Failing His Way To The Core Value Equation With Darius Mirshahzadeh

Every company has to have core values – that’s just Business 101. But having core values is not just about having a nice set of lofty words to put up on your lobby. Darius Mirshahzadeh learned that in the most painful way possible as a young entrepreneur. Being born to and raised in a business family didn’t spare Darius from the failures of every beginner’s journey, including the implosion that many in the real estate world suffered in 2008. That humbling experience taught Darius the importance of building a business around core values – this time, real core values that have high utility value. His book, The Core Value Equation, tells his story eloquently along with the lessons he learned from it. Listen in as he discusses with Dr. Diane Hamilton what core values ought to be. You will find the answer to be easy, quite literally this time.

TTL 805 | Core Values


I’m glad you joined us because we have Darius Mirshahzadeh here. He calls himself a recovering CEO, but he’s the Founder of The Real Darius. He’s run some successful companies. I’m very excited to have him on the show.

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Failing His Way To The Core Value Equation With Darius Mirshahzadeh

I’m glad you joined us because we have Darius Mirshahzadeh here. He calls himself a recovering CEO, but he’s the Founder of The Real Darius. He’s run some successful companies. I’m very excited to have him on the show.

I am here with Darius Mirshahzadeh, who is a recovering CEO and Founder of The Real Darius. It’s nice to have you here, Darius.

Thank you for having me on the show, Dr. Diane.

You’re welcome. This will be fun. I’m interested in what you’ve done and what you’re doing. You had a new book. It was endorsed by Tony Hsieh. Why don’t you give me a backstory of what led to this book and all your success with your ranking as a top CEO in the past?

TTL 805 | Core Values
Core Values: The Core Value Equation: A Framework to Drive Results, Create Limitless Scale and Win the War for Talent

I’m a serial entrepreneur. I grew up in a family where my dad was an entrepreneur. He immigrated here from Iran with our whole family. We were born here, but we lived there. My dad immigrated here when the Revolution happened. That was the one thing he could do is start a business. He got into the gas station and real estate business. I grew up watching people run their own business my whole life. I didn’t realize that it was not normal. It was one of those things where my dad’s friends were all people that had their own businesses. When I looked now at all my friends, most of my friend’s parents had jobs.

Thinking back, that was the norm. For me, starting my own business was something that I always knew I was going to do. I have a twin brother. We were always entrepreneurial. When I got out of college, I like to joke that the last job I ever had was I worked at the White House. I worked for the Clinton administration. It was my first job out of college. When I was there, it was when I realized I was unemployable. I didn’t like having to be somewhere at a certain time. The best way to put it is it felt like a job. My first job felt like a job. It was a cool job. Working at the White House is something that you brag about.

I told my mom, “The only way I’d ever work at the White House is if I was the president.” This was in 2000. Back then, it wasn’t like it is now. If you go to college campuses now, everyone’s an entrepreneur. It’s almost nauseating, “I’m a CEO.” I’m like, “You’re sixteen. What are you talking about? Go get your driver’s license. Go accomplish that first.” I moved to San Francisco. I had 7 or 8 jobs to support myself so I could be an entrepreneur. I ended up landing in the mortgage industry. I worked my way up from the bottom. I was on commission only. I started a brokerage, and then it was just myself. I got my brother to join me. We ended up growing it to about 150 employees in three years. This is between 2003 and 2006. We were the 40th fastest growing company in the United States. We were number 40 in the Inc. 5000.

It was a wild ride and I say this now, looking back, I had no idea what I was doing. I was 25. That’s not normal for a 25-year-old to grow like that. It was all of our own money and we grew this multimillion-dollar company. I went looking for help. I call myself a firefighter because the business was out of control. I ended up getting into this program called Birthing of Giants at MIT. It was developed and put on by a mentor of mine named Verne Harnish. Verne started EO. His program that was born out of that was called Birthing of Giants. It brought 60 of the top young entrepreneurs from around the world. We had a very international group of people. Some of these people are running $300 million, $400 million companies. One of my classmates was Matt Bevin, who sold his company and became the governor of Kentucky. It was an impressive group of people.

I got schooled. It’s a three-year program on how do you build and scale a high-growth company. That’s where I got introduced to core values. It was mind-boggling for me because I was drinking from a fire hose. I’d go back each year. In ‘06, I go back and I’m implementing core values. In ‘07, I go back and the business started limping a little bit because the market was turning. It was in June of each year. In August of ‘07, the credit markets froze. We’ve grown it from myself in July of 2003, this is four years later in August of ‘07, 150 people in a 17,000-square foot office in downtown San Francisco, all young kids mostly. Our business imploded. It was painful. We went from about 150 to 10 employees in 90 days.

I was in the market at that time selling mortgages around the time that you were in. I worked for Equifirst. My territory was up there. They gave me the Northern California. I saw a lot of people up there trying to do stated mortgages when they were trying to buy million-dollar places like a hostess stating $500,000 a year or something. It was a crazy time. We all thought that the market was going to continue and that you could refinance. It didn’t work out what we thought it would be.

It was a big, hard lesson learned. I was all refis. Most of my businesses is out of the state of California. We were a call center. I did refis and 66% of my business was stated income, which they call them liar loans now. I was talking to somebody about this. There was a guy. He’s in his early 30s. He started giving me a hard time about it. He’d only been in the business for ten years. I said, “Back then, you’re put out of business if you are not willing to do these products.” Most people were doing it out of ignorance. I was doing fully out of ignorance. I didn’t realize it was wrong or bad. Hindsight is 2020.

[bctt tweet=”You can have the best values in the world, but if you don’t design them for high utility value, they will never amount to anything.” via=”no”]

The markets were going up and their houses were increasing so much that they were getting equity at the time. There was some logic behind some of it. You wouldn’t have seen exactly what was going to happen. It was a hard lesson for everybody. That must’ve been a tough lesson. Did you let the company go under? What did you do at that point?

I wish I did that. This is where being too smart for your own good gets you in trouble. My brother and I were hard workers and we were quick on our toes. The reason we went from 150 to 10 was because we were cutting our expenses as aggressively as we possibly could. It was a runaway train expense-wise because we had the expense infrastructure for a $10 million company that all of a sudden was a $2 million company. We cut into the bone. What I say is that it was a train that fell off the tracks and sliding towards a cliff. By November, I’m like, “I think we’re going out of business,” and it stopped at the edge of the cliff.

It was fortunate and unfortunate. Fortunate that we didn’t die. Unfortunate that now we were this super wounded company with the expense infrastructure that was not bad of a $2 million company. We had these obligations. We had leases and we had all these things. We had a little bit of money left. Now we limped for the next three years. I had this five-year entrepreneurial purgatory. I went back to Birthing of Giants in 2008. It was funny because in June of ‘08, all the real estate people were all hating life because our companies were all destroyed. It’s international and everyone else are happy. All my Australian and Canadian friends were like, “This is the best. Our currency is stronger than the dollar.” I’m like, “Go screw off.” We graduated and my company at this point was called a zombie company, a walking dead company. It was a humbling experience. I didn’t like my company that much even before it imploded. It was not a great place to work. I was trying to fix it. I talked about this in the book. I called it in the book the Frankenstein of the company.

For people who are reading, your new book is called The Core Value Equation: A Framework to Drive Results, Create Limitless Scale and Win the War for Talent. You started to learn about the value of having values.

Yes, in the most painful way possible. Here I was in ’07 and I had a moment and I talked about it in the book where I said, “I hate my company.” I went back to my office and I said, “It’s all my fault.” I took full ownership of it. I was trying to fix the company. I was coming from a good place. The business we were in was not the right business. I figured that out. I’m like, “We’re doing these loans that are not going to be good loans.” I was dealing with a lot of pain around that. A lot of borrowers were coming back to us and there was a ton of headaches.

I figured it out and I was like, “I can’t believe we did this.” I was getting hit from multiple angles. I was young. I was 29 and running this big company. I didn’t know. I was learning. I was coming from the place of wanting to build a good business and do the right thing. I go back to MIT. My head is in the dumps. We had this workshop the night we graduated. These two guys who run this company called Nurses Next Door, who are a case study in the Scaling Up book by Verne Harnish. In my class, were three case studies that are in that book. There are like five case studies and three of them were graduates of my class. It’s a total super user group.

I’m surrounded by some badass people. John and Ken Sim who are the co-CEOs in Nurse Next Door. They’re one of the best places to work in Canada. They get us all together, there are 60 of us in a room, and said, “We’re going to do a quick core value workshop. Please stand up if your company has core values.” Everyone stands up. We just graduated the program that day. That’s the first thing that you learned is you’ve got to have core values. We all stand up and then he goes, “Please stay standing if you know your core values and you can say them off the top of your head.” Half the room sits down and I’m in that group.

TTL 805 | Core Values
Core Values: When you look at the typical business, 9 out of 10 employees don’t know their company’s core values.


What did you think were your core values? Did you have an idea? When you stood up, you had to think you knew what they were to stand up.

I created them.

You just didn’t remember what they were.

I had six values. They were 76 words long. I had them. They were just hard to remember.

You weren’t living them.

I was trying to, but they weren’t built to be used. They weren’t scalable. They were the worst possible design you could ever imagine.

Can you remember any of them to share an example of a bad one?

They weren’t bad in the sense that they were bad values. They’re bad in the sense that they were badly designed. One of them is like, “We strive to promote A-players,” or something like that. They’re sentences. I don’t remember them. They’re almost impossible to remember. I’ve been talking about my book. This is probably the 500th show I’ve been on. I talk about my book all the time. I don’t remember them because they’re not memorable. I wasn’t the only one that sat down. Half of the room sat down, 30 out of 60 sat down. First of all, it was a gut punch for me. I was disappointed.

I was curious/in shock. Why is it everyone? Why did half the room sit down? These are people that I admired. They said, “Please stay standing if your employees know your core values. They could say them off the top of their head.” Half of the remaining half sat down. Three-quarters of the room was sitting down then. They said, “Please stay standing if your customers know your core values.” The whole room sat down with the exception of Ken and John. I was in awe. It was a turning point in my life that day. The next morning, I woke up and I was sitting in this diner. We graduated. I’m in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I’m getting ready to fly back to San Francisco where I lived. I was like, “I can’t believe I sat down. I can’t believe all these people sat down. Why did we sit down?”

This is in June of ‘08 so iPhones have just come out. I pull up my iPhone. I pulled the Nurse Next Door’s core values. They had four values that stood for big things. They were twelve words and easy to remember. There were these four different themes. I was like, “What are the four things I stand for?” This is June of ‘08. The company had imploded the previous fall. I was trying to rebuild the company and do it in the right way. I was like, “We’re a hardworking company. We’ve always worked super hard.” We have a great work ethic. Doing the right thing was important to us. I believed in karma because of what had happened. I wanted to rebuild the company the right way. Integrity was a big deal. The third thing was we were innovative. We were always trying new things. We’re the San Francisco-ish company, even though we are a mortgage company. Last but not least, I was all about excellence.

I said, “I’m going to translate these into more tonal language that’s in the tone of how we are. We’re this hip scrappy cool company. Work ethic became do work. Integrity became live Zen. Innovation became break the box. Excellence was while everyone. Do work, live Zen, break the box, while everyone. I brought that back to the organization, and then I wrote these bullet points of what they meant. Right away, I noticed a change. I noticed that people were using the core values. That was my first step. It was all experimentation for the next five years for me. Commercially, I was unsuccessful for the next five years.

[bctt tweet=”Your core values don’t need to be nice. If you’re a badass group of people, own it.” via=”no”]

What year was this? I know that you were ranked number 40 on Inc. 500 list of CEOs in 2007.

When I went to Inc. conference in September of ‘07, my company had imploded in August of ‘07. I joked that I was getting an award for the 40 fastest growing company, but I was the 40th fastest shrinking company that day. I was getting pummeled. My brother was my business partner. We’re twin brothers. The name of the company was Twin Capital. Twin Capital was getting crushed. It was what it was. People are like, “Didn’t you learn so much? Would you do it any different?” I’m like, “Yeah, I would never put myself through that again ever.” It was a traumatizing experience. In ‘07, ‘08, ‘09, ‘10, ‘11, five years, I went to work to cut checks. I didn’t take a paycheck for five years. It’s good way to burn through a bunch of savings and be miserable. I got to experiment with the core values a lot.

I was trying new businesses. Every business I would build, I would build a set of core values for them. They were these cool hip values. I test them with the clients. I test them with the teams. I noticed it became my number one tool for trying to build a business. The businesses themselves weren’t successful until they were. In 2012 is when I had the first success with them. I built this business with a brother and a partner. In twelve months, a couple of hundred employees and it was a $40 million, $50 million business. I ended up selling that business and starting the next business, which was the big win, which is the Money Source. That’s the business we started in 2013. There were four of us. My partner founded the company in ‘97. Me and three other partners showed up. We bootstrapped that company from 30 to 1,000 employees in three years.

That’s a huge growth. I want to touch on a couple of things you’ve said because it’s so interesting to me getting back to the values thing. When I worked for Equifirst in the mortgage industry back then, I remember they gave us a script to read of their values before we even started. It was three pages long. I’ll never forget it. It wasn’t just bulleted points. It was this narrative that was written so poorly. The professor in me was like, “I had to correct it.” They wanted you to say it word for word. They put you on videotape. They wanted it exactly word for word. The grammar was so bad. I couldn’t take it. I changed a couple of things when I said it because it was painful, but I can’t even tell you what it was anymore.

I keep looking for it. I want to go back and find it because it was an interesting thing. I’ve had a lot of people on where we’ve talked about knowing your values. I thought it was interesting that you said your employees know your values. I’ll tell you, I knew their values, but the customer didn’t. It was interesting you brought the third aspect up because that was something that ended at the employee level there. Some of the values experts I’ve had on the show have said how much they bring up their values in every meeting. Does this tie into our core values? If it doesn’t, there’s something you need to do about it. I want to know how much are you talking about core values or should CEOs talk about their values when they’re in meetings making decisions?

I want to take a step back. Gallup has data around this. I’ve done a bunch of research when I was writing the book. A lot of the things I landed on were intuitive. I ended up being right about it, but it wasn’t because I’m some smart person. I go with numbers, intuitive and logically the things I landed on made sense. When I looked at the data, it supported where I landed. When you look at the typical business, 9 out of 10 employees in most companies don’t know their company core values now. This is commonplace.

Gallup has done data on this. Only 23% of employees think their employers and coworkers would live their core values. There’s a reason for that. It’s not because these are bad companies. It’s because they’re not using the core values the way they can. What I say is the typical core value process that we all have been using is you discover your values. You figure out what’s authentic. What are the things that you stand for? What are the non-negotiables? That’s the discovery process. Jim Collins talks about this in Built to Last. Verne talks about this in Scaling Up. Discover mediocre rollouts, even the rollout you told me that Equifirst did, I would call that a mediocre rollout. They’ve built what’s called a core value speech.

It’s a poignant moment that you read this big thing and do it on video. You remember doing it and you now know that they’re important, but no one’s going to remember three pages of anything. I already know that 99% of the employees didn’t remember those values because it’s too long. They could be the best values in the world. They can come from the best intentions in the world, which is by the way, what most companies do. They are good values and they are coming from the right place but they don’t design them for high utility value. They discover them. They roll them out, mediocre rollout, and poor implementation thereafter. Guess what happens with it, Diane?

Nobody buys into anything because nobody knows what they’re doing.

Know is the right word. Nothing happens. People go back to business as usual. They’ve been given this thing that doesn’t do anything. They’re not given the tools to do something with it.

I worked at Keller Williams when I had a real estate license. They put their values up in big red letters on the wall right when you walked in the door. I thought that was interesting. I can’t remember what they were anymore though, but they did do that. I guess customers would see that.

That’s a step in the right direction. I call it core value advertising. The typical core value process that we’ve all come to learn and not know is good discover, poor rollout, weak implementation, and nothing happens. That’s why everyone sat down when I was in that room. It wasn’t because they didn’t want to have core value business companies because that’s what they did. That’s what I did. Where I started playing with it, I landed on a totally different framework. My framework is simple, discovery process is a well-worn tap. There’s nothing I’m going to add there except one little caveat. They don’t have to be nice. Your core values don’t need to be nice. If you’re a warrior culture, badass group of people, own it.

Don’t sit there and pick something that doesn’t represent what you are. What ends up happening is HR folks and marketing people have hijacked the word core values. They said, “We can’t have that be our core value because the employees won’t like that.” I’m like, “Do you think they’re not going to know it the day they get there? The day they get there, they’re going to know what you are.” Core values are the personality of the organization. They know when they see it. You’re better off offending them before they get there and they don’t show up. The people that do show up are way more into your company because they’re like, “I like this place.” You sound different. You’re more aligned with their beliefs. Do you know what the textbook definition of the word core values is, Diane?

TTL 805 | Core Values
Core Values: Your core values have the opportunity to become the language of your life, but like any language, you have to learn it and use it.


I couldn’t even guess. There are a billion different guesses. What is it?

I didn’t know what it was either, but then I was like, “I wrote a book called The Core Value Equation. I should know it.” I looked it up. It’s the fundamental beliefs of a person or organization. Here we are, we have these businesses. We go out. We discover our fundamental beliefs, and then we don’t do anything with them. It sounds crazy when I say that. It’s a huge, lost opportunity. What I believe is discover is a well-worn path. What ends up happening is we end up with these words like excellence, empathy, teamwork, and they’re very generic words. Where I changed the game with my work is that I believe you have to design those words, those themes into well-designed values that have high utility value that can become sticky and viral in your organization. In my book, I teach how to design for that.

My books are on curiosity and different things. Your top six core values you wrote on the thing I saw was Happiness named Heart, Love named Besos, Passion named Eye of the Tiger, Curiosity named Cinco, Creativity named BOOM and Balance named Movie Night. Is that in your book or is this something that you wrote to me? I’m curious what you mean by that. I love the curiosity part by the way.

Those are my family values. I brought this into my personal life now. I eat my dog food personally. I believe in a set of core values and my family of six core values. To your point, Cinco is curiosity. Cinco is the five words, what, where, who, when and why. We have a descriptive. What I talked about in the book is we use Miller’s Law, which is the human brain can remember seven items, plus or minus two. When I do the headers, when I take those words, happiness, and I translate them into tonal language. For us, that’s heart. We have an image of a Fibonacci heart. For love is Besos, which is kisses in Spanish. My wife is half Mexican. Eye of the Tiger is from the Rocky movie. I was a wrestler in college and that was like our theme songs. I love that song. It’s something cool. It represents passion to us. Creativity is BOOM. We have pictures with these in my family. It’s a huge firework show, BOOM, a big explosion. Movie night is a balance, which is we do a movie night every Saturday night with my kids and my wife. That’s our reset. That’s where we all come together and we chill out. That’s a great example of these six themes that I convert to the language of my family.

I believe the core values are the language of accountability. The position I take in the book is that core values have the opportunity to become the language of our lives, but like any language, you have to learn it and use it. It has to be designed for use, discover and design. In your business, you want to roll it out to the team. Like any language, I want to immerse them in that language, but I’ve got to teach it to them first. We designed a very interesting and poignant rollout process to first introduce the team to their language now of accountability.

We’d go to implementation. I’d say the rollout is your core value wedding. Everyone loves a good wedding. What most people do is they have their core value wedding and they never talked to their spouses again. There’s a word for that. It’s called divorce. After that, you have an ongoing implementation. We call it the core value marriage. That’s the ongoing nurturing of this relationship between the team and the values. I’ll give you some examples. One would be to put them on the wall or use them in the meeting. Those are very tactical though.

If they’re not designed for high utility value, if I’m doing those things, people are going to be like, “It’s boring. This is this thing Darius wants to do that’s like hard to remember.” Human beings are pretty simple creatures. We’re complex in a lot of ways, but we’re also simple. If I make it hard for you, you’re not going to do it. You’re way less likely to do it. What a lot of people do with their values is they make them hard. Not intentionally, they’re not saying, “Let’s make this hard as we can on them,” but they don’t think about like, “How can I make this high utility value?” I’ll give you an example. I’m going to ask you a question first. In the year 2010, how many pictures do you think were taken in the whole entire world?

It’s billions, I don’t know.

The number is 83 billion. Mind you, smartphones came out in ‘07. People had cameras on their phones. Even before that, we had cameras on our phones, but not as good as the iPhone. In 2020, how many pictures do you think people took in the entire world?

[bctt tweet=”Never identify any problem unless you can tie it back to a core value.” via=”no”]

It’s got to be trillions.

It’s 1.1 trillion. I’m going to ask a question, is it that we all got a hankering to become photographers? Did everyone pick up that hobby and 10X that hobby? No, it’s absolutely not. That’s not what happened. We gave people something that was easy to use and they used it. We have that opportunity with our values. We can make them easy, sticky and viral, but they have to be designed for that. They have to be rolled out for that. They have to be ongoingly implemented for that or else what ends up happening is simple. They won’t use them. It’s business as usual.

They’re going to say, “Boss, I have work to do. Why are you giving me this core value BS?” They’ll be in the meeting and they’ll talk about the values. They’re real complicated or if they’re not authentic, they’re like, “This is such BS. This is so fake.” They’ll have a fake smile on their face. They’ll be like, “You don’t live it. I watch you break those values all the time, boss.” That’s what happens when we don’t do it the right way. When we do it the right way, they’re into it because it’s the language of accountability, than when we start to take tactically, and I talk about this. I went crazy with core values. I call it bleeding core values. Everything we did, anything we did, strategy, execution, we use a system called Level 10 in my business, which is Gino Wickman’s Traction. It’s a weekly 90-minute meeting where you do a process called IDS, Identify, Discuss and Solve problems in the organization. In my business, you are not allowed to identify any problem unless you can tie it back to our core value. That was a must.

Everybody’s working okay. They’re doing all these different things. Give me an example of one that wouldn’t tie back. Give me a core value and something that might not tie back or might tie back.

Our four core values at TMS. There are two case studies in the book. One is the Twin Capital, the one that got crushed. We have a TMS, which was the big one. The Money Towards, 40th fastest, largest lender in the United States. It’s a real big win. I was voted number nine highest-rated CEO in America on Glassdoor. It was awesome. It was all because of core values. I would give full credit there. I take no credit. I just did this thing and it worked. It took time to get there. On day one, we weren’t there. What happened there was we went from 30 to 313 employees in 18 months. I had zero growing pains. I had an 83 eNPS and 81 NPS at that company.

It wasn’t because I had great training or infrastructure. It was a brand-new business like a startup. It was a very small company that went to a very mid-sized company quickly. We went from 300 to 1,000. There were some growing pains. We quickly recover from it. That business had four values. People matter. Number two was strength and character. Number three was inspiring leadership. Number four was rock solid service. People matter was caring. Inspiring leadership was inspiration. Strength and character was integrity. Going back to the whole subprime thing, I was like, “It always has to be front and center in any business.” I’m in mortgage. The industry has an issue with integrity. Number four was service orientation, which was rock solid service.

It’s hard for me to say what it wouldn’t be. I could tell you what it would be and how we would use it. That’s the only way I know how to use it. What I tell people is when you design the core values for high utility value, everything is binary. Either it’s aligned with it or it’s not. Yes, that’s rock-solid service and no, it’s not. An example of it would be like, “We want to do this thing that’s going to make our service worse but will make us more money.” We were a call center that were managing 500,000 loans, “What is the thing that’s going to make our talk time go from 3 minutes to 18 minutes, but we’re going to make an extra penny.” That’s not rock-solid service. We’re not discussing that. Strength and character is not there. That’s not people matter because that’s all out of line with our core values. If someone brought that up, I’d be like, “Why are you working here?”

I’ve got a question though because I worked with a lot of companies that have a core value of developing curiosity. It improves innovation, engagement, motivation and everything. It ties back into curiosity. You mentioned that since that was one of your personal values. Where does that tie in to corporate values? Is that one you would list as a corporate value or as a sub-category of something else?

I’d have to read the descriptive. You translate for the header, that’s the thing they need to remember. Below that are the 4 to 8 sentences that describe what that means. There are usually between 5 and 10 values baked into the descriptive. The way I bring rock-solid service to life or the way I bring people matter to life is I do all these things.

They might have innovation as a core value. To be the most innovative, they might do that through developing curiosity, which leads to creativity or whatever.

Curiosity maybe the biggest value. It might be an actual value or maybe I call it a sub-theme, which is something that’s an element of the other values. I would guess that curiosity is going to be on a rock-solid service for us. That’s when I think about how we exhibited in that business. It was around creating excellence, doing the right thing, and figuring out better ways of doing stuff that are in the benefit of creating raving fans. That all aligns with curiosity.

I’ve had like Francesca Gino on the show from Harvard, and everybody from Daniel Goleman, the EQ expert talking about this. When we talk about curiosity, the leaders think that they encourage curiosity, but if you ask employees, you get a much less rate of thinking that it is encouraged. Any kind of value would be that way. You might think that you have this core value, but if it’s not shared and live like what you’re saying, it may not be what they think you’re promoting. That’s a huge problem. Let’s stick with the curiosity theme. We have to ensure that that’s our core value. How do you ensure that they embrace your vision for curiosity? I know you have to embody it yourself. You have to emulate curious behaviors, but what other things would you give people as an idea to promote it?

I pulled up my previous companies because I exited that company. I built it and exited in July of 2020. I wanted to pull it up because I wanted to look and see how’s that. I will tell you that our business was not the most curious business.

Do you think it should have been?

TTL 805 | Core Values
Core Values: When you design core values for high utility value, everything is binary. It’s either it’s aligned with them or not.


I was less interested in my team being curious. I’m super curious. I don’t necessarily believe the organization needs to have the values of the leader. Me and my partners were curious. For us, I was more interested in the results side of the business. I might have taken that for granted. I designed this when we first got started. That’s unusual to build core values that are well-built core values the day you opened the doors.

You’ve had other experiences that didn’t work so well. You’ve had some great experiences to teach you maybe not what not to do.

I’ll read you two of the values where curiosity is not explicit, but it fits in. The number one is people matter. We take care of our people. Everyone has a voice so it promotes their thoughts.

Fear is one of the things that holds people back from being curious in my research. If people can feel that they can ask questions and they have value, that’s a huge thing. That’s a great value.

People matter is about caring. The descriptive is those 4 to 8 sentences that tell you what does caring look like. The reason I say this is caring in my organization might be totally different than caring in your organization. I have examples of these with people I’ve helped with their values. I was always helping people with their values for fun. I have eleven companies that I advise. That’s one of those deals if you want to work with me. You’ve got to build your values the right way. I help them with that. There was a company I was helping for fun. There are two. One was run by this HBS guy who is a consulting firm in LA. One was a large orthodontics practice in the Bay Area. They both had two of the same values, excellence and collaboration, but they were totally different values.

There are so much power in language. I’ll read you a quote by Mark Twain. For curiosity, going back to that, people matter, we take care of our people. Everyone has a voice. There’s a curiosity statement. At TMS, those voices matter. We’re empowering them to have their voice. We recognize our workforce by investing in our team members as whole people. We start with making work fun, which fun creates trust. We live in a spirit of social responsibility and philanthropy. Over time, we build trust and pride. We believe in creating environments that lend a way to our team having fun and engaging in meaningful work. Through this experience, we intend to foster a culture of achievement, longevity and excellence. I’m not talking about how they get there. I’m telling them where I want them to end up.

They have a sense of psychological safety and everything with the trust.

I didn’t tell them how to get there, but I said, “This is the result I want. Go get me that result. How do you get there? I don’t know.”

You’re giving a framework to drive results. You were a TEDx curator and I’m curious how you got into that. What was that like?

I’ve had three pivotal moments in my life that changed my life. One, I told you about the day I sat down at MIT. One was the TEDx experience. I’ll end the show on my third one. The second one was the TEDx. As I told you, for five years I pivoted, I didn’t make money. For me, I was so money-motivated. I was money-motivated from a young age. I went to work. I got into mortgages not because I love mortgages. I want to make money. In my mind, that was the fastest way for me to make the most amount of money, but I wasn’t making money. That’s the worst position you can ever be in is to go into something for money, which I don’t believe in that anymore. You should go into stuff because you like it and you can make money. It’s got to be both. You don’t have to love it, but you have to like it.

A lot of people will do what they did to you when you were at the White House job. They’ll tell you how lucky you are to have this job and isn’t that great. Maybe it’s not for you?

Everyone’s entitled to their opinion.

It’s perception. That’s the other thing I study. Maybe for them, it wouldn’t be, but you have to find what fits you.

I’m the one that’s got to live with me. A lot of times, people do things for social credit and to feel like they’re important, which that doesn’t feed the soul. Fulfillment does not come from that. I believe fulfillment comes from living in your values, working in your talents, and doing it with a high level of awareness. For me, getting clear on that is important in your business and it’s the frameworks I use in the business for scale. I had that moment where in 2011, I’ve been pivoting for few years. I had three friends. One, he won best new director for MTV for Video Music Awards. He even shot a video for The Black Keys. His name is Chris Marrs Piliero. He was a buddy of mine from high school. He followed his dreams and here he was being successful.

He was shooting videos for Britney Spears, Kesha, The Black Keys, and all these cool people. I had another friend from high school who was my prom date, who was the green witch in Wicked on Broadway. It’s not Idina Menzel. She did the first season and then her understudy was Eden Espinosa. They were on Broadway for a few seasons. She was the green witch on Broadway. She toured all around the United States when it went to San Francisco and LA, the Pantages. Between 2005 and 2010, she was the green witch for the entire United States. She’s a famous Broadway person. I saw her follow her passions to create greatness in the world. I had another friend. These people are all artists. I’ve been doing a lot of work around myself and I’m like, “I’m an artistic person.” I appreciated that they followed their artistry and then they ended up doing something awesome with it. My other friend who’s an actor. He’s on the show Ballers with The Rock and stuff like that. I saw them and I was like, “Here I am doing this thing for money and not being successful. These folks are all doing something for the love of the art and they’re successful.” I said, “Where did I go wrong?”

I got turned on to TEDx from a TEDx speaker, a mentor of mine by the name of Cameron Herold. He did this TEDx Talk on how do you raise your children to be entrepreneurs? That’s where I learned about TEDx. I got turned on to that in ‘08. I was like, “That’s cool.” I went and looked it up. I realized I could put on my own TEDx events. I said, “I am going to do something that has nothing to do with making money. I’m going to put on my own TEDx event. I’m going to fund it. This is not about making money or building a business. This is about putting something cool out in the world.”

I took about a year and I built this event called TEDx Golden Gate Park. It was at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. It was a life-changing event. We brought together twelve speakers. They were amazing speakers. The theme was the pursuit of passion. People that have lived their passion despite the odds to create greatness in the world. I now have a show called The Greatness Machine, which is that event turned into a podcast. It’s the same thing. It’s people that are living their passions to create greatness in the world, but that’s how I got into that. I ended up going to a bunch of TED events. I went to TED a few times.

[bctt tweet=”The worst position you can ever be in is to go into something for money.” via=”no”]

Did you have Tony Hsieh on your show? I’m trying to figure out how you got your book endorsed by him. It’s very sad when he died. I’m sure that must’ve been a shock.

It was a shock. I didn’t know him personally. The Birthing of Giants program has an alumni program called Gathering of Titans. I’m the chair of it at MIT now. One of our members is a guy named Brian Scudamore who is the CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? Brian knew Tony and he told me how to go about reaching out to him and seeing if you would support the book. It was a cold call essentially. I said, “Your book, Delivering Happiness, changed my life. I want to see if you’d support my book.”

I’m sure you know how to cold call being in the mortgage industry. It’s nothing harder than that. They teach you pretty well. First of all, can you share where people can reach you because everybody would like to know how to find you?

I’m a recovering CEO. I exited my company and now I’m on to what’s next. I’m in exploration mode. If you want to find me, go to or you can look up my book,, and it will take you to The Real Darius. That’s the hub for all things Darius, social media, and the book. I have a consulting practice I’ve been doing, advisory practice for high growth companies that want to grow from 8, 9 figures to 10-figure companies. That’s what I’m working on now. Go to the website. You can reach out to me there. There’s some cool stuff on there. That’s where you find me.

Did you find the Mark Twain quote?

I heard this quote and I’m like, “This says everything about my book.” My book is about the core values of the opportunity to become the language of your organization. I believe that core values equals the language. When it is the language, I make the argument that the language of your life becomes the results of your life. It becomes the conversations we have, the conversations become the actions, and the actions become the results, but the language is important. The words we choose become the language of our lives and of our organizations. That’s my firm belief. That’s the argument I make in the book. I teach how you build that to happen. The reason that’s important is this Mark Twain quote. This is where the design aspect of it is important. Mark Twain said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is a large matter. It’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” My belief is that most businesses have lightning bugs in their core values. You have an opportunity to create lightning.

TTL 805 | Core Values
Core Values: Fulfillment comes from living in your values, working in your talents and doing them with a high level of awareness.


That’s a great quote. I have not heard that. This was so much fun, Darius. Thank you so much. I hope everybody takes some time to check out your book because this is fascinating. There’s nothing more important than having the strong core values set up for your company. Thank you for joining me on the show.

Diane, this is such a pleasure. I love hanging out. I love talking about my book.

I’d like to thank Darius for being my guest. We get so many great guests on this show. If you’ve missed any past episodes, you can go to I know we talked about some of the guests who’ve been on the show in the past. I think we’ve had more than 1,100 or more guests on this show. Many great people like Verne Harnish, and some of them that we talked about, Cameron Herold. Take some time to explore the site. I hope you have some feedback. Tweet some tweetable moments. We’d love to hear from you. I hope you enjoyed this episode and I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.

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About Darius Mirshahzadeh

TTL 805 | Core ValuesDarius Mirshahzadeh is a recovering CEO and Founder of The Real Darius. is a dad, husband, twin, brother, and son who was born and raised in California and now lives in Austin Texas. He is a serial entrepreneur, author, conscious capitalist, speaker and entertainer. Darius’s passion is to make the world a better place using his talents and engagement. He is all about the P’s: Passion, Pizza, Puzzles and Pink Unicorns. If you’re more into traditionally braggy vanity metrics around success, he was ranked #40 in Inc 500 CEO’s in 2007 with 2500% plus revenue growth in three years of his business at Twin Capital Mortgage. He was ranked #9 in Glassdoor’s Top Ranked CEOs in American for small to medium businesses. Darius has participated in many prestigious programs including Birthing of Giants at MIT and graduated from the world-renowned Stagen Integral Leadership Program. He was a TEDx curator for the TEDx Golden Gate Park in 2011 and 2012 at the De Young Museum in San Francisco. The theme was The Pursuit of Passion.

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