The Totem Nutrition Podcast: Episode 002 Interview with Tommy Benning


This episode is also available on iTunes and YouTube.


Who is Tommy?

Today's guest on the podcast is Tommy Benning. Tommy recently moved to New York from Boulder, Colorado and is passionate about people and the outdoors. He is a technology sales enthusiast having been both a direct seller and enabler of sales excellence at multiple tech companies in both Colorado and New York. He's also the co-city director in Manhattan for a nonprofit organization called House of Genius which brings together 15 to 20 people each month to focus their collective creativity and vast experience to explore, discuss, and solve important problems of entrepreneurship without being allowed to discuss who they are or what they do for a living. When he's not focused on sales or hosting House of Genius, you can find him out running in New York City as he is gearing up to run his second New York City Marathon for charity this coming November. 

In this episode, Tommy and Leah talk about how lonely it can be living in a new city, making new friends, how to know when it's time to change jobs, the importance of diversity in problem solving, Tommy's involvement with House of Genius, how to excel in sales without being "sales-y," the importance of finding mentors in your life, and Tommy's work with the non-profit Team For Kids, which helps kids and at risk youth find a passion for running. Click here to donate to Tommy's Team for Kids effort for the upcoming New York City Marathon. Follow along with Tommy's adventures on Instagram. 


Key Takeaways From Our Interview With Tommy

Starting over in a new city is a lonely challenge, but reaching out and connecting to the people around is the first step to making it home. 

“New York can be seen as the largest, loneliest city.”
“Don’t take it personally [if people don't return your greetings]. When I moved to New York, I struggled with that. I thought people didn’t like me and I didn’t realize it had nothing to do with me. Everybody’s got their own thing going on.”
“Don’t take it personally when you’re rejected. Move on and do it again.”
“I have neighbors who I run into in the building, who I can share an elevator ride with or have a conversation with, or I happen to hop on the subway with. But, we’ve never grabbed drinks, I’ve never had them over, they’re not my best friends. They don’t know a whole lot about me, but it’s really nice because I think we can share that interaction of not being lonely in the city.”
“For those of you new to a city go out and grab drinks. Don’t  allow anyone to talk about what they ‘do’ just collaborate and find a common interest that you all can talk about. Some recommendations: travel, upcoming events, you can always go with favorite colors, but you will get some mixed reactions there. It’s amazing what you can find when you bring people together and find a common topic to discuss.”

Finding friends in a New City Resources the Totem Team Recommends: 

MeetUp - Find groups of folks based on interest who hang out and do something with that interest.  Tommy made new friends in New York by getting involved with local running groups. 

VolunteerMatch - Volunteering for something you're passionate about is a great way to get involved in your local community and meet people with similar values as you. Volunteer Match lists local charities and let's you filter by who and how you want to help. Tommy got involved with House of Genius and Team for Kids when he moved to New York. 

Google for "Adult Sports Leagues + Your City" - sports are a great way to incorporate play into your life (which we all could use more of) and make new friends in a new city. 


Diversity, inclusivity, and listening are the keys to solving big problems. 

“If you can listen and work with what they give you, and work with it, you can ask better questions and you can further identify what their problem is going to be.”
“Too often in life, we feel like we aren’t good enough or we don’t have the intelligence to talk to someone’s problems…”

 Resources the Totem Team Recommends: 

House of Genius - Tommy talks about his experience with House of Genius. House of Genius hosts panels to help entrepreneurs solve the problems they're facing, but here's the catch. As everyone collaborates to help with the problem, panelists can't qualify their response based on who they are, what they do, or their experience. It's all about ideas without, for example, taking one person's word as truth because she's a CEO and instead hearing ideas from people of all different backgrounds. "House of Genius brings together entrepreneurs and a diverse mix of collaborators from the community for an evening each month of disruptive thinking, supportive input, and creative new ideas. You’ll find Houses in many cities and countries around the world.  House of Genius is continually growing based on grassroots demand. Together, we create Genius." 

Why Diverse Teams Are Smarter -  Research shows that teams with more diversity are better suited to face challenges because of the unique perspectives diversity brings to the table. "A 2015 McKinsey report on 366 public companies found that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean, and those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have returns above the industry mean.

Everyone is a salesperson and you can be a good salesperson without being "sales-y"

“Anybody out there who thinks they’re not a seller, I would beg you, we’ll maybe not beg, but I would ask you to look at your life and think about the last time you had an agenda you wanted to accomplish and you had to convince your friends or your family about why you wanted to accomplish your agenda. That’s sales.”
“Really good sales people don’t start with the pitch.”

“The best solution some sellers have is connecting with their customer in a human way not about the thing they’re selling. So they’ll reach out on social media to connect about sports the customer is interested in or an article. They start a conversation completely separate from whatever the seller is trying to accomplish.”

[In sales] “You’re constantly dealing with fears.”

“Sales is about listening. It’s only by listening to people so that you can identify their problems and find a solution.”

Mentorship is important in all areas of your life. 

“I started setting up coffees with anyone I knew who I respected and wanted to learn more about.”
“I’m always looking for new mentors outside of work. For example, right now, I just got engaged, so I’m constantly  looking for couple mentors. People who have incredible marriages and who have been married for 30 - 40 years. I’m trying to ask them what has made a good marriage.”
“Find a good mentor: find someone you have something in common with. Because you have to have one thing that you’re both excited to sit down and talk about whether it’s on the phone or in person. Second, it has to be someone who you’re willing to talk to. If you’re going to hide stuff, it’s not going to work. It has to be somebody with experience or insight to share.”
“Lately, I’ve been trying to get away form the after work cocktail, so I will offer to go for a walk. Just offering to do something one on one where you can connect.”