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One Mic Stand: Ken Kaszak Remembers Ron Morris

Interview by Jonathan Kersting

One Mic Stand

Ken Kaszak of ValueKaszak take a quick walk down the "Ron Morris Memory Lane" with TechVibe Radio's Jonathan Kersting. The late Ron Morris was one of Pittsburgh's most prolific tech entrepreneurs and founder/host of the American Entrepreneur Radio Show. Kersting and Kaszak want to bring the insights and energy of Ron to a new generation of entrepreneurs.





This is Jonathan Kersting with TechVibe Radio having really fun conversations with everybody and anybody in Pittsburgh's technology ecosystem. I tell you what somebody who really influenced Pittsburgh's technology ecosystem, on the entrepreneurial side of things was the late, great Ron Morris. It's hard to believe he's passed almost more than eight years ago now back in 2012, and June of 2012. But he was one of those. He founded a few tech companies sold a few tech companies and was investing in everything. He was kind of like the sage of entrepreneurs in Pittsburgh tech region, we really kind of set the tone set the pace, inspired a lot of people invested in a ton of companies who just as all around just super cool guy that is really, I think, really brought the best out of a lot of folks in Pittsburgh tech sector, and we're talking to Ken Kaszak today. He's a PTC member, and also a fellow fan of Ron Morris. Ken, welcome to the one. Thank you, Jonathan.

Thank you for two point before we jump in and kind of reminisce a little bit about Ron and the idea that is like, you know, you say it's been like eight years since the guy has passed away. But we kind of want to revive a little bit of his memory because we think you know, he's an inspirational guy and he has some some some things that he's done he papers, or podcasts and so forth of his radio show from the from the Renaissance radio station and American entrepreneur that are still very vital, I think today offer lots of good sound advice as far as that goes, but I can what's your background real fast? What do you do? What is your What is your jam man?

So so I'm an investment advisor. Okay. And I actually like to say I teach financial literacy. I'm an accredited by the State Board of Accountancy to teach CPAs Okay, and I'm involved in outside business activities. I've actually written a book about the nutrition advice industry, I used to sell exercise equipment. And I also teach writing. And I've had 15 articles published in the post Gazette. And by the way, I think one of the best benefits a company could offer their employees is proper writing classes. Tremendous pathetic, and and silly benefits that come from writing.

And lots of people are afraid to write to there's this weird thing, ask people to write stuff and most people get really freaked out to do that. And they should learn to not be afraid they're probably a better writer than they think. And they can get some of those core fundamentals down. You can you can be go places with that, that's for sure that if I can just add on to that I was the guy that had to take remedial math class in order to get into community college. Okay, I was at Duquesne University. I pulled a 1.6 grade point average, they told me to go back to community college, okay. And once I started to write, I realized I now have the ability to learn things about my level of intelligence. I have a relatively large investment practice, I've traveled extensively. And all those things came to me because of my ability to write. Ironically, I'm, I'm close to finishing my book number six for me. That's fantastic stuff.

Very, very cool.

So let's let's talk about Ron a little bit, man, actually, I knew Ron for at least 15 years. He was one of those. He was a contributing writer for GQ Magazine, which the tech council publishes. I was his editor. I also have got tech vibe radio was on Pittsburgh Renaissance radio when Ron started his whole station. up back in the day. We were on there for about a year and a half, two years. And it said he was one of those where he was a member of the tech Council. He was always trying to shake stuff up. He used to piss a lot of people off, that's for sure. He's make a lot of people happy. He's a very polarizing guy. That's for sure. That was Ron style. He never mince words. He always told you what was up. And I'm just curious. I mean, you reached out to me saying, Hey, we do something to talk about Ron. I'm like, that's pretty cool. Because I know it's been a while since I've thought about Ron. And so when did you first meet Ron, what were your first impressions? Let's get the conversation rolling.

Well, let me just make one comment. It's like, like people, my age clients of mine people older, like they'd never heard of Ron Moore's. Okay. And that's, that's something wrong about that. And then think about all the younger people in the tech industries now that had never heard of them. They need to know who he was. And you should, yeah, my introducing a lot of people back in the day.

That's for sure.

You know, if you could if you could see over my shoulder there's a movie poster from a movie called Glengarry Glen Ross. Okay. One of Ron's friends has told me on multiple occasions, it was Ron's favorite movie. Oh, yeah. I met Ron or my first conversation with them. It's an article in the newspaper guy named Ron Moore's was trying to buy the Hollywood theater and remember that he talked about why he's gonna do that and what he was gonna do with it. Yeah, well, but But um, you know, I, I reached out to him. And when I was in college, by the way, Jonathan, I used to do all this research on the motion picture industry, the Paramount antitrust case of 1948 and Okay, you know, multi screen theaters and I just made a comment that a single screen theater is best left to a nonprofit. And I remember in a in an email to him, I said, you know, so they can play Casablanca on Valentine's Day, right? That's a great, that's a great way to spend Valentine's Day. And then, just after that, I, on the radio, I started listening to this guy and I go, that's the same fellow who was trying to buy the movie theater. Okay, so you are me, you tuned into the American entrepreneur, then

Saturday mornings at 1360 am nine to 12, I just became, I just became a huge fan. And my Saturday mornings were almost the same. I was engaged at the time, and I would wake up early, go swimming at the bulevar the Allies YMCA, take my girlfriend and her daughter to breakfast and then in the office and just listen to Ron and his, his manner, his level of conversation. It was it was so fresh, it was so unique. And then I just became aware of like the regular seat would have on the show and people calling in I just I loved I love this guests. You know, there was a guy named reach McKenna, who was a marketing guy for companies from Silicon Valley. He was a regular, but I remember him talking to a guy that started a vodka company. Yeah, Pittsburgh. Yeah. Now he everybody was welcome. Everybody was I was cool. Yeah, he definitely anyone with a business he had an interest in, he's dissect the margins, think about the market, like it was always kind of fun to watch. And you get this glazed over his eyes sometimes. Or he wanted to really kind of tear apart a company and see how it would work and how you can make money out of it.

And I think I think all not natural entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs like that. Yeah, if you're with a business and they go, Hey, I wonder if they if they knew if they did this better? This would be better for them, you know, absolutely would save time and money if they did this. So absolutely. Absolutely. I think the biggest thing about Ron is he, you know, just employed people. Why don't you become an entrepreneur, if you're not happy with your lot in life, if you're not happy with how you're spending your days, one of his favorite expressions, become an entrepreneur, man. Well think about he preceded Shark Tank. And so actually, I remember one of the one of the better things I always remembered about Ron was him telling me the easiest person you can convince is the man you shave with in the mirror every morning. I was like, yeah, that's exactly right. And he also also, the thing he taught me was the idea that you always need to have a brake pedal guy and a gas pedal, but I was just gonna say that to say that Yeah, because he had a partner at one point. Ron was the gas pedal. That partner was the brake, right? Like it's wrong would have to be the gas pedal.

Yeah, as you say. I can't imagine Ron being a brake pedal at all. He would always be the accelerator pedal. That's that's completely awesome. As the associate keep on going, so he told me, he reached out to me. How did you react to you when you told him that like, you shouldn't

buy this one screen theater? No, he was cool. I mean, evidently, somehow if memory serves the borough of doormen ended up with the, with the building, okay. And they were selling it and so they, you know, he was he was great with that and ironically, obviously, he was a big movie guy as I am right. Absolutely not that that was really a small part of it in our dealings. And you know, he ended up moving from the Saturday mornings nine to 12 and then he ended up buying the block of time three to six. Monday through Friday. Yes, so he had a lot of programming to fill in. I was on to three I was on two to five with Audrey on our tech five show back and on Tuesdays I was without what station on 30 on 1360 with with with with the Renaissance radio we bought the whole week for the time right right tech vibe over to his his signal and we were doing live I remember it was from from two to five I remember our first day in the studio on a Tuesday was when it was 2008 or nine when the whole market imploded eight and it was like we we sat there watching the you market small apart and thinking to myself Wow, this guy just bought a complete am radio station. Like did you go out to green tree or were you in another location? Oh, green tree. Yeah, we went up to the green tree studios. And Darrell is his producer Dale's a super cool dude. You could ask Darrell any music question you want to ask him like what was song three on the stones tattoo you and he would tell you and give you both what was the second song on the B side? Right?

Well, by the way, I know I now know Darrell, he one of Ryan's good friends is a client of mine in okay. There have worked for him for a little while. And I know Darrell but Daryl wood. Darrell knew this. I would always be contacting Darryl for bumper bumper music. Okay, I'm such a fan of talk radio. And I would suggest songs like you haven't done a song by Harry tape and w o LD. Okay. Do you

know that song? I don't know. You have to listen to it. It's a song about a DJ that bounces around from time to time and that's the name of a radio station. And um, one time it was coming up that Ron was going to be on December 12 in any Sinatra fan knows that's Frank Sinatra, his birthday, okay. And I said, Darrell, every song should be a Sinatra song. You know, but I was always sending things in. I once going back to movies, so Ron had the American entrepreneur hat. Yes. And he announced as he was going into a commercial, if you can identify this song, I'll send you an American entrepreneur hat. And I called in it was The Ballad of EZ rider. Okay, so, one, one got on the phone with me. And again, he knew me. I don't know that he knew it was me on the phone with them. And he was like, Ah, you know what, I might have to go revisit that movie. And Jonathan, I'd seen that movie maybe like two years previous again, it's impossible to watch. An Easy Rider one of the most I love that movie. What do you mean, it's impossible to watch? I think it is difficult to watch with that odd editing that Dennis Hopper did between the scenes. And you know, and Chris, everybody's getting high and whatever. And like, it gets a little weird, but it's kind of fun.

If you if you are looking for a movie to start to watch that movie, tell me if you can get all the way. Yeah, I ended up watching it once. And I thought was a pretty cool movie. Like, wow, this is what this is all about. I ended up sending that hat to one of my clients who was also a big fan of one. And she chastised me because I sent it priority mail. So every every December, I would go to my clients house, he passed away. But we had to do his or her RMD from our account. But anyway, she would always bring the hat out and set it on the table. That's awesome. Because Ron was like always there with us in spirit. Yeah. So what were some of your other key takeaways you had from Ron's I know, he always he always had these key themes running through and you always knew and he's gonna bring them out and said, What were some of the things that you've that you think were just really inspiring about Ron and some of his his sage advice?

Well, I always thought, you know, the concept trading, you're trading your hours for dollars. And let me make a comment. I mean, you know, my father traded his hours for dollars. Back in the day when I started my investment practice. I went to work for one of my friends, construction companies. Okay, there were times I traded my hours for dollars. There's nothing wrong with that. And by the way, I worked on electricians crew, and no, the union electricians were mill Guy $54 an hour. So that's the point is that that's not for everybody. Right? You know, if you have a creative soul, and if you've got to be out there creating things, achieving things, accomplishing things. I don't know that you're going to do that and trading hours for dollars. You know, with Ron, that was a, you know, his comment, and then his comment about how do you spend your days How do you spend your days? Is that such an influence on me that I believe that? Yeah, that's something that that's always stuck with me as well, too. He's one of those, especially when, when when Ron was was battling cancer for like six or seven years, and I was one of the things that always impressed me with him was his ability to be fighting this this life threatening disease, and keeping this extremely positive attitude. And him just known I remember when he went to see the Super Bowl, and he was like, how many times you get to Super Bowl. So he went to the Super Bowl and enjoyed the heck out of it. And so yeah, I always was just impressed that like he knew, I mean, no one knows how much time they have. But he knew that like his his he wasn't going to make it more than what you would hope to make it. And if he lived the hell out of each and every day, and he lived every day like like, he wasn't fearing death. He was just trying to live for the moment and get everything he could out of it. I've always tried to take away from Ron, you remind me of something he said once and he was talking about his his disease. And he made a comment because all the money that I have, I can't buy 20 minutes.

Exactly right. That is that is exactly it, man. It's like he may have said that one time. I was listening. I caught a never forget that.

Yeah, that is that that's something that sticks with you because it brings the reality home real fast that man you can have all the money in the world, but you cannot buy time, man, I just I just always admired his strength in his in his being very open about, you know what he was doing. And I mean, I remember him being just sick as a dog and coming into work. His passion was to do the radio show. His passion was to meet with a potential company he could invest in, and he would just suck it up and make things happen. I mean, remember a couple times like when I'm you know, we worked with him on an article or something. And he always asked me about the p&l magazines that we're putting together because he and I would always kind of go over where we're having tough spots. And even just there were parts of the council, other parts of our business and the council and we kind of talked about what's going on. I remember one time saying that I was trying to get a sponsor for for this editorial series I was putting together I was about entrepreneurial stuff and he just said, I'll sponsor it. You $10,000 I'm like, Whoa, yeah, I mean that that's what we're looking for to get this one. So he's like, meet me for lunch. I met him for lunch like the next day. He gave me a check. Maybe To protect counsel with $10,000. In that check, oh, thank you feedback back to the office. He was your lunch at the Olive Garden. It was at the Olive Garden Absolutely. Over breadsticks. I remember one time I'd the Olive Garden, he was showing us check, he had for about $2.5 million. That was out of the hedge fund that he's going to be depositing at the PNC Bank across the street after our lunch. I was like, you can pick up the bill.

Those are the types of things I think really made Ron an interesting dude. That's for sure. And I know that he like you said he would he was interested in investing not just in tech, but in anything he thought was interesting, and anything that he thought was a viable business. And he had his hands across everything. And I think he was definitely one of those people, you know, in the Pittsburgh region that that really started to build that entrepreneurial kind of culture and lifestyle, and that ticker risk. And don't be afraid to fail type of attitude, which we still need to build today. Which is why I'm glad we're talking a little bit about the memory of the way great, Ron Morris and all his sound advice,

by the way. I know you have to go and believe it or not, there's someone at my office store here. But I want to make one comment. On my website, I have an article called the Ron Moore's tribute article. Oh, we're gonna link to that, send me the link. And we will put that in the liner notes of this, as well how that started. Ron used to do a Friday afternoon email blast. And I sent him what I consider to be one of the greatest movies ever made. It's an indie movie called The three idiots Okay, and he used that it's about the the plot is about the education system in India, but it's about a lot more than that. And I never was watched the movie that one minute, you're laughing two minutes later, you're crying right after laughing. And he used that as his email blast. Oh, that's cool. One Friday, and one of my friends called me, one of my friends called me. And I wasn't listening that day. Because Hey, Ron Morris is talking about you on the radio. thanking you. So at the time, I had an idea for an essay. And nobody understands writer's block more than me. And I said, you know, Ron's got this thing going on. I want to give them a break from having to come up with an idea on a Friday. So the article was about this, when I started writing, as many beginning writers, would you write something and you think it's good for no other reason? Then you wrote it? Exactly. You have to acquire objectivity. Before you can write anything of any significance. entrepreneurs, when I started thinking about businesses, I would say, Oh, this will be a great business because I'll be able to hire people, and we'll sell to developing markets. investors don't care about that. And you shouldn't either, you know, there's a romantic connotation about having your own business. But you also need to have that level of objectivity. Definitely. So I combined entrepreneurship, with the objectivity and that became the article. I was always in contact with Ron's assistant at Duquesne University, Mia Bruno, named Maria sent it over there. And I said, Listen, tell Ron, take the Friday off, use this one. Use it. But it's up on my website. So Ron's name is not in the article. There's a little intro on the on the piece there.

So send it our way. We'll link to it in this because I think that'd be a good read for everybody. Sounds like a great thing. I appreciate your time. And I'm glad we talked about Ron, I think we should just keep his memory and influence alive. Agreed. Ken, I'm glad you reached out to do this because I think it's a great way to get people to do a little Google searches and dig up some great stuff on Ron, American entrepreneur and all that stuff. The next time you watch EZ rider give me a call.

I will. I can. That's a deal.

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