Extra Minutes 012 Tony Perez

Members receive Extra Minutes training from Jennifer and podcast guests like Tony that provide valuable insights and lessons to help you build a better business for only $15/month.

Tony’s Extra Minutes training continues the conversation from the podcast about how mindset played a big role in the creation of Clean Browsing. We also talk about the benefits of being hyper-focused and going all-in, why you must avoid indecision and get some skin in the game, and how to make tough decisions in support of the life you want to live.

Learn More

Conversation Transcript

Tony Perez:

I talk about the family now, and the kids and whatnot, but I didn’t even realize that I was missing that. Everything I was doing was for the family unit. Yet, I haven’t really spent any time with them.

It was always like, “Oh yeah, when they get older, when they get older" and like, here they are getting into mid-teens and they are older. Like, what’s the point at which I say, “Hey, uh I need to double down on that?"

Jennifer Bourn:

Welcome to Seeking Satisfaction, a podcast that encourages you to live inspired, embrace imperfection, and seek satisfaction. I am your host, Jennifer Bourn, freelance business mentor, course creator, and agency owner.

Today, I work with clients I love, do fulfilling work, and have the freedom to live the life of my choosing. But things weren’t always this rosy, which is why this show looks at the systems and processes that power successful businesses and fulfilled lives.

We’re going behind the scenes with entrepreneurs, freelancers, and professionals, to see how they juggle work and life, manage clients and kids, tackle stress, and handle unexpected challenges. If you are seeking greater satisfaction in your work and life, you are in the right place.

Today, I am here with Tony Perez. Tony was co-founder of web security startup Sucuri, which was sold to GoDaddy. He then spent three years as an executive at GoDaddy before reentering the startup world to pursue two new technology ventures while building a farm-to-table meat operation with his family.

Tony, thank you so much for being here and joining me!

Tony Perez:

Hey, Jen, how are you? It’s super, nice to catch up. It’s been a while.

Jennifer Bourn:

It has… I want to talk about your ranching operation. I also want to talk about some of your hobbies. But first, I want to talk about your time building a startup because that’s seriously intense and you’ve done it on multiple occasions. When I first met you, it was in the earlier years of Sucuri and things are go, go, go — what was life like for you at that time?

Tony Perez:

You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about this because reading the description of your podcast. And I was like, man, what an appropriate conversation. Because at the time, when we started Sucuri, at least for me, we had never done a startup like that before.

I had a small little agency that we were fiddling around with and so we were constantly fighting fires, constantly trying to figure it out. And we actually spent a lot of time not so much trusting our gut and our intuition, but looking at what everyone else was doing. And I remember that when we got to the end, I was just so exhausted.

Tony Perez Sitting On The Mat After Practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Tony Perez Uses Outlets Like Cross-Fit And Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu To Keep His Mind And Body Sharp And Show Up As His Best Self.

It felt like I could never do… We could never do what everyone else was doing. And we would always second guess ourselves. So here we are doing 12 and a half million dollars in ARR a year, 110 people, in 27 countries, and we would sit back and say, “Well, we’re still not like the Facebooks of the world.”

We were always comparing and looking — and you go on Y-Combinator or you go on Twitter or you go on Facebook, and everyone seems to have all these great recommendations and advice on what we should be doing. And we were so focused on that, we were ignoring our own intuitions and things that we felt we needed to be doing. And in the end, we were just so exhausted.

When we actually exited, everyone was like, “Wow, what, what a joyous moment.” But it was actually at that point that I think I went into like my deepest depression for like three to six months. And it’s because of what you were talking about. It was like this level of intensity continuously and what they don’t tell you about when you’re doing a startup, is that you quickly move from solving the problem to solving people problems. Right? It becomes heavy on the people side and that is extremely daunting, extremely exhausting.

I mean, look at the social environment we live in today. I don’t even think I could have been able to manage that 10 years ago when we were building it. It would’ve just been too much. All I wanted to do was solve the problem we were trying to solve on and focus on.

And so it was a bit of a wild ride. I mean, we thought we were going slow but in retrospect, we were actually doing really good and growing at a good pace.

And we removed ourselves from some of our beliefs around being small and we started hiring and like, I tell people today when I talk to the founders, I’m like, “Hey, that’s great you have a hiring strategy but understand that people beget more people and with more people, come more problems.”

We were people managers more than anything else by the time we exited and it was just completely exhausting.

And I share that because I think that’ll lend itself to better understanding how I got to where I am today and how we’re running some of our new companies and how we’re approaching ventures and some of the things that I’ve implemented since to reduce that level of stress and reduce the risk of burnout.

Jennifer Bourn:

I think it’s an interesting thing to talk about and I think it’s so relatable with social media and everything else — always seeing the next thing, the next launch, the next feature.

It’s interesting that from the outside, looking in, we’re watching the growth of the company and it’s spectacular. Right? And it’s impressive, and it’s amazing to see. And then to hear behind the scenes that even you’re comparing and second-guessing and rethinking that. It doesn’t matter who you are, behind the scenes, those things show up for everybody at every level.

Tony Perez:

Yeah. And they, don’t mean anything to be honest with you.

Fo for instance, I remember early on in Sucuri, we — Dre and Daniel and I — were kind of like, “Well, what do we want to be in 10 years?” Like, what’s the thing that drives you?

And Daniel’s like, “I just wanna solve interesting problems.” That’s just Danny for you. And I was like, “Oh, you know, I wanna run a hundred million dollar business and have a corner office and do that experience.”

And then here we are. We exited.

I ended up running the security group there at GoDaddy — $350 million P&L — and I’m sitting there one day like, “Oh my gosh, it’s 3X what I ever imagined running and I have no level of satisfaction.” Like, there’s nothing that feels, “Oh, I achieved the thing that I wanted to do at 35 years old.” Right?

I was like, what’s next? What more?

And like, that’s something that over the past few years, I’ve been trying to pay a lot more attention to. Like, you get in this rat race of continuously chasing the next thing and you forget to live in the moment that you’re in.

At Sucuri, the last year when we were doing about 12 and a half million — like, I had built this from $0 to 12 and a half million ARR — like recurring revenue on an annual basis and still growing. Right?

And I never took the time to sit back and appreciate what we had done. And it’s not like we were selling enterprise deals. Like, we were selling $89.99.

That’s a lot of customers we had to bring in. That’s a lot of people we had to bring to get that level of sustainability. Right?

And so I remember thinking about that. I’m like, “The heck, Tony?”

It doesn’t matter how much money we’re making, what’s coming in… If I’m only 35 now, how do I get to 60 or 70 years old without stressing myself out about this? And at the time, you know Ted Lasso, like football is life, you know it was like, Sucuri is life.

That’s literally how I lived it and it was just so overwhelming. What ended up happening is a lot of things took a backseat and I didn’t even realize these things were taken in a backseat until I decided to leave GoDaddy and change my approach.

You know, most importantly it was probably my family. If you recall, I rarely actually ever talked about my family or my kids or anything like that because I just wasn’t around them — like, they were there, they were just like in the periphery.

And it’s funny because when people were like, “Why did you do these things? Or why were you trying to raise?” I’m like, “Oh, because I have to provide for my family.” And they’re like, “Oh, that’s amazing. So you must do a lot with your family?”

And I would sit there and be like, wow, I do absolutely zero with my family, like I do nothing with them, and so I think that I had a big revelation about that.

Like, you know, I went through my six-month, post-acquisition where I was extremely depressed and sad and stuff like that. And the main reason for that is you go from doing everything to all of a sudden, you get acquired and they’re like, “Here Tony, let me take this off your shoulders. Let’s everybody do all these pieces.”

And you’re sitting there like, “Well, what do I do with my time now?”

And there were a lot of those conversations where I’d be sitting there on the couch, saying like, “This sucks. This is not the life that I want.” Long story short, I started to realize that I needed to have a, better balance of where my focuses and priorities were.

And I also realized that I needed other things that were beyond tech to keep my creativity going.

I needed, just for my own sanity, to experience and engage with other communities that weren’t my primary communities — just to level set and humble me and put things back into perspective. And that’s been the foundation for the last few years.

Jennifer Bourn:

When your business is your life we almost get into this trap where our business becomes our identity. And who we are and our value and our worth and what we bring to the table is wrapped up in the success of the business, and the things we accomplish that day, or that month, or that quarter, or that year.

And when those are removed that leaves us questioning. Right? Who am I without this business? Or who am I without these goals or accomplishments or these other things?

I really love that part of that revelation for you is really looking at your family because so many of us do what we do to provide for our family and to be there for our family and to be there for our kids.

And the fact that you were able to have that reset and say, "Hey, this is important to me. This is something that I want to make more time for."

And you did that as well with hobbies and with other things. When you are in tech and you are online all the time, it is so important to have non-digital passions and hobbies and things to get out from behind the computer and go and live life. Right?

So much of why I built my business the way I did is… I wanna have a successful business and do work that I’m proud of and I feel good about, but I wanna enjoy life along the way.

Tony Perez:

So, what’s really interesting about that is I think you were spot on, at the time Sucuri was who I was. It was 24/7 and you get really consumed in tech across the board like social platforms. And if you notice, I’ve actually really removed myself from a lot of conversations. I thought I needed to be a part of a lot of those conversations but I really didn’t, and they’re so consuming and stressful it’s not worth the conversation.

And the other interesting thing is that I talk about the family now, and the kids and whatnot, but I didn’t even realize that I was missing that until I realized it. I thought everything was perfectly fine and then I started hanging out more with my kids.

The pandemic kind of brought me home and all of a sudden they’re around all the time, and we start doing things, and you’re like, “Wow, you guys are kind of funny. This is kind of cool, right?” and then, my kids started working out with me and asking about what I do. And they started getting more engaged and trying to learn about programming and tech and stuff like that, and I was like, “Oh my gosh, I have a responsibility.”

Like, everything I was doing was for the family unit. To ensure stability. To make sure that they didn’t go through the things that I went through when I was growing up. Yet, I haven’t really spent any time with them.

It was always like, “Oh yeah, when they get older, when they get older” and like, here they are getting into mid-teens and they are older. Like, what’s the point at which I say, “Hey, uh I need to double down on that?” And so, we made this very big decision when the pandemic started to get outta California and just go to an environment that gives us a little bit more flexibility.

And we ended up in Texas. And at the time when we came out here, we had our horses, so we were kind of enjoying riding and stuff like that — and that was a childhood dream and that’s how this whole new experience started.

Now, the ranch has actually, created this environment where all of a sudden, our kids are getting involved and they’re learning things that I would’ve never known. And since I’d never done it before, we’re learning together and you build this like cohesion with the family unit,

Jennifer Bourn:

That is such a neat, neat thing to experience.

Tony Perez:

Yeah. and so like you collapse on each other and you become wholly reliant on your family unit to get to the next level. And so that’s been an amazing experience the past year and a half — something that I could have never even thought of intentionally just kind of happened.

Jennifer Bourn:

Well, it’s so rare you get the opportunity to learn something new alongside your kids, and to have a completely new experience together and to share the discovery and the lessons that’s amazing.

And your ranch… Now you have sheep and goats, and cattle, and tractors, and all these things. What has this been like? Because I’m pretty sure you didn’t plan on all this.

Tony Perez:

No. So we found the plot of land — it was seven and a half acres and my wife just liked the house and I looked at it and I’m like, “Okay, you like the house? I like the land. I can make this work.”

You know, that’s just kind of my personality.

And at the time I was doing some offroad racing, but I kind of left it aside intentionally because It wasn’t bringing the family unit in, it was about solving a personal itch, and so that made it extremely hard. And so that’s how ranching became more encompassing, so I leaned into that when I saw everybody kind of leaning into it.

So we had the horses and, the whole conversation was like, well, here in Texas it’s about ag exemptions. And when you have land, you want to have something for ag exemption and they wouldn’t accept horses.

So they’re like, “Oh, you know, you need some cows.” And I’m like, “All right, cool.”

So I was talking to my neighbor. He’s like, “I’ll sell you a cow." But then me being me, I was like, “Well, I don’t want one cow. I want all your cows. Like, you have seven? I want all seven.”

He’s like, “But you don’t know anything about cows," I was like, “Well, you know, it can’t be that hard, right? We’ll figure it out."

And so we did the transaction, we just kind moved them from his pasture to my pasture. And, I was like, “What do I do with these cows now?”

We started doing more research and then I had my Border Collie and, I was like, “Well, I have cows, I need to work the cows. And I don’t have anybody to help me work the cows. I’m gonna use my dog but I gotta train my dog.”

And so I went to a trainer for dogs and they’re like, “Whoa, you need sheep to get ’em started.” I was like, “Okay, cool. Let me get some sheep." So I called the local auction. I was like, “You guys have any sheep?” And they’re like, “Yeah.”

Next thing you know, they call me like, “Oh, we got you four sheep.” I was like, “That’s awesome.” And then next thing you know, they’re all pregnant. And I was like, “What do I do with pregnant sheep?”

Jennifer Bourn:

Oh my gosh.

Tony Perez:

Oh yeah. So, it was insane and so my wife’s like, “Are you kidding me right now, Tony?”

I was like, yeah, I dunno, we got sheep… My wife started doing a bunch of research on how to deliver. So we’re out there delivering these babies and we’re like, “Oh my gosh, what are we doing?”

Jennifer Bourn:

This was literally trial by fire.

Tony Perez:

Oh, yeah.

Yeah. But that’s the story of my life. Right? I’m like, “Ah, this can’t be that hard.” So that’s how we ended up with the sheep. And then of course, my wife was doing some research and she’s like, “Oh, we should got these mini goats.” And I’m like, “What are we gonna do with the mini goats?”

“Oh, they’re just super cute.”

Jennifer Bourn:

They are super cute.

Tony Perez:

Yeah, and then we’re like, “Well, what about the coyotes? We gotta get like a watch dog. But we have five dogs. Let’s get a donkey, donkeys are awesome. They’ll, they’ll protect the herd.”

So now we have a donkey that just roams around and he’s like “Heehaw, Heehaw.” Just like all the time. And we’re like, “Oh my gosh, what is happening right now?”

Then I got to thinking on the cattle and doing research. And I was like, I need some system that allows me to better monitor and track the state of my cows and what they’re going through and medicine et cetera. And I was like, but I gotta figure out how to monetize this. Like now this is getting a little ridiculous, this starting to cost money.

And so we we were talking and I was like, “Well, why don’t we do like a ranch-to-table operation? We eat a lot of meat and we go to Butcher Box or we go to the store or whatever…”

And it’s not gonna be a Sucuri type event, but it’s still something really cool that brings the whole family unit together. So everybody has a job and everybody’s working.

It’s kind of like when you’re in the military, and you go to war and you built these bonds with people because you’ve been through something together — something intense. Same thing with the cows. We’re out there, we’re working together, and everybody has their job.

Jennifer Bourn:

Well, and your kids are driving tractors

Tony Perez:

Oh, yeah,

Jennifer Bourn:

I mean, what a cool experience.

Tony Perez:

Everybody has to contribute and that’s what I tell the kids. I was like, “You guys are working on your inheritance right now. I can hire somebody to come work the fields and get ’em prepped for grass or we can go out there and spend a weekend and do it.”

It’s an opportunity to talk to them about economics, and costs, and hard work — and that’s the thing I’m trying to instill them. And so like, “Oh no Dad, we’ll go out there and work.” And I was like, “Good answer, cause that’s what we were going to do anyways.”

It’s really interesting because a lot of people on my Instagram, which is probably the only social platform that I spend a lot of time on, see a lot of what I’m doing on either exercising, or CrossFit, or jiujitsu, or the ranch. But what they don’t see is a lot of the time that I spent on the computers working on my projects. I’m not out of tech…

Jennifer Bourn:

Well, you have two ventures that you’re pursuing in tech.

Tony Perez:

Yeah, but the biggest difference is that I find more value in sharing the personal experiences that I’m going through than the tech experiences. Like the tech, they’re solving specific problems, but I’m trying a different approach in that it’s not completely who I am anymore.

Like, it’s what I’m doing and what I’m working on, and it is a part of me, but I do want it to be more. I want it to be a more complete picture of who I am. which is why you don’t see a lot about the tech,

Jennifer Bourn:

Well, I love the distinction. You did the startup, hustle and grind, 24/7, burn the candle at both ends, I am the business once. And now, you are being really intentional about the work that you’re doing and the role that it plays in your life, and then the ranch, and the family, and jujitsu, and CrossFit, and all of these other things that fill up a different part of who you are.

Tony Perez:

What really helped is that Daniel and I are doing this together again. And so we’re very united in our mindset, and so he’s in a very similar place, which helps a lot. So he’s got his family unit that he’s doing and the balance that he’s trying to work through. Then I’m doing the same thing on my end.

And so like, it’s very complimentary. And we both have the same desire in the sense that we went through that hustle and we didn’t like it. Like, we just did not like it. It was not who we are. And so we said, “Hey, we want to solve interesting problems but we want to go back to our instincts — how we started Sucuri, keeping it small.”

And we recognized that some of the biggest challenges we had was actually when we grew, and we keep thinking to ourselves, “Man, could we solve a big problem, but with a very small footprint. And what does that mean?”

And to your point about intention, it makes us become very, very intentional.

I’ll put it into context of like marketing. You spend any time online looking at what you should be doing for marketing, and there’s like 150 different things that you should be doing.

In the days of Sucuri, it was let’s do everything.

Let’s do all of them. And to do all of them, you have to hire more people and this marketer needs this content person, and this content person needs this SEM person. This SEM person needs this editor person, this person.

And it’s like, just never ending. It’s like…

When you’re small and you’re very intentional in what you’re doing, like, "Hey, we’re focused on this problem." I’m going to do the things that I know to do that are impactful and everything else I’m just ignoring. I only have so many hours in the day and I know I’m gonna spend five/six hours working on this stuff and content’s my jam. It’s what I do. It lets me do a little bit of research. It lets me balance things out.

I’m very happy with the performance.

I don’t need to be in the next Forbes whatever under 40. I don’t need to be an exponential, unicorn, whatever, whatever, whatever. Like, I don’t need any of that. You focus on the things that matter the most and what you realize, in my opinion is that there’s actually only a few things that really matter a lot and everything else is just noise.

For instance, in Clean Browsing, we’ve become very, very focused on what our focus is, which is creating a safe browsing experience for young kids. Now, what’s really interesting about that is, the industries and the groups of people that we can solve are very broad. And like, we never planned for that at all.

CleanBrowsing, it’s very similar to Sucuri. It was like back in 2016, Danny and I were talking and I was all frustrated. I was like, “Man, Open DNS sucks. I can’t get it configured up my router. It’s asking me for all this stuff. I gotta go in here to log in here and I, can’t control it. What do I do?”

And I was like, “We should just build that for our house.” And then at the time we’re like, “We should build an ISP for ourselves just so we can communicate — and like, yeah that’d be cool.”

We started building it and then we let it out for free, and we’re like, “Well, it’s probably not gonna go anywhere, like Open DNS is the incumbent in the space they’ve been around for years. We’re not gonna fit into this.”

And everybody would tell us like, “Really Tony? DNS? Open DNS is the thing.”

Every tech person: “Oh yeah, that’s stupid Tony. I’m not going to do anything with that, Tony.”

I’m like, “You’re probably right. But I’m a pretty stupid guy. Like, I just think it’s kind of interesting and it’s a problem that I’m having that I wanna solve for.”

And so we released it and we gave it for free and a lot of parents started using it. Pop, pop, pop, and we’re like, “Oh shoot!”

And they started, “Well, you should do this and you should do that.” I was like, “Oh yeah, we didn’t think about that.” You know, it wasn’t the intent. It was just like, we wanted to do it for our own kids.

And today we’re doing, you know, a little over 5 billion requests a day, a little bit over 2 million devices using it, a lot of browsers have integrated us, a lot of the, routers have integrated us, which is cool.

We were not intentional at all in that.

We were like, “Well, let’s focus on obscene and pornographic content,” because at the time our kids were younger, and we’re lazy tech guys. We want hem to be online, we just don’t want them to stumble on all the crap that we see.

That’s how it all came about to be honest.

Then, the muscle memory of what we went through with Sucuri kicked in and we’re like, “Oh, okay, we could build a business out of this. Let’s put a little bit of a foundation around this, but not too much. Let’s not go around hiring.”

And thankfully we’re very complementary forces with each other.

And NOC — what’s interesting about NOC is it’s a web security platform, very similar to Sucuri. The only thing it doesn’t do that Sucuri does is cleanups. And if you think about what I’ve been talking about: keeping it small, keeping it very purposeful. That’s the reason.

Cleanups are very messy. They require big team, right? We don’t wanna get into that. We’re like, no, no, no, no, no, no. Like, I’m in a different mind space right now. I’m not trying to deal with that stress. I like my weekends.

And we needed it for our own platforms. Out of principle, we couldn’t go to CloudFlare. We couldn’t go to any other providers. Like, how would that look? And so we’re like, “Well, let’s build our own CDN.”

Naturally, it was just very interesting tech that we had come from. We had built similar tech for clean browsing. And so they’re complimentary forces, right? So one is a CDN WAF. Then, clean browsing is a DNS resolver designed to just help clean things up for those that want to clean up their website.

But we’re not very forceful with it. We don’t do any ads. We don’t do any paid kind of consumption of it.

It’s all very content driven and if you look like at our SEO positioning compared to some of the biggest competitors, in this space, we blow them all outta the water, because all we do is purposeful content and that just kind of grows and does its own thing.

And people are like, “Oh this is amazing content.”

Jennifer Bourn:

I think it shows The power of solving a problem that matters. And when you can do that and other people say, I have the same problem, growth becomes so much more organic and natural.

Tony Perez:

Yeah. We, didn’t put a lot of energy into like the noise and the excess stuff. It was like, “Oh, people are using it. Cool. Can more people use it?” And then when we started seeing that growth happening, we the consumption of the product dictate what we needed to do next versus looking at the market and having the market dictate what we should be doing.

There’s a subtle difference in that, way of thinking. Right?

You see a lot of the conversation right now where startups are selling an idea before they’ve proven the idea. And when they go and get seed rounds, they’re like, “Hey, these are all the things we have to do for the consumption.” And you’re like, “Wow, you haven’t even proven the case.”

Like, I talked to a startup recently where they had raised, I think a million and a half in angel funding and looking at raising 5 million in seed. I was like, “Well, how many users do you have?”

“Well, we don’t have any users yet, but we’re building the team and we’re building the motion, and like, we’re getting our content strategy in place and this is how we’re gonna do our paid.”

And I’m like, “So you don’t even know if anybody’s gonna use it.”

He was like, “No, no. We have a few users. We have like 200 users right now and the feedback is amazing.” And I’m like, “Wow, we didn’t even start doing anything until we had like a million users.”

Jennifer Bourn:

Well, that’s why so many startups are not profitable, So many have all this money and they boast all this revenue and angel investing and all of these things, but they’re not profitable. They’re not making any money.

Tony Perez:

They’re not real businesses in my eyes. They’re not real businesses.

It’s really easy to spend someone else’s money. Like, "Hey, you wanna gimme a million dollars? I will spend that all day. Let’s go." Because at the end it’ll be like, "Oh, you know, just the market. You know, we’re in a recession. It’s all this other stuff."

And what’s crazy is we started CleanBrowsing at a time when the pandemic kicked off. So we started to see a spike and then we plateaued big time and then all schools shut down. And then this organic thing started to happen where schools, libraries, you started seeing all these use cases that we never planned for.

And people were like, oh, you should have planned for these things. I was like, "Are you kidding me? Have you ever built something? Like, it’s impossible to think about every scenario when you start."

You need to start on one problem. Focus on that. And if it’s worthwhile, it’ll expand and that’s essentially what happened. We have all these schools and libraries around the same problem. Like, "Hey, we have kids getting online. I’m the one admin, how do I ensure that they’re not getting to porn hub?"

90% of the web traffic is pornography and people don’t realize this, but it’s massive. And the psychological impact on kids is massive. It changes their behaviors. It actually dramatically affects how men look at women from a very young age.

These are things that we never thought of. We just knew that it was a problem. And so we’ve had like these adjacent markets that have started to consume and broaden our view to this problem.

Jennifer Bourn:

There’s also this example: You watched how your product was being adopted and used by different markets, then you thought, "Hey, now let’s go and create content to support this market." Rather than launching with big plans and trying to force it or trying to make it happen, you really let it unfold more organically and created content and the resources as they were needed.

Tony Perez:

It’s the same exact strategy we used with Sucuri. With Sucuri we started off free. We started off very low cost and then we started to build plans around that.

With CleanBrowsing, we started the same exact way — started off free, get usage and get people telling us what they wanted. When people told us what they wanted, we created the plans and we started extremely low.

And of course, the easy thing for any advisor to say is, “You have to raise prices.” That’s the thing we used to get at Sucuri all the time. And I was like, "If you start off extremely high, no one will consume." And what was more important to us was not revenue generation, it was consumption.

Matt Mullenweg was once said years ago, “Usage is like oxygen to any product.”

Jennifer Bourn:

Because that’s the only way you’re going to get the data to figure out what to work on and what to improve.

Tony Perez:

That’s right. And so when we started, we had the free, and then we introduced one plan, like, $299 I think, or $499 — something like that. And we were fidling and messing around. If you look at our Stripe, we have like 150 different plans we started with.

And then we started to better understand things like audiences — who was buying, what they were looking for. And then we could say, "Okay, we want more of this audience."

We still want to have the mission and focus on the children and we still want this parental audience — individual audience — to access it. But we know from business standpoint, for our livelihoods, we need schools and libraries. So like, let’s configure the plans where it’s accessible for this audience… Start creating a lot more content for this audience and start pushing our way into this adjacent domain, which is essentially what we’ve been doing.

Schools, libraries, municipalities — cities acquiring us to deploy on their public hotspot saying, "Hey, we wanna give public wifi to our whole city." Or we have the city of LA, "We have 3000 buses and we have wifi, but we don’t want some guy on there looking at Porn Hub.

We can solve that problem and it’s a problem that a lot of people don’t think about. But it’s a huge issue if you’re a networking guy, and you’re managing large networks, especially as we talk about providing free access to information.

We’re sticking to our guns and being purposeful and intentful in how we approach the problem, what we create, what we invest our times in. Understanding that we have other priorities in our lives, whether it’s my ranch, whether it’s Daniel and his kids and what they’re doing with snowboarding, those are more important to us.

That’s why we work so hard.

But the tech side helps us stay engaged. And we’ve removed ourselves from distractions. We don’t get on social a lot. I get on Instagram more than anything else cause I like the reels and funny stuff.

Jennifer Bourn:

We like the pictures of your ranch.

Tony Perez:

Yeah, that’s the thing, right? You like, stuff like that.

We don’t spend a lot of time in email either. if it’s company and focused, it goes to Help Scout and all our emails going through there. So if you ping me separately from that, I probably won’t see it for a while, unless you ping me again. You know, I think I have like 30,000 unread emails right now.

Every day. Every day we have this constant desire to distract us and pull us away from the things that we know we should be working on.

But every day I start with the intention " I’m going to work on this today." Everything else is just whatever. I won’t even get to it. I won’t check it. It doesn’t matter. Like, I can go days without checking email.

I’ve made a conscious decision that it’s just not important to me to be distracted. The balance that I have in my life is more important to me and my responsibilities for the company are more important because we are so small. I know that Daniel’s reliant on me to focus on specific problems we have around getting stuff out, and I’m reliant on him to get it done.

I want the baby, not the labor. Right? I know that Danny’s gonna build this thing. I don’t care how he builds this thing. Danny knows that I’m gonna push something and I’m gonna get some engagement doing something. He doesn’t care how I do it just as, as long as I do it. And so I know what my responsibilities are. I’m very self-driven. And so that’s what I focus on until I get those things done.

Jennifer Bourn:

I love that singular focus.

Tony Perez:

Yeah. You just have to be right.

Jennifer Bourn:

Well, it reminds me of when we were at CaboPress and somebody was talking about unread emails, and you were like, " I have a solution, open it up, delete." If it’s important, they’ll email you again. And that has stayed with me because all of that is distraction. All of that is pulling you away from important things, it’s letting other people dictate how you are spending your time.

Tony Perez:

Absolutely. All the podcasts you do, all the engagements, all the calls, all that stuff, ever materializes the way you think it’s gonna materialize.

I’m on here with you because you’re a friend. We have a relationship. I want to help you out. You need content, et cetera. But there’s no confusion in my mind that, "Oh, this thing is gonna take us to the next level." You know what’s gonna take me to the next level? Continuing what I was doing just before this. That’s the thing. More of that grind.

You see the return over a long period of time.

People are like, two years… Two years, are you kidding me? Try 10 years. Try 15 years. Try 20 years. That’s the level of consistency and drive and singular focus that we’re talking about to see the returns that you want over time. Right?

I’ve been working on this one article — I try to push on Mondays — and it requires me to do like, different research and labs and pulling different content. That’s, what’s most important to us. and I know that will yield more in the long run than this conversation.

This week we had a customer come in, and I was like, "Hey, outta curiosity, how’d you guys hear about us?"

He was like, "Oh, one of my employees mentioned you guys three years ago. We were using Open DNS at the time, but I went ahead and used you in my home and I’ve been using you guys for three years. Our renewals are coming up and we’re like, we should see if CleanBrowsing can support our organization. And these are the problems we have."

And I was like, "Oh yeah, absolutely." He’s like, "Yeah, that’s what I figured. I was using you at home and it worked perfectly."

Three years. That is such a long period of time. Any investor will look at them and be like, "Ah, that doesn’t make any sense!" But for us, we love that. That’s beautiful sweat equity. That organic piece that is so difficult to measure, but when it comes in, you’re like, " Oh yeah, we did that."

That’s been pretty cool and that’s what we’re focusing on. So for us, it’s not like I push out a piece of content and I expect an immediate return. It’s more like I push out this content, I hope I see it in two years.

I hope somebody comes back. "Hey, I found this article. It was great. Can you tell me more?" For me, that’ll be a win. That long tail experience, that long tail organic component, helps build a very strong, sustainable, business over the long run.

Jennifer Bourn:

People talk so much about filling your pipeline and think about it short term, but in my business, people come in and they’re like, “I’ve been following you for years. We met at a conference in 2011, I met you at this Word Camp in 2015 and saw you talk and I’m so excited to be part of your program now.”

Literally, years and years going by but people finally get to a point where they’re ready.

Tony Perez:

That’s right.

Jennifer Bourn:

And you need to be there.

Tony Perez:

What’s really interesting is both in CleanBrowsing and NOC, we don’t have what’s called the high velocity sales model, which is a term we use in, startups around building the whole acquisition funnel.

You have to measure. And then what do you measure?

You gotta convert ’em but do you even know why you converted them? Like, did it make sense? And so now with Clean Browsing, we’re like, we’re not gonna do that. We’re gonna do a very self-service model. If you want it, you want it. If you don’t, you don’t.

And it actually, confuses people. So we’ll get emails like, "Let’s do a call." And I’ll respond like, "Do we really need a call? What was the question?" Eight out of 10 times, works perfectly. And for those few that don’t, we’re like, we might not be right for you.

And that goes back to just being very intentional in how we’re building the business and how we’re trying to live our lives with the sanity. Right?

Jennifer Bourn:

Well, and making sure that you are building a business that supports the life that you want to live; that gives you the time to work on the ranch and to be out with the kids or to be practicing jujitsu or doing CrossFit. I see, your boys in there doing CrossFit. How has jujitsu and CrossFit played a role in mental fitness as well as that physical aspect, in your life?

Tony Perez:

So jujitsu — I started that back in 2010. I’ve been doing it for a long time and I was very competitive for a while. And during the Sucuri days it was Sucuri or jujitsu, Sucuri or jujitsu. Like that was the only space I had; the only capacity that I had at that time.

Jujitsu was imperative to being able to sustain the intensity that we were going at. It’s where I had the most clarity of thought. It’s where I was able to release tensions and stress. I mean, there were days, when it got really tough at Sucuri, I was doing two-a-days. Like, I had to relieve that much stress and it was Monday through Sunday, Monday through Sunday. Then I would need the rush of a competition to just release everything, to be like, I can focus.

Just as the pandemic started, I had actually started picking up horseback riding and horseback riding was just a little bit different. It was more being outside, being disconnected. And it started to make me realize the importance of disconnection.

At Sucuri, it was continuous connect. With horseback riding, like you could die if you do that, especially because I was working on like wild Mustangs. I was like, "Ah, I could, be a trainer. How hard can that be?"

Anyways, I started to recognize the importance of the disconnection. And so I started offroad racing, started horseback riding, started with jujitsu, and I was just kind of trying to like find this balance.

Then, you know with the pandemic going on, it was really tough to do a lot. I stopped training, I stopped doing a lot of things outside, and I started to put on more weight. And, I just started to feel, more lethargic. My thinking didn’t feel to be as crisp as it should have been. Something was missing when I stopped doing jujitsu.

And, about six months ago, I started to do CrossFit as a way to see if I can do a replacement for jujitsu for a little bit just to kind of get my mind right, and that started to help out a lot. And then I started to spin and then after about four and a half months of CrossFit, I was in a good place where I can start rolling again.

But the same singular focus that I put on, like, what I do with business is what I do in personal life as well. It’s kind of intense all the time and so I got myself in a better condition where I can start rolling again and then, using CrossFit as a medium to be better at the jujitsu thing.

And now, over the past month and a half, I’ve finally been in a good place where I’ve, found this really nice balance between rolling and getting that level of like release that I needed. And so like now there’s this really nice harmonious relationship between CrossFit and jujitsu that’s letting me be healthier. And by being healthier, it’s giving me better clarity of thought, which lets me be more focused.

So like. I’ll spend five to six hours in my tech-related things on a daily basis, but you have to remember, I’m not on social. I don’t do phone calls. I don’t do emails. What I produce or what I do in those five/six hours is what somebody produces maybe in two/three days, maybe a week

And I do that so that I can remove myself and I can disconnect. And when I disconnect in the afternoon, around 3:00 or 4:00 it’s for my fitness piece. And then it’s for the family unit. And then it’s for whatever I’m doing in the ranches.

On the weekends, I’ll check for emergencies, but I’ll predominantly just put stuff aside and I just remind myself, it’s not that important. What’s more important is me going out there, teaching the kids how to wrangle the horses or the cattle, or like that experience that we’re living through together. Right?

Or maybe it’s going to a movie on Sunday. Weekends are when I ranch, and then during the week is when I focus on my health and my mindset and my companies. I’ve been doing that now for probably a better part of a year and a half, and I’ve found a much better balance to everything.

Jennifer Bourn:

Those things make you better at each of those things. Dedicating time to your family and building those strong relationships, creating those shared memories, reminds you why you work so hard. And jujitsu and CrossFit and exercise help you feel better and focused and able to do those things makes you sharper in your work and better for your family.

I think the thing that strikes me just the most is how we spend our time is a true reflection of the things that are most important to us.

And you can choose binge-watching Netflix and scrolling through social media and watching what everybody else is doing. Or you can spend it really intentionally doing something that’s gonna fill you up and light you up and make your life better or move your goals forward. And it’s all about choice.

For people who might be still in that hustle and grind phase of building something, and are struggling to find that spot of building and enjoying life at the same time, what would you say? What advice would you give?

Tony Perez:

What I would say to someone stuck where it’s like, "I’m doing all this work, but I feel like I’m doing nothing." I would say, "Jot down the things that you’re working on right now that you think are gonna be meaningful to your business?"

They’re like,”Oh, I gotta do this, this, this, this…”

I’m like, "Wow, that’s amazing. Like, you obviously know what has to be done. which ones actually matter?"

"Oh, well they all matter." And like, that’s the cop-out because the reality is that they don’t all matter. There are maybe one or two things that are actually meaningful in that entire list and I would challenge you to identify which ones those are.

And meaningful could be a lot of different things. Maybe meaningful is "I wanna manage more money" or maybe meaningful is "this is a thing that I want nice, organic, slow growth."

You need to understand what meaning is for you and see if you can go from 15 things to 10 things, to five things, to two things, And then once you get that muscle going of being really efficient at those two things, then you can look at adding more things to that list. But everything that doesn’t fit into those two things just don’t do.

Why are you going to try to stress yourself out with these other things that will not matter? You know? Be realistic with yourself and set yourself up for success. We’re extremely hard on ourselves because we look at all the advice on social and we think that we have to match up with what they’re doing, but the reality is we don’t.

Man, I can rattle 150 different things that you should be doing based on books that I’ve read, articles that I’ve read, and all this. None of it’s ever worked for me, but it’s a thing that you should be doing, right?

Jennifer Bourn:

I love the reminder to get rid of the stuff that is busy, but not productive, The things that you feel like you have to do, and they’re keeping you busy, but they’re not moving the needle forward. And that comes with really at what you’re doing and going back to being really intentional.

What is something you’ve discovered that’s made your life better or easier that you wish you’d discovered earlier?

Tony Perez:

It’s not a tool or tip like the way you would think about it, but something that has been invaluable for me over the past decade-plus is having a partner to share the journey with. And I’m not talking about my wife and I’m not talking about my kids.

Daniel has been my business partner now for what? 11 years going on 12 years, something like that. and That has been extremely impactful, to the way I approach problems, to helping me get out of ruts.

I don’t think we talk about that enough in the world of startups and entrepreneurs. Like, you could absolutely go at it by yourself. but it’s so much nicer when you have somebody to share the pains and the wins with.

Because I could tell you this when we went through Sucuri — we did the exit — besides the congratulatory oh high fives, all this stuff, within an hour, everybody already forgot. Nobody remembered. But that entire experience is something that Daniel and I can live through and can remind ourselves like, Hey, we did these things. And when he’s having his downs, I’m having my ups when I’m having my downs, he’s having his good times. And so we help bring each other up.

so if there was a tip, that I would give anybody, I would say, "Hey look, don’t dismiss the value of having a partner on this journey." Because they get to play devil’s advocate. They help you think through problems differently and that goes a really long way.

Jennifer Bourn:

It makes such a difference when you’re not walking that path alone. And for those that don’t necessarily have a partner joining a mastermind, having a small group, having trusted advisors, people that you can turn to on those tough days to vent to, to get advice from, to get validation from, to get reassurance from, to get help from.

It makes such a huge difference when you’re not a lone wolf, I think that is an absolutely fantastic suggestion.

Tony, thank you so much for joining me, and for being open to having this conversation. If people want to connect with you further and stay in touch, where can they find you online and where can they find more about Clean Browsing and NOC?

Tony Perez:

So you can find me pretty much as Perezbox. I’ve had this moniker for a long time. Um, I spend time on Mastodon. We have our own instance at You can find me on Twitter and then on Instagram @perezbox.

Outside of that, CleanBrowsing is just that @cleanbrowsing on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. And then NOC is just @noc_ org on Twitter.

Jennifer Bourn:

Fantastic. Thank you again for joining me.

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