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Theresa Fette: Self-directed IRA Entrepreneur (and Attorney)

Theresa Fette is the Co-Founder and CEO at Digital Trust, a technology-driven approach to self-directed retirement accounts with a specialization in digital assets. Before selling the company in 2018, Theresa was also the CEO of Provident Trust Group, an independent corporate trust business. Theresa is a practicing attorney with a master’s degree in accountancy and in law, and was named one of the 10 Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs by Fortune Magazine in 2012. Theresa is also a Board Member at Bitcoin IRA, the world’s first and largest cryptocurrency IRA platform.

Intro  0:04 

Welcome to The Future Is Borderless podcast with David Nilssen, we feature top entrepreneurs and thought leaders from around the world, those who bring a global mindset and a unique perspective to their life and business. Now, let’s get started with the show.

David Nilssen  0:22 

Hey, I’m David Nilssen and the host of this show where we connect with business leaders who have what I call a borderless mindset. And we’re trying to build or bring visibility into new ideas, new innovations, best practices, things that can be put to work in your personal and professional life, which will help us as business leaders thrive in a fast-moving world. Now the episode is brought to you by Doxa Talent. Doxa Talent helps business leaders find full-time dedicated, highly skilled workers in the Philippines and it includes everything from accountants to executive assistants, sales, development reps, even software engineers. Now as a result of building an offshore capability, the companies that they serve can scale faster, increase margin, and improve culture. And if you want to learn more about Doxa, you can visit Now I’m really excited for today’s episode because Theresa Fette is a really strong leader with industry presidents, who after seeing what I would call significant success of her own is now trying to foster that same success in future financial service providers with innovative solutions. Now as the CEO of Provident Trust Group, she helped grow assets to more than 7.5 billion before selling in 2018. But she also realized that she had more to contribute to the industry. So that’s where she decided to launch a company called Digital Trust to provide some financial technology solutions for custodial and financial service sectors. Now, she’s a practicing attorney. She has a master’s in accountancy, a master’s in law. And she was named one of the top 10 most powerful woman entrepreneurs by Fortune Magazine. So total underachiever and I will just fully admit for this that I founded a business co-founded business in 2003, called Guidant Financial, at one point Guidant Financial was partners with Provident. So I’ve actually as a result of that developed a nice friendship that has lasted over time. And so I’m super excited to have Theresa on the call. So welcome to the show.

Theresa Fette  2:27 

Thank you, David, that was quite the introduction. Thank you.

David Nilssen  2:30 

I know it’s always awkward. I read through the bios, but I appreciate you bearing with me. But it’s funny, because most of the time when I bring people on, I interview them, and I’m less familiar with their stories, this is going to be fun for me, because it means I get to go a little bit deeper, a little bit faster than I normally would. So I thought actually, I’d start with you were ranked as one of the top 10 most powerful woman entrepreneurs by Fortune, which by the way, is a huge honor. I’d love to just sort of understand like, what is your superpower? They say powerful, but I’m just going to say like, what is that thing that makes you so unique?

Theresa Fette  3:09 

I would, I think it’s hard for me to identify, I think I know what makes me unique and powerful. I do have the ability to connect strategy and people really quickly. I do think I’m more of a startup to maintenance phase CEO, someone that comes in build, and then when it’s just humming, then it’s usually time for me to exit because it’s ready for another CEO to do that piece. But I do see kind of puzzle pieces in my head come together. That’s what I’ve been told by employees and clients that I can see those things kind of before they can sometimes.

David Nilssen  3:46 

Yeah, it’s interesting, my experience, just knowing you as you have the ability to play at an extremely high level. But I mean, given your background, you also can get into the details if you have to, which is a little bit scary. But one of the things I was curious about is one of my favorite speakers years ago was this guy named Dave Rendell who he basically says that your superpower can also be your greatest curse. So a lot of times people, when they’re growing up in school, like he used to say, my teacher would say you can’t sit down and you can’t shut up. And he’s like, now I’m a public speaker. So I guess it worked out for me, right? And I remember one time when I was a kid, early in my career. my boss at one point told me that I had the power to lift up the city or bring it to its knees depending on where my energy was put. So I’m just curious, if you think about your superpower, like, how does that manifest itself under stress? Like what do you have to be careful of?

Theresa Fette  4:39 

It’s so funny because I actually use that that a different way of saying it I always say what makes us great also makes us bad, like what makes us good makes us bad. And I’ve always been told that by mentors is that what whatever your superpower is, is also your weakness. So though I can put all these puzzle pieces together and drive people in a certain direction, my ultimate goes also called the dragon lady. And so when I’m trying to drive in a certain focus direction, and I can definitely come at it with a aggression, I think and the older I get, that piece kind of smooth’s over a little bit I think I’ve learned to mature to on how to keep the dragon at bay. Because motivating people through inspirations a lot more than fear. So I definitely think like some my superpower is my resilience, I think that that’s one of my superpowers, just growing up the way that I did and having to reinvent and try to figure your own way out. But then I also think that I’ll continue trying at things too many times. And it was actually a mentor, Tim Draper actually asked me one day he said, Theresa, you define success. But when do you sit down and define failure? And it was the first time in my career where I really thought about, like, what does failure look like? Is it giving up? Or is it really just saying, like, I need to put this thing to bed and not continue to try to bring it to life if it’s just not going to go there. So that was a big learning lesson for me about like that superpower piece of it, like resilience, not always a positive thing, right?

David Nilssen  6:11 

I love that, it’s funny. I actually really love that quote, and I am going to steal that for sure. Because I think we do spend a lot of time defining what success looks like. But on the flip side, there’s this sort of mantra that we use, which is fail faster, right? But oftentimes, you don’t define like, at what point do you need to recalibrate the strategy or abandon it altogether and start again. And so I think that’s really sage advice. You made a comment a second ago about the way that you grew up, is somehow impacted who you are today, or how you’ve operated historically, which I guess should go without saying, but I’m just curious, like, what unique experiences did you have as a younger individual that sort of formed that?

Theresa Fette  6:52 

Well, I grew up in Arkansas, people are surprised they have no accent. My dad was American, and my mom was Vietnamese. And I grew up with five brothers and sisters. When you grew up with a Vietnamese mom, I tell people, I’m having tummies and half German, and I’m engineered to be this way. And so my mom was a, I wouldn’t even call her the tiger mom, I’d actually say I inherited my dragon lady from my mother. And it was difficult, the expectation she had for us. And, you know, she, she succeeded. Because six kids, we all make over six figures, nobody went to prison. I think those are all positive things. We’re all very successful functioning adults. But growing up in a household like that, and, they’re in Asian culture, too. They definitely believe in like the rod, right? To get the child to do what you want them to do. So I grew up in a really, I guess some people would call it abusive household, but my mom very much like, loved us, right? Like she always thought that that next beating would make us better, which in some ways it did. And I had my employees. One day somebody asked them to write down all Theresa’s positive qualities, and I end up looking at them. And a lot of the qualities that people admired about me, were either ones I did inherit from my mom, or ones that were born out of the way that she raised us. So I have a lot of gratitude for coming up the way that I did. I wouldn’t be who I am. If I didn’t come up the way I did.

David Nilssen  8:22 

Yeah. Well, I appreciate you sharing that and coming away from that experience, you obviously went to college. It looks like maybe three to four times today. It’s funny because I grew up as a kid always wanting to be an NBA basketball player. And when that didn’t work out, I realized, well, maybe it’ll be an entrepreneur because I don’t really want to work for anybody. But you went to school for originally accounting and then law, and you’ve got your masters in both. And you’re practicing law today. At what point did you decide you wanted to go into that accounting or law track? Was that always the dream? Or is that just something that happened?

Theresa Fette  8:58 

It was not so in Asian culture, you have to be a doctor or a lawyer. And at first I thought I want to be a doctor. So I was actually I’m only 15 Irish I have a biochem degree. And somewhere along the way, I realized like, why am I killing myself? I Googled how much biochemist make and they made like $20,000 a year at the time. I was like, why am I killing myself to make like no money so I Googled what comes out of college making a lot more just in case I didn’t get in there professional school. And accounting was one of the top professions so I went into accounting and it was really easy for me. I ended up pulling 4.0’s without really trying. So it was just, I think, natural for my brain. And then I actually went to get my doctorate in physical therapy. I had a patient pass away in my first year, but I didn’t leave until after the first year because I didn’t want my mom to think I failed, right? So I finished that first year got into debt for that first year and then decided because my mom cried when I told her I was leaving physical therapy school she ended up I went to law school. But people would always told me since I was a little girl that I should be a lawyer because I thought I wanted to be first woman president of the United States of America. That’s what since I was five years old that was on all my report cards with my teachers.

David Nilssen  10:10 

Well, there’s still time.

Theresa Fette  10:12 

I think I can let that one go.

David Nilssen  10:19 

I’m not sure our best and brightest would ever sign up for that job anyways. So that’s a different story.

Theresa Fette  10:25 

And attorney fits me like they teach you critical thinking skills. And I don’t know that I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, I kind of got pushed in that direction. I think I had a natural affinity for it, but not knowing what the word was. And then when I got in there, my law degree was a perfect education for being an entrepreneur, teaching you to think on your feet, critical thinking spotting issues, all of that type of stuff.

David Nilssen  10:49 

Well, let’s face it, it saves a little bit of money in the startup phase, too, because they don’t come cheaply. Let’s talk about that, though. it wasn’t too long after school? I think that you started Provident, right? This is the self-directed IRA custodian that you eventually sold in 2018. But like, a lot of people that I talked to became entrepreneurs accidentally, was Provident, something that you intentionally set out to do?

Theresa Fette  11:13 

It was absolutely accidental, actually, I was a tax attorney, I had one business partner, and we were practicing out of Las Vegas during tax law or tax law work. And then I had this client group, it was two or three people came in and asked me what an IRA LLC was. And I didn’t know this at the time, they had Googled IRA, LLC, expert, and my name came up. And at that time, I’m only like, 27 years old. I was the expert in that. But somehow, Google, the universe put in their space, they asked me how to do an IRA LLC. I told them, I charge them, 1000 1500 bucks to do the work. And then they asked for a second meeting. And I remember thinking to myself, like, ah, that’s just like one entity. I don’t need to do two meetings, because attorneys get paid for their time. Right? And the second time they came back, and they offered me 50% of the company to run it. You talked about being a kid, I was just kid. And I did do m&a work and tax work. And actually, we worked for really large, very wealthy clients. And funny enough, I walked into Jason’s office, remember my partner from Provident? And I said, I think we own half a Trust Company today. We did no due diligence. And had we done it, we probably wouldn’t have bought it, or went into the deal. But thank God, we did, because it was life-changing for both of us.

David Nilssen  11:13 

Isn’t that amazing? It’s funny, we started Guidant Financial when I was 25 years old. So I became an expert in IRA LLC at 25. So I’m weakened exactly how the story goes. You talked about Jason, I should love to talk about that. Because as you know, I’ve been business partners with the same person for 20 plus years right now. And you guys had a nice run and a great exit. But over the course of 20 years, I’ve seen the super majority of business partnerships that I’ve come in contact with erode over time. And sometimes it gets really, really ugly. But you guys had a good partnership, a great friendship. What do you think the key to success was for the two of you?

Theresa Fette  12:36 

I’m in a new partnership. Now, he didn’t enter into my new thing. And I asked him to take a personality test, just because somebody asked me who your perfect partner it is. And Jason and I just had a beautiful partnership. So I asked him take this personality test. And the lady called back and actually say, she’s like, no wonder he’s the yin to your Yang. She said, one of your superpowers is coming up with ideas, and you need somewhere to throw them. And I do process out loud. And she said, he tests obviously, you’ve met Jason, he’s incredibly intelligent. But she said, he’s also a really good processor for me. So I throw the ideas at the wall. I always said, like, I came up with the ideas, and he made them legal. And he was just always that I think the other really positive thing about our partnership, that I can really look back and have a lot of gratitude for today, he put a lot of work into our partnership like he did his own marriage. So when we weren’t getting along, he really worked to understand me understand where that was coming from. Why was I communicating like that? The same for me with him, I tried to have an understanding about where he was at and what he might be going through. But I think we just had like a deep appreciation for each other and a deep respect for what each other brought to the table. And when you have that deep respect that’s already there, I it gets kind of easy to build the partnership from there, which I know you and Jeremy have that same thing.

David Nilssen  14:49 

Absolutely. So funny because you said something that he and I often tell each other which is you have to treat a business partnership sort of like a marriage and it sounds a little cliché I guess but it’s really the idea is you have to invest in that relationship because you are financially as married to business partner as you might be to your spouse. In some cases, it’s even more so. And in that case, got to operate from a place where you’re always assuming positive intent. And so that relationship becomes really important. I think that’s at least what I would say the same, was what key to our success. So you talked about having a partner now, I’m not going to ask about that partner. But I do want to talk about Digital Trust and Digital Trust is a relatively new business in the last two or three years, can you tell us a little bit about like, what is Digital Trust? And like, what’s the real problem you’re solving? Or why did you set out to take this on him?

Theresa Fette  15:42 

So Digital Trust came. So when my non-compete was coming due, I had a lot of people from the industry coming out and trying to talk to me about getting back in the industry. So I did have a reputation for kind of being the golden girl of self-directed IRAs. And I was getting recruited to go work with competitors. And it’s something that I knew that I could do really well that I could kind of do in my sleep a little bit, right. But then Camilo came along, and he had this company called Bitcoin IRA. And he was doing cryptocurrency only. And at the end of Provident, we were building a digital asset division, that before digital assets were cool, right? Nobody really knew what crypto or digital assets were. And so when Camilo came to me, it was just different enough, and just exciting enough that I felt like, if I’m going to do this, I don’t want to really do this for five to 10 more years and do the exact same thing, I want to do this and make a big splash and really do something that’s going to change an industry. And cryptos, changing an industry. And what my partners had built, they were the first crypto Ira company out there, they pretty much invented most of the products that were there. So they were innovative, and all the things that I really value in partnership. And so we ended up forming Digital Trust as the custodian to Bitcoin IRA, because you need a custodian for Ira companies. And the idea behind Digital Trust is that we were able to service not just IRAs, but also different other things that digital assets may be from a fiduciary standpoint. And so it’s really exciting to get back into an industry and where I kind of know what I’m doing. But I definitely wake up every morning. And what we’re doing in crypto is just whatever we did at Provident, it’s like times 1000 at Digital. Things move faster. Crypto is just changing rapidly. I mean, you’re watching the markets right now. It’s just it can be crazy what happens in a 30-day period. So it’s definitely sharpened my entrepreneurial skills.

David Nilssen  17:45 

What’s different this time around, though. I mean, I know enough about the transaction, your exit that you did very well for yourself, I’m like, this time around, like, what, what’s continuing to drive you to want to build and achieve? And how are you doing it differently?

Theresa Fette  18:02 

I still think what my passion is, is building teams. So, I’m still doing that from coming back in and I still get to look at my passion, which is going in and seeing people’s light bulbs go on, right? Like when you see everybody move in the same direction, and you see that you start from nothing, and it becomes something that’s amazing. And I get a really good feeling from that, I get a really good feeling seeing an employee who has no college education, and they thought the most they’d ever be is like working in the mailroom at somewhere and then all of a sudden, they’re their head of something, you know, after you groom them and train them and they believe they can do something more, I still believe that that’s my passion. But on this round, I will say we did it, when you’ve done it before, and I’m sure you feel like this, like you’re going from doing Guidant to Doxa is that you can do things better, faster, cheaper the second time around, because you’re just smarter, more experienced. I don’t know if you feel this way is 10 times more painful the second time around, maybe I was too young to think about the pain or remember what the pain maybe it’s like having babies I don’t remember what the pain was like. But now definitely in my career, that it’s painful some days to have to start from scratch where I knew, we had a system to do that. Now we don’t. And we have to do it manually until we get a system or I had a person who could do that. But that was trained and had experience. Now I don’t so it’s definitely been a big learning lesson about whether I wanted to another site out big I got another startup in me. Four is enough after this career, but definitely I’ve learned a lot from this time around.

David Nilssen  19:43 

I think I can appreciate that. You know, it’s funny on one hand, so I’m one of those people that I love to sort of get my hands dirty. So like you I feel like I’m more oriented towards the startup to mature startup business, at the moment that it’s sort of we’ve gone from the piloted to nail it and now we’re at the scale that face the moment starts to crest into the milk environment, I’m out. I’m not the right person. But I would say that it’s been both frustrating and energizing to go from a very systematized mature business back into that one where you’re like, hey, guys, we’re not going to invest as much in technology at the moment because we need to get the process right technology is the enabler, not the solution, right like, and that can be certainly a pain.

Theresa Fette  20:28 

I think we undersell also. So not only starting a business from scratch, but no employees, no systems and technology, then I get into a partnership with three other wonderful men, but I undersold that, that’s three new marriages, right of getting to know them, getting to know how they work, getting to know how their brains work, what they’re good at with them learning myself as well. And you’re doing this all at the same time. So if it’s not like, you’ll have to focus on one of those things at one time, and someday that I look back at the last year, and I wonder how we even made it through, right. But when you start to put in like, man, we did this, this, this and this all in that year time period, including fostering those relationships and building employees. And some of my staffs, like, some departments, they had one person and it when we started, and now they’re a team of 15. And that happened in a year. And you forget what that pain is like, and what it’s like to integrate you train and mentor that takes a lot of time and effort. So sometimes I wonder, like, why are we doing this again, David?

David Nilssen  21:38 

Because it’s fun, because it’s fun, although I will say I’m noticing a theme. And I think maybe the title of the podcast will be like the polygamous dragon lady, startup CEO or something. I know, we’ve been talking about a lot of the fun stuff. But I like to expose some of the what I would call the challenges of running a business. So, we often talk about the good stuff, the successes that we’ve had along the way, but can you tell us about a time that you may be almost quit or felt like you really had your back against the wall sort of paint a picture for what that looked like.

Theresa Fette  22:14 

Oh, my gosh, there’s so many. In other podcasts. I’ve talked about some of the stuff that have brought Provident. So I’ll talk about like, there were dark moments, even in this startup, right? Where there was a moment I was looking in the mirror, and I really thought, can I do this? And not from a standpoint of like, it’s too hard, too many things? Do I even have the ability, right? And I started to doubt myself in mainly because, I undersold, what the effort and the amount of mental and emotional and all of those efforts. And one of my darkest moments was like standing in front of the mirrors Christmas time, right after I came off non-compete. And I remember texting my partners and saying, maybe I’m not the one. Maybe this isn’t for me, maybe I don’t know if I’m the right partner for you. And the amount of doubt that I had around myself. And of course, I got back text messages from all of them that were super uplifting and amazing, but I definitely think I went through an entire year, David, since that point of really wondering who I was, again, because you develop this persona of yourself, I sell the company, everybody says I’m successful, right? And I remember thinking like, am I just a one-hit-wonder was I just lucky, like, maybe I don’t really know how to do anything. Because the other thing that happens when you’re a CEO, you become really good at directing. But you start to lose those kind of like, as your organization matures, you lose those skills, right? Because now you have a team of people to do that, where you might have done it for yourself before. So I definitely went through a really and it was an entire year. I felt like it was an entire dark year of really doubting my abilities. I did do something for myself, though. I invested in a happiness coach, I call my happiness coach. I actually don’t know what kind of coach he is. He’s a coach, but I called my happiness coach. And I started to work on what is it in Theresa’s brain that I would succeed on something and still, I was still in this dark moment of like, do I have these abilities? And I knew that at some level, it was all mindset, right? So I started to work on healing some of that stuff from the past of like, being able to show up in my greatest power now. And it took me a year. So I don’t think they talk about the darkness enough. I think great podcasters like yourself that everybody wants to be your friend when it’s good. Everybody wants to do business with you when it’s good, but when things aren’t good, where is everybody? Right? And I hear a lot of it. We were talking about being lonely at the top. And there are moments when you hit a certain level of success that you look around. And you have less people surrounding you than you did just five years ago, when you have less money. And you start to wonder, like, is it me? Right, like, am I changing or is the world-changing? I think I realized, like everything has a time and a season. But yeah, I kind of took me a year to get my confidence back and remember that my resume and the things that I have done, are me. And I’m not a one hit wonder, and that I really do have skills, I just need to sharpen the blade again. Some of them were rusty.

David Nilssen  25:43 

I think it was funny things change really, really quickly. But I think a lot of entrepreneurs feel that impostor syndrome, right. And, I mean, I have to admit, I felt the same way when I talked about needing Guidant to start Doxa. And sort of go back into the startup environment, as you were talking about a minute ago, there were definitely moments where I felt like, ooh, do I have this in me again, am I the right person to do this. And I think that’s really natural. In fact, I actually think it’s a really good thing. Because if you didn’t have that, I wonder if you’d have the same drive, or the same ambition, or the same sort of, like thrust that entrepreneurs need to have, especially in the early stages of a business, and I also think that a lot of us lose our identity in the business, the business becomes us. And so, you’re talking about exiting, I know so many entrepreneurs that have sold their business and then wonder, wait, who am I? It’s kind of like parents when kids leave the house? And then they’re like, wait, who are you again? And why are we married? Because we’re so used to investing in them, right?

Theresa Fette  26:47 

I remember the first time somebody asked me for my business card after I sold and I was no longer working with the organization. And I went my car and I cried. I was like, well, who am I? If I’m not the CEO of Provident Trust group, right? And I really felt like, you know, here, I have money in the bank, I have all these things that but how do I feel so empty? Like, how do I feel like less? I said, all in one day, I became unimportant. And I’ve talked to other entrepreneurs about that feeling, and they all kind of connect to the important piece of it. But you start to realize that your importance comes from other things. And it takes time to work through that. But a lot of us entrepreneurs, including myself, we attach our importance to how well our business is doing and, and being a part of that.

David Nilssen  27:37 

Yeah, so true. Well, I mean, as you know,  the title of this podcast is the futures borderless and whole concept is that the world is constantly changing and changing. And my belief is that we have to sort of break conventional thinking, both in how we live and how we lead in order for us to sort of continue to evolve and survive. But even more than that thrive and like a rapidly changing world. I’m just curious, like, Is there any place in your life where you think you’re really sort of pushing the envelope or changing the status quo or doing things differently than most?

Theresa Fette  28:17 

I do think my leadership style, I get told a lot that I lead with a lot of heart. And I get told multiple times by people who come into our organization and hear the talks, that what I’m doing in the company, people don’t do, which I always found that kind of weird because I know, people like you. And I know how you lead. And maybe I’ve surrounded myself with entrepreneurs who lead with that piece. But what I’m starting to find is that they think that this is an odd way of lead leading. And the odd piece around it, I think, is that I’m just as invested in the financial outcome and the results of the business as I am in developing out my people to just be better humans. And so we do a lot of work. I have Tuesday morning meetings, and I’ve had them almost now for 20 years at Provident I continued the tradition over a Digital Trust. And I don’t talk about the results of the business. I don’t talk about like everything that we’re doing wrong. Maybe some days I take over Tuesday morning to talk about that when I become dragon lady. But I usually use Tuesday morning and we work through like, I bring in speakers to talk to them about like how to be a better parent, or what are their goals in life or something that maybe we learned in YPO, or EO as an entrepreneur and I bring that back and say, hey, I learned this and it made me a better person. They think I’m really open as well because I talk about my healing journey and my vulnerability really openly and directly. And sometimes, the level of directness and openness I have people giggle because they can’t believe I actually said that out loud, right? And just sharing that, that journey with people like, doing healing. And I even shared with my team, like, I went and did a psychedelic healing journey because somebody had told me about it and said, it was really cool. And I shared it with my team. And I remember, you know, HR saying, I don’t know that you can talk about that. And I’m like, why can’t we? Why can’t we talk about that? And then the amount of people that came up to me afterwards, that wanted to read the book, I read about that, or get the website to that. It was astounding the amount of people who felt connected to that talk, and it was just Theresa talking about being Theresa and part of her journey, right. So I didn’t realize that was weird. And then now, people are telling me, this is a strange but awesome way to lead. And I just really hope that this becomes like contagious, right? That we don’t have to lead through just numbers and results, we can also lead with, I’d let someone go last week and help them find a new job. And I know people like you would do that. But there are a lot of people out there, once they’re out of your organization, they don’t care. But my belief is if you walk through the doors of Digital Trust, I hope you walk out a better person, and I don’t really and the Digital Trust may just be a stepping stone to the next part of your career, the next part of your life, it may be the next 10 years, it may be only three months. But I just hope like we bring value to each other. And then when you walk out those doors, you can say this place made me a better person. And I didn’t realize that one was weird, David, but I’m being told that that’s a strange way of leading.

David Nilssen  31:47 

Well, I mean, I think it’s interesting. I don’t think a lot of leaders lead with that sort of transparency and vulnerability and care about connecting with their people. But it’s funny, there’s a book that I read years ago called The Alliance. And the whole concept there was that when people come to your organization, you should think about it as sort of a tour of duty. And the idea is you sign up for two years in this role, and my job as leaders to develop you to take on the next opportunity. And it may be within our business, but it might also be outside the business. And if we take it from that perspective, that we develop people into being better individuals and better professionals, the likelihood is they’ll grow within your organization. But if not, they’re still growing. And you know what, they’ll still be great advocates for anyone else outside the organization. I remember reading that book and just thinking it was so philosophically aligned with who I want to be that I constantly think about that as you were talking, I was thinking that is exactly what you described

Theresa Fette  32:45 

The connection to the word borderless and I think COVID taught more entrepreneurs this and anytime else, right, is that when I’m talking about this type of leadership there is no port her from the time they leave our office to the time they go home. They said they just are a I had an HR director said that we’re human first, right? When you’re human first, and then you come in this is it could be a job, it could be a passion, it could be all these things. But there is no border there. They still are parents, and they still are spouses. And they still are people who love to go out and play baseball or have some sort of hobby or, I have someone who loves to do marathons and does,  like, they still are this other person. And the idea that companies still believe that there’s this line, that they walk across this line, and they’re just supposed to be a professional. And if I hear that one more time, it’s like, you can be a professional and human at the same time. Right?

David Nilssen  33:42 

Yeah, that’s exactly right. Who inspires you today? Like when you think about it, clearly, you’re a lifelong learner. I mean, in addition to looks like a JD, maybe 16 degrees and a member of EO YPO. Who inspires you? What are you learning right now? And tell me a little bit about that.

Theresa Fette  34:03 

I probably have a laundry list of entrepreneurs that inspire me that are doing like that the impact investing or starting up companies that really are pushing social change and things like that. I think there’s probably a laundry list of, of successful people that I guess I could say that, you know, their lives and their inspiration are really interesting. At this point in my life, I turned 44 this August, I find myself like looking at my kids. So I have a nine and 11-year-old son, and my nine-year-old has this like, just like, passion and zest and love of life. That somewhere along the way, I was like, wow, where did I lose that or temperate or, like, what happened? Where I don’t see the world like he sees it? And so I find myself finding inspiration now like I think my entire career, I always look to people who were doing better than me professionally or financially or that I think at now I’m just looking at people who are inspiring me who are doing better in life than me, right? And my nine-year-old is doing better at life than me. And I think I’m in this path of kind of rediscovery of like, how do I get back to, like, people say, How do we get back to our source? Like, why are we here, and I think I connected with you over breakfast a couple of months ago, and it was just heart-filling for me to that conversation. I don’t know that you realize just that conversation of us. We’ve been through a lot of life together, we were sharing the last few years of our journey. And there are just some parts of life that you’re doing better than me, David, that I took away, and that’s what’s inspiring to me now. And it doesn’t have to be the most successful, the richest, it’s not those people that are inspiring me today. It’s the people that you’re just looking at, it’s like, wow, they just look really happy or filled or there’s this word that is on my bucket list contentment. I did say a word that I felt I would never reach. And I feel closer to that word, closing in on 44 than I think I’ve ever felt my entire life. It’s those kinds of people because I don’t think yeah, I’ll tell you 100% the money in the bank didn’t change anything. My life didn’t change. I guess things are easier. I can buy certain things that I couldn’t before or do certain things that I couldn’t before I have maybe a little bit more freedom, but my life was just as beautiful before the money ever hit the bank. 

David Nilssen  36:45 

Isn’t it funny, like we spend like your 20s and our 30s are all about achieving and maybe it’s not so much the age, maybe it’s parenthood also. But I do feel like when I transitioned in my 40s, I started to think about life a little bit differently. And funny, you said something a second ago, I have, obviously, younger kids, my kids are three and a half and five, two little girls. And we go on little walks. And it’s amazing how they’re so good at stopping and appreciating every little moment, I can’t tell you how many pretty rocks, and dandelions and sticks that I’ve enjoyed over the last few years. And I think as an entrepreneur, I’ve had a really hard time stopping enjoying the moments because I was always looking at what we could achieve next. So yeah, what you said really resonated for me. We’re getting close to the end of our time. I do want to ask you one more question, though. And this is just because I know a lot of the people that listen to the podcasts are entrepreneurs and or would like to become a business owner someday, whether starting or buying one doesn’t really matter. But I’m curious if you wouldn’t give yourself I mean, go back to the 25-year-old self, five, six years ago, I’m just curious, like, what advice would you give yourself now.

Theresa Fette  37:58 

So somebody taught me about core values kind of in the middle of my career, and we set them for the company. Somewhere along the way, I figured out that the core values that I set for the company, were actually mine, and how I feel and operate as a person. And I would really suggest that, listen, you’re going to be given lots of opportunity. They always say luck is preparation meets opportunity, right? And you’re going to be given lots of opportunity, you’re going to meet lots of great people. But if you can get really good at knowing who you are, what you want, what’s driving you those core values of life, like finally, yes is one of mine, an attitude of gratitude, because it’s really important to me to be working with people who see the glass is half full and looking for solutions. And people who are just grateful for being a part of a team or being here. And I just realized that that is a big part of who I am. One of my also personal core values is we pull up and because I worked for people and worked with people that they shoving your face into the dirt gave them joy, right? And I was always one of those entrepreneurs and leaders that they always tell you, Theresa doesn’t fire anybody for making a mistake. And I haven’t even people made million-dollar mistakes in my company. I see what maybe I contributed to that problem. I pick them up, dust them off, let them know that like we’re going to do this together. And it’s really important to me that I’ve worked with people who have that mentality and not people who find joy and other people’s misery. 25 years old if I had sat down and really wrote that out I think I would have made some better decisions in my career and my with people I decided to work with, businesses etc. I think my life may have been a little bit easier if I had had my compass I guess, because I spent a lot of my 20s and early 30s not really understanding that those are my core values and realizing that wow, that I did business with this person, but my gut told me I shouldn’t. Why did I do business with that person? And then when I look back at my core values that I have now, they violated four or five. And I just wish way back then I had had that compass. I think I could have made a lot better decisions. But I got a multimillion-dollar education outside of my four degrees, I got that 100 million dollar education for being an entrepreneur.

David Nilssen  40:34 

That’s amazing. Well, I think anyone that has owned or operated a business before would totally understand what you’re saying. There’s so many times where I’ve realized when things have not gone well, have violated some value or values of mine in the past. So all right, well, we’ll leave it there. We’ve been talking to Theresa Fette, who’s the CEO of Digital Trust, Theresa, where can people go to learn a little bit more about you and the work you’re doing?

Theresa Fette  40:57 

I mean, go to or

David Nilssen  41:01 

Awesome. All right. Well, thanks again for being on the show.

Theresa Fette  41:05 

All right, thank you.

Intro  41:08 

Thank you for listening to The Future is Borderless podcast with David Nilssen. Be sure to click subscribe to future episodes so you can hear from more top entrepreneurs and thought leaders, and we’ll see you again next time.

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