In the negotiating process, one of the main factors that will dictate the outcome is how you present yourself. Christine McKay brings back app developer Roman Tirone for an episode redo, discussing the right way to establish your credibility and eliminate awkwardness. He shares his journey from being groomed into the entertainment industry, only to pivot into a completely different sector because of the pandemic. Emphasizing the negotiation processes commonly encountered by entrepreneurs, he shares his challenging yet fulfilling first project at The Rumble Company, as well as his collaboration with people from different cultures and walks of life.
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Roman Tirone: An App Developer’s Guide In Negotiation
I’m excited to bring to you, Roman Tirone. He is an interesting guy. He’s a renaissance man and I enjoyed my previous conversation with him. Roman has graciously agreed to redo an episode after having some issues. Let me give you a little bit of Roman’s background. Roman is a tech entrepreneur from New York. He began his career working in the entertainment industry at a talent agency in Los Angeles, but the pandemic forced him to change his career focus.
About four months into his unemployment journey, he connected with somebody who he had known before and had done some work with and created an app for that person. Even though I didn’t have a tech background, he negotiated a contract to take on the development and design of a new app. He was able to parlay that experience into three more development clients. He runs The Rumble Company, an app development firm that creates apps for people with ideas. Welcome back, Roman. I am glad to have you back. I loved our conversation before, so thank you.
I appreciate it. I always love speaking with you, so when you told me, I hopped back on. It was a no-brainer. I’m excited to speak to you a little bit about negotiation, my journey into the realm of tech, and how pivoting helped my career. I’m excited to talk and kick it off.
Why don’t you fill in the blanks a little bit for us? Tell us more about your journey.
I grew up on Long Island in New York and moved out to sunny Los Angeles for college. I went to the University of Southern California, which was a great experience. USC guided me to the bright lights of Hollywood. I was excited to be a part of the entertainment scene. When I graduated from USC, I had a job in the CAA mailroom, the Creative Artists Agency mailroom, where there were a lot of myths and lore about what it’s like to work in a mailroom. I could say all those things are true. It’s a crazy place, mishmash, odd jobs, and personalities. I absolutely loved it. It taught me ways to socialize with people that were calculated, but not without conscience.
You spoke to a lot of people and showed your true colors and hope that they’d champion you in your journey no matter which way it took. I ended up being promoted from the mailroom onto a desk, which is the typical trajectory for someone in the mailroom. I worked in late-night television for a high-powered agent that was super strict. It was one of those experiences where you don’t want to redo it. You’d rather do a bunch of different things before you go back and relive that time, but it was so formative for me. At the time, I realized how much I would take that experience with me, especially as an entrepreneur. I owe a lot to my old boss. I’m the professional I am today because of him, even though it was a crazy experience.
I know that you speak a lot about finding your passion and negotiation based on the feeling you have in your gut or intuition about what’s right. For me, I had a crossroads between what my future was in entertainment and what it could be if I did something else. I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t taking care of myself. I was spiraling and it wasn’t good. I wasn’t making much money, but that wasn’t the main impetus for why I was unhappy. It was a combination of lack of enthusiasm and passion. That was a red flag for me. That was the impetus for that internal negotiation that we talked about, to summoning the courage to make a pivot.Approaching everyone the same is definitely short-sighted. Click To Tweet
For me, there were a lot of different factors in my head why I didn’t want to make a pivot sooner. Even though at the time I was 25, I want to make my parents proud still. I want my place in “society” as well-respected, somebody with a brand title job at a reputable company to make my parents proud. A lot of that kept me from listening to myself. I ended up making the change to someone who has the courage to say, “Eff it.” I quit my job without having a job lined up, which is a terrible idea. I don’t recommend that to anyone. Make sure you strategically replace it. I couldn’t take it any more personally. In terms of timing, it could not have been worse because all the jobs that I had lined up were in lockdown and they’re like, “Go to the supermarket and get toilet paper. We’re not hiring anybody. This is unprecedented territory.”
That brought about that entrepreneurship push, but also that unemployment journey where I had a lot of time to myself. Aside from my time spent playing Xbox and passing the time during the lockdown, not many applications are being received, I got dialed into LinkedIn. I didn’t have a LinkedIn before COVID. I dialed in and it helped me. Although I didn’t find a job on LinkedIn right away, it connected me with a lot of people who were also unemployed and I felt less isolated. As with many things in life and a lot of entrepreneurs who got their start, I got lucky. Somebody had reached out to me that I’ve worked with and said that they knew somebody that wanted to create an app.
They knew I had some app experience. I used to talk about the tech world to them. They said, “Why don’t you talk to this real estate developer?” I did and he wanted to create a dating app. I called up the people that I had created the app with, in college, which was unsuccessful. I said, “Do you think you’d partner with me, and maybe we can pitch this guy and he’ll let us do it?” He ended up giving us a large contract to do it. It ended up being around four times my salary at CAA.
I only say that because of how big of a decision it ended up being for me and how much it was a paradigm shift in my entire perspective of what is possible when you let go of the constraints that you have for yourself and just go for it. After that, I registered an LLC. I started a company called The Rumble Company, where we design and develop apps for people with ideas. We have four different apps going with six in the wheelhouse. It’s interesting, the parallels between the production world and Hollywood in the production world and technology, I’ve tried to tie that as a web.
It’s been exciting. I love it. It couldn’t be replicated. I got lucky and now I’m reaping the benefits and trying to keep the ship afloat. In terms of the importance of negotiation during the process both internally, and then the deals I’m making, the negotiations I have daily are an integral part of all of this. It’s been a heck of a ride and I couldn’t be more thankful and blessed, to be honest. I’m super excited. Even speaking to you, I can’t believe it’s real. I appreciate you having me on.
I’m excited about it because a lot of my guests were a little longer in the tooth. Meaning, we’re older. A lot of successful entrepreneurs start when they’re in their early twenties. There aren’t a lot of people at this stage of your career bringing you to the forefront, so I’m excited that you’re here because I love your story for a lot of reasons. One, we met on LinkedIn, which is cool. I have a number of my guests who I reached out to cold on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a powerful tool and I’ve been a member of LinkedIn since 2001. I’ve been on LinkedIn for a long time. I don’t remember how. It might not be 2001, but I was an early person on LinkedIn.
An OG. You’ve been on there a while.
I love this story because when we’re starting our careers, and even when we get older and we’ve been in a career for a long time, we fall into careers by accident. We talked about this when we talked the first time. I haven’t talked about it too much, but I was a career advisor at Harvard Business School for a number of years. One of the gentlemen there who was an academic professor but also worked in the career department said that we know what we love to do by the time we’re sixteen, but we don’t have a language to describe it. The adults in our world don’t have a language to describe it either.
What ends up happening is we get pulled into a swell. A wave drives this direction and the adults say to go this direction. “You’re good at math. Go do engineering.” “Go be in science.” “Go do STEM.” Now there’s this whole thing around STEM. “You’re good in English. Go do this.” We get pushed into these directions so we get into what I call an accidental career. It’s not what we want to be doing. It’s this general thing.
What happens to a lot of people is they get stuck in it and they get stuck in it for a long time. One of the things I like about your story is that you started down that road. Your family was in the entertainment industry and you were going down that road. You’ve made the decision to leave beforehand, but it forced your hand to a certain extent. If the pandemic hadn’t happened, you may have ended up back into an entertainment company.
All the interviews that I have I had lined up were entertainment jobs that ended up getting canceled because of the pandemic, so that’s exactly right.
What I like about your story is that it wasn’t just a pivot in the conventional way that people have been talking about since the pandemic, but you made a hard turn. In the words you’ve used, “What happens if I removed the constraints?” That’s something in negotiation that I do talk about. One of the things that I talked about in negotiation is thinking about possibilities. Somebody reached out to you and reminded you of a possibility.
We even get into a position where we think we know, and then somebody put something in front of us and we go, “I hadn’t thought about that. What about that?” Tell us a little bit more. I’m curious. One of the things that’s hard when you’re starting out is how you build credibility with people when you don’t have as much experience. Talk a little bit about how you build credibility with that first client. To generate four times what your annual salary was in your previous job is a big deal. Tell us a little bit about how you built that credibility with them.
To your point, that’s something I struggle with as a young person doing business in the tech realm although tech is a younger up-and-coming industry, I needed to, especially without any past history and no proven track record. A lot of people who begin their careers, whether you’re in a college course or maybe you’re seventh-grade class or maybe up to what I am and the work you do, is if you have the proper software in place, you can make most things look professional.
If you take the time to put in the work and you’re savvy enough, and sometimes, you don’t even need to be savvy, it’s just understanding the tools that are available to you at your disposal, you can make things that aren’t necessarily historically proven look like absolutely professional. Part of my ability to convince people that I deserve a shot at the table was making sure that my proposals, website, and any documentation that’s under my control for The Rumble Company looks pristine and industry standard. I was as good as anybody else.
For me, it was using those tools at my disposal to make sure that my external appearance was tantamount to the type of service that they want to receive. That was number one. Number two is understanding what the client is looking for. Try to take the person who you’re dealing with who’s another human being and understand how they can be serviced. Are they looking for someone to baby them through the entire app process and tell them what’s best? Are they looking for a cofounder who’s just being paid? Are they looking for a sounding board for their new ideas? They could be all-in-one.
For me, that’s the interesting part about coming from Hollywood, in the agency industry dealing with talent, essential talent at that, and bringing that everyday dialogue in Hollywood to tech. That has helped me build rapport and trust and establish some of the relationships that I have. Without going too off-topic, a lot of it is referral-based. When you do get that 1st or 2nd endorsement of your work and reputation, there’s nothing more powerful than a referral. Even for me, depending on where I get my haircut or anything like that. I source my network for a lot of m, tangible needs. For me, that’s been snowballing momentum-builder for my business.
One of the things that we talked about was borrowing credibility. We talked about the person who had reached out to you about the app and made that introduction. Tell us more about that first meeting that you had with that client and how that unfolded.
The meeting was awkward. Clearly, they understood what they wanted and I understood how to get that for them, but everything in between was awkward because we were both on both sides new to the arena. They had never dived into tech. I’ve never made an app aside from my college, but professionally for The Rumble Company before. A lot of the back and forth was about character reading. That created a tension in the air where I was like walking on eggshells and they were trying to want me to loosen up a little bit, which I hear but it’s tough. The first meeting was awkward. When you’re diving into an app, it’s almost like buying a car in a lot of ways. You don’t spend your money the first time you go to the dealership. A lot of times, it takes 2 or 3 meetings. I had 3 or 4 meetings with them. As things began to open up, everybody was a little bit more comfortable, but in the beginning, it was tough. I definitely had room for improvement.
What were some of the things that you ended up talking about? What were some of the things you did to ease through that awkwardness and to move beyond it?
The most important part is educating the client on exactly the services that you’re providing. For me, talking about the type of work that I did come naturally rather than trying to explain and rationalize the cost of certain things. When you have that gap, silence, and feeling of awkwardness, it can go 1 of 2 ways. You can completely rise up and try to tackle it too much or you can embrace it and let it pass. For me, I tried to jump on it and speak about things in the deal that I was comfortable speaking with. Educating the client on the different services that we provide, how we do it, and why it’s important. If you guide the conversation respectfully and try to show them that what you do is what they’re looking for, and partnership is advantageous to both parties.
Naturally, that will be uncovered if you are honest upfront and work towards that as what you want to communicate. For me, it was discussing the app and how things that they saw could be realized in software that we code and design. I tried to stick to the script. For me, I’m a little bit more comfortable if it’s a little loose, but staying on topic with educating the client was key because even talking about it right now, I’m a little bit nervous. It brings me back. After that, it was smooth sailing. There couldn’t be a better partner. I learned so much from them, even working with them every day. I definitely am thankful that it worked out the way it did.If you go into a conversation looking for money, you get advice. If you go into a conversation looking for advice, you get money. Click To Tweet
I remember, too, that you work with developers that are not all in the United States.
Our development team is domestic in the United States. Our design team is in Eastern Europe. It’s a strategic advantage that I poise to a lot of potential clients like, “Our development team is American.” You’ll find that a lot of development teams are outsourced to India and to different parts of the world for cheap, and then a lot of my clients will be like, “We bought this prototype from overseas and it stinks and I have to redo it all.” That’s part of my selling point. I deal with international designers, which poses its own set of negotiation arts. It’s a completely different world.
What are some of the things that you’re learning as you go through that process working internationally with a different culture? I love international pieces. I’ve negotiated in 53 countries. It adds an intriguing layer of complexity to any discussion. What are some of the things that you’re learning in that process?
My first impression of doing business with specifically Eastern Europeans that are designers or at least the people that I’ve been working with is I come in bubbly and happy like, “I’m excited to get to work.” I’m trying to create a forum for open communication that’s based on positive reinforcement. They do not dig that at all. They’re like, “This is annoying at best.” I’ve learned to be direct with the objectives and the payment. That seems like a sterile approach but through that, we’ve been able to break the wall, be real with each other, and be able to speak. It was me learning their cadence and rhythm rather than trying to force them into this bubbly state. That was a big learning curve for me.
I catch myself with this certainly when I do my introductions and to the end of the show. I am always excited about my guests. I noticed I can say in every episode, “I’m so excited about this guest and friend of mine who’s from the UK, but she’s also Dutch.” She’s like, “It’s annoying, you Americans. Everything’s amazing. Everything is exciting.” We speak in superlatives and she’s like, “You leave nothing. There’s nothing left.” It is annoying to some other culture. To ratchet it down is odd. What’s amazing is having a child. What’s amazing is not at work.
That has been the biggest internationally-driven change for me. It’s helped me in other rooms because although we’re dealing with many different clients in America, with people in Chicago, and different cultures, it’s such a diverse “cliché” melting pot. Approaching everyone the same is definitely short-sighted. Instead of being palatable to everyone, I’ve tried to be upfront with who I am. I feel like it comes with just maturing and growing up. For me, that’s a huge thing. Also, being comfortable with yourself and letting your “light” shine.
There’s nothing more enjoyable to me than meeting with people and attacking a common goal. I love the community of that. That’s part of the reason why I’ve loved being an entrepreneur. It’s such a community of people lifting each other up, even though you’re doing separate things. You think it’s isolating. I’m a sole proprietor of a business. I work from home in my New York City apartment, but there are many diverse communities out there that are empowering young people to go counterculture with the corporate world and start their own stuff.
We’ll see more of that. You’ve got a client in Chicago and you’re in New York, but you’ve worked in Los Angeles. I always say that culture changes by latitude and longitude. I lived in Boston for a long time and I also worked in New York a lot. They’re not the same. They have different philosophies. They have a different way of being in the world. They’re different cultures. You throw in New Orleans into that mix. Louisiana doesn’t even use the same legal structure that the rest of the United States does. It uses Napoleonic law.
Understanding the latitude and longitude that you are negotiating in and that you’re working to build relationships in is important. It’s not about giving up who you are. It’s about figuring out where it’s most effective to adapt and when it’s most effective to adapt to another person’s style or another person’s culture. It’s figuring out that effectiveness that’s going to make you more successful over time.
You speak into your experience with 52 countries, where you are in your career, and the work you’ve done at Harvard. I’m sure the things you’ve learned, even 2 or 3 weeks ago contribute to your perspective on how to negotiate best. You’ve learned so much and you understand the nuances of what you’re seeing play a huge role in how you should approach deal points with people from all over the globe. I can only imagine how many different kinds of deals you’ve had to approach in a variety of ways.
Do you have a story about something that hasn’t gone well so far in your entrepreneurial journey that we can weave negotiation into?
I got fired from a job in between, but I don’t want to talk about that. I had proposals that didn’t go the right way that I put a lot of time into because I was too focused on making money rather than helping the client.
Let’s talk about that because one of the things I talk a lot about is, how price is an output of a negotiation and not an input. You’ve been an entrepreneur and I know that there have to be some times when things didn’t quite go as you had expected in your journey so far. Tell us about some things that you’ve done that didn’t work out the way that you wanted. What are some of the things that you’ve walked away with as lessons from those experiences?
A couple of different experiences come to mind, but first and foremost, I had a potential client that I was a little bit too greedy. What I mean by that is I was too focused on what I was getting from them rather than what I was providing for them as a service. I was looking at the bottom line. I was counting my ducks before they hatch. I was planning what the money would mean to me. I was transfixed on this price rather than tailoring the pricing and the experience to the specific client. I was rushing through it and I just signed the dotted line like, “I’m going to get the money.”
That, honest to God, is what I was feeling at the time. That’s when I learned that is not a winning approach and that’s why they’re not a client. Ultimately, reflecting on their proposal, I didn’t diagnose any of the symptoms of a business that they wanted to create. I was just transfixed on taking instead of giving. That’s a big mistake on my part. It’s even tough to talk about that, but it happens and that’s part of the negotiation process.
I talk a lot about price in negotiations. I talked about buying two cars for the price of one plus $5,000. I’ll ask people when I’m speaking, “When you go to buy a car, what are the things that you care about?” Lots of people throw price in. When you are effective as a negotiator, in my opinion, price is an outcome of a negotiation. It’s an output. It’s not an input. What I mean when I say that is that you’ve got to think about all of the assumptions that go into developing the price. You’ve got to think about it from not just your perspective, but from your counterpart’s perspective. What does it mean? What’s the value that’s being created by the thing or service that you’re providing? How does the counterpart place value? How do they assign value?
It’s under figuring out what the assumptions are for them, how they’re going to define value, and finding the overlap in your assumptions is where you’re going to get to an agreement. You’re focusing on price as you’re going into a negotiation. In sales, people do this all the time because they get compensated that way. They’re compensated based on an output of price and they don’t care about all the things that go into developing it. Nor do they care about the things that take away value in terms of adding costs to servicing a client or things like that. I like that as a warning to say be careful when you’re putting proposals forward and you’re engaging with a customer. That price isn’t the thing that you’re focused on. Is it what the value that you’re creating is? Once you agree with your counterpart that you’re going to add and create value, then price becomes an easy conversation.
It’s completely transparent. It reminds me of have a parallel situation that may not be completely applicable. There’s a saying in the startup world for young startups looking to raise money. If you go into a conversation looking for money, you get advice. If you go into a conversation looking for advice, you get money. It speaks to your ability to translate what you’re doing into how it fits with someone else. It’s not all about what you can take from the other person. It’s definitely a learning curve and anybody could learn something from someone else. When I put together those proposals now, my success rate is higher when I’m specifically tailoring them to the client’s needs.
How do you discover your client’s needs? What are some of the things that you do? Do you have a process that you follow to do that?
I usually try to be upfront about what they’re looking for and their expectations. What is the best version of the idea you have in front of me? Do you want to create something that revolutionizes a specific industry? What does that look like? How do you want to approach it? What’s the budget you have? If you don’t have a complete budget, then what’s the end-all-be-all? Are you looking to start a business and quit your job? I’ve got a lot of people who have started their side hustle. They’re creating something that’s a hobby and that they’re passionate about.
I have other people that are willing to jump in and they want to quit their job. This is something that they see as a million or billion-dollar idea. It’s diagnosing that level of commitment, and then beyond that, I have a personal touch to development contracts. I’m right there with the founders. I give my input, whether they like it or not. For the most part, we have a congenial relationship where my input is welcomed and I hope that it is. That’s part of my job that I love to do. For me, understanding the client’s needs comes from a place of understanding who the client is and what they have forecasted for the future of the project they’re working on.
One of the things that I talk a lot about is how we ask questions of our counterparts. There’s this whole thing around Simon Sinek’s book, Find Your Why, which I don’t agree with. May I practice on you may?
Why do you have a beard? You don’t need to answer it, but how did it make you feel?
A beard is like makeup for men.There's no genuine enthusiasm for people questioning the why behind things work. Click To Tweet
When somebody asks you why, you’re immediately taken to, “I have to justify it?” It comes across as accusatory and a little aggressive. It’s not an effective question. It puts people in a defensive mode. When someone says know your why, for what purpose?
It’s almost like asking what your agenda with that is.
It’s an accusatory thing. From a negotiation perspective, in many of the large company negotiations I do, it doesn’t matter. I quit asking why years ago because if I was in a deal and I get a contract backer and I’d say, “Why do you want to do this?” “Why is this clause here?” “Why can’t we change this?” Inevitably, the answer I got back was, “Because this is how we do it. Because this is how we’ve always done it.” Now I’m stuck in some history that I don’t know anything about and I’m not part of that history, so I can’t respond to it because. You can’t do anything with it because.
I quit asking why because it’s an ineffective question. I focus on asking what questions and how questions. What might you do now? What are the possibilities? How can we do that? How might that work? That leads to more effective problem solving and it also essentially co-ops my counterpart to be part of the solution with me. We problem-solve together instead of bringing a solution all the time. It’s about developing a solution with my counterpart. When you use those questions and you can move beyond whys, it’s almost like you’re customizing everything without customizing anything if makes any sense at all.
I completely understand what you mean. It’s honestly a drawback for a lot of the industries in the United States because you can’t ask why. It’s this hierarchal setup where asking why is part of a defiant outlook. A lot of people in meetings don’t question the process. They have questions about intra-process workings. That’s where a lot of innovation comes from. There’s no real enthusiasm for people questioning the why behind things work.
I can’t speak to it and I don’t know you personally. As a woman in business by yourself, a lot of your experience, I can imagine that in the history of things in the United States, there’s a lot of isolation for people that are outside of that club that knows why. You can’t ask why in the process of what is going on. That is my TED Talk about that because I do feel like that is a problem with the corporate over-structure of America and internationally as well. It’s something that came to mind when you mentioned the ineffectiveness of asking why in a corporate setting.
I hope people will start removing it from their language and replace it with something that’s more effective that moves conversation forward more. I have a mentor, Blair Dunkley. He’s out of Edmonton, Canada and he’s getting ready to release a book called The Ultimate Mind Hacking. One of the things he talks about in his programs is question concepts and he gets deep on how to ask effective questions. It’s powerful stuff.
It’s given me a different language to use to talk about things that I’ve talked about for years, which I appreciate and value his insights and inputs. I’ll get you a copy of his book when it’s out. Roman, I am grateful that you have come back and that we’ve been able to reconnect and redo this episode. Tell everybody how they can find you, how they can find out more about The Rumble Company, and how they can reach out to you.
They can find me on LinkedIn, where my name is Roman Tirone. My website where you can sign up for a free consultation is www.TheRumbleCompany.com or feel free to reach out to me via email, which is [email protected], but preferably, go on to that website and sign up for a free consultation. You can find me there. Thank you for having me.
I’m trying to do some new things as a host and figuring all the hosting things out. Tell us about a good book, one of your favorite books that have influenced you. Since we’re still on the pandemic, but hopefully things are starting to improve more vaccinations, where are you going to go on vacation for your first vacation post-pandemic?
For my book, I would have to say Shantaram for those who are interested in a book that immerses you in a different place. It takes place in Bombay and all over the world. It’s a great book that influenced me in my ability to tackle situations that I’m unfamiliar with and make the most and be resourceful. Although I haven’t killed anybody like in the book. It’s crazy. Those who have read the book, don’t put that on me. It’s an incredible story and it’s helped me throughout the pandemic break down a lot of the leaps I’ve taken in my own life. I couldn’t say better things about that book. For the place, I’d like to go on vacation in Italy. I would love to go to Italy. I feel like that’s a place where, after the pandemic, there’d be a lot of tranquility and peace for me. Hopefully, I get to go there. Maybe the next time we speak, I’ll be in a villa in Tuscany. God willing. Who knows?
Italy’s amazing. I’ve been there before. I love it and I want to go back. Roman, thank you for being a guest on In the Venn Zone. I appreciate it. I’m grateful that you came back to redo this episode. It was awesome. I love your story. I’m excited to see where you go and where you take The Rumble Company and your business. I will be watching. Thank you. Thank you to all the readers who’ve read this episode of In the Venn Zone. We look forward to seeing you on the next episode, where we bring you another amazing guest helping you level up your negotiation. Remember, negotiation is nothing more than a conversation about a relationship and you cannot win a relationship. Happy negotiating, everyone, and we’ll see you next time. Cheers.
- The Rumble Company
- Creative Artists Agency
- Find Your Why
- Blair Dunkley
- Roman Tirone – LinkedIn
- [email protected]
About Roman Tirone
Roman Tirone is a tech entrepreneur from New York. He began his career working in the entertainment industry at a talent agency in Los Angeles.
The pandemic forced him to change his career focus. About 4 months into his unemployment journey he was connected with an individual who wanted to create an app.
Although he did not have a tech background, he negotiated a contract to take on the development and design of the app. He was able to parlay that experience into 3 more app development clients.
Today he runs The Rumble Company, an app development firm that creates apps for people with ideas. You can find out more about him and his projects at therumblecompany.com or by searching for him on Linkedin.